Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta early this week visited Rwanda for talks with President Paul Kagame and addressed top government and private sector officials at a national leadership retreat.
He then flew directly to Entebbe to meet Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, with whom he discussed local and regional issues, according to a brief statement from State House Kampala.
So far, details of President Kenyatta’s mission have been scanty. Observers say the Kenyan leader had stepped forward to mediate the dispute between Uganda and Rwanda, which has seemed to escalate over the past two weeks.
Uganda has accused Rwanda of introducing trade barriers along their common border, and Rwandan businesses are pushing for abandonment of the Northern Corridor—the key transport channel that runs from Mombasa port through Uganda—in favour of the Central Corridor from Dar es Salaam port through Tanzania.
Kigali and Kampala have traded accusations of espionage, harassment of citizens, blockage of the common border and erection of non-tariff barriers.
Rwanda, on February 28, announced the partial closure of the busy Gatuna border post and blocked its nationals from crossing into neighbouring Uganda.
While addressing the national leadership retreat at the Rwanda Defence Forces Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, President Kenyatta touted the importance of regional integration.
He praised Rwanda’s steady growth and ease of doing business policies, and reminded the leaders that it was their ultimate goal to deepen integration.
“We have many Kenyans living and working in Rwanda and they feel very much at home. We have very many Rwandans living and working in Kenya, really showing that we are brothers and sisters. As leaders, we must continue to deepen that integration,” he said.
“We have challenges, let us not hide those,” he added. “But I am convinced that with goodwill and good intentions for our people, we will resolve the challenges that are ahead of us.”
In what appeared to be shuttle diplomacy to ensure that the squabbles between Uganda and Rwanda don’t affect his country’s economy, President Kenyatta avoided taking sides in the dispute, leading analysts to consider him a worthy mediator.
Few appeared to remember that President Kenyatta’s intervention, though abrupt, was deeply anchored in the quest to defend Kenya’s national interests considering the risk to the flow of goods from Mombasa port into the East African hinterland, which includes eastern Congo.
Kenya is the gateway to the landlocked countries in the Great Lakes Region through the Northern Corridor, and the standoff means potential losses of millions of dollars.
For instance, when Rwanda partially closed its Gatuna border post, some 37 Kenya-registered trucks were among those left stranded.
Uganda-registered trucks were the majority—about 50—and nine were Burundian.
Rwanda is an important trading partner that exports an estimated $104 million worth of goods to Kenya, against Kenya’s exports that topped $157 million in 2018, according to data from Rwanda’s Ministry of Trade.
Although Rwanda shares no common border with Kenya, the shortest route between the two countries is through the Gatuna border post, and Mombasa port serves as a major transit point for Rwanda’s exports, mainly coffee, tea and minerals.
Rwanda also serves as a major transit for Kenyan exports to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.
Data from the Kenya Ports Authority shows that although Uganda is the largest hinterland market for goods coming through Mombasa, accounting for 81.9 per cent of the traffic or 6.34 million tonnes, South Sudan, the DRC and Burundi also depend on it for their imports and exports.
With no solution in sight, these countries are increasingly looking to Dar es Salaam port as the next best option.
Kenya could lose business—maybe for good—as the John Magufuli administration continues to invest in transport infrastructure, including a standard gauge railway line to Kigali that would be cheaper for traders seeking a sea route.
Egged on by Uganda, Tanzania has been planning to establish a tea auction in Dar, a move that would hit the Mombasa auction hard and further deprive the port of business.
The EastAfrican has learnt that Rwanda’s decision to close the Gatuna border post, ostensibly to allow completion of the one-stop border post and to restrict its citizens from crossing to Uganda, had been well planned. Foreign diplomats in Kigali had been alerted, but the closure caught Uganda flat-footed.
Prior to that, Kigali had been mobilising its private sector to find alternative markets to source commodities previously coming from Uganda.
While no formal communication was made, The EastAfrican learnt that to encourage the Rwandan private sector to comply, several prohibitive import duties were introduced on goods coming in from Uganda though made elsewhere.
For instance, import duty charged on a pair of sandals rose from Rwf280 ($0.3) to Rwf1,500 ($1.7) while shoe importers were asked to pay Rwf2,000 per pair ($2.2), up from Rwf480 ($0.5).
“It became clear that Rwandan traders were importing goods from Uganda that were not made there yet they could easily mobilise themselves and place orders directly from manufacturers in Asia, including China and Malaysia,” a source within the Rwandan government said.
Rwandan traders who used to import individually have now formed associations to import directly from Asia and other markets through Dar es Salaam.
Kigali has established a loan facility—estimated at Rwf1.04 billion ($1 million)—to help traders import directly from China.
The funds will be available to any group comprising 52 people, with individuals contributing Rwf3 million ($3,333) each.
Last week, President Kagame visited Dar es Salaam for bilateral talks with his Tanzanian counterpart in a move that was seen as signalling the impending shift to Dar as the main route for Rwanda’s imports and exports.
President Kagame is also understood to have sought the intervention of President John Magufuli in mediating the dispute. However, President Magufuli is said to prefer non-interference, as he has important joint projects with both Kigali and Kampala.
One of the projects is Uganda’s crude oil pipeline, to run from Hoima to Tanga, and another is the SGR line from Kigali to Isaka on the border with Rwanda, which passes close to Uganda.
Kenyan banks, KCB, Equity, Co-op, I&M and CBA have branches in the region, as do other companies.
It is the threat of the collapse of economic integration and the potential loss of business that appeared to have called President Kenyatta into action.
Government spokesperson Kanze Dena did not respond to questions on the shuttle diplomacy, but sources in Uganda and Rwanda say he returned to Nairobi without any commitment from either leader.
Rwanda’s State Minister for EAC Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, told The EastAfrican that President Kenyatta did not seek a mediation role during his visit.
“President Kenyatta has interest in understanding the situation since we are in the EAC. He also went to Uganda to understand the situation, but it was not on the agenda for him to become a mediator,” Mr Nduhungirehe said.
“He met President Kagame to discuss strengthening bilateral relations, but also took the opportunity to discuss the situation in the region, where there are strained relations between Rwanda and Uganda.”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.