News from Uganda – Gifted by Nature and the East African region

Uganda apparently has a new crane species, according to reports filed by Achilles Byaruhanga, Executive Director of ‘Nature Uganda’, a key environmental and conservation NGO in Uganda. The so called ‘wattled crane’ was found in the rice fields of Kibimba recently and is a hitherto not seen kind of the crane family, unlike the crested or grey crowned crane and the black necked crane. According to Byaruhanga this brings the number of birds seen and recorded in the country to 1.040, a remarkable number by any standards. The bird is normally resident in the highlands of Ethiopia while other populations are said to exist in Botswana and Zambia and to a lesser extent in other parts of southern Africa. The birds are not normally known to migrate long distances. The ‘hunt’ is now on to find if there are more of the birds found in the area to form a viable breeding community and extra measures of protection have already been called for to ensure that the birds are not captured or in fact poisoned by the regular aerial spraying of the rice fields to keep the other birds in check. It is understood that the owners of Kibimba rice estates have been approached by Nature Uganda to play a part of ensuring the survival of the rare bird but it remains to be seen what, if any, effect and outcome this commendable effort will bring.

In a measure of support the Uganda Wildlife Authority has by the way waived park entrance fees for local ‘birders’ and members of the Ugandan birding and guiding clubs on the occasion of the ‘Uganda Birding Day’ to be held on the 23rd of May. The main launch of the national birding day will take place at the Rain Forest Lodge in Mabira Forest, arguably the flagship property of GeoLodges Africa, formerly called Inns of Uganda. Guest of Honour will there be the Vice President, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, but lesser profile events are due to take place across the entire country with bird watching and counting that day from 6 a.m until 6 p.m. Any extraordinary finds and reports will appear in this column of course.
Meanwhile, concerns about bird habitats have also arisen in Kenya, where the indiscriminate felling of trees and clearing of forests are increasingly impacting on the water catchment areas, impacting on the flow of rivers and streams and affecting the water levels in the rift valley lakes. Mr. George Kamau, a manager of the Lake Nakuru Lodge, responded to this column’s enquiry about the situation and expressed his concern over the developments. He spoke of tree planting campaigns but also years of anxious wait until such measures show results, while in the meantime the large flamingo migrations may be affected until at least some years of above average rains may supplement the lake waters and restore the bird habitats. This is crucially important for Kenya’s goals to have several of the rift valley lakes designated as ‘world heritage sites’, which will include not just Lake Nakuru, globally renowned for the massive flamingo population, but also lakes Bogoria and Elementaita, the latter incidentally located on the ‘Delamare’ estate, the heir of which was recently in the global news over a criminal case he had to answer and was found guilty of manslaughter. Kenya Wildlife Services and other bodies in Kenya are preparing an application to the UN to consider awarding this prestigious status alongside several other sites presently so designated across the country.

