Opinion

Kenya-UK diplomatic tiff ignites hard feelings


Health CS Mutahi Kagwe during a media briefing at Afya House in Nairobi yesterday, where he urged Kenyans to observe Covid-19 rules. Photo/PD/Kenna Claude

In the last couple of days, Kenya and its erstwhile colonial master, the United Kingdom (UK), have been playing hard ball.

 It all started on Friday after the UK Embassy in Kenya issued a travel advisory through a statement on Twitter, advising that visitors who have been in or transited through Kenya over the previous 10 days, would not be permitted into the country. Kenya’s addition to the “Red List” was as a result of increasing Covid-19 cases.

Shortly after, Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Saturday responded to the UK in an obviously retaliatory move, by issuing its own three-page travel advisory for visitors coming into Kenya from the UK.

 “All passengers originating from or transiting through UK airports, will now be required to go through mandatory 14-day isolation at a government-designated facility at their own cost upon entry into Kenya.”

Kenya also accused the UK of engaging in vaccine nationalism and vaccine apartheid for buying and holding a surplus amount of vaccines, while Kenya struggles with meagre supplies.

 Solidarity between the two nations demands that the UK should be looking out for its partner by sharing excess capacity. 

Essentially, observers say that while the UK ban could have been justified, it was not done in good faith. 

Some form of diplomatic consultation and tact, would have helped to avoid the UK emerging as patronising or insensitive to the feelings of Kenyans.    

Even as the UK ambassador talks about due process being taken against the offending soldiers, the Kenya government should be demanding compensation for all damages.

Now, Kenya and the UK have a rich history. Kenya is UK’s largest trading partner in the East African region.

Latest estimates show 121,000 Kenyans reside in Britain, while tens of thousands of British nationals reside in Kenya. 

Given their long-standing ties, Kenya did not expect such a body blow. While the threat posed by the coronavirus cannot be gainsaid, UK’s unilateral action cast a shadow on the valued partnership. 

The ban was also a backhand compliment after Kenya participated in the successful trials of the Astra Zeneca vaccine at the Kenya Medical Research Institute’s research centre based in Kilifi county.  Moreover, the UK is one of the major donors of this centre, which is run jointly with the London-based Wellcome Trust. 

This row also poured cold water on the UK-Kenya Economic Partnership Agreement which was ratified on March 21.

The Agreement guarantees permanent duty-free, quota-free access to both markets. UK’s unprecedented action has definitely led to mistrust, which is bad for business.

Essentially, observers say that while the ban could have been justified, it was not done in good faith.

Some form of diplomatic tact would have helped to avoid the UK emerging as patronising or insensitive.    

The ban escalated two weeks of diplomatic tension in-country as British soldiers were blamed for accidentally starting a fire in one of their bushy training camps in Nanyuki.

The fire, which is still burning, has destroyed thousands of acres of forest land leading to the death of wildlife and evacuation of families.

However, there is no talk of compensation yet, even as former freedom fighters continue pursuing reparations for historical injustices during colonialism.

The new tiff does not augur well for relations between Kenya and the UK, particularly  at this time both countries are dealing with the deadly third wave of the pandemic. 

The countries have a legacy to protect for progeny, even if it started off as a master-servant relationship.   — The writer comments on  international affairs





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