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Ethiopian PM ‘misquoted’ on Kenya embassy closure, says diplomat

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Ethiopian PM ‘misquoted’ on Kenya embassy closure, says diplomat


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President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are pictured at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa on June 8, 2021. PHOTO | PSCU

Summary

  • Ambassador Meles Alem Tekea said the mission in Kenya will not be closed, in line with his country’s foreign policy on regional integration.

The Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya now says Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was being hypothetical when he said the embassy in Kenya was among those to be shut down to save costs.

Meles Alem Tekea said the mission in Kenya will not be closed, in line with his country’s foreign policy on regional integration.

“The Prime Minister was being hypothetical. The truth is that the embassy will not be closed. It is a very clear policy that our neighbours are priority in our foreign policy,” he told the Nation on phone on Tuesday.

Later, the embassy sent a statement terming the report that the mission in Kenya was among those to be closed as “false and wild guess”.

“The Nairobi mission will not be closed. Ethiopia’s neighbouring countries such as Kenya remains a priority to the Ethiopian foreign policy.”

What PM said

In a briefing to Ethiopian lawmakers on Monday, PM Abiy said Ethiopia will shut down several embassies to manage costs and have most diplomats work as non-resident ambassadors to their countries of accreditation.

He did use Kenya as an example, suggesting diplomats accredited to Nairobi could make field visits to Kenya instead of being resident.

“Ethiopia shouldn’t have 60 or so embassies and consulates in the present moment. Instead of throwing US dollars everywhere … at least 30 of the embassies should be closed … the ambassadors should instead be here,” he said.

He added: “The Ethiopian ambassador in Kenya, for example, probably meets the Kenyan foreign minister once a year or once in two years.”

The actual list of embassies to be closed was no disclosed and Abiy suggested the policy will be implemented once his Prosperity Party settles in after winning elections.

This, he told legislators, was part of his reforms in foreign policy to save costs in running missions abroad.

“With the current situation Ethiopia is in, the country doesn’t need to have as many as 60 or so embassies and consulates,” he said.

Instead of hiring drivers, Abiy said, government ministers will be required to drive themselves.

“What we want is a person who gets wet in the mud and runs while reforming the country,” he said.

Resources stretched

The move came just a week after Ethiopia admitted resources were stretched, especially after the war in Tigray in which Ethiopian forces had been pursuing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), once a ruling party but now considered a terrorist group.

Last week, Addis Ababa admitted it had lost some $2.3 billion in infrastructure damage in Tigray, even as the TPLF paraded thousands of captured Ethiopian soldiers following a unilateral ceasefire by Addis Ababa.

Abiy said the withdrawal of the country’s defence forces from Tigray was the right decision. 

He explained that among reasons for the government’s decision were economic and Covid-19 pressures.

“We have national projects to complete” he told MPs at Monday’s session where the House has also approved a draft budget of 561.7 billion birr ($12.83 billion) for the upcoming Ethiopian fiscal budget year.”

Oldest mission in Kenya

The Ethiopian embassy in Kenya is oldest African diplomatic mission in Kenya, having been set up initially as a consulate with colonial Kenya in the early 50s before formally opening a full embassy just as Kenya was getting its self-rule.

Ethiopia’s diplomatic number plates in Nairobi are listed CD 3, showing it was the third country in the world to establish diplomatic relations with an independent Kenya.

Built near State House, the Seat of the Presidency in Nairobi, the mission was erected on land donated to Emperor Haile Selasie of Ethiopia by Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta. The two countries signed a mutual defence cooperation agreement a few years later, the oldest of such deals by Kenya.

Yet it is not entirely a new idea.

A few months after taking power in April 2018, PM Abiy suggested to the world that countries in the Horn could share out diplomatic roles across the world to save on costs, and push a common agenda to the world.

“There is no need to have a foreign Embassy in Switzerland for each of East African countries. We can share because we are poor,” he told the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019.

“We have to allocate that resources to change the lives of our society. We are working towards integration of the region.”

Abiy whose rallying call has been Medemer, Amharic for synergy or pooling together, has argued Ethiopia’s reform platform banks on a vibrant democracy, economic vitality and regional integration and openness to the world.

“There is no need to have different armies in Ethiopia Eritrea, Djibouti … I don’t believe in this.”

