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Will Farmajo take Somalia to the Promised Land?

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Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Photo: Reuters)

By Florence Gichoya

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was elected the 9th president of the Federal Republic of Somalia. World leaders hailed the peaceful transfer of power from former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. The new president also goes by his nickname ‘Farmajo’, a word referring to ‘cheese’, his childhood delicacy.

Farmajo emerged winner in the historic elections held on February 8th 2017. Somalia had not held elections since 1985. The members of parliament voted from a pool of 21 presidential candidates, in a poll that was riddled with voter bribery allegations. After he was declared winner, he stated his vision for Somalia, “this is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation, the beginning of the fight against al shabab and corruption,” he said.

But during his inauguration, Farmajo told the Somali people to be hopeful, but also to be aware that it may take many years to fix Somalia. “Multiple challenges are ahead of our government. Therefore, I am telling people that because of the limited resources we have, our achievements will be limited,” he said

President Uhuru Kenyatta attended the inauguration event in solidarity with a neighbor emerging from decades of instability. He supported the Somali people in the ongoing efforts to rebuild the country. “The successful elections and peaceful transfer of power are a clear demonstration of the desire and ability of the people of Somalia to strengthen governance structure and build sustainable peace,” President Kenyatta said. Other regional leaders who graced the occasion were Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, and Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

An American citizen, Farmajo has lived and worked in the U.S since 1985. His previous job was in the New York Department of Transportation, and he was an active member of the Republican Party. This unique arrangement, of foreign passport holders vying for political seats in Somalia is acceptable. According to Politico magazine, diaspora Somalis constitute a third of Somalia’s government.

Interestingly, out of the 21 presidential candidates, nine had dual citizenship of Somalia and America. Four candidates were British Somalis and three were Canadian Somalis. Former presidents Sheikh Shariff Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud have dual citizenship of Kenya and Somalia.

Farmajo served as Somalia’s Prime Minister between 2010 and 2011. In one year he won the hearts of Somalis for his zero tolerance on corruption. He downsized the cabinet to improve efficiency, and ensured the salaries of the army and police officers were paid promptly.

 Farmajo’s strategy on Alshabab

Somalia has seen a fair share of conflict since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was deposed in 1991. For 25 years, factions of warlords and Al shabab terrorists have controlled some territories, making the country ungovernable.

During his inauguration speech, President Farmajo offered an olive branch to the Al Shabab, and appealed to the belligerent group to join him in transforming the country.

President Kenyatta echoed that both Kenya and Somalia are threatened by many “foreign terrorists actors and agents” and “transnational and cross border crimes.”

Kenya and Somalia have suffered the blunt of Al shabab. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was set up for the purpose of stabilizing Somalia. KDF moved to Somalia in 2011 after increased cases of kidnappings of tourists and foreign aid workers by al shabab in the country. Kenya has about 3,600 troops in Somalia.

War and conflict leads to displacement of human population. Kenya has carried the burden of hosting Somali refugees for 25 years, and intends to shut down the Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts more than 200,000 Somali refugees. Kenyan government maintains that the camp is infiltrated by al shabab terrorists, and poses a threat to national security. “We will continue to provide a safe haven for refugees, but that generosity will be balanced, against the imperative of keeping Kenya safe,” President Kenyatta said.

Intelligence reports revealed that the Westgate Mall attack in September 2013 was hatched in the Dadaab camp. Two years later, the al shabab attacked Garissa University College killing 148 people.

Deputy President William Ruto accentuated Kenya’s position at the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit in 2015, “Kenya has been faithful to her international obligations of humanitarian assistance, but no country can shoulder humanitarian responsibilities, at the expense of the security of her people, and the refugees themselves,” he said.

Farmajo will certainly engage Kenya and Ethiopia in the repatriation process of refugees. There is also the issue of Puntland that refuses to go away. Puntland, is an area in Northeastern Somalia that claimed autonomy in 1998.

Somalia has also suffered economic hardships for decades. According to the World Bank, Somalia is the fifth poorest country in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates Somalia’s economic growth rate will be at 2.5 percent, down from 3.7 percent growth rate experienced last year.

The country lacks a monetary policy and since 1991, Somalia has never printed its national currency, Somalia Shilling. This year, the Somalia Central Bank Governor announced plans to print its own currency, a project that will cost 60 million dollars. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) country director in Somalia, Samba Thiam said that, “98 percent of the currency circulating in the country is fake.”

Somalia on the rise

Somalia is a country of many contrasts. It has a heritage of a people who speak one language, but are divided along clans. The clans wield a lot of power in the governance of the country.

