Why Africa must have a common language now-Dr Wilfred Machage, Kenyan High Commissioner to Nigeria
London, August 3, 2019 (AltAfrica)- With the African Union moving closer to adopting Kiswahili as African lingual Franca after it entered into partnership with the East African Community, EAC for the promotion of the language for Wider Communication in the whole of Africa. the Kenyan High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ambassador (Dr.) Wilfred G. Machage believes time is long overdue for a common African language for a more effective integration
In an exclusive chat with Alternativeafrica.com in his office in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Ambassador Wilfred Machage said the coming to force of the Continental Free African Trade makes a common language spoken across the continent more imperative as it would boost trade, tourism and facilitate easy communication and reduce conflict
To him, a common language would further make the continent a big threat to the Western World which already jittery because of its ever increasing population.
Ambassador Machage, who is also accredited to six other African nations such as Benin Republic, Coted’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo and ECOWAS, has been in Nigeria for nine months. He spoke to Alternative Africa’s Correspondent, TAIWO ADELU in Abuja, Nigeria on the Africa’s single trade agreement, the success of Agriculture in Kenya and lot more other issues in this interview.
AltAfrica-Records show that agriculture is the largest contributor to Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP), it accounts for about 34 percent of the GDP, as well as 18 percent of wage employment and 45 percent of revenue from exports. These are excellent rating compared to what is obtainable in some other African nations, Sir; can you tell us how Kenya has been able to achieve this and what is government doing to further improve on this record?
Ambassador-Thank you very much for your observation. Indeed it is true that agriculture is the backbone of Kenyan economy and with it we have been able to catapult ourselves from the third world into second world using agriculture. The records you just mentioned were achievable due to a number of things. These include good policies and right attitude by the people. We are fortunate that even during pre-independent, agriculture was well organised by the British colonialists. They used Kenya as their big farming colony. We adopted it and improved on what they left after the independence.
It is not just happened. We have to put effort. The school curriculum, the syllabus in the schools were packaged towards developing our agriculture. We also have clubs in primary schools, we called them KK Clubs. We have good policy on marketing so that the farmers can get profits and indeed in Kenya, agriculture pays better more than the white collar jobs, so people are encouraged to go back to the farm.
Apart from schools, we have all other institution of researches in agriculture that emphasise on good nutrition, good farming, and food reliance. Kenya is self reliance in terms of food security.
To improve on the records, at the governmental level, we have several initiatives. We have many extension farm officers who are in the villages to teach farmers not only on seedling but all the way to harvesting, monitoring diseases and intervention at the right time. Also we have subsidy for farmers in some inputs especially fertilisers, What we did is that farmers could have fertilisers at least one third of the market price, This give relief to the farmers for them to have increase during harvest. We also have post harvest programme so that farm produces won’t be damaged because of lack of proper storage. What we did is that the government buys off the produces from the farmers. For example, if you have maize, the government produces money to buy it from the farmers so that the farmers are not exploited by the middlemen. There is also strict price control system in Kenya for farm produces. We do this to control importation of the harvests. This is done by the Ministry of Agriculture. By this, we are able to know when we have deficit in our harvest so that we are able to control what we export and what we import for consumption. There is benchmark of pricing to control demand and supply of foods produce in the country to protect the farmers and the citizens. This encourages the farmers.
We also have animal husbandry, dairy farming and strong cooperative movement for farmers to come together to look for communal market, even cooperative banks are able to give farmers loan at reduced interest rates. There are several other steps that we have taken to encourage the farmers to help them increase their yields from farming.
AltAfrica-Nigeria is trying to do same what can we learn from Kenya?
Ambassador-There is a lot to learn but firstly you have to decide as a people that you want to go the way of Kenya. Fortunately for Nigeria, the country is endowed with other economic activity like fuel. Kenya is an agro economy society, whereas Nigeria is petrol economy. In some areas in Nigeria like Osun State, the state has sent some benchmarking teams of two groups to understudy the practice of agriculture in Kenyan. I had the opportunity of giving a lecture in Osogbo on how far Kenya has gone in terms of agricultural development during the Agritech Nigeria Osun 2019 event in March this year. Kano State is also trying to come up with the same programme like Osun. Kano is trying to focus on improved seeds for cotton. Kenya is noted for good researches in production of seeds that will be adaptable to certain geographical areas. The scientists will come down to Nigeria to develop the seeds that will be adaptable to Nigeria environment for proper production. This is one of the new innovations in Kenya now.
AltAfrica)-Tourism in Kenya is the second largest source of foreign exchange revenue following agriculture. Beach tourism, eco tourism, cultural tourism, and sports tourism are all parts of tourism sector in Kenya. This is to show that Kenya has a unique world acclaimed tourism products. What is the secret?
