News from 'Uganda- Gifted by Nature'

Fifth edition May 2008

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

PILGRIMS BEGIN TO ARRIVE FOR MARTYRS DAY

Groups of Catholic pilgrims have started arriving in the country, some of the walking from their home areas across Eastern Africa in fact, to celebrate the annual Martyrs Day commemoration. Groups from Africa, as far as from Nigeria, regularly come to Uganda to pray at the memorial site some 25 KM outside Kampala, where a group of young Catholics were burned to death in the early days of Christianity in the then Buganda Kingdom, for sticking to their faith and not renouncing it in the face of demands by the then King of Buganda. Visitors from even further away, like Europe and parts of Asia, have also been recorded in the past and pilgrim groups from there are once more expected to attend the annual day of prayers marking the event. Uganda's Martyrs Day is celebrated on the 03rd of June every year and has been a religious / public holiday since the canonisation of the fallen heroes in 1964, when Pope Paul was at the helm of the Catholic Church. Pope Paul also visited Uganda during his reign and prayed at the site of the shrine in Namugongo, setting into motion the annual pilgrimage.

 

CHANGES AT THE SHERATON

Long serving Director of Food and Beverages at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel, Mr. Kwashie Gbedemah is moving into the Gulf region for Starwood Hotels, having in recent years turned around the hotel's F&B department and having injected a new lease of life into the service and kitchen brigades. He and his team are credited for matching the service and quality of food at the hotel with the revamped rooms and public areas, making the Sheraton once again a focal point in Kampala for the business community and socialites alike.

Ghana born Kwashie will be succeeded by Eric Wendel, who is returning to Kampala for a second innings as Director of Food & Beverages after serving some time further abroad and more recently on the Arabian Peninsula in similar positions with Sheraton. It is a very fond 'Kwaheri ya Kuonana' for Kwashie and his family, who will be much missed by staff, guests of the Sheraton and their many friends in Uganda and an equally warm 'welcome back' to Eric.

SHERATON KAMPALA UPGRADES APARTMENT FACILITIES

The Golden Leaves Apartments, which are owned and managed by the Sheraton Kampala Hotel and just across the road from the main hotel complex, have now been equipped with wireless internet access, which is free for residents. Normally used by longer staying clients requiring a little more space, residents of the apartments enjoy full access to the Sheraton's other facilities, including pool, tennis, squash and the Kidepo Gym and Health Club. All facilities got a face lift prior to the Commonwealth Summit in November last year, making the apartments one of the most sought after places in the city and free internet connectivity will only add to their appeal.

KINGDOM HOTELS BOWS TO PRESSURE

As reported repeatedly in this column, and expressed in other media and public forae, Kingdom Hotels had let Uganda down, when they failed to construct a hotel in time for the Commonwealth Summit, after hastily having a major primary school in the city demolished. This inflicted hardship on the pupils, which is felt up to day, while a prime site lay idle and became an eyesore for almost two years now.

Usually well informed sources confirmed, that besides growing anger from the public and acid comments in call-in radio shows and letters published in newspapers, even government and its agencies had put ever growing pressure on the hotel company, which is owned by one of the richest men on the planet, Saudi business mogul Al Waleed. Reportedly Kingdom Hotels was facing the stark reality of loosing the title deed for the 17 acre property and their meagre down payment in the process, as government was turning on the heat after loosing public face over the deal. The potential exposure as a failure in Kampala, while strongly developing hotel interests in Kenya and Tanzania at the same time, may in the end have prompted the company to grind back into some level of forward gear, as confirmation was received last weekend that they have now signed a contract with Uganda's leading contractors Roko Construction. Roko has already begun to fence the area and installed a container office in preparation of work commencing in coming weeks after receiving preliminary permits and licences from the Kampala City Council.

Unlike the Aya brothers of the notorious 'Kampala Hilton Hotel', who are aiming at a 20+ floor structure for their hotel (mis)adventure, Roko sources spoke to this correspondent about a lower and more appealing structure, not exceeding 7 floors, with serviced apartments or villas on the lower part of the sprawling plot. Construction, once started, is expected to take up to two years, until the project is complete and ready for occupancy. Usually well informed sources also indicated to this correspondent that ground breaking was expected in September this year, after the mobilisation by the contractors had been completed and that the project cost would likely exceed 100 million US Dollars substantially due to cost rises for cement, steel and energy experienced across the world over the past years. Watch this space for more news.

 

FLY 540 PARTNERS WITH HOTELS TO OFFER PACKAGES

The soon to be fully regional low cost carrier, already incorporated and licensed in Kenya and Uganda, has now packaged special offers in combination with their flights. Ugandans travelling to Kenya can book not only their tickets with Fly 540, the most affordable in the market at a cost of 79 US Dollars (plus huge regulatory charges) between the Entebbe and Nairobi, but also get hotel accommodation in the bargain. Heritage Hotels in Kenya are the first to have teamed up with Fly 540 to achieve generally more affordable travel across the region, but other hotel, resort and lodge companies are expected to follow suit soon. Fly 540 has also reiterated that they will soon establish more destinations across the region, offering their client more and better choices for air travel.

 

INFLATION TARGETS CRUSHED BY FUEL PRICE RISES

The fast rise in recent weeks of all types of fuel, combined with a shortage of diesel, which is gradually now easing again in the region following a major delivery to the port of Mombasa, has driven inflation to new levels. The cost of fuel impacts on all sectors of the economy, and influences the cost of power production and transportation, amongst other factors. Much of Uganda's power is now generated with thermal plants, and the planned conversion to the cheaper heavy fuel oil plants, from the expensive diesel plants, is not progressing fast enough. At present fuel price rises, the eventual conversion will in fact only cushion the expected tariff increases slightly, as by then the cost of heavy fuel oil may have risen to the levels of diesel, as it costs now or even higher.

Food prices too are suffering an upwards trend, as is the general cost of transport for both passengers and goods. Visitors to the region are well advised to check with their travel and safari agents on any looming surcharges caused by rising fuel cost, in particular when using chartered aircraft or embarking on long trips by road.

It is generally expected that all forecast targets for inflationary increases will be substantially exceeded during 2008, hitting the poorest in society once again the hardest, as incomes are expected to stagnate while prices keep climbing. This will make the challenges for the East African Finance Ministers even greater than usual

Meanwhile, the East African Community core countries Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda will all have the annual budgets read on 12th of June, publicly presenting the annual financial forecasts, predictions and tax / fiscal measures to the respective parliaments. Rwanda and Burundi have still to adjust their financial years to come in line and this is expected to materialise in due course.

 

MTN CONNECTS KIDEPO VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Most national parks, game and forest reserves have already for a while now been able to receive signals from one or more of the mobile phone operators in the country, with the notable exception of the Kidepo Valley National Park. This has now been rectified through the ongoing roll out of telecoms services by leading operator MTN. The latest 'connection' will benefit communications between the UWA head office and the park head quarters in Kidepo but also make communications easier between Kampala and the Apoka Safari Lodge, which until now had to rely on radio communication and costly satellite phones. Another beneficiary will be the Civil Aviation Authority, which operates the airfield in Kidepo and has staff permanently stationed in the park. The air field is also designated and gazetted as an international entry and exit point for charters from across the region, and phone access is going to be helpful for aircrews, passengers and CAA staff in case of any delays or technical problems arising but also to obtain weather reports and field conditions prior to take off to the park.

Visitors to the park and the lodge will be relieved also to now have access to national and international phone systems, which will undoubtedly help to improve security in the entire park area and immediate neighbourhood.

 

MORE RANGERS GRADUATE FROM TRAINING COURSES

After passing out some 420 ranger trainees from extensive basic and refresher courses held at the national leadership institute at Kyankwanzi on the 10th of May, a second group of over 150 were passed out this week. This brings to over 2.500 the number of game rangers employed by UWA, who were received basic and various levels of advanced and refresher training over the past five years. All graduates were promptly deployed into the 10 national parks and dozens more game and community reserves across the country to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of park rules and other relevant laws and regulations. Poaching and encroachment by neighbouring communities from outside the parks are the common infringements the rangers have to deal with on a regular basis, but park visitors too at times need reminding about staying on the designated tracks and roads and observe game viewing rules, designed to avoid accidents or disturbance to the wildlife.

UWA also reminded the public of the pending deadline on 04th June 2008 for proposals on concessions advertised some weeks ago and also reflected in this column then. Anyone interested can visit the UWA website at www.uwa.or.ug or mail uwa@uwa.or.ug for further information. An administrative payment of 50.000 Uganda Shillings is required to obtain the bid documents at the UWA head office, which is located between the Uganda Museum and the British High Commission on Plot 7, Kira Road. The bid deadline is at 11.00 a.m. and all submitted documents will be opened publicly in the UWA board room shortly afterwards.

 

FORMER UWA CHAIRMAN ADDS HIS VOICE TO PROTECT CYCAD FOREST

John Nagenda, the immediate past Chairman of the Uganda Wildlife Authority and ongoing Senior Presidential Advisor on Media, has added his voice to the conservation cause over reports in the media, including this column last week, that a unique forest of cycad trees was being bulldozed by an American based company to make way for a hydro electric power plant. The forest, containing some of the planet's oldest trees, extends into Queen Elizabeth National Park, i.e. an area protected by law and in theory untouchable for development of any sort. Yet, a quickly penned 'environmental impact assessment' study seems to have been submitted to NEMA and equally quickly accepted by them, yet no scientists of substance (reportedly none at all) have participated in the 'study', commissioned and paid for by the developers of course. John writes in his column, that this so called 'study' was done by a sociologist without any assistance of an ecologist or forester or anyone else with any meaningful links to conservation!

Exposed in the nick of time by Nature Uganda's Executive Director Achilles Byaruhanga &endash; and this column on the same day last week &endash; a coalition of conservationists and tourism operators is now forming up to halt the ludicrous destruction of biodiversity and seek alternatives, to have the hydro project placed well outside the park and preserving the cycad forest &endash; after all the motto of the Uganda Wildlife Authority is 'conserving for generation'.

Nagenda's intervention in his widely read Saturday column in the New Vision will undoubtedly raise awareness levels across Uganda and bring about a more in depth review of the facts, probably setting aside the initial approval by NEMA and preparing an EIA of some real substance &endash; then open for public review as should have been the case to start with.

Nagenda has a history of standing up for such issues, as he successfully helped to rescue the Pian Upe Game Reserve from Libyan 'investors' intent to establish an agricultural industry in a semi arid area, defeated the greedy motion to develop a golf course on the Mweya peninsula inside the Queen Elizabeth National Park and he was equally active to stop the Mehta's and their supporters within the government framework from raping Mabira Forest and turning a quarter of it into sugar cane plantations.

The Uganda Government is thought to blow both hot and cold on the issue of conservation, as pronouncement from the top regularly favour conservation, only to be followed by inexplicable action to the contrary by ministries and other governmental bodies, often under a shroud of near secrecy with few if any public consultation amongst those most concerned about the tourism sector. Well done John.

 

HIMA / LAFARGE SUED FOR 'ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMES'

A coalition of environmentalists and conservationists has now filed suit in the Kampala High Court against Hima, a subsidiary of Lafarge of France, for their aggression against nature in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This took place after ascertaining that the company had indeed gone on site inside the gazetted park area and began preparations to create an open quarry area for lime stone, with all the sad consequences for nature and biodiversity &endash; a Ramsar site adjoins the proposed dig &endash; taken in their stride for profit reasons. The case, should in fact an injunction be granted, may substantially delay Hima's plans or even force the company to shelve the quarry altogether, while in the international arena efforts are underway to expose the owners, directors and management of Lafarge in a 'name and shame' exercise, which often in the past succeeded in Europe and North America to compel companies to become compliant with environmental global best practise, something neither Lafarge nor Hima presently seem to endorse.

The case is of particular irony, as the World Bank has in the past financed conservation efforts in the same park through their PAMSU programme, for which nearly 40 million US Dollars were spent over the past decade to support conservation and eco friendly tourism developments. The World Bank Group in fact declined Lafarge's and Hima's applications to finance their ill considered and largely thought misguided plans, although Hima some time ago made public comments, that they had withdrawn the loan application to the IFC, the World Bank's private sector lending arm, in an effort to save face.

 

WORKS MINISTRY BLAMES RAINS FOR ROAD CONDITIONS

In a full page advertisement during the week, the ministry responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the national road network advertised some 14 key roads, for which repairs would start by June 2008, after suffering serious damage caused by the seasonal rains. The advert was headlined: 'Roads affected by the March &endash; May, 2008 Rainy Season'. How about preventive road maintenance, rapid repair columns and especially monitoring roads prior and during the twice annual rainy seasons?

One of the affected roads is one of only two major traffic arteries from Uganda into the Southern Sudan via Gulu, Atiak and Nimule to Juba, causing transporters substantially longer detours via Arua / Koboko. However, other roads in the East, North and West of the country are also said to be affected and not all national roads in poor condition have been included in the advert. In any case, the effort is appreciated.

Meanwhile news has reached Uganda that the Japanese government has pledged to financially support the building of a new Nile bridge in Jinja. This follows a state visit by President Museveni to Japan, where he participated in the Japan &endash; Africa Summit (Tokyo International Conference on African Development), which took place earlier in the week. The existing bridge was recently in the news when consultants reports, said to be over 10 years old, emerged in parliament, raising concerns over the soundness of the bridge super structure, after cracks had developed in the upper portion of the road across the top of the Owen Falls dam. A second dam further downstream is under construction but only due to be ready by 2010 or 2011, while a rail bridge further upstream from the dam is not expected to be suitable for the amount of traffic presently crossing the dam.

Japan had in the past assisted in road construction and the remodelling of several crucial roundabouts leading into the city into more viable intersections was also underwritten by Japan in the past years, bringing at least some relief to motorists when entering the city centre.

REGIONAL BUS SERVICES STARTS DAILY JUBA TRIPS

Regional Bus has now began a daily return trip by road from Kampala to Juba at the present cost of Uganda Shillings 75.000 per person, one way. The busses leave from the Regional Bus depot at 02.00 a.m. every day and are scheduled to arrive in Juba at 16.30 hrs, i.e. the late afternoon of the same day. Permits to cross into Southern Sudan are said to be available at the border on arrival at a fee of about 50 US Dollars but it would be advisable to obtain Visa in advance of travel from the Southern Sudanese diplomatic mission and consular offices in Kampala near the Fairway Hotel. The daily return trip from Juba then commences the journey in the early morning at 07.30 am and is normally back in Kampala by 23.00 hrs. The bus has a seating capacity of 60 passengers and can also carry parcels and some other small loose cargo upon prior arrangements.

The Regional Bus Service depot is located along Johnstone Street at Arua Bus Park, where many domestic bus services into the North of the country are also operating from.

KWS 'DECISION' ANGERS CONSERVATION COALITION

News have emerged from Kenya, that Kenya Wildlife Services has 'accepted' the highly controversial decision by the previous government, to excise the Amboseli National Park from the KWS framework and hand it over to the county council. At the time, a substantive coalition was formed between the Kenya Tourism Federation, Nature Kenya, the East Africa Environment Network and other concerned parties, to oppose the government move in court over, what it still largely considered a faulty and misdirected decision. This court case is still pending and the news has caused some consternation if not outright confusion amongst informed observers in the region. The EastAfrican newspaper claims to be in possession of documents providing evidence that the park has already been given to the council, while KWS staff claim otherwise, one of them pointing to the ongoing court case.

Conservationists and tourism operators are inclined to have the park kept by KWS, as they are considering the council incapable of managing one of the most important and most fragile ecosystems in Kenya. This is probably also in view of the constant issues they have with the Narok County Council, which manages the Masai Mara Game Reserve, a situation constantly under scrutiny and the public spotlight for one thing or another. Roads into and inside that reserve are often in horrendous condition and long term infrastructural investments are clearly lacking, while in contrast KWS at least has reached a level of acceptable competence inspite of its own chequered history, since it emerged from the former Wildlife Conservation and Management Department under the then Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.

PRECISION AIR SUSPENDS MWANZA &endash; BUKOBA ROUTE

Tanzania's largest private airline has now confirmed, that they have suspended this route earlier in the week, as they were phasing out their 'old' LET 410 19 seater aircraft. Their now commonly used ATR 42 and ATR 72 aircraft are presently not able to use the Bukoba aerodrome owing to the length of the runway there, which does not allow the airline safe operational parameters on landing and take off. Precision Air, in which Kenya Airways holds a 49 percent stake, is IOSA certified and as such has to maintain the highest operational and safety standards. Even Kenya Airways has in the past halted operations in Kenya to Kisumu and Lamu over safety concerns, until the problems with the runways were rectified by the Kenya Airports Authority. East Africa is presently embarking on an infrastructural investment programme, which will benefit mainly secondary and tertiary aerodromes and airfields, allowing for some hope that the Tanzanian government will indeed lengthen the Bukoba runway in due course.

Meanwhile however, regular passengers on the route and the business communities in Mwanza and Bukoba have already appealed strongly to the Tanzanian government to extend the runway immediately to allow for larger aircraft, so that scheduled air services can be resumed without much delay and interruption. Alternatively they are also seeking other airlines with smaller planes to continue this vital air link between the two municipalities across the expands of Lake Victoria. Precision Air has served the route for the past decade as the sole scheduled operator, although other airlines operated charter flights on demand. A spokesperson for Precision Air regretted very muchmore having to take this step, which, it was pointed out, is hopefully only a temporary measure.

 

MORE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

been set for the middle of April but as the ICC warrants continue to hang over Kony and his co-killers &endash; the ICC has not lifted the indictments inspite of Kony's threats &endash; a true signing may still be way off. However, with the LRA ranks decimated and its remaining core camped in the CAR, at least peace has returned to Northern Uganda for now even without a formal deal.

 

KENYA PEACE DEAL STUCK IN MORE ARGUMENTS

While calm has returned to Kenya in recent weeks, following the Kofi Annan sponsored peace agreement between the main political foes and the amendment of the country's constitution to make way for the appointment of a Prime Minister, the final enactment still seems some time away. For the past weeks the two sides cannot seemingly agree on cabinet positions and distribution of jobs amongst their supporters, and Kofi Annan had to step in once again to get some movement back into the process. Outbreak of violence however is presently most unlikely and with Annan's efforts redoubled a positive outcome is expected in due course. Watch this space &endash; and visit Kenya now to take advantage of some extraordinary low season offers.

 

 

 

 

And just returned from her Easter break, here is Gill Staden again with some more tourism news from Zambia's side of the Victoria Falls &endash; Livingstone. Of particular interest here is the issue of the recently revised Visa fees for Zambia, which is already showing a severe impact on day visitor arrivals from across the border between Victoria Falls / Zimbabwe and Livingstone / Zambia and general tourist visits into Zambia. A comprehensive report compiled by the Tourism Council of Zambia is therefore featured here for the information of this column's readers.

Equally, if not more important however is her Easter safari report into Zimbabwe &endash; just ahead of the general election in that country &endash; spiced up with some pictures to raise some taste amongst the readers to visit, after the Visa fees have been re-visited I should add:

 

The Implications of Zambia's Revised Visa Fees in the Tourism Sector

Tourism Council of Zambia

March, 2008

 

 

1. Background

 

Business success, whether at the industry level, or the level of the individual entity, depends on the quality and competitiveness of a combination of: product, location, service delivery and price. A survey of international tour agents conducted during research for this paper suggest that Zambia's tourism sector is performing well on at least the first three of these four criteria - Zambia is seen as an expensive destination - at the national level (see the summarised results of the questionnaire in Annex 1).

 

However, two conditional statements on Zambia's tourism pricing are required to place this statement in context:

 

firstly, Livingstone and the south-western tourism circuit and some elements of the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa tourism areas, are linked into cross-border tourism circuits and the South African supply chain and are more price sensitive than internal tours and are subject to some market resistance from Zambia's rising prices. This is now being emphasised with the apparent re-emergence of Zimbabwean tourism; and

 

the cost of carbon taxes, departures taxes, fuel levies, visas and the like is increasing the ancillary cost component of holidays to southern Africa to a level where clients are now aware of and sensitive to these additions (see comments from tour agents in Annex 1).

 

Tourism is now recognised as an important contributor to the economy and has been formally placed as one of four key pillars of growth driving the Fifth National Development Plan. In spite of recent economic skewing created by the exceptional price of Zambia's base and precious metal exports and associated mining investments, the tourism sector is performing quite competitively with critical regional tourism markets &endash; especially Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia and even Zimbabwe (which it is now starting to show signs of recovery) (see Figure 1).

 

The medium term (1999 to 2006) moving average for total visitor arrivals has increased from 8.2% to 9.4% per annum; following a significant 13.2% increase in 2006 to 756,860 visitor arrivals (2007 data are not yet available). The 2006 growth rate exceeds the World Tourism Organisation data for both sub-Saharan Africa and Africa as a whole. Perhaps even more important is the exceptional 17.7% increase in holiday tourist arrivals in 2006 (over 2005 arrivals), to 242,358, or 32% of all arrivals.

 

These figures should be seen in context &endash; they are more than three times higher than growth rates in the early 2000's &endash; and confirm that Zambia is now on the tourist map. Current arrivals trends suggest that Zambia will achieve between 1.4 million and 2.0 million arrivals by 2015 (see Figure 2). This will probably generate between 450,000 and 650,000 holiday tourist a year by then.

 

But to put Zambia's progress in perspective it is worth noting that Zimbabwe achieved in excess of 2 million visitor arrivals in the 1990's.

 

Figure 1 Tourist Arrivals to RETOSA Countries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: RETOSA, 2005

 

 

Figure 2 Projected Visitor Arrivals to Zambia to 2015.

 

Source: Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, 2006

 

Where do Zambia's tourists come from? In 2005 Southern Africa was the most important source area for holiday tourists, providing 38% of holiday arrivals, with Europe next with 31%, the Asia Pacific region providing 11%, the Americas 10%, and the rest of Africa another 10% (see Figure 3).

This changed dramatically in 2006 with the share of European tourist arrivals increasing by 39% to 37% of the market; American arrivals by 66% (to 14%) and Asian/Pacific arrivals by 13% (to retain 11% of the market). Simultaneously, and significantly, the southern African market share has fallen from 38% to 31% (with a reduction in approximately 3,000 tourists). What has changed?

 

Figure 3 Source Regions for Zambia's Tourists (2006)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, 2008

 

These data all suggest that after many years of hard work Zambia's tourist industry is beginning to take off. It is at this critical point that the potentially damaging 2008 budget adjustments to the visa regime have been introduced.

 

2. Issues from the New Visa Measures

 

This paper examines the issues as an objective risk assessment of possible impacts on future tourist arrival patterns and revenue streams. And also possible constructive modifications to the visa measures. The paper is based on data from the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, official publications from the Immigration Department and a Tourism Council of Zambia questionnaire that was circulated to principal tour agents around the world that serve the Zambian market.

 

The principal issues are threefold:

 

Zambia is on the brink of major tourism growth - and unnecessary regulatory, or other changes can interrupt, or even reverse, the momentum achieved;

the introduced visa fee increases apply to and directly affect Zambia's principal off-shore source of tourists &endash; the United Kingdom; as well as a large and rapidly growing market source &endash; the United States (10.6%) &endash; as well as business visitors from these countries; and

the removal of the visa waiver facility (that allowed bone fide tourists staying with licensed tourism operators to a waiver on visa fees), affects all non-African nationals visiting Zambia.

 

Table 1 shows the new Visa measures in a regional comparison.

 

Table 1 Zambian Visa Fees Compared with Regional Tourism Competitor Countries

 

Country

Other single entry*

Other

multiple

entry

Canada

single

entry

Canada multiple entry

UK single entry

UK multiple entry

US single entry

 

 

 

 

 

 

US multiple

entry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zambia

US$ 50

US$ 160

US$ 55

US$ 160

US$ 140

US$ 442

US$ 135

US$ 135

Kenya

US$ 50

 

US$ 50

 

 

 

US$ 50

 

US$ 50

 

 

Tanzania

US$ 50

 

US$ 50

 

 

 

US$ 50

 

 

 

 

 

 

US$ 100

US$ 100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mozambique

US$ 20

US$ 40

US$ 20

US$ 40

US$ 80

US$ 140

US$ 20

US$ 40

Botswana

0

 

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Malawi

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Namibia

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

South Africa

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Zimbabwe**

US$ 30

US$ 55

US$ 30

US$ 55

US$ 55

US$ 70

US$ 30

US$ 55

Rates for visas in foreign countries obtained from embassies or websites for non-urgent delivery

* Generally for non-African nationals

** Rates at port of entry

 

3. International Tourist Responses

 

Responses to this tour agent questionnaire that was circulated widely in the United States, the United Kingdom, the rest of Europe, Australia and southern Africa are unequivocal about two issues. The top-end tourist market (logically), will be less affected by the visa increases than other market sectors. These clients pay significant amounts for a 6- to 14-day holiday to Zambia and the region and an additional US$140 per person is unlikely to deter them (however, even these tourists will be deterred). This is reinforced by another finding of the questionnaire; that many tourists (23% of responses) see Zambia as a "must visit" destination, with a further 23% of responses seeing Zambia as a more interesting destination. In short Zambia is a "new" tourist destination and as such is beginning to draw high-cost tourists who have not visited before.

 

On the other hand, the questionnaire response was equally definite that some top-end, as well as mid-range and budget holiday clients from at least the UK and USA will be deterred by the new visa measures. These clients made up approximately 40% of the 2006 arrivals to Zambia and probably increased in 2007.

 

4. Reasons for the 2008 Visa Measures

 

The 2008 changes to the visa regime are understood to be mainly a rationalisation of reciprocal visa charges with Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. However, given Zambia's tourism sector objectives under the FNDP, the visa fee increases were presumably also introduced as a revenue-generating measure. It is also assumed that this was a calculated risk that increased fiscal contributions from the sector through the new visa fees would exceed any losses due to tourists diverting to other destinations. The validity of this assumption is discussed in section 7.

 

The United Kingdom contributes a full 14% of all holiday tourist arrivals to Zambia and the United States another 10.6% - the two largest tourist source countries after South Africa (22%) - who do not pay visas. Canada only contributes around 2% and is not significant to any arguments for or against visa changes. Thus if an increase in visa revenue is the overall objective, the countries chosen coincidentally also contribute a quarter of all holiday arrivals to Zambia &endash; and strongly support this government fiscal strategy.

 

As already noted, the 2008 visa schedule also removed the "visa waiver" facility, where tourists staying with a licensed tourism operation were not required to pay visa fees. Some argue that the visa waiver facility was ineffective as it was sometimes poorly administered &endash; leading to disgruntled tourists on day one of their holiday &endash; and was not readily accessible to those organising their own holidays.

 

5. 2008 Visa Fee Revenue Benefits

 

Assuming that 70% of all arriving holiday tourists were accessing the visa waiver facility, the 2008 visa measures overnight increased visa revenues by US$ 50 all "other national" tourists due to pay visas, possibly including Canadians, but otherwise US$ 55 for Canadian tourists, US$135 for United States tourists and US$ 140 for United Kingdom tourists &endash; a major windfall estimated at US$ 4.3 million from Canadian, UK and USA tourists alone (calculated on the basis of the available 2006 holiday tourist arrivals data).

 

6. Anticipated General Tourism Sector Impacts and Responses

 

Assuming this windfall tax revenue potential is sustained, are the medium-term financial and economic effects of the measures as beneficial as they look at first sight? And why does the tourism industry have major concerns about the new visa measures? The latter question is discussed first and falls into seven main categories.

 

Market Loyalty &endash; tour agent markets are reasonably robust, but events such as the Asian tsunami, the Zimbabwean situation (see further below) and recently Kenya, demonstrate that rapid re-orientations of tourist preference can happen in real time. Tour agents are now required to comply with significant international health and safety and holiday insurance requirements. Therefore, sudden shifts in their loyalties are understandable where factors increase their risk. The visa fee measures introduce two risks:

 

the visa fee increases were made practically immediately, thus forcing affected tourists who had already paid for their holidays to an unexpected increase of around US$ 280 per couple, or US$ 560 for a family of four. Our questionnaire indicates that 51% of all tourists to Zambia include other countries in the region in their packages. In many cases this requires a multiple-entry visa, so for a UK family of four an unexpected increase of US$ 1,768 has occurred where a visit to Botswana and or Namibia or Zimbabwe was included with a return through Zambia; and

 

Zambia is a relatively new destination, especially for USA and European tourists and sudden policy changes in this new market area is likely to have negative impacts on tour agents' confidence about the security of other issues;

 

Administrative Effectiveness &endash; regrettably the introduction of the new visa regime was made with immediate effect. As the tourism industry works a year ahead of actual arrivals (for brochure production, clarification on entry requirements, airline schedules and bookings and so on), and holidays are often booked at least 6 months in advance; this created an unnecessary negative impact. The Department of Immigration have recently reported the difference in visa fee collections for a 10-day period before the new measures and a 10-day period immediately following their introduction. Their report enthusiastically highlights a 200% increase in US$ visa fee receipts and a 1,000% plus increase in UK Sterling visa fees. It is of considerable concern that the report is numerically incorrect, but also that its authors are unaware that the obvious reason for the apparent absence of immediate resistance to the visa fee increases is that holidays are booked months in advance and late cancellations, or changes, result in significantly reduced refunds.

 

Of equal concern are four other issues:

in this crucial period of regulatory change, the Immigration website, the official statements from the Immigration Department and the practical interpretation of the new visa regulations at different ports of entry all varied;

it appears that tourists are now no longer unable to purchase multiple entry visas on arrival in Zambia;

the third issue is that the US$ 10 "day visitor" visa for relevant nationals visiting from neighbouring countries for day activity purposes &endash; crucially important especially to activity providers in Livingstone &endash; was halted and remains an area of confusion; and

the extreme cost (US$ 440) of the multiple entry visa for UK nationals introduces doubts that the reciprocity of this measure has been accurately applied &endash; and in any case when combined with application procedures is now a major deterrent to UK multiple entry tourists.

 

Visa Competitiveness &endash; although, as noted earlier, the new visa fees for UK and USA citizens are in themselves apparently insignificant in the context of a 10 to 14 day African holiday package, of more relevance to Zambian tourism is the cost in comparison to alternative regional destinations is big enough to create immediate consumer resistance. This is particularly so where tours are routed through South Africa, to Namibia and Botswana, with Zambia as a possible add-on destination. It is equally important for the rapidly growing American market where Zambia is not yet seen as a primary destination (see also Annex 1 for a cross section of brochure material from leading USA tour agents showing the absence of Zambian exposure);

 

Effects on Zambia's UK Tourist Base &endash; The UK has, since independence, been a main source area for Zambia's tourism industry &endash; its tourists often being more willing than most to explore new destinations and activity areas. At a personal level these tourists, many of whom are multiple-returning clients, or use the multiple-entry facility in planning their holiday, see being specifically penalised by a reciprocal immigration arrangement, however justified, as a holiday obstacle (see Annex 1). At the industry/tour agent level it is seen as strategically short-sighted in the context of probable negative impacts on the 14% of arrivals contributed by UK nationals and therefore also on future revenue streams; but also on the uninterrupted growth of tourism into Zambia;

 

Impacts on the Growing USA Market - In the 1980's USA clients represented a significant element of Zambia's foreign tourist traffic. This decreased with the economic decline of Zambia in the late 1980's and 1990's and culminated in the September 11th 2001 catastrophe. Since the mid-2000's the USA tourist numbers have slowly increased in spite of big global gains elsewhere (in part this reflects the ineffectiveness of Zambia's national marketing effort in that country - which is a separate but important issue). The 2006 data show that although many Americans are still woefully ignorant about Zambia's geographic location and tourism opportunities, the "new destination" driver has increased the number of USA tourists to nearly 11% of all arrivals. A sudden increase in visa fees to a client base that is often enticed into Zambia on the back of a South African, Namibian and Botswana tour, could immediately reverse these hard-won gains &endash; as many recent client and agent comments suggest;

 

Stimulus for the Recovering Zimbabwean Tourism Sector &endash; over the last five years Zambia has benefited from a notable diversion of tourism flows from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Livingstone (as well as a migration of other Zimbabwean tourist clients and tour operators). The resulting 50% decline in tourist arrivals to Zimbabwe (see Figure 1 above), is now being reversed by aggressive strategic responses from the Zimbabwean tourism industry. The recent significant increase in Zambian visa fees will very likely strengthen the diversion of US and UK (as well as South African and other) tourists from Livingstone to Victoria Falls; as well as budget tourists travelling in southern African;

 

Charter Pilot and Crew Visas - unfortunately the 2008 visa increases come in the wake of an equally sudden and dramatic increase in light aircraft aviation charges that were levied by the National Airports Corporation in 2006. They were only reversed after serious industry consultation, but also involved many of the same tourism agents and operators now being impacted. Charter pilots and crew bringing tourists into Zambia are still required to pay visa fees.

 

Perhaps most telling is the strength of response received to the foreign tour agent questionnaire sent out in late-February to assess responses to the new visa scenario. In 2006 a World Bank-funded Tourism Supply-Side Study sent out a similar questionnaire to tour agents around the world. Only 28 responses were received from 166 questionnaires that were distributed. On this occasion more than 147 responses have been received at very short notice and without undue soliciting; including more than 49 UK agents; more than 32 USA agents; 50 Southern African agents and 16 "other country" (mainly European and Australian) agents &endash; a reasonable representation of the contribution of Zambia's main tourist origin regions. The summarised results of the survey are attached as Annex 1.

 

7. Anticipated Financial and Economic Impacts on the Tourism Sector

 

Our research suggests that the likely financial and economic impacts of the new visa measures reflect the disquiet that the above comments create.

 

Visa Fee Revenues

Analysis based on World Bank demand-side research of the Zambian tourism industry in 2006 (that calculated an average tourist spend in Zambia of US$ 1,100) and the disaggregated 2006 tourist arrival data, indicate that the 242,358 tourists that visited Zambia in 2006 will have contributed around US$ 269 million to the economy through payment for goods and services. If the 2008 visa regime had been applied at that time Zambia would have earned at around US$ 13 million in visa fees.

 

Sector Financial Losses

On the basis of comments received from tourists and agents while researching this paper (please refer to Annex 1), it is assumed conservatively that 1% of top-end tourists, 3% of middle bracket holiday makers and 15% of budget holiday makers will be diverted from Zambia as a tourism destination; or not come to Zambia. The financial impact of this loss in tourist earnings using a weighted expenditure pattern (US$ 1,500 for top-end; US$ 1,000 for middle bracket; and US$ 500 for budget holidays) on the reduced arrivals will be an estimated US$ 29 million &endash; more than double the visa earnings from the increased visa fees.

 

Negative Sector Economic Impacts

Placed in an economic context, and again referring to the 2006 World Bank tourism sector research that calculated a tourism sector economic multiplier of 2.1, the negative impact on GDP is conservatively estimated to be in the region of US$ 63 million.

 

Another important factor is that tourism earnings circulate within and contribute to the communities where they are spent. On the other hand fiscal revenues are returned to government accounts with limited returns to the tourism sector.

 

8. Conclusions - Big Picture Considerations

 

In calculating the financial and economic impacts of tourists being diverted to or remaining in alternative destinations by Zambia's new visa measures, one should not lose sight of the bigger picture. Four factors need consideration in an increasingly competitive world:

 

1) growth curves suggest that world tourist arrivals will grow to 1 billion by 2010 and that competition for a bigger slice will be intense in emerging markets such as Africa &endash; especially in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa;

2) the negative perception impact of the new visa fees is widespread, but particularly evident in the recently growing USA market and in the South African budget market that still supports Zimbabwean tourism &endash; and is a principal sources of tourists to Zambia (especially Livingstone);

3) between 21% and an estimated 30% of tourists to Zambia stay in budget accommodation of one sort or another. Many of these facilities are newly created investments by Zambian entrepreneurs and will be the most heavily impacted by the removal of the visa waiver facility and the tourist visa increases. It is precisely this sub-sector that government committed to supporting; and

4) while Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and South Africa are well prepared for the SADC Tourism Protocol Univisa (with zero visa status for all tourists and free flows between the countries), Zambia may be perceived to be taking a separate approach by increasing its visas.

 

In an overall context, unless addressed, these circumstances will do much to damage the tourism sector objectives of the FNDP, but more seriously, Zambia's image in the international tourism world. With the conservatism of international tour agents the image factor could have effects long after the FNDP ends in two years' time. More unfortunately, this damage is likely to have a double effect.

 

Initially it is expected that there will be losses through disruption to the impetus achieved by Zambian tourism operators, their agents, the Tourism Council of Zambia and the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources and its statutory bodies (National Heritage Conservation Commission; National Museums; ZAWA; and ZNTB &endash; now ZTB), over the last five to ten years; but secondly there will be the loss of a proportional share of the markets that Zambia could have diverted from neighbouring countries (particularly Botswana &endash; Zambia's chief competitor &endash; Malawi and Namibia; but also Kenya and Tanzania &endash; another of Zambia's chief competitors).

 

The hasty introduction of the 2008 revised visa schedule and subsequent events bring to the fore a number of issues:

 

the long-acknowledged absence of a practical, medium-term tourism strategy that government is able to work towards;

the important implications that a tourism strategy would have for how tourism development could be nurtured in the cross-border Livingstone areas; compared with the centre and east of Zambia; and particularly Zambia's still undeveloped northern circuit;

the lack of consultation between elements of the public service and between the public and private sectors (tourism has been acknowledged by government to be a private-sector driven industry &endash; so why not consult them, however difficult this may seem at times). Zambia's tourism sector and its selected offshore agents have invested heavily in developing Zambian tourism and the visa measures indicate an unnecessary and possibly unwarranted disregard for their efforts;

that short-term, apparent financial windfalls are not always as real as they may seem and may have significant negative short-, and especially medium- and long-term financial and economic impacts; and

that although conditions have improved, the administration of tourism arrivals (and particularly the administration of changed circumstances), still leaves much to be desired in coherence, consistency and simplicity &endash; key factors that impact immediately on tourists at point of entry and their desire to visit, and return.

 

Comments received from tourists and tour agents have indicated a high level of criticism for the new visa measures. This having been said, it is believed that a positive and innovative response to the situation could reverse the damage done - but the strategy needs to be carefully choreographed.

