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Wolfgang;'s News from Africa

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Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome  Nov 30, 2007

HTTI RETURNS TO TOURISM MINISTRY : The Ugandan national hotel and tourism training institute will, effective 30th November, return to the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry. The hotel institute was in a fell swoop some years ago excised from the tourism ministry and handed to the Ministry of Education and Sports, loosing millions of Dollars in the process in approved funding from the World Bank under the ICB Pamsu phase (protected areas management and sustainable use) as the change of ministerial oversight had not been catered for in the respective financing agreements with the World Bank. The hospitality and tourism industry at the time protested vehemently for not being consulted over the move at all and any assurances by government, that all such institutions were moved to the Education portfolio at the time were promptly disproved, when other similar institutions, including the East African Aviation Academy, were retained by their respective home ministries.
Over the years however much progress was made by the institution under the Ministry of Education and Sports and the present move, although not entirely unexpected, once again was taken by government without consultations with key stakeholders – Public Private Partnership in its finest manifestation …

CELTEL AFRICA SETS NEW GLOBAL STANDARDS
Celtel, the Gulf owned African telecommunications giant, has just broken new ground in Africa, and in fact the world, when integrating 12 of their national networks under a single ‘borderless’ call system. This now allows Celtel subscribers from East Africa and the other participating countries to call at local rates the Celtel networks in the other countries or receive calls while travelling in these states without roaming fees. The ‘borderless network’ includes Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Sudan, Chad, Congo DR, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. More countries are due to be added in further phases of the programme, which is unique in the world and has no parallel in Europe, North America or Asia at present. The feature is available for both post paid (invoiced) subscribers and also for pre-paid subscribers, who can now add call credit from over 500.000 airtime sales points across the participating countries. This too is a novel feature on a global scale.
The company also lowered call charges into the rest of the international network and has engaged in an Africa wide promotion to alert the market places to the advantages of calling the rest of Africa within one network and local rates.

AIRFIELDS SHUT DOWN DURING SUMMIT
In a not so nice (at all) development the Kajjansi airfield, base for Mission Aviation Fellowship and the Kampala Aero Club / KAFTC, plus several other air operators was shut down during the Commonwealth Summit. All charter operations, including to and from Bulago Island (airstrip also closed without notice) and to the national parks, were halted due to ‘security reasons’ and other regular users of air services were made to use road transportation or else wait for several days, while the embargo was in place. Some other private fields like Kakira (near Jinja) were reportedly also told to stop operations until after the summit. The only exception was to fly the Duke of Edinburgh from Kajjansi around the country, showing the advantages of being a Royal and the disadvantages of being a ordinary mortal. Talk about going overboard … this development was incidentally feared by the aviation fraternity in advance of the summit and repeated questions were raised with the authorities, but officials literally strung the aviators along until the sudden shut down notice was served on them and implemented. Well earned barbs for this, as it once again demonstrates that public private partnership often seems to be only a convenient window dress but in practise, and when really crucial issues are at hand, does not function well. One particular air operator, obviously not wishing to be named, accused the authorities of bad faith and well nearly of deceit over this sudden development, while also accusing the CAA of completely ignoring a due consultative process and hiding behind ‘orders from above’ as obscure as this sounds. Operations in and out of Entebbe were also hamstrung with scheduled flights being delayed or cancelled to the annoyance of connecting passengers, many of whom reacted with open anger over their inconvenience. CAA officials were rather coy over this development, pointed to ‘orders from above’ and otherwise opted not to comment in any capacity. The air operators are now blaming the regulators for causing massive revenue losses with the shut down order and are considering taking the matter to law over compensation claims.
This development took place inspite of constant official assurances before the summit to the contrary, bringing sighs of relief from the affected tourism, travel and aviation fraternity, after the summit juggernaut had waltzed out of town again. Yet, with the restrictions gone the traffic jams were back with a vengeance overnight, proving that the world is not perfect …
EAST AFRICAN AIRLINES RETURNS
As reported recently in this column, Air Tanzania has sold one of their B737 to Africa Direct / East African Airlines in Kampala. The aircraft was initially build as a ‘combi’ version and will, when reconfigured, be able to carry three standard pallets of cargo in the front of the aircraft, whereas passenger capacity will reduce to only about 60 seats in an all economy version. The aircraft will be delivered to Africa Direct / East African Airlines just as soon as Air Tanzania has taken delivery of their first leased Airbus 320, expected to take place before Christmas. Fred Obbo, Managing Director and CEO of Africa Direct / East African Airlines has also confirmed that the airline is not likely to resume their former routes immediately. The revived airline is likely to initially offer combined scheduled cargo and passenger services into the Congo on routes from Entebbe presently not served by any other airline. EAA operated from Entebbe to Nairobi and Johannesburg and neither route is judged viable for the revived airline at present.
Africa Direct bought East African Airlines two years ago after a debt restructuring deal with the key creditors was agreed. EAA had gone out of business in mid 2005 and then had their single B737-200 grounded in Brazzaville over a commercial dispute. Fred Obbo, an aviation veteran in Uganda, has also estimated the overall capital requirement to resume full operations with their combi aircraft to be in the 15 million US Dollar region, which will include the reconfiguration of the aircraft from an all passenger aircraft into a combi version with a cargo side door. Good luck and Happy Landings.

