Is Kenyatta likely to be sincere to Ethio-Kenya friendship, or his regime the one to subvert the historical ties between our peoples?

12 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

President Kenyatta addressing the Ethiopia-Kenya Business Forum Tuesday (Credit: Kenya President's website)

President Kenyatta addressing the Ethiopia-Kenya Business Forum Tuesday (Credit: Kenya President’s website)

Ethiopia is said to be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first state visit country in Africa and the second in the world with Beijing in August 2013 being his odyssey to collect a loan of $4.7 billion for Kenya’s structural development.

Tuesday being his second day of the official visist in Ethiopia, the president spent the day shuttling between, among others, courtesy call on the host country’s titular president, visiting the Sheik Al-Amoudi-owned MIDROC’s ELICO leather factory and reminding members of the Ethiopia-Kenya Business Forum their “duty to work as closely as you can with us to employ our youth, and secure new markets for your goods and services”.

Consequently, speaking of his mission in Ethiopia during this visit, Mr. Kenyatta was upfront in stating that he needed to lay the foundation for robust economic and commercial relations between the two nations. It would be recalled that Ethiopia and Kenya signed agreements of sorts two years ago, most of which have hardly been translated into action.

Nonetheless, there was no reference to complaints by Kenyan businesses that in Ethiopia time is not cherished for its value, as if it were surplus and unconnected with money and labor, national growth and development. In that regard, the president stressed he would be “pleased not only to speak to players in commerce and business, but to also listen to their proposals.”

In the earlier situation, it was made clear to Kenyans in roundabout ways that there are no go areas; but every time they tried to get inroads they were politely rebuffed. The fact of the matter is that most of these areas either are strictly preserved for the state or are systematically protected for the ruling party’s over 60 companies and many others still in the dark.

For what exists now, a sense of magnitude can be gleaned by realizing that EFFORT and its companies are the most dominant in Ethiopia, after Al-Amoudi’s operations, whose global billionaire status is being constantly and handsomely rewarded in milky Ethiopia.

It appears that this has not been made clear to President Kenyatta; nor has he been told of complaints by Kenyan businesses about the roadblocks to the Ethiopian apples they wanted to get bites of. Therefore, the president said “The quicker they [businesses] identify hindrances to the smooth flow of investment between the countries the quicker both governments will be able to remove them”, according to President Kenyatta’s official website.

At the same time, with seemingly no clear course of action on the horizon, in the middle of his speech the president turned to urging “Kenyan and Ethiopian business membership organisations to begin consultations with their counterparts.” In Ethiopia, not to make clarity as inaccessible is a virtue only those Ethiopian officials that have no authority on such matters but are leading talks and negotiations with foreign counterparts are capable of exercising. Nobody understands how they see clarity and being straightforward as their mortal enemies.

Notwithstanding this, there may be an opportunity afforded both sides by Mr. Kenyatta’s visit. However, if Ethiopia could not move in the past two years, what rights do visitors have to assume that this situation would suddenly change now? Certainly, if at all the two states are capable of mustering their visions and energies to move their economic ties to higher level, it is particularly in the interest of Ethiopia to the extent that it facilitates growth in both countries, enabling it to increase its trade with Kenya to ameliorate the huge trade imbalance it has shouldered all along, as is its situation with all other countries, except Somalia.
Why this article?

While understandably President Kenyatta’s address was more focussed on economics, for me the reason I penned this article is partly because of his reference to the “cordial relations between Kenya and Ethiopia”. He said, these are “anchored in old economic, cultural and historical ties, [and] are a matter of pride for both our peoples.” I am extremely pleased that this came out of his mouth.

This gives every Ethiopian burning with anger deep inside for the last few years, to tell the president that, unlike the mutual respect that have existed between our two peoples, the “cordial relations” he referred to, have been subverted with his country reduced – akin to Djibouti and Sudan – into becoming the right hand of a repressive and unrepresentative regime in Addis Abeba. With his presence in Ethiopia and his words on the quality of our relations echoing in our ears, it gives every Ethiopian the opportunity to raise to him today that the wrong-headed cooperation between the security forces of Ethiopia and Kenya are obliterating into non-existence the longstanding friendship and mutual respect between our peoples.

This happens because on the Kenyan side there is too much underworld cooperation between the security forces of the two countries, especially since the eve of President Kenyatta administration’s takeover of power.

Consequently, for many Ethiopians that have had the benefit of longer life or those in consultation with history and have been made keenly aware of the seeds of the Ethiopia-Kenya special relations, the first thing they would note is that Emperor Haile Selassie and President Jomo Kenyatta – the father of the visiting guest – were their planters, who have shown the road how to grow and sustain them up until the two fathers of the nations were replaced.

Nonetheless, these people today ask why the son has to turn his back on the good friendship Ethiopians and Kenyans have jointly lived through, as if these were obstacles to his desire of building friendship and good neighborliness with the TPLF regime. The problem is that, because of the ugly events of the 2007-2008 election and the aftermath, which has been costing him a lot, he has allowed himself and his government to be used by the TPLF, which seated in power, all along has engaged in intensified war against the Ethiopian people.

Kenya’s debacle is its being a willing partner and allowing itself to be dragged by the TPLF into returning to the gallows a very high number of Ethiopian refugees and asylum-seekers, especially under the Uhuru administration, in violation of Kenya’s law and protections such individuals are provided under international humanitarian law.

