President Samia Suluhu Hassan

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan.


What Suluhu's visit means to Kenya and Tanzania

What you need to know:

  • Suluhu's visit could point to a desire to turn a new leaf in relations between the two neighbouring countries.
  • This is President Suluhu's second trip outside Tanzania as Head of State since she took oath of office on March 19.

Nairobi and Dar are working to reset their relations, with the visit of Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu to Kenya signalling rapprochement following strained ties during the tenure of her predecessor, the late John Magufuli.

President Suluhu is expected to jet into the country on Tuesday morning for a two-day State visit, during which elaborate honours will be rolled out for her including a 21-gun salute reception at State House and an address to a joint sitting of Parliament tomorrow.

The visiting Head of State will also hold bilateral talks aimed at “strengthening the cordial relations between the two countries,” read a statement by Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, which noted Kenya is the biggest investor in Tanzania, whose exports to Kenya have been rising in the last 10 years.

“The State visit comes at a time when Kenya and Tanzania are working closely to deepen ties in the area of trade and people-to-people relations including the private sector, arts, culture, wildlife matters, tourism and cooperation at the continental and multilateral levels,” the statement added.

Experts who spoke to the Nation suggested the development could point to a desire to turn a new leaf in relations that have at times been testy between the two neighbours.

The Tanzanian leader will inspect a guard of honour and receive a 21 gun salute before proceeding for bilateral meetings. Thereafter, she will be hosted for an official State Dinner at State House.

President Suluhu will also hold consultations at a business forum for Tanzanian and Kenyan business community, and attend a session with executive women in business. 

This is President Suluhu's second trip outside Tanzania as Head of State since she took oath of office on March 19 following the death of President Magufuli.

Last month, President Suluhu travelled to Uganda for a one-day State visit, where together with President Yoweri Museveni they launched East African Crude Oil Pipeline, a Sh382 billion project — the longest electrically heated pipeline in the world.

Uhuru's charm offensive

“It will be good that she accepted Uhuru’s invitation to discuss many bilateral challenges and opportunities between the two countries and the region. She brings fresh air and thinking in Tanzania and regional diplomacy,” says Macharia Munene, a professor of History and International Relations.

Former Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka says by choosing to come to Kenya, President Suluhu will be looking to set her own path.

“President Suluhu is coming to Kenya to create her own agenda away from Magufuli’s path. We hope that she will create a new chapter in the relationship between Kenya and Tanzania,” says the MP.

Mr Onchari Oyieyo, a foreign policy expert with the Centre for African Progress, hopes that President Kenyatta will use the trip to win over his Tanzanian counterpart to foster a closer Kenya-Tanzania bond.

“While President Kenyatta is justified in his charm offensive towards President Suluhu, he must be careful not to expect too much,” Mr Oyieyo warns.

Mr Onyonka says the talks will help solve some of the historical and pending tiffs between the two countries, which have affected trade despite Kenya being the biggest investor in Tanzania.

Banned Nairobi airlines

During his tenure, President Magufuli visited Kenya after travelling to Uganda and Rwanda. Thereafter, a series of high-profile incidents strained ties between the neighbouring countries.

These included his visible absence during the Tokyo International Conference on African Development held in Nairobi, which attracted Heads of State and governments from across the continent.

In August last year, Dar es Salaam banned three Nairobi airlines from its airspace, a feud apparently triggered by Kenya’s move to exclude Tanzanians from travellers exempted from mandatory Covid-19 quarantine protocol.

A month prior, Tanzanian authorities had retaliated against Kenya’s decision to restrict movement between the Kenya-Tanzania border over coronavirus by forbidding all automobiles and persons from Kenya.

Other disputes include a ban by Kenya on liquefied petroleum gas from Tanzania, which saw the country retaliate by blocking Kenyan milk  and its products as well as cigarettes .

Then there are quarrels experienced between pastoral communities of Tanzania and those from Kenya. The cross-border disputes between Kenya and Tanzania brought about by trade had escalated in 2015 when President Magufuli was elected into office.

Shortly thereafter, 1,125 cows of Kenyan Maasai herders were confiscated by Tanzanian government, which also sold another 2,400 cows after they crossed into Mt Kilimanjaro National Park in search of pasture.

Seized Kenyan products

In the past, the Tanzanian authorities have more than once seized Kenyan products destined for the Tanzania market and even gone as far as destroying some.

Tanzania has had tense trade relations with neighbouring countries. For instance, Tanzania declined to cooperate with Rwanda and Kenya to jointly sign a trade pact with the European Union so as to gain access to the EU market without having to pay duty fee.

In 2014, Tanzania  declined to participate in the single tourist visa arrangement with Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, alluding to security worries.

In 2011, Tanzania declined to sign an East African Community Council of Ministers’ report on political integration unless the issue of land ownership was scraped off and clauses on military cooperation revised.

The two countries have also been locked in a trade confrontation over the inspection of commodities passing through their borders.

Further, Tanzania has in the past blocked Kenyan professionals from taking up jobs in the country,  notable among them Vodafone’s Silvia Mulinge who was denied licence to work in Tanzania until she was recalled by Safaricom Limited.

Tanzania has a nearly balanced trade with Kenya, importing goods worth Sh23.3 billion in 2017, while exporting goods worth 23.7 billion.

However, trade between the two countries has been on a downward trend since 2014 when Kenyan exports to Tanzania stood at Sh64.7 billion and in 2015 when imports from Tanzania peaked at Sh79.4 billion.