Friday, April 30, 2010

Dubai rejects Kenya’s bid to end visa row

By KEVIN MWANZA Business Daily
Kenya’s bid to settle a month-long diplomatic row with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over new visa rules appears to have flopped, signalling that thousands of traders will remain locked out of their most popular source market for imported consumer goods.
A statement posted on UAE’s government website said that the visa issue was not part of the agenda of the talks with a team of Kenyan diplomats that visited Dubai early this week, suggesting that no agreement had been reached on the matter.
“The visit by Kenya’s Foreign minister was to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries. It has absolutely nothing to do with the false media reports on (deportation of UAE officials),” said the statement signed by Sultan Al Qurtasi Al Nuaimi, a director of Consular Affairs at UAE’s Foreign ministry.
When they left for the UAE, the team of diplomats, led by Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetangula, had placed the new visa conditions that bars non-graduate Kenyans from visiting the emirate top on their agenda.
UAE government’s position gained credence on Wednesday after the Kenyan delegation failed to send a statement they had promised on the outcome of the talks.
Instead, Mr Wentangula flew out of the emirate for China where he joined President Kibaki who is on an official visit to Shanghai.
The Foreign Affairs ministry’s silence means that Dubai continues to uphold its new visa rules, putting at risk the livelihoods of Kenyan importers of goods such as electronics, textiles, household goods and industrial products from the free port city that was valued at Sh113 billion last year.
It could also hurt the flow of more than Sh300 million in monthly remittances or 10 per cent of the country’s total monthly remittance from Kenyans working in UAE and whose jobs are now on the line.
Sultan Al Qurtasi said that the degree requirement was introduced to regulate the flow of Kenyans to the Emirate, refuting claims that it was in retaliation for a recent deportation of the UAE citizens.
The degree directive is only applicable to Kenyan citizens, according to the website.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs ministry officials on Thursday said they had no fresh information on the minister’s trip to UAE, adding that Mr Wetangula and his permanent secretary had moved from Dubai to China.
The volume of trade between the two countries has tilted in favour of UAE as Kenya’s imports stood at Sh113 billion in 2008 compared to exports of Sh7.5 billion.
“Dubai is the one of the largest destination for Kenya’s human resource export and also a major source of cheap products for both local consumption and re-export to other countries in this region,” said Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, former Trade minister.
About 36, 000 Kenyans are currently working in the UAE, notably in the construction and hospitality industries, according to the immigration ministry.
Exporters of commodities have begun to feel the pinch of the spat.
“Some of my business associates who deal in spare parts and sell refurbished vehicles from Dubai have been hit badly by the directive as they can’t get more stock for their business and have to source from Singapore or Japan,” said Mr David Kinyanjui, a car dealer in Nairobi who frequently travels to Dubai for business.
But Mr Kinyanjui is not alone. The same story is repeated by electronics, textiles, household goods importers interviewed.
“I’ve been forced to use other people who have degrees to sources for my goods from Dubai because I don’t have a degree my self,” said Mr Ben Kimeu, a computer accessories dealer at the Jamia Mall in Nairobi. “This has cost me a lot in terms of not getting the right quality of equipment and delays of up to a month. I used to restock every week, but now I have to do it once every month,” said Mr Kimeu, adding that he has lost between Sh800, 000 and Sh1.5 million in the three weeks the new visa requirement has been in effect.
Already, Kenyans working for UAE companies such as Emirates Airlines have been asked to comply with the directive, in a move that has placed some jobs on the line.
Some analysts have been arguing that severed relations with the UAE is not going to affect the country as much on the basis that the volume of trade between the two countries is unfairly tilted in favour of UAE, while Kenya can still get sources for its imports from the other countries in the Asian region.
The total volume of trade last year between the two countries stood at Sh100 billion mostly re-exports to countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and Congo a huge chunk of which entailed electronics and clothing.
Imports from UAE to Kenya include refurbished motor vehicles, petroleum products, beauty products, Jewellery, IT accessories, iron and steel, resins and plastics.