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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Apr 10, 2009

Mr. Ashton Muthai, the deputy to Kampala Serena’s executive chef, had days of culinary glory while on attachment to the Landmark Hotel in London for a stint of practicing and experience gathering. While in the UK, he had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate as a member of the kitchen brigade in Buckingham Palace, where HM the Queen hosted a banquet for the G20 Summit with heads of state, heads of government, and their spouses in attendance. Ashton, a fast-rising star in the already impressive line up of the Kampala Serena’s kitchen, had been second at the Nile Hotel in Kampala after Serena took over the hotel from the government in 2004 and then returned to the venue ahead of the re-opening of the hotel. Since then, however, Ashton regularly cooked for state dinners held at the Kampala Serena Hotel, including the main banquet of the Commonwealth Summit, which was hosted by HM the Queen at the time. Ashton also provided culinary creations to the many global “Who’s Who” from governments, NGOs, the business world, and show-biz community staying at the Serena when in Kampala, and his latest experience will stand him well in years to come as his career continues to blossom. Well done indeed.

The Uganda Safari Guide Association, in conjunction with the Bird Guide Association, has recently completed training courses for driver guides and specialized guides, 6 of whom graduated with the highest possible scores. An additional course for 20 guides will be taking place shortly but requires substantially higher entry criteria for participants. This will help the safari sector to train high-end, high-quality guides who, under the upcoming grading and licensing, will then be part of the top layer of qualified and approved guides. According to USAGA, a separate training course for cultural guides has been scheduled for September of this year. In further information, the Uganda Safari Guide Association has also informed the sector that they are investigating complaints about several member driver guides over a range of allegations. The USAGA disciplinary committee remains committed to root out misfits and will do what they can to have those found guilty of offenses, vis-à-vis their ethics and standards guidelines, to be banned from entering protected areas or appearing in the membership guide listings.

Last week saw a long-standing goal of legislation fulfilled, an objective actively supported by this correspondent when still in trade politics, after Parliament passed a law dealing with sex tourism, child trafficking, and related issues. Jail terms of between 15 years and life await convicted offenders found engaging in the disgusting practices. Existing laws already provide for a death sentence for defilers, a category in law which would apply to sexual predators seeking out under-aged children and being found guilty in a court of law. It is for the world to note that Uganda is, therefore, not a place to visit if anyone intends to act out his or her depraved sexual fantasies, as long years in harsh prison conditions would await offenders or at worst a death penalty. Stand warned!

The saga of this hotel project, which started out like Cinderella, has progressively turned an ugly duckling in the public eye. Ahead of the Commonwealth Summit, the government tried to entice investors to put up sufficient new hotels and meeting facilities to be able to host the meeting, an objective the Uganda government largely achieved. However, the near free gift of about 17 acres of prime land in the city to Saudi Arabian Prince Al Waleed, principal owner of Kingdom Hotels, did not yield the wanted results as construction never started, although over a thousand pupils and their teachers and other staff were hurriedly told to vacate when the Shimoni Primary School and Teachers Training College were demolished. Although Al Waleed reportedly then contributed some US$2 million to build new facilities, this has largely not taken place to date, depriving Ugandans of educational facilities.

In fact, Kingdom’s lawyers in Kampala recently publicly threatened legal action against the government if any attempt was made to repossess the land in question, in spite of their clients not performing their part of the deal, i.e., building a 5-star luxury hotel. Meanwhile, Kingdom Hotels in Kenya invested mega millions to first buy Lonrho Hotels and then refurbish their 5 properties there, a situation appreciated in Kenya but found intolerable here in Uganda.

The latest news now is that Kingdom has brought in a partner to advance the project, a situation the government claimed it was not aware of nor had it sanctioned a new ownership set up for the project. Hence, even if the project, after all the hullabaloo, is going ahead, the Kampala public will harbor grudges galore against the Sheikh for first taking and destroying their school, sitting on his hands for years before then threatening to sue, and finally, altering the set up substantively without apparent knowledge by the government. Watch this space for emerging news.

As part of Kenya’s efforts to get the country on the map, even within Africa, some 150 travel agents were flown to Nairobi from such diverse countries as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mali, Ethiopia, Morocco, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. At a grand welcome at the Nairobi Museum hosted by Kenya Airways, the Kenya Tourist Board and the private sector representing safari and lodge operators, participants were given presentations on the destination and urged to sell Kenya holidays in their home markets rather than sending travelers to places outside Africa. Kenya is, of course, east Africa’s leading destination in terms of visitor numbers, but the global economic crisis has now spurred extra activities in markets where, in particular, Kenya Airways is flying to, aiming at attracting travellers from these sources. The one week FAM trip took participants to a range of the Kenyan game parks and also to the coast, showing them the key attractions and allowing them to sample the classic Kenyan hospitality. The joint venture of promoting Kenya across the rest of Africa is said to be worth some 50 million Kenya Shillings, a substantial boost to other activities and budgetary allocations already available. Way to go Kenya!

