Exit Uhuru Kenyatta, East Africa’s big hugger, glad-hander and master of soft power

In the past 10 years the Kenyan president has perpetuated an unblinking business-led foreign policy in the region, playing the main character in the play. As he exits the stage, he might well say, with his bow to the audience: “East Africa is our plate. You don’t pee where you eat,” writes Charles Onyango-Obbo.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s political rodeo will end a few weeks after the August 9 General Election. With that, the East African Community (EAC) will see the departure of its most extroverted president. There was more, though, to Uhuru’s gregariousness than a happy lad.

The late Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, was a combative, prickly, volatile and quarrelsome leader who got things done. His government had trade disputes with nearly all his neighbours and, in an unforgettable “up yours” moment, set day-old chicks from Uganda and Kenya on fire. By July 2019, the trade fight with Kenya had reached a fever pitch.

Uhuru jumped on his plane and headed for Dar es Salaam to massage Magufuli’s feelings. He went one better, visiting Magufuli’s ailing mother and the grave of father.

He melted combative Magufuli’s heart. A weepy Magufuli spoke of how he was touched by Uhuru’s kind-heartedness and gifted him four peacocks, a gesture, which he said, had great significance in Tanzania’s history.

Read: Kenyatta arrives in Tanzania for two-day private visit

For effect, Magufuli said that he had never gifted any other Head of State the birds, nor was he planning to do so again. He died in March 2021 before he could go back on his word.

It was signature Uhuru to hug his peers and give them backslaps like none of them.

His most hearty hugs and backslaps were handed out to Rwanda President Paul Kagame, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and, curiously, newcomer Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta receives Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi at State House Nairobi on June 20, 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

He was less handsy with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, an avuncular philosophising germaphobe who is averse to public cuddling but accorded him the reverence of an elder. He handled South Sudan’s fragile President Salva Kiir like a delicate pot.

When newish Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye broke the Pierre Nkurunziza-era isolation and visited Kenya in May 2021, the first time in nearly a decade that a Burundian leader had dropped in the country, Uhuru buttered and treated him like a long-lost brother. Ndayishimiye grinned happily throughout the visit.

Uhuru Kenyatta receiving President Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi at State House, Nairobi, in June 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

He liked to give PM Abiy massive bear hugs, and they would walk hand-in-hand, chuckling away. When new Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan visited Kenya in May 2021, Uhuru brought out the best family silver and laid on elite-level pampering for her. With a rare pro-Suluhu chorus in the Kenyan media during her visit, the Tanzanian president was visibly pleased.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (left) and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta embrace during the Kenyan leader’s visit to Addis Ababa on November 14, 2021. PHOTO | POOL

If it hadn’t been for the lingering social distancing of Covid-19, the awkwardness men feel around powerful women, and the austere signals sent by Suluhu’s hijab, Uhuru would probably have kissed her hand.

Also read: A region on the fly: Queen Samia and the five East African kings

As president, Uhuru was East Africa’s champion hugger and backslapper. If it were only about pressing the flesh, it would have gone down in history as little more than feel-good. But it wasn’t.

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Uhuru Kenyatta receiving President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia during his official visit at State House, Nairobi on July 15, 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

It was partly a posture that allowed him to leverage soft power and steward the ever-expanding business interests of corporate Kenya in the region. And, too often panned at home, he seemed to find refuge in East Africa.

The result of the latter was that there were more peace meetings held in Nairobi during Uhuru’s presidency than in any other EAC capital.

When South Sudan descended into a deadly war again in 2013, the warring parties gathered in Nairobi under Uhuru’s watch to talk peace.

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Uhuru Kenyatta receiving South Sudan President Salva Kiir at State House, Nairobi, in June 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

When the horrors of the Tigray war against the Ethiopian government eventually forced the adversaries to yield to negotiation, the Tigrayan rebels suggested that Uhuru host peace talks with Addis Ababa.

As the security situation in eastern DR Congo deteriorated sharply this year, Uhuru hosted the rebels and the Kinshasa government to seek a settlement.

