Betty Maina: The master multitasker

She seemed destined for greatness right from the start. Betty Maina attended the prestigious Alliance Girls High School before joining the University of Nairobi for a degree in Land Economics, followed by a stint at University College London, from which she emerged with an MSc in Development Administration and Planning in 1998. Still, nothing could have prepared Maina for the astonishingly eventful career she was embarking upon.

For more than a decade, beginning in 2004, Maina was at the helm of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM). The Association was established in 1959 to unite industrialists and offer a common voice for businesses, representing the views and concerns of its members to the relevant authorities. Leading an Association that has more than 800 members, including Kenya’s leading industrial investors is no mean feat. Advocating on behalf of industry within Kenya, regionally and beyond, Maina gradually became an expert in matters trade and industry, establishing networks and amassing skills and experience that would make her an invaluable asset in Kenya’s public sector in the not too distant future.

Maina’s Public Service career began at the Ministry of Industrialisation in 2010 when she was appointed Director of the Anti-Counterfeit Authority. She had the wherewithal to understand the effect of counterfeit goods on the manufacturing industry, making her an ideal person for the job. At this time, she was still Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of KAM, so she had a one foot in the private sector and the other in public service.

The Anti-Counterfeit Authority, which is a State Corporation, was established under the Anti-Counterfeit Act 2008. It came into force on 1 July 2009 while the agency itself began operations in June 2010. Maina was the pioneer Director of the agency. The mandate of the agency is to enlighten and inform the public on matters relating to counterfeiting, and to combat counterfeiting, trade and other dealings in counterfeit goods and devices. It also promotes training programmes to combat counterfeiting and coordinates with organisations involved in combating counterfeiting nationally, regionally and internationally.

Counterfeit goods have cost the country’s economy a colossal amount of money over the years. In 2013 a report commissioned by KAM indicated that the East Africa Community (EAC) was losing up to USD 600 million annually to counterfeit and pirated goods, most of them produced in China. Maina was already lobbying for uniform laws across the region to identify counterfeit goods and prosecute those found guilty of shipping them in, allowing them to get cleared and those selling them.

It was going to be an uphill battle for the new Anti-Counterfeit Authority. In 2014, for example, two major Kenyan manufacturers — Cadbury Kenya and Eveready East Africa — shut down their plants, citing counterfeits and cheap imports that had flooded the market as the reason for the closures. Betty Maina was appointed PS East African Community in 2015 and then Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development in 2018, where her CS was Adan Mohamed. Later, in 2019, she was moved to Environment under CS Keriako Tobiko.

Betty Maina accompanies President Uhuru Kenyatta, during a tour of the factory floor of MAS Intimates Kenya Limited at the Athi River EPZ Complex in Machakos County during the company’s official opening.

In 2020, Maina, now CS for Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development, was still dealing with the issue of counterfeit goods in the country. It was a particularly delicate year, as unscrupulous businesspersons took advantage of the pandemic to import counterfeit goods into a market hungry for products needed in the war against Covid-19. The world had been caught unprepared and there was great demand for a whole array of items, from the most basic, such as face masks and hand sanitiser, to more delicate electronic items. In June 2020, the Anti-Counterfeit Authority destroyed an assortment of sham goods worth KES 27 million at Athi River the week before the World Anti-Counterfeit Day.

“As government, we are on a daily basis fighting the war on illicit trade and counterfeit products as it greatly affects genuine economic activity, contributes to reduced essential tax revenue, impacts on foreign direct investment prospects and contributes to serious health risks,” Maina explained.

The fight against counterfeit goods continues, with Kenya losing between KES 85 and 100 billion annually to counterfeiting activities, according to the Authority’s figures as of 2022.

In December 2018, Maina was appointed Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development, joining the team led by Cabinet Secretary (CS) Adan Mohamed and later Peter Munya. In February 2020, Munya was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture and Maina was appointed CS for Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development.

Maina was the first woman to head this ministry in the history of Kenya. She was supported by a team, namely Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) David Osiany and CAS Lawrence Karanja, and PS Ambassador Peter Kaberia and PS Ambassador Johnson Weru, and Industrialisation Secretary Hezekiah Okeyo.

Among the ministry’s most impressive accomplishments during Maina’s management is the launch of the Kenya–USA Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which will allow duty-free access for Kenya to the US market, and the negotiations for a bilateral Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement between Kenya and the United Kingdom.