Since 1991, millions of Somalis have immigrated and settled in different countries around the world. The Somali diaspora has excelled in the business, health, sports, and academia and governance sectors.

Despite the security challenges, Somalia is on the rise of making a mark in the region. Last year Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched the largest Turkish diplomatic mission in Mogadishu. Schools, hospitals and markets have re-opened and Somali Diasporas are steadily returning to their homeland.

The country has the longest coastline in Africa and has potential of becoming a leading tourist destination. Farmajo has a big task ahead. To rebuild and stabilize a fragile state, and improve Somalia’s standing in the community of nations.


Can African Languages Unite the Continent?

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Some of African languages (photo credit:

By Florence Gichoya

On February 21st, every year, the world celebrates the ‘International Mother Language Day’ (IMLD). In that day, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), advocates for multilingual education for children in formal learning environment. This year’s theme for IMLD is to promote sustainable futures through multilingual education. The theme anchors Sustainable Development Goal number four, which in part, promotes all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, to achieve literacy and numeracy.

A few years ago, Kenya government released sessional paper 14 of 2012, instructing teachers in all public schools, to teach children below eight years in their vernacular language. The education policy elicited heated public debate. There was divided opinion on the benefits of using ‘Mother Language’ as a mode of learning instruction in schools. Others supported the policy quoting research findings on vernacular education in formal schools.

Still, there are genuine concerns on how curriculum on vernacular languages can be standardized, considering there are numerous distinct languages across the nation. A big challenge would be changing the society’s attitude towards teaching vernacular language.

According to the Cheavens report (1957) on Vernacular Languages in Education around the World, children who learn vernacular language before switching to a second language tend to develop better social skills.

A research study conducted in Philippines, showed students that were initially taught in English only, fared poorly compared to students that were first taught in their vernacular language before they were introduced to the English language. Dr. John R. Rickford opined that the second group of students caught up and outshined the students who started with English language only. They performed better in mathematics, English and social studies.

In 2014, South Africa government issued a similar directive to all public primary schools to start teaching a vernacular language to the students. Other African countries that have adopted vernacular language as medium of instruction in schools include Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Learning other languages helps to shed off stereotypes. Learning a vernacular language will help the learners to have an identity by connecting with their cultural backgrounds hence creating holistic individuals.

Africa divided along Language lines

There are more than 2,000 languages spoken in Africa. It is the highest number of different languages in any continent. But despite the high number of languages, colonial history obligated countries to adopt English, French and Portuguese as official languages. The languages are used in the education, judicial, and governance system.

In post-colonial era, African states are still divided along language lines. Anglophone countries – states that were colonized by Britain gravitate together on common issues. On the other hand, francophone countries – those that were colonized by the French, are united in issues of common interest.

The division evidently played out in the recent elections of African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson. After a grueling 7 round of voting, the race had narrowed down to francophone countries supporting the winner Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, while the Anglophone countries rallied behind Kenya’s Amina Mohamed.

This is based on the unwritten rule of rotating the AUC position between Anglophone and francophone countries. The former Chairperson, Dr. Ndamini Zuma, a South African was from an Anglophone country, and the French speaking countries were determined to have one of their own take the seat.

Amina observed that we live in a continent that is divided along foreign languages, “Africa is divided along language lines, even though the languages don’t belong to us. Yet the authors of those languages do not fight among themselves.”

The AU recognizes Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Kiswahili and other African language as the official language. However, the institution only identifies Arabic, English, French and Portuguese as the working language.

Power of language

Language can be used as a tool of oppression. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame led his country in joining the Commonwealth, leaving La Francophonie bloc that constitutes French speaking countries. Kagame maintains that France played a role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. France has denied the claims.

The infamous students’ riots that took place in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976, were as a result of the Apartheid government imposing the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction in all schools.

Still, today there are countries with internal divisions that are driven by historical ties to the languages of their colonial rulers. Cameroon is currently embroiled in an internal strife, after the national government curtailed internet freedom in two provinces, which are predominantly English speaking. The two Anglophone provinces were under the British colonial rule, while the rest of Cameroon was colonized by the French. The two regions unified to form the state of Cameroon and recognized both English and French as the official languages.

But, last year the Anglophone regions protested against the government’s directive to impose French as the language of instruction in education and judicial systems. President Paul Biya’s government retaliated by shutting down internet connection in the two English speaking provinces.

