KIKWETE REMAINS SHTUMM ON KEY AVIATION AND TOURISM ISSUES WHILE IN KENYA
Whatever hopes and expectations there may have been, as a result of President Jakaya Kikwetes visit earlier this week to Kenya, the Kenyan aviation and tourism sectors are far from satisfied.
While speaking at a dinner organized for him by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the laying of a foundation stone at Brookside Dairys new dry milk complex, President Kikwete on visit to Kenya to improve relations dented by a range of misgivings on both sides of late over non tariff barriers and other mainly economic issues made a vague promise to improve the trading regime as well as look into the issue of the respective citizens working in the other country, another area when Tanzania is almost notorious for raising the hurdles almost at will, not a word was said, none known of anyway, over the significant restrictions placed on the aviation industry and the tourism sector.
Tanzania, inspite of treaty obligations, is often handling flight clearance applications from Kenyan charter airlines as if they were foreign instead of being a partner state within the East African Community, with for instance Ugandan aviators claiming to need as much as 72 hours to obtain clearance, while Tanzanian sources have privately acknowledged that such applications from SADC partner state airlines are treated with much greater priority and given much faster responses. This has in the past angered the partners in Kenya and Uganda, which in turn, especially Uganda, have maintained an open door policy for EAC registered airlines to come into Entebbe at literally no notice, demanding either full reciprocity or else threatening to advocate for equal measures.
As to tourism, several issues remain hugely controversial between in particular Kenya and Tanzania, namely the continued closure of the Bologonja border post between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, where private traffic reportedly can pass following prior clearance but where tourist traffic is not allowed through. In addition, the need to have tourists change vehicles at the borders of Namanga or Taveta, is equally controversial and the leeway, to do the exchange in Arusha, seen merely as a window dress of a policy of non tariff barriers to keep competition away.
Tourism sources from overseas, sending business to East Africa and having clients visit both countries, speak of the often perplexed questions of their clients why the itinerary flow is so fragmented and has to back track twice instead of just being able to get across the nearest border point, and have named this as a major cost factor for their safari packages. At the same time is the issue of a common tourist Visa controversial, with again reportedly Tanzania being the most opposed to the start of the measure, which though aimed to stimulate more cross border vacations and hence being ultimately financially beneficial for all participating member states in the EAC, has ended in a deadlock so far. Former Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala minced no words early this year when he blasted his colleagues over the agonizing long wait to have something put in to place, on which at least at face value all have agreed but which some, behind the scenes, try to delay as long as possible.
Kikwete did not comment on any of these crucial issues, having some observers in Kenya already term the visit a dismal failure, a judgment however thought too harsh as only time will tell if the catalogues of issues both sides brought to the round table meetings between the two Presidents and their delegations, will indeed be progressively worked on and then ticked off, moving on to the next agenda points. Watch this space.