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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Apr 24, 2008

Uganda’s sole rhino sanctuary at Ziwa Ranch has now released details on their 2007 performance. Visitor numbers sharply increased once again and the trend for the first three months of 2008 too are well ahead of the 2007 count. The increase in gate donations will undoubtedly assist in meeting a portion of the recurrent expenditure, although the sanctuary still relies heavily on donor support and income from other sources, i.e. charity events like the forthcoming 4x4 ‘Rhino Charge’ challenge.

Sadly though, one of the three female rhinos gave birth to a still born baby rhino in February, which was considered the biggest set back yet for the RFU operation, although a second female is now thought to be pregnant too. Makerere University’s vet department is presently evaluating the samples taken at the time in order to establish the exact cause of the pre-birth death, which occurred in spite of intense monitoring of the pregnant rhino by veterinary staff on the sanctuary. Major diseases have already been ruled out.

Meanwhile, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has given several more rangers to Ziwa on attachment for the time being, while five of Ziwa’s own rangers are undergoing further training, together with 2 askaris (Kiswahili word for watchman or security guard).

It was also learned from Heidi Cragg, executive director of the Rhino Fund Uganda, that a couple of overseas tour operators have now included visits to the sanctuary in their fixed itineraries for Uganda safaris, either on the way to Murchisons Falls NP or on the way back, which will boost recognition of Ziwa as a major component for any safari across the country.

Key sponsor Disney Animal Kingdom, which sent two rhinos from one of their wildlife parks in Florida to Uganda some time ago, also paid repeat visits to the sanctuary, and brought extra GPS units with them allowing the permanent monitoring of the prized animals on a 24/7 basis. More funding for operations throughout 2008 were also pledged by Disney, for which they deserve the thanks of the entire Ugandan tourism and conservation fraternity. Their second visit also coincided with an American Peace Corps outing to the sanctuary, where young volunteers working in Uganda on various projects learned more about Ziwa and the Rhino Fund and conservation in the country at large. Visit for more information. The pictures added below show the six rhinos on the reserve and the Disney Animal Kingdom staff during their evaluation mission interacting with sanctuary staff.

The famous Semliki Game Reserve – formerly known as the Tooro Game Reserve – home to the Semliki Safari Lodge of Wild Places Africa, has now established that a new species has been found in the reserve. A forest buffalo, which probably migrated into the reserve from the Congo jungles across the nearby frontier along the Semliki River, has been positively identified recently, adding to the general attraction of the area. The new species has distinct physical differences compared to the normal’ buffalo otherwise spotted in the reserve and the find was confirmed and underwritten by UWA staff on site. This correspondent years ago described Semliki as a “prime piece of African wilderness real estate” and indeed, Semliki offers one of the most varied landscapes and ecosystems in Uganda with a simply amazing biodiversity. Night game drives, day time guided walks and boat excursions on Lake Albert are all possible at this unique location. Visit their website at for more information.

After serving an extra innings with a contract extension beyond his official retirement age, Dr. Sam Nahamya has now taken his retirement from Uganda’s civil service, where he excelled in the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry for many many years. Before being appointed as Permanent Secretary to MTTI he held a senior position at the East African Community head quarters in Arusha on behalf of Uganda. He is thought to retire in Arusha, where he has during his EAC years established family ties. Dr. Nahamya proved to be an astute operator and generally impartial corner stone at the helm of the Ministry’s bureaucracy and enjoyed the respect and often admiration of the tourism fraternity for his focused work attitude and for being ever willing to meet with private sector stakeholders to get a balanced view on the many contentious issues moving the industry in recent years.

