MERWYN A. NUNES: Man behind Mt Kilimanjaro certificates

Merwyn (left) and Pervin Nunes pose for photo at a past event. photo | Wildersun Safari website


He would not despite his successful tour company Wildersun Safari being well managed by his son and other family members.

He is the trustee of the association, giving advice on how to manage the sector, now the leading in foreign exchange earnings for the economy.

Arusha. At the age of 74, Merwyn A. Nunes, is old enough to retire from active tourism business that has shaped his life in the last 50 years.

He would not despite his successful tour company Wildersun Safari being well managed by his son and other family members.

The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (Tato), a lobby group for the industry based in Arusha, has found a jewel in him despite his advanced age.

He is the trustee of the association, giving advice on how to manage the sector, now the leading in foreign exchange earnings for the economy.

When at ease, he would pick up newspapers and other publications where his sharp eyes would not spare matters pertaining to the industry.

Only recently he picked up The Citizen,a leading daily English tabloid that is familiar with a certain class of people in Arusha, members of the business community included.

He found remarks made by a high profile government official in the northern regions on how successful climbers of Mt Kilimanjaro should be awarded.

The news struck him because he was involved in the process of awarding the climbers from way back in the 1960s when he was posted to work in Moshi by the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism which by then included the Information docket.

Kilimanjaro regional commissioner Anna Mghwira had suggested that all people who climbed the highest mountain in Africa and those who could not reach the peak or Gilman’s Point be awarded certificates.

The RC made the suggestion on November 30 when she flagged off nine Tanzanian envoys heading diplomatic missions abroad as they began scaling the mountain as part of promoting it as a top destination for tourists.

Mzee Nunes was not amused by the idea and insisted that only those who conquered Mt Kilimanjaro by reaching the Uhuru summit or the Gilman’s Point should be awarded certificates.

“I’m opposed to the idea given by Ms Mghwira that certificates should also be given to anyone who attempts to climb Mt Kilimanjaro or those who fail to reach the peak.

“Certificates are for an accomplishment of something big,” he told The Citizen at Tato offices.

The RC who has been in news headlines in recent months for having been appointed to that position despite being a key figure in an opposition party, may have had good intentions for the proposal.

She wanted Mt Kilimanjaro well publicised to attract more tourists and felt one of the strategies, was to award certificates even to those who could not reach the summit of the snow-capped mountain.

Ordinarily certificates are given to those who endure the mountain trek to reach the glacier-covered highest point on the 5,895 metre high ‘ Roof of Africa’.

These, according to Nunes, are the Uhuru Peak (or summit) and the Gilman’s Point.

Uhuru peak is the highest point of Mt Kilimanjaro, and also the highest point of the Kibo volcanic cone. It was there where on the eve of Independence in 1961, there the national flag was erected by the Brig Alexander Nyirenda as the Union Jack was lowered in Dar es Salaam.

Despite being at the freezing 5,895 metres above the mean sea level, Uhuru peak can often be crowded,especially at dawn, when most trekkers aim at the summit.

Gilman’s Point (5,681 metres above sea level) is a place that marks the end of the scree slopes of the Kibo volcanic cone, the start of the crater rim and the path to the summit.

The climb to the Gilman’s Point is usually the toughest part of the route. Due to this, some climbers end their journey there because of fatigue and altitude sickness.

Mzee Nunes said he would not support the idea that all people who attempted to climb the mountain should be given certificates on grounds (advanced by the RC) that they had played their role in publicising the ‘Kili’.

He has reasons for that.

He was behind the introduction of the very certificate awards for people who managed to reach the top of the mountain in the late 1960s when he was working in Moshi for the Natural Resources and Tourism ministry.

“It was I who in 1968 came up with an idea of issuing certificates to the mountain climbers when I was stationed at Moshi. By then I was working with the ministry and seconded to the (now defunct) Tanzania National Tourist Board (TNTB),” he said.

Nunes, then in his 20s, was dispatched to Moshi from the ministry headquarters in Dar es Salaam to oversee major tourism projects in the area, including mountain climbing on Kilimanjaro.

He said he pressed for the introduction of the certificates as awards for those who have conquered Mt Kilimanjaro instead of the flowers from the mountain creepers which were presented to the successful climbers before 1968.

According to him, until then those who made it to the summit of the mountain had a reed made of the creepers coiled around their heads while those who reached the Gilman’s point were garlanded with the flowers around their necks.

“But the flowers were getting scarce and scarcer in the forest. Those picking them have to go deeper in the dense ravines. Because of depleting of the flowers, I came up with the idea of certificates (to the successful conquerors) instead of the reeds,” he explained, adding, “I was conscious on the environment of the mountain”. Two types of certificates were designed by the retired tourism official; a Silver and Gold lined for those who would reach the Gilman’s Point and Uhuru Peak respectively.

The first mountain climber to receive the certificate during the launch in 1968 was the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) General Mirisho Sarakikya -- then Brigadier- who went on the become the record breaking conqueror of Mt Kilimanjaro for decades to follow.

The first recipient was handed over the certificate by the then minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Hasnu Makame who, according to Mzee Nunes, used the occasion at the height of Tanzania/Kenya trade wars in the tourism sector to speak loud and tell the world that Mt Kilimanjaro was indeed in Tanzania and not Kenya.