While hailing the country as ‘heaven on earth’, outgoing Israeli Ambassador Noah Gendler says it is undermined by ‘arrogant and complacent’ bureaucrats and overrun by barons and cartels
In summary the envoys highlighted the following;
• The Galana-Kulalu irrigation project is the first-ever government-to-government development project to fail in the history of Israel
• Gendler believes there are many groups that wanted the project dead, and he believes they have succeeded
Noah Gendler, until last month the Israeli Ambassador to Kenya, is a straight-talking down-to-earth diplomat.
We find him behind his desk. No suit and tie. A short-sleeved white shirt and black trouser will do. His balding hair trimmed to the scalp.
He joins us at a coffee table and announces, with seemingly immense relief, “I am 90 per cent packed. Tomorrow (Friday, August 23) is my last day. I’m heading back to Tel Aviv
But first, he must be told why the Star published an anti-Israel propaganda article from a Palestinian scholar. A copy of the article is on the table. Marked in screaming yellow and red. He graciously mulls over our offer to publish a rebuttal.
The former army artillery captain arrived in Kenya in 2017 full of hope. The army had trained him to manage tough situations and to make decisions of life and death under tremendous pressure.
This was his first, and probably last, stint in Africa. He lasted only two short, sad years. His first job as ambassador was to Uzbekistan in 1997.
He minces no words as to why he has asked the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get him a new posting.
“I have failed. I had passed via Kenya a few times and thought I could work here and contribute. This country is heaven. This is heaven on earth. You are blessed with great weather. A vibrant private sector and well-skilled youthful workforce.
“But the government has been taken over by barons and cartels. Nothing moves unless the barons are part of it. They are everywhere,” he says as a matter about which there is no debate.
So what broke the resolve of this tough military man forged in the furnace of the Negev desert from when he was a teenager?
He glances at the ceiling as if to find an answer.
“In the history of Israel, no government-to-government development project has ever failed. I am talking about the Galana-Kulalu irrigation project. It is the first ever to fail in the history of Israel,” he said.
“I have handed in my report to my superiors in Tel Aviv. I hope Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been informed. He would be very disappointed.”
There are many groups that wanted the project dead, and he believes they have succeeded.
He names them: “Farmers in the maize-growing areas and their political representatives. Maize millers who fought and eventually succeeded in getting the government to drop the maize-milling component from the contract. They did not want the price of a two-kilo packet of maize meal to sell between Sh60-70,” he said.
“Maize importers who would have no reason to import and make billions. And politicians who did not want the President to succeed. The Galana project would have made the government’s goal of food security a success.
The Nairobi Embassy covers Uganda, Tanzania, Seychelles and Malawi. But having concluded that Nairobi bureaucrats have no time to follow up and implement agreements, Gendler would spend up to 45 per cent of his time out of Nairobi. He divided his time between the other four outposts.
Kenyan bureaucrats are “arrogant and complacent”. He gives the example of the talks to get his national airline El Al have direct flights from the JKIA.
“The discussions about the flights from Nairobi to Tel Aviv have taken a painstaking five years. Nothing has happened. But in Rwanda, President Paul Kagame got hold of the idea and within six months we had a deal,” he said.
“Now El Al has three direct flights from Kigali. Even in Tanzania President (John) Magufuli has realised that direct flights are useful for tourism. Now there is an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Zanzibar, which brings 40,000 tourists a year. We have opened discussions for Dar as well. But in Kenya nothing moves fast. The government people are never in a hurry.”
He laments how the roads leading to the Maasai Mara are pathetic, yet that is tourism’s jewel in the crown.
“Look at Tanzanian tourism. They have more to offer. They have Kilimanjaro. Lake Tanganyika. And they, too, have big parks. But they are serious about the roads to the national parks. In Kenya, the roads are in bad shape. Tanzania now attracts 1.7 million tourists. Kenya is celebrating 2.1 million tourists. Anybody can see that before long, Tanzania will overtake Kenya,” he predicts ruefully.
Then he launches on the M-Pesa success and wonders why Kenya is resting on its laurels after the launch of M-Pesa in 2006. The tech -world is a fast-moving environment, with innovations popping up everywhere everyday.
Control maize importation to keep cartels at bay, say ODM leaders
Sifuna and MP Mutua say process should be controlled to keep traders at bay.
“Israel is a leader in tech innovation. I would have imagined that Kenya would have benefitted from our advice and technical cooperation. There is a lot we can do together,” he said.
“Just about every phone or electronic gadget sold in the world has an Israeli software behind it. That should illustrate that our innovators are world-class. But I was shocked to write a long proposal for cooperation in the area of ICT, but I have left without even the acknowledgement of my proposal. That attitude is bad for growth and business. But I must say again that the private sector is great and dynamic.”
He illustrates his frustrations with the Kenyan bureaucrats by wryly observing that Israel and Kenya face the threat of terror together, and that there are areas of technical cooperation in which Kenyans can benefit from Israel’s long experience. But he has left Nairobi without meeting the Cabinet Secretary for Defence Rachel Omamo.
Neither did he secure a meeting with Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma, and not because he did not try.