AVIATION, TOURISM AND CONSERVATION NEWS from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.
A weekly roundup of breaking news, reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
You can get your daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome, join me on www.facebook.com/WolfgangHThomewhere the articles also ‘cross load’ or read the daily postings on my blog via www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.comwhich you can also ‘follow’ to get immediate notification when a new article is posted.
Fifth edition October 2012
THREAT OF PLOT REPOSSESSION SENDS HOSPITALITY INVESTORS INTO PANIC
Tanzania’s love and hate affair with investors seems to periodically rear its ugly head, as seen again last week, when the deputy minister for natural resources and tourism’s utterances sent investors in the hospitality industry into a state of shock. Nyalandu Lazaro demanded to know why in particular national park concessions granted to investors had not been utilized, threatening to cancel those laying idle by January 2013 but conveniently forgetting – some of Tanzania’s ministers appear gifted with select memory losses – that former tourism minister Ezekiel Maige last year halted all such developments. While Nyalandu accused such investors of well near sabotaging Tanzania’s economy, the ban order of last year has never been rescinded, leaving potential investors in a lurch of what exactly to do, build and violate an existing order or risk losing their properties for respecting that very order.
‘Some of our ministers should think before they speak and this is such a case. Maige shocked investors who had paid fees to get concessions, some with plans ready to build, tender processes underway, and he stopped them, putting that entire investment and capital outlay at risk. You think he cared? Anyway, he got the sack but Ambassador Kagesheki has not lifted that ban as yet, so what is Lazaro going on about? If anyone smacks of sabotaging investors it is him with such thoughtless utterances. He should apologize to the investors and the nation for committing such blunders. Did he sleep when Maige banned the building of camps and lodges in the parks?’ asked a regular source from Arusha, then adding that Tanzania’s record in supporting investors left a lot to be desired. ‘We still see that broken and derelict 1970’s and 1980’s view of socialist tendencies in so many instances. They sing one song when trying to get investors here and then another when people have brought their money. At times I think there is something fundamentally wrong with our political leaders and no wonder pressure grows for change. They should be consistent and not always this today and that tomorrow. And they should in particular stop harassing investors from Kenya with all sorts of small issues just because we are Kenyans. We come here to create jobs and improve the tourism sector, not to sabotage it like the deputy minister did with his baseless allegations. If I am to lose my property I will immediately sue at the East African Court of Justice and demand compensation for what I have already spent and the loss of income and profits for the duration for which the concession is valid’.
It is not known yet if Ambassador Kagesheki, the cabinet minister in charge of natural resources and tourism, has already read his deputy the riot act, as he has since his appointment established himself as a no nonsense man, sweeping deadwood from the corridors of his ministry and cracking down hard on lazy officers and those not toeing the line or embarrassing him. Watch this space as this latest saga involving the Tanzanian hospitality industry is unfolding.
KIGALI SERENA STAFF PLANT TREES WHILE PARTICIPATING IN UMUGANDA
Every last Saturday of the month are Rwandans out in force to clean up their neighbourhoods or else engage in community development projects under a scheme known as Umuganda. This last Saturday of October though was different for staff from the Kigali Serena Hotel, as Country General Manager Charles Muia took them to 20 hectares area in Bwize, where 10.000 tree seedlings were planted to add forest cover in years to come.
While it can only be speculated over if this forest, when mature, will be called the Serena Forest, it nevertheless is part of the hospitality group’s ongoing commitment to going and staying green, not just in Rwanda but across the entire region. Charles Muia also used the occasion to announce that at least four areas will each year get Serena’s support with tree planting, part of Rwanda’s wider policy to extend forest cover from the present 23 percent to 30 percent across the country by 2020.
The Kigali Serena is Rwanda’s leading city hotel and sister property Lake Kivu Serena provides a lake side location in Gisenyi, where guests can enjoy sun and sand but also take excursions by boat from the resort to watch birds or do a spot of fishing. Gisenyi is the starting point of the 223 KM long Congo Nile Trail, which runs along the shores of Lake Kivu via Kibuye to Cyangugu, with easy access along the way to the forests of Gishwati and Nyungwe, the latter also known as the ‘Enchanted Forest’ and the third of Rwanda’ national parks.
Visit www.serenahotels.com for more information on the two properties in Rwanda and the location of more than 20 other safari, resort and city hotels across the wider East African region.
MANIAGO APPEAL CASE MOVED AS PRISONS FAIL TO PRODUCE CONVICTS
The appeal filed by Maniago Safaris against being enjoined in the conviction of former Tourism PS Rebecca Nabutola, former KTB CEO Dr. Achieng and former Maniago CEO Duncan Muriuki was deferred to November 05th, when the prison authorities were found to have ignored an order by court to produce the convicts for the hearing.
