For three years now, Kenya has maintained a ban on the importation of sugar from Uganda.
The ban was placed over suspicions that Ugandan companies import excess sugar from overseas and then dump it in Kenya, thereby crippling sugar manufacturers in East Africa’s largest economy.
So, when Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta recently came to Uganda on a three-day visit, members of the Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association (USMA) who he met at a business forum brought the matter to his attention. To his credit, President Kenyatta made a verbal promise to sort out the sugar stand-off within the next month.
When the information reached the Kenyan public, however, opposition political leaders led by Kenya’s former Prime Minister Raila Odinga criticised the decision, claiming that allowing Ugandan sugar imports could lead to the collapse of Kenya’s own manufacturers of the sweetener.
President Kenyatta has not been cowed though, and asserted late last week that he would rather import sugar from Uganda to foster regional integration than shut down the door on Kenya’s neighbour but still import the same commodity directly from overseas.
This is not the first time that Kenya has blocked the importation of commodities from Uganda at a time when East African Community (EAC) leaders are working to improve the integration of the five countries in the regional bloc.
Not so long ago, Kenya had instituted a ban on the importation of day-old chicks and other poultry products from Uganda. That ban lasted more than 10 years before any meaningful attempt was made to resolve it.
The irony is that Uganda was until recently the world’s leading export destination for goods from Kenya, according to a 2014 analysis by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). Uganda was only overtaken by Tanzania in 2014, says KNBS, although Kenya still exports goods worth $739.6 million (about 12 per cent of Kenya’s exports) to Uganda.
Currently, Uganda is dotted with all kinds of businesses from Kenya, including Nakumatt, Tuskys and Uchumi supermarkets, KCB, Equity and Fina banks, and a handful of insurance companies. These, and other Kenyan businesses, are operating in Uganda or selling their goods unhindered, reaping the fruits of regional integration in the process.
It is, therefore, very selfish of some sections of the Kenyan society, more so its leadership, to try to shut Ugandan goods out of the Kenyan market when their own goods are enjoying unfettered access to the Ugandan market.
If Kenya, as the largest economy in East Africa, really wants the EAC to grow and benefit everyone, then they must be open to allowing their neighbours to also access its market. Kenya can’t have its cake and eat it too.