7 July 2019

Kenyatta's Full-Scale Charm Offensive to Bring Magufuli Closer

President Uhuru Kenyatta had planned to visit his Tanzanian counterpart John Magufuli for a few hours on Friday then return to Kenya. But he decided to spend the night after an awe-inspiring reception in northern Tanzania.

Anyone who watches videos of President Kenyatta's unofficial visit to Tanzania will not believe that the two presidents, and the two countries they head, have been having frosty relations and that their countries have been engaged in trade wars as recently as January this year.

It was all camaraderie and warmth as Mr Kenyatta visited Mr Magufuli's home town of Chato, which is next to Lake Victoria.

Mr Magufuli said in a speech to residents that it was his compatriot who had requested to visit.

"He planned to come then return but has decided to spend the night and I'm very happy," said Mr Magufuli.

ICHAWERI VISIT

Mr Kenyatta said he was out to "eat fish" in Mr Magufuli's home town and invited the latter to Kiambu County.

"I will tell my brother to come home in Ichaweri. I will eat fish here, and there he will eat githeri. My wife will cook for him so we know each other more," said Mr Kenyatta in Kiswahili.

He even promised to ask his son to "wander around" in Chato as he might get a wife there.

"Labda anaweza bahatika hata yeye (Maybe he might also get lucky)," joked Mr Kenyatta. Mr Magufuli promised that if that happens, residents will welcome him with "both hands".

NJAGUA REMARKS

President Kenyatta had earlier spoken of the controversy started by Starehe MP Charles Njagua about evicting Tanzanians and traders of other nationalities who are competing with Kenyans in Gikomba and other markets.

Mr Kenyatta, without referring to Mr Njagua by name, spoke of politicians who lack exposure.

"Someone only sees where he lives and has not left his village. He thinks that is the end of the world. And you hear some of them running their mouths as they speak on non-issues. How do you tell a Tanzanian not to do business in Kenya?" posed Mr Kenyatta.

STATE VISIT

It was not lost to observers that Mr Kenyatta promised to have a State visit to Tanzania soon.

He explained to the residents that his unofficial visit was to break the ice so that "when we meet officially, things go smoothly."

Mr Magufuli said Mr Kenyatta has been his friend "for many days since he was a minister".

"Our biggest concern is to build the economies of our countries; to eliminate the problems facing Kenyans and Tanzanians; to do business," said Mr Magufuli.

TRADE SPATS

The presidents appeared to downplay all the economic tensions that have been going on between their two governments.

For instance in September last year, Kenya imposed tariffs on flour and other products from Tanzania after Dar-es-Salaam ignored a deal that granted Kenyan-made chocolate, ice cream, biscuits and sweets unrestricted entry into its market.

This was in retaliation to a 25 per cent import duty that Tanzania was charging for the confectioneries, as well as cement and edible oils.

STRONG BLOC

Tanzania has for a long time been an uneasy member of the East African Community, always accusing Kenya and other members of seeking to exploit its resources for a song.

It remains to be seen whether the suddenly warming relationship between the two presidents will see an end to the restrictions.

At one point in his speech, Mr Magufuli stressed on the importance of having a strong East African bloc, as that will give the region a strong bargaining power like it does with China and India. He also made a comment on cross-border trade.

"Tanzanians can go and invest in Kenya and get rich. In Tanzania, we have 30.5 million cows. And I know there is a big market for our cows in Kenya. Continue receiving them. That is business," said Magufuli.

But business was clearly not the agenda of the day, as the presidents were more intent on showing their human ties. A video has emerged of Mr Kenyatta visiting the ailing mother of Mr Magufuli and praying for her.

Mr Magufuli later said the way his mother clutched at Mr Kenyatta's hand showed that "she liked him". He said this as he gave four peacocks to Mr Kenyatta, something he said he has never done to any president.

"God told us that you can choose a friend but you cannot choose a neighbour. A neighbour is given to you by God. But there is nothing as joyful as having a God-given neighbour who is also a friend," said Mr Kenyatta in his speech to Chato residents.

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