A good part of all this is about oiling the wheels for Kenyan business. The chest bumps with Tshisekedi were not just boys’ play. It had money written all over it. During his presidency, Uhuru unlocked doors for companies like Equity Bank to enter DR Congo, make acquisitions and become the country’s second-largest bank in a blink. Profits for Kenyan banks in the East African region have soared.

Read: Equity to fund Kenyan businesses in DRC cities

His glad-handing of Abiy might well have helped telco giant Safaricom, East Africa’s most profitable company, to gain a foothold in the lucrative but closed 120-million-people Ethiopian market. Unsurprisingly, in June last year, Uhuru flew to Addis Ababa on an official visit that included witnessing the formal award of a telecom operating licence to a consortium led by Safaricom.

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Uhuru Kenyatta after talks with his host Rwanda President Paul Kagame in Kigali in 2019. PHOTO | PSCU

His East African canoodling also represented perhaps the strongest stream of continuity with the policies of his predecessor Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki pushed a neutralist “don’t-rock-the-boat” policy with the rest of East Africa.

Thus, like Kibaki, Uhuru prevaricated and buried the dispute with Uganda over the pint-sized Migingo island in Lake Victoria in diplomatic niceties and promises of task forces to look into it. He was not going to die on that island.

Read: Kibaki was East Africa’s ‘good thief in the night’

This unblinking business-led foreign policy is uniquely Kenyan in the region. For the past nearly 10 years, Uhuru has been the main character in the play.

As he exits the stage, he might well say with his bow to the audience: “East Africa is our plate. You don’t pee where you eat.”

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In the past 10 years the Kenyan president has perpetuated an unblinking business-led foreign policy in the region, playing the main character in the play. As he exits the stage, […]

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Africa’s real food problem is households are too poor to purchase it

ccording to recent data 72 percent of Uganda’s land is arable, compared with Kenya’s 48 percent, Tanzania’s 45 percent, Ghana’s 65 percent, Malawi’s 60 percent, Burkina Faso’s 44 percent and Mozambique’s 53 percent, Leo Kemboi and Emmanuel wa-Kyendo explain.

This is part 5 of our food and politics series.

Part 5: The recent food crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Covid-19 supply chain shocks has led people back to discussing the African food problem. Africa’s real food problem is a demand-side problem.

African households, both rural and urban, are relatively poor. Their low incomes restrict the access they have to food markets. For the African rural household, food problems comprise both climate shocks and market shocks.

Climate shocks affect both the supply of food and the source of income for rural households. Market shocks that result in increased prices also make it more difficult for both rural and urban households to access food. Many discussions, however, don’t sufficiently address the matter because they are framed largely as a supply-side problem.

Pundits lament that African farmers do not grow enough food. In practice, the selection of crops that African farmers grow faces intense global competition. Furthermore, variations in national productivity are great. Many international institutions that work on food and agriculture are focused on supply-side solutions of different flavours.

In joining the majority of African nations in tackling the food problem, institutions including the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Africa Export-Import Bank (AFREXIM), and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) have proposed supply-side interventions to resolve Africa’s food problem.

The AfDB is a multilateral financing institution. AFREXIM is a pan-African multilateral trade finance institution. AGRA is a promoter of technology and financing solutions for Africa’s productivity problem.

Read: AfDB arm releases $5.4 million for Somalia food security

At the nation-state level, proposals for African food sovereignty comprise another set of supply-side solutions that are usually import substitution by another name.

To evaluate the food systems and their dynamism in East Africa, it is important to understand the nature of food production, which can be classified into homestead production where production is on a small scale, and labour intensive while large-scale production is capital intensive and application of more scientific methods.

Smallholder farming is practised by a sizeable portion of East African households, who primarily grow cereals that are highly competitive on a global scale. Low incomes per unit are a result of stagnant productivity in countries like Kenya and the surrounding region over the past 20 years.

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William Kiarie feeds goldfish at his Green Algae Highland fish farm in Sagana, Kirinyaga County, central Kenya. This project is a beneficiary of the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to improve agriculture and food security across the continent. PHOTO | AFP

Zero alternatives

Smallscale farmers automatically experience income shocks and food shocks when weather shocks cause the yield per unit to decrease. On the other hand, because there are no market alternatives available to them, middle-class and higher-income earners only experience access issues.

