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Bitter relations mar border trade at Namanga

Kenyan livestock traders have been blocking their Tanzanian counterparts from accessing Ilbisil market

By Christine Musa

The vicious circle of business tiffs between Kenya and Tanzania continues to affect traders at the Namanga border post as the two governments remain silent on issues affecting bilateral trade.

Trade at the Kenya–Tanzania border point — where multimillion-shilling transactions take place — has been shaken to the core. This is despite having the East African Common Market Protocol, which is meant to assure the region’s citizens of the free movement of capital, goods and services across East Africa.

Last month, irate Kenyan traders in Namanga town brought business to a standstill as they protested the arrest of three milk vendors by Tanzanian authorities.

The traders, who accused Tanzanian authorities of high-handedness and harassment, paralyzed operations in the busy border town. Business and cross-border tourism suffered losses to the tune of millions of shillings in the three-day protests.

The duo has since been released after a hefty fine by a Tanzanian court.

But even before the dust settles, another business rivalry is in the offing, this time involving the livestock business.

Kenyan livestock traders have been blocking their Tanzanian counterparts from accessing Ilbisil market, accusing them of unfair business competition and strict livestock movement restrictions by Tanzanian authorities, thus denying Kenyan traders opportunities.

Ilbisil cattle market is held every Friday and is arguably the biggest livestock market in Kajiado County, attracting traders from neighbouring Tanzania.

Tanzania cattle traders have in recent weeks been blocked from accessing the market. Kenyan traders claim their Tanzanian counterparts have been lowering prices of the livestock, making them sell at a loss.

They say that owing to bilateral trade agreements, Tanzanian traders bring livestock in large numbers and sell them cheaply in Kenyan currency. The competition is said to be unhealthy for Kenyan traders, many of them from Kajiado.

A spot check indicated that an average bull was selling at Ksh50,000 at Ilbisil market by a Kenyan trader, compared to Ksh45,000 for the same size of bull from Tanzania. When Tanzanian traders exchange Kenyan money to Tanzanian currency, they pocket an average of Tsh1,020,000 for this amount, making a handsome profit margin.

Kenyan cattle traders claim strict cattle movement restrictions have been imposed by Tanzanian authority, stopping them from crossing the border for the same business.

“Our Tanzania brothers crowd our Ilbisil market with their cattle. Kenyan livestock traders are making big losses. The Kenyan government has failed to protect us, prompting us to block foreigners from accessing our only market,” said Joseph Supembe, a cattle trader in Ilbisil town.

Maasai herders occupy large tracts of land in the two neighbouring countries, making the livestock business a booming multimillion enterprise.

As this vicious business flares up more often, the two authorities seem to be adopting a ‘’silence’’ approach instead of solving it once and for all.

The two countries have respective border management committees that are meant to meet regularly to solve any borderline grievances. But despite the protests from traders, the two bodies have not met.

The board comprises officers of the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Kenya Bureau of Standards, and other government agencies manning the border post.

Kajiado County Commissioner David Kipkemei says the business tiff between the two countries is a diplomatic issue handled by the foreign affairs ministry.

In April 2018, the Tanzania government banned tax-free importation of confectionery items from Kenya, against East African Community (EAC) regulations.

In November 2017, Tanzania seized and burnt alive 6,500 chicks that had been brought into the country by a trader, ostensibly for fear they could spread disease.

In 2017, the Kenyan government banned the importation of liquid petroleum gas and wheat from Tanzania, but withdrew the ban when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Tanzanian John Magufuli intervened to end the diplomatic row.

Kenyan traders have regularly complained of mistreatment by Tanzanian immigration agents.

Kenya has hit back at Tanzania by imposing a 25 per cent duty on the country’s products after the neighbouring country ignored a deal that granted Kenyan-made chocolate, ice cream, biscuits and sweets unrestricted entry into its market.

Prof Gerishon Ikiara, a development and policy economist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi School of International Relations, says the implementation of regional trade agreements between member states can only be realized when all parties exercise goodwill.

Ikiara proposed that the two governments should form a joint special committee to resolve the underlying issues.

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