Kenya and Regional Integration

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Kenya and Tanzania have been experiencing frosty relationships in the last few months. These events came to the fore when tour van operators from Tanzania were denied access to Kenyan Airports to collect tourists and also entry into the Kenyan National Parks. This situation then skyrocketed last week when Kenya Airways – the national carrier, was restricted as to the number of frequencies they could use the Tanzanian airspace. This being as a result of the Kenya Civil Aviation’s reluctance to allow Tanzanian operated low cost carrier, EasyJet entry to operate Kenya.

Also, still on the matter of regional integration, a parliamentary committee has been investigating circumstances in which the national carrier did not heed requests by the Ugandan President HE Museveni to pick him up from his rural home for the East African Heads of States meeting in Nairobi. The Ugandan President had to use Ethiopian Airways.
It is to be expected neighboring countries should have differences on various matters but it has been the way that this differences are being handled that is worrying. Kenya had a cabinet secretary in charge of East African Community and I presume the various East African members have a ministry or a docket in charge of EAC. Despite this and the fact that we have the East African Community Headquarters based in Arusha, these disputes have skyrocketed to the highest institutions of the land – the presidency.

This dispute which arose as a result of Kenya Civil Aviation’s refusing to grant or taking its time in allowing the Tanzanian operated EasyJet the greenlight to operate in Kenya obviously has many elements involved but it is primarily it has economic undertones. Kenya Civil Aviation can be argued has been trying to protect the monopoly of Kenya Airways whose bread has been buttered in offering expensive flights across the region. Also, the entry of EasyJet in to the country would mean the competition to JamboJet ‘the low cost carrier’ operated by Kenya airways. Although, JamboJet is offers cheaper flights the entry of EasyJet would knock them off the market since they are substantially expensive compared to EasyJet. This is to be expected since this is not entirely a new airline on its own but rather a subsidiary of a main airline trying to fill in a gap.

The economics of this aside, what begs is as a community shouldn’t there be better channels in which disputes at a regional level can be solved apart from the presidency level. Or shouldn’t there be a body at EAC that looks at the interests of the community as opposed to the interests of the respective countries? I am a Kenyan and I would very much wish to see the entry of EasyJet into the country because this would result to substantially cheaper flights in the region. Cheaper flights mean more Kenyans will have a chance of visiting their brothers and sisters in the EAC region and by in turn result to more regional integration. However, chief executives with a bottom line to look after are opposed to entry of low cost airlines in the region and in turn lobby to influence decisions that are to their advantage.

In the case of tour operators from Tanzania being denied access to collect tourists from Kenyan Airports and entry into Kenyan National Parks – I totally see no logic in denying the Tanzanian’s entry to our airport and National Parks and basing this on a 1984 agreement. I think it is time the EAC institutions made themselves relevant by addressing such wrangles and also having the foresight to detect this in due time and prevent them from happening.

I would be interested in knowing the views of other young leaders on the above matters and of any other issue that has not come to the fore but might be a problem in the near future for East African Community member states.

The author of this piece is a blogger and a cultural practitioner in Nairobi. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES