In the recent days, both the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (US) have roughed up Kenya on the diplomatic front by imposing travel bans on the country based on rising COVID-19 cases.
The irony of the new development has not been lost on Kenyans; the two countries have been extremely affected by the coronavirus, and it is Kenya that should actually be imposing travel advisories against travelers from the UK and the US.
It first began with the move by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to include Kenya in a ‘red list’ of 39 countries from which visitors who have been in or transited through in the previous 10 days cannot enter the UK beginning 6 am on Friday, April 9.
The notice also provided that British and Irish nationals and third-country nationals with residence rights in the UK arriving in England from Kenya will be required to quarantine in a hotel.
The explanation was that new data showed increased risks of importing coronavirus “variants of concern”.
Of concern to many was that it was not the first time that the UK and other western nations such as the US were unilaterally imposing travel bans on Kenya on grounds such as threats of terrorism and even petty crimes such as pickpocketing, forgetting that the same happens on a more serious scale in western capitals.
What has not, however, escaped keen diplomatic watchers of Kenya-UK relations is the fact that the latter has never had good intentions on the country ever since President Mwai Kibaki told them off and adopted a Look East policy that encouraged development support from countries such as China, India, Korea, and Japan at the expense of western investors who had for long been reaping from big money projects in the country.
Some even aver that the UK move could have been influenced by extraneous factors such as the country’s decision to boycott the International Court of Justice case in which Somalia has accused the country of encroaching on its alleged territory in the Indian Ocean despite initial demarcation accords.
While some may view the UK decision to have been based on genuine concerns, it could nevertheless escape the fact that it was irrational and discriminatory even purely based on empirical data on the COVID-19 spread and evolution.
I agree with the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs when it states that it was disturbing this unilateral decision did not reflect prevailing logical and scientific knowledge of the disease or the spread of the pandemic. “Rather the decision seems to be motivated by a discriminatory policy against certain countries and peoples,” the ministry rightly noted in a rejoinder.
What is more is that the move by London did not take into account the deep and far-reaching consequences on trade, travel, tourism, and security cooperation.
“The decision is particularly disturbing because the United Kingdom and Kenya enjoy a strong and long-lasting relationship embedded in a strategic partnership that has multiple dimensions including health, education, security, travel, trade, and people-to-people relations,” the ministry said.
As it stands, despite the UK’s GDP outweighing Kenya’s, the fact remains that the two retain deep relations in other areas that cannot be overturned overnight.
For instance, the UK remains the biggest consumer of Kenyan coffee and tea and, in fact, one cannot rule out a riot in London if Britons miss their morning coffee of Arabica coffee, which is primed for its smoother, sweeter taste, with flavour notes of chocolate and sugar.
Besides, British conglomerates such as Barclays, Standard Chartered, Vodafone (majority shareholder in Safaricom), De La Rue, G4S, and BAT have a huge stake in the country, which they will continue to protect by all means.
While some think that Kenya stands to be the loser of the diplomatic standoff with the UK, they forget that having been the country’s colonial master, London has more at stake if this matter is not resolved as soon as possible.
It is gratifying that there are already discussions on reaching an amicable solution on the same.
For those questioning Kenya’s move to retaliate against the UK move, they must not forget that we are a sovereign state that retains the right to retaliate on a quid pro quo basis any action that undermines our nationhood.
It is not escapable that for a long time, western nations have been irrationally imposing travel bans on travelers to the country even when they face even bigger problems at home.
For instance, the number of COVID-19 infections in the US, by Thursday stood at 31,640,843 with the number of those who have succumbed to the deadly disease standing at 572,878.
The bottom line thus is that these western powers need to engage in deeper discussions before they issue discriminatory travel advisories.
Yet the same US expects Kenyans not to complain when it raises the country’s COVID-19 status to Level 4, meaning it is discouraging American citizens from visiting the country.
This is in addition to imposing travel bans to regions such as the Northern Frontier District and a large part of the Indian Ocean that borders Somalia, and more specifically Lamu, a major tourist attraction region, which has suffered from the vagaries of not-well-thought-out policies by policymakers in the west.
The writer is Tom Juma, a regular commentator on social, economic, and political affairs.
The views expressed here are his and do not represent the position of TUKO.co.ke in any way.
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