The recent move by the United Kingdom to impose a travel ban on visitors from Kenya due to increased Covid-19 infections has understandably angered Nairobi.
By red-listing Kenya alongside 38 other countries, London is assuming a higher moral ground with regards to the global pandemic, even though the facts both on numbers of infection and the Covid-19 variants circulating in the United Kingdom blunt the pandemic situation in Kenya.
The government and people of Kenya have had to endure extreme measures with very limited resources to battle the pandemic. At the time of the unfortunate decision by the United Kingdom to impose travel ban on, five Kenyan counties are under lockdown, in an attempt to scale back the number of Covid-19 infections. The economic impacts of the social restrictions employed by Kenya continue to bear heavily on Kenyans.
On the other hand, rich countries like the United Kingdom are stockpiling Covid-19 vaccines, leaving little for purchase by developing countries. London is also battling other charges including export restrictions of vaccines and inadequate support to the World Health Organization led Covax facility to assist developing countries access the essential commodities.
By turning its back on visitors from Kenya on the basis of the Covid-19 pandemic, London is not only going against the prevailing facts but also dimming prospects for the badly needed international cooperation against the pandemic. It is now a widely appreciated fact that unilateralism is no panacea in climbing out of the Covid-19 hole.
Kenya and the United Kingdom have had substantial success in joint efforts against Covid-19. Nairobi participated in the successful trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine, through the Kenya Medical Research Institute.
As a key financier of Kenya Medical Research Institute, London has also been a strong partner in Kenya’s response through targeted testing, and genome sequencing. These activities have positively impacted the international fight against the global health crisis.
There are certainly more reasons and avenues to cooperate on the subject of Covid-19 pandemic. The United Kingdom should be leveraging these opportunities to work together rather than engaging in self-defeating tactics such as baseless targeting of international partners.
Though, not without past challenges including the blight of colonialism, the two countries have enjoyed stable relations across a number of parameters. The UK is the largest European foreign investor in Kenya, with over 100 British companies operating in the country. Similarly, London is Kenya’s second most important export destination. 27 percent of the UK's fresh produce demands and 56 percent of the black tea needs are met by Kenya.
In terms of people to people exchanges, the UK is home to over 200,000 Kenyans while approximately 250,000 British nationals are permanent residents in Kenya. The travel bans also affect thousands of British tourists keen on visiting Nairobi while impinging on flow of ideas, technology, and investments into respective countries.
This is why the work of the joint committee to address travel restrictions between the two countries is quite important. The team should expeditiously come up with actionable and sustainable measures to normalise cross-border movements between Kenya and the UK. Such consultations should be done on the enduring basis of equality, reciprocity, good faith and mutual benefit.