- Kenyans have a new president, Dr William Ruto, who was sworn in yesterday, in a colourful event. The Citizen held an exclusive interview with the new Kenyan High Commissioner to Tanzania, Mr Isaac Njenga, on the election process and the new president’s focus on strengthening relations between the two countries
Since your arrival in Tanzania, what have you personally learnt and what is your view regarding bilateral ties between Tanzania and Kenya?
Kenya and Tanzania have had long standing relations, very warm and cordial for many generations. First, we are neighbours. Secondly, we are brothers because we have blood relations between various families that live across our long borders.
So, if I may say, you can choose a friend but as a country you have no choice about your neighbour because God has placed you there.
I want to thank the people of Tanzania for having taken a keen interest in our elections. What happens to Kenya as a bordering nation also has an impact to neighbours and the entire region.
We have continued to receive a lot of congratulatory messages from the government and the people of Tanzania, right from her Excellency President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
During the time of election and even afterwards, she has congratulated Kenya and expressed goodwill for the people and the government of Kenya and also to the President-elect.
On the official level, I was also very fortunate.
Within two weeks of my arrival, Her Excellency the President received me at State House in Dodoma and was gracious enough to receive my letters of credence.
That also speaks of the relations and the cordial ties that the government of the United Republic of Tanzania is keen on continuing to strengthen with the Republic of Kenya.
So far, my experience has been good and I am looking forward to much more engagements, to much more prosperity, to much more strengthening, widening and deepening of ties during my tenure here.
The presidents from both sides have had a remarkable and affable relation that range from socio-economic, trade to diplomatic aspects. If you are to rate the outgoing Kenyatta on building this long-lived ties, where does he stand?
President Uhuru Kenyatta has been fortunate to work with three presidents from the United Republic of Tanzania. He came into office in 2013 during the time of President Jakaya Kikwete, they worked together very well, opened ties, enhanced tourism and they had very fruitful engagements.
After that came the late President John Magufuli and again they continued to build on those relations. President John Magufuli visited Kenya and President Kenyatta visited Tanzania and during those exchanges they encouraged us to work together as the same people, one people building bilateral relations.
They opened up trade, built people-to-people relations. These relations have continued to be enhanced upon the coming into office of President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
President Samia made her first State visit to Kenya in May, 2021. A lot of things were discussed and agreed during President Samia’s visit and the reciprocal visit by President Kenyatta in December of 2021.
One of them was that we needed to set up a permanent implementation committee so that the issues of trade and challenges we normally have can be addressed on continuous basis. Following their directive, 56 out of about 68 or so non-tariff barriers have been removed.
This is a record. We are only remaining with about 14. Of course, these are new issues that keep on emerging, but we are hopeful that in the next session between our technical committee will be able to remove these barriers and we will see enhanced trade.
As a result, trade between Kenya and Tanzania has grown tremendously by about 40 percent. In 2021, the export from Kenya to Tanzania was almost Sh600 billion. Now, the increase of trade has pushed that to almost Sh800 billion (roughly Ksh41 billion).
When you look at exports from Tanzania to Kenya which were roughly about, let’s say, Sh450 billion shillings, have increased to a record Sh960 billion, and so the balance of trade now is more in favour of the United Republic of Tanzania with a surplus of about Ksh7.8 billion and approximately Sh150 billion.
I can say confidently that this engagement between President Samia Suluhu Hassan and President Uhuru Kenyatta has pushed us very much forward in terms of trade and investment between the two countries. So, President Kenyatta has had his best foot forward in ensuring we expand trade.
How do you speak of President William Ruto?
His Excellency Dr William Samoei Ruto is not a stranger in leadership. He served as Deputy President under President Uhuru Kenyatta. So, now he has just been promoted to a higher level as president.
He is a leader who has been there, he has participated in some of the things that we are seeing being done by the government. He is a dynamic leader, he has a long history of leadership, serving as a minister in the Ministry of Agriculture and in the Ministry of Higher Education.
So, he is a person with tremendous experience in leadership. We expect that he will be able to move our country forward. He has already outlined it in his manifesto that is called The Plan, about uplifting the people of Kenya, so, I am speaking about a man who has a plan to improve the livelihood of the people of Kenya.
Secondly, the President Ruto has also pronounced himself and said that he will continue to build on what President Kenyatta has done. So, we expect continuity in some of the key areas including bilateral, regional and international relations, we expect a leader coming on board with a lot of energy, a lot of experience, with a lot of focus, with a lot of zeal and determination to push the country forward.
What do you think should be the areas of focus and improvement for President Ruto ahead of the urge to strengthen bilateral relations?
I think one of the areas that clearly President William Ruto would be pursuing, first of all, is peace and stability. Without peace you can’t have development…both peace within our nation and peace between our nations.
