The battle for trade and investment openings in Kenya among European countries has gained impetus in the past three months with Nairobi playing host to at least four high-profile delegations during that period.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly led the way in the first week of December, promising affordable financing for green projects, including a railway city, and small businesses.
Since then, Kenya has opened doors to a trade mission from Finland and a business delegation from Europe organised by the EU-Kenya Business Forum – both events coming in February.
The event, bringing together 500 business people, coincided with the visit of the French minister for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness Olivier Becht during, which he officiated the launch of a new pickup truck assembled locally by French automaker Peugeot.
This week, it is the Swiss turn to promote their trade and investment agenda in Nairobi, making February an especially busy month for Kenyan officials.
Helene Budliger Artieda, the Swiss Minister for Economic Affairs who is leading her country’s second trade mission to Kenya in three years, says Kenya is key to Switzerland’s plans to expand its trade and investment footprint in sub-Saharan Africa.
“In Africa, Kenya stands out as a regional economic powerhouse, which is also reflected in the sub-Saharan Africa Strategy 2021-2024 adopted by the Swiss Government, which recognises Kenya as an [economic lioness] with whom Switzerland wants to further intensify investment and trade. I am convinced there is potential to do more. Already, some 70 companies with a link to Switzerland are active in Kenya and many larger Swiss companies have established their regional hub here,” says Ms Artieda.
Notable Swiss multinationals with operations in Kenya include LafargeHolcim, which owns Bamburi Cement, pharmaceutical giants Novartis and Roche, quality control services provider SGS, and food and drink processor Nestlé.
The trade balance is currently tilted in favour of Switzerland, with the value of Kenyan exports to the European country standing at Sh4.8 billion against imports worth Sh8 billion in 2021.
Kenya mainly exports coffee, tea and horticultural produce such as cut flowers to Switzerland. Imports from Switzerland to Kenya include agrochemicals, paints, machinery and pharmaceuticals. The East African country received more than 9,000 Swiss tourists annually pre-Covid pandemic.
The former administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta sought to boost trade with Switzerland by opening a new chancery in the City of Bern, the country’s political centre and home to major enterprises and international organisations, in May last year.
Ms Artieda says Swiss companies on the current trade mission will especially be interested in investment opportunities in clean technologies, citing President William Ruto’s agenda to have Kenya transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2030.
“Switzerland and Kenya share the view that only sustainable economic development has a future. That is why I have made Cleantech a special focus of this visit to explore the many investment opportunities for Swiss companies. Likewise, I would like Kenyan partners to hear for themselves the outstanding solutions that Swiss companies can offer,” she says.
“According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Switzerland has been the most innovative country in the world for years. Thanks to research and entrepreneurship, there are many Swiss companies that offer innovative, sustainable and clean solutions, such as in the areas of waste processing and wastewater treatment and irrigation systems. These sectors are of particular relevance to Kenya.”
Eco investments have gained traction in Africa on the back of the November 2022 global climate conference (CoP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt where rich countries bowed to pressure to contribute to a Loss and Damage Fund set up to fund climate adaptation and mitigation projects in the low-emission developing nations.
Switzerland has already shown interest in Kenya’s clean energy technology space, with its partial financing of BasiGo, a local e-mobility start-up seeking to revolutionise public transport by giving bus operators alternatives to diesel engines.
BasiGo expects to start introducing its first fleet of 15 electric passenger buses on local routes in the coming months. It has set a target to have more than 1,000 electric buses on Kenyan routes by the end of 2025.
Mr Green Africa, a company founded by Swiss entrepreneur Keiran Smith, is credited with transforming waste management in Nairobi at its factory in the capital city’s industrial area where plastics collected from households and businesses are recycled and sold to manufacturers of water tanks and packaging items.