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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Apr 18, 2008

Licensing meetings of Civil Aviation Authorities and Departments of Civil Aviation are often shrouded in mystery and secrecy, but not in Uganda. The regular meetings are advertised weeks ahead of the event and besides the applicants the Uganda CAA openly invites media representatives, industry observers and also the general public. Going a step further even, the licensing committee – during the meeting last week chaired by the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Uganda CAA himself – invites comments and questions from the public during the session, giving interested parties the chance to make additional inquiries beyond those raised by committee members, which the applicants then have to answer too. Even objections from the floor are still allowed and accepted, though none were raised in regard of any of the dozen or so applications heard last week.

During the meeting last Thursday at Kampala’s Imperial Royale Hotel this led to a lively exchange of questions and answers, focusing on new applicant Fly540, and the renewal applications of Everett Aviation and of the Kampala Aero Club.

Points of concern raised with the licensing committee were about the sudden closure of the Kajjansi Airfield ahead of the Commonwealth Summit last year, the shortages experienced in the recent past with both JetA1 and AVGAS aviation fuels but also regulatory issues, such as why Fly540 would need to apply for a Ugandan license when the Yamoussoukro declaration, COMESA’s legal notice No. 2 and the East African Community agreements almost dictated an opening of the continent’s aviation opportunities for airlines from member states. (Fly540 already holds all requisite licenses in Kenya and is an airline of good standing) It, however, appeared that the issue of "cabotage" was not fully catered for under existing aviation treaties, making it still necessary to have separate air service licenses and air operator certificates for the time being at least, until the joint East African aviation administration comes into place. There was also overwhelming expression of support for Fly540 from the floor, especially in view of making flying between Nairobi and Entebbe more affordable for a wider public. In regard of Everett’s medivac services it was pointed out by members of the public, that "block clearance" was needed to allow late afternoon and night flights from the International Hospital Kampala – where the helicopters are based, which appears to have been rather difficult during the first license term, often to the detriment of the affected accident victims and seriously ill people needing an immediate airlift from anywhere in the country to the IHK.

Watch this space for breaking news from the Ugandan aviation sector.

The five East African member states have opted to begin their joint operations with this key agency, to be located in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. Premises now seem to have been selected at last, and once the offices have been prepared, the agency staff presently located in Arusha at the EAC headquarters will move to Kampala for the formal launch of the agency. The Permanent Secretaries of the respective ministries overseeing aviation are due to meet in Kampala later in April or early May to endorse the launch of the new agency and formally commission the offices.

Already in January this year have common national air service regulations come into effect across the region, after they were developed in public private partnership over the past four years. Until a common open sky and joint administration however comes into place the largely identical air service regulations will still be national documents, requiring a multilateral approach by airlines rather than working under a unified system of regulations. It is however expected that from early 2009 onwards, when the "one sky" has come into effect across Eastern Africa that foreign airlines will have to seek EAC approvals when negotiating bilateral air services agreements.

Already in effect is the joint administration of the high altitude airspace, which administers over flights across the region at cruising altitudes.

EAA was granted a renewal of their air services license last week during the scheduled meeting of the Uganda Civil Aviation licensing committee. The fully Ugandan owned airline had halted operations in 2006 and has since then restructured and undergone an ownership change, bringing aviation veteran Fred Obbo on board. Unlike another Ugandan airline upstart, which is foreign owned and controlled, EAA to their credit does not claim to be Uganda’s national airline, but readily admits it will be a "designated carrier" for routes allotted to them by the CAA under existing bilateral air services agreements. In fact, one of their staff attending the hearing rubbished any claims by any airline to be a Ugandan national carrier, saying, "After Uganda Airlines was liquidated, that was it. We will not have a national carrier again, but the more private airlines Uganda has the better. There is us and Eagle and Royal Daisy and they are all Ugandan owned, so why mislead the public over a status which does not exist. Maybe there is another agenda?"

The airline has confirmed that the purchase of a Boeing 737-200 QC (quick conversion) from Air Tanzania has been finalized and that the aircraft will be converted into a "combi" version, able to carry 3 standard cargo pallets and about 60 passengers. Once the aircraft has been put into service the airline will immediately commence flights into Eastern Congo’ main airfields, like Kisangani but also to Kinshasa, and the mix of palletized cargo and passengers is generally considered by aviation analysts as a winning formula. Regional cargo distribution into the African hinterland is presently only possible as "loose cargo" i.e. stowed in the under-floor baggage compartments of passenger aircraft, often leaving bulkier, heavier and palletized cargo stranded at the key regional airports like Entebbe. EAA destinations could also be widened to include South Africa, where the ‘old’ East African Airlines has flown to before, until operations were halted two years ago. Follow further aviation developments from the region in this column in coming weeks.

The long derelict Chobi Safari Lodge, destroyed by marauding troops retreating at the end of the liberation war in Uganda, is now being rebuilt by the new owners. The Madhvani family’s tourism and hospitality business arm, Marasa Limited, commenced the US$7 million works last month. The "new" Chobi Lodge is due for re-opening within 12 months and will once again become a focal point for fishing aficionados. In the old days Chobi was hosting many fishing competitions and had gained global renown for being one of the best river fishing spots across Eastern Africa.