Could the solution be found in adopting African languages as national languages? Kenya’s national languages are Swahili and English. South Africa has 11 official languages, making it the country with the most official languages in the world. Having African languages as national languages promotes inclusivity, bolsters peaceful coexistence and a sense of national unity.

Vernacular languages have brought opportunities in different fields including arts, theatre, publishing and media. However, some of vernacular media stations were used to spread ethnic hatred during the Rwanda genocide and Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence.

Renowned Kenyan scholar, Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, has written award winning books in his native Kikuyu language. He implores Africans to embrace their indigenous languages remarking that ‘English is not an African language.’

Africa’s diverse languages should be the bridge that unites all communities. Research has shown that children can learn different languages at the same time. People who are multilingual are more receptive of other people’s customs and norms, and as a result, promote harmony. The appreciation of different languages will raise a generation of young people that are not bound by colonial history, but see themselves as Africans first.

Ethiopia: Africa’s new economic powerhouse

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By Florence Gichoya

Ethiopia is a country of many contrasts. Africa’s most populous land locked country, is a rising economic powerhouse, recording the highest economic growth rate in the continent. But then again, Ethiopia performs dismally in the area of democracy and press freedom. The country’s parliament is deficient of opposition MPs. The ruling party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and its allied parties, won all the 546 parliamentary seats, in last year’s May elections.

Still, the state driven economy is upbeat and trounces many African countries, which are either grappled with conflict, corruption or hostile political environment that is unfavorable for investors.

There is an unstoppable construction boom. In 2013, Africa’s biggest wind farm was built in the south of Addis Ababa. The 324 MW wind power will address the growing energy demand for domestic and industrial use. Another mega project is the construction of the 6, 000 MW Grand Renaissance dam. It will cost $4.8 billion, making it the seventh biggest hydropower plant in the world.

By increasing and diversifying the source of energy, Ethiopia has paved way for local and foreign investors. In April last year, an American owned company General Electric Transportation announced that it would set up an electric cars factory in Ethiopia, it will be the first in the continent. The plant is expected to make 4,000 cars per month, and will offer employment to thousands.

In November last year, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Transport launched the country’s first manufacturing and assembly plant. The Bushoftu Automative Industry located in a military base, is expected to manufacture 10,000 to 20,000 vehicles per year. The Transport Ministry indicated that in 2014, there were only 587,400 vehicles for 94 million people in the country. That translates to two vehicles for every 1,000 people.

“This is a light duty manufacturing plant. In this factory we can manufacture and assemble pickups, station wagons, single and double cabins and mini-trucks. We can manufacture or assemble more than 20 units per day. If there is more demand we can increase this production,” said Major Metafer Beshawhwured, the factory’s Assistant General Manager.

Ethiopia has an ambition to not only manufacture automobiles to cater for domestic demands, but also to export to neighbouring countries including Kenya.

Transport and infrastructure boom

In November last year, Ethiopia made history when it launched the first light rail system in Sub-Saharan Africa. The 32 km rail is essential in decongesting the city that has a population of more than 4 million people. Another 800 km railway line connecting Addis Ababa and Djibouti’s Port City was completed. The train ferries 1,500 trucks of goods daily to land locked Ethiopia.

An elaborate road network to increase the economic growth is under construction. The World Bank Group is partly financing the construction of Modjo-Hawassa 203km road, to the tune of $370 million. The expressway will connect the southern region to central area, and northern Ethiopia will be linked to the Djibouti Port. The road will reduce duration of travel, from four hours to two hours, and accommodate 4,000 vehicles per day. The road is part of the transcontinental 10,000 km Cape Town to Cairo highway.

Unlike other African airlines that are making loses, year in year out, Ethiopia Airlines has maintained a sturdy profit making record. In the 2014 to 2015 financial year, the government owned airline recorded $175 profit. Last month, the carrier signed a pact with Rwanda’s RwandAir, to rid the fifth freedom rights. This partnership now allows both carriers to operate without restrictions in Ethiopia and Rwanda airspace.

Sustaining traditional exports

Coffee is Ethiopia’s leading foreign exchange earner and the country is Africa’s leading exporter of Arabica coffee. According to National Geographic Magazine, 12 million Ethiopians depend on coffee as a source of income. Kenya has a lot to learn from Ethiopia’s coffee industry.

In January this year, Ethiopia projected a 45 per cent increase in coffee exports. “Coffee exports will increase 45 per cent to over 260,000 tons this year. Incentives will help achieve this goal, and they will include marketing linkage, loans for coffee exporters and processors, and the promotion of the Arabica coffee that the country exports at trade shows abroad,” Shimelis Arega, Ethiopia’s Trade Ministry spokesperson pronounced.

