THE COMFORTABLY rustice Seronera Wildlife Lodge on Tanzania's Serengeti Plain stood virtually empty, a silent witness to the prolonged border war between capitalist Kenya and socialist Tanzania. Absent from the lodge were the victims of this so-far bloodless but bitter conflict: the hapless tourists with limited resources and time who had planned and saved for months or years to make the traditional grand tour of East Africa's most famous wildlife parks and scenic attractions.
For while East Africa's diminished but still stately elephant herds, marauding lion prides, and migrating wildebeest still roam freely across the 500 mile border between Kenya and Tanzania, tourists don't. And they won't for the foreseeable future.
Last year, Tanzania closed down its northern border to all Kenyan-licensed vehicles, effectively severing the well-traveled roundtrip game park tour - called "the Milk Run" - operated by Nairobi-based organizations through the major tourist areas of both Kenya and northern Tanzania. Later in the year, Kenya retaliated by closing its air space to most Tanzanian-bound air traffic.
Tanzania closed its border for many complex political and economic reasons, but certainly one was the uneven distribution of the tourist dollar between Kenya and Tanzania.
Most Western tourist, guided by tradition-bound travel agents, flew directly to Nairobi where they bought their safari suits, color film and silly white-hunter hats, and then jumped aboard comfortable Kenyan buses for their pre-paid, pampered tour through both countries. kenya got the big money and most of the foreign exchange credits while Tanzania got the pin money.
To add national insult to economic injury, Kenyan tour operators virtually annexed northern Tanzania to Kenya. "Come to Kenya and see the famed Serengeti and Mt. Kilimanjaro," they cried, not always bothering to mention that both attractions are in northern Tanzania.
"We knew it and used to make a joke about it," recalls E. M. Maryogo, general manager of the Tanzanian Tourist Corporation (TTC). "We said we don't mind giving a little foreign aid to our sister state. If we can give you Kilimanjaro, okay."
But the joke ended in February 1977, when the East African Community, made up of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, fell completely apart. Kenya grounded the jointly-operated East African Airlines and Tanzania barred Kenyan tour operators from within its borders.
"We accepted reality - African unity will be a long time coming," says Maryogo. Even if relations between the two countries improve and the border is opened to most traffic, J. K. Chande, the influential chairman of both the TTC and the fledgling Tanzanian Airlines, vows that tourists wishing to cross into Tanzania from Kenya by surface transportation will be banned or subject to a heavy tax.
According to figures widely circulated in Tanzania to prove the importance of its attractions, about 20 percent of East Africa-bound visitors canceled their safaris altogether when told it no longer would be possible to visit northern Tanzania as part of their Nairobi-originating tour. But figures not so widely circulated in Tanzania also show that tourism in its northern region dropped more than 90 percent immediately after the border closing, suggesting that many more tourists simply came primarily to visit Kenya.
But those of us who love East Africa find it unacceptable for those visiting Kenya to miss the beauty and the beasts of Tanzania's Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. And while you can see Mt. Kilimanjaro from Kenya, you must enter Tanzania to climb it.
There are, or will be, several ways to see both countries for those with the time and money to spend. On April 2, Alitalia will be permitted to operate a weekly flight between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's old coastal capital. At present this flight is the only planned exemption from Kenya's air space ban. So a tourist will be able to tour Kenya and then fly 400 miles Southward to Dar, then double back north 300 air miles by Tanzanian Airlines to the Arusha-centered northern game park area, where adequate ground transportation and tourist accommodations are available.
To see more of the countyside and learn more about how Africa lives, the more adventuresome and hardy tourist should consider taking a train from Dar to Arusha - but only first-or second-class. Third-class on a Tanzanian train simply is not for even the most robust Western tourist. Maryago estimates the round trip by air from Dar to the north will cost about $500, while round-trip train fare will cost less than $50.
The TTC also is trying to encourage more international air carriers to connect directly with Kilimanjaro Airport, beautiful, 5-year-old facility near Arusha. Although the airport was built to international standards, it was used only on a regional basis while the now-defunct East African Airlines operated. Ethiopian Airlines recently established two flights a week into Kilimanjaro from Addis Ababa, and British Airways connects from London via Khartoum once a week. It also is possible to charter a small plane directly from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro.