 

Comments received suggest that the following factors that may be worth considering are:

 

the Livingstone area is unique in the tourism sense that with the new regional flight opportunities provided by the lengthened Livingstone Airport runway, it stands to gain considerable incoming traffic that will benefit the "Four Corners" area (Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and also flows of tourists generated by the South African tourism supply chain. It also stands to lose significantly from two factors: a) the re-emergence of Zimbabwe as a significant and highly developed tourism destination; and b) the loss of traffic and revenue that will result from the high cost of single entry visas for UK and USA citizens and multiple-entry visas for UK citizens wishing to extend their Zambian stay with visits to neighbouring countries - and Zambia's non-competitive visa position relative to these neighbouring countries;

also in Livingstone, the continuation of the day-visit visa is critically important to supporting Zambia's competitive edge in adventure tourism, by drawing visitors from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia wishing to fly over the Victoria Falls, white-water raft, bunji jump, or partake of Livingstone's numerous other cultural and physical activities. These tourists contribute an estimated 30% to the turnover for these entities &endash; income which may be critically reduced if the day visitor facility is removed, and/or the new visa costs equal or exceed the cost of the activity itself &endash; and possible lead to business closures;

the administration of visas would be infinitely simplified if a single visa fee was levied on non-African nationals and purchasable easily at the port of entry. In these circumstances standard visa application forms could be provided with arrivals forms on all incoming flights and at ports of entry; tour agents and tourists could be advised through the official web site to have a US$ bank note of the required denomination available to reduce the need for change and transaction time at entry points (poor port of entry facilities and management, particularly at Kazangula, are a common theme in complaints from tourists);

the tour agent questionnaire indicated that 51% of responding tour agents provide east and southern African holidays that include more than one country. In these circumstances the easy availability of multiple-entry visas at ports of entry (not requiring prior application), would encourage visits to and longer stays in Zambia (the holiday stay length in Zambia is of the order to 6 days compared to around 14 in Namibia). The 2006 World Bank Tourism Demand-Side Survey has demonstrated the significant financial and economic benefits to Zambia of increasing tourist stay length;

fixing the standard visa rate for all non-African nationals at reasonable levels would send a positive message to tourists that may wish to divert, or extend their holidays to Zambia from other regions. Zambia's main southern competitor countries have zero visa policies that Zambia could progressively work towards in the context of the SADC Tourism Protocol due for implementation by 2010. But most international tour agents indicated that a reasonable visa rate is not a present deterrent, even though Zambia's previous tourist visa waiver facility was generally seen as an innovative, if often inefficiently administered development;

removing the current need for visas for pilots and crew of charter operations bringing tourists to Zambia would have very little fiscal impact; bring this sector in line with the treatment of aircrew of scheduled services, and particularly for multiple destination air-chartered holidays, would make Zambia procedurally more attractive;

 

Government's further consideration of the current visa measures could be scored around two issues: firstly an honest appreciation that Zambia was listening to its valued tourist clients and their agents and had recognised the need, not to reduce visa fees (revenue was needed to fund the continual improvement of immigration services), but in response to visitor and agent comments, to re-arrange them in a simplified and rationalised format; and secondly that appreciation was being given to Zambia's commitment to the SADC Tourism Protocol and the need to start an early move towards the Univisa concept.

 

A smooth and tourist-aware response to the current visa measures is likely to permit the growth in tourist arrivals from the key UK and USA markets to resume with limited negative impacts. It would also minimise the possible diverting effect to Zimbabwe for South African tourists.

 

However, most importantly, the early application of a raft of appropriate tourist arrival incentive measures will: 1) place Zambia in an excellent position to challenge Zimbabwe's return to its previous apex position in regional tourism north of South Africa; and 2) to position Zambia to gain a major market share from the 2010 World Cup.

 

 

Four Corners

I have started researching for my book on travel in the region.  Some of you may remember that I used to print the Zambezi Wonderland.  It was an A5 publication which I printed at home.  Everyone liked it but wanted it to be in colour.  So I am biting the bullet and am going for commercial printing.  I have not worked out the cost of advertising yet - as soon as I do, I will let you know. 

The area to be covered in the book will be:

Zambia - Livingstone, Sinazongwe, southern section of Kafue National Park, Sesheke, Katima Mulilo and the west bank of the Zambezi to Sioma Falls.

Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls Town, Hwange National Park, Kazuma National Park, Chizarira National Park, Binga and Lake Kariba.

Botswana - Kasane, Nata, Chobe National Park, Makgadigadi and Sua Pans.  (I would like to get to the Okavango)

Namibia - Katima Mulilo, Babwata National Park, Mamili National Park, Madumo National Park, Caprivi Strip to Popa Falls.

There is a chance that some of Angola will open up ... if it does, I shall be there.

I already have loads of stories ... but will be gathering more.  If you want me to visit your lodge/operation let me know and I will get a story in about it.

As you know, last week I was away.  I went travelling ... here is the story ...

 

 

Mlibizi and Chizarira National Park

 

21st March was the day to get out of Livingstone for a break from work and dull routine. There aren't many places to go at this time of year &endash; the roads are bad after the rains and many of the game parks are still water-logged. We had decided to go to Lake Kariba on the Zimbabwe side. The roads, I was told, were tar. I had never been there before … so it was going to be a new experience for me.

 

The border crossing at Victoria Falls, over the bridge, is a nightmare … as most of us know. The bridge is the favoured crossing for hundreds of trucks travelling from South Africa to the north. But first we had to negotiate the Customs on the Zambian side. The Customs officer did not seem inclined to assist; he knew I was there clutching my vehicle documents but continued to serve the marketeers on the incoming side of the counter. Finally, after I had been joined by another five people queueing up to be served, I shouted across the room "Can we have some help, please." The man did not move a muscle, but a lady heard me and came over and got out the forms and the rubber stamp … and finally we were leaving Zambia.

 

The road over the bridge is another Zambian eyesore. Trucks on both sides of the road with a narrow alley through the middle for vehicles to pass. A hold-up at the bridge itself &endash; about 10 vehicles backed up waiting for the boom gate to be lifted so that we could pass. After a while we were allowed through to the Zimbabwe side and there we found loads more trucks, some stuck in the mud, listing to one side as they had come off the road and dropped about a foot onto a verge that had subsided.

 

Finally the Zimbabwe border … US$55 for me &endash; visa. US$30 for insurance for the car; US$10 for carbon tax and US$15 for Road Access. A performance, but at least we were attended to efficiently and without the surly attitude of the man on the Zambian side.

 

As we had taken about an hour to get over the border we drove up to Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and had a drink on their veranda and learned to relax before our journey to Mlibizi. We left Vic Falls at about 3pm … a late start … but, we were on holiday and time was not important.

 

 

The journey to Mlibizi is not too interesting. 163km to the Kamativi turnoff on the Bulawayo Road; another 30km to the Mlibizi turnoff and finally, after a journey of around 250km we were in Mlibizi. There is one section of the road which passes through a range of hills; the road twisted and was steep in places; the views are lovely and it took all my concentration to keep my eyes on the road.

 

We arrived in Mlibizi in the dark but found the house we were staying in quite easily &endash; Mlibizi is not a big place. Food, bed … tired. The following day was another lazy day which ended with a trip on a boat around the bay. There were quite a few people out &endash; mostly, Zimbos, I would guess, who had come for the weekend away. They were fishing, don't know if they were catching &endash; fishing is not my idea of fun. We just enjoyed some sundowners and watched the sunset.

 

The following day, we decided to leave the Lake behind and head towards Chizarira National Park. Before leaving Mlibizi we called in to see Mlibizi Hotel. It was quiet, run down and very sad. There were no guests; the cracked swimming pool was being filled with muddy water and the staff looked dejected. There were a number of boats moored along the lakeshore and had probably not been used for some time. The hotel reminded me of those days in Zambia when we had no tourists and hotels looked just the same … The hotel staff were friendly and helpful giving me all their details. I did not have a look at one of the rooms but I am sure they would be clean, if a bit lacking in maintenance. Unfortunately, this will be the way of things until Zimbabwe comes right …

 

On the way to Binga we called in at a lodge &endash; Masumu River Lodge. There we found a group of family and friends who had just finished lunch. One of them was the new owner of the lodge and we heard about his plans to renovate the place and make it available for conferences as well as fishing. He expects the renovations to take about 6-9 months. So, if you want to go for a break in Zim, this is a place to consider. The bar is high up on the bank, with a refreshing breeze, and great views over the lake. Contact Masumu Lodge on resilient@mweb.co.zw … a very apt email address. The owner's name is Mike McAllister from Bulawayo.

 

We didn't manage to get into Binga because time was short … we headed out towards the National Park. After turning off the Binga road to the north we came onto a dirt road. It was OK. As we travelled we had the Chizarira Escarpment off to our right and we followed this for a long way &endash; about 60km. Then we took a turn towards the escarpment. The road is good and winds its way up the escarpment in easy stages, alongside a mountain stream which was still flowing &endash; Muchene River. We arrived at the Park entrance and were given directions to Chizarira Lodge which was about 8km away.

 

We had arrived a day early and were hoping that there would be space … we shouldn't have worried … the lodge was empty. The staff were only too happy to have some company. Samson, the cook and main man, quickly ran around to organise the rooms as we relaxed in the lounge area. We then gave Samson some of our food supplies and off he went to prepare supper. We also gave him some diesel which he used for the generator, and when it got dark we had lights. This, I am afraid, is the way of things in Zim these days. Fortunately I had been warned and we were very well prepared.

 

The chalets are all perched on the edge of the escarpment overlooking communal land. We could hear cows, donkeys, the occasional human noise and odd drumming. And, in the morning, I woke up to this sight:

 

 

 

This next day was a day for driving around the park to see what it was all about. We headed for the Park Office about 15km away. There, Michael, the Game Scout in charge of the office was as helpful as he could be but he was young and did not have much idea about giving travel tips … He didn't have any change either so when I gave him US$50 and needed US$25 in change, he didn't have it. I think he thought that we would leave it for him, but we said that he must give it to the staff at Chizarira Lodge … I hope he did.

 

We took potluck in our choice of roads taking a road south. It was a bad choice. We ended up travelling on a rocky road, down the escarpment. The grass was high on either side of the road so we couldn't see far. Had there been an elephant just off the road, I think we would have missed it … As it was, we saw one mongoose and two guinea fowl who felt that they could entertain us tourists. Of course, now is not the time to travel in any National Park, and I don't think that we thought that we would see much game.

 

Having decided that this road was a complete waste of time, we back-tracked and took another road to the north. I saw some impala … wow …

 

Not far down the road we came to Muchene View. This is a scenic spot and was lovely. We sat and enjoyed the view for about half an hour feeling how lucky we were to be able to see such an amazing sight. It made the memory of the lack of game and the awful roads fade … the trip was worth it just for this wonderful view.

 

 

 

Having had our kidneys rattled by all the bumpy roads we decided to head back to the lodge and relax. We had been out for about 7 hours, so it had not been a short day.

We enjoyed the sunset while Samson prepared another great meal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We left Chizarira Lodge sadly &endash; I could have spent another day, but … that awful four-letter word 'WORK' was beckoning us home …

 

We left the staff at Chiz Lodge quite a lot of food from our boxes &endash; it would have been too terrible to take it home with us when we knew that their access to supplies was probably quite limited. We left them all grinning from ear to ear &endash; they were going to eat well that evening.

 

The journey home was completely uneventful &endash; just back the way we had come. The border was quiet as it had been Easter weekend and many of the trucks had disappeared for the holiday time. What a pleasure.

 

Would I recommend Zimbabwe for a holiday?? Yes, definitely. I know many people are saying that we should not support a regime that has impoverished its people. But, most of the money that we spend goes into the local pocket and we should not feel guilty about going there. Some people say that it is not safe. It is safe in the tourist areas. For us in the Southern African region we should not feel at all worried about travelling to Zimbabwe. In fact, I strongly feel that the Zimbabwean tour operators should be marketing a lot more within the region. They used to have international clients … it was easy … tourists used for flock there, more than anywhere else. Now, though, Zimbabweans have got to market themselves aggressively to people like us. OK, our income is not on a par with international clients but at least we keep the lodges going and help support the staff and other overheads … until, we hope, when things get better … maybe the elections today will mark a turning point … who knows …

 

 

 

LODGES REPORT 'FULL HOUSE' &endash; RAINS POUND THE COUNTRY AGAIN

Ugandan safari lodges and tented camps reported booming business over the Easter Holiday, when many of the expatriate community and Kampala residents took time out to visit the national parks, game reserves, the upper Nile valley near Jinja and the Lake Victoria islands like Bulago Island. Ugandans too were reportedly travelling upcountry in large numbers to visit their rural homes to see their families, filling up the available hotels, motels and inns across the country. This travel boom unfolded inspite of the seasonal rains which started just at the same time with a vengeance, unleashing some of the most violent rain- and thunderstorms experienced in the recent past on Kampala, its environs and other parts of the country. In Kampala, the crucial entry point into the CBD at the Clock Tower junction was again several feet under water, cutting off traffic in and out of the city centre for much of Easter Day and causing hardship for worshippers wanting to reach the main city churches.

The unusually wet and cool weather also prompted a number of outdoor concerts in Kampala and Entebbe planned for Easter Sunday and Monday to be cancelled or postponed, denying those Kampaleans who stayed in the city their post lent enjoyment. The failure of the events to take place also led to the potential loss of hundreds of millions of Shillings for the promoters.

The extremely heavy rains also caused further havoc on main traffic arteries, when a culvert collapsed along the main highway from Kampala to the Kenyan border near Mukono. Half of the road needed to be closed, as a hole several metres deep and wide suddenly opened up during the Easter weekend. Fortunately any possible accidents were avoided when police was deployed immediately to secure the site and divert traffic. An alternative route to Jinja via Kayunga &endash; incidentally also a very scenic route &endash; is however available for traffic, should a full road closure ahead of or during repairs become necessary.

The present rains have also raised the possibility again of renewed flooding in areas which already suffered last year extensively and bridges and roads are undergoing monitoring to allow swift counter action as and where required.

 

UWA SIGNS CONCESSIONS FOR BOAT AND LAUNCH SERVICES

During the week UWA reached another milestone in privatisation, when they at last signed agreements with private operators to provide boat services. Hitherto UWA provided these services themselves in Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Park but were under pressure for long to divest of the business activity and allow private operators to bid for contracts. Adrift, one of the leading white-water rafting and adventure companies, will shortly commence boat and launch trips along the Kazinga channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and G&C Tours &endash; local agents for Wild Frontiers in Uganda &endash; have won the right to operate tours in Murchisons Falls National Park from the Paraa river crossing to the falls and the river delta. A second company was also chosen to offer boat and launch trips in both locations, namely the owners of the main safari lodges Mweya and Paraa. Marasa Limited will be happy to now add these services to accommodation and game drives and their clients will have a one stop centre when booking safaris to Uganda's two main safari parks.

The initial concessions will run for 10 years but are subject to a performance review after 5 years to ensure compliance with UWA terms and conditions and take client feedback into consideration. Further negotiations are reportedly still underway with a fourth company, which had also been shortlisted in the bidding process but where no contract has yet been finalised. The development comes at a time when gate arrival figures in all of Uganda's national parks have been rising steadily over the past few years, requiring additional services to be provided.

 

MORE GOOD NEWS FROM EMIRATES

Ugandan passengers of Emirates have been given more good news from the airline office in Kampala. The award winning airline from Dubai has now given the green light for the use of mobile phones on board of their aircraft. Calls from on board phone systems, possible already for a long time on many airlines, proved quite expensive for most of the Ugandan passengers and also required the use of international credit cards, not common yet amongst Ugandans. After resolving the often overplayed safety issues, allegedly caused by the use of mobile phones on board of an airplane, and accepting the findings of many studies that mobile phone use does not endanger airplane operation and flight safety, Emirates is the first of the global big carriers to allow their use, after obtaining regulatory approvals. However, calls during night flights will be restricted. Calls made on board will also require 'roaming' enabled mobile phone connections and will still cost quite a bit more than calls made on the surface due to the expected 'roaming fee surcharges'.

Blackberry and other data services are due to follow the voice calls in due course once the Emirates' fleet has undergone the necessary modifications. The airline will however retain the seat-side and cabin mounted phones so far available to passengers. It is understood that phone calls will not be allowed during take off and landing.

 

AKON DUE IN KAMPALA

Celtel Uganda is sponsoring the next big concert in Kampala, when on April 26th this year Akon is expected to perform at the Lugogo Cricket Ground, scene of the recent UB40 concert. Inspite of some ruffled feathers with the top VIP's in the country over certain aspects of their Platinum Ticket Packages the concert and its management overall went well and, as expressed at the time in this column is now leading to yet another big bash for the music hungry crowds. Tickets can be purchased presently at Celtel's offices and corporate outlets. The concert is also due to be the highlight of a 1 billion+ Uganda Shilling promotion, which will see some of the winners to fly by helicopter from their residences &endash; or at least near them &endash; to the star's hotel cum limo rides to and from the concert.

The telecom sector has seen unprecedented growth in the recent past, with subscribers now standing at a reported 4.5 million mobile phone users, compared to the early 90's when less than 50.000 subscribers had access to the then state owned phone and post company UPTL's fixed network in the city and across the country.

Recent entrant Warid Telecom has found the going rough so far as the established operators UTL, MTN and Celtel have bombarded the market with promotions, tariff cuts, special tariffs and a range of other goodies for their faithful and new clients, which Warid was so far unable to match. Celtel is Uganda's first mobile operator (since 1995) and has of late also seen spectacular growth again, mostly spurred by their 'One Network' which allows calls at local rates across much of the African continent.

 

VISA OFFENDERS TO GET '10 YEARS'

The British High Commission has confirmed, that Visa applicants giving false information or using fake supporting documentation, will receive a 10 year application ban if found out. It can be expected that this information would then also be shared with other embassies and high commissions in Kampala, effectively barring 'fake applicants' from receiving any Visa from any Western country. Information received from usually well informed sources confirms that this move was a result of the large number of applications found deficient or information contained suspected to be false, adding another hurdle to the already &endash; often considered tilted, one sided and discriminatory &endash; hard road to obtaining a visitor Visa for the UK. Ugandans have often complained about what many consider excessive cost of such Visa, compared to average wages in the country, and about the way embassies regularly handle applicants. Suspicions are in fact running high amongst even successful applicants and raging rows emerge ever so often in the daily newspapers. This happens in particular when mistaken officials at the Visa office turn down prominent business people with an otherwise excellent record and then have to reverse their initial decisions or applicants complain of severe mishandling. Several applicants working in the tourism industry and known to this correspondent added that 'when you have to go in person for an interview it is almost like a police interrogation'. One such individual said further: 'I suspect they use voice stress analysers in some of those embassies to try and sort out people. They cannot of course openly use lie detectors but I am almost sure that they use other technology now. You get finger printed and all sorts of other things. We think that applicants are not really treated very civilly in some of those embassies. And their own citizens just pay a small fee, in fact much less than we have to pay, and when they arrive in Entebbe they not even fill one single form other than the normal arrival cards. Something is very wrong here. My parents could still travel without Visa and got a visitor pass on arrival in the UK or Europe. Maybe this is the price third world country citizens have to pay these days. Some of the countries now ask you to allow them contact your bank directly for information, this has become very intrusive and suspect'. It was also pointed out to this correspondent that Visa refusals are now stamped into applicants' passports, effectively black-marking them when applying for Visa elsewhere, a practise much criticized by Ugandans falling foul of such methods.

It was also established that the UK High Commission refuses about 30+ percent of all submitted applications, but &endash; needless to say &endash; retains the application fees already paid of course as to almost add insult to financial injury.

 

NEW NATIONAL MOSQUE OFFICIALLY OPENED

The Libyan funded newly built national mosque was last week officially opened by the Libyan leader Col. Gadaffi, in the presence of President Museveni and several other heads of state and government from the wider Eastern African region. Gadaffi visited Uganda to close the first Afro Arab Youth Summit which ended on 17th March. Initial potential for controversy was avoided, when the opening day was set for Wednesday, avoiding a possible argument with the Christian communities over rumoured other plans to do it on Palm Sunday, or worse on Good Friday, key dates in the Christian annual religious calendar.

Gadaffi in his address however was not shy of controversy, and quoting the headlines of the two main newspapers in the country, his utterances were quoted as: 'Bible a forgery' (New Vision) and 'Bible altered' (Daily Monitor). This incensed staunch Catholics and Protestants to no end of course and a prolonged argument is expected to unfold in coming days and weeks over these unfortunate remarks. Letter columns 'to the editor' are presently full of scathing counterattacks against Gadaffi and leading Muslim clerics have been called upon to disassociate themselves from the ill tempered, ill worded and ill considered remarks aimed at inciting religious division and hostility. The Catholic Archbishop of Kampala in his Easter address called Gadaffi's utterances 'provocative' while other Christian leaders and large sections of the public demanded an apology. Muslim leaders too waded into the argument over Gadaffi's invitation to Christians to visit Mecca. Government of Uganda refused to be drawn into the raging debate saying the comments were 'individual and government has no business with such'.

It is worth to note that Uganda is an overwhelmingly Christian country, where the minority Muslim communities have their rightful place, protected by the constitution and, more importantly, the accommodating spirit and religious tolerance of her people, who have always shunned religious fanaticism and Gadaffi's comments did little to enhance this spirit.

Gadaffi in his address also laid heavily into 'the Scandinavian countries' &endash; presumably referring to Denmark &endash; over the controversial cartoons the (free of government control) press published there two years ago and again more recently.

During the official opening security scuffles were also reported in the local media, first between the Ugandan presidential security detail and the unusually large security contingent &endash; reportedly some 200 of them &endash; Gadaffi brought for himself and then again when President Kagame arrived slightly late for the official opening ceremony. More details of constant scuffles and disputes between the details were also reported in the media after Gadaffi left, what seemed to have been 'suddenly' while he was still expected at another function.

There was also an unusually large number of worshippers who had come to the mosque without invitation cards and who were refused entry, while the dignitaries were in attendance, causing some angry arguments with police and other security surrounding the compound, but the crowd later on peacefully disbursed.

The new mosque however is an instant architectural landmark for Kampala and will undoubtedly be added to the city tours for tourists, who hitherto were able to see other primary places of worship like the Catholic cathedral in Rubaga, the Anglican cathedral in Namirembe, worship temples belonging to the Hindu and Sikh communities near the Clock Tower junction and of course the only Bahai temple in Africa near the Ntinda suburb.

The formal opening and subsequent security measures, which included key road closures, also led to massive traffic jams across Kampala on the day and traffic participants caught up in the situation took hours to get to their intended destinations. Traffic on Entebbe road was also affected when the presidential motorcades passed from and to the airport and some airline passengers are said to have missed their flights when arriving late at the terminal building, due to the delays caused by the road closures.

 

NEMA SHOWING TEETH AGAIN &endash; but will it bite?

The national environmental management authority has started threatening eviction of squatters once again from wetlands leading towards Lake Victoria &endash; and elsewhere in the country &endash; and has vowed to demolish illegal buildings. Most Kampala wetlands have been heavily encroached over the past 15 years and unauthorised damming, construction and farming have last year led to severe flooding in the city itself, as the drainage function of the swamps were severely impaired. Demarcation of one of the wetland boundaries went underway during the week. However, going by experience this may well be a short-lived publicity stunt again. This correspondent has in the past repeatedly pointed out the ongoing and quickening encroachment at a wetland on the way to his own residence and NEMA has not once acknowledged, responded to or acted on these reports.

NEMA Executive Director Dr. Mugisha has in the meantime in a sweeping statement before a parliamentary committee called mobile masts 'safe', probably basing his comments on pro telecommunication industry studies, while obviously ignoring the studies pointing out the inherent dangers associated with radio signals. In fact the off the cuff remarks would indicate that NEMA has not carried out substantial research on their own and is probably 'borrowing' studies from abroad. The authority head was also asked about the deficit in mast approvals across the country. This issue concerned the parliamentarians as less than 10 percent of the overall masts erected across the country seem to have NEMA clearance, with the authority standing by in idle mode and doing little if anything about this alarming trend. It could be established however that UTL is subjecting itself to an independent annual environmental audit, a most commendable circumstance were it not for the fact that NEMA seems to have taken no interest in this voluntary measure.

The following 'Sunday Vision' quote tells it all: "Scientific information available is that radiation from the masts is so low compared to other radiation received such as the one from mobile telephones," Dr. Aryamanya Mugisha told the parliamentary committee on Information and Communication Technology on Thursday. Hmmm ….

DELTA DEFERS NAIROBI LAUNCH

The American international carrier Delta Airlines has now announced that they will delay their planned Nairobi flights until at least December 2008, due to the prevailing market conditions. Delta was expected to commence direct flights between the United States and Nairobi via West Africa by June this year and it was generally expected to be a code shared operation with Kenya Airways, as both airlines belong to SkyTeam &endash; the KLM / Air France led global airline alliance.

The delay will be a blow to the Kenyan efforts of reviving the tourism industry on the fast track. The new flights were expected to make travel between the US and East African easier, as passengers do not need to transit via European airports nor have to change planes to reach Nairobi. The US is a major source market for safari visitors to Eastern Africa and the flights to Nairobi were also expected to benefit neighbouring countries like Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, all of which have seamless Kenya Airways onward connections.

There is however some speculation by industry analysts and observes that the delay may have something to do with the absence of the FAA Category 1 approval for Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which presently is a prerequisite for direct flights into the United States.

This status was expected for Entebbe International Airport some time ago but may now take until some time in 2009, and the same may apply also for other airports in the region. Watch this space.

FLY 540 TO OFFER CARGO SERVICES

Kenyan low cost carrier Fly540 has now added an F27 freighter service to their domestic and regional passenger flights. The aircraft is reportedly capable of uplifting some 5.5 tons of 'loose' cargo, but will not be able to accept palletized cargo shipments. The airline will be offering the service to all destinations already served by them but also offer cargo charters in the entire region.

Meanwhile, local media in Uganda still permit themselves to be duped into making the public believe, that Air Uganda is a 'national carrier' for Uganda, while it is actually a 'designated' carrier. Former national carrier Uganda Airlines went defunct some years ago and is in the process of winding up. Claims to be a 'national' airline tend to impress the market in favour of competitors like Kenya Airways &endash; incidentally a true national airline &endash; or Fly 540, which is a designated airline on the routes assigned to them by the KCAA under bilateral air services agreements. Questions have also been raised on the 'nationality' status of the Ugandan upstart, which traditionally requires 51 percent of the shares being held by Ugandan owned corporate bodies or individuals, something which does not seem to be the case here. Other Ugandan airlines like Eagle Air or Royal Daisy Airlines incidentally never laid claim to being a 'national' airline although both are in fact owned by Ugandans. Watch this space.

AFRICAN SAFARI CLUB TO END OWN FLIGHTS

The crisis in Kenya during the post election violence of January and February has taken its toll not only on the hotel occupancies along the Kenyan coast but has now taken another victim. As mentioned in a previous column about the Kenyan tourism situation at the time, the African Safari Club closed several of their hotels at the time due to radically dropped occupancies at their beach resorts. Their flight operation was also reduced at the time, although they were the first ones to gradually move towards a full operations mode again, being one of the biggest operators from Europe to Kenya. They ordinarily use their own resorts and safari properties in an integrated operation from sales over airtransport to accommodation and transportation at the destination.

However, according to reports from Mombasa they have now apparently decided to end their own air operation from Europe to Mombasa, and from next season onwards use the services of other quality airlines like LTU, Edelweiss and Condor to fly their clients to Mombasa.

This will bring a long tradition to a premature end and Kenya coast aficionados will miss the zebra striped planes of African Safari Airways, which over the years brought many tens of thousands of tourists from Switzerland, Germany and other European countries to the sunny Indian Ocean beaches of Mombasa and Malindi. The aircraft used so far is reportedly due to be sold off.

African Safari Club's domestic flights from an airfield along the Bamburi beach of Mombasa to the safari parks will however continue as usual.

PRECISION AIR SEALS LOAN DEAL

The Tanzanian privately owned airline &endash; 49 percent of which is controlled by Kenya Airways &endash; has now finalised the loan arrangements for the purchase of their French manufactured ATR aircraft. The airline has 7 brand new ATR 42 and 72 models on order, due for deliveries starting soon. The nearly 130 million US Dollar loan facility has been underwritten by Citibank Tanzania and is due to run for 12 years.

In the meantime, the Tanzania government has pledged nearly 40 million US Dollars to upgrade and rehabilitate several primary and secondary airports across the country, including Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Bukoba, Kigoma, Mafia Island and others.

This infrastructural development will undoubtedly spur more domestic and regional air traffic at a time when both Air Tanzania and Precision Air are engaged in a major fleet overhaul and fleet expansion, setting the stage for further growth of the aviation sector in East Africa's largest country. Many tourists are in fact using air charters and domestic scheduled flights into the national parks and to several of the Indian Ocean Islands off the shore of the mainland. There are however persistent complaints about charters from Arusha having to use the international airport, which is some 50 KM from Arusha while there is an airfield at the vicinity of Arusha, which has to be maintained by the Tanzanian Airport Authority while generating little revenue. The Arusha field has often been mentioned to become a potential 'safari hub' &endash; similar to Nairobi's Wilson Airport &endash; for flights to and from the Northern circuit national parks and could also cater for regional flights with larger turboprop aircraft like the ATR's now commonly used across Eastern Africa. This would allow swifter access to the parks and also to Arusha itself for visitors, sparing them the long trips to and from JRO.

 

TANZANIAN VOLCANIC MOUNTAIN KEEPS RUMBLING

Ol Donyo Lengai, the no longer dormant volcano in Northern Tanzania, has settled down to a threatening routine since erupting and causing some major quakes last year. Fume and smoke clouds keep emerging from the volcano's crater and side vents, and earth tremors continue to be felt in the wider vicinity of the mountain. More and more of the population resident in the area have now voluntarily vacated the area, after initially resisting government directives to leave.

The mountain is located near Lake Natron, the annual breeding ground for the East African region's millions of lesser flamingos &endash; recently in the press over attempts by India's Tata group to begin mining of soda ash, which was thankfully stopped over grave environmental concerns. The area with one of the most hostile climates known to man, is however of touristic value, not only for the flamingo breeding but also to see other game transiting between Ngorongoro and the Serengeti across very sparsely populated land. The pastoralist Masai of the area, who consider Ol Donyo Lengai as the seat of the Gods, have also been affected by a long lasting draught besides the constant 'rain of ash' and 'breath of death' caused by floating toxic fumes emitted from the volcano and they have moved their families and livestock to other grazing grounds.

 

RWANDA &endash; UGANDA OIL PIPELINE CONTRACTS SIGNED

During bilateral talks between the two countries it was agreed last week to carry out a survey and look at the cost of such a project before embarking on construction. Transportation of fuel by road from Mombasa is prohibitively expensive and has a substantial impact on the prices of the commodity in both Uganda and Rwanda, but also other hinterland countries. Uganda will this year commence work for the pipeline extension from the present end-location in Eldoret / Western Kenya to Kampala. This is aimed to reduce accidents, reduce transport cost and secure regular uninterrupted supplies, which during the post election Kenya crisis were severely disrupted and caused the Uganda to temporarily run out of fuel.

Tamoil East Africa, locally incorporated but Libyan state owned company, is the main contractor for the Eldoret &endash; Kampala pipeline extension and is also expected to play a lead role in eventually linking Kampala with Kigali. A further extension between Kigali and Bujumbura/Burundi is an additional option, once the main works in Uganda and Rwanda have been completed. This development is good news for the East African hinterland as it will reduce reliance on expensive road transport of fuel products. It may very well also allow Uganda, once oil production has gone commercial in two year's time, to export their own fuel products to these neighbouring countries by using the new pipeline.

The contract was signed by Presidents Museveni and Kagame, while Presidents Kibaki (Kenya), Nkurunziza (Burundi), Yusuf (Somalia) and Gadaffi (Libya) were also present at the function. Watch this space.

 

CONGO'S DUBIOUS ROLE IN REBEL ESCAPE

The often vented sentiments by this correspondent about Congo's rogue regime's behaviour were once again proven correct, when news reached Kampala that rebel chief Kony had successfully left his jungle hideout in Garamba National Park and made his way unimpeded into the Central African Republic. There he is reported to have teamed up with a CAR rebel group, supposedly for joint operations after his own 'forces' suffered large scale defections in recent months. There are also unconfirmed reports from usually well informed sources that at their new location the Kony group has received new supplies, possibly from their erstwhile supporters in Khartoum and that the terror group may be used to ply there bloody handiwork as far as Darfur in the service of their masters. Kony along the way continued his killing, looting and abducting once again while enroute to his new hide out, and neither the UN forces stationed nearby nor the Congolese army tried to intercept, arrest or eliminate the rebels. Fork tongued talk, made easy to recognize … at least wildlife specialists may now have an early opportunity to return to Garamba and take stock of what other damage the rebels have done there besides eliminating the last freely roaming Northern White Rhinos.

The rebel group was due to sign a peace accord as early as this month but have not only failed to assemble at designated points but now staged an escape once again. Peace talks have been going on for nearly two years in Southern Sudan's capital Juba between the rebels and the Uganda government, funded by the EU and other well wishing organizations and countries. A positive outcome so far is that the rebel group is now no longer present in Northern Uganda and peace and development can at last take hold in that part of the country. There is now talk that sections of the LRA would sign the peace deal but that may mean nothing at all as long as the ICC indicted head goons are still at large.

In contrast to Kony's behaviour, the Ugandan government has put an amnesty programme into place of which many former rebels took advantage, deserting from Kony, coming out from the bush, renouncing violence and returning to civilian life with a substantial start up package of support measures.

Meanwhile, in another typical turnabout, existing mining contracts and concessions in the Congo, including and probably in particular in the East of the country, are to be cancelled by the regime in a 'review' process aimed at signing new agreements, ordinarily a pretext for another round of corruption, when trying to extract undue payments and considerations from holders of present contracts and applicants for new ones. International observer groups like 'Global Witnesses' have already decried the development as 'far from transparent' &endash; in other words expressing their own misgivings and suspicions in a more diplomatic language.

EMIRATES ANNOUNCES MORE US DESTINATIONS FOR UGANDANS

Soon after Emirates broke the news to the local market, that they will introduce A380 flights to New York from late this year for Ugandans connecting to the Big Apple in Dubai, they have now added another US destination. From September onwards Emirates' travellers can reach Los Angeles after the customary stopover in Dubai, before boarding a non stop flight to California. This is the airline's third US destination after New York and Houston. Travel agents expressed their delight over the new options, partly also because Emirates still pays a commission to travel agents for tickets sold as opposed to many other airlines, which have cut the agents out with zero commission for their work. Emirates' daily flights from Entebbe have been hugely popular for travellers to the Gulf, India, the South and Far East owing to convenient connections in Dubai, stopover 'goodies', decent inflight service and well placed pricing. The airline intends to use a Boeing 777-200LR (long range) for the service and will offer its traditional three class configuration, including its legendary first class suites and their acclaimed flat bed business class. Flight time from Dubai to LAX is estimated to be about 16 ? hours, plus about 5 hours from Entebbe to Dubai, allowing passengers to enjoy nearly a full day of award winning inflight service and on board entertainment to pass their time.

BRUSSELS AIRLINES ADDS BAGGAGE ALLOWANCES

Now that the fourth weekly flight between Brussels and Entebbe has taken root in the market, Brussels Airlines has granted increased baggage allowances for their passengers. Economy passengers can now carry up to 46 KG's without extra charge, while business class travellers have an allowance of 64 KG's for checked in luggage. In line with international standards this allowance applies to at least two checked pieces. Well done!

WEATHER RADAR BREAKDOWN

The parliamentary committee on transport has been told by engineers that the Entebbe based weather radar system has broken down. The system had been repaired and upgraded less than a year ago for the Commonwealth Summit in late November 2007 and is a key ingredient for safe air operations, providing important clues for aircraft landing at and leaving from Entebbe. The committee reportedly focused on projects and expenditure connected to CHOGM and how funds have been spent and what value the country got in return, when they heard from witnesses about the radar's faults. However, the main traffic radar facility in Entebbe is said to be working satisfactorily.

SHELL SAYS 'AVGAS ON THE WAY'

Following reports on the ongoing AVGAS shortage at the Kajjansi airfield and Entebbe International Airport, Shell Uganda has responded directly to questions from this correspondent and assured the aviation fraternity that new supplies would be available within days, after transit times from Mombasa to Uganda had 'normalised'. It was also revealed by Shell that a new storage facility at Kajjansi was nearing completion. This, they mentioned, would add extra storage capacity at an airfield where consumption of the fuel was substantial and relieve domestic airlines operating from Kajjansi to constantly stop over in Entebbe for refuelling or else having to transport the fuel in drums from the main tanks to the required locations. The aviation fraternity cautiously welcomed the announcement when informed about it but nevertheless remained in a 'wait and see' mode as similar past commitments came and went without results.

However, information received just before going to press confirmed that AVGAS has now been received in Entebbe's main aviation fuel storage tanks and that the new Kajjansi AVGAS fuel facility will be ready for use by April this year, bringing relief to the domestic air operators and private aircraft owners. Full charter services from the Kajjansi airfield's operators have now resumed, just in time for the annual Easter Holiday and seasonal peak demand.

 

CAA TO EXPAND CARGO AREA

As part of the long term development plan for Entebbe International Airport the CAA has now announced a new public-private venture to develop a new cargo centre at the airport and create sufficient new space in warehousing and cold storage to meet the growing requirements for exporters of fresh produce, cut flowers and chilled fish, but also for importers using airfreight. While the CAA will create roads, parking spaces for aircraft and links to existing taxiways, private investors are expected to add more facilities in the now designated areas away from the present cargo terminal, capable of handling some 100.000 tons of cargo per annum. The new buildings will also allow an expansion of the passenger facilities in a few years time, when the recent terminal expansion will have reached its limit again. The cost for the expansion was given at about 25 million US Dollars. It was also revealed during the week before a parliamentary select committee that government institutions owed the CAA some 70 billion shillings in various charges and fees, including rent. This prompted committee members to summon those responsible for not settling their bills to answer before them in due course, as the outstanding amounts could financially cripple the CAA severely.

 

POST ITB RUMBLES CONTINUE

More anger has been expressed by trade fair participants returning from ITB over government's handling of the financial side for the show. ITB this year set new records for attendance and exhibitors, making it without argument the most important and extensive tourism trade show across the world and the greatest opportunity to showcase a country and attract tourists.

As previously mentioned in this column, Uganda's Tourist Board has been notoriously shortfunded and the near disaster in Berlin, when the stand money only arrived after the opening of the show, is the latest mishap in this saga. Stakeholders and show participants now demanded a swift meeting with top officials of the Ministry of Tourism to conduct a 'post mortem' and identify those responsible for the unbearable situation. Some sections of the tourism industry have also vowed not to rest until fundamental change has come to the Ministry and the culprits been reprimanded or worse, including calls for resignations and sackings.

Several very negative press articles also appeared over the past two weeks from journalists who actually witnessed the Ugandan performance in Berlin and compared it with other East African exhibitors, while applauding Rwanda's performance which the same media called ' outstanding' and 'excellent'. No public statement in response however was given by the Minister of Tourism so far to the disappointment of the sector and the general public following the developments. Watch this space.

 

RWENZORI PARKS GETS NEW 'LOOS'

Rwenzori Mountain Services has at last responded to frequent visitors' complaints about the status of the pit latrines along the popular medium and high altitude hiking and climbing trails. In a concerted effort the concessionaire has now put up some 13 new ecofriendly 'Ecosan' compost latrines for use by visitors and their guides, making the trails finally more user friendly, while at the same time protecting the mountain's water sources and environment.

The park is slowly getting more popular again with alpine tourists from Europe and the rest of the world, after a closure in the mid 90's due to rebel activities from the other side of the border in Congo. The border between the two countries runs across the main peaks of the East African mountain range and have some time ago been disputed by Congolese officials against age old standing international agreements. Climbs and treks across the mountains, including the glaciers, are amongst the more difficult ones' due to the constant rainy and foggy weather conditions but are also considered as some of the most rewarding experiences for visiting alpinists.

Next on the list of urgent 'to do' things will be a full rehabilitation of the mountain huts as well as constructing more of them to open up new trails and hikes towards the main peaks as well as provide better comfort along the present routes.

