Kenya calms tensions with Tanzania as ‘xenophobic’ MP charged

Saturday June 29 2019

Charles Njagua

Starehe MP Charles Njagua in the docks at Milimani Law Court, Nairobi, on June 28, 2019. The court ruled that he be detained for three more days as police conclude probe over hate remarks against foreigners. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG 

JAMES ANYANZWA
By JAMES ANYANZWA
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PATTY MAGUBIRA
By PATTY MAGUBIRA
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Kenyan and Tanzanian trade officials are scheduled to meet in the coming days to find a lasting solution to the incessant trade disputes that continue to ruin the two countries’ diplomatic relations.

The rows, some of which have been bubbling under the surface for years now, were this week amplified by utterances by Kenyan city legislator Charles Njagua suggesting that foreigners trading in his constituency be evicted over “unfair competition.”

The remarks, which were roundly condemned by the countries’ governments and parliaments, were understood to target Tanzanians in Nairobi’s Gikomba open-air market, where the second-hand clothes business thrives.

Mr Njagua was arrested and charged in a Nairobi court, but his utterances reverberated throughout the region, going against an earlier invitation by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the EAC citizens to visit, do business, settle and even marry in Kenya.

Reassurance from Nairobi

The Tanzanian Kenyan and regional parliaments debated the matter. Tanzanian lawmakers said that his statement should not be taken lightly and demanded an official reassurance from Nairobi of the safety to Tanzanians.

Tanzania summoned Kenyan High Commissioner Dan Kazungu to explain the remarks.

East African Legislative Assembly member Dr Abdullah Makame withdrew his motion to censure Kenya after Mr Njagua was arrested.

In the motion, Dr Makame wanted Kenyan authorities to distance themselves from Mr Njagua’s “xenophobic, discriminatory and hate-filled utterances” against foreign nationals.

“East Africans now have a practical lesson in such irresponsible statements that resulted in the loss of peace, property and life in the Republic of South Africa,” the Tanzanian EALA representative said.

“He urged leaders at all levels within EAC partner states to be more wary of their statements in a modern digital era whose technology makes it easier for such statements to go viral to the detriment of the bloc’s “one people, one destiny” spirit.

He also called on EAC partner states to “make it mandatory for leaders to comprehend the regional integration initiatives.”

Non-discrimination

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Community and Regional Development Adan Mohamed reassured the region that Mr Njagua’s views reflected neither those of the Kenyan government nor Kenyans as a people.

“The relevant security organs have already taken action against Mr Njagua,” Mr Mohamed told parliament.

He concurred with Tanzania Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa’s statement on Tuesday condemning the Kenyan MP’s remarks, adding that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has often “made it abundantly clear in his public addresses that East Africans are welcome to visit Kenya for pleasure, to invest, and even to marry and settle so long as they do so in accordance with the local laws.”

The minister reminded Kenyans and all East Africans that the EAC Common Market provides for non-discrimination against citizens of other partner states and guarantees their protection and that of their property.

“This incident is indeed a wake-up call for all of us to keep our eyes and ears open across the region, and safeguard against leaders advocating policies that are inconsistent with our East African integration agenda,” Mr Mohamed said.

Kenya government spokesman Col (rtd) Cyrus Oguna issued a statement criticising Mr Njagua's remarks saying, “This is not the position of the government of the Republic of Kenya, and we denounce the comments in the strongest terms possible."

The timing could not have been worse. A Dar es Salaam-based Kenyan businessman, Raphael Ongangi, was abducted by unknown people in the city.

The two EAC partners have been holding frequent bilateral meetings to resolve the non-tariff barriers and other trade related issues over the past year.

Principal Secretary in Kenya’s Department of Trade Chris Kiptoo condemned the remarks saying “It is not the right way of handling things.”

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