The food systems problem and how it affects the food market in sub-Saharan Africa can be defined through a variety of factors; economics, environmental, innovations, political factors, and degree of urbanisation.

Historically, it is unheard of for any country to have attained self-sufficiency in all different categories of food. How income causes problems in the food system is something that is not always obvious in the public affairs field. Households plug into the food market using income, which determines largely whether they face food shocks or not.

If a household deals in the livestock economy, income earned from the sale of livestock allows families to use that income to buy food, and this explains why there are famines whenever the rangeland economy is affected by weather as is currently happening in the Horn of Africa and parts of Uganda like Karamoja and northern Kenya.

Environment

The second factor that shapes the food system is the environment which includes climate change and natural resources. A large portion of Horn of Africa nations’ agriculture is rain-fed and vulnerable to weather shocks, which have been made worse by climate change, and this has been exacerbated by the fact that the climate shocks in the recent past have been frequent.

Climate shocks effects on agricultural productivity manifest themselves both directly and indirectly through unprecedented rainfall patterns, droughts, flooding and outbreaks of pests and diseases.

The unfavourable effect of temperature and rain variance on agricultural production results in uncertainty in food sufficiency in the region. Floods and droughts are harmful to agricultural production that cause food problems in the region that is highly dependent on rainfed agriculture.

Available land

In terms of natural resources, the proportion of total land that is suitable for agriculture determines the type of food system a country has. Agricultural land refers to the share of land area that is arable, under permanent crops, and under permanent pasture.

According to data from the World Bank, Uganda has 72 per cent of its land used for agriculture, compared with Kenya’s 48 per cent, Tanzania’s 45 per cent, Ghana’s 65 per cent, Malawi’s 60 per cent, Burkina Faso’s 44 per cent and Mozambique’s 53 per cent. This means that already the food system is constrained by the natural conditions of a country.

The degree to which agriculture can be mechanised is determined by additional natural resource factors like water availability and terrain. Because Uganda and Tanzania have more water resources than Kenya, they have a comparative advantage over Kenya when growing crops that require a lot of water. If Kenya makes investments in capital-intensive irrigation systems, it may be able to compete.

The paradoxical relationship between low productivity and excessively low incomes makes up the third factor. In the East African region, some minor improvements to the seed and animal breeding systems have been made but have been slowed by required resources. This is constrained by the correlation between those innovations and the amount of capital that each nation’s agricultural sector can amass and deploy to improve productivity.

Political factors

The fourth factor that is important is the political factors that affect food systems, including public policies, conflicts, and general governance of the economy. To illustrate this, public policies in Kenya on food are built around guaranteeing high income to producers at the expense of the consumers. This kind of food regime has made Kenyan food expensive compared with other countries.

For example, the benefit incidence of the fertiliser subsidy in Kenya is appropriated by suppliers and big farmers, while smallscale farmers are not able to appropriate the same benefit. The subsidy is smaller and has not been able to cover all farmers. This is a market distortion generated by political action.

The fifth factor that shapes the food system is demographic, which include the degree of urbanisation. Some of the factors such as the rural-urban dimension, affect incomes and preferences (which include tastes).

The urban folk in East Africa like other African countries consume more rice, wheat and its derivatives relatively compared with rural areas.

In joining the majority of African nations in tackling the food problem from the supply side, some international organisations have proposed some supply-side interventions.

One of the principles that has impacted food security on the continent is the idea of African food sovereignty. Sovereignty is an idea that is difficult to argue against. In Africa, an argument that runs against state sovereignty is a political loser, for it can be construed to be an argument for Africa’s perennial bogeyman — colonialism. Yet, the term sovereignty hides bad policy ideas from scrutiny.

Food sovereignty is the idea that a country should be fully sufficient in the production of its food basket and that anything less is tantamount to a breach of sovereignty.

Essentially, Africa should produce its coffee, tea, rice and chicken. The phrase makes it seem the smart, obvious and foundational approach to food policy.

