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Policy shifts on trade and public health

Confusion over eligible vaccines and questions about a health-workers deal cast a shadow over Britain's trade campaign

Although President Uhuru Kenyatta returned to Nairobi with £132 million (US$181m) in trade and investment deals after co-hosting the Global Education Summit with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July, Kenyan activists and business-people are sceptical. Some have called the new bilateral trade deal a 'return to the colonial era' (AC Vol 62 No 20, Rivalry holds back the region).

Six months earlier, several Kenyan parliamentarians rejected the British-Kenya Economic Partnership Agreement as 'unconstitutional' because it gave tariff free access to some British farm exports disadvantaging Kenyan farmers. But Kenyatta's government pushed it through (AC Vol 62 No 13, Banking on a fast recovery).

Britain's public health policy in Africa has also been dogged by criticism. On 4 October, it announced that it would recognise just four vaccines (from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson) rather than the full list of vaccines certified by the World Health Organization for emergency use.

Even people vaccinated in Kenya under a British-funded distribution programme would not be eligible for entry under this proposal. Four days later, after an international outcry, Britain revised the rules again to recognise more vaccines but still not the full WHO list.

The issue matters because those visitors whose vaccines are not recognised have to quarantine for 10 days at their own expense in state-approved accommodation. It sets up yet more hurdles for students, business-people and people visiting relatives.

Critics say it reflects a pattern of restricting travel and migration to Britain that is incompatible with growing trade ties. British officials say they are trying to expand job and trading opportunities through bilateral cooperation programmes.

The latest is an agreement for unemployed Kenyan nurses and health-workers in a 'special route' to work in Britain. It is part of a broader Kenya-British Health Alliance which includes measures to improve cancer treatment in Kenya and the wider region, and a pledge of 817,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Britain's post-Brexit immigration rules have slightly loosened the requirements for skilled Kenyans to apply for work permits in Britain.

In Kenya, there are about 25,000 registered clinical officers; and only 7,000 of them are employed by the government. There are also some 30,000 unemployed nurses and healthcare workers.

Details on renumeration for the Kenyan health-workers are unclear. Kenyan media reports say that that President Kenyatta's government will get a cut of salaries paid to Kenya's temporary health-workers in Britain, but Whitehall's Ministry of Health denies this. British officials say that the Kenyan nurses will be directly employed by National Health Service (NHS) trusts.

Simon Chelugui, Kenya's Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary justified the export of nurses by pointing to increased diaspora remittances. Officially repatriated funds from Kenya's foreign workers are running at over $300 million a year. It is the country's biggest foreign exchange earner, having overtaken tea, coffee and tourism.

The deal with London will send 20,000 nurses to Britain to help address an NHS shortage of 62,000. Kenya has signed similar bilateral labour agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Already 3,329 nurses have expressed an interest in the jobs in Britain and those who qualify are expected to travel there within weeks. But there are teething problems. Out of the first batch of health-workers, 300 were sent for an English language test. Only 10 passed.

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