But to truly understand the magnitude of Maina’s accomplishments, a special lens is necessary. That lens is about the timing of her appointment to head Kenya’s quest for industrialisation at a point when manufacturing had been declared one of the pillars of the Big Four Agenda in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration (the other three being Food Security, Affordable Housing and Universal Health Coverage). Even more critical, just a month after she took the reins, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. A few days later, the virus arrived in Kenya leading to curfew and movement restrictions that could spell doom for trade and industry. No amount of experience could have prepared Maina for the task she was facing in this situation.

The Covid-19 pandemic seemed to have a knack for bringing out both the worst and the best in the trade and industry sector. There were unscrupulous businesspeople, as we have seen, and then there were the innovators — people set on finding solutions to the very urgent needs and market opportunities. Kitui County Textile Centre was running as a 24-hour production house, manufacturing 30,000 face masks daily.

In Eldoret, Rivatex was running mass production of face masks while Dedan Kimathi University of Technology was making personal protection gear. And it was not just face masks and protection equipment. Homegrown solutions included locally assembled ventilators, contact-tracing apps and automated testing kits. As Kenya embraced local innovations, the country achieved a 4 per cent reduction in its trade balance from this initial foray into manufacturing of basic devices.

In April 2020, Maina witnessed the unveiling of the first prototype ventilator made by the KAM Automotive Sector in response to the government’s call to manufacturers to join the war against Covid-19. She pledged government support to innovators in new areas of industrial development, including manufacturing of medical equipment to the highest level. “I am confident that should we need critical medical equipment in the wake of coronavirus, Kenya shall stand up to the challenge,” she said.

Meanwhile, the shortage of ventilators had inspired 16 engineering and medical students to fill this need that was literally a matter of life and death. In an unprecedented collaboration between academia, the private sector and government, Kenyatta University provided mentors, the Chandaria Business Incubation and Innovation Centre provided the workspace, and government officials guided and helped the young inventors meet the requisite standards.

The pandemic seemed to have catapulted Kenya headlong into the very place it had been aiming all along — industrialisation.

And it was not just the innovation as a response to medical necessity that was thriving. The ministry’s innovative approach to trade in a time of Covid-19 was impressive. It was during the pandemic that Maina’s ministry clinched the largest order for coffee beans on behalf of Kenyan farmers from South Korea. The occasion and venue? It was a Coffee Expo in Seoul, South Korea, in 2021, where the CS herself was in attendance despite the pandemic.

Maina Betty, PS Amb. Kaberia and Amb. Manoah Esipisu, in UK during a working trip to promote the UK-Kenya Business, Trade and Investment relationship.

Any coffee connoisseur will confirm that one cup of coffee is not the same as another. The climate, soil, elevation and processing, are all factors that contribute to the flavour of the coffee beans that make your delectable cup of coffee. The flavour and aroma of Kenyan coffee, with its unique berry flavour notes, is well known globally. And if the enormously successful Coffee Expo held in July 2021 is anything to go by, Kenyan coffee is set to become hugely popular in Seoul, opening other coffee markets across Asia and beyond.

Since coffee is Kenya’s biggest export into South Korea, the invitation to be the guest country at the Expo was significant. It provided an opportunity to strengthen existing relationships with stakeholders in Korea, to establish new networks, and to promote and boost direct trade between Kenyan farmers and Korean importers. The Expo also provided a timely platform to raise the profile of Brand Kenya in Korea and to promote other authentic Kenyan goods and services by optimising the good publicity provided by the wide acceptability of Kenyan AA coffee as a premium product in Korea.

Trade between Kenya and South Korea had grown from KES 8.47 billion in 2008 to KES 22.82 billion in 2020, representing a 169.4 per cent growth in 13 years. For Maina this was just a tip of the iceberg. During the Seoul Coffee Expo, she commented on her social media, “83% of Korean’s drink coffee. Kenya sold USD 20 million worth of coffee to Korea in 2019. We must do better. We are seeking opportunities to do this at the 2021 Coffee Expo in Seoul this week.” By 2022, the fruits of these efforts were being reaped by Kenyan coffee farmers.

In May 2022, Kikpelion District Cooperative Union Limited exported a consignment of seven containers, approximately 134 metric tons of Kenyan coffee, to Good Bean Coffee Company in South Korea. The order was the result of Kenya’s participation and marketing initiatives during the July 2021 Seoul Coffee Expo. The introduction of new regulations now allows farmers to negotiate prices for their produce with potential buyers directly, cutting out middlemen. Previously farmers had no say in determining the price of their coffee once they handed it over to millers, who also acted as marketing agents. Direct export has enabled farmers to earn a fair price for their hard work.

