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Is this Egypt's long shot to win Kenya's support in battle over Nile?

Wednesday January 14 2015

Kenya's Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia

Kenya's Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia (right) thanks Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry after Mr Shoukry handed over dialysis machines to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on January 12,2015. PHOTO/EVANS HABIL/NATION MEDIA GROUP. 

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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NAIROBI

Egyptians are advancing more trade options to Kenya in what could be a long shot to win support over the other political issues in the region.

Egyptian Foreign Affairs and Trade ministers have been touring Nairobi since Monday to market what they called Egypt’s new foreign policy.

Last evening, they said Cairo is keen on expanding trade with Kenya as a “first step” to improve Africa in general.

It is a new strategy to court the region since Egypt was plunged into chaos in 2011 during the Arab Spring.

Previously, Egypt concentrated on protecting its rights on the use of the Nile waters despite protests from riparian countries, including Kenya.

“After the 2011 revolution, Egypt was keen on redefining its foreign policy priorities including strengthening ties with African countries and promoting economic relations,” Egyptian Trade Minister Mounir Abdel Nour said.

VISA RESTRICTIONS

Mr Abdel Nour is in Nairobi in a delegation led by his Foreign Affairs counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

Yesterday, they attended the Kenya-Egypt Business Forum, a function that brought together Egyptian investors in Kenya, Kenyan businesspeople.

The event was president over by Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohammed, who had earlier on asked the Egypt to scale down visa restrictions for Kenyans.

“Kenya grants Egyptian passport holders three-month visas at the ports of entry,” she said in Nairobi.

“I wish to urge Egypt to reciprocate this friendly gesture and consider issuing Kenyans with visas for longer periods and at the points of entry,” she told the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

In his repsonse, Mr Shoukry said: “Our relationship with Kenya is based on solidarity and common understanding. We have had mutual approach on many of the issues either related to Africa or global.

PILING PRESSURE

But the Nile remains Egypt’s most important issue.

Riparian countries in the Nile Basin have been piling pressure on Cairo to come back to the negotiating table over how the waters of the world’s longest river can be shared.

Tomorrow, the two Egyptian ministers will be in Kampala for “trade” talks and there will be similar talks next month.

The Nile Basin has 11 countries that either use or are the source of much of the water in the Nile.

They include Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Egypt, Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

Together, they created an organ called the Nile Basin Initiative in 1999 to start negotiations over a treaty that would be “all-inclusive” use of the river.

Eritrea participates in the NBI as an observer.

Although the NBI was supposed to help reach the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) that would guide proper use of the waters, the riparian states are concerned that Egypt grew cold feet to take part in the talks.

BIGGEST SHARE

Egypt and Sudan have traditionally taken the biggest share of the Nile even though they contribute the least percentage share of its waters.

This is because the 1929 and in 1958 treaties were signed when most of the riparian states, except Ethiopia, were colonies of the British, Belgium and France.

At the moment, about 25 dams are either under construction or been planned by riparian states along the Nile, which could affect the flow of water to Cairo.

However, Kenya is concerned with the barriers Kenyans face in traveling to Egypt.

On Monday, Ms Mohammed said the conditions imposed on Kenyans discourage the growth of trade despite there being direct flights between Nairobi and Cairo.