President Uhuru Kenyatta Wednesday defended the deal he signed with President Yoweri Museveni on Uganda’s sugar exports to Kenya in exchange for dairy and beef products while responding to Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s claim that the pact would kill local sugar industry by opening the floodgate for cheap imports.
Uhuru also directed his answer to critics who argued that the deal would undermine struggling local millers, terming them unfounded.
“I would rather import Ugandan rather than Brazilian sugar,” said the President Wednesday, three days after he addressed the Ugandan Parliament where he threw a jibe at Opposition leaders arguing they should not use their positions to undermine legitimately elected governments.
Uhuru defended business with Kenya’s main trading partner – a line that was buttressed by Cabinet secretaries at a separate press conference – arguing the Opposition should not impute improper motive by government without justification.
“I say this to the leader of Opposition here in Kenya, Raila Odinga,” President Kenyatta told delegates at a conference on Pan-Africanism at Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, and then turned to Raila who was present: “If you want to accuse me of something, then do it but correct me when I am wrong. What cheap sugar? I would rather get it from Uganda than buy it from Brazil.”
Uhuru pointed out that total trade volume between the two countries in 2014 stood at Sh88 billion, with Kenyan exports to Uganda standing at Sh70 billion. “Let us see how we can support our own. We must think big and talk big. I say this with humility because he is my elder brother,” he added.
The President said the Opposition should be in the forefront in supporting the development agenda.
“Who knows, tomorrow he (Raila) might be here where I am standing and I will support him,” he said.
He said leaders “should not criticise just for the sake of criticising”.
Raila on Monday termed the deal, which would also see Kenya export to her neighbour beef and dairy products, “tasteless and reckless”, arguing it was self-seeking and would hurt farmers and local millers.
Wednesday, Uhuru, who spoke first and left the venue before Raila addressed the meeting, insisted that leaders should always talk about how to take their respective countries forward.
When Raila addressed the meeting, he maintained that the sugar deal between Kenya and Uganda was a bad idea.
“I am not against Pan-Africanism or trying to stop Kenya and Uganda from doing business,” Raila said.
The Opposition leader, however, wondered why Uhuru would give Sh1 billion bail out to ailing Mumias Sugar Company and then strike a sugar deal with Uganda barely two months later.
He expressed concern that cheap sugar from Uganda would mean trouble for the Kenyan farmers who are already struggling with poor pay.
There are fears that unscrupulous dealers would import sugar into Uganda, only to repackage it before re-exporting to Kenya.
But at a press conference in Nairobi Wednesday, Cabinet secretaries Henry Rotich (National Treasury) and Amina Mohamed (Foreign Affairs) insisted Kenya had always imported sugar to plug its deficit.
“Uganda does not even have enough surplus to satisfy Kenya’s unmet demand,” Mr Rotich said.
In their arguments, Kenya would still need to import sugar from other countries even after the whole of Uganda’s surplus production was taken up by Kenya.
The two cabinet secretaries assured there were guidelines in place to avoid dumping of cheap commodity in Kenya that did not originate from Uganda.
Ms Mohamed further disowned the alleged sugar imports pact, saying that there was no such agreement.
“There was no agreement we signed with Uganda. Period,” she said during a press briefing at the Foreign Affairs office Wednesday.
Kenya has an annual sugar shortage of about 200,000 metric tonnes. Uganda and other countries within the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa have typically been the source markets of the imports, even though there are wide claims of sugar smuggling from lower-cost production jurisdictions like Brazil.
There was, however, a general understanding entered to help cut the trade imbalance with Uganda that currently stands at Sh50 billion a year, Mohamed explained
She said the issues that were up for discussion during the State visit by President Uhuru included the routing of the crude oil pipeline, protection of Kenyan companies operating in Uganda and work permits for Kenyan citizens.
The Migingo Island dispute was also deliberated where both countries confirmed that they had set aside funds for the demarcation process. The process is currently being discussed for the next three weeks.