The spat between Kenya and Uganda over Lato, a brand of long-life milk from Uganda, which Kenya authorities claim is being sold in the country illegally, should not be allowed to boil over.
Kenya recently impounded 54,300 kilogrammes of powdered Lato milk and 262,600 litres of long life milk. The Government claimed the milk products had been smuggled into Kenya. The latest of these seizures was on January 11, 2020.
Uganda authorities have protested the move, noting that the Kenyan Government acted illegally, as the milk products had been cleared by all regulators, including the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Kenya Dairy Board for sale in Kenya.
The Ugandans also note that this is against the spirit of the East African Community (EAC) Customs Union and the Common Market.
The protest letter by Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, in a veiled threat, reminds Kenya’s High Commissioner that Kenya exports products to Uganda and its companies have never received such treatment.
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The situation should not be left to escalate to a point where Uganda retaliates. Trade wars have been found to be costly to citizens, businesses and economies. This would not just hurt the common folk in both countries, but could also regress the little progress that EAC has made in the nearly two decades since it was resuscitated.
Uganda remains the largest export destination for Kenyan products, and thus, while the claims of smuggling milk products are serious and should be investigated, there is also a case for guarding the relations between the two countries to deepen trade.
We had a similar situation with Tanzania not too long ago, in which a lot was lost. That goes to show how much harm can be done when neighbours feud.
In the ‘war’ with Tanzania, businesses and people from both sides of the border suffered, to the extent that Kenya traded more with countries that are thousands of kilometres away, while exports to its neighbour stagnated and in some cases, declined.
However, trading between the two countries has resumed and there are indications it is growing. Clearly, there should be deliberate efforts to ensure that this continues to grow.
We should go back to the rules that guide the trading relationship in the East African Community, such as the common protocol. If the EAC experiment must work, the playing-ground should be levelled for all the players.