Kenya’s president has complained that no British prime minister has visited the east African country for 30 years, delivering a diplomatic rebuke to Theresa May in a press conference on the final day of her visit to the continent. Uhuru Kenyatta told May he was pleased she had “found time” to visit and went on to struggle to remember Boris Johnson’s surname at the culmination of a three-day trip aimed at boosting Britain’s trade and diplomatic presence in the country.
The president began proceedings by saying he was glad May had “honoured our invitation to come and see for yourself our country and continent that has changed in the last nearly four decades since a UK prime minister visited”. The last British prime minister to visit Kenya was Margaret Thatcher in 1988. Since then, despite historic links between the two nations, the east African country has increasingly turned to China and the US for support and investment.
Appearing at the state house in Nairobi in a joint press conference with May, Kenyatta was asked about an agreement to allow stolen funds in Britain to be returned to Kenyato fund health, education and other development projects.
He said: “Last year, if you recall, the foreign secretary – then Boris, erm, Boris, Boris Johnson – the bicycle guy … Boris Johnson was here with ambulances. These ambulances were bought courtesy of funds that had been seized, returned and utilised to buy ambulances which were distributed across the country.
“I believe this only strengthens that and the ability of our two countries and legal systems to be able to work together to ensure that any assets that may have been acquired in the United Kingdom – that are associated with corruption or any other such crime – are successfully returned and put to use for the benefit of the people of the republic.” Johnson resigned as foreign secretary last month in a dispute over May’s plans for Brexit.
The prime minister allowed herself a wry smile as the president struggled to recall Johnson’s name, although earlier on her trip she had cited “the number of visits that the former foreign secretary made just last year to Africa” as an example of the UK’s commitment to the continent.
In the press conference, Kenyatta repeated his reference to the long gap between British prime ministers’ visits. “Yes, it has been 30 years, but I don’t want to dwell on the past – we want to look to the future,” he said. The presidentsaid he hoped there would be more visits, adding: “Despite the fact there hasn’t been a British prime minister, there has always been a constant dialogue between the two countries, the two governments.”
Kenyatta went on to say Kenya was keen to seek investment from anywhere in the world, a few days after returning from the US, where he met Donald Trump, and shortly before a visit to China. He said the country was “keen to seek friends across the world” and that “this is the basis of the discussions we’ve had with the prime minister today, as with President Trump and as we shall continue with China”.
May said she was delighted to be visiting Kenya and said she would take away memories of the continent’s unforgettable “vibrancy and beauty”. “The UK is already the largest foreign investor in Kenya,” she said, adding that “as Britain prepares to leave the European Union we are committed to ensuring a smooth transition” and promising that Kenya would retain its duty-free quota access to the UK market.
Keynatta said he believed Brexit would have a neutral impact on Kenya. “Brexit is not going to dent our ability to further strengthen and deepen trade and investment between two countries … I don’t see Brexit as meaning anything detrimental to trade ties we already have.”