For over a century, Kenya and the United Kingdom have enjoyed strong ties hinged on trust, enhanced cooperation and mutual benefit across key sectors, among them trade, tourism, security, health and education.
The UK views Kenya as a strategic partner due to her wealth of agricultural materials, booming services sector and for being a gateway to other markets in the East African community. It has therefore over the decades invested in growing Kenya to become the region’s economic powerhouse. Indeed UK remains one of the largest foreign investors in Kenya with a portfolio approximated at £2.7 billion. More than 200 British companies have set up shop in Kenya opening up the country to increased employment opportunities and economic growth.
Kenya on the other hand has found a key export market in the UK for its products, among them tea, coffee, flowers and other horticultural produce. For millions of farmers growing French beans, herbs and avocados, access to UK markets has not only given them the advantage of growing more markets beyond our borders but also created a farming revolution where more farmers are finding farming lucrative, which has ultimately created more jobs and household incomes.
Indeed at the height of COVID-19 last year, when international trade was grinding to a halt due to international freight suspensions, Kenya and UK burnt the midnight oil in finding innovative ways of overcoming the disruptions. Kenya fresh produce was able to find its way into UK supermarkets thanks to the concerted efforts of the two governments and the private sector, a highlight of which was the conversion of Kenya Airways passenger planes into cargo freighters ensuring uninterrupted supply of produce. This decision is attributed as one of the factors that has seen Kenya’s agriculture sector remain buoyant in the middle of a calamity.
In this context, the prevailing diplomatic tiff between Kenya and the UK over travel bans occasioned by concerns over new COVID-19 variants should not be allowed to escalate any further. While in these very trying times nations are acting in their best interests to ensure the safety of their people, the success stories of collaboration that have defined our resilience in the last one year when the pandemic devastated the world and decimated livelihoods should inspire us to embrace unity of purpose. It is encouraging to learn that the two trading partners have formed a joint emergency committee to address the spat and resolve the impasse within the shortest time possible.
We are in very unfamiliar territory and there is no telling how the virus will evolve. But the resolve to cooperate will determine how we can outpace the virus’s devastating impact.
Kenya and UK horticulture trade is still grappling with other unprecedented shocks chief among them climate change that has taken a toll on millions of farmers and disrupted supply chains with devastating effects. We should not lose focus of the huge task ahead in tackling these challenges that no one country can handle on their own.
In international relations, there has always been, and there will always be, disagreements between nations, continents and neighbours, followed by mediation to resolve the issues at hand and move forward. We are better together.
Baiju Kantaria is Director at Elgon Kenya