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East Africa Tourism Report

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa  Aug 21, 2009

A Cessna 182, owned and operated by KAFTC, also known as the Aero Club of Kampala, made a controlled landing on the main road from Masaka to Kampala, when the single-engine plane developed a mechanical problem en-route back from an airstrip near Bwindi National Park to the Kajjansi airfield outside Kampala.

Many of KAFTC’s pilots are also instructors, and the pilot’s skills undoubtedly avoided an accident when he calmly decided to set down the Cessna on the main highway before then getting the plane to stop off the road using a turn off. Reportedly, there were two foreign tourists on board who were eventually picked up by a vehicle and returned to Kampala.

Sections of the local media made, as often the case, a reporting mess out of things, talking of a plane crash, which was, of course, not the case. The scribes alleged that the local residents “fled their homes and farms, howling” before making an unwarranted reference to the “last fatal crash” in a disgraceful display of sensational journalism.

KAFTC is said to be fully cooperating with the Civil Aviation Authority to establish the cause of the mechanical problems, which led to the landing of the craft outside designated fields, but since there were no injuries the matter, it is being treated as an “incident” rather than an accident, a major difference which seems to have escaped the local scribes. Arrangements were underway by the time of filing this report to repatriate the plane to Kajjansi.

Following the decision of the Kenya government to formally terminate the RVR concession to run its railway system – incidentally now again in court when RVR obtained a temporary restraining order against being thrown out – the same process is now underway in Uganda. In Kenya, it was a parliamentary committee which directed government to go ahead with the termination, after RVR had been served with a notice of intended termination earlier in the year, a court order against which has since expired.

The Ugandan parliamentary committee dealing with the RVR concession has also now given government the green light to follow suit and repossess the railway premises and facilities, opening the way to resume either direct management of the railway, seek a private-public partnership, or else advertise for expressions of interest by new bidders to get a fresh concession. The Ugandan government also has issued the prerequisite notices of intent to terminate the concession, and the final termination is now thought to be only days away.

The World Bank president Robert Zoellick, during a visit to Uganda last week, also (diplomatically) expressed his concern over the state of the regional railway system (mis)managed by RVR for the past several years after seeing the railway’s border installations, and then promptly pledged the support of the World Bank Group to assist in funding for the complete rehabilitation and upgrade of the railway lines between Mombasa’s port via Nairobi to western Kenya, the border with Uganda, the lines from Tororo to Kampala, and also the lines between Kampala and Kasese as well as Kampala to Pakwach.

The fallout of the Commonwealth Summit in late 2007 continues to make waves, both in political circles where members of parliament continue to press government for answers on contract awards and funds spent, and also for the business sector, from which government in turn is trying to recover money advanced ahead of guests arriving, to secure their accommodation.

The Imperial Hotel Group was, probably unfairly, singled out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for long overdue refunds on accommodation payments advanced but not utilized. While the government now says the rooms were not ready at the time for occupancy by visitors, the hotel in turn claims that the rooms booked and confirmed were ready, but guests either failed to arrive or opted for cheaper accommodation on arrival, subsequently triggering no-show and cancellations fees for the one week summit, according to the hotel group’s terms and conditions.

With some US$1.6 million claimed by government, this matter may well head to court, while sources from within the hotel group say they would vigorously defend themselves against the claims providing evidence of non-arrivals of booked parties, lower numbers of guests from those delegations which had arrived, and, in particular, members of the media blockbooked at the Imperial Royale Hotel on arrival trying to bargain their room rates down and, failing to do so, walking out – attracting the very no-show and cancellation fees the hotel now intends to offset against government’s prepayment. Watch this space as this saga unfolds.

The upcoming morning flight to Nairobi, effective September 7 and operated by its recently-acquired CRJ aircraft, will leave Entebbe at 0645 hours, with an arrival time in Nairobi around 0745 hours. The return flight will then take off at 0815 hours and is due back in Entebbe at 0915 hours.

This makes U7 the second arrival in Entebbe from Nairobi, as Fly 540 will operate the first frequency out of Kenya, while Kenya Airways – in order to allow for network traffic to connect – will be the third to arrive every morning in Uganda.

Air Uganda’s evening flight will move forward by 15 minutes to leave Entebbe at 1845 hours, arriving in Nairobi at 1945 hours, before returning to Uganda at 2015 hours, landing at 2115 hours in Entebbe again.

