Tanzania pulls out of East Africa common visa plan

Uganda’s High Commissioner and Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat Angelina Wapakhabulo (left), Kenya’s Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala (centre) and Belisa Kariza, Rwanda Development Board Chief Tourism Officer show solidarity during the opening of the East Africa Tourism Expo at KICC, Nairobi. [Photo: Elvis Ogina/Standard]
Tanzania has dealt Kenya another blow by distancing itself from the common visa launched between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. 

The common visa is meant to, among other things, enable the members states to jointly market their tourism as a single product.

Tanzania also wants nothing to do with the joint marketing strategies pushed by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and will not participate in the East African tourism platform events being pushed for by the neighbours.

The joint visa has been issued to 4,000 tourists who will be visiting the three countries, now dubbed ‘the coalition of the willing’.

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In a media briefing Wednesday, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said Tanzania was wary of competition from Kenya.

“Tourists who will be moving between the three countries that form the coalition will now be using a common visa that will be charged at $100 (Sh10,122) instead of $150 (Sh15,183) that each country charged before,” Mr Balala said.

“The coalition of the willing has also agreed to have a common East Africa stand at the world Travel Market to be held in London on November 7. The stand has been dubbed ‘borderless East Africa’, but Tanzania will not be part of it,” he added.

However, Balala asserted that if the three East African countries want to move on with a regional cooperation pact on tourism, nothing will stop them and hoped the latest joint strategy will motivate Tanzania to join in.

Balala said the problem with the East African region is that countries live with “a fear of the unknown”. He called on the country’s neighbours to look at each other not as competitors, but as friends complementing each other. “Our competitors are the Caribbean countries and the Far East. We shouldn’t compete among ourselves,” Balala said. “I want to encourage Tanzania to join us. Our doors are open,” he added.

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At the same time, the CS gave the numbers of tourist arrivals from the region, which indicated Tanzania’s numbers had shrunk compared to Uganda.

“From Uganda, we had 50,000 arrivals. From Tanzania we had 30,000, while we had 25,000 from Ethiopia. We are yet to get numbers from Rwanda and Burundi,” Balala said.

The latest development comes just months after Tanzania declined to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between EAC and European Union (EU).

A number of officials at the Secretariat were apparently at a loss on learning of Tanzania’s U-turn on EPA, which was announced in Dar es Salaam by the neighbouring country’s Foreign Affairs permanent secretary, Aziz Mlima.

The EPA deal, which would have allowed commodities from East Africa to access European markets duty-free, was opposed by Tanzanian authorities who argued the EPA deal would not benefit local industries and needed time to consult widely.

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Again in May this year, Kenya was left in bewilderment when Tanzania lured Uganda to withdraw its earlier decision to connect its oil pipeline with Kenyan oil fields in Lokichar, all the way to Lamu port, instead favouring the Tanzanian route linking the oil fields to Tanga port.

Rwanda too opted to develop a rail link to Indian Ocean ports through Tanzania, abandoning Kenyan route. All these decisions have pointed to an alleged cold relationship between Kenya and Tanzania.

East African tourism platformNajib BalalaEast African CommunityTanzania