Kenya Seeks Ties With Cuba Amid Low Trade Volumes

Streets of Havana, Cuba (file photo).

Kenya is seeking to establish better transport connections with the Caribbean island of Cuba in a bid to boost trade and tourism, with a country whose previous ties with Nairobi were based on revolutionary ideology.

Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma said President Uhuru Kenyatta's inaugural state visit to Havana was using historical connections to cultivate economic benefits.

"We are here to strengthen what are historical ties between this country and Kenya but also between Cuba and Africa.


"Cuba has a very rich tourist attraction areas so we would want to visit and see what they are doing to attract huge numbers of tourists," she said in a statement on the President's visit.

President Kenyatta is in Havana for a state visit, a first by a Kenyan President since diplomatic ties were established between the two countries in 2001.

But for Cuba, a country that has been isolation for more than five decades, Kenya now sees an opportunity to improve on trade relations between the two sides.

Specifically, Kenyan officials say there will be negotiations on aviation connections between the two countries, as well as MOUs on trade.

A diplomatic briefing on Cuba and seen by the Nation admits trade has been low because of distance, language barrier, the fact that the two countries mostly export similar products such as sugar, tobacco and lack of direct cargo haulage facilities between the two.

For this flaw, records show Kenya imported goods worth Sh8.3 million from Cuba, mainly Cuban cigars and alcohol. In turn Kenya sold goods only worth Sh10, 381 inform of petroleum oils. According to the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the highest trade volume between the two was in 2010 when it hit Sh2 billion.

To improve on that, the briefing suggests implementation of MoUs signed in 2016 when Kenya established an embassy in Havana. Back then, the two countries agreed on health cooperation where Cuba was to open up its pharmaceutical products to Kenyans. They also agreed to launch a language exchange programme where certain bureaucrats from the two sides learn each other's language. Cubans mainly speak Spanish. Kenya's official language is English.

"There is opportunity for the two countries to expand cooperation in Agriculture and education sectors. The relevant agreements are currently being considered by Kenya," Dr Juma said.

Trade officials will also push for a possible connection of flights between Havana and Nairobi. Cuba currently has some connections to West Africa, where Kenya Airways flies.

The perspective reflects a departure from the previous relations when Cuba, then under Fidel Castro, sent assistance to Africa mainly through military support to freedom fighters and medical humanitarian assistance in times of disasters like Ebola.

But the President seems to be using that history to get support to his BIG Four agenda which includes better housing, universal healthcare, manufacturing and food security.

In the briefing, Kenya wants Cuba to train some of its doctors and allow pharmaceutical companies to set up shop in Kenya, to help lower the cost of healthcare. In exchange, Kenya wants to support Cuba's call for the total removal of US Sanctions imposed on it the 1960s during the Cuban Missile crisis. Those sanctions were partially removed in 2016 when US and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations. But Donald Trump administration has vowed to roll them back.

Based on Fidel Castro's foreign policy of internationalism, Havana sent many doctors into Africa previously. With just 11 million people, Cuba's healthcare system has been seen by the World Health Organisation as one of the best in the world. Patients receive free medical care which includes free vaccines, medical drugs and check-up.

As a result, Cuba's life expectancy is 80, has an infant mortality rate of 4.2 per 1000 live births and a doctor-patient ratio of 1 to 150.

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