Meanwhile, the tourism business community has told politicians to get on with their work inside parliament and refrain from calling for mass action on the streets whenever they seemingly cannot agree on a way forward. The tourism sector is a major employer in the country, and key stakeholders are no longer willing to accept having their businesses made to suffer as a result of political issues.

Lewa Downs, a globally-renowned conservancy in northern Kenya for rhinos and other endangered African wildlife like the Grevy’s Zebra, has recently announced the birth of two Eastern Black Rhinos, bringing the total number of the rare animals to 64. This remarkable development has made Lewa the home of more than 10 percent of all Eastern Black Rhinos in Kenya, a tribute to decades of committed and often unappreciated work carried out by the owners. The success of breeding and preserving, however, is now pushing Lewa to the brink of its estimated carrying capacity for rhinos, and relocations to other safe areas in coming years are thought to be almost inevitable. Congratulations to Lewa, of course, on this latest success story. Visit for more information about the work done there and how best to support their efforts in the future.

Over 30 black rhinos are due to be imported from South Africa and will be relocated into the Serengeti in coming years under a US$4.5 million project. The acquisition of the rhinos will help the park to repopulate the species with a viable additional population, adding to the existing attractions visitors enjoy when traveling to the park. The first rhinos are due to arrive later this year and will, after a brief period of veterinary monitoring, be released into the Grumeti Sector and the wider Serengeti. The relocation may last for up to 5 years before all rhinos are on site.

Training of about 150 specialized game rangers, aimed at giving the extra protection needed by rhinos, has already commenced and is also being supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, as well as by the Grumeti Fund, the Grumeti and Ikorongo Game Reserves, and other interested conservation groups and parties. Community support and education programs are operating alongside the main initiative to sensitize communities adjoining the park and reserves in case some of the rhinos may stray outside the protected areas. Watch this space for updates.

Ugandan border communities and society at large have joined with their Rwandese neighbors to commemorate the gruesome genocide committed by Hutu militias in 1994, which started this week 15 years ago but is still vividly remembered. Over 10,000 genocide victims have, in fact, been buried on the Ugandan side of the border, and efforts are underway to repatriate the victim’s bodies and inter them at newly-created Genocide Memorial sites inside Rwanda. Well-wishers of the new Rwanda from around the world have traveled to the tiny east African nation to pay their respects to the more than 800,000 victims, participate in memorial services and prayer sessions, and help remind the world of the failings in 1994 and the objective of “never again.”

The main event in Kigali brought more than 25,000 participants into the overflowing city stadium where a candle-light prayer vigil was held in the presence of President Kagame.

Work on the extension railway line between the proposed inland dry port of Isaka in Northern Tanzania and Kigali, the Rwandan capital city, is due to start later this year following a tripartite meeting in Rwanda last week. The estimated cost of the project is presently standing at some US$2.5 billion but will likely be greater than this when work actually is tendered and contracts awarded. Work is expected to finish by 2014, then giving Rwanda a rail link to the Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam for the first time ever. The line from Dar es Salaam to Isaka will, under the project, also be modernized and transformed into an international standard gauge size from the current narrow gauge presently used. The wider rail line will facilitate not only larger loads but, most important, faster speeds, and being new will suffer less line disruptions, currently a major problem for rail operators across the region. The original railways in east Africa were built around the turn of the last century although the Tanzania – Zambia railway was added later on to provide another rail link to a safe harbor, as was the case when it was built by the Chinese government in support of economic cooperation and development in the region and also to help the liberation movements in southern Africa. Those depended at the time on supplies reaching them via Tanzania and Zambia as Zimbabwe, and in particular South Africa, was still ruled by minority regimes.
In a related development, the extension of the Uganda rail system to southern Sudan is also advancing through the planning stages, but no dates have yet been given, in public or in private, as to the start of works. Watch this space for updates.

Elections were due to take place later in the year across the Sudan, including the southern part of the country, before the south will then embark on a referendum on their future status, i.e., remaining inside the Sudan as an autonomous region or opting for full independence. The preparations of the elections, however, ran into trouble when sharp differences emerged between the north and the south over results of a national census taken last year. The south in particular objected to downsizing the southern population, which would have a substantial impact on the boundaries of constituencies and subsequently would prejudice the eventual distribution of seats in the national parliament. With the census dispute unresolved and ongoing arguments over the integration into the south of three still-disputed states, it was announced in Khartoum that the elections would only take place next year. No comments could be obtained from the reaction of the southern leadership, who had previously expressed their desire to have elections in any case. The development is also keeping the ICC-wanted regime leader Bashir in office for some time longer before, alongside parliamentary polls, presidential elections, too, will take place.

Gill Staden from Livingstone / Zambia has informed that the LTA will be getting a new web site shortly, which can, when ready, be accessed via
.The site will contain regularly-updated information on a wide range of tourism issues, lists accommodation providers, restaurants, and safari operators and provides the latest news from the Livingstone area for overseas tour operators and would be travelers. Congrats to the LTA and thanks to Gill, of course, for the work she is doing on the new site.


Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report
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