Why do Kenya and Tanzania bicker?

Two things happened on August 1.

It was the first anniversary of a gift of peacocks donated by Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli to his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta.

Then Tanzanian High Commissioner to Kenya Pindi Chana said the flamboyant birds signaled “brotherhood” and love.

But Saturday was also the day Tanzania and Kenya were haggling over approvals for Kenya Airways flights.

On Friday, Dar had said it was rescinding approvals for 14 weekly flights from KQ, after Nairobi insisted all passengers from Tanzania must be quarantined upon landing in Nairobi.

Kenya’s argument has been that Tanzania and a number of other countries have a risky Covid-19 profile. Dar has not published testing results since May and whether Covid-19 exists in Tanzania is uncertain.

But Tanzania has always been swift to retaliate against anyone who doubts its story.

In May, Washington warned Americans of an “extremely high” chance of Covid-19 in Dar es Salaam. Dar immediately refuted this and declared the country free of the virus a month later.


In June, Kenya’s demand to retest Tanzania truck drivers was met with a ban on Kenyan drivers on Tanzanian soil. Last week, Tanzania, again, cancelled KQ’s landing rights in Arusha, Dar es salaam and Zanzibar, on “reciprocal basis.”

“Coronavirus has opened old wounds which were slowly healing, this time triggered by different approaches to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Peter Mwencha, CEO of the International Relations Society of Kenya told the Nation.

“It has also exacerbated an already existing mistrust and the fear is that it will erode some of the gains made with regards to free movement within the EAC region.”

But he argued there was nothing unusual about what Kenya did in following protocols established by the World Health Organization to prevent spread of the coronavirus, which require restrictions on movement.

Some observers think issues between the two countries have often been left to non-diplomats.

“The recent frequent diplomatic spats and an on and off relationship with Tanzania do not augur well for our foreign policy and national economy. We need to do better going forward,” a senior foreign service official told the Nation.

“It is imperative that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a department with experts on foreign policy so that before any action is taken by any government ministry, or any statement is issued by any government functionary that could have impact on any neighbour, there is vetting by the experts.”

The official cannot be identified in this report as he is not authorised to speak publicly.


In Kenya, Tanzania, being a member of the East African Community, is often handled through the ministry responsible for EAC affairs.

Since the Mwai Kibaki years, that has been an independent ministry, but whether that has contributed to lukewarm administration of issues is debatable.

When Hamza Johari, the Director-General of the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority, announced the ban on KQ flights last week, he admitted in a letter to Kenya Airways that his office was retaliating to a Kenyan decision it had only heard in the media.

“The United Republic of Tanzania has noted, through a number of media, its exclusion in the list of countries whose people will be allowed to travel into Kenya effective August 1, the date that the Republic of Kenya will open its sky for international commercial passenger flights,” he said.


This wasn’t the first time the two countries repaid each other in the same coin.

In June, Kenyan banned Tanzanian truck drivers unless they retook Covid-19 tests on the Kenyan side. Tanzania responded by banning Kenya trucks altogether. The issue was resolved after talks.

Tanzania’s local administrators directed the retaliation but it was diplomats who ironed out the differences.

In March 2016, Kenya’s Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter found himself detained at the Port of Tanga after Tanzanian officials claimed he had entered the country illegally.

Mr Keter had accompanied Ugandan officials on a tour of the Port as both Kenya and Tanzania tried to lure Kampala to buy into their proposed pipeline.

The tour had been arranged to seek an amicable solution for the three countries but the seizure of Mr Keter’s passport only led to a diplomatic protest from Nairobi.

Last week, both Kenya and Tanzania downplayed the incident where a plane carrying the official delegation, led by Senator Samuel Poghisio, to Benjamin Mkapa’s funeral turned back to Kenya.

But the variation in the explanation, between Dar (weather) and Nairobi (technical problems), fueled suspicions of broken relations.


In March 2015, Tanzania cut Kenya Airways flights from 42 to 14 per week, after Dar retaliated against Kenya’s ban on Tanzanian tour vans entering its airports.

The two sides have a Bilateral Air Services Agreement, but certain issues remain unresolved.

In October 2017, Tanzania confiscated 1,325 head of cattle from Kenyan herders after they were found grazing on Tanzanian soil. They were auctioned. Kenya would later recompense the herders.

In November 2017; Tanzania burned 6400 chicks worth Sh577, 000 which had been impounded at Namanga Border Post before they were burnt on Tuesday.

At the time, Tom Amolo, the Political and Diplomatic Secretary, wrote a protest letter to Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Kenya Dr Pindi Hazara Chana, who has since been replaced by Dr John Simbachawene on “a policy shift that condones hostile actions against Kenyan citizens and their businesses”.

In February 2018, Tanzania burnt another 5,000 day-old chicks “illegally” imported through the northern Namanga border with Kenya.

On both occasions, Dar said it was preventing bird flu but there had been no confirmed case in Kenya.

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