For more information on Uganda's national parks and game reserves visit www.uwa.or.ug or the official Tourist Board website www.visituganda.com. More pertinent information on Uganda can also be found at www.caa.co.ug &endash; the official website of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority.

 

LOADSHEDDING BITES HARD AGAIN

As power generation at the Jinja based Owen Falls and Kiira power stations again reduced to less than 140 MW, compared to an installed capacity of well over 300 MW, power shortages once more grip the country. The outflow of water in Jinja was reduced to comply with long term agreed (or should one say dictated) average water release rates, as is required under the present Nile Treaty. Egypt and the Sudan have a major say on this matter, as the East African countries are bound by the colonial treaties of 1929 and 1959 regarding the use of the Nile waters up to the original contributory rivers and lakes. At the same time diesel shortages and sharp price increases after the Kenya crisis took their toll, causing the reduction of thermal power output. Government too is struggling to find the funds for further subsidies of diesel used in thermal power stations and heavy duty industrial generators in view of the cost having risen beyond expectations.

Equipment for the new heavy fuel oil plants presently under construction was also delayed at the Mombasa port and in transit, as the roads at the time were not safe enough and the companies feared for the equipment &endash; mostly transported on very slow moving extra wide low-loaders &endash; to be vandalised or destroyed.

Hotel operators have already started complaining strongly again over having to use expensive in house generators, while the glut of hotel rooms in Kampala does not allow passing the extra cost on to their customers. The power transmission and distribution companies have gone back to the pre-CHOGM 12 hour load shedding schedules &endash; speak power cuts &endash; and the well known blame game is in full swing again. Meanwhile consumers, small scale industries and big industries again have to tighten their belts as they either have to sit in darkness and halt production or else use expensive generators to stay in business.

Charcoal has in the meantime become scarce and prices for the commodity have also shot up, proving the often vented opinion in this column right that lack of affordable electricity is accelerating deforestation across the country and leading to environmental degradation. Usage of charcoal and wood fuel has over the past two years increased many-fold, especially in the city and urban areas, following years of gradual decline, when electricity prices began to climb.

This happened when thermal energy production was injected to make up for the loss of hydro power generation in Jinja at the beginning of 2006 and once electricity prices had doubled and then some, much of the population began to return to wood based fuels for their kitchens and other domestic uses. Unless therefore hydro generated power and renewable sources of energy are once again taking the forefront, the assault on Uganda's forests is bound to continue and an environmental disaster for coming generations all but assured.

 

TULLOW OIL SIGNS POWER PLANT DEAL

A key step towards restoring full electricity supply for the country was taken this week, when Tullow Oil, one of the main exploration companies working towards crude oil production in the Lake Albert basin, signed a supply deal with Jacobsen Elektro. As a first step Tullow intends to build a mini refinery near their production sites to produce useable oil products. Concurrently an 85 MW heavy fuel oil and gas powered thermal powerplant is to be constructed by Jacobsen Elektro, which is already in the final phase of installing a 50 MW heavy fuel oil plant near Kampala, said to come on line within the next two months. Heavy fuel oil powered plants are cheaper to operate and will help to keep rising cost in check (see previous column item). Tullow also announced that they would invest at least US Dollars 200 million this year alone to advance further drilling and bring to production the already existing wells within their concession area.

This will be welcome news for the Uganda Government, the business community and civil society. Government has been struggling with a multitude of misfortunes in the energy sector over the past years, as supply of electricity has been lagging largely behind present consumption and against forecasts for coming years.

 

KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE DELAYS TARIFF INCREASE

Following the crisis months after the end December elections in Kenya, KWS has now announced that they would defer the planned tariff increases due for July 2008 for 6 months until January 2009, in order to boost the tourism recovery in the country. This was announced by the Executive Director during the official re- opening of the Nakuru National Park airfield, which has been undergoing repairs and upgrades. It was also announced that KWS would advertise additional concession sites in Tsavo National Park (both East and West), the Aberdare's, Amboseli, Nakuru, Mt. Kenya and Nairobi. KWS gave assurances at the function that all parks would have their main airstrips rehabilitated to facilitate more visits by air, avoiding the often notoriously bad roads leading to the parks.

To spur domestic travel in the weeks ahead KWS also announced a waiver of park entrance fees for young Kenyans below 18 years from Easter until April, to make visits more affordable.

Wildlife authorities across the region however still need to implement a joint East African policy, to allow a common entrance rate across all the countries in the region for 'citizens of East Africa' (not just citizens of the respective country itself), registered 'residents' of East Africa and foreign non resident visitors to the parks, to make regional / domestic travel more affordable and therefore more attractive.

 

EASTER BRINGS RELIEF TO COASTAL RESORTS

Although the international tourists are still slow to return to Kenya's Indian Ocean beaches, Kenyans and visitors from the region have boosted hotel occupancies for the Easter season. Flights to Mombasa show marked signs of higher occupancies ahead of the holidays and some hotels and resorts along the coast are in fact fully booked for the long Easter weekend and the week afterwards. Once again, domestic tourism has come to the rescue of the industry in times of need and visitors numbers include between 80 to 90 percent of 'locals' in many of the hotels surveyed. Starting from the week after Easter very special offers are now also on the market with huge tariff reductions, giving the best value in years to visitors. In the process a good number of staff previously laid off or sent on leave have been recalled on duty, which is good news too. Kenya is once again ready and waiting to provide hospitality for tourists from far and near.

 

QATAR AIRWAYS OFFERS MORE DESTINATIONS

The daily flights of Qatar Airways between Nairobi to Doha now offer a wider choice of connections, with three destinations to China on offer and Houston coming on line soon. Travellers from around Eastern Africa can use their choice regional connections on Kenya Airways, Fly 540, Air Tanzania and Rwandair Express to link up with the carrier at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Qatar Airways presently offers over 80 destinations already for Nairobi passengers connecting in Doha.

The Gulf based airline has about 140 planes (80 Airbus and 60 Boeings) on order and expects from July 2008 onwards delivery of at least one new aircraft per month to meet its ambitious expansion drive towards more destinations and greater frequencies. This development will then match the launch of the new Doha International Airport, presently under construction.

 

KENYA VIOLENCE 'METICULOUSLY PLANNED'

A recently published report, compiled by the New York based Human Rights Watch, speaks of well planned post election violence against President Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, once presidential election results did not go the opposition's way. This previously often mentioned, and equally often harshly criticised notion in this column now stands on solid grounds, with HRW's credible findings made public.

The Kenya Police was also severely criticised over the use of 'excessive force' against demonstrators, but this too can now be seen in a different light in hindsight, having had to deal with clearly organized mobs with a deadly agenda.

The report also speaks of planned counter reaction by Kikuyu tribesmen after the initial onslaught against them, mainly in Western Kenya and the Rift Valley, which however seems to have taken some time to set up, while the opposition sponsored violence was 'instant'.

Hard work will be needed therefore to reconcile the opposing sides, not just in parliament but across the country and Kenya deserves some special Easter prayers towards that end.

 

KENYAN PARLIAMENT AIDS RECOVERY AND RECONCILIATION

Following the political agreement, brokered by former UN supremo Kofi Annan &endash; assisted by eminent personalities from across Africa and the world &endash; in Nairobi last month, Kenya's parliament has now in record time passed a constitutional amendment to pave the way for the formal introduction of the office of Prime Minister and for two deputies. This was a core issue agreed upon by the political rival parties as part of their reconciliation. President Mwai Kibaki become also a history maker by being the first sitting Kenyan President to vote in parliament when the constitutional changes were put before the house, a sign of his personal commitment to make the deal work. The President however also left no doubt of his government's intent to unearth and prosecute all those involved in the mass violence inflicted upon the Kenyan population after elections results had been published, irrespective of which political side they belong to or who they individually are. (See previous column item about the Human Rights Watch report released during the week).

The Kenyan Ministry of Tourism Permanent Secretary Mrs. Rebecca Nabutola in the meantime decried the slow pace of lifting anti travel advisories against Kenya and noted that recovery even from those countries which lifted their warnings bye and large so far was still slow. She expressed her hope that by the start of the 2008/9 high season in late 2008 however international arrival numbers would have returned to the pre-election levels, an aspiration which has our all blessings.

 

CONGO'S WILDLIFE WOES CONTINUE

A senior gamekeeper turned apparent poacher was recently arrested in Goma / Eastern Congo and stands accused of having been involved in the slaughter last year of a group of habituated mountain gorillas. Some other staff of the Virunga National Park are also said to be under arrest. Sycophantic NGO's seeking the sympathy of the regime in Kinshasa promptly showered praise on the rogues for their 'decisive action', saying authorities have 'regained control' of the park. Reality in Congo however is that any type of authority is erratic at best, corruption is endemic and that this arrest may only be a scapegoat to cover up the colossal failures wildlife conservation in Congo has suffered of over the past, both recent and more distant. It should also be recalled that the same quarters some time last year accused the Tutsi self protection forces of General Nkunda for being responsible for the killing of the prized animals in th

UGANDA CIVIL AVIATION ANNOUNCES LICENSING HEARING

The Licensing Committee of the Civil Aviation Authority has just set April 10th for the next hearing of applications for air service licenses. At least 12 companies have applied for new licenses or a renewal of their existing licenses. These applications are for non-scheduled and scheduled passenger and cargo services cum aerial spraying and medical evacuation services / air ambulance operations.

Venue for the public hearing is the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala at 11 a.m. on the day. Members of the public as well as media representatives are welcome to attend the proceedings.

In the meantime, outgoing Managing Director of the UCAA, Mr. Ambrose Akandonda, has revealed the traffic figures for 2007, standing now at over 720.000 passengers, again a substantial improvement over the preceding year and largely attributed to the increase in international flights by such carriers as Brussels Airlines, KLM and South African Airlines and the going daily by Ethiopian Airlines.

 

FLY540 TO ESTABLISH UGANDAN OPERATION

Kenyan LCC Fly540 has been put on the top of the hearing schedule for the next CAA licensing meeting, giving the clearest indication yet that they intend to establish a locally incorporated Ugandan airline under the same name. This serves notice to other airlines in Uganda that competition is about to descend on them like the proverbial 'ton of bricks' and will undoubtedly compel several of them to either improve their service levels or face hard times. Operating cost effective modern ATR's, the Kenyan low cost carrier is expected to do financially well in Uganda, where high fares were perpetuated by the most recent upstart Air Uganda, instead of bringing fare levels down to more affordable levels as initially hoped for and making air travel available to larger sections of society.

Fly540 is also expected to establish other regional footholds, before the regulatory environment in Eastern Africa will eventually be harmonized and country specific air operations become once again subordinate to a joint East African aviation regulator.

In the meantime however Fly540 is intent to obtain a Ugandan ASL (air services licence) and an AOC (air operator's certificate) and will then base dedicated ATR aircraft at Entebbe International Airport. A similar development is anticipated for Tanzania too in due course. Lonrho Africa is the main shareholder in the Kenyan company but is also expected to be instrumental in the new companies now emerging across several, probably as many as eight Eastern, Southern and Western African countries, where Lonrho has substantial economic interests. Watch this space.

 

PILOT TRAINING PARTIALLY RESUMES

The Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre in Kajjansi has now resumed limited training flights for aspiring pilots after managing to import some AVGAS via Mwanza / Tanzania. The main suppliers for aviation fuel in Uganda, Shell and Total, have however failed to restock this crucially important fuel type, which is used in most light, single and twin engined, aircraft presently used for 'safari flying' and other charters across the country and into the region. Sources from within the aviation fraternity speak of a 2 months supply gap for AVGAS by Shell, and while fresh deliveries have apparently reached Nairobi's Wilson Airport and other Kenyan airfields, the Entebbe depot for AVGAS is reportedly still empty. Aviation fuel company contacts confirmed that a delivery is now only expected in the second half of March, which is totally unsatisfactory for the air operators. KAFTC is the only licensed training private training facility of its kind in Uganda at present. The other training school is the publicly owned East African Aviation Academy in Soroti / Eastern Uganda. That school however is presently short of aircraft, until newly ordered training equipment is delivered, and has reportedly also been short of fuel, caused by the Kenyan crises in January and February as well as lack of sufficient funds to pay for the sharply increased prices.

No confirmation could be obtained from government sources about the main national fuel storage facility in Jinja keeping AVGAS stocks for emergencies, which could be released to air operators in times of need.

In fact press reports about the status of the national fuel reserves in Jinja, as published in the local media this week after a visit of the parliamentary sessional committee on energy, speak of 'empty tanks' as far as government reserves were concerned and that private companies were owning the present stocks. During the visit it was also discovered, that most of the about 40 fuel companies in Uganda, especially the smaller ones' apparently have no significant storage facilities of their own at all, depending entirely on the national reserves for supplies during crisis times. Watch this space for emerging news.

USE OF NEW AIRPORT FACILITIES CAUSES CONCERNED DEBATE

The newly build and refurbished facilities at the 'old' airport in Entebbe are now subject to some considerable wrangling behind the scenes over the use of the dedicated 'domestic departure' lounge and the entire area. Sources within CAA have quietly confirmed that there is a possibility to turn this area in to a specific VVIP terminal, which however would cause the CAA further expenditure, and loss of rent and advertising revenue for the time being, if a new domestic terminal would need to be constructed. Other sources however played down the question and pointed out that at this stage no decision had been made and a panel of experts was presently still looking into the matter. Recommendations would be expected in due course and the aviation fraternity is holding their breath until then. Watch this space for further developments on this emerging saga.

 

ITB SAGA ANGERS PRIVATE SECTOR

The failure by government to avail sufficient funding for the just concluded ITB participation of the Uganda Tourist Board and the country's private sector to put up a shining stand in Berlin has angered the private sector stakeholders to no end. An article in the Daily Monitor of today expressed the sentiments of participants fed up with the situation. Several efforts were made prior to the trade fair to convince government to release funds, and while top level intervention secured the stand rental cost, this was clearly not enough to perform as anticipated and expected. Said one participant in clearly a foul mood over his experience: '..this has to stop. We have embarrassed ourselves. For how long can we allow bureaucrats to mismanage these affairs? They have sabotaged our efforts to promote tourism efficiently. We will ask for those responsible to be sacked for messing with our country's good name abroad. There was a lot of interest in East Africa and Uganda and we have been let down, the country has been let down. How can we fill all these new hotel rooms and conference facilities which were built for CHOGM last year if we do not promote them strongly?'

Find the Monitor article by Joseph Olanyo through the following link:

http://www.monitor.co.ug/artman/publish/business/Uganda_fails_to_shine_at_Berlin_tourism_fair.shtml

 

UPCOMING GRADING WORRIES HOTEL PRETENDERS

Would be 'hoteliers', often people who found the money to get into the sector but lack qualifications to run hospitality establishments (and in addition often employ unqualified labour), are getting increasingly worried about the implications of the recently passed tourism bill. The new law is set to shift licensing, monitoring and enforcement from the Ministry of Tourism to a reconstituted Uganda Tourism Board, a new function besides the generic marketing of the country.

Under the auspices of the East African Community a catalogue of criteria for grading and classification, declared by the EAC as binding for member states, was developed in past years but implementation has been lacking. Although ahead of the Commonwealth Summit in 2007 some classification and a short-lived effort to impose grading on participating hotels were started, the full exercise is only going underway once the tourism bill enters the implementation phase.

Sections of the hotel owners have long been accused to exploit the absence of enforcement in the sector to award themselves utopia star ratings, which do not at all reflect the reality on the ground. Hence, several such hotels and lodges in Kampala and across the country mislead potential customers with words like 'luxurious' without understanding what it takes to actually create such an environment for guests.

Uganda's neighbours Kenya and Tanzania are more advanced in setting and controlling standards for hotels, resorts and safari lodges and Uganda will now have to catch up with them, in order to eventually offer matching descriptions and standards under the commonly accepted regional star rating. However, the present glut of hotel rooms in Kampala has already led to a general rate reduction across the board, offering customers now more value for money, besides more choices of where to stay.

ON OFF ON OFF &endash; YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE

Construction at the so called 'Hilton Kampala' construction site has apparently resumed, after the promoters reportedly secured another loan of US Dollars 20 million from a Southern African finance company. The notorious 'Aya' brothers promptly resumed their full mouthed statements, which had hitherto made them into a laughing stock amongst the hospitality fraternity with their often grotesque assurances, to have the hotel ready for last year's Commonwealth Summit. Far from being ready the construction had been halted several times in the past for more than just financial reasons, when architects, contractors and consultancy teams pulled out of the project. Completion cost, initially estimated at 90 million US Dollars, are now said to have risen to as much as 120 million US Dollars due to sharply increased energy costs but also heavy price increases for building steel and cement, amongst other construction items.

In a related development no one is holding any breath during March 2008, which several government officials had set for Kingdom Hotels commencing construction of their hotel project at the former Shimoni Primary School. The educational institution was hastily moved to another &endash; at the time incomplete and todate still too small site, to allow for demolition of the premises some 2 years ago. Inspite of the undue haste at the time Kingdom Hotels failed to make any headway so far. The company is however spending quite heavily in Kenya on a full rehabilitation of the former Lonrho Hotels properties, which they acquired a few years ago. They are also said to be interested in the Tanzanian market, but market confidence in Uganda will be measured on making progress in Kampala too. Watch this space.

MOBILE MAST CONTROVERSY INTENSIFIES

Following the launch of the 4th mobile operator in the country public complaints arose over the placement of Warid Telecom masts inside heavily populated residential areas, in some cases right next to houses. Media scrutiny subsequently unearthed the reality of mast installations, most of which were not approved and sanctioned by NEMA. This led to a further public outcry for action, prompting the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to issue full page statements in the local print media, trying to defend the present situation and offering a consultative exercise to determine the safety and suitability of both masts and their electronic equipment as well as of locations chosen by the operators. Government also promised to develop and issue guidelines for mast placements in due course.

This announcement followed a swiftly arranged hearing conducted by the ICT parliamentary committee, trying to ascertain the health risks to the public by unapproved masts. All four telecoms providers in the country appear to have a substantial shortfall of approvals between the masts put up across the country and those sanctioned by NEMA. Warid alone claims to have put up some 400 masts prior to going operational but apparently less than 10 percent of those have been approved by NEMA. Existing companies too apparently have a low mast / approval ratio, although it has been confirmed that masts erected inside protected areas (national parks, game and forest reserves) have undergone the full process of NEMA's regulations and approval processes, where agreed mitigation measures had to be implemented by the applicant companies.

UGANDA TELECOM INTRODUCES 3G STANDARDS

The latest innovation in telecommunications was launched last week by Uganda Telecom, when it inaugurated its 3G network, the first of its kind in Uganda and Eastern Africa. Visitors to the country can at a very nominal cost acquire a local SIM card from UTL outlets or dealers, preload call credit and then are able to make video calls from suitable mobile handsets or receive television broadcasts from local stations. UTL is also offering Blackberry services for visitors from abroad using this facility in their home country. Latest entrant Warid Telecom however is still only offering conventional mobile call options, without even GPRS/EDGE or CDMA connections, leave alone the other high tech offers presently available from UTL, Celtel or MTN. Subsequently their market penetration is still low and the soon expected start of a 5th operator &endash; HITS Telecom &endash; is now thought to be only successful if launched immediately with a full product range instead of going piece meal like Warid. Warid has also been singled out for allegedly causing phone malfunctions through their use of a extra capacity 64 KB SIM cards, which seems to be too much for many of the commonly used phones in Uganda, overall not a good start for the newcomer. Consumers however presently have the last laugh as the cost for hand sets and for call rates have come down on a broad basis and more cuts and special offers are expected to flood the market just before HITS 'hits' the market.

UGANDA GOLF CLUB TURNS 100

The Uganda Golf Club, located in the very heart of Kampala, where it owns and operates the city's premier 18 hole golf course, just celebrated its centenary, having been launched in 1908. Along with the celebrations went substantial improvements to the course, the club house and the entire infrastructure. The course forms part of the 'green lung' of the capital city and is open for temporary membership of visiting golfers, with several hotels offering this facility to their guests, who then only have to pay, often reduced' green fees. Caddies are readily available for 'guest golfers' at the club house.

NAIL ON THE HEAD

The publisher of East Africa's premier travel and leisure magazine, TN &endash; Travel~Leisure~Life has in his monthly column 'Miscellaneous Ramblings' hit the nail on the head, when talking about the tourism recovery in Kenya. GO DOMESTIC! Many resorts, hotels and lodges took a while to rediscover the domestic market in this time of need (SOME IN FACT ARE STILL PONDERING) for which they normally only make special deals available during the annual off season, lasting from after Easter until the end of June (lodges) and up to middle or end July for some of the beach destinations.

With overseas traffic of tourists still down to a fraction of the pre-election usual, at least some tourism businesses have responded to the challenge and made special offers available to Kenyans and in fact East Africans. Yet, as mentioned before, East African governments &endash; and in particular the one most in need to revive tourism = Kenya &endash; ought to swiftly scrap Visa requirement for expatriates duly registered and living in one of the other East African countries to remove the Visa cost burden from a holiday within the region, rather than having this market segment fly off to the Gulf or Southern Africa, where NO Visa fees are due to them. Other than that, there are excellent packages on the market already between now and Easter and more so for the traditional low season. In fact, an insert in the latest TN edition from Cheli and Peacock (visit www.chelipeacock.com) is absolutely 'mouth-watering' and those in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi who are not taking advantage to following the footsteps of the rich and famous &endash; while those are still hesitating to return to Kenya &endash; may miss a chance which may never come back again. Travelling to Kenya now is also a way of supporting a good neighbour and helping the tourism industry recover, something we in Eastern Africa will all benefit from in coming months and years. And with Fly540 now operating from Entebbe to Nairobi and on to Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa or even the Masai Mara at low affordable fares, there should be no stopping the Ugandan expat community to show that extra bit of solidarity &endash; and saving big time in the process.

NAIROBI HILTON POSTPONES REFURBISHMENT

Owing to the drop in occupancies over the past two months to an average of below 25 percent, the Nairobi Hilton has for the time being postponed the planned refurbishment and modernization. The city centre 5 star business hotel, which offers over 250 suites and rooms, has suffered along with the rest of Kenya's tourism sector, as it depends greatly on conference and business visitors, as well as tourist groups, most of which deserted the country over the political violence.

It is however understood, that the hotel has used the lesser occupancies and started with some 'soft' work on the floors presently closed. It was pointed out that the main refurbishment and upgrading exercise will only now commence, once a clearer picture emerges on the strength and speed of Kenya's tourism recovery.

CONGO GORILLAS UNDER CONTINUED THREAT

Congo's abominable record of wildlife conservation and protection has taken another hit when news emerged that the Kinshasa regime has failed to assert any control over the national park along the Rwanda and Uganda borders, where the prized mountain gorillas can be found. While the three wildlife management bodies of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have signed agreements towards joint efforts to protect the animals, and the governments of Rwanda and Uganda have shown serious commitment towards this end, the Congo regime again seems intransigent about the situation at the Virunga National Park, where last year a number of the animals ended up dead. The game rangers at the time fled from marauding soldiers and Hutu militias terrorising the area, which at the time cause wide spread population displacements. Predictably the Kinshasa mouthpieces have blamed Tutsi dominated protection forces, which were formed to prevent yet another Hutu perpetrated genocide against their ethnic group, a convenient and regular excuse for all the regime's ills in Eastern Congo. However, with heavy UN forces present in the area and recent truce agreements between most of the militias and the regime, there should be no further excuses for again sitting on their hands.

The most notorious case of aiding and abetting wildlife extermination in Congo was found in Garamba National Park, where the Kinshasa regime tolerated &endash; some even say openly supported &endash; Ugandan rebel groups to pitch camp and in the process poach into extinction the remaining wild Northern White Rhino population, alongside dozens of killed elephants and other species of wildlife.

 

RWANDA'S ORTPN RETAINS TOP RATING AT ITB

The Rwanda office for tourism and national parks once again scored highly at the just concluded ITB, when they retained the top spot for African exhibitors. Congratulations to Rosette Rugamba and her entire team for this wonderful achievement in putting Rwanda firmly back on the map of tourism destinations in Eastern Africa. Well Done!

 

RWANDA &endash; TANZANIA RAILWAY 'ON TRACK'

Further progress has now been reported for the intended railway link between Kigali and the Tanzanian inland dry port of Isaka. The line, to be constructed over the next few years, will be of 'standard' or otherwise called 'international' gauge of 1.435 mtrs width, compared to the hitherto common 1 mtr gauge narrow line, which is found all over Eastern Africa. Rwanda is said to be very keen on developing this alternative supply and export route to and from Dar es Salaam port by rail, which would substantially lower the road transportation cost for fuel and other goods for the country, but also make exports through Dar es Salaam's port cheaper. The Isaka station will become the interchange platform where containers and other goods will be transferred from the narrow gauge line coming from Dar to the standard gauge line moving into Rwanda. It could not be confirmed if a railway extension into Burundi is presently planned or indeed viable for development.

 

RWANDA CAA COMMITS TO SITA

Kigali's international airport will soon see the installation of Sita's air traffic information system and air-ground data link 'Digital ATIS'. The introduction of the new technology for Rwanda's main international airport is a result of ICAO's ongoing commitment to improve aviation safety in Africa. The new system is reportedly reducing reliance on voice transmissions and installation is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

 

 

And this week once again quite some more tourism news from Gill Staden in Livingstone / Zambia about the trials and tribulations of the tourism sector there. Contact Gill at <livingstonian@zamnet.zm> for direct inclusion in her weekly newsletter

 

 

Victoria Falls Boma, the place of eating

During the week I was invited for dinner at the Victoria Falls Boma.  Because it is so difficult to take one's car across the border these days I opted for the taxi route.  It was not painful at all.  I drove to Sun and parked my car; walked to the border; caught a taxi across the bridge (K10,000), then took a taxi to Victoria Falls Safari Lodge (US$10) ... easy stuff ... and some good coversation on route with taxi drivers too ...

 

I had arrived around 4pm so we spent an hour or so looking at a new development in Victoria Falls ... yes, the Zimbos are all thinking that now is the time to develop in Victoria Falls.  Zimbos know that we, in Livingstone, cannot compete with their tourist facilities in Zimbabwe and that when Zim comes right, they must be ready to make the most of their advantages.  The fact that Zambia has already shot themselves in the foot with the new tourist visas is an added impetus for them to make the most of things.  The site we looked at was for a new hotel ... yes, a new hotel ...

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, already has at least four times the accommodation that we have in Livingstone, but they can, all being well, fill their hotels, whereas we cannot.  Why????  Maybe it has something to do with costs??? 

 

Anyway, let me tell you about the Boma.  It is akin to Ngoma Zanga but on a larger scale.  It is a huge thatched structure, open at one side, with loads of local artefacts.  It is almost like a traditional village scene.  We were welcomed by a drink of chibuku ... I say no more, except that chibuku is an acquired taste ...  and when someone started mentioning vomit I gave up on my attempt to be polite ...  Really, though, it is not that bad ...

 

After the starters we went to the servery to select food from such an array of beautifully prepared local (or western) dishes.  I think I ate eland, warthog, ... and loads of traditionally prepared vegetables.  Really, there was so much to chose from that I was totally spoilt for choice.  There were even mopani worms - anyone who eats one gets a certificate ...  Having eaten mopani worms before at Songwe Village and not being in need of a certificate, I declined the invitation to eat one.

 

During the meal we were entertained by some troupes of entertainers.  The first group was OK but was nothing to write home about.  The second group, though, was a group of drummers.  They were first rate.  I could have listened to them for hours.  All the diners were given a drum so that they could join in ... I did try, but found that I have absolutely no talent in the drumming department, so gave up.

 

The Boma in Victoria Falls was started as an experiment on a very small scale.  But, because of its popularity, has become part of the African experience in Victoria Falls.  I suppose there were about 100 people there that night and they said that it was a quiet night! 

 

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

I stayed the night at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.  This is a beautiful hotel set on a ridge overlooking the National Park and the Zambezi.  The hotel faces the sunset and that evening we had watched, along with loads of other guests, the sun as it dipped below the hills in the distance, the sky steaking with reds and oranges.  A stunning sight. 

Below, in the valley, there is a waterhole.  While eating breakfast in the morning a herd of impala, accompanied by some kudu, came down to drink.  As we were eating, a red-winged starling sat on the balcony looking for food - it was treated to a knob of butter ...  The breakfast was definitely 5-star and the service was excellent. 

Next time I go there I will, hopefully, have my camera and will take some photos.

 

From Kafue National Park

ZAWA has re-categorised the Kafue Park from a B park to an A park meaning the bed night levies went up 150% overnight! People at Mayukwayukwa, Two-Fig [Mukambi's new bushcamp], Hippo Lodge, McBrides Camp and Wilderness are complaining bitterly as they are located in the park and have not calculated the new fees into their rates for this season. Plus the border entry visa fees have been doubled and the visa waivers scrapped so Zambia has yet again outdone themselves in welcoming tourists to the country!!

 

Tour Operators continue the fight for a change in the new visa fees 

Correspondence is flying around Zambia as the tour operators get an argument together to present to Government to fight the new visa fees which have resulted in a huge loss of business in the budget market. Here are some of the comments …

We have received the questionnaires and also passed them on to a lot of our agents to return direct.

We sincerely hope that for the sake of Tourism in Livingstone the fees are going to be brought down for everyone and not just for the Brits and Americans.

A lot of operators in Livingstone already say that a visa fee of USD 50-00 for everybody would be acceptable. These operators mainly work with the top-end of the market and a visa fee of USD 50-00 will not make any difference to their holiday and these clients will come anyway.

We should however be looking at the bigger picture and think for Livingstone and Zambia as a destination and not just everyone's own operation. Livingstone region is bordering three countries of which two do not have any visa fees for the majority of the visitors. The only reason that Livingstone has been doing reasonably well is because the majority of visitors to Livingstone come for The Victoria Falls. They do have the option between Zimbabwe and Zambia and because of the political situation in Zimbabwe we now have the majority of the market.

Costs of nearly all commodities as well as fuel in Zambia are approx double of the costs in Namibia and +40% of costs in Botswana, which makes our overheads also nearly double. Zimbabwe, we cannot really compare with because they, at the moment, have to get most of the commodities they need to run an efficient Tourism enterprise, from their neighbouring countries, which they quite successfully do.

Livingstone and most of the local smaller businesses in Livingstone have done very well with the budget market and mainly because of the visa waiver. The budget traveller stays in local guest houses, backpacker places, use local taxi's, shops and restaurants and over the last couple of years these small businesses started thriving. The budget market we will lose, without any doubt, to Zimbabwe, because even a USD 20-00 or more difference for a visa, that Zambia now is more expensive, will make the budget traveller swing the other way. Therefore the Zambian visa fee should stay below the Zimbabwe visa fee which is USD 30-00 for most nationalities.

Also Livingstone airport is the Gateway to Botswana's Chobe National Park and no doubt National Airports can give you the exact figures for transit passengers to and from Botswana. I fear that Botswana visitors will start using Victoria Falls Airport once again if the transit visa is not cheaper than the Zimbabwe transit visa. This will be a great loss for National Airports Livingstone.

 

The day tripper!!!! Of USD 10-00 for visitors to Livingstone coming for sight seeing and leaving within 24 hours is not implemented any longer.

If you look at the government immigration website, you will see that all the new visa fees have been listed and the day tripper visa for USD 10-00 according to this website is still in place. Immigration Livingstone does not seem to know about this and charges our day visitors for the full visa fee. Many tourists coming for a helicopter flight, micro light flight or any other activity that Livingstone has to offer, or to visit Livingstone Town and the Falls, now turn back because of the hefty visa fees.

The Livingstone Tourism Sector at the time has fought long and hard to introduce this day visa, with a lot of documentation to proof the success for this visa.

Now by the looks of it, we have lost this as well.

 

What I also do not understand is, how these fees from one minute to the next can be changed and implemented before it having gone through parliament. Surely this is against the law!!!

 

* * * * *

 

In a nutshell our argument is based upon the fact the majority of tourists visiting Zambia before the 'fee waiver' was abolished were paying Zero for their visa's.  They are now paying anything up to $150 which will have a negative impact on tourism which is substantiated in the report.  The Govt needs to consider a fee that is competitive based upon the region, Botswana '$0', Namibia '$0', Zimbabwe '$30' and South Africa '$0' and the re-introduction of the day visa so that competively priced activity providers in Zambia can benefit from the Zimbabwe and Botswana markets which has since ceased due to the abolishment of the day visa. 

 

From the Museum Newsletter

Photographic Survey of Wild flowers of Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is one of the world heritage sites endowed with natural beauty. Within its perimeter, there is a diversity of wild flowers. For many years now, there has not been any book photographically documenting the wild flowers of the Victoria Falls area. The last known piece of literature on flora of the Victoria Falls was by D B Fanshawe in 1975. Helen Pickering from Kew gardens in England, and Freddie Sayi Siangulube of the Livingstone Museum have undertaken a project aimed at documenting the wild flowers. The anticipated book will be useful for both casual visitors and amateur botanists interested in the flowers of the Falls area. For more information, contact Helen Pickering (helen@hpickering.com

EMIRATES OFFER UGANDANS A380 CONNECTIONS TO BIG APPLE

Starting in October this year, the daily Emirates flight out of Entebbe to Dubai will allow Ugandan travellers a first chance to fly the fabulous giant aircraft A380 onwards to New York, soon after to be followed by London and Sydney in December 2008 and February 2009 respectively.

Emirates, the award winning airline from the Dubai / United Arab Emirates, has set many first's for Uganda, since it began daily direct flights between the two countries. Presently travellers can make a brief, or longer if so wanted, stop-over in Dubai before choosing one of now three daily connections between Dubai and New York, currently operated on the B777. However, from end of 2008 onwards at least one of these daily flights will be operated with the double-decker A380, bringing a new dimension to air travel between East Africa and the rest of the world, as long as travellers connect via Dubai. The first airline to receive the new plane was Singapore Airlines, but they are not easily accessible for East African travellers. SIA has however been repeatedly mentioned to be looking at flights between East Africa and Singapore, although no concrete dates have ever been announced. Most recent events in Kenya were also not helpful to attract additional airlines to the route but this is due to change once the tourism and economic recovery has gone underway. Watch this space for breaking airline news from Eastern Africa.

GIVE CHOGM ADVANCES BACK SAYS GOVERNMENT

Uganda's hotel sector has woken up to a stark reality when government sources gave notice to recover at least some 4.1 billion Uganda Shillings (about US Dollars 2.35 million) paid to them as advances for confirmed accommodation of delegates during the Commonwealth Summit last November. Apparently all transactions, where delegations had paid directly, are being audited and scrutinized to ensure that unused and unallocated advance payments are being returned by the hotels.

The Serena Hotel, according to government sources and related press reports, was singled out for a refund of 1.4 billion Uganda Shillings in building advances to prepare the meeting room for the Executive Committee session of the Commonwealth and a further 327 million Uganda Shillings for accommodation advances, while its towering neighbour Imperial Royale Hotel is reportedly due to repay a staggering amount of 2.7 billion Shillings for unused accommodation, when due to the state of readiness of the hotel at the time of the summit start only a few rooms were occupied. Other hotels in Kampala and Entebbe, which housed delegations and the press teams, are also mentioned in the lists now made public, but with lesser amounts claimed from them.

The parliamentary watchdog 'public accounts committee' is also chasing the whereabouts of some 2.2 billion funds advanced to the J&M Airport Hotel &endash; which was due to become the Protea Entebbe Hotel until the South African hotel management company pulled out of the deal last year when they finally recognised too that they were engaged with a cuckoo land project &endash; for which government has yet to demonstrate if any guests at all stayed at the then building site (still not completed as of now). The owners of the 'hotel' are in any case in deep financial trouble as a leading commercial bank has started foreclosure procedures and taken possession of several of their Kampala properties given as loan security, including a major shopping mall, should loans to the crumbling business empire not be repaid by end of March. Watch this space.

PUBLIC AND AGENTS COMPLAIN ABOUT PRICE ADVERTISING

While the rules on price advertising for consumer goods are relatively clear, in that all charges have to be included in the prices publicly advertised, some hotel owners conveniently forget this and add in hard to see little asterix lines 'plus VAT and service charge', causing at time embarrassing moments for clients, when they are presented with a bill unexpectedly higher by 18 percent VAT and 5 percent SVC than budgeted for. The Ugandan consumer watchdog has hitherto kept rather quiet on such misleading practises but more and more complaints from the public are bound to change this.

Airlines too have been criticised for publishing fares without clear mention of the regulatory charges to be added for airport taxes and security fees, which completely distorts the final billing for a ticket. This has reportedly resulted in complaints at agent's offices, when disappointed clients vented their anger over the extra charges after feeling duped and misled by adverts and commercials.

While in Europe the EC has taken harsh measures against offenders, this seems still a long way off here in Eastern Africa but the pressure is said to be building. In fact, exposing the regulatory charges will put the pressure and spotlight equally on the regulators to begin reducing these costs for domestic, regional and international flights to make flying more affordable.

Hence, in particular airlines should review their advertising practises and clearly mention what the asterixed 'conditions apply' financially involve, unless they want to stand accused of misleading the consumers on a broad and deliberate basis. Some sections of the civil society have also taken exception to airlines' statements, calling recently acquired aircraft 'new', withholding and muddling information about aircraft age and by doing so misleading the general public. Increased competition however is likely to sort out the black sheep in the industry to the benefit of travellers.

 

ITB PARTICIPATION &endash; TOUCH AND GO FOR UGANDA

The release of funds for the Uganda Tourist Board to pay for travel and stand cost of this week's ITB in Berlin took top level intervention and directives to make it happen, after the government bureaucracy had broadly failed to avail the funds to UTB, as it would rightfully be expected of them. Some stakeholders in the tourism industry, clearly at the end of their tether, spoke openly of their disgust with this situation and accused unnamed officials of trying to sabotage their efforts to promote the country, clearly inferring to an opposition sponsored destabilisation activity and fifth column within government aimed to embarrass the country and its tourism sector. This could not be independently verified in the short space of time but similar incidents were alleged before and were found to be of some substance and credibility.

Other angry stakeholders however called this correspondent and accused the Minister of Tourism, Trade and Industry for being as they phrased it 'detached', 'uninformed', 'never available' and 'not fighting for the tourism industry', before demanding a new minister of Hon Migereko's calibre (immediate previous Minister of Tourism and now excelling at the Energy portfolio) to be appointed in the next cabinet reshuffle, which is expected soon. Watch this space to see if anything comes out of this and what lessons can be drawn from this heart rending experience. Yet, all is well that ends well and I hope the Ugandan delegation has a successful time in my old country promoting my adopted home.

LOADSHEDDING ON THE INCREASE &endash; AGAIN

The rising global energy prices, combined with the shortages of diesel caused by the Kenya crisis over the past two months, has now led to a significant reduction of power generated by thermal plants. This has promptly increased the load-shedding across the country. Power companies were quick to blame the denial of a tariff increase on this situation, leading to less production to minimise their extra cost for diesel, which were not budgeted for and where anticipated price increases exceeded the projections by far. The business community and civil society have already made urgent representations to government to set aside more funds to subsidize diesel importation as well as accelerate any projects for hydroelectric power across the country. This applies in particular to the planned power station at Karuma Falls, but also smaller plants at suitable locations feeding into both national and stand-alone grids. Eastern and also Southern Africa have been hit by persistent power shortages, largely blamed on the failure of the respective governments to plan ahead in good time for increased consumption.

