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Kenya protests: Tanzanian traders wary of impact to business

Isaac Mugabi (AFP, Reuters)
April 1, 2023

Tanzanian traders doing business in Kenya have raised concerns that the weekly demonstrations by the opposition are negatively affecting their business. Kenya is the main destination for Tanzania's corn exports.

Supporters of Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Azimio La Umoja (Declaration of Unity) One Kenya Alliance throw stones at riot police.
The protests in Kenya have often descended into violent confrontations Image: John Muchucha/REUTERS

Traders who use the Tanzania-Kenya border crossing of Namanga said business WAS no longer as usual after veteran Kenyan opposition leader, Raila Odinga, called for weekly protests.

Odinga accuses President William Ruto's government of failing to tackle the high cost of living.

Most Tanzanian traders deal in corn, making Tanzania the largest exporter of corn to Kenya.

Tanzania sells about 72,460 tons (65.7m kilograms) of corn to Kenya annually. In contrast, the annual demand for corn in Kenya is estimated to be 600,000 tons.

Calls for a peaceful resolution

The traders who spoke to DW at the Namanga border crossing said that Kenyan politicians should deal with the current situation so that they can resume doing business inside Kenya. However, most are worried for their safety and fear looters, who often take advantage of the demonstrations and steal their merchandise.

"Demonstrations in Kenya are affecting our businesses because Kenyans are big trade partners, especially buying our corn," one Tanzanian trader, who chose to remain anonymous, told DW. 

"As a result, we are currently incurring losses, and goods volumes have decreased tremendously since the protests began." Likewise, the trader said that Kenyans could not cross into Tanzania to do business like before.

Fear of crossing into Kenya

"We Tanzanians are peace-loving people. However, when we hear of demonstrations in Kenya, we are afraid and have to stay here in our country where we feel safe. Many traders now fear crossing into Kenya to do business," the trader said.

Another trader explained they were now waiting for Kenyans to sort out their issues before doing business with them again. "If they continue their weekly demonstrations, we shall conduct business internally," he added.

The protests declared illegal by the government have increasingly turned more violent, with police firing tear gas, water cannons, and occasionally live bullets.

Kenya police kick a teargas canister
Kenyan police fired teargas canisters to disperse crowds during demonstrations in Nairobi and KisumuImage: John Muchucha/REUTERS

Odinga vows no retreat, no surrender

Odinga has called for weekly protests every Monday and Thursday. The former Prime Minister alleges that Ruto stole the election.

"Kenyans must get justice. We will not relent," Odinga told crowds of cheering supporters, many waving green foliage in a sign of peaceful demonstration.

"The cost of living is rising daily, and we will not keep quiet. We are telling Ruto that Kenyans are tired," Odinga said.

Steve Odhiambo, a 31-year-old unemployed graduate, said he was demonstrating over the vote, joblessness, and high food prices. "We want Raila to tell us [to protest] daily... We won't relent," Odhiambo told Reuters.

Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Azimio La Umoja (Declaration of Unity) One Kenya Alliance, is seen near water fired from a riot police water cannon
Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga has vowed to press on with mass protestsImage: Thomas Mukoya/REUTERS

Kenyan protester: 'We are suffering'

Alice Achieng, another protester, also said many Kenyans can't afford basic commodities to survive.

"We are suffering in Kenya, and we are hungry. We are fighting for our rights, and we want a reduction in the price of flour. We are suffering."

The price of a 2 kilogram (4.4 pound) maize flour packet increased to 179.98 shillings ($1.36, €1.25) in February 2023, up from 134.79 shillings in April 2022.

In addition, Kenya's inflation rose to 9.2% year-on-year in February from 9.0% a month earlier, primarily driven by food and transport prices, according to statistics from the World Bank. However, Kenya's Central Bank insists that the current inflation stands at 8.75%.

During the campaign for the August election, Ruto portrayed himself as a champion of the oppressed and vowed to improve the lives of ordinary Kenyans. But he has since removed subsidies for fuel and maize flour, a dietary staple, and last week Kenya's energy regulatory body announced a hike in electricity prices.

William Ruto campaigning for the presidency in August 2022
While on the campaign trail, William Ruto promised a better life to Kenyans, but critics say he has not delivered on his promises.Image: John Irungu/Mariel Müller/DW

International community calls for a truce

The international community and religious leaders have appealed for calm, voicing fears of a repeat of the 2007/08 post-election ethnic fighting that claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people.

In a statement Wednesday, eight foreign embassies, including the US and British missions, called on "all leaders and all Kenyans to maintain peace, show restraint, and work toward a swift resolution for the common good of Kenya."

The African Union also appealed Tuesday for calm and political dialogue to end the chaos.

Ruto, who was back in Kenya after a trip to Germany and Belgium, sought to assure a US-East Africa business forum that the country's business environment was stable, but did not mention the unrest.

In all, two civilians have been killed so far, and 51 police officers as well as 85 civilians have been injured, according to government figures.

Kenyan President William Ruto slams opposition

Veronica Natalis in Arusha contributed to this report

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu

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