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The government yesterday scoffed at claims by a Kenyan minister that Tanzania has withdrawn from the East African single tourist visa arrangement.
In an exclusive interview with The Citizen, a senior official at the Foreign Affairs ministry said the government was ‘surprised’ by the recent remarks because Tanzania was ‘never part of the deal in the first place.’
‘It is absurd to suggest that Tanzania has withdrawn from the arrangement because it has never been a part to it,’ said Mr Benard Haule, the ministry’s acting director of Trade, Investment and Productive Sectors. ‘We have not joined the three countries (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) in the arrangement because we are losing nothing from not being part of it,’ he said.
The heads of state from the three countries launched the single tourism visa in February 2014 under the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Projects.
The idea is to allow tourists to move freely within Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda without applying or paying for another visa. Kenya’s Tourism minister Najib Balala was recently quoted in the media as saying Tanzania had decided to withdraw from the common visa plan because it was not satisfied with the ratification process.
However, Mr Haule said Tanzania was still waiting for recommendations from a committee formed by the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat before making a decision on whether to join or not.
He said the current single tourist visa was being issued by the three countries, which formed the so-called ‘Coalition of the Willing’. Tanzania has ‘no legal obligation’ to join the the group in issuing a common tourist visa, he noted.
Mr Haule said the EAC secretariat had considered some challenges and agreed that if they were not sorted out, they would hinder the implementation of the plan. ‘The secretariat suggested a well-organised framework and proper infrastructure to support the common visa plan. This is yet to be sorted out to ensure the sovereignty of member states is not compromised.’
He explained the need for ‘a specific formula’ of sharing income from visa fees. He also expressed security concerns arguing that the common visa idea ‘is not about money’. Tanzania could have been compelled to abide by the common visa arrangement if the process was a result of negotiations within the framework of the regional bloc, Mr Haule said. But this is not the case.
‘If it were something which the region had agreed, we would have made a decision, but this is an agreement by individual regional members.’
According to him, Tanzania is not refusing to join the other EAC members, but wants assurance its security will not be jeopardised if a decision to admit foreigners within its border is made by another country.
Tourism and Natural Resources minister Prof Jumanne Magembe also told The Citizen remarks by the Kenyan minister were misplaced because Tanzania had not signed in .
‘It should be clear that we have never been there so the (Kenyan minister’s remarks) should be ignored,’ he said.
Tourism stakeholders back the government’s stance saying national interest is at stake.
Mr Richard Rugimbana, executive secretary of the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania (TCT), said there was no need to rush the decision.
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda charge $100 (Sh215,000) for single tourist visa while Tanzania pegged its fees at $150 (Sh322,500). Local stakeholders say this does not affect the flow of tourists to the country.
Ms Lathifa Skyes, chief executive officer of the Hotels Association of Tanzania, said tourists normally use their personal experiences to choose their destination. A business analyst who asked for anonymity said the current agreement among the three is tilted in favour of Kenya.
‘Uganda is actually thinking on the possibility to signing out. The agreement benefits Kenya’s economy more, this is why they have been pushing other member states,’ he said.
Copyright 2016 actualité africaine