Koenders strengthens cooperation with Kenya and visits South Africa

On Thursday Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders met with his Kenyan counterpart Amina Mohamed in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. They discussed Kenya’s upcoming elections, refugee reception, food shortages in the Horn of Africa, cooperation between Kenya and the Netherlands in the field of healthcare, and the fight against terrorism.

The Netherlands intends to work more closely with Kenya on this last issue. Mr Koenders attended the signing of an agreement between the Netherlands and the Kenyan National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Last September, Kenya unveiled its national strategy on preventing violent extremism. The NCTC coordinates the activities related to this strategy, which focus on tackling radicalisation in its early stages. This includes training on how to spot signs of extremism in the classroom, training police officers, and ensuring that deradicalised individuals can be fully reintegrated into society.

The Netherlands will provide support in implementing these measures. ‘Even though the threat of Al-Shabaab seems far removed from the Netherlands, it nonetheless affects our security,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘Members of the Somali community in the Netherlands can be targeted by recruiters via online forums, for instance. What’s more, a small number of Dutch nationals are actively involved with Al-Shabaab. If they return to the Netherlands, they will constitute a tangible threat.’

In the Netherlands, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) is taking measures against returnees and attempts at recruitment. ‘But as long as Al-Shabaab keeps attracting young people within Kenya and the surrounding region, it remains a threat,’ the minister commented. ‘That’s why we need to work with Kenya if we want to remove this breeding ground for radicalisation at the source.’

In his meeting with Ms Mohamed Mr Koenders warned however that responding too aggressively may in fact encourage more young people to join Al-Shabaab. He also stressed the importance of gaining the support of local human rights organisations. ‘Kenya should involve these organisations in this work, since they allow Kenyans to speak out against repressive measures taken by the government. This creates greater balance between repressive and preventive measures.’ In the afternoon, the minister met with a number of these organisations.

Before visiting Kenia, minister Koenders was in South Africa. The minister sees many opportunities for closer economic cooperation in particular, in areas such as water management and agriculture.

In late 2015 the Netherlands and South Africa set up a Joint Commission for Cooperation. During his visit to Pretoria Mr Koenders discussed the commission’s progress with his South African counterpart Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. Mr Koenders also raised the matter of South Africa’s recent cabinet reshuffle. ‘Of course I am concerned by the unrest we’ve seen in South Africa, and I’ve expressed my hope that the country’s economic and political stability can be restored through consensus,’ he said.

South Africa is an important partner for the Netherlands. There are currently more than 350 Dutch businesses active in South Africa and 150 South African companies in the Netherlands. What’s more, there is a great deal of cooperation in the areas of design, film and culture, thanks in part to the two countries’ cultural and historical ties. The Netherlands is a popular destination for South African students, while there are also many Dutch students enrolled at South African educational institutions.