Geiger Henriette

EU Ambassador to Kenya Geiger Henriette during the interview at the European Union residence in Nairobi on December 2, 2021. 

| Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

EU envoy’s love affair with Kenya

What you need to know:

  • Geiger Henriette is the first woman to hold the position of EU ambassador to Kenya.
  • Her interaction with the renowned band Sauti Sol took her back to her younger days as a singer.

Her distinctive sense of humour is served calmly. As is typical of seasoned diplomats, she has world social and humanitarian matters at the top of her head. And she admittedly likes sparing time for fun, too.

Only 100 days into her assignment as the European Union Ambassador to Kenya, Ms Geiger Henriette has had quite a run; meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta, hosting a dinner for local women leaders and fellow ambassadors, but she interestingly made time to also interact with some of Kenya’s household names in the music industry.

During an interview at the EU residence, she said her interaction with the renowned band Sauti Sol took her back to her younger days as a singer and instrumentalist back in her home country — Germany.

“I had an encounter with some singers like Sauti Sol and Octopizzo and I can’t wait to see them perform live,” Ms Henriette said.

“With Sauti Sol, I could talk a bit about band life in my younger days. I also told them how you have a vibrant cultural scene in Kenya, which I can’t wait to delve into (after Covid-19),” she added.

Henriette Geiger and Sauti Sol

Henriette Geiger when she met with Sauti Sol music band.

Photo credit: Pool

Giving her bubbly dog, Kida, a warm cuddle, the cheerful diplomat reminisced how, as a youth, she was an admirable keyboardist in a band, playing a synthesised organ piano.

She also vocalised songs either as a lead, second or third voice, something she really enjoyed. Classical music is her all-time favourite, with Chopin’s composition topping the list. European operas and ballade music too make her days.

Ms Henriette is the first woman to hold the position of an EU ambassador in Kenya, but her love relationship with the country dates back to when she worked at the horn of Africa in 2007, where she engaged closely with the government.

Whenever she was in Nairobi, the mother of two adult children loved to go partying.

“I still want to go dancing. I like the clubbing scene here,” she said. “I remember one of the clubs called the Black Diamond. I was so impressed.” Praying for the pandemic to die down, Ms Henriette would love to hit the dance floor once again. She also can’t wait to witness Octoppizo and Sauti Sol perform live.

There is no dull moment with the senior envoy whose passion for gender equity precedes her.

Prior to her current assignment, she was in EU headquarters in Brussels, where she was in charge of gender equality. She said she knows the economic gains that a country draws from giving women fair opportunities — no wonder she held a dinner for some of the trailblazing women in the country at the earliest opportunity. They were led by Nairobi Woman Rep Esther Passaris.

“I have a special sensitivity to gender issues and promotion of women leadership. From the beginning, I spoke to my fellow ambassadors about my intention to do that,” she stated.

Welcome escape

Ms Henriette said gender is no longer treated as a creaming or cherry on the cake because the push for equity is making a difference, “although we’re not there yet”.

Asked what she feels about being the first female EU Ambassador in Kenya, she said she doesn’t see herself as any different from male ambassadors who were before her. What’s important, she said, is that she does her job and does it well.

“I hope I am not being seen through the lenses of male or female, but as an EU ambassador, judged on my work and not the skirt I wear or whether my hair is to the left or to the right, because men are not judged as that either,” she said.

Ms Henriette said she works closely with seven other female ambassadors in Kenya.

Apart from music, the diplomat unwinds by sporting. She is also a literature enthusiast and is part of a literature club — although she has not been able to read her books due to her busy introductory schedule in Kenya.

“I like to do sports. While in Brussels, I went running every morning for up to12 kilometres. Now I still get up early but I run around the block and skip rope. I also love cooking and eating,” she said .

Her being in Kenya is a welcome escape from the chilling winter currently being witnessed in Europe. But it’s the possible lockdown to avert the spread of the Omicron variant in her country that she dreads most.

She observed that the 2020 lockdown was a distressful episode for most families in the continent. “Unlike in Kenya where shops were open and people could move during the day, in Europe, adults and children were confined in, for most, small-roomed houses without balconies.”

“You have no idea how the lockdown was in Europe in 2020. The only time one was allowed to go out was to the supermarket and only for half an hour for one person, or to walk their dogs. So, people rented out their dogs to others so they could go for a walk. Some of the dogs were walking 24 hours a day,” she said, smiling.

Geiger Henriette, Octopizzo and Mohammed Ali 

Geiger Henriette (right) with musician Octopizzo (left) and matatu graphic designer Mohammed Ali. 

Photo credit: Pool

“In Spain, there was a picture of a guy walking with his goldfish tank in the street. It was so hilarious,” she added.

With her love for Kenya, she urged citizens to maintain peace during the electioneering period.

The ambassador also delved into the issue of Gender Based violence (GBV), terming it a tremendous problem not only in Kenya but world over, especially during the pandemic.

She said the EU has a programme that supports legislation and advocacy against GBV while offering services for health, prosecution and caring for the victims, but also preventive measures like changing the backward norms from the school level.

“I should say one shouldn’t be blind to the root causes of GBV. A woman is not the property of a man such that if the subject is not behaving, they can take whatever action they please,” she noted.

“On the other hand, men are feeling the undue pressure that comes with the main cultural norms that they should be dominant, breadwinner, strong and all-knowing. Yet many men cannot live up to that because they’re unemployed, not strong, and they are drinking. The pressure is getting so high, and they’re seeking an outlet. Not acknowledging that will not help eliminate GBV,” she explained.

She said the chain of violence goes down like the analogical story of a boss harassing a man and the man harassing his wife, who in turn passes the stress to the children, who then kick the dog, which in turn eats a mouse.

“Sadly, the most vulnerable take the brunt of it… Let’s address the pressure patterns in the society,” she pleaded.

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