The PAMSU offices (World Bank’s ‘Protected Areas Management and Sustainable Use’ project) on fifth floor of the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry have now been closed, as the programme is winding down towards its completion, accounting and auditing stage. Some of the ministry’s tourism department staff have already moved to the freshly vacated offices, concentrating much of the tourism functions on the top floor of Farmer’s House on Parliament Avenue. For the achievements of the program and its support during the early stages for the tourism sector Mr. David Abura Ogwang in particular has to be thanked as he often used his personal initiatives way beyond the ordinary call of duty, to help the emerging tourism industry over the past 15 years of the ICB Pamsu and Pamsu programmes. David will remain on board, however, until some time mid next year during the final wind down phase.

As mentioned previously, this now leaves the Ugandan tourism and conservation sectors without any major development partner involvement, which is generally considered detrimental to the industry overall, due to the lack internal efforts on government’s side to really financially equip the sector and make it self sustainable. Watch this space.

After breaking for some time with this tradition, when the main restaurant venues were under renovation and refurbishment, the hotel has now started their classic ‘family brunch’ again, lasting every Sunday from late morning till well into the afternoon. Patrons have a choice of eating indoors or outdoors, as weather permits and mood demands. When in Kampala try this out as it offers excellent value for money. Call 0414 420 000 for reservations when in Kampala.

During a meeting of the ministers overseeing aviation in the East African Community a substantial amount of funds was pledged to upgrade and improve primary and secondary airports and facilities. The implementation will take place over the next decade and will, besides Entebbe International Airport, benefit Kasese and Arua in Uganda. These two aerodromes are located strategically near the international borders with Congo and can, once improved, positively impact on business, trade and tourism across the region.
In Kenya it will be the Wilson Airport benefiting from the program as well as Kisumu (and probably others too) and in Tanzania Mwanza and Mtwara have been named but work on other airports and aerodromes is also expected to take place under this initiative. It is also thought that Rwanda’s second aerodrome in Cyangugu (KME) might benefit from the initiative, which should have a positive impact on airtravel in the entire region. The meeting in Kampala took place at the prestigious Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo and the outgoing Managing Director of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority Mr. Ambrose Akandonda gave the main presentation on the development status of regional aviation and future plans to further improve aviation safety and international compliance.

Following the unexplained delay of a shipload of diesel reaching Mombassa, a shortage of diesel has hit the region and is expected to extend to the hinterland states too in due course. Prices have risen also overnight to par levels with petrol, as panic buying was going on across the country, once the news were reaching the rumor mill. This worrying development comes only weeks after similar fuel shortages, which then were caused by the railway disruption and the generally slow pace of distribution during the Kenya post election violence period. The shortage will add further pressure on inflationary trends and may well impact further on the economies across Eastern Africa, until a new delivery has landed at the port of Mombassa and been distributed. Power plants running on diesel too are expected to tune down production of electricity in coming days, leading probably to increased loadshedding, i.e. black outs.

The present unrelenting increases in prices for aviation fuels – both JetA1 and AVGAS – is likely to further increase the cost of flying in the region and to international destinations. Airlines in Eastern Africa are actively considering adding further fuel supplement charges to their fares, to avoid losses caused by the high and still rising cost of aviation fuels. Charters flights and domestic fares with aircraft using AVGAS already cost significantly more than a year ago and jet fuel available in Entebbe has also reached new record levels. While some airlines have in recent years converted their fleets to more fuel efficient models, others and in particular upstarts, continue to use stone age aircraft with fuel guzzling engines, and those will now pay even more for fuel burned on their journeys. This will to their financial worries at a time when the global aviation sector faces profit crunches caused by the slowdown of the global economy – which is triggering passenger numbers to shrink – and escalating cost for fuel, in-flight inputs, labor, regulatory charges and fees.

Information received from Kenya Airways confirms their active consideration for further surcharges in coming weeks and travelers into Eastern Africa and across the region are well advised to consult their travel agents for details of any possible changes in consolidated ticket cost. Other airlines have been understandably coy about this prospect but are nevertheless expected to follow suit.

A recent special offer by a leading airline for flights from Entebbe to Johannesburg caught the public’s attention. At an advertised fare of US$350 the offer seemed really very attractive, but once regulatory taxes and fees have been added a whopping 188 US Dollars, i.e. more than 50 percent extra have to be found by the would be travelers to be able to fly.