‘Internal affair’

Fast forward to 2021, realities in the region and local politics may have cancelled out the idea of a common pool of diplomats.

But the financial cost ensured Abiy has to cut to half the number of embassies across the world.

So what if he closes the iconic Kenyan mission, which also handles Ethiopia’s relations with the Comoros and Malawi?

An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kenya told the Nation Kenya will stay out of whatever Ethiopia decides as it is an internal affair, but added that relations with Addis Ababa are as cordial as before.

Some analysts, though, saw the move as a reflection of relations in the Horn.

“The effect would be tantamount to severing relations with Kenya,” Dr Ahmed Hashi, an analyst of the Horn of Africa

“I think it is really the worst time for Kenya-Ethiopia relations and it is all about differences in Somalia,” Hashi told the Nation on Monday, reflecting on the two countries’ policies in Somalia.

Soon after Abiy came to power, he abandoned Ethiopia’s Meles-era policy in Somalia, where Addis worked more with federal states than the centre. He would later sign a pact with President Mohamed Farmaajo to develop four ports in Somalia.

That move, analysts argue, ran counter to what Kenya’s stance has been, for example by working with federal states to provide a security buffer to Nairobi.

“It is an earth-shattering development as far as the Horn of Africa’s regional geopolitics is concerned. The two nations’ ties built on a weak Somalia fell apart,” added Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a Kenyan Horn of Africa consultant and author on Ethiopia’s political history.

“Abiy’s Ethiopia decided to jettison anti-Somali policies, while Kenya is stuck in its 1960s. Choices have consequences,” he added bluntly.

Cost cutting measures are plausible, he added, but considering that Ethiopia will not be closing embassies in some countries where it has numerous consulates, the actual reasons may be deeper, he argued.

“They probably prefer another country to Kenya and will curtail the Tigray network in Nairobi,” he said referring to the TPLF, which Ethiopia wants to annihilate.

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KQ resumes Mumbai flights after 4 months

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KQ resumes Mumbai flights after 4 months


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A Kenya Airways aircraft at JKIA. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Kenya Airways will on Thursday resume flights to Mumbai, ending a four-month hiatus that was occasioned by increased cases of Covid-19 in the Asian state.
  • The airline in a notice to its customers yesterday said it will resume its operations on the route on September 16, 2021 with the first flight departing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 7am to arrive in Mumbai at 3:45 pm.

Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ will on Thursday resume flights to Mumbai, ending a four-month hiatus that was occasioned by increased cases of Covid-19 in the Asian state.

The airline in a notice to its customers Monday said it will resume its operations on the route on September 16, 2021 with the first flight departing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 7am to arrive in Mumbai at 3:45 pm.

The airline will then resume full operations on the route on September 20, flying three times per week on the Indian route, which is one of the most lucrative destinations on its network.

Passengers on the route will part with Sh46,000 ($419) for one-way air ticket on economy class seats from Nairobi to Mumbai- prices that are relatively the same compared to what it was charging before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Welcome back onboard! Fly from Nairobi to Mumbai starting Thursday 16th September with normal schedules resuming from Monday 20th September 2021,” said the airline in a notice to its customers yesterday.

KQ Suspended passenger flights to and from Mumbai on April 30 until further notice, following a government directive on travel between India and Kenya due to a Covid-19 crisis in that country.

The airline said on Friday that passengers who had booked tickets after May 1, the date of the last flight from Mumbai to Nairobi, will have to change their plans.

Affected passengers, KQ said, could also take vouchers for the value of their fare for future travel within 12 months.

India has seen soaring infection rates in the recent days, since the discovery of a new virus variant. Last month, India put on lockdown one of the states following a spike in cases of Covid-19.

Other countries that have banned flights to India include France, the UK Bangladesh, Oman and Hong Kong that have banned travel to and from India or asked their nationals coming from the Asian country to isolate themselves in government-approved hotels.

India has so far detected 33,264,175 corona virus cases with the number of deaths hitting 442,874 as at September 13.

A large number of patients from Kenya also travel to India every year for specialised medical treatment, especially cancer care, helping to drive medical tourism in the densely populated country that boasts affordable and easily accessible healthcare.