In a parallel development it was also reported that the cost of charcoal has risen too, contributing to climbing inflation, but more importantly causing increased environmental degradation and deforestation, which in years to come may inflict a heavy price on the developing countries of Africa. The Ugandan government has recently pledged to build additional fuel storage facilities catering for another 150 million litres of various fuels in 4 strategic locations across the country to be better prepared in coming years for any potential disruption in fuel supplies, until Uganda's own domestic crude oil reserves can come on line late this decade. Peak demand in Uganda is estimated to now stand near 400 MW with the combined hydro production and reduced thermal production now only catering for about half of this demand.

PEACE DEAL DONE &endash; TIME TO RETURN TO KENYA

As the Kofi Annan brokered peace deal was signed on Thursday last week between the Kenya Government led by President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Odinga, jubilations broke out across the Eastern African nation's population. Neighbouring countries too breathed a sigh of relief over the deal, which will result in Odinga claim a newly created Prime Minister's position, however thought to be subordinate to the President, who will retain substantial powers of his own.

President Kikwete of Tanzania, his predecessor Mkapa and other dignitaries witnessed the signing of the deal, which was initiated by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in a marathon series of closed door negotiations, often thought at the brink of collapse but finally succeeding due to the personal influence and creativity of the diplomatic supremo.

With the deal done, it is now time &endash; just as the world's biggest tourism fair ITB is underway&endash; to throw anti travel advisories into the trash cans, restore charter flights to Mombasa and return to 'business as usual' &endash; as it was before the end December elections. Kenya and her people have suffered enough from the opposition goons loosened upon them, when the results did not go Odinga's way at the polls, and as a result tens of thousands of people lost their jobs, not only in the tourism industry but across the entire economy, plus a thousand or so innocent Kenyans who lost their lives.

Bringing tourists back to Kenya, and the wider region, is now a paramount obligation to all of Kenya's friends near and far, so that people recently laid off can return to work and begin restoring order in their personal lives once again.

The forthcoming Karibu Travel and Tourism trade show, the Leon Sullivan Africa Summit and the ATA &endash; Africa Travel Association annual convention in Arusha should therefore also focus in rapidly increasing tourist arrivals to Kenya, as this will benefit the entire region, where drops in occupancy during the current high season were also witnessed.

Kenya's tourism sector is gearing up towards the challenge to put the past two months behind them and look ahead in rebuilding tourism businesses. One of the strongest delegations ever assembled is now hitting the road towards ITB to see clients before, during and after the world's biggest tourism trade show to reassure them all that 'hakuna matata' has indeed returned to Kenya. All the best to them in their endeavours and success galore along the way.

TIME TO TAKE A LOOK

With the sad events in Kenya now hopefully over and never to be repeated again following a landmark political power sharing deal between the leading parties, it is probably the right time for at least some Kenyan tourism business leaders to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves some pertinent questions. Prior to the political crisis, up to December 2007, nothing seemed to go wrong for them and the figures for the past years constantly went in one direction only, upwards. This however also led to some complacency concerning product quality and innovations as well as at times almost personal arrogance, when dealing with legitimate issues raised with them from a 'high horse' position. The sharp reminders over the past two months should be taken to heart by those concerned to revise their positions. Instead of allocating and distributing accommodation in 'hot properties' and seats in eternally full aircraft they will now have to start 'hard sell' once again to fill those rooms and seats, and a little humility will come in handy when dealing with clients, who up to December got more than a little stick. Scorn, contempt and attitude are no acceptable tools when dealing with a client and the past two months have hopefully taught that lessen too. Just as the estranged and politically divided communities in Kenya now need to rebuild trust and confidence, the same ought to apply to tourism business leaders and their clientele.

Further to this, regional tourism administrators and industry gurus would do well to firmly remember how the crisis in one country affected all the other countries in the region immediately to a greater or lesser degree. Interdependence has grown and regional integration is becoming a fact of life. Fast tracking regional tourism integration, including full cross border operations for tour/safari and air operators, joint promotion and marketing of the entire region as 'one destination with many attractions' would be helpful towards the success of making tourism the number one economic sector in the region. Regulatory measures are also most urgently required, like lowering airport taxes, introducing a common East African Visa for visitors from abroad, rapidly rolling out the EAC protocols on freedom of movement of labour, joint monetary markets and a common open sky policy for all East African nations would be just a few areas, where progress towards Kenya's recovery can be cemented across the region. Watch this space in coming weeks as we evaluate and assess the recovery process.

PRECISION AIR GETS NEW ATR 72-500

Hot on the heels of Air Tanzania's emerging fleet renewal did Tanzania's leading privately owned airline Precision Air take delivery of a brand new ATR 72-500, which will be used to operate routes with larger traffic volumes and help expand the destination network. The airline, 49 percent owned by regional aviation giant Kenya Airways, has several more such aircraft on order and expects them delivered between now and 2010. The deal between the French manufacturer and Precision is said to be worth more than 100 million US Dollars and is a sign of confidence that the market will continue to expand and offer opportunities for at least two mainstream airlines in Tanzania in coming years. It is also an appropriate moment to congratulate airlines like Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania, Precision Air, Fly 540 and Jetlink for their commitment to employ new aircraft unlike other aviation pretenders and upstarts, who continue to dupe the public through their use of very old and old aircraft, which would not be flying in much of the rest of the world but seem good enough for the owners of such companies to pollute the East African environment with noise and fumes while squeezing every last penny of revenue out of their obsolete fleets.

RADISSON NAIROBI ON COURSE

Inspite of the upheavals over the past two months in Kenya, the Rezidor Hotel Group is on course with the progress on its new Radisson Nairobi Hotel, due to open in early 2010. Construction of the 244 suites and rooms 5 star hotel is on course, conveniently located in the newly emerging business district on 'Upper Hill'. The development will eventually feature almost a dozen meeting and conference rooms, serving notice on the hotel trade of the new player meaning business. Other international companies, not yet represented in Kenya, have also expressed ongoing interest in either taking over or developing a top notch city hotel in Nairobi, the most immediate candidate being Kempinski Hotels. The international top star management company already manages properties in Tanzania (Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar) and Djibouti and is also reportedly interested to develop a safari and resort circuit across Eastern Africa. This will undoubtedly inject some new ideas and concepts into the otherwise a little stale city hotel market in Nairobi, where the only international entry in recent years was the buyout by Kingdom Hotels of Lonrho's hotel interests. Subsequently, the Norfolk Hotel, the Mount Kenya Safari Club and the group's safari properties like the Ark, the Aberdare Country Club and the Mara Safari Club all benefited from a major rehabilitation and modernization package injected by Kingdom Hotels.

However, Kingdom's Kampala project has not shown any signs as yet of going ahead, as the free prime city plot given to them 2 ? years ago is still lying idle, after displacing a key city primary school and teachers training college in a hurry.

KISUMU AIRPORT UPGRADE TO START NEXT MONTH

Inspite of the political upheavals in Kenya over the past two months, largely centred at the opposition strongholds in Western Kenya and around Kisumu, election loser Odinga's political stomping ground, the Kenya Airports Authority has now confirmed that the long planned re-development of Kisumu's domestic airport will go underway at a projected cost of about 2.6 billion Kenya Shillings. Amongst the work to be done will be a runway and taxiway resealing and upgrade, a substantial runway extension and an enlargement of passengers facilities for both check in and arrivals. The works, expected to take about 2 years, will then allow regional and even international flights in and out of Kisumu.

Several airlines, often led by Kenya Airways on safety grounds, have in the past halted operations due to the poor state of the runway, forcing emergency repairs at the time, but only a full rehabilitation will ensure the long term safety of air operations in Kisumu according to internationally accepted standards.

NATIONAL FUEL RESERVE TO GET 30 MILLION LITRES

The national fuel reserve is to get an additional 10 million litres of petrol and 20 million litres of diesel to avoid a repeat of the crippling shortages caused by the violence inflicted upon Kenya by election loser Odinga's street mob and gangs, when all transit routes were subsequently shut down. The African hinterland nations (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan) all paid a heavy price when imports and exports were delayed for weeks. Kenya in turn is also expected to loose valuable port activity to Dar es Salaam, to which &endash; subject to capacity &endash; a great deal of the goods flow will be switched in coming weeks and months to avoid a repeat of the January scenario. There was no word however about reserves for kerosene, heavy fuel oil, aviation fuel JetA1 and most important the ever short supply of AVGAS, on which much of the domestic and charter aviation sector depends.

The move was welcomed by the business community and civil society at large, in particular as the stale mate in Kenya's political talks has revived fears of yet more violence and a repeat of the transportation problems encountered in January, when few if any

UB 40 TAKES KAMPALA BY STORM

African telecoms giant MTN sponsored the one and only UB 40 concert in East Africa last weekend, with the crowd reaching some 35.000 in Kampala's Lugogo cricket ground and many remaining outside due to lack of tickets but still able to listen to the sound from inside the stadium. The ground breaking concert was also the very last one of the English group in its original composition, as the lead singer has now left UB 40 to start a solo career the after Kampala concert. The group had arrived earlier in the week on Emirates from previous engagements of their world tour in the Far East and Pacific region and reportedly spent some time on charitably activities as well as taking in some of Uganda's spectacular sights before returning to Europe.

Fans from across Eastern Africa travelled to Kampala for the music event, cited to be the biggest ever in the Ugandan capital. The Saturday night event drew the 300 who is who of Kampala in the 'platinum' section with back stage access, while some 5.000 revellers crowded the special 'gold' section and some 30.000 spectators filled the remaining stands to capacity. The musical success of the event, organized by the local MTN company, is likely to bring more globally recognized performers and groups to Uganda and possibly the wider East African region. However, there were some negative vibes from the 300 platinum ticket holders over problems with the promised shuttle vehicles from the parking to the venue, the substitution of the envisaged dinner with canapés and bites and the promised back stage access after the show for interaction with the band, who had been whisked off to their hotel. It also appeared that the distance from the stage became an issue for holders of the most expensive tickets, but ultimately the fun of UB40's last show in its original set up outweighed those points of organizer's neglect.

SHERATON GETS READY FOR EASTER

Ahead of the upcoming Easter holidays Kampala's oldest 5 star hotel, recently completely refurbished, rebuilt and modernized, has put their annual Easter packages on the market. The arrival (see related column item) of Fly 540 on the Entebbe &endash; Nairobi route has also added scope to market such package holidays in the wider region. Kenya holidays from Uganda are already marketed aggressively by Declan Peppard's TravelCare making use of the Fly 540 flights which offers very attractive excursion fares to promote travel in the region. These packages offer flights via Nairobi to the Masai Mara or the Kenya coast (Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu) with convenient connection times in Nairobi, unlike other upstarts which can only offer point to point flights and yet pretend to be the aviation Wizard of Oz.

Regulatory charges and Visa cost however continue to be a deterrent for the expatriate population across Eastern Africa, many of whom continue to rather fly to the UAE or Southern Africa, where they have to pay no fees for tourist Visa. This is unlike in Eastern Africa, where a trip covering the entire region (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) for a family of four can easily add 1.000 US Dollars in Visa fees and airport taxes to the holiday budget. Kenya in particular under the present circumstances is therefore called upon to scrap Visa fees for East African residents and the East African community ought to fast track a regional Visa for visitors from abroad to add incentives towards restoring tourism arrival to the levels of Kenya's pre-election and pre-violence performance.

KABALE &endash; KISORO ROAD TO TAKE LONGER

The long awaited and much needed, for both trade and tourism, road between Kabale and Kisoro &endash; located in the border triangle between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo - in the extreme South West of the country, will now take three more years to complete, according to a press report attributed to the project manager Mr. Inbar Giora of SBI Construction. The road construction, always promised and regularly delayed in the past, started some time last year when sufficient finance had been secured from the African Development Bank. The new delay will undoubtedly add negative feelings amongst tour operators using the route regularly as well as area residents, who depend on the road to send their produce to the urban centres and receive their own supplies of fuel and assorted other goods.

The road, considered as one of the most scenic in Uganda, offers spectacular views through the bamboo forests towards several of the main volcanoes located just across the nearby border in Rwanda and also offers some of the less frequented nature reserves to visitors keen to explore the forests, swamps and wetlands for a rich variety of birds, butterflies and an extraordinary flora.

Kisoro, under the World Bank's PAMSU programme, benefitted through a 'district tourism development plan' which was enhanced by the EU UGSTDP programme with feasibility studies and more concrete proposals, how local residents could partake in the growing tourism business. Watch this space!

TRUCE SIGNED &endash; BUT TRUST KNOW WHOM

The ongoing, and long drawn out negotiations in Southern Sudans's capital Juba between the Uganda Government and the LRA terror rebel group have now resulted in a renewed truce agreement and the signing of a formal peace agreement could be just weeks away. However, the rebels refused to accept the 06th March date offered by the Ugandan side, as they had failed to get confirmation from their on the run leadership. The LRA has so far failed to assemble its thinning ranks at the two designated meeting points and there are ongoing reports that the bulk of their remaining men, and of course their slave abductees, continue to move towards the Central African Republic, where they are carrying out their usual crimes and inflict terror on otherwise peaceful populations unprepared for such goons. While there is sentiment in Kampala 'the further away they go the better' there is also anger about their negotiating tactics, twists and turns and hardliners in Kampala are spoiling for a final showdown with the depleted rebels, should the present agreement bounce. Not much different from Savimbi, Kony has previously left each and every opportunity go unused and ultimately the same fate may await him too. His rebel ranks have shrunk due to many recent defections, encouraged by the ongoing amnesty programme by the Uganda Government and by the open and transparent negotiations and consultations by the Ugandan side. On the positive side, with peace settling in across Uganda's North, economic development and also tourism are on the upswing in the area, hopefully creating much needed jobs and business opportunities for the long suffering Acholi people and their equally affected neighbours.

In fact latest news obtained from the Southern Sudan indicate that Kony has added yet more pre-conditions to signing a final peace accord, such as retaining arms and the International Criminal Court having to drop their indictment against him and several of his killers. This latest change of mind is again delaying the prospect of an early conclusion of the long lasting conflict after nearly two years of negotiations. The ICC has indicted the LRA leader on crimes against humanity and war crime charges and fully expects to have Kony arrested and handed over for a full trial at The Hague.

UGANDA SET FOR ITB

Some 18 companies and of course the Uganda Tourist Board / Tourism Uganda will attend the forthcoming biggest global tourism show in Berlin / Germany in early March. There is however still an issue with government releasing sufficient funds (speak any money) for UTB to pay for their travel and stand services. Uganda's tourism marketing agency has been notoriously shortfunded for years and has struggled to make ends meet, living on meagre handouts since its main support line, the EU funded Uganda Sustainable Tourism Development Programme, expired in mid 2007. As previously mentioned in this column, government had also failed to seek an add on programme or specific intervention from its development partners, leaving UTB financially nearly incapacitated. This led some time last year to the resignation of the marketing body's chairman Roni Madhvani in obvious disgust. Inspite of parliament passing the new tourism bill last week, which will allow for the introduction of a tourism development fund levy, this is expected to take up to another 18 months to operationalize, as the relevant regulations first need to be passed and a mechanism of fund collection be established. The private sector has already made it abundantly clear that collected funds need to go directly to the beneficiary body and not first go to the consolidated fund at the treasury, where the likely scenario will be that only a fraction of the money collected may go back to the tourism sector. This in fact prevented previously the introduction of the marketing levy and the training levy under related legislation (HTTI Statute and UTB Statute &endash; both of 1994), as no agreement on collection and funds administration and disbursement could be reached then. Appointments with the Ugandan delegation can be made via utb@starcom.co.ug, attention of Mr. James Bahinguza, CEO of Tourism Uganda.

FLY 540 NOW SET FOR ENTEBBE

Following shortly after launching their first regional destination &endash; Southern Sudan's capital of Juba &endash; Fly 540 has now started operating their next regional route to Entebbe, launched earlier this week with yet little fanfare. The advertised fares stand at 79 US Dollars one way, plus continuously high regulatory charges, which the regional governments now have to address as a matter of urgency. Bringing airfares down on a broad basis has to be matched with lower airport taxes and navigation / landing fees for regional flights to promote airtravel beyond its present transportation market share. These regulatory charges presently cost US Dollars 116 for a return flight, with the air fare costing USD 158, an unrealistic equation. The Fly 540 fares are not much different from the Royal Daisy / African Express fares of USD 70 one way plus regulatory charges, mentioned some time ago in this column as breaking news, but are substantially lower compared with other airlines on the route. In addition Fly 540 operates 2 daily flights while African Express operates only twice a week and may therefore not stand the pace of the new competition.

This will be a welcome development for travellers and is aimed towards the AKFED owned Air Uganda, which was licensed by the Uganda Government in November 2006 with the understanding that fares between Kenya and Uganda would come down on a broad basis. Not only did the upstart fail and subvert this expectation but also introduced two aviation stone age, first generation DC 9's as their start up aircraft, one of which will this weekend be substituted with what they say ' a newer' aircraft, this being a nearly 20 year old MD 87. Environmental concerns obviously do not feature at all in this outfit and regulatory demands therefore must be hastened to compel such companies to comply with global standards of emission controls. This is of particular significance in view of AKFED's corporate song of 'best practise', which alter ego may now have to be looked at afresh by the green lobby and real conservationists to establish its true global carbon footprint and industrial emissions caused in the developing world.

Fly 540 is starting on the route with ATR 42 equipment with 48 economy seats, and having several brand new ATR's on order from the French manufacturer will undoubtedly put Fly 540 into an excellent position as far as operational cost are concerned. The route will see the new ATR 72 introduced soon, which will then operate with 12 business class and 50 economy class seats, reflecting anticipated market demand for services on the heavily travelled route.

There will, for the time being, be two daily flights between Nairobi and Entebbe, offering the important and convenient first connection out of Nairobi to Entebbe at 06.40 hrs, as well as a late afternoon flight, which will allow travellers from Kenya to spend a full working day in Uganda and be home in Nairobi the same day again. Fly 540's biggest single investor is Lonrho Africa, which also intends to launch air operations in several other African countries during 2008 and 2009 as a credible regional alternative, going by recent press statements issued by the company. In fact, travel agents during this week's Skal function in Kampala expressed delight with Fly 540's start in Uganda and were hopeful the airline could soon add further flights, which in their combined view were offering the best value for money in the market.

AIR TANZANIA NEWS

The first Bombardier Q300 has early this week transited through Entebbe on its ferry flight to Tanzania and the second Q300 is due for delivery next week, in late March to be followed by a leased Airbus A320, before their newly ordered additional Airbus aircraft are due to be delivered in a full fleet renewal exercise. By doing so Air Tanzania seeks to reclaim lost market share in the domestic market and restore a full regional and domestic schedule. It goes to demonstrate that airlines in the region, as initially practised by Kenya Airways, do not need cheap, old fuel guzzlers and sky howlers to make a commercial success of their business and that well managed airlines with capacity to develop and implement a strategic vision can indeed afford to use modern aircraft.

In a related aviation development Tanzania's Precision Air will also shortly commence flights from Tanzania to Luanda / Angola and Lubumbashi / Congo to cater for the growing demand by businesses intent of trading with Tanzania and in particular Dar es Salaam port, which managed to position itself as a reliable alternative to Mombasa during the recent upheavals in Kenya.

Tanzania is set to host some major tourism events in Arusha over the coming months, including the annual Karibu Tourism and Travel Trade Show before the annual Africa Travel Association congress re-visits Arusha, and the added capacity and capabilities of Air Tanzania will well enhance the options for visitors to see the Indian Ocean islands, the beaches along the mainland coastline and the national parks through pre and post congress tours.

And finally some more tourism news from Gill Staden, Livingstone/Zambia <livingstonian@zamnet.zm>

HONORARY WILDLIFE POLICE

ZAWA SOUTHERN COMMAND

MOSI-OA-TUNYA UNIT

LIVINGSTONE

On behalf of the Honorary Wildlife Police Officers and Zawa Livingstone we would like to take this opportunity to thank Island of Siankaba for assisting us with a boat, fuel and a driver on the 16th of February 2008 which we used for Crocodile control.

During this patrol in which we had responded to a report that was made of an unfortunate event where by a crocodile had taken a woman from the village water point in the Mandia area.

This patrol would have been difficult to do with out the assistance provided by Islands of Siankaba. Once again thank you very much for all your help.

 

LEADING CONSERVATIONIST PASSES ON

Dr. Yakobo Moyini, a past Chairman of the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the immediate past Chairman of the Uganda Wildlife Society (a leading conservation NGO), passed away earlier in the week after some period of illness. Yakobo spent much of his life dedicated to conservation and the cause of protecting the environment and the flora and fauna of Uganda, in particular after he had returned in the early 90's from Canada (where he had attained his Ph.D. in forestry) to Uganda, his native country. As many others Yakobo had gone into exile to avoid the past dictatorships in the country, before returning home to help building the 'new Uganda'. Yakobo hailed from Adjumani in Northern Uganda and was laid to rest in his ancestral land.

He was well known to this correspondent in both a personal and professional collegial capacity and his loss will be felt for a very long time to come. Rest in peace my friend!

CHOBI SAFARI LODGE REBUILDING UNDERWAY

The works contracts were signed this week between the Madhvani Group, owners and operators of the two key safari lodges in the country, and their selected contractors, to restore the Chobi Safari Lodge to its former glory. With security returning to Uganda's North, after the LRA was expelled from Uganda in a concerted security effort nearly two years ago, more and more tourist visitors came to Murchisons Falls National Park and the previously closed gates into the park from the Northern side were reopened. Chobi was famous in the late 60's and 70's for fishing the Nile between Karuma Falls and the better known Murchisons Falls and restoring the lodge is expected not only to serve the fishing aficionados but also regular tourists wanting to visit the forested part of the park above the main falls. Road works are also going on to restore game viewing circuits, create more access points to the river and provide materials specially created for that hitherto inaccessible part of the park.

The reconstruction is going to take about one year to completion and will add much needed room capacity to the park. Packages will be available in conjunction with the group's sister lodge Paraa, which is located overlooking the main river crossing in the heart of the park. The other sister operation is the Mweya Safari Lodge in the heart of Queen Elizabeth National Park, arguably the most popular safari lodge in the country.

UWA GIVES PARK LAND AWAY FOR LIMESTONE MINING

The Uganda Wildlife Authority Board of Trustees, incidentally headed by a corporate lawyer, has given the green light to the Executive Director to sign away a substantial piece of land in a mining concession to Hima Cement. The locally incorporated company is owned by Lafarge of France and early indications are that global conservation bodies and activists are now going after the French company and put not only the company, but also its executives, board members and shareholders under the spotlight. The highly controversial decision to allow Hima open quarry mining and crushing of limestone is also bound to bring Uganda's development partners into the fray. The World Bank's private sector lending arm, the IFC, had already indicated that they would not finance Hima / Lafarge's plans, as in particular the World Bank itself has poured mega millions of Dollars into the rehabilitation of Uganda's protected areas and in especially into Queen Elizabeth National Park. The brewing controversy is following closely on the heels of more recent efforts to dissect the Mabira Forest and turn a quarter of the sprawling central forest reserve into a sugar cane plantation. These plans, as earlier plans to turn the Pian Upe Game Reserve into a farm / ranch, presently stand defeated, but it will only be with the help of development partners and global institutions, that conservation stands a chance to survive this latest onslaught on Uganda's natural beauty.

One of the main issues conservationists have with the project is the noise of blasting and crushing the stone, the inevitable dust, subsequent water and landscape pollution and damage to the flora and fauna, all of which is right at the edge of a globally recognised Ramsar site. Uganda is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention and other global treaties to protect biodiversity and nature, and in fact hosted not long ago a global Ramsar meeting, in which verbal commitments were made towards conservation and protection, which now sound hollow and unreal.

Tourism to Uganda is largely wildlife and nature based and has suffered of the Ebola scare in late 2007, now formally declared over by WHO and health ministry officials, before being further affected by the present Kenyan situation, which has a severe impact on tourism across the Eastern African region.

The company has meanwhile decided to avoid loans from major banking consortia, including the World Bank's IFC, ostensibly to avoid the environmental demands coming with the loan packages, and has vowed to use internal funding for the project. The company has also given vague assurances as to mitigating measures to be employed for the project, but this latter point has met with both stony silence as well as derision from conservation groups, tourism stakeholders and sections of civil society. Watch this space as the saga continues.

MT. ELGON SECURITY STEPPED UP

Tourism stakeholders have complained about the very late deployment of security forces to Mt. Elgon National Park, where a Belgian tourist was shot dead two weeks ago. The troops are now belatedly combing the area to find the perpetrators of the crime, and other law breakers, after UWA has all but admitted that the park has in the past harboured criminals engaged in cattle rustling and poaching. Several stakeholder in fact spoke of 'complacency' by the authorities and said they were not happy with 'reaction' and demanded a constant proactive stand in regard of security and no further lapses in surveillance. Said one senior figure from the safari operating fraternity &endash; opting for obvious reasons for anonymity; 'saying this will never happen again is a bit rich. UWA has to do a lot more to prove this. Things happened in parks before and every time we are given the same promises. We want UWA and others security forces to be more serious when dealing with tourist sites. They have to be there all the time and need to be awake all the time, because there is always complacency creeping in. Then, when it is too late, they cry wolf but meanwhile it is our industry which suffers.'

In fact, in view of previous troubles across the border with Kenya, not related to the present round of post election violence, this has also raised questions why insufficient security has been arranged on the Ugandan side of the transborder national park to avoid any spilling over of perpetrators of crimes from the other side of the frontier.

Six suspects have been detained at the time of writing this report, a source revealed. Also recovered in the forest were about 100 Friesian cattle, thought to be stolen from Kenya and driven across the open frontier of the transborder national park. UWA in a press briefing also all but admitted their problems with encroachment, often fuelled by irresponsible statements and actions by community and area political figures, which in the past has also led to repeated assaults on UWA protection and enforcement personnel. This requires a firm and sustained approach from UWA and others to continuously uphold the existing law and maintain park boundaries and evict encroachers as and where found.

OBJECTIONS TO LODGE / PERMIT DEAL BASED ON ENVY

Misguided 'stakeholders', speak disgruntled individuals pretending to speak for a wider constituency in the Kisoro area of Uganda have belatedly expressed their 'concerns' over the contract UWA has entered into with the Nkuringo community, granting them concession rights and guaranteed gorilla tracking permits for a group habituated in the immediate neighbourhood of their villages and homesteads.

A process which started way back in 2003/4 saw a commendable effort being made by Uganda Wildlife Authority to engage with and benefit communities surrounding national parks, here in particular the Western side of Bwindi National Park, only accessible by road via Kisoro to Nkuringo. The area is gifted by both habituated and non habituated gorillas and a separate forest nearby is home to chimpanzees, a unique combination for primate tourism. UWA at the time engaged the community, together with the AWF and finally reached a ground breaking agreement, granting the community, through a cooperative type development association, a licence to market the tracking permits and have an upmarket eco lodge built on their land, catering for tourists.

After a sustained open bidding process, in which such companies as Serena Hotels endlessly dragged their feet over this golden opportunity, Wild Places Africa / The Uganda Safari Company won the tender by offering the best package for the community. This involves a royalty agreement and job creation for 'real locals', where the company has already excelled in their other safari properties in Kidepo National Park and the Semliki Game Reserve. It was the winning combination of these proposals cum an impressive lodge design, which impressed the tender committee at the time and won Wild Places the concession.

Building of 'Clouds' &endash; incidentally mentioned before in this column, has now commenced and up to 10 stone cottages are nearing completion on the site, which is located in one of the most scenic parts of Uganda. Barbs therefore for the envious objectors and bouquets for Wild Places to add another key attraction to the tourist circuit in Uganda, incorporating 'green principles' as well as giving direct benefits to the people of Nkuringo.

TOURISM BILL FINALLY PASSED

Inspite of assurances, and press reports to the contrary and apparently owing to 'a more important bill taking up our time' to quote a senior member of parliament, the long overdue tourism bill was last week still stuck in the hearing process. Some 10 chapters had been addressed by parliament, but the remaining balance of the bill's chapters was still due for the full process in the house. This development, once it became public knowledge, disappointed and angered the tourism private sector to no end, causing emotional outbursts by some stakeholders known for such, and others saying 'government has no visible interest in tourism' while yet more complained that 'government has absolutely no idea about the tourism sector at all'. Other more level headed individuals however went on to lobby parliamentarians and once again explained the urgency to have the bill passed. These efforts, especially towards select influential members of parliament, finally seems to have done the trick as the bill was then eventually passed on Tuesday afternoon and is now only awaiting assent by the President to make it the law of the land for the tourism sector. A regulatory framework has also been prepared and is expected to be promulgated by the minister in due course. The new law has also repealed the Hotels Act of 1964, the Tourist Agents Licensing Act of 1968 and the Uganda Tourist Board Statute of 1994, now providing for one comprehensive piece of legislation for the entire sector.

RAIN FOREST LODGE BENEFITS FROM MABIRA SOLIDARITY

The award winning lodge in Mabira Forest has of late become a focal point for mid week and weekend trips by prominent Kampaleans as not only a luxurious getaway but also, as confirmed by many guests staying there, to demonstrate solidarity with the 'Save Mabira Movement', which has successfully stood up against government's ludicrous plans to dissect the forest and turn a large portion into a sugar cane plantation. It is believed that the commercial success of the lodge will undoubtedly add weight to the argument, that more is to be gained by keeping the forest intact for tourism and conservation purposes than giving it away for free to a greedy sugar baron, whose sugar factories are amongst the least productive in the entire country.

However, in a recent Uganda Wildlife Society annual general meeting more reports emerged on a continuous assault on Uganda's protected areas for commercial and industrial purposes. The society vowed to strongly oppose such attempts to encroach on national parks, reserves and forests for short-sighted commercial gains, when in the long run tourism and conservation, including the upcoming carbon trading, may yield a multiple in financial terms for the country. Prof. Derek Pomeroy was re-elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees of UWS for a second and final term of office.

KAMPALA TO HOST AFRO &endash; ARAB YOUTH SUMMIT

Over 2.500 youth leaders from across the African and Arab countries will assemble in Kampala between March 07 and 14 to hold a cultural and youth issues summit at the lakeside resort of Munyonyo. Some 18 Presidents and Prime Ministers have also confirmed attendance of this ground breaking meeting.

HOLLAND BOOSTS GORILLA CONSERVATION

The Dutch government has given a grant of 4 million Euros for gorilla conservation projects across the region, involving Uganda, Rwanda and Congo DR. The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) is closely involved in the project, which also includes the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Rwanda's ORTPN and Congo's wildlife management body. The endangered mountain gorillas are found in all the three countries along their respective national parks straddling the frontiers across the border triangle. Gorilla tracking is a major tourism activity in Rwanda and Uganda, but Congo has been falling short of the achievements and standards of the other two countries, as they continue to struggle with security in the area's national parks, poaching of the prized animals and almost total indifference, in fact what often appears as contempt, towards wildlife conservation by their regime in Kinshasa.

GARAMBA NATIONAL PARK NEWS

It has emerged in recent days, that the Ugandan rebel and terror gang headed by one Joseph Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, has began leave their hideout in the park and is now moving towards the Central African Republic, giving hope that the park will soon come under formal park authority administration again. It was in this park where the last remnants of the Northern White Rhino were found some years ago, which were then wiped out by the Congo regime's own intransigence and callous attitude towards wildlife conservation and the heavy poaching by the rebels of the entire rhino population (now thought to be extinct), elephant and other species.

Congo has been sitting on the fence in regard of the rebel group's continued presence on its territory, as it has incidentally done in regard of the Hutu militias, which found safe haven after committing the 1994 Rwanda genocide before running to safety in Congo.

The LRA was due to assemble at designated points under the 'cessation of hostilities' agreement signed with the Uganda government, while engaged in 'peace talks' in the Southern Sudanese capital city of Juba, but this now seems less likely to be done by the rebels. The talks have also been dragging on with rebel representatives being changed at will by Kony or - as in the case of his deputy Otti &endash; being killed by his goons. Both the Ugandan armed forces (UPDF) and the Southern Sudanese SPLA have taken all possible precautions to avoid the rebels re-infiltrate sections of Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda, while covert support seems to once again reach the rebels from the Khartoum government, which has long actively fuelled this conflict to divert attention from their own criminal conduct, first in the South of the Sudan and now continuing in Darfur.

CHANGES AT KENYA AIRWAYS

It was learned just a fraction too late for last week's column, that Kenya Airways Commercial Director Hugh Fraser will be leaving the airline, as will his colleague Neil Canty, holding the portfolio of Finance Director. In particular Hugh was enormously instrumental in the team supporting and surrounding CEO Titus Naikuni, to build Kenya Airways into the success story it was prior to the opposition inspired post election violence, which hit Kenya on a broad basis and ripped the carpet-s peak business - from underneath the feet of many leading companies including KQ. Recent reports filed in this column already spoke of the problems the airline was encountering in particular on the European routes and routes in and out of Mombasa. Staff have been asked to take paid leave (for the time being), although no formal lay offs are presently underway. A strict cost saving and cost reduction programme is presently being finalised and implemented to keep Kenya's national airline financially balanced, until the recovery of the tourism sector goes underway and passenger numbers return to normality. However, it is sadly noted that this recovery will apparently be without Hugh, whom this correspondent wishes the very best in the future.

It is also noted that other senior staff had left the airline over the past few months (Technical Director and Director Flight Operations / Chief Pilot), probably making way for a major top management shake up and organizational revision, including creating the position of Chief Operating Officer (COO). The airline's CEO Titus Naikuni's position is reportedly however not under review as he continues to enjoy the ongoing confidence of key shareholders like Air France / KLM and the Kenya Government.

The airline has been struggling before the Kenya post election violence started affecting the passenger and cargo performance, with a huge network and fleet expansion and related problems, but was reported to be on the way to getting things on the straight and narrow once again before the current crisis began to depress the financial results and drove the share price to sharply lower levels.

Hot on the heels of these changes come further news that the airline suspended the Paris route for the time being, owing to a sharp drop in passenger numbers. Passengers already booked will now connect to Paris via Amsterdam, where the onward flight is operated in code share with KLM or via London, where the onward codeshared flight is operated by Air France. The route may be restored at a later date, once demand levels have risen sufficiently again to justify the service.

France's anti travel advisory has been particularly aggressive, warning off would be travellers with grave language, but this may change in view of a political agreement coming nearer and the situation in Kenya in general stabilising in recent days, after the opposition goons apparently got the message from their puppetmasters to stop the unwarranted attacks on fellow Kenyans. Germany, Italy and the UK already lifted their anti travel advice which will be a welcome boost to restore tourism arrival from these countries to their per-election levels.

BUSH VISIT TO RWANDA WILL BOOST TOURISM

The just concluded visit by President Bush to Rwanda &endash; and Tanzania for that matter &endash; is expected to boost tourism arrivals in coming months due to the excellent press coverage received during the state visit. Rwanda has been hailed as a model nation, recovering from the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi ethnic community and moderate Hutus in 1994 by hardline Hutu militias, spurred on by incitement from politicians, many of whom have now been jailed or are facing trials in Rwanda and at the Arusha special court set up by the UN. The present government led by President Paul Kagame has turned the economy around and supported tourism to the hilt, while also excelling in fighting corruption and meeting democratic benchmarks.

While in East Africa President Bush demanded an end to the violence in Kenya and a swift political settlement, having dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Nairobi in support of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's initiative for an early agreement between the two protagonists. He demanded in even sharper terms an end to the violence in Darfur, where the US is engaged with massive food aid for the starving population, displaced from their land by Khartoum sponsored militias as well as direct military action by a ruthless government. President Bush also visited the Genocide Memorial in Rwanda and, with his wife Laura, paid respects to the over 800.000 innocent victims of ethnic slaughter.

While in Kigali President Bush also formally commissioned the newly built American Embassy.

Rwanda's ORTPN will be present at the forthcoming ITB once again and will be happy to meet tourism trade visitors to showcase the 'land of a thousand hills'.

There were however disgruntled undercurrents about the security regulations ostensibly imposed by US agencies, and several tourism stakeholders complained about airport and road closures impacting on their day to day business, delaying clients arrivals and departures in and out of Arusha and subsequently also in and out of Kigali. Said one operator from Arusha: 'it was nice of sorts to have them here and get global coverage, but thank God they are gone again, not to imagine they had been around for a week and what this would have done to our businesses and day to day life'.

 

RWANDA / TANZANIA RAILWAY LINK ON COURSE

As reported in this column some time ago, Rwanda was also seeking to develop an alternate route for its imports, probably hastened by the present Kenya crisis, which seriously affected imports and exports for this land locked East African hinterland nation. Progress has now been made in the various stages of preparation to eventually link Kigali with the Tanzanian inland dry port of Isaka, from where the railway would continue to the Indian Ocean seaport of Dar es Salaam. Construction of the railway link is expected to commence later this year and will take approximately 5 years to complete.

 

 

 

 

And some more tourism news from Gill Staden / Livingstone, Zambia

 

Tourism News

Government has terminated the contract for Zambia National Tourism Board Managing Director Charity Lumpa.  ...  Her monthly salary according to (the Auditor General's) report was pegged at K47million excluding other allowances. 

* * * * *

The mind boggles ... 

 

 

Zambia to spend K12bn to host smart partnership dialogue

By Times Reporter

 

THE Government will this year spend K12 billion to host the Smart Partnership International Dialogue

(SPID) aimed at strengthening south to south diplomatic and political ties.

 

Commerce Trade and Industry Deputy Minister, Dora Siliya, said in Parliament yesterday that SPID

encompassed economic development, peace, security and increased investment in the participating countries.

 

She said in response to Chipili Member of Parliament (MP) Davis Mwila (PF) who wanted to know how much the Government will spend to host the dialogue.

The Government had proposed a K12 billion budget under the ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

Ms Siliya said the Government had requested the Commonwealth Partnership and Technology Management (CPTM) to contribute towards the event and a feedback was being awaited.

 

She said 400 delegates from Africa, Asia and Europe were expected to attend the dialogue that would be held from July 28 to August 1, to coincide with the Agriculture and Commercial Show where a field trip would be conducted to expose delegates to Zambia's industry.

 

And adds Wolfgang: The Smart Partnership Dialogue is held every alternate year in a selected developing country of the Commonwealth before returning to Malaysia, the original host country. The annual meeting is the brainchild of former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed and has proven beneficial for networking and tourism / trade relations between participating nations. It was last held in Uganda in 2001 and triggered substantial Malaysian investments in Uganda, plus opening a range of educational opportunities in Malaysia for Ugandan students.

 

KAMPALA AERO CLUB SUSPENDS TRAINING FLIGHTS

The ongoing shortage of AVGAS has now claimed a further victim amongst the aviation fraternity. The only Ugandan private pilot training facility at the Kajjansi airfield's Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre has halted pilot training for the time being, owing to the acute shortage of AVGAS fuel, which their Cessna 172 trainer aircraft require. Commercial operations are also at the edge, as stocks have now run so low that only key regular clients can count on getting their flights into the air, while 'casual' sightseeing and other less essential air travel has been postponed for the time being. Aviation sources from Kajjansi speak of possible imports of AVGAS from Tanzania's Lake Victoria airport of Mwanza, but red tape and usual bureaucracy are making a swift solution difficult. However, KAFTC's Cessna Grand Caravan fleet continues to operate normally as these aircraft run on Jet A1, the common aviation fuel for jet and turbine engined aircraft.

