50 Years of Friend­ship

Aus­tria's am­bas­sador to Kenya, H.E HAR­ALD GUN­THER re­calls the mile­stones of his coun­try’s diplo­matic re­la­tions with Nairobi as it marks its Ju­bilee An­niver­sary

Diplomat East Africa - - Front Page -

DIPLO­MAT EAST AFRICA: Your Ex­cel­lency, please tell us about the state of re­la­tions be­tween Aus­tria and the East African coun­tries you over­see.

H.E HAR­ALD GUN­THER: The Aus­trian Em­bassy in Nairobi cov­ers Kenya, Bu­rundi, the Co­moros, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, the Sey­chelles, So­ma­lia, Tan­za­nia, Zam­bia and the United Na­tions agen­cies of HABI­TAT and UNEP. With all th­ese coun­tries and or­gan­i­sa­tions we have good, friendly re­la­tions and strive to ex­pand our ties.

Q: Of­fi­cial ties be­tween Aus­tria and Kenya stretch far back to 1908, when Aus­tria-Hun­gary es­tab­lished an Hon­orary Con­sulate in Mom­basa. Please elab­o­rate on this.

A: This was at the time of the Aus­trian-Hungarian Monar­chy, which com­prised then an area with about 60 mil­lion peo­ple. The trade po­ten­tial with East Africa was seen as promis­ing. But at the out­set of World War I, the Con­sulate was closed down.

Q: You just com­mem­o­rated 50 years of diplo­matic re­la­tions with Kenya; please tell us about the high­lights of th­ese re­la­tions.

A: Our bi­lat­eral re­la­tions started with an early recog­ni­tion of Kenya’s in­de­pen­dence in 1964. A year later, we opened the Aus­trian Em­bassy in Nairobi. Dur­ing the last 50 years we have steadily ex­panded our friendly bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in all fields.

Q: Kindly share with us the de­tails of the ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion.

A: We have bi­lat­eral agree­ments with in­di­vid­ual coun­tries, for ex­am­ple in the air ser­vice sec­tor, on dou­ble tax­a­tion avoid­ance or tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance. But the main agree­ments are in the frame­work of the Euro­pean Union (EU), for in­stance, the Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment (EPA) be­tween EU and East African Com­mu­nity (EAC) which was just re­cently re­newed.

Q: How do you view the cur­rent eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in Kenya?

A: The eco­nomic growth rates of Kenya and the re­gion are well be­yond our own. Kenya is the strong­est econ­omy in the re­gion. A lot of in­vest­ments in big in­fra­struc­ture projects are tak­ing place. I think there is a lot of eco­nomic po­ten­tial in the com­ing years.

Q: The Kenyan gov­ern­ment has de­vel­oped strate­gies to at­tract for­eign in­vest­ment to the coun­try. Have any Aus­tria in­vestors taken ad­van­tage of the pol­icy?

A: Last year an Aus­trian–Kenyan busi­ness fo­rum took place. An Aus­trian del­e­ga­tion which was or­gan­ised by the Aus­trian Eco­nomic Cham­ber vis­ited Kenya. The aim was to have a closer look at busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in Kenya and the East African re­gion which has high eco­nomic growth rates. As a re­sult, we can see new Aus­trian in­vest­ments in the health and busi­ness sec­tor. The Aus­trian Eco­nomic Cham­ber has also de­cided to open an of­fice at the Em­bassy this year.

Q: What will be the fo­cus of Aus­tria’s en­gage­ment in Kenya and East Africa dur­ing your ten­ure?

A: As the Em­bassy is lo­cated in Nairobi, our fo­cus is, of course, Kenya it­self. But we are also striv­ing to ex­pand our ties with all the coun­tries and or­gan­i­sa­tions I men­tioned at the be­gin­ning. I think the re­gion we are cov­er­ing is experiencing vi­brant eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and that we will see more bi­lat­eral in­ter­est and devel­op­ment of stronger re­la­tions.

Q: What do you think of the East Africa Com­mu­nity (EAC) In­te­gra­tion ef­forts?

A: From the Aus­trian per­spec­tive, re­gional in­te­gra­tion in Africa is a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment, from which the coun­tries of East Africa

An Aus­trian del­e­ga­tion which was or­gan­ised by the Aus­trian Eco­nomic Cham­ber vis­ited

The aim Kenya. was to have a closer look at busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in Kenya and the East African re­gion

as well as in­ter­na­tional part­ners in trade, busi­ness and tourism can ben­e­fit. Of course, it is up to the EAC and its mem­ber states to de­cide how far they want to take their as­pi­ra­tions of in­te­gra­tion and how they can be im­ple­mented.

As a mem­ber of the EU for 20 years now, Aus­tria has its own ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing part of a greater com­mu­nity. The EU has been a very suc­cess­ful peace-project and eco­nom­i­cally, Aus­tria has prof­ited tremen­dously since its ac­ces­sion to the EU. From th­ese points of view, Aus­tria can only sup­port the EAC’s in­te­gra­tion ef­forts.

Q: Kindly tell us please about your pri­or­ity ar­eas in this re­spect.

A: The most in­sti­tu­tion­alised part­ner­ship we have with Africa is in the frame­work of the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship be­tween the EU and the con­ti­nent. It fo­cuses on pro­mot­ing po­lit­i­cal dia­logue and con­crete ac­tion in ar­eas of joint in­ter­est be­tween equal part­ners. The co-op­er­a­tion is es­pe­cially ex­panded in the ar­eas of peace and se­cu­rity, in­fra­struc­ture and the devel­op­ment sec­tor. East Africa is also a key re­gion for Aus­tria’s devel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion.

