(eTN) – Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, attended a meeting last weekend of the Kilimanjaro Tour Operators Association in Moshi to interact with the private sector and get first-hand information on grievances voiced by members. Notably, association members denounced non-member companies, which they claimed were often not even properly registered, for siphoning revenue from government while overpricing services compared to indigenous operators.
Accusations were flying high and wild that private homes were used to accommodate overseas visitors who were then taken on safaris or for mountain climbing, posing them as friends, and that no tax or license fees were ever paid for such operations. Also accused were foreigners for occupying many well-paying jobs, while in the words of an official, reported back to this correspondent verbatim “leaving majority of Tanzanians working as sweepers” – a sign how deeply rooted the antipathy against foreigners now is in the country and how often reality for investors changes after their projects are matured.
Other contributions at the event blamed “marriages of convenience” with Tanzanian women for the sake of obtaining legal residency and being able to do business, while yet others demanded that “these operators must be stopped from being tour operators and tour guides, and they should employ us.” The Director of Tourism, reportedly present at the meeting, then added fuel to the fire when he said that in the absence of the free movement of labor within the East African Community being implemented, the sidelining of local labor was not acceptable, a rare open insight into the real thoughts of officials when it comes to regional integration.
More sober-minded members, however, asked the minister to put better training facilities in place to provide skills and competence to Tanzanians aspiring to advance their careers and allow them to move from menial jobs to greater heights. The minister in his response was reported to have assured those present of government’s attention to their problems and encourage them to seek dialogue with official bodies and other private sector organizations to resolve pending problems or voice their concerns. He also insisted on compliance with licensing requirements for anyone doing business in the tourism sector and paying taxes on the incomes accrued from such activities.
Then, however, either through an inept briefing paper or by his already notorious “shooting from the hip,” the Minister grossly misspoke when he was quoted to have said that while Mauritius and Seychelles were lacking the volume of natural resources compared with Tanzania, Seychelles had 4.5 million visitors a year compared to tourists coming to Tanzania numbering only 800,000. To put the fact right, the Seychelles, with a population of just about 87,000 and a country with more than 50 percent of its territory dedicated to conservation, has about 200,000 tourist arrivals per annum.
Tanzania is celebrating the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain on December 9 and hopes to use the celebrations to attract global attention to its tourism attractions, however overshadowed by ongoing controversies over dissecting national parks with highways, by mining and by other “development projects” incompatible with the concept of conservation. This negative publicity has largely neutralized the promotional efforts to market the country and cast lasting doubts over any assurances by government officials vis-a-vis conservation, when reality on the ground tells a different story.