In Summary

Yet, we have in the past had arguments about, between the two countries, who “owns” the wildebeest.

Two weeks ago Kenya confirmed the December ban it had slapped on Tanzania tour vans operating between Arusha and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

The Kenya decision was a blow to Tanzanian tourism, with the Daily Nation reporting that nearly 300,000 travellers from Tanzania use JKIA to access different destinations annually.

Fortunately, the two sides have met and are now talking to resolve the dispute.

This was not a dispute over tourism vehicles. It was about tourists.

Like most other tourism in Africa, Kenyan and Tanzanian tourism is based on things Kenyans or Tanzanians didn’t make – mountains, beaches, landscapes and, particularly, wild animals in the parks.

In the same way, neither Rwanda nor Uganda bred the Mountain Gorillas on which their tourism is so dependent.

These land features and animals were created by nature or, if you are the prayerful type, by the good Lord. That Kenya and Tanzania are where they are today is, in turn, because they won the lotteries of history and geography. So, again, there is no Kenyan alive or who is long dead, who had anything to do with the wildebeest migrations in the Maasai Mara.

Yet, we have in the past had arguments about, between the two countries, who “owns” the wildebeest.

People talk of the “oil curse.” I think we have a “tourism curse.”

I fear things we didn’t create or make, because they are the biggest source of conflicts in our societies even at the village level.

In East Africa, the biggest source of conflict in the rural areas – and murder – in most rural areas is land – which we didn’t make. Or pasture – which we didn’t plant. Or drinking wells – which we didn’t dig.

No Tanzanians will lay claim to or begrudge Safaricom because of its success, because it is something the Kenyans built.

The danger with the things God or nature created, is that if you eliminate rivals you can inherit or take them over. If you chase a peasant from his land, you can farm it and get a generous harvest.

If you kill your neighbour and his cows over a well and pasture, your animals will have more water and grass to them, grow fatter, and sell for more at the market.

If you killed the local pot maker in the neighbourhood, you can’t take over his trade unless you are talented. Soon you will have no pots.

In 1972 Uganda’s military dictator Gen Idi Amin expelled the Asian community in the country, seized their businesses, and gave them to the “natives”. Within five years all of them had collapsed, and the economy was a wreck.

Likewise I have watched many films in which a powerful king kills a man for his beautiful wife, and then runs mad because the woman cannot love him. You bring out love with a sword.

Fighting over things we won in a nature lottery is actually a sign of failure. At least the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. Us, we are caught in going to tourism fairs abroad to promote caves, lakes, monkeys, rhinos, and volcanoes that we are even too lazy to properly study where they came from.

It takes our energies away from being innovative. Innovation gets us to think of other people either as potential collaborators, or as a market. We become vested in their prosperity and good health.

Recently I visited a big firm in Nairobi. The traffic was terrible getting there. After the meeting, the chief took me to the window and showed me a plot opposite for which the developer had paid hundreds of millions of shillings for and was going to build a tall office block.

I thought he was going to complain about the construction noise, or that his wonderful view would be blocked, or about how the traffic would get worse. No. To him a big new building was coming was proof that the Kenya economy was still in good health. The workers who would be employed in the offices there, would be new customers for his products.

If he were ferrying people to the park to look at elephants and lions, he would see the complex across the road as a dangerous competition to be blocked. Sometimes I think the best thing that can happen to East Africa is for us to wake up one morning, to find that all the animals in the parks had flown away in the night.

The author is editor of Mail & Guardian Africa. Twitter:@cobbo3