Why Kenyatta Rolled Out Red Carpet for EAC Nationals

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In Summary: In a classic pan-Africanist overture, Kenyan President Uhuru Mugai Kenyatta rolled out a red carpet to nationals from the East African Community (EAC) member countries to work, do business, own property, farm, and if possible, find a willing partner, marry and settle in Kenya. Like their Kenyan brothers and sisters, nationals from EAC member countries would only need a valid identity card to enter Kenya and be treated like Kenyans before the laws of the land. To fellow Kenyans, “God commands us to love and protect our neighbor, and that the safety and prosperity of our nation also depends on how you treat your neighbor,” the newly sworn-in president declared on November 28, 2017.  But why now? President Uhuru Kenyatta, in his second and last term, wants to leave behind a legacy of regional integration and pan-Africanism; he needs to consolidate Kenya’s advantaged and sometimes unfair share of the regional market for its manufactured goods and services; and graciously payback to EAC member countries to which Kenya has over the years exported its nationals as expatriates to manage multinational corporations and privatized government parastatals in those countries.    As Samuel Muwanguzi writes, while the open-boarder overture was warmly received in most EAC member states and among sections of the Kenyan population, not all Kenyans were impressed. As to whether the goodwill gesture will come to pass, watch this space!

President Uhuru Mugai Kenyatta, 56, swearing-in for his second and last term at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on November 28, 2017. (Photo by Agencies). Kenyan anthem http://www.eadm.news/33-featured/85-kenyas-national-anthem

Nairobi, Kenya—in a classic pan-Africanist overture, newly sworn-in Kenyan President Uhuru Mugai Kenyatta rolled out a red carpet for nationals from the East African Community (EAC) member countries and declared that they would be treated like Kenyans as long as they possessed a valid identity card.  “From today, you will be treated like Kenyans,” the 56-year old president declared. “Like your Kenyan brothers and sisters, you will need only your identity card to work, do business; own property, farm and if you wish, and find a willing partner, you can marry and settle in Kenya,” he declared.  But he cautioned nationals from EAC member countries who would take advantage of the open-boarder policy to subject themselves to the rules and laws of the land. “As we welcome you, you will equally be subjected to the same rules and laws as your Kenyan brothers and sisters.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta delivering his pan-Africanist speech at his second inauguration at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi. (Photo by Agencies)

In a speech that heavily drew from the Bible, the leader of the largest economy in East Africa said:  “I want to remind every Kenyan that God commands us to love and protect our neighbor and that the safety and prosperity of our nation also depends on how you treat your neighbor.” He urged all Kenyans to join him in becoming their brother’s keeper. “Your neighbor can be from any community, can worship differently from you, but it is they who will take you to the hospital on a late night when an emergency strikes,” he said with a tone of an overzealous evangelist. Adding: “They will run to your door in response to your cries of alarm. Your children will play with theirs, regardless of the differences adults can be so conscious of.”   While the open-border overture was warmly received in most EAC member states and among sections of the Kenyan population, not all Kenyans were impressed. Some sections of the Kenyan population were more cynical. Some claimed the open-border policy was a recipe for disaster as it would result in the infiltration of the country by terrorist groups including al-Shabab, Al Qaeda, and ISIS.   

A collage of Presidents Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, who were in charge when the original EAC collapsed in 1977.

But why now? The question lingers. First, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in his second and last term, wants to leave behind a legacy of regional integration and pan-Africanism. Under his watch, Kenyatta wants to come across as one of the leading advocates of the East African integration and eventual federation, a process that collapsed in 1977 when his late father, Presidents Mzeei Jomo Kenyatta, Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, and Uganda’s Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada were in charge. The trio has since passed on. In comparative terms, Kenyatta wants to emerge as the modern regional leader who grasped the free-wheeling globalization revolution that breaks down physical boarders, opens up to migrant labor, goods, and services. In the greater geopolitical scheme of things, Kenyatta wants to pull the first one over his southern neighbor, Tanzania’s Pom Magufuli whose government, since the revival of the East African Community, has been skeptical of the East African integration and federation.  Tanzania, the second largest economy in the region, has historically been less enthusiastic about migrant labor and tightly enforces its closed boarder policy to keep out workers from member states.

President John Pom Magufuli of Tanzania

Sounding with a passion of a newly converted pan-Africanist, the son of the first Kenyan president said his extension of a hand of brotherhood and friendship was a “a mark of our continued commitment to you, our Brothers and Sisters in the East African Community; and this commitment we make with no conditions for reciprocity but driven by our desire for deeper regional integration,” he said with evangelical zeal. President Uhuru Muigai   Kenyatta was speaking after he had been sworn-in for his second and final term following a divisive election campaign that sucked in the country's top court that threw out the results of the first election in August and upheld the results of the second vote   boycotted by the opposition led by veteran politician Raila Omolo Odinga.

Kenyan veteran opposition leader Raila Omolo Odinga boycotted the second election. He had earlier succeeded in getting the results of the first election overturned by the Supreme Court but lost the petition seeking to nullify the second vote he boycotted. (Photo by Agencies).

President Uhuru Mugai Kenyatta is son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president, and his fourth wife Mama Ngina Kenyatta.  A graduate of economics and political science from Amherst College in Massachusetts, United States, and Uhuru is married to Margaret Gakuo and the couple has three children. Uhuru Kenyatta took the oath using the same Bible his father Jomo Kenyatta used in 1963 as the capacity crowd of his supporters erupted into cheers.

