Tanzania and Kenya are conducting a joint wildlife census amidst nagging issues relating to tourism in the region.
First it was the tussle between tourist operators from both countries – with Kenyan tour operators complaining of unfair competition from their Tanzanian neighbours forcing tourists to spend long hours at the border besides charging them exorbitant fees on entry. Tanzanian tour operators on the other hand complained that Kenyan tour operators were benefiting unfairly from Tanzanian tourism resources.
Then it was border “wars” leading to Kenyan tour operators being stopped from entering Serengeti from certain border points – a move that was interpreted by Kenyan tour operators to increase their operational costs and promote unfair competition.
On their part, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) argued that the move was to protect the ecosystem and reduce human traffic in the parks. But should East Africans be viewing each other with suspicion each time one crosses over the “border” for tourism purposes? Or is it a case of preaching East Africa while dragging our feet to accommodate changes advocated in the East Africa Common Market agreement?
Nevertheless, in the true spirit of East Africa Community, as reported by various media in East Africa this week, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in partnership with African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE), Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) are conducting a joint census of wildlife in the greater Amboseli ecosystem.
According to a KWS statement issued last week, the census is particularly crucial given that the park’s ecosystem was hard hit by the recent prolonged drought which led to massive deaths of zebras, elephants, buffaloes and wildebeest.
Joint wildlife census aside, what is more baffling is that while we expect sharing of expertise and resources to increase in East Africa – certainly what has been happening points to a different direction as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention, meeting looms this month. The CITES meeting is scheduled for March 13 -25 in Doha, Qatar.
While Tanzania will be seeking permission for a one-off sale of its 90 tonnes of ivory, Kenya will be opposing the sale at the same meeting because of its strong anti-ivory trade stance. Regionally, Rwanda is the other East African country that has supported Kenya’s stance. Even though Uganda backs Tanzania to sell its stockpile of ivory, it does not support a blanket approval of ivory sale because of its potential to affect elephant population in Uganda. Burundi meanwhile is the only EAC member country that has remained noncommittal – perhaps for fear of being partisan.
In Qatar at the CITES conference later this month, two East African countries will be in different camps. Kenya heading the anti-trade range states consisting of Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone will be gunning for a 20-year moratorium of ivory trade. On the other hand, Zambia and Tanzania with different proposals will be seeking permission to sell their ivory stockpiles at the 15th CITES Conference of Parties (CoP15). They will also seek their elephant populations “downlisted” from CITES’ Appendix 1 (which prohibits all trade in the species) to Appendix 2 (which allows trade if it is monitored). Both sides have sent their proposals to the CITES secretariat and have been posted on their website.
Kenya’s argument is that should Tanzania be allowed to sell its ivory stockpile, it would create a market for ivory trade thereby encouraging poaching – posing a threat to dwindling elephant population. Tanzania’s argument, on the other hand, is that revenue from the sale of their ivory stockpile will be used in elephant conservation activities, community conservation and development programmes within or adjacent to the elephant range in Tanzania and not from other countries.
While both arguments might seem logical, what is clear is that the opposing views from the two East African member countries can only add confusion in the tourism debate in the region. What is also incontestable is that with a shared ecosystem, having conflicting policies with regard to ivory trade and tourism matters may not be beneficial to any of the member countries – let alone the animals that we are trying so much to protect for our future generations.
CITES imposed a worldwide ban on ivory trade in 1989 and closely regulated it following a reduction of the number of African elephants dropping from 1.3 million in 1973 to less than 500,000, due mainly to poaching, when the ban was put in place.
Back in East Africa, soon the world-renowned wildebeest migration will take place, and if there was any thing as “animals belonging to a particular country,” perhaps the wild animals in the Serengeti in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya knows nothing about nationality – or they are more East African than the human inhabitants and care less about their seasonal migration that has been going on for generations. They cross borders in search of pasture oblivious of the fact that they are the bone of contention. Is it not ironical that Kenya and Tanzania, despite the shared ecosystem, still promote the famous wildebeest migration individually while advocating marketing East Africa as a single tourist destination?
Now that Tanzania and Kenya are having joint wildlife census, East Africans might be excused if their imaginations run wild before the findings are put out in the open. We can only hope that the findings of the joint census will give East Africans more reasons to work as a unified team as opposed to working against each other.
All in all, it makes more sense for countries advocating for one tourist visa for East Africa to consult on tourism than to have conflicting ideologies that leave more questions than answers. We may possibly ask: Is East Africa ready to be marketed as a single destination while each member countries continue to market themselves individually? While we are told that modalities are in place to sensitize East Africans and other key players in the tourism industry about marketing East Africa as a single destination – is it a distant dream?
Let us not forget that the main cause of the collapse of East Africa Community (EAC) in 1977 was that it had become ideologically split. Therefore, we must not turn a blind eye as potential pitfalls become apparent. Differences in ideologies and mistrust among leaders can be argued were key factors in the collapse that we cannot afford to repeat. Why then are we having different ideologies in conservation and tourism yet we share the same ecosystem and claim to be fronting for East African Community?
Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan once described EAC as a “building block” for a future African Economic Community in a move to strengthen Africa’s capacity to meet the challenges of globalization.
East Africa: Wildlife Census for Kenya, Tanzania
To achieve the dream perhaps the more logical approach would be to streamline ideologies and to speak with one voice as East Africans instead of thinking like negative globalist who perceives globalization as a threat rather than an opportunity.
Proposed joint strategies like the harmonisation of taxation regimes based on the EAC protocols as a way of eliminating unfair competition could offer a welcomed solution if policy makers in the EAC are to tackle prevailing bottlenecks.
From a business perspective, possibly tour operators in all EAC member countries could recognize the opportunities that abound in the wider East African tourism market instead of viewing it as a threat from other operators in the region.
With the EAC Tourism and Wildlife Management Bill that was passed into law at a session of the East African Legislative Assembly held in Kampala, Uganda last month we can only hope that marketing East Africa as a single destination is not just boardroom diplomacy – so to speak.