‘I am Yoruba with Igbo title, coming from the north’
The outgoing High Commissioner of Kenya to Nigeria, Ambassador Tom Amolo spoke with DEBO OLADIMEJI on his experiences in Nigeria, achievements and how to improve diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Kenya.
TOM (Thomas) is my Christian name. But my first name is Sango Amolo.
As you know that Sango is a Yoruba name. I was in Osun State recently and I met the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II and I told him that my name is Sango and he showed me where the Sango was buried.
I was born in Kenya over 50 years ago.
How did you come about that name?
There are many Sangos but in my place they are very few. In the whole of our history, there are about four of five of us and two of them were warriors before British colonialism.
I was with the Ooni of Ife on April 18. He even showed me where Sango was buried. But where I come from in Kenya is called Kano. As you know Kano is also in the Northern part of Nigeria.
I have lived here for three years. In the process the Igbo people gave me an honorary title called Igbobigbo. So I am a Yoruba with Igbo title coming from the North. How more Nigerian can anybody be. I am still very Kenya.
What led to your visit to Ife?
Very interesting. I have personally had a very strong interest in African cultures. When I was growing up I was more adopted to singing English hymns. It began troubling me that I had no clue why I was an African. And our educational system doesn’t drive you towards saying that you are an African.
Number two, a good friend of mine the High Commissioner of Ghana has known the Ooni of Ife and he told us that let us go and see the Ooni. In my group there was the High Commissioner of Ghana and Ambassador of Tanzania the High Commissioner of South Africa and all the others joining us.
What other things did you learn from the visit?
First of all Kenya is not a monarchal system. We don’t have monarchies. I am Luo, but we don’t have Kings in Kenya. We don’t have Princes. May be in the past they did, but now we don’t. However, we have some defacto Kings. We look at them to create some stability.
How will you describe your experiences in Nigeria?
I am through of duties. I have been here for three year. My time in Nigeria has been shorter because I got a new Job. It is called Political and Independent Secretary.
I already said goodbye to President Muhammadu Buhari and the President of Liberia and the President of Ghana. I covered those countries from here.
It has been a fascinating experience.
I joined the foreign service of Kenya in October 1983. This has been one of the most fascinating, interesting episodes in my diplomatic career.
What were your achievements while in Nigeria?
First of all,we have been able to rejuvenate, make stronger the relations between Kenya-Nigeria. In particular in the area of rethinking how we address trade issues, instead of just trading as if we are living without friends and partners.
We have created Nigeria-Kenya agro business forum and a Kenya-Nigeria business council. These institutions are very important now because of the challenge of Boko Haram, challenge of terrorism.
In January President Buhari made a state visit to Kenya and the first thing he did was to come direct to central Kenya, where he embraced the Kenyan people and assured us that in our struggle against terrorism we were not alone.
What other areas of cooperation?
The other thing is economic independence, which enables us to think and grow together and work with each other. That is why we are very excited that this ties that Nigeria has with China opens a new vista in our economic relations.We are looking at it very closely to see what impact it will have in our economic relations.
In the period of time that I have been here also, we had state visits. As you know state visit are the pinnacle of our diplomatic efforts. President Uhuru Kenyatta had visited here about three times. Deputy President William Ruto has visited here three times. President Goodluck Jonathan visited Kenya three times. President Buhari paid a state visit at the end of January to Kenya. So it has been very good period for Kenya –Nigeria relations. We share a very strong entrepreneurial culture. We work hard.
What is the level of investment between the people of the two countries?
In Kenya we have so many Nigerian banks. I use UBA. Then we have Zenith, GTB among others. There is the possibility of Africa biggest business man, Aliko Dangote setting up a cement factory in Kenya. We also have collaboration with one of the biggest software firms in East Africa, Cellular. It is also in Nigeria
There have been challenges around environmental impacts. My own wish has been that instead of having the big boys and big girls, we should also have small and medium scale traders being more inventive. Thinking more about getting into new market and working with what they have to put more dollars into their pockets.
But that is going to come, once we know that we are really from one big happy family. People from Rwanda can easily walk into Kenya with their visas to do their businesses. So we want all of us in Africa to do the same.
Of course the Africa union has made a decision that all African presidents should use the e- African Union passport to travel within the continent.
What about the issue of terrorism?
Terrorism is a huge challenge. More can be done through collaboration. Collaboration under international law. At the level of the United Nations. Collaboration at the partner level with those countries that have the expertise. Cooperation at the continental level where we look at each other’s comparative advantages. Kenya and Nigeria specifically we have an agreement to support each other to fight terrorism.
Terrorists just want to harm human beings. If you look at the ideology of Boko Haram it doesn’t exist. We should even stop calling them militants. We should call them murderers.
Do we still need foreign loans for our development?
Where do we get the money? Money from the World Bank is becoming increasingly expensive. May be not only from the World Banks but from other traditional banks. I am happy that China has strategically placed itself in a place where it can be of value to us. We just should not be reckless. We should not rush into taking loans. We should ask what are the conditions? The loans are okay, it depends on how we put them together to ensure that we pay them so that our children don’t suffer.
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