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Uganda Report

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa  Nov 07, 2008

The Dutch national airline has advertised, for a very few select dates only, a return fare from Entebbe to the US starting from US$660. Needless to say, in the newspaper advertisement, a rider was added in the very smallest print possible, ‘*terms and conditions apply,’ which, in spite of using regular, reading glasses, this correspondent required a magnifying glass to even read the text. When calling the airline’s Kampala office to find out what extras would be applicable on the fare and which US airport could be reached on which dates, the sales agent then suggested that it would be best if one comes to their offices in the city to discuss it as giving the information by phone may be ‘complicated.’

Consumer watchdogs in the EU have now banned misleading advertising by airlines, some of which promoted a 1 Euro fare but then loaded huge amounts on to it for all sorts of charges, leaving honest consumers befuddled over what to believe. Calls have been getting louder in Eastern Africa, too, to ban such types of advertising and compel airline companies to only give the rate which a traveler has to pay, inclusive of taxes, fuel surcharge and other add-ons created by the airlines, airports, and regulators.

The Kampala office of Dubai’s award-winning airline has now confirmed that commencing on November 11, the fourth and final phase of their move to the new terminal will begin. The remaining flights to India, Asia, and Australia will move arrivals and departures to link with all other flights already operating out of the new terminal. The move so far has been without hiccups and problems, a vote of confidence for the excellent planning and preparation, unlike the botched Terminal 5 situation of BAA and BA earlier in the year in Heathrow.

Travelers from Uganda and the rest of Eastern Africa will then enjoy unprecedented short ways, increased comfort in the new departure lounges, and state-of-the-art shopping while in transit when flying with Emirates.

(Sunday, November 2) - While over 100 fuel tankers are reportedly ‘stuck’ at the border as a result of a driver’s strike and the alleged, snail’s-pace clearance by customs, Kampala and other urban centers have run short of fuel, and the international airport, too, is said to be affected with no new deliveries for the past two days. This, however, could not be independently confirmed by the time of going to press.

The fuel companies predictably blame delayed clearances at the border for fuel coming from the main, end-of-pipeline depot in Eldoret / Kenya, and the wildcat strike of drivers protesting against the appalling conditions of the customs, parking yard at Malaba, of course, has added further woes to the supply situation in the country and beyond.
As a result of the shortage, said to last several more days at least, prices have gone up again, and fuel stations began to ration their remaining stocks, selling only small quantities to customers or even closing for the day.

Safari operators normally have sufficient stock at their depots to operate booked safaris without running out of fuel, but visitors arriving imminently in Uganda are advised to consult their agents in case of any doubts.

Meanwhile, President Museveni demanded an immediate report on the border, cargo, clearance situation from the Uganda Revenue Authority, having summoned earlier in the week several cabinet ministers to Malaba to investigate the terrible state of the parking yards, after hearing complaints from the drivers when driving to Nairobi for the IGAD Summit.

In view of the present situation in Eastern Congo, and the increased flow of refugees from that area to the borders with Uganda and Rwanda in search of safe haven, the traveling public can be reassured that tight security is in place along the Uganda / Congo border to prevent any transgression by Congolese soldiers or their allied militias. Refugees reaching official border posts are being processed in an orderly fashion as present resources on site permit.

There is no danger for tourist visitors to the gorilla national parks of Bwindi, Mgahinga, or for visitors to the Rwandan gorilla national park, where sufficient security measures are in place already to ensure the safety of visiting tourists.

The Rwandan and Ugandan government are closely monitoring the situation across the border in the Congo to ensure that no harm comes to their own citizens or visitors to the two countries traveling at present to or from the national parks in the area. It is, however, recommended to use only duly-licensed tour and safari operators when traveling to the national parks in the border areas as they are kept fully informed of developments and can react swiftly in case of any changes in the situation.

(Thursday, October 30) - The court action brought by a minority of the Busoga Kingdom’s chiefs has resulted in an interim order to halt the selection of a new king, initially due for the end of October, until the merit of the case itself has been heard and decided by the Constitutional Court in Kampala. This may mean a lengthy delay in selecting a new king from amongst the qualified chiefdoms and is likely to anger the kingdom’s subjects to no end.

However, the majority section of the kingdom, and in particular officials organizing the selection process, claimed not to have been served with any court order and would go ahead with the process unless formally receiving the court papers. This column will continue to update readers on the situation.

(Friday, October 31) - The assembled chiefs, three of them inexplicably missing, went ahead on October 31 and selected a new ‘Kyabazinga’ or King for the Busoga Kingdom. They gave their vote of support to Prince Edward Columbus Wambuzi Muloki, a son of the late king, who formally accepted to serve his subjects and assume the throne.

One of the contestants walked out of the assembly in obvious protest, complaining about the strong presence of security personnel around the venue, but he could not change the outcome of the selection process.

The newly-anointed king was then driven to Busoga’s main township of Jinja and given a rousing welcome by the population there. This column will inform readers when the formal coronation ceremony will take place.

No comments could be received in regard of an earlier Constitutional Court ruling from Kampala, as intimated in an earlier column item, and there is some speculation that the chief’s assembly had not been formally served with the injunction before embarking on the selection of their new king.

