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Travel And Tourism In Africa

East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  Nov 12, 2009

A report launched earlier in the week in Addis Ababa, controversial as it may be in scientific circles, has opened fresh discussions on a potential massive “rip” into the present geological structure of the continent, creating a new ocean extension in the process. Since two volcanic eruptions in the area in 2005, a group of researchers has looked into the potential fallout of further eruptions and movement of the underground structures, which in their opinion extends into the present seabed off the coast of Eritrea and the Sudan. Some areas reportedly already show a tear in the ground some 20 feet wide, a source of considerable concern by the scientists. The Afar region, one of the lowest areas on the globe, has also been significant for finds of early mankind’s own ancestors. The hot desert climate has made research and monitoring difficult but nevertheless yielded clues as to areas likely to be affected by further eruptions and the subsequent widening and possible splitting of the present rift, which would in a worst-case scenario permit ocean water from the Red Sea to enter, should the shift be large enough to allow a break through. What sounds like the script of a doomsday film scenario could, however, become reality, going by the reports published during the week, and could have disastrous consequences for the wider region, if indeed a volcanic eruption would then trigger a “rip” and cause massive earthquakes in the process besides literally splitting off a section of the African continent.

From November 7-22 a range of cultural programs will unfold across several venues in Kampala to celebrate German culture and the country’s links with Uganda. The Goethe Centre in Kampala, in conjunction with the German Embassy, the Uganda German Cultural Society, and corporate sponsors including Lufthansa and Brussels Airlines, launched with a concert last Saturday evening. A film festival will take place at the Multiplex Cinema between November 16-22 showing a total of 7 prize-winning German films while public readings of German literature at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel will offer a deeper insight into the range of poetry and fiction writing Germany has produced of late. Way to go my dear old country.

Only weeks after the much-acclaimed Oktoberfest held at the Sheraton, a star-rated German chef was flown into the country to present and celebrate original, typical, and modern German cuisine alongside the German Cultural Festival presently underway in Kampala. On location between November 9-15, chef Dirk Hoenack will present a specially-prepared a la carte menu, which should stimulate the taste buds of the hotel’s patrons. This is only available only for dinner and prior reservations are a must, as the Sheraton is once again the place to be this week.

The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary reported that the gender of the recently-born rhino baby was established, and the little one is another boy. The name Augustus was chosen in recognition of the Augsburg Zoo’s and the Augsburg city council’s donation to the sanctuary of 25,000 euros, which will go a long way to assist the Rhino Fund Uganda to meet the expenses in coming months. It is worth mentioning that a long time former Ugandan resident and acclaimed conservationist, Mr. Wilhelm Moeller, is now curator at the Augsburg Zoo after leaving Uganda a few years ago, and he has been instrumental in making this donation happen. Mr. Moeller was awarded the German Distinguished Service Cross some years ago, while still in Uganda, for his services to wildlife conservation. Thank you, Ille, for continuing to assist wildlife conservation in Uganda! Sources from the sanctuary, while expressing absolute delight about the latest addition to the rhinos, now hope for a girl when the third female is delivering early next year, as more females will be needed to make the breeding program a success. Congratulations, once again, to the sanctuary management and staff for a sterling job well done.

The parliamentary committee investigating the expenditure of the 2007 Commonwealth Summit in Kampala has now turned its spotlight to expenses related to the acquisition of a fleet of vehicles and has also unearthed disturbing details about cost overruns of up to 14 billion Uganda Shillings when modernizing the Entebbe International Airport. Contracts were awarded through restricted bidding and direct procurement, contrary to the provisions of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act (PPDA). This correspondent, in fact, recalls withdrawing from attending committee sessions and meetings in his then capacity as president of the Uganda Tourism Association, when no iron-clad guarantees could or would be given by the panels that the provisions of the PPDA would be strictly adhered to, in obvious anticipation of a later audit and investigation and recognition that by doing so, his hands would remain clean and his reputation would remain intact. To read the full details, visit about the variety of allegations made over the cost of the airport work contracts.