Last week the 33rd licensing meeting of Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority took place at Kampala’s Imperial Royale Hotel. The meeting was open to applicants and members of the public but also media representatives. The statutory notice for the hearing was given in mid April and had listed 11 applicants, 6 of which were renewal applications while 5 were for new aviation ventures. However, on the day of the hearing only 9 companies turned up, 5 of which were requesting for renewals and 4 for new licenses. It could not be established why two of the listed applicants, namely Kilwa Air of Mwanza/Tanzania and Kilwa Air (U) of Entebbe/Uganda did not appear, both of whom were due for a renewal of their current Air Services License.
Amongst others Skyjet, recently making news in this column, also applied for the renewal of their initial 1 year Air Service Licence and during questioning it was revealed that their B737 had on arrival only some 4 months of flying left, before coming due for a major C-check. This, airline representatives assured the licensing committee, was now being done after the restructuring of the company had taken place, and the aircraft would be serviced at the Kenya Airways AMO in Nairobi over the next couple of weeks. This column however feels compelled to point out that this information is largely different from the PR statements made on start up, when the aircraft was presented as having undergone a major check prior to arrival in Uganda !?! From experience this column knows that regular A or B checks on aircraft are not considered ‘major’, for which only C or D checks qualify. Oooops …
It was also noticed that of the ‘new’ applications 4 were for cargo operations while only one company applied for non scheduled passenger charters with a Cessna Caravan.
The board then entertained some questions from the floor, where such issues as reciprocity with other East African Community member states were raised. Uganda is generally perceived to be a very liberal country in regard of aviation, while some of the other states are notoriously difficult, including treating Ugandan registered aircraft as outright ‘foreign’, a clear violation of the spirit of cooperation within the East African region and yet done with deliberate impunity. Another matter of concern was the absence of a clearly spelled out meeting platform between air operators and the regulatory body to discuss matters arising. Also raised was the issue of the low level of new applications, in contrast with for instance Kenya, and members of the board gave a number of mitigating factors for this lamentable development. It was pointed out that the CAA in fact operated an incentive scheme for locally registered airlines, while several taxation rules were also changed in favour of locally incorporated airlines in last year’s budget to support and stimulate the aviation sector. Yet, it was generally acknowledged that the high aviation fuel prices in Entebbe (mostly JetA1) and Kajjansi (mostly AVGAS) were detrimental to the development of a long term sustainable aviation industry. A final point of concern raised from the floor was the level of regulatory charges and airport taxes, combined with an appeal to regionally review and bring them down to acceptable lower levels.
After the meeting was adjourned there was consensus amongst applicants and observers that the board’s queries were both probing and fair and that the Chair’s indulgence to questions from the floor beyond licensing issues was both accommodating as well as ‘mature’, this being a comment of one of the attendees at the end of the session.

It was learned on the occasion of the recent CAA licensing hearing that ICAO, the international civil aviation organization head quartered in Montreal / Canada, intends to hold one of their next global meetings in Uganda later in the year. As soon as dates and details have been established this column will of course report further details.
This meeting, as many others, are by the way a further affirmation for having invested in and hosted the Commonwealth Summit in 2007, for which hospitality and meeting facilities of global standards were created by the country’s private sector – a foresighted investment which now pays off when Uganda is chosen to host such prestigious global and continental meetings.

There was more of the proverbial egg all over the faces of Kingdom Uganda and their ‘newly’ found partners, when government halted all activities on the proposed Shimoni building site, until they have fully established the background of ‘Azure’, a UAE based ‘company’. Former Minister of State for Investments and now Ambassador of Uganda to the UAE Prof. Semakula-Kiwanuka, had recently issued a public warning over Azure’s background, claiming they were a briefcase company with offices in the Jebel Ali Free Zone but lacking any track record in constructing hotels or related projects. The local ‘partnership’ representative then arrogantly broadsided against the former minister and others and in the process insulted Ugandan institutions and the country at large, before now suffering the consequences of his uncontrolled outbursts. It also now appears that the Sheikh, a Prince Alwaleed, had in fact written to the Ugandan president last year advising that he would not be able to continue with the projects, before then obviously trying to salvage some of his peanut expenses by selling his stake to third parties. Oooops, not very ‘kingly’….

Further to the column item of last week dealing with bus accidents and that government had stopped the licence of Gateway Bus Services, the police then also swooped in and impounded dozens of busses belonging to the company for technical evaluation and inspection, besides looking for the company’s drivers to ascertain their driving licenses too. Three other bus companies too had their transport licences withdrawn to allow for investigations into their vehicle maintenance and drivers qualifications, also as a result of recent accidents, which left the public outraged and mourning the loss of life, bringing the total number of busses impounded to over 100. About time that a visible crackdown takes place on companies involved in multiple deadly road accidents! In a related development a bus, coming from the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba, also had a major accident enroute, before reaching the Uganda border.

