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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Oct 02, 2008

The annual World Tourism Day celebrations took place this year in Kasese, a township on both the doorsteps of Queen Elizabeth National Park and the foothills of the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ or Rwenzori Mountains. Emphasis this year was on climate change, a matter often addressed in this column in past years. One of the main elements of the Millennium Development Goals is environmental sustainability and the largely nature based tourism industry in Uganda, and the entire region for that matter, depends overwhelmingly on intact biodiversity, the protection of the region’s wildlife and conservation and preservation efforts. The official position in Uganda has been both hot and cold in this respect, as ongoing arguments over the future of the Mabira Forest, the Cycad Forest outside Queen Elizabeth National Park, open quarry mining for limestone inside Queen Elizabeth National Park and other controversial projects show. Encroachment on duly gazetted protected areas like national parks, game reserves and forest reserves alike, due to human pressures has fuelled a political debate to find a balanced way forward, taking human needs into account while at the same time maintaining wetlands, maintaining the country’s rich biodiversity and entering global best practice in all aspects of commerce, industry and human lifestyle in general. Commitments made by governmental representatives during the WTD celebrations will undoubtedly be measured in coming months on the reality on the ground to see if lip-service to these high aspiration goals can indeed be transformed into concrete action on the ground.

The premier safari lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, strategically located on a peninsula protruding into Lake Edward and lined by the Kazinga Channel, is now finalizing their refurbishment of furniture and soft furnishings at the lodge, aimed to retain their 5-star rating when the grading of hospitality businesses will eventually unfold. Marasa Limited, the tourism and hospitality subsidiary of the Madhvani Group, expects the exercise to be concluded ahead of the upcoming high season.
It is also understood that the sister lodge in Murchisons Falls National Park, the Paraa Safari Lodge, will be refurbished too once the work at Mweya is complete.
From usually well-informed sources this column also learned that the group has developed an interest in both Rwanda and Zanzibar and that formal announcements could be made sometime soon. Watch this space.

Mrs. Jennifer Musiime Bamuturaki was recently appointed Commercial Director of Air Uganda, after the previous office holder from Italy was recalled after less than a year on the job. Jennifer is a well known and highly respected personality in the aviation and tourism industry, having loyally served in the same capacity with East African Airlines until the airline was eventually acquired by Africa Direct of aviation veteran Fred Obbo and all staff made redundant.

Jennifer was already in the starting line up of Air Uganda’s senior staff but was then axed for what appeared to insiders and observers entirely unjustified reasons. Her untimely departure at that time has now become evident as toxic action by the Italian start up CEO, who himself left unceremoniously after only a few more weeks on the job. Her rather triumphant return serves as an indicator that reason and sense appears to be returning to what could still become a sound aviation venture. Watch this space.

October 03rd will see the long awaited ruling delivered, whether Hima Cement, a subsidiary of French conglomerate Lafarge, can indeed commence open quarry mining inside the Queen Elizabeth National Park – with all its environmental side effects – or if conservationists carry the day and have the company prevented from despoiling a national park area for which immense sums of money have been spent over the past two decades to restore it to its former glory. The court case was brought by NAPE, the national association of professional environmentalists on behalf of a number of conservation watchdog groups and is generally considered a land mark case, determining the approach for other related cases presently under public scrutiny. Watch out for details of court’s decision next week.

News have emerged from the Busoga Kingdom’s administration that the much awaited selection of a new ‘Kyabazinga’ has been pushed from 03rd October to 31st October, as ‘the chiefs were not yet ready’ for the exercise. The monarchy in Busoga is not hereditary and has traditionally rotated between the chiefdoms in the past, aimed at promoting unity and allowing opportunity for leadership. The position of ‘chief’ however is hereditary allowing for a succession by the first born son. The Ugandan traditional kingdoms form a major part of the country’s heritage and allows for unique culture tourism opportunities. Watch this space for emerging news.

The Uganda Tourist Board, aka Tourism Uganda, has confirmed their participation in the forthcoming World Travel Market in London, after they secured a strategic partnership with the Civil Aviation Authority, which is co-underwriting the exhibition cost. A new ‘double decker’ stand is to be constructed for the event portraying the country’s tourism attractions from the very best perspective. The Uganda Wildlife Authority has also already confirmed their participation in the trade fair. Make early appointments with the stand management via and visit or for their latest updates from ‘Uganda – Gifted by Nature’.

On Wednesday late afternoon, some 20 minutes past 5 p.m., a noticeable earth tremor rattled the city and its suburbs and caused consternation, and a little unfounded panic in some quarters. The 15 second long earthquake is thought to have its epicentre some distance away from the capital, and similar rumbles in the past were found to have emerged from the Rwenzori region or Eastern Congo, where near Goma a volcano is active and has erupted only a few years ago. However, no reports from these areas were available when going to press. The quake was estimated to have been in the 4+ on the open ended Richter Scale.