A recent flight on a fairly new and well-equipped Cessna Grand Caravan permitted this correspondent to sit in the co-pilot’s seat and, wearing the comms headset throughout the flight, listen to radio traffic enroute to the Kajjansi airfield. What was immediately striking was the apparent use of ancient desktop microphones by the controllers, which besides the associated crackling, also allowed the noise of ringing phones, shuffling files, and opening/closing of a door in the background to be heard while receiving transmissions. It is understood that this particular section of the ATC in Entebbe apparently loathes using these state of the art earpieces and mouthpieces common elsewhere in this 21st century. As a result, several questions, incidentally also about issues surely contained in the duly-filed flight plans, had to be repeated, causing undoubtedly added distraction for the pilots concerned.

Come next May, a major continental award ceremony for the African Journalist of the Year awards, sponsored jointly by CNN and Multichoice Africa, will be held in Kampala. No venue or dates have been announced yet, but the event is bound to bring the CNN top brass, as well as leading media houses, journalists, and writers from the continent and beyond to Uganda. The annual competition, now coming into its 15th year, is open for print, television, Internet, photographic, and radio media.

It was learned earlier in the week, that Rahul Sood, incumbent Skal Kampala president and former general manager of the Metropole Hotel and then area general manager for the Imperial hotel group in Entebbe, has moved to Dar es Salaam and has accepted an appointment as new general manager of the Holiday Inn. The Kampala Skal chapter is losing an energetic young leader with lots of ideas, but Kampala’s loss will undoubtedly be Dar’s gain. All the best for your future career Rahul! Meanwhile, Skal sources confirmed that for the remainder of the year, the current vice president of Skal Kampala will assume the office of acting president until the next AGM and elections in March 2010.

Recent comments made by, amongst others, President Museveni have given hope to the daily victims of traffic jams leading into the central business district of Kampala. Proposals have been floated to build a new road into the city, for which users would have to pay, similar to the concept being used in other parts of the world. Toll roads are thought to decongest traffic as those willing and able to pay on a daily basis, or else buy longer-term passes, would shift a substantial number of vehicles off the congested roads and areas. Traffic into and out of town were separated into one way’s some years ago, but the growth in population and ever-more vehicles have now voided the gains initially made.

The visiting Egyptian minister for foreign and African affairs earlier this week tried to calm the stormy water dispute over the control of the Nile waters, when telling a news conference that “we cannot have control over the Nile.” This, however, is at the very core of the ongoing squabbles between the Nile producer countries like Ethiopia – contributing some 60+ percent of the total flow below Khartoum through the Blue Nile – and the Eastern African countries of Uganda – where the Victoria Nile originates – Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, and Tanzania, where streams and rivers empty either into Lake Victoria or find their way to Lake Albert, and the consumer countries of Sudan and Egypt. Ancient treaties of 1929 and 1959, forced upon the newly-independent Eastern African countries by the British colonial administration, are now considered as oppressive and out of date, not recognizing the rights to water and developments unless Egypt has given formal approval to such projects. Tanzania has already ignored the treaties for some years now, and while other countries are following suit, there is a desire amongst the producer countries of the precious water that a negotiated new treaty is preferable to enhance long-term cooperation and development and avoid a war over water, as intimated in 1970 by then Egyptian minister Boutros Boutros Ghali. However, negotiations have not progressed well as Egypt is faced with a united Eastern African front while the Sudan seems uncertain whether to support the East African position or side with Egypt. The situation may complicate further if the southern Sudan votes for independence in the January 2011 referendum. The southern Sudan is more of a producer country than a consumer country and would most likely side with their Eastern African neighbors and partners, leaving the downstream consumers with an even more difficult task to secure agreement. Initially, this was on the drawing board by late 2008, but it appears that Egypt since then changed its tune and has been engaged in a carrot-and-stick approach to undermine the Eastern African position. Hence, the pressure is on to conclude negotiations and once and for all acknowledge that the producer countries have the right to consider the water as their national resource and agreeing on quotas for downstream consumer countries to ensure their immediate needs are met. However, Egypt and Sudan must make alternative arrangements for future increased use of the precious resource, like desalinating ocean water as growing populations in Eastern Africa will also in future years require more water for agriculture, industrial, and domestic use.

