Ruto blows hot and cold on regional integration, one year later

by MMC
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By LUKE ANAMI

Kenyan President William Ruto receives high marks for his first year in office on regional integration, although analysts see domestic economic woes as a potential banana skin.

Since being sworn in on September 13 last year, Ruto has met every East African leader. He responds to a tradition established by his predecessors who also considered good neighborliness and regional stability as anchor points.

But while his charm offensive has also won him the affection of Western leaders, his language has created enemies at home and beyond.

Read: The “Pan-African” Ruto still in the clutches of the IMF

His role in the Sudanese peace effort was a notable setback after the Sudan Armed Forces, one of the warring factions in Sudan, questioned his sincerity and neutrality on the issue.

In April 2023, Ruto offered to mediate between the warring parties in Sudan, but the Sudanese military government led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan rejected his offer. The problem is that Burhan believes Ruto is an old friend of his rival, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, Burhan’s former deputy and now leader of the rival rebel group Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

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Khartoum has not yet provided proof of this, but has held to this point for three months, blocking any attempt at peace led by Ruto within the framework of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).

Dr Ruto’s year in power has seen him show loyalty to his friends at home and abroad, even if it has sparked controversy in some quarters. His friends come from Sudan, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville and Sierra Leone.

“From the point of view of his image, he is trying to hijack a Pan-African image. If you look at the optics, his Kaunda costume outfits, I think he seemed to project himself as a Pan-Africanist. And remember the comments he made on regional trade about the need to trade in local currencies and increase intra-community trade,” said Ken Gichinga, chief economist at Mentoria Economics.

Read: Kenya renews pressure from African countries to abandon the dollar

Sudan aside

“The attitude has been in favor of pan-African trade, but the question one might ask is whether tax policies have complemented this. There’s always what we call the narrative side, as opposed to the production side. »

President Ruto’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC Affairs Rebecca Miano says her boss has been consistent on integration and the Sudan issue should not be used against him.

“The president is sending a very strong message: he supports integration,” Miano said. East Africa THURSDAY.

“I think he is the only president in the last year who has visited every country in East Africa. In the EAC, President Ruto has played a major role in the regional bloc’s expansion plans by continuously supporting peace efforts in Somalia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, insisting that peace and regional stability are essential to Kenya’s stability,” she said. said.

Ruto became the first Kenyan president to visit Asmara, Eritrea, pushing for Eritrea’s readmission into Igad. Asmara had imposed a suspension on itself, to protest against the alleged use of Igad by Ethiopia to punish Eritrea. Ethiopia was then under Meles Zenawi when Isaias Afwerki’s Eritrea stopped participating in Igad meetings.

Now, the two countries enjoy warmer ties.

Miano downplayed the Sudan issue, saying the country was not a member of the EAC and its peace efforts should be applauded instead of disapproved.

Read: Talks in Sudan: Kenya promises “neutrality”

“In addition to promoting and deepening integration, I think it sends the message that Kenya is ready to take leadership in terms of integration policy and direction. This is why you even see the negotiation process with Somalia to join the Community, this agenda of the last EAC summit was proposed by our president and the status of the EAC regional force. These efforts show its intention and focus on the EAC integration process.

Ruto, however, maintained some parts of the policies of his predecessors. In November 2022, he sent 900 soldiers to the Democratic Republic of Congo to join a regional force tasked with trying to calm deadly tensions fueled by armed groups. Discussions began during the Uhuru Kenyatta regime.

He recently hosted the extraordinary EAC summit to take stock of the peace process in the DRC, where the mandate of the EAC Regional Force was extended by three months following the UN decision to withdraw MONUSCO forces by the end of the year.

Dr Ruto has become known as a reliable ally of Western countries, taking a strong stand against Russia’s war in Ukraine and openly criticizing Vladimir Putin’s withdrawal from a grain deal that allowed Ukrainian grain to pass by sea Black, known as Black Sea Grain. Initiative. During the Uhuru Kenyatta era, when Kenya sat on the UN Security Council, Kenya criticized the war but abstained from votes to reprimand Russia.

Under Ruto, Kenya offered to send police officers to Haiti to help combat the escalating gang war. The United States will pay the price.

On the international trade scene, President Ruto is pursuing a trade deal with the United States after signing others with the United Kingdom and the European Union.

In June this year, Kenya signed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU, which aims to liberalize trade between the two parties, including providing Kenyan products with duty-free access to the European market.

Read: Ruto bypasses EAC obstacles to EU trade deal

In return, Nairobi will gradually open its market to a greater number of European products.

However, the agreement was criticized by a section of civil society, who claimed that it went against the ideals of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

“With other relevant stakeholders, we continue to call for the urgent need to rethink the EPAs so that they respond to Africa’s long-standing challenges and aspirations for structural transformation, particularly in line with the AfCFTA,” said Jane Nalunga, Executive Director of South and Southern Africa. East Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute.

She also argues that negotiations for an EPA began before the admission of two EAC partner states, namely South Sudan and the DRC, and therefore Kenya should not have signed it without the contribution of his two new brothers.

Although President Ruto has played a major role in the regional bloc’s expansion plans, his economic policies at home have been closely scrutinized by the EAC region.

Some argue that Kenya’s tax regime is not conducive to doing business within the EAC.

Read: How Kenya’s tax plan will impact EAC trade

Ruto signed a finance bill into law in July that is expected to generate more than $2.1 billion for the government’s depleted coffers.

“If you look at the changes in the average retail prices of certain products over the past year, as reported by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, it will tell you that our economy is not on the right track, as some want us to believe it,” said Ndiritu Mureithi, economist and former governor of Laikipia County.

Last week, the Kenya Manufacturers Association went to court to block sections of the Finance Act 2023, including on export and investment taxes, which came into force on September 1.

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