In 2014, the World Bank indicated that Ethiopia’s coffee contributed to 84 per cent of the country’s total exports and 80 per cent of the country’s total employment. The country’s Ministry of Trade has embarked on training small scale farmers on value addition, in order to increase sales.

The country has also diversified into horticulture business, which has grown tremendously over the years. According to World Bank Economist, Lars Christian Moller, who authored Strengthening Export Performance through Improved Competitiveness (July 2014). He evaluated Ethiopia’s flower industry had grown, “from one single firm 14 years ago to about 100 firms today, earning $200 million per year from exports and employing an estimated 50,000 people.”

When it comes to livestock industry, Ethiopia takes the lead. The livestock contributes to 17 per cent of the country’s GDP. According to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Every year, the country produces about 2.7 million hides, 8.1 million sheepskins and 7.5 million goat skins.” The government attributes the high volume of animal hides and skins to the large population of 54 million cattle, 25.5 million sheep, 24 million goats, 7 million donkeys, two million horses and one million camels in the country. As a result, the leather industry has continued to thrive. Over 30 tanneries and numerous factories are used to process leather into shoes, bags, purses, industrial gloves, and other assorted items.

The end-products are exported to Asia, Europe and American markets. Foreign investors are encouraged to invest in the leather industry, where they enjoy a wide range of incentives, including more relief from income tax for a period of five years.

Ethiopia is an emerging power house that is on the rise. There is divided opinion on the ruling regime’s track record on human rights abuses, and its punitive methods of combating dissent. Nevertheless, Ethiopia continues to achieve great economic strides, making it an envy of Africa’s leading democracies

Burning Ivory to Conserve Africa’s Elephants

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President Uhuru Kenyatta sets fire on the ivory stockpile at Nairobi National Park. Photo/PSCU

By Florence Gichoya

For a third time, Kenya has made international headlines by burning a stockpile of ivory. On April 30th 105 tonnes of ivory were burnt at the Nairobi National Park. It is the largest hoard of ivory to be destroyed globally. On July 19 1989, former President Daniel Arap Moi burnt 12 tonnes of ivory tusks at the Nairobi National Park. The action was a bold statement against ivory poaching and trade in the world.

“To stop the poacher, the trader must also be stopped and to stop the trader, the final buyer must be convinced not to buy ivory. I appeal to people all over the world.” President Moi said during the historic event. The destruction of the seized ivory was influenced by the drastic drop of elephant population in the country, from 167,000 in 1973 to 16,000.

The action greatly influenced the global ban of ivory trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in October 1989. The resolution was supported by 76 states with 11 countries voting against. Interestingly, among the opponents of the ban were African countries that wanted to carry on trading ivory with Asian countries. Burundi, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe did not support the ban on ivory trade that was a source of revenue for their countries.

Similarly, other countries followed suit in burning ivory stockpile as a public statement against poaching and ivory trade. Zambia burned 9.5 tonnes of seized ivory in 1992.

Richard Leakey, chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service, told Scientific American Magazine that following the 1989 burning of ivory, there was a drastic drop in poaching incidences in Kenya. “The number of elephants being killed in Kenya went down from thousands a year to maybe 100 by the end of 1990, and it remained at that low level for at least a decade.”

On July 20 2011, President Mwai Kibaki, burnt five tonnes of ivory at the Tsavo National Park. “We cannot afford to sit back and allow criminal networks to destroy our common future. Through the burning of contraband ivory, we are sending a clear message to poachers and illegal traders in wildlife about our collective resolve to fight this crime in our region and beyond.” Kibaki said.

He echoed Kenya’s resolve to conserve elephants and fight ivory trade. “Through the disposal of contraband ivory, we seek to formally demonstrate to the world our determination to eliminate all forms of illegal trade in ivory.” He said.

The burning of ivory on April 30th sent a strong message to the world to stand against ivory trade. Richard Leakey believes it’s the best way to change perceptions and attitudes of Asian consumers. “My feeling is that many people who are buying this ivory in China and elsewhere simply don’t know what it is doing to elephants. May be they think that it is coming off elephants that have died of natural causes. When Kenya burns $100 million worth of ivory, they’ll say, ‘What the hell was that about?’ It will help open their eyes to what is actually happening.” Richard Leakey told Scientific American.

