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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Feb 27, 2009

Following the decision by the Air Tanzania board of directors to resume operations only on domestic routes for the foreseeable future, the demand for flights between Dar es Salaam and Entebbe has shifted to, amongst others, Air Uganda. The airline responded accordingly and has now announced that they will fly from the first week of March, four times a week, non-stop from Entebbe to Dar, while dropping the stopovers in Kilimanjaro altogether. Two of the flights will also extend to Zanzibar to accommodate the weekend leisure traffic, and flights will, for the time being, operate on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays using MD 87 equipment in a two-class configuration.

The Entebbe – Kilimanjaro route will, according to civil aviation sources, now be served exclusively by Precision Air who, however, also offers onward flights to Dar and Zanzibar, now being Tanzania’s biggest airline. Other connections from Entebbe to Tanzania operate via Nairobi with both Kenya Airways and Fly540.

Uganda’s premier visitor and entertainment guide, ‘The Eye,’ for February and March can now be accessed in a web edition, which can be found via, while printed copies are readily available for free through hotel receptions, embassies, consulates, airline offices, and a range of other distribution points in Kampala, Entebbe, and Jinja. ‘The Eye’ is simply the most comprehensive guide available, in both print and e-version, for Uganda and a must have for all visitors to the country. The web version also provides access to an interactive map of Kampala and provides the latest weather data. Mark this webpage under ‘favorites’ to have regular and easy access to the latest information of what’s on in Uganda.

The discovery of some dead hippos in Queen Elizabeth National Park has promptly raised fears again that a fresh anthrax outbreak was underway, in particular as several people were reported to have died after consuming meat from possibly-infected animals. UWA’s veterinary services and the Ministry of Health have assembled an emergency response team investigating the causes of death with the aim of responding appropriately, should the outbreak be confirmed. In fact, early reports coming back from the field team would indicate that anthrax was not to blame for the deaths, but a fuller laboratory investigation has to confirm this opinion.

Recent exploration drilling by Heritage Oil has apparently struck another rich oil well, according to well-informed sources, their biggest find yet. Overall reserves in Uganda are now estimated to reach at least 2 billion barrels, while some 600 million barrel reserves are already confirmed. As more new prospecting companies are arriving in Uganda, wider areas are at last being explored, possibly bringing the overall reserves to even greater levels.

All installations in the country are now being protected by both private security firms - in Heritage’s case, by Saracen Uganda Limited, a firm with roots in South Africa - while special units of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) have also been detailed to establish security parameters around drilling sites to avoid any further incidents with Congolese intruders (this column reported, in the past, several such incidents), as well as other ill-meaning elements aimed to disrupt Uganda’s march towards full oil production and economic prosperity.

Following the completion of an airborne survey covering the entire country, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources has now informed the general public and interested investors that the data is now available at the Ministry’s head office and is expected to be posted in full on the ministry website very soon. Visit or contact the project coordinator at the ministry via .

The limbo of this decade-long project, abandoned by their Norwegian promoters, NORPAK, over a year ago, is soon to be history, going by reports coming out of reliable government sources. Uganda is intent to start the construction with internally-generated resources and seed money from the energy fund created some years ago when a massive electricity supply crisis struck the nation.

The same sources now also confirmed that the initially-proposed capacity of 250 MW, generated through a tunnel version hydro-electric plant, will likely triple to a 750 MW capacity, as the entire design is presently being upgraded to cater to the additional generating potential. Government sources also mentioned that the plant could go online within the next three to four years, which would bring a major boost to Ugandan manufacturers, the entire economy, and households. Access to electricity mains is still limited to less than 10 percent of Ugandans and offering affordable electricity, in particular in rural areas, is considered a major boost to conservation, as it is likely to substantially lower the consumption of charcoal, now responsible for the accelerated destruction of forests and trees across the entire country.

Once the Bujagali and Karuma plants are online, the country can also expect a massive reduction of the present electricity cost, as hydro-generation is said to cost a fraction compared to the present use of diesel and heavy fuel-oil thermal plants, besides the improvement of the carbon footprint for Uganda.

It was learned with deep sorrow that the mother of fellow Skal member, Sudhir Ruparelia, who is also the owner of the Speke Hotel and the Tourist Hotel in the city and of the Speke Resort and Conference Centre and the Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo, had passed away last week. The late Mrs. Ruparelia had been rushed a few days earlier to London for medical treatment, where she succumbed to her illness. Condolences are extended and prayers offered.

