Stalled talks on matters concerning the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) between Kenya and Tanzania will resume next month, according to information received from sources in the know, following the farewell visit of President Kikwete to Kenya last week.
Several contentious issues, which remained unresolved, ate like a festering sore into the relations between the two countries, especially when earlier in the year Kenya chose to ban Tanzanian registered commercial tourist vehicles from accessing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Tanzania retaliated by enforcing lesser flight frequencies from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam to only the limits set under the present BASA, making Head of State intervention necessary to resolve the stalemate. The reduction from 42 weekly flights to only 14 weekly flights caused complete and utter chaos as wannabe travelers scrambled to get seats, impacting heavily on trade and tourism between the two countries. While the agreement between the presidents then involved a meeting of the two countries, bringing aviation and tourism officials together, this never did take place.
Tanzania’s Fastjet for instance found itself blocked over false accusations that the airline did not meet the required nationality status, i.e., 51 percent of the shares were not held by Tanzanians, while the Kenyan aviation fraternity kept complaining about not being able to fly into Arusha’s municipal airport and were instead forced to drop traffic at Kilimanjaro International Airport, which is over 50 kilometers from the city.
Tanzanian tour and safari operators wish to have access to all cities, towns, airports, and national parks permanently guaranteed while their Kenyan counterparts in turn expect to gain the same privilege when crossing the border. Another point of contention is the border crossing at Bologonja/Sand River between the Masai Mara, where sources from both sides acknowledged that this was entirely a political decision and, peddled reasons like environmental concerns notwithstanding, aimed to block the flow of tourists from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti. Here, too, air operators have advocated for direct flights between the main Keekorok Airfield in the Masai Mara and the Seronera Airfield in the heart of the Serengeti, to allow for an easier flow of traffic and safe time consuming – and indeed environmentally unfriendly long trips by road or air.
When the talks will take place it will be under a new Tanzanian administration as a General Election is due to be held later this month, and a new President will take office, perhaps injecting new impetus into the talks and bilateral relations at large.
Meanwhile, other East African Community members with an interest in these developments, mainly Rwanda and Uganda, are also advocating for talks on a broad range of additional issues to bring Tanzania into the fast-track cooperation of the Northern Corridor Integration Project countries. The expansion of the common tourist visa for Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya is on top of the wish list to include Tanzania, as are related cross-border tourist and air operations.