Uncomfortable Conversation that Kenya Must Have With Tanzania and China

Uncomfortable Conversation that Kenya Must Have With Tanzania and China

On Thursday morning, a Kenyan member of parliament (MP) from the ruling Jubilee Party was due for arraignment in court to face charges of incitement. Charles Njagua Kanyi (aka Jaguar), who represents one of the constituencies in the Capital; Nairobi had on Tuesday claimed that Kenyan businesses were being taken over by the Chinese, Ugandans, and Tanzanians. He threatened to mobilize citizen to beat up the foreign traders if the department of immigration did not deport them within 24 hours.

When you look at our market, Tanzanians and Ugandans have taken our business, enough is enough, if we will give them 24 hours and they will not leave, we will beat them and we are not scared of anyone.

-Charles Njangua Kanyi, MP Starehe Constitiency, Nairobi.

The statements made by the musician turned MP almost led to a diplomatic tiff between Kenya and Tanzania with the latter summoning Kenya’s ambassador to Tanzania Kazungu Kambi to explain whether the statements made by the MP were the position of the Kenyan government.

While Kanyi’s statements received wide condemnations from Kenyans, it re-ignited the debate on the relationship between Kenya and states that ordinary citizens feel are exploiting their hospitality like China and Tanzania.

Without any doubt, Kenya is East Africa’s economic hub, attracting people from across the region to move here to make money. Equally, there are several Kenyans trading or offering specialized technical skills to both governments and the private sector across the region. Kenyans, however, feel that while other countries have embraced the spirit of regional integration and Kenya is at the forefront of welcoming citizens from its partner states in the East African Community, her generosity has not been reciprocated, especially by Tanzania.

In 2018, a Kenyan, Sylvia Mulinge, the Chief Customer Officer at Kenya’s leading Telco, Safaricom was appointed to head Vodacom Tanzania. She could not take up the appointment because she was denied a work permit by the Tanzanian Labor Commissioner.

In 2017, Tanzanian authorities auctioned 1,300 cattle belonging to pastoralists from Kenya. The Maasai pastoralists live in Southern Kenya and Nothern Tanzania and have for centuries crossed the border with their cattle in search of water and pasture. This time, when there was pasture in Tanzania and they crossed the border, the Tanzanian authorities confiscated and auctioned their animals. To date, Tanzanian pastoralists still cross over into Kenya to graze. What’s even more regrettable was Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli’s reaction.

He said his country had for long been made a grazing field by neighboring pastoral communities who have encroached on some parts of Tanzania’s parks denying his nation tourism revenues. He said though Tanzania had vast grasslands, it could not be used as a grazing ground. Magufuli said his administration was responsible for the protection of the country’s parks and environment to attract tourists and would do so at all costs.

And in that line, those who sneak with their livestock into this country will not be spared. We will confiscate them and do to them according to what our laws instruct…Even them (Kenya) can deal with the livestock as per their laws.

– John Pombe Magufuli, President, Tanzania.

While the politician had mentioned Uganda, Tanzania, and China in his outburst, Kenyans on social media singled out their relationship with Tanzania in their responses. This is perhaps because the differences between the two neighboring countries goes a long way back. The two nations have over the decades not shared the same ideological path, with Tanzania under founding President Julius Nyerere walking the socialist path and Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta opting for capitalism, which Tanzania views as exploitative and aggressive.

Owing to the ideological differences, relations between Nyerere and Kenyatta were seriously strained. Kenya, the main financier of EAC, was accused of trying to influence its presence in the structures and organs of the regional body, while Tanzania was accused of being slow-paced in embracing policies, same as the case today.

While Uganda has for a long time been Kenya’s biggest international trading partner with the latter importing goods worth $ 605 million from Kenya in 2018, trade between Tanzania and Kenya has been consistently slowed down with both tariff and non-tariff barriers.

The two squabbling neighbors are yet to fully resolve long-running trade disputes that have seen blockage of goods at the Namanga border despite being signatories to the EAC Common Market Protocol, which allows free movement of goods, services, capital and labor within the bloc.

Kenya’s problem though is not only with Tanzania. The deal that Kenya struck with China for the construction of a $1.6 billion standard gauge rail track between the port city of Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi has been shrouded with a lot of secrecy and controversy.

A report by Kenya’s leading newspaper by circulation, The Daily Nation published on 13th January 2019 claimed that according to a copy of the contract that they have seen, the Kenyan government was barred from disclosing contents of the loan contract with China to third parties including citizens.

The initial agreement for the Mombasa-Nairobi railway signed on May 11, 2014 also details how the pact will be governed by Chinese laws with all disputes being arbitrated in Beijing. In addition, the contract, and a subsequent one on the Nairobi-Naivasha phase, also have a confidentiality clause gagging Kenya from making the deal public “without prior written permission of the lender (China)”.

– Daily Nation, 13th January 2019.

According to contract, Kenya is poised to lose key assets including the port of Mombasa if they default on the contracts.

The problem with China does not end with the contracts. Since the construction of the SGR, there has been an influx of Chinese traders in Kenya. These are not traders coming into the country to set up huge commercial enterprises but low-level dealers competing with small-scale Kenyan traders selling their wares in local markets. It is not clear whether as part of the Chinese SGR loan secret contract, Kenya was to grant Chinese immigrants access to the local markets to compete with small Kenyan traders – most of whom also import their wares from China.

 Some of these Chinese traders sell us our supplies in China then follow us here to set up shops next to us selling the same items at way cheaper prices.

-Wambua Nguu, an electonics trader along Nairobi’s Luthuli Avenue.

The SGR itself is still being operated by the Chinese, more than one year since it was commissioned. They are not just performing technical operations but are doing basic duties such as ushering guests to the waiting lounges. A visit to the SGR station in Nairobi or Mombasa might leave you wondering whether you are in China.

While the remarks made by the MP were regrettable, the fact that he received cheers from traders while making them is something that should concern government authorities concerned with steering the relationship between Kenya and her trading partners. That Kenyans feel that they are being shortchanged is not in doubt, policymakers should, however, move with speed to rectify this situation in a manner that the ordinary citizen feels that the country is getting a fair deal. It might have been one person making inciting remarks today, but we sure don’t know what happens when the people feel that they have had enough.

Daniel Okoth
Daniel Okoth
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