Enhancing experience of touring majestic Mount Kilimanjaro

18Jan 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Enhancing experience of touring majestic Mount Kilimanjaro

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro using the Machame Route.

After scaling a number of hills, descending into several valleys and surviving the cold weather, while at the same time enjoying the scenery (which is what the Machame Route is best known for), we conquered Stella Point and eventually reached the Uhuru Peak.
When we got there, it was a very exciting experience. Not only were we standing on Africa’s highest point but we were also on top of the world’s highest free-standing mountain.
Much-admired majestic Mount Kilimanjaro is a lot more than just one of the world’s largest volcanoes, and is undeniably a world heritage site.
Although our experience was unforgettable, there were a number of factors that, in our opinion, could be improved upon, this especially with respect to where government interventions and Kilimanjaro National Park’s management are concerned.
Our tour was organised by two young Tanzanian entrepreneurs operating their own company, which is known as Diamond Glacier Adventures.
The guides provide a lot of professional services, at a reasonable cost, in assisting one to get to the summit – this inclusive of guiding, cooking and portering services. Hats off as well to the porters for the heavy loads carried and their efficiency in making food and accommodation available.
It is noteworthy that, currently, there are no government policies supporting companies that provide budget tour packages suitable for Tanzanian and other tourists. In the interest of supporting the growth of the country’s tourism, such companies should be encouraged to develop and thrive through fair taxation rates and other incentives.
Although it is the touring company that carries out the majority of the operations, for which they receive the operating costs fee, the bulk of the cost for the climb is park fees, this including a non-refundable rescue fee.
Since the park fees charged are so high, one would expect more, particularly in terms of the maintenance of facilities available in the park, as well as provision of rescue services.
For one thing, the lack of maintenance for some of the toilet facilities along the route is disheartening. Many of them are too hazardous to use, leading to consideration of alternatives that are a threat to the environment.
Additionally, most camps do not have sitting toilet facilities, which would be the preferred version, given the strain legs and knees take owing to climbing. Such toilets are also very easy to maintain.
Many of the camps are located near rivers with a good supply of water, which means that environmentally friendly flushing sitting toilets can be installed if elevated storage tanks were used to supply these toilets with water and if solar-powered pumps were used to pump water from the river to the tanks.
Secondly, as one goes up or down the mountain, one cannot help noticing a number of stretchers literally thrown in the grass or on the rocks, with no shelter or cover; totally exposed to the vagaries of the weather.
In principle, evacuation services are supposed to be provided by the park’s management, covered by the rescue fee, and the stretchers are supposed to be used by the rescue teams in case there is a need to evacuate an injured or sick climber.
However, strangely, it is the porters of the tour companies that do the evacuations – and they either receive very little from the park’s management for this or they do not get paid anything at all. It behoves the park’s management to compensate the porters appropriately for the rescue services they render on their behalf.
Meanwhile, as we were checking in at the Machame Gate, we took a cursory glance at the register to get an idea of the profile of visitors to Kinapa (Kilimanjaro National Park). My discovery: the vast majority of visitors from the African continent are from South Africa and Kenya.
This made us wonder why, despite the fact that the fees for Tanzanian nationals are reasonably low, very few actually venture out into the park.
We find it very unfortunate that not many Tanzanians and people from elsewhere in the region get exposed to the wonders that are in their own backyards. One reason for this is that there are very few promotional packages directed to or actually meant to benefit locals, with the marketing of such sites being directed to foreigners – living abroad.
There are, however, a number of creative initiatives worth pursuing, besides aggressive and targeted advertising, to get locals to appreciate their natural heritage more.
The President (in this case, Dr John Magufuli and his entire cabinet) should lead Tanzanians by example in appreciating their natural treasures by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro all the way to the summit – Uhuru Peak.
Fortunately, since this cabinet is much smaller than the previous one, the bill to the taxpayer will not be too high for comfort. The added advantage of such a climb is that our leaders will have an opportunity to experience the wonders in Kinapa first hand. With the experience, they would be better placed to make informed decisions about how to improve the park’s services and facilities, much to the benefit and delight of local as well as foreign visitors and climbers.
But according to a Kinapa official stationed at the Machame Gate, permanent residents of the five East African Community partner states carrying foreign passports are treated as non-resident foreigners simply because of their citizenship.
This seems to be at variance with the practice in other EAC partner states (such as Rwanda), where permanent residents are accorded the same status as citizens when travelling to other EAC states.
It is not clear whether this is a case of misinterpretation of the rules by the park official or simply another case of Tanzania being in the EAC with one leg! Clarity from the ministers responsible for EAC issues as well as the Immigration Department will help.
That said, we submit that the number of visitors to Kinapa could rise appreciably if the government were to tap into the market of East African permanent residents carrying foreign passports. Also, a special park fee structure for other EAC permanent residents would surely attract more visitors.
We understand that a former head of the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces, Major General Mirisho Sarakikya used to climb Mount Kilimanjaro every year, even after retiring from the army.
Climbing to the summit can be a good demonstration of being ‘fit for purpose’ for military and police commanders, and this could also lure locals into appreciating the need to see the mountain as much more than merely a tourist attraction and destination presumably for foreigners with loads of spare dollars and other foreign currencies.
It is also high time some of the landmarks on the route were given names that reflect Tanzania’s own heritage. Example: why not Nyerere Point or Sokoine Point instead of Stella Point and Gillman’s Point?
Our Mount Kilimanjaro climb was a thoroughly fulfilling experience that should be enjoyed by millions more people from near and far. The Tanzanian Government, in collaboration with the Kinapa management, has every possibility of achieving this by improving the services and facilities on the Machame Route and encouraging Tanzanian nationals to appreciate and experience the mountain’s majesty more.
• The authors were born in Tanzanian and now live in Kigali, Rwanda. Petrida is a senior lecturer at the Kigali campus of Mount Kenya University and Nelson is Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research at the University of Rwanda. However, they have written this article in their personal capacity and exclusively for The Guardian.

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