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East Africa Tourism


Wolfgang’s East Africa report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Jan 11, 2008

UGANDA TOURISM WILL SUFFER, TOO
Industry analysts have predicted that the situation in Kenya will also affect tourism to Uganda, as both countries are closely interlinked and much of the air traffic continues to route via Nairobi. There has also been some impact, as expressed by a few Ugandan safari operators, over the recent Ebola outbreak, although that was medically contained in the meantime. This puts ill meaning suggestions to rest that Uganda was out to profit from Kenya’s situation following reports in this column, that overseas tour operators had approached Ugandan safari companies to explore alternative itineraries in East Africa, should the situation in Kenya prevail. Any biased and malignant comments by a few misguided individuals therefore about profiteering of the other East African countries must be utterly rejected, as the economic fall out with fuel and other shortages had impacted severely on the African hinterland nations while the problems in Kenya persisted.

In the meantime, calls have increased for the Uganda government to restock and enlarge the national fuel reserves, rebuild national food stocks and storage facilities and promote the improvement of the alternative transport sector from Dar-es Salaam to Uganda by both road and rail/rail-ferry to allow for safeguarding of imports and exports in times of crisis in the region.

In a related development, importers from the East African hinterland nations have demanded that the Kenya Ports Authority waive all demurrage charges for cargo held in port during the period of turmoil over and above the permitted time frame, to avoid compounding the losses already incurred due to delays in cargo arrival, extra cost for transit security and the risen fuel charges due to the scarcity caused by the unrest in Kenya.

This correspondent also suggests that the East African community bring together the tourism sectors from across the region to engage in a sustained common marketing blitz in the key overseas markets to dispel fears for the security of tourists visiting Kenya and the rest of the region. The activity can initially run up to the start of the forthcoming ITB, where again sustained presence from the tourist boards and the private sector would greatly help to minimize the damage to the tourism sector, not just in Kenya but the entire region. At that stage, the results of the campaign can be measured and, where possible, additional activities can be scheduled. Watch this space in coming editions.

NAIROBI ROUTE SEES NEW PLAYERS
African Express of Nairobi has now started an initial twice weekly service between Entebbe and Nairobi using the Royal Daisy Airlines Embraer 120 aircraft on a wet least arrangement for their operation. This is seen as a test of the market and the flights are reportedly operating at near full capacity, something which cannot be said about other upstarts on the route. The flights will initially be operated as “charters” or “coach service” but not a full scheduled service and is expected to gradually expand to daily services. This modus operandum is aimed to keep the cost lower, compared to a full scale scheduled operation. The price per one way ticket, apparently inclusive of all regulatory charges, is US$100, which makes it US$200 for a return flight, substantially lower than what other operators charge. Kenya Airways’ entry fare is US$300 inclusive of taxes and surcharges and the November entry of Air Uganda has not really moved the fares to continued lower levels, after their initial cheap eye catcher offers expired. This will upset the Uganda government no doubt, as this upstart was licensed with the expectation not only to bring fare levels down but also on the premise of using modern aircraft to match Kenya Airways’ state of the art fleet. Air Uganda are now using first generation DC 9-32 airliners, which has dented their market standing and raised concerns of environmentalists, as these aircraft are generally considered as bad polluters in terms of noise and fumes.

Other Kenyan airlines are also rumoured to eye the Entebbe route, with either Fly 540 (read related story above), Jetlink or East African Safari Air Express the most likely candidates to join the fray in due course. Jetlink now operates modern Bombardier CRJ aircraft and Fly 540 is due to take delivery of additional aircraft this year, which would allow them to expand their route network and increase frequencies to their present destinations. All of them however are presently facing some level of uncertainty over their business future in view of the post election turmoil in Kenya and may need to redeploy equipment from domestic to regional operations, should a downturn in tourism indeed begin to take hold in coming weeks, if the violence persists and anti travel advisories remain in place.

Kenya Airways has in the meantime inaugurated a new HF ground to air radio system, which will allow the airline to track and stay in touch with their aircraft across its present network and beyond. An investment of some 85 million Kenya Shillings was made into the new system, which will be operated from the Kenya Airways operations control centre at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

DOMESTIC FLIGHTS HALTED
(Thursday, 03rd January 2008)
All domestic air operations depending on AVGAS and JetA1 aviation fuel have been halted across Uganda due to the lack of available fuel, after the reserves in Entebbe and Kajjansi have run low. Eagle Air has at the time of writing this report halted their flights to Arua, Gulu, Adjumani, Moyo and Kitgum including the stopovers in Murchisons Falls National Park’s Pakuba airfield and the extension to Kidepo National Park. While fuel deliveries are now gradually resuming from the pipeline head in Eldoret, Western Kenya, this is only possible under tight police escort up to the border for the time being, restricting the overall quantities which can be shipped. Air operators however expect partial to full resumption of their scheduled and chartered flights in coming days, once more supplies have been delivered. AVGAS users (for piston engined light aircraft) however are worried as supplies of this particular commodity has always been on the bottom of the priorities of Ugandan fuel companies due to the limited storage facilities in Entebbe and Kajjansi. AVGAS supplies now come from South Africa via Mombasa and have to be trucked to Uganda all the way.

Meanwhile, the predicted fuel shortages have also hit home in Rwanda and Burundi, with rationing of fuel and escalating prices, as experienced by Uganda since New Year’s Eve. Both nations depend almost entirely at present on fuel deliveries from Kenya via Uganda and the respective governments are now said to be looking in securing alternate delivery routes from Dar es Salaam across Tanzania. Watch this space as news develop.

