The Kenyan government has downplayed Tanzania President John Magufuli’s absence from the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad), as murmurs rise over his commitment to regional integration.
Foreign Affairs CS Amina Mohamed on Monday said President Magufuli had sent a representative, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa.
“He is not the only one who didn’t attend. In fact, he was well represented so there is nothing to worry about. Tanzania and Kenya have excellent relations, so let us not dwell on the negatives,” Ms Mohamed said in a phone interview.
The Tanzanian leader has only travelled to Uganda and Rwanda since coming to power last October.
Unlike his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete, who was known to make many foreign trips, President Magufuli has been concentrating on domestic issues, cracking down on corruption in the public service.
His first foreign trip was to Rwanda in April to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the genocide. The next month, he attended the inauguration of President Museveni for his fifth term.
He has skipped at least five international meetings, including the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference in Nairobi last December, the AU Summit in Addis Ababa in January, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) in Nairobi last month as well as the AU Summit in Kigali.
Ticad was expected to finally bring him to Kenya, especially with Japan dangling massive infrastructure pledges.
In his April visit to Rwanda, President Magufuli also witnessed the opening of the Rusumo International Bridge that links Tanzania and Rwanda and whose construction was funded by the Japanese.
On Monday, Ms Mohamed said President Magufuli has indicated he will visit Kenya at a later date. “It is not that he has refused to visit. We just need to agree on a date. Remember, we have also not visited all the countries,” she said.
In the East African Community, though, there is an unwritten rule that newly elected leaders visit partner states at least within the first two years of their presidency.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has been to Tanzania three times, including for the inauguration of Mr Magufuli. He has been to Rwanda, made a state visit to Uganda and travelled to Burundi since he came to power in April 2013. He has also been to South Sudan. Uhuru is the tourist President and never stays in Kenya for a long time without travelling again. His constant travel has cost Kenya millions of dollars.
Of the regional leaders, only Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamud attended Ticad.
Burundi sent second vice-president Joseph Butore, and South Sudan was represented by second vice-president James Wani Igga, along with first lady Mary Ayen Mayardt.
Sudan, whose President Omar al-Bashir had confirmed he would attend, later cancelled the trip and sent First Vice President Bakari Hassan Salih.
DR Congo sent foreign affairs minister Raymond Tshibanda, while Ethiopia’s foreign minister Tedros Adhanom represented Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. From Eritrea came foreign affairs minister Osman Saleh Mohammed.