(eTN) – East African cooperation is once again being put under the microscope over the Kenyan government’s plans to begin the planning for an international airport near the Tanzanian border at Taveta. Legislators in Tanzania and the business community there have pointed out that only a few miles across the common border with Kenya is the Kilimanjaro International Airport, which meets all the requirements the Kenyan planners have listed for their own new planned aviation facility, except of course that it is across the border.
While aviation analysts have expressed doubts that the planned airport would be viable – pointing to Eldoret International Airport as a “white elephant” example, they nevertheless concede that Kenya might be tempted to go ahead and build it anyway, subject, of course, to finding the money first, as access to JRO from the Kenyan side is often described as “cumbersome, full of bureaucratic red tape, and hostile to the Kenyan business community.”
Ideally, considering the noble ideals of the East African Community (EAC), such facilities as international airports, especially when so close to the common border, ought to be shared, but the border crossing by road into Tanzania, as witnessed on occasions by this correspondent, is far from welcoming and embracing “brothers and sisters from across the borders.” It often gives the impression that border officials would rather wish to keep them out than let them in. It is, therefore, here that the Tanzanian government needs to create confidence and make not just verbal overtures but change the mindset and reality on the ground, to have for instance flower growers and agro-businesses from the Kenyan side of the border truck their produce into Kilimanjaro International for shipment to producer markets rather than opting for the much longer road access to the international airports in Nairobi or Mombasa.
Using language like “economic sabotage” and “declaring total opposition” – introduced in “resolutions” by a parliamentary committee led by former prime minister Lowassa, is, however, not a smart move, bringing to the forefront age-old sentiments once more, instead of promoting JRO as a “win-win” situation for both countries, with equal give and take on both sides. However, the concept of a “smart partnership” is very likely alien to the breed of politicians involved in the campaign, few of whom understand “win-win” but readily accept “I take, you give” as a maxim in bilateral relations.
Maybe taking a step back and objectively outlining the pros and cons of such a project and the pros and cons of using JRO instead will do some good, including bringing a new team on board to negotiate an agreement of free access by the Kenyan business community in regard of transit arrangements and then maybe the creation of a “free port zone” extending from the border to the airport, while at the same time also granting airlines AND passengers concessions wishing to use JRO to land tourists destined for cross border destinations in Kenya, i.e., having visa-free passage, until the long talked about and never materialized common East African tourist visa comes into being.
Much can be achieved by using each others’ respective assets and strengths, rather than wallowing in outdated sentiments going back to the command economy days when the private sector counted for little more than paying taxes and raising campaign contributions or giving jobs to those who came “highly recommended.” Today, the private sector is the engine of economic development and the creation of wealth for the people, and its demands, requests, and recommendations, like in the case of a possible cooperation between Tanzania and Kenya on the issue of one or two airports within a couple of miles, will go a long way to tell government planners and politicians which route to take.
Let it not be another dead-end avenue both sides are walking down separately, instead of walking hand in hand along the avenue of mutual and joint success.