Kenya/Tanzania: Kenyatta and Hassan agree to reset diplomatic & trade ties

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Wednesday, 5 May 2021 21:25

Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan and Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta attand a joint statement at State House, in Nairobi, Kenya, May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

During the first visit by Tanzania's new President Samia Suluhu Hassan to Kenya, she and her counterpart President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to reset diplomatic and trade relations that were strained under Tanzania's late president John P. Magufuli.

At a press conference in Nairobi on Tuesday 4 May, presidents Hassan and Kenyatta announced they had agreed on a raft of deals. Among the biggest one is a long-awaited plan to build a 600km cross-border gas pipeline connecting the coastal cities of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya.

The gas pipeline plans have been in the works since at least 2010 but seem to have been put on the back burner as relations between the two countries worsened in the last decade over a multitude of issues.

Improving cross-border relations

In addition to the pipeline, which could cost upwards of $1bn, the two countries also plan to build more interconnecting roads and revive maritime transport on Lake Victoria. The two leaders also signed deals on culture and tourism.

But, by far the most headline-grabbing of them was on trade relations that had worsened under the leadership of Magufuli.

In 2018, for example, Tanzania refused to grant a work permit to Sylvia Mulinge, a Kenyan business executive who had been appointed managing director of Tanzania’s largest telco, Vodacom.

The two sides have also feuded over trade on multiple occasions. In March, Kenya banned maize imports from Tanzania – and Uganda – saying samples it had tested had high levels of aflatoxin. On Tuesday, President Kenyatta ordered the maize released. He added that Tanzanians would not require work permits and other immigration authoritisations to work in Kenya.

Fragile relations due to Covid

The feuds worsened over Covid-19 protocols, especially after Tanzania stopped sharing infection data in May 2020. While reopening its international borders in July, Kenya excluded Tanzania from its list of approved countries. Dodoma retaliated by banning Kenyan carrier Kenya Airways and at least three other airlines from its airspace.

One month into the job, President Hassan, who served as Magufuli’s vice-president from 2016 until his death, has indicated her intentions to end Tanzania’s isolationism and Covid-19 denialism.

“It (Covid-19) is a common enemy and we have put down measures to contain the spread,” she reassured a special sitting of Kenya’s parliament on Wednesday 5 May. “We Tanzanians are not an island, and we are part of the international community.”

Hassan vows change

In late April, President Hassan said her focus at home would be on economic growth and job creation. She added that her administration would also continue Magufuli’s infrastructure legacy, with projects such as the 2,115MW Julius Nyerere hydropower project, the standard gauge railway and the Uganda-Tanzania heated oil pipeline.

On the diplomatic and pandemic fronts, however, Tanzania’s new president has made it clear that she intends to do things differently from her predecessor.

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