Public policies should benefit citizens, no two ways about it

Mohammed Hersi’s recent statements on social media cannot go unchallenged. As the chairman of Diani Hospitality Owners Association, he has launched into a diatribe that is long on conjecture but short on facts.

He accuses Kenyans of “self-sabotage and a scarcity mentality” and blames the government for “refusing to pluck low hanging fruit” by granting foreign airlines unfettered access to Kenya’s port city of Mombasa. He tags a number of leaders including MPs and governors asking them to “address this from a political platform.”

Hersi’s remarks, while well-meaning, reveal a debilitating poverty of public policy expertise. They negate the very foundation of such policy which is the principle that injury to the public good is a basis for denying the legality of a contract or other transaction. In other words, the overarching consideration when the government enters into contracts and transactions must be for the benefit of Kenya and its citizens.

Kenya’s airspace is a valuable resource. Like other resources, it cannot be doled out willy-nilly to all and sundry without a commensurate return to the country and her citizens. And this is the crux of Hersi’s arguments; that he is enamoured with the notion that unfettered access is beneficial to Kenyans. He talks glowingly of Turkish Airlines’ (TK) extensive global network and wrongly concludes that “Kenya authorities did not give flight permits to TK.” 

It is important to set the record straight. TK has never been denied entry into Kenya. The truth is that TK has a number of flights in and out of the country. That they have chosen to concentrate all the frequencies allocated to them to the Istanbul-Nairobi route is a TK business decision that cannot be blamed on the Kenya government.

But it is what Hersi leaves unsaid that should be more of a matter of concern. Information from the Tourism Research Institute reveals that Turkey is not one of Kenya’s top 10 source markets. According to 2022 figures from the institute, the top ten by number of visitors are America, Uganda, Tanzania, the UK, India, Ghana, Germany, Somalia, Nigeria and France. 

Hersi also conveniently forgets to mention that tickets on TK are relatively more expensive than on other carriers. This columnist made bookings for a return ticket from Nairobi to Istanbul earlier this month. Qatar Airlines quoted USD 650 dollars. Emirates quoted USD 750 whilst Turkish Airlines quoted USD 1,490 for the same destination.

Kenya’s public policies stand it in good stead by stymieing the exploitation that would otherwise arise. One such exploitation is capacity dumping. Simply put, this is where huge international carriers allowed unfettered access into a country would offer cheap fares to lure passengers and subsequently increase them exorbitantly once they have killed off competitors. Another is the carbon footprint that would result from unregulated aircraft activity in the country’s airspace. Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi has correctly articulated Kenya’s policy position regarding aviation matters. He has drawn on his vast experience as a former Transport minister. Speaking at a joint press briefing with Mombasa’s governor recently, Mudavadi said “aviation agreements have to be reciprocal in nature” and that “in all programmes, the strategic national interests of the country must be paramount.” “These,” he says, “are the issues negotiators must have in mind at all times.” 

It is a matter of fact that most countries have aviation policies that favour them. For instance, US government officials are forbidden from flying on non-US carriers. The Netherlands and the UK have limits on the frequencies that they allocate to foreign airlines. This is ostensibly to curtail environmental and noise pollution. Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar and Emirates all have pro-local policies. Perhaps the real elephant in the room is the poor product offering that is now characteristic of Kenya’s coastal tourism. Decrepit hotel rooms, unimaginative “all you can eat buffets,” dirty beaches, harassment from beach boys and muggings cannot be compensated by increasing flight frequencies to Mombasa.

The writer is a public policy analyst