Information has been received from usually reliable sources in Nairobi, close to Kenya Airways, that their new flight training center will be equipped with a simulator of the CAE 5000 series for their fleet of B737NGs, due for delivery by mid next year. This will be another first for Kenya Airways and is not only aimed to carry out essential training and refresher courses mandatory for all cockpit crews – regulations demand two simulator training sessions a year to maintain their licenses – but will also bring the cost down for the airline, which in the past had to send their pilots abroad for these sessions at great expense. Creating this capacity in the region, undoubtedly available also for other airlines against a fee, will be welcome news to the aviation sector in Eastern Africa and further cement KQ’s standing in the region as the premier airline.
It is also understood that the airline is seeking further automation and modernization through investments in the latest technologies, in order to save costs in the coming years, but immediate job cuts have apparently been ruled out at this time. The airline is presently looking at ways and means to mitigate the financial fallout of extortionate wage increases, forced by the union after ignoring a court order prohibiting a strike, but nevertheless going ahead with it anyway in total disregard of the Kenyan legal system.

Following the column items of last week, the Intercontinental Nairobi’s marketing section was swift to point out that the entire 5th floor with 30 superior rooms will be made available with priority to Crowne Club members, who will in addition enjoy business center service 24/7 and free wireless access through the hotel’s network. While availing this information, the hotel group also announced the opening of an additional hotel in South Africa, The Rosebank, also managed and marketed under the Crowne Plaza brand. This hotel has recently undergone a refurbishment and modernization worth over 300 million South African Rand. IHG also reiterated sentiments expressed in this column last week, that over the next 3-5 years, the global industry giant will add more hotels to its Africa portfolio, reaching at least 30 properties managed under the IHG brands by 2014.

An article in the Business Daily published in Nairobi has highlighted once again the Chinese hunger for African blood ivory, fueled by high demand amongst rich Chinese craving to possess intricately-carved statues and artifacts without regard to the bloody poaching business threatening the very survival of the elephants in parts of Africa. The increase in commerce and trade between China and African countries in recent years brought many Chinese workers to the continent, and there have been a series of arrests in Eastern Africa when a number of them were caught red handed with ivory tucked away in their luggage or while trying to ship it back home concealed within other cargo consignments. This column has in the past often been on record about this deplorable situation and even criticized the CITES decision to “legally” export stockpiled ivory from Southern African states to China and other Far Eastern destinations, as each and every time the total ban on trade in such products was partially lifted, poaching suffered an immediate increase in Eastern Africa, from where the ill-gotten blood ivory was then smuggled regularly down south to be allegedly integrated into their “legal” stocks. The CITES secretariat, stung by such criticism, has started to employ better detection methods, including using DNA analysis, to determine the real source of traded ivory but could not evade nor deflect the harsh words the global conservation fraternity had for them. The conservationists have criticized the notion that money raised from such one-off sales will assist in anti-poaching activities, as little of those funds has in the past allegedly reached the bodies combating poaching and patrolling the parks, game reserves, and wide open spaces of Africa. The same circles have also taken issue with statements made by the secretariat, that “legal” trade would extinguish the trade in illegal ivory, as all evidence presently available speaks against such justifications and has pointed to internal Chinese sources monitoring the trade and that more has to be done to regulate and control the use and sale of ivory products. Watch this space and read the article in question via this link:

One of Kenya’s premier cultural events will kick off next week in Lamu, celebrating the heritage and history of the ancient port city, which hitherto has remained largely untouched by modern developments and, therefore, holds a special attraction for visitors, as well as scientists and researchers. Last year, over 30,000 visitors flocked to Lamu to enjoy musical performances, see art exhibitions, enjoy the traditional Swahili food, and the warm hospitality of the people of Lamu. A regatta for dhows, ancient sailing vessels used along the Indian Ocean trade routes to the Gulf since time immemorial, will also once again be on the calendar for the festival. Organizers are said to be apprehensive over attendance this year as the present heavy rains have partly cut off road access to the island, and the rains and strong winds are not conducive to reaching the town by sea either.

