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Trade, arms at the centre of revamped Ukraine-Kenya ties

Ukraine has been a major arms supplier to the Kenya Defence Forces

In Summary

• Between 2015 and this year, there have been nine high-level diplomatic visits, and the scheduled visit to Ukraine later this year by Foreign Affairs CAS Ababu Namwamba will make it 10.

• There are also 11 draft bilateral agreements under consideration between the two states.

Speaker of Kenya’s National Assembly Hon. Justin Muturi taking a tour of the session hall of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine.
Speaker of Kenya’s National Assembly Hon. Justin Muturi taking a tour of the session hall of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine.
Image: COURTESY

There have been deliberate efforts to enhance Kenya-Ukraine relations in recent years.

Between 2015 and this year, there have been nine high-level diplomatic visits, and the scheduled visit to Ukraine later this year by Foreign Affairs CAS Ababu Namwamba will make it 10.

A scheduled visit by Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma in March aborted, as it coincided with France President Emmanuel Macron's state visit.

 
 

There are also 11 draft bilateral agreements under consideration between the two states.

 

That’s, however, not to mean diplomatic ties were non-existent. Kenya recognised Ukraine as an independent country on March 5, 1993, and diplomatic relations were established on the same day.  

Ukraine has also been a major arms supplier to the Kenya Defence Forces. For instance, in 2008, Kenya bought 33-Soviet-era T-72 tanks from Ukraine, which were integrated into the Kenya army. Being the second grain exporter globally, Ukraine exported to Kenya grain worth $ 15 million in 2013.

However, recent engagement was the May 13-15 official visit to Ukraine by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, who met with chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada (Speaker of the Parliament of Ukraine) Andriy Parubiy, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and other officials during the historic official visit to Ukraine this May.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and other officials during the historic official visit to Ukraine this May.
Image: COURTESY

During this visit, the two countries resolved to establish a Kenya-Ukraine Parliamentary Group, as the first step towards enhancing their bilateral relations. This portends high-level Parliamentary engagements.

Muturi’s visit did not come out of the blue. The year earlier, on May 21-23, Foreign Affairs minister Klimkin was in Kenya, where he met CS Juma, and met speakers of the two Houses — Muturi, and Senate’s Ken Lusaka — as well as with Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho.

Earlier on September 14, 2017 Klimkin held bilateral talks with the then Foreign Affairs CS Amina Mohamed on the margins of the Athens Democratic Forum in Greece.

 
 

On May 18, 2017 Parubiy met the then Senate Speaker, Ekwee Ethuro on the margins of the Global Legislative Openness Conference. There have also been previous parliamentary diplomacy engagements, notably in March 2017, when the delegation of the Budget and Appropriations Committee of the National Assembly headed by the then Teso South MP Mary Emaase met with the chairperson of the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Foreign Affairs Hanna Hopko.

 

The new push for close relations was kicked off by Ukraine when Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergiy Kyslytsia visited to participate in the first Ukraine–Kenya bilateral political consultations and in the Second high-level meeting of the Global partnership for effective development cooperation meetings with then PS Juma. He also met Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations of the National Assembly chairman and former Tetu MP Ndung’u Gethenji.

Following the talks, a business delegation of Ukraine headed by the Trade representative, Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine Nataliya Mykolska met with Kenya’s ministries of Industry and Trade, Health and Agriculture and held the first Ukraine–Kenya business forum between December 4-7, 2016

Looking at the agendas and/or the dockets involved in these bilateral engagements gives a hint on the areas the two countries want to boost their ties — trade, agriculture and arms, among other interests. And in doing this, they want to engage the people’s representatives.

In fact, after the recent Parubiy and Muturi meeting, the two leaders in a through a press release noted that legislatures world over have a crucial role in advancing their respective national interests at the international arena, adding that legislators hold the highest degree of legitimacy as they represent people from all walks of life.

"I am pleased to observe that our bilateral dialogue with Kenya has steadily grown, with several recent high-level meetings and visits," Ukraine Ambassador Andrii Pravednyk wrote recently in an opinion editorial article when he arrived in the country.

Former Daily Nation Foreign Affairs editor John Gachie says the enhanced relations are likely focussed on trade and security/ military issues.

"Ukraine is could be seeking to get a foothold in supply and repair of police and military equipment. These could be arms and aircraft in counterterrorism," Gachie told the Star on the phone.

Kenya, on the other hand, he said, might be diversifying its source of equipment. 

Prof Macharia Munene, who teaches history and international affairs at the United States International Univesity-Africa, however, said he doesn't thin arms is a major interest. 

"I don't think much of arms. Why do we want to get arms from Ukraine? There is more depth into it because Ukraine has to convince Kenya why it should buy its equipment there, probably offer better prices," Prof Munene said.

He, however, says Ukraine neighbouring a huge country could be seeking to raise visibility and international acceptability. And Kenya being a pivotal country in Africa offers that advantage. 

Ambassador Pravednyk also noted that considering Kenya is a leader and a trade gate to East Africa, Ukraine is ready to partner with Kenya in supplying agricultural products and machinery, as well as products of other industries to countries in the EAC region.

"Likewise, bearing in mind our Association Agreement with EU, Ukraine could potentially become Kenya’s main trade gate to the European market," he said.

On trade, Munene says Ukraine can increase coffee, tea and horticultural produce imports, as well as bring in more tourists.

Attempts to get a comment on the intensified ties from Ministry of Foreign Affairs were futile, as PS Ambassador Macharia Kamau and CAS Ababu Namwanba did not pick calls or respond to SMSs.

There was a significant increase in Ukraine exports to Kenya, from $32.9 million in 2017, to $79.5 million in 2017, which then dropped to $59.9 million in 2018. The exports include grains, metals and vegetables.

On the other hand, Kenya only exported goods worth $6.5 million in 2016, $6.4 million in 2017 and $8.6 million last year, showing a huge trade imbalance. Some of the exports are coffee, tea, fruits and nuts.

And at time when the exports appear quite low from Kenya, coffee farmers continue to wallow in poverty. This is despite the crop being among the most sought at the international market. As the national government seeks to overhaul the Nairobi Coffee Exchange and in its place introduce a system that will provide an open international market for locally produced coffee, Ukraine probably offers this market.

Tea is not doing any better as farmers in some parts of Central Kenya are uprooting it. In May, the Kenya Tea Development Agency announced it is seeking new markets abroad to boost profits. KTDA chairman Peter Kanyago said the initiative intends to expand the market, thus enhance prices.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi during the launch of Huduma Namba registration in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 13, 2019.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi during the launch of Huduma Namba registration in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 13, 2019.
Image: COURTESY

Poor tea prices cannot, however, be entirely be blamed on lack of new markets because Kenya has lost the already existing markets for various reasons. For instance, Iran is not able to buy Kenyan after sanctions by the US over the nuclear deal. “Iran are willing to buy our tea but they don’t have dollars to sell tea to America,” Kanyago said in May.

The political instability in Sudan has also disrupted tea trade with Kenya.

According to Ukraine Embassy’s website, some of the potential investment opportunities include agriculture, technology, aerospace, pharmaceuticals and alternative sources of energy.More:

 Ukraine’s chargé d’affaires Samvel Arustamian, in a past interview last year told the Star that his country can supply Kenya with light and medium agricultural machinery and chemicals to ensure food security.

“I recently learnt Kenya’s Agriculture minister will help coffee farmers get Sh1.3 billion subsidised fertiliser. Ukraine might become a perfect partner in this but have to wait for the official announcement,” he said.


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