The Lake View Resort in Mbarara, south western Uganda’s main municipality, was initially opened in August 1992, in fact, not long after we moved from Kenya to Uganda. My wife spent her childhood years in Ruharo, just across the nearby hill from the Lake View Hotel, as it was called then, which was the accommodation of choice when in Mbarara in the early 1990s, being brand new and conveniently nearby. Having attended the official opening at the time, performed by none other, of course, than President Museveni, I kept coming back quite faithfully, as much of my work at the time took place in the south west of the country. The hotel eventually changed hands twice, before the present owner not only embarked on a grand overhaul, but also added a new wing with rather large and well-appointed rooms, bringing the overall number to nearly 100 plus a few additional meeting rooms, which are in great demand I was told, and could witness. Workshop tourism is a constant source of revenue for many hotels in Uganda and much of this now takes place upcountry in order to reach the intended target groups and beneficiaries with greater ease. When speaking with some workshop participants at sun-downer time, it became clear they all liked the location, the service of the busy-bee staff, and the quality of the food. I opted twice for their tilapia fillet steamed with dry sherry and herbs in foil, which was absolutely delicious.

The road from Kampala is, for some stretches, in great need of repair, but my hope was raised when seeing several extensive sections actually under re-construction, which will probably be completed late this year. Mbarara, some 270 KM from Kampala, is the gateway to the Ankole Kingdom of old, to the nearby Lake Mburo National Park, and it is also within easy reach of Kabale, the springboard to Lake Bunyoni, the gorilla national parks of Bwindi and Mgahinga, and, of course, to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Rwenzori Mountains, and the Albertine Graben, all within just a few hours drive.

The Lake View Resort Hotel is managed by Johnson Okili, an absolutely worthy general manager, having gone through the demanding training regime of this correspondent in his other capacities and quite a reunion it was, of course. It is always rewarding when seeing erstwhile students and trainees rise through the ranks to the top of their profession and make a true career in the hospitality business.

A Ugandan safari company has now advertised a safari, which includes rounding up zebras in south western Uganda and relocating them to a wildlife reserve in Northern Uganda. The cost, excluding flights to and from Uganda and items of personal nature, is from US$3,856 per person; details are available via .

While the main contributing nations to the Nile basin waters have already signed the new treaty document, in particular Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Congo DR, the regime in Khartoum and the government in Egypt have not yet put pen to paper, trying to extract yet more concessions over the use of the Nile waters, which are now, however, universally recognized to be a resource originating in eastern Africa and no longer subject to the colonial one-sided approach of the Nile Treaties of 1929 and 1959. It was Britain, at the time, imposing their own interests upon eastern Africa to cede the water rights and upon independence of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, literally forced the recognition of this one-sided dictate. During a meeting in Bujumbura last week, the Burundian Vice President, therefore, laid heavily into Egypt and Sudan, demanding they put their signature to the document, which he said took over a decade to develop.

The new Nile Treaty for the first time recognized the sovereignty and equality of the east African states over their own resources, which constitutes a hard-fought victory over Egypt, which long saw itself in a master-slave relationship over other riparian states due to the veto powers over the use of Nile, Lake Victoria, and contributory river waters originating in the 1929 and 1959 treaties. In fact, language coming from Cairo had, in the past, even mentioned ‘going to war over water,’ a hardly-concealed threat against the east African states, aimed to bully them into submission and give up an equal say over resources originating from their own land.

Notably, Khartoum’s regime leader, Bashir, was in Cairo over the weekend, probably to discuss ways and means to escape the ICC arrest warrant now hanging over his head, while no media reports available since then did mention that the meeting also had the Nile Treaty on the agenda.

Recent contributions about Fly 540’s regional development have attracted a number of inquiries about the possibility of doing bookings with the airline. Regretfully, this is not possible by sending in a comment about the article or column item in question, but best achieved by visiting and making a direct booking with the airline or sending the relevant inquiry on flight availability and schedules to them, where a swift and competent response is assured. Thank you.

As reported in this column some time ago, Turkish Airlines has now commenced flights between Istanbul and Nairobi (three times a week), code shared with Kenya Airways, who had dropped the route in late 2007. It was also announced in Nairobi that Visa processing would be made easier for visitors from eastern Africa, which has been a major obstacle for growing visitor numbers. In fact, a sizeable delegation from Uganda to visit the Skal international congress in Turkey in 2007 had to cancel their plans when they could not obtain Visas in time and were, according to one hopeful participant, ‘hassled to no end’ by what she describes as ‘ignorant and arrogant officials’ at the Turkish mission in Nairobi. Another hopeful had, at the time, added to this correspondent that ‘Skal should make a guaranteed Visa a mandatory requirement. We, from Africa, are apparently always the hardest hit when we have to fight for our Visa, especially when the host country has no mission in Uganda and when they try to force us travel to other places in person without being even sure we got those Visas.

