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Modern Life in East Africa

East Africa Tourism Report

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa  Aug 14, 2009

Uganda’s First Lady Mrs. Janet Museveni MP has thrown her weight behind the chorus of voices demanding a full investigation into recent reports over the alleged privatization of Entebbe International Airport. The first lady, a member of parliament in her own right and also the Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs – a region in the east of Uganda bordering with Kenya –earlier in the week suggested that a special parliamentary committee be established to investigate the allegations and rumors over the deal before then reporting back to the caucus group of the ruling party NRM. Her intervention has certainly raised the stakes, and her personal involvement, as proven often in the past when she took sides while others continued to sit on the fence, will undoubtedly help to unravel the covert involvement of the masterminds behind the deal. Intriguingly, she was backed by former Minister Jim Muhwezi, himself in court over allegations of misuse of Global Fund money in the health sector he headed, who reportedly said in the house, “So many issues have come up, and, therefore, there is need for the truth.”

The East African Legislative Assembly, the parliament of the East African Community, last week finally passed the regional EAC Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Bill, under which the national aviation sectors will in the future operate. Harmonization is already underway through the respective national parliaments as reported previously in this column. However, until the last moment, there were at times passionate discussions going on between critics of the bill, before in the end finding a compromise and voting overwhelmingly for it.

National private-sector aviation bodies have expressed concerns, however, claiming various observations, recommendations, and objections were still not sufficiently reflected in the final bill and, in fact, some aviators warned of serious fallout for the sector in the future, should criticized sections of the bill be found unworkable, as no fast-track mechanism for the resolution of such problems was in sight. It was also pointed out by well-briefed legislative assembly members that the bill did not reflect much of the EAC spirit but was leaning too much towards the Chicago Convention and ICAO recommendations, without taking into account special local circumstances, as incidentally permitted under ICAO rules to be written in national/regional air service regulations, making it unsuitable for the development of, in particular, general aviation in the region, which provides the majority of air movements across the region.

More notably, however, CASSOA already commenced work some time ago in anticipation of the bill being passed, as one regulatory staff insisting on anonymity confessed to this column, casting some doubts over the legality of any action taken prior to the passing of the bill by the East African Legislative Assembly.

The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority informed the general public earlier in the week that a new, automated system will come into effect at the latest by October 1 when all visitors to the airport will have to use machines to pay their entrance fee to the airport. Parking also will attract payment through a similar apparatus. Attendants will still remain nearby, however, to assist those visitors unaware of the modus operandi, in the process probably creating a few more jobs. The installation of the machines and the creation of new lanes at the entry to the airport have been ongoing for a few weeks now but has left regular airport visitors puzzled as to why it took so long to make them operational.

The classy Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort and its sister property Speke Resort now have nature to thank for an added attraction available for guests to spot and enjoy watching from the lake shores. A small group of hippos is now regularly seen off the manicured lawns of the resort in the lake and the snorting can be heard with ease, when the giant water-based mammals enjoy life on the other side of the resort.

This will be undoubtedly be welcomed news for the assembled speakers, deputy speakers, presiding officers, key support staff, and observers of legislative assemblies and parliaments from the African Commonwealth countries, who were meeting during the week at the prestigious venue, often in the limelight, when hosting major international conferences and meetings.

Tour and safari operators have taken their grievance to the media that a section of the Murchisons Falls National Park, between the Paraa and Pakuba lodges, has been blocked off as oil exploration is taking place in this particular area of the park. This column had reported on this issue several months ago and was, in fact, waiting for an invitation to be made good from the oil company concerned, to see on site what, in fact, is going on in this area. However, the invitational trip, while not withdrawn, has yet to come through, denying the company a fair review of its activities in the park, while they at the same time now suffer of the fallout of negative media publicity. Watch this space for updates.

Following a successful world congress held recently in Cairo, the African tourism industry’s best friend – the African Travel Association – will meet in May next year in Banjul, The Gambia’s capital city. Visit or for more information about the forthcoming and past congresses and read more about the continent’s fabulous tourist attractions in the ATA Magazine.

