Uhuru needs to make a strong pitch for Kenya in Trump talks

By The Standard | Monday, Aug 27th 2018 at 00:00
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President Uhuru Kenyatta receives a bouquet of flowers from Leilani Jemwetich Kiptoo on arrival at his residential hotel in Washington DC ahead of his talks with Donald Trump. [Courtesy]

Not many foreign trips by heads of State carry much symbolism like a visit to meet the world’s most powerful man at the most known address; the White House.

The mantle has fallen on President Uhuru Kenyatta to make that trip to Washington DC to meet with US President Donald Trump today.

For just a moment, ignore Mr Trump's unconventional behaviour and note the significance of the institution of the US presidency. America’s superpower status means that it holds sway across the world on matters economic, diplomatic and military.

Uhuru’s meeting in Washington DC will be followed by another with Teresa May, the UK Prime Minister. Historically, the UK – Kenya’s former colonial master - is America’s staunchest ally. Thereafter, Uhuru will be off to meet with China’s President Xi Jinping.

Since taking office in 2013, President Uhuru has sought to reset Kenya’s position on the globe by promoting Kenya as an investment hub and the place to go for business and leisure.

For far too long, Kenya has punched below its weight despite being a regional powerhouse. Arguably, Uhuru has recast the image of Kenya from an inward-looking, timid country to one ready to welcome the world and do business with it.

Kenya’s economy (worth $63.40 billion in 2015) is the biggest in the East African region, boosted by its liberal market economics, comparatively better infrastructure, and a huge well-educated human resource pool supported by modern technology.

No doubt, those three opportunities present Uhuru with another chance to make the strongest pitch for Kenya. Obviously, top on the agenda will be matters to do with the Big Four agenda, especially health and infrastructure, trade and security, democracy and regional peace.

The visit to the White House is also coming at a time when the IMF has brought pressure to bear on the Kenyan Government to slap a 16 per cent VAT on fuel products. Barring any changes, starting September 1, all fuel products will go up by between Sh9-13.

Because of the grave ramifications of this tax to the economy, Uhuru should use the chance to implore Trump to prevail upon the IMF to set aside the directive.

In the IMF pecking order, the United States holds 16 per cent of the voting quotas. That makes it the single most powerful member. Germany, France, the UK and even China, each have no more than 6 per cent of the quotas and the IMF and the World Bank do America's bidding. Put another way, the Americans can deploy their clout and force the hand of the IMF mandarins on the punitive tax. That alone will be a big win for Uhuru.

IMF’s grief is that the Government is unable to bridge the budget deficit, with fears that Treasury will not honour maturing loan obligations in the near future.

Yet Uhuru has a case: Lately, he has shown he has the spine to fight corruption, which for far too long has been a drag on the economy by undermining growth and progress. By many accounts, corruption has made it difficult for millions of Kenyans to climb the ladder of opportunity.

With the focus shifting to the corrupt cartels at the Kenya Revenue Authority, which have been blamed for revenue leakages and tax evasion, there is no doubt that the country's balance sheet will soon be a lot healthier.

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