Kenya: Top Indian Diplomat Set for Kenya Visit Aimed at Firming Ties

India's external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is expected in Nairobi on Saturday for a series of meetings meant to strengthen relations with Kenya.

Dr S Jaishankar, as he is popularly known, will make an official two-day visit as his country is fighting a surge in Covid-19 cases that had paralysed the healthcare system, a development that has seen the Asian country also halt efforts to supply vaccines to developing countries including Kenya.

But the visit could signal New Delhi's ambitions to strengthen ties with key African allies, especially as the country plans to host the fourth India-Africa Summit later in the year.

A statement released by India's ministry of external affairs on Tuesday evening said Dr Jaishankar will co-chair a meeting of the India-Kenya Joint Commission with his Kenyan counterpart Raychelle Omamo.

This meeting "will review all aspects of the bilateral relationship," the statement indicated. The last such meeting was held in March 2019 in New Delhi, before either Ms Omamo or he were in the foreign affairs dockets.

"The development partnership is an important aspect of the relationship between the two countries which the visit will seek to deepen," the statement added, indicating that the Indian minister will also meet with other line ministry officials with which exist bilateral agreements or MoUs.

'Pharmacy of the World'

Besides government-to-government talks, the Indian official also sees enhancing people-to-people relations as key, especially with many Kenyans of Indian origin involved in Kenya's economy, he said.

India, often known as the 'Pharmacy of the World', has been a major supplier of medicines to Kenya. Drugs, steel, machinery, yarn and vehicles (from India) and soda ash, tea and vegetables (from Kenya) pushed pre-Covid trade volumes between the countries to more Sh220 billion. And with more than 60 Indian companies operating in Kenya, it means the Asian country is among the top five investors here.

However, Covid-19 has dented this relationship, with the latest hiccup being India's move to halt export of AstraZeneca vaccines to the Covax facility that Kenya relied on so it could attend to needs in that country.

Past deals

But the Indian official will nonetheless be coming to follow up on previous agreements the two countries had reached, including in health, agriculture and manufacturing.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta made a State Visit to India in January 2017, he and PM Narendra Modi agreed to enhance cooperation on a wide range of issues, including defence, counter-terrorism, maritime security, trade and investments. They signed an MoU on mechanised agriculture, where India was to spend at least $100 million on the project.

Before that, India loaned Kenya $30 million to upgrade the Rivatex factory in Eldoret in 2016. It was then reopened in June 2019.

After his trip to Nairobi in July 2016, PM Modi donated 30 ambulances and two machines for cancer treatment: Advanced Telecobalt Cancer Therapy Machine -Bhabhatron II and Digital Radiotherapy Simulator -Imagin. They were installed at Kenyatta National Hospital.

Geopolitical agenda

While the meeting of a Joint Commission on cooperation is supposed to iron out some of the barriers to trade, including the paperwork needed to do business, some Indian analysts say the trip also has a wider geopolitical agenda.

Both India and Kenya are serving on the UN Security Council until December next year. They share common views on counter-terrorism, maritime security in the Indian Ocean and trade.

Kenya, India, South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius and various other countries in the western part of the Indian Ocean belong to the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation.

With 23 member states and nine other organisations, the association seeks maritime safety, trade facilitation, fisheries protection, tourism, shared technology and cultural exchanges.

India's Financial Express newspaper said New Delhi is activating relations with Indian Ocean maritime neighbours to ensure maritime safety, as per a 2015 strategy, but to also counter the influence of China, which has strengthened contacts in the region.

"Africa will be critical to India's growth story in the remainder of this century.

Eastern Africa especially is also growing in importance as India pursues its Indo-Pacific strategy," Anil Trigunayat, an Indian diplomat, told the newspaper on Wednesday.

"Hence, the external affairs minister's visit to Nairobi for the Joint Commission is very timely when the two sides will be able to review the whole gamut of bilateral relationship."

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