Interview Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Kenya, Somalia and the Seychelles, H.E. Frans Makken

After 5 years H.E. Mr. Frans Makken, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Kenya, Somalia and the Seychelles, will return to the Netherlands.  The embassy thanks Ambassador Makken for his leadership and extraordinary service. We took the opportunity to ask the Ambassador a few last questions before his departure.

After 5 years in your current position as the ambassador of the Netherlands to Kenya, Somalia and the Seychelles and the Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Nairobi, you are departing. How have you experienced your time in Kenya?

Ambassador Frans Makken: My five years in Kenya have been a tremendous experience and I could not imagine a better way to end my career. Kenya has proven to be a dynamic, beautiful and inspiring country to work in. But the posting as such, wearing four different hats, was also a culmination of the experience that I have gathered along the way. My time with FAO came in handy as Permanent Representative to UN Office Nairobi, the years spent in agro-economic research fit very well with the mainstay of our programme for Kenya (notably agriculture, food security and water) and my experience with conflict areas prepared me for the situation in Somalia. A new, but very pleasant experience was dealing with a member of Small Island Development States such as the Seychelles.  This has made the work extremely diverse and interesting. Outside office hours, my family and I also greatly enjoyed travelling in Kenya and the region. A personal highlight for me remains Amboseli National Park, nothing beats seeing so many elephants roam at the foot of the Kilimanjaro.

How would you characterize the bilateral relations between Kenya and the Netherlands?

Ambassador Frans Makken: Ever since its independence Kenya and the Netherlands have had very strong ties. During my tenure we entered a new phase in our bilateral relationship, as we went from an aid to a trade approach. This was highly appreciated by the Kenyan government, since it meant the start of a real partnership on an equal footing rather than the traditional donor-recipient relationship. This also allowed me to work much more closely with the Kenyan government, as we were dealing with such matters as improving the trade and investment climate by tackling institutional hurdles and helping Kenya to improve its doing-business ranking. There is a lot at stake: for the last five years in a row, the Netherlands has been ranked as the largest export market for Kenyan products in Europe, the main destination for Kenya’s cut flowers, vegetables and fruits. I am proud of the fact that despite COVID-19 we managed to get the cargo flights going again, even to the point of daily flights already a few weeks after the start of the pandemic. This strong relationship, but also the fact that so many summits take place in Kenya, brought many ministers to Kenya, which underscores the relevance of our work in Kenya.

What are you most proud of in terms of what you have been able to achieve over the past 5 years?

Ambassador Frans Makken: Nothing can be achieved without teamwork and I have been particularly proud of the very dedicated and professional colleagues that I was privileged to work with. We achieved a lot in going from aid to trade, starting innovative projects and coping with challenges during election time and currently COVID-19. We have introduced innovative financing methods to attract private investment in the water sector; we initiated the set up a multi-disciplinary platform in the health sector uniting private sector, government and civil society; we were instrumental in the digitalization of court systems which proved to be particularly helpful during Covid-19; and we set up an Agricultural Working Group to connect Dutch and Kenyan actors in agricultural development. This is just to name a few!  I should also mention the fact that we are an active member of ‘Team Europe’, which represents the largest trade and development partner of Kenya. Our concerted effort allowed us to promote stability around election time, to support human rights defenders, contribute to food security and establish a vibrant EU-Kenya business dialogue. It is the mutually beneficial EU-Kenya cooperation that will ensure both our regions and countries flourish.

How is it for you to say your goodbyes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ambassador Frans Makken: After a long and fulfilling career, time has come for me to retire. But the wrapping up and saying goodbyes is quite unlike I ever could have imagined. Part of my colleagues are either repatriated to the Netherlands or in quarantine. Taking leave from the presidents of Kenya, Somalia and Seychelles has to be virtual. But this is only minor in the face of the enormous impact COVID-19 has on the world in general and Kenya in particular. On leaving I am expressing the wish that Kenya will be spared from debilitating infection rates and that life can go soonest back to normal, even if it is a new normal. The Netherlands Embassy stands ready to continue its private sector programmes to deal with the crisis after the crisis to get Kenya back on its economic feet. There is so much work that still needs to be done. I therefore wish my successor, Ambassador designate Maarten Brouwer, all the best in his new assignment. I am confident that Kenya will be as welcoming to him as it was to me.