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East Africa

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa  Jul 11, 2008

Efforts over the past years are nearing conclusion, as two additional habituated gorilla groups are to be added for tourism purposes at Bwindi National Park over the next few weeks. This will bring the number of available gorilla tracking permits at Bwindi to a maximum of 48 a day, provided all groups are available for visits and one or another are not being rested on advice of the Uganda Wildlife Authority veterinary services. Each permit presently attracts a fee from foreign non-resident visitors of US$500, while locals understandably pay a more affordable figure.

It is also understood that UWA is presently already looking further into the future and may have identified one or two more groups, which could be habituated in coming years without compromising on conservation and protection of the prized animals, which reportedly now number between 350 and 400.

UWA has now entered a period of trials for the newly-habituated groups and will progressively allow up to eight tourists to visit them, but within 4–6 months full-scale tracking is expected to be in place, ready for the high season 2008/9. The new groups will also alleviate constant pressure from tour operators for more permits to be made available and hopefully bring some closure to issues surrounding the Nkuringo gorilla group, where greed for permits had triggered a campaign to dishonor binding contracts between UWA, the Nkuringo Community Trust Fund and their sponsors AWF and USAID.

The addition of the new groups will also further strengthen UWA’s drive towards economic sustainability to eventually meet all their recurrent and future investment expenditures.


The so-called Northern bypass, routing heavy transit traffic around the city and aimed to decongest the Kampala city center and through roads, seems again delayed in its completion. Salini, an Italian construction company also working on the Bujagali hydroelectric dam project, has time and again sought extensions of their completion deadline. The project, largely funded by the European Union, was initially due for handover in late 2006 and will soon be two years overdue and reportedly also massively over cost. The company blames rains and terrain conditions, unacceptable excuses for most observers, as they had ample time to study the terrain before submitting their bid; while rains are part of the annual weather cycle, this is also nothing new. Uganda government officials, led by Works Minister John Nasasira, expressed their displeasure over the inexplicable delays and now raised the option of either imposing heavy penalties on the contractor or else resort to a full termination of the contract, which would of course lead to further delays in the completion of the bypass. Some parliamentarians have also suggested that the company be formally blacklisted and excluded from any future contracts in Uganda. EU officials in Kampala, too, have expressed their disquiet and are also reviewing their options, which could lead to Salini being banned from future EU-funded construction projects across the region. No senior Salini staff was willing to comment on the record, but one managerial staff known to this correspondent and demanding anonymity spoke of a “witch hunt” over “small things.” Small thing, indeed, when the road completion is now delayed by nearly two years and has suffered massive cost overruns.


Within months of starting operations between Nairobi and Entebbe, Fly540, the region’s first true low-cost carrier, has now made slight adjustments to its schedule in response to clients’ wishes and market demand. The airline offers two convenient morning and evening flights between Nairobi and Entebbe. Only Kenya Airways flies more often than Fly 540 between the two countries - up to four times a day, while Ugandan upstart Air Uganda continues with two daily frequencies in the absence of sufficient loads on that route. This latest development will support the growing market share of Fly540 in Uganda and Kenya, where their attractive fares have taken the market by storm. No information was available as yet on their new Ugandan airline venture and if they have secured an Air Operator Certificate from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority to commence operations.

This comes at a time when International Air Transport Asociation’s latest monthly report indicates a general reduction in traffic for Africa airlines, with a few exceptions of the stronger networked carriers belonging to one of the global alliances.


Kenya’s Finance Minister Amos Kimunya was earlier this week forced to resign his office after vowing to “rather die than resign” only days earlier. The Kenyan parliament had earlier censured him and demanded his resignation, but this was initially rejected by higher authorities. A full inquiry will now go underway to establish the true market value of the Grand Regency Hotel, thought to be several times the price it was sold for in a cloak and dagger action and others involved in the suspicious transaction. A further threat is looming over the sale by Kenyan Lands Minister James Orengo to cancel the transaction and not enter new owners into the lands registry. The resignation will also have an impact on the already fragile balance of ministerial portfolios of the coalition government of President Kibaki, as Mr. Kimunya was one of his cornerstones in the power games with the ODM fraction of Prime Minister Odinga.