Maniago, upon reading of the conviction of the three, appealed for being named and enjoined in the conviction, as they claim by error, as the prosecution had wrongly assumed that Muriuki was still part of the company, yet he had been removed as CEO in early 2011, when the charges against him were filed in court. Maniago, according to a reliable source from Nairobi, was never served with summons nor subsequently represented in court by legal counsel and has a perfect reason to have their mention in the conviction squashed and removed.
The three other convicts have reportedly all filed an appeal too but have been unsuccessful so far to be freed on bail, pending the appeals case to be heard, so far dashing their hopes to walk the streets of Nairobi any time soon again.
Watch this space as the twist in the tale of this story will surely flick and flack for some more time.
ENTEBBE TOLL HIGHWAY CONCEPT TO SERVE FOR JINJA HIGHWAY TOO
The Uganda National Road Authority, presently in the final stages to settle compensation with owners of tracts of land acquired to build the new Entebbe Highway – a project due to break ground some time in 2013 – has indicated that they are looking at a similar joint venture with financiers and investors to build a new multi lane highway between Kampala and Jinja, bypassing the bottlenecks of getting out of the capital and then having to drive through major towns enroute like Bweyogerere, Mukono and Lugazi, all of which is slowing down traffic. The announcement is likely to raise concern with friends of Mabira forest, as they would vehemently oppose another route through the 28.000+ hectares rainforest, though might be persuaded to agree to widen the present road from single carriage to dual carriage.
The cost at present stage for this massive new infrastructure development is pegged at the 700 billion Uganda Shillings mark but informed sources claim that detours around environmentally sensitive areas like Mabira forest and wetlands might drive the project cost up to a trillion Uganda Shillings. The new highway is due to reach Jinja where the new Nile bridge will be constructed, with work also due to start next year and financed largely by Japan. The Entebbe Highway will be financed by Chinese banks and a similar deal is expected for the planned highway to Jinja, and perhaps from there to the common border with Kenya, taking a leaf or two from the massive infrastructure development seen under President Mwai Kibaki’s leadership over the past 9 years.
A regular source form within the tourism industry in an overnight mail said: ‘One of our problems with traffic is we have to go through our towns and cities. When going west at least there is a good bypass around Masaka which was done in 1992. But look at Kampala, all traffic except for the Northern Bypass section, is through town, Mukono, Lugazi, Mbarara and all, through town. This is our challenge to find new routes around these centres so that long distance traffic can swiftly pass and not slow down like right now’. Good news for Uganda@50, as the country has entered the second half century of Independence from Britain, a period for which Ugandans have high hopes and high expectations from government to deliver services and infrastructure, and fast. Watch this space.
MAURITIUS RAISES FEES FOR DOLPHIN AND WHALE WATCHING
Information was received from Port Louis that an activity popular with tourists, whale and dolphin watching and ‘swimming with dolphins’ will soon cost a lot more, following a revision of the fee structure levied on excursion operators. Presently costing 1.000 Mauritius Rupees, the new fees will rise to between 5.000 and 10.000 Mauritius Rupees, an increase of between five to tenfold.
Official explanations given for the drastic rise in charges, according to the source in Port Louis was to ensure that such tourist activities remain ‘responsible and sustainable’, reasons dismissed by staff from DMC’s offering such ocean adventure tours as mere ‘profiteering, at a time when Mauritius tourism is already in a crisis. This is NOT the time to raise fees by 500 or 1.000 percent and considering that the fees for skipper licences have also been hiked is just not right’
The same source also expressed fear that similar fee rises might like ambushes still be inflicted on the tourism sector to add more money into the coffers of government. ‘Mauritius has had a challenging year so far, little growth and flopped activities by MTPA like the copy cat move to bring a carnival to Mauritius and then stage a humiliating climbdown. When you face challenges in your main markets, and we will see that next week when we go to WTM in London, you don’t raise rates or fees like that, so much and with almost no notice. People even prebook such activities and may have paid for so who is now absorbing that added cost? The tourist who will complain or the DMC who will operate that tour’.
Can’t argue with that logic for sure. Watch this space for regular updates from the tourism sectors of the Vanilla Islands of Mauritius, La Reunion, Madagascar, Comoros, Mayotte and of course the Seychelles.
BUS COMPANIES LAUGH AT ATTEMPT BY FASTJET TO ‘STEAL’ THEIR CLIENTS
A day spent in the city yesterday brought with it the opportunity to carry out a quick survey from among staff of inter-country bus companies, plying the routes between Kampala and Nairobi, but also beyond Kenya’s capital to Mombasa, Arusha and Dar es Salaam. I carried with me a copy of the Business Daily (www.businessdailyafrica.com) from earlier in the week, in which one Richard Bodin, FastJet’s Chief Commercial Officer, claimed in an interview with the newspaper’s Wangui Maina that his airline would target bus travelers and lure them into the air with their 20 US Dollar farehttp://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate+News/FastJet+eyes+bus+travellers+with+low+fare+model+/-/539550/1598564/-/item/0/-/13vmn