‘The Pride of Africa,’ as Kenya Airways is fondly known, has just launched a companion fare promotion – not valid for their domestic flights, though – which grants a traveling companion a 50 percent rebate on the published fares on regional, continental, and intercontinental routes. The validity of the offer runs up to March 4, by which time tickets have to be paid for, although flights can still take place after that cut-off date. Meanwhile, the airline is, according to usually well-informed sources, also reviewing its ambitious expansion plans for route and fleet expansion to avoid unnecessary financial exposure at a time when reality for aviation is rather harsh, while at the same time also re-examining their fuel-hedging contracts to create a safety net for potentially rising fuel costs in the future.

This annual key conservation event has been set for May 31 of this year and is expected to, once again, attract a wide range of participants for the benefit of rhinos in the country. Proceeds of the event will go to rhino projects and rhino conservation activities in Kenya.

Porini Camps and Gamewatcher Safaris have recently confirmed the return of a pack of hunting or wild dogs to the Selenkay Conservancy, numbering up to 22 animals in the group. Only recently were they seen close to the Amboseli Porini Camp water hole, to the delight of visitors and staff. Arrangements were also made with the Masai population living nearby who have reportedly lost two young calves, which Porini/Gamewatchers agreed to replace and absorb further damage while the Masai in turn committed not to harm or chase the dog pack. Clients staying at the Porini camp in Amboseli can now make direct contributions towards the ‘adopted’ pack, while in any case a sizeable portion of the camp income is being ploughed back into conservation and community projects.

Porini last received a major award when being recognized at the last WTM as one of the world’s top 50 eco-lodges, a credit to the owners, amongst them Jake Grieves Cook, who is currently also the chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board. More recently, the National Geographic Society Adventure Magazine named them ‘Best Outfitter on Earth’ as being amongst the top 10 African Safari Companies, Visit for more information.

The ‘Wildlife Bill 2009,’ now being discussed in Kenya, is set to split opinions between the different schools of thought of the conservation fraternity, as pros and cons of the new bill have raised the proverbial temperature of the debate between opponents and proponents of the new law. While outright hunting will still be prohibited, the door has nevertheless been opened through a variety of measures via ‘use rights,’ which appear to cater for cropping of wildlife on private ranches; wildlife farming, which allows for raising and containment of wildlife on private properties; and subsequent culling. Some sections of the conservation fraternity now accuse others of having hijacked the process, while again others castigated the use of creative language to conceal the fact that the ultimate result of the proposed changes would still leave wildlife dead on the ground. It was also pointed out in sections of the Kenyan media that the previously-permitted culling was not just very much abused by certain land owners, but had led to the reduction of wildlife species in parts of the country.

Rivertrees Country Inn, located on the Usa River between the Kilimanjaro International Airport and Arusha town, is one of this correspondent’s personal favorites when visiting Arusha. Their ever-smiling staff, their tastefully and individually furnished rooms, their ‘home cooked’ food (I crave their freshly-baked bread for breakfast and the home made jams and marmalade), the once a week ‘neighborhood BBQ’ when nearby residents share their tales with the visitors staying at the Inn, and, of course, the Inn’s tranquil setting along the Usa River coming down from Mt. Meru are all reasons why I keep track of events and happenings there. As has become an annual practise, Rivertrees will close for their spring cleaning, renovations, and improvements to the place between April 1 and May 15, each day inclusive. This being the traditional low season, it allows the staff to take their annual leave while the lodge is being spruced up again for the coming year.
Proprietor Martina Gehrken-Trappe (yes, of the famous von Trappe family) also proudly pointed out the many events Rivertrees hosted over the past months, including a 250-strong outing during the Travelers Philanthropy Conference in December last year; several very posh weddings; catering for a BBC production team, which stayed in the Arusha area for well over a month; and, of course, providing a social platform for area residents who made the Rivertrees Pub their very own watering hole. Last but not least it is noteworthy that Rivertrees is actively engaged in supporting local communities through the Usa River Foundation, looks after foster kids homed nearby, and has extended assistance to the recently-established B&B by the SIAFU Widows Group. The Jane Goodall Institute also benefits from contributions of room and board by Rivertrees, making a real difference for their conservation objectives. The recently-formed Rotary Club of Usa River also made Rivertrees their home for meetings, as did the Rotaract Club of Usa River. For more information, visit or better come and visit in person before embarking on one of the world-famous safaris to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater.

