Wolfgang’s East Africa report


Lovebirds checking into the Kampala Sheraton Hotel on Friday, Saturday or Sunday can take advantage of a newly introduced ‘Romance’ package at a cost of 230 US Dollars per couple per night. On arrival the guests will find a bottle of wine in their room, plus a fruit and chocolate platter and a full breakfast will be served directly to the room, avoiding the visit to the Victoria Restaurant for the buffet and possibly ‘prying’ eyes. Check out is also extended until 4 p.m. on the day of departure for guests booked under the package, which is available with immediate effect. A dedicated ‘Ladies Night’ every Thursday was also launched earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, meeting packages, several types of which are available at the hotel, are subject to a 10 percent rebate in coming weeks to make bookings at the hotel more attractive, a most welcome move in these economically challenging times. Visit www.sheraton.com/kampala for more information and bookings at the hotel.

The Sheraton Kampala Hotel has also recently signed a new deal with the Uganda Hotels, Food, Tourism and Allied Workers Union revising retirement terms, pay and other terms and conditions for their unionised workers. Hotel staff and management both hailed the new agreement as a fair deal benefitting workers while considering the hotel’s financial abilities. Notably, many of Kampala’s hotels still do not have union agreements in place, a situation which requires swift remedy.

Ugandan chef turned food and restaurant critic Kaddumukasa Kironde is the brain behind the Ugandan Food Festival due to be held at the ‘Kyadondo Rugby Club’ along Jinja Road on Saturday 06th of June. The daylong event will feature ‘cook outs’ where chefs will test their skills in the public arena and emphasis is on mainly Ugandan food varieties, while international cuisine will of course also feature, recognizing the many different restaurants which opened up in recent years from around the world. Entrance for adults will be just 5.000 Uganda Shillings, or a little over two US Dollars or just under two Euros, and visitors – the organizers expect several thousand during the day to frequent the food festival – will be able to sample food galore. Several hotels and restaurants in Kampala have confirmed their attendance and major sponsors are Coca Cola and Nile Breweries amongst others. Any visitor to Kampala over that weekend is encouraged to come to the venue, which is only a few kilometres from the Central Business District.

In spite of the present economic downturn plenty of foreign pilgrims came once again to Uganda to celebrate the annual remembrance at Namugongo, a short way outside Kampala en route to Jinja. The region topped the ‘foreign’ visitors with pilgrims from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi being registered, but from further away still came groups from Nigeria, Italy, the United States and Canada. The memorial at Namugongo was consecrated by none other than Pope Paul VI in the late 60’s and later also visited by Pope John Paul II. Hundreds of thousands of Christians meet at Namugongo every year to remember the 23 martyrs, all of whom were since elevated to sainthood in the Catholic Church.

Faithful from across Eastern Africa had walked at times for days and weeks to reach the venue of the celebrations in a classic pilgrimage by foot, while others arrived in buses and car convoys from the entire region. Religious ‘tourism’ remains largely underestimated but in fact makes significant contributions to the sector, as the annual Martyr’s Day statistics regularly show.

The Kampala office of Emirates has confirmed that the airline will now use the A380 on their route from Dubai to Bangkok, permitting travelers from Uganda bound for Thailand to experience the unique in-flight experience of flying on the world’s largest passenger plane. The aircraft was at the same time withdrawn from the New York route, it was reiterated. Meanwhile, Emirates has also upped their capacity for the daily Dubai – Addis Ababa – Entebbe flights by switching from Airbus equipment to the B777-200, which offers more seats and more cargo capacity.

Confirmation has been received from affected staff that the recently inaugurated board of directors of the Uganda Tourist Board, in one of their first activities, directed that all staff contracts be terminated. Staff members were also told they could re-apply by 15th of June and that their applications would be considered alongside other applications for positions. The harsh measures come amidst renewed controversy, fueled by a few tourism business operators with a long and often rather personal agenda against UTB’s CEO, but good results will hardly be possible in such an emotionally charged climate. The outgoing CEO of UTB has also been invited for an interview and this is presently pending, mindful of his last few weeks in office. Expect more details in coming editions as you continue to watch this space.

