Dar es Salaam/Nairobi. The meeting between President John Magufuli and his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta, in the former’s hometown of Chato in Geita Region was not only about serious trade talks.
An official statement from the director of presidential communications, Mr Gerson Msigwa, showed on Sunday that the two heads of state agreed to boost trade, improve transport services in Lake Victoria, respect agreements already made to fight crime in the region, as well to facilitate a three-day meeting in Dar es Salaam bringing together the wives of the founding fathers of Tanzania (Mama Maria Nyerere), Kenya (Mama Ngina Kenyatta) and Uganda (Mama Miria Obote). The meeting will reflect on the nations’ founding principles.
However, there were also some lighter moments during the meeting, with Mr Kenyatta saying he was out to “eat fish” in Dr Magufuli’s hometown - and invited the latter to Kiambu County.
“I will tell my brother to come home in Ichaweri. I will eat fish here, and there he will eat githeri. My wife will cook for him so we get to know each other more,” said Mr Kenyatta in ki-Swahili.
He even said he would ask his son to “take a keen look around” Chato as he might find the love of his life there. “Labda anaweza bahatika hata yeye (Luck could be on his side),” joked Mr Kenyatta. Dr Magufuli promised that if that happens, residents will welcome him with “open hands”.
President Kenyatta had earlier spoken of the controversial remarks made by Starehe MP Charles ‘Jaguar’ Njagua about evicting Tanzanians and other foreigners trading in Gikomba and other Nairobi County markets.
Mr Kenyatta, without referring to Mr Njagua by name, spoke of politicians who lack exposure.
“Someone only knows about where he lives - and has never left his village. He thinks that is the end of the world. You hear them speaking on non-issues. How do you tell a Tanzanian not to do business in Kenya?” wondered Mr Kenyatta.
It was not lost to observers that Mr Kenyatta promised to make a State visit to Tanzania soon.
He explained to the residents that his unofficial visit was to break the ice so that “when we meet officially, things go smoothly.”
Dr Magufuli said Mr Kenyatta has been his friend “for many years since he was a minister.
“Our biggest concern is to build the economies of our countries; to eliminate the problems facing Kenyans and Tanzanians; to do business,” said Dr Magufuli.
The presidents appeared to downplay all the economic tensions that have been going on between their two governments.
For instance, in September last year, Kenya imposed tariffs on flour and other products from Tanzania after Dar es Salaam ignored a deal that granted Kenya-made chocolate, ice cream, biscuits and sweets unrestricted entry into its market.
This was in retaliation for a 25 per cent import duty that Tanzania was charging for the confectioneries, as well as cement and edible oils.
At one point in his speech, Mr Magufuli stressed the importance of having a strong East African bloc, as that will give the region a strong bargaining power like it does with China and India. He also made a comment on cross-border trade. “Tanzanians can go and invest in Kenya and get rich. In Tanzania, we have 30.5 million cattle And I know there is a big market for our livestock in Kenya. Continue purchasing them. That is business,” said Magufuli.