Embattled Rift Valley Railways (RVR) had a nightmare return last weekend for their re-launched passenger train services from Nairobi to Kisumu, when the journey back to Nairobi apparently delayed by over a day and a half, kept passengers and invited scribes fuming. Reports in the Kenyan Nation lambasted the company for keeping them stuck in the train station in Kisumu for several hours, leaving for Nairobi eventually at 4:00 am on Monday instead of 7:00 pm on Sunday evening, only to then get stranded again halfway into the journey for several more hours due to a technical failure on the initial engine, before the replacement engine then also started to have further problems, delaying the return to the capital yet more. While those passengers booked in sleepers or first class at least had access to a restaurant wagon, the passengers in second and third class were without such amenities and were reportedly without assistance. Invited journalists, supposed to cover the event for the promotion of domestic tourism, poured scorn over the company, and one in contact with this column also called last week’s item on the restoration of the train services premature, saying “RVR was not ready and should have done some trial runs instead of promoting the service from day one to the media,” before adding “this was a disaster; what tourist company can now book passengers on this train?” See the full article by Paul Juma about his experience on this train marathon journey in the Nation via

A twin engine Beech 1900 King Air crashed near the perimeter fence while attempting to land at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. The plane was carrying no passengers, but a cargo of khat or miraa destined for a Somali destination. The flight had reportedly taken off earlier on, but the pilots apparently decided to return to Wilson with a yet unconfirmed technical problem. Both pilots died as a result of the crash. The growing of and transportation to Somalia of the stimulant, still legal in Kenya and other parts of Eastern Africa but on the prohibited substances lists in much of the rest of the world, is big business for Kenyan farmers and smaller airlines, and reportedly dozens of planes leave Wilson Airport every morning at the break of dawn to ferry the drug to their main markets in Somalia, where in particular men chew the drug on a daily basis. Only last month, two crashes were recorded near the airport and earlier in the year another aircraft, on the final approach to Wilson, crashed into a housing estate as reported at the time in this column. Wilson’s approach paths have been increasing built up in recent years, as have incidentally the approaches and departures of the Eastleigh military airbase in the city, causing concern by aviation experts. An air accident investigation is now underway to determine the exact cause of the crash.

During the week, the Turkish Ambassador to Tanzania has given rise to expectations that Turkish Airlines may commence flights to Dar es Salaam in due course. The Turkish national airline already serves Nairobi in codeshare with Kenya Airways, which opened the route but eventually had to withdraw the flights when the global economic crisis led to a meltdown in business travel between the two countries. Turkey has progressively become a trading partner of Africa, and the route expansion by Turkish Airlines, now apparently planned, will do much to stimulate not just business traffic but is also expected to bring tourists from a new source market – Turkey – to Tanzania.

Rwanda once again excelled in their promotional and marketing activities, when the “land of a thousand hills” was honored as the ONLY African country, together with 6 other exhibitors from different parts of the world, for their outstanding stand design and presentation, beating hundreds of other exhibitors vying for the honors at WTM to the finish line. Considering that it was just 6 years ago that Rwanda re-launched themselves in London as an extra special tourism destination in Eastern Africa, it is noteworthy that their united marketing approach, their ability to absorb and utilize good advice, and their remarkable PR network has won them repeated global recognition, including three consecutive “best stand” awards at the rival ITB tourism exhibition in Berlin, Germany, while on many other occasions the country was recognized and awarded for their graceful displays, performances of their dance groups, and the competence and friendliness of the participating companies. The more than 100-square-meter-large and newly-designed stand allowed for a user-friendly display of the country’s latest additions to their tourism attractions, including featuring the new tree-top canopy walk at Nyungwe National Park.

The EAC common regulations on grading and classification of hospitality businesses have finally come into effect in Rwanda from November5 onwards, and all existing and new hotels, lodges, resorts, safari camps, and even restaurants are now subject to these new rules. Rwanda aims to uplift the hospitality standards across the board and is, following months of workshops, training sessions, and interaction with the private sector, well on course to achieve this.

November 11 saw the East African tourist boards host a joint cocktail party, which was attended by delegation heads, attending ministers, and the respective ambassadors, together with the private sector participants on site in London. The Rwandan delegation was the only one which bothered to actually send a press release to this effect, stressing again that the country was fully committed to a joint East African tourism promotion. Rwanda also showcased their latest addition to the tourism sector, a new extended treetop canopy walkway in Nyungwe Forest National Park, said to be the first of its kind in Eastern Africa. This idea was floated by, amongst others, this correspondent years ago, to be created inside the Mabira Forest as an extra attraction for tourists and local visitors alike, but alas, while Uganda is still pondering, Rwanda has picked up the idea and implemented it as part of the RDB-T&C’s drive towards diversification of its tourism products. The Rwandan commitment towards a joint marketing of the region as “one destination with many attractions” will surely ring in the ears of some member state officials, as in particular from Tanzania ugly and unsavory sentiments emerged in recent weeks over the issue of the border crossing between the Masai Mara and the Serengeti, with not one official reigning in the hot-headed and foul-mouthed individuals who have tried to hijack that debate. Congrats to Rwanda for their strong and explicit commitment to East African cooperation, and mega barbs for the ones littering the cyberspace with anti-EAC sentiments.

