President John Magufuli hurts Kenya with radical policies


President John Magufuli with a symbolic spear and shield after he was sworn in last year. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]
NAIROBI: A series of decisions taken by Tanzania under President John Magufuli have hit Kenya where it hurts most.

Although Kenya’s Foreign Affairs ministry says that all is well, it is fighting growing diplomatic tension with its neighbour behind the scenes, even as an isolated Kenya starts to chart its own path in the region.

Described as the “Bulldozer president”, Mr Magufuli is presiding over a change of government policy that looks at his nation’s priorities at the expense of the East Africa Community (EAC).

After he was elected, Magufuli started making far-reaching changes that won him instant admirers at home and abroad.

But it is only when he started making a policy shift that he caught Kenya’s attention.

First, Magufuli declared that Tanzanian companies should not import from Kenya anything that can be bought in Tanzania.

He later tightened the already stringent work permit requirements for foreigners working in Tanzania.

In May, Tanzania announced that it would reduce the amount of electricity it buys from Kenya by 67 per cent.

All these decisions did not rattle Kenya because they did not seem targeted at the country and were in line with its national economic interests at the time.

But shortly after, Magufuli upstaged Kenya on the pipeline deal with Uganda. This saw Uganda choose to build the Sh400 billion oil pipeline through Tanzania, leaving Kenya in the cold.

To make matters worse, Tanzanian officials seized passports of Kenyan officials among them Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter who had gone to the country to rescue the pipeline deal in an embarrassing diplomatic scuffle that denied them access to the port of Tanga.

But ironically, a delegation from Uganda was allowed to proceed with their tour. This sealed the fate of the pipeline deal.

After it lost the deal to Tanzania, Kenya decided to go it alone and build its own pipeline. Kenya has since decided to transport its oil by road as it works on the pipeline.


As if taking a cue from Tanzania, Rwanda further muddied the waters after it announced that it was considering developing its railway line through Tanzania. Rwanda said this was cheaper and shorter than the route through Kenya.

This forced Kenya back to the drawing board, deciding to terminate the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Naivasha or Kisumu after Rwanda pulled out of the flagship infrastructure project on the Northern Corridor.

“The former East African Community collapsed because of the mistrust between Kenya and Tanzania. The simmering differences never settled and what is happening right now is that the rest of the players see Kenya as domineering,” Israel Kodiaga said yesterday.

He says Magufuli has reignited these differences and Kenya has to rethink its diplomatic strategy.

“Tanzania is building a big port to rival Mombasa. Kenya must re-engineer its diplomacy to deal with what is going on,” said Prof Kodiaga.

But even before the dust settled on the pipeline and railway deals, Tanzania has pulled out of a trade deal that the EAC was negotiating with the European Union (EU), a move that is being seen in diplomatic circles as the last straw. It is this deal that has got Kenya most agitated.

Magufuli has skipped two consecutive meetings in Nairobi that Kenya was hoping to use to convince him to change his mind on the EU trade deal.

Insiders at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs describe Magufuli’s actions as bordering on economic sabotage.

A Kenyan diplomat who has been engaged in the talks says Kenya sees the move by Tanzania to lead the onslaught against the deal as “blackmail” motivated by malice.

“We see this as blackmail and it is aimed at increasing its share of exports to the EU at the expense of Kenya. The argument that the deal is not good for local industry is hollow because it is the region exporting goods at better terms,” the source said.

The diplomat said Kenya had done everything as required to see the deal through. “What is known as legal scrubbing was completed in September 2015 and all the contradictions in provisions were removed to ensure that the intended purpose and the spirit of negotiations was accurately captured. The agreement has also been translated into 23 official languages of the EU and Kiswahili,” the source said.

This comes at a time when the EAC was just recovering from the “coalition of the willing” nightmare, which at the time had Tanzania isolated.

After Tanzania pulled out, it emboldened other East African neighbours including Uganda and Rwanda, leaving Kenya on the table alone.

To try and rescue the deal, Kenya has decided to go it alone.

Trade Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed is in Brussels to try and lobby for Kenya to continue accessing EU market duty-free.