Further to previous reports in this column the Uganda Shilling has entered previously unchartered territory when it was trading at beyond 2.300 shillings to the greenback, while a Euro is now fetching over 3.000 shillings. The ongoing trend is welcomed by exporters who now get nearly 40 percent more in shilling terms compared to only half a year ago while importers and the public at large are now faced with currency induced price increases, which will hit the local economy hard and raise the cost of the average shopping basket. Watch this space.

Several years after the Constitution of Uganda was amended to permit for dual nationality, has parliament now concluded the legislative and consultative processes and passed the enabling bill regulating applications for becoming a Ugandan citizen. While top political offices or offices in the security apparatus are a no go area for holders of the dual nationality, by and large ‘former’ Ugandans now living abroad can at least restore their citizenship on application and ‘return into the fold’ if they so wish. A substantial ‘Diaspora’ in particular in North America has been lobbying intensely towards this objective and will now be undoubtedly pleased with the result. The bill is awaiting the assent of the president to turn into law.

Kenya’s national airline will from early June add Libreville to their growing African network, starting with initially two flights a week. Considering the present global economic and financial crisis this is a bold step, ensuring future market share and becoming Africa’s predominant ‘hub’ airline connecting their traffic to and from Nairobi.

Whatever politics are in play over President Obama’s first trip to Africa in a few weeks, he will apparently not be visiting his late father’s homeland first but head from other visits in Europe, i.e. to Russia and the G8 Summit in Italy, to Egypt and Ghana. President Obama however is expected to include Kenya, and maybe other Eastern African countries, in a future trip dedicated to Africa alone, and as and when such details become available reports will feature in this column. For now however it is wait and see for Kenya, which could very well have done with the extra promotional value of an early Obama visit. The President was last in Kenya three years ago when he was still a Senator and had not at the time declared his intention to run for the highest office. While already high profile at the time, the next time he visits will be under the global media spotlight and a prime opportunity for Kenya to get PR mileage out of it.

Following the formal indictment and upcoming trial of the former KTB CEO, a former board member and the substantive PS in the ministry, an Acting Permanent Secretary has now been appointed. Gender advocates will be pleased to hear that the appointment last week again puts a woman at the helm, namely Eunice Miima, who has already been installed following the suspension of Ms. Rebecca Nabutola in connection with the pending court case over corruption charges.

A task force constituted last year to look into the operation of the region’s premier hospitality and tourism training institution has now delivered their report to the Ministry of Tourism. One of the recommendations made involves the ‘de-linking’ of the Utalii Hotel from the college, making it a separate unit, though still serving as the ‘application’ hotel for the students.
The report also revealed that the staff of college cum hotel exceeds student numbers, which by conventional wisdom does not seem a healthy equation.
Once the hotel is formally separated nearly 100 million Kenya Shillings will be availed, according to government sources, to refurbish the hotel and bring it back to its former 4star status to make it attractive not only for guests but also offer an appropriate ‘hands on training’ environment for college students.
There have been multiple changes at the helm of Utalii, after long serving former Principal Mwakai Sio retired a few years ago and has since become Ambassador of Kenya in Spain. None of his successors however managed to grow deep roots as change after change was imposed by the political masters, the latest political appointment now being Dr. Ken Ombongi. Good luck to him in his new appointment, where many challenges, including a likely staff retrenchment exercise and a full curriculum review, await him.
This correspondent has a long association with Kenya Utalii College, having served as guest lecturer from the mid 80’s to the early 90’s before moving to Uganda, where he eventually rose to become Chairman of the Ugandan ‘counterpart’ of Utalii, the Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Jinja.

A new venture will start this week in Nairobi, when ‘Safari Wire’ will go live in cyberspace, broadcasting ‘positive news’ about tourism, aviation, hospitality and related events from Kenya and the wider region. You can find their news via as of this weekend, when they turn on their website. Good luck and happy promoting of the tourism wonders of Eastern Africa.