According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), 14 countries have destroyed over 130 tonnes of ivory since 1989. Countries have chosen to either burn or crush their seized ivory, including; Gabon, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, France, China, Philippines, USA, China and Hong Kong

Still other countries have opted to sell their ivory, with clearance from CITES. In 1999, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe sold 49.4 tonnes of ivory to Japan. The sale precipitated high demand of ivory in Asia, which led to increased incidences of poaching of rhinos and elephants in Africa.

In 2008, CITES permitted Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell 102 tonnes of ivory to China and Japan. Again, the deal saw a surge in elephant poaching.

Kitili Mbathi, the Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service, stated why Kenya was burning the largest stockpile of ivory in the world. “Kenya has decided to burn ivory because the moment you burn it, you are making it beyond economic use. Trophy disposal is left for countries to decide, some opt to crush it.” He said.

Mbathi emphasized that “Ivory is only valuable to Elephants,” and should not be used for other adornments.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 96 elephants are killed every day in Africa, due to the high demand of ivory in Asia.



Demand drives supply

Other endangered species include the Rhinos, which are an easy target for poachers due to the value of their horns. In some Asian countries, the Rhino horn is perceived to have medicinal value. The rhino horn is more valuable than gold, a kilogram sells at more than Ksh 1 million in the black market.

Kenya is home to the third largest Rhino population in the world. According to African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), the poaching of Africa’s rhinos increased by 9,200 per cent between 2007 and 2014, with South Africa losing 1,215 rhinos in 2014.

The biggest challenge is in replenishing the population of elephants and rhinos that have long duration gestation periods. The tragic reality is that high rate of poaching means; there are more rhinos and elephants being killed than those that are being born. A rhino’s gestation period is about 16 months while elephants have a gestation period of almost two years.

Parliament enacted the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, the law has boosted efforts of wildlife conservation and conviction of poachers. Though the number of arrests has increased, there should be more convictions of poachers, ivory traffickers and their masterminds. Last year, Feisal Mohamed Ali, an ivory smuggler suspect was released from custody yet he is accused of smuggling ivory worth 2 tonnes.

Poaching of African Elephants and Rhinos thrives because of a complex network of cartels, which corrupt law enforcers, custom and immigration officials. The well-organized syndicates are elusive to justice and continue to carry out their crime across borders. Kenya’s cases of poaching have reduced. However, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Mombasa port continue to be transit points for ivory from Tanzania and Central Africa.

Why EAC Ranked Top in Regional Integration

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eac image

By Florence Gichoya

The inaugural Africa’s Regional Integration Index, ranked East Africa Community (EAC) as the top regional body in Africa. The report was compiled by African Development Bank (AfDB), African Union Commission (AUC) and Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and was released on April 2 2016, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Index, showed the progress and impact of regional integration in the continent. It looked at 28 indicators among them regional infrastructure, trade integration, productive integration, free movement of people and goods, and financial integration.

Africa has 8 regional intergovernmental organizations under the African Union. East Africa Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Arab Maghreb Union (UMA).

Overall, EAC was ranked the most integrated region, followed by SADC and ECOWAS came third. CEN-SAD was ranked the least integrated region. IGAD, which Kenya is a member, was ranked the best performer in the area of infrastructure.

Free movement across borders

On January 1 2014, the tripartite partnership of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda launched the use of national identity cards to travel across the three countries. “Time has come for us to remove colonial boundary barriers that have kept us apart and also isolated the people from interacting and doing business freely.” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

The initiative’s aim was to encourage more integration, free movement of goods and services in the region that would boost the economy. “This is what we have agreed as leaders so that our people can interact by visiting each other’s country to do business and develop domestic tourism.” Uhuru said. So far the project has had considerable success, evidenced by the favorable ranking in the Africa’s Regional Integration Index.

EAC has also been commended for implementing easy travel for tourists intending to visit the region. On February 20 2014, the East Africa single tourist visa for Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda was launched by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame. Tourists need not apply for visas from the three visas, the 90 days visa allows multiple entries in the three countries. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda also embarked on marketing the region in international tourism fairs.

However, research has shown the project is still unpopular in the region. Kenya Tourism Federation announced in June 25 last year that 58 per cent of tourists had not used the single tourist visa, due to lack of awareness.

The Africa’s Regional Integration Index reported that, “When visa or work permit restrictions are cut, gains in time and resources open up, which supports more competitive businesses and economies.”

Africa Union Passports

Just like the European Union (EU) issues EU passports to citizens of its member states. The African Union (AU) will soon launch African passports to all Africans. The AU plans to issue the 53 Head of states, with the passports in efforts to popularize the travel document to their citizens.

