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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Mar 13, 2009

Eagle, Uganda’s main domestic scheduled airline, has announced that they will fly initially three times a week from Entebbe via Mbarara (CAA’s Nyakishara airfield) to Kihihi (Savannah Resort airfield). The flights are checked in at Entebbe’s domestic terminal, NOT the international terminal as some travelers still seem to believe, and will operate every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. The new service will open up tourism and trade opportunities but also allow area residents to swiftly reach their destination from Kampala, compared with long hours on the road. The Kihihi airfield is owned by the Savannah Resort, located just outside Queen Elizabeth National Park’s “Ishasha sector,” famous for its tree climbing lions. From the Savannah Resort, it is also easy to reach the main gateway of Buhoma, entrance to the Bwindi Gorilla National Park. The airline has also confirmed that for an extra fee, these flights can route via Kisoro, gateway to the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and access to the Nkuringo area of Bwindi, to Kasese on the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains and even to the Mweya Safari Lodge airstrip in the heart of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The airline operates a fleet of LET 410s, a Beechcraft 1900 as well as several single and twin-engine light aircraft for their scheduled flights in Uganda and air charters across the east and central African region. For more information visit their website at or

The Uganda registered AirServe Cessna Caravan aircraft 5X-ASI crashed last Saturday in southern Sudan upon take off, clipping the branches of a tree and loosing a wing in the process before hitting the ground. All passengers and crew escaped the wreckage alive. Eye witnesses to the crash spoke of a “loud bang and lots of smoke” after the aircraft went airborne initially. The almost miraculous escape of all passengers is largely attributed to the skills of the pilot. An accident investigation is now underway with aviation experts from southern Sudan and the Ugandan CAA participating in the enquiry.

Visitors to Uganda will be pleased to hear that Uganda Telecom has introduced a new product, allowing visitors to use their wireless enabled laptops to connect to the Internet in an increasing number of hotspots across the city, Entebbe, and Jinja. At the modest cost of 2.000 UShs or equivalent of US$1, “surfers” can send a text message to the UTL transaction center, receive in return a pass code, and can then access the network for one hour without buying an expensive modem. The connection will link into the state-of-the-art 3G network, which was launched by UTL in mid 2008. Longer time slots are available at reduced rates and details can be found at or any of the many UTL outlets across the metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, the SEACOM ocean bed cable, which will connect east Africa via fiber-optic links to the rest of the world, reducing reliance on satellite up and down links, reached Mombasa last weekend. Preparations are now underway to connect to the east African switch station. A second such cable of a competing consortium is also due to land soon. The fiber-optic connections are expected to reduce the cost of data bulk transfers by as much as three quarters, although this reduction is not expected to be passed on to consumers in full. Still, Internet connection charges and voice/data call cost are expected to come down by as much as half once all technical installations and connections to the various east African phone and communication networks are in place. This is expected to happen by middle of the year. Something to look forward to says this correspondent who spends a small fortune, year in and year out, in connection charges and phone bills.

Uganda’s fifth telecoms network, France Telecom owned Orange, is now operating in Uganda after launching earlier in the week. They established themselves as an innovative player in Kenya last year and then bought out HITS Telecom from the previous owners in Uganda. Their market entry in Uganda is expected to further intensify competition and call rates, and the cost of other services is expected to come down still further to the benefit of consumers. Visitors from Europe using the Orange network in their own countries will also benefit through reduced roaming cost by staying on their home network. The access code for the network will be +256 790. In a remarkable way, to reduce the construction of yet more telecom’s transmission towers, many of which are now no longer considered as signs of progress but rather being an eyesore, at times with as many as 4 towers dotting hill tops, the company has entered into a sharing agreement with Warid Telecom, building only 150 transmission masts in their launch area while using Warid’s mast network in a reciprocal arrangement. For that, both companies are commended.

The public, the EU, which has been funding the project and government are all fed up to the teeth with the constant delays over the completion of the Northern Bypass, which is to channel heavy traffic to upcountry destinations in the west and south west of the country around the city center. The resulting decongestion is estimated to reduce traffic jams substantially for commuters into the city bringing much needed relief to motorists.
However, Italian company Salini – incidentally also constructing the Bujagali dam and hydro-electric power plant (and being ahead of schedule there) – continue to blame “circumstances beyond their control,” which apparently also includes the time construction stood still when the belated, squabbled-over design details occurred some three years into construction.

