Welcome to Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report – the following stories are the latest news and updates from the region.
AIR UGANDA MAY ADD KHARTOUM FLIGHTS VIA JUBA
While in Juba on assignment this columnist learned from usually well informed governmental and aviation sources, that Air Uganda, in conjunction with a Southern Sudanese registered airline, now intends to fly initially two or three times a week from Juba to Khartoum, likely using a ‘wet lease’ arrangements to avoid a conflict over traffic rights on the domestic route.
Sudan Airways, the national airline based in Khartoum, has been banned from flying since one of their aircraft crashed on landing a few weeks ago while coming from Amman, leaving the Juba route at the mercy of one off operators without the assurance of global safety standards being applied.
Should indeed Air Uganda be able to pull off the deal, at least it would then assure the travelling public between the Southern capital and the national capital to have regular connections. Watch this space to stay informed.
EMIRATES OPENS NEW TERMINAL
Uganda travellers will have to wait a little longer still to travel through the brand new Terminal 3 at Dubai’s International Airport, as the opening is being played out in several phases. Initial reports from Dubai are such that the first flights earlier in the week were handled flawlessly and the transfer of selected flights to their ‘new home’ has been on course during the week.
This is of course in stark contrast to the massively bodged opening of Terminal 5 in Heathrow which caused huge embarrassment to British Airways and Britain in fact and lost BA many customers, even from Uganda, who were caught up in the nightmare scenario then.
Emirates, which connects Uganda daily with Dubai and the rest of the world on Airbus A340 aircraft, has said that flights from and to Africa will move to the new terminal in phase two of the terminal changeover, due to commence shortly. It was also learned that the A380 service to New York, to which Ugandans can now connect in Dubai, will be going ‘daily’ towards the end of the month, a long awaited development and delayed due to the late delivery of additional A380 aircraft from Airbus Industries.
Well done indeed and one of many reasons why Emirates has become one of the ‘world’s favourite airlines’.
TARMAC FOR ROAD TO PARK
During a visit to the Rukungiri district in Western Uganda as part of his nationwide poverty alleviation tour, has President Museveni announced that the recently completed magnificent road to the area will be extended towards Kanungu (where traffic branches off to the Bwindi Gorilla National Park), Kihihi and the Congo DR border point at Ishasha. This will allow for faster and easier access of tourists to the Southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park but equally important provide farmers in the area an outlet to reach the urban markets across the country via the new road. Driving time to the Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth parks may reduce, once the road extension is completed, by more than an hour, giving tourist visitors more time inside the parks or allowing for visits to cultural attractions en route to the park, making best use of the time gained. The park road between Katunguru and Ishasha however, which crosses the Queen Elizabeth National Park from one end to the other and traverses the Maramagambo Forest, is still in great need of repairs and upgrades.
POWER PLANT DEVELOPER PULLS OUT, GOVERNMENT TAKES OVER
The second new hydro electric power plant developer, NORPAK, has just announced that they are pulling out of the project following disagreements with the World Bank, without giving more specific reasons however. The project was in an on / off mode since the first proposals were floated over a decade ago. Government however was swift in stepping into the breach and announced it would acquire the plans, designs and intellectual property from NORPAK to ensure the project would be developed within the expected time frame. It is likely that a restricted bidding process might unfold soon towards finding a new developer, but it is equally likely that government may go it alone. It was also learned that the designs of NORPAK, which wanted to build a ‘tunnel’ version as opposed to the highly contentious dam type, would be re-examined with the aim to raising the output of power from the projected 200 MW to as much as 600 MW. It is not clear at present how this is to be achieved however, so watch this space.
FORESTS KEEP SHRINKING
The latest in a series of reports on the status of forests in Uganda has again underscored an alarming trend of fast reduction in tree cover across the country. The State Minister for Environment was quoted having said in parliament that: ‘the situation is getting serious and worrying. We have so far lost forest cover equivalent to 28 percent’.
No comparative time frame could however be obtained, during which this reduction is said to have taken place.
The situation appears particularly bad in Northern Uganda, where formerly displaced people, returning to their home areas, are reportedly cutting trees rather indiscriminately for firewood, charcoal burning and construction timber. The National Forest Authority has apparently been given a budget equivalent to 2 million US Dollars for replanting of trees in ‘central forest reserves’, which are managed by the national body, but clearly more has to be done to prevent a further de-forestation and subsequent desertification of the country, which once was green from one end to the other.