EU passport holders don’t need visas to travel across Europe; likewise, AU passport holders will freely access all African countries without restrictions. “A few of us at the AU are already using that passport within Africa, and it is very useful, but we want the heads of states to carry it when they are visiting African countries to make it official and known to others as well.” Dr.  Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission said.

African continent is still beset by restrictions of free movement of goods and services. During the African Leadership Forum held in Dar es Salam in July 2015. Olesugun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president called for the abolition of visas by African governments. “What we need to do in order to speed the integration process is to abolish visas in Africa. West African countries have done it and it is working.” He said.

According to AfDB’s Africa Visa Openness Index (2016), 55 per cent of African countries still issue visas to African travellers intending to visit their countries. Only 20 per cent of African countries, allow visitors without visas. Seychelles has the best visa openness policy. “Visa openness promotes talent mobility and business opportunities. Africa’s leader’s and policymakers have a key role to play in helping Africans to move freely in support of  (AU) Agenda 2063’s call, to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018.” Moono Mupotola, AfDB’s Director of Regional Integration and Trade said.

European Union

The European Union has succeeded in economic and political integration, compared to other regional bodies in the world. It has a membership of 28 countries and has existed for more than 55 years.

Within the EU, there’s free movement of people and goods. In 1999, it successfully launched the Euro, replacing the member countries’ currencies, with the exception of Britain and Denmark.

The regional body was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, for contributing, ‘to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.’

Although Europe is a leading regional body, it is currently facing the threat of terrorism from Islamic State. It also has to cope with unprecedented immigration crisis, which has deeply divided EU’s membership on its policy on open borders for asylum seekers.

Terrorists attacks in EU’s capital Brussels, Belgium, on March 22 2016 that killed 31 people. And the deadly Paris terror attacks in 2015 have caused proponents of EU to be apprehensive on regional cohesion. Countries like Britain and France are now calling for tougher measures on EU’s immigration policy.

Another challenge for EU is the looming exit of Britain, the exit dubbed ‘Brexit’ will be determined by a referendum in 2017. Britain, a leading economy in Europe, has maintained its national currency, sterling pound, and declined to adapt the Euro currency. It has also restricted free flow of immigrants from Syria and other Middle East countries. If the referendum sails through, Britain will join Switzerland and Norway, which are the only European countries that are non-members of the EU.

Uhuru’s Visit to Israel will Cement Century-Old Relations

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By Florence Gichoya

President Uhuru Kenyatta is scheduled to visit Israel on a State Visit at the end of this month. His visit will boost bilateral ties and strengthen security cooperation between the two countries. It will be the second state visit by a Kenyan Head of State, since Moi’s visit in 1994.

Kenya and Israel enjoy cordial relations spanning for over fifty years. Israel was the first country to establish a diplomatic mission in Nairobi. The embassy’s foundation stone was placed on December 10 1963 by the first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta – just two days before Kenya’s independence. Jomo Kenyatta formalized partnership with Israel, in the role of offering specialized training to young Kenyans involved in nation building, after the British colonial government closed shop.

But the diplomatic ties were severed after the Yom Kippur war, between Israel and Egypt in October 1973. Kenya stood in solidarity with member states of the defunct Organization of African Unity (OAU) and downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel.

Despite the severing of ties, Israel is indebted to Kenya for the assistance rendered to its security forces, during the hostage rescue mission in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. President Jomo Kenyatta allowed Israeli jets to land and refuel in Kenya in the rescue mission dubbed ‘Operation Thunderbolt’. Palestinian militants had hijacked an Air France flight with 248 passengers on board. They rerouted the plane to Entebbe Airport, Uganda with cooperation from former dictator Idi Amin.

The diplomatic ties officially resumed in December 23 1988. And Kenya’s diplomatic mission in Israel was established in 1994, shortly after President Moi’s visit.

Israel’s contribution to Kenya’s development

Over the years, both countries have cooperated in the area of agriculture, security, education, health, technology transfer, irrigation development and water management. The famed National Youth Service (NYS) was modeled after Israeli’s Gadna program. Gadna recruits thousands of youth annually, they go through a military training and are encouraged to embrace patriotism and volunteerism.

Despite having a pre-dominant semi-arid topography, Israel is a leading producer of agricultural products. Kenya has partnered with Israel in efforts to improve food security in the country. The Galana Kulalu irrigation project located in Kilifi and Tana River counties is a model setup that shows how an arid area can be transformed to be a productive arable land. Green Arava, an Israeli company was awarded the contract to implement the ground-breaking initiative. According to National Irrigation Board (NIB), Galana Kulalu which occupies 1.75million acreage was acquired by Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) in 1989 to act as a buffer zone between local communities and Tsavo East National Park.

