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UoN Hosts Discussion on Kenya-Ethiopia Relations

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Panel discussion on Ethiopia-Kenya 55 years of strategic partnership on June 26 2019 at Chandaria Auditorium

The University of Nairobi hosted a discussion panel in commemoration of the 55th anniversary of Ethio-Kenyan relations under the theme, “Ethiopia –Kenya: 55 years of Strategic Partnership.”

The panelists reflected on opportunities and challenges in the Horn of Africa as well as investment opportunities that can be explored between Kenya and Ethiopia. The panelists were Prof Karuti Kanyinga (Research Professor of Development Studies, IDS, University of Nairobi); Dr Joy Kiiru (Senior Lecturer, School of Business, UoN); Mr Anteneh Alemu (Deputy Commissioner at the Ethiopian Investment Commission); Ambassador Boaz Mbaya ( Former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs); and Dr Silvester Kasuku ( Director General and CEO, LAPSSET).

During the session, Professor Kanyinga observed that although Kenya and Ethiopia have enjoyed cordial political relationship, there have been poor economic ties between the two countries due to differences in policies. He was however optimistic that there could be more economic ties following the LAPSSET Corridor Program, but only if it spreads to other parts of the country.

LAPSSET is a regional project between Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan with an aim of linking them to each other, and to their neighbors in Eastern Africa.

“LAPPSET is no end in itself. It depends on how it is linked other parts of the country to avoid experiences of development associated with areas that lie along the railway. However, without political commitment and inclusivity, nothing much will change,” he said.

Prof Kanyinga also called for commitment to policy, improved access to rural areas and review of land polices.

Dr Kiiru said Kenya and Ethiopia jointly command a market base of about 162 million people, and a combined GDP of about $160 billion, which is enormous base for mutually beneficial trade relations between the two nations in the context of similar aspirations for industrial development.

“Kenya and Ethiopia aspire to sustain and speed their current economic growth while accelerating poverty reduction. There is therefore a call for sustained job creation in both economies. One of the biggest opportunity for the two countries is to deal with the challenge of growth and poverty reduction present in the form of bilateral trade and deeper economic co-operation between the two countries and within the region,” said Dr Kiiru.

She said Special Status Agreement signed in 2012 between Kenya and Ethiopia serves as a framework for strengthening bilateral trade, driven by the private sector.

Mr Alemu urged Kenya to take advantage of the reforms taking place in Ethiopia. He said Ethiopia is shifting from agriculture to industrial based economy and this has attracted many investors since the country is opening up its economy. He said opportunities exist in telecom, since some of its functions will be privatized. Other opportunities exist in light manufacturing sector, energy and horticulture, among other areas.

Amb.  Boaz Mbaya said instability and insecurity are linked. He noted that the Addis Ababa-Nairobi Road construction began in 1960s but was completed just recently due to insecurity occasioned by the Shifta and Ogaden wars. He also said LAPPSET would have been done 30 years ago but the project was delayed due to insecurity.

“If you address insecurity you are addressing development,” said Amb. Mbaya.

Addressing the question whether the Elemi Triangle dispute would derail the LAPPSET programme, Ambassador Mbaya said Kenya and Ethiopia have demarcated boundaries but South Sudan has some issues, which should be resolved amicably for LAPPSET to make sense.

The envoy also said although Kenya and Ethiopia enjoy cordial relationship, competition among them is healthy for economic growth.

Dr. Silvester Kasuku, CEO, LAPPSET said LAPPSET is Vision 2030’s largest project which hopes to link Kenya to other countries. He said Kenya and Ethiopia have been working together “silently”, unlike the noise witnessed in political circles.

The LAPPSET CEO said the LAPPSET programme is not just about building infrastructure for its sake but it has integrated other sectors, including tourism. He said port cities don’t have space for industries but LAPPSET is solving this problem.

“LAPPSET is championing utilization of spaces we have in Kenya. There is potential everywhere and all we need is to change our mindset,” said Dr Kasuku.

The panel discussion was graced by ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, His Excellency Meles Alem. The ambassador hailed the panel discussion, which was jointly organized by the Embassy and University’s Institute for Development Studies,. He described the discussion as a first of its kind.

“Ethiopia and Kenya have enjoyed diplomatic relations for the last 55 years but have never had such debate on issues of mutual interest,” said the diplomat

The University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor Prof Peter Mbithi also lauded the discussion.

“It is befitting to punctuate today’s celebrations with critical reflections that will not only open our eyes to the immense potential in our relations but also point out the fault lines that need to be filled for a better future, said the VC in a speech read on his behalf by Prof Kiama Gitahi, Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Human Resource and Administration.

The session was moderated by TV Journalist, Mr. Yusuf Ibrahim.