Kenya, Rwanda battle for Middle East market amid economic downturns

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - The Middle East could play a fundamental role in shaping the economy of East Africa, with a number of countries now turning focus to the Gulf of Eden.

For years, African countries have cemented their trade and economic investment at the far west, but there is an increasing urge to shift loyalty to the far East and the Middle East regions.

Last week, Kenya camped in Saudi Arabia for oil and gas industry bilateral talks while Rwanda, another upcoming economic giant in East Africa, went for an ICT forum in Qatar.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is facing internal criticism over ballooning debts (internal and external), took his plea to Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with King Salman bin Al Saud.

The two anchored their bilateral talks on regional stability, fight against terrorism, trade, and manufacturing. Uhuru, who was only African leader in the Future Economic Initiative forum, is running against time to cement his legacy ahead of 2022 exit.

"King Salman praised Kenya for its role in securing regional stability and its open economy policy that has been an anchor for regional economies. The two leaders also discussed the need to enhance the cooperation in the fight against global terrorism," State House said.

Kenyatta said the integration of the African continent through the ACFTA (African Continental Free Trade Agreement) offers a lucrative environment for business ventures that are designed to create mutual benefits for the investors as well as the host nations.

He also met His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan where the two leaders discussed the progress in trade and bilateral relations between the two countries.

Kenyatta said the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) has agreed to invest in Kenya’s Big Four projects. SFD issues grant worth $143 million annually that focus on education, health, and infrastructure across Africa.

“Kenya’s improvement in the ease of doing business ranking is a reflection of the level of attention to make the trading environment better. We are ready to engage more and when we move we do not move alone. We will bring along our partners especially the Arab financial institutions,” said Sulaiman Alkhudairy, Managing Director SFD.

But miles away, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda attended International Information Technology Conference and Exhibition in Doha, which rhymes with Kigali's urge to be Africa's ICT hub.

The Gulf country’s plan involves $1.5 billion in funding for trade deals and partnerships across Africa. Rwanda in return is keen to export coffee and tea to the Middle East, a move that will expand her local economy.

Also, Qatar and Rwanda have already discussed possible collaboration in aviation. The partnership would include Qatar Airways, which started flying to Kigali in 2012, taking a stake in RwandAir which has struggled to break even.

Kagame, a former military officer, is keen to revolutionaries the country's economy by shifting loyalty from traditional Western friends. In return, he has been on spot over alleged violation of human rights.

But in general, Kagame has been credited for setting Rwanda on the right economic growth pace, two decades after the genocide. His decision to move to the Middle East seeks to expand local markets.

Qatar is keen to also expand her markets in Africa ahead of the 2022 World Cup, the first tournament to be held in the Middle East. Recently, the country hosted World Athletic championships.

Despite the slightly contrasting missions to the Middle East however, both Uhuru and Kagame are close associates, with Rwanda using the Port of Mombasa for entry and exit to her oversee markets.

Reporting by Abuga Makori; Editing by Omar Nor


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