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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Dec 14, 2007

The annual MTN-sponsored Kampala Marathon, held last Sunday across Uganda’s capital city, was once again a resounding success with another record attendance. The race start and finish was for the first time located at the Lugogo Shopping Mall, where ample parking was available and the logistics of start and finish better organized compared with the previous start and end point along Parliament Avenue. The various category races over the full distance, the half marathon and the 10 kilometers (KM) race were won by Kenyan (men and women full marathon) and Ugandan (men and women half marathon) competitors while the 10 KM race produced a 1-2-3 for Ugandan women and men, respectively. The men’s finishing time was weather induced relatively slow 2:17:25 for Kenyan Tuwei Kiprop and second placed Ugandan Joseph Nsubuga narrowly missed the Beijing 2008 Olympic qualifying time by just a few seconds. This column congratulates all participants for their sporting and fundraising efforts.

As we are entering the pre-Christmas mode, the Sheraton Kampala Hotel has released its traditional season program. Companies honoring their employees are using the newly-renovated meeting and function rooms for their annual staff parties and the renowned pastry shop is turning out classic European styled cakes, including the famous “stolen” and, of course, the equally famous Christmas pudding.

The New Year’s Eve does seem of particular attraction to Kampaleans, taking place at the swimming pool deck and rooms for that night go for an amazing US$100 only, including the use of the Kidepo Spa to work off the overindulgences of the previous night and a full breakfast buffet for those with a taste for more. Call the hotel for reservations at +256 414 420000 or +256 414344590 or email them at

Stefan and Mariam Kluge’s farm holiday concept in the foothills of the mighty Rwenzori Mountains, aka Mountains of the Moon, is now ready to receive guests. Located between Fort Portal and Kasese it offers eight guest cottages, a VIP cottage and five tents for camping fans without their own equipment. The setting allows splendid views across the Rwenzori mountain peaks and their ice fields from a serene and tranquil setting in the midst of a working African farm. Many amenities are provided, including a swimming pool. The Kluge Guest Farm allows guests staying there to see all attractions in the area within a day’s travel, including the Kibaale Primate National Park, the Semliki Game Reserve and the cultural sites of the Tooro Kingdom, besides visiting the forests on the slopes of the mountains. Horse riding is also possible across the farm or along cleared forest paths. Cuisine is varied and best described as solid home cooking, if with a little bias on German food, and besides a daily table d’ hote menu guests have a choice of other dishes prepared to order by the well trained cooks, prepared from fresh farm produce. Groups of black and white colobus monkeys are frequently seen from the guest room verandas as are a variety of other wild animals and birds, besides the farm animals like goats, cows, horses and poultry. Interested visitors can write to for more information or otherwise visit their website at

A new conservation debate is brewing in Uganda, as plans have emerged to degazette part of a wildlife reserve, the Kaiso-Tonya wildlife conservation area in Hoima district, Western Uganda. The proposed mini refinery and a gas fed power plant are to be constructed there, if further test drilling in one of the exploration areas confirms the commercially viable size of the oil and gas deposits. Conservationists have already started their machinery to drum up local and international support, while the oil companies are assuring the public that international best practice and latest technology will be used, if the plans are to go ahead. Uganda Wildlife Authority in contrast assured the public that they are not aware of any such plans as yet and that no decision could be taken without NEMA and UWA involvement, as it requires an act of parliament to degazette existing protected areas.

In the meantime as case of ranger turned poacher was brought to the public’s attention, when in Fort Portal (Kabarole) two UWA staff were arrested as they were about to sell 4 shoe bill stork eggs for incubation to traders ready to send them to Southern Africa. The Shoe Bill stork is one of the rarest birds in Uganda and generates much interest amongst birders coming to the country to see the prehistoric looking bird in its natural habitat. Watch this space as this saga develops.

The partnership between Belgium’s national airline Brussels Airlines and Congo DR-based Hewa Bora Airline, titled airDC, will take to the skies in early 2008, the airline has now announced.

Hewa Bora Airlines has been operating for some years already and met the EU aviation guidelines in full, and was subsequently the only airline from the Congo allowed to fly to Europe. The joint venture airline, in which Brussels Airlines holds 49 percent of the shares, will according to well informed sources operate along JAR and EASA guidelines, which are said to be substantially more stringent than Congolese aviation regulations and requirements. None of the other about 30 operating airlines inside the DR Congo meet those standards, resulting in regular aviation accidents, spurned also by the widespread use of poorly maintained former Soviet Union aircraft. Once the new joint venture has taken to the air, incidentally using modern aircraft unlike the latest Ugandan upstart, the airline is also expected to look at connections to East Africa, besides connecting Kinshasa with Europe and operating an extensive domestic and regional network. Brussels Airlines is also the leading contender in the privatization process of Rwandair, a decision for which is expected also in early 2008.

