Is the end of the tit for tat spat in sight?

TANZANIAN AND KENYAN TOP TOURISM BUREAUCRATS SET FOR CRUCIAL MEETING

(Posted 09th March 2015)

Information has now been confirmed that come 18th of March will the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, East African Affairs and Tourism meet to discuss solutions over the present standoff about access to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Later in March will then the two ministers meet in Arusha seeking to end the situation which has drawn widespread criticism from within the region and from abroad over the inconvenience caused to tourists who use Kenya’s main airport and then either go by road to Arusha or come from there to leave for home.

There is speculation about President Kikwete, who is the current chair of the East African Community after taking over from Kenya’s President Kenyatta during the most recent summit, attending the Head of State Summit of the Northern Corridor Integration Project in Kigali, a first since the cooperation between the three EAC members Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda was launched. South Sudan, while not an EAC member, is also part of the so called Coalition of the Willing.

The Kikwete attendance of the summit in Rwanda is significant on two fronts. Seen by many as a thawing in the rather frosty relations between Kigali and Dar and perhaps aimed to revive the Central Corridor projects like the almost stalled railway extension plans between Isaka and Kigali, were others focusing on what may have been discussed behind closed doors between the Tanzanian and Kenyan president. The recent tit for tat spats which in the past affected their tourism sectors may have been brought up and if indeed the topic was on the agenda of the meetings in Kigali, there might be hope that a breakthrough can be accomplished quickly. There is a range of thorny issues unresolved between the two partners which have made the tourism sectors’ hotheads on both sides spit fire, losing sight of the bigger picture in the process.

In a related development has Burundi apparently also resolved to join the Northern Corridor Integration project league from the next formal meeting onward, ditching the observer status in favour of being a full member.

Should this indeed be the case could Burundi be the fourth EAC country to join the common tourist Visa initiative and allow expatriate travel through interstate passes.

If Burundi comes on board it would be good for them, good for the region as a destination. They would have to issues the common tourist Visa on arrival and that may prompt a revision of their shortsighted decision to demand for Visa in advance, which apparently is reducing arrivals to Bujumbura to a trickle since it came into effect. But the biggest upside would be that it only leaves Tanzania to join the four others. Maybe the Kikwete visit to Kigali for the summit last week has opened his eyes how the other presidents cut through the red tape and leave their bureaucrats no option but to comply. Of course, it also means that Kenya would have to grant landing rights to Fastjet for the Dar to Nairobi route. If the last few months of the Kikwete presidency could see such a fundamental change in direction, the entire EAC would benefit and tourism could get a big shot in the arm’ wrote a regular source based in Arusha.

It is now wait and see until the 18th of March when the two PS’s in the respective tourism ministries meet and what recommendations they will prepare for the ministerial meeting later in March in Arusha. Watch this space.

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