FEE ISSUE ON TANZANIA KENYA BORDER CONTINUES TO INFLAME EMOTIONS
As reported here a while ago, the contentious issue of having to pay a US Dollar 200 fee per vehicle to cross into Tanzania has caused border post blockages not too long ago, bringing about some diplomatic intervention with ministers responsible for East African Community affairs meeting to discuss the problems.
At the time the Tanzanian minister denounced the fee, saying it was not sanctioned, only to be now hang out to dry by a deputy minister for EAC affairs who proclaimed earlier in the week that the fees were there to stay until 2015.
Predictably did the noise levels amongst traders and the business community in Kenya rise to crescendo once more, depicting the Tanzanian government as unreliable, internally confused and contradicting each other and generally being anti EAC and anti Kenya.
Citing the protocol for the establishment of a free market, the zero duty internally across the East African Community and other related protocols on the freedom of movement by EAC citizens, the Tanzanian demands for fees are seen as counterproductive to these goals, in violation of certain treaty aspects and have been described as yet another non tariff barrier erected to keep Kenyans in particular out of Tanzania or else make them pay through the proverbial nose. The woes increase when one considers the dual membership of Tanzania in SADC, the only East African Community member state to belong to the South African led group, while Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi belong to competing block COMESA, something often seen as partly responsible for the different sizes of the respective goals to start with, before the shifting of goal posts even began.
Adding salt into the wounds the deputy minister was also quoted that the Tanzanian governments requirements for work permits for anyone wanting to do business inside Tanzania would also remain in place, prompting Kenyan traders in Taveta to in turn ask the Kenyan government to arrest and prosecute Tanzanian traders crossing the border into Kenya freely and trading without licenses and permits, bringing the scenario of a fully fledged retaliation into play, causing diplomatic efforts behind the scenes by other EAC members to defuse the situation between Kenya and Tanzania before it was spiraling out of control.
Tourism stakeholders in both countries have also long been opposed to their different goals of either opening up or keeping market access in lock down, with the contentious question of the border at Bologonja between the Masai Mara and the Serengeti remaining closed for commercial traffic, compelling tour companies from each country to cross at other border points, mostly in Namanga, where passengers have to change vehicles or at best being able to reach Arusha or Nairobi respectively before having to shift.
Air operators too blame Tanzania as the most restrictive country to fly into, with few options open for flights from Uganda or Kenya carrying tourists destined to the parks, as they too have to be dropped, normally at Kilimanjaro International Airport instead of being dropped straight at an airstrip near the camp or lodge they are heading for. Said an aviation source from Nairobis Wilson Airport recently when discussing cross border traffic with light aircraft: I think it is now fairly easy to get landing permits when flying to Uganda or vice versa. Yes, there are still a few issues but those are being addressed on a bilateral basis. In Uganda we can even drop passengers to the parks and some of the airfields have been designated as entry and exit points, which is where we in Kenya still have some work to do. Right now you have to clear customs and immigration in say Kisumu or Eldoret or Nairobi but there is movement. Rwanda is the same in fact, getting easier but our brothers across our Southern border in Tanzania, that seems stuck in a time warp. They sign protocols and agreements but the minds are apparently not inside the EAC, not in spirit and not in reality and only when official speeches demand saying something nice.
EAC officials known to this correspondent also remain tightlipped over where the main obstacles remain in the introduction of a common tourist Visa for East Africa, but as Uganda has expressed the desire to fast track this, as has Rwanda, and with Kenyas tourism minister Najib Balala repeatedly demanding immediate action over the past 12 18 months while lamenting about unnamed opposition to the scheme, it can only be assumed where the njet is coming from.
Said another source from Nairobi last week when chatting over coffee about this issue, amongst many others: It feels like needle pricks. One or two can be absorbed, but when there is a barrage of them it starts to seriously hurt and cooperation is doubted, suffers. By now we should have one common stand at ITB for instance featuring all the East African Community member states but still we are separate. We were hoping for a joint promotion of one region with many attractions and that has not taken off either. Selling East Africa as one destination is bound to increase our reach across the world, offer more options to travelers and draw in more tourists. Airlines like Qatar Airways now start to fly not only to the main centres but are adding Mombasa, Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro. There is the option of open jaw travel that a tourist flies into one airport and then has road transport or even regional flights and then leaves the region from another airport. We should capitalize on such opportunities and not continue to create fresh obstacles for each other. Cooperation is needed instead of confrontation, equitable sharing instead of proprietary attitudes. When I hear utterances like Kenya is stealing Kilimanjaro I just wonder what that is all about. That mountain is in Tanzania like Mt. Kenya is in Kenya. Such talk is just to stir up sentiments, emotions and are lacking all substance but to serve shortsighted goals of a few.
As talks on a common currency are also seemingly stuck in a rut, inspite of an initial goal to finalise all prerequisite arrangements, the question surely can be asked, Quo Vadis East African Community. Watch this space.