It was 46 years ago on Monday this week that Kenya, well on the way to independence at the time, took control of her internal administration, half a year ahead of attaining full independence in December 1963. Congratulations on this auspicious day to the people of Kenya, many of whom took advantage of generous low season residents offers and packages by beach resorts and safari lodges to make a ‘get away’, benefiting the tourism sector with some bonus full house occupancies, at least for this weekend.

THY, the Turkish national airline, has earlier in the week offered some of the best deals seen in a long time anywhere in Eastern Africa, although it must be pointed out that once again regulatory charges, fees and taxes are not included, giving intending travelers probably another rude shock when making inquiries.

‘Net’ fares from Nairobi to Istanbul start at US Dollars 399, but destinations like Tel Aviv, London and Moscow go at the same price, while for US Dollars 499 a round trip to the Big Apple, i.e. New York is on offer. The adverts do point out the limited number of seats for this offer so the early traveler birds are likely to actually get the fares on the dates they want to fly. Baggage allowance is also set at 40 KG per passenger and no charges are levied on checked bags.

Turkish Airlines is a member of Star Alliance, giving a seal of quality approval to the carrier, which has since starting their flights to Nairobi has not made a big impact as yet in the market, that is until these fares hit the market.

In latest information a ‘threat by surface to air missiles’ was floated in the Kenyan media, which was however firmly rejected by the Kenyan authorities, who pointed to a very recent security inspection by American personnel, following which the flights were cleared. KCAA also pointed out that as per the agreement with the Americans increased security personnel had been deployed and surveying stepped up. As reported in the Daily Nation (www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/606540/-/ujrakf/-/index.html) the Homeland Security Secretary was implicated to have personally intervened to have the flights stopped. The government in Nairobi also formally summoned the American Ambassador to express their displeasure over the way the cancellation was handled and it was revealed that such methods were not fit for dealings between ‘friendly nations’.

No other airline flying to Nairobi confirmed that such a current threat has been publicized and none of the international and domestic airlines using JKIA have giving indication that they would cancel any of their flights. Efforts to get a reaction from Delta as to giving a new date when the flights would finally start were not successful by the time of going to press.

One of Kenya’s most recognizable conservation support events, the annual ‘Rhino Charge’ took place last weekend and again attracted dozens of participants and hundreds of spectators. However, no further details on collections are presently available.

Towards the end of last week did news emerge from Nairobi’s main international airport that owing to a burst water pipe the terminal and other areas, including the ongoing construction sites for the expansion of JKIA were left without water. Staff, one of them complaining to this column, spoke of a nasty smell emerging from restrooms, leading to upset scenes by irate travelers waiting for their flights or arriving in the country. KCAA was quick to reject complaints, pointing to contingency plans put into place, but the reality once again relegated the KCAA reaction into the land of fiction, as clearly their measures did not work. KCAA had been under scrutiny for a while over allegations of corruption, mismanagement and poor judgment by its CEO but improvements are apparently still far off.

Meanwhile airport users also raised their concerns that in case of a fire there could be chaos resulting as no water would come from the hydrants, with one airline staffer again telling this column: ‘this is criminal negligence by KCAA, they charge small fortunes for users of JKIA and yet not provide adequate services, and right now it simply stinks to heaven, it really does’.

The situation has in the meantime normalized but sentiments against the KCAA’s management and capacity have only been strengthened.

Three Eastern Black Rhinos arrived earlier in the week in Tanzania after completing their long journey from a Czech zoo by air to East Africa. It was a home coming of sorts for the animals, as their ‘parents’ were decades ago sent to a zoo by then Tanzanian government. After the long flight from Europe the one male and two female animals landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport before commencing their final stretch of journey by road to their new home in the Mkomazi Game Reserve, a few hundred kilometres away from JRO. The three rhinos will now undergo a period of monitoring by rangers and vets in a smaller enclosure before being released into the wider reserve. Presently there are 9 of the rhino species in Mkomazi already, all originating from South Africa. This column had reported in past weeks about pending relocations of rhinos to both Tanzania and Kenya aimed at widening the gene pool and encourage breeding to create viable numbers for the survival of the rhinos in the wild.

Being closely involved with the rhino re-introduction to Uganda, this correspondent applauds the generous donation by the Czech government and hopes that the Eastern Black Rhino will also return to Uganda some time soon.

