With the Kenyan port city of Mombasa 500 KM away from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where Rwanda’s High Commission is located, a Private Sector Federation (PSF) official thinks it is high time consular assistance is brought closer to the port.
In a recent exclusive interview at his Kigali office, Jean-Baptiste Gasangwa, the PSF resident representative in Mombasa, told The New Times that now, more than ever before, Rwanda diplomatic representation in the port of Mombasa is essential.
Gasangwa who has lived and worked in Mombasa for 27 years, said: “A consulate will be appropriate or any other form of official representation. Numerous countries have have consulates in Mombasa to take care of their citizens interests.”
“Now, it is even more important, more than ever before, to look into that issue”.
Mombasa, the second-largest city in Kenya, is also a regional economic hub, with a large port and an international airport.
At present, 40 percent of Rwanda’s imports go through Mombasa. Several government departments opened offices there in line with the EAC’s Single Customs Territory (SCT) arrangement. The other 60 percent of Rwanda-bound cargo comes through Dar es Salaam port; Rwanda has a fully fledged diplomatic mission in Dar.
Gasangwa said Rwanda’s interests in the port of Mombasa have increased “and we now have a Rwanda Revenue Authority office to clear goods, and more than 10 Rwandan clearing agents.”
Other public agencies, he said, will surely set up shop because businesses have to pay taxes [at Mombasa] upfront at the port due to the SCT.
“RRA being there is good, but they deal with customs only. They don’t deal with, other situations that needs support. The more you have business interests in the town, the more you need a resident representative to monitor and help people and even defend our business interests. That, to me, is very important.”
Cost effective approach
Gasangwa opined that an RRA agent, or any other, could serve the purpose, if properly mandated. A business person, he noted, can be appointed to serve as an honorary consul and this would help cut costs as government would not need to set up offices, staff, pay for housing and salaries.
He said the idea of having official government representation at the burgeoning port city is something “we have been talking about for the past years”.
“We have a vacuum there and, I think, we would all benefit – the country, Rwandans living in Mombasa and those who visit.”
Late last month, it emerged that Rwandan importers who were yet to collect what Kenyan authorities describe as ‘long-stayed cargo’ from the port risked having their merchandise auctioned off after an April 15 deadline.
Gichiri Ndua, the Managing Director of Kenya Port Authority (KPA), made the announcement in Kigali while addressing a stakeholders’ interactive forum in which he explained that the port handled over a million containers last year, and was in dire need of prime yard space.
Currently, there are uncollected 219 containers in total owned by Rwandan importers.
Need to nurture Kenyan market
The Minister for East African Community (EAC) Affairs, Amb. Valentine Rugwabiza stressed the importance of Kenya, in general, as a key trade partner in the region.
Asked if a diplomatic mission of any kind, in Mombasa, would be a genuine requirement, she said: “What I think is genuine is that it is important to have a commercial presence. It is important to have a very strong commercial presence.”
“It is important to have, for example, a commercial attaché and, what makes me say that is that today, Kenya being our top investor, worldwide, this means that we really need to look and to focus well on this market,” Rugwabiza said.
“Basically, a market that represents so much to us is a market that we need to focus on. We need to nurture, [and] we need to make sure that in a timely manner we resolve and address issues as they arise. But also, that we open up new opportunities. This [Kenya] is an economy that is growing fast. It is the most diversified economy in the region.”