In other words, the need to import agricultural products is an unacceptable vulnerability. Other states may use the so-called over-reliance on, say, grain imports to starve the importing country for political purposes.

Market shocks are anxiety-inducing events that tend to cause a clamour for security-oriented policy responses. Anxiety is the domain of the populist.

Economist and prominent theorist of the classical school of David Ricardo proposed that comparative advantage is the principal argument for international trade. That is, countries specialise in the production of one good or a set of goods — say agricultural products — because they can produce it more efficiently than any other nation can.

Countries then trade those goods in which they have a comparative advantage for the goods in which they have no comparative advantage.

The principle reveals that countries that produce goods for which they lack a comparative advantage incur the opportunity cost of foregone revenues from specialisation.

By the principle of comparative advantage, consumers get the cheapest goods at the highest quality possible. International trade allows Kenyan consumers to buy Ugandan bananas and Malaysian palm oil. Absent specialisation or trade, consumers would have a limited choice between pricey, possibly lower-quality goods. Bye-bye palm oil.

Furthermore, a country that tries to produce all the goods represented in its food basket must forego the use of land, labour and capital for the production of other goods.

If African countries must engage land, labour and capital in pursuit of African food sovereignty, they must incur the opportunity cost of foregone revenues from specialisation in the production of other goods.

Kenya cannot meet its demand for bananas at the same quality and price that Uganda can, for it has an abundance of water and rich soils Kenya lacks.

Policies of food sovereignty also assume that access is a matter of food supply. The Russia invasion of Ukraine has caused a sharp drop in the supply of specific grains.

Demand-Incomes ratio

Curiously, only the poorest consumers of this grain have felt the sharp increase in prices. Not-so-curiously, the wealthier consumers are relatively less affected. But this is not the way the problem is framed in Africa’s policy-making centres. Rather, policies seek to correct the lack of supply through interventions that will increase domestic supply.

These policies would go further by restricting foreign supply. The effect is that domestic suppliers are subsidised at the expense of domestic taxpayers and domestic consumers. In other words, African food sovereignty is import substitution in all but name.

In truth, food access is a demand-side problem. More precisely, food access is an income problem. This means that it is not the abundance of food that determines whether consumers get it but the levels of income.

The Russia invasion of Ukraine and other food crises of the present and past have had greater effects on poorer households the world over because those households are too poor to continue purchasing food at high prices.

In the short term, African nation states should respond to food crises with cash transfers to the most affected. A country like Kenya can reach its affected population with precise cash transfers through tools like M-Pesa.

Read: OBBO: Business people, you can take food to our hungry at a profit

In the long term, lowering barriers to trade and instituting policies that are conducive to structural transformation and economic growth would result in rising incomes that would then allow those consumers to access the foods they can afford.

African food sovereignty is a vehicle for state rents waiting to happen.

Africa’s food security problem can be resolved primarily through interventions that raise African household productivity and incomes.

When smallholder farmers encounter climate-related shocks, crop failures result in less food and lower incomes. They have less crops to sell and little money with which to buy food.

Spending a bulk of their income on food, urban households are also vulnerable to international food market shocks. Supply side solutions alone will not overcome the problem that African households are too poor to purchase food.

Source

ccording to recent data 72 percent of Uganda’s land is arable, compared with Kenya’s 48 percent, Tanzania’s 45 percent, Ghana’s 65 percent, Malawi’s 60 percent, Burkina Faso’s 44 percent and […]

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Kenya threatens ban on Facebook over hate speech

Kenya has threatened to shut down Facebook over its failure to improve content moderation on hate speech in the run-up to the August 9 elections.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has given the social media giant seven days to adhere to recommendations on taming online hate speech on its platform in the country.

The state agency said Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has been reluctant to take action to combat the spread of hate speech, propaganda and disinformation, escalating the risk of violence ahead of the elections.

Read: Misinformation rears ugly head as Kenya poll campaigns heat up

As such, the commission has asked Facebook to urgently increase the number of content moderators in Kenya, expand its capacity to cover content expressed even in indigenous languages, and deploy integrity systems to “mitigate risk before, during and after the upcoming Kenyan election.”