Other domestic airlines and private aircraft owners also suffer of an AVGAS supply shortage for their piston engined small and light aircraft and confirmation of charters now depends on the level of urgency demonstrated by clients, at least until regular supplies have been restored.

This situation will have a severe impact on the financial performance this year of the few Ugandan domestic scheduled and charter airlines and a leading aviator said his sector felt 'abandoned by government'. He claimed that attention seems focused on getting enough fuel for the international airlines coming to Entebbe, rather than giving equitable attention to the smaller and mostly indigenous owned airlines, which operate from both Entebbe and the Kajjansi airfield and require a different fuel type.

No confirmation on the status of training flights and fuel supplies for the East African Aviation Academy in Soroti could be obtained, as no single person approached for a situation report or a statement would be prepared to comment, neither on nor off the record.

UWA STATEMENT CALLED 'HOGWASH' BY SOME STAKEHOLDERS

Following the killing of a Belgian woman tourist on Mt. Elgon, Uganda Wildlife Authority called a press conference to try and explain the circumstances. According to press reports published, UWA's Executive Director admitted that the spot was known for some time to be frequented by cattle rustlers and criminals, speculating over who 'could have done it'. Sections of the tourism private sector took grave exception with the press report of the statement, saying that if UWA had known of such problems, then why would their guides and rangers have taken the tourist to that spot for an overnight stop. They also said that they suspected complacency and a level of incompetence and took further issue with UWA's statement, that 'all tourist sites in Uganda are safe'. Said one leading safari operator to this correspondent: 'one death is one too many. UWA and others in charge of park security should stop looking for excuses. Trying to explain this away in such a contemptuous fashion is an insult to the victim. If UWA had known this to be a trouble spot and that criminals are hiding in the park forest, then why wait for this to happen and then crying over spilt milk. I suggest they are afraid to act in a timely manner, because they fear political repercussions in the context of past eviction actions they took at Mt. Elgon park and the tourist now paid the price for this. The director should have concentrated in the past on what should have been done to prevent this incident and not now assume the CID role and speculate who could have done it'

Members of the Belgian community in Uganda also expressed anger aimed at, what a leading figure amongst them called an 'inept statement if the press report is accurate', 'full of contradictions' and aimed at 'exculpating' the institution of blame and liability. He went on to say that his organization had in the past faithfully and generously supported tourism activities and developments and felt 'very much let down' by this incident.

Subsequently, tourism to Mt. Elgon, in any case not a front runner in terms of numbers for both domestic and international visitors &endash; inspite of its scenic beauty &endash; is expected to take a setback and safari operators in Uganda and tour operators abroad will be keeping a keen eye on the situation to see if actions will match the words which are too often and too casually spoken after such events.

HOTEL DEVELOPER IN FINANCIAL TROUBLE

The main proprietor and promoter of the building site hotel along Entebbe road &endash; projected to become the Protea Entebbe Hotel &endash; has ran into a severe financial storm, as Barclays Bank Uganda has taken control of a number of his properties, including his downtown shopping mall, over an alleged defaulted loan of some 4.7 billion Uganda Shillings, equivalent to nearly 3 million US Dollars. The hotel venture, due to have been ready for the Commonwealth Summit last year, has been gobbling up money for construction and loan finance, while the awaited CHOGM guests failed to materialise, as the hotel then, as it does now, resembles the building site it still is. The size of the project, given by the owner as reaching 1.000 rooms, shopping malls and other amenities half way between Kampala and Entebbe, has also mind boggled industry observers, one of whom described the project as 'developing cuckoo land'.

The financial implications of the seizure of assets by the bank is expected to also have repercussions on the hotel project's progress, which has already been visibly slow in past weeks already.

The receiver appointed by the bank has given a deadline to clear all outstanding interest on the loans, fees and the principal amount owed by March 14th or else auction off the seized assets to clear all debts.

The proprietor, a Mr. Joseph Behakanira, denied the charges however and vowed to start a legal defence to overturn the bank's decision and seizure of his properties.

 

NEW EDUCATIONAL INITIATIVE UNDERWAY

An EU funded educational initiative was launched during the week, when the F+U University Group / IBA University from Germany signed an agreement with Makerere University to start cooperation, also extended to the University of Dar es Salaam, the University of Nairobi and Moi University in Kenya. Named 'East African Academic Alliance for Curricula in Logistics and Tourism (EA3CLAT) the 500.000 Euro project is aimed at reviewing existing tourism and hospitality curricula across the region in universities but also at other tertiary institutions like Uganda's national Hotel and Tourism Training Institute. This will be done in conjunction with the regional academia and the private sector and past efforts by HTTI to redevelop a skills based curriculum will be used as a foundation for the process in Uganda.

It was observed during the signing, that much of the tertiary education in the hospitality and tourism sector at universities is presently theory based and requires additional practical input, to make graduates more employable. Employers in particular have long criticised the lack of practical skills of degree holders, resulting in added expenses to retrain the newcomers to the workforce.

The notable exception in this is the national hotel and tourism training institute, which is fully committed to a curriculum rooted in practical training of the students to give them 'hands on training', resulting in all graduates from HTTI finding employment in the sector and the hotel school in fact being unable to produce enough quality certificate and diploma holders.

The project will also facilitate training of selected participants, i.e. lecturers and instructors, in Germany at the participating institutions to promote in particular the 'dual system' of education practised in Germany for vocational and skills programmes. Internships for the best students are also available.

The head of the F+U University Group was part of the visiting German business delegation which came to Uganda and Rwanda last week as part of President Prof. Horst Koehler's state visit to East Africa, underscoring the importance of private public partnership to meet development goals.

PARLIAMENT PICKS ON LACK OF UTB FUNDING, PASSES TOURISM BILL

Following persistent complaints in the local media over the pathetic funding for the Uganda Tourist Board and the previous failure to pass the new Tourism Bill and subsequent regulations, the parliamentary committee overseeing the sector has now also voiced concern over these issues. The MP's called upon government to better facilitate the sector and pour more resources into marketing the country, while debating the report of the sessional committee and its recommendations about the tourism bill. It does so appear that the bill was then passed in parliament but further details are being sought to ascertain this fact. If correct, and once assented to by the President &endash; as required by law &endash; the bill would trigger new regulations to be issued for the sector and create a tourism development levy, besides causing the restructuring of the Uganda Tourist Board / Tourism Uganda into a private sector driven and more proactive organization, also taking care of licensing, monitoring and enforcement of regulations for the entire sector.

KENYA AIRWAYS BAGS WINE AWARD

During the annual Sky Award ceremony Kenya Airways came globally a respectable third behind Singapore Airlines / Qantas (joint second place) and Germany's Lufthansa (category winner) for their excellent choice of champagne for inflight service in their much lauded business class.

This follows special efforts last year to select a new range of wines and champagnes to accompany the airline's applauded inflight meals, and tasting sessions to gauge passengers' tastes and feedback. The Piper Heidsieck NV from France hence made all the difference with the judges and gave 'The Pride of Africa' another exhibit for their trophy cabinet.

The airline is also expected to contest for the top honours again in the regional recognition of excellence annually held by TN East Africa, the leading regional magazine for travel, leisure and life issues.

Well Done KQ!

FLY 540 STARTS REGIONAL FLIGHTS

Kenya's low cost airline Fly 540 has now commenced work daily flights to Juba, Southern Sudan as part of their regional expansion. This adds more capacity to the route, on which several other Kenyan airlines already fly, with the notable, and hard to explain exception of Kenya Airways. They are Jetlink, East African Safari Air, Marsland Aviation and African Express. The latter is also flying in codeshare with Royal Daisy Airlines between Nairobi and Entebbe already via a wet lease agreement with Royal Daisy. It could not be ascertained if Delta Connection is still on the Juba route.

More flights into the greater East African region are said to be planned for later in the year by Fly 540. Certainly flights between Nairobi and Entebbe would be most welcome as recent route upstart Air Uganda has broadly failed on the expectations to bring fares down to a more affordable level. Fly 540 has recently signed a major purchase agreement with French manufacturer ATR for 8 more of their aircraft to allow for this expansion and 4 of them are due for delivery in 2008 already. Watch this space for emerging news.

KENYA TOURISM PLANS FOR FUTURE

With the world's most important tourism fair, ITB in Berlin, just weeks away, the Kenyan tourism fraternity is getting ready to tell the world that all is not lost with East Africa's leading destination. The Kenya Tourist Board and the private sector are now preparing a market offensive aimed at bringing the tourists back to the beaches and national parks. No tourist has come to harm during the period since the elections in late December 2007 and sectoral associations like KTF and KATO are working around the clock with security organs to stay abreast with the situation and keep their members fully briefed.

While the present situation is bleak, there is hope for a political settlement now on the horizon thanks to the efforts of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who for the past two weeks has been engaged in behind the scenes diplomatic efforts to bring the opposing sides together and have in particular the opposition drop their unrealistic demands for the good of the Kenyan nation.

Once a settlement has been reached the tourism industry is bound to engage in a global marketing campaign once again to rekindle interest in the country and kick-start the recovery from the present down turn of fortunes. The greater region also has a role to play in this scenario, as all other East African countries have lost business and will be well advised to join hands with Kenya to promote the region in an aggressive fashion, attract overseas tour operators to send fam trips to the region and convince the charter airlines to add capacity back on the routes to Nairobi and Mombasa to cater for the expected growth in demand.

Kenyan and other East African governmental authorities however must use this opportunity to introduce a single tourist Visa for the entire region to bring not only the cost of visits down but also to encourage regional tours, which can help Kenya on their path to recovery. Travel for duly registered expatriates in the EAC region also ought to be streamlined and the requirements for Visa, when visiting a neighbouring country, must also be dropped if this important market is to be fully tapped. Further interventions should include the temporary or even lasting reduction in airport taxes for passengers, navigation &endash; landing and parking fees on aircraft bringing visitors to the region and a range of regionally coordinated tax incentives for the sector to allow investments aimed at adding value and quality to the tourism industry. Finally, the tourist boards of the East African nations must be given a big enough budget to run a sustained campaign in existing and emerging markets, if the recovery is to be swift and sustained. Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania are all expected to attend ITB also and offer some moral support to their Kenyan colleagues. Watch this space.

KENYA RETALIATES TO TRAVEL BAN

News have emerged over Kenya now retaliating on 'travel bans' slapped upon at least 10 politicians and business leaders by prohibiting the UK's former High Commissioner to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay, to return to his former diplomatic stomping ground. Sir Edward, during his time in office in Nairobi an outspoken and candid critic of corrupt practices amongst the Kenyan political elite and key members of government, again locked horns with the Kenyan establishment recently at the BBC's Hard Talk programme over the persisting violence in the country following allegedly rigged elections. In a first comment the former diplomat reportedly said the 'persona non grata' status accorded to him by the Kenya government was a 'spine chilling warning to others campaigning against Kenyan corruption'. Sir Edward also called for a coordinated position of Western countries like the US, Canada, Britain and the continental EU nations in their response towards Kenya.

The ban on Sir Edward is particularly hard on him in personal terms, as he reportedly acquired a piece of land and had planned to retire in Kenya, something the latest spat seems to make impossible for the time being.

Sources from within the diplomatic community in Nairobi also spoke of still more Kenyans suspected to be involved in the violence since the late December elections to be targeted for travel bans, which ordinarily also include the family members of the affected individuals. Such action can also lead to the freezing of assets and bank accounts in the respective countries, making possible targets amongst the Kenyan elite uncomfortable to say the least. Yet, any measure helping to end the violence and bringing peace back to the Kenyan population is welcome and in any case, culprits should swiftly be brought to justice irrespective of their political background.

In the meantime, the Kenyan government was compelled to accept international demands on a full and impartial investigation into the causes of the post election violence, with perpetrators due to face charges on 'crimes against humanity', one of the vilest acts imaginable. A spokesperson for the Kenya government however swiftly turned the heat on the opposition ODM, whom he accused of 'planning, financing and executing systematic post election ethnic cleansing', sadly as true as it sounds.

RWANDA AIMS AT 50.000 TOURISTS FOR 2008

The Rwanda tourism sector is intend to increase tourist arrivals for the current year to 50.000, inspite of the present problems caused for the entire region by the Kenyan post election situation. In 2007 tourism has replaced Rwanda's traditional exports as the leading foreign exchange earner, exceeding projections and proving the general theory right that tourism can indeed &endash; if properly structured and facilitated &endash; become the region's undisputed number one economic activity. ORTPN, the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks, together with a sizeable private sector delegation, will attend ITB where it will once again showcase the 'Land of a Thousand Hills' from its sunniest side. To make appointments for meetings at the Rwanda stand please contact rosetterwandatourism@rwanda1.com.

RWANDAIR PRIVATIZATION STILL PENDING

While a request for comments from the airline was not responded to it could nevertheless be established, that the exercise has not been concluded in January, as was widely expected. Informed sources confirmed under cover of anonymity, that Rwandair's review of the proposals took in particular issue with the types of aircraft floated by the two remaining bidders. Meridiana, an airline based in Italy, had proposed to introduce some of their own aged MD 87 series, but Rwandair had disposed of a similar model some time ago due to the cost of operation of this particular aircraft type in favour of a Boeing 737-500. There is also negative perception in the region about such 'investors' bringing old equipment and peddling it as 'state of the art' as does the travel market not appreciate the use of old aircraft, when regional giant Kenya Airways has a truly modern fleet in operation.

Brussels Airlines too ran into predictable questions when they initially offered to use the BAe 146, which the airline is progressively retiring from the European fleet. Again, this particular aircraft type is not considered suitable to the climatic operating conditions and elevations across Eastern Africa, nor would it allow non stop flights from Kigali to Johannesburg.

A decision is now expected in coming weeks, after updated proposals are being reviewed at present, though no precise timeframe is available from the airline. Meanwhile, application deadlines for several advertised positions for personnel were extended this week to allow for more applications to be submitted to the airline's offices in Kigali, Entebbe, Kilimanjaro, Bujumbura, Johannesburg and Nairobi.

BELGIAN TOURIST KILLED ON MT. ELGON

A Belgian tourist on safari in Uganda was reportedly shot and killed while climbing Mt. Elgon. It is not immediately clear if anyone of the rangers or guides were injured in the attack. Details are sketchy right now and no particulars on the number or identity of the attackers could be established as yet. It could have been poachers who had stumbled upon the climbers, but the vicinity of the Kenyan border, which runs across the mountain peak, has also raised speculation that it might have been intruders from across the frontier. Sources insist however that the attack took place at the overnight camp, which would imply purpose and intent by the perpetrators of the crime rather than an 'accidental' situation. Usually well informed sources also spoke of 'delays' by Uganda Wildlife Authority when dealing with the situation and about dispatching a rescue mission, while the tourist was still alive for a period of time after the incident. She however passed away in the absence of prompt airborne medical evacuation or competent first aid. The area, a border transcending national park shared between Kenya and Uganda, is part of a pilot project to implement joint tourism activities, which will now need reviewing in regard of security afforded to the parks to ensure a safe environment for tourists and local visitors. It is the first tourist visitor fatality for some years now, as general security had been stepped up markedly after incidents in the past had raised the prospect of loosing out on market standing unless decisive steps were taken to boost surveillance. A joint ranger / army force 'SWIFT' was put into place at the time, but complacency was always a matter of concern to the tourism private sector.

Combined with the present Kenya situation this tragic incident will put a further dent into the effort of the Ugandan tourism industry to maintain its growth momentum, at a time when funds for marketing the country are already at a near all time low. Watch this space.

ACROSS THE NILE &endash; ON A WIRE

Tourism adventure activities received a boost recently, when a high wire was strung across the river to allow the not too faint at heart a suspended harnessed ride from one side of the river to the other on a pulley. Participants are then taken back to the starting point by boat, adding to the adventure experience. Established by the promoters and owners of Nile River Explorers (a leading adventure company), the Nile Porch and the Black Lantern at Bujagali Falls, the new activity rivals bungee jumping and is adding yet more to do for visitors to this most popular spot along the upper Nile valley. Jinja, also called East Africa's adventure capital, is home to spectacular white water rafting, float trips on the Nile, kayaking, quadbiking, cross country cycling, horse riding, river fishing, bungee jumping and now the high wire act. A rock climbing wall was also established some time ago near the Jinja Nile Resort at a site managed by Adrift, the other leading adventure company in Jinja.

SHERATON EXPANDS WIFI INTO NEWLY RENOVATED AREAS

The recently re-opened and completely refurbished bar, lounge and outdoor 'Paradise' restaurant areas on the ground floor of the Sheraton Kampala Hotel have now also been given wireless reception for hotel guests and patrons, a move welcomed by regular clients of the hotel wanting to do a spot of work, check mail or e-chat while enjoying drinks or a meal at the same time.

The announcement was made last weekend, when the 'Valentine's Day' food and accommodation packages were also launched in preparation for the global 'lover's day' on 14th of February.

Next on the rehabilitation schedule is the garden based Lion Centre, but prior to the works commencing the Kampala City Council is required to renew the user rights for the hotel. The city owned park has for the past 20 or so years been maintained by the Sheraton Kampala Hotel and been available for the general public. The council itself was unable to take care of the facility and with general sentiment about the council's capabilities to run and maintain the city rather negative, and a city management takeover expected under a new law bringing in central government city oversight, it is generally just considered a formality to renew Sheraton's use rights. In any case, the Sheraton Kampala already presents itself once again as the grand old dame of hospitality in Kampala and has &endash; inspite of other hotels entering the market over the past year &endash; increased its occupancy and popularity.

MIHINGO HORSERIDING BY MAY

The owners of Mihingo Lodge, located just outside the Lake Mburo National Park, have clarified that their planned horseback safaris and excursions will be available before the middle of the year, probably by May 2008. The building of the stables is far advanced already and 'test rides' have already started to get the horses used to the environment. The trips along the outside boundaries of the national park are expected to be much in demand, when the lodge will officially begin the riding trips. They do not interfere with the running of the park and its restrictive rules for activities inside the boundaries and will permit visitors a close up look at the landscapes, the animals and the magnificent birds from an elevated position, said to be vastly superior to walking safaris. Visit www.mihingolodge.com for more information and in particular the photo library, which is giving a good impression of what to expect when visiting this boutique lodge in the wilderness of Western Uganda.

CHANGE COMING AT THE HELM OF THE CAA

The positions of both Managing Director and Deputy Managing Director at the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority have now been advertised, as the office holders are nearing retirement age. The incumbents, Mr. Ambrose Akandonda and Dr. Rama Makuza, have been with the CAA since its inception in the early 90's, prior to which they had already a distinguished career in the aviation field at the then department of civil aviation under the Ministry of Transport. Both individuals were committed supporters of the Ugandan tourism sector over the years, assisting and financially boosting several programmes and projects, but will mostly be credited to steering the authority to new levels. The airport in Entebbe, as well as several aerodromes across the country, was fully rehabilitated from their sorry state 15 years ago. Entebbe International Airport has been expanded and technically upgraded to state of the art levels, new air service regulations were put into place, reflecting international standards in comparison with FAA, JAR and EASA rules now in place and air traffic &endash; passengers, cargo and aircraft movements &endash; during their terms of office has increased in large multiples. Many in the aviation fraternity will be sorry to see them retire and they use this opportunity to thank them for services rendered to the industry beyond the call of duty and wish them both the very best, once retirement finally comes in a few months.

QUAKES RATTLE GREAT LAKES REGION

Last Sunday, 04th February two earthquakes once again hit the region, with epicentres located near the Rwanda / Congo border and just inside Congo respectively. A church filled with worshippers collapsed in Rwanda, killing over 20 people instantly and many other casualties from the affected areas were also reported. The East African region has in past years experienced a number of quakes, minor and major, as well as some volcanic activity, a constant reminder of what danger is slumbering underneath the Great African Rift Valley.

GERMAN PRESIDENT DEMANDS HALT TO VIOLENCE IN KENYA

The just concluded state visit of German President Prof. Horst Koehler ended at a high note in Kampala with a dance performance by the Burudali Dance Group, showing the plight of 'child soldiers' used in many conflicts across Africa and in particular by the terror group LRA, which has wreaked havoc on the Northern Uganda population for many years. President Koehler and his entourage in fact visited Gulu, which was at the centre of the LRA's decade long campaign, during which it abducted thousands of young boys and girls and turned them into sex slaves, slave labourers and militia fighters. Some of the abducted children were as young as 10 years old and the abducted girls oftentimes gave birth as young as 12 or 13 years old, underscoring the brutality and contempt for human life and dignity by Kony and his band of criminals. (Kony and several others are in fact facing indictments and international arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for crimes against humanity) The one hour presentation drew a prolonged standing ovation for its emotionally charged display.

In his final address to the assembled representatives of the Uganda Government, Members of Parliament and the Judiciary, the Diplomatic Corps, leading representatives of the German community living in Uganda and business and civic leaders, President Koehler demanded an immediate end to the violence in Kenya, which he said was affecting not only Kenya but the entire region.

The second state visit in the region took place in Rwanda. Both East African nations were promised closer cooperation in education and health programmes and further assistance in trade relations with Europe's economic powerhouse nation.

GLOOM AND DOOM HOVERS OVER KENYA'S TOURISM FUTURE

Following the announcement by Kenya Airways about severe cost cutting measures and possible staff lay offs over cut backs in both capacity and routes presently flown, the tourism sector has been dealt a further massive blow. KQ, fondly known as the 'Pride of Africa' has been a role model of transforming an African airline from a loss making state owned and much interfered with parastatal body to a groundbreaking modern privately owned and managed showpiece of African aviation. Its modern fleet of state of the art aircraft and its award winning inflight service was long credited for being a major catalyst for the massive growth tourism to Kenya underwent over the past several years.

However, as a result of the post election violence, first unleashed upon Kenya's generally peace loving population by election loser Odinga's street mobs, tourism and aviation in Kenya are facing their hardest test yet since independence. The present circumstances and economic impact, though at times compared with previous situations, are in fact very much worse than the post 1982 coup attempt downturn &endash; when incidentally the same Odinga was said to be one of the masterminds behind the airforce's failed uprising &endash; and ultimately worse compared to the 1997 / 1998 and 2003 aftermath of the Likoni riots, the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi and the bombing of an Israeli owned beach resort in Mombasa in conjunction with the failed shootdown of an Israeli aircraft taking off from Mombasa.

Share prices of Kenya's national airline, in which Air France / KLM hold about 25 percent, have sharply fallen and are now worth less than half of the peak value, and being one of Kenya's most visible companies, carrying the flag across much of the globe, these news will be adding to the generally gloomy outlook of Kenya's economic development in coming months.

Flight capacity has since early January been reduced on routes going to Europe (London, Amsterdam, Paris), Johannesburg, Lagos, Cairo as well as on domestic routes, while the Mombasa &endash; Johannesburg flights have been cancelled altogether. Cargo loads area have also shrunk as deliveries of cut flowers from the big farms in the Rift Valley, of late also a violence prone area, have been irregular and of lesser quantities, as many farm staff are not coming to work for fear of their lives.

Meanwhile, the US administration has slapped travel bans on at least 10 newly elected members of parliament and other 'prominent' Kenyans as a first retaliatory measure following the failure to contain the politically inspired violence and find a peaceful solution to the country's political differences. Canada is due to follow with their own ban, which will include family members and even children, wishing to or presently studying in the US or Canada. The EU and Britain are reportedly also considering similar steps, adding further pressure on the Kenyan politicians to find a swift way out of the impasse.

DAILY FLIGHTS TO JOHANNESBURG FROM MARCH

No sooner had SAA announced, that they would add another flight between Johannesburg and Entebbe from the beginning of February, are news coming out of the airline's offices in Kampala that from March 2008 they intend to fly daily on the route between South Africa and Entebbe. In view of the downturn of traffic between Johannesburg and Nairobi this may be a re-deployment of traffic to the non-stop route, and the aircraft used will continue to be a Boeing NG 737-800. The present timings will be maintained, allowing SAA network connections both ways. This will be a further boost for tourism and trade relations between Uganda and South Africa but also allow long haul traffic passengers from the global SAA network and their alliance partners to fly seamlessly on to Uganda.

KENYA AIRWAYS MOVES TO ZERO COMMISSION

Kenya's national airline has announced that effective April 01st (no fool's day joke) they will cease paying commissions to travel agents across East Africa for ticket sales, following the international trend started some years ago in other parts of the world. KLM / Air France, which own a major stake in Kenya Airways, has made a similar announcement a few days ago. The airline had paid 6 percent for the past two years, after reducing commission levels by one and then two percent respectively at the time from the initial 9 percent standard rate. Travel agents had sufficient warning of these developments and will now charge a service fee to their clients, while the airlines promote on line bookings to further lower their own distribution costs. However, some airlines, i.e. Virgin, flying to East Africa, continue to pay a modest commission, which under the circumstances is also very likely to be phased out in coming months, finally eliminating the main past source of travel agency income.

Further consolidation in the travel industry is now expected across the region with mergers, buy outs, take over's and even outright business closures and many smaller agencies are expected to find the going probably too hard to survive, unless they managed over the past to widen their range of paid for services. In the meantime, KQ has also increased the fuel surcharge for flights out of Entebbe due to the scarcity of aviation fuel, supplies of which have still not reached pre-crisis levels.

PARLIAMENT INVESTIGATES 2005 CNN DEAL

The public accounts committee of the Ugandan Parliament has now taken the CNN publicity deal of 2005 into their cross hairs, with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry the first high profile individual having to appear before the panel. It was also reported in the local media, that a letter attributed to the then Minister had strongly warned that the 1.35 million US Dollars equivalent drawn from the ministry's accounts for the activity 'would cripple' other projects and commitments in the absence of finding the money from other sources. The parliamentarians also took issue with the fact that a company linked to an in-law of the President was receiving allegedly some 350.000 US Dollars, acting in their capacity as 'agent' for CNN. Judging by the mood of the committee they will call other personalities linked to the expenditure to testify before them and seek out culprits for appropriate sanction.

The campaign at the time developed a new tag line and branding for Uganda, shifting emphasis from 'Uganda &endash; the Pearl of Africa' to 'Uganda &endash; Gifted by Nature'. The CNN campaign of advertising for Uganda ran for a period of 6 months in conjunction with CNN's 'Inside Africa' programme, but then expired in the absence of sustainable funding, something much decried by the tourism sector since then. Other critics also bemoaned the fact that the screening of the commercials did not take place globally but only in markets of lesser importance for Uganda, which as everything connected to this matter will be arguable. The results measured after the initial campaign did show improved 'visibility' of Uganda as a tourist destination and yielded results in rising visitor numbers, but the effect &endash; by general consensus of the tourism private sector and industry observers and analysts &endash; has since then completely evaporated, in the absence of follow up and in the face of constant heavy advertising by other tourist destinations competing for tourist Dollars and Euros.

The failure of government to bring the draft tourism bill &endash; which incidentally was ready for submission to cabinet in 2005 &endash; to the law makers in parliament, is also being cited as a main reason for lack of funding for the Uganda Tourist Board, which presently lingers in a near broke state, unable to fulfil its mandate. The bill was to create a 'tourism development fund levy', from which marketing and vocational and educational services linked to the tourism industry were to be paid. None of this however has materialised inspite of assurances given by government to the tourism private sector, leaving the tourist board and the national hotel and tourism training institute chronically underfunded. Donor support has also largely expired for the sector, as government has not made tourism a priority with the country's development partners, as a recent EU evaluation of their tourism support programme has candidly revealed.

The parliamentary public accounts committee has become increasingly assertive over, what they term 'unauthorized government expenditure' and 'investments' such as payment to hotel companies ahead of the Commonwealth Summit in November or the shareholding in the failed Victoria International Airways in 2006, none of which the committee says has been sanctioned by parliament and its vote on the country's budget. Watch this space to follow this emerging story.

In the same meeting of the PAC it was also revealed, that due to lack of funds Uganda's membership at the UN World Tourism Organization &endash; UNWTO &endash; has lapsed and the country been suspended, denying Uganda all the benefits from marketing and training support it would be entitled to as a member of the LDC group of nations (least developed countries). This benefit ordinarily amounts to a great multiple of the annual membership fees. The tourism private sector has been demanding compliance from government on this issue for years now, but other than lip service never saw concrete action. Other key memberships in global bodies are also hanging in suspense, as substantial dues arrears have accumulated over the past years &endash; owing to lack of adequate funding of the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry.

HIGHWAY MARKINGS TO COMMENCE

The Ministry of Works and Transport has now advertised a tender for highway distance markings cum advertising signs. Across the major roads and highways in the country signs are to be erected at one or two kilometre intervals, showing distances to the next major town or rural centre, in exchange for advertising opportunities. At the same time new direction signs are going up all over Kampala to direct traffic towards their destination like key places of interest (Museum, Kasubi Tombs), the Entebbe International Airport, the Kajjansi Airfield, the main stadium and city exits to the major upcountry towns.

FUEL CRISIS LOOMING AGAIN

Following reports of targeted violence against Ugandan trucks, ferrying fuel from the pipeline head depots in Eldoret and Kisumu, transporters and drivers have at least for the moment reduced operations, until full security is guaranteed and provided by Kenyan security forces. Subsequently, fuel in some stations is again being rationed or has run out. Truck drivers arriving at the Ugandan border showed journalists broken windscreens, windows and other damage to their cars and trucks by stones and rocks thrown at them by thugs and goons &endash; the area between Eldoret and Kisumu to the border being the heartland of the political opposition and most prone to outbreaks of violence. They also reported vehicles being looted and burned while in transit to the border. Opposition leader Odinga's recent public call for an end to violence sounded hollow and was described by sections of the media as 'too little, too late'. Parallels have now also been drawn between the 1982 coup attempt supported by Odinga and similar tactics today, to turn his whole tribe &endash; the Luo &endash; against the rest of peace loving Kenyans, prompting calls even by the US administration to end 'ethnic cleansing' &endash; although presently stopping short of calling it 'genocide' &endash; witnessed in the aftermath of the elections in opposition areas. Watch this space as news break.

DEATH OF TWO GERMANS UNRELATED TO KENYA'S POLITICAL VIOLENCE

The killing of two German citizens at the South Coast of Mombasa is evidently not connected to the present post-election violence, which some parts of Kenya have suffered from over the past weeks. The two victims, a German businessman living in Kenya and his visiting friend from Germany, were attacked and killed at the residence of the business man in either an outright robbery attempt or &endash; as part of the usual speculation over such incidents &endash; a result of a possible business dispute or rivalry. The wife of the visitor from Germany was also injured in the attack but is recovering at a hospital in Mombasa.

It should be stressed, that due to the ongoing close liaison between the tourism private sector and security organs, and through regular updates to safari companies on the actual situation on the ground along key airport and safari routes, the Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) and the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) have so far successfully managed to keep all tourists out of harm's way. A group of tourists coming from their Kenya section of an East African safari tour to Uganda for gorilla tracking in fact confirmed to this correspondent during a chance meeting at Entebbe International Airport earlier in the week, that they &endash; while initially a little apprehensive over the situation &endash; very much enjoyed their safari to the key national parks in Kenya, felt safe throughout their trip and at no time came near any trouble on the road. Many safari vehicles are equipped with long distance radios and guides can receive important information from their offices in Nairobi or Mombasa, allowing them to avoid troublespots.

BUSH AVOIDS KENYA DURING VISIT TO EAST AFRICA

The forthcoming Africa visit by US President Bush is once again avoiding Kenya during its East Africa loop, as already done by him in 2003. State visits this time will take place in Tanzania and Rwanda. This means that for the last three times a US president came to Eastern Africa, Kenya has found herself excluded from the visiting programme, always reportedly over the US' concerns about domestic political issues in Kenya at the time. Prior to the December 2007 elections there was some hope to have Kenya included in the visiting schedule, but the outbreak of ongoing post election violence has put paid to that.

In the meantime, visiting former UN Chief Kofi Annan expressed his shock over, what he termed 'systematic human right abuses' of which he saw evidence when visiting the main problem areas in Western Kenya, where in particular the members of President Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe were relentlessly hunted down and their homesteads and businesses looted and burnt. The tense political situation in Kenya has now also spread to the Rift Valley provincial capital of Nakuru, globally known for the Nakuru National Park, which is home to millions of flamingos. The hitherto peaceful Nakuru saw some serious violence over the last weekend, again perpetrated largely against members of the Kikuyu tribe and most likely carried out by opposition goons loyal to election loser Odinga, who remains ambiguous about the ongoing crimes against humanity and ethnic and political cleansing. Retaliatory 'strikes' by the Kikuyu tribesmen are now also starting, said to be in defence of their people, but clearly inflaming the cycles of violence some more in an area hitherto largely peaceful, and to make it worse being home to key tourist attractions in the rift valley. Kofi Annan and his team of eminent African personalities subsequently called for 'hard choices' to me made by the two opposing camps, a halt to all violence, for political leaders to reign in their supporters and for police investigations and prosecutions of the perpetrators of political violence, which they could see first hand and close up.

DOMESTIC TOURISM IN KENYA HARDEST HIT

The absence of sufficient foreign tourist visitors in Kenya, needed to maintain the tourism industry's occupancy figures, is being compounded by the collapse of the domestic tourism segment. Middle class Kenyans, who contributed to the industry by taking advantage of financially very attractive 'residents rates' in beach resorts and safari lodges, are now staying at home for fear of running into violent confrontations on the roads or simply wanting to watch our for their homes and businesses. Many would be travellers also feel this is not the time for travel and vacations, when their jobs are at stake and the country's economy under severe threat. Domestic tourism in Kenya in past years accounted for as much as one third of the overall income, and as long as Kenyans do not travel their country it will be even harder to convince international visitors to return to Kenya's sunshine coast or visit the world class national parks and reserves.

"The domestic tourism market is basically dead," said Dr Dan Kagagi, chief executive of the European Union (EU) funded tourism development initiative TTF &endash; Tourism Trust Fund. He said it has become difficult to convince Kenyans to visit some parts of the country, effectively making local tourism, estimated to contribute 30 per cent of tourism revenue, to grind to a halt. "If Kenyans are now scared of travelling, that wipes out domestic tourism".

This report comes shortly after the sports tourism project at Masinga Dam in Central Kenya reopened its doors, which TTF supported with some 22 million Kenya Shillings and which future now looks equally bleak. Tourism Permanent Secretary Rebecca Nabutola is also quoted in the local Kenyan media to have put the losses for the tourism sector over the past weeks to at least 6 billion Kenya Shillings. She is also on record that the country would need to add at least a billion Kenya Shillings to the budget of the Kenya Tourist Board in coming months to aggressively promote the country in its core and emerging markets and arrest the present slide in fortunes.

The Kenya Shilling in the meantime has during trading in the week temporarily broken through the 74/- barrier versus the US Dollar, while prior to the elections it reached briefly a high of nearly 60/- before retreating again into the low 60-margin. The currency is expected to slide further yet, as export earnings and remittances from Kenyans living and working abroad are low due to the prevailing situation in the country. A lower shilling however also brings benefits as tourism products can be sold at more competitive rates abroad, helping to revive the sector once the violence has finally subsided and order been restored. The Nairobi Stock Exchange during the week also experienced the highest single day loss of share values, wiping some 40 billion Kenya Shillings off the ticker, arguably as a result of the political impasse unsettling the market.

AFRICAN SAFARI CLUB CLOSES 6 RESORTS IN KENYA

According to news reports from Mombasa, one of the leading operators of beach and safari holidays to Kenya, the African Safari Club, has closed 6 of their 10 Mombasa based resorts, laying off nearly 1000 people. They have also reduced their 'in house' charters from Europe from 5 per week to only 2 per week, and are said to be monitoring the situation closely, should a further drop in passengers require additional closures. African Safari Club and African Safari Air have been operating to the Kenya coast from Europe for almost 40 years and their current problems reflect an industry wide trend in Kenya, threatening to wipe out the gains of the tourism industry of the past 5 years in one fell blow over politically inspired violence, largely perpetrated by election losers upon an otherwise generally peace loving population.

ENTEBBE ROAD HOTEL UNDER CHOGM AUDIT SCRUTINY

The privately owned hotel venture at Bwebajje along Entebbe road &endash; due to become the Protea Entebbe Hotel when eventually completed and open &endash; has again come under the spotlight, when accountability for allegedly advanced funds from the CHOGM budget was demanded by the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament. The hotel gained notoriety when during the early stages of construction a building collapsed killing many workers in the process. The owners however seem to have escaped the law as no prosecution was ever brought against them. The hotel was predictably not ready for the Commonwealth Summit in November, inspite of full mouthed statements to the contrary by the owners, but tried nevertheless to have guests check into the building site's 'ready' rooms. The proprietors have in the meantime continued their cloud nine ambitions when announcing recently that the size of the project would grow to 1.000 rooms and over 1.000 shops, something industry analysts dismissed out of hand as 'ludicrous', considering the record of the owners, being total novices to the hotel industry, but also due to the distance from both Entebbe and Kampala and the ensuing commuting problems during rush hours. Parliamentarians have now claimed that the hotel had received advance payment for CHOGM delegates but did not host any at all. Watch this space.

ELECTRICITY TARIFFS WILL NOT INCREASE

Following angry outbursts by the general public over plans by the electricity company to apply for yet another major tariff hike between 21(domestic) and 59(large industrial) percent, the Electricity Regulatory Authority has now reacted and said that tariffs are due to come down in 2008 but at worst will remain at the present 2007 level. More investments are underway in the sector to combat the shortfall by both conventional production and using increased renewable energy sources, with government removing tax and duty elements on solar equipment and planning a further distribution of energy saving bulbs to reduce peak time demand. Conversions are also underway from diesel powered thermal plants to heavy fuel oil powered thermal plants, which will reduce the cost of operations considerably. The electricity company also stands accused of not doing enough to reduce system losses by upgrading the grid and combating energy theft, which would allow them to increase their revenue substantially without having to empty consumers' pockets even more.

CRUISE LINER DOCKS IN MOMBASA

Inspite of the political tension which is gripping Kenya at present, following the opposition's refusal to accept the election results, the Italian cruise liner 'Costa Marina' went on to make the scheduled port call in Mombasa with some 800 tourists on board. The visiting tourists went on shore excursions and safaris and while there was tighter security than usual surrounding the ship and the visitors, the port call apparently went smoothly. Mombasa is expecting another 6 cruise ships to visit the port over the next couple of weeks and there is no indication of any of them considering delaying or cancelling their visits, subject of course to the present political passions cooling off again very soon and the opposition accepting the declared results or else taking their grievances to the competent courts.

KENYAN ELECTIONS PRODUCE CHAOS AMIDST TIGHT RESULTS

PRESIDENT KIBAKI DECLARED WINNER, SWORN IN FOR SECOND TERM OF OFFICE (December 30th, 2007)

Calm has been replaced with chaos in Kenya after the relatively peaceful end December elections, which raised the emotions of this East African nation to new fever pitch levels. Voters appeared at polling stations in a record turn out already at night on the 27th December, making for long queues and long waiting times before they could cast their votes. In some cases this led to the extensions of the evening voting deadline to allow the waiting crowds to cast their ballot. Some 20 ministers and assistant ministers lost their parliamentary seats, including Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Mathai, feeling the apparent anger of the electorate over broken promises from the 2002 general election but also having believed the quick silver campaign the opposition used to make itself shine.