CURRENCY TAKES HIT
The Kenya Shilling has lost some 10 percent of the value from the pre-election pegs, due to the post-election violence perpetrated against the country by incited opposition supporters. Importers have moved swiftly to cover their US dollar requirements by switching from shillings to dollars, accelerating the slide of the local currency. The psychological barrier of 70 shillings to the US dollar now looms near again, compared to the reverse trend before Christmas, when the currency at one stage neared the 60 level, from a previous high of some 78. The stock market also transacted little business and the share index lost 5 percent of its value in thin trading, which overwhelmingly saw sales of stocks, before trading was suspended after only two hours.

ELECTORAL COMMISSION OF KENYA GAZETTES RESULTS
The ECK has now formally gazetted the winners of 207 out of 210 parliamentary constituencies and also of the presidential election, clearing the last hurdle for the re-election of President Kibaki to become a fact in law. This final legal notice also puts to rest any further doubts and rumors, that the Electoral Commission as a whole had substantive doubts on the declared results of December 31st.. Sections of the media had highlighted alleged internal wrangling and disputes and published quotes by the Chairman of the ECK out of context, giving a picture of the declared election results being called into doubt. The Kenyan president has, in the meantime, given the clearest indication yet, that once the violence inflicted by opposition supporters on their fellow Kenyans has come to an end, he would engage in talks with the opposition over the future of the country. The opposition appears to have a majority in parliament which under any circumstances would require talks on the way forward, as ruling the country against a hostile parliament may be difficult in the best of circumstances. Right now, however, it is time for the opposition to step back and keep their goons off the street so that the country can return to normality in the interest of all peace loving Kenyans.

UGANDA RED CROSS SWINGS INTO ACTION
The Uganda Red Cross has set up support centers along the border with Kenya to look after several thousands of Kenyans, who fled the ethnic violence in their own country. Arriving in Uganda with not more than what they had in their pockets or the few bags they managed to carry when fleeing their homes in fear for their lives, they were faced with a struggle for survival, until the Red Cross and other charitable organizations arrived with tents, blankets, food and water. Security has also been stepped up along the common border to avoid any of the violence spilling across the frontier into Uganda. Although some sections of the Asian community in Kenya have tried to downplay or even deny an “exodus” from Nairobi and Mombassa, arrival patterns in Entebbe show that many female, aged and child travelers of Asian origin arrived in Uganda from Kenya, met at the airport by relatives or friends offering some safe haven for the time being. It is an irony of sorts, that Kenya, which often provided sanctuary for Ugandans running from their previous murderous regimes before President Museveni’s NRM came into power in 1986 and brought peace to Uganda, is now reversing the situation over the post election violence which has swept Kenya. While there is no official position on allowing large numbers of Kenyans into Uganda, border posts in Malaba and Busia, however, are reported to operate with a full contingent of immigration staff and anybody from Kenya seeking safety in Uganda is allowed to cross the border, even when full personal documents are not available or complete.

FUEL STILL SCARCE
In spite of new supplies trickling in from Kenya during the past few days’ fuel is still difficult to find and as and where available only at highly inflated prices. Subsequently, traffic in and out of the city and across the country is still considerably thinner than usual. A return to normalcy is expected over the next two weeks, subject to the transit routes becoming secure again and traffic beginning to move as it was prior to the violent post election period. In the meantime the cost for transfers to Entebbe by taxi or hotel shuttle busses has considerably increased for the time being, reflecting the tripled cost of fuel.

MORE FUEL ARRIVED, BACK TO ‘NORMAL’
With the arrival of more fuels, mainly imported by Shell, which has the biggest market share in Uganda and arguably the best logistics too, the prices for petrol kept falling and are now once more in the range of Uganda shillings 2,500, which is slightly above the pre-crisis levels. The highest recorded price per liter during the crisis was reported to be 10,000 shillings, where still available but fuel companies have promised the public to deal with their distributors which had shamelessly exploited the situation. The initially long lines along petrol stations reduced considerably during the day and panic buying, using portable containers, has literally disappeared from the market. With the arrival of a fuel train from Dar es Salaam via Mwanza and rail ferry to Port Bell/Kampala the situation has further stabilized and the cost of petrol has country wide come down.

AVGAS, however, is still in short supply, affecting air operators using piston-engined light aircraft but domestic air operations have resumed nevertheless. JetA1 is now again available in sufficient quantities at Entebbe International Airport, after some airlines, including Brussels Airlines, which routed their return flights via an intermediate way point, where they had to take extra fuel on their way back to Europe. No safaris or excursions were, however, said to have been substantially affected, as the leading tour and safari operators had sufficient fuel in store to operate their safaris without interruption. Bus services across the region have also been cautiously resumed, although police escorts are still necessary when traveling through Kenya.

The situation in Kenya has relaxed further yet when the opposition called off all meetings and protests for the time being, while President Kibaki has started to initiate a coalition government which included ministers so far appointed from a moderate section of the opposition. The second contender for the presidency during the past elections was in the meantime appointed vice president in a sign of goodwill towards the opposition. This all after more than 600 people were killed in opposition initiated riots and by their supporters who now stand accused of initiating ethnic cleansing, after also reportedly having armed their militia like goons with machetes prior to the election in obvious preparation for their deadly action.

In a grotesque turn of events, the Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has now also accused Uganda of being responsible for the violence in Kisumu, his home ground, a feeble attempt to divert attention from the ethnic and political cleansing of his goon squads and a sign that all measure of straight thinking has now left the opposition movement.

Wolfgang’s East Africa report
Image via American.edu



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