INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Why he flies: Importance of Uhuru's trips for Kenya

In Summary

• There are the obvious benefits of international cooperation, tourism, trade and the sharing of knowledge and information

• With the threat of terrorism once again patently clear around us, it would be irresponsible for our President not to do everything in his power to learn from our allies and partners

President Uhuru Kenyatta with First lady Margaret at the JKIA
President Uhuru Kenyatta with First lady Margaret at the JKIA
Image: /PSCU

From Amazon to Facebook, from banking systems to trading systems, our world today is more of a network than ever in history.

Trade is no longer the realm of the elite as it was in the age of the Silk Road.  Luxury items are no longer loaded on camels to satisfy the world’s top tier.  Rather today, trade is the very basis of our existence. All of us.

No country in the world is fully self-sustainable, including those that appear to have it all. Those who produce oil need wheat; those that have all the water need oil.  The beauty of modern trade, and the danger of protectionist policies, is that countries are forced to work together, to rely on one another. Instead of fighting for resources; we share, trade and cooperate.

 
 

Sensible trade is not only about survival; it is about peace, progress, and prosperity. And despite the protectionist noises and trade wars appearing from East to West, this underlying global interconnectedness is going nowhere. As the world, and in particular our continent faces the plethora of borderless challenges – including climate change and terrorism – no country can arrogantly afford to turn their back on ‘the system’; on the network.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta goes abroad, all this must be taken into consideration.  What does Kenya have to give? What does Kenya need to take? What are the risks of travelling compared to staying? Unfortunately, the president receives columns of undeserved criticism for these trips.  He is called a tourist president. He is accused of wasting the tax payer’s money. This is ludicrous and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a 21st Century President.

Uhuru leads one the most important countries in Africa; economically, politically and diplomatically. With UN headquarters, the Red Cross, Oxfam and many multi-national companies choosing to locate in Nairobi, it is incumbent that our leader has a presence on the world stage, one that matches the prestige and honour these organisations show our nation. 

Then there are the obvious benefits of international cooperation, tourism, trade and the sharing of knowledge and information.

With the threat of terrorism once again patently clear around us, it would be irresponsible for our President not to do everything in his power to learn from our allies and partners who have so much experience in this world. Intelligence sharing, counterterrorism policy and strategy and technologies demand international cooperation.

Uhuru’s travels have also helped catalyse trade; on the continent and further afield.  Over recent years, numerous treaties and protocols have been ratified, including the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, the Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement and the EAC Protocol on Cooperation in Meteorological Services.

These are not there for mere ceremonial pomp, but to facilitate better farming and industry, and to enable more Africans to produce and sell their goods at a fair and competitive price.

 
 

Kenya has an excellent reputation — from the East to the West — as a reliable trading partner.  The UK, for example, imports our tea, coffee and horticultural products, with Kenya constituting nearly one-third of the fresh produce and over half of the black tea market in the UK.

Further afield, exports across the Atlantic to the US reached $644 million in 2018, up 12.6 per cent from 2017, and an incredible 87.5 per cent from 2008.   To understand the nature of this trade beyond the abstract intangible numbers, the top exports were, apparel, $240 million; knit apparel, $153 million; edible fruit and nuts (cocoa, brazil, cashew), $74 million; and coffee, tea & spice (coffee), $50 million.  If you work in one of these fields, if you sell your ware to one of these markets, then Uhuru’s trips mean something to you.

And with China firmly dominating the headlines, we would be remiss not to discuss the dragon from the East. With crucial funding continuing to come from our Asian partners, our leaders must continue their dialogue to ensure that trade with China is truly a two-way street.  More needs to be done to help Kenyan goods break into Chinese markets, establish joint ventures, and create truly favourable terms for both our industry and our agriculture.

Without discussion and dialogue, without international visits; Kenya would be stuck.  In a global world where interconnectedness is part of the recipe of progress and prosperity, we cannot afford to be left behind. This is why he flies.

 

Elachi is speaker, Nairobi county assembly