Leading African mobile phone operator Zain, formerly known as Celtel, has teamed up with Ericsson to establish 21 transmission sites across Lake Victoria, several of them powered by solar panels, to permit people traveling across Africa’s largest lake constant communications means. More than 30 million people live around Lake Victoria in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, and many make a living from and on the lake by fishing and operating boats and lake canoes to carry cargo and passengers from one place to another. Violent sudden storms, which often hit the lake with little notice, have claimed many lives in the past in the absence of a reliable means to communicate with rescue teams. The Zain/Ericsson initiative will, hopefully, address this situation and offer hope for rescue of any lake travelers or fishermen stranded on the lake.
Calls will go to a toll-free line, and once call-center staff has established the location of those in distress, a rescue team will be dispatched for a search-and-rescue mission. Well done, to the two companies living up to their credo of being responsible corporate citizens and caring for their communities.

Following a sharp upswing in foreign currency transactions in the recent past, the Bank of Uganda has given consent to the establishment of a local clearing platform for foreign currency checks drawn on Ugandan banks. Previously, only four banks, upon a prior exclusive arrangement, cleared foreign currency checks locally but excluded dozens of other financial institutions and banks from their deal. Banks in Uganda can now offer foreign currency accounts in US dollars – the predominant foreign currency used in the country, but also in euros, pounds, and Canadian dollars - the regional currencies used across the East African Community, the South African Rand, and the Indian Rupee. This range reflects the major trading partners of Uganda and the expatriate population using the opportunity to open bank accounts in their own home currency. The changes will be positive for visitors from abroad with local contacts as money transactions will now be easier and, most important, cheaper. Uganda has been a leader in financial reforms and the abandoning of currency restrictions in the region, and this foresight has paid off as financial transactions have supported economic reforms and advancement.

It was learned earlier in the week that the United Nations has apparently decided to make the Entebbe International Airport, already its key airbase for the Congo and other regional operations, its primary airbase for Africa. While this will be good news for Ugandans able to apply for locally-sourced job opportunities, the question often asked still remains to be answered: what terms and conditions has the government granted to the UN?

Is it indeed the freedom of the airport, as often alleged amongst aviation industry observers, or will the UN in the future pay for landing, navigational, parking, and general use fees at the airport? The local and international airlines do and the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority could well do with some more income derived from UN operations to sustain its ongoing modernization and improvement projects for Entebbe and other aerodromes in the country, besides being able to service the loans they were compelled to take out after some 68 billion Uganda shillings of government-owed, outstanding dues remain unpaid.

East Africa’s regional LCC, now operating in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda (more to follow soon this column is told) has, in the face of the introduction by other airlines in the region, decided to bring forward its acquisition of its first of initially two CRJs. After learning that Air Uganda is not only ditching its loss-making MD 87s in favor of the CRJs and also in the process of re-introducing its morning departure from Entebbe to Nairobi, the carrier was swift in adding its first CRJ in September, i.e., next month, and will then start operating the Nairobi-Entebbe route with its new “bird,” cutting flying time nearly into half, compared with the presently used ATRs.

Fly540 is the first airline every morning out of Nairobi into Entebbe, and the use of a modern jet will undoubtedly add to the airline’s appeal in the market place. A late afternoon flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, with an early evening return to Nairobi, will also add attraction to fly with them for passengers only visiting for the day on business, now even easier as the time shaved off the two flights will add at least an hour of time on the ground for the one-day visitors.

The second destination after Entebbe is reportedly Dar es Salaam, with Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar still a real possibility once the second aircraft goes operational. On those routes, Fly540 is in direct competition with Precision Air, itself a Kenya Airways partner airline, and the use of the CRJ would again play into the hands of Fly540 in terms of comfort and speed, as Precision, too, is using ATRs as its fleet workhorse aircraft and has reportedly no plans to match this particular jet with new equipment. Keep watching this space for breaking aviation news updates from eastern Africa.