This project is a vote of confidence for the tourism sector, as this area of Murchisons Falls National Park was long closed due to concerns over rebel activities. New roads and tracks, and a new airfield, are now being opened once again in the more forested part of the park ready in time for the Chobi Lodge to officially reopen in early 2009. The lodge, once reopened, will also add much needed accommodation capacity in the park, and is set right on the shores of the river Nile. This development will likely also end any further demands for more hospitality developments inside the park – other than rebuilding the derelict Pakuba Safari Lodge – and new lodges can then be built outside the national park boundaries in line with latest policy developments and global trends.

Marasa already owns and operates the two most important safari lodges in the country, Mweya Safari Lodge/ Queen Elizabeth NP – located on the peninsula reaching into Lake Edward – and the Paraa Safari Lodge at Murchisons Falls NP, which overlooks the river near the main ferry crossing point.

Still up for grabs in Murchisons Falls NP however is the concession for the Pakuba Safari Lodge, also destroyed over 20 years ago, and interested investors are invited to make proposals to the Uganda Wildlife Authority. This lodge is strategically located on a hill overlooking the river delta and parts of Lake Albert, in an area generally rich with game. Watch this space for regular updates.

Merryde Loosemore, the Australian born proprietor of the highly acclaimed Gately on Nile in Jinja, has just announced that she will open another Gately in Entebbe in a few weeks time. The new property will feature 9 well appointed rooms, a coffee shop on the shaded terrace and a continental ‘bistro’ also offering Thai cuisine. An adjoining gift gallery will make souvenir shopping an in-house affair before visitors catch their flight home from the nearby Entebbe International Airport.

Merryde’s home made quiche on offer at the Gately in Jinja has generated praise from the many visitors the inn enjoyed over the years and going by the general quality of the cuisine in Jinja, Entebbe residents and visitors can be expecting a treat there too. Watch this space for the formal opening announcement some time in May. Visit their website at for more information.

It was announced to the local media by the Kampala office of the airline this week that profitability nearly doubled in 2007. More importantly for Uganda and the rest of the Africa destinations, passenger loads originating from Africa increased by an average of 8 percent, while European traffic numbers remained just slightly ahead compared with the 2006 financial year figures. Brussels Airlines, created from a merger of SN Brussels/Virgin Europe and successor to the former SABENA, is one of the favorite airlines connecting passengers from Europe to Africa and vice versa due to their extensive African and European network, punctuality and of course their in-flight services. All their A 330 long haul aircraft were last year refurbished and retrofitted with state of the art flat bed business class seats and given a new look and comforts in economy class too. Presently Entebbe receives four flights a week from Brussels and Uganda was chosen last year also as main regional crew stopover base. Other destinations in Eastern Africa are Nairobi, Kigali and Bujumbura.

The airline however would not confirm any plans on future joint ventures with African airlines in the region beyond the existing JV airline Air DC presently operating in Congo, although there is strong evidence that they are indeed pursuing a strategy of gaining footholds in the aviation sector. This policy of engagement would of course allow the carrier to feed and de-feed on a regional basis into their intercontinental flights, further cementing their already substantial passenger base and staying ahead of the competition.

President Museveni spent last week in India, first attending the First Africa-India Summit before embarking on a full State visit with his delegation. When meeting the Indian business community he invited them to invest in such areas as tourism and hospitality, infrastructural developments and in particular the energy sector, amongst other areas of mutual interest like coffee production and processing. Uganda’s investment climate is often described as one of the most progressive and proactive in Africa and allows full foreign controlled ownership of companies, making the country attractive for direct foreign investment. India is also a key trade partner and has in recent years been very active to counter the Chinese overtures to Africa and the traditional trade links with Europe, in order to position itself better to access the ever dwindling reserves on raw materials, of which Africa is still so rich.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority just last week advertised more opportunities to invest in the tourism and conservation sector and anyone interested can visit the site of the Uganda Investment Authority at or or refer to the column item of last week, in which more details were given for potential investors.

The main road connecting Kasese, a town located between Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Rwenzori Mountain National Park, to the DR Congo’s Mpondwe border crossing point, collapsed early in the week, after an overloaded timber truck from Congo tried to driver over it in violation of weight restrictions. This road is the main traffic artery to the Eastern Congolese town of Beni and supplies will now back up on the Ugandan side of the border, until the bridge has been fixed. Ministry of Works staff was immediately dispatched to the site for assessment and to initiate emergency repairs. Travelers by road to this part of the world are advised to seek updated information in Kampala before setting out on their journeys.

Meanwhile, some light traffic has been allowed back on the main highway between Mukono and Jinja, after repairs of the collapsed culvert have progressed well. Full access for heavy trucks is expected to resume by next week.

The hotel development along the main road from the city to the airport in Entebbe has now come under further financial scrutiny by the parliamentary select committee on CHOGM over some advance payment of 2.2 billion Uganda shillings.

