Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday made his first ever State visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, seeking to strengthen business ties with Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country by land size.
A statement from the Kenya Embassy in the DRC said the President landed on Tuesday afternoon in Kinshasa, ahead of a series of meetings with his host President Felix Tshisekedi.
A provisional itinerary seen by The EastAfrican indicated the President could meet with business players in the DRC as well as attend the opening ceremony of Equity Bank's offices in Kinshasa.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretaries Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution) and Raychelle Omamo (Foreign Affairs) were in an advance team of senior government officials already in Kinshasa to receive the President.
Competition for market
The President’s visit comes as Kenya faces competition for the DRC market, which relies heavily on the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam for imports.
A brief seen by the The EastAfrican showed Kenya plans to open a consulate in Goma, North Kivu, and appoint an Honorary Consul in Lubumbashi, South Kivu - both in eastern DRC - to facilitate trade.
The two regions constitute 70 per cent of Kenya’s annual exports worth Ksh1.8 billion ($16.6 million) to the DRC.
Ahead of the trip, Kenyan officials said they were mulling granting various trading privileges to DRC, to entice more of its traders to use the port of Mombasa for importation of goods.
One such offer is to allow DRC to open a consulate in Mombasa, and ease customs clearances from the port. Another proposal, subject to DRC’s response, is to provide a specialised inland container depot to handle goods meant for DRC, as well as specialised container freight stations, clearing and forwarding stations and other facilities similar to those accorded to Uganda and Rwanda at the port of Mombasa.
The DRC has applied to join the East African Community, which could make it easier to trade in future.
But officials, learning from South Sudan’s admission, say the actual fruit of DRC’s expected membership may take at least three years to fully adopt protocols on trade.
As such, Kenya is expected to formally launch a Joint Commission on Cooperation with the DRC, which will be composed of key line ministers of foreign affairs, transport and trade to help iron out barriers to trade.
Officials say that with DRC stabilising politically, there could be cooperation in other areas such as transport, education and mining.
The two countries have an existing Bilateral Air Service Agreement (Basa) and a maritime Freight Management Agreement. Kenya Airways flies to Lubumbashi and Kinshasa. Nairobi wants slots for Goma too. But the non-tariff barriers are stiff.
Traders heading to the DRC are often asked to pay for a visa if they stay longer than seven days, despite the fact that Kenya and DRC have an agreement on non-visa entries up to 30 days.
Truck drivers have complained that they pay $50 for staying for a week and another $200 every additional week.
In fact, some regional administrations reject visas issued by the national government and charge $50 for a pass for truck drivers in Mahagi in Goma as well as Ubira in Tshopo Province.
This will be the second time President Kenyatta will be visiting Kinshasa.
He attended the January 2019 inauguration of President Tshisekedi, DRC’s first ever leader to receive power in a peaceful transition since independence.
Previously, Kenya focused on peace bids in the DRC, helping a peace deal between the M23 rebel groups and the government in a ceremony in Nairobi in 2013.
Some remnants of the group have since splintered to continue fighting. Kenya applied last year to send troops to the UN Mission in DRC known by its French acronym Monusco.