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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Mar 20, 2008


Soon after Emirates broke the news to the local market, that they will introduce A380 flights to New York from late this year for Ugandans connecting to the Big Apple in Dubai, they have now added another US destination. From September onwards Emirates’ travelers can reach Los Angeles after the customary stopover in Dubai, before boarding a non stop flight to California. This is the airline’s third US destination after New York and Houston. Travel agents expressed their delight over the new options, partly also because Emirates still pays a commission to travel agents for tickets sold as opposed to many other airlines, which have cut the agents out with zero commission for their work. Emirates’ daily flights from Entebbe have been hugely popular for travelers to the Gulf, India, the South and Far East owing to convenient connections in Dubai, stopover ‘goodies’, decent in-flight service and well placed pricing. The airline intends to use a Boeing 777-200LR (long range) for the service and will offer its traditional three class configuration, including its legendary first class suites and their acclaimed flat bed business class. Flight time from Dubai to LAX is estimated to be about 16 and half hours, plus about 5 hours from Entebbe to Dubai, allowing passengers to enjoy nearly a full day of award winning inflight service and on board entertainment to pass their time.

Now that the fourth weekly flight between Brussels and Entebbe has taken root in the market, Brussels Airlines has granted increased baggage allowances for their passengers. Economy passengers can now carry up to 46 kg without extra charge, while business class travelers have an allowance of 64 kg for checked in luggage. In line with international standards this allowance applies to at least two checked pieces. Well done!

The parliamentary committee on transport has been told by engineers that the Entebbe based weather radar system has broken down. The system had been repaired and upgraded less than a year ago for the Commonwealth Summit in late November 2007 and is a key ingredient for safe air operations, providing important clues for aircraft landing at and leaving from Entebbe. The committee reportedly focused on projects and expenditure connected to CHOGM and how funds have been spent and what value the country got in return, when they heard from witnesses about the radar’s faults. However, the main traffic radar facility in Entebbe is said to be working satisfactorily.

Following reports on the ongoing AVGAS shortage at the Kajjansi airfield and Entebbe International Airport, Shell Uganda has responded directly to questions from this correspondent and assured the aviation fraternity that new supplies would be available within days, after transit times from Mombasa to Uganda had ‘normalized.’ It was also revealed by Shell that a new storage facility at Kajjansi was nearing completion. This, they mentioned, would add extra storage capacity at an airfield where consumption of the fuel was substantial and relieve domestic airlines operating from Kajjansi to constantly stop over in Entebbe for refueling or else having to transport the fuel in drums from the main tanks to the required locations. The aviation fraternity cautiously welcomed the announcement when informed about it but nevertheless remained in a ‘wait and see’ mode as similar past commitments came and went without results.
However, information received just before going to press confirmed that AVGAS has now been received in Entebbe’s main aviation fuel storage tanks and that the new Kajjansi AVGAS fuel facility will be ready for use by April this year, bringing relief to the domestic air operators and private aircraft owners. Full charter services from the Kajjansi airfield’s operators have now resumed, just in time for the annual Easter Holiday and seasonal peak demand.

As part of the long term development plan for Entebbe International Airport the CAA has now announced a new public-private venture to develop a new cargo centre at the airport and create sufficient new space in warehousing and cold storage to meet the growing requirements for exporters of fresh produce, cut flowers and chilled fish, but also for importers using airfreight. While the CAA will create roads, parking spaces for aircraft and links to existing taxiways, private investors are expected to add more facilities in the now designated areas away from the present cargo terminal, capable of handling some 100.000 tons of cargo per annum. The new buildings will also allow an expansion of the passenger facilities in a few years time, when the recent terminal expansion will have reached its limit again. The cost for the expansion was given at about 25 million US Dollars. It was also revealed during the week before a parliamentary select committee that government institutions owed the CAA some 70 billion shillings in various charges and fees, including rent. This prompted committee members to summon those responsible for not settling their bills to answer before them in due course, as the outstanding amounts could financially cripple the CAA severely.

More anger has been expressed by trade fair participants returning from ITB over government’s handling of the financial side for the show. ITB this year set new records for attendance and exhibitors, making it without argument the most important and extensive tourism trade show across the world and the greatest opportunity to showcase a country and attract tourists.

