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Museveni wins trade and land concessions from Kenya

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Tuesday, 2 April 2019 13:00, updated on Friday, 5 April 2019 19:02

Presidents Kenyatta and Museveni talk in Khartoum in 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

During a two-day state visit to Kenya last week, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni got several key trade concessions and an offer for land to build a dry port in the town of Naivasha

Kenya also agreed to drop a two-year ban on poultry and poultry products from Uganda, allow a three-fold increase on sugar imports, in addition to several other concessions on agricultural products. Uganda, on the other hand, lifted a ban on meat and tile exports.

  • The most significant of these is the land offer, which would see Uganda operate a port within Kenya for its imports. The land offer is meant to cement the trade relationship between the two countries, and most importantly, increase the viability of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project at a time when China is being more cautious with its investments.

Kenya is set to complete the second phase of its railway line in August 2019, with the line terminating in Naivasha. A port in the second largest town in Nakuru County, about 80km from the capital city, would cut the distance for cargo to Uganda.

  • Uganda’s plans to build a line from the border town of Malaba to Kampala are hinged on Kenya eventually terminating its line at the border, while China’s investment into the next phases of Kenya’s line are dependent on Uganda signing on.
  • The Star reported that Kenyatta is scheduled to visit China this month to secure funding for the railway.

As a landlocked country and the route to Rwanda, Burundi, and Eastern DRC, Uganda is Mombasa’s biggest customer, accounting for 81.9% of its traffic in 2017, and 86% in 2018.

This makes the decision to offer land for a dry port in direct competition with Mombasa a challenge for the Kenyatta government, with pundits seeing it as a one-sided deal. The Dock Workers Union is already calling for details of the deal to be made public, while the government is yet to make public details of the original railway deal, despite a promise by President Kenyatta.

Rwandan backdrop

Although it was left unspoken during the joint press conference, the deeper issue beyond the railway line is Uganda’s diplomatic tussle with Rwanda.

  • Rwanda closed the main border crossing in early March in response to Uganda’s deportation of several of her citizens, in what has been the most significant escalation in recent times.
  • Two years ago, Uganda chose an oil pipeline route through Tanzania over an earlier plan to build through Kenya in what was seen as Museveni’s bid to get Tanzania on his side in the feud with Rwanda.

For Rwanda’s Kagame, the Central Corridor that runs through Tanzania is critical to the economy, as the Northern Corridor runs through Uganda.

Other nations affected by the ongoing feud include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and South Sudan. Rwanda’s relationship with South Africa has also worsened, as the two countries feud over the presence of Rwandan dissidents in South Africa.

  • Kagame told The East African that “The individuals in South Africa plotting all kinds of things against us are the ones giving information to Uganda in a way to solicit support from Uganda against us.”
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