in Cape Town, South Africa
President Uhuru Kenyatta Thursday indicated that he will return to South Africa sometime in the first quarter of this year to sign bilateral agreements reached with his counterpart President Jacob Zuma.
The announcement was made during a post-meeting press conference in Durban where the two African heads of state discussed matters of mutual interest, including trade, digital infrastructure, peace and security and regional issues.
President Kenyatta said the talks had helped deepen the partnership beyond the already good relationship between the two states. “We discussed regional issues to do with peace and security,” said the Kenyan leader.
The heads of state covered previous agreements between their nations during their wide-ranging discussions.
“In the first quarter I hope to conclude strong agreements,” said President Kenyatta in reference to his forthcoming return visit.
He said he was “keen to see how political parties can work together to help strengthen the bonds between people”, as was happening with Kenya and South Africa.
During the three-day state visit, President Kenyatta will also meet with Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly- elected leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
During the talks yesterday, Presidents Kenyatta and Zuma were to seek a review of the progress in the implementation of prior co-operation agreements, and also explore new areas to “deepen the fraternal ties between Kenya and South Africa”.
Just over a year ago, in October 2016, President Zuma visited Kenya. Several agreements and memoranda of understanding in various sectors were signed during the trip.
While the purpose of President Kenyatta’s visit is to further mutual ties and co-operation, the looming fate of Zuma as President of South Africa means the visit is unavoidably overshadowed by recent changes in the ruling party leadership.
Thus, whatever progress may be made during the visit, Zuma is in no position to push any wider political agendas, given that ahead of President Kenyatta’s arrival, it was not certain how long Zuma will still be in power.
The ANC’s national executive has been meeting this week to discuss its way forward following a tough leadership struggle in December which has left the ruling party riven and somewhat uncertain about how to handle “the Zuma question”.
With a formal commission of inquiry — mandated by high court judgments — soon to begin an investigation into the “state capture” phenomena of corruption, influence-peddling and alleged enrichment of those connected to Zuma, senior ANC members are saying it is not a question of whether Zuma would be “recalled” by the ANC before his term as President runs out in 2019, but when. Some in the party are pushing hard for his immediate removal, and it has been reliably learnt that Ramaphosa himself was initially leaning in that direction.
But the prospect of further dissent which Zuma’s immediate removal would likely cause, especially in the populous and politically turbulent Zulu-dominated province of KwaZulu-Natal from which Zuma hails, and which has been plagued recently by mounting political violence, has caused ANC leaders to reconsider and put the “Zuma issue” on the back burner for now.
Sources said it was highly unlikely that he would survive more than a couple more months as the country’s nominal leader.
Even so, it is already clear that Ramaphosa, who is a skilled political operator of long standing, is putting his stamp on the party, emphasising economic growth over the Zuma camp’s preferred “radical economic transformation” — making the point that the latter is only possible through the former — while urging unity and calm on his comrades.
Ramaphosa has been embedding his new position at the top of the ruling party, and to that end has met, among others, traditional leaders in a bid to woo them away from their inclination to support Zuma who, in many respects, is a traditionalist.
While it was likely, according to the SA Presidency, that agreements previously reached would be furthered, and that bilateral relationships between Kenya and SA would be deepened during the visit, Zuma’s “lame duck” status will prevent any major developments that would have to be ratified by Ramaphosa, who is almost certain to be picked by his ANC leadership comrades to succeed Zuma.
Prior agreements between the two countries, mainly reached during Zuma’s 2016 visit to Kenya, covered many areas of mutual interest.
Included were visa exemption for passport holders of diplomatic, ordinary and service passports, defence and police co-operation, as well as co-operation between Kenya Investment Authority, the Export Promotion Council and Trade-Invest SA, co-operation in the fields of biodiversity, conservation and natural resources management, and the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor Project.
During Zuma’s visit to Kenya, the leaders said talks towards the establishment of a bi-national commission to bolster trade relations between the two countries would be held. President Kenyatta’s official visit to South Africa was planned accordingly, and to focus on enhancing co-operation between the two countries, especially in the area of training.
On Friday, President Kenyatta is to meet Ramaphosa in his capacity as Deputy President of SA. He will also meet with business leaders in Johannesburg, including the CEO of Volkswagen SA, who set up an assembling plant in Kenya after Zuma’s 2016 visit.
On Saturday, President Kenyatta will attend celebrations to mark the 106th anniversary of the ANC, Africa’s oldest liberation movement.