Kenya Airways has nothing to fear about return of Uganda Airlines – envoy

Sunday December 9 2018

Kenya Airways has nothing to fear about return of Uganda Airlines – envoy

Insight. Kenya’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Mr Kiema Kilonzo, during the interview in Kampala this week. PHOTOS BY RACHEL MABALA 

By Misairi Thembo Kahungu

You were posted here by president Uhuru Kenyatta a few months ago. How do you find it so far?
I have been here for close to three months and I must say I am feeling at home. I have not known the difference between being in Kenya and being in Uganda. Ugandans are very accommodative people. Obviously you are a very green country unlike, of course, where I come from. Uganda is one of the top countries in Africa when it comes to the greenery.

How are you adopting to the Ugandan culture?
I must say there is a lot of similarities because first of all the food we eat where I come from is readily available here in Uganda. You have food which is so organic that helps us to get on very well. The aspect of work, Kenyans are a bit aggressive than Ugandans. Kenyans are out on the streets from about 5:30 in the morning going to work. Here in Uganda people don’t wake up that early.

When you talk of the aggressiveness of Kenyans towards work, would I be right to say it is the reason Kenya has had a stable economic growth?
Kenyans, I believe, being near the coast interacted early with the Arabs and learnt how to do trade at a very early stage. And also because our harsh weather condition dictates that you have to work to put food on the table, as opposed to the Ugandans because here bananas, fruits and everything else grows along the road.
In Kenya you don’t get that because part of the north, north eastern and the savannah land you don’t have a lot of rain. So you find that where there is lack of good weather conditions people put a lot of efforts to earn a living and that aggressiveness has actually contributed a lot to their wellbeing.

Kenyans back home and all over the world are preparing for the Kenyan week ahead of the Independence Day, Jamhuri. How are you prepared as the mission in Kampala?
This week is informed by the fact that cultural diplomacy is a key pillar of our foreign policy under which the mission endeavours to use Kenya’s vast culture to promote friendship and mutual understanding between the two great nations.

To commemorate this auspicious occasion, the mission has planned a series of activities and these now include a social corporate event which is happening tomorrow [November 5] where we will be visiting the nearby district of Wakiso. We are going to Masulita Children’s’ Home. In there, we will be donating shoes, clothes and food to the children who are less privileged.

These are the orphans, these are poor kids and we thought since our independence is in the month of festivities and Christian holiday, it is time to reach out to the less fortunate members of our society.
From there, on November 8 we will have the golf tournament which brings in the corporate world together with the government officers and the like-minded people so that they can interact and also bond at the same time when they are playing golf.

Finally, the mission will close the week by hosting the Jamhuri Day reception which is a culmination of what we are doing and this will be on Tuesday, November 11, on the eve of the Independence Day.
All is about improving and deepening the relations between our two brotherly countries, Kenya and Uganda.

In your assessment, what is the status of the relations between Uganda and Kenya?
From where I sit, I look at myself as an East African because Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and now the later inclusion of Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan, are one nation and one people. And for that reason the growth of the economy of Uganda helps Kenya and vice versa.

Earlier Kenya really used to export a lot to Uganda. If you look at the balance of trade, it was really in favour of Kenya but over time, Uganda caught up with us. Why? Because of continuous improvement of agriculture in this country and with a stable government since President Museveni took over power.
Look at the production of maize, sugar, now your dairy farming, your poultry farming is up there. Now we are seeing again the discovery of oil and gas, mainly in Hoima. Having a lot of quantities of oil deposits will be a game changer.

But Uganda cannot exist without Kenya. Why? Because Mombasa (port) is a gateway to East Africa. Most of Uganda’s imports come through Kenya. Now Kenya is helping Uganda grow because of being the biggest economy in the region. If we look at the GDP of Uganda, it is standing at $25 billion whereas Kenya’s GDP is at $75 billion.
We have that kind of relationship where we need each other and now I see the balance of trade has balanced. What do I mean? Uganda at the moment is exporting up to a tune of $500m worth of goods to Kenya and Kenya is also exporting a similar amount to Uganda.

Kenya Airways has been a giant in the region, but we have seen RwandAir and Air Tanzania emerge. Uganda Airlines is projected to hit the skies early next year. Won’t this affect the market of Kenya Airways which flies in and out of Entebbe more than four times a day?
On the contrary, Uganda Airlines’ return strengthens Kenya Airways because Kenya is now flying direct to New York. Ugandans used to go to Amsterdam, Dubai or London to connect to the US, but it will be easier for Uganda Airlines to offload to Kenya Airways at Nairobi and from there you do your 16 hours to New York and avoid stay overs in other airports.
We also want to see competition. Today RwandAir has a right to fly to Mombasa and to Nairobi, and when they take tourists to those destinations, the economy of Kenya grows. The economy of airlines cannot be assessed on the balance sheet of the airline alone. So, I am looking at the entry of the Uganda Airlines in the market as really strengthening both Kenya Airways and other airlines in the region.