A court in the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi has thrown a spanner in the works of one of the unions representing sections of the KQ staff, when it issued a temporary order against any strike action or preparations. A hearing was ordered to take place next Monday, when some of the demands, like a 130 percent salary increment, will be examined. Some union officials, however, vowed to go ahead with the planned industrial action, which would set them on a confrontational course with the court and can likely land them in the court cells for contempt. A strike could do serious damage to the financial bottom line of KQ in an already challenged economic environment. The airline suffered a big loss for the last financial year but has, unlike many other international airlines, managed to avoid major layoffs and cutting employees’ salaries and other benefits, something obviously not appreciated by the union. Visit for up-to-date information on the airline’s operational status and watch this space for breaking news early next week.

Two airlines based at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport are now again operating scheduled flights on the route to the south coast resorts along the Diani beach. Safarilink is the latest entrant, following Air Kenya, which resumed regular flights some months ago already, when the trend towards recovery become evident. The two airlines have also agreed on a flight schedule, with one flight each being operated in the morning and afternoon, to avoid head-on departure times and give clients a wider choice to travel at a time of their choosing. Safarilink reportedly uses a Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft, and the flying time between Nairobi and the Ukunda airfield takes about one hour and fifteen minutes. It also permits travelers destined to any of the dozens of beach resorts along this stretch of the coastline to avoid going through Mombasa and having to endure the transfer by road over the unreliable Likoni ferry connection between Mombasa Island and the south coast mainland.

In a related development, it was learned that the present main European travel season, combined with an excellent performance of the domestic market in Kenya, has many of the hotels and resorts recording full houses once again, a bonus for the hotels which suffered severely last year from the political fallout after the disputed elections and the global economic downturn and financial crisis, which led to overseas holiday-makers staying at home.

Capt. Gad Kamau, the chairman of the Wilson Airport air operators committee, is reported in the local press warning that Wilson Airport is in danger of being slowly but surely swallowed up by unnamed powerful people for purposes other than an airport. He points out many instances of encroachment onto adjoining land that is supposed to remain obstacle-free and raises various safety issues.

Over the past few years, aircraft operators have warned that the "Mitumba" shanty at the end of Runway 14, the new hotel being built near the airport on Langata Road, and several other structures, are safety hazards and indeed accidents waiting to happen. The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and the Kenya Airports Authority have, in some instances, tried to intervene in these construction projects, but usually after a brief pause, construction continues unabated.

A government assistant minister subsequently waded into the debate as well, claiming that all buildings erected in the approach and departure flight paths comply with building regulations, not an issue disputed by users of Wilson Airport, who question the wisdom of building into those areas in the first place, an answer cunningly evaded by the said minister. ICAO reportedly also raised concerns over the continued safety of Wilson Airport in the light of these building activities, which constitute a potential danger to planes landing and taking off from the airport. Wilson Airport is one of the busiest light aircraft airports in Africa. Only days after this information was initially released by the Aero Club, a light aircraft on its approach to Wilson Airport crash into a housing estate when coming in apparently too low, so it is high time to act for the KAA, KCAA, and the Kenyan government.

It was recently learned that the new project of the Aero Club of Kenya, the Orly Club House on the Kitengela plains outside Nairobi, will very soon be ready, as the long-awaited completion is now really near. The club house’s veranda and bar are receiving the final touches, and outdoor landscaping has commenced, and furniture, carpets, crockery, and cutlery are being ordered. A "Housewarming Party" is being planned for all members, Orly shareholders, and guests around mid-September.

The new facility will bring relief to aviation enthusiasts who can now fly to and from Orly while avoiding the ever-more crowded Wilson Airport, which is of the original home of the Aero Club. The precise dates will be available soon and can be found in this column.

Information has been received from Kenya that the water levels along the Mara River, much of which is said to originate from the Mau Forest and presently making headlines in the Kenyan media, is substantially lower as a result of both drought and indiscriminate felling of trees in one of Kenya’s prime water-catchment areas. This column has on many occasions in the past warned of the impact of loss of tree cover, greater use of river waters for irrigation, and related uses and the combined effects of regular drought periods in eastern Africa when reduced rainfall worsens the situation. Wildlife managers and conservationists have expressed their growing concern over the rapidly-evolving situation, which they consider a severe threat to the wildlife in the Masai Mara, Serengeti ecosystem.

