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East Africa

Wolfgang’s East Africa report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Dec 28, 2007

In time for the Christmas high season rush, Brussels Airlines has commenced its long-awaited fourth weekly flight between Brussels and Entebbe. The occasion was celebrated in style at the new Imperial Royale Hotel in the form of a pre-Christmas cocktail party for clients of the airline, the business community and, of course, the travel fraternity. The airline operates state-of-the-art Airbus A330-200 aircraft on the route, featuring the latest flat beds in their award winning business class and enhanced cabin technology for in-flight entertainment.

Ugandan citizens and registered foreign residents can enjoy a 50 percent entrance fee discount once again (announced after the editorial deadline of the pre-Christmas edition) between December 20, 2007 to January 15, 2008. UWA is expecting in the region of 30,000 visitors taking advantage of this great fee reduction, which, however, will not include tracking fees for gorillas and chimpanzees nor fees for other charges applicable like launch trips on the River Nile towards the Murchisons Falls or the Kazinga Channel cruise in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This initiative is aimed to increase domestic tourism over the holiday period, making visits, in particular, for Ugandan families more affordable. The main school holidays in Uganda fall into this period of time and with budget accommodation facilities inside and near the parks also on the rise, Ugandans and foreign residents will also not have to fork out too much cash to put a roof over their heads.

In time for the festive season the South African-managed monopolist electricity supplier Umeme has served notice to the country of their intent to further increase tariffs in 2008, just as figures of government subsidies to the sector for 2007 emerged. Some 113 billion Uganda shillings have been spend by the Uganda government to keep the tariffs within reach of domestic consumers and of industry but the apparent never ending corporate greed seems to know no bounds. No happy festive season news for Ugandans therefore, who will likely have to dig their pockets deeper still to keep the lights on next year.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that building on the abandoned site of the proposed Kampala Hilton Hotel has resumed to some extent. A swiftly organized site visit, however, found security at the gate refusing to allow anyone into the compound nor were they willing to call anyone in authority at the site, preferring instead to resort to foul language. A few people could be seen through gaps of the fence, which, however, did not constitute “significant” activity at the site. The now notorious team of brothers from the Sudan had started the project nearly two years ago but persistently failed to have their action on the ground match the action of their mouths. Eventually building stopped at first floor level when their money had run out and they had failed to secure the necessary finance for the US$90 million project in spite of their repeated empty promises the have the hotel ready for the commonwealth summit in November this year. Time will tell if this latest twist is just seasonal “snowflake in the eye” or if really the building is going ahead again. There has also been speculation in the local media over a change of ownership of the site and the project, which could not be independently confirmed. However, cost of construction has since the start of the project rocketed, due to escalating fuel, cement and building steel prices and a substantially higher price tag is now expected in any case. In a related development a firm of PR consultants, retained by the brothers some time ago to improve their public image in order to reel financiers in, incidentally without much success, has sued them for almost US$400,000 over non payment of fees, which makes interesting reading when comparing notes over the purported resumption of construction on the abandoned site. Watch this column for future updates.

During a meeting of Commonwealth finance ministers earlier in the year in Guyana, the Ugandan finance minister had announced that plans to turn nearly a third of this key tropical rain forest in to a sugar plantation had been dropped by government. Subsequently, visitors and dignitaries of the recently concluded commonwealth summit were paraded through the forest and given comprehensive explanations about Uganda’s stand on conservation and bio diversity protection, while also visiting a US$2 million-plus investment in the recently opened RainForestLodge.
However, latest press reports now indicate that the matter is far from resolved, which will undoubtedly get the environmental lobby back into play and will also ring alarm bells at the World Bank, which has a binding agreement from the government of Uganda to leave the forest alone as part of an offset agreement over the finance of the Bujagali hydro electric power plant. In any case, questions are now being asked just how much one can rely on government commitments vis-à-vis the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Bio Diversity Protection it signed some years ago, statements made to the effect that the sugar plantations plans had been finally shelved and yet raising the matter ever again. Parliament, too, is expected to get involved again now, as the majority of sitting MPs had expressed their opposition to the plans. The sugar baron was also offered alternative land on a lease basis but rejected this offer on grounds of cost, while hoping to get the forest land for free.

The just concluded election in Kenya has, unlike on previous occasions, not influenced the arrival pattern of tourists into the country, nor led to the usual widespread exodus of predominantly Asian residents’ families in the East African nation across the borders. In fact, the Kenya coast was swamped with overseas visitors – as were the game park lodges – and literally every single resort was fully booked. This column had suggested that the elections would be conducted in a largely peaceful climate and, apart from some incidents in upcountry areas and known trouble spot constituencies far away from tourism centers, this has generally played out very well. Results are expected over the coming days and the first column in 2008 will undoubtedly report about this.

AFRAA, the association of African airlines, has just released information that member airlines on the African continent have during 2007 ordered over 150 new aircraft, up from only 84 new aircraft ordered in 2006. The trend to modern equipment will continue in 2008 according to forecasts, with the key continental players setting the standards other airlines are likely to follow. In stark contrast the latest Ugandan upstart is using first generation DC 9-32 – aptly termed “sky howlers” by a Ugandan aviation veteran – which spew fumes and leave very audible noise prints across the East African landscapes. Fuel savings generated by the latest engine types and stricter environmental controls (and categorical demands by governments in international destinations) have pushed the leading African airlines towards modern state of the art jets and their rising passenger numbers also confirm that the market is keen to see their airlines fly the latest type aircraft – not to mention safety considerations.

The leading airlines in Africa have also, with the notable exception of Ethiopian Airlines, now chosen alliance partners, which has a further impact on marketability of their services. South African and Egypt Air are now flying with Star Alliance, while Kenya Airways in 2007 joined the Air France/KLM-led SkyTeam, which will leave smaller airlines without IOSA certification and operating with internationally shunned old aircraft, trailing in their wake. Watch this space.


Wolfgang’s East Africa report

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