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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Sep 05, 2008

A stakeholder consultative meeting and workshop was organized last week by the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) in Kampala, to discuss the plans by French-owned HIMA Cement to quarry for limestone in an area inside the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Lafarge subsidiary had submitted an environmental impact assessment study but the approval by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) was rubbished by NAPE members as premature, poorly researched and ill considered.

It is expected that NAPE will take their opposition into the international arena now to make parent corporation Lafarge in France look bad, a method that has often work in the past in other parts of the world. It was also learned that both HIMA and the Uganda Wildlife Authority declined to make presentations at the meeting as the matter was in court under a case brought by NAPE and their supporters and therefore considered ‘sub judice.’

In a hard-hitting opinion piece in Uganda’s leading newspaper, the New Vision last week also published an attack against NEMA’s performance by a Member of Parliament, which can be accessed at

This column referred to the contentious matter a few weeks ago, and indeed the free roaming elephant were at the time chased back into Queen Elizabeth National Park’s ‘Ishasha Sector’ through the efforts of rangers from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. However, some of the elephant have now returned through swamps and wetlands which were not secured with trenches – in any case nearly impossible to do there – and have reportedly killed some residents of nearby villages who were trying to defend their property and families. Crops are also said to have been destroyed by the marauding animals and UWA rangers and wardens are again expected to be deployed to drive the animals back into the park proper and afford the population more protection.

The conflict between animals and populations has become more intense in recent years as the previously uninhabited ‘buffer zone’ between park and the nearest villages has shrunk considerably and homesteads are now literally coming up to the formal park boundaries. Some parks in Eastern Africa with similar problems, i.e. the Aberdare National Park in the Kenyan highlands, were over the past years enclosed with electric fences, but that is an expensive solution which not all wildlife management bodies can actually afford, while it also cuts off the age old migration routes of the wild animals and in the long run affects the gene pool of game populations ‘stuck’ behind barbed wire.

The Kampala office of Emirates has now released information that their plans to offer a daily A380 service from Dubai to New York has been delayed for a few weeks due to the late delivery of their second A380 aircraft by manufacturer Airbus Industries. This will disappoint Ugandan travelers opting for Emirates to connect to New York, as it will not allow them for some time to have a daily service with the world’s largest passenger aircraft. Emirates presently fly daily from Entebbe to Dubai and use the A380 three times a week to New York. The other daily New York services are operated on other equipment.

The annual general meeting of shareholders of Kenya Airways, East Africa’s aviation leader, will take place at the Moi International Sports Centre in Nairobi / Kasarani on the 26th of September, starting at 11 a.m. On the published agenda is the business of approving the annual accounts, deciding on the final dividend for the financial year and electing / re-electing Directors for the Board of the company.

On an even more positive note, Kenya Airways has once again swooped the board of awards annually presented by TN, and received last week the honours as: Best Domestic Airline, Best Regional Airline, Best African Airline, Best Inflight Magazine and Best Frequent Flyer Programme. TN, the regional premier travel and lifestyle magazine, carries out an annual survey amongst readers ‘Quest for the Best’, to establish the most favourite hotels, lodges, resorts, restaurants and of course airlines, all selected by popular vote.

The Sharjah / United Arab Emirates based first Gulf region low cost airline is now set for flights between Nairobi and Sharjah from the end of October. Air Arabia has been a success story since its inception proving initial critics wrong that low cost airline operations would have no place in the ‘rich’ Gulf region. Air Arabia, using an A320 aircraft, will initially fly four times a week but has left open the option to increase the number of flights once demand and loadfactors justifies a capacity increase. Nairobi will be the airline’s fourth African destination. The intended market is thought to be the rapidly increasing East African expatriate workers population in the Gulf area but sales efforts will also target clients for affordable package holidays from the Gulf to Eastern Africa, which will no doubt benefit the tourism industry here. No fares were available at the time of going to press.

This latest addition to the range of scheduled flights into Nairobi spells good news for the recovery of the country’s tourism sector, which has been making giant strides since the record lows of earlier in the year.

No choice partner in East Africa has been announced yet by Air Arabia, to link their Nairobi flights to the wider region, but Fly540 – East Africa’s own low cost carrier, is thought to stand the best chance to get the nod and fly passengers from Entebbe and other regional airports to connect to the Air Arabia flights.

The Qatar Airways office in Nairobi has announced that they will commence flights from Doha on a daily basis to New York’s JFK airport. Qatar Airways presently flies daily to Nairobi and passengers from the region can connect to the Doha bound flights with an airline of their choice, mostly Kenya Airways. The airline already flies from Doha to Atlanta and will shortly also add flights to Houston, widening the choices of travelers bound for the US.

Traditionally US bound travelers connected in the past through Europe with the main European airlines serving East Africa but transit visa requirements, in particular for the UK, complicated that journey to no end for many East African citizens. Over the past years a growing number of passengers therefore opted to connect via Johannesburg with South African Airways or via Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines and of course via Dubai with Emirates, which has taken the East African market by storm in spite of the ‘detour’ through the UAE. In fact the stopover options in Dubai and elsewhere in the UAE are attractive for many travelers as it allows a last bit of shopping before returning home.

The Kenya Association of Air Operators, individual airlines and aircraft owners have recently voiced their concern over the state of the facilities at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. The aerodrome is the base for the largest number of aircraft in Eastern Africa and used for charters and scheduled domestic flights to most of the national parks. The air operators have taken their case to the public complaints commission over the KAA’s failure to modernize and expand passenger facilities and decongest the airport, which during peak times, i.e. most of the day, is now suffering from overcrowded apron spaces, parking and taxiways.

