23 February 2014

East Africa: Single Visa Out Amidst Squabbling

Arusha — A compromise is being worked out to suit the East African Community (EAC) Partners concerning cross-border tourist circuits, but observers say it may be an uphill task.

The situation comes against a backdrop when the East African Single Tourist Visa has been introduced and is now operational in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Tanzania is yet to join while Burundi is leaning towards strong interest.

Tanzania says the revenue sharing formula is suspect.

Kenya and Tanzania are caught up in a long standing dispute over allowing tour drivers to ferry tourists in their relevant countries.

The Kenyans complain that Tanzania does not allow their drivers to operate in Tanzania.

Last week, the Tanzania Society of Travel Agents (TASOTA), insisted that tour vehicles from neighbouring countries should continue being denied entry into Tanzania. They said their members' livelihood depends on this restriction.

Tanzania also charges Ugandan tour operators a $100 fee as a working permit.

However for Kenyan operators to satisfy Tanzania authorities, they must be in a four-wheel drive vehicle with Tanzanian registration numbers and driven by a Tanzanian national.

Apparently Kenyan tour guides/drivers are classified as foreigners and pay same fee as tourists, to enter premium parks. This does not apply for Tanzanian tour/driver guides who are charged much less.

There is a fierce rivalry between East Africa's biggest countries over the rich pickings from the tourism industry which in 2012 brought nearly $3 billion in total to the EAC.

The five-day Arusha meeting which ended Friday, was supposed to come with answers that would resolve the situation.

The three Partner states raised their concern on their tour operators being denied entry into either country in 3rd and 4th Meeting of the Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife Management (SCTWM) in February 2010 and in September, 2011 respectively. The EAC secretariat thus requested each Partner State to present their issues in writing to the so as to enable coordination of the meeting between the three Partner States.

Among issues raised were; Partner States denying entry of tourist vehicles registered in other Partner States, harassment of driver guides at the border crossing into another Partner State, disparities in fees charged, cross border cooperation in wildlife law enforcement, cooperation and support in addressing multi-lateral environment agreements.

The Arusha meeting was scheduled to discuss these challenges and also deliberate on how to effectively involve other sectors to improve and enhance cooperation in Tourism and Wildlife Management sectors in line with Articles 115 and 116 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community.

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