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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Aug 01, 2008

As recently reported in this column, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has made good of promises to add more trails up the famous Mountains of the Moon, to cater for a growing influx of visitors to the park. New facilities were added to several huts and new meteorological stations commissioned recently, while rangers and support staff like porters were receiving additional training. UWA has now released information that three new hiking trains are being opened up at present while expressing satisfaction with demand for mountain climbing and hiking by overseas tourists.

Clearly stung by the acid criticism from the public and pending action from government and the EU, Salini Construction has now released a statement promising to have the long overdue bypass ready and open within two months. Once completed the new highway will keep transit traffic into the West and North of the country out of the city center, hopefully de-congesting traffic substantially. However, in view of previous statements to the same effect it is “wait and see” this time.

Meanwhile, central government has now formally discontinued maintaining city roads, which it has started ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, abbreviated (CHOGM) summit last year and handed all the city roads back to the Kampala City Council. Expect more potholes, says this correspondent, whose own access road off the main road leading to the Commonwealth Resort and the Speke Resort in Munyonyo now resembles a ravine rather than a track or road.

Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers with support from other government organs have now successfully driven a sizeable herd of elephant back into Murchisons Falls National Park, following complaints from residents in the area that their crop are being savaged and their safety in the farms compromised. A similar situation happened a few weeks ago, as reported in this column, when a group of elephants also left Queen Elizabeth National Park near Kihihi, prompting an outcry from the affected residents. That situation too has since been brought under control.

Heated arguments were evolving between the sections of the conservation fraternity and oil company executives over plans to build a mini refinery at the Kaiso-Tonya Wildlife Reserve, which adjoins Murchisons Falls National Park. The head of NEMA, Dr. A. Mugisha, declared that his organization was working hand in hand with the oil companies to minimize environmental impact of the facility on the fragile ecosystems found in the area, but leading conservationists, including Achilles Byaruhanga, head of Nature Uganda, insisted that more harm than good would come from the plans. The developers, Tullow Oil of the UK, was also accused of putting greater emphasis on the commercial and economic argument than making meaningful amends towards the environmental impact and to mitigate in a comprehensive and sustained manner the effects of the proposed refinery.

It was also disheartening to the conservation fraternity to hear from Tullow Oil managers, that ‘like it or not’ the refinery would be built next year even before the hearing concluded and all the arguments were presented, a move widely considered as pure corporate arrogance. Existing law requires that any commercial use of protected areas needs to be first facilitated by a change of use of the area in question by an act of parliament to set aside a particular gazetted area for other uses than conservation. Watch this space.

It is understood that the cost of rebuilding and modernizing the former Nile Hotel International and turning it into the Kampala Serena Hotel is now to be verified on request of the government’s “Privatization Unit.” Frontrunner for the job, out of several shortlisted companies seems to be KPMG, a global auditing and business consultancy firm. The aim of the exercise is understood to be verification of figures released by the hotel’s management in the past and confirm compliance with the privatization terms and conditions set by government in 2004.

It was learned just before going to press that several airlines on the continent, including Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, had to delay or cancel flights into West Africa due to a strike of air traffic controllers in Francophone countries. ASECNA, the agency responsible for handling and administering air traffic control across the continent, could not be reached for comment in regard of when the situation would normalize. It is understood however that many passengers suffered inconvenience and are stranded while awaiting onward transportation to Western Africa or being able to return home to Eastern Africa.

The previous news come on the same day as domestic flights in Kenya also suffered some problems again over the availability of jet fuel at Malindi and Wilson airports, which caused cancellation and re-routings of flights. Some airlines had to fly from Malindi via Mombasa for fuelling, adding substantial extra cost for the operators. It is understood that air operators blame the aviation fuel companies for the insufficient deliveries of fuel to both airports, incidentally a recurring problem in recent weeks are previously reported in this column. However, fuel companies in turn blame the Kenya Revenue Authority for lack of understanding the aviation fuel market and the ridiculous restrictions placed on the distribution of fuel to few ‘gazetted’ airport, leaving other aerodromes often dry. This issue was also mentioned in past columns over events for which KRA too had to bear full responsibility, but they have obviously not learned any lessons.

Some operators at Wilson Airport halted flights altogether while scheduled airlines to and from Malindi are considering their options in view of the added cost, while no fuel is available.

In a long awaited move has Precision Air, Tanzania’s premier private airline, now added a second flight from Dar es Salaam to Arusha. The airline also announced extra flights to Zanzibar from Kilimanjaro International Airport and Dar es Salaam as well as more weekend flights to Nairobi. As Precision is preparing for the delivery of a second B737-300 they are now positioning themselves to aggressively compete in the market ahead of the expected market entry of new players and amid the ongoing revival of Air Tanzania.

Wolfgang’s East Africa report
Image via igougo

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