A few days ago I had the good fortune of having a work assignment in Dar es Salaam. We deplaned from our national carrier Kenya Airways, which had departed 3 minutes earlier than scheduled making for an impressive on time arrival contrary to its much-maligned reputation. Waiting for us, just past the air bridge, we found three plastic gloved ladies standing next to an Ebola screening poster. Lo and behold, they were not waving a magic temperature wand like their Kigali counterparts despite the starkly present ebola visual aid reminders. The polite ladies were only interested in seeing our pale and well-worn yellow fever certificates. It was as if the certificates would magically illustrate whatever tortuous journey each passenger had endured in the last three months. As we descended into the bowels of the immigration hall, we found two long wooden counters with little cubbyholes in which immigration forms sat askew. A sign very clearly indicated: ” Tanzanians and residents don’t need to fill out these forms”. Righto, the rest of us non-entities blithely filled ours out and stood in line. Because Tanzania is a member of the Coalition of the Unwilling, there was no separate line for East African Community residents, but I’m tired of singing this song. I frankly think that in the immigration hall at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport we should put a sign that says EAC and COMESA citizens EXCEPT Tanzanians. Oh I forget that Tanzania is not a member of COMESA. Anyway I got to a grim faced immigration official who didn’t even crack a smile at my killer of a charming grin. “Vipi kaka?” I try the local lingo. He mumbles something in response and thrusts the blue immigration form back at me ……”Tia sahihi” (Append your signature). At least he’s speaking Swahili to me.
As I exit the arrivals terminal I see a brand spanking new building named “VIP Terminal 2”. Joshua, my taxi driver, says I should have used it since I have a diplomatic passport. I look confused. It turns out that he mistook my powder blue colored East African passport for a diplomatic one. I quickly set his disabused notions right. But the surprises don’t end there. Driving out of the airport, I see a huge construction project in the airport vicinity. I ask Joshua what it is.
“Nkt…..tunajenga terminal 3 na barabara hatuna. Mwenye kuturoga akafa. Kama angekuwa hai tungeenda kumuomba msamaha.” (We are building terminal 3 yet we don’t have roads. Whoever has bewitched us has died. If he were alive we would have gone to beg him for forgiveness) I almost fell out of the taxi laughing. I loved Joshua’s righteous indignation as it made him a true East African citizen. What I particularly found interesting was that the Tanzanian government, which ran the national carrier Air Tanzania aground, would have the temerity to build another terminal with no national carrier to provide the requisite passenger flows. Anger at the misplaced priorities of our national governments can galvanize the East African citizenry into a Coalition of the Indignant.
We got on the highway headed to the Dar CBD. Within minutes Joshua quickly got off the road as a Nissan pathfinder with the letters “MP” emblazoned on the sides and a loud siren whooshed by. I’m just about to get peeved that Tanzanian members of parliament drive cars with sirens, when I see 3 Four Wheelers following in quick succession following. Turns out that it was a military honcho who was being given way. I exclaim utter Kenyan shock, why should we move off the road for a military honcho? Joshua response: we have respect here for military folks, but if a citizen wants to get to airport fast he or she just needs to call the police and pay 200,000 TZ shillings (Kes 11,000) to get a police motorcycle escort. Pardon? Joshua said he had done it several times when he had guests who were running late and needed to get to the Dar airport despite the legendary Dar traffic jams. There is a reason why we are the East African Community that goes beyond common borders and common colonial histories. Our cultures are not dissimilar and, sadly, white elephant infrastructure projects, pompous officials with a need to declare their nuisance presence on the roads and an inability to adequately prepare for with a medical crisis like Ebola are par for the course amongst the East African Community members.
Having said that, it bears noting that the rate of economic growth in this part of the world is exciting to external investors. A number of the people that I was on the flight with from Nairobi ended up staying at the same hotel as I. The Serena group of hotels has successfully taken a plum place as the hotel of choice for the East African business traveller and I never cease to marvel at the number of Kenyans I always find at any of the Serena properties in Kampala, Kigali and Dar. The Dar Serena was full this particular week, with all kinds of business people from various countries around the world and I found a number of Kenyan businessmen closing opportunities in the retail and energy sectors. There were also a number of training activities happening at the hotel driven by Kenyan organizations. Much as the Tanzanians are anecdotally wary of the Kenyan capitalist onslaught, it is apparent to the uneducated eye that removing trade and labor barriers is the last mile for an already burgeoning cross border relationship. After all, we are already joined at the hip in our mutual distrust of Serikali!