President Museveni (left) and his Kenyan

President Museveni (left) and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO

Let’s talk relations again; what are your top priorities as the Kenyan High Commissioner in Kampala?
My top priority is to improve trade and promote trade. By empowering the people of Uganda you are empowering the people of Kenya. I am going to ensure that I help the two nations and the region to ensure that non-tariff barriers are negotiated to make sure that we improve on free movement of people and goods. That is the only way we are going to see the citizens of these two great nations improving.

We are going to see that Ugandan and Kenyan citizens down there are being empowered to have the resources and also be able to tour their region. I would want to see Ugandans going to Mombasa. Right now, from here you can take Coast Bus or any other bus to Nairobi. Let the people travel to Mombasa and enjoy the beaching. I want to see tourism in the two countries doing very well. I want to see Kenyans come to Uganda and visit the source of the Nile and also see the beautiful parts this country has.

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is a key development project for the region, but we have seen some delays on the Ugandan side while Kenya has done a great deal so far. What does Uganda’s slow pace mean for the project?
I want to say that both economies are not the same. We have a clear understanding and I got this assurance not from any other person but His Excellence President Yoweri Museveni and I have also had this assurance from President Uhuru Kenyatta that there is commitment to ensure that railway reaches the border.

And President Museveni is very clear because he understands that Uganda’s economy to continue doing well needs to cut costs of transportation of goods from the coast to the mainland. When the SGR reaches Uganda, the cost of transporting goods will go down by about 75 per cent of what the trucks are charging today.

What are your thoughts on the progress of regional integration?
We have done quite well on the single tourist visa. Now any tourist coming to the region does not need to get different visas. You just need one visa and by flying directly to Kigali you can still come to Uganda and enjoy gorillas or the source of the Nile and also fly directly to Mombasa using the same visa.
When it comes to economic integration we have now the Common Customs Union which is working well. Today, when you clear your goods in Mombasa, there is an officer of URA (Uganda Revenue Authority) stationed in Mombasa and nobody else will stop you until your goods reach here.

Look at the one-stop border receptions where you get to Busia (border post), you just get the stamps in one place. This has reduced the time people used to take for clearing. Just recently, President Kenyatta (Kenya) and President John Pombe Magufuli (Tanzania) cleared the Namanga border post. So, you can see we are moving.
Political integration, we have pronounced ourselves on it. Of course politically it would take some time, but you can see that now we are targeting one currency, we are also talking of having one passport. I already have mine.

The biggest neighbour of East Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is going for presidential elections with hope to witness for the first time a peaceful transfer of power. What are your thoughts on this process?
About three weeks ago, we attended a meeting at Munyonyo (Speke Resort) which was chaired by President Museveni, the EAC chair. We had also our development partners; we had high representation from Central African Republic and also DRC. South Sudan president Salva Kiir was there, Kenya and Tanzania were represented and the main issue we were discussing was of DRC.

There was a commitment that indeed president [Joseph] Kabila will not be running and that decision was applauded in the Munyonyo meeting. President Museveni, who is the chair, has been in touch and there is assurance from that great conference that there is going to be a very democratic and peaceful election. If that happens, then I am very optimistic that we are going to see good things coming from DRC. And we as neighbours can just wish them well, and their progress to democracy has a lot of support from the EAC.

EAC member states are signatories to quite a number of treaties and instruments on the continent. But, one key instrument is the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and in the EAC, only Rwanda and South Sudan have ratified it…
Before I answer that one of democracy, elections and governance, let me turn your attention to the signing of the Africa Free Trade Agreement which was signed in Kigali. Kenya has already deposited the instrument in the African Union our parliament having ratified it. Rwanda has done that and I think the only big powers in Africa that had not yet ratified are South Africa and Nigeria. But South Africa the other day ratified, so it is only Nigeria which we are awaiting for to sign. If they do that, we the population of 1.2 billion people in Africa are going to be a game changer because Africa must trade with itself first. You can see Africa is thinking in the same direction and we are panel beating everyone to come together.

Now coming to the democracy, election and governance charter, Kenya has already made a commitment by signing. What is remaining is ratification which is a matter of processes. Previously, I was a Member of Parliament and to ratify treaties with promulgation of our constitution in 2010, it says any treaty signed, it must be ratified by parliament.
We have also other Bills which are queued, but from the Kenyan side, we are going to handle that.

Uganda and Kenya started well with the oil pipeline deal. This deal meant a lot for Kenya’s economy but overnight Uganda shifted goal posts and instead signed with Tanzania. Where has this left Kenya?
Since I took over, it is now two months. Previously I was a Kenyan ambassador to Turkey and I am now just trying to settle in here and also get briefed on what happened when. But I am sure that when I’m properly briefed, maybe we are going to have another meeting and discuss this issue. I agree with you it is an important issue.

Any other information you would wish to convey to the reader?
The East African nations are not opponents. We should never look at ourselves as antagonists; we are partners. We are strong together when we are doing big projects and I want to commend the private sector which dictates to government what to do, but not the other way. I am here to ensure that I work with the private sector to grow the economy of the region.

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