Presidential candidate Raila Odinga, whose late father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was an avowed communist and &endash; as the son himself &endash; served time in prison detention over allegation of wanting to sabotage the Kenyan state, promoting treason and sedition and being generally subversive, was initially unable to cast his vote as his name did not appear on the voter's register in his chosen constituency in Nairobi. The younger Odinga was also repeatedly rumoured to have been one of the dark forces behind the 1982 coup attempt in Kenya, which tried to overthrow the elected government of former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi. His voting problem was however later resolved and he could finally make a tick against his own name on both parliamentary and presidential election ballots.

As it turned out from the results however this was not enough, as he lost to the incumbent in a tightly fought race. Odinga's projected early lead &endash; at least as peddled by sections of the media and his own supporters, but notably not the electoral commission &endash; was progressively eroded by President Kibaki's growing numbers, at which stage the opposition brought out their goons to the streets to begin causing chaos, following the 1982 recipe. In Odinga's home stronghold of Kisumu members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe were literally hunted like animals by rampaging Luos (Odinga's home tribe), their shops targeted, looted and burned and individuals beaten up and worse.

Loosing is not new to the Odingas. Raila Odinga's late father had made a spectacle of himself when he lost the presidential contest in the 1992 election, and begged the electorate under tears to give him 'even one day in State House', which forever remained a distant dream for him as well as for the son now. Raila Odinga had decisively split the former ruling coalition with his uninhibited ambition for power and the top post in the country. He was part of the initial Kibaki government which was swept into power in 2002, but was soon afterwards sacked for dissent and only then became an outspoken critic of the now re-elected president, before being sent by the majority of the people of Kenya into dustbin of history. Bringing his hoodlums out to the streets once again shows his true ilk and after the country has settled down again it may be the time to look into criminal charges for inciting crowds of clearly misled people into violence as well as for his alleged role in the 1982 coup attempt.

Odinga also refused to take the his grievance to the courts, saying in a press statement: 'we will not go to the courts controlled by President Kibaki', then demanding that the Electoral Commission should: 'resign before releasing fraudulent figures'. This outraging stand was the clearest indication yet that he would continue sending his goon squads into the streets to cause chaos from which he was hoping to benefit by bringing him to power through street violence.

Thankfully tourists were spared the worst of the excesses as they were kept in their beach resorts, safari lodges or city hotels by tour operators' staff to avoid being targeted too. Many of those departing expressed both relief for their personal safety as well as sorrow over Kenya's internal troubles which the opposition perpetrated in their ultimate greed for the presidency while themselves failing any democratic standards. The proverbial 'Orc of Mordor', as he was described by a Kenyan friend (who went to vote and then returned to his workplace in Kampala) of this correspondent was ultimately prevented from taking Kenya down the dark road of tribalism, revenge and vengeance but at a high cost to the country's reputation abroad and for the deliberate loss of life and wanton destruction of property. There are troublesome days and weeks ahead for Kenya and her generally peace loving people. Neighbouring countries, in particular the African hinterland nations of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan and Eastern Congo are also expressing their own concern over their import and export lifeline through Kenya to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa, as any looming trouble would undoubtedly have an immediate impact on the flow of fuel and other goods. Watch this space as the story develops.

FUEL SHORTAGE HITS HOME (Tuesday, 01st January 2008)

Following the developments in Kenya, where supporters of the defeated presidential candidate took to the streets in running battles with security forces, the flow of fuel to Uganda was immediately affected. Already on New Year's Eve long queues formed at the few stations with sufficient supplies, but rationing was invoked with a maximum of 20 litres per car while prices rose to an unprecedented Ushs 3.000 per litre ( US $ 1.78) at the increasingly few still open or willing to sell stations. First reports coming from Juba / Southern Sudan also indicate that the price for fuel jumped above the 5 US Dollar mark per litre and was still rising. Other goods are also stuck in transit, while exports like coffee and tea for Mombasa from Uganda and other hinterland countries are now halted at the Kenyan border points.

At the same time, travellers using the services of the bus companies on the routes from Kenya and Tanzania to Uganda and beyond were also stranded as no public service vehicles were moving in the face of declared or undeclared curfews. Petrol stations and cash points are also said to be running dry across Kenya, compounding an already difficult situation. Many locals across Eastern Africa use busses to reach their destinations in the region as it is an affordable means of travel, compared to the cost of air tickets, once the extremely high regulatory taxes are added. Subsequently a sizeable number of people who had gone to the Kenya coast by bus or their own cars for the Christmas / New Year holiday are now unable to return. In turn Kenyan visitors now equally 'stuck' in Uganda, as reports have emerged that opposition supporters committed a major crime by burning 25 children and many more adults in a church, where they had sought refuge. This happened near the Western Kenyan town of Eldoret, where most of the transit traffic between Uganda and Kenya passes and where also the fuel pipeline head is located, from where Ugandan an other hinterland countries pick their supplies. This will put more strain yet on the already inflamed ethnic relations, which the opposition has exploited for their own political ends.

First reports on charter operations to Mombasa also indicate a reduction in arrivals with outbound flights fully booked and tourists scrambling for seats to return home. Some of the hoteliers at the Kenyan coast known to this correspondent have privately expressed their concern over the developments, saying it could spoil the 4 year upswing of the tourism industry, which yielded record figures for 2007 but now has a rather bleakish outlook for 2008. South coast hoteliers have also lamented the fact that tourist traffic needed to go through the Likoni part of Mombasa where vandalism and political fighting was ripe. Likoni was at the centre of previous ethnic clashes which subsequently led to Kenya's tourism collapse in the late 90's.

In a related development Kenya Airways has reportedly suspended flights to and from Kisumu &endash; an opposition stronghold &endash; due to lack of fuel at the airport and domestic flights in and out of Mombasa also appear delayed, keeping scores of passengers at the airport waiting for their aircraft to arrive to connect to their international flights home and away from trouble.

IMPACT OF KENYA TROUBLES SPREADS FURTHER INTO THE REGION

(Wednesday, 02 January 2008)

Reports from Nairobi and other parts of Kenya now indicate that after petrol and cash dispensing ATM's ran dry, the supply of prepaid phone cards also dwindled to near none available on the streets. As of Wednesday the entire central business district looked like a ghost town with shops closed and few people on the roads, according to eye witnesses calling from Nairobi. This will in addition to transport and trade also affect telecommunications, as most users are on prepaid services to control their tight budgets. Fuel supplies in Uganda and the inland countries dried up more yet, as no new supplies could be processed from the pipeline heads in Eldoret and Kisumu / Kenya. The handful of stations in the Kampala which still had some fuel available raised prices to as much as 8.000 Uganda Shillings per litre or almost US Dollars 4.70, which put it beyond financial reach of most Ugandans. Subsequently even public transport suffered a severe impact with many 'matatus' off the road due to lack of petrol and traffic into the city was even thinner than on a usual Sunday. This was possibly also due to many Ugandans remaining in their upcountry home villages, since transport fares have already doubled across the country. Should the situation in Kenya persist more widespread shortages are expected to hit Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan, all of which depend on the road and rail supply line from the Mombasa port. Fuel prices in Juba, Southern Sudan's capital, are also continuing to rise and early indications are that charges have now reached between 8 and 10 US Dollars per litre, if and where fuel is still available.

Aviation is considered the likely next 'victim' of these developments, as all aviation fuels like JetA1 and AVGAS also need to come from or via Kenya for the airports and airfields in Uganda, Rwanda and beyond. In the absence of new deliveries airlines may soon be given a mandatory notice to bring more fuel and choose intermediate waypoints for refuelling when flying back to Europe or the Middle East. Watch this space for updates.

STAY AWAY FROM MEETING VENUE SAYS POLICE

KENYA GOVERNMENT BANS OPPOSITION MEETINGS

(Thursday, 03rd January 2008)

Security forces in substantial numbers were deployed already on Wednesday in Nairobi and across the country, supported by army units, to prevent unauthorised opposition meetings in Nairobi's Central Park, which were expected to generate more violence upon the suffering country. President Mwai Kibaki laid the blame squarely on the opposition and its leader Raila Odinga, who now stands accused of having promoted and fostered ethnic violence and cleansing in areas where he enjoyed political support. Subsequently Nairobi and other urban centres are once again expected to resemble ghost towns as business owners are unlikely to open their shops, while the opposition is spoiling for another fight.

In another effort however to bring the opposing sides together the President also met with a number of the newly elected Members of Parliament at State House Nairobi, but details are still scarce of what has been discussed and was agreed in the meeting to end the cycles of violence since elections results were declared a few days ago and the President sworn in for a second term of office. Belated calls by the opposition party ODM to their supporters to halt violence also sounded hollow after first loosening their goon squads on unsuspecting fellow Kenyans with the aim to maim and kill.

In a related development all types of excursions, shopping and city tours in Nairobi and Mombasa have been shelved by responsible tour and safari operators to avoid any harm coming to their clientele on visit to Kenya, a strategy which has up to now worked well as no single tourist has been reported to have come to harm during the upheavals of the past days. Congratulations for this achievement to the Kenya Tourism Federation and governmental agencies and security forces, which cooperated towards this common goal of keeping their visitors safe.

UGANDA TOURISM READY TO ABSORB DIVERTED TRAFFIC

(Thursday, 04th January 2008)

Enquiries have been received by Ugandan safari and tour operators to handle some of the traffic destined for Kenya, should the current situation there prevail. While capacities on the safari sector with lodges and safari camps are not numerically matching those of Kenya, Uganda could however provide some relief for the top end of the market, should there be a switch of itineraries. That said, business projections for the Ugandan safari circuit during the present high season are already excellent as it is, with gorilla tracking permits literally sold out until the end of March &endash; as are permits for chimpanzee tracking &endash; although some of the top end lodges may be able to accommodate extra traffic.

Should the Kenyan situation however prevail for too long, damage to the tourism industry across the region can be expected, as much of the air traffic to Eastern Africa still connects via Nairobi and trouble in the leading tourism country of East Africa will undoubtedly have an effect for the other countries too. This comes with particular reference to the opposition's declared intention to defy a ban on their planned (Thursday) meeting in the heart of Nairobi, which could spell more trouble yet to come.

Tourism operators in Kenya are meanwhile putting a brave face to the situation and are downplaying the potential impact and damage to their sector. The industry has been struggling to rebuild market confidence since the notorious Likoni riots 10 years ago and the fall out of terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa. For the past four years numbers have been rising impressively, following a major EU funded marketing initiative, and for 2007 some 2 million overall arrivals (tourists and non tourists) are expected for Kenya with the resulting revenue nearing 1 billion US Dollars. This makes tourism one of the most important economic sectors for the country and arguably the biggest foreign exchange earner.

It has also been reported that in Mombasa, tourists travelling to and from the airport are now provided with police escorts to ensure their safety, which is a reassuring measure for most but of course also visibly underscores the present problems in the country. Kenya Airways reportedly resumed flights to Kisumu but information received from there indicates that all airlines have scaled back flight operations to single flights per day in the face of very low passenger loads. International flight arrivals, according to an airline source at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, are also showing sharply lower inbound passenger loads, while literally every flight exits Nairobi with full capacity, leaving passengers with no confirmations or on standby behind.

Every one in the Uganda tourism industry extends the very best wishes to their Kenyan brothers and sisters for a swift and peaceful solution to their problems.

 

BRUSSELS AIRLINES CELEBRATES 4TH FLIGHT

In time for the Christmas high season rush Brussels Airlines has commended their long awaited 4th weekly flight between Brussels and Entebbe. The occasion was celebrated in style at the new Imperial Royale Hotel in the form of a pre-Christmas cocktail party for clients of the airline, the business community and of course the travel fraternity. The airline operates state of the art Airbus A330-200 aircraft on the route, featuring the latest flat beds in their award winning business class and enhanced cabin technology for in-flight entertainment. Happy Landings!

UGANDA WILDLIFE AUTHORITY GIVES 'CHRISTMAS BONUS'

Ugandan citizens and registered foreign residents enjoy a 50 percent entrance fee discount once again (announced after the editorial deadline of the pre Christmas edition) between December 20th 2007 and January 15th 2008. UWA is expecting in the region of 30.000 visitors taking advantage of this great fee reduction, which however will not include tracking fees for gorillas and chimpanzees nor fees for other charges applicable like launch trips on the River Nile towards the Murchisons Falls or the Kazinga Channel cruise in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This initiative is aimed to increase domestic tourism over the holiday period, making visits in particular for Ugandan families more affordable. The main school holidays in Uganda fall into this period of time and with budget accommodation facilities inside and near the parks also on the rise, Ugandans and foreign residents will also not have to fork out too much cash to put a roof over their heads. Well done UWA for the true Christmas spirit!

MORE CHRISTMAS BONANZAS FOR PHONE USERS

The presently operating three mobile phone companies have continued to shower the market with incredible special offers for the holiday season, bringing call charges for international, regional, domestic and network based (Celtel's Africa network) down to the lowest levels yet. MTN has also at last finished their network upgrade at a reported cost of about 60 million US Dollars, having suffered of horrible congestion and network downage problems for much of the year. However, this flurry of price reductions might have less to do with Santa Claus activities but the imminent switching on of two additional new network operators, both of whom are expected to ramrod into the market with vigour. Network tied quality mobile phones are now available from operators for less than 25 US Dollars per set, volume rebates have reached 20 percent with instant call credit applied and per second charges have also entered the market across the main networks. Watch this space, as a sixth operator appears to have been licensed by the Uganda Communication Commission due to enter the market in mid / late 2008.

ELECTRITY SUPPLIER NOT IN CHRISTMAS MOOD

In time for the festive season the South African managed monopolist electricity supplier Umeme has served notice to the country of their intent to further increase tariffs in 2008, just as figures of government subsidies to the sector for 2007 emerged. Some 113 billion Uganda Shillings have been spend by the Uganda government to keep the tariffs within reach of domestic consumers and of industry but the apparent never ending corporate greed seems to know no bounds. No happy festive season news for Ugandans therefore, who will likely have to dig their pockets deeper still to keep the lights on next year.

OFF OR ON, HILTON KAMPALA SAGA PERSISTS

Unconfirmed reports indicate that building on the abandoned site of the proposed 'Kampala Hilton Hotel' has resumed to some extend. A swiftly organized site visit however found security at the gate refusing to allow anyone into the compound nor were they willing to call anyone in authority at the site, preferring instead to resort to foul language. A few people could be seen through gaps of the fence which however did not constitute 'significant' activity at the site. The now notorious team of brothers from the Sudan had started the project nearly two years ago but persistently failed to have their action on the ground match the action of their mouths. Eventually building stopped at first floor level when their money had run out and they had failed to secure the necessary finance for the 90 million US Dollar project inspite of their repeated empty promises the have the hotel ready for the Commonwealth Summit in November this year. Time will tell if this latest twist is just seasonal 'snowflake in the eye' or if really the building is going ahead again. There has also been speculation in the local media over a change of ownership of the site and the project, which could not be independently confirmed. However, cost of construction has since the start of the project rocketed, due to escalating fuel, cement and building steel prices and a substantially higher price tag is now expected in any case. In a related development a firm of PR consultants, retained by the brothers some time ago to improve their public image in order to reel financiers in &endash; incidentally without much success &endash; has sued them for almost 400.000 US Dollars over non payment of fees, which makes interesting reading when comparing notes over the purported resumption of construction on the abandoned site. Watch this column for future updates.

WHAT'S GOING ON WITH MABIRA FOREST

During a meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers earlier in the year in Guyana the Ugandan Finance Minister had announced that plans to turn nearly a third of this key tropical rain forest in to a sugar plantation had been dropped by government. Subsequently, visitors and dignitaries of the recently concluded Commonwealth Summit were paraded through the forest and given comprehensive explanations about Uganda's stand on conservation and bio diversity protection, while also visiting a 2 million + US Dollar investment in the recently opened RainForestLodge.

However, latest press reports now indicate that the matter is far from resolved, which will undoubtedly get the environmental lobby back into play and will also ring alarm bells at the World Bank, which has a binding agreement from the Government of Uganda to leave the forest alone as part of an offset agreement over the finance of the Bujagali hydro electric power plant. In any case, questions are now being asked just how much one can rely on government commitments vis-à-vis the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Bio Diversity Protection it signed some years ago, statements made to the effect that the sugar plantations plans had been finally shelved and yet raising the matter ever again. Parliament too is expected to get involved again now, as the majority of sitting MP's had expressed their opposition to the plans. The sugar baron was also offered alternative land on a lease basis but rejected this offer on grounds of cost, while hoping to get the forest land for free.

 

KENYA ELECTION HAD LITTLE INFLUENCE ON VISITOR ARRIVALS

The just concluded election in Kenya has, unlike on previous occasions, not influenced the arrival pattern of tourists into the country, nor led to the usual widespread exodus of predominantly Asian residents' families in the East African nation across the borders. In fact the Kenya coast was swamped with overseas visitors &endash; as were the game park lodges &endash; and literally every single resort was fully booked. This column had suggested that the elections would be conducted in a largely peaceful climate and, apart from some incidents in upcountry areas and known trouble spot constituencies far away from tourism centres, this has generally played out very well. Results are expected over the coming days and the first column in 2008 will undoubtedly report about this.

 

AFRICAN AIRLINES DOUBLE ORDERS FOR NEW AIRCRAFT
AFRAA, the association of African airlines, has just released information that member airlines on the African continent have during 2007 ordered over 150 new aircraft, up from only 84 new aircraft ordered in 2006. The trend to modern equipment will continue in 2008 according to forecasts, with the key continental players setting the standards other airlines are likely to follow. In stark contrast the latest Ugandan upstart is using first generation DC 9-32 - aptly termed 'sky howlers' by a Ugandan aviation veteran - which spew fumes and leave very audible noise prints across the East African landscapes. Fuel savings generated by the latest engine types and stricter environmental controls (and categorical demands by governments in international destinations) have pushed the leading African airlines towards modern state of the art jets and their rising passenger numbers also confirm that the market is keen to see their airlines fly the latest type aircraft -not to mention safety considerations.

The leading airlines in Africa have also, with the notable exception of Ethiopian Airlines, now chosen alliance partners, which has a further impact on marketability of their services. South African and Egypt Air are now flying with 'Star Alliance' while Kenya Airways in 2007 joined the Air France / KLM led 'SkyTeam', which will leave smaller airlines without IOSA certification and operating with internationally shunned old aircraft, trailing in their wake. Watch this space.

KAMPALA MARATHON A GREAT SUCCESS

The annual MTN sponsored Kampala Marathon, run last Sunday across Uganda's capital city, was once again a resounding success with another record attendance. The race start and finish was for the first time located at the Lugogo Shopping Mall, where ample parking was available and the logistics of start and finish better organized compared with the previous start and end point along Parliament Avenue. The various category races over the full distance, the half marathon and the 10 KM race were won by Kenyan (men and women full marathon) and Ugandan (men and women half marathon) competitors while the 10 KM race produced a 1-2-3 for Ugandan women and men respectively. The men's finishing time was a weather induced relatively slow 2:17:25 for Kenyan Tuwei Kiprop and second placed Ugandan Joseph Nsubuga narrowly missed the Beijing 2008 Olympic qualifying time by just a few seconds. This column congratulates all participants for their sporting and fundraising efforts.

SHERATON'S FESTIVE SEASON UNDERWAY

As we are entering the pre Christmas mode in our daily lives, the Sheraton Kampala Hotel has released its traditional season programme. Companies honouring their employees are using the newly renovated meeting and function rooms for their annual staff parties and the renowned pastry shop is turning out classic European styled cakes, including the famous 'stollen' and of course the equally famous Christmas Pudding.

The New Year's Eve do seems of particular attraction to Kampaleans, taking place at the swimming pool deck and rooms for that night go for an amazing US Dollars 100 only, including the use of the Kidepo Spa to work off the overindulgences of the previous night and a full breakfast buffet for those with a taste for more. Call the hotel for reservations at +256 414 420000 or +256 414344590 or email them at sales.kampala@sheraton.com

  NEW YEAR'S EVE 'AROUND THE WORLD' DINNER DANCE

OPPOSITION USES EBOLA OUTBREAK FOR POLITICAL ENDS

The present Ebola outbreak, suspected to have been brought into Uganda by infected persons from Congo DR seeking treatment or escaping their own government perpetrated violence in the East of the jungle nation, is now being misused by the Ugandan political opposition for their own ends. They seriously suggested that government held back the information to allow for a smooth Commonwealth Summit to take place. It was however established by this correspondent that the CDC in Atlanta only confirmed an outbreak on towards the end of November, i.e. after the summit ended, at which stage a combined WHO, CDC and Ministry of Health containment group was dispatched to the affected area along the Congo border in one of the remotest parts of Western Uganda.

Reports, probably also peddled by the same characters, that the disease has spread into other parts of the country, were also dismissed by the health team tasked with the containment exercise, who confirmed that only the immediate border area was affected. Such irresponsible propaganda, though not unexpected from these quarters, is therefore to be condemned in the sharpest possible way and the perpetrators should be made to answer charges in court.

In the meantime more equipment was flown into the country to effectively combat and contain the disease, as done a few months ago with a Marburg fever outbreak. There seems no level low enough for a hapless opposition in this country to stoop lower still, trying to exploit this tragic situation for their own political ends.

The Uganda government has in the meantime mobilised internal funds to the tune of about 7 billion Uganda Shillings as emergency allocation to the health sector besides material support from development partners and the WHO, who have also stepped up their assistance levels. President Museveni has also ordered an official enquiry to establish the true origins of the disease, after suspicions were raised that the outbreak originated from across the border in Congo DR, where earlier in the year a major outbreak was reported in the more central part of the jungle nation.

Would be visitors to the country can obtain updated information from their safari and tour operators, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (auto@utlonline.co.ug) or the Uganda Tourist Board / Tourism Uganda via their website www.visituganda.com or www.health.go.ug

KLUGE'S GUEST FARM NOW READY TO RECEIVE GUESTS

Stefan and Mariam Kluge's farm holiday concept in the foothills of the mighty Rwenzori Mountains, aka Mountains of the Moon, is now ready to receive guests. Located between Fort Portal and Kasese it offers 8 guest cottages, a VIP cottage and 5 tents for camping fans without their own equipment. The setting allows splendid views across the Rwenzori mountain peaks and their ice fields from a serene and tranquil setting in the midst of a working African farm. Many amenities are provided, including a swimming pool. The Kluge Guest Farm allows guests staying there to see all attractions in the area within a day's travel, including the Kibaale Primate National Park, the Semliki Game Reserve and the cultural sites of the Tooro Kingdom, besides visiting the forests on the slopes of the mountains. Horse riding is also possible across the farm or along cleared forest paths. Cuisine is varied and best described as solid home cooking, if with a little bias on German food, and besides a daily table d' hote menu guests have a choice of other dishes prepared to order by the well trained cooks, prepared from fresh farm produce. Groups of black and white colobus monkeys are frequently seen from the guest room verandas as are a variety of other wild animals and birds, besides the farm animals like goats, cows, horses and poultry. Interested visitors can write to marketing@klugesguestfarm.com for more information or otherwise visit their website at www.klugesguestfarm.com

CONSERVATION VS OIL

A new conservation debate is brewing in Uganda, as plans have emerged to degazette part of a wildlife reserve, the Kaiso-Tonya wildlife conservation area in Hoima district, Western Uganda. The proposed mini refinery and a gas fed power plant are to be constructed there, if further test drilling in one of the exploration areas confirms the commercially viable size of the oil and gas deposits. Conservationists have already started their machinery to drum up local and international support, while the oil companies are assuring the public that international best practice and latest technology will be used, if the plans are to go ahead. Uganda Wildlife Authority in contrast assured the public that they are not aware of any such plans as yet and that no decision could be taken without NEMA and UWA involvement, as it requires an act of parliament to degazette existing protected areas.

In the meantime as case of ranger turned poacher was brought to the public's attention, when in Fort Portal (Kabarole) two UWA staff were arrested as they were about to sell 4 shoe bill stork eggs for incubation to traders ready to send them to Southern Africa. The Shoe Bill stork is one of the rarest birds in Uganda and generates much interest amongst birders coming to the country to see the prehistoric looking bird in its natural habitat. Watch this space as this saga develops.

NEW BRUSSELS AIRLINES CONGOLESE VENTURE TO FLY IN EARLY 2008

The partnership between Belgium's national airline Brussels Airlines and Congo DR based Hewa Bora Airline, titled 'airDC', will take to the skies in early 2008, the airline has now announced.

Hewa Bora Airlines has been operating for some years already and met the EU aviation guidelines in full, and was subsequently the only airline from the Congo allowed to fly to Europe. The joint venture airline, in which Brussels Airlines holds 49 percent of the shares, will according to well informed sources operate along JAR and EASA guidelines, which are said to be substantially more stringent than Congolese aviation regulations and requirements. None of the other about 30 operating airlines inside the DR Congo meet those standards, resulting in regular aviation accidents, spurned also by the widespread use of poorly maintained former Soviet Union aircraft. Once the new joint venture has taken to the air, incidentally using modern aircraft unlike the latest Ugandan upstart, the airline is also expected to look at connections to East Africa, besides connecting Kinshasa with Europe and operating an extensive domestic and regional network. Brussels Airlines is also the leading contender in the privatization process of Rwandair, a decision for which is expected also in early 2008.

SEARCH FOR PILOTS HEATS UP

As the brain drain continues unabated from Eastern Africa to mainly the Arabian Gulf States, Fly 540 of Kenya has now advertised once again for captains and first officers to fly on their fleet of ATR's, Dash 8's and other aircraft operated on their fleet. Gulf based airlines have over the past years increasingly 'poached' ready made pilots away from their employers in Eastern Africa and even siphoned off cabin crews and maintenance personnel. Most of those accepting such offers opted for better pay, better career prospects and often better life styles, when flying for the fast growing airlines based in the Gulf States. This has left many airlines, including Kenya Airways, struggling to fill vacancies for cockpit crew positions. It led even within East Africa to a migration of crews from smaller airlines and in particular struggling upstarts with aviation stone age equipment (or as an industry analyst recently put it in Uganda 'sky howlers') to the better facilitated and reputed airlines in the region. This trend has inevitably raised questions on the quality and experience of pilots operating aircraft. Demands are getting more urgent to increase regulatory oversight and offer regional training facilities to keep crews up to date with their training schedules and refreshers. Openings exist at the East African Aviation Academy in Soroti, the only public aviation training facility in East Africa for pilots and technicians, but the academy is also said to be faced with an application boom while dealing with severe capacity limitations.

STAFF EXPRESS RELIEF OVER CHANGE AT THE TOP

Several Air Uganda staffers have expressed their glee to this correspondent over the recent departure of their CEO Pietro Neider. According to these sources he had made the poorest of impressions on them in regard of vision and more importantly staff relations, which seemed to have been rocky with several of them since his arrival in April this year. It is understood that the airline has since appointed a new CEO, who in his first interview with the local media was however coy to speak about their future strategy, apparently too worried that other established airlines in the region may be able to react too soon to the upstart's plans. The airline presently operates two first generation DC9 aircraft, which leave a substantial noise print across the East African landscapes, as they obviously do not meet modern emission standards in regard of both CO2 emissions as well as noise patterns. This is particularly significant as the principal owners on other platforms constantly babble on about their commitment to protect the environment and about their 'best practice', well, not here you don't. It could be established that these nearly obsolete aircraft should sometime in 2008 be replaced with again almost 20 year old MD87 aircraft, which are also hardly 'modern jets' especially in comparison with Kenya Airways' state of the art fleet. Watch this space to follow the battle for the East African skies.

CONGO REGIME TROOPS GIVEN A THUMBING

As reported in the column on previous occasions, the border area with Congo DR has been a somewhat troublespot for some time now. Along the common frontier Hutu militias, responsible for the 1994 Rwanda genocide, but also Ugandan rebels fighting against all and sundry but nor for anything constructive for that matter, have been using the 'hospitality' of the Kinshasa rogue regime to stage hit and run attacks across the border, mostly to loot supplies like common thieves. With the UN MONUC 'protection' force taking unashamedly sides on behalf of the regime in Kinshasa, leaving the Tutsi tribes once again to the murderous intent of their erstwhile killers, the only way out of the situation was for Tutsi forces to organize their own protection. Kinshasa militias claimed for almost a week 'success' in their offensive but were now proven utterly wrong once again, when they were pushed into a running retreat, speak rout, by Gen. Nkunda's troops with reportedly hundreds of casualties for 'government' forces. In the meantime treatment of Ebola victims on the Congo side is literally non existent as large populations were once more displaced by Kinshasa's violence perpetrated against their own people. Welcome to East and Central African reality. The gorilla national park in Congo, just across the borders from Uganda and Rwanda, is also said to be literally dysfunctional now, a further result of Kinshasa's intransigence and their policies of aggression against their neighbours, their own people and their wildlife. Meanwhile, a new round of bilateral talks is taking place this week at the recently opened Commonwealth Resort (part of the Speke Resort and Conference Centre) in Munyonyo, but the tranquil setting and peaceful atmosphere on the shores of Lake Victoria are no guarantee for the talks to succeed, as many prior meetings have ended inconclusively or failed outright.

KENYA CELEBRATES INDEPENDENCE DAY

Congratulations to the people of Kenya on the occasion of their 44th Independence Day, which was celebrated this week on Wednesday, 12th December.

 

KENYA COAST WANTS OWN BRANDING AND IDENTITY

The Kenya Association of Tour Operators coast chapter chairperson Ms. Tasneem Adamji has recently demanded from the Kenya Tourist Board a separate branding and product identity for the coast, reflecting the diversification and changes of the destination over the past years. In order to succeed in the future, especially when looking at the ambitious plans to build two resort cities along the Indian Ocean coastline in coming years, a new approach has been requested from the country's marketing body to prepare Kenya's main markets for the upcoming changes. The Kenya coast is intent to improve its image and move gradually towards a more upmarket level and change market perception, to dispose of the 'cheap image' often going along with rock bottom priced inclusive tour charters. Well done!

And from Gill Staden, Livingstone / Zambia comes the third part of her travel report and a little more about tourism developments in Zambia (livingstonian@zamnet.zm)

 

Kaza Park

The meeting on Kaza Park has been postponed until January.  These meetings are being held to map a way forward for the formation of the new Transfrontier Parks between Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.  Zambia is being used as a test case.  It is therefore important that the meetings are attended by a range of people from all walks of life so that all the problems can be ironed out.  Admittedly, they are a bit dull, because we are having to persuade Government, tribal groups, etc, to agree to the formation of the park.  Having said that, there is little representation by the tourism sector - the sector which will benefit most from the formation of the park.  Please let me know if you want to attend the meetings and I will forward your name to the organising committee - Peace Parks.

The continuing saga of our trip ...

 

I left you all as we were packing up in Liuwa Plains to start our trek homewards. Five of us had decided to go via Kafue National Park and into unknown territory, and three back by the same route &endash; all those lumpy, bumpy roads … via Senanga.

Our journey, for all of us, took us back over the hand-pulled ferry and the across the floodplain from Kalabo to Mongu. And there our journeys took different roads. After filling up with fuel our three vehicles headed east on the Lusaka road. We had no idea what the state of the road would be and were pleasantly surprised to find that the tar was in excellent condition and we could make good time. This is not a very interesting road, in fact, I cannot remember the smallest detail of that drive. Mukambi Lodge was our destination and we reached there by about 3pm.

Mukambi is in a Game Management Area, just off the main road, and sits on the Kafue River. It is a great lodge and very popular with Lusaka-ites for a weekend away. It is right next to Kafue National Park and is a magic stop-over before going into the northern section of the park and Busanga Plains … 

We were greeted by Edjan and Robyn, the owners of Mukambi Lodge and were then taken to meet Basil. Basil was asleep on the veranda and was not very interested in our arrival, although he did manage to open one eye for a quick squizz. Basil is a hippo who has made an enemy in the river &endash; another hippo who likes to fight. So Basil prefers to spend his days on the Mukambi veranda. Basil does have some friends, however, in the form of Pumba and Piglet and Piglet's three offspring … and these are warthogs who also like to spend their days asleep on the veranda. One wonders what will happen as the Mukambi menagerie increases … whether they will eventually have any room for guests. Clearly, the animals seemed to have made themselves very much at home.

All of us, on arrival, went straight to our rooms for a long hot shower … absolute bliss. Having donned some clean clothes on clean bodies we met up in the lounge area to download photos from cameras and drink ice cold beer … more bliss. Being old fogeys, four nights of camping had taken their toll and we were glad of a bit of luxury. We enjoyed one of Mukambi's fine dinners, treating ourselves to a few bottles of wine.

After a very comfy night's sleep in the chalets, we got up to breakfast and preparation for the next day's trip to Itezhi-Tezhi. Having done this trip before, I knew that we were going to go through tsetse areas and we had to be prepared. We got out the dettol and flannels; mixed a dettol/water solution; soaked the flannels and then put them in plastic bags to await the tsetse onslaught.

We left Mukambi at around 9.30am, taking the road east towards Lusaka again. After a short distance we took the road south to Itezhi-Tezhi. This road goes through two GMAs; the road being graded tar, which is a bit horrible in places. It was not long before we entered tsetse-land and the flannels were taken out of their plastic bags and we used them to wipe over our skin and clothes. Although this is not the ultimate deterrent, it certainly makes a lot of difference. I think we all got a few bites but no-one complained too much &endash; it was more of an irritation than too much discomfort.

We stopped part way on a side road for some bloody marys (a mixture of vodka and tomato juice) &endash; not my idea &endash; but I was told that this is the sort of thing one does on holiday … so I joined in … just so that I didn't spoil everyone's fun … We all had that warm glow as we took the road again …

We reached the dam wall at Itezhi-Tezhi around lunchtime, taking the road below it and into the small town. After a bit of searching we found our next night's stop &endash; Chibila Camp, the Wildlife Society Camp, on the edge of the lake.  

It is a lovely spot and has recently been renovated by the Middletons of Kalomo. There are three self-contained chalets, a kitchen and a dining/lounging area. The kitchen has loads of equipment &endash; cooker, fridge, freezer, lots of pots and pans and other cooking essentials; the rooms have basic bedding. The camp attendant was very helpful and looked after us properly, making sure that we were comfortable. And we were comfortable, in fact, too comfortable … we lounged on the loungers and enjoyed the view and did not feel guilty when we decided not to find a boat to take us on to the lake. Only Brian got out his fishing rod and walked down to the lake to try his luck.

There were a couple of hyraxes on the rocks around the camp and we enjoyed watching their antics. A monitor lizard slithered past us down the hill to the rocks and the lake below. We watched some makoras glide along the lake bank full of people and their loads. Apart from that we just relaxed … and enjoyed.

The following day we loaded the vehicles for the last part of our journey &endash; one day, we thought, down through Kafue National Park, Kalomo and home to Livingstone. But that will have to be another story because it was not just one day … it was a bit more … and it was a lot of mud later that we actually reached home …

HTTI RETURNS TO TOURISM MINISTRY

The Ugandan national hotel and tourism training institute will, effective 30th November, return to the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry. The hotel institute was in a fell swoop some years ago excised from the tourism ministry and handed to the Ministry of Education and Sports, loosing millions of Dollars in the process in approved funding from the World Bank under the ICB Pamsu phase (protected areas management and sustainable use) as the change of ministerial oversight had not been catered for in the respective financing agreements with the World Bank. The hospitality and tourism industry at the time protested vehemently for not being consulted over the move at all and any assurances by government, that all such institutions were moved to the Education portfolio at the time were promptly disproved, when other similar institutions, including the East African Aviation Academy, were retained by their respective home ministries. Over the years however much progress was made by the institution under the Ministry of Education and Sports and the present move, although not entirely unexpected, once again was taken by government without consultations with key stakeholders &endash; Public Private Partnership in its finest manifestation …

CELTEL AFRICA SETS NEW GLOBAL STANDARDS

Celtel, the Gulf owned African telecommunications giant, has just broken new ground in Africa, and in fact the world, when integrating 12 of their national networks under a single 'borderless' call system. This now allows Celtel subscribers from East Africa and the other participating countries to call at local rates the Celtel networks in the other countries or receive calls while travelling in these states without roaming fees. The 'borderless network' includes Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Sudan, Chad, Congo DR, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. More countries are due to be added in further phases of the programme, which is unique in the world and has no parallel in Europe, North America or Asia at present. The feature is available for both post paid (invoiced) subscribers and also for pre-paid subscribers, who can now add call credit from over 500.000 airtime sales points across the participating countries. This too is a novel feature on a global scale.

The company also lowered call charges into the rest of the international network and has engaged in an Africa wide promotion to alert the market places to the advantages of calling the rest of Africa within one network and local rates.

AIRFIELDS SHUT DOWN DURING SUMMIT

In a not so nice (at all) development the Kajjansi airfield, base for Mission Aviation Fellowship and the Kampala Aero Club / KAFTC, plus several other air operators was shut down during the Commonwealth Summit. All charter operations, including to and from Bulago Island (airstrip also closed without notice) and to the national parks, were halted due to 'security reasons' and other regular users of air services were made to use road transportation or else wait for several days, while the embargo was in place. Some other private fields like Kakira (near Jinja) were reportedly also told to stop operations until after the summit. The only exception was to fly the Duke of Edinburgh from Kajjansi around the country, showing the advantages of being a Royal and the disadvantages of being a ordinary mortal. Talk about going overboard … this development was incidentally feared by the aviation fraternity in advance of the summit and repeated questions were raised with the authorities, but officials literally strung the aviators along until the sudden shut down notice was served on them and implemented. Well earned barbs for this, as it once again demonstrates that public private partnership often seems to be only a convenient window dress but in practise, and when really crucial issues are at hand, does not function well. One particular air operator, obviously not wishing to be named, accused the authorities of bad faith and well nearly of deceit over this sudden development, while also accusing the CAA of completely ignoring a due consultative process and hiding behind 'orders from above' as obscure as this sounds. Operations in and out of Entebbe were also hamstrung with scheduled flights being delayed or cancelled to the annoyance of connecting passengers, many of whom reacted with open anger over their inconvenience. CAA officials were rather coy over this development, pointed to 'orders from above' and otherwise opted not to comment in any capacity. The air operators are now blaming the regulators for causing massive revenue losses with the shut down order and are considering taking the matter to law over compensation claims.

This development took place inspite of constant official assurances before the summit to the contrary, bringing sighs of relief from the affected tourism, travel and aviation fraternity, after the summit juggernaut had waltzed out of town again. Yet, with the restrictions gone the traffic jams were back with a vengeance overnight, proving that the world is not perfect …

EAST AFRICAN AIRLINES RETURNS

As reported recently in this column, Air Tanzania has sold one of their B737 to Africa Direct / East African Airlines in Kampala. The aircraft was initially build as a 'combi' version and will, when reconfigured, be able to carry three standard pallets of cargo in the front of the aircraft, whereas passenger capacity will reduce to only about 60 seats in an all economy version. The aircraft will be delivered to Africa Direct / East African Airlines just as soon as Air Tanzania has taken delivery of their first leased Airbus 320, expected to take place before Christmas. Fred Obbo, Managing Director and CEO of Africa Direct / East African Airlines has also confirmed that the airline is not likely to resume their former routes immediately. The revived airline is likely to initially offer combined scheduled cargo and passenger services into the Congo on routes from Entebbe presently not served by any other airline. EAA operated from Entebbe to Nairobi and Johannesburg and neither route is judged viable for the revived airline at present.

