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Check-in desks at Heathrow airport Terminal 5 in west London on September 9, 2019. Photo AFP


Technical teams formed by Kenya and the United Kingdom are expected to start talks on Friday to establish a bilateral protocol to be used in governing travel during this pandemic season.

The teams were formed after the first meeting of a joint emergency taskforce of both countries, on Thursday, and their recommendations will be used to guide how the two countries manage passenger travel to control spread of Covid-19.

These specialised committees could determine when a mutual travel ban imposed between the two countries will be lifted.

On Thursday, officials from both sides, forming the Joint Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19, met virtually and agreed to delegate the specific tasks to the committees.

The Emergency Committee was created by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Foreign Affairs Raychelle Omamo and UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab “to explore ways to resolve ongoing travel restrictions between the two countries.”

The Kenyan team on Thursday also included Health Principal Secretary (PS) Susan Mochache, Transport PS Solomon Kitungu and Trade Secretary Linyuru Bruno.

Co-Chaired by Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau, and Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office Africa Director Irfan Siddiq, the Emergency Response Committee meeting resolved to have specialised teams to look into gaps and “report back in a few days.”

There were no timelines or deadlines given to the teams.

The teams have representatives from the scientific community and other related experts on health and travel.

Sources told The EastAfrican that the experts will be given sufficient time to ensure all critical issues of testing and validity of results and vaccination certificates are addressed.

The UK had on April 2 announced restrictions on passengers travelling from Kenya to the UK, citing increasing cases of the South African variant of Covid-19. Kenya reacted promptly and banned passenger flights from the UK, and accused London of discrimination.

Sources said the earliest passenger flights can resume will be in May, but no definite date was given.

“We are not working with guns on our heads. The technical teams will have sufficient time to address the issues of concerns,” a diplomat told The EastAfrican on Thursday.

Cargo transportation, which had been exempted in the ban, was also temporarily disrupted as both sides discuss what will constitute valid documentation. As it is, crew must bear a valid negative test, taken not more than 96 hours before arrival. Nairobi had added a new demand that crew bear vaccination certificates.

Both countries are running vaccinations, but pilots have not received certificates. In the UK, only pilots who fit in a certain age category or in special groups identified based on health have been vaccinated.

The two countries were yet to decide whether a vaccination card issued in the UK would be a valid certificate in Kenya. Nairobi has not started giving vaccination certificates.

London argued that Kenya’s Covid-19 certifications for travellers have been faulty, with nearly 30 per cent of weekly 550 arrivals testing positive a day after arriving. Most of them had the South African variant of Covid-19, the UK said.

The UK has proposed that Kenya introduce rapid testing at airports to weed out fake or invalid travel certificates. That may take at least a month to implement. Travellers will be required to pay $25 at the airport for a spot test.

The suspension of UK-Kenya flights is likely to hurt the entire eastern African region.

Kenya was the last connecting hub in the region to be put on the UK’s Red List, a group of 39 countries where travel is either banned or restricted to control the spread of Covid-19.

In the region, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ethiopia had already been placed on the Red List. And Africa’s main connecting transport hubs Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa as well as Dubai and Doha in the Middle East are now all blocked by the UK. - Aggrey Mutambo, The EastAfrican


A GROUP of Rwandan refugees living in Zimbabwe are refusing to be repatriated, five years after losing their refugee status.

Some 140 people, who are living in the Tongogara Refugee Camp in eastern Zimbabwe, had their refugee status revoked in 2013 by the United Nations after assurances given by the Rwandan government that their safety back home was guaranteed.

However, the group protested the UN decision and their stay was extended by two years to 2015. Now the host country is insisting that it is time for them to return home.

"The position of the government has not changed," Tongogara camp administrator Johanne Mhlanga said. "They are expected to return home in line with refugee laws."

The refugees however say they prefer to be permanently resettled in Zimbabwe.

"No one here wants to return home," Rwandan community leader at the Tongogara Refugee Camp Philip Sindayigaya told a local publication. "We want to stay in Zimbabwe because what we ran away from is still there.

"We have been appealing for Zimbabwean citizenship. We have noted that other nationals have benefited or been resettled, and we want similar treatment."

In 2017, then Tongogara Refugee Camp administrator Meshack Zengeya said failure to repatriate the refugees or give them citizenship after the cessation of their status could create problems for Zimbabwe.

"I am certain that the security ministries will have a problem with these people when they disappear into the community," Mr Zengeya said. "So it is an issue in which the Rwandan community are requesting for local integration."

Rwanda has been relatively stable for some time, but some Hutu refugees prefer to be settled in third countries. - Bulawayo24

Baiju Kantaria of Elgon Kenya 

For over a century, Kenya and the United Kingdom have enjoyed strong ties hinged on trust, enhanced cooperation and mutual benefit across key sectors among them trade, tourism, security, health and education.

The UK views Kenya as a strategic partner due to her wealth of agricultural materials, booming services sector and for being a gateway to other markets in the East African community.

It has therefore over the decades invested in growing Kenya to become the region economic powerhouse. Indeed UK remains one of the largest foreign investors in Kenya with a portfolio approximated at £2.7 billion. More than 200 British companies have set up shop in the Kenya opening up the country to increased employment opportunities and economic growth. 

Kenya on the other hand has found a key export market in the UK for its products among them tea, coffee, flowers and other horticultural produce. For millions of  farmers growing French beans, herbs and avocados, access to UK markets has not only given them the advantage of growing more markets beyond our borders but also created a farming revolution where more farmers are finding farming lucrative, which has ultimately created more jobs and household incomes. 

Indeed at the height of COVID-19 last year, when international trade was grinding to halt, due to international freight suspensions, Kenya and UK burnt the midnight oil in finding innovative ways of overcoming the disruptions.

Also Read  China reiterates promise to support international community efforts to defeat covid-19

Kenya fresh produce was able to find its way into UK supermarkets thanks to the concerted efforts of the two governments and the private sector a highlight of which was the conversion of Kenya Airways passenger planes into cargo freighters ensuring uninterrupted supply of produce.

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This decision is attributed as one of the factors that has seen Kenya’s agriculture sector remain buoyant in the middle of a calamity.

In this context, the prevailing diplomatic tiff between Kenya and UK over travel bans occasioned by concerns over new COVID-19 variants shouldn’t be allowed to escalate any further. 

While in these very trying times nations are acting on their best interests to ensure the safety of their people, the success stories of collaboration that have defined our resilience in the last one year when the pandemic devastated the world and decimated livelihoods should inspire us to embrace unity of purpose.

It is encouraging to learn that the two trading partners have  formed  a joint emergency committee to address the spat and resolve the impasse within the shortest time possible.

Also Read  Why farmers in the Country should support the Coffee Bill 2020

We are in very unfamiliar territories and there is no telling how the virus will evolve. But the resolve to cooperate will determine how we can outpace the virus’s devastating impacts.

Kenya and UK horticulture trade is still grappling with other unprecedented shocks chief among them climate change that has  taken a toll on millions of farmers and disrupted supply chains with devastating effects.  We shouldn’t lose focus of the huge task ahead in tackling these challenges that no one country can handle on their own.

In international relations, there has always been, and there will always be disagreements between nations, continents and neighbours; followed by mediation to resolve the issues at hand and move forward. We are better together. BY:Baiju Kantaria: Director at Elgon Kenya, KBC

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