President Kenyatta’s declaration of an open-boarder policy could also have been inspired by the need to consolidate Kenya’s advantaged and sometimes unfair share of the regional market for its manufactured goods and services.  Kenya, the largest and fast-expanding economy, has the most developed industrial sector compared with the other five EAC member states. Even in the face of stiff competition from cheaper and high-quality products that have flooded the EAC market from China and South Africa respectively, Kenyan products are still dominant.

It made economic sense that President Kenyatta would strategically sustain friendly market destinations for Kenyan goods and services in a region with which the country enjoys the most favorable trade and commercial ties. Coming across as the warm host to millions of unemployed workers from the EAC member states will perhaps entice nationals from the EAC member states to dig deeper into their pockets to buy and use products and services made in a friendly and receptive neighbor, Kenya. It is the economy, stupid!

President Uhuru Kenyatta with former Kenyan presidents Daniel Torotich Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. (Photo by Agencies)

Uhuru Kenyatta, whose first term began in 2013 and ended, last August became the fourth Kenyan president. He succeeded President Emilio Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s third president. Mwai Kibaki’s administration lasted ten years from 2002 to 2013. Kibaki took over from President Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya’s second president who succeeded Uhuru's late father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, in 1978. Moi ruled for 24 years, the longest reign in Kenya thus far. The late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was in power for nearly 15 years, from independence on December 12, 1963 to 1978. The two surviving former presidents; Moi and Kibaki congratulated Uhuru Kenyatta upon his election victory last October.

That President Uhuru declared his open-border policy without demanding any form of reciprocity, he was actually, knowingly or unknowingly, acknowledging the extent to which Kenya has maintained a competitive advantage over its neighbors. Is it payback time? Your guess is as good as mine. Kenya is actually paying back to EAC member countries to which it has over the years exported many of its nationals as expatriates to manage multinational corporations and privatized government parastatals. Most EAC member countries lacked the expertise and local skilled manpower to take charge of foreign-owned companies.

Historically, Kenya enjoyed a comparative advantage over its East African neighbors in attracting direct foreign investment, skilling its human resources, optimizing its relative political and economic stability in a volatile region to win over the confidence of international organizations. Kenya strategically positioned her nationals as the best fit in corporate governance in the region. Kenyan nationals command a large percentage of the expatriate community in EAC member states. You cannot begrudge them. Yet, over the years, while Kenya welcomed refugees from the other EAC member states, its labor laws remained too stringent to facilitate qualified nationals from its neighbors to acquire permits to work in Kenya. Are the chickens now coming home to roost? Time will tell.

Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda at the swearing-in ceremony of the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi. (Photo by Agencies). EAC anthem  http://www.eadm.news/33-featured/82-eac-anthem

As primary witnesses to the rebirth of pan-Africanism and enhanced regional integration, President Uhuru welcomed nine presidents from Africa who flew in to be part of the historical event. They demonstrated their solidarity with their Kenyan counterpart as he took the oath of office in addition to warmly receiving his declaration. Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Salva Kiir of South Sudan, Edgar Lungu of Zambia, Ian Khama of Botswana, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of Somalia, Ismail Omar Guelleh Muhammed of Djibouti, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Hage Geingob of Namibia voted with their jets to grace the occasion. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and others from Senegal and Guinea also attended the colorful event.   Nigeria and Burundi, among others, sent their vice presidents to witness the swearing-in ceremony. Tanzania President John Pom Magufuli was the only East African president who was noticeably absent from Kenyatta’s inauguration. He was, however, represented by the country’s vice president. Former presidents of South Africa and Zambia Thabo Mbeki and Zambia Kenneth Kaunda respectively were also present.

Addressing himself directly to the nationals and leaders in the EAC whom he constantly referred to as “our Brothers and Sisters in the East African Community,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said: “You are our closest friends; our fate and yours are joined at the hip; our troubles and triumphs are yours, and yours are ours.” He assured leaders of the East African Community of his commitment to revamping the level of optimism to ensure prosperity in the regional body. “I will work with you, my brothers, the leaders of the East African Community, to bring a renewed energy and optimism to our union. ,” he pledged, adding, “Together, we can deliver the peace and prosperity for which our citizens are crying out; divided, we will struggle to realize the full potential of our people.”

But the colorful ceremony was not without its hitches. The police had to fire tear gas to control a large crowd of opposition activists which had gathered outside the stadium and attempted to force their way into the venue. 

Opposition supporters scamper for safety after police fired tear gas as they tried to force their way into Kasarani stadium during the swearing-in ceremony. (Photo by Agencies)

To the rest of Africa, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that the free movement of people on the continent has always been a cornerstone of Pan-African brotherhood and fraternity. He then declared: “Today, I am directing that any African wishing to visit Kenya will be eligible to receive a visa at the port of entry.” He assured that the hand of friendship he was extending to Africans was not based on reciprocity. “The freer we are to travel and live with one another, the more integrated and appreciative of our diversity, we will become,” he emphasized. President Kenyatta predicted that the political balkanization that risks our mutual security and the negative politics of identity will recede as our brotherhood expands to embrace more Africans.” Recognizing, as well, the enormity of the commitment, President Kenyatta called on all peace-loving Kenyans to join him in the pan-Africanist endeavor. “This sacred task goes beyond the work of a President or any group of government officials,” he said.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspects a guard of honor in Nairobi on arrival for Uhuru's inauguration. (Photo by Agencies)

Curious as to why the Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu graced the event, you need not look any further. President Kenyatta saluted Kenya’s friends in the international community for standing with the country at all times. He pledged Kenya’s commitment to strengthening its economic ties and bilateral and multilateral relations. He said in the fight against international terrorism, free and democratic nations are allies against a common enemy. “We will continue to fight together, to share our knowledge, to support our allies, and we will work for peace in our region, for that is what a good neighbor does,” he declared.

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