While court petitions against the 26th October presidential election still linger and the country’s captain for the next five years still mysterious, we can’t as yet forget wide global attention and warmth basking in the warmth of hosting the UNCTAD14 in Nairobi. The event, last year with over 7000 delegates from across the globe was perhaps the hallmark of big events Kenya hosted in the recent past. As UNCTAD Secretary General, Kenya’s Mukhisa Kituyi pointed out ahead of the June 2016 event, he had ‘’brought home an opportunity to help Kenyans see beyond local political tensions and realize there is more to life than incessant political profiling.’’ He was right, but perhaps his words ring truer today than they did then. The event saw delegates reach important international consensus with ‘’Azimio’ and ‘’Maafikiano’’ on the direction for global trade strategy for the next several years carrying as Kenya’s Amina Mohamed pointed out the ‘’Kenyannes’’ of the trade agreement.
Hot on the heels of UNCTAD14 was TICAD-VI, held outside Japan for the first time with the promise to mobilize resources for Africa’s development. During his stay in Nairobi, the Japanese prime minister and his entourage may not have wished for better reception; what with the monopoly of Japanese cars on Nairobi’s roads proudly declaring ‘’the car in front is always a Toyota.’’
As Kenya shined, Rwanda glowed in the limelight of hosting the 2016 AU Summit and the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the newly built Kigali Convention Centre (KCC), a state-of-the-art architecture whose completion was a conditionality by AU for Rwanda hosting the summit.
Nairobi’s and Kigali’s success in hosting big events spoke of something bigger; that meetings mean business and that the region needs to maintain tranquility to continue competing for a slice of the global Meetings Incentives Conferences and Events (MICE) or as is now called the Meetings Industry. To date, Uganda’s Speke Resort-Munyonyo still bears the legacy of the Commonwealth conference held there several years ago. Conversely, hotel industry players in Tanzania have been grumbling for lost business and job redundancy since president Magufuli came to power with the directive stopping meetings and government functions being held in hotels. While austerity serves its purpose, Tanzania must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
In its 2014 report, UNWTO noted that the meetings industry had come of age, firmly placing itself at the center of tourism as a key driver and generator of income, employment and investment. Recent studies show for example that in UK, meetings & conference delegates make up around 30% of total visitors to Britain, while in Mexico, over 780,000 jobs are classified in the meetings industry. About 32 billion Canadian dollars are directly spent in Canada on this subsector according to reports. With joint tourist Visa and electronic passport, EAC with its varied tourist beauty can increase its share of this pie.
Rwanda playing international host was a vote of confidence in a country that has defied stereotypes. Given its emerging jewel status, some during the WEF called it the young Switzerland of Africa but Rwanda clearly aspires for more. Notwithstanding, although the country’s candle has shone brightly against the wind of its tragic past, many feel the oil of democratic space has dried up in equal measure citing media stifling and the crackdown on alternative voices. But Kagame, smarting from reelection last August defies such opinion, pointing rather to the picture reflected in the newly built KCC-ability to meet timelines, leading in ease-of-doing-business among other indices with high women participation in public service for which Kagame received the Gender Champions Award on the sidelines of the last year’s AU summit.
As a region, EAC must position better as a MICE destination combining with traditional tourism to attract the world. Governance systems need strengthening and transparency and being open for scrutiny under the Africa Peer Review Mechanism. Nairobi must continue to lead the way. Violence and its relatives have no place. Stability is crucial if we are to attract the world. Then our diet as EAC won’t depend only on exports of tea, bananas, gorillas and tanzanite. As UNCTAD14 and WEF2016 showed, there is sufficient nutrition from eating MICE! May Peace Prevail!