Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation speech on Thursday stood out for what it did not address.
The country is reeling under the weight of Covid-19 infections and deaths, especially in October and November but the speech had little on what is still considered an international emergency, or even the ray of hope in the recently announced vaccine by Pfizer and BioNtech.
President Kenyatta said the East African Community remains Kenya’s foremost trade and investment priority, but was silent on the growing trade and non-trade barriers choking cross-border commerce. The Covid-19 restrictions have caused massive delays in the trade chain especially on the Northern Corridor.
The EAC Heads of State Summit has also failed to meet this year, leaving a number of regional issues in limbo.
“The East African Community remains Kenya’s foremost trade and investment priority, with the ever-deepening integration process demonstrated by easier movement of labour as well as goods and services within the EAC, our people are truly reaping the benefits of shared prosperity,” said President Kenyatta.
Addressing a joint sitting of parliament — the National Assembly and Senate — he said the country was at advance stages of signing free trade agreements that will guarantee continued access to both the US and British markets.
According to the EAC Trade and Investment Report 2018, Kenya’s trade with EAC increased by 4.7 percent to $1.9 billion in 2018 from $1.8 billion in 2017.
“I am happy to note that our exports within the East African Community jumped to a six-year high in 2019.”
The president paid tribute to the signing of the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area, which comes into effect in January 2021, saying Kenya and Ghana were among the first countries to ratify.
“This agreement brings 54 African nations under a common market with a population of 1.2 billion and a combined GDP of more than $3trn,” he said.
“As a champion of Africa’s integration, I am elated that this agreement has officially entered into force and became operational from July 1, 2020.” The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the implementation of the agreement.
He noted that the country was also experiencing greater diplomatic goodwill and deeper international friendships than at any other time in its history.