Kenya risks US, Israel wrath over plan to boost trade ties with Iran

President William Ruto annd Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja during the Launch of Nairobi County School Feeding Programme at Roysambu Primary School. [PCS]

Kenya and Iran are expected to sign several preliminary trade deals today as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi begins the first visit by a head of state from the Islamic Republic in over a decade. 

President Raisi was initially scheduled to start his visit yesterday, but it was rescheduled to today, Kenyan officials said.  

"The President of Iran His Excellency Ebrahim Raisi was scheduled to arrive in the country for a visit today (Tuesday)," said the Foreign Affairs Ministry in an update. 

The visit seeks to bolster Tehran’s influence and expand commercial ties in the region to help offset hard-hitting United States-imposed sanctions that have crippled its economy, analysts say. 

Tehran has in recent years stepped up its drive to boost economic ties with African countries like Kenya to help offset a big chill in relations with the West prompted by its nuclear ambitions.  

The deals are expected to be signed today at State House Nairobi. Among them is a plan to bolster lagging imports between the two countries. 

They come as President William Ruto seeks new global allies in trade and investments through a spirited diplomatic charm offensive that has taken him around the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. 

It also comes as Iran seeks to underline that Tehran still plays a dominant role in the developing world despite US efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic. 

The slump in Iran’s economy since the US's decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major global powers has pushed the Islamic Republic to try to expand commercial ties with new countries.  

Trade between Kenya and Iran has in tandem remained relatively low.  

Exports from Kenya to Iran, however, more than doubled to Sh5.8 billion last year, while imports from Tehran to Nairobi slumped from a high of Sh10.8 billion in 2018 to Sh3.3 billion last year. 

Yesterday, diplomatic watchers said the visit will be keenly watched by the US and other Kenyan allies like Israel that consider Kenya their key strategic ally in the region. 

"President Ruto having discussions with Iran's President Raisi sounds threatening to US long-term interests," said historian and university lecturer Prof Macharia Munene.

He told The Standard, the US government had been keen on "isolating Iran from international mixing, scuttling Iran's nuclear desires, stemming Shia influence in global Islam and countering the de-dollarisation movement, which Iran likes." 

The Standard could not immediately get a comment from Washington or Tel Aviv on the same.

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