The Tanzania National Parks has invited expressions of interest for newly-advertised concessions for operating balloon flights from inside the Tarangire, Mikumi, and Ruaha national parks in northern and southern Tanzania. The number of balloons stationed in the parks will be limited to two each, and while at Ruaha and Tarangire, 12-seater (rather ‘standing’) balloons can be used, the Mikumi concession only permits the use of 6-passenger balloons for the time being.

Applications will be received by TANAPA at their Arusha offices via P.O. Box 3134, addressed to the Director General, but email contact is possible via . Deadline for the completion of the entire application exercise is April 14 at 2:00 pm or 14:00 hours local time. Potential investors must express their interest in writing first, to be provided with the guidelines under which they can then formally apply and submit a project proposal to TANAPA.

Joe and Mary Ann McDonald were honored last week by ORTPN when they completed their 50th tracking of gorillas, a phenomenal achievement, not the least considering the cost involved of coming to Rwanda that many times and purchasing the tracking permits. The couple is reportedly involved in professional wildlife photography. The record-breaking tracking was achieved over the last several years, and the couple is now likely to claim a place in the Guinness World Records book, which, of course, would also be good news for Rwanda Tourism, providing free PR and exposure.

Information was received from Kigali that the construction of a rail link from the Tanzanian inland dry port of Isaka will commence in early 2010. The new line will be of standard international gauge to facilitate larger loads and faster speeds. Eventually the same line will be extended to eastern Congo and Burundi, none of which presently have access to any railway link. The existing railway line between Dar es Salaam and Isaka is also due for rehabilitation and upgrade to standard gauge from the present narrow gauge. The total project cost is estimated to be in the US$3.5 billion range and will be financed from both external and internal sources, according to statements available to this correspondent.

One of the newer and better-rated hotels in Juba fell victim to an extensive fire, destroying the entire 60 rooms of the hotel within the space of a few hours. The fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon last week, and the fire engines available proved insufficient to extinguish the blaze in time to rescue the hotel. Juba apparently only has two working fire engines, but the UN contingent’s own equipment was reportedly also sent to the scene to assist in putting the fire out. There is suspicion of a short circuit in the electrical wiring, possibly caused by often-witnessed extensive overload or under-dimensioned cables used during construction. Juba Beijing only opened in late 2007, and there are presently no reliable estimates as to whether the hotel can, in fact, be re-built or if it has to be taken down due to structural damages the buildings may have suffered during the fire. The hotel reportedly also housed the Chinese Consulate in Juba, which, too, suffered severe fire damage. The Chinese managers refused to comment on the incident or be quoted altogether, displaying a more than usual paranoia of the media.

Most of the hotels in Juba are still of the prefabricated type, which have over the past years, substituted the tented accommodation initially erected to cater to visitors.

None of the hotels in Juba have modern state-of-the-art sprinklers or fire-fighting systems and cases are even known when owners refused their management to carry out fire drills at regular intervals in order to train staff how to react in case of a fire. All the Juba hotels still rely on portable fire extinguishers and even sand buckets have been seen in some of the older establishments.

Upcoming regulations for hotels are expected to prescribe safety measures as part of the licensing procedure, which each hotel will then have to undergo in annual intervals.

In a rather unbelievable show of contempt for the hunger and cholera-stricken population of Zimbabwe, Mugabe sycophants and party loyalists were nevertheless preparing to throw a mega party for their ‘beloved Bob,’ having successfully hassled and bullied private citizens and business owners for not entirely voluntary donations towards the birthday party coffers. Lists sent to this correspondent from inside Zimbabwe and also from neighboring South Africa and Zambia, allegedly circulated to potential donors in search of contributions, suggest that the birthday bash intends to consume some 2,000 bottles of prime-branded champagne, crates of prime brands of spirits, hundreds of kilograms of fresh seafood like prawns and lobsters, quality caviar, the finest chocolates, and plenty of other goodies.

Reportedly, last year’s birthday extravaganza cost well over US$1 million, and this year’s event is likely to cost even more. What a slap in the face for starving, jobless, and terminally-ill Zimbabweans, who are permanently hungry and have no medical care from their government.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

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