Ambassador-The secret again is the knowledge and attitude of the people. In Kenya, it is not acceptable to kill and eat games meat. By culture it is not good. The people will arrest you not even the government. Apart from that, we have proper land consolidation. This where land is mapped out for its uses, you don’t move cattle or farm anywhere. The land is properly demarcated for particular uses. Areas have been gazetted and designated for games. In Kenya, out of about 500,000 square kilometres (Kenya is about half of Nigeria), about 40,000 square kilometre has been officially gazetted as game reserve area. This means that people supposed not go for grazing or farming there, this is exclusively reserve for gaming. Apart from that we have institution of higher learning that concentrate on game management. We have a strong hospitality industry. We have hospitality colleges in Kenya which produce and train managers, accountants, chefs and others who are experts in that area of specialisation. There is good advertisement for our tourism industry and climate is good. It favours some of these animals to live. We have good range of animals in their natural habitat and don’t forget the eight wonders of the world, you find it in Kenya; it is a spectacular thing to watch.
AltAfrica-Cases of murders and terrorist attacks in 2013 and 2014 have adversely affected Kenyan tourism. What is the government doing to sustain a stable tourism business in Kenya to ensure that tourists are safe?
Ambassador-The issue of terrorism is an international concern. Unfortunately, we have the United States and Britain usually giving travelling advices to their nationals concerning where to go and where not to go when they know that the issue of terrorism is an international problem. It has really affected some regions in Kenya. If you look at eco tourism in the northern part of Kenya. Swahili culture has been affected greatly. I am happy to say that Kenya has taken it up bodily. We have Special Forces, specially trained in counter terrorism and they are continually aborting a lot of moves by these terrorists, I can say we are proud of this. Kenya is safe apart from few incidences you have mentioned. Let me tell you, the press in Kenya are very liberal. We have things under control, but I pray that African unites because we are all brothers and sisters, why killing ourselves, why killing innocent people. If there is political issue, why can’t it be tackled politically instead of killing and maiming citizens and innocent visitors and interfering with the economy? That is not the way to go. We need constructive dialogue, round the table discussion to solve these problems. I call upon Nigeria which is equally hit by terrorists, we have Al-Shabaab in Kenya, Boko Haram in Nigeria, they are all associated with ISIS terror network. I don’t think the teaching of Islam which these groups claim to associate with teaches violence and killing. The Quran preaches peace. I think their doctrine is hinged on extremism. They are just criminals who must be dealt with. They should be arrested and jailed.
AltAfrica-Let move away from tourism and talk about economy. Few weeks ago, the African Union proposed a single currency for the continent, what is Kenya’s position on Africa’s single trade agreement and how optimistic is Kenya about its success?
Ambassador-We must accept a simple fact that the pioneers of this are Kenya and Ghana. Our president was the first to sign in Kigali, Rwanda and I think all of Africa has signed. That is the way to go. We have not been able to use our population well as Africa, this is because of over division into many states such as Anglophone, Francophone and bad perception we are different set of people in a continent, but we are one people. This was well seen long ago by Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere. These are Pan Africanists and that is the way to go. The population of Africa is a resource that is even being fear by the Europeans and other western countries. If you look at Nigeria alone, a population of about 200 million people is equalled to the population of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi. Five countries fit into the population of Nigeria alone. Why should Nigeria be having problem of where to export her products? Why does gas in Nigeria be wasting away when countries like Benin, Burkina Faso and even Kenya need this gas? Why can’t we come together and open up pipeline that will link Kenya for Nigeria to supply her gas? What we are unable to do is to come together and work together. Monetary union will ge quite advantageous. See what is happening in Europe? Britain has been trying to pullout but it is difficult. Why are will making things difficult for ourselves? Sometime ago, I wanted to go to Equatorial Guinea, I have to pass through Addis Ababa. A distance of two hours with a direct flight from Abuja has to cost more than six hours. It is because of this over fragmentation and funny policies. The other day I was going to Sierra Leone from Liberia, I have to come back to Ghana, then flight over to Sierra Leone, why can’t we have a direct flight? We waste a lot of resources and time because of poor planning in Africa. I believe it is high time we look at the problem and use our population very well.
AltAfrica-That takes us to the issue of African integration; the adoption of Kiswahili as African common language. What’s your opinion about integration in Africa and the adoption of Kiswahili as a lingual Franca?