What could be more telling than the fact that in August 2013, when President Kenyatta was visiting Beijing, an Ethiopian engineer, a bona fide refugee, was found dead in Ethiopian prison, unable to endure the tortures. He was not the only victim. There are several more that have perished during cruelty and severity of tortures these victims have to endure.

Also think of the so many young Ethiopian boys and girls that are constantly streaming through Kenya to pass through to other countries, such as South Africa. I am not suggesting that Kenya should bear the burden of Ethiopians escaping persecution and death in their own country. All that I am saying is that returning escaping refugees to the Ethiopian regime is no different from sentencing an innocent person to death. In spite of the high number of those Kenya picks and ships back to the Ethiopia gallows, there are still many more forcing themselves into taking their chances, instead of sitting at the receiving end of extreme poverty, mistreatments, beatings and sufferings in prisons.

This is not a fiction. There is also the case of two Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) peace negotiators, who in January 2014 were abducted by Ethiopian security forces in broad daylight in the streets of Nairobi and forcibly brought to Ethiopia. They were in that country for the talks and negotiations with the TPLF regime, the safety of which was guaranteed by the Kenyan government. The media in late January and February reported the whole thing, as if it were simple corruption of two security personnel – an inspector and a constable.

The fact of the matter is that, by the smell of it rather, it appears to be a more practiced operation, pointing to the existence of inter-state collusion than ordinary corruption. Such pressure began building on Kenya in 2009, with Meles Zenawi and the United States armtwisting them to turn the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) into a security mechanism against terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Meles succeeded into making it an instrument to chase and destroy his political opponents, with the cooperation of Djibouti and Sudan in particular. For a long time, Kenya had been resistant to throwing the towel, behind which also was resistance by some members of the Kenyan parliament.

Why should the Uhuru Kenyatta administration now join the camp of torturers and killers, which Kenya has valiantly resisted for years?

It is true that, if what matters is the now and this moment, the Kenyatta administration could count to benefit so long as the TPLF is in power. Nonetheless, this is unlike the true quality of the relations between the two states that have successfully sailed safely through the rough neighborhood in East Africa, unscathed even despite the turmoils of the Cold War.

We truly hope in earnest that the Kenyan justice system, which is far more accommodating of the truth than Ethiopia’s, would deal with this matter with sincerity, transparency and foresight in the interest of continuity of the healthy relations between the peoples and states of Ethiopia and Kenya.
Ethiopia and Kenya in a historical lens

The main factors contributing to the health of the relations between the two nations has been their orientation. To start with, at independence in 1963 Kenya was, and as a matter of fact still is, the only independent African country in our neighborhood without strong affinity to the Middle East, while such ties across the Red Sea have been a staple of our other neighbors.

It derives from this that, while Kenya has known Islam since the late 19th century, its influence in national policies has been limited, even today adherents of the Islamic faith in that country not exceeding 11 percent. Therefore, Kenya has neither been a member of the 22-strong and influential Arab League that came into the scene in 1945 in Cairo; nor is it associated with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which came into existence in 1969.

The agenda of these organizations enjoyed sabre-rattling against Ethiopia, which neither this nor the Cold War that had exposed Ethiopia to several conflicts distanced Kenya from Ethiopia. Those times severely tested Ethio-Kenya relations, but Ethiopia and Kenya remained true and good friends.

For instance, in the 1970s and 1980s, Kenya stayed the course in its choice of the capitalist path with no effect whatsoever on our relations. On its part, internal dynamics and in necessity Ethiopia saw as solution for the dictates of its politics of the time to look in the eastern direction and joined the anti-capitalist bloc. It is sound evidence that the bonds of relations between Ethiopia and Kenya have stood temporary hitches of the type neither Ethiopia nor Kenya felt its effect on their relations.

Moreover, Ethiopia and Kenya also shared a common enemy, which grew in Somalia’s ambitions, with the leaders in Mogadishu harbouring since independence in 1960 the conviction and policy of uniting all Somalis (those in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya) under one flag and common territory, as demonstrated by their five-star national banner and the war efforts since.

To all intents and purposes, this ‘Hitlerite’ ambition in Somalia was and is similar to the Lebensraum in Germany, i.e., habitat, the aim of which was expanding eastwards to make free space for the Aryan race. Of that, in connection with the Treaty of Versaille-designed boundaries in 1938, Adolf Hitler observed: “We are overpopulated and cannot feed ourselves from our own resources.” He specifically pointed out: “Further successes can no longer be attained without the shedding of blood … Danzig is not the subject of the dispute at all. It is a question of expanding our living space in the east … there is no question of sparing Poland.”

History is vindictive, especially in situations where wrong causes are allowed to prevail, even for a short while. Some pay for their arrogance. These countries are still struggling with the evil consequences of those ambitions, as are Ethiopia and Kenya now to this day battling the terrorist group Al-Shabab within Somalia.

Another evil consequence of this is that, within their own respective territories along the borders with Somalia ever since garrisons have become common sights, the typical manifestation of which is the continuing and untold human sufferings.

It is not the fault of the people. Nor should Ethiopians be subjected, with Kenya’s collaboration, to humiliations. They did not deserve it.

If Mr. Kenyatta’s objective is economic growth, he should be reminded that he should not go the Meles way by trying to alienate and humiliate the people.
*Updated.

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