Not long after announcing its latest aircraft orders, reported in this column last week, ET also published the financial results for the recently-ended financial year, showing an increase of over 150 percent in profits. Considering the downturn of aviation in many other parts of the world, this is a remarkable achievement and speaks for the airline’s strategy in the face of adversity for the sector. Ethiopian Airlines presently has some 36 orders pending with Boeing and Airbus for a fleet renewal and upgrade, while currently operating a fleet of 35 aircraft including 5 freighters.

According to usually well-informed sources, Ethiopian Airlines is also set to join the global Star Alliance, which would boost the airline’s revenue reach and recognition in an ever-more competitive market, while undoubtedly adding to the appeal of international air travelers through wider choices when connecting to the African continent. Already under the Star Alliance banner in Africa are South African Airways and Egypt Air, while Ethiopian’s main regional rival, Kenya Airways, belongs to the Air France/KLM-led Sky Team.

Information was received recently that RwandAir, the national airline of Rwanda, has completed its due diligence for the purchase of several CRJ aircraft from Germany’s Lufthansa, which is phasing out those jets and replacing them with larger aircraft. The 50-seater CRJs have gained popularity in the region, with Jetlink of Kenya already operating four of the sleek crafts, while Fly540 and Air Uganda are said to be introducing them shortly on their main routes. RwandAir is thought to be adding at least two of the CRJs to its fleet before the end of the year to expand its network and add frequencies to its main destinations in eastern and southern Africa. The CRJ, currently wet leased from Kenya’s Jetlink, will most likely return to the lessors, when its own aircraft are delivered, registered, and cleared for flight.

In a related development, it was also learned that Rwandan pilots are presently receiving training for the CRJs where they expect to be deployed as first officers and captains. The trainees include one Rwandan lady pilot, following in the footsteps of Kenya Airways, which has employed female pilots now for some time. Other positions open for Rwandese nationals are amongst the technical and maintenance staff. The deal with Lufthansa for the two aircraft is worth about US$15 million, including a basic spares package.

RwandAir is already code sharing with Brussels Airlines on the Kigali-Brussels route, and as SN is now formally part of the Lufthansa family following recent approvals by the European Commission, the deal is now certainly sweeter than would otherwise have been the case. Watch this space for emerging aviation news from the east African region and read the latest developments in the airline sector.

About US$10 million will be spent to upgrade the existing international airport in Kigali, while alongside the planning and preparations for a completely new international airport are also progressing. Following a sharp increase in passenger numbers and cargo shipments in and out of Kanombe International Airport, it was found essential to first improve the facilities for passengers and airlines, while the new airport, Bugesera, is being built. Work at Kanombe is expected to focus on an expansion and upgrade of existing facilities and all work will be done to avoid disruption to arriving and departing passengers, likely in a similar way as the Entebbe International Airport was expanded and upgraded prior to the 2007 Commonwealth Summit.

Information was received that Dubai World Africa, a subsidiary of Dubai World, is scaling back its investment plans for the African continent. A major project for the Comoros’ main island has been deferred, investments in wildlife parks in southern Africa halted, and of the initially agreed 8 projects for Rwanda, only two are presently said to have the go ahead, according to sources in Kigali.

Dubai World was due to invest some US$250+ million in Rwanda’s hospitality sector, a figure now apparently greatly reduced. Yet, the company has only recently announced it would make further investments in China, Vietnam, Thailand, and India, leaving Africa wondering if funds meant for investment on the continent are now being diverted towards other projects and if so, then why. When forming Dubai World Africa a few years ago, an initial investment package of over US$1.5 billion was put together to be spent over a 5-year period. Only time will tell now if indeed any of these plans will materialize when the world economy has gotten into gear again or if Dubai World’s focus has changed for good, or rather the worse, for Africa.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was back in eastern Africa earlier in the week, albeit on the Congolese side, when visiting the town of Goma as part of her visit to Kinshasa. Goma is at the heart of the festering militia problem caused by the killer Hutu militias, when they withdrew from Rwanda after inflicting one of the most shocking genocides on innocent civilians over their tribe and political stand at the time. Since then, these militias continue to press young males into service in the eastern Congo and have built themselves a cushy little fiefdom based on mineral mining, cutting tropical wood, and poaching.

