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Tourism talks breaking down in Africa

kenya & tanzania

The more sober tourism stakeholders on both sides of the border of Kenya and Tanzania earlier today expressed their exasperation, disappointment, and often outright anger over the fact that the long-overdue tourism talks between the two countries had stalled and ended in a stalemate of massive proportions.

Information was earlier with complaints on gender balance in the talks, which, going by the track record of the women in the tourism industry in East Africa, may well have provided for a different outcome as the ladies are known to be pragmatic and result oriented. The Kenyan delegation was made up entirely of men.

The Tanzanian delegation did have ladies on the team but only perhaps a third of their team were of the female gender, again raising questions if not enough competent women could be found to be part of the negotiating teams.

The two days of talks on March 18 and 19, in retrospect, achieved little else but to bring the two protagonists into one room, where, after what has been described as only cursory niceties at the start, cast in concrete positions were repeated over and over again.

Coinciding with this long-expected meeting, the Tanzanian government had also pulled the plug on some 60 percent of air connections between the two countries over an equally long-simmering aviation dispute arising from the Bilateral Air Services Agreement in place. The Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) refused to grant landing rights to Tanzania’s Fastjet, which for all intents and purpose meets the nationality requirements to be considered a Tanzanian airline but was blocked nevertheless.

“We now know that the escalation of the aviation dispute, which even us in Kenya lay squarely on the doorstep of our own regulators, was no accident to come on the very day when the two delegations were due to meet in Arusha. Someone somewhere, in fact let me be blunt, the man at the top with an anti-Kenyan agenda since he took office 9 ½ years ago, orchestrated this. He is a very unhappy man that his delaying tactics in the EAC [East African Community] failed and that Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda broke loose from his shackles and started to fast-track things. The results for the three are very substantial, dropping work permit requirements for citizens, a common tourist visa, visa-free travel for expatriates, mutual financial participation in mega projects like the standard gauge railway from Mombasa all the way to Kigali, and the refinery in Uganda to name just a few.

“Burundi at the last meeting said they will join, and when South Sudan finally sorts out their problems of power-hungry individuals destroying a country for their own ambitions, we will have a solid bloc of countries with a big potential. Of course, … Kikwete [can]not be happy because this exposes his own failures within the EAC. And make no mistake, he only went to Kigali to assess the strength of the Northern Corridor Integration Project Cooperation, not to join. His stand on the situation in Eastern Congo remains a mystery why he should have hosted these criminals in Tanzania and why he refuses to take military action against the FDLR, unlike against M27 last year. In everything he does and did … bias [is] written in big fat letters across his actions. Bias against Rwanda, bias against Kenya, and even toward you in Uganda he is lukewarm.

“The sooner a new president comes into office in Tanzania the better. Remember the warm relations Tanzania had with all her neighbors when Mkapa was in office? We need to return to that level or else we can kiss the EAC goodbye if another 1970s socialist stuck in the past comes in,” ranted a regular Nairobi-based source when confronted with the breakdown of the Arusha talks earlier this afternoon.

From Tanzania, several more level-headed individuals equally expressed their disappointment over the failure of the talks, and one of them in particular blaming his own delegation for the breakdown. “You cannot get into a room and not [be] ready to compromise. May I remind your readers and my own countrymen that it was us who last year demanded from Kenya that they fully implement the accord of 1985. When Kenya … in December last year … stopped access of vehicles from Arusha to drop and pick clients at JKIA [Jomo Kenyatta International Airport], we cried wolf. Now, you cannot have your cake and eat it [too]. If last year’s position was a proper one, and I am not saying it was, the entire 1985 accord needs discussing.

“Our delegation came into the room with but one thing in mind, an ultimatum for Kenya to allow access to JKIA or else. In the end, the ‘or else’ prevailed. From what I was told, … Kenya put the entire accord on the table to go through point by point but our side was adamant that either the Kenyans lift the access ban or there would be no talks at all. They wasted a lot of money in these talks and let us all down. The talks must resume soon before more damage is done by hotheads on both sides now. In fact, as you said a while ago, maybe we shift from the venues of Arusha and Nairobi to Kampala or Kigali to have neutral ground. And if nothing else helps, maybe we need to ask the EAC Secretariat and the East African Business Council to moderate the talks. It is like rampant school boys now who need their headmaster’s cane to find a way back to discipline,” said on regular commentator from Arusha.

The East African Tourism Platform (EATP) Coordinator, Ms. Waturi Wa Matu, was in the room as an observer and equally expressed her disappointment that not one inch of progress was made. It is via the EATP that the private sector apex bodies of the five East African Community member states come together on a regional basis and where arguably the most progress has been made to discuss and resolve issues since the launch of the platform nearly three years ago.

A periodic source from Dar es Salaam also shared the insight that “Tanzania this time means business” as he put it, an indication that neither the aviation dispute nor the tourism dispute will go away any time soon.

A Kigali-based source, normally an astute observer of East African politics, then added: “From where I stand, this has to be part of a coordinated pre-election strategy. CCM [Chama Cha Mapinduzi, a political party] is in a bind over their scandals in the past, and Kikwete can no longer stand because he served his two terms. The succession race is now on, and banning some candidates from having an early go to muster party cadre support has failed. It is still going on and there will be a bruising contest to get the nomination. And all have started using Kenya as a punching bag for one or another reason. It is a classic strategy to use an external boogey man to please the electorate, and the voters mostly have no clue what is really going on as long as they get sugar and rice.

“The timing of this dispute is bad, because as long as the campaign towards the next general election is on, the chances to reach a viable and workable compromise are hanging in the balance. The real losers will be tourists and business travelers who already now have problems to get seats in and out of Dar es Salaam. And when I hear ‘give traffic rights to those and them to teach the Kenyans a lesson,’ they forget that airlines will take months and months to plan for new routes and to raise capacity for more flights. Reducing the number of flights so drastically will only hit business on both sides, so both loose out. But as you kept saying, it is the fools at the KCAA who are responsible for this development. Now they try to hide behind that obscure word of government but we in Rwanda in particular know the individuals who were responsible for blocking RwandAir for so long from the Entebbe to Nairobi flights. They even tried to defy a Head of State directive that tells you that there is something very wrong at KCAA and surely heads should roll. Not that approving the Fastjet landing rights now will bring an immediate resolution to the problems. These issues will be milked for all they are worth, because Tanzania is going into election mode, and CCM is fighting for their dear life this time. Very bad timing and very bad attitudes.”

Perhaps the East African Community Secretariat and in particular the East African Business Council and the East African Tourism Platform should now step up and provide a forum where the controversial issues can be discussed in a calmer atmosphere than the confrontational spirit which seems to have prevailed in the room in Arusha over the past three days. Moderation, and perhaps even arbitration, could provide a way forward and out of the deadlock.

Source: Prof. Wolfgang H. Thome, Ph.D., eTN Africa Correspondent

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