Kenya’s reaction: the meeting that never was..

Last month, Kenya and Tanzania agreed to meet on the 5th of this month to resolve their tourism conflict. Come 5t February, Tanzania chose to postpone the meeting. Kenya reacted and now Tanzania is paying dearly.

It did not take long for Kenya to ban Tanzanian registered vehicles from accessing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi. In Kenya’s eyes, Tanzania’s failure to make the meeting as earlier agreed upon was a show of bad faith. The tourism ministers of both countries and their delegations were scheduled to meet in Arusha last week to table their wish lists and attempt to come to an amicable resolution of the almost 2 months long conflict. Tanzania’s delegation was a no show, opting to postpone; a decision which Kenya didn’t not take well.

Kenya’s tourism cabinet secretary who also holds the portfolio for East African Affairs, soon after announced the restoration of a ban for Tanzanian-registered vehicles trying to access Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi.

Considering the number of visitors who use JKIA , mostly for better connectivity and more flights, this is definitely a blow to Tanzania, both to the tour operators and their clients. Kenya had earlier lifted the ban to give Tanzania to ready itself for the meeting that should have taken place last week. Vehicles from Tanzania will now once again have to seek the services of a Kenyan transporter or safari company to take their clients to the atzkeirport from an agreed drop-off/pick-up point.

They dilly dallied with us,” wrote a source who got the announcement yesterday close up and communicated the events. “We gave them ample time to arrive at a position to bring to the table, and for the duration of their internal consultations lifted the restriction on their cars. They failed to honor the deadline we had agreed [upon]. Instead they were giving mixed signals that they need several more weeks to consult before they can meet us. Effectively they were trying to string Kenya along until the end of the high season at Easter.”

Now they reap what they sowed. We were ready with our agenda to sit and discuss the aspects of amending the 1985 Arusha Accord which governs the access of both countries’ safari operators into each others’ territory. This is very regrettable, but the outcome, failing to make it to the talks, was also very predictable,” the source added.

Most Kenyans are not in any way sympathizing with Tanzania. They don’t think Tanzania is being an honorable partner state.

One Kenyan said, “The Northern Corridor cooperation is a good example how countries can benefit, even if you keep singling out our Civil Aviation Authority for blocking landing rights. We know they have faults and are sorting this out. But with Tanzania, the situation is different. They just don’t want to be proper partners but only have it their way. Well, this time, that has failed.”

From Tanzania the comments are full of mixed reactions, and the comments were slow coming in, since many of the stakeholders didn’t know get the news on Friday. Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) is working on a statement for their members. Many were shocked by the news and while they regret Kenya’s very swift reaction, they also do not understand why their government didn’t make the meeting as agreed upon. Why the Tanzania minister of tourism and Natural resources changed his mind about the Arusha meeting is still a mystery to many. Some think it’s a political move of sorts.

One wonders how the goal to market East Africa as one tourism destination will be accomplished if there is such contention among the partner states. All five countries depend quite heavily on tourism. Making access to the different national parks in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania easier, and the common East African tourist visa was and still are good steps in the single tourist area direction but harmony and peaceful relations would go a long way in furthering this goal.

Reinstating the ban on Tanzanian service vehicles from accessing JKIA is definitely going to inconvenience tourists who are coming to the region for Tanzania safari. The Tour companies are also going to be inconvenienced, not mention those on business trip in the region.

Hopefully the two countries will eventually meet and have talks to resolve this conflict amicably.