For Maina, who held several meetings on the sidelines of the Seoul Coffee Expo, her visit was not about just coffee. It was an opportunity to establish new networks and strengthen Kenya’s foothold in the Korean market. For example, she signed an agreement with South Korea for Kenya to export avocados to the Asian nation for the first time, beginning in 2022.

The Covid-19 pandemic is unforgettable for all who lived through it. Life as the world had known changed, and yet life went on. A poet once wrote “In a world of grief and pain flowers bloom — even then.” Literally, flowers did continue to bloom in Kenya’s flower farms, but the world was in lockdown, international flights were restricted and the flowers were ending up in garbage heaps. Flower sales earned Kenya USD 960 million in foreign exchange in 2019, according to the Kenya Flower Council. Kenya is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers. The flower industry contributes 1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and directly employs 150,000 people. Dumping flowers was therefore a big deal, and many wondered whether the industry would ever rebound.

The airport was closed to passengers on 15 March 2020 but the government, conscious of the plight of hundreds of thousands of workers in the flower industry and in the horticulture industry at large, worked with industry players — including the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, the Kenya Flower Council, the Fresh Produce Exporters Association and national carrier Kenya Airways — to keep fresh produce supplies moving by converting passenger planes into cargo freighters. By keeping the produce on the shelves in European supermarkets during the crisis, Kenya not only retained its markets but gained some new ones as well. As a result, the country’s export earnings between January and May 2020, went up to KES 72 billion, compared to KES 65 billion for the same period in 2019 — an 11 per cent increase.

And in a brilliant but somewhat controversial marketing strategy, the President sent flowers from Kenya and a message of hope to the UK. In a campaign dubbed ‘The Caravan of Hope’, flowers wrapped in sleeves printed with the flag of Kenya and signed by the President were sent to hospitals and care homes in the UK, to appreciate and encourage healthcare workers there. The message read: “It is exactly at moments such as this that we must display our humanity, perseverance and hope. Whatever the adversity, no matter the foe, we shall triumph together. We stand united. Tuko Pamoja. From Kenya, with love.”

Speaking at the Kenya Export Strategy 2020 Webinar organised by the Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency, a State Corporation under her ministry, Maina expressed the sentiments of many when she said, “Our export sector did Kenya proud. We expected the worst but our earnings are up, an indication of Kenya’s potential to protect its markets by ensuring products reached the markets in a challenging environment.”

In February 2022, Maina was appointed acting CS for East African Community and Regional Development, taking over from Adan Mohamed, who resigned to run for political office. She was now responsible for two ministries, coincidentally, both taken over from Mohamed. But really it was not so much coincidence as design. The Uhuru administration, set on professionalising the Cabinet, had identified experienced and capable professionals who were excelling in their careers, and who had a passion for public service, to up the management game in top ministries. In this case, Mohamed had been picked from the banking industry and Maina from the manufacturing industry, both sharp business minds ideal for guiding the country and region’s trade and industrialisation matters.

In her acting position, Maina was supported by CAS Ken Obura and two PSs — Dr. Kevit Desai in the State Department for East African Community and Dr. Richard Belio Kipsang in the State Department for Regional and Northern Corridor Development.

In March 2022, Maina was sworn in as an ex-officio member of the East African Legislative Assembly. Ex-officio members include one minister responsible for EAC Affairs from each Partner State, the Secretary General of the EAC and the Counsel to the Community. Maina was also appointed to chair the EAC Council of Ministers, the central decision-making and governing organ of the EAC, whose membership also comprises ministers from Partner States responsible for regional cooperation. The Council elects a chairperson by rotation annually to serve a one-year term.
The three original Partner States of EAC — Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda — were joined by Rwanda and Burundi in 2007, by South Sudan in 2016, and most recently by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which acceded to the treaty in April 2022 and is set to ratify it by September 2022. DRC joined the EAC just a couple of months after Maina took over as acting CS. As Chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers, Maina gave an assurance that the Council would walk with DRC through the journey of integration.

But Maina’s involvement in DRC is not new. As CS for Industrialisation, she was closely engaged in the effort aimed at deepening trade relations between Kenya and DRC. In November 2021, the two countries partnered with Equity Group to hold a two-week trade mission to promote regional trade and business growth with a focus on agriculture, education, health, sports and tourism. The mission mobilised entrepreneurs and matched businesses with their counterparts in the two countries. Now, with the entry of DRC into the EAC, the fruits of the mission are awaited.

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