March 2019

President Yoweri Museveni visited his Kenyan counterpart at the end of the month to discuss trade deals, connecting the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), and the troubled issue of Uganda’s ‘occupation’ of Migingo Island in Lake Victoria. Uganda remains Kenya’s largest hinterland markets, accounting for 81.9 per cent of traffic through Mombasa. Uganda is also Kenya’s top export partner, giving Nairobi more than KES 61.9 billion in exports last year, while Kampala sold goods worth KES 49 billion. Improving trade relations between the two is thus critical for both countries’ economic prosperity. Some other examples that were discussed during the bilateral meeting include the ease of access to each other’s markets by breaking down non-tariff barrier issues that kept cargo in Mombasa for an unnecessary long time.

Additionally, both countries discussed the extension of the SGR from Kisumu to the border town of Malaba. The two countries have been having a back-and-forth over the financing of the last leg of Kenya’s SGR. For Museveni and Uganda, Kenya’s commitment to build the Kisumu-Malaba phase is very important, as it will unlock billions of dollars of funding for the SGR from Malaba to Kampala on the Ugandan part.

On the Migingo issue, foreign secretary Monica Juma said that “we aim for a long-term solution especially on the issue of the border between Kenya and Uganda, so that communities living along the lake can coexist peacefully in harnessing and maximising utilisation of the regional resources.” To this extent, the two countries agreed to a three-month work plan to implement the goals. After the meeting, President Kenyatta reported that they had resolved the controversy surrounding Migingo Island. A formal border commission was formed to handle the dispute and it was agreed to jointly explore resources of the water together and ensure that fishing is done in a sustainable manner. This resolve can be critically important in another matter in the region: the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute in the Indian Ocean. Kenya has been trying to get Somalia back to the table to agree on a negotiated settlement instead of resolving the case in front of the International Court of Justice. A formal border commission and an agreement to jointly explore the resources might provide a blue print for the Indian Ocean dispute.

During this month, Museveni once again demonstrated his diplomatic professionalism, renegotiating ease of access to Kenya’s markets, the extension of the SGR to the Ugandan border, and the longstanding issue of Migingo. The bilateral meeting can be deemed very successful for both countries.

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