By JOHN KAMAU
There is excitement over the historic direct flight from Kenya to US, what is the economic significance of this milestone?
The flight marks a historic moment in US — Kenya relations. The new flight will strengthen our people-to-people ties by making it easier for Kenyans and Americans to fly between our countries. Tourists, business people, students, academics, officials, and all our citizens will be able to travel more quickly and efficiently.
Economically, we believe the direct flight will open new doors for trade and investment, and in fact we already have a trade delegation from the US coming to Kenya on the flight the week after next.
Today, our trade in goods is about Sh100 billion annually. But there are possibilities to do a lot more, particularly under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).
This was a decade-long wait for Kenya. What accelerated the approval of Category 1 and why did it take so long?
The highest priority has always been to ensure the safety and security of travellers. Our two governments, working closely over several years with the Kenya Airports Authority, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, and Kenya Airways, greatly strengthened safety and security at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).
As a result of that hard work, in early 2017, the airport and airline achieved US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Category 1 safety standards. Later in 2017, the US Department of Transportation authorised economic authority for Kenya Airways to start the flights, and in August, the US Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration determined that JKIA meets US security standards.
With the direct flights, what do you foresee for this emerging tourist market and what opportunities exist that Kenyans can tap in the American market?
In recent years, more than 100,000 Americans have visited Kenya annually, more than from any other country. With the direct flights, travel time will be as short as 14 hours. Other flight options, which include a stop in Europe or the Middle East, can take twice the time.
So, this flight will offer US tourists an opportunity to maximise their time seeing Kenya’s diverse culture, amazing wildlife and stunning scenery.
Agoa offers a duty-free market to the US. What efforts has US put in place to make the country the export destination for Kenyan goods?
The US is helping Kenya’s entrepreneurs become more competitive in many economic areas, from agriculture to the Silicon Savannah. Our USAID Trade Hub directly supports efforts by Kenyan businesses to improve their products and better market their exports. And, the Trade Hub is working to reduce barriers to regional trade.
Besides being a diplomatic triumph, what should Kenyans look forward to?
US — Kenya relations are on a roll. At the August 27 meeting at the White House, President Trump and President Kenyatta elevated our relationship to a strategic partnership and established a strategic dialogue with working groups on security and on trade and investment.
This is happening under your tenure, does it make you feel good?
When I arrived in 2012, many Kenyans told me how much direct flights between our countries would strengthen bilateral relations. I am proud of the new direct flights and of all that the Embassy team has accomplished over the last six years..
Source – Daily Nation