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Lessons for Kenya from the United Kingdom travel ban

By Benard amaya | April 7th 2021

Kenya Airways (KQ) Skyteam aircraft lands at JKIA after the resumption of the International flights on August 1, 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Diplomatic row

Kenya should not resort to retaliation when handling UK travel ban

The United Kingdom has imposed a travel ban on Kenya, citing increased coronavirus infections. Of great concern to the British government is the presence of new variant of the virus, which originated from South Africa. 

To save their citizens from the deadly variant, the UK government stopped Kenyans from accessing its territory.

Stringent measures have been imposed on travellers transiting through Kenya to the UK.

In retaliation, the Kenyan government has imposed similar conditionalities to British nationals visiting Kenya.

The ping pong and tit for tat game is threatening to turn into a major diplomatic fallout between the two friendly nations. Given the economic and diplomatic implications of the controversy, opinion is divided among political observers and experts.

The big question now is: What lessons can we draw from the diplomatic hostilities?

First, Kenya should build its local capacity to free the country from depending on foreigners for solutions.

At the moment, we are relying on the philanthropic spirit of UK to access the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine.

Funding Kenya Medical Research Institute to produce vaccines is key.

Second, revamping the local economy to empower the citizens will give the country a stronger bargaining power on the global stage. A weaker economy is putting us in a disadvantaged position.

 We would push our case from a position of strength if the country’s economy was performing well. Sadly, the pandemic has exposed our soft underbelly: a weak economy.

Third, the poor Covid containment strategy is working against us. Kenya’s weak healthcare system is unable to respond effectively to the third wave whose adverse effects have caught us without adequate preparations.

Africa in general and Kenya, in particular, had adequate time to strategise to counter the virus. But we took things for granted and now we are paying a heavy price for that ignorance. So far, vaccination, mass testing and awareness are still inefficient.

 Fourth, Africa’s disjointed strategy is slowing down response to the pandemic. The African Union would have done better to mobilise the continent to approach the pandemic as a bloc. Even at the regional level, Kenya has not done much.

Our president, as the chair, should urge member countries to have a combined effort towards the pandemic. Fifth, in a highly globalised world, playing nationalism does not help matters. UK and Kenya have a lot in common. Neither of them can do without the other.

UK has massive business interests in Kenya. Kenya is their gateway to the region. Besides vast economic interests, the UK considers Kenya a strategic diplomatic partner on matters of security.

On the other hand, UK is a major source market for our tourism sector, with thousands of tourists visiting Kenya annually.

 All in all, the country should use a better diplomatic approach to handle the escalating hostilities. Engaging a tit-for-tat strategy to protect national interests may not work very well.

Our western friends, in this case the UK, must be engaged in tough diplomacy and made to understand Covid is a global challenge.

You cannot use it to punish individual countries. What developing countries, which form the bulk of the red-listed states, need is support not travel bans. That way, we can defeat the virus.

Letter from Benard Amaya, Nairobi

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