Editorials

Use Suluhu visit to rebuild Kenya, Tanzania relations

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Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan. AFP PHOTO

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Summary

  • The problems have stemmed from the closure of borders, restricting cooperation and free movement of goods and services, introduction of new tariffs, and denial of work permits among others.
  • As Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan arrives today for a two-day State visit to Nairobi on the invitation of President Uhuru Kenyatta, top on the agenda must be restoring the bilateral ties.

For years, Kenya and Tanzania’s dreams of free trade have been thwarted by strained relations between the two countries.

The problems have stemmed from the closure of borders, restricting cooperation and free movement of goods and services, introduction of new tariffs, and denial of work permits among others.

As Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan arrives today for a two-day State visit to Nairobi on the invitation of President Uhuru Kenyatta, top on the agenda must be restoring the bilateral ties damaged during the tenure of the late John Pombe Magufuli.

Kenya has tried to smooth the relations, with Mr Kenyatta at one time flying to the rural home of Mr Magufuli on a charm offensive. Yet not much has changed.

As neighbours, the two East African Community (EAC) States must realise that working together will enable them to progress faster. The mistrust between the two countries date back to the ideological rivalries that culminated in the collapse of the original East African Community in 1977.

Tanzania and Kenya resumed diplomatic ties in 1983 but by the next year, President Julius Nyerere closed borders, with the two countries losing a combined Sh12.7 trillion in a year. A delegation of Kenyan businessmen had to visit Tanzania to promote trade. Thereafter, the growth in trade between the two countries doubled.

But years later, Tanzania imposed unexpected tariffs on meat products, with Kenyan companies losing about half of their largest export market abruptly. Such misunderstandings have cost the two neighbours lots of revenue.

Tanzania was last year Kenya’s second-largest export destination with soap, foodstuffs, cleansing, and polishing products as the major exports.

On the other hand, Kenya buys cereals, paper, wood, and animal fodder from Tanzania and there is a huge potential in gemstones trade.

President Hassan has signalled a departure from the hardline stance of her predecessor, saying her administration is willing to work closely with Kenya. We hope that the meeting with Mr Kenyatta will mark the start of a rebuilding of trust and deepening of economic integration between Kenya and Tanzania.