Travelling to Zanzibar two weeks ago, I bumped into a Belgian couple with whom we struck a conversation.
They have saved for five years in order to make a five-month four country holiday across Africa that began in Egypt, on to Ethiopia, Uganda, then into Tanzania before concluding their trip in Malawi this month.
The couple made me understand that their travels across Tanzania had left them with mixed emotions principally because, virtually everyone they had met was somehow trying to make an extra buck from them.
When the boat to Zanzibar is gliding along smoothly in the turquoise blue waters of the Indian Ocean and the turbulence is negligible, you can have a real conversation as you look around with the gentle waves bobbing the vessel up and down in a move that can rock one to beautiful sleep.
Our Belgian couple, however, were reeling from being robbed of their phone in Moshi and then the police to whom they reported extorting money from them before a Rastaman, yes, a man with Rasta waltzed outside their hotel to assure them he knew exactly where and who had the phone the next morning.
My mission in Zanzibar was to attend to the closing ceremony of Best Dialogue – a project that was closing shop after 15 years of working in advocacy towards improving the doing business environment in Tanzania. Here I was getting roasted albeit politely by our tourist couple whose barrage of questions had me play Tourism and Internal Security Minister all in one go, apologizing profusely for the errant ways of our thieves and, er, cash-not-trigger-happy, policemen.
To Hamisi Kigwangalla the couple had this to say and I paraphrase. “Why is Tanzania such an expensive destination? We have been to Ethiopia and Uganda we went to the National Park for three days of a game drive. What it cost us for the three days all expenses inclusive could not take us into the Serengeti National Park for one night, why? How come we do not have public transport in Tanzania where there is a higher charge but without harassment where one can travel in peace while meeting and mingling with ordinary Tanzanians?” They asked adding that, their experience at Ubungo, Moshi and Arusha bus terminals were rather nauseating.
Tamely, I argued that even we locals go through harassment by the so-called agents at Ubungo and all those bus parks. It’s a condition of our people, I added.
To Kangi Lugola this is what they asked: Why did the policemen in Mosh ask us for money in order to report a crime?
Why is it that the policemen know that Rastman and the drug-sniffing accomplishes use the railways area as hide-out where they run after committing crimes in Moshi but they do nothing about it? The police lied to us that the Belgian Embassy would return our phone but nothing like that happened.
I am reminded of these incidents because of the doing business environment in Tanzania which indeed is challenging enough. As the couple said they paid all expenses back in Belgium and did not expect to have demands of payment from porters and the like.
Like Julia Bishop a tourism investor in Zanzibar said to me, it is likely that like Hon Kigwangala argues, our Belgian couple are not the tourist that Tanzania is targeting.
Fair enough but the couple themselves argue that if we want the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world we have to remember that they are not that many and that our teacher and social worker couple may be tomorrows’ Mr Zuckerberg. If that were to be the case, they probably would never want to visit Tanzania again because of these nasty experiences.
As Richard Rugimbana so aptly reminded us tree weeks ago in Dodoma, tourists do not go back to their homes with the elephants, our beaches or the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro.
“What they take back is the experience they have had at the hotel, in the bus stops, at Immigration and everywhere else. It’s the impression which remains with them and they go away with. If they are wowed they will tell their stories to others and if not-your guess is as good as mine.