Julius Kiano Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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Looking back on that period, is there one truly great success that you're most proud of?
It's difficult to talk that language because, you know, a parliamentary system of government requires what you call collective responsibility. So, for one to say, "I did this," or "I did that," you are, as it were, denying the other person's participation. But my role in the airlift remains a very, very warm memory in my mind. I also feel that in matters of heightening the concept of realistic pragmatism in economic development, rather than ideological enslavement, was a big victory by us. So that while at that time, to be socialist was the heroic thing to do, with us we said, "First of all, we must increase productivity." Then, when you have increased productivity, you have something at least to share. And it was that pragmatic approach that saved Kenya from economic stagnation. And, as you know, Kenya today has an economy that's pretty much ahead of other comparable countries.
In addition to shaping these institutions at home, you have often been involved in international negotiations, both at this time of independence and later, as the Southern countries negotiated with the Northern countries over arrangements about economic relations. Tell us a little about that process. What was the most important thing in negotiating? Was it pragmatism in making the Northern, more advanced countries understand your country and Africa's needs?
Well this issue, as you know, has been discussed on many levels. And I remember that in the Fourth UNCTAD Conference, which was held in Nairobi, the disparity between the developed economies and the developing countries was widening.
These are the negotiations between the rich and poor countries.
Correct. So, within that context, the African countries, mostly English-speaking and French-speaking, as well as the Caribbean countries, decided that now that Europe has formed an economic community, and they are the main people with whom we trade, we should have a pattern agreed upon among ourselves. So that is how we came to form the African-Caribbean-Pacific (APC) countries on the one hand, and the European Economic Community (EEC) on the other. Negotiations started in the early '70s. By 1975, we had the first convention approved. And since it was signed in Togo, it was called "Lomé Convention No. 1."
And these are the rules.
These are the rules by which trade and financial assistance are rendered to the developing countries, and items are exported to the European countries. These are a set of rules. These rules include freer access to the European Market for the products from the ACP countries. The rules also deal with financing from the European Investment Bank. They also deal with the economic contributions collectively by the community to the various single members of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries. But the most important thing to me is that the Lomé Convention is bringing the African countries themselves closer and closer together to work as a team toward Europe, and then later toward America, and then later toward the Eastern Bloc. It is bringing closer and closer to reality the possibilities of an African common market, to which it is committed.
And here again, is pragmatism important as you negotiate with each other and with the Northern countries?
No country has exactly the same problems as another country. You may both be poor, but the ways to solve your poverty may not be identical. And therefore, although there are general economic principles agreed upon, you want to work out your program first of all based on the resources available to yourselves. When you are talking about Botswana, for example, you have to know that that country's main item is cattle -- beef -- and minerals. But when you're talking about, let's say, Zaire, you are to remember the rich forests for timber, and so on. You want to look at the resources available to the country and how do you deploy them for maximum benefit for the people of that country. That would be the kind of pragmatism that I'm talking about. Before you make the theory, first of all identify which resources you are going to work with. Who wants to buy them? How do you increase productivity with those resources that you have? That is the approach that I've always believed in.
And with a lot of the world's problems -- the environment, the future of development -- we will need to have these same kinds of processes, where we're talking, we're pragmatic, we're understanding each other's problems.
Yes, that's correct, true enough. You take, for example, the question of environment. The headquarters of the United Nations Environment Program is in Nairobi, and we are aware of the importance of environment as part and parcel of the development process. Now, not such a long time ago, as you remember, the question of the ozone layer was brought up. Our president, who is constantly in touch with the environment question because it's within our country, was one of the main speakers on the need for urgent action to protect the ozone layer, because, while people may think that it is a far off problem, it could soon begin affecting the food productivity of the world. So these are the sort of issues that I was talking about. And you must identify them and handle them.
One final question. Looking back at your distinguished career and your education, if out there in the audience is a young student, maybe a Kenyan, maybe not, what one lesson can we distill from your very distinguished career about this world we are living in today?
Well that is a difficult question, I must say. But one has to remember that you are not omniscient -- you do not know everything. And once you have the humility to accept that, even if you are a Ph.D., it doesn't matter, even if you got a Nobel Prize. There's always something new you can learn. And you can learn that from a person from any station in life. One of the failures that could come from any leadership is when a leader considers himself to have the monopoly of all knowledge. Because once you have that attitude, you become impervious to more wisdom. So one thing that I would like to stress to all educated young people is that there is always something more to learn. Always have your ears open, your eyes open, and your humility in your heart. And you will survive.
Dr. Kiano, thank you very much for being with us today. We hope to have you here again soon.
I feel very much at home here. Thank you.
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