This will bring the total flights between Entebbe and Nairobi to 8 on working days, with Kenya Airways operating 4, while Fly 540 and Air Uganda will operate two each.

Fly 540’s new office for sales, ticketing, and other information is now located within the recently-opened Nakumatt Oasis Mall – just below the Garden City complex – on the first floor. Telephone and fax numbers remain the same as is, of course, the email contact. Visit for more information.

In half-page adverts, the Uganda Tourist Board has once more invited applications for all positions, following earlier announcements, reflected in this column, of course, that all current staff contracts were to expire. It is understood that current/past staff are free to re-apply, but some have already indicated to this column that they would prefer not to and are seeking other employment opportunities. The available positions range from CEO over finance and administration manager to secretaries (2), administration and accounts officer (1), marketing and information officers (4), to inspection and licensing officers (2), and drivers. Closing has been set within two weeks after the advert was first published, i.e., early September.

The long-awaited major repairs and strengthening of the existing bridge over the Owen Falls hydro-electric dam in Jinja is now set to start later in the year after the contracts were put out for tender last week. The repairs are likely to cause one-way regulated traffic across the bridge while work is in progress and total closures, always for a limited period of time, of course, can also not be ruled out.

The dam and bridge across are now more than 55 years old and are reaching the end of its initially-planned lifespan, necessitating upgrade work to be carried out.

A new bridge, with financial support from the Japanese government, is also due to be constructed not too far from the present dam, below the current railway bridge also spanning the Nile less than a kilometer upstream. The cost of the new bridge is estimated to be at least US$40 million, and planning is well advanced, having even identified residents in the area of the new access roads, who will have to make way for the construction and need compensation and resettlement before work can begin.

No information could be obtained, however, about the option of a road/bridge across the Bujagali hydro-electric plant presently under construction, which could also provide an alternative relief route.

Rahul Sood, arguable the youngest ever president of the Skal Club of Kampala, last weekend celebrated his 30th birthday amongst his friends at Kampala’s Khana Khazana restaurant, where it snowed food and rained drink on his guests. Several prominent Skal members were also present for the birthday bash, including several past presidents. Through this column, a very happy birthday, once again, to Rahul and many more to come.

No sooner had this column gone into print last week, when confirmation was received from Fly 540 that they are, in fact, getting three of the sleek modern CRJ200LR aircraft, adding to its present fleet of ATR 42s and ATR 72s in Kenya, its Fokker 27 freighters, and a dedicated Beech 1900 “safari bird” based in Arusha.
This strong signal of confidence in the future of the eastern African aviation market will undoubtedly rock the industry in coming weeks, as other airlines, especially those with aged aircraft, will face stark choices – to either replace fuel-guzzling old “sky howlers,” or else become aviation history rather than continuing to make it.

Fly 540’s biggest single shareholder, LonZim, formerly Lonrho Africa, is without a doubt instrumental in raising the financing for this development, as its entry into the African aviation sector has already driven Fly 540 beyond the east African shores to start sister airlines in Angola and Zimbabwe.

Fly 540 presently operates in its original home country of Kenya, but has, of course, expanded to Uganda and Tanzania, while reportedly also preparing entry into the Mozambique aviation industry.

Watch this space for regular breaking news updates of aviation developments in eastern Africa.

The long-awaited helicopter, to be based by KAFTC at the Kajjansi airfield, has now been purchased in Canada and will soon to come to Uganda after some required maintenance. The Bell Ranger 206 will be used by KAFTC to provide both medivac as well as commercial charters. Visit for more information about KAFTC’s air charter operations and its licensed flying school.

Meanwhile, it was also learned that the long overdue and often promised AVGAS facility by Shell has still not taken off, according to reliable sources as a result of constantly “changing goal posts” and not implementing agreements reached between the air operators using the Kajjansi field and Shell’s Uganda management.

Having recovered from a two day strike over the last weekend, the Kenyan national airline has gone on the offensive again and announced flights to Ndola, THE copper belt city and major administrative center in northern Zambia, not far from the border with the CR Congo. Starting in mid-September, the “Pride of Africa” will initially fly twice a week from Nairobi, making it the 36th destination on the African continent. The airline aims at the substantial business community not only in Ndola but the entire copper belt region, offering easy connections into the extensive KQ network via Nairobi, sparing them the extra trip to Lusaka or airports even further away for connections.