There is growing pressure now from the public to include all charges in the advertised ticket prices and for regulators across Africa to lower their airport taxes and security and other fees to keep the cost of flying within the reach of the wider public.

News have reached that, while abandoning the retrieval of the sunk MV Kabalega due to the outrageous cost quoted by a South African salvage company, the Uganda government will nevertheless spend nearly 2 million US Dollars to repair the MV Pamba, which was damaged in the collision on the open lake at the time. The recent Kenya crisis accelerated efforts to develop a credible second supply line from the Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam, to reduce reliance on both road and rail transport via Kenya. Rail links were over the past few months repeatedly disrupted by mobs uprooting the railway line and causing damage to other railway assets and installations, and road transport too has suffered disruptions by mobs trying to halt and destroy trucks destined for Uganda and other African hinterland nations like Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan. The increased use of the main Tanzanian Indian Ocean port however was made more difficult by the lack of sufficient ferries to connect the rail heads of Mwanza on the Tanzanian shores of Lake Victoria and Port Bell / Uganda on the outskirts of Kampala. The repairs for the MV Pamba are expected to be done later this year (2008) and will then allow a significant increase in rail shipments from Dar es Salaam to Uganda. Even Rwanda is now aiming to tap into the Tanzanian rail network, potentially increasing the use of the Dar es Salaam harbor substantially, by creating a rail link between Kigali and a new dry inland port in Western Tanzania.

The ferries can to some extend also be used by privately driven vehicles and other travellers ready to tough it out for the night, before then landing at the Lake Victoria port of Mwanza within easy reach of the Grumeti sector of the Serengeti National Park. Enquiries for such travel plans should be made in good time either at the ferry port in Port Bell or with Uganda Railways / Rift Valley Railways Corporation.

The annual ‘Pearl of Africa’ rally will this year take place between 25th and 27th of April. The motoring event will cover some parts of the open country with special stages allowing spectators’ access to the cars and seeing drivers performing to the best of their skills and ability. This rally event is considered to be the most important one in the annual calendar of motor sports in the country.

Leading drivers have expressed their concern over the route condition in view of the very heavy rains presently sweeping the country but a ‘battle in the mud’ will undoubtedly add to the attraction for spectators and help avoid the huge dust clouds normally associated with rallying in this region.

As the cost of petrol and diesel rises, so is the cost of transport going up, making food stuffs more expensive in the city and the urban areas across the country. The present heavy rains also have an impact on transportation, as many rural feeder roads become impassable after heavy downpours, leaving produce uncollected and forcing shorter supplies in the main city markets. The global grain shortage, much influenced by a mad world wide rush into bio fuel production, has also added to the rise in prices. Animal feeds too have suffered of a cost explosion as have fertilizers, a key ingredient for farming. Electricity companies using thermal plants are also demanding higher tariffs again, as their bill for diesel has sky rocketed in recent months. Government is now speeding up the thermal plant conversion from expensive diesel to the less expensive heavy fuel oil but this may only mitigate some of the rocketing energy cost until more hydro power capacity, and other alternate and renewable energy sources have come on line in a few years. Construction of a Norwegian sponsored hydro electric plant near the Karuma Falls (incidentally a tunnel version to lessen the impact on the environment normally associated with large dams) just outside the Murchisons Falls National Park, will kick off later in the year, after the final regulatory hurdles and power purchase agreements have been cleared.

Visitors to the country – and the region for that matter – are therefore well advised to check with their safari operators about any likely fuel surcharges levied on their packages for road and air safaris, especially if the package prices are quoted in US Dollars and not in Euro or Uganda Shillings. The US dollar has remained relatively stable here in Uganda, in spite of loosing much of its value across the world, while other currencies like the euro and the UK sterling pound have correspondingly appreciated in past weeks in the local currency market.

