By Bernard Namunande for Nation
Tanzania on Wednesday confiscated the passports of top Kenyan officials, including Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, and denied them access to the port of Tanga.
However, a delegation from Uganda, led by Energy minister Irene Muloni was allowed to proceed with the tour unmolested.
The top Kenyan officials had began their journey in Lamu, where they inspected the proposed Lamu port before flying to the port of Tanga in Tanzania.
The trip was part of their mission to unlock a deadlock between Kenya and Uganda over whether a proposed oil pipeline to export Uganda’s oil would pass through Kenya or Tanzania.
Wednesday’s incident turned the quest for Kenya to retain the crude pipeline ugly.
The Tanzanian officials took away the travel documents of Mr Keter, Petroleum Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau, his Energy counterpart, Mr Joseph Njoroge and Lapsset CEO Sylvester Kasuku, as they attempted to enter the Tanga Port in the company of the Ugandan delegation.
Tanzanian authorities were reportedly paying back Kenya’s failure to invite them to Lamu, or to the talks held at State House, Nairobi, between presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni on Monday.
‘WE ARE CAPTIVES’
Only Ugandan and oil firm representatives were invited to the Nairobi meeting, even though Tanzania has expressed interest in having the pipeline run through its territory.
Mr Kamau confirmed that the passports of the Kenyan officials were confiscated when they arrived in Tanga to inspect the port, which has been proposed as a potential exit point for Uganda’s crude oil.
“We are basically captives here. They have refused to give us back our passports for about one hour. They have also refused us entry into the port of Tanga,” the PS told the Daily Nation in a telephone interview.
“They only allowed the Uganda delegation into the port,” he said.
Their passports were returned after more than one hour.
The Vienna Convention of 1961 protects all accredited diplomats. Diplomatic passport holders arriving at a foreign port are usually given certain privileges to pass through. This is aimed at protecting foreign diplomats from unnecessary impediments in the conduct of their business.
However, it is the duty of a sending Foreign ministry, through the nearest embassy, to alert the host country of a visiting delegation.
Wednesday, it was not clear whether Kenya had alerted Tanzania of the impending tour.
During the Monday meeting, Kenya and Uganda failed to agree on the Northern Pipeline, from Hoima in Uganda through Lokichar, to Lamu, when President Museveni raised questions about the possible delay in the construction of the pipeline, the Lamu port and the security situation in Kenya.
Oil companies carrying out exploration in Uganda had warned that Uganda’s plans to start extracting crude oil for export in 2018 could be delayed if it goes ahead with the Kenya deal. The firms are Total, Tullow Oil plc and China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC).
However, Tullow Oil plc has since denied having a hand in the study.
“Tullow has publicly expressed its view that whereas both the Northern and Southern routes through Kenya are technically viable, its own analysis of the different pipeline routings shows that the northern route is the most cost-effective for both Kenyan and Ugandan crude oil,” it said in a statement.
After the Monday meeting, the Ugandan delegation, led by Ms Muloni, and the Kenyan team headed by Mr Keter, were tasked to hold meetings to come up with a harmonised position on the pipeline and report back to the two presidents in Kampala in two weeks.
After holding day-long meetings on Tuesday, the two teams yesterday flew to Lamu to inspect the progress in the construction of the port.
LAMU PORT VISIT
At Lamu, the officials visited the site where the first three berths of the port are to be constructed.
They later held a closed-door meeting with Lamu’s Lapsset stakeholders, Lamu County Lands Executive Amina Rashid and experts from the oil sector. They later flew to Tanga.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed told the Nation last evening her ministry had instructed the Kenyan High Commissioner to Dar es Salaam, Mr Chirau Mwakwere, to sort out the hitch with the Tanzanian Government.
“Our High Commissioner is in contact with them, and he is trying to sort out the problem. I should be able to update you as the situation unfolds,” she said on phone.
However, Mr Mwakwere, a former Matuga MP, told the Nation that he had no information about the matter.
“I am not aware of what you are talking about. If I knew about it, I would have information. But let me check,” he told the Nation on phone from Dar.