Tue | Nov 24, 2020

Editorial | Mr Kenyatta’s visit beyond sentiment

Published:Wednesday | August 7, 2019 | 12:00 AM

There are strong sentimental reasons for Jamaica to host Uhuru Kenyatta at any time, but especially when the island is celebrating its Independence, not least of which is the fact that Mr Kenyatta leads a black African country, with which the vast majority of Jamaicans will share the emotional kinship of race, if not direct ancestral links. Most Jamaican ancestors were shipped from West Africa’s Gold Coast, rather than from, say, Kenya, in the east, where Mr Kenyatta is president.

But as Prime Minister Andrew Holness observed after their bilateral talks on Monday, Mr Kenyatta’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, his country’s founding father, was a student of the teachings of the Jamaican pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey. Moreover, in the late 1940s and ‘50s, Jamaicans, including Dudley Thompson, were part of the post-war crowd of West Indian and African anti-colonialists studying in London and plotting the liberation/independence of their countries.

By 1952, Mr Thompson, who was to later hold several positions in Michael Manley’s government of the 1970s, was practising law in Tanganyika, today’s Tanzania. Across the border in Kenya, the elder Kenyatta, through the Kenya African Union (KAU), was advocating for independence from Britain when he was detained, accused of fomenting the violence of the so-called Mau Mau Rebellion and destined for an almost clandestine trial. It is Mr Thompson, to whom Mr Kenyatta got word, who then famously organised an international team of lawyers, led by a British MP, D.N. Pritt, to defend Mr Kenyatta and win his acquittal.

There are, however, reasons other than sentiment that make Mr Kenyatta’s visit propitious. An already- treacherous global environment is being made increasingly unstable by Donald Trump’s caprice and volatility in the formation of US policy. In the circumstance, it is sensible for Jamaica and its partners in CARICOM to seek to widen their alliances beyond those with the world’s traditional powers. Kenya – and Africa, generally – are worthy starting points.

The two countries enjoy a relationship through their common membership of the Commonwealth and have been part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries that jointly negotiate their trade and economic relations with the European Union. They often coordinated with other developing countries on global political relations, but bilateral economic ties have remained, at best, embryonic. The much-talked-about South-South cooperation of the 1970s, whose logic remains sound, failed to materialise.

The current environment, however, including the threat that Mr Trump poses to the multilateral arrangements that offer rules-based protections for weak countries like our own, provides the opening for rational action. On the economic front, for instance, Kenya, in common with many countries in Africa, is on an upswing, projected to grow this year by 5.8 per cent, after expanding at a similar clip in 2018. This momentum is expected to carry into 2020.

Stable growth numbers

Only once in the past seven years, in 2017, has Kenya’s growth numbers fallen below five per cent. Africa, more broadly, has been growing strongly. Its gross domestic product is expected to rise by around four per cent this year and slightly better in 2020, after the 3.5 per cent in 2018.

It is Africa’s long-term prospects, however – with this year’s move to establish a continental free trade area of 54 countries, with a market of 1.3 billion and a combined economy of US$3.4 trillion – that are more intriguing and to which CARICOM should pay attention. Intra-Africa trade now accounts for less than a fifth of the continent’s global trade, compared to nearly 70 per cent for Europe. The removal of tariffs or clarified rules of origin is, on the face of it, bad for third countries. But the pact is likely to improve growth on the continent and increase demand, even in nominal terms, from global markets.

The Caribbean should seek to grasp the opportunities that are now available in Kenya and elsewhere. Deepened economic relations with Kenya, for instance, might be a gateway to the East African Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, of which it is a member. The bilateral agreement signed this week by Jamaica and Kenya should, therefore, be taken seriously.