10-03-2023 by Freddie del Curatolo
One of the constants in Malindi is that cyclically we come back to the international airport and its implementation. After witnessing over the years, passive and impassive, renovations, work in progress, modernization of the control tower, aircraft maneuvering area (apron), preparation of customs offices, baggage distribution department, expansion of the parking lot, for years we have been nailed to the famous lengthening of the runway, which would seem to be the last and only parameter needed to land flights from destinations farther than Kenya and make Malindi airport de facto what it has long been on paper, "international," as moreover the huge sign at the entrance reads.
While one must be honest and disavow those who say "nothing has been done in 30 years." The works listed above have been completed. In 1990 the Malindian slipway was really little more than a clearing. But for the final quantum leap that could radically change the profile of Kilifi County's tourism destinations, consolidating Malindi as a commercial, residential, and service "hub" and Watamu as the queen destination of the Kenyan sea, the time frame still seems biblical.
With the election of Gideon Mung'aro as the new governor of Kilifi County, succeeding a 10-year administration led by Amason Kingi under which, as far as the airport is concerned, no excessive pressure came to the central government to speed up the paperwork, hopes have been rekindled to see the process restarted. Mung'aro is an expert in tourism and knows well the situation in the area and how much the economy depends on the travel and vacation sector. His years as manager for Flavio Briatore, who has always considered the international airport a top priority, should help the cause.
The problem is that coming at the darkest time for the region's food emergency, drought, and health consequences, Mung'aro has prioritized agriculture and hospital facility situation.
But little however a governor can do except use his influences in Nairobi. The airport issue belongs almost entirely to the Ministry of Transportation, and the Ministry of Tourism. The money to lengthen the runway has already been allocated three years ago, the legitimate owners of the land have been compensated, but there remains the granola of all the squatters to be relocated. While they boast no title and should not receive compensation, they certainly cannot be left in the middle of a road. And to take away a bed and a roof from them would be a more than unpopular move for a politician.
ASANTE BALALA, KARIBU MALONZA
The great illusionist Najib Balala, Minister of Tourism for more than two terms, always made the tourism sector believe (words repeatedly referred to yours truly) that he was doing everything possible for the airport, but that he was encountering many difficulties. Some of these we know well: meddling by the national airline Kenya Airways, which, like our Alitalia did, is slowly sinking (yesterday's news of the government's ultimatum: "either a partner is found by June to pay off the "monstrous" debt of $1.5 billion, or the government will suspend all aid). Kenya Airways has always clung to the continuity of domestic flights, of its subsidiary Jambojet. If Malindi took away most of its connections with direct flights, it would be the classic coup de grace. The other difficulty is Mombasa, a city of which Balala in his youth was also mayor and in which he still has interests. Kenya's second international airport would also lose revenue, because, for example, charters would land much more willingly at Malindi, as would Ethiopian and Turkish, to name just two. Not to mention the direct landing and expansion that less chaotic sea destinations than Mombasa could have with airlines from other neighboring countries, such as Rwanda and Uganda, which already land in Mombasa, or low-cost airlines from South Africa or Dubai. Quite a ride, which Mombasa would like all to itself and which could in the future, from 2024-25 with the construction of the bridge in Likoni, benefit Diani. The facts speak for themselves, Balala could not or would not (probably both) do anything for international Malindi. Now talks have begun, as always starting almost from scratch, with the new Minister of Tourism, Peninah Malonza.
OPEN SKY POLICY
Lengthening the runway to land boeing 747s aside, Malindi as mentioned already has international status and could land flights from abroad. Not surprisingly, Ethiopian's flag carrier has in the past been interested in the Addis Ababa-Malindi route, thinking of a smaller aircraft that could land even with the airport's current format. But Ethiopian's requests to Kenyan Civil Aviation were trashed. Kenya, which in many other aspects of the economy is a driving force in the East African Community and is also proving to be pan-African in its policies of breaking down fiscal and customs barriers with the African Union, as far as flights are concerned has not yet decided to implement an "Open Sky Policy" in line with other nations such as Ethiopian. Opening the skies and facilitating the arrival of other airlines on Kenyan soil, in this world order of interchanges, should be essential. But even here, with a Kenya Airways, formerly the "pride of Africa" (as per the now old slogan) on the verge of bankruptcy, what interchanges can be had? Despite this, opening up seems inevitable, because the government in Nairobi must think about increasing arrivals, numerically and qualitatively not only in the vacation sector but also in business travel to bring in new investors from around the world. Without opening up the skies, and opening up Malindi as well, all of Kenya is in danger of being left at the post and getting overtaken by neighbors who are taking longer strides, such as Tanzania.
Recently our Ambassador, Roberto Natali, among the topics discussed in a meeting with Malonza, focused heavily on the Open Sky Policy and the reintroduction of a direct Rome-Nairobi flight, which could be a flywheel for future Italy-Malindi flights. That is, if, as has happened the last two times, they don't start the routes in June and after a month pull the plug, including canceled flights, changed schedules and other mishaps, and then shut down in a hurry. Certainly that of Kenya Airways is an essential issue to see resolved, in order to be able to think not only about "open skies" but also about direct landing in Malindi and Watamu.
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