Earlier in the week, sources in Kigali confirmed that the Kigali Serena Hotel has now opened their new wing comprising some 44 extra rooms, a bonus for the city, which has in the part often struggled to accommodate visitors in quality accommodation during large conferences and regional/continental meetings. It was also confirmed that the new spa and a remodeled leisure area, including a newly-designed pool, are now also open for guests, while the restaurant extension is also complete. It is understood that the old rooms of the hotel will be refurbished in due course to bring them in line with the comforts and standards of the new wing. Until some years ago, the hotel was managed by a South African hospitality group under the Intercontinental brand, but after the Rwandan government terminated the contract, the hotel came under the Serena brand together with the Lake Kivu Hotel, which has also seen upgrades in the recent past.

An attempt to take off from Harare ended in near disaster when the Chinese-built plane ran into several wild pigs crossing the runway, while the turboprop MA60 aircraft was nearing take off speed. The flight to Bulawayo ended up off the runway with substantial damage to the wings, undercarriage, and propellers, but thankfully no loss of lives was recorded. Some passengers, according to reports received, were slightly injured when scrambling out of the craft after it came to a standstill. No information was received as to why wildlife would be able to enter the main airport and if the perimeter fences were intact and regularly patrolled or had fallen into disrepair through neglect, lack of funds, and human negligence.

It was learned earlier in the week that operations have commenced out of the Seychelles to provide aerial surveillance and intelligence in the fight against the ever-more-daring pirates, who only recently hijacked a ship further down south and not far from Madagascar. The so-called drones will be able to stay airborne for some 16 hours and can patrol areas not under naval surveillance. Information gathered by the drones will be relayed in real time to the naval command center and the Seychelles Coast Guard. What is of concern is that reportedly the drones are presently unarmed, in spite of being capable of carrying a substantive payload, and can, therefore, not at present engage pirate mother ships and their skiffs. It is hoped that this policy will be reviewed in due course to provide a more aggressive deterrent against the pirates and serve them with notice: enter these waters with criminal intent and you will be a target. The UAVs were provided by the United States government and are being maintained and operated with the assistance of US advisors as part of a wider cooperation between the Seychelles and friendly nations aimed to boost commerce, trade, and security cooperation. In a related development, it was also confirmed that Belgium and the Seychelles have entered into a bilateral agreement to increase their military cooperation, also aimed at combating piracy in the region, as the alliance against the “problem from hell” caused by lawless Somalis continues to widen and take more roots. At the same time. it was also announced in Victoria that the country had signed a formal agreement with the EU to legally cover the status of stationed personnel used in anti-piracy operations.

The latest statements by the airline, which only recently got a new board of directors while keeping the chairman and CEO in place, indicate that a swift cash bailout will be required from the government to turn the airline around. Apparently, the extent of the financial woes was kept well under wraps until earlier in the week, when parliament had to discuss extending an emergency loan to the national airline. A strategy review for Air Seychelles is currently underway and all measures, including part privatization and intensified partnerships, are apparently on the table for discussion. The combined position of the airline’s CEO as chairman of the board of directors has also been called into question, but no immediate fallout is expected to take place.

The government in Juba has decreed that all civil servants and public staff will take 7 days off to assist in the mobilization of the population for the ongoing voter registration across the south. The SPLM and government are keen to see a massive participation towards these goals, as national elections are due to be held in April next year, and crucially, the independence referendum is then set for January 2011. The measure seems to have helped the cause as increased registration figures are now filtering back to Juba. However, it was pointed out upon making inquiries, that crucial services like airport operations, customs, immigration, police, hospitals, emergency, and fire fighting services will all remain on full status, although general government offices will remain largely closed for the week.

East Africa tourism report
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