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20 years later, the EAC is still limping!

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By Godwin Agaba

In 1993, the then presidents of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania set a Herculean task for themselves; revive the East African Community (EAC). All was pomp at the ceremony to reactivate the Community in Arusha, Tanzania, the Permanent Secretariat, and East Africans were once again going to enjoy their relations, with the movement of goods, labour and services across the three countries restored to normalcy.

Many of the people in the region believed in the revival of this super structure, deemed to be the central pillar of development in the EA region.

But alas! Something seems not to be functional. I am born in Uganda, but a US citizen and, as a career journalist, have a reasonably good understanding of the region, one with entwined multi ethnicities, straddling across the three original members, but that has come to encase other countries: Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, and possibly Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in future.

Anyhow, armed with such knowledge, in December last year, I set off from the US for a working trip to the region, one that would take me to Zanzibar and Kenya, and finally a visit to my country of birth, Uganda.

Inevitably then, a Single Tourist Visa (STV) was the preferred instrument of travel, since it carries all the vital components of a successful visit to the region, or so I thought!

And this was to be splashed as soon as I touched down at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Tanzania, when I was told that the STV I was carrying was ineffective in that country, that is home to the EAC secretariat. Indeed, I was told that the country was reluctant to join the STV regime on grounds that the other members of the bloc had failed to address the security and financial implications of the scheme. I was set aback on hearing the excuse that set me back by $100, and one that would eventually see me pay $250 in ‘visa fees’, for a trip that would ordinarily have cost me $100 altogether, if the STV regime was working in all EAC countries.

“You will pay $100 for the visa here, just like you paid for the STV,” an official at the airport in Tanzania told me, be I was once again asked to pat $50 as a fee for an American entering Tanzania. Something was not adding, but I had to pay!

Inevitably, it became apparent that the trip was not only getting more expensive, but that it was also becoming a ‘learning curve’, in respect to several issues in the region, especially in terms tourism and security. It was also probably an eye opener to corruption in the region, in some instances, in full glare!

Dar es Salaam International Airport Confusion 

Most airlines, for purposes of traveler comfort and convenience, sell airplane seat numbers. That is standard practice and I paid for one on Air Tanzania, the national carrier. But authorities at Julius Nyerere International Airport had other ideas, they therefore, changed my seat number (paid for) before telling me their operator doesn’t sell seats. Calm and confident, I showed them my ticket and they admitted their fault and reversed their decision. Then it came my luggage; I was told that it was 40 kilos in excess, never mind that the same company had weighed my luggage from the other destination and didn’t notify me of the supposed anomaly, if any!

Tourists in paje beach zanzibar kitesurfing 


This, coupled with being told that the 90-day STV I was carrying had expired just because I visited Tanzania before Uganda, was another setback, for want of factual information, something I had checked out with an embassy official of one of the bloc members in the US. Anyhow, I had to part with another $50, but was left wondering why information flow among member countries of the EAC is not shared, to enable travelers, mostly tourists, to get the best treatment at a cost that will even attract more to an enterprise that is worth billions of dollars!

Security

Tourism is a vastly growing business in the EAC region, bringing in billions from the habituated and conserved environs, something that should ideally be a ‘shared value’, strong enough bond to attract even the ‘reluctant’ Tanzania to join the STV regime. In fact, an STV regime that includes Tanzania can be of the solutions to establish a Single Currency, a very huge pillar in advancing the progress made by the EAC over the past 20 plus years, as envisaged by the three founding fathers, only one of who is still alive – Museveni of Uganda.  The other two, Arap Moi and Benjamin Mkapa, died in 2020, both before failing to witness any of the core ratification of the EAC political federation!

Paje hotels 


Zanzibar is one of the best tourist destinations in the world, but security arrangements in the place can get scary, more so given the upsurge of terror activities.  Firstly, the place is abuzz with all kinds of people, but operators of the place of abode, in some cases, do not bother to check the documentation of individuals, am one of them that arrived at night and was booked into a hotel, stayed for six days without anyone verifying my documents, yet I had booked online! Other people I asked about the seeming anomaly told me they had spent months without verification of their documents. Asked by the hotel, I expressed my opinion and poorly rated the hotel, one called Drifters in Paje, Zanzibar, sending its European based owner in a fury, expressed through an email he sent me.

And lastly, the prices in Zanzibar are seemingly in favour of the Caucasian, with many Africans left unhappy.

Godwin Agaba is a Ugandan-American who lives in Ohio / US. 

goddieonly@gmail.com

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