That is one of the areas that I know clearly he would want to cooperate with the government of the United Republic of Tanzania to enhance peace, to be able to engage together to fight the vices that bedevil both countries---transnational crime like drug trafficking, human trafficking in some cases and terrorism.
I also see him pursuing and he is very passionate about economic development and integration. The issues of trade and investment between our two countries is an area I expect he will put a lot more focus because when we do trade, when we open up our countries to do business and trade.
We have made considerable steps but there are still hurdles that we keep experiencing between our people. When you talk to the business community from both sides they express challenges that they have.
I probably would refer to what President Samia Suluhu Hassan said when she was in Kenya that these are not fundamental problems or government policy, it is just sometimes perception or misconception of the officials of government who make it difficult for people to engage in trade.
So, I foresee President William Ruto focusing a lot on eliminating the barriers to trade and enhancing free movement of people, goods and services between our two countries.
Kenya is a stronghold of trade for the East African countries. What should Ruto do to revitalise the East African Community (EAC)?
We all can be strongholds in East Africa and within the region of East Africa because we see it as not one winning over the other. We see it as a situation where people can complement one another.
Tanzania being strong does not make Kenya weaker. Kenya being strong does not make Tanzania weaker. Within the region of East Africa, the more our strength the better it is for us.
I also believe that regional peace and stability is going to be the area of focus as well for President William Ruto because there can be no development if you don’t have peace.
You cannot have trade with your neighbours if they are not stable because their focus will be on security and not on trade. I believe this will be championed by President Ruto. One of the guiding pillars of our foreign policy is peace and security.
First of all, you have peace and stability in your country and then in your region, otherwise you cannot be able to achieve economic diplomacy.
So, I see him encouraging deepening of relations in the East African Community (EAC), strengthening of relations and implementing the common market protocol so that we can do business with each other freely and easily.
There are a myriad Kenyan companies operating in Tanzania. On your side, what could be the untapped potentials in cross-border investments?
We have many more areas that have not completely been tapped and exploited to the full potential, even in the very area of trade and investment. Tanzania has a lot of potential in the area of agriculture.
This is one area that the two countries can partner in, with investors bringing in capital and working with local partners to increase the yields.
There is the area of the blue economy, which is now a big focus for us as a country because there is a lot of untapped potential.
We both share the Indian Ocean which has abundance of marine resources.
Our statistics show what we are tapping from the Indian Ocean or from our seas is just a small percentage of the potential that exists.
The latest statistics I was looking at show that we can annually benefit from our side of the coast and marine resources through the blue economy---about $3 billion worth of resources annually.
That is a huge potential that has not been tapped. Tanzania has been fortunate enough to have done a lot in the mining sector. Kenya is just beginning to get into the area of mining and mineral exploitation.
We have not been able to do it for a long period of time as the United Republic of Tanzania has. This is again an area that can use the expertise that Tanzanian people have gained over the years in mining.
They can come and develop the Kenyan side as we try to map out areas which have different types of minerals. Because of experience, Tanzania also has been able to create a very good framework for their small miners through the artisanal mining regulations that favour the small scale miners. These are things that we are still at stages of developing. This is another open area for us to collaborate.
We also share a lot of commonalities in the tourism sector. Of course, we know about wildebeest migration which is said to be the eighth wonder of the world that is shared between Kenya and Tanzania.
Again, this is an area we can have investors. Together we can build tourism facilities or even get into circuit tourism where you have visitors coming to Tanzania and also doing other circuit in Kenya.
The just-ended Kenyan election has been widely and internationally described as credible, fair and free. Do you buy the idea that Tanzania has a lot to learn from that election?
We are glad to hear a lot of many positive things being said about our general election, about the process, that it is transparent, credible and fair right from the time of campaign to the election process, the casting of the votes, announcing of the results and even the judicial process that followed.
They say we have good mechanism for dispute resolution; that if any of the people, not only the candidate, dispute the results, then you have a mechanism to have your dispute addressed by the Supreme Court of Kenya.
It is not for Tanzania just to learn from us, even Kenyans are learning from our own processes. This is an improvement from the processes that we have had before.
If you will recall, the last election in 2017 the election of President Kenyatta was overturned by the Supreme Court over what was termed then as irregularities in the process.
This was the first time this happened in Africa – for an incumbent to have his election overturned, and I think the third time it is happening in the entire world.
This means our institutions are independent and when you have independent institutions then it is the strength for the country because you are able to move forward.
Now, learning from that, the process became more open this time. And there was access by anybody, not just the citizen, even you here, if you know the link, you access the portal and you see the results as they were coming in.
We have learnt that when you have more transparency, when you have openness then there is more peace even among the people contesting. It is a process of continuous learning, and that is the essence of nation building.
Nation building is about continuing to learn and improving yourself, and general election is a key part of nation building.