Yet, cracks have already started to develop on sections of the road before it has even open to general traffic, a situation witnessed last week by the Minister for Works and Transport, who then issued a dire warning to the contractors to either finish their work by March 11 or face substantial fines and penalties, which could include banning the company from further projects in Uganda. In fact, the Minister was reported in the local media to have spoken of possible prosecution of Salini, if facts found out during the upcoming enquiry will support such a move.

However, not long afterwards, the foreign project manager of Salini publicly contradicted the Minister when saying “the road will be open in July.” Watch this space as the “Italian road opera” continues to unfold.

Kenya’s tourism private-sector apex body has taken on NEMA over the proliferation of new developments encroaching into the Masai Mara Game Reserve. While NEMA claims all their approvals for new facilities were taken in accordance with the law and regulations, in contrast the Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) is highly critical of the fact that in recent years nearly three dozen new developments have sprung up in the area disregarding the new management plan for the reserve drawn up by the Narok and Trans Mara country councils. It is also alleged that NEMA disregarded a moratorium placed on new developments allowing for in-depth studies into the knock-on effect of ever more tourists being accommodated in an ecologically-sensitive area. KTF, in fact, went as far as accusing NEMA of abdicating their role in environmental protection and being the public custodian of the environment and having joined hands with developers only interested in short-term profit at the expense of common good.

Ahead of the important ITB tourism fair in Berlin, Kenya’s international reputation took a further beating in the local, regional, and international media, when two leading human-rights activists were, in cold blood, assassinated in broad daylight while sitting in a traffic jam with their car. Only hours earlier, the governmental sources linked them with a banned violent sect, an allegation robustly rejected by their organization and a number of people well acquainted with their work. The special rapporteur for the UN on extra-judicial killings in Kenya, following the disputed elections in late December 2007 and an exceedingly large number of other cases, Prof. Philip Alston had met the two only weeks earlier when conducting his evidentiary hearings. In his published report, he blamed the Kenyan Commissioner of Police and the country’s Attorney General as “icons of impunity” over failing to take any action about the alleged police executions of some 8,000 individuals. Only a few weeks ago, the Kenyan parliament also rejected proposals to set up a facility to delve into the post-election violence and bring the culprits to book, leaving the International Criminal Court to deal with the perpetrators of that violence.
In the climate of the present world economic downturn and financial crisis, such negative publicity is the last thing a country’s tourism promoters need, as they already struggle to lure tourists to Kenya and promote the east African country as a safe and desirable destination, which it of course is, were it not for such callous acts and the regrettable aftermath of violent demonstrations.

The Kenya Airport Authority, not a stranger to controversy and negative allegations in the past, has come yet again under the public spotlight, when a deal was revealed which saw KAA clandestinely plan to hand over the old airport facility of Embakasi to an aviation newcomer for redevelopment.

Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) is seriously congested, and the idea to transfer domestic flights to the old airport – as incidentally done in Entebbe – would decongest the international side. The plans to do exactly that, also supported by Kenya Airways – the biggest user of facilities at JKIA, were, however, in back-room dealings substituted by new and apparently unauthorized plans to hand the redevelopment to a relatively unknown entity. The move will, therefore, be seen as another deal overshadowed by the stink of corruption, especially when the Sunday Nation revealed that the airline, which has not even started operations yet and is still to get the various operational permits from the KCAA, has a Mr. Ikiara listed as one of their directors who is, of course, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport under which the KAA falls. Watch this space for updates.

Elephants from the Serengeti National Park appeared to have strayed into some of the surrounding small farms of late, raiding crops and in the process killing two unfortunate villagers. Local community leaders have asked the government to devise lasting solutions to protect them and their small vegetable gardens and farms, as a drought has already made living conditions in the area difficult. Requests for food aid were also made at the same time to replace what the marauding elephants had eaten and allow the residents to not only restock their larders but also get new seeds for the next planting season.
This is a story repeated in many parts of Africa, where population pressure brought human settlements into areas close to national parks and game reserves or where settlements evolved inside and along traditional wildlife migration routes, causing an intensifying conflict between animals and humans, which will be hard to resolve.

East Africa’s premier tourism trade show, the Karibu Fair in Arusha Tanzania, will this year take place between June 5-7. The first day will be limited to trade visitors only, allowing for uninterrupted business-to-business contacts, while the remaining two days will be open for both trade and general visitors. Anyone interested in the event can visit for more information or write to Participants from the US, the UK, Holland, Switzerland, India, and South Africa have already registered, and, of course, many from the entire east African region.

It is also noteworthy that this is the 10th time the event is taking place in Arusha, during which the fair has grown from strength to strength. Way to go Karibu and congrats for making this a very important regional af’Fair’!

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report
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