A South African chapter of the Indian Ocean Cruise Association was formed last week, aimed to promote cruise tourism more aggressively in the region, covering the entire stretch from the Cape to Eastern Africa, including the Indian Ocean islands en route. Kenya already has a chapter formed in 2004 and the South African addition will be a shot in the arm for promoters of cruise tourism. It is also expected that the combined market forces will tackle piracy in Eastern African waters, as only recently an Italian cruiseliner was attacked when coming from the Seychelles and heading towards the Red Sea. Cruises are bringing lots of money into the local economies during port calls, not just involving shore excursions to see the extraordinary sights of Southern and Eastern Africa but also buying added supplies locally.

News have emerged from Nairobi earlier in the week that the Minister of Tourism announced to the sector’s main stakeholders that the ministry’s budget may be reduced by as much as 70 percent, which would impact severely on the financing of the KTB marketing budget. Governments in the entire region are caught between a rock and a hard place at present, as the finance ministries are trying to make ends meet between shrinking tax and other revenues and the growing demand on spending, while the economies suffer from the impact of the global economic and financial crisis. However, tourism has the capacity to move all the East African economies forward on the fast track and out of recession, and in the face of shrinking arrival numbers in the region only sustained promotions and marketing in existing, new and emerging markets will allow to maintain tourist arrivals and in fact add numbers in coming months. Standing still, reducing marketing budgets and cutting activities would be the worst possible way forward and each and every country in the region would undoubtedly rue the lost opportunities which are the inevitable fall out when finance ministry officials run riot over the budgets.

Last year, following the lamentable political post election violence during the first quarter in Kenya, the KTB spent massively and the results were clearly visible at the time the global recession started to hit, that indeed arrival numbers had began to grow again and were on course to reach projected figures. Should Kenya, and other countries in the region, really opt to slash their marketing budgets – and the writing is clearly on the wall as the finance bureaucrats obviously do not understand the first thing how marketing spending and success in tourism are interdependent – it could spell doom for thousands of workers in the sector, may force hotel, resort and lodge closures and drag an already ailing economy further into the doldrums.

Meanwhile, continental powerhouses Egypt and South Africa are pouring tens of millions of extra dollars into their marketing budgets to cushion and offset the present economic slump by attracting tourist visitors to their shores, ‘recruited’ away from other prospective destinations spending less on marketing and hence becoming less visible in the market place.

It will be survival for the financially fittest under the circumstances or for those willing to invest and spend money in these challenging times for innovation, product development, asset upgrades and marketing, marketing, marketing. Watch this space as the regionally coordinated budget day draws nearer, when this column will compare the budget allocations for the tourism sector across the East African Community.

A statement by the US embassy earlier in the week informed that USAID had partnered with the World Wildlife Fund and other parties to support the development and management of wildlife management areas in the country. Over the past years the agency spent some 2 million US Dollars on projects of benefit to rural communities, trying to tap into wildlife based tourism and eco tourism. It is understood that a further 300.000 US Dollars will now be granted to WWF to intensify efforts across Tanzania to engage communities in conservation and income raising eco and community tourism projects.

‘Hotels and Lodges Limited’ of Tanzania have last week announced an investment package of some 25 million US Dollars to refurbish and upgrade their four Tanzanian safari properties. Their portfolio includes the Lake Manyara Hotel, recently in the press and public bad books over an alleged racist incident where a local family was reportedly turned away from the lodge gates. The other lodges are the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, the Seronera Safari Lodge, and one of this correspondent’s favourite places, the Lobo Safari Lodge. While the hotel group’s management has denied any wrong doing about the alleged incident, this has not prevented them to go ahead with the planned renovation work, which will undoubtedly add value to the four lodges.