(Travelers considering a visit to Tanzania should be aware that health officials there are continuing efforts to end the current cholera epidemic, according to a Washington Post correspondent reporting from Dar es Salaam. Officials say the disease is no longer at epidemic levels but on the wane, yet new cases have been reported recently, and travelers driving from Dar es Salaam to Mt. Kilimanjaro in the northern interior have encountered quarantine roadblocks. On the other hand, tourists have been warned not to go to some areas which have been declared safe for months.)
No matter how one flies into Kilimanjaro, round-about air routings and/or a lot of money are involved if a tourist wants to see both Kenya and northern Tanzania. So what of the tourist with limited time and money who must make a choice between Kenya and Tanzania?
A recent evaluation of the major tourist attractions of both countries suggests to me that, except for the finicky and demanding, most tourists would be better off settling on Tanzania. This choice is based primarily on a comparison of wildlife in the two competing countries.
Kenya has a dreadful poaching problem. While the Kenyan government has banned licensed big-game hunting and has ordered curio shops to phase out of business, it has dedicated neither the manpower nor the equipment needed to control illegal commercial poaching for ivory, skins, and, in the tragic case of the black rhinoceros, for the rhino horn that still is used as the main ingredient of a completely worthless love potion in the Far East.
Licensed big-game hunting never accounted for the drastic reduction in Kenya's wild life anyway, and closing Kenya's curio shops won't put a stop to the large-scale illegal export of game trophies, ivory, and rhino horn.
There still is wild game left in Kenya, of course, and the great yearly migration of the wildebeest herd out of the Serengeti Plain into Kenya continues to be one of the most awesome sights in game watching. And no country in the world is more experienced at catering to the creature comforts of effete game watchers than Kenya.
But elephant, lions, cheetah, rhino, leopard and some kinds of monkeys and ungulates are becoming both more and more scarce in Kenya and more wary of human visitors. Even on "protected" park lands, animal parents are teaching their offspring to beware of man.
Tanzania also has some poaching problems, especially in the larger parks such as the Serengeti. But unlike Kenya's Amboseli Park, where the rhino has been poached neerly to extinction, Serengeti still lives up to its deserved reputation. Some of Tanzania's smaller parks, such as Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater; were teeming with seemingly fearless game during a recent tour.
And what more can be said of Mt. Kilimanjaro?
Tanzania's detractors will argue that it is a very poor and very stridently socialistic country which is ill-equipped to handle tourists and isn't even very interested in having Western capitalists polute its marxist atmosphere. That Maryogo and Chande have been put in charge of the TTC mitigates strongly against this notion that socialist Tanzania isn't interested in Western tourists. Both men have proven government records and are close to Tanzanian President Nyerere.
"People have read a lot into our system that is not there," says Maryogo. "We have had contact with Europe for five centuries and even when the Germans were in full control (Tanzania is a former German colony), we survived. It would be stupid to fear 50,000 Americans a year."
Chande, a hardnosed businessman - socialist or not - would like to see tourism move from eighh to fourth place as a source of foreign exchange. To this end he and the TTC are putting together a two-week package tour that would include sidetrips to Zanzibar and neighboring Zambia, where armed guide-escorted "walking safari" feild trips have been developed.
It is true that the do-it-yourself tourist and the camper will run into difficulties trying to outfit in Dar es Salaam or Arusna. There is a shortage of canned and packaged foods, and luxury items, such as color film, either are very expensive or unobtainable. Camping gear is difficult or impossible to buy or rent, except for specific purposes, such as a Kilimanjaro climb. Many camping sites are not well developed. (We were, however, able to bring our own camping equipment into Tanzania without having to pay any fees or excess weight charges.)
Car rentals will be somewhat more expensive in Tanzania than in Kenya, and because the roads are not good and the vehicles costly, self-drive tourists may be required to retain a professional driver more often than they'd like.
But all of Tanzania's shortcomings and general lack of Kenya-style efficiency can be managed with proper planning, especially if the tourist puts himself in the hands of the government and private operators, hotels, and lodges it deals with. The food may not always be spectacular and the lodgings not always grand, but both will be more than adequate. And the tourist may well be gives a more authentic taste of Africa in Tanzania than in more modern Kenya.
It is Africa you want to visit, isn't it?