As previously mentioned in this column, Uganda’s Tourist Board has been notoriously shortfunded and the near disaster in Berlin, when the stand money only arrived after the opening of the show, is the latest mishap in this saga. Stakeholders and show participants now demanded a swift meeting with top officials of the Ministry of Tourism to conduct a ‘post mortem’ and identify those responsible for the unbearable situation. Some sections of the tourism industry have also vowed not to rest until fundamental change has come to the Ministry and the culprits been reprimanded or worse, including calls for resignations and sackings.

Several very negative press articles also appeared over the past two weeks from journalists who actually witnessed the Ugandan performance in Berlin and compared it with other East African exhibitors, while applauding Rwanda’s performance which the same media called ‘ outstanding’ and ‘excellent’. No public statement in response however was given by the Minister of Tourism so far to the disappointment of the sector and the general public following the developments. Watch this space.

Rwenzori Mountain Services has at last responded to frequent visitors’ complaints about the status of the pit latrines along the popular medium and high altitude hiking and climbing trails. In a concerted effort the concessionaire has now put up some 13 new ecofriendly ‘Ecosan’ compost latrines for use by visitors and their guides, making the trails finally more user friendly, while at the same time protecting the mountain’s water sources and environment.

The park is slowly getting more popular again with alpine tourists from Europe and the rest of the world, after a closure in the mid 90’s due to rebel activities from the other side of the border in Congo. The border between the two countries runs across the main peaks of the East African mountain range and have some time ago been disputed by Congolese officials against age old standing international agreements. Climbs and treks across the mountains, including the glaciers, are amongst the more difficult ones’ due to the constant rainy and foggy weather conditions but are also considered as some of the most rewarding experiences for visiting alpinists.

Next on the list of urgent ‘to do’ things will be a full rehabilitation of the mountain huts as well as constructing more of them to open up new trails and hikes towards the main peaks as well as provide better comfort along the present routes.

For more information on Uganda’s national parks and game reserves visit or the official Tourist Board website More pertinent information on Uganda can also be found at – the official website of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority.

A key step towards restoring full electricity supply for the country was taken this week, when Tullow Oil, one of the main exploration companies working towards crude oil production in the Lake Albert basin, signed a supply deal with Jacobsen Elektro. As a first step Tullow intends to build a mini refinery near their production sites to produce useable oil products. Concurrently an 85 MW heavy fuel oil and gas powered thermal powerplant is to be constructed by Jacobsen Elektro, which is already in the final phase of installing a 50 MW heavy fuel oil plant near Kampala, said to come on line within the next two months. Heavy fuel oil powered plants are cheaper to operate and will help to keep rising cost in check (see previous column item). Tullow also announced that they would invest at least US Dollars 200 million this year alone to advance further drilling and bring to production the already existing wells within their concession area.
This will be welcome news for the Uganda Government, the business community and civil society. Government has been struggling with a multitude of misfortunes in the energy sector over the past years, as supply of electricity has been lagging largely behind present consumption and against forecasts for coming years.

Following the crisis months after the end December elections in Kenya, KWS has now announced that they would defer the planned tariff increases due for July 2008 for 6 months until January 2009, in order to boost the tourism recovery in the country. This was announced by the Executive Director during the official re- opening of the Nakuru National Park airfield, which has been undergoing repairs and upgrades. It was also announced that KWS would advertise additional concession sites in Tsavo National Park (both East and West), the Aberdare’s, Amboseli, Nakuru, Mt. Kenya and Nairobi. KWS gave assurances at the function that all parks would have their main airstrips rehabilitated to facilitate more visits by air, avoiding the often notoriously bad roads leading to the parks.

To spur domestic travel in the weeks ahead KWS also announced a waiver of park entrance fees for young Kenyans below 18 years from Easter until April, to make visits more affordable.

Wildlife authorities across the region however still need to implement a joint East African policy, to allow a common entrance rate across all the countries in the region for ‘citizens of East Africa’ (not just citizens of the respective country itself), registered ‘residents’ of East Africa and foreign non resident visitors to the parks, to make regional / domestic travel more affordable and therefore more attractive.

