11 November 2017

Kenya: Why Kenya's Spat With Neighbours Goes Beyond Chicks, Fish and Cattle


Kenya is fuming at her neighbours over cows, chicken and fish.

Tanzania recently seized 6,500 chicks from a Kenyan trader and burnt them alive, then auctioned off 1,300 cattle which had wandered across the border for grazing as Ugandan authorities arrested Kenyan fishermen and confiscated their fish.

The emerging diplomatic spat between Kenya and her neighbours, particularly Tanzania, may seem insignificant, but the coincidences and timing of the onslaught on the cows, chicken and fish is food for thought for Kenyan authorities.


In fact the Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed says Kenya has already dispatched a "protest note" to Tanzania through her representative at the East African Community (EAC).

While Nairobi has not moved with speed to act on the arrest of 17 Kenyan fishermen and confiscation of their fish by Ugandan authorities, a move that Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo terms as neglect of local fishermen, the Kenyan authorities have come down heavily on Tanzania over the cow and chicken saga.

In her protest note, the Foreign Affairs CS regrets that trade between the two countries is facing regulatory hurdles leading to a reciprocal blockade of certain goods between Kenya and Tanzania.

The tiff between the two countries comes at a time of intense trade wars and alleged harassment of Kenyans by Tanzanian authorities, a factor that led to demonstrations by Kenyans at the Namanga border post in April this year.


Happening against the backdrop of heightened political tension in the country, speculation is also rife that the Kenya-Tanzania diplomatic spat is fuelled by political considerations.

Curiously, Kenya's President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta and Tanzania's President John Pombe Magufuli are separately allied to former Premiers Edward Lowassa (Tanzania) and Raila Odinga (Kenya) respectively.

While Mr Magufuli, who is a family friend of the Odingas, is believed to back the Nasa leader's presidential candidature, Tanzania's ex-PM openly campaigned for Mr Kenyatta's re-election on Kenyan soil this time round. Mr Magufuli beat Lowassa in the 2015 presidential race.

With some legislators and observers giving the Kenyatta-Magufuli friction a political connotation, political science and international relations experts think otherwise.

They doubt that Magufuli would willingly exhibit hostility towards Kenya, solely to spite Mr Kenyatta and vice-versa.

A former Kenyan Cabinet minister who now teaches at University of Dodoma in Tanzania, Prof Amukowa Anangwe, maintains the recent events have nothing to do with the political nexus around President Kenyatta, Mr Lowassa, President Magufuli and Mr Odinga.


According to the political scientist, the developments are primarily about cross-border communities and the changing political economy of countries in the region.

Noting that the current situation is occasioned by members of local communities who disregard colonial borders, Prof Anangwe observes that governments are tightening their borders: "Today countries are becoming nation-states and therefore pursuing regional integration with clear vested interests where the operational philosophy is cooperation through competition."

University of Nairobi lecturer Dr Fred Jonyo concurs by pointing out that the friction is more about rivalry and resistance of Kenya's dominance and hegemonic presence in the region.

In a 1999 treaty, the East African nations sought to streamline inter-state capital labour and movement of goods and services, but Dr Jonyo opines that sibling rivalry amongst member countries has taken root and the previous pattern that led to the collapse of the EAC in 1977 is emerging.

Nonetheless, the political economy expert observes that the current tiff between Tanzania and Kenya is not entirely unexpected.


Dr Jonyo recollects that 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 there have been simmering tensions between the two countries, the present hostilities have been ignited by the burning of 6,500 one day old chicks out of fear of the spread of bird flu and auctioning of 1,300 cattle at Tsh500 million (about Sh23 million).

And Mr Magufuli appears to have poured petrol on the already burning fire by protesting that his country had been turned into a grazing field by neighbouring pastoral communities.

Speaking when he unveiled a Sh1.5 billion airport in Kagera, Tanzania, on Monday, the Tanzanian leader reiterated that his administration was responsible for the protection of the country's parks and environment to attract tourists and would do so at all costs.


Assessing the idiosyncratic traits of the Tanzanian leader, Dr Jonyo says Magufuli is more assertive and bullish: "There is actually no crisis between Kenya and Tanzania, the only difference is that Kenyans are dealing with a firmer leader and looking at his internal political behaviour one realises he is keener on resource preservation and is rigid on the immigration policy".

The political economist further argues that Tanzania may well be crying out for attention.

According to Dr Jonyo, benefits of the current global trend where countries are coalescing around regional bodies to lobby together for better markets and business deals far outweigh settlements between squabbling individual countries such as the case of Tanzania and Kenya.

Separately, Prof Anangwe attributes the current friction to differences in the approach and respect for the rule of law. Tanzanians, he observes, have a law oriented mindset and have respect for rule of law as opposed to Kenyans who have embraced impunity.

"Before one reads malice or a political agenda on Tanzania's latest actions, one needs to comprehend the fact that law enforcement is weaker in Kenya but stronger in Tanzania.


They are just as strict to Kenyans and to themselves as they are to other nationals," says Prof Anangwe pointing out that presently the Magufuli government is kicking out Rwandese refugees from the country.

Over the past three years, a series of diplomatic and trade squabbles have soured relations between Kenya and Tanzania. Kenyan traders have complained of mistreatment by Tanzanian immigration agents, with those employed in Tanzania being kicked out.

And last year, the Magufuli administration declined to participate in Kenya's Sh380 billion worth diesel-powered Standard Gauge Railway during its inception as opposed to the other East African countries. Tanzania later unveiled parallel plans to build its own electric powered rail just after Kenya had launched hers in June.

Tanzania was probably paying back Kenya in its coin after President Kenyatta teamed up with Uganda and Rwanda and isolated Tanzania in 2013 in what was dubbed the coalition of the willing.


Irked by Tanzania's slow pace at partaking of projects in the region, Presidents Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Rwanda's Paul Kagame held high-level meetings isolating Tanzania and Burundi, leading to a furious response by President Jakaya Kikwete to the effect that his country would remain cautious and not follow others blindly.

Later in 2015, Kenya and Tanzania were involved in a trade row following a ban on Kenyan tour vans from accessing Tanzanian parks. Kenya reciprocated by barring Dar es Salaam buses from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The ping-pong did not end there as Tanzania decided to slash the number of flights of the national carrier, Kenya Airways, into her territory, from a weekly schedule of 42 to just 14.


During his first tour to Kenya as President in October last year, Mr Magufuli promised to open up employment opportunities for the Kenyan workforce willing to work in his country.

But he had one stinging message for Kenyans - that the country had high prospects of prosperity if only its leaders and citizens shunned corruption and ethnicity.

Noting that most institutions of the EAC are weak, including the East African Legislative Assembly of which Kenya is yet to nominate its representatives half a year since its reconstitution, Dr Jonyo opines that the current friction can only be attended to at the highest level of political engagement by the regional Heads of State.

Prof Anangwe, on the other hand, emphasises on the need to set up a regional trans-border protocol that will enable the local Maasai communities to periodically cross over to either side of the border in search of water sources and pasture for their animals.


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