Ruto, Museveni to meet over fuel import dispute
President William Ruto plans to meet his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni to resolve the fuel import dispute that saw Kampala take Nairobi to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).
East African Community and Regional Development Cabinet Secretary (CS) Peninah Malonza confirmed that the two leaders had scheduled a meeting to diplomatically mend fences over Kenya’s decision to block Uganda’s use of its pipeline to transport fuel.
Uganda had applied to use Kenya’s pipeline to transport its fuel from the port of Mombasa directly to the capital, Kampala, but Kenya rejected the request, arguing that such a move would affect its local oil marketing companies.
Read: Why Uganda-Kenya fallout may not last
Malonza downplayed the dispute, saying each member state of the East African Community (EAC) was founded on its own democratic principles and is therefore entitled to pursue its best trade interests.
“There is a scheduled meeting between the two presidents to discuss the impasse and Kenya will also seek to explain her position during the next East Africa Community Heads of States Summit,” the CS told journalists in Kitui on Friday.
Malonza, however, did not disclose the date and venue of the high-level meeting, while State House is yet to release President Ruto’s itinerary in the coming days.
“There is no cause for alarm because such trade disagreements are normal. Each country is established under different laws and principles and therefore we relate on the basis of the binding treaties and other diplomatic protocols,” she said.
The CS further disclosed that Kenya constantly engages Uganda and all EAC partner states on trade matters because the Community was established to work together for mutual benefit and to promote the welfare of the people of East Africa.
Read: Kenya in talks to set up dry port in Uganda
In an apparent softening of stance, Malonza praised President Museveni for actively engaging the Kenyan authorities on trade matters as the two countries look forward to resolving their recent dispute.
“Uganda is not only Kenya’s biggest trading partner, it is also the biggest market for Kenyan oil. Nairobi and Kampala have co-existed very well since independence and both countries value each other’s economic potential,” she said.
According to Malonza, Uganda is a Group A market for Kenya’s oil, buying 90 per cent of its oil from Kenya, so it was natural for it to take a keen interest in the affairs of its main trading partner.
Malonza was speaking as EAC Secretary-General Peter Mathuki issued a statement urging partner states to focus on peaceful resolution of any disputes and restraint while strictly adhering to the spirit of the treaty, particularly on peaceful co-existence and good neighbourliness.
Without directly referring to the case filed against Kenya at the Arusha Regional Court, Dr Mathuki urged member states to focus on harmonious cooperation in their endeavours to ensure that the people of East Africa remain at the centre of our integration.
“The Community’s operational principles provide that our integration is people-centred and that all our undertakings should strictly observe this spirit. In the event of any dispute arising between two or more partner states, it is expected that we use the existing EAC Dispute Resolution Mechanism that fully respect the integrity and sovereignty of each state,” Mathuki said.
Read: Unoc monopoly leaves $270m oil logistics company on knife edge
He said the Secretariat was working closely with the Office of the Chairperson of the Summit of EAC Heads of State to provide the necessary facilitation for the peaceful resolution of any disputes that may arise between partner states.
The case to compel Kenya to allow Uganda to use the pipeline was seen as the ultimate sign that relations between President Museveni and President Ruto had broken down for good.
Uganda filed the case largely out of frustration that Nairobi was denying it an import route. Kenya’s energy regulators, however, have a court injunction blocking the approval.
In November last year, the High Court in Nairobi barred the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) from processing a licence application from the Uganda National Oil Company (Unoc).
The cabinet has also delayed a decision that would exempt Unoc from key requirements: Proof of ownership of a licensed petroleum depot and five retail stations, proof of annual sales of 6.6 million litres of petroleum products and a turnover of $10 million for the past three years.
Read: Kenya declines Uganda’s request to use oil pipeline
Epra rejected Kampala’s application in September, citing these requirements. And now Uganda is accusing Kenya of violating the EAC Treaty, which requires partners to share existing port and maritime facilities, and the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea, which gives landlocked states the right of access to maritime facilities and transit routes.
According to Nasong’o Muliro, a research fellow at the Global Centre for Policy and Strategy, it is rare for an African country to sue another in an African court, especially when it involves historically interdependent neighbours such as Kenya and Uganda.
Kenya and Uganda have quarrelled before over trade and even territory, but the fact that it rarely reaches the courts means that both sides have always known that diplomatic channels were sufficient.