Although the international tourists are still slow to return to Kenya’s Indian Ocean beaches, Kenyans and visitors from the region have boosted hotel occupancies for the Easter season. Flights to Mombasa show marked signs of higher occupancies ahead of the holidays and some hotels and resorts along the coast are in fact fully booked for the long Easter weekend and the week afterwards. Once again, domestic tourism has come to the rescue of the industry in times of need and visitors numbers include between 80 to 90 percent of ‘locals’ in many of the hotels surveyed. Starting from the week after Easter very special offers are now also on the market with huge tariff reductions, giving the best value in years to visitors. In the process a good number of staff previously laid off or sent on leave have been recalled on duty, which is good news too. Kenya is once again ready and waiting to provide hospitality for tourists from far and near.

The daily flights of Qatar Airways between Nairobi to Doha now offer a wider choice of connections, with three destinations to China on offer and Houston coming on line soon. Travelers from around Eastern Africa can use their choice regional connections on Kenya Airways, Fly 540, Air Tanzania and Rwandair Express to link up with the carrier at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Qatar Airways presently offers over 80 destinations already for Nairobi passengers connecting in Doha.

The Gulf based airline has about 140 planes (80 Airbus and 60 Boeings) on order and expects from July 2008 onwards delivery of at least one new aircraft per month to meet its ambitious expansion drive towards more destinations and greater frequencies. This development will then match the launch of the new Doha International Airport, presently under construction.

A recently published report, compiled by the New York based Human Rights Watch, speaks of well planned post election violence against President Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, once presidential election results did not go the opposition’s way. This previously often mentioned, and equally often harshly criticized notion in this column now stands on solid grounds, with HRW’s credible findings made public.

The Kenya Police was also severely criticized over the use of ‘excessive force’ against demonstrators, but this too can now be seen in a different light in hindsight, having had to deal with clearly organized mobs with a deadly agenda.

The report also speaks of planned counter reaction by Kikuyu tribesmen after the initial onslaught against them, mainly in Western Kenya and the Rift Valley, which however seems to have taken some time to set up, while the opposition sponsored violence was ‘instant.’

Hard work will be needed therefore to reconcile the opposing sides, not just in parliament but across the country and Kenya deserves some special Easter prayers towards that end.

Following the political agreement, brokered by former UN supremo Kofi Annan – assisted by eminent personalities from across Africa and the world – in Nairobi last month, Kenya’s parliament has now in record time passed a constitutional amendment to pave the way for the formal introduction of the office of Prime Minister and for two deputies. This was a core issue agreed upon by the political rival parties as part of their reconciliation. President Mwai Kibaki become also a history maker by being the first sitting Kenyan President to vote in parliament when the constitutional changes were put before the house, a sign of his personal commitment to make the deal work. The President however also left no doubt of his government’s intent to unearth and prosecute all those involved in the mass violence inflicted upon the Kenyan population after elections results had been published, irrespective of which political side they belong to or who they individually are. (See previous column item about the Human Rights Watch report released during the week).

The Kenyan Ministry of Tourism Permanent Secretary Mrs. Rebecca Nabutola in the meantime decried the slow pace of lifting anti travel advisories against Kenya and noted that recovery even from those countries which lifted their warnings bye and large so far was still slow. She expressed her hope that by the start of the 2008/9 high season in late 2008 however international arrival numbers would have returned to the pre-election levels, an aspiration which has our all blessings.

A senior gamekeeper turned apparent poacher was recently arrested in Goma / Eastern Congo and stands accused of having been involved in the slaughter last year of a group of habituated mountain gorillas. Some other staff of the Virunga National Park are also said to be under arrest. Sycophantic NGO’s seeking the sympathy of the regime in Kinshasa promptly showered praise on the rogues for their ‘decisive action’, saying authorities have ‘regained control’ of the park. Reality in Congo however is that any type of authority is erratic at best, corruption is endemic and that this arrest may only be a scapegoat to cover up the colossal failures wildlife conservation in Congo has suffered of over the past, both recent and more distant. It should also be recalled that the same quarters some time last year accused the Tutsi self protection forces of General Nkunda for being responsible for the killing of the prized animals in the same park and have yet to withdraw their inflammatory and baseless statements made at the time.

Wolfgang’s East Africa report

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