Tanzania: The Tourism Ambassador Debate

Tanzania was recently dragged willy-nilly into a debate on social media on whether or not it was prudent to name a foreigner as the country’s goodwill tourism ambassador.

In this matter, Tanzania is not alone. Social media platforms in Kenya have likewise been immersed in debate after the English model, actress and businesswoman Naomi Elaine Campbell, 50, was named Kenya’s international tourism ambassador.

Thanks to the power of social media, these two events have seen to every Tom, Dick and Harry wade into the debate with comments, ideographic emojis and what have you!

Years ago, the phrase Hakuna Matata – roughly Kiswahili for ‘there are no troubles, worries…’ – was virtually patented via the 1994 Disney movie The Lion King, connoting that one should not worry about things outside/beyond one’s control.

But, how many people know that the phrase originated on the East African coast, pray?

Social media has enabled live comments from anyone – leading to situations where little thought-out personal opinions can distort even sensitive issues from the reality.

There is a saying among the Luo of East Africa that when a mongoose catches and makes a meal of one’s chickens, one should not only blame the mongoose, but also the chickens for straying too deep in the forest where their safety cannot be guaranteed.

The Kenya and Tanzania governments must, therefore, share the blame for failing to fully and unequivocally communicate the reality regarding what is going on to their communities

Marketing a country as a ‘must-go-to’ tourist destination is not the same as building a bridge which people have no choice but to cross the river where you have chosen to build the bridge.

Tanzania and Kenya have almost similar tourist attractions, including pristine beaches and exotic wildlife parks.

Ditto for almost all the other four East African Community countries: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. But they all could do better in attracting tourists to the region, instead of working at cross-purposes.

To attract ten million tourists to the region a year, Tanzania and Kenya must do much more than simply make use of Masanja, Steve Nyerere and JB Steven in Tanzania, and the Vitimbi actor, Mzee Ojwang’ Hatari, in Kenya.

Agreed that Masanja has 742,000 followers on Twitter. But, I doubt that his posts can attract 50,000 tourists a year to spend $1,000 each in the Serengeti National Park!

It, therefore, makes sense to bring on-board persons with a known global appeal.

A goodwill tourism ambassador’s job should not be like a token, political appointment. When it comes to a brand ambassador, proof of excellence is crucial.

Tanzania having the prominent American film maker Drew Binsky speak for it in his Best of Africa videos on YouTube (30m followers) can go a long way in advertising the country’s tourism.

Naomi Campbell can get a few dollar millionaires and thousands of non-millionaires to tour Kenya, with spill-overs to Tanzania – given her 2.8 million followers on Facebook alone. But, I very much doubt that our Shishy Baby can do that!

So, spare the world your righteousness on who between a Tanzanian and a Briton can better sell Kenya to British-Canadian audiences in Montreal.

The facts are that Tanzania and Kenya are both looking for international tourism ambassadors, not Bongo Movie ambassadors for TMK republic audiences. To qualify, first: one has to be a global icon – and not global by the standards set by local media and gossip forums. Now: we may love Shishy Baby, Aunt Ezekiel or JB; but their influence ends at Loliondo on the Kenya/Tanzania border.