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Did Queen Victoria yank Mount Kilimanjaro from Kenya?

By | August 13th 2011
By | August 13th 2011

Patrick Wachira

The snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro might be officially on Tanzanian soil, but this has not helped avert controversy as Kenya seeks bragging rights to Africa’s highest peak.

Located 20km into the Tanzanian side of the border, the mountain has fuelled acrimony among tour operators from the two countries; who equally market it as one of the main attractions in their respective nations.

Snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro. Photo:Reuters

But the incredible irony is that while tourists can only climb Kilimanjaro from Tanzania, they have to visit Kenya’s Amboseli National Park to get a perfect view of the mountain. This is coupled with a belief that Kilimanjaro belonged to Kenya but Queen Victoria, then the monarch of the United Kingdom, gave it to her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, as a birthday gift in 1886.

"It is said that the Britons gave it out to the Germans when defining the territories. This is partly confirmed by the fact that the borderline from Lake Victoria to the Coast is straight and only broken by a curve around Kilimanjaro," says Dr Ephraim Wahome, a Tourism lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

Apparently, Kenyan online tour marketers have been promoting this belief among tourists while their Tanzanian counterparts formulate theories to contest it. The issue took a political leaning in 2006 when then Tourism Minister Morris Dzoro told a travel agents conference that Mount Kilimanjaro was one of Kenya’s top tourist attractions. The Tanzanian tourism ministry openly castigated Kenya over the issue, with Chief Executive of the Tanzanian Association of Tour Operators, Mustapha Akunaay accusing Kenya of hoodwinking tourist into believing the mountain is in Kenya.

Today, hundreds of Kenyan tour and travel agencies explicitly use the mountain to market their safaris. While Tanzania markets the climbing aspect, Kenya has been marketing the viewing aspect.

"We have to take advantage of nature. You will be a poor marketer if you don’t take advantage of one viewing the world’s highest freestanding mountain from one of the leading game parks in the world," says Danson Kaelo, a tour marketer.

On their sites, most Kenyan tour agencies and lodges use images captured from the Amboseli, with a picturesque scene of the Kilimanjaro in the background. The Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, which is located within the park, provides a perfect example.

"Set against the magnificent backdrop of Africa’s highest mountain, the glittering Kilimanjaro, Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge enjoys a uniquely privileged position at the heart of this world-famous national park," reads a message on the lodge’s website.

Kenya-Travel-Packages.com, an online tour agency, carries a bold slogan that reads: "The elephant-crammed Amboseli offers picturesque views of Kilimanjaro. Even though the majestic mountain is located in Tanzania, the best views of it are, in fact, from the Amboseli, which is strategically located at the foot of the mountain," it notes.

With climbing the mountain being a highly perilous affair, some lodges in the Amboseli also take advantage of this limitation to outdo Tanzanians.

The Amboseli Sopa Lodge carries an advert stating that its rooms have a deck from which "you can visually conquer the snowcapped peaks of the Kilimanjaro".

So confusing is the Kilimanjaro fairytale that Tanzanians have been literally inquiring about the location and history of their own mountain.

"During the African Public Service Week, 2009, Tanzanians flocked the Kenyan Tourism Ministry stand inquiring whether claims by Kenyans that Kilimanjaro is in Kenya were true. But we assured them that it is in Tanzania," says Mwangi Gakunga, then the public relations officer at the ministry.

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