“This development poses a great risk to Kenya,” said Mr Mohamed.

The Market Access Regulation (MAR) will expire on October 1, 2016, meaning that Kenya risks exporting to the bloc at a higher cost.

Unlike Kenya, the rest of the East African countries have nothing to lose if they do not ratify the deal the known as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by the October 1 deadline.

EPAs are trade and development agreements negotiated between the EU, African, Caribbean and Pacific partners engaged in regional economic integration processes.

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  1. Raphael Gikunju says

    Kenya should not cry over Tz abandoning most EAC projects.reason being that Kenya has not been very eco friendly in terms of project costs and Any project in Kenya is shrouded by corrupt deals that make most investment unworthy and RTI never come to play as long as politicians here line there pockets with millions of $ if not securely locked in secret accounts in offshore friendly islands somewhere.
    Case in point..
    The Rail line in Ethiopia done by the chinese is much longer and speeds of those units to run on it almost double our SGT.
    Cost is staggering got it right,ours is almost double the cost of Ethiopian one.
    Why? Kenyan Politicians and well connected individuals bought tracts of land along the SGR corridor…compensation already how do you expect the SGR to compare to anything in this globe?
    I’m in the know that land in the Lamu Lapsett corridor heading to our northern neighbours is already being bought..desert land to be paid back by the government in millions of shillings in compensation to the well connected individuals..
    Our southern president Magufuli is just too witty for us kenyans.
    Watch this space…Tz is going to reach economic levels we dream about in Kenya soon than you think,the country is well endowed and potentially much more lucrative than ours in terms of minerals,arable land etc..Brain power is nothing for we krnyans boast of it.Dubai imported so can they and what is the End results,just politicians bickering that our Southern neighbour’s is unfriendly but guess what.I would do like him.Shame our Kenyan politicians.

  2. George Wabwire says

    The world is progressing while Kenya is mared in corruption and greed. Soon we are going to be the laughing stock with a mafia that will drive us to start killing each other.

    It pains me to see Ethiopia building a much cheaper,longer and sustainable railroad while ours is smaller and more expensive and of course with no quality. The shamefull acts before the olympics and all the bad news coming from that country need attention.

    Nigeria had the same fate but it has Oil. They could afford bad publicity. We can’t. Who wants to do business with a bunch of cheap mafia operatives?

  3. James Methu Sr says

    politicians are failing Kenya they are willing to loot the country at the expense of development.You can’t build a sustainable economy through corruption,However the foundation of a middle income economy is there and we can advance the economy on our own by for example land exchange of government land to compensate private land used in projects.No money needs to change hands and we save on the project cost.

  4. Anonymous says

    Leadership matters!!! President Magufuli is a true and rare patriot who loves his country and is working to fulfill the mandate his countrymen gave him. He is working for the betterment of his nation. Kenyans are simply jealous, and taken by surprise. We should learn from them and quit making excuses. President Magufuli has been in office for such a short time and look at all the MAJOR progress he has already brought to his country. I agree with the statements already made, and Kenyans should stop pointing fingers outward and start looking inward. Why are other Nations willing to work with Tanzania and not Kenya? It’s obvious, lack of leadership and corruption.

  5. Anonymous says

    Until Kenya wakes up and realized the magnitude of it’s own rot,It will continue being isolated systematically.
    I think until the corrupt in Kenya re-evaluate themselves and see Kenya in the hands of their children and admit their own mistake, Kenya will end up the Rwanda genocide.
    Let NOBODY in Kenya lie to their minds that all is well!!! Our country is internally bleeding badly. Thanks

  6. sam areri says

    I totally agree with the previous writers that that country is sold out.corruption is at its peak and nothing can be done about it other than isolating it and that hurts innocent is doing good to her people .period and they are right.I paid for an electric meter to be installed in my house in july 6th,paid 22,000 shillings in nakuru,a kenya power worker has decided to keep it so I can bribe him.Tried to call kenya power nobody can do anything as that is the order of the day and they wonder why I don’t comply with the normal even when I tell them that the person holding my meter is Mr.Abuga.hate this country folks

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