Arusha. Kenya and Tanzania moved yesterday to calm mounting anxiety over a standoff on each other’s airspace use apparently arising from the management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Regional analysts are worried that the fresh tit-for-tat between the two countries would undermine the already battered travel industry in dire need of urgent revival.
Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) on Friday pulled a fast on Kenya, announcing the cancellation of the licence for the country’s national carrier, KQ, to operate flights to Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar. This was in retaliation to an earlier move by Kenya to leave Tanzania out of a list of countries allowed to fly into its territory from yester- day as a measure to fight Covid-19 pandemic.
“The United Republic of Tanzania has noted through a number of media its exclusion in the list of countries whose people will be allowed to travel into Kenya effective August 1, 2020, the date that the republic of Kenya will re-open its sky for international passenger commercial flights after having been suspended since March 2020.”
“The authority regrets to inform you that, on a reciprocal basis, the Tanzanian Government has decided to nullify its approval for the Kenya Airways flights between Nairobi/Dar/Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar effective August 1, 2020 until further notice..,” wrote TCAA’s director general Hamza Johari .
The two instances immediately sparked concern about the impact on business and in efforts to strengthen regional integration and the ongoing efforts to revive the tourism sector which is a cash- cow for both of the two countries’ economies.
Yesterday, Kenya’s Transport minister James Macharia sort to play down the matter and told a press conference in Nairobi that he had held talks with his Tanzanian counterpart Isack Kamwelwe to iron out what he termed “a misunderstanding.”
He said he after the talks, he was optimistic that Tanzania would reinstate the withdrawn KQ licence. “No Tanzanian aircraft has been denied entry into Kenya. What we said is that passengers from cleared countries will not be subjected to quarantine on arrival but all the others will have to go for mandatory quarantine for 14 days.”
We have heard about Tanzania banning KQ but I have engaged my colleague in Tanzania and a solution will be announced soon,” said the Kenyan minister.
Earlier, Mr Kamwelwe was quoted by local media saying the ministry was tackling the matter as well. Channel five quoted as saying: “We will have a meeting on Tuesday with the foreign affairs ministry to establish what happened and why Kenya took the decision to bar our flights into the country.”
There was no clear announcement on the standoff by the time of filing this report. Analysts and tourism sector players who were interviewed yesterday feared that the ban of KQ flights may lead to more cracks on the fragile East African union.
Those who had hoped that the re-opening of air travel would res- cue the tourism sector, badly battered by Covid-19, were now more worried.
“This is going to affect tourism as it is cheaper to fly KQ into the EA region compared to other airlines,” said Asgher Fazal, a tour- ist hunter based in Arusha. He said more flights into the country would bring in the much needed foreign tourists.
“KQ and Ethiopian Airlines are among the cheapest airlines. Kenya is also a regional hub and one of the cheapest destinations globally,” he said.
The Kenyan flag carrier operates multiple daily flights to Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro. International flights into and out of Kenya resumed yesterday after nearly four months of ‘lock- down’ due to coronavirus which continue to ravage the region.
The new arrangement by Nairobi means that flights by Precision- Air, a Tanzanian airline in which KQ has shares, will not resume flights to any destination in Kenya.
However, Precision Air managing director Patrick Mwanri told The Citizen that the airline was yet to be affected. “We were planning to resume flying to Kenya next month and not now,” he said, adding that they were currently monitoring market trends.
Mwanri said he was optimistic authorities from the two countries would amicably sort out the issue in question.
He said if the problem was addressed and Precision Air was satisfied with the market trend, the airline would return to Kenya’s skies even on or before August 15.
“But in reality, it is hard to attract customers who would be ready to sacrifice 14- day coronavirus quarantine (in Kenya),” he said.
The KQ country manager Joyce Mcharo was not ready to comment on how the nullification of the TCAA’s approval had impacted their ticket bookings. KQ had secured a permit to fly 14 times to Dar es Salaam, three times to Kilimanjaro and two times to Zanzibar as per their application seen by The Citizen.
The tit-for-tat scenario comes only days after a suspicious failure by a Kenyan government plane to land in Tanzania reportedly due to ‘bad weather.’ Kenyan media claimed it was about to land in Dar es Salaam.
The plane carrying Majority leader in Kenyan Senate Samuel Poghisio to ex-President Benjamin Mkapa’s funeral was recalled back and Foreign Affairs minister Palamagamba Kabudi told mourners in Dar es Salaam that the plane made a u-turn to Nairobi while on Monduli area due to bad weather.
The East African Business Council (EABC), an apex body of private sector associations in the region, expressed deep concern on the latest tiff. It urged both countries to exer- cise restraint and ensure resump- tion of international flights in Ken- ya yesterday and Tanzania on May
18 pave way for revival of aviation and tourism sectors. “Differences emerging in regional air transport services are set to adversely affect the rebound of business in the region”, said Peter Mathuki, EABC chief execu- tive officer. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), EAC will potentially lose upwards of $ 5.4 billion of tourist spending this year due to Covid-19. The EAC secretariat had not issued any statement on the sour- ing relations between its two founder member states, already divided over the epidemic.
The deputy secretary general in charge of Planning and Infra- structure Steven Mlote said he was aware of the stalemate but would not comment.
“I would be ready to give you the necessary information on our part any time from Monday, not now, he told The Citizen on phone. Mr Mlote, also the EAC acting deputy SG on Finance and Administration, has been in the news lately over the stalled EAC annual budget for 2020/2021 which is yet to be tabled in Parliament.
Tourism stakeholders in Arusha were until yesterday pondering on the development which will impact on air travel between Kenya and the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA).
“We will not be badly hit by absence or reduced flights to Nairobi. Most of our clients arrive directly from overseas by other carriers”, said Mr Krishna Suri, the general manager of Four Points by Sheraton Arusha.
He added; “Most of our guests from Nairobi or who pass through Nairobi come by tourist shuttles and others by air charters.
I am not sure of other repercussions”. However, a local academician Prof Lusato Kurwinjira said per- sonally he believes Tanzania’s decision to ban KQ flights was “correct and justified.”
“If Tanzanians cannot travel to Kenya without restrictions because of Covid-19, what is the point of Kenyans to the same country deemed not safe by Kenyan authorities”, he asked.
The animal production don with the Morogoro-based Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) insists the scenario was technically and diplomatically wrong.
However, he says the EAC cooperation would not be much affected by turn of events “ as these mistakes will be corrected in due course.”