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Lower import volumes push mitumba prices to new highs

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Lower import volumes push mitumba prices to new highs


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Man pulls a cart loaded with second-hand clothes at Gikomba Market in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Traders paid Sh100,527 on average per tonne of the used clothes, popularly called mitumba, compared to Sh96,286 the previous year.
  • Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) banned importation of the clothes from late March through mid-August in a bid to contain the spread of the life-threatening coronavirus infections.
  • Findings of the Economic Survey 2021 suggests dealers shipped in 121,778 tonnes of mitumba in 2020, a 34.02 percent fall compared with 2019 and the lowest volumes since 2015.

The average price of a tonne of second-hand clothing items imported into the country crossed the Sh100,000 mark for the first time last year on reduced volumes in the wake of safety protocols and guidelines to curb spread of coronavirus.

Traders paid Sh100,527 on average per tonne of the used clothes, popularly called mitumba, compared to Sh96,286 the previous year.

Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) banned importation of the clothes from late March through mid-August in a bid to contain the spread of the life-threatening coronavirus infections.

Findings of the Economic Survey 2021 suggests dealers shipped in 121,778 tonnes of mitumba in 2020, a 34.02 percent fall compared with 2019 and the lowest volumes since 2015.

Last year’s drop was the first dip since 2011 when 76,533 tonnes were shipped in compared with 80,423 tonnes the previous year, the official data collated by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.

The import bill for the merchandise amounted to Sh12.24 billion, a drop of 31.11 percent, or Sh5.53 billion, year-on-year.

TIn imposing the temporary ban on used clothes, Kebs had applied a standard which prohibits buying second-hand clothes from countries experiencing epidemics to ensure disease-causing microorganisms are not imported into Kenya.

Higher quality and relatively lower prices for mitumba has continued to drive demand for used clothes at expense of locally-made products amid higher margins enjoyed by traders largely operating in informal markets.

The lucrative second-hand clothing market has seen traders from China —a key source market for the merchandise —open shops in Gikomba, Kenya’s largest informal market for mitumba, in recent years to cash in rising demand.

Earnings from exports of articles of apparel and clothing accessories fell 5.32 percent to Sh32.92 billion last year compared with 2019, data indicates.

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Court backs Atwoli union in horticulture membership feud

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Court backs Atwoli union in horticulture membership feud


Cotu boss Francis Atwoli

Cotu boss Francis Atwoli. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • A trade union that is led by the long-serving Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) boss Francis Atwoli has survived an attempt to stop it from representing over 60,000 workers in the horticulture industry.
  • Newly registered Kenya Export, Floriculture, Horticulture, and Allied Workers Union (Kefhau) had filed as a case in the Employment and Labour seeking to bar the Atwoli-led Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) from representing workers in the industry.

A trade union that is led by the long-serving Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) boss Francis Atwoli has survived an attempt to stop it from representing over 60,000 workers in the horticulture industry.

Newly registered Kenya Export, Floriculture, Horticulture, and Allied Workers Union (Kefhau) had filed as a case in the Employment and Labour seeking to bar the Atwoli-led Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) from representing workers in the industry.

Mr Atwoli is the secretary-general of KPAWU. The rival union claimed KPAWU had encroached on its area of workers’ representation.

Justice James Rika, however, dismissed the claim and ruled that the dispute should have been taken through conciliation, and was therefore presented in court prematurely.

He also stated that Kefhau must go beyond its registration and recruit sufficient members from the employers, to be granted recognition and organisational rights.

“Registration on its own, does not afford the claimant (Kefhau) recognition. Until there is proof that Kefhau has satisfied Section 54 of the Labour Relations Act, the status quo must be maintained,” said the judge.

“Kefhau must recruit at least 50 percent plus one, of the unionisable employees in the floriculture and horticulture industry, members of the Agricultural Employers Association to be considered for recognition,” he stated.

He noted that there is a Recognition Agreement and CBA, binding Mr Atwoli’s union and Agricultural Employers Association, affecting 73 Flower Growers Group of employers, and over 60,000 employees.

“It is objectionable for Kefhau to be allowed organisational rights, and the legitimacy to receive trade union dues and agency fees, from over 60,000 employees, just on the strength of registration as a trade union,” said the judge.

Kefhau wanted the court to declare that it is the sole trade union, which is allowed by its constitution to carry out activities in the export floriculture and vegetable industry, and an order restraining Mr Atwoli’s from representing workers in that area.

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