This follows an investigative report by human rights organization, Global Witness, which revealed that Facebook approved several adverts promoting hate speech in both English and Kiswahili languages.

Jon Lloyd, a senior advisor at Global Witness, said that Facebook approved content that violates its own policy and community standards since it qualified as hate speech and ethnic-based calls to violence.

“Much of the speech was dehumanising, comparing specific tribal groups to animals and calling for rape, slaughter and beheading. We are deliberately not repeating the phrases used here as they are highly offensive,” Mr Lloyd said while presenting the findings to the NCIC.

NCIC Commissioner Dr Danvas Makori said Facebook’s inaction toward the inappropriate content on its platform is an outright violation of the Kenyan Constitution and threatens the peace of the country, especial during this election period.

“The freedom of expression does not extend to propaganda, incitement to violence, hate speech, or advocacy of hatred,” he said. “Facebook violates our laws because they have allowed themselves to be a medium of hate speech, incitement, misinformation, and disinformation.”

Dr Makori said that the commission has already engaged Meta’s representative in the country and informed them of the requirements failure to which the company’s operations in the country will be suspended until they abide.

Last Wednesday, Facebook published a statement saying it is working to “ensure a safe and secure” general election in Kenya.

“We’re investing in people and technology to reduce the spread of misinformation and remove harmful content across our apps,” Mercy Ndegwa, Meta’s Director of Public Policy for East and Horn of Africa, said in the statement.

However, according to Global Witness’ report, Facebook still allowed hate speech and spiteful adverts to run on the platform even after declaring its efforts against it.

Motaung petition

Meanwhile, Meta is fighting a court battle with Daniel Motaung, a South African national who was employed as a content moderator for Facebook in Kenya.

Motaung’s petition, also filed against Meta’s local outsourcing company Sama, alleges that workers moderating Facebook posts in Kenya are subjected to irregular pay, inadequate mental health support, refusal to join trade unions and violations of their privacy and dignity.

Read: Facebook faces suit over work conditions in Nairobi office

Last week, a group of human rights organisations, including Global Witness and Article 19, criticised Meta, saying it was actively trying to silence Motaung.

Recently, a report by Mozilla also revealed how social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, were used to propagate disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech in Kenya during the electioneering period.

Dr Makori said Twitter and TikTok have taken quick action to curb the menace, but Facebook has been slow, even refusing to promote the commission’s peace messages while allowing inappropriate content to continue.

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Kenya has threatened to shut down Facebook over its failure to improve content moderation on hate speech in the run-up to the August 9 elections. The National Cohesion and Integration […]

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Tanzania bans day-old chicks imports, again

Tanzania has imposed a total ban on the importation of day-old chicks effective next week as it seeks to protect its local hatcheries and limit the inflow of substandard chicks.

The ban, which takes effect on July 30, aims to protect the local poultry market, the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries said in a statement on Monday.

Deputy Minister for Livestock and Fisheries Abdallah Ulega said the government would no longer issue import permits on chicken from Saturday.

This was after a meeting with poultry business executives in the capital Dodoma. The government, Mr Ulega said, is currently collecting poultry industry data to ascertain the demand for day-old chicks.

Local poultry producers, Organia and Mkuza Chicks, had decried the rise in smuggled chicks sold at lower prices.

Most incubators in the country are selling day-old chicks at an average price of Tsh2,000 ($0.85), while the smuggled chicks sell at Tsh1,200 ($0.5) per chick.

In 2016, Tanzania banned the importation of chicks and fresh poultry meat from Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, South Africa and the US to protect local farmers.

On October 31, 2017, government authorities in Arusha destroyed 6,400 chicks imported from Kenya through the Namanga border crossing. The ban was later lifted.

Read: Tanzania destroys another 5,000 chicks from Kenya

Most of the day-old chicks are imported from the United Kingdom and South Africa, with substantial quantities imported from Kenya and Zambia.

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Tanzania has imposed a total ban on the importation of day-old chicks effective next week as it seeks to protect its local hatcheries and limit the inflow of substandard chicks. […]

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