The six year project will cost over 260 billion shillings, and is funded by Kenya government and Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV). During the launch of the project, on January 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta stated that the program would address food security in the country. “We aim to produce enough food crops, livestock and fish to feed our people while generating revenue and employment. We are here to address challenges of food security associated with high cost of living, rising food driven inflation, poverty and growing social and political instability.” Uhuru said.

The government has embarked on farming maize, sugarcanes, horticulture, variety fruits and cattle for beef and dairy products. NIB has set ambitious plans of building a dam to hold water that will irrigate 500,000 acres.

Common enemy

Kenya and Israel have suffered numerous terror attacks in the past. After a series of kidnappings on tourists and western nationals, Kenya Defence Forces moved to Somalia to confront Al shabab terrorist group on October 16th 2011. A month later, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited Israel to request assistance on the war on terror. Israeli’s Prime Minister Netanyahu offered support and declared that, “Kenya’s enemies are Israel’s enemies.”

Deputy President William Ruto visited Israel on October 13th 2015 and met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Premier who is nicknamed ‘Bibi’ reiterated his support on Kenya’s war on terror. Israel committed to cooperate in sharing intelligence, supplying police equipment and training of Kenya’s security forces. “The ongoing terror attacks are a disease. We are fighting fundamentalists and we must not allow them to succeed. Kenya is our ally in this war.” Netanyahu said.

Kenya’s strong tie with Israel has made the country a soft target of terrorists over the years. Major terror attacks in the country have been leveled at Israeli owned premises. The first terrorist attack was launched on Israeli owned Norfolk Hotel. It was bombed on New Year’s Eve in 1980, 20 people died and over 80 were injured.

The Israeli owned Westgate Shopping Mall was attacked on September 21 2013, by four Al shabab gunmen. 67 people died and 175 were injured.

On November 28 2002, Israeli interests in Mombasa were the target of terror attacks. Israeli owned Paradise Beach Hotel in Kikambala, Mombasa, was bombed by three suicide bombers, 13 civilians were killed and 80 wounded.

A simultaneous attack planned to take down an Israeli chartered flight, Arkia Airline, aborted. The Israeli carrier with 261 passengers on board had taken off from Mombasa International Airport. Minutes later, terrorists launched two surface-to air missiles that narrowly missed the plane, which was en-route to Tel-Aviv. This led to the indefinite cancellation of Israel – Kenya direct flights.

But last year, Kenya Airways launched direct flights to Israel, after bilateral talks were held by both countries. Former Israeli minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Liberman, termed the resumption of direct flights as a “victory of life over terror.”

Kenya was almost the Promised Land for Jews

Kenya – Israel relations were cemented way before the establishment of the state of Israel in April 14 1948 and Kenya’s independence in December 12 1963.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Kenya was a British colony going by the name, British East Africa Protectorate. The colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, proposed to the Jewish Zionists, a Jewish settlement in East Africa dubbed ‘Uganda Scheme.’

The autonomous 3.2 million acre territory, currently located in Uasin Gishu County, was to be a safe haven for Jewish émigrés fleeing persecution and anti-Semitism from across the globe.

The founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, presented the idea during the sixth session of the World Zionist Congress, held in 1903 in Basel, Switzerland. The offer was initially supported by majority of the delegates. However, two years later, they politely turned down the British offer, and opted to pursue the creation of an independent Jewish State in their ancestral homeland.

Nevertheless, some Jewish immigrants chose to settle in Kenya and ventured in agriculture and business. In 1904 the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation was established.

Nairobi: The new capital for Multilateral Diplomacy

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Kenya’s diplomatic prowess soared in 2015, making it a diplomatic hub in the region and the globe. The country hosted the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) from June 23 to 27, 2015. It was the first UN high level meeting to be held in a developing country. UNEA is the highest-level platform for decision making on environment. Its goal is to plan how the international community addresses environmental sustainability challenges.

The summit brought together UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, President of the UN General Assembly, ministers of environment and foreign affairs from UN member states. Over 1,200 high level participants from government, business and civil society organizations also attended.

Nairobi hosts two UN headquarters, UN-Habitat and United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), making it the only UN head quarter located in the global South. Other UN Agencies global headquarters are based in developed countries; in Geneva (Switzerland), New York (USA), Paris (France), Rome (Italy), and Vienna (Austria).

