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Columnists

Exercise caution on xenophobia

Charles Njugua
Starehe MP, Charles Njugua. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Why are we stoking a trade war with Tanzania - our friendly neighbour and fellow member state of the East African Community (EAC) - over an influx of small traders in the main informal markets in Nairobi.

Clearly, Starehe MP, Charles Njugua is a reckless leader, cynically playing the populist card to gain recognition and to hypocritically pitch himself as a man with solutions for the informal trader in Nairobi.

The rhetoric by Majority Leader Aden Duale on the floor of the House, where he claimed that the Government of Tanzania had been discriminating against Kenyans in issuance of work permits only served to add fuel to the fire.

We have leaders who display little regard to Kenya’s geo strategic interests and leading role and responsibility in shepherding and the EAC project.

The whole East Africa Community project was built and designed around the principle of asymmetry. From the experience of the collapse of the former EAC in 1977, the bigger economies accepted arrangements giving concessions to smaller economies. That is why when you follow negotiations that led to the signing of the East African Customs Union, you will see just how Kenya has had to bear the burden and succumb to asymmetric arrangements.

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But what has been more profound in the East African integration project is the fact that co-operation between the partner states has been a bottom up project characterised by a proliferation of small businesses and traders doing their stuff across the region.

The small trader, farmer, and informal businessmen have progressed and deepened trade in the region and moved way ahead of the Arusha-based bureaucracy and headquarters of the EAC.

Today, most of the hawkers selling peanuts on Nairobi’s highways during traffic jams are Rwandese. In the informal markets such as Gikomba, City Stadium and Kamukunji, Tanzanian traders now dominate the business of selling second hand sportswear.

Populists of this world are engaged in intellectual dishonesty when they suggest that the small Tanzanian trader selling second hand clothes in Gikomba markets in Nairobi is the cause of the misery of the Kenyan informal sector trader there- and that kicking them out is the solution.

This conflict is but an illustration of the gravity of the unemployment problem in East Africa.

Those thousands of hawkers you see at Owino markets in Kampala, Kariokor in Dar es salam or Gikomba in Nairobi are merely products of the deep unemployment problem in East Africa.

The unemployment problem in East Africa is also linked to uncontrolled mushrooming of kiosks, the explosion of slums and other informal settlement in urban areas, and the rapid growth and expansion of the ‘matatu’ business in Nairobi- the dala dala of Dar and the ‘taxi’ of Kampala.

Visit Owino market in Kampala and you are likely to see an able-bodied adult sitting at a street corner for hours on end, selling sweets and peanuts, or a teenager waking about with a whole range of counterfeit Chinese equipment slung around his neck.

Our leaders are too preoccupied with short-term political calculations and now seem to be losing sight of the benefits of co-operation between Kenya and Tanzania.

Today, the ordinary middle-class person in Tanzania is most likely to shop at a supermarket owned by Kenyans or deposit his money at the Dar es Salaam branch of the Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank, or Commercial Bank of Africa, as well as insure his business with Jubilee.

Six out of the 31 companies listed on the Dar es Salaam Securities Exchange are Kenyan. Indeed, integration between Kenya and Tanzania is at a level beyond personal relations between political leaders.

Do we really want to squander and sacrifice the goodwill and spirit of co-operation that the citizens of East Africa have built over the years over tantrums by the MP of Starehe. Let the populists tread with care because a place like Gikomba is a dry prairie just waiting for someone to light a match.

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