The minister for Finance however pointed the parliamentarians to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to ascertain first if that money had indeed been paid to the owners. He also, in a rather critical way, said, according to press reports in the local media, "My impression is that the man over invested and over expanded. He invested 6 million US Dollars, so the 2.2 billion Uganda Shillings from the government was a small amount of money." He went on to say: "f you have a Ugandan who has invested 6 million dollars and gets stuck, as a government do you say sorry or find a way of helping him? Maybe he was misadvised because he has over 20 incomplete buildings."

This correspondent has in fact repeatedly in the past voiced similar sentiments in this column and directly to the developers, who however insisted that they wanted to develop about 1.000 rooms and several shopping malls along this remote part of the airport road and would apparently not listen to any good advice given to them from many competent sources in regard of a financially sound and viable project. A financial collapse – after all Barclays Bank has already foreclosed some of the owners other properties for failing on the loans – would be very painful but not entirely unexpected. Hospitality industry observers have also added their opinions by calling the developers "misguided," "ill informed" and – as one put it,"outright stubborn in the face of evidence to the contrary of their own opinions."

After serving as Chairman since the inception of the PSF Uganda over a decade ago, Mr. James Mulwana, an accomplished industrialist and philanthropist and also founder chairman of the Uganda Manufacturers Association, has finally retired from this position. James had also served several rotating terms as Chairman of the East African Business Council at the East African Community in Arusha on behalf of the Ugandan membership. The entire who is who of Uganda’s private sector were present at the recently held Annual General Meeting and showered compliment after compliment on James for his outstanding achievements, before then electing immediate former Minister of Finance, Mr. Gerald Ssendaula, as his successor. James continues to serve as Honorary Consul for the Kingdom of Thailand in Uganda and other private and public capacities. Well done indeed James and all the best to Gerald in his new demanding job.

The rather notorious Hamid brothers (of the AYA Group of Companies), intending to develop a five-star hotel over the past three years (with not much progress to show so far), which is allegedly due to become the Kampala Hilton Hotel, have now been sued by some of their former hotel consultants. The amount in question amounts to some 643 million Uganda shillings over non payment of services rendered. The defendants have so far denied liability and as a result a hearing date at the commercial court has now been fixed. The consultants walked off the project when their fees were initially not being paid in time and eventually not at all, leading to the case now before court.

As has become customary, Rivertrees – located near Usa River between the Kilimanjaro International Airport and Arusha – has once again closed during the low season for the annual spring cleaning, renovations and upgrading. The much lauded property will reopen for business on 15th May again. Visit for further information on this charming, owner managed and very upmarket Country Inn.

Controversy seems brewing in Nakuru, where Chinese investors are set to open a lead smelting plant, aimed to recycle old car batteries. The environmental lobby has apparently been caught napping over the development and is rushing to make up for lost time and ground, before the factory is officially opened. Nakuru’s biggest attraction is the Lake Nakuru National Park, one of the most visited parks in the country, and home to the proverbial millions of lesser flamingo birds, which has made Nakuru known around the world. The park is also home to dozens of rhinos and the rare Rothschild giraffes, besides a large number of resident and migratory birds and other animals.

Environmentalists now take issue with the plant being located not only between two major housing estates in a residential area, a potential source of lead poisoning for the residents, but also for fear that pollution could reach the water sources of both town itself and national park. The latter could have devastating consequences for the fragile ecosystem of the park and its flora and fauna, already straining under the general pollution reaching the lake waters from the urban area bordering all round.

Efforts are now underway to seek a last minute alternative solution, including the relocation of the plant. Opposed to such plans are the recently employed staff and successful job applicants assured of positions, once the factory starts work. Watch this space to see what school of thought will carry the day in the end.

On April 07th began for the 14th time a week long remembrance across Rwanda, commemorating the 1994 evil genocide, which then erupted in this tiny Eastern Central African nation and lasted for 100 days. Hutu militias at the time slaughtered at least some 800.000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus, before being overwhelmed by the Tutsi liberation forces, which had invaded the country from Uganda three years earlier in their fight for justice and freedom.

Like remembering 9/11 every year, this gruesome event too should be remembered around the world and never be allowed to happen ever again. Let all offer some prayers for those who passed in Rwanda at the time and gave their lives in the liberation struggle, allowing a new Rwanda to rise from the ashes.

However, during the first week of commemorations and memorial services and events, several attacks took place in Rwanda on the Genocide Museum and on a procession of mourners. These attacks are thought to have been carried out by Hutu militants camped across the border in relative safety in Congo, who infiltrated into Rwanda to carry on their deadly handiwork. The regime in Kinshasa, as well as UN peace keeping forces stationed in Eastern Congo have been quietly tolerating the presence and the activities of such ethnic militant elements while in a display of ongoing bias harshly pursuing and punishing Tutsi self protection efforts. Security forces in Rwanda managed to arrest one suspect and are hunting for others with increased surveillance along the border with Congo.

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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