The Lobo Safari Lodge is situated near the Bologonja border post between Tanzania and Kenya, where one can cross from the Serengeti into the Kenyan Masai Mara Game Reserve, but ‘commercial’ traffic across that border is not allowed, leading to constant friction between advocates for and opponents against the resumption of an open border post. Opening this border post would permit safari traffic to move freely in and out of both parks, permitting the classic ‘East African itineraries, as opposed to having to back track to either Arusha or Nairobi first. It is in fact thought that this issue holds a key to attracting more tourists in coming years to visit the border transcending eco systems but non tariff barriers like this closure have been kept intact by Tanzania over fears that the Kenyan safari operators would ‘swamp’ their market and ‘overwhelm’ Tanzanian operators, should restrictions be lifted. Watch this space.

Zanzibar’s globally noticed folk music and art festival has now reached the various air waves, when being featured first on a BBC programme, now followed by a TBC 1 broadcast. A ‘teaser’ is now also posted on ‘You Tube’ at for readers to watch on their computers. Meanwhile, the organizers have reconfirmed to this column that next year’s festival will take place from the 11th until the 16th of February 2010, being the 7th edition of this ever more popular event. Wannabe visitors are strongly urged to make early travel arrangements for tickets and accommodation as Zanzibar is expected to be full to the brim during the festival week.
More information can be sourced from or by visiting the festivals acclaimed website

The Dutch development agency has now partnered with three villages in the neighbourhood of the Serengeti National Park, aimed to bring sustainable income to the area and prevent residents from poaching and other activities thought detrimental to the environment. The efforts are reportedly also supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which has since the 50’s of last century been closely linked to the Serengeti conservation. The projects are ‘pro community’ and will, when matured, allow the residents to benefit from increased visitors’ numbers to the area and mitigate any lingering resistance towards the tourism sector.

The Olduvai gorge, located enroute from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area towards the Serengeti National Park, has over the past decades attracted tens of thousands of visitors each year, wanting to see one of the main sites of ‘mankind’s first steps’. It was here that the famous Leakey family gained much of their lasting reputation when their dig discovered traces of man’s early ancestors in this remote Tanzanian landscape. It was Louis and Mary Leakey who found the skull and bones, later dated back by some 1.75 million years and the find at the time re-wrote history books, proving that indeed mankind’s origin was in Eastern Africa and not elsewhere in the world as previously claimed. Further digs then discovered more evidence of human life, dating back to almost 4 million years ago and then revolutionising the view of mankind’s development.
Notably, as the Olduvai dig now turn half centurion the Leakey’s also made Lake Turkana’s shores famous with their subsequent work at ‘Kobi Fora’ and their discovery of further human traces, cementing the theory of East Africa truly being the ‘cradle of mankind’.

The leading private Tanzanian airline has been recognised by the ‘Air Finance Journal’ recently over their well structured financial deal to acquire ATR aircraft in a fleet renewal and expansion exercise. It was the 10th edition of the awards hosted by the journal in New York. Precision Air flies regularly to Entebbe and is presently the only airline with a direct connection to Arusha, the seat of the East African Community headquarters.

Talks have been going on in Nairobi between conservation bodies and NGO’s, discussing the relocation of the threatened black rhino from Kenya to other parts in Eastern Africa. In particular the Akagera National Park in Rwanda was mentioned, which previously contained rhinos, subsequently poached out of existence. A viable breeding population might be sent to the largest Rwandan national park, which however needs to be fenced first to provide a safe environment for the animals, once they arrive. Rangers too require specialised training to be able to monitor and protect the rhinos around the clock to avoid further poaching incidents. Kenya has been very successful to protect the species since the late 70’s, when poaching too threatened the very survival of the eastern black in Kenya. Dedicated sanctuaries, at Lake Nakuru National Park and Tsavo West National Park were supported by private efforts, like the Solio Ranch and Lewa Downs, both of which are largely credited to have spearheaded the conservation efforts and succeeded beyond expectations.

This column has recently reported a number of planned relocations, including projects to bring both northern white and eastern black back to Kenya and Tanzania from European zoos and wildlife parks, in order to try and have the animals breed, which apparently they are reluctant to do in captivity.