SUDAN AIRWAYS DROPS ENTEBBE, AGAIN
Sudan Airways has once more suspended their flights from Khartoum via Juba to Entebbe, following what they claim is ‘low demand’. This is however contradicted by other aviation sources, which blame poor reliability and other problems for the halt of the flights. Sudan Airways at one time intended to fly three times a week between KRT – JUB – EBB but ended up with only one (often irregular) flight, as their single B737 was committed elsewhere in the network and the arrival of ‘new’ aircraft never materialised. Southern Sudanese travellers were also apprehensive to fly on the Sudanese national airline which is generally considered as being owned by the Central (Khartoum) Government, and when relations soured once again over Khartoum’s intransigence and refusals to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Sudan Airways really no longer made inroads in the Juba market. Even passengers travelling on to international flights now routinely fly via Entebbe or Nairobi and connect from there rather than having to route their travels via Khartoum.

KENYA AIRWAYS BAGS REGIONAL AWARD
In the annual CEO survey carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers Kenya Airways once again won the top award in the Service Sector category. This puts to rest the many ‘hit and run’ attacks from certain sections of the East African media on Kenya’s national airline, which in recent weeks marked the attitude suddenly developed by a particular newspaper group against the ‘Pride of Africa’. Informed readers know of course that this campaign was entirely aimed at preparing the ground for the latest Ugandan airline upstart and cause a shift in market share in favour of a sister company by the media house in question. Bouquets for Kenya Airways and barbs for the others …

JETLINK SPREADS THEIR WINGS
Following the introduction of their two CRJ 100ER aircraft, the privately owned Kenyan airline has now started adding more domestic and regional destinations. The fast 50 seater jets have taken the market by storm and proved popular with the passengers. The airline is reportedly already looking at flying from Nairobi to Kigali, Bujumbura and also Goma and inside sources do not rule out additional regional routes. Entebbe sadly is not yet on the drawing board, as the Ugandan travelling public would have loved to see the jet aircraft type, upstart Air Uganda had rejected in favour of aviation stone age DC9-32 equipment. That airline claimed at the time that no maintenance facilities could be found in Africa for these jets, a contention proved utterly wrong by Jetlink now.
Jetlink has now also fully migrated to e-ticketing and established a state of the art call centre to cope with increased loads and passenger numbers. IOSA certification is also said to be in the final stages, which will confirm the operational standards of the airline as compliant to internationally accepted safety levels as prescribed by IATA to its member airlines.

KENYA REVENUE AUTHORITY KEEPS MESSING WITH TOURISM
A dispute has arisen between suppliers of aviation fuel and KRA over tax and duty payments for fuel delivered to airlines outside the three gazetted airports JKIA and Wilson in Nairobi and Moi International in Mombasa. Yet, air operators also require fuel when operating into other fields such as Kisumu, Eldoret or even airstrips in remoter locations like Nanyuki, where operator Tropic Air is based and reportedly suffering greatly from KRA’s latest stunt.
This column has on many occasions written about KRA messing with African hinterland fuel supplies (Uganda, Rwanda, Eastern Congo, Southern Sudan), when trying to impose inexplicably rash, sudden and unimplementable decisions on the market for those fuels in transit to their final destination. Most of these issues were decided by KRA apparently in total isolation from the affected parties and had to eventually solved by top level political intervention, leaving KRA regularly with egg over their faces. Said one Kenyan air operator, who for obvious reasons preferred anonymity: ‘they [KRA] are totally out of control. They do simply not understand what aviation is all about and as a result about 2 dozen aircraft have been rendered useless and are just standing there without fuel. It seems KRA is not accountable or answerable for such damages but for sure they will even argue with air operators about accepting the losses incurred over such mistakes.’ A fuel company official also commented under the same terms of anonymity that KRA owes the fuel companies millions upon millions of Shillings in pending refunds and showed total intransigence over meeting those obligations, delaying payments with every trick in the book. Likewise behaviour from tax payers by the way would end them up in court or worse. He also pointed out that KRA had refused to give any answers regarding their action in writing, causing a legal vacuum. Well earned barbs for the Kenya Revenue Authority once again.