Africa Direct bought East African Airlines two years ago after a debt restructuring deal with the key creditors was agreed. EAA had gone out of business in mid 2005 and then had their single B737-200 grounded in Brazzaville over a commercial dispute. Fred Obbo, an aviation veteran in Uganda, has also estimated the overall capital requirement to resume full operations with their combi aircraft to be in the 15 million US Dollar region, which will include the reconfiguration of the aircraft from an all passenger aircraft into a combi version with a cargo side door. Good luck and Happy Landings.

SUDAN AIRWAYS DROPS ENTEBBE, AGAIN

Sudan Airways has once more suspended their flights from Khartoum via Juba to Entebbe, following what they claim is 'low demand'. This is however contradicted by other aviation sources, which blame poor reliability and other problems for the halt of the flights. Sudan Airways at one time intended to fly three times a week between KRT &endash; JUB &endash; EBB but ended up with only one (often irregular) flight, as their single B737 was committed elsewhere in the network and the arrival of 'new' aircraft never materialised. Southern Sudanese travellers were also apprehensive to fly on the Sudanese national airline which is generally considered as being owned by the Central (Khartoum) Government, and when relations soured once again over Khartoum's intransigence and refusals to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Sudan Airways really no longer made inroads in the Juba market. Even passengers travelling on to international flights now routinely fly via Entebbe or Nairobi and connect from there rather than having to route their travels via Khartoum.

KENYA AIRWAYS BAGS REGIONAL AWARD

In the annual CEO survey carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers Kenya Airways once again won the top award in the Service Sector category. This puts to rest the many 'hit and run' attacks from certain sections of the East African media on Kenya's national airline, which in recent weeks marked the attitude suddenly developed by a particular newspaper group against the 'Pride of Africa'. Informed readers know of course that this campaign was entirely aimed at preparing the ground for the latest Ugandan airline upstart and cause a shift in market share in favour of a sister company by the media house in question. Bouquets for Kenya Airways and barbs for the others …

JETLINK SPREADS THEIR WINGS

Following the introduction of their two CRJ 100ER aircraft, the privately owned Kenyan airline has now started adding more domestic and regional destinations. The fast 50 seater jets have taken the market by storm and proved popular with the passengers. The airline is reportedly already looking at flying from Nairobi to Kigali, Bujumbura and also Goma and inside sources do not rule out additional regional routes. Entebbe sadly is not yet on the drawing board, as the Ugandan travelling public would have loved to see the jet aircraft type, upstart Air Uganda had rejected in favour of aviation stone age DC9-32 equipment. That airline claimed at the time that no maintenance facilities could be found in Africa for these jets, a contention proved utterly wrong by Jetlink now.

Jetlink has now also fully migrated to e-ticketing and established a state of the art call centre to cope with increased loads and passenger numbers. IOSA certification is also said to be in the final stages, which will confirm the operational standards of the airline as compliant to internationally accepted safety levels as prescribed by IATA to its member airlines.

KENYA REVENUE AUTHORITY KEEPS MESSING WITH TOURISM

A dispute has arisen between suppliers of aviation fuel and KRA over tax and duty payments for fuel delivered to airlines outside the three gazetted airports JKIA and Wilson in Nairobi and Moi International in Mombasa. Yet, air operators also require fuel when operating into other fields such as Kisumu, Eldoret or even airstrips in remoter locations like Nanyuki, where operator Tropic Air is based and reportedly suffering greatly from KRA's latest stunt.

This column has on many occasions written about KRA messing with African hinterland fuel supplies (Uganda, Rwanda, Eastern Congo, Southern Sudan), when trying to impose inexplicably rash, sudden and unimplementable decisions on the market for those fuels in transit to their final destination. Most of these issues were decided by KRA apparently in total isolation from the affected parties and had to eventually solved by top level political intervention, leaving KRA regularly with egg over their faces. Said one Kenyan air operator, who for obvious reasons preferred anonymity: 'they [KRA] are totally out of control. They do simply not understand what aviation is all about and as a result about 2 dozen aircraft have been rendered useless and are just standing there without fuel. It seems KRA is not accountable or answerable for such damages but for sure they will even argue with air operators about accepting the losses incurred over such mistakes.' A fuel company official also commented under the same terms of anonymity that KRA owes the fuel companies millions upon millions of Shillings in pending refunds and showed total intransigence over meeting those obligations, delaying payments with every trick in the book. Likewise behaviour from tax payers by the way would end them up in court or worse. He also pointed out that KRA had refused to give any answers regarding their action in writing, causing a legal vacuum. Well earned barbs for the Kenya Revenue Authority once again.

KEMPINSKI TANZANIA BREAKS INTO THE TOP ECHELON

The 'most respected company awards' for the year 2006 also included the Kempinski hotel group in Tanzania, which broke into the top rankings of the hotel and tourism sector in a closely fought contest. The group now has presence in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and is reportedly seeking a rapid expansion into the hotel, resort and safari lodge sector across the region. Well done!

The contest is expected to be even tighter next year when Fairmont Hotels will become a serious contender for the number one spot after their long awaited refurbishment of the Norfolk Hotel and the Mount Kenya Safari Club will be concluded in Kenya.

The new Fairmont managed resort in Zanzibar is also said to be fully operational now and is apparently fully booked already for the forthcoming high tourist season, making them a contender too for 2008. Also well done!

MANPOWER DRAINS CONTINUES UNABATED

The tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors in East Africa continue to be targeted by recruiters from the Middle East and in particular the Gulf states, where the national resource pool is too limited, both in terms of manpower and in terms of available skills, to sustain the growth of the respective sectors. Pilots in particular have been made the target of fast growing Gulf airlines, but also cabin attendants and any kind of hotel personnel such as cooks, chefs, front office and house keeping staff. While those lucky to be chosen often find greener pastures, the treatment of foreign staff in Gulf states often leaves much to be desired, as numerous reports in the past have amply demonstrated.

Employers in Eastern Africa, where tourism is also booming at present, may now have to dig deeper in their pockets to retain their key staff and spend also more in training replacement staff, poached from new hotels in the East African region and also of course from further abroad.

In any case, these developments open new opportunities for well trained and skilled personnel in the various sectors of the tourism industry and are in itself an incentive for young people to join training programmes where they can attain basic and advanced skills.

and from Gill Staden in Livingstone / Zambia comes her personal travel experience to the Liuwa Plains National Park:

Liuwa Trip (part 1)

Our trip to Liuwa Plains started on Friday 16th November. We were to travel to Liuwa Plains National Park, via Senanga and Mongu, then on to Mukambi Lodge, then to Itezhi-Tezhi and finally through Kafue NP and home to Livingstone &endash; a week's trip, in all.

The first stretch of the journey was west from Livingstone to Katima Mulilo/Sesheke. This is a two-hour run on a good tar road; one of the few good bits of road we were likely to see throughout the journey. We were six friends in three cars. At Katima Mulilo we were joined by another vehicle and three people who came in from Botswana. Our group was now complete and we took off north on the road to Senanga.

The road to Senanga is horrible … lumps, bumps, potholes and craters. Our first vehicle-problem arose one hour into the drive on this pot-holed nightmare &endash; driving speed was a around 40km/h. My car hit a huge hole and the car stopped. On opening the bonnet we found that the battery had fallen off its ledge and was now at 45º inside the engine with both wires having broken off. Woops. After some bush mechanics courtesy of Brian, we are on our way again ... but the car was behaving badly … huffing and puffing like an old woman … something was wrong. Open the bonnet again … something else had come loose … Brian joined it up and we were back on the road and all seemed well.

After the lateness of our start and the small break for vehicle mechanics, there was no way we were going to reach Senanga that day so we decided to stop at Thebe Safari Lodge which has a good campsite. On arrival we met up with Toff and Kiddy from Ultimate Africa Safaris (Kasane tour operator) who had arrived the day previous. They said Sioma Falls was great and that we had better go and see it. So we all piled up into the Hilux and took a drive to the falls … half and hour away.

The water in the Zambezi is low at this time of the year and Sioma Falls was actually falling over the rocks unlike the previous time I visited in April of this year &endash; then, the Falls had completely disappeared and become mere rapids. We walked along beside the river looking at the falls from various angles. They really are beautiful. It is such a shame for tourism that the road there is so bad because it could become quite a tourist attraction. As it is, very few people take the time to travel there. Interestingly, I read an article in the Post newspaper the other day which said that Danish Aid is to spend US$75,000,000 on roads in Western Province during the next 5 years. So let us hope that this road is on their list of roads-to-do.

That evening we heated up a pre-cooked meal and went to bed early. We knew that we had a long journey again the following day. We were up early and on our way by 7.30am. First stop, ferry at Sitoti. K40,000 per vehicle. Then on tar to Mongu. At Mongu, we filled up with fuel and took the road to Kalabo.

The crossing to Kalabo is interesting. There was a huge causeway which had been built to cross the floodplain but much of it had collapsed. In fact we wondered whether it had been finished in the first place as there were pieces of bridge and concrete tubes lying all over the place as if they had been brought to the site and never been put in place.

COMMONWEALTH SUMMIT UNDERWAY

Two years of hard work and preparations are coming to a conclusion this weekend, as the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Heads of State and Government of the Commonwealth countries and their delegations have arrived in Kampala for their biannual summit. Related meetings like the Youth Forum, the People's Forum and the Business Forum have already been concluded or are in their final stages and will deliver their recommendations to the main summit participants. Ministerial meetings are also now underway at various venues in the city dealing with working group issues and preparing position papers for the Heads of State and Government meetings.

The Queen is, besides opening the summit officially, due to visit the Mildmay HIV research and treatment centre, which was opened by her daughter Princess Anne some years ago. More significantly for the tourism industry she will also visit the national park in South Western Uganda named after her in 1954, when she first visited Uganda. Prince Charles and Lady Camilla in the meantime are due to visit Jinja and see the Source of the River Nile, where the world's longest river starts its epic journey to the Mediterranean Sea, a must see landmark for all visitors to Uganda.

While the unpredictable weather continues to alternately drench Kampala and its suburbs with rain galore and then bask the city again in bright sunshine, this has not put a damper however on the mood of government and many Ugandans, who have worked tirelessly to prepare for the event and are now working equally hard to deliver a quality summit. To the regret of many certain print media in East Africa however continue to pour scorn over the activities, and while with half of their tongues singing (very) limited praise for the event (obviously to avoid a severe backlash from the authorities) the other half of their forked tongues speak with acid voices about the cost and resulting (non)benefits of the summit to Uganda and her citizens, and publish endless stories about the alleged trials and tribulations of ordinary people 'suffering severely' from the summit and its security preparations. The political opposition has also largely absented itself from the summit proceedings and turned down invitations to join the proceedings. Some of the cultural leaders, speak local 'kings' have reportedly even shunned to join the State Dinner for Her Majesty to demonstrate their opposition to whatever it is they feel like opposing today. The seemingly ever angry and self-pitying opposition members lost a great opportunity to make friends across the Commonwealth and make sure they are taken seriously. Some of them are said to be planning apparently an 'alternative summit' somewhere, probably under some tree with all meeting venues booked solid for months now, while yet others intend to organize demonstrations against all and sundry, in particular the latter … Patriotic indeed … as for me, it is 'Proudly Ugandan' during these days and appreciating the facelift the city got and all the improvements, which otherwise may have taken years to materialize.

RWANDA APPLIES FOR COMMONWEALTH MEMBERSHIP

'The land of a thousand hills' as Rwanda is fondly known to her neighbours and friends, is at last dropping the remaining pretence to be a Francophone country, when visiting President Paul Kagame confirmed that his country would seek full membership to the global body. Rwanda was one of about 30 countries in the Francophone group of newly independent nations, when she attained her freedom from Belgium in 1962. English was added as an official language after the genocide of 1994 and has taken the country by storm, as many of the returnees who had been forced into exile under the Hutu dictatorship years grew up in other English speaking East African countries.

Rwanda severed diplomatic relations with France last year over a French magistrate's feeble attempt to indict President Kagame over some wild allegations of having been involved in the fatal plane crash which killed the Burundi and Rwanda presidents ahead of the Hutu inspired genocide in 1994. This diplomatic row paved arguably the way for the final integration of Rwanda into the group of Anglophone countries in Africa. Rwanda also became a full member of the East African Community earlier this year, further cementing the use of English as the main business language. Even the most British of games has now taken root in modern Rwanda and cricket is being played in schools and as a recreational sport, although the country is a long way off from joining the test cricket nations. Welcome to the family then, says this correspondent, and if only Rwanda could now adopt the East African Standard Time of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, it would make live in the region even easier.

A SUMMIT REFLECTION

I could after all not stay away from the city as I had considered for some time, to escape those hectic days inevitably associated with such a major political meeting taking place in Kampala.

An opportunity came along to productively fill those 'spare days' by accepting a short term consultancy for a newly opened hotel, not far from my own residence, which reduced driving time to a mere few minutes, leave alone sparing me trips into the city on a daily basis. Located nearly on top of one of Kampala's major hills it overlooks the lake shores and allows glimpses towards the main summit venue, the Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo. The elevated setting also allowed me to monitor traffic and the convoys zapping back and forth from the city to the venue down in the valley. As a Kampalean it made me proud to see thousands of visitors from across the Commonwealth world assemble in our capital city, and to have the global media houses set up camp and cover not only the proceedings but also the country as a whole. This gives our beautiful Uganda exposure and will hopefully attract in coming months and years more visitors yet, coming to meet our friendly people, explore our landscapes and see the flora and fauna, which is incredibly varied and diverse to the extreme.

The massive deployment of security across the city and the suburbs did not unduly disturb me (YET) during my daily trips up and down that great hill, and the detach around the hotel too made friendly and competent impressions on me and the hotel guests. In fact, a not entirely unexpected trip into the city under peak summit conditions revealed that, while traffic was thinner than usual it also ran smoothly, drivers were very disciplined and our traffic police looked real pretty in their new white livery. If this experience is anything to go by we at least now know that orderly traffic can be achieved &endash; I hope we will not return in coming weeks to the rowdy scenes of the pre-summit days, when often 'survival for the fittest' is the battle cry, or at least s/he wins who seems the least worried about having another fender bender while fighting over positions in the jams. More next week on how we conducted ourselves while being under the global spotlight and a few comments caught from our visitors. Watch this space.

CASSIA LODGE OPENS JUST AHEAD OF SUMMIT

A Belgian owned small upmarket hotel, nestled on top of Buziga Hill, has opened its doors to the public last weekend. It offers commanding views over part of the city and across Lake Victoria and the surrounding lake shore suburbs, including Munyonyo where the main CHOGM summit activities will take place. Presently the 'lodge' offers 20 well sized rooms, with a further 10-15 to be built some time in the future, once occupancy levels justify the additional investment. Besides a restaurant and well stocked bar the hotel offers a small business centre and wireless high speed connections in all public areas. Also available are meeting and conference facilities for small to medium sized corporate meetings and last but not least a pool which almost seems suspended in the hill side. This is the second Belgian owned small boutique hotel in Kampala after the Le Petit Village opened recently. Distance to the city's business district is only about 12 KM from the Cassia Lodge and exactly 2 KM to the Commonwealth Resort and the Speke Resort and Conference Centre, all on recently upgraded tarmac roads. The building style is distinctly different from a 'normal' hotel building and truly deserves the name 'Cassia Lodge' for its garden and hillside setting and the feeling of remoteness from the city.

The restaurant in particular offers panoramic views which are especially attractive at night, when the city is lit up and the outlines of the main hills in the city are clearly visible, making it a 'must visit' lunch, dinner and party venue. The young kitchen brigade is already living up to the high expectations and produces food of a quality which matches the 'million dollar' view. (Quoting a TV team crew member staying at Cassia while covering the summit with his colleagues)

Cassia is by the way the name of a common tree in the neighbourhood, which is very distinct with its bright yellow flowers.

RAINSTORMS CAUSED KAMPALA FLOODING

One of the heaviest downpours in recent months, lasting almost 10 hours last weekend caused the biggest damage yet in Kampala. President Museveni's convoy to the airport was delayed at the end of last week for some time when trying to leave the city, as residents were rushing away from the low lying areas, their houses were built in, to escape the rising waters. Several parts of Kampala were former drainage swamps towards Lake Victoria but had been encroached on and now easily flood whenever the weather conditions are so adverse. The President upon seeing the problems promised the gathering crowds to deal firmly with the issue of rubbish collection, as he blamed plastic bags and empty plastic water bottles to be the main cause for blocking the roadside drainages and the channels dug towards the lake. After reportedly making some calls the President eventually managed to leave but not long afterwards the Minister for Works came to the same site to inspect the problem also, before proceeding to other affected areas in the city and its environs. The Minister was subsequently quoted in a local newspaper that government would deal with the issue of illegal buildings in wetlands and take councils to task which approve building plans in designated drainage areas. Over the past months, as also repeatedly mentioned in this column, Uganda and in fact greater parts of Eastern, Central and Western Africa across the equatorial belt, have experienced out of season heavy rains which caused wide spread flooding, ruined crops and destroyed roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The Meteorological Department in fact attributed the weather anomalies to the 'la Nina' effect, while predicting more heavy rains in coming weeks.

Some three children were reported to have died on that particular day in a Kampala suburb, when their mud and wattle house collapsed on them as the waters rose fast to nearly 6 feet before gradually draining off in subsequent hours and days.

AUTHORITIES RELOCATE RED LIGHT BUSINESS

Until a few weeks ago the nightly flesh trade in Kampala took place around some of the poshest hotels in town and apart from the occasional police raids or bad weather the ladies of the night went after their business regularly just across the main gates of some of Kampala's major business hotels. No more that is. The introduction of CCTV cameras and the restored street lighting has driven the 'buyers' away, seeking anonymity and being shy that their car registrations could be detected and ending up in the rainbow press. The city authorities too took advantage of the forthcoming Commonwealth Summit and set aside certain areas in the city for the shadowy 'business' although prostitution continues to be a criminal offense in Uganda. When confronted with this contradiction therefore government, through the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity issued a statement to the contrary, although the local media had extensively quoted a senior cabinet minister and the Lord Mayor of Kampala previously about having earmarked such 'zones'. In fact, the Minister 'ordered' the twilight ladies off the streets during the summit to the amusement of the media attending the press conference. The Minister has in fact a history of making statements which provide 'nourishment' and 'fodder' for the press. Make sense out of this as we are also wrestling with the issue.

Out of sight however is not out of business this correspondent contends, and in this day and age, in a country fighting HIV / AIDS with vigour, more needs to be done to offer alternative sources of employment and income for prostitutes and as and where necessary and possible not only the women but also their 'clients' should have to answer charges in court as a deterrent to others.

MORE WOES FOR CONGO

The Lake Albert Rukwanzi Island in the middle of a border dispute &endash; initiated by Congo DR when they decided the challenge the colonial borders &endash; has now become the centre of a medical emergency of the highest order. Cholera has broken out on the Congolese side of the island with some 60 cases reported. As is generally the case in Congo (also reported recently over an Ebola outbreak in the centre of the sprawling jungle nation) health care is not a key priority for the authorities and the victims have gone untreated in the absence of health centres, doctors, nurses and drugs. It was reported in the local media that Congolese authorities are now making arrangements to evacuate the victims of the disease and try to find treatment for them on the mainland, unlikely as this sounds. Congo is alleged to have 'stuffed' their side of the island over the past weeks with people to underscore their territorial claim. Yet the vastly increased population in a small area not able to sustain such large populations is now paying a terrible price for the ambitions and mistakes of their militant regime. Facilities and infrastructure cannot cope with the numbers allegedly 'imported' by the authorities, resulting in a severe cholera outbreak, which in the absence of a functioning health centre and clean water is probably getting worse first before being contained.

Ugandan authorities have in turn made swift arrangements for people on 'their' side of the island to be monitored so as to capture any outbreak at the earliest possible time. The porous borders with Congo have for long been of concern for the health authorities in their neighbouring countries, as diseases like Ebola and similar haemorrhagic fevers, but also cholera and even polio have long been spread across the borders into populations which had received vaccinations against polio and enjoy health services, as limited as those may be in remote areas.

Meanwhile, fresh domestic fighting in the East of the country (near the gorilla national park bordering Uganda and Rwanda) between the regime's soldiers and liberation forces aiming to protect minority tribes interests have once again displaced at many as 50.000 people who fled from the violence into the jungle and towards the Rwanda and Uganda borders, seeking safe haven from the marauding soldiers. The Kinshasa based regime has a notorious record how it treats its own people and its wildlife conservation records are equally miserable. In past years the entire Northern White Rhino population, the last in the world, has been wiped out in Congo's Garamba National Park, which the regime surrendered to Ugandan rebels and terrorists. Even many of the highly endangered mountain gorillas have been poached in the recent past by what are often suspected to be government officials themselves, trying to make up for months of unpaid salaries and allowances.

AIR TANZANIA FLEET NEWS

Tanzania's national airline has now all but confirmed that they will get their first Airbus A320 before the end of the year, at which time their planned fleet renewal will begin in earnest. The first Q300 is also due to join the fleet around the same time, if not before, while delivery of their ordered Q400's is due by end of 2008 and early 2009. It was also learned that the operating losses caused by the previous management of about 1 million US Dollars a month have been very substantially reduced already, which allowed the Tanzania government to phase out the monthly subsidy for ATCL. The airline is understood to be partnering with a major Chinese carrier, which is intent to commence flights to East Africa and use Air Tanzania to feed and defeed traffic into the region and across the continent. It was also learned that a buyer is in the frame to acquire one of the ATCL B737 aircraft with the intent of the operating it in the region, which would be good news for Air Tanzania's cash flow of course. Watch this space for emerging aviation news from the East African region.

SODA ASH PROJECT PUT ON HALT

Following the exposure of the controversial soda ash extraction project underwritten by India's Tata Corporation, pressure piled up on the Tanzania government to review its position and cancel the deal. Within days of the international media catching on to the story the company was then told that the deal was being reviewed in view of the expected impact on the environment in general and the breeding grounds of the lesser flamingo along the Lake Natron shores in particular. The tourism and conservation fraternities from across East Africa had stood together and complained about the plans, which could very well have wiped out the one and only breeding ground of the birds and subsequently destroyed the entire population within a few years. Well done to everyone making contributions towards the preservation of the ecosystem around Lake Natron.

POLICE CHIEF APOLOGIZES FOR TRAFFIC MESS

As reported in last week's column, traffic trials ahead of the Commonwealth Summit spiralled out of control, clogging the city for hours at end and turning motorists into one angry crowd. While a police spokesman tried to put gloss on to the situation and asked 'please bear with us' this only drew acid replies in radio call in shows accusing the traffic police of incompetence, contempt for the general public and motorists in particular. The Inspector General of Police, Major General Kale Kayihura then took the laudable initiative to come forward and apologize to the public and suspend the trials to allow for time to reorganize traffic control ahead of the summit. It would appear that the IGP himself got caught in the mammoth traffic jam his officers caused and being an equal victim prompted him to react sharply to the mess.

Individual police officers were accused of being high handed and insensitive to the problems they created at their stations, causing traffic to grind to a complete halt across all the entry and exit points of the central business district and into the suburbs. The IGP also said that hosting the summit should be a happy moment for Ugandans and warned off his officers from harassing the public and stick to their allotted duties. The outbursts of angry callers on radio call in shows seems to have triggered prompt action from government to appease the general public and avoid a wider anti reaction, which the political opposition would wish to exploit for their own anti summit aims. However, a mid week night traffic trial produced an interesting reaction from residents. Most people left the city early to avoid being caught by surprise and being unable to reach home until late. Key traffic arteries were locked down for motorcade dress rehearsals, something apparently to be repeated again this coming Sunday, which once more is likely to see an empty city centre. The beautiful country side is beckoning ever more for those who can get away from the city, which in fact would be a nice boost for domestic tourism. That is at least for such sites which are not earmarked for official CHOGM visits like Queen Elizabeth National Park, as ordinary folks can expect summit related hassles there too.

CHOGM SUMMIT NOW MAKES PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

In a surprise turn of events government has declared next Thursday and Friday public holidays. This measure will inevitably keep much, if not all of the business and work related traffic out of the city and in a way remove the anticipated problems of commuting into the city. Schools, universities, all government offices, banks and businesses will remain closed. This will greatly relief pressure on the key roads to and from the summit venues. So for all who can it should be 'stock up and stay home' or else get out of the city altogether and enjoy a very long weekend in upcountry homes, the national parks or on the islands in Lake Victoria. The business community however has voiced concerns over the loss of two productive days and having to foot the cost of the work outages. Uganda already has a generous public holiday regime leading to a higher cost base for companies compared with many other countries and every extra off day weighs heavily on the bottom line of businesses.

In the meantime the Commonwealth Youth Summit has gone underway at the Imperial Resort Beach in Entebbe with the arrival of several hundred of participating young people in the country. This opens the formal summit activities, which will also include a People's Forum and a Business Forum. The parallel activities will allow for the development of stronger ties between Commonwealth nations, their people and their business communities. Forum resolutions and recommendations will be formally handed to the Head of Government Summit participants for their consideration.

MINISTRY OF TOURISM TO INSPECT HOSPITALITY BUSINESSES

A public notice was served on all hotels, restaurants and entertainment businesses that the long overdue inspection of business premises would commence instantly to ensure standards are as prescribed and expected. It is not immediately clear which law or regulations have been used to cover this exercise, as neither the new draft tourism bill has been passed nor the new regulations been promulgated. However, the exercise is due to cover such areas as signage, state of the premises, safety and security measures, staff professionalism, guest room standards, food production and storage areas, hygiene and general infrastructural readiness in regard of water, electricity, and back up systems. There was also no available information on sanctions or measures to be taken against substandard establishments.

BRUSSELS AIRLINES NEWS

In time for the forthcoming Christmas high season the airline will add a long awaited 4th weekly flight every Sunday from Brussels to Entebbe, as incidentally already reported in this column several months ago, when the news of the plans could be confirmed from airline sources in Brussels. The acquisition of an additional A330-200 aircraft allows the capacity increase on the route but also across the airline's Africa network, one of the best from any European capital city.

The airline is also establishing a crew base for the Great Lakes region in Uganda, cognizant of the fact that they now serve Kigali, Bujumbura, Entebbe and Nairobi. The crew hotel selected is the Speke Hotel and Conference Centre / Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo, which will next weekend also host the retreat of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. With all necessary accommodation and recreation facilities in place this choice will allow the crews to enjoy their stay on the shores of Lake Victoria before their deployment on long haul routes back to Europe.

Some of this information was provided by the airline's Senior Vice President Sales &endash; Long Haul and African Projects Mr. Etienne De Nil, who visited Uganda during the week.

News are also awaited on Brussels Airlines' bid for Rwandair, where they are the leading contender in the privatization exercise presently in its final stages. In addition, Brussels Airlines is now also partnering with Congo based Hewa Bora Airlines, the only Congolese carrier licensed by the EU to fly to Europe. They are reportedly also actively seeking similar partnerships in other West African countries. This constellation, if the Rwandair bid is successful, will likely establish a feasible air bridge between West and East Africa under Brussels Airlines auspices and make the crew base in Entebbe even more important in years to come. This in fact may become more significant if plans do materialize to commence flights to Tanzania. The airline is understandably hush hush about their intent but the growing business and tourist traffic to Tanzania can simply no longer be ignored by Brussels Airlines, which already is the leading European airline to the Great Lakes region and would do well to further cement their market share and destination spread across Eastern Africa.

EVER HEARD OF 'GROUP CELESTAIR'

Air Uganda, aka Meridiana Africa Airlines (U) Limited, has apparently now taken to the skies, using first generation DC 9's for their operation. Industry experts have already raised questions on their likely operating cost in view of record fuel prices at the moment, as the aircraft is known to be a fuel guzzler of the highest order, more so as the fares advertised under asterix (see final paragraph) are lower than what has since been charged. If this signals a price war with Kenya Airways remains to be seen but in view of past experiences no airline in the region has yet managed to break KQ's standing in the region through lower fares and aggressive attitudes.

Incidentally, no answers could be received on the actual age of the aircrafts, which were obviously given a new coat of paint before their deployment to Uganda. The aircraft were introduced to the Ugandan public last week, when a series of 'test flights' were conducted, something which could not be ignored by onlookers as the noisy aircraft screamed down the runway and into the sky with exhaust fumes clearly visible as from a different aviation age.

The new Uganda Civil Aviation Air Service Regulations require supervised non-commercial test flights from new operators applying for an AOC under the Uganda regulatory regime to ensure the new airlines actually have minimum levels of competence. As to the obscure 'Group Celestair' painted on the side of the aircraft, readers may wish to seek out the web and try establish what comprises this 'group'.

Meanwhile a clear trend is visible to use organization friendly news media to head bash Kenya Airways over their pricing, occasional operational problems or even highlight KQ's drop of profits over the past year, with the apparent aim to soften up the public and turn their sentiment against East Africa's leading airline. No word of compliment on KQ's use of environmentally much more friendly aircraft though, which is in stark contrast with the fleet employed by the upstart, nor about the contributions the airline made over the past 15 years to help develop traffic into Uganda. It is therefore suggested that what such reporting is really aiming for is to help create traffic share on the Entebbe &endash; Nairobi route for a sister company and this should be openly said.

And all this incidentally on the same day when the European Commission exposed as 'misleading' some 200 airline websites in Europe for not being in compliance with consumer protection guidelines, such as showing taxes and other fees included in the advertised fares and instead referring to unspecified 'terms and conditions apply', well well well …

FINAL CALL FOR MARATHON REGISTRATIONS

The annual MTN Kampala Marathon will this year be run on Sunday December 09th as previously reported in this column. The registration period is now however closing imminently and interested participants from abroad can rush their participation requests to mtnmarathon@mtn.co.ug or register directly through the website www.mtnkampalamarathon.co.ug before the end of the week.

SKAL KAMPALA ANNOUNCES DATE FOR ANNUAL BALL

The Kampala Skal chapter 611 has set the 15th of December as the date for their annual dinner dance. Skalleagues interested to visit from the region and further abroad can contact the club president James Rattos at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel james.rattos@apolohotel.com. James will on request give the particulars of the function and can even make arrangements for transport from and to the airport cum accommodation if required at the completely refurbished Sheraton.

 

SHERATON'S EQUATOR BAR REPLACES RHINO PUB

After the reopening and rebranding of the Hippo Grill and Rhino Terrace last week the former pub was next in line, when it reopened as the 'Equator' bar. The former slightly grubby pub atmosphere has gone out with the wind and a new and very stylish bar, more resembling a lounge now and reflecting the changing face of the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, has emerged from the upgrading and renovations. High French windows allow a view across the outside Paradise Terrace and light colours and fabrics make the 'Equator' a sure crowd winner, although the demographics and customer profile, compared with the former pub operation, are likely to change now and probably for the better this correspondent adds.

INFLATION RISES AGAIN

The global trend of rocketing fuel prices has hit home as inflation is once more rising fast. Cost of food and other items depending on transportation to the capital city Kampala from the upcountry farms has shot up substantially, driving inflation to a new year long high. There may be additional fuel supplement charges underway for safaris and air charters to cover for the unexpected cost increases and visitors are advised to enquire with their tour and safari operators to avoid unpleasant surprises.

 

NEWLY OPENED HOTEL 'DOES NOT LIKE KIDS'

As recently reported in this column, the Kampala Metropole Hotel has opened its doors to the public some two weeks ago. A leading travel agent made subsequent enquiries about child rates and the availability of cots or small beds in the rooms, only to be told - in what she felt was a dismissive and flippant tone &endash; that children were not welcome at the hotel as the owners were only targeting the business market. They did not want to cater for families or individuals travelling with one or more of their kids. Certainly an interesting approach for a newly opened hotel which needs heads on beds first and foremost. Much deserved barbs for the Metropole and its owners and management. Surely all the other hotels will be pleased about this policy and make their own offers for visiting families.

 

COMPUTER FAILURE CAUSED BORDER JAMS

The failure of customs computer networks for several days caused massive jams along the two main border entry points from Kenya at Busia and Malaba. Trucks were piling up more than 10 kilometres, impacting also on passenger and tourist traffic into Uganda. The same situation arose on the Ugandan side of the border, where trucks wanting to leave the country could also not be processed. Transport companies claim the journey from the port of Mombasa now takes over 10 days because of red tape and very bad roads on both sides of the border, leading to sharp increases in the cost of imports.

 

CONFUSION OVER SUMMIT TRAFFIC RULES

Some serious concerns have been voiced by residents along the main traffic arteries to be used for the forthcoming Commonwealth Summit. Seemingly careless talk picked up by the local media from individuals responsible for the traffic flow indicates that routes towards the retreat venue in Munyonyo &endash; a Kampala suburb along the Lake Victoria shores &endash; may be closed for general traffic. This leaves residents now wondering how they can reach their work places, go shopping, take kids to school, receive visitors or even go home in the evening. Some of the areas neighbouring those routes have only that single access road to the city and should such routes be closed for general traffic the population would be left stranded. Affected areas are the entire neighbourhood of Munyonyo, Buziga, Konge, Makindye, Kansanga, Bunga and Gaba, where this correspondent lives. Such prospects make it ever more attractive to be away for the summit period and take some well earned vacation time or else attend to assignments outside Kampala (there is no tourism element on the agenda of the summit deliberations requiring sector specific reporting). In fact, 'traffic trials' carried out during rush hour already caused motorists to miss appointments, failing to pick kids from school and getting home on time when journey's taking otherwise 30 &endash; 40 minutes took up to three or more hours. Public transport during the period was scarce if not absent altogether as busses were not allowed back to their stages. Not a good way to create sympathy and positive affection for what is still to come … a police spokesperson was subsequently quoted in the local media, as if adding insult to injury: 'we are making a humble appeal to members of the public to bear with us. We shall provide alternate routes'. However, no such alternatives were seen to be available causing outcries from the general public to respect their own rights and stop treating them with such contempt.

The Bulago Island Lodge has in fact advertised special packages for residents of Kampala for a week long stay on the island during the summit period to 'escape the summit craze' and other lodges and hotels upcountry also expect excellent bookings from 'escapees' who wish to avoid the hassle ordinarily associated with such major political meetings. Visit the Bulago website at www.islandinthesun.biz and stand by for this correspondent's experience with traffic during the summit period, unless he also decides to join the exodus from the city to preserve his sanity.

TENDER FOR WILDLIFE TRAINING INSTITUTE CANCELLED

Inexplicably, and to the great disappointment of the tourism and conservation fraternity, the tender for bids to construct three classroom blocks and an administration building in Katwe near Queen Elizabeth National Park, was cancelled this week. The Ministry of Education and Sports had some time ago advertised in the local media for 'open domestic bidding' for the work scope. The institute was transferred to the Education Ministry at the same time as the Hotel and Tourism Training Institute but was closed for several years. This denied training opportunities for field guides and other courses for rangers of UWA who had benefitted from the training facility until it was transferred several years ago. Information will be sought from the Ministry of Education to understand the reasons for the tender cancellation and the new timeframe under which the facility will subsequently be upgraded.

AIR UGANDA TEASER ADS START

Meridiana Africa Airlines (U) Limited, aka Air Uganda, has now started placing teaser ads in the local media, which by conventional wisdom indicates that they may in fact now start operations after all within the next one or two weeks. It is however understood that they continue to face problems with traffic right issues between Kenya and Uganda. Usually well informed sources were coy over the reasons for this situation and, while not going on record, indicated a lack of understanding by airline management of the complexities of the rights issues.

WILDLIFE OFFICIAL 'MOCKS' CONSERVATIONISTS

Controversy has once again emerged over some hair brained scheme to allow the shooting for sport of 28 leopards, a proposal allegedly smuggled into the last CITES convention by a Ministry official for approval. While wildlife officials accept that they have no idea of exactly how many endangered leopards they have across the country or even inside protected areas, conservationists have heavily criticized the plan to hunt the nocturnal cats. The mockery accusation was made following a published article by acclaimed conservation journalist Gerald Tenywa in the New Vision (www.newvision.co.ug), where it was reported that the ministry official had said: 'they [the leopards] are like Jesus Christ because they die to save thousands of other animals'. Calls have since emerged demanding that the official in question should be relieved of his duties in the public interest and several members of the conservation fraternity have vowed not to rest until the man has been retired from duty to allow a review of this proposal and subsequent reversal of the killing plans. The Uganda Wildlife Society, which is affiliated to the East African Wildlife Society in Nairobi, is the main platform from which the struggle for the leopards will be taken to government. Complaints will reportedly also be filed with CITES and other international organizations and pressure be applied on such institutions funding Uganda Wildlife Authority to withhold payments until such decisions as hunting leopards are reversed. Judging by the success of the struggle against the Mabira forest give away by government this will be an interesting development to watch and see, how UWA and its home ministry can weather such a brewing storm.

This is taking place at the same time the evolving Queen Elizabeth National Park quarry story is already stirring great controversy over the country's true commitment to conservation. In fact it was in Queen Elizabeth National Park that herdsmen, who had invaded the park and roamed it with their cattle herds with impunity for years (before being at last evicted a few weeks ago ahead of the Queen's visit in November), had killed large numbers of predators while UWA was standing by and watched.

Local print media have also caught on to the controversy and editorials and readers letters counselled caution over the hunting plans, more so as Tanzania is actively reviewing their hunting policy at present and Kenya has since 1976 prohibited hunting altogether. Efforts there to once again allow hunting have so far been foiled by the conservation fraternity. Uganda had for some time now undertaken a hunting pilot project outside Lake Mburo National Park but authorities never published the findings of the study inspite of firm undertakings to discuss the matter with stakeholders, in particular the tourism fraternity. A camp operator in the area of the pilot project in fact advised that the echo of shots fired caused alarm and disquiet amongst ordinary tourist visitors in camp at the time. These tourists in turn then complained bitterly about coming to Uganda to see wildlife in a park only to hear that the same animals would be hunted just a few kilometres away from the park and camp. Follow the news in this column every Friday.

 

LAFARGE UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

French company Lafarge, owners of the local Hima Cement company, has come under scrutiny over Hima's plans to use 450 hectares of national park land, which allegedly also extends into part of a Ramsar site. Information obtained about Lafarge claims the company to be in close association with WWF, the world business council for sustainable development and habitat for humanity, all organizations by their very nature critical to the type of the proposed exploitation of the park land to mine limestone in an open quarry. Limestone is harvested through blasting and from open digs, causing immense dust clouds and vibrations from the explosions, leave alone the noise pollution all of which is a recipe to drive animals away. It is also claimed by wildlife experts that the dig site would block wildlife migration corridors in and out of the park, further impacting and aggravating an already untenable situation.

Calls are becoming louder, according to findings of this correspondent, to take Lafarge to task in the international arena and hold them accountable for the plans of their Ugandan company. Efforts are reportedly underway, as had happened with the Save Mabira campaign, to open an international petition website so as to expose the French company, their management and in particular the shareholders of the company to an open debate and seek explanations how membership and cooperation with WWF can be reconciled with such flagrantly exploitative plans. International companies have become wary of such exposure, in particular their shareholders, as they wish to stay anonymous and in the background. It is often shareholder pressure on management which then makes them change their plans and many cases are on record where top managers were sacked over their intransigence and having kept their eyes only on the profit line and not lived up to social responsibility which goes along with the job.