Uganda too is hoping for a ‘donation’ of the eastern black rhino to add to the 6 southern white already in situ at the Rhino Sanctuary on Ziwa Ranch but no confirmation could be obtained as to the possibility of such a transfer or the present status of discussions. Watch this space.

The Beijing Construction Company, which was contracted to carry out the work for the new Kigali Convention Centre, has taken over the site today and is now expected to commence full scale construction work. Once the site offices are erected and the heavy equipment like cranes and excavators have been delivered and work will start in earnest, the new convention centre should be ready within three years. The state of the art development will then feature a new luxury hotel of nearly 300 rooms and suites, conference and meeting facilities sufficient to cater for up to 2.500 participants in the main hall, office spaces for short and long term hire and of course shopping facilities. The project is part of Rwanda’s concerted effort to position the country as a major MICE destination in the heart of Africa with easy air connections from both Europe as well as the wider region.

Representatives of the main hotels in Rwanda, amongst them the Mille Colline. Novotel Laico and Serena have asked during a recent workshop organized by the Private Sector Foundation for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) that the local supply lines be improved and strengthened. Several participants bemoaned the need to import items from at times far away, or from elsewhere in the region, while local industry was unable or unwilling to meet the demands for quality and quantities. The PSF Rwanda and the International Finance Corporation, which co-sponsored the seminar, agreed that much needed to be done to improve local capacity towards manufacturing but that the problem would be dealt with in due course.

Rwanda’s premier trade exhibition is set this year for the period between 30th of July and the 10th of August, bringing together some 400 expected exhibitors from Rwanda and the region. Interested parties can obtain all the required information by writing to or by visiting The event will be held at the ‘Gikondo Show Ground’ in Kigali.

The investors in a hotel, part of which was recently destroyed in a vendetta like early hours ‘ambush’ on instruction of a district mayoress, are now taking legal advice on how to best recover their lost investment by going to court. The saga has had an impact on Rwanda’s investment efforts as they mayoress gone wild, allegedly over personal grudges, delivered a blow to promoting investment in the hospitality sector. The owners claim to have applied in a timely fashion for the extension, which was to house the hotel’s spa and pool and one of their environmental consultants categorically denies that the extension could have had any negative impact in view of the build up nature of the immediate neighbourhood. The only reaction from the mayoress were some feeble attempts to mitigate the damage her vindictive order had done, not just to the building but her own reputation and political standing.

In a move which did not exactly surprise informed observers did Ethiopian army units return into Somalia, only a few months since leaving the country and handing control to African Union peace keeping troops. However, in view of the recent upsurge in piracy and territorial gains by militant Islamic militias thought to be friendly if not aligned to Al Qaida, Ethiopia has now acted again in a forward defence, to avoid such militants spilling across the border and causing chaos inside the country. ‘Hot pursuit’ has in fact taken place repeatedly according to informed sources when militant Somali groups approached the common border. The Ethiopian government has since denied the claims but again sources from inside Somalia say otherwise.

The 4.300 strong African Union troops still come mainly from Uganda although at least a battalion of the Burundian army is now also on site, waiting for further deployments from other African nations. Much of the territory handed over to the interim Somali government has in fact been lost since the Ethiopian troops withdrew in January, but constant murmurs about intensified Eritrean support to the militant Islamic militias may now also have contributed to Ethiopia’s reaction.

Coalition navy forces have in the meantime also expanded their operational theatre towards the Seychelles, where in the past weeks several vessels were approached by pirate speedboats, but the rules of engagement still need to be strengthened and made more robust to deal with pirate boats and their mother ships as and when spotted, without having to wait for an attack to take place. Also outstanding is a clear mandate for coalition navy and air force units to deal with the ‘safe havens’ of the pirates on land. Only recently were German elite forces recalled to Mombasa from an operation to free a German registered ship as the rules of engagement were apparently unclear, prompting commanders to halt their efforts to free both ship and hostages.