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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Dec 21, 2007

No sooner had the summit juggernaut waltzed out of Kampala, did utility and electricity problems come to the fore again. Since end November several long lasting power outages occurred in this correspondent’s residential area, which, being in the neighborhood of the Commonwealth Resort, under summit conditions was to be on line 24/7. Even the slightest problem at the time brought technicians and power company workers running with smoking heels, while they now take hours again to arrive and hours more to trace the causes of power outages before attempting to fix the faults. However, having proved that swift reaction is possible in the run up to the Commonwealth Summit and more so during the summit period itself, there is now no justification for the South African ran power company to slide back into their former complacent and slow coach behavior. Fibre optic phone cables into the area were also stolen from underground ducts and overhead extensions, cutting phone, fax and internet services for the past two weeks and leaving only mobile based communications intact and working. And finally the water supply has started acting up again, with varying degrees of pressure from none to little, exposing utility operators once more as monopolistic “could not care less” companies. A disgrace before the nation and therefore well deserved barbs for them.

At the same time outrage has been expressed by the public about the city council’s apparent indifference to renewed vandalization of public property and green areas spruced up for the summit. No wonder, therefore, that the central government is in the final stage of taking over the administration of the city to make sure the capital city’s assets and property are protected and maintained. Mega barbs are therefore also awarded for the city fathers who treat the city like an unwanted step child while being involved in one corruption scandal after the next.

The travel behavior of Ugandans and expatriates has not suffered over the recent Ebola scare crow news peddled by the political opposition, and subsequently all key national park lodges and safari camps report full house over the Christmas and New Year period. Upcountry resorts, hotels and inns also seem to be heavily booked if not full, catering for the annual "migration" of city dwellers to their rural and upcountry home areas for the holidays. All over East Africa and along the Indian Ocean coast line and the islands off the Tanzanian coast lodges, hotels and resorts also report excellent bookings for the holiday period with hardly a bed to be had for last minute bookings.

Both local and international tourism gurus in Kenya told the government, now battling for survival in the forthcoming December 27th election, to fix the crumbling roads and other infrastructure if the sector is to grow further yet. The TUI resident manager in Kenya and the coast chapter chairperson for KATO, amongst many other tourism stakeholders singled out particular road links from the airport and Mombassa to the coastal resorts, such as the main road to the resorts along the Mombassa South Coast in Ukunda, the road via Kikambala to Watamu and Malindi and the notorious Mombassa – Nairobi road, which caters for the entire tourist traffic to Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Amboseli National Parks. Says this correspondent: ‘wait and see what the next government then actually delivers over the next few years. Electioneering promises alone are clearly not enough as I have witnessed over the past 30+ years in East Africa. Infrastructure during that period crumbled repeatedly only to be rebuilt with expensive loans from abroad and other international assistance time and again due to lack of regular maintenance. And a change of government is not necessarily a guarantee that maintenance of assets like roads will actually be given greater priority in the annual budget in the future, the sector just has to remain vocal and focused and keep lobbying legislators and government to receive fair attention and action. With tourism as big as it is now, that should not be too difficult to achieve.’

The EU funded Uganda Sustainable Tourism Development Program, which active phase ended on June 30th and which accounting phase closed on September 30th, has still not been evaluated. A highly paid consultancy team appointed by the EU, which conducted extensive interviews and consultations with tourism stakeholders during the second half of September and met with key institutional representatives in early October for a final brief, had promised to submit a draft report by end of October. This dateline however was extended time and again and no draft report has been produced as yet. The EU Delegation in Kampala is tight lipped over the delay but appears to have paid most if not all of the fees already for work so far not done and they are now trying to wash their hands off this anomaly. However, with the Chief Technical Advisor’s work contract formally concluded on 30th September, which also saw the end of the contracts for the program assistant and program accountant, there is now a gaping hole in the administrative conclusion of the program, its final audit and the production of the final report. Not the first time in fact do EU self generated problems cause upset. The so called (and under EU rules mandatory) “half term review,” which was due for the program in mid 2005, was only initiated by EU staff in late 2006, when the timeframe was already more three quarters down the road and the recommendations then made in the review were both too late and not taken on board by the EU offices in Kampala anyway for the remainder of the program. Neither were there any sanctions included (as recommended by the private sector) for public sector obstructions, delays and non compliance, i.e. processing the tourism bill through parliament (still not passed) and establishing a sectoral funding mechanism through the proposed tourism levy. Furthermore, a 10 point action plan to implement key elements of the tourism policy was also delayed by the public sector, in particular some archaic staff in the Ministry of Tourism, without any repercussions such as funding cuts or withholding of cash disbursals. The private sector in particular had then and continues to voice serious concerns about the initial program design, where recommendations made by the private sector towards private sector focused activities were largely left out of the design finally presented in 2002 as a fait accompli. The expected benefits for the private sector’s capacity building through a tourism trade secretariat never came to be and only small selected elements were tackled, largely through the ingenuity and goodwill of the Chief Technical Advisor. The majority of the funds and activities were therefore centered on the public sector and by growing consensus amongst private sector stakeholders are now considered largely wasted. There are already faint murmurs emerging about someone wanting to keep the results under wraps. Watch this space to learn how the EU Delegation staff in charge in Kampala will conclude this challenge in coming weeks or try absolving themselves from the inevitable blame game now going underway.

My family and I extend our best wishes for a Peaceful and Merry Christmas to you all, wherever you are around the world.

And to the entire Muslim community a Happy ‘Idd Al Adha’, commemorating the end of the annual Hajj season.

Following enquiries about a recent column item on this newly opened boutique hotel on top of Buziga Hill (a Kampala suburb overlooking both Lake Victoria and the city) the missing website detail is now added:

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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