Q: Your Ex­cel­lency, what has been your ex­pe­ri­ence so far in Kenya?

A: Very friendly and very wel­com­ing! Hav­ing al­ready trav­elled from Turkana to the Coast, I re­alised the enor­mous dif­fer­ences in geog­ra­phy but also the stan­dards of living in the coun­try. I think Kenya is a lively coun­try in dif­fer­ent ar­eas from eco­nomics to arts and has great po­ten­tial for the fu­ture.

Q: You have served in Al­giers, Tokyo, Los An­ge­les, Wash­ing­ton, Brussels (EU), stud­ied in Italy and have trav­elled to many other places. How is your post­ing in Nairobi dif­fer­ent from them?

A: This is my first post­ing in Eastern Africa. In that re­spect, I find it very good for my ex­pe­ri­ence to learn about all the spe­cific fea­tures, ge­o­graph­i­cal di­ver­sity and chal­lenges of the re­gion I am work­ing in now.

Q: What do you think Aus­tria can learn from Kenya and vice versa?

A: In Aus­tria we say some­times

that we are com­plain­ing on a very high level – mean­ing that although many peo­ple en­joy a high stan­dard of living they com­plain that it could be bet­ter. In Kenya, I can see so many peo­ple who have much less than many Aus­tri­ans and still en­joy life.

Q: Is there one ex­pe­ri­ence, per­son, or an event in Kenya that has in­flu­enced any of your poli­cies and how so?

A: I try to un­der­stand Kenya and the re­gion by all the daily ex­pe­ri­ences I en­counter. Per­son­ally, I en­joy read­ing the books by Kenyan writ­ers such as N’gugi wa Thiongo or the writ­ings of politi­cians like the First Pres­i­dent Jomo Keny­atta as well as his­tor­i­cal books on the re­gion which will help me to un­der­stand this coun­try bet­ter.

Q: What are Aus­tria’s strong points as a coun­try?

A: Aus­tria is a po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally sta­ble coun­try in the heart of Europe. It has an ad­vanced mod­ern econ­omy with pre­dom­i­nately small and medium-sized but very suc­cess­ful en­ter­prises. Aus­tria is also a prime tourism lo­ca­tion and proud of its en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious pop­u­la­tion.

Within the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, Aus­tria is a strong sup­porter of hu­man rights, dis­ar­ma­ment and peace.

Q: Aus­tria is a coun­try of great cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tions. How does your gov­ern­ment fight xeno­pho­bia and dis­crim­i­na­tion?

A: Aus­tria, a coun­try at the very heart of Europe, has been a cross­ing point for many dif­fer­ent cul­tures for cen­turies. Re­li­gious tol­er­ance has been a key prin­ci­ple al­ready dur­ing the Aus­troHun­gar­ian monar­chy and Is­lam has been recog­nised as an of­fi­cial reli­gion in Aus­tria as early as 1912.

My Min­istry is called Min­istry for Europe, In­te­gra­tion and For­eign Af­fairs. You can see that in­te­gra­tion has a cen­tral po­si­tion. About 18 per cent of the Aus­trian pop­u­la­tion or about 1.5 mil­lion out of 8.5 mil­lion peo­ple have a migration back­ground–mean­ing that they ei­ther im­mi­grated to Aus­tria or are born in Aus­tria by for­eign-born par­ents. It is the con­vic­tion of the Aus­trian gov­ern­ment that a strong in­te­gra­tion pol­icy is the best means to miti- gate xeno­pho­bia and dis­crim­i­na­tion. Let me also men­tion at this point that Aus­tria is proud to host the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test in Vi­enna this year, which will be en­ti­tled “Build­ing Bridges.”

Q: Aus­tria has one of the low­est un­em­ploy­ment rates in Europe. It also has the low­est youth un­em­ploy­ment rates. What lessons can we learn from your ex­pe­ri­ence?

A: Yes, even in Europe Aus­tria has one of the low­est youth uonem­ploy­ment rates. Af­ter the out­break of the re­cent fi­nan­cial and eco­nomic cri­sis, many Euro­pean coun­tries gave a closer look to the Aus­trian model. It seems that es­pe­cially the com­bi­na­tion of vo­ca­tional train­ing in en­ter­prises and school ed­u­ca­tion at the same time – the so called dual sys­tem - pre­pares many young peo­ple well for their pro­fes­sional life. They ac­quire the tools to deal with life­long learn­ing which is nec­es­sary in mod­ern pro­fes­sional life. But Aus­tria has a long tra­di­tion in this re­spect and it must be said that what works for one coun­try might not nec­es­sar­ily work the same way for other coun­tries.

Q: Are there any cul­tural re­la­tions with Kenya?

A: Aus­tria has quite a vi­brant cul­tural pres­ence in Kenya. In the past years, the Em­bassy has or­gan­ised a range of events – clas­si­cal con­certs, jazz con­certs, film fes­ti­vals and ex­hi­bi­tions. We reg­u­larly par­tic­i­pate at the EU film fes­ti­val in Kenya to show­case Aus­trian movies. Aus­trian film has po­si­tioned it­self at the very cen­tre of cur­rent Euro­pean film­mak­ing, hav­ing won two Academy Awards for best non-English movie in the past years. Aside from that, Aus­tria of­fers a va­ri­ety of schol­ar­ships to Kenyan stu­dents, in­clud­ing in the per­form­ing arts, ev­ery year

RICH CUL­TURE: His­tor­i­cal sites in Aus­tria

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