Kenya–Ethiopia trade relations might be a game changer in the region

While so much attention has been put on the possible Kenya’s economic and related growth premised on the rather reluctant East African Community (EAC), emerging collaboration with Ethiopia might just be a game changer in the region. Outside the current happenings on the political front in Ethiopia, so much infrastructural development is on going and economic block thinking, which Kenya seems to have bought into.

While Kenya needs her EAC neighbors, the reluctance to push the EAC thinking within the states especially along trading block approach- the Standard Gauge Railway, the Oil pipeline and Mombasa/Dar port struggles is pushing her to look to Ethiopia as possible trading partner, and this is coming big time.  The port and telecommunication sector relationship between the two countries is something to watch; its interesting and welcome.

Kenya recently moved immediate ambassador to Djibout and IGAD Amb John Mwangemi to the Managing Director of the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). Amb. Mwangemi previously represented Kenya in Kigali. The deliberate posting and direction Kenya is taking in its foreign relations policy can been seen in trends in its postings in strategic areas. Once on the UN Security Council and faced with trouble with Somali, the country sent Amb Dr Martin Kimani, a highly respected security gentlemen, also the head of the country’s National Counter Terrorism Center to New York to represent Kenya.  In addition to other factors, Amb Mwangemi’s posting to the KPA should be seen in that context and appreciated.

Of much interest is the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor Project, which aims to connect Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan via road, rail, air and petroleum pipeline. Frustrated by her neighbors especially to access the port and encouraged to diversify seeking the opportunities with connecting with Kenya, Ethiopia has aggressively focused on the completion of the main section of Ethiopian side of express road to Moyale while work on the Moyale one stop center and creating an enabling legal environment to actualize the thinking has been prioritized.

With the opening up of the Lamu port recently amidst security concerns in the area and subsequent visit to the area by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the Kenya armed forces based in the area, Ethiopia has already indicated its desire to use the port announcing recently intention to double its current 17 million tons annual import-export freight to 32 million tons in ten years and including using the Lamu Port.

A number of sector led delegations from Kenya have visited Ethiopia on the invitation of the Government to explore trade opportunities, out which Safaricom, and knowing its shareholding has been licenced in the country, and other players will soon follow suit including in the media industry. The Country with a very vibrant air company- Ethiopia Air that has already constructed a top flight hotel near the Bole International Airport, has streamlined its COVID 19 travel protocols and ready for investors will alter trade relations for Kenya. The road to Marsabit in Kenya is now world class while the Isiolo International Airport is a facility that will largely play into that thinking and trade relations within the LAPSSET project.

The plan for the corridor combines many elements: the development of a new port at Lamu; an oil pipeline from Lamu to South Sudan; and road and railway links to the west and possibly to southern Ethiopia. There are also plans for a new international airport and so-called ‘resort cities’ along the line of the railway. The completion of any one of these elements would have a significant impact; in combination they could transform the region.

LAPSSET is one of 124 flagship projects under Kenya’s Vision 2030, the national long-term development blue-print, which is aimed at transforming the country into a mid-level economy with 10% annual growth. Through its components—the Lamu Port, regional highways and a railway line, oil pipelines, refineries and resort cities in Lamu, Isiolo and Lake Turkana–LAPSSET is expected to generate at least 3% of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product. The 200m-wide LAPSSET corridor will link Lamu on Kenya’s coast to Juba, South Sudan, 1,700 km away, with expectations that this corridor will form part of a future equatorial ‘land bridge’ linking eastern and western Africa via Juba, and Bangui in the Central African Republic, to Douala, Cameroon.

Source: The Star