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How Mount Kilimanjaro Produced Maiden Passports for Ethiopians

Kilimanjaro is not only towering as Africa’s highest peak. The Mountain is being credited for helping produce the first Ethiopian passports

Mount Kilimanjaro (top) and Addis Ababa (foreground) - Tanzania Times Graphics

One of the remarkable Pan-African achievements that can be accredited to Tanzania is how the country, through Mount Kilimanjaro treks, pioneered the issuance of passports to ordinary Ethiopians in Addis Ababa.

The country’s first Chief of Defense Forces (CDF), Retired General Mirisho Sarakikya revealed here that Mount Kilimanjaro, located in Moshi, Tanzania was the main factor which convinced the then Ethiopian Government to start issuing travel documents to its citizens.

On the 9th of December last year (2021), Tanzania celebrated the 60th Anniversary of Independence from Britain (during the former Tanganyika), but again later this year 2022, the country will once more be marking the 60th anniversary of being Republic.

Speaking at his home in Nkoaranga Village of Arumeru District, Arusha Region, the retired CDF, General Sarakikya in recalling some of the triumphs attained by the nation, pointed out that other than championing the continent’s freedom movement, Tanzania also helped ordinary people in other African countries to attain a number of developmental issues.

“During my tenure as Tanzanian Ambassador to Ethiopia, in the early eighties, I was Promoting Mount Kilimanjaro in the country but while many Ethiopians expressed interest to come to Tanzania and climb this Africa’s highest peak, their government (by then) wasn’t issuing passports to ordinary people!”

Retired General Mirisho Sarakikya – Former Tanzanian Chief of Defence Forces who also once served as envoy to Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia is landlocked, but in the early days the country’s citizens were also border-locked. This means that the people of Ethiopia were never allowed to travel outside their country. As it seems, their government suspected that once let out, they may never return.

And according to General Sarakikya, that was reason why Ethiopia never produced passports for ordinary citizens.

But Ambassador Sarakikya was craving to have Ethiopians get out so that they may climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, expeditions that the former CDF had been champining since when he was the Tanzanian envoy to Nigeria.

General Sarakikya thus struck friendship with the then Ethiopian Head of Immigration, managing to convince the latter to start producing and actually issuing international travel documents to the Ethiopians to allow them fly to Tanzania and climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

“I assured the Ethiopian Government officials that they need not worry, because Tanzania will ensure that none of their people will disappear,” said Sarakikya. Adding that he guaranteed their return after completing the Kilimanjaro treks.

And it worked. The Ethiopian Military Government started producing and issuing passports to ordinary residents, but on condition that they were only going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and that is it.

Indeed. From that time, Tanzania started receiving Ethiopian tourists for Mount Kilimanjaro expeditions.

Still, upon landing at the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA), the Tanzania Immigration Department in the terminal would take the Ethiopians’ passports for safe keeping and only handed them back to them when they were boarding their planes for returning to Addis Ababa.

As more Ethiopans travelled back-and-forth between Addis and Kilimanjaro, without any of them getting lost, trust was created. Since then, the Ethiopian Government would be providing even more passports to its people for Kilimanjaro trips. This tradition was maintained for years.

“Suffice to say that Kilimanjaro is the Mountain which opened Ethiopia to the world. Many Ethiopians in the Diaspora had acquired their first passports through the initial Kilimanjaro expeditions initiative,” Said General Sarakikya, adding that most of them still remember the role which Tanzania played in granting them such freedom.

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