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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  May 22, 2008

Following the recent directive by Ugandan President Museveni that park encroachers and pastoralists with their herds must leave national parks and other protected areas, selected army units were now deployed in the areas surrounding parts of Murchisons Falls National Park. This move is aimed to strengthen the Uganda Wildlife Authority game rangers and enforcement units permanently stationed at this park who will be supplemented by extra manpower once the exercise goes operationally into high gear. It is the clearest indication yet that the government this time means business and is set to begin the long-awaited evictions from the parks across the country, which were in the past encroached on by land seekers, profiteers and cattle herders looking for free pasture.

Only recently did this column report that visiting wildlife experts with a long-standing knowledge of and a close relationship with Uganda have decried the presence of cattle herds in several parks visited, in some cases outnumbering the wildlife found in those locations. Conservationists and tourism leaders too have long demanded action from government over park encroachment, which affected tourism development in Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Murchisons, Kidepo Valley and Mt. Elgon national parks besides a number of other game, forest and nature reserves.

Press reports spoke of up to 300,000 encroachers across the various protected areas, which is possibly a speculative figure and not presently backed up by official government releases. This, however, notwithstanding the actual number of encroachers, will constitute a major challenge for the security organs to remove them and then for government to settle them somewhere else or take them back to their original home areas.

It was confirmed during the week, that evictions have actually started at the Bugungu Forest Reserve, which adjoins the Murchisons Falls National Park, and that a number of herdsmen were arrested and hundreds of livestock confiscated already. Several of those detained were already charged at the Masindi Magistrate’s Court for their illegal presence in the national park. Operations are said to be ongoing.

Following angry public outbursts from citizens in Kampala over the state of the roads in the city, barely 6 months after the Commonwealth Summit when billions of shillings had been spent on road repairs, central government has now allotted the council some US$10 million worth of funding for road maintenance equipment. The shoddy works on public roads is now also a hot topic in the relevant parliamentary committees, and in other public forum, as people want to know exactly what has been going on over these “repairs” and who is responsible for the mess. Watch this space.

In spite of the commitments made by Congo’s regime leader, Joseph Kabila, at a recent summit meeting in Dar es Salaam, no changes were reported yet along the border, where Congolese troops are still camping out in front of the Ugandan border point, miles into the so-called “no man’s land” and way beyond the natural border formed by the river Ofu. President Museveni has earlier this week demanded a swift implementation by the Congolese of the accord, before leaving for Arusha to attend an African Union meeting, where undoubtedly the roguish behavior of Congo will once again be put on the agenda.

The Development Cooperation Committee of the German Parliament visited Uganda during the week to assess the impact of past German-funded support and development programs and discuss with the government, opposition leaders and the business community areas of future potential development aid areas. Members of the German Business Association in Uganda put vocational training assistance, among other key issues forward to the German parliamentarians for their consideration during a meeting at the German Ambassador’s residence. In particular, the German “dual” system of vocational training is considered relevant for Uganda, where formal company training schemes for apprentices are still largely absent, yet urgently required to improve the skills of the workforce.

While in Uganda the group also visited Jinja, East Africa’s adventure capital at the source of the river Nile and Arua in the West Nile area of the country.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority, the National Forest Authority, the National Environmental Management Authority and a department from the Ministry of Energy have now formed a committee to draft contingency and action plans for oil spills, in view of the ongoing exploration for oil along the Albertine Rift. The oil exploration companies, Tullow Oil and Heritage Oil, are also part of the group and fully support the efforts to prepare for the unlikely event of an oil spill developing in the exploration and production areas in coming months and years.

Kenya Airways is to resume suspended flights to Paris on June 10. During June and into early July, there will initially be two flights a week, from mid/late July then rising to three flights a week. All services will initially be operated with B767 equipment. The services will also boost cargo transportation, which depended on other routes since the Paris flights were halted amidst the post election violence in Kenya, boosting exports.

The Kenyan tourism fraternity has responded with appreciation to their government’s decision, to provide an additional 1.5 billion Kenya shillings to market the country abroad. Earlier in the year Kenya suffered unprecedented set backs with tourist arrivals over post election violence, although not one visitor did actually come to any harm during the few weeks of political frenzy. Already during ITB Berlin this year, one of the strongest Kenyan delegations ever visited first the trade fair and then set out to swarm into their main European producer markets with the message that things were back to normal and “Kenya Hakuna Matata” had indeed returned.

In comparison, this translates to nearly 40 billion Uganda shillings, which constitutes almost the entire budget for the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry and may explain, why Uganda’s neighbors are running away with the tourism market for Eastern Africa while the local tourism industry continues to struggle in Uganda in spite of being blessed with a magnitude of natural attractions unique to the region and a biodiversity second to none.

The privately owned British airline, Virgin Atlantic, is set to spend some 250,000 UK pounds in promoting their flights to Nairobi. Having started the daily service just about a year ago, Virgin continued their operation since the end December 2007 elections in Kenya, but suffered – just like other airlines – a sharp drop in occupancies and income on the route. The promotional efforts are aimed to further boost loads on the flights and will undoubtedly also help Kenya’s own marketing efforts in returning the country’s tourism sector to normality. Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, was in the country last week with a group of journalists and travel writers.

Kenya Tourist Board chairman Jake Grieves-Cook said in connection with the visit and the promotional plans, that forward bookings for Kenya in the second half of the year were promising but that the challenge remained to catch up with the levels of 2007, which was the best year for Kenya tourism yet.

Southern Sun Hotels, one of Southern Africa’s major hotel chains, has now confirmed that the Holiday Inn in Dar es Salaam will in a short while be re-branded the “Southern Sun Dar es Salaam.” The hotel company is one of the best recognized brands on the African continent and has been in existence for over 40 years now. Together with Protea Hotels, Sun International and Legacy Hotels they are the leading “home grown” hotel managements companies originating in South Africa. South African-owned companies are also among the major investors in Eastern Africa and trade and visitor numbers between the Southern and Eastern Africa have shown strong growth in past years. South African Airways now flies daily between Johannesburg and Entebbe and also serves Dar es Salaam and Nairobi at least once a day.

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report
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