President William Ruto on Wednesday named Ambassador Willy Bett as his envoy to China, alongside other diplomatic appointments, even as he reshuffled and reconstituted the Cabinet.
Ambassador Bett, who was until his appointment the High Commissioner to India, replaces Mary Muthoni, who was recalled in February, only having started her tour of duty in June 2022.
Bett arrives in Beijing at a time President Ruto seems to have aligned with the West, although he is set to tour China in October to attend the Belt and Road Initiative 10th anniversary summit.
This is at a time the global alignments have intensified, as the China-Russia-India axis expands under the BRICS forum, competing against the US-led Western axis.
So who is the President’s man in Beijing?
As Kenya and China marks 60 years of diplomatic relations in December, Willy Kipkorir Bett, celebrated his 60th birthday on April 14 this year.
Bett was posted to India as the High Commissioner in 2018 after he was ousted from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Cabinet.
Bett had served in Uhuru’s first Cabinet as Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries since 2015. He replaced Felix Koskei, current Head of Public Service, after his suspension over graft allegations. He was cleared later.
Prior to this, he was the managing director of the Kenya Seed Company (2009-2015), where he was credited with improving company’s standing, taking revenue from Sh2.9 billion in 2011 to Sh5 billion in 2015, and profit from Sh50 million to Sh434 million.
Before that, he was a marketing manager at the Kenyan Postbank for 18 years, joining in 1991 as a management trainee.
Bett rose through the ranks to the position of finance officer (1992-1993), planning officer (1994-1996), branch manager (1996 – 1988), head of marketing and business development (2001 – 2006) and finally to senior manager, money transfer services (2006 – 2009).
He holds an MBA with a major in Marketing from the University of Nairobi and B.A. in Economics and Sociology from the same institution.
Other relevant positions previously held by Bett include member of the Board of the National Biosafety Authority, board member Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Vice Chairman of the board of the Seed Trade Association of Kenya (STAK) and member of the Project Steering Committee, Double Haploid Project under CYMMIT.
With his marketing background, Bett will be expected to increase Kenyan exports to China, even as the balance of trade heavily benefits Beijing.
Trade deficit between Kenya and China in 2022 widened for the second year in a row despite aggressive efforts by Nairobi to push Beijing to open up its markets in refreshed export strategy in 2018.
Trade statistics by the Central Bank of Kenya show the deficit grew to the highest levels since 2017 before Kenya made China the top target destination under Integrated National Exports Development and Promotion Strategy in July 2018.
The deficit, the difference between exports and imports, rose to $3.62 billion in 2022 from $3.51 billion in the prior year, according to data collated by CBK, making it the highest goods trade deficit since $3.68 billion in 2017.
Nairobi signed an MoU with Beijing to set up a joint working group to flatten trade barriers on the sidelines of the annual China International Import Exposition in November 2018.