ON July 27, this year, the government of Kenya announced that it would open its airspace for international passenger flights after months of lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
It was indeed good news for the regional players who are members of the East African Community (EAC) like Tanzania which had already lifted the lockdown to allow flights from the region and beyond to land at its airports since May 18, this year.
However, to the surprise of many people, the government of Kenya through its Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Mr James Macharia, announced a list of 16 countries whose citizens will be allowed to land in its territory without having to be quarantined.
The EAC bloc is made of six countries but only Rwanda and Uganda were included in that list whilst Tanzania, the next-door neighbour of Kenya and among founding members of the region grouping, was not included in that list.
To that effect, all passengers travelling from Tanzania to Kenya are subjected to 14-day mandatory quarantine. The same measure applies for travellers from Burundi and South Sudan wishing to fly to Kenya.
After the decision by the government of Kenya, Tanzania acted swiftly last Friday and announced cancellation of all flights operated by the Kenya’s flag carrier, Kenya Airways or KQ as its codenamed, until further notice.
The Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCCA) through its Director General, Mr Hamza Johari, was categorical in his statement that the government of Tanzania had no option but to act on reciprocal basis.
As such, all flights operated by KQ would not be allowed to fly from Kenya to land at the Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) or Abeid Karume International Airport in Zanzibar with effect from August 1, 2020, until further notice.
Players in the aviation and tourism industry have expressed concerns that the move by Kenya not to include Tanzania among the list of what Nairobi describes ‘safe-list’ is not healthy and against the spirit of the East African Community.
The other concern is that why truck drivers from Tanzania are allowed to cross via Namanga, Holili, Taveta and Horohoro to Kenya after testing negative at border points and yet impose stringent requirements for travellers using air transport.
The truck drivers were previously denied entry to Kenya until negotiations were held by responsible ministers, after which they were allowed to make their way into that country.
Yet, all travellers from Kenya, other EAC member states and beyond, wishing to use any form of transport are neither restricted to enter Tanzania nor imposed with mandatory quarantine.
Tourism for instance, is a cash-cow for both Tanzania and Kenya and it has suffered setback caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In that case, imposing such restrictions will only worsen the sector which employs many people directly and indirectly.
It is with hope that the government of Kenya will consider that reality and many other factors of good neighourhood to revisit its decision and all flights from Tanzania to land without having to require them to be quarantined for 14 days.
According to industry players, the quarantine will not only make flights from Tanzania to Kenya unattractive but also add significant costs for business persons and tourists using the route which is one of the busiest in the region.
It is nevertheless promising that the Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary revealed that he had had a virtual meeting with his Tanzanian counterpart, Engineer Isack Kamwelwe, to sort out the issue for the benefit of the two neighbouring countries.
On his part, Eng Kamwelwe was quoted by local media that the two officials are scheduled to meet on Tuesday (August 4, 2020) to establish the justification by the government of Kenya to subject travellers from Tanzania to the 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
KQ and Ethiopian Airlines are among major players in the aviation industry in the region and as such any disruption of flights in the region will add more salt to the wound given the already adverse effects for the industry caused by Covid-19.
From Dar-es Salaam, for instance, KQ used to make international flights to Accra (Ghana), London (United Kingdom), Guangzhou (China), Paris (France), Lusaka (Zambia), among many other regional and global destinations.
This is not the first time that Kenya has imposed restrictions on Tanzanians. It is on record that Nairobi had in the past banned all shuttle buses from Tanzania, mainly Arusha, to access the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). The matter was later resolved through diplomatic channels.
The EAC Business Council (EABC) has already expressed concerns over the matter and appealed to leaders of the two countries to find an amicable solution to address the stand-off and ensure resumption of international flights in the region.
The Chief Executive of EABC, Mr Peter Mathuki, was concerned that the stalemate will undesirably affect the recovery of business and tourism industry in the region.
Available data by the EAC Trade and Investment Report indicate that the volume of intra-trade within the regional bloc stood at US 5.98 billion dollars in 2018.
On the other hand, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the bloc is projecting loss of revenues in the regional grouping this year owing to decline of backpackers and passengers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
As such, players in the industry are highly optimistic that the issues will be sorted out if and when Tanzanians and other travellers using its airspace will be allowed to travel to Kenya without having being subjected to the 14-day mandatory quarantine.
It is without doubt that exclusion of such stringent measure by Nairobi will boost inter-regional trade and strengthen bi-lateral relations between the two brotherly countries.