The sudden departure of the Kenyan Finance Minister Amos Kimunya also led to the prompt abandonment of his proposals made during the annual budget presentation of adding Value Added Tax on tourism products like safaris. The Kenyan tourism industry had taken exception to the tax plans, not only as the country is still under recovery from the post election violence, but also to keep the country competitive in its pricing for overseas tourists. With a global recession looming, this may affect the holiday pattern as disposable incomes shrink while the expense for fuel, heating and food has rocketed in past months and any price increase may keep tourists away or divert them to more affordable destinations. Hence, the tourism sector in Kenya had a good case for the scrapping of the tax proposals, which are expected to be formalized in parliament soon.


Efforts by opposition members of parliament in Tanzania to smear the national airline Air Tanzania, backfired last week. The airline had earlier on suffered some delays when their fuel suppliers demanded immediate payment of arrears before pressure on them ensured that fuel deliveries resumed. Management of the airline pointed out that government’s payments towards clearing old debts had not come through in time and that this was a severe burden on the company. Most of those accumulated debts, including for fuel, are carried forward from the days when South African Airways was involved with ATCL and was eventually shown the door after “messing up” Air Tanzania, as a reliable source put it to this correspondent. Allegations over the technical state of the airline’s new A320 and the Q300 aircraft were also dismissed by aviation experts as apparently the opposition parliamentarian got his facts wrong when using data associated with the airline’s former B737-200 fleet, which has since been expired. The A320 was formerly on the FAA register and is about 10 years old while the Q330’s came from the UK registry, in other words both previously supervised by top-notch regulatory bodies. Information has also been availed that the maintenance contract for the A320 is with Air Mauritius, an airline with impeccable records and a first-rate reputation.

Rumor has it that it was former disgruntled ATCL staff more recently retired, who fed wrong information to the opposition MP, lending even less credence to the allegations made. It would be a repeat case of former ATCL employees trying to throw mud at the airline and rabble rousing by using willing politicians to do the dirty work for them.


The Tanzanian Prime Minister felt the need to clarify in a parliamentary session in Dodoma last week, that indeed Zanzibar was part of the United Republic of Tanzania and not a separate country. He referred questioners to the Tanzanian constitution’s clauses 1 and 2. He also pointed out that there were Union matters and non-Union matters which were also clarified in the constitution and which regulated the respective powers of administration. Sections of the Zanzibari community continue to press for separation from the United Republic and are seeking independence, and it has often been noted in meetings of East African Community committees and other meetings that the position of Tanzania taken on issues is influenced by Zanzibari issues, often played out in public instead of coming to meetings with an agreed position.


It has been reported from Arusha that the Deputy Director for Wildlife in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, together with one other wildlife officer and the pilot, died when their light aircraft went down on a flight from the Arusha Municipal Airport to Loliondo. The crash occurred in the early afternoon last Friday when the single engine Cessna apparently hit the side of a hill. No formal accident cause had been established at the time of going to press, but a full TCAA investigation is now said to be underway.


Reports from Dar es Salaam have confirmed that the company is set to import nearly 50 new railway carriages for passenger transport from India. At the same time, several carriages are being rehabilitated in Tanzania every month to bring them up to modern standards. It was also learned that there will now be separate trains from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma and Mwanza for the convenience of passengers. Previously the trains had to be separated when reaching Tabora.


After years of serving the Rwanda – Uganda route once a day in the evening with a 30-seater turboprop Dash 8 aircraft, the airline has just announced the introduction of a second daily flight. The new connection will operate every morning, making one-day trips between the two capital cities now a reality. The tourism and business associations in both countries have welcomed the extra flight and was “long overdue” to quote one leading Rwandese businessman with extensive business interests in both countries.

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report
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