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Ruto and Museveni go east

The latest forays by East African leaders show their region's fast-expanding economic ties with Asia

Less than a fortnight after their Tanzanian counterpart Samia Suluhu Hassan visited China to drum up trade and investment, Presidents William Ruto and Yoweri Museveni of Kenya and Uganda have made their own Asian sojourns.

President Suluhu Hassan's trip to China produced new infrastructure deals restoring Tanzania as a key Belt and Road Initiative partner as well as a largely symbolic write-off of just $14 million in bilateral debt (AC Vol 63 No 22, Dash to oil depends on China).

Tanzania also joined Kenya in obtaining a 'Comprehensive Strategic Co-operative Partnership' with China.

Ruto's trip to South Korea, the first to Seoul by a Kenyan President since Daniel arap Moi, had more of a trade focus. Ruto was marketing Kenya 'as a suitable investment destination for foreign investors', with a focus on increasing exports of tea, avocado and coffee to South Korea to match its technology exports to Kenya.

Ruto's team said he was exploring areas of cooperation, especially in ICT, education, pharmaceutical and infrastructure, making much of his activist business diplomacy missions. Having criticised some of China's financial practices in his election campaign, Ruto speedily opened negotiations with Chinese officials on debt and financing, once he had been confirmed as President.

Relations between Ruto and western governments such as the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom are still cool. Analysts in Nairobi see his diplomatic forays to Asia and within Africa as a way of boosting his international profile ahead of the US-Africa summit in mid-December hosted by President Joe Biden (AC Vol 63 No 5, Ruto goes West).

Museveni's visit to Vietnam, meanwhile, was also an attempt to drum up bilateral trade from a low base. Total trade between the two countries amounted to less than $60 million last year but Museveni has been talking up Vietnam's rapid industrialisation and post-war recovery under appalling circumstances as a template for African economies.

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