After President Suluhu’s visit, the hard work begins
There has never been a more optimistic time for Kenya-Tanzania relations than in the aftermath of the two-day State visit by Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu.
A woman of immense charm and wit, she completely bowled over Kenyans and won their hearts. She pointedly said Kenya was the first country she had elected to go to for a State visit.
Relations between Kenya and Tanzania have been tumultuous, especially because the late Tanzanian President John Magufuli seemed hell-bent on ruining it.
Kenya was, unsurprisingly, President Suluhu’s choice for her first State visit. The two countries have the biggest and most stable economies in the Eastern and Central Africa region and have the largest number of border crossing points — both official and unofficial.
However, the business potential between the two countries has never been fully exploited. It’s a pleasant surprise that President Suluhu is the most business-friendly president Tanzania has ever heard. The omens have never looked better.
However, now that the pleasantries and warm feelings are over and done with, the hard work in both countries has just begun.
There is work to do at the official border points to ease movement into either country for trade and business.
The long train of trucks stuck at all border crossings, and the hundreds of frustrated truck drivers milling around wasting time and money, while the frustrated contractors and consignees impotently chew their nails and gnash their teeth is probably the signature image of all that is wrong with trade between Kenya and Tanzania.
This is where the low hanging fruits are. Addressing the problems at the border will cut through most of the bureaucracy and red tape that has hang like an albatross over relations between the two countries.
Official suspicions must be dealt with. Due to years of mutual official hostility and stereotyping, public servants of each country regard nationals of the other with suspicion.
The various bilateral forums that have been formed over the years to look into various trade issues between the two countries must be rejuvenated, and given fresh impetus. Those officials who remain a hindrance must be moved.
Facilitation of investment in the two countries by nationals of the other is a major frustration.
One Tanzanian businessman related how he has been waiting for three years to make a $130 million (Sh13 billion) gas plant in Kenya while Kenyan officialdom twiddles its thumbs. Imagine the huge business opportunity lost. And this is just one case.
In the meantime, a number of Kenyans who invested in Tanzania “have had it,” and are divesting and leaving the country.
Day old chicks from Kenya have been burnt by officials, and cattle confiscated and auctioned, very hostile actions indeed.
The issuance of work permits for Kenyans to work in Tanzania remains a major sticking point.
It is very refreshing that President Suluhu has already proclaimed herself on this matter, noting, correctly, that an investor must have people he or she can trust watching over their business in critical functions.
This is a completely different mindset. President Uhuru Kenyatta has decided to lead the way, and has already thrown open the doors to Tanzanians to come to Kenya and trade and do business without visas or work permits.
Covid management has been the greatest source of acrimony between the two countries in the last one year.
The late Magufuli seemed to deny Covid, and was not keen to enforce measures to contain it, putting her neighbours at risk. He threw huge tantrums when Kenya tried to restrict entry of Tanzanian nationals into Kenya to mitigate this risk.
President Suluhu has acknowledged there’s Covid in Tanzania, and has set up a commission of experts to advice the government. This is critically important to facilitate growth in trade during Covid.
Bringing coherence back and healing badly damaged relations between Kenya and Tanzania requires enormous goodwill.
The obvious chemistry between the two heads of state is a good start. They must keep work closely to recalibrate the bureacracies they run that are long used to behaving badly. — [email protected]