A trade dispute between Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam escalated Wednesday after MPs from both parliaments issued threats following allegedly "xenophobic" utterances attributed to Starehe MP Charles Njagua who was arrested.
The Tanzania Parliament summoned Kenya’s High Commissioner to Tanzania, Dan Kazungu, while Kenyan MPs accused Dar-es-Salaam of implementing restrictions on Kenyans seeking work permits as well as Kenyan products set for export to Tanzania.
Leader of Majority Aden Duale appeared to support Mr Njagua utterances threatening to have foreign traders kicked out of city markets.
Mr Njagua, who was arrested by plain clothes police officers outside Parliament Buildings, had earlier talked about people from Tanzania, Uganda and China, accusing them of dominating Nairobi markets. His sentiments came hot on the heels of the deportation of Chinese traders who had been found selling second-hand clothes in Nairobi’s Gikomba market.
Reacting to a statement issued on the floor of the House by Defence and Foreign Relations committee chairman Katoo ole Metito distancing Kenya from Mr Njagua’s comments, Mr Duale said the position taken by the committee is not that "of Kenyan foreign policy as a member of East African Community (EAC).
Mr Duale appeared to take a different tangent. He said Tanzania had stopped top Kenyan professionals from taking up jobs in Tanzania and singled out Silvia Mulinge, who had been appointed as the Chief Executive Officer for Vodafone, Tanzania.
"Vodafone’s Silvia Mulinge was refused license to work in Tanzania until she was recalled back by Safaricom Limited. Our business companies are subjected to stringent standards of Tanzania when Kenya is flooded with fruits and vegetables from Tanzania," Mr Duale said.
"Our chicken was burnt in Tanzania and our livestock auctioned. Today Brookside cannot sell milk and Farmers Choice cannot export sausages because of high tariffs set by Tanzania. We must protect Wanjiku in Gikomba and Halima in Eastleigh".
He asked MPs to enact a law to protect local jobs and businesses, saying they were losing to foreigners from neighbouring countries.
"We must call a spade a spade," Mr Duale said and challenged Kenya’s nine representatives to the regional Parliament to explain whether Kenya was getting value in being a member of the East African Community.
"As representatives of the Kenyan people, this must be a discussion that this House and the government must discuss honestly because Kenya is not a dumping ground for goods from other countries," Mr Duale said.
Kenya and Tanzania trade row has simmered over the years following imposition of tariffs on products like flour and a decision to deny intry into Tanzania of chicks from Kenya, which were incinerated by Tanzanian authorities in November 2017. The move was condemned in both Kenya and Tanzania, with Tanzanian veterinary officers saying it would have been better for their country to return the chicks to Kenya instead of burning them.
The row has seen the neighbouring country breach an agreement that granted Kenyan-made chocolate, ice cream, biscuits and sweets unrestricted entry into its market.
Tanzania imposed a 25 per cent import duty on Kenyan-made confectioneries citing use of imported industrial sugar. It also maintains a 25 per cent duty on Kenya’s edible oils as well as the Tembo cement brand produced by Bamburi Cement Factory, which it says are made from imported palm and clinker respectively.
Kenya reciprocated with a 25 per cent duty on Tanzania’s products like flour which it says are produced from imported wheat.
Prior to his arrest, Mr Njagua had given the given the Kenyan government 24 hours to take action against the business operators he claimed were giving Kenyans unfair competition. Later, Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna issued a statement criticising Mr Njagua's remarks.
"We wish to state that this is not the position of the Government of the Republic of Kenya, and we denounce the comments carried in the video in the strongest terms possible," Mr Oguna said.