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Kenya, Nigeria bilateral trade relations is the way to go

The Nigerian delegation that visited Kenya last week buoyed hopes that the dream of African Renaissance, articulated way back in 1946 by Cheikh Anta Diop and popularised by former South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki in 1996 following his country’s adoption of a new constitution after gaining independence in 1994, is alive and well.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s well- publicised state visit was notable for the number of his countrymen who accompanied him in search of trade and investment opportunities.

To their credit, Kenyan government officials, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, and a large number of business people, eagerly received their visitors and initiated negotiations that are expected to lead to the signing of multi-billion shilling deals in trade, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, finance and banking over the next few months.

By coming to Kenya, Nigerians are only following in the footsteps of other suave business groups from India and China who have realised that they can only hope to become the new economic superpower by getting hold of the natural resources in East and Central Africa.

The Kenyan and Nigerian leaders are to be commended for demonstrating their clear understanding of what their countries, and people, need to do to ensure they harness continental resources for the benefit of the African people. In their joint communiqué issued after the bilateral talks the two presidents said: “We want to see Africa going beyond being the primary source of raw materials that serves foreign companies - a continent that can add value to its products and export to other countries.” The declaration should spur Kenya’s primary raw materials producers to ensure that some of their exports, not just to Nigeria but other markets both in and outside Africa, are in manufactured goods even as they continue grappling with challenges of adding value to goods going into the traditional markets which is, understandably, a more daunting task.

Despite the hurdles that those benefiting from the status quo can be expected to throw at them, the two leaders should go even further and enlist the South African and Egyptian leaders - after they sort themselves out of their self-inflicted blood-letting - in efforts to grow the inter-continental trade from its current rate of 11 per cent.

There is no reason why Africa cannot borrow a leaf from European Union member states and Asian countries whose intra-community trade amounts to 70 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively. The number of well-heeled Nigerians who came with their President sent a very powerful signal to doubting Thomases that Africa is ready for business and its elite is willing to put their money where their mouth is.

The two presidents’ agreement to identify ways of eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers should be particularly welcome not least because it comes at a time when African countries are under increased pressure to allow ever growing volumes of manufactured imports from American and European companies, under most unfavourable terms in return for their primary products. Yet, these are the trade terms that have led to the stagnation of African economies.

But times are a changing and the African Renaissance is rising like a phoenix from the ashes.