Pipeline deadlock surfaces at Kenya's bilateral talks with France
By Gathenya Njaramba | April 6th 2016
Total France, the oil company many Kenyans think is to blame for the gridlock in the Kenya-Uganda Pipeline, won’t be snared out of their silence on the ongoing saga.
Yesterday, France-Eastern Africa Business Council president Momar Nguer, who is also the head of Total Marketing and Services, declined to comment on the saga, only saying ‘a solution will be found soon’. Both Kenya and France were cautious on the issue citing that the two countries directly involved are still in negotiations.
This played out yesterday in Paris, France, during a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta and the business community, led by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).
The pipeline has been a source of diplomatic row between Kenya and Tanzania, with reports from the latter indicating that a deal has already been reached to have the pipeline built from the oil-fields of Hoima to Tanga, Tanzania.
It is said that Total France favours the Tanga route, which it argues is safer than the Kenyan route, which would see the pipeline pass near the border of war-torn Somalia.
Kenya and Uganda had initially agreed to have the pipeline built across Kenya to the Lamu Port. Should the pipeline deal not go through, then Kenya’s Vision 2030 infrastructural project, Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport, (LAPSSET), whose success relies heavily on the pipeline, would be left in disarray.
In yesterday’s meeting with French business partners, the French companies reckoned that they are interested more in partnerships and supporting regional growth in East Africa than dominating the market.
Recently, there has been concern about the trade imbalance between most African countries and members of the European Union. Indeed, just two days ago, the World Bank warned that increased French imports into Kenya are threatening prospects of Kenyan goods.
But speaking yesterday in Paris, France after a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta and the business community, led by Kepsa, the France-Eastern Africa Business Council president Momar Nguer dismissed the latest World Bank warning, saying French companies are more interested in building partnerships and not edging out Kenyan home-grown products.
“There can be threat. France exports about Sh30.5 billion ($300 million) worth of products to Kenya and we import about Sh6.1 billion ($60 million) worth of products. The difference is not that huge and we are constantly working for the benefit of peoples from the two countries,” he explained.
Mr Nuer, who also heads Total Marketing and Services, also had huge praise for the Kenyan system of education and quality of her manpower. “Kenya is a hub in the East African region. It offers opportunities for business expansion and a digital revolution is taking place very fast,” he told journalists.
He said the business environment in Kenya is improving steadily and the world cannot ignore that fact. “A country offering a constant growth rate of about 5.8 per cent amid several challenges, is a resilient one and many investors will be interested. French companies want to be part of that growth in Kenya,” he said.
President Kenyatta said although the balance of trade is skewed in favour of France, there is still great scope to enhance the volumes of trade and investments. “This calls for strengthening of trade relations and for private sector players from both countries to forge strong partnerships-- joint ventures and mergers,” said President Uhuru.
He noted that French companies are the 6th largest foreign investors in Kenya. “There are over 70 French companies in various sectors including energy, health, agriculture, real estate, transport and financial,” said President Kenyatta. Mr Nguer said improved infrastructure and security are other factors attracting French investors to Kenya.
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