Mrs. Jacinta Ariko, Managing Director of the recently constructed Kumi Hotel in North Eastern Uganda said in a press release this week, that the hotel has now opened a tourism desk to promote the near by cultural tourism sites to visitors of eastern Uganda like the Nyero Rock Paintings archaeological site. The desk staff also give tourists information about bird watching around the Tisai, Bisina and Opeta lakes. Those lakes provide a habitat to the endangered shoebill stork species as well as they are home to a multitude of other migratory and resident birds worth watching.

Accommodation at the hotel comprises 22-self contained rooms, two executive suites, two mini-suites and it also offers conference facilities for small and medium sized meetings.

The opposition dominated public accounts committee seems to have ignored the Minister for Finance’ commitment last week, that government would withdraw their investment from the Commonwealth Resort. The facility was built in partnership between government and the owners of the Speke Resort and Conference Centre in Munyonyo, to create sufficient meeting and hospitality capacity for the CHOGM summit last year. Government, through the finance minister, had already expressed their intention to divest from the joint venture, but alas, this loud message may not have reached the opposition benches yet, as the committee once again demanded that government divest from the venture in disregard of a commitment already made, and incidentally widely publicized in the local media.

The sprawling hospitality complex on the shores of Lake Victoria has in the meantime established itself as a major regional conference and meeting venue, supported by its tranquil setting, superior facilities and being only 15 KM from the central business district of Kampala, i.e. within easy reach for delegates not staying at the resort itself. Several major conferences already took place at Munyonyo since the Commonwealth Summit last year and sources from within the company expressed satisfaction with forward bookings.

Information received from the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks has given the 21st June as the date for the 2008 gorilla naming ceremony. Over the past three years, this creative innovation has drawn ever growing crowds of visitors, spectators and most important participants from around the world. Recently born gorilla babies are given formal names in a festival like atmosphere, graced as a matter of cause by the President of Rwanda, the cabinet and the diplomatic corps, besides other VIP and ordinary visitors and of course the international media. The regular presence of the President underscores what importance Rwanda attaches to tourism and conservation, setting it apart from certain other countries in the region, where tourism continues to be treated with indifference or is thought to happen without putting any real resources into the sector for research, training, global marketing and the development of new products. As the result of Rwanda’s conscious and proactive approach to tourism the sector has been booming and attracted major hospitality investments in recent years including a US$250+ million package from Dubai World for the construction of new safari lodges, a new 5star hotel in Kigali and the rehabilitation of the old Akagera Safari Lodge.

The naming is open for bidders from the region and further abroad, who can then use the event to various degrees, depending on the level of contribution, for marketing purposes and branding. Rwanda has over the past decade risen from the ashes of the genocide like the proverbial phoenix and has established itself as a major tourism and investment destination in Eastern Africa. The joining last year of the East African Community has further assisted the country in its economic recovery and many leading names from East Africa have invested in Rwanda. The country has also established itself as a role model for democracy and transparency across the African continent, well deserved after suffering from decades of dictatorship until the gruesome events of 1994 triggered an end to the long suffering of the Rwandese people.

Last weekend surprised many Burundians in their capital city Bujumbura with a sudden outbreak of fighting, apparently initiated by the sole remaining FNL rebel group, which had not signed on to the comprehensive peace agreement reached between the former protagonists in the country’s protracted civil war.

However, former chief of the main rebel group Pierre Nkurunziza is now president of the country, following open elections held under regional supervision in 2005 and the outbreak of fighting has caught many observers across Eastern Africa by surprise. The attacks seem to have started about 50 KM away from the capital in the town of Bubanza, North-West of Bujumbura and then spread near and into the city.

It was later learned from residents of Bujumbura that the fighting eventually died down and that the rebels withdrew back into the hills again. No reasons could be established for this turn of events however, especially as Burundi is now a full member of the East African Community and member states are bound to support each other in case of such threats and attacks.

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report
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