Ambassador-It is too late; we could have done it since yesterday. Kiswahili right now is spoken in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Eastern Congo, Malawi, Northern Mozambique, Comoros, Southern Somalia, and Southern Ethiopia. It is already covered half of Africa and yet we have to struggle to speak French and English. This is neo-colonisation. We were taught ours is bad, theirs is good. It is better we have our own language; Language is very important in unification. Look at Tanzania; they adopted Kiswahili very early after independence. In Tanzania, you can’t hear people saying I’m an Ibo, a Yoruba or a Hausa. There is no tribe but a nation. You could only hear people saying I’m a Tanzanian, You may say I’m from this region, but not from this tribe. The language has unified them. I strongly believe that Kiswahili can unify Africa.
AltAfrica-What is the state of trade relationship between Kenya and Nigeria?
Ambassador-It is very unfortunate that we have so little between Kenya and Nigeria, so little. These are two big economies in Africa. If you look at the statistics of 2015, we have about $36.5 million exports from Kenya to Nigeria and $2.05 million exports from Nigeria to Kenya. There is a lot to be done on intra-Africa trade. If you look at China and India, they have no need for other markets for their products because of the home markets they have. They are able to produce and buy their own products to the satisfaction of their economies. The West has so divide us that we forget that we must satisfy ourselves first before selling to outsiders. By this we can be self reliance and avoid being tied with so many rules. For example, Nigeria imports milk from Netherlands even fruits and vegetables, whereas during raining season, we pour our milk down in Kenya because there is no market. Nigerians like luxury, they import flower from Europe. Do you know where those flowers come from? They are imported from Nairobi, Kenya to Europe and then Nigerians go to Europe to buy the same flowers. They will then be boasting that I bought these flowers from England. The flower they buy will be costly instead of buying the flowers directly from Kenya in cheaper prices. Look at tea, Kenyan tea is the best in the world. The tea is imported to Europe and will be brought down as expensive Lipton to Nigeria. Look at coffee, which Nigerians called Nescafe, it comes from Kenya. The coffee is imported to Europe and is taken down to Africa in prohibited prices. These are poor management and poor policy formulation.
AltAfrica-I think the problem is the government (cut in…)
Ambassador-Who is the government, the government is the people, the legislature, the executives, the policy formulators are the people. As long as we have that in-built sense that anything from Europe is the best. Our local industries collapsed when foreign products are allowed to flood the local markets. This is unfortunate. This is another form of neo-colonisation. It is about attitude, we should buy Nigeria, build Nigeria, buy Kenya, build Kenya, buy Ghana, build Ghana and more importantly, buy Africa and build Africa. The western world is very much watching and they are afraid of Africa’s growing population. If Africans can think and harness the economic importance of their own population, it will be better. The population of the West is decreasing while Africa’s population is increasing. This is a threat and resource that Africa has not been able to harness and use properly. The West has seen the threat and they are making sure that there is no peace in Africa so that they would be able to sell their guns and other weapons. That is the reason there is unrest in so many areas in Africa. The issue of grazing supposed not to be a problem in Nigeria if we can look at it very well. They want us to begin to fight so that we can buy their guns. Africa is a better place to be, we have our own technology, but they won’t allow us to use it. Africa better wake up.
AltAfrica-How can you appraise the independent Republic of Kenya since 1964 and now?
Ambassador-At independence, Kenya is about seven millions, but now we are at about 45 million. We have had mergers, we have built our roads, telecommunications and other good things for ourselves. We have had good leadership generally. The current leadership under His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta has done a lot to improve on what we are doing as a nation and to make sure that Kenya develops its infrastructures. Right now, we can say Kenya, we are the brain basket of Africa now. We have a lot of well educated people; we have been able to export brains powers to our neighbours. The markets are opened and we are able to share technology. Nigeria has its own advantages especially with the petro economy over the years. We just discovered petrol in Kenya now. I think Nigeria has a lot to learn from Kenya’s experience and Kenya can learn a lot from Nigeria too. I like one thing about Nigeria, you have a tolerant population. I was here during the election when the election was postponed, I was surprised that Nigerians took the postponement with peace, if it were to be in Kenya, there would have been a lot of protest all over the country. This is one good thing about Nigerians, they are tolerant.
AltAfrica-Lastly, how are you coping as a medical doctor and a politician cum diplomat?
Ambassador-I can tell you that if you are into medicine, you have to be above board of everything. Education does not mean that you must be compelled to your area of study, you must strive to diversify. Though I am a medical doctor and a politician, I’m still a successful farmer in Kenya. Every Kenyan is a farmer. I want to appeal to our brothers and sisters in West Africa to allow Kenyans to open up their lands for farming. We will come and do the farming, bring our expertise, do the ranching and turn your land over profitably for you.