Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report


Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

Uganda’s premier entertainment and reference guide, published every two months and distributed through travel agents, hotels and airline offices for free, has just introduced a separate map of Kampala, which can be removed from the booklet and carried as a street and location guide by visitors. Inside the publication is also a map of Uganda, as well as maps of Entebbe and Jinja municipalities, two of the most visited places in the country. For would be visitors to Uganda ‘The Eye’ is also available on the Internet via www.theeye.co.ug, where valuable information can be sourced ahead of an actual trip to Uganda. For more details contact [email protected]

French multinational Lafarge’s local company Hima Cement has now managed to persuade members of the parliamentary select committee on natural resources to give them the green light for mining of lime stone inside protected areas. Environmental pressure groups without equally deep pockets to counter Lafarge’s PR offensive with their own research, studies and PR activities were exasperated to learn of the decision to cut yet another piece from Uganda’s protected areas. It is also feared that this success of Lafarge will set a precedent for further assaults on the environment and biodiversity in Uganda. Part of the affected area is a designated ‘Ramsar’ site and the consequences of this action will likely only show in time to come, when global environmental and eco bodies will put Uganda into their respective black books for failing to protect our priceless natural resources.

A reaction from the World Bank is also expected soon, as the bank had financed a nearly US$40 million program for wildlife conservation and park protection under the PAMSU project (protected areas and sustainable use). Queen Elizabeth National Park, where the open mining for limestone is to take place, was a major beneficiary of this program.

Meanwhile, in a twist of reality, Hima Cement, according to a press report, has blamed Umeme, Uganda’s power distributor, for pollution in the plant area near Kasese, which Hima says is due to power outages.

The previously mentioned shortage of diesel, due to a failed delivery at the Mombasa port, has intensified and prices for the commodity have now substantially exceeded the cost of petrol. Sources from fuel companies have admitted the supply problems and expect the crunch to ease within a matter of days, after another tanker carrying diesel has been landed in Mombasa and began to discharge its cargo. This is of little comfort however to owners of diesel propelled vehicles and has began to impact on both cargo and passenger traffic across the country. Diesel driven thermal electricity plants are also affected and load shedding has once more increased, as the plants are faced with the diesel shortage, too.

Newspaper reports have emerged that the bridge across the river Nile in Jinja, leading across the Owen Falls dam, has developed cracks and “is surviving on borrowed time.” Before the parliamentary committee for budget, where the matter was raised, it was also mentioned that the cost of a partial rehabilitation, starting at the next financial year, would immediately require 9 billion Uganda Shillings, while the Ministry of Finance had only set aside about half of that amount. The bridge is the sole lifeline for all road traffic to the Western part of Uganda beyond the Nile but also for the hinterland countries of Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan, all of which depend almost entirely on import and export commodities crossing this bridge by truck. While there is a railway bridge a few hundred meters upstream from the dam, this is not a feasible alternative to bring the massive tonnages hauled by road across the river.

There is now some speculation that the Bujagali dam, now under construction, would require to have a bridge incorporated to offer some feasible alternative way and allow for a full rehabilitation of the existing bridge to eventually have two crossing points available in case of an emergency. However, the new dam is not due to be ready before about late 2010 or early 2011, until which the country, as well as the hinterland nations, will have an anxious wait ahead of them.

Efforts are continuing in the meantime to lobby government to set aside sufficient funds for repairs and safe the nation from a possible disaster, should the bridge indeed become impassable. The private sector and business community in particular are said to be worried about the implications of the reports and are pushing for a formal statement from government and inclusion of the repair bill in the next budget.

With traffic figures steadily growing once again, the Kenyan flag carrier is now considering to restore the Paris route, which was suspended earlier in the year, when passenger numbers plummeted. Airline sources preferring anonymity gave June as the month when flights to France will resume. The suspended Mombasa to Johannesburg service is also due to be restored later in the year, when the tourist high season starts again. The airline has also given indication of widening their Africa network by adding Antananarivo to Madagascar later this year. Frequency increases to West Africa and China are also being considered by the airline as well as into the Middle East. Kenya Airways is the region’s primary carrier connecting Nairobi with the entire region and the rest of Africa on a regular basis.

During a press briefing earlier in the week the airline’s CEO, Mr. Titus Naikuni, also explained KQ’s market approach and their safety measures and the airline’s Technical Director added that KQ had an annual budget of nearly US$200 million for maintenance of their combined fleet.

A recent proposal by KWS, to add a levy on water and electricity bills in favor of funding KWS’ operations met with cynical laughter and derision from the general public. Revenues for KWS have of course reduced sharply since the outbreak of politically inspired violence, following the end December elections in Kenya, forcing the organization to tighten their belts. In 2007, they, however, recorded an all time high in gate receipts, but they were clearly ill prepared for the downturn in their earnings. Not satisfied however to wait, as the entire tourism sector is compelled to do until tourism has revived and reached its previous high occupancy levels again, the wildlife managers tried to dig the pockets of their fellow citizens with little regard of already high tax levels, leave alone sharply rising inflation rates and wide spread unemployment as a result of the post election violence. Hence, scorn was poured by the general public over KWS’ attempt of persuading legislators to grant them this extra source of income. KWS is no stranger to controversy and has once again lived up to this billing.

A belated code share agreement, likely pushed upon Ugandan upstart Air Uganda by their poor financial and load factor performance of their own flights from Entebbe via Kilimanjaro to Dar es Salaam, has now vested all the flight operations on the route to Air Tanzania. The code-share flights will now all be operated exclusively with Air Tanzania aircraft while the Ugandan airline will be allowed to sell tickets on these flights. The Tanzanian flag carrier is presently engaged in a substantive fleet overhaul and new aircraft have started to arrive and been put into service, bringing the airline – which suffered sharp losses when under South African Airways management – back to financial viability. In contrast, Air Uganda is rumored to have burned substantial money on the Tanzanian route and in order to stop the financial bleed may have been compelled to opt for a code-share, rather than withdrawing from the route altogether, as their performance would have suggested.

Air Uganda continues to operate two daily flights to Nairobi against the four daily flights by regional giant Kenya Airways, but of late faces yet more competitive pressure since Fly540, the regions first true low cost carrier, has entered the route with two daily flights between Nairobi and Entebbe. Fly540 is now also incorporated in Uganda and was recently granted a license by the Civil Aviation Authority. Air Uganda is expected to feel the financial heat some more in coming months in particular in view of their operating expenses, as they continue to use comparably aged and fuel inefficient aircraft versus KQ’s modern jets and Fly540’s fuel saving ATR turboprops. Part of Air Uganda’s explanation was ‘opening new services without inflating the market with unnecessary capacity’, a belated recognition of what exactly they have been doing so far on the Dar es Salaam route.

Tanzania’s main privately owned airline has now invited expressions of interest towards the eventual construction of a new maintenance hangar and adjoining offices at Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport. The new maintenance (MRO) facility became necessary as a result of fleet expansion and IOSA inspired safety demands. Construction is expected to commence towards the later part of 2008 and likely to be completed by late 2009.

Precision Air has a pending order for several brand new ATR aircraft worth over US$100 million and is also due to receive jet aircraft in the near future to permit for network and capacity expansion and additional frequencies on their main routes.

Major shareholder in Precision Air is Kenya Airways, holding 49 percent of the shares, while 51 percent of the shares are held by a Tanzanian citizen. This share split is living up to aviation nationality rules unlike some other airlines in the region, which are totally foreign owned and yet claim to be a “national airline.”

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