As the brain drain continues unabated from Eastern Africa to mainly the Arabian Gulf States, Fly 540 of Kenya has now advertised once again for captains and first officers to fly on their fleet of ATRs, Dash 8s and other aircraft operated on their fleet. Gulf based airlines have over the past years increasingly “poached” ready made pilots away from their employers in Eastern Africa and even siphoned off cabin crews and maintenance personnel. Most of those accepting such offers opted for better pay, better career prospects and often better life styles, when flying for the fast growing airlines based in the Gulf States. This has left many airlines, including Kenya Airways, struggling to fill vacancies for cockpit crew positions. It led even within East Africa to a migration of crews from smaller airlines and in particular struggling upstarts with aviation stone age equipment (or as an industry analyst recently put it in Uganda “sky howlers”) to the better facilitated and reputed airlines in the region. This trend has inevitably raised questions on the quality and experience of pilots operating aircraft. Demands are getting more urgent to increase regulatory oversight and offer regional training facilities to keep crews up to date with their training schedules and refreshers. Openings exist at the East African Aviation Academy in Soroti, the only public aviation training facility in East Africa for pilots and technicians, but the academy is also said to be faced with an application boom while dealing with severe capacity limitations.

Several Air Uganda staffers have expressed their glee to this correspondent over the recent departure of their CEO Pietro Neider. According to these sources he had made the poorest of impressions on them in regard of vision and more importantly staff relations, which seemed to have been rocky with several of them since his arrival in April this year. It is understood that the airline has since appointed a new CEO, who in his first interview with the local media was however coy to speak about their future strategy, apparently too worried that other established airlines in the region may be able to react too soon to the upstart’s plans. The airline presently operates two first generation DC9 aircraft, which leave a substantial noise print across the East African landscapes, as they obviously do not meet modern emission standards in regard of both carbon dioxide emissions as well as noise patterns. This is particularly significant as the principal owners on other platforms constantly babble on about their commitment to protect the environment and about their “best practice.” Well, not here you don’t. It could be established that these nearly obsolete aircraft should sometime in 2008 be replaced with again almost 20-year-old MD87 aircraft, which are also hardly ‘modern jets’ especially in comparison with Kenya Airways’ state of the art fleet. Watch this space to follow the battle for the East African skies.

As reported in the column on previous occasions, the border area with Congo DR has been a somewhat trouble spot for some time now. Along the common frontier Hutu militias, responsible for the 1994 Rwanda genocide, but also Ugandan rebels fighting against all and sundry but nor for anything constructive for that matter, have been using the “hospitality” of the Kinshasa rogue regime to stage hit and run attacks across the border, mostly to loot supplies like common thieves. With the UN MONUC “protection” force taking unashamedly sides on behalf of the regime in Kinshasa, leaving the Tutsi tribes once again to the murderous intent of their erstwhile killers, the only way out of the situation was for Tutsi forces to organize their own protection. Kinshasa militias claimed for almost a week “success” in their offensive but were now proven utterly wrong once again, when they were pushed into a running retreat, speak rout, by Gen. Nkunda’s troops with reportedly hundreds of casualties for “government” forces. In the meantime treatment of Ebola victims on the Congo side is literally non existent as large populations were once more displaced by Kinshasa’s violence perpetrated against their own people. Welcome to East and Central African reality. The gorilla national park in Congo, just across the borders from Uganda and Rwanda, is also said to be literally dysfunctional now, a further result of Kinshasa’s intransigence and their policies of aggression against their neighbors, their own people and their wildlife. Meanwhile, a new round of bilateral talks is taking place this week at the recently opened Commonwealth Resort (part of the Speke Resort and Conference Centre) in Munyonyo, but the tranquil setting and peaceful atmosphere on the shores of Lake Victoria are no guarantee for the talks to succeed, as many prior meetings have ended inconclusively or failed outright.

Congratulations to the people of Kenya on the occasion of their 44th Independence Day, which was celebrated this week on Wednesday, December 12.

The Kenya Association of Tour Operators coast chapter chairperson, Tasneem Adamji, has recently demanded from the Kenya Tourist Board a separate branding and product identity for the coast, reflecting the diversification and changes of the destination over the past years. In order to succeed in the future, especially when looking at the ambitious plans to build two resort cities along the Indian Ocean coastline in coming years, a new approach has been requested from the country’s marketing body to prepare Kenya’s main markets for the upcoming changes. The Kenya coast is intent to improve its image a move gradually towards a more upmarket level and change market perception, to dispose of the “cheap image” often going along with rock bottom priced inclusive tour charters. Well done!

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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