A report in eTN in recent weeks to the effect, that the Tanzania Tourist Board has advised the Bologonja border between the Masai Mara and the Serengeti must remain closed, has attracted dozens of agitated mails, hot tempered and at times foul mouthed responses and explicit text messages to this correspondent, with most in favor of opening the border – including surprisingly many from Tanzania – and far less opposed to the move already announced in Kenya and then denounced in Tanzania last week.
The border crossing at the Sand River, between the Keekorok Lodge in Kenya’s Masai Mara and the Lobo Lodge in Tanzania’s Serengeti, was in the old days a convenient way to attract safari tourists from overseas wishing to see all the main national parks by way of circuit. After the breakdown of the first East African Community in 1977 ALL border posts with Kenya were shut by Tanzania for several years, before in late 1984 cross border traffic was allowed to resume. This, however, was restricted to the main highway border crossing points, while the park border remained closed for commercial traffic but permitting individual travelers to cross with prior arrangements.
As previously reported, this adds substantial extra cost on those safari packages which cover both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, as tourists have to back track the entire way via Nairobi and/or Arusha to reach “the other side,” a situation which in times of economic crisis and tight money simply cannot be explained away any longer. Most comments were not fit not to be repeated here, but all except seven were in favor of opening the border crossing once again. About the same ‘sample’ was in agreement not to promote ‘one day trips’ to the other side, but use the crossing for safaris, which then proceed onwards to other national parks in the respective countries. All the pro comments made however called in various terminology the environmental reasons advanced by the Tanzanian Tourist Board an “utterly misleading statement” and “willfully false.”
Official sources in Nairobi remained unusually quiet and non responsive over this development, probably not wanting to rock the boat ahead of the next East African Head of State Summit in November, where the agreements towards the common market protocol are due to be signed. Under these agreements the way could be paved to overrule the continued closure of the border post, but it is probably too early to make reliable predictions towards that end, knowing how a reluctant partner can quite deliberately, and for almost indefinite periods of time, delay final agreements. It is however understood from usually well-informed sources that intense consultations are ongoing between senior government figures to seek a way out of the far too public disagreement, news of which has gone around the world and caused considerable consternation in tourism circles.
However, with other deliberate non tariff barriers still in place in regard for instance on aviation movements, amongst others, pressure will undoubtedly increase from the East African Community head quarters as well as affected other member states to resolve such issues on the fast track to avoid making the regular head of state unity announcements a laughing stock and become ridiculed over their divided stand on such obstacles to unity.