Kenya has launched a diplomatic charm offensive in a bid to host the secretariat of Africa’s free trade zone.
Senior officials from the Foreign Affairs Ministry have already met a team of evaluators from the African Union who will make recommendations to the Council of Ministers to pick the winner for the bid.
Also battling to host the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) secretariat are Ghana, Senegal, Egypt, Ethiopia, Madagascar and e-Swatini.
During the meeting, Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma, Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau and the other officials said by winning the bid, Nairobi would be the fulcrum of the continent-wide operations as the trade deal moves to be part of Africa’s growth story.
The AU technical evaluation panel was led by Ms Rosette Nyirinkindi Katungye.
The AfCTA, signed in Kigali in March, is meant to open up African nations’ borders, relax immigration rules and other non-tariff barriers to boost the continental business from a paltry 14 per cent.
Mr Macharia said one of the biggest advantages for Nairobi is its central location on the continent.
Another factor acting in Kenya’s favour, he added, is the massive investment the country is putting in to build fibre-optic cables, “which has boosted internet speeds and connection levels”.
Nairobi also has a deep and broad pool of talent on continental issues, he said.
“We are way ahead of the rest of Sub-Sahara in infrastructure, hospitality and technology. The benefits Kenya is likely to accrue from having the AfCTA secretariat are immense,” Mr Macharia said.
Some 52 out of 55 African countries have signed the treaty that will create a Sh300 trillion free trade zone involving 1.2 billion people.
“Kenya will offer accommodation, office space and pay for other amenities for the head of secretariat should we win the hosting bid,” the PS said.
Recently, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga said talks across the region that could see the AfCFTA begin operating in the second half of the year are almost complete.
“We will officially launch the operational phase of the continental free trade area in July,” he said.
The AfCFTA is spearheaded by the AU and is expected to form the basis of a Continental Customs Union much similar to the European Union.