DFID’s new Africa Minister, James Wharton, visits Kenya…

Since I arrived in Kenya a few months ago, we have had a string of visits from UK Ministers: Justine Greening in April, the Foreign Secretary in June, the FCO Africa Minister in early August. Last week, James Wharton, DFID’s new Africa Minister spent three days with us.

Why so many visits?

These visits are a clear signal how important the UK-Kenya relationship is to both countries. Whether it be defence cooperation, business investments, tourism, science and technology partnerships, joint action on corruption or our world class partnership to tackle poverty, a strong and mature partnership is in both of our interests. And, as Nic Hailey argued in a recent OpEd, this is will continue following our decision to leave the European Union.

James Wharton’s visit confirmed this, emphasizing Britain’s renewed committed to being a strong and reliable partner and to playing a prominent global role in ensuring a safer, healthier and more prosperous Kenya. He set a clear vision for greater opportunities to strengthen our partnership following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

James Wharton meeting Cabinet Secretaries Adan Mohamed and Amina Mohamed. James Warton also met Henry Rotich (CS National Treasury) but we didn't get a photo…


In the capital James met key Kenyan ministers and discussed how we will use all our UK Aid instruments to strengthen economic prosperity, security and stability and reduce the need for aid while building a mature political and economic partnership for the future.


We travelled to Marsabit where we met pastoral communities who are participating in the Hunger Safety Net Programme and heard first hand how tackling the causes of poverty and fragility is in the UK’s long-term national interest. With 92% of households living in poverty, this is one of the poorest places in the World (with poverty levels comparable to Niger) and extremely vulnerable to climatic shocks. We saw the how UK support is transforming lives through programmes that build self-reliance, increase people’s access to financial services and help them cope when rains fail, replacing the need for humanitarian food aid when disaster strikes.


We then had a full-on day seeing a range of UK funded programmes in and around Naivasha. We toured the Olkaria Geothermal site (that provides roughly 50% of Kenya’s on-grid power) and heard about how UK development lending through CDC and the World Bank and our specialist technical expertise is opening up further geothermal potential. We visited Tropical Power, who have built the largest on-grid biomass digestor in Africa. Here we heard how Prosperity Funds are being used to test new ways to expand the source of crop fuels to increase access to clean energy and create opportunities for small holder farmers in Kenya and in semi-arid areas around the World. Back in Nairobi we visited the MKopa solar lighting project that has connected over 375,000 poor households to solar power through a simple ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone system. We saw how UK Aid research funds have enabled this start-up company to refine and prove its business model enabling it to access commercial finance


It was a busy and thrilling three days seeing opposing, but equally important, sides to the Kenyan growth and development story. I enjoyed showing James how we are using different approaches to meet the different needs of each of these contexts: tackling extreme poverty and vulnerability in Northern Kenya; or kick-starting investment opportunities that catalyze inclusive and low carbon growth in wealthier parts of the country.

Accompanying a minister who is ten years younger than you (a personal first but no doubt not the last in my civil service career!) had the potential to prompt a personal crisis. But my experience couldn’t have even more different. It was a fascinating and engaging trip, where I learnt a huge amount, got to know our new minister and had the chance to hear and discuss his vision for Britain and UK Aid.

I start a week’s holiday tomorrow with a powerful picture of the role of international development post-Brexit where we will fulfil our commitment to tackle poverty and its underlying causes while deepening global partnerships for the future.

A compelling few days…