The operators and users of Wilson demand a swift modernization of the facility while sources close to the KAA pointed at the ongoing work at the main Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and work plans for the Kisumu airport, which may have delayed the start of planning for Wilson. Yet, Wilson Airport is used by literally all safari clients flying into the parks and congestion and antiquated facilities will throw eventually a poor light on the airport administrators and managers. Air operators blamed frequent changes to the ‘old’ modernization plans but also regular policy changes and u-turns on the lamentable situation.

In another milestone towards putting the political troubles firmly behind, the former ‘Intercontinental Hotel’ on Mombasa’s Shanzu Beach / North Coast has reopened its doors last week. The hotel, which initially opened in 1983, went into decline already when it was still under Intercontinental management, lingered along and eventually was put into receivership in 2001 and later closed. A group of new investors eventually put up the funds to rehabilitate and refurbish the nearly 180 rooms, but when the work was complete in late 2007 the political crisis struck Kenya’s tourism industry, putting on halt plans to fully reopen. This however was now rectified at last and the Kenyan coast can offer another state of the art 5 star property for beach vacations.

As an apparent fall out from the political crisis in Thailand’s capital Bangkok, where the standoff between opposition and government supporters continues, demand for holidays in Kenya immediately rose, as tour operators monitor the situation carefully and a number of holiday makers already opted for alternative beach destinations thought safer.

Many countries have over the past few days issued harsh anti travel advisories for their citizens and warned them in no uncertain terms to avoid travelling to Bangkok. Just as Thailand, and other beach holiday destinations at the time, benefited earlier in the year from the Kenyan political crisis which saw tourism slump to a long time low, the role has now been reversed and Kenya is ready to absorb extra numbers of sun seekers until Thai politics settle down again and it travel advisories are tuned down or lifted.

In a further effort to decentralize tourism and widen the scope of attractions across the country, the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks has now started the process of developing district tourism plans, which are aimed to identify tourism opportunities and define ways and means to exploit the local attractions and tie them into a national tourism circuit under full participation of local communities.

In a related development it was also announced that ORPTN plans to fence sections of the Akagera National Park to control unauthorized entry and stop poachers, encroachers and cattle herders from entering the park at will, but also to protect neighboring communities from dangerous animals straying out of the park and endangering people or destroying their crops. Dubai World, which is becoming the biggest investor in the country’s hospitality and tourism sector with a 250 million plus US Dollars investment, has apparently offered to pay for the 15 million US Dollar project.

The special representative of the UN, the special representative of the EU for the Great Lakes Region and the head of MONUC had to admit last week at a press conference in Kigali, that their efforts to disarm the genocide militias camped inside the DR Congo and roaming at will, had not been successful so far. The mostly ethnic Hutu killer gangs often perpetrate hit and run attacks across the borders but in particular MONUC had busied itself with persecuting and pursuing Tutsi self protection groups while the notorious genocide militias have long gone unchecked and even engaged in what appear to be joint operations with the DRC troops deployed in Eastern Congo. The hastily arranged press meeting was also told that a meeting would take place in Kinshasa with the aim to implement the Nairobi accord which demands the disarming and dissolution of the ‘FDLR’ and their return to Rwanda for a due judicial process over the role they played in 1994 and afterwards.

A chartered Beech 1900 with 15 passengers and 2 crew crashed in heavy rain and clouds near Bukavu earlier in the week. The aircraft was on an aid mission and the occupants had chartered the plane through Air Serve from abroad, due to Congo’s dismal aviation record amongst their own airlines. No detail about the aid organization was immediately available but there was speculation that it could have been a UN linked organization. The plane reportedly came from Kisangani and was enroute to Bukavu, but no further details could be availed from sources in Eastern Congo by the time of going to press. All on board are said to have perished in the crash, when the aircraft flew into the side of a mountain and early search efforts revealed no signs of survivors.

The recent increase in poaching witnessed in Eastern Africa was swiftly blamed by conservationists on the recent relaxing of the total ban in trade with ivory, which was partly lifted on insistence of the Southern African countries. As seen previously in a repeat pattern, once ivory trade from one part of Africa is lifted to sell ‘old stocks’ poaching in Eastern Africa immediately increases with much of the bloody loot then smuggled out, allegedly often to the very Southern African states which ‘legally’ trade in ivory to be ‘integrated’ into those stocks or to boost them again for another round of arguments at the CITES meetings to sell ‘old stocks’. Allegations were made over the sale in particular against countries suspected to turn a blind eye on the smuggled ivory, creating deep divisions amongst conservationists between the two camps.

Much of the ivory so traded ends up in China, Japan and other parts of the South and Far East, where the lust for ivory carvings seems to go on unabated. Recent reports from Kenya also lament the increase in poaching there, inspite of a well trained and equipped anti poaching force operated by Kenya Wildlife Services. There are also allegations that implicate China in more than three quarters of all smuggled ivory. 

The ‘Kyabazinga’ (local vernacular description of ‘King’) of Busoga, one of Uganda’s traditional major kingdoms, has earlier in the week died at Uganda’s main hospital Mulago in Kampala. The kingdom, which geographically adjoins the river Nile and Lake Victoria and extends from Jinja to Lake Kyoga and towards Eastern Uganda, is one of several restored by the NRM government in 1994 as a cultural entity. The King, Henry Wako Muloki, was 87 years old and generally considered a unifying figure, respected not only in Busoga but across the entire nation and he portrayed the restored kingship as a fatherly leader. A state of national mourning has been declared by President Museveni until the expected state funeral.

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report
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