The leading Kenyan “insider” e-guide provides regular updates for art exhibitions taking place in Nairobi or elsewhere in Kenya, as well as publishes an up-to-date calendar of other events like concerts, theatre productions, and sport outings. Interested readers can visit and even subscribe to the weekly mailings online.

Information received from Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam indicates that the international airport is now finally set for expansion and rehabilitation. However, details available are sketchy at this time, although it is understood that an exercise to resettle and compensate area residents affected by the expansion was kicked off earlier in the week to pave the way for work to start. Watch this space for updates.

As mentioned in this column in recent weeks, RwandAir – as part of its fleet expansion – has introduced a second CRJ200 to its fleet earlier in the week, also on a wet lease from Kenya’s Jetlink. The airline immediately, i.e., August 17, commenced its new flight schedule to Johannesburg, a route they now fly 5 times a week, up from previously only 3 flights.

The departures are also more convenient now for passengers from Kigali to Johannesburg, leaving Kigali at lunch time and arriving in JNB by 1645 hours. The return flight then leaves Johannesburg around 1830 hours for the 3 ½ hour flight back to Kigali. The new additional CRJ also operates with 50 economy seats, a sensible configuration considering the relatively short flying times within the eastern African region. The airline’s other CRJ is now deployed on the routes from Kigali to Entebbe, Kilimanjaro/Arusha and Nairobi, although some flights to these destinations may still from time to time see the Bombardier Dash 8 used, depending on passenger numbers.

No details were immediately available in regard of the arrival of the recently-purchased CRJs, but indications are that the two former LH crafts may first undergo heavy maintenance before delivery, which is expected either late this year or in early 2010.

Traffic in the original core countries of eastern Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda traditionally used the British system of driving on the left while the other countries under Belgian control, i.e., Rwanda and Burundi, used the continental method of driving on the right.
Discussions are now ongoing in Rwanda to harmonize traffic rules with the rest of the EAC and are reportedly considering a switch to the British habits, encouraged by a recent opinion poll, which pegs support for the switch by some 52 percent, while only about 35 percent opted to retain the present side.

Indeed, when crossing into Rwanda by car, it takes getting used to for motorists who have to switch sides at the border, and a number of accidents are attributed to not remaining on the correct side of the road, as required in Rwanda. Should this initiative become reality, look no further than this column to read about it.

Similar to the recent fire outbreak along the border between Rwanda and Uganda, when dozens of hectares of forest burned down as a result of honey harvesters causing the blaze, a similar incident occurred earlier in the week at the edge of the Nyungwe National Park in southern Rwanda.

Again a fire set to smoke out the bees and access their honey went out of control but was, thanks to the community involvement and swift reaction of security forces and fire services, brought under control before doing more damage. It is understood that ORTPN will engage in a dedicated educational and training program for bee keepers who keep bee hives at the edge of the forest to harvest quality organic honey, to avoid further such incidents.

Tourists on excursions to the Nyungwe Forest National Park were reportedly not affected by the fire, and forest walks continued in other parts of the park while the fire was being extinguished. The frequency of fires in the recent past is at least partly also attributed to the prolonged dry season, during which fires can easily catch on and spread.

Stakeholders, known to this correspondent, in Kigali have raised issues with a recent article and interview published in an eTN edition, titled “Tourism needs a major boost.” Several emails and calls objected vehemently to the opinions expressed by the “official” and rather than commenting through the eTN website mechanism, asked this column to voice their disagreement on their behalf. It was generally pointed out that the author in question should have sought internal consultations and engagement with other stakeholders first to assess the status quo and seek and agree on ways forward instead of going public in the international media and lambasting the Rwandan tourism sectors’ past efforts and achievements.

Last week the latest Travel Africa magazine arrived in my P.O. Box, together with Travel Zambia and Travel Namibia. In spite of my frequent travels and visits to at times the most remote, unlikely, and yet very photogenic places in eastern Africa, the magazines whet my appetite for more travel to countries and locations not yet seen. For readers of this column, go to for more information on the range of publications or to subscribe for those priceless hard copies, which retain value and attractions for many years to come. The magazines are an inspiration to travel across Africa, says this correspondent, and worth every penny of the annual subscription.

East Africa Tourism Report
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