No one is pulling out of anything, we are in this together

So much has happened this past week that if I were to comment on it all I would have a book to my name. There were the big stories like the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol that was adopted after deliberations that went on for hours and the launch of medical supplies delivery drones that are expected to go a long way in reducing maternal mortality rates.

So much has happened this past week that if I were to comment on it all I would have a book to my name. There were the big stories like the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol that was adopted after deliberations that went on for hours and the launch of medical supplies delivery drones that are expected to go a long way in reducing maternal mortality rates.  

The talk about the revival of Uganda Airlines continued filling the air that is already poisoned by the troubles that Kenya Airways is going through with headlines switching from its losses to pilots and other crew threatening to go on strike. President Yoweri Museveni says the Uganda Airlines planes will be in the skies by April 2017. That is merely six months from now.

 

The only thing that pleased me about the skies besides the medical drones was the hashtag #JacarandaPropaganda that was started by Kenyans on Twitter just to show off the beauty of Jacaranda trees in full bloom. The beautiful pictures make you want to live in a place where the streets are lined with Jacaranda trees.

 

Also Kenya Tourism Board did not disappoint with this year’s Magical Kenya Tourism Expo where tourism operators, policymakers and media practitioners interact and learn from each other on matters tourism, destination Kenya, destination East Africa and development in general. Although I missed out on attending the expo, I was keenly following the event through traditional media and social media streams.

 

The visitors to the expo also got time to sample the different products that Kenya has to offer like the wild game, cultural tours, ecotourism and of course the beach and marine products at the coast of the Indian ocean not forgetting the different hotel facilities for both business and leisure clients.

I was very pleased to learn that the East African Tourism Platform stood out as the best exhibitor. These are the guys behind the strategies aimed at marketing East Africa as one destination. In fact, the plan now is to have a joint stand at other world expos so as to lure visitors to the region as a whole.  Kenya’s Tourism Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala pointed out that East African countries should not look at each other as competitors but as friends complementing each other and pointed out that the real competition was elsewhere in places like the Caribbean and Far East.  

For me the key message in there was the identification of our competitors as those spots elsewhere and not fellow East African countries. Unfortunately, the Kenyan media preferred to focus on the fact that Tanzania is not part of the tripartite agreement on the single tourist visa that allows tourists to visit Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya with just one $100 visa.

In typical sensationalist (call it click baiting) style, the story was reported as one of Tanzania pulling out of the East African common visa plan. How does one pull out of something they are not part of? I think this kind of reporting does not help us in anyway. As a region we need to acknowledge that we cannot be thinking of the same thing or even at the same time.

Look at the Schengen visa for instance. Not all European Union members are part of the arrangement and some that are part of it are not European Union members. That should be proof that we shouldn’t be picking small fights over this unless you want to tell me that a single tourist visa is the only trick we have in the bag when it comes to growing tourism in the region.

There are several factors that influence the decision making of a tourist and a visa is one of them but not the only reason. Let us not pause our thinking because of Tanzania’s preferences after all even Burundi and South Sudan are EAC members but not part of the visa arrangement. Maybe they will join, maybe not. Life still has to go on.

The visa is a great development but we still have a lot more to do if we are to compete with the Caribbean, Arab Africa (Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia), and Southern Africa (SA, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe) among others. As Ugandan journalist, Charles Onyango Obbo tweeted recently, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the bigger lesson is that it was eventually built.” We are still in this together so let us get back to work.  

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