Home » Outgoing Dutch ambassador on difficulty of Kenyans finding jobs in the Netherlands

Outgoing Dutch ambassador on difficulty of Kenyans finding jobs in the Netherlands

The Netherlands ambassador to Kenya, Maarten Brouwer, served his last day on Wednesday, but before he bid farewell to the country he has lived in for four years and to a continent he has lived in for 40 years, he sat with the Business Daily to reflect on the highs and the lows of his tenure.

It’s been four years since you took up the post. Looking back at your tenure, what has been your experience?

Well, this has been a very positive experience, but I must say, it was a bit of a weird start. I came here in September 2020. I’d have loved to start a month or even two months earlier, but the Covid situation restricted my travel. The reason I say it was a weird start is that due to the Covid measures, I couldn’t get to meet many people and it was a little lonely. The rest of it has, however, been a very interesting time within which we’ve entered into a very good relationship as people of the two nations. I must say we look at Kenya very much as a partner through which we get to know how developments are happening within the region.

About two years ago, the Kenya Investment Authority (KenInvest) signed an MoU with the Netherlands Business Hub that aimed to promote investments between the peoples of the two nations. What has been the yield of that so far?

The idea of the MoU was mooted because we are a big trading partner and there are a lot of Dutch companies here, just as many Kenyan companies are sharing very strong ties with the Netherlands.

So previously, we never had a kind of Dutch chamber of commerce here, and so the companies were not organised together. So what we did is that we stimulated Dutch companies to come together, and they set up the business hub. That means that we now have a representative body with about 80 member companies.

Now, for that organisation to know better and to inform their members better, they signed an MoU with KenInvest to exchange knowledge and to know better the facilities that the latter could offer, and also for the businesses to make use of those facilities. Since then, we’ve worked with KenInvest to set up a digital portal for Dutch companies to register, and this acts as one of the entry points for them. This means they can use the portal to access all kinds of services that they need if they want to establish themselves here.

One of the commodities that Kenya exports to the Netherlands on a big scale is flowers, and in fact, your country is Kenya’s biggest market for this product. Would you be able to quantify how the growth proportion has been during your tenure?

I think if we were to make the comparison, I’d have to dig down. But when I came, of course, it was during Covid and saw there was a dip, which rebounded very quickly after the pandemic was trounced, and there has been consistent growth since then. I don’t have the exact percentage in mind, but over the total of four years, I’d guess it’s around 10 percent.

Away from the trade involving product exports and imports, Kenyan authorities have in recent days popularised the idea of labour exports to address the prevailing unemployment. Do you think there are jobs that the Netherlands could offer Kenyans?

If you look at what is happening in the Netherlands, we are on the brink of getting a new government. I think the party agreements to form the new government are being sealed as we speak.

In the ongoing debate, migration is a very huge topic because there are many more people from other countries coming in than we can provide opportunities for. The Kenyan diaspora in the Netherlands is relatively small but overall, the employment possibilities are very slow, and that’s just the reality. I think the openness for Kenyans to go to the Netherlands to seek employment will be very limited in the years to come and I don’t think that’s an avenue where we’ll see a lot of growth.

There has also been talk by the Kenyan government about a policy to ban the importation of second-hand clothes. I understand that this is one of the products that your country brings in here. If the ban were to be effected, how would it affect the trade balance between the two markets?

This is one of the things that, on the one hand, we’re not proud of because we don’t want to export our problems to Kenya, but on the other hand, second-hand clothing is actually a market from which a lot of people earn money.

Stopping the imports to Kenya, in my view, will affect the local market in some ways, both positively and negatively, so what needs to happen is that we ought to look for ways through which we can organise this much better. I think we need to go beyond that because we don’t want to create problems in Kenya, and at the same time, we can’t downplay the economic value that it has for both nations. So, it’s a topic that we need to deepen discussions on.

Any pending business that your successor should prioritise?

Now that the European Union (EU) has signed the Economic Partnership Agreement, we’re looking into what more is needed to make optimal use of the pact in terms of the import and export flows and as gateways, I think we could both benefit a lot from the agreement.

And then we’ll come to issues like double tax agreement, the investment protection agreement and such. So those are the issues that are very much on the agenda but I’m certain there will be new areas to build on.

If I think a little bit about Kenya in the next five years to 10 years, I think energy digitalisation and food security in the country are very, very big issues that are of interest and that will further cement the relationship that we already have.