The latest news coming out of Boeing in regard of their planned B787 ‘Dreamliner’ production is all gloom now, as the ongoing strike action has pushed an already late schedule into the unknown territory. East African airlines like Kenya Airways and Ethiopian will both be scratching their heads before engaging in fresh talks with Boeing over delivery dates and compensation, since both airlines had ordered the B787 to increase their fleets and replace their ageing B767 aircraft. Watch this space

The first conference of its kind in Eastern Africa for e- and online tourism experts is now set for Nairobi starting on October 13th, bringing together a range of African and international experts in the field of e-marketing, e-commerce and the use of the latest technologies.

Meanwhile, the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi has launched its first edition of what is to become a regular e-newsletter, sent out by email to a wide range of recipients. Interested parties not yet receiving it can visit the website at and request to be included in the mailing list for the present and future editions or write to them at: "KICC"

“I was betrayed,” claimed the former Kenyan finance minister when he handed in his statement before the Commission of Enquiry, looking into the circumstances of a deal which enraged the Kenyan public and split friends and foes in parliament and government right down the middle across party lines. The former Minister also accused cabinet colleagues of having had a hand in the affair, trying to bring him down, as he was generally perceived as a close ally of President Mwai Kibaki.
Mr. Kimunya himself did not testify in person, as his lawyer had successfully argued that no adverse evidence had been produced against his client, compelling the Commission to forego a personal appearance and accepting a 6 page written statement in turn. The judicial commission of enquiry also had its term extended once again by another month to allow for completion of investigations. Watch this space for the outcome of both the parliamentary and judicial commissions’ findings.

The breakdown late last week of turbines in a major power station brought immediate consequences for industrial and domestic users of electricity, when parts of the country were loadshedded both during the day as well as in the evening. Even the commercial capital Dar es Salaam was not spared and reportedly hit by prolonged power outages. The station normally produces some 110 MW of power, almost 20 percent of the overall power generation. Hotels and restaurants in particular suffered from the development and had to use their stand by generators to keep their clientele and patrons happy, but at substantial additional expense. The Tanzanian economy is reported to loose billions of Tanzania Shillings each day the power crisis continues.

News have reached from Tanzania that during recent EAC meetings they at last dropped their previous objections on nationals from the four other East African Community member states to move and settle freely under the forthcoming protocol of freedom of movement of people. For the time being however Tanzania is said to limit this to investors and business people from the region, before the wider rights to all citizens of the EAC are being granted. This has been a contentious issue on the domestic political front while it is understood amongst experts that eventually all the internal borders will have to come down to permit a situation as existed in the ‘old’ East African Community, which fell apart in 1977, when Tanzania closed her borders with Kenya and subsequently went into steep economic decline.

It was now learned that Rwandair has finally settled their search for a replacement of their previously leased Air Malawi B737-500. The Rwandan flag carrier has acquired a similar model on a long-term ACMI lease (aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance) from Air Namibia and flight operations are due to commence in October. This means that the airline can at last resume direct flights from Kigali to Johannesburg, initially three times a week, which had to be suspended when the Air Malawi plane was returned over technical issues earlier in the year. The Boeing will offer 20 business class seats and 88 economy class seats, giving an overall capacity of 108 seats on the aircraft.

An announcement is also expected from the airline in early October over their negotiations with Fly540 / Lonrho Aviation for their purchase of 49 percent of the shares of the Rwandan national airline, after previous bidders Brussels Airlines and Meridiana from Italy had withdrawn from the privatization process. 51 percent of the shares will remain in Rwandan hands, both government and institutional investors, to meet the nationality requirements for bilateral air services agreements, which govern routes between countries.

The ‘grand old dame’ of Rwandan hotel keeping, the ‘Mille Collines’ in Kigali, is now due for a massive upgrading and refurbishment exercise, due to commence shortly. Owners ‘Miko Investments’, which purchased the hotel from the former Sabena Belgian airline, will be using funds secured under a special scheme from the International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank. The hotel will close for much of October, when most of the heavy-duty work will be carried out, before then embarking on replacing furnishings and fabrics. The exercise is expected to last until middle of 2009, when the 115 rooms and suites hotel will then shine in its former glory once again. Tourism and business visitors to Rwanda have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years and have encouraged a range of new investors to come to ‘the land of a thousand hills’ as Rwanda is fondly known amongst her many friends.

Wolfgang’s East Africa report
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