The US Secretary of State, in particular, expressed her support to the women in the region, who have, in the past, been subjected to abductions and rape by the FDRL militias and other troops active in the area, shouldering one of the heaviest burdens in this conflict. It is hoped, certainly from the Rwanda and Uganda side of the border, that her visit to Goma will send a loud message to the Kinshasa regime that they must sort out these problems on the fast track, and that – should another regional mission be sanctioned – they cannot send foreign forces home prematurely this time until the job is done. Congo DR has become notorious for ending military cooperation early, leaving terrorists and militias time and space to escape and regroup, as seen over the past year in joint missions with Rwanda – aimed at the FDRL killer militias – but also with Uganda, when they halted the final drive against the LRA in the north-eastern Congo.

The ongoing conflicts have been destabilizing the entire Great Lakes region, on which subject, incidentally, President Banda of Zambia earlier in the week also hosted a regional summit in Lusaka.

Sadly, the visit to Congo was somewhat overshadowed by a media hype over an ill-translated question and subsequent answer by her, for which the interpreters seem to have been responsible. The translation error was prompting Hillary Clinton to reassert her role as THE Secretary of State, causing a media frenzy over this issue rather than focusing on the plight of the downtrodden, poverty stricken, and constantly-threatened women and children in eastern Congo, which was one of the main reasons for her visit to Goma.

Hillary Clinton, after leaving Kenya, has so far traveled through South Africa, Angola, and Congo DR, before she wraps up her present tour of the continent in west Africa, beginning with a visit to Nigeria.

News emerged last week that the government got its way in parliament when a telecommunications link with southern Sudan was formally sanctioned. Gemtel, southern Sudan’s original mobile company, had – after the signing of the CPA with Khartoum – started building up a network, but has its main link located in northern Uganda. Subsequently, anyone calling into this network from abroad will use the Ugandan country code +256, routing calls via the Ugandan gateway into the southern Sudan.

This was done to stop interference with calls and illegal wire-tapping in Khartoum, through which all other mobile companies now operating in the southern Sudan have to route their voice and data traffic. Considering the close ties between Juba and Kampala, this approval was long expected but had been held up by some parliamentarians suspected to have had ulterior motives. Uganda earns fees for every call made and received on Gemtel numbers as royalties, making the deal not only commercially desirable but also politically necessary.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Ambassador in Kampala has waded into the debate over ICC arrest warrants against Uganda’s most-wanted terrorist, Joseph Kony, and against Khartoum’s regime leader, Bashir, denouncing the measures taken by the ICC. China is thought to be an ardent backer of the Khartoum regime, with much of the Sudanese oil going to China, and Kony is, of course, thought to be a proxy figure for Khartoum in his ongoing fight in eastern Congo, southern Sudan, and the Central African Republic, where he continues to wreak havoc and massacres on civilian populations after being chased out of Uganda and his erstwhile hideout in the Garamba National Park in eastern Congo. The ambassador also took a holier-than-thou attitude when addressing the media about “what we need is a holistic approach to ensure no outbreak of war in southern Sudan.” However, allegations in southern Sudan persist of China rearming the Khartoum regime in violation of UN sanctions.

Information received from Djibouti indicates that low cost carrier FlyDubai will shortly commence scheduled flights to Djibouti. The airline will initially fly three times a week to the Horn of Africa, providing much needed seat and loose cargo capacity on the route. Flight days will be Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and depending on passenger loads, the airline could go daily in the not-too-distant future.

Dubai World, a cousin company, is a key investor in the country and also manages the Djibouti port, now the main supply link for Ethiopia and, of course, also base of the naval coalition forces based in Djibouti. The new connection is thought to provide both the business community as well as coalition personnel with easy and affordable nonstop flights into the business and hospitality heart of the Gulf.

East Africa Tourism Report
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