Meanwhile, the National Forest Authority has called upon companies with unutilised concessions to either start planting trees in accordance with the agreements or else have their contracts cancelled. Under a joint forest management scheme several applicants had been awarded 49 year long agreements, covering some 600 acres.
TANZANIA’S POWER OUTPUT TO REDUCE – BY LAW
The effects of what appears now to be an ill thought out law, signed into effect in June this year, are now likely to further cut the available power in Tanzania, where only two weeks ago the country was struggling with extensive power cuts, when one of the key power plants developed serious technical problems.
The new law prohibits any and all companies with current contracts as ‘independent power producers’ to re-apply for fresh contracts or have existing contracts renewed for 5 years, leading to the Aggreko plant to be shut down shortly. With it goes a capacity of at least 40 MW, as the company has to terminate operations. The new law came into effect over a scandal in the private power generation sector, which cost several government ministers their jobs at the time. However, the intent of the law overshot its aim and objective and the real effect, already pointed out by independent observers and the power industry at the time now seems set to inflict serious electricity shortages in the country.
Business leaders and associations are now leading the battle to suspend the law or urgently amend it to avoid the un-intended side effects hit the economy at this time of global financial market turmoil and recessionary tendencies around the globe. Watch this space.
NEXT LEON SULLIVAN SUMMIT GOES TO KIGALI
During the week the formal MoU was signed between the summit organizers and the Rwandan government to host the next Leon Sullivan Summit in 2010 in Kigali. The most recent event was held earlier in the year in Arusha, Tanzania and was judged an overwhelming success of the summit’s objectives. No specific dates were available however at the time of going to press.
RWANDA OPTS FOR ENGLISH
In yet another step to put their past firmly behind, Rwanda’s cabinet has now decided to accelerate and increase the teaching of English in schools across the country. English will now be the sole medium of instruction from nursery schools to university. Previously, that is until the 1994 Hutu perpetrated genocide, French and Kinyarwanda were the only two official languages in the country but this has changed over the past nearly 15 years with English substituting French more and more.
The joining of Rwanda of the East African Community and her application to join the Commonwealth have undoubtedly played a role in this significant decision, but rubbing the French nose a little – in view of the strained relations – may be a welcome added ‘benefit’ for the Rwandan leadership.
SOUTHERN SUDAN TOURISM POLICY NEARLY THERE
The long awaited tourism policy for the government of Southern Sudan in Juba is now on its final stretch with ongoing intense consultations amongst public and private sector stakeholders, civil society organizations, NGO’s and development partners leading up towards a final consultative workshop, where the new policy final draft document is due to be presented and adopted. Immediately after that final workshop, which will be held in Juba during the last week of October, the new policy document is then expected to be formally handed over to the Minister of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism for processing and presentation to the Council of Ministers, Government of Southern Sudan. It was also learned that work on a new draft tourism legislation and draft tourism regulations would commence soon afterwards to complete the task of establishing a new policy, legal and regulatory framework for the tourism sector in Southern Sudan.
Meanwhile, the environment portfolio has been taken out of the tourism ministry, leaving it as ‘Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism’ within the Government of Southern Sudan. The environment department is now part of the Ministry of Housing and the Director General for Environment, Mr. Victor Lotombe also moved to his new ministry in the same position.
FRAGILE CONGO PEACE AT THE BRINK
Fighting has spread again in Eastern Congo during the past week, now also involving areas around Bunia / Ituri. ‘Government’ or better regime forces are coming under pressure there, as they have been in the Goma area, where the Tutsi self protection units of General Nkunda have gone on the offensive, after the regime troops openly sided with the former Hutu militias, which committed the Rwanda genocide in 1994. General Nkunda in fact sent a stark message to the Kinshasa regime that he would take the fight to them, if their attitude and behaviour would not change fundamentally in coming weeks, starting with containing and disarming the Hutu militias. The intransigence and alleged deceit of the Kabila led regime in Kinshasa seems to have brought things to a head, and their open alliance with the killer militias, with the tacit support of the UN MONUC ‘peace keeping’ force is possible now leading to a renewed larger conflict in the torn jungle nation.
Rwanda has in the meantime categorically refuted reports from Kinshasa that Rwandese troops had allegedly entered the DR Congo, a denial supported incidentally by UN observers in the area who found not evidence to that effect.