In July 2015, Nairobi hosted the USA President Barack Obama during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). The high-level meeting was held for the first time in Sub-Sahara Africa and Obama was the first sitting USA president to visit Kenya.

During Obama’s visit, trade agreements worth 1.2 trillion were signed by USA and Kenya. Short term visas required by Kenyans intending to visit America were extended from two years to five years. The move was to promote bilateral trade, tourism and enhance cooperation between the two countries.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), was renewed for another ten year term by President Obama in June 2015. The pact allows African countries to export over 8,000 products without paying taxes to the vast American market. Kenya is a beneficiary of the agreement with thousands employed in the textile and agricultural sectors. In 2015 Kenya emerged as Africa’s largest apparel exporter to USA.

In November, the head of Catholic Church and Vatican City State, Pope Francis visited Kenya. It was his first African tour since he was elected on March 2013. During his three day visit he met leaders from government, opposition, youth and leaders from diverse faiths. The Pope also addressed weighty issues like corruption, tribalism, social injustice and climate change.

At the end of the year, Kenya successfully hosted the 10th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in December 2015. The ministerial conference is the highest decision making organ in WTO and it brought more than 7,000 delegates in Nairobi.

In addition, Kenya has exerted peace diplomacy in resolving conflicts in East Africa and the Great Lakes region. President Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn played a significant role in the South Sudan’s peace process. The protagonists in the conflict, President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr Riek Machar signed the peace agreement on August 26 2015 after a 20 month civil war.

However, President Kenyatta has been criticized for making 43 foreign trips in three years of his presidency, as compared to his predecessor Mwai Kibaki, who undertook 33 foreign trips during his ten year reign. Government insiders have defended Uhuru’s trips arguing that they are necessary in attracting foreign direct investment and promoting friendly relations between Kenya and other states. Deputy president William Ruto has supported his boss saying that the trips have contributed to Kenya getting a positive profile internationally. “The President goes for the meetings because it is necessary, because of the visits; Kenya is getting a new profile,” Ruto said. Overall, Uhuru’s foreign trips have contributed to Kenya’s global ranking as a major destination for investors.

Kenya’s role in formulating Sustainable Development Goals

Kenya was feted for its role in the formulation of Post-2015 development agenda process. Amb Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s permanent representative to UN in New York, facilitated the inter-governmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and co-chaired the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

The Post 2015 development agenda was adopted by 193 UN member states in September during United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). It took two years to negotiate and come up with the 17 goals that aim to tackle climate change, inequality, poverty and hunger by 2030.

Consequently, Amb Macharia Kamau was awarded with the prestigious Elizabeth Haub Award for his extraordinary leadership and personal commitment to the negotiations and adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Tactful negotiations safeguard Kenya’s interests

Kenya’s diplomatic circles have been lauded for impeccable negotiation skills that have ensured the country’s national interests are realized. After years of protracted negotiations, Kenya and the United Kingdom signed a deal to allow British troops to continue training in Kenya for the next five years. The stalemate was unlocked after Kenya’s demands for prosecution of errant British soldiers who commit crime in the country, were incorporated.

The new Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed by Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo and UK High Commissioner to Kenya, Nic Hailey on December 9 2015. The deal stipulates that Kenyan law will apply on British soldiers that commit crimes whilst off duty. Conversely, if the crime is committed by a soldier while on duty then the UK military law will apply, and the proceedings will be held in Kenya.

The British Army Training Unit in Kenya (BATUK) is a permanent training base that trains over 10,000 British troops annually. It is based in Nanyuki and has existed since pre-independence era.

Diplomatic prospects in 2016

Japan announced that Kenya will host the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in 2016. It will be the first time the conference will be held outside Japan. Mr Mikio Mori, Japan’s Deputy Ambassador to Kenya, took pride with Kenya’s capability as a host, “There are not many countries which can host a conference of such magnitude and it is an honor that Kenya was picked out of all the countries in Africa.”

TICAD was established by the Government of Japan in 1993, as a forum to discuss the future development of Africa. The conference is co-organized by the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and African Union Commission.

In July 2016, Kenya is also expected to host the 14th session of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Certainly, 2015 was a year of grand diplomatic success for Kenya. The government should now ensure that all the bilateral agreements that were signed, are fully implemented in order to achieve maximum results. Similarly, Kenya’s top diplomats should continue to push for approval of direct flights between Nairobi and USA. The realization of direct flights will bring many business opportunities and intensify growth in the tourism sector. Currently South Africa Airways is the only African airline that is certified to have direct flights to USA.