The 2008 edition of the annual Kampala marathon had a brief registration extension, which has since closed to allow for processing of the data and production of tags for the participants. The race will take place on Sunday, November 23, and several key, traffic arteries, as well as parts of the city center, will be fully or partly closed for ordinary traffic to allow the race to take place without danger to the participants. Over 10,000 runners are expected in what has become one of the biggest, sporting spectacles in the country.

The ongoing telecom’s boom in Uganda had a visual effect across the country, with urban neighborhoods and many hills around the city and elsewhere now dotted with transmission masts. The Uganda Communications Commission has now concluded that this is no longer desirable and issued a statement last week that in the future the telecom companies will be compelled to share masts to minimize fresh building to parts of the country still in need of coverage. A commendable initiative says this correspondent, which was long overdue and which is likely to keep expansion cost down for the benefit of many Ugandans, in particular in rural areas.

Faced with the fall-out of the political, post-election violence earlier in the year and subsequent near collapse of tourism and passenger numbers, the Kenyan national airline is now faced with sharply-lower profits, down by nearly two third for the first half of their financial year compared to 12 months ago, when all pointed to another record-breaking year. Besides the loss of revenue, following the situation in the country, fuel bills escalated by over 70 percent in spite of sensible fuel hedging.

The airline, however, is committed to modernizing its fleet and is set to exchange their ageing B767 fleet with the modern B787 ‘Dreamliner,’ as and when this plane eventually becomes available. This column has, in the past, extensively reported on the Boeing Corporation’s production problems with this aircraft and the additional strain put on them through the recent strikes. Kenya Airways management also made reference at their recent annual general meeting to the likely delays of the B787 but pointed out that alternatives are being sought and explored to, if necessary, lease more fuel-efficient aircraft as a stop-gap measure while waiting for their turn to take delivery of the ordered aircraft. It was also learned that at least two, new B737-800 will now join their fleet late, due to the nearly two-month-long strike at Boeing.

Meanwhile, and in stark contrast, a tell-tale sign of what Kenya Airways could have achieved without the political violence is Ethiopian Airlines who has just announced a sharp rise by over one-third of their year on year profits, adding evidence that well-managed, African airlines can indeed make a success as other global giants struggle. Watch this column for updates.

The US election victory of Barack Obama, now due to become the 44th President of the United States in late January, has also spurned celebrations across Kenya. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki promptly announced a public holiday for Thursday this week to allow the Kenyan people to celebrate the success of one (half) of their own. Obama was born to a Kenyan father and a US citizen and brought up by his mother and later his maternal grandmother, while the father’s family continues to live in Nyanza province in Western Kenya.

Global media were camped at the home village of Kogelo, near the city of Kisumu, and once the victory became clear, a bull was slaughtered for the entire family, friends, clan, and other well wishers attending the live broadcasts on satellite television. Pictures from the outburst of joyous ululations by the entire village went around the world, just as soon as Obama’s election victory became evident, as he rapidly accumulated the required number of votes in the Electoral College.

His election victory is also thought to attract many more visitors to Western Kenya in particular in coming years, not only from the US but from across the world, probably making it a place of near pilgrimage for the global Obama fan club. Good news for Kenya and hopefully also a reminder that a proper democratic process simply cannot be beaten when it comes to elections.

The ancient town of Lamu is getting ready for their annual Swahili Cultural Festival at the end of November. The UNESCO World Heritage Site township will celebrate age-old customs and give a platform for the performing arts of music and handicrafts. Both local and regional artists are expected to perform and show their skills while open air restaurants will prepare the traditional coastal foods for visitors. Scheduled flights to Lamu from Nairobi are available on Kenya Airways, Fly540, Air Kenya, and Safari Link, and air charters can also be arranged from Mombasa and Malindi.

News was received that the Tanzanian parliament was discussing a new wildlife bill with very substantial changes compared to the present status. One of the major changes will be the formation of a professional anti-poaching ‘Wildlife Protection Unit,’ which will be better equipped and better trained to meet the challenges of today’s often commercial type of poaching. Also contained in the new bill are stronger enforcement measures for encroachers of wetlands and cattle herders entering national parks and game reserves. The new bill is expected to be presented to parliament soon after ongoing, stakeholder consultations have been concluded.

A four-day, training course last week educated staff of Rwandair, other airlines, and from the Civil Aviation Authority on the latest procedures and standards as prescribed by IATA and ICAO, in order to improve aviation safety and security. High-ranking sources from Rwandair commended the effort and vowed to continue upgrading skills and staff capabilities until they reach the highest standards and attain IOSA certification for the airline.

During the forthcoming national, tree-planting week, Rwandan society is expected to plant as many as 40 million tree seedlings to boost environmental protection and replant forest areas where an excess of trees were cut in the past. Tree cover extends presently to about 20 percent, but governmental policy expects to raise this to about 30 percent in 2020, a tall target, but achievable.

A study financed by the African Development Bank has underscored the political intent of the countries involved to begin construction work for the planned railway between Tanzania’s inland port of Ishaka to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, and then on to Burundi. The project, said to be costing in excess of US$4 billion at current prices, would take at least 5 years to complete. Once ready, the cost element of transportation in goods will fall from the present whopping 40 percent to just 5 percent, making imported items more affordable for the land-locked countries of Rwanda and Burundi. Presently, besides air cargo, all goods for import and export have to be transported by road, mostly via Uganda, and the railway to the alternative Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam would create a second viable transit axis.

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report
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