Dar es Salaam. Minister for Works and Transport Prof Makame Mbarawa said on Saturday that he has received “with serious concerns” the decision by Dutch airline KLM to cancel its flight to Tanzania, citing civil unrest.
In a statement, Prof Mbarawa described the airline’s statement as “baseless, alarmist, unfounded, inconsiderate and insensitive” that “has caused unnecessary fear and panic to the general public and the aviation industry at large.”
“The public is urged to ignore the statement [by KLM],” Mr Mbarawa added in the statement.
Tanzania’s reaction to the airline’s move that sent shock waves in East Africa and beyond came high on the heels of that of its neighbouring Kenya whose cabinet secretary for roads and transport Mr Kipchumba Murkomen slammed the statement as “fabricated, malicious and false.”
It all started when KLM published in its website that due to “civil unrest” in Tanzania and Kenya some of its flights to, from or via Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and Nairobi “may be disrupted” from January 27 to January 30, 2023.
The airline told its customers who might have booked flights within those dates to “rebook,” saying “we are doing our very best to help you on your way again.”
Following a backlash, the airline later removed Kenya in its earlier statement and replaced “civil unrest” with “local threat” for Tanzania.
This decision notwithstanding, both Tanzanians and Kenyans, particularly those using the social network Twitter, criticised the airline for creating “a fictional threat,” demanding it rescind its earlier decision to cancel flights.
“What dumbfounds me is the liberty to assess and make public announcements about a country’s security without consulting its authorities,” Semkae Kilonzo, a director of a local think tank Policy Forum, said in a Twitter post.
“If [KLM] knows a specific threat they should provide the information [to relevant authorities] so preventive measures are taken,” he added.
KLM was able to remove Kenya from its statement and even apologized, saying the alert was targeted to the airline’s customers in Tanzania and it was “inadvertently and erroneously shared with our customers in Kenya.”
“We made a mistake in our rebook policy and initially included Kenya,” the airline said in a statement. “This is incorrect and we would like to apologize for this.”
The same, however, has not happened with Tanzania whose ministry of works and transport insisted in a statement on Saturday that “there are no recorded civil unrest within the territory of Tanzania which impair the aviation operations within the country.”
In his statement, Prof Mbarawa was silent about the measures the government is planning to take against KLM for its “baseless” statement. He, however, assured the public that the aviation industry “is safe and secure.”
The case is different from his Kenyan counterpart who said in a statement on Saturday that KLM’s decision to remove Kenya from its alert notwithstanding, “we will escalate the discussion through diplomatic channels to ensure the same does not recur,” Mr Murkomen said.
KLM’s decision to warn about “local threat” in Tanzania, however, comes a few days after the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam warned the citizens of the North American nation in Dar es Salaam to be “alert to your surroundings.”
“Locations frequented by U.S. citizens and other Westerners in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere in Tanzania continue to be attractive targets to terrorists planning to conduct attacks,” the alert stated.
“Terrorist groups could attack with little or no warning, targeting hotels, embassies, restaurants, malls and markets, police stations, places of worship, and other places frequented by Westerners,” it added.
“Be alert to your surroundings,” the Embassy urged U.S. citizens living in Dar es Salaam. “Practice personal security measures [and] stay alert in locations frequented by tourists/Westerners.”
But the alert was downplayed by police spokesperson David Misime a day later, on January 26, 2023, saying the security situation in Tanzania’s commercial capital is stable.
“We started to work on the alert as soon as it was released to the public,” Mr Misime said of the security alert by the U.S. Embassy. “We would like to assure the citizens that the security situation is stable and that they can go about their businesses as usual.”