Kenya citizenship status offer for EAC citizens no small matter

02Dec 2017
The Guardian
Kenya citizenship status offer for EAC citizens no small matter

PRESIDENT Uhuru Kenyatta used his latest inaugural address in being sworn in for a second term after a controversial rerun of the presidential election to set new terms for Kenyan role in the East African Community.

Going beyond the lead that Rwanda has taken in that regard, the Kenyan leader declared that citizens from other member states of the EAC will have similar rights as Kenyans, including the right to vote.

In Europe foreigners with quasi-permanent residence vote in local polls though they aren’t eligible for outright participation in parliamentary polls.

This means that Kenya is readying itself to become an investment hub for East Africa, at a personal level where investors set foot in Kenya and use the rest of East Africa as the market target.

What the president did was to go beyond this overall aim that usually targets foreign investors to incite displacement at the local level, where even regional investors will find it easier to operate from Kenya or Nairobi specifically. Each city in Kenya will have its cross-border hinterland, etc.

These moves are meant to consolidate the East African Common Market by moving to unify markets, on the basis of a recognized centre, to undercut fierce resistance to the common market, especially by Tanzania.

It means that there will be considerable pressure on investment planners in Tanzania and individuals with skills or a modicum of capital, not just to decide where they will base operations but also what sort of partners they are able to find. When any group of investors and market builders can decide to settle in Nairobi or elsewhere to plan, it works.

In information technology parameters it becomes a sort of Silicon Valley for all sorts of venture capital in the sub-region, using the leverage to penetrate regional marketsowing to the more rapid facilitation if one operates from a centre that recognizes his or her civic rights.

In the longer term it will obviate a portion of the capital flows that would be targeted to other countries, save if they have intense comparative advantages, distinctive from civic or legal facilitation as such. It is a scenario that potentially undermines expectations of solid localization of activity.

When we think of industrialization for example, quite often there is a protective element involved, which is often informal (directing purchasing agents not to order from elsewhere, especially if they are government agencies).

This is for instance the case in directing a stop to importation of power boosting transformers, in order to use those manufactured at TANELEC in Arusha. Formal protection has limits.

The recent spat in grain trade and oil importation is a reminder that planning for industrialization and boosting productivity in each sector is better comprehended and real answers sought when it presumes both the EAC and globalization.

To set out plans on the basis of expectations of rolling back globalization and regional integration is likely to lead to intermittent conflicts dressed like cross-border trade spats. As a matter of fact it is resistance of markets to being hemmed in, narrowed.

The changes that Kenya is taking in relation to citizenship rights within the EAC is a reminder to policy planners that regional integration is not an issue in abeyance, to be decided later.

It is an ongoing process with its own mechanisms, and Kenya is pulling strings in the right direction to attract capital and skills, despite that there are comparative advantages where Tanzania is likely to excel. The issue is that our individual loyalties especially those with funds to spare will be tested by the move.

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