Conservationists and wildlife managers from six countries across Africa have met in Kigali last week to discuss a common stand over elephant conservation ahead of the next major CITES meeting. Besides host country Rwanda attendance was recorded from Kenya, Mali, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and the Congo (Brazzaville), with both Tanzania and Uganda notably absent but in any case not members yet of the African Elephant Coalition. In contrast such other countries like Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Togo, Ghana, Liberia, Central African Republic, Congo DR, Ethiopia and Eritrea are members and often at odds over elephant conservation with the Southern Africa countries, which time and again lobby for the softening of trade rules of animal products, immediately leading to an upsurge in poaching in other countries. The Kigali meeting’s results will be passed on to those members who could not attend to allow for a common platform ahead of crucial meetings in Tanzania and Switzerland over the next few months. The globally renowned World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF in short, has painted a grave picture, projecting that over the next decade, if no decisive conservation steps are taken, the elephant population in the Congo basin could be decimated if not wiped out.

News from Kigali indicate that last week a professional trade association, the ‘Rwanda Tours and Travel Association’ was formally launched during a meeting at the Kigali Serena Hotel. Membership comprises about 35 companies, all considered as leaders in the industry. RTTA began work several years ago and has now established itself as the premier representative body for travel agents and tour / safari operators in the country. Edwin Sabuhoro, the Managing Director of Rwanda Eco Tours was elected as president of the new trade body, while the former CEO of Rwandair, Mr. Manzi Kayihura, was elected as Committee Member and Technical Advisor for Standards and Training. Manzi is now Managing Director or Thousand Hills Expeditions. RTTA also launched their website on the same occasion at www.rttarwanda.org where their Mission Statement and vision for the industry are available for readers.

Meanwhile, Rwanda will be in attendance at the Karibu Travel Fair in Arusha, the region’s premier showcase for tourism and travel with a fully fledged stand and officials from ORTPN and the private sector promoting the country.

Design work for the new ‘Bugesera’ International Airport in Rwanda seems well on course after the consultancy team of TPS Consult in the UK made extensive presentations to stakeholders last week in Kigali. Once the final design details for the new airport have been agreed upon with government of Rwanda and the aviation fraternity, the work scope is then due to be published and tenders will be invited for the work. Like other major projects presently ongoing in Rwanda, this major infrastructural investment too is expected to firmly cement Rwanda’s future position as a tourism and investment destination in the heart of Eastern and Central Africa.
The same company is also working on proposals to modernize the existing international airport and upgrade its facilities. The runway at Kanombe International is presently 3.500 metres long, providing the hub of air operations for the country’s international and domestic flights.
Meanwhile, Rwanda is in the final stage of passing new Civil Aviation legislation to bring it in line with the rest of the East African Community, under which rules’ laws need to be harmonized and common regulations need to be applied.

News from Khartoum, that permitted foreign exchange purchases are now limited to only 1.500 Euro equivalent, went down badly amongst the Southern Sudanese business community. The Sudanese Central Bank, where the decree originated from, cited lack of sufficient foreign exchange reserves, but the Southern Sudan was in any case being cash starved when remittances due to the South from oil revenues under the CPA of 2005 were allegedly deliberately ‘shortened’ and in fact done in Sudanese Pounds as opposed to US Dollars. The South Sudan is presently a semi autonomous region, due to vote on independence in a referendum in 2011 and has progressively established their own trade routes and supply lines via their neighbors Uganda and Kenya. Limiting foreign exchange allocations will hamper the hitherto relatively free trade and likely cause a secondary or ‘black’ market for hard currencies, further sliding the Sudanese Pound’s value. Said one reliable source in Juba to this column earlier in the week: ‘the sooner we can hold out referendum the better. When people outside talk of Sudan they only think of the genocide in Darfur and other bad things the regime in Khartoum does. We in the South are different and should decide our own destiny. We are not the same like the regime in Khartoum. And we should not suffer of the sanctions imposed on Khartoum by international community and the US, because we were never part of the crimes they committed.’

Travel from Juba to the rest of the region is likely to suffer as a result of the new impositions and the trends will be monitored and reported in future editions of this column.