In fact, latest information received now suggests that a major 50 million US Dollar loan application by the company through the World Bank private sector lending arm IFC has already been put on hold, as the World Bank has been a major source of funding for the rehabilitation, upgrading and sustainable management of Uganda's national parks. The World Bank has in the more recent past been more vigorous in regard of the environmental impact of such projects and has been listening more keenly to the conservation fraternity, before approving any funding.

 

TANZANIAN SODA ASH PROJECT UNDER FIRE

As controversy rages on in Uganda over plans to use part of Queen Elizabeth National Park for limestone mining, fresh disagreements have broken out between Kenya and Tanzania over plans to use an environmentally sensitive part of Lake Natron for extraction of soda ash. A similar venture in Kenya at Lake Magadi goes back decades into pre-independence days, for which reason Lake Magadi was later on excluded from becoming a protected area. Lake Natron however is the annual breeding ground for the millions of Flamingos, which criss cross East Africa to feed in the main soda lakes (Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Elementaita) in search of food and migrate every year back to Lake Natron to hatch. Plans to build a soda ash factory at this crucial site has now raised the heat between Kenya and Tanzania, with conservationists pointing out the danger to the survival of the Flamingo population, which depends entirely on their single breeding ground. Any major disturbance of this fragile ecosystem is said to have a fundamental impact on the breeding grounds and may be able to wipe out the entire population of the birds within years. Flamingos only breed every few years and are known to have abandoned their traditional breeding ground before when they felt disturbed, loosing an entire generation of the birds as a result. They make shallow mud nests along the Lake Natron shores, otherwise unprotected from predators, and it is only the climatically hostile environment which provides protection to the birds. Any influx of traffic and people, leave alone an industrial extraction plant, will heavily impact on this situation, as leading conservation and wildlife NGO's from across East Africa and the world at large have pointed out.

Conservationists have already lined up heavy legal guns to support their efforts of blocking the industrial development in Tanzania and have moved into the international arena with petitions and boycott calls, which may not only affect the promoters TATA Chemicals of India and the financiers of the project but also Tanzania as a tourism destination. Watch this space to get more news in coming weeks.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS SUSPENDS KISUMU FLIGHTS, AGAIN

Following major maintenance for their Saab 340 aircraft, KQ has suspended their Kisumu flights once again. The airline has refused to deploy their new Embraer 170 aircraft on the route citing the state of the runway as a major obstacle. An airline official confirmed that small stones and loose gravel found on the runway may be sucked into the engines causing damages to the aircraft and requested the Kenya Airport Authority to carry out more repairs to the runway ahead of the planned major expansion and resurfacing of the single runway the airport has. Kenya Airways has also suspended flights to Bamako in West Africa due to safety concerns over the state of the runway at Senou International Airport. Visit the airline website for updated information on their schedules www.kenya-airways.com

FLY 540 PLANS FOR REGIONAL FLIGHTS

Lonrho Africa has confirmed plans for further investments in their aviation offspring Fly540, in which they hold a 49 percent share. They are said to eye in particular the Angolan market for which they appear to have selected a partner already. Information received some months ago already shows that the private Kenyan airline is looking at Juba / Southern Sudan but may also be preparing to spread their wings to Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Entebbe. This would give them a full regional network and allow long haul carriers landing in Nairobi use these flights to feed and defeed. More aircraft are on order by Fly 540 and once delivery takes place the airline will offer more choices to travellers.

GOLDEN NAPED WEAVER FOUND IN SEMLIKI

A bird species previously not recorded in Uganda, the golden naped weaver, has recently been identified in the Semliki Game Reserve (formerly Toro Game Reserve). This brings the total number of birds found and identified, meeting the international requirements, to 1020 across the country. The bird was on rare occasions seen previously in the Ituri area of the Congo DR and is said to be a forest resident. The bird is thought to have migrated across the rainforest to the Semliki area and made a new home there.

Uganda is generally recognized as a leading bird watching destination in global terms, with Queen Elizabeth National Park alone having a confirmed bird count of 606 species, with several more awaiting the crucial second independent sighting before being added to the list. The news were broken by Mr. Achilles Byaruhanga, Chief Executive of Nature Uganda, a leading conservation NGO working across the country to maintain the extensive biodiversity and sustainably exploit it for eco tourism purposes.

Semliki Game Reserve, located in the Albertine Graben, can be reached from Kampala by air to the lodge's own airstrip (air charters by single or twin engined aircraft from Entebbe International Airport and the Kajjansi airfield) or by road via Fort Portal. Some very upmarket accommodation is provided by the Semliki Safari Lodge, a member of Wildplaces Africa. Other attractions in the park are chimpanzee tracking, night game drives to spot leopard and other nocturnal game, boating on Lake Albert and seeing a variety of different ecosystems extending through the reserve. This correspondent described the Semliki Wildlife Reserve in a previous article as a 'prime piece of African wilderness real estate', where the remoteness adds to the unique experience visitors can enjoy. Visit www.wildplacesafrica.com for more information or go to the official UWA or UTB websites www.uwa.or.ug / www.visituganda.com and seek the link to the Semliki Game Reserve.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS GET FACE LIFT

Ahead of the summit month in November, when the Commonwealth assembles in Kampala for a series of meetings, some of Uganda's key tourist attractions have been renovated. Sites which benefited from the capital injections are, amongst others, the Martyr's Shrine in Namugongo (focal point every year for Catholic pilgrimage on 'Martyr's Day), the Kasubi Tombs (the final resting place of the Kings of Buganda), the Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe (formerly the Entebbe Zoo), the National Theatre and the Uganda Museum in the city and the Source of the Nile in Jinja, where the world's longest river commences its epic journey to the Mediterranean Sea. The anticipated 5.000 officials and delegates coming to Uganda have the opportunity to see these important sites and attractions as part of the official programme. HRH Prince Charles, who is also due to visit Uganda during the summit, has already made arrangements for his visit to Jinja and is expected to take a white water rafting trip down the rapids of the upper Nile valley. Uganda will benefit within the Commonwealth family of added exposure and promotion of its tourist sites through over 1.000 journalists who have been accredited already. The country also hopes to attract record numbers of tourists once again in coming years but tourism private sector officials have already warned that the budget for the Uganda Tourist Board has to be increased tenfold to truly put Uganda on the global map and keep it there.

FLOODS EXTEND TO CENTRAL UGANDA

Only about 60 percent of the affected population in the North and East of Uganda are now receiving regular food aid, often delivered by WFP planes dropping the supplies from the air due to lack of available landing sites. Roads and bridges still remain flooded in many areas and land transport has been all but impossible. More roads have in fact been closed due to structural problems on bridges which were submerged in the floods and suffered at times severe damages. Emergency repairs have been initiated to gain access to the affected areas and begin delivering food supplies by road once again.

Latest reports now also inform about lives lost in the central Ugandan region near Mubende and about 120.000 people being affected there by rising flood waters of rivers swollen by continuous rains. Torrential rainstorms keep sweeping across East, Central and parts of West Africa and at least in Uganda the peak of the rainy season is still to come. Visitors are advised to check with their safari operators ahead of their travel to avoid disappointments.

NILE BRIDGE TO BE REHABILITATED

Government has now advertised the work scope and invited construction companies to go through the prequalification process ahead of the tenders being made public. The single major bridge across the river Nile in Jinja runs across the main hydroelectric dam and requires major works in coming months and years to keep it safe and structurally sound. The dam was initially constructed in the early 1950's and officially opened by the Queen during her 1954 visit to Uganda. Plans have also emerged that a new bridge is due to be built halfway between the present dam and the railway bridge, which is several hundred metres upstream. The road across the present dam is the lifeline for imports to Uganda from Kenya's seaport Mombasa, and crucial also for supplying Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan. The new bridge will relieve the pressure on the present crossing when completed and leave the road across the dam then as a fall back.

SOROTI FLYING SCHOOL TO GET NEW PLANES

The East African Aviation Academy in Soroti, Eastern Uganda, has been promised 5 more single engined and one more twin engined planes to improve the facilities at the school. About 100 students study in Soroti for administration, engineering and pilot courses, but have to make do with only one flight simulator while three more are non operational. At present the school also only got two Cessna 172 trainers and one twin engined Cessna 310 which is generally considered not sufficient to allow the trainee pilots enough time in the air. Also promised by the Minister for Transport was a rehabilitation of other facilities including the admin and teaching buildings and staff and students living quarters. The improvements are expected to take place in 2008. The pledges were made by the President during a recent visit to the school and also following complaints by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority who had judged the facilities as barely sufficient to carry out the school's mandate and objectives. East Africa is faced with a serious pilot shortage and the East African Aviation Academy is the only public institution in the region teaching engineering and piloting courses. The few other private aviation schools are not able to graduate enough CPL (Commercial Pilot's Licence) holders, which is the precursor to the ATPL (Air Transport Pilot's Licence). CPL holders commonly fly for domestic airlines on single or twin engined planes used for charters and domestic scheduled flights, while accumulating the required flying hours they need to commence their ATPL course.

The Soroti based aviation academy is one of three designated sector based centres of excellence in East Africa, the other two being the Kenya Utalii College in Nairobi and the Mweka Wildlife College near Moshi in Tanzania.

MANEATER DIES

A man-eating crocodile, which was captured in March 2005 in Bugiri, Eastern Uganda along the Lake Victoria shores, has died at the estimated age of 62 years. This was arguably the oldest croc in the country and has captured the imaginations and fears of many villagers, whom it terrorized for decades. The beast was captured after devouring reportedly some 80 people over its lifespan, before Uganda Wildlife Authority finally took action and laid traps, as locals demanded for the beast to be killed outright. The reptile was then taken to a crocodile farm near Masaka, where it spent the last two and a half years of its life before dying some time last week. When captured it was reported to have weighed over one ton.

ANOTHER 'CHOGM' HOTEL OPENS UP

The Metropole Hotel, located on Acacia Avenue just above the golf course in the heart of Kampala, has opened its doors to the public ahead of the Commonwealth Summit. The 60 room hotel boasts high speed wireless internet access to all rooms and public areas, a 24 hour coffeeshop and a further two restaurants offering East Asian cuisine and an authentic charcoal grill room. On offer are three different room categories for guess. The hotel also has some modest meeting facilities available for functions and small corporate meetings.

Not far away the Protea Kampala Hotel is also due to open soon. The South African management company is attempting a come back in Uganda after failing with their first attempt in the 90's due to their poor choice of property then. Protea's second Ugandan hotel along Entebbe road is in a classical misnomer called the Protea Entebbe, when it is still over 20 KM away from airport and municipality. That hotel seems far away from completion, although it was also to be built for the summit event. Failure to open in time may leave the owners reeling from financial losses when the summit meetings commence in earnest in a few weeks as the huge revenue must have been counted on. However, the project was ill-fated when during the early construction stage part of the buildings collapsed and claimed the lives of many workers. The owner's fate over this incident is still unknown, although many at the time called for prosecution of the construction company, their supervisors and the owners themselves over allegation of using substandard and under dimensioned materials.

Many new investments took place over the past two years in the hotel sector, some thought to be opportunistic for this one time event. In fact, the so called 'Kampala Hilton' never went beyond first floor level, leaving an abandoned site bare of activity. Leading industry experts and analysts had strongly warned of the lack of capacity and finance by the promoters and were ridiculed at the time, only to be proven entirely correct in their predictions. Another failed project was by Gulf based Kingdom Hotels, which was given a top location in the city to construct a 5 star hotel. The Shimoni primary school and the adjoining teachers training college previously occupying the site was hurriedly pulled down to allow for immediate construction. Zealous proponents of the land give away then have now turned into the usual fork tongued defensive mode and disclaim the proposed hotel development was ever meant to be ready for the summit this November. Whatever feasibility studies would have been done for such new hotel and resort properties, time will tell after the summits are over, just how well such hotels can maintain reasonable occupancies. In the face of existing competition the newcomers need to carve out a market niche for themselves against established hotels like Fairway, Africana, Speke Hotel, Equatoria, Grand Imperial, the existing Speke Resort and Conference Centre in Munyonyo and others. The industry is also worried about the lack of funding for major promotional activities abroad by the Uganda Tourist Board which would help to attract MICE business and keep the hotel rooms occupied.

FRESH CONTROVERSY BREWING AFTER MABIRA

Hot on the heels of government conceding to pressure from environmental protection groups, residents, a majority of the members of parliament and the entire tourism and conservation fraternity and halting their ill fated plans to give 7.200 hectares of prime rain forest to a sugar baron, more bad news seem to come the way of the tourism industry. Mabira was first gazetted in 1932 and comprises some 29.974 hectares of prime medium altitude rainforest.

A report now suggests that Hima Cement, a French owned company operating in Uganda, has set its corporate eyes on about 450 hectares of Queen Elizabeth National Park land to extract lime stone for at least the next 20 or so years.

Common extraction method is by blasting and crushing of the stone, all of which would create emission levels hitherto completely alien to the park through noise, vibrations and in particular the dust spreading into the neighbouring areas.

Conservationists and the tourism fraternity are preparing for another epic struggle to halt this latest attempt by government to use protected areas for industrial projects. The World Bank and other donors and development partners have also reportedly been informed and are getting involved, as they have given huge sums of money for the rehabilitation and development of the park. In fact the World Bank is largely credited to halt the Mabira give away, as they had committed the government to use Mabira, amongst other areas, as an offset vis-à-vis funding for the Bujagali hydro electric power plant, which then made it impossible for government to change the forest use without severe penalties by the World Bank over breach of commitment.

Some years ago an equally hair brained scheme was defeated to put a golf course into the heart of this very park but there seems to be no let up in assaulting protected areas for 'development' while keeping them intact can earn massive income from tourism. It is also understood that the French company Lafarge may be subjected to a global campaign, especially in their French home market, which may lead to the public shaming of officials and shareholders as an irresponsible corporate group. This may have a big impact on share value and public perception of the company and compel them to drop their schemes for land in one of Uganda's most visited and treasured national parks.

Not too long ago plans to turn the Pian Upe Game Reserve in to a large scale farm by Libyan investors was also defeated when the EIA revealed that the water usage would drain a near by shallow lake in a short time, leaving the project broke but more important leaving the local herdsmen without any sustainable water sources. Watch this column for emerging news.

AIRLINES CUT FLIGHTS TO ENTEBBE

The much awaited Commonwealth Summit in November has produced some hair-raising decisions and paradoxes, as in the interest of 'security' airlines have been asked to drop, reschedule and defer flights. Instead of raising flight numbers to accommodate the flow of visitors, the country is now likely faced with substantially reduced seat numbers over the summit month to the detriment of other business and tourist visitors wishing to come to Uganda. Reminds this correspondent of the Bush visit to Uganda, when the airspace was shut for several hours before his arrival and well after his departure, leaving ordinary travellers mad and reeling from delays and flight cancellations. Welcome to red taped bureaucracy!

MORE CONGO CRIMES

Reports coming from Kisoro, a rural town located in the border triangle between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo and home to one of the two gorilla national parks, point fingers once again at Congolese armed forces or Hutu militia members posing in very similar uniforms, who have come across the border and looted property from residents on the Uganda side. Opinion is divided over the cause for such incursions. Some speak of Congolese troops not having been paid in months forcing them into criminal acts to survive, something which was of course equally the case under the late dictator Mobutu or if they are directly encouraged and prompted to cause such incidents and provoke Uganda and Rwanda into a new round of military reactions. Another side effect is aimed to disturb a flourishing tourism industry in Rwanda and Uganda by causing deliberate acts of disturbances and interference and forcing hundreds if not thousands of peasants from Congo to flee the activities of the lawless thugs and crowd across the common borders into Uganda.

Inspite of multilateral meetings and efforts by Uganda and regional bodies to exert pressure on Congo's rogue regime for peace, the needle prick attacks have continued unabated along the common border. The regime leader in Kinshasa issues regular 'holier than thou' public statements about peace and re-conciliation in the region, while his thugs stay on rampage mode. MONUC, the UN security force in the Congolese border region, is also often accused of standing idle in the face of such attacks and playing a dubious role in the whole scenario, almost as if to provide covert support to the Hutu militias. These killer gangs, since the Rwanda genocide in 1994, have found refuge and safe haven in Eastern Congo and keep destabilising the entire Great Lakes region.

In the meantime the Congo regime continues its hide and seek games over the capture of a senior Ugandan rebel commander, who is reportedly being kept in Kinshasa now. The Ugandan government was only informed days after the event in an apparent effort to confuse and conceal the development and an immediate demand for extradition has received no response. Congo has been harbouring the LRA terror group on its territory for years now at Garamba National Park, where they wiped out the last remaining Northern white rhino population, while Kinshasa sat on its hands and allowed this rhinocide, robbing the world of these precious animals forever.

KENYA GOES INTO ELECTION MODE

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki this week dissolved parliament and paved the way for a general election just around Christmas this year, now that the outgoing Speaker has declared all seats officially vacant. Kenya has since the 1992 election opted for the 27th of December, the day after the holidays, but there is still some speculation that this year the date may be set a little earlier. The Electoral Commission is due to announce the date later today. Watch this space for more details in the next edition.

KISUMU AIRPORT FINALLY STARTS UPGRADE PREPARATIONS

Following the closure of the airport some time ago to allow for runway and taxiway repairs, the airport is now finally starting the upgrade process in earnest. At an estimated cost of over 2.5 billion Kenya Shillings the work scope and tenders will soon be advertised. KAA will then select the main contractor who is due to carry out the work. The airport should upon completion of the works attain full international status, catering for flights from outside the region, while regional entries are already possible in Kisumu.

The delay to start the process has been blamed by KAA officials on the required EIA and fresh feasibility studies but readers may recall how long it took KAA to even accept that emergency repairs were necessary for the airport. In fact, they only started to take the matter serious once Kenya Airways had halted their flight operations, exposing the problems to the public. Bids are due by 20th November and the evaluation and decision is expected before the end of the year.

NAIROBI'S WILSON AIRPORT GETS NEW TERMINAL

While travelling through Africa's busiest light aircraft airport recently, the first time for over a year, a new terminal building was being prepared for its opening. Wilson airport connects all of the Kenya's national parks through scheduled flights and air charter services and also offers a limited number of scheduled flights to the coast and into the region on turboprop aircraft. The improvement in services and facilities will undoubtedly help Kenya's growing tourism sector to perform even better in coming years as more and more visitors take to exploring the country and the rest of East Africa by air safaris.

NEW TOURISM MINISTER FOR SOUTHERN SUDAN

Mrs. Agnes Lukudu was appointed last Friday as the new GoSS Minister for Environment, Wildlife Conservation and Tourism after her predecessor in office was apparently retired in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle. She will be tasked to oversee the new tourism policy formulation and kick start the tourism sector in the Southern Sudan, which has a long history of tourism activities prior to the civil war which ended in 2005 after the two sides signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It was also learned that the budget for the Tourism Ministry was increased substantially and their policy statement accepted by the GoSS Council of Ministers the day prior to the ministerial changes. A moratorium for hunting was also issued by decree of the government to allow game stocks to grow further and carry out a region wide game census first. This will help identify areas which may need to come under protection by the wildlife department, over and above the present 6 declared and gazetted national parks.

TANZANIA NEW DRAFT TOURISM LAW CAUSES CONCERNS

A new draft bill to regulate the tourism sector in Tanzania has caused unusually outspoken, and in part acidly candid comments from stakeholders. The new law, if passed in the present format, would allow banning foreign investments, apparently caused by a case of severe jitters over local Tanzanian performance in the sector but also possibly as a backlash in response of resentment by locals towards successful ventures and partnerships by nationals from the region. Investors from the other East African countries and from beyond have now voiced their concern over this development as many fear they may be asked to pack up and leave or else be pushed towards selling their business interests at throw away prices to their local partners or potential buyers.

The bill also proposes draconian fines of at least 10.000 US Dollars and imprisonment up to two years, a further cause of concern to investors. If indeed such a bill is being considered and eventually passed, it would be a major turnabout, moving backwards to the command and control structure of Tanzania's socialist past and throwing out the concept of liberalisation, market forces and an open investment policy. TASOTA, the Tanzanian travel agents association, but also members of the tour and safari operators fraternity, have already voiced their opposition to the new bill and vowed to oppose the proposals until a revised draft is presented which reflects the stakeholder input. The trade associations are also reported to consider taking their complaints to the East African Community and the governments of the other EAC member states, besides involving international bodies in the tourism industry.

It is generally felt that a thriving tourism industry in Tanzania could be put at risk if the draft bill would become law without substantially softening its harsh content.

OLDONYO LENGAI LOOSES OUT

The ongoing volcanic activity near the Oldonyo Lengai mountain in Northern Tanzania is now taking its toll with the numbers of tourists visiting the area, reports from Arusha suggest. The emissions of poisonous gases, dust and lava from several open vents seems to have deterred visitors coming to the area, which was previously getting a fair number of tourists for hikes on the mountain. As visitor safety cannot be fully assured it was felt best to keep people away from the site at a safe distance. The volcano erupted earlier in the year following a series of earthquakes and tremors which were felt across the region and along the rift valley.

BOEING MESS MAY AFFECT KENYA AIRWAYS

The recent admission by the Boeing aircraft company over delays in getting their much acclaimed new long distance aircraft B 787 Dreamliner‚ ready for flight may also have repercussions across East Africa. Both Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have substantial numbers of the plane on order and are counting on having the aircraft ready to integrate into their fleets according to the agreed delivery schedule. Both airlines have over the past years embarked on an aggressive aircraft renewal programme, almost exclusively focused on Boeing aircraft. In fact Kenya Airways sold off their fleet of Airbuses some years ago in favour of Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines eventually decided to stay with Boeing for their fleet renewal, in the face of a very strong and financially attractive bid by Airbus.

In contrast South African Airways is now progressively moving towards an exclusive Airbus fleet renewal, grounding and selling off their ageing Boeing fleet, as is Air Tanzania, which is also selling their Boeing jets in favour of new Airbus models (see recent reports in this column).

The ambitious plans for fleet and network expansion by Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines for the coming years now seem under a level of threat and both airlines may have to seek clarification from Boeing over a possible change in delivery dates. One has to wait and see which mitigating measures the manufacturer may have to offer to the two East African aviation giants to keep their planned expansion and growth on schedule.

Boeing has for a prolonged period denied any problems with the B 787 production and does not seem to have learned any lessons from the PR disaster of Airbus Industries. Airbus botched the A380 production schedule and took a long time to own up to their problems, eventually resulting in a big reduction in share value and very substantial financial penalties from airlines waiting for A380 deliveries. The consequences at Airbus then were sharp and swift with those responsible being replaced and several factories being sold off to stem the financial bleeding, as part of a major restructuring of the company.

There was glee at Boeing at the time and thinly concealed joy over the misfortunes of their main rival. In view of these lessons Boeing had ample opportunity over the past months to come clean in a timely fashion. They however only eventually did so under growing investigative pressure from the media and ever sharper insistence from airlines with firm orders demanding to be told the truth. When the initial test flights were getting ever more delayed, Boeing at the time gave a number of confusing reasons, including denials, obviously trying to cloud the real causes behind the delay, in the face of ever more intense questioning by clients and the public.

LOCAL MEDIA CATCH ON TO TOURISM CHIEF RESIGNATION

Over three weeks after eTN broke the news of the premature and sudden resignation of Uganda Tourist Board Chairperson Mr. Roni Madhvani, the local media have at last also caught on to the development. A local newspaper citied extreme frustration over the agency’s facilitation by government as the main reason why Mr. Madhvani quit. His apparent disappointment with government, and in particular the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry and its failure to fight for more financial support were cited as one key reason for his departure. It is claimed in the article that the ongoing near total lack of funding for the marketing agency ultimately led to him throwing in the towel. It is considered significant that his resignation took place just ahead of the much awaited Commonwealth meetings in November, so as to make one final significant statement for those with eyes to see.

Mr. Madhvani is the joint Managing Director of the family’s businesses, who are generally acclaimed as the leading industrial family in Uganda with wide spread interests in manufacturing, agro processing and the service industry, including owning and operating the leading safari lodges in the country. Mr. Madhvani himself is a much respected individual and member of the business community and had the full backing of the entire tourism industry, which was left flabbergasted over the development.

It is generally understood that the continued lack of government support for UTB was taken as an almost personal affront by Mr. Madhvani in the end, who had agreed to serve in this position to help reform UTB and turn it into an aggressive marketing body tailored around private sector principles, sacrificing his own time and reportedly also his own resources in the national interest.

The media report also cites the lack of having the new tourism bill passed, which initially was ready to go to parliament in 2005. This bill was blocked by known anti progress forces hiding within the ministry bureaucracy, who successfully managed to delay the bill going to cabinet and parliament for over two years. These individuals were not in favour of the increased role the private sector had to play under the new bill and their underhand tactics resulted in this undue and hugely damaging delay.

This also caused the proposed tourism development fund levy still not being in place, denying the designated beneficiaries like the Uganda Tourist Board and the Hotel and Tourism Training Institute, amongst others, the much needed sustainable funding to develop and expand these statutory bodies. It also delayed the promulgation of a new regulatory framework, which was developed between private and public sector, again severely impacting on the modernization of the sector.

Shame on those old styled command economy bureaucrats, for whom the time to retire is clearly much overdue, before they can cause even more damage to the tourism sector than they have already done. Said one very upset leading safari business operator to this correspondent when discussing the issue: ‘if this turns out to be true then these people are saboteurs and should be exposed and dealt with for spoiling our industry. Here we are struggling to build our country only to find out there is a fifth column at work trying to spoil our efforts.’

KENYA REVENUE AUTHORITY DOES IT AGAIN

In a near repeat of several previous experiences the KRA has bled the country almost dry again of fuel products. Their introduction of new regulations on 01st October over stock management systems had fuel companies and transporters struggling to supply the country with enough fuel. As usual KRA then blamed the private sector over their very own bodged efforts due to lack of wide consultations and agreements on implementation. KRA has in the past through similar uncouth actions nearly dried up the fuel supply for the entire hinterland, making Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan suffer to no end, when demanding unreasonable extra bonds, terms and conditions from the fuel companies and transporters in those countries. Only top level political intervention stopped the nonsense then, not that KRA had learned any lessons for that matter apparently.

SOUTH SUDAN DEVELOPS TOURISM POLICY AND STRATEGY

A high powered consultative workshop discussed tourism policy issues over the past few days in South Sudan’s capital Juba. Senior members of the Government of South Sudan and from the 10 state governments met at Juba Raha Hotel together with members of the (very) fledgling tourism sector, the wildlife conservation fraternity, members of the academia – most notably Prof. Fraser Tong Kuotwel of the University of Juba – as well as two experts from the Kenya Tourism Development Corporation and the Kenya Tourist Board. This correspondent, together with Dr. Yakobo Moyini and the Ugandan Ministry of Tourism policy adviser David Abura formed the core of the advisory team, which was assembled to assist the South Sudan to develop a viable and implementable tourism policy. This follows a similar exercise some months ago to develop a wildlife policy, both of which will be harmonized to achieve optimal results for the development of the sector in coming years.

In the meantime, the Nimule Safari Lodge is nearing completion of the rehabilitation work presently underway to restore accommodation facilities in one of the best known parks along the border with Uganda. This work is financed by the Government of South Sudan to make a statement of their own confidence in the development of a sustainable tourism industry based in initially on its wildlife and adventure tourism, which includes rafting the spectacular rapids and falls of the Nile between Nimule (where it crosses from Uganda) downriver via Juba and on to Malakal. Other tributary rivers are also gradually being surveyed for suitability of rafting and related adventure activities. Watch this space for more reports about South Sudan’s march towards restoring the pre-war tourism industry.

GOVERNMENT DROPS MABIRA GIVE AWAY

News have just emerged that government has dropped the very controversial plan to give a sugar baron about a             quarter of one of Uganda‚Äôs priced rain forests to grow sugar cane. The decision was announced by the Minister for Finance at a Commonwealth Ministers of Finance conference and brings great relieve to the entire tourism and conservation fraternity in Uganda, the region and overseas, who have tirelessly worked to conserve this priceless resource. Well done finally for doing the right thing!

CONGRATULATIONS TO UGANDA ON ITS 45TH INDEPENDENCE DAY ANNIVERSARY

Uganda has been celebrating her 45th Independence Day on 09th October. The country attained independence from the British colonialists in 1962 at a time, when the British Empire was being progressively dismantled and colonies around the world demanded (and obtained) self-determination and independence to make their own choices and shape their own destiny.

HAPPY IDD UL FITR HOLIDAY TO THE ISLAMIC COMMUNITY

This correspondent wishes the entire Muslim community a Happy Idd Holiday at the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

RWANDA DIVERSIFIES TOURISM PRODUCTS

The government of Rwanda, through ORTPN, the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks, has commenced the construction of a US Dollars 7 million new upmarket eco-lodge at the Nyungwe National Park in the South West of the country. Much of Rwanda's tourism has so far focused on gorilla tracking but a concerted effort has been underway to diversify and add more attractions for tourist visitors to the country. Tourists presently spend less than a week during their visits due to lack of suitable accommodation other than for gorilla tracking, and the new lodge will help to increase the average stay to at least a week as envisaged by ORTPN. Roko Construction of Kampala / Uganda has won the tender to build the lodge, which will reportedly comprise some 25 accommodation units, including a Presidential Cottage. All cottages and rooms will have views on to the forest or across the tea estates, which extend to the forest boundaries. The lodge is located about 230 Km from the capital city of Kigali. Construction is expected to last between 12 &endash; 18 months, at which time a unique part of Rwanda will open up for serious tourism. The national park, which was formally created in 2005, is renowned for its 13 types of primates and several species of rare mammals, including the black fronted duiker. The park is also home to about 275 species of birds, some of them endemic to the Albertine Rift.

This is good news for Rwanda and comes close on the heels of Istithmar of the UAE announcing a major engagement in the country's hospitality industry, which besides the construction of a new 5 star luxury hotel in Kigali, the development of a championship golf course and the building of a new lodge at the Parc de Volcanoes will include a complete refurbishment and upgrading of the main lodge in the Akagera National Park. Rwanda has for a while now sought to attract sound and serious investors in the tourism industry but few had responded in such a positive fashion as Dubai World's Istithmar. The developments now announced are bound to bring about major changes for the tourism sector in Rwanda and allow the country to claim its rightful place within the East African tourism framework, which will in the future promote the entire region as one destination with many attractions.

KENYA INCREASES AVIATION FEES

Information was received from Kenyan aviation sources that the Kenya Airports Authority is planning to introduce a safety and security charge for departing passengers. Domestic passengers will be slapped with a 50 Kenya Shillings charge while international passengers are due to cough up an additional fee of US Dollar 2, should the new rate structure be approved and implemented.

Related charges for cargo screening are also due to be increased very substantially and changes in the computation of air navigation fees are also proposed, based on gross aircraft weight and distance flown in Kenyan airspace. Some airlines have already voiced their concern over the planned increases and pointed to the negative impact of increasing the cost of air travel and air cargo shipments. In the face of more environmental taxes and charges levied on imported produce in Europe and other key consumer markets, additional charges as now proposed may outprice exports, airline sources have said, leading to a setback in Kenya's export drive. Kenya Airways is also said to have insisted on substantial concessions, being the largest user of KAA facilities across the country.

The Kenya Airport Authority in mitigation has pointed out that government subsidies have ceased and that the last fee increase was about 9 years ago, during which inflationary trends increased operating cost by almost 70 percent, necessitating fee increases and the need for new charges, to cover for increased security expenses.

KENYA AIRWAYS SET TO RESUME LAMU FLIGHTS

Three weeks after halting their flights to Lamu over safety concerns with the state of the airfield's turn table and runway, Kenya Airways has given indication of resuming their daily flights next week after the Kenya Airports Authority has carried out repairs. While initially denying that anything much was wrong with the facilities in Lamu, KAA ultimately had to concede and face up to the need to carry out repairs. KQ is to be congratulated over their firm stand of putting safety concerns for their passengers first, even when other operators continued to fly into Lamu and some quarters even questioned KQ's motives.

In the meantime the airline has also announced that they have added extra flight capacity to and from Malindi on their Friday and Sunday flights due to risen demand for weekend packages to the famous Indian Ocean beaches, using their new Embraer 170 aircraft. In view of sharply increased domestic demand, the airline is reportedly also keeping their Saab 340 fleet for a little longer, having given indication last year that the turboprops would be phased out in 2007. This will allow the airline to continue serving such destinations as Lamu, where the runway length of the airfield cannot accommodate the commonly used jet aircraft. Well done once again, Pride of Africa.

KENYA TOURISM EARNINGS REACH NEW RECORD LEVEL

Year to date earnings of Kenya's tourism industry have by the end of September reached over 49 billion Kenya Shillings, which is 8 billion Shillings more than a year ago (1 US Dollar = 66.60 Kenya Shillings). Inspite of an upcoming general election in Kenya before the end of the year, it is generally anticipated that 2007 will be Kenya's best year yet in terms of revenue generated and also by tourism arrivals recorded. The revenue up to the end of the third quarter of the year is in fact already ahead of the entire revenue achieved in 2006, a remarkable achievement by any standards. This puts Kenya's tourism sector in a leading position across the East African region, in particular with domestic tourism earnings constituting about one third of the overall revenue. Leading the arrivals statistics to Kenya is Britain, followed by the United States and Germany. The market entry of Virgin has undoubtedly assisted in reaching such impressive growth figures and further growth in coming years now depends on airlines adding more flights and using larger aircraft and of course more new airlines coming to Nairobi. The American market will undoubtedly get a major boost when Delta starts direct flights in 2008 and a major Chinese airline is also said to be eyeing East Africa's main aviation hub. A notable development is also the sharp increase in arrivals from other African countries, which rose by about 18 percent compared to the previous year. Tourism chiefs attribute the record results to a successful diversification of the tourism product, improvements in product quality, making inroads in the MICE market and tapping into new emerging markets in Eastern Europe, the Far and South East, while maintaining sales and marketing activities in their existing core markets. All left to hope for is a peaceful election campaign in Kenya to keep the momentum going, since booming tourism business in Kenya is always bound to spill over into the entire region.

RISING FUEL PRICES DRIVE INFLATION

The present rise in fuel prices, caused by record levels on the global scene, has also contributed to rising inflationary trends across the region. Prices for AVGAS and Jet A1 have also risen, alongside petrol and diesel, making transportation across the board more expensive. Recent oil finds and the hope for an early production and refinement programme promise eventual relief in a few years' time, but until then Uganda as a land locked country will suffer the full effect of globally rising petroleum prices. Would be visitors are advised to check with their safari operators about any upcoming fuel supplements on quoted safari prices and for air charters.

RAINS CONTINUE TO HAMMER THE COUNTRY

Government efforts to bring relief have redoubled since the visit of President Museveni to the affected areas across the North and East of the country. Yet, more and heavier rains are still expected with Kampala just recently receiving nearly 70 mm of rain in a single day, the most sustained downpour experienced yet during the current out of season rains. Even the West of the country is now feeling the effects of the rainstorms, which early in the week led to the partial collapse of buildings in several schools in the Mbarara area of the country. River levels across the entire country have also been rising steadily over the past few weeks, in some cases reaching critical levels for populations living along river banks.

In the meantime blocked drainages have been identified as a main reason for flooded roads and intersections in the city and a major effort is now underway to clear those drains ahead of the Commonwealth Summit meetings in November. Road and general building works are also said to be severely affected by the constant heavy rains but the country still expects to deliver an excellent showing during CHOGM 2007, albeit in all probability a little on the wet side.

CRESTED CRANE FACES EXTINCTION

Uganda's national bird, the Crested Crane, is said to face extinction due to poaching and illegal exports of the colourful birds. This was reported during a public lecture at the Uganda Museum by Mr. Achilles Byaruhanga, Chief Executive of Nature Uganda, where he was raising the alarm over the devastating trend. The study into the disappearance of the birds from many areas of the country was commissioned by the Wildlife Conservation Trust, the International Crane Foundation and Birdlife International. A present estimate puts the bird numbers countrywide to just over 20.000, down from about 50.000 a decade ago. This correspondent in fact used to regularly observe Crested Cranes within the city up to the mid and late 90's in swampy areas, which have since then been drained for 'development'. Even a pair regularly nesting in a high tree on the lake shore within sight from his residence has not returned over the past two years. Regular sightings of the African Grey Parrot or of lovebirds, previously common in the area, have also reduced very greatly. The birding list of this correspondent of species seen in and from his garden stands over 140, but many birds have not made a return over the past years and the annual migration numbers also seem to have reduced. This trend is attributed to increased lake shore developments, commercial use of wetlands, bird breeding and resting grounds and the spread of new suburbs from the city, impacting on the habitat of many birds and mammals.

NSSF UGANDA TAKES STAKE IN KAMPALA SERENA

In an apparent effort to lessen risk and exposure, the consortium owning the Kampala Serena Hotel has now sold a 20 percent stake to Uganda's National Social Security Fund for just under US Dollars 2 million. The transaction was initially due at the start of the project in 2004. It however stalled when the top management and chairman of the board of NSSF came under scrutiny over an allegedly extremely overpriced land and construction deal, which resulted in the alleged perpetrators, construction tycoon Isabirye Mugoya, the then NSSF Chief Executive, the then NSSF Chairperson and the then responsible Minister to be charged in court. That case against the former NSSF officials is ongoing, with the former Minister still out of country and presently beyond the reach of Ugandan prosecutors, while Mugoya is held in Kenya on remand over a different case he faces in Kenyan courts, but with an extradition order to Uganda pending.

LE PETIT VILLAGE IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS

As reported in this column four weeks ago, a small and very stylish 12 suite hotel has been constructed within the Quality Hill arcade compound. Following some enquiries in response to the column item the new property was re-visited on the occasion of the owners hosting cocktails for the business community and tourism trade officials. In particular the garden level suites are very appealing, especially the one's with their own kitchen and dining area. Full satellite TV coverage is also available in each room, not restricted to a few channels as seen in literally all other hotels in town. This leaves guests free to watch their favourite programmes, including their favourite football matches, without their choices being dictated by the often meagre budgets allocated for entertainment by their hotel.

Le Petit Village is indeed now open for business and their website is also fully operational. Visit www.lepetitvillage.net for more information and bookings.

WILDPLACES AFRICA AT WTM

The Uganda Safari Company, representing besides their own tour-operation arm TUSC their properties Semliki Safari Lodge, Apoka Safari Lodge and the Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala's fashionable Nakasero District, can be visited at the World Travel Market on stand AF 4550. The company also just published their rack rates for 2008 ahead of WTM. Appointments to visit the company representatives at WTM can be made through zara@safariuganda.com and the superior product range of Wildplaces Africa can be seen by would be visitors at www.wildplacesafrica.com or www.safariuganda.com

And from Gill Staden in Livingstone / Zambia 

Travel Zambia

Travel Zambia is a magazine dedicated to the promotion of Zambia.  Its express objective is to increase tourism - both local and international - to Zambia, by raising the profile of the country and its service providers.

 It has been conceived out of discussions between the publishers (Travel Africa magazine), the Zambia National Tourist Board and private sector stakeholders.  As a privately-owned magazine, Travel Zambia has no official link with the ZNTB, ZCT, Zambian travel companies or any other organisation, and therefore provides independent, unbiased content.

 If you would like to know more about this magazine please contact them on zambia@travelafricamag.com 

Previous Editions


 

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Peace Through Tourism
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