There was an air of optimism in Kenya ahead of a planned visit by Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan to Nairobi this week, a visit expected to cement recent commitments between the two countries and address some sticking issues in their relations.
Nairobi and Dar es Salaam confirmed that President Samia was expected in Nairobi on Tuesday.
Earlier in April President Uhuru Kenyatta invited the new Tanzanian leader to Kenya.
President Samia has already visited Uganda, where she and President Yoweri Museveni signed a multibillion-dollar oil pipeline deal last month.
Now, Kenya expects that under her tenure, the spats over tariff and non-tariff barriers and movement of goods, people and labour under the EAC Common Market Protocol will begin to be resolved in a structured manner.
“We are looking at resolving these issues without noise. More importantly, we are looking at working more closely to integrate our people and relate through institutions we have created,” said a diplomat in Nairobi. “Tanzania and Kenya need each other forever but we are not saying there won’t be problems. We are working hard to create an environment where those issues can be sorted out normally.”
Samia’s predecessor the late John Magufuli, who died in March, visited Nairobi in 2016 and defended relations with Kenya, stating that, at that time, 529 Kenyan companies had invested in Tanzania, employing 56,000 people. These seem to be bearing fruit as a recent report shows that Tanzania overtook South Africa to become Kenya’s leading source of remittances from Africa.
But trade tiffs characterised the Magufuli era, including confiscation and subsequent sale of Kenyan “stray” cattle in Tanzania, burning of day-old chicks from Kenya, blockage of dairy and confectionery products, bickering over levies on trucks, and recently over Covid-19 protocols.
Work permits have also remained a thorny issue between Nairobi and Dar but President Samia’s recent call for a review of the work permit fees, laws and regulations governing investment and trade was seen as opening the door for better relations.
"Our country has been blamed over unpredicted investment laws and policies as well as nepotism, when investors want to invest. We want to remove red tape in our desire to woo investors – including issuance of work permits and licences,” she told Parliament in her inaugural address on April 22. “We have lost revenue leading to the collapse of businesses in our country. This is due to bureaucracies and improper ways of collecting tax. It is a high time we changed the way we conduct ourselves with investors.”
On Tuesday, after swearing in new appointees at the State House in Dar es Salaam, President Samia ordered reforms in the investment sector for the country to regain investor trust and stimulate business.
Work permits, intra trade flows and review of laws regulating trade and investment between the two countries are expected to top the agenda during the state visit.
The fees charged to obtain work permits in the EAC vary. In Burundi, for example, the fees range from $60 for students to $84 for regular workers. In Tanzania, the fees range from $6 for peasants to $3,000 for miners while in Uganda it ranges from $250 for missionaries to $2,500 for miners.
Kenya’s Principal Secretary in the Ministry of EAC and Regional Affairs Dr Kevit Desai welcomed the announcement by President Samia, saying investment is based on predictability and a uniform approach to work permits is a step in the right direction.
“The objective is to see to it that within the EAC we harmonise as much as possible so that we facilitate the overall goal of the EAC, which is integration,” Dr Desai said.
The EAC Secretary General Dr Peter Mathuki, in welcoming President Samia’s decision to review laws and regulations governing issuing of work permits and trade licences, said, “To ensure free flow of these essential goods and services, we must also aim to create a conducive business environment, by eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers and adopting business friendly legal regimes in the region.”
The decision to address work permit fees among other NTBs comes at a time when foreign direct investment (FDI) to East Africa has fallen to around three per cent yet FDI is the largest source of external finance for developing nations with the potential to create higher-skilled employment, facilitate the diffusion of technology, and improve access to international markets.
Joint Commission on Cooperation
President Samia has indicated her commitment to oversee the re-establishment of the Joint Commission on Cooperation (JCC), a bilateral council of senior officials meant to address concerns like these between the two countries.
Speaking in Dar after receiving a message of goodwill and an invitation to visit Kenya from President Kenyatta, President Samia said, “We have received assurances that they are ready to work with Tanzania and they are ready to work towards strengthening our relations and that we can work towards the prosperity of our respective countries as well as the East African Community.”
“There are more issues we will discuss through diplomatic channels so that we can enhance our relations. It was a message of assurance and readiness to continue working with us,” she added.
The JCC was formed during Ali Hassan Mwinyi days in 1988 to reach out to Kenya’s Daniel Moi administration “in order to deepen economic and political ties between the two East African nations” but the commission has met rarely in the past three administrations in both countries since Mwinyi, the last time being in December 2016.
Tanzania and Kenya’s tiffs have often been blamed on a loose structure of dealing with policy, where administrators at border points, for example, implement decisions that contradict the bloc’s rules.
President Samia’s spokesman Gerson Msigwa said earlier that the JCC will be the main channel of discussing or addressing issues affecting the two countries.
“The president had directed the ministers and the technical officials who form the JCC, who have not met since 2016, to urgently meet to resolve the various issues affecting the two countries,” Msigwa said.
“The President received an invitation for a state visit from President Uhuru Kenyatta. He assured President Samia Suluhu that Kenya is ready to engage with Tanzania at any time for the mutual benefit of the two countries.”
With President Kenyatta, as chairman of the East African Community, officials in Nairobi say they will seek to resolve existing and future trade tiffs through the structures of the bloc. Trade Principal Secretary Johnson Weru told TheEastAfrican Kenya will seek help from the EAC to provide lasting solutions.
“We intend to sort out the issues through the established organs of the EAC,” he said. The bloc has the Council of Ministers, the Legislative Assembly, the East African Court of Justice and the Secretariat as key organs. It also has specialised committees known as sectoral committees as well as coordinating committees. A Kenyan, Dr Peter Mathuki, is the new Secretary-General of the EAC and, in his maiden speech in Arusha, pledged to strengthen regional integration.