A war of words is now underway between Tanzania and Kenya over the ban for Tanzanian-registered tour vehicles to access Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). One of the battlefields is the social media scene where Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu, added fuel to the fire when he accused his Kenyan counterpart, Phyllis Kandie, of lacking wisdom and a sense of diplomacy after she restored the ban last week.
The two protagonists, to the bewilderment and in some parts sheer exasperation by other East African Community member states, have been having a go at each other since Kenya imposed the ban first in mid-December. Nyalandu then rushed to Nairobi for urgent talks which took place on January 16, which, while not conclusive, achieved two things: For one, the ban was lifted the following day, and secondly, it was agreed to meet in Arusha on February 5 for further talks, at which stage both delegations would bring with them a wish list and a list of grievances.
Tanzania though pulled out of the talks at short notice, informing their Kenyan counterparts with barely a few days to spare, that they were postponing the talks by a further few weeks to “more widely consult with stakeholders.” This explanation was promptly rejected by Kenyan officials who blamed their Tanzanian counterparts of stalling and delaying coming to the table and being finally compelled to face reality.
“Fact is that the 1985 accord gives Tanzania a lot of advantages, like their safari operators are able to drop off their clients at literally any town or city in Kenya. We in turn have only a handful of points where we can drop off our clients. It is true that they have collected and dropped off clients at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for a long time, but this was not provided for in the 1985 accord. It was, if you want to put it that way, a gesture of goodwill from us. Last year, it was agreed that the 30-year-old agreement be looked at afresh, and when the time ran out in December, Kenya then implemented it fully, just like they do in Tanzania. After the January meeting, they got a further grace period of 3 weeks and wasted the opportunity. If anyone should spit fire it is us, because Nyalandu is politicking ahead of their elections. He is big-talking for his electorate how he is dealing with these Kenyans, but it bit him in the behind. His lame attempt on Twitter to shift the blame is entirely baseless. It was him who postponed the talks. Let him come to the table and we shall discuss. This is not for Twitter or social media but for a conference room. Let him calm down first, because his attitude shown on Twitter is not fit for a bilateral meeting but only fit for bar talk,” ranted one of this correspondent’s regular Nairobi-based sources when asked to comment on the Twitter spat between the two ministers.
It is not the first time that Nyalandu is evading issues. This correspondent at the ATA Conference last year in Munyonyo, Kampala attempted to speak to the Minister, who when learning who he was facing said that he would be available later during the conference only to fly back the next morning to Dar es Salaam.
Reactions from Tanzania were mixed with cooler heads pleading for the tension to be defused and a date set immediately for a meeting in Arusha for the two ministers and their delegations. Other more hot-headed individuals displayed the proverbial rabid foam dripping from their mouths when they let fly, with one source, not wishing to be named, not just throwing fuel into the fire but explosives: “These Kenyans will see us. For how many years have we accessed JKIA, and there was never an issue. Now they first ban our airline from flying to Nairobi [reference is made here to the denial of landing rights for Fastjet for the Dar es Salaam to Nairobi route] and now they ban our vehicles also. They keep accusing us to fear competition, but it is increasingly clear who fears whom now.
“Zanzibar is running away with tourist arrivals, more charters than Mombasa, and nonstop flights from even South Africa. They are purely envious of our success and that we caught up with them. Our numbers have gone up, and our per capita revenues by far exceed Kenya’s per capita revenues. The only thing which will happen is that Tanzania will accelerate airport developments in Dar and Arusha. In Dar, we will have a brand-new terminal by end of year, and Arusha [meaning Kilimanjaro International Airport, not the municipal field in Arusha town] will soon also be modernized. Kenya should consider what it means for them in economic terms to lose several hundred thousand travelers who land in Nairobi and up to now transfer by road to Tanzania. We are now determined after this latest insult to bring that traffic home to Arusha and Dar. Then they can count their losses if that is what they want. They think they hurt us? We have endured many insults over so many things in the past, but we can play that game also.”
Reactions from Uganda’s and Rwanda’s tourism sector were slow in coming, almost reluctant, and those spoken to or mailed for comments were loath to be drawn into the dispute for fear of being seen as taking sides.
“I told you before that we are not getting involved here,” responded a Ugandan source but then added “We, however, encourage the two EAC partners to resume talks. The East African Community can provide the platform for that, and if any of them so wishes, we will be happy to provide a venue in Uganda like neutral ground,” but would then not go any further. Only one Rwandan contact responded, also literally pleading the proverbial “Fifth” before finally writing back: “It is not our fight, but sadly will we all suffer the fallout from this. We have our own issues on a bilateral basis, and getting involved may not help Rwanda to make progress on our own agenda. In tourism terms, it is sad that the concept of one destination with many attractions is now stumbling and stuttering. However, I am confident that this will sooner than later be sorted out. A good example is how the two are presently working hand in hand to establish a trans-boundary power grid, so it is not all just bad news. And as you pointed out, the upcoming elections are surely an issue, but two whole ministers should be able to put that behind them. Remember one of them also holds the EAC portfolio and will have to interact with her Tanzanian counterparts on an almost daily basis.”
As said before, cooler minds are called upon to restore some sanity in the bilateral tourism relations between the two countries and EAC officials and the East African Business Council, besides the East African Tourism Platform, all are working behind the scenes to defuse the presently volatile situation and have both sides resume direct talks.