KEMPINSKI TANZANIA BREAKS INTO THE TOP ECHELON
The ‘most respected company awards’ for the year 2006 also included the Kempinski hotel group in Tanzania, which broke into the top rankings of the hotel and tourism sector in a closely fought contest. The group now has presence in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and is reportedly seeking a rapid expansion into the hotel, resort and safari lodge sector across the region. Well done!
The contest is expected to be even tighter next year when Fairmont Hotels will become a serious contender for the number one spot after their long awaited refurbishment of the Norfolk Hotel and the Mount Kenya Safari Club will be concluded in Kenya.
The new Fairmont managed resort in Zanzibar is also said to be fully operational now and is apparently fully booked already for the forthcoming high tourist season, making them a contender too for 2008. Also well done!

MANPOWER DRAINS CONTINUES UNABATED
The tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors in East Africa continue to be targeted by recruiters from the Middle East and in particular the Gulf states, where the national resource pool is too limited, both in terms of manpower and in terms of available skills, to sustain the growth of the respective sectors. Pilots in particular have been made the target of fast growing Gulf airlines, but also cabin attendants and any kind of hotel personnel such as cooks, chefs, front office and house keeping staff. While those lucky to be chosen often find greener pastures, the treatment of foreign staff in Gulf states often leaves much to be desired, as numerous reports in the past have amply demonstrated.
Employers in Eastern Africa, where tourism is also booming at present, may now have to dig deeper in their pockets to retain their key staff and spend also more in training replacement staff, poached from new hotels in the East African region and also of course from further abroad.
In any case, these developments open new opportunities for well trained and skilled personnel in the various sectors of the tourism industry and are in itself an incentive for young people to join training programmes where they can attain basic and advanced skills.

and from Gill Staden in Livingstone / Zambia comes her personal travel experience to the Liuwa Plains National Park:

Liuwa Trip (part 1)

Our trip to Liuwa Plains started on Friday 16th November. We were to travel to Liuwa Plains National Park, via Senanga and Mongu, then on to Mukambi Lodge, then to Itezhi-Tezhi and finally through Kafue NP and home to Livingstone – a week’s trip, in all.

The first stretch of the journey was west from Livingstone to Katima Mulilo/Sesheke. This is a two-hour run on a good tar road; one of the few good bits of road we were likely to see throughout the journey. We were six friends in three cars. At Katima Mulilo we were joined by another vehicle and three people who came in from Botswana. Our group was now complete and we took off north on the road to Senanga.

The road to Senanga is horrible … lumps, bumps, potholes and craters. Our first vehicle-problem arose one hour into the drive on this pot-holed nightmare – driving speed was a around 40km/h. My car hit a huge hole and the car stopped. On opening the bonnet we found that the battery had fallen off its ledge and was now at 45º inside the engine with both wires having broken off. Woops. After some bush mechanics courtesy of Brian, we are on our way again ... but the car was behaving badly … huffing and puffing like an old woman … something was wrong. Open the bonnet again … something else had come loose … Brian joined it up and we were back on the road and all seemed well.

After the lateness of our start and the small break for vehicle mechanics, there was no way we were going to reach Senanga that day so we decided to stop at Thebe Safari Lodge which has a good campsite. On arrival we met up with Toff and Kiddy from Ultimate Africa Safaris (Kasane tour operator) who had arrived the day previous. They said Sioma Falls was great and that we had better go and see it. So we all piled up into the Hilux and took a drive to the falls … half and hour away.

The water in the Zambezi is low at this time of the year and Sioma Falls was actually falling over the rocks unlike the previous time I visited in April of this year – then, the Falls had completely disappeared and become mere rapids. We walked along beside the river looking at the falls from various angles. They really are beautiful. It is such a shame for tourism that the road there is so bad because it could become quite a tourist attraction. As it is, very few people take the time to travel there. Interestingly, I read an article in the Post newspaper the other day which said that Danish Aid is to spend US$75,000,000 on roads in Western Province during the next 5 years. So let us hope that this road is on their list of roads-to-do.

Wolfgang;'s News from Africa



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