Egypt is reaching out to Kenya for a better deal over the use of the Nile in exchange for improved trade between the two countries.
On Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who was in the country for a one-day visit, said he was here to seek ways of improving trade and promised to extend the same towards fair use of the waters of the world’s longest river.
“Egypt and Kenya are bound together by the common artery of the River Nile and a long history of productive cooperation,” he said during a joint press conference with his host President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“We will support development in the Nile Basin countries to optimise the use of this large Nile for the good of the Nile basin countries in general.”
The current approach by the Egyptians differs from that of the time of Hosni Mubarak who promised to protect the waters of the Nile at all costs including using military intervention.
In fact the meeting between the two leaders in Nairobi was historic: The last time a sitting Egyptian president, Mubarak, visited Nairobi was in 1984.
In 2013, when al-Sisi as commander of the Egyptian army ousted Mohammed Morsy, President Kenyatta condemned the incident, terming it a “matter of grave concern”.
On Saturday, President Kenyatta said Kenya and Egypt enjoy “cordial and friendly” relations dating back to colonial times.
“Our economic ties and investments will continue to grow between our two countries,” he said.
Mr Kenyatta said: “One way that we can prepare ourselves for the opportunities that exist between us is to fast-track the conclusion of bilateral agreements on the avoidance of double taxation and on the reciprocal protection of investments”.
The President said: “We agreed to quicken the pace and see if we can conclude this instrument this year”.
The strategy to advance trade has been Egypt’s policy since the 2011 Arab Spring. But it still benefits Cairo.
Official figures show that in 2015, trade worth Sh45 billion was conducted between the two countries, but Kenya only exported Sh20 billion worth of this. In fact trade was higher before al-Sisi came to power, reaching Sh59 billion in 2012.
Kenya’s major export to Egypt is tea, which comprises 96 per cent of the goods sold to the North African country. Egypt sells here manufactured goods which include sugar and sanitary products.
On Saturday, President Kenyatta said they had agreed that Egypt helps in training of personnel in different fields as well as cooperate in agricultural research. Nairobi also asked Egypt to provide easier immigration rules for business people.
But the President, too, had to address the matter of the Nile. “The Nile has historically been vital for our bilateral relations and we expect that it will remain vital in many years to come and it is, therefore, important that its waters are shared in an inclusive manner in order not to erode the water security of Nile Basin countries,” he said.
Riparian countries in the Nile Basin have been demanding talks on how the waters of the world’s longest river can be used. The Nile Basin includes 11 countries in eastern and central Africa 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 the Democratic Republic of Congo.