February 13, 2023

#AskTheAmbassador – A Conversation with the European Ambassador to Kenya, Her Excellency, Mrs. Henriette Geiger

Shailja Sharma

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It is not every day that you have the privilege of having a conversation with Her Excellency, Mrs. Henriette Geiger, the European Union Ambassador to Kenya. On the 31st of January 2023, Strathmore University Business School (SBS) had the honour to host an engaging, interactive session to gain insights into the work of the European Union (EU) in the region.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Vincent Ogutu, the Vice Chancellor of Strathmore University, reflected on the parallels between the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and the aspirations of the ‘American dream’ and the visionary leaders that inspired the creation of the European Union. Successfully navigating the differences between nations, and uniting them under one vision, the EU serves as an example for Africa to follow as the continent strives to forge strategic regional collaborations.

Strathmore University has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the EU. The Executive Dean of SBS, Dr. Caesar Mwangi, described how the Ole Sangale and Keri campuses of the University were constructed through EU grant funding. The university was created to provide excellent education and create an environment in which African scholars could flourish. Dr. Mwangi affirmed that this commitment was part of a larger dream to create an ecosystem for African youth to realize their ambitions and enjoy a good standard of living in their native countries.

H.E. Mrs. Henriette Geiger also echoed this sentiment as she reflected on her previous work in the Horn of Africa and her current role as the EU Ambassador to Kenya. HE, Mrs Geiger, began her career journey with a strong desire to serve. She urged the audience to follow their ‘own inner voices,’ when making career and life decisions. Indeed, this strong desire to make a difference, propelled HE Mrs. Geiger to criss-cross the globe and engage in meaningful development work. Her breadth of diverse work experience spanning engagements in New York, Guatemala, the EU, and Africa is impressive. Her desire to serve her country compelled her to leave the United States where she had been offered a green card, to eventually join the EU. She advised the audience that nothing in life is wasted. One never knows when a situation can arise when knowledge gained through previous seemingly unrelated experiences can become an asset.

The European Union is the biggest market in the world for Kenya’s exports. It is also a major source of funding – supporting the transition towards a green economy, regional security, investing in Kenya’s economic sectors of Agriculture, Resilience, Infrastructure Development, Public Financial Management Reforms and support to alleviate humanitarian crises that affect Kenya. The EU Ambassador to Kenya appreciated Kenya’s role as a strategic partner in the development of the region. The EU has a coherent framework to guide all strategic dialogues and relations which comprises three strands: political, development, and trade and investment. Through each of these strands, the EU engages with different ministries in the country to accomplish its mission.

Representing Kenya’s biggest export market with 21.1 per cent of Kenya’s total exports to the world, the EU receives exports such as agricultural products, notably; tea, coffee, cut flowers, peas, and beans. Some 70% of Kenya’s total flower production is exported to the EU. Historically, trade agreements favoured intermediaries that refined and packaged raw materials rather than the people involved in the extraction of raw materials. However, H.E., Mrs. Geiger explained that the EU is trying to structure trade agreements that allow everyone to take advantage of them. She mentioned that the EU is making great strides to work with cooperatives to ensure that all members benefit from trade agreements.

Kenya has played a leading role in promoting the green growth agenda. Key decision makers, including leaders in both the public and private sector, are keen to support the country’s transition to a green and sustainable economy through targeted investments. HE, Mrs. Geiger, lauded Kenya’s achievements in this area. However, she also stressed the importance of addressing inequality in the country and fighting the scourge of corruption for the country to reach upper middle-income status.

HE, Mrs. Geiger remarked that it was impossible to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, following the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the world needs to redouble its efforts to catch up. There are complex hurdles for humanity to overcome and many problems to solve in an interconnected world. The Ambassador concluded the session with a powerful challenge to the students in the audience, “Everyone is looking towards the young, dynamic population in Africa, the answers can come from Africa, you are the individuals with the capacity and knowledge to lead the world.”

Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach

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