Before Theresa May landed in Kenya this week, the last British prime minister to visit the East African nation was Margaret Thatcher in 1988. Kenyans apparently noticed: In a news conference Thursday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said he was happy to see that May had “found time” to visit the country.
“Yes, it has been 30 years, but I don’t want to dwell on the past – we want to look to the future,” Kenyatta said.
Even if May herself hadn’t visited Kenya until now, then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson did so last year. But his visit apparently wasn’t memorable enough for Kenyatta to easily recall his full name Thursday.
“Last year, if you recall, the foreign secretary – then Boris, um, Boris, Boris Johnson – the bicycle guy, that one,” he said in the news conference, in an apparent reference to Johnson’s push to roll out a city-run bike-rental program when he was mayor of London. In London, the bikes were nicknamed “Boris bikes.”
“Boris Johnson was here with ambulances,” Kenyatta said. Britain purchased several ambulances for Kenya with money recovered during a graft case in which a Britain-based company was convicted of making corrupt payments to public officials in Kenya. “I believe this only strengthens … 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.”
Photos from last year show Johnson sitting next to Kenyatta in one of the ambulances. Johnson stepped down in July, saying in his resignation letter that the Brexit dream “is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”
May is wrapping up her three-country trip to Africa this week, her first foray to the continent since she took office in 2016. She visited South Africa and Nigeria before landing in Kenya. Kenyatta met her immediately after returning from the United States, where he met with President Donald Trump earlier in the week. The Kenyan leader is also scheduled to visit China soon after. In recent years, China has made huge overtures to Africa, sending top officials to dozens of countries on the continent.
In Cape Town, South Africa, May said she hoped Britain would invest around $5.1 billion in Africa and seeks to become the top Group of Seven investor in the continent by 2022. German Chancellor Angela Merkel landed in Senegal this week on the first stop of a West Africa tour that will include visit to Ghana and Nigeria. She’s also there for an investment push and, like May, has spoken about the importance of stopping human trafficking and illegal migration. A number of German CEOs are traveling with her.
In July, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Nigeria in his latest trip to the continent. According to the Financial Times, he has made nine trips to Africa since taking office, visiting 11 countries.