“Rwanda alone, Kenya alone,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta last week, “will not make it, but together, we have tremendous potential to succeed.”
Mr Kenyatta had just met Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali in what insiders say was shuttle diplomacy to douse the fires caused by a diplomatic spat between President Kagame and one time ally-turned-foe President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Each side believes the other is plotting to cause mayhem.
President Kenyatta then crossed over to Uganda where it is feared a meeting between him and his host, yielded no fruit.
Mr Kenyatta’s trip was precipitated by Rwanda’s closure of Gatuna (Katuna in Uganda), a border post in the Southwest region of Uganda.
Late last month, Kigali blockaded the border point and even issued a travel advisory to its nationals not to cross into Uganda for what it termed security reasons, gravely curtailing the movement of goods and services across the two countries.
We cannot begrudge the Rwanda government its responsibility to warn its citizens of impending danger anywhere. But we hasten to urge caution and ways and means to a quick resolution to the issues at hand. The border matters because it is a trade route to the Rwanda market. This move has hurt businesses, including Kenya’s.
Goods cleared at Mombasa Port pass through the post. As such, any hiccup leads to a backlog that could hit traders hard and affect the operations of not just the port, but also the Sh360 billion SGR; President Kenyatta’s brainchild. Less cargo hauled on the train because of the stand-off with Rwanda is a loss to SGR and to Kenya.
Though Rwanda’s move is considered a non-barrier tariff, its effects are quite significant and will be felt across the region. No surprise then that Ugandan authorities have deemed the closure a trade embargo equivalent to economic sabotage.
Because of the peril Kenya faces as a result of the impasse, Mr Kenyatta must deploy his diplomatic heft and bang a few heads to get the two sides working together. To entirely depend on goodwill and good intentions will achieve little.
A blockade such as this hurts Kenya more than anybody else. Kenya’s exports to the East African region topped $1.14 billion in 2017, nearly Sh700 million less than in 2016 due to trade disputes with Tanzania. A dispute between its biggest regional trading partner Uganda and Rwanda might not be as insignificant as such.
Moreover, the quarrel is coming at a time when plans to operationalize the Kenya Pipeline’s Sh1.4 billion Kisumu Oil Jetty on Lake Victoria are in high gear, paving the way for Kenya to export fuel to landlocked Rwanda through Uganda.
Worst of all, it risks reversing the push for regional integration through a regional bloc that was beginning to take shape.
The world over, treaties such as those signed under the East Africa Community have demonstrated that clubbing together is more advantageous than going it alone. The rationale is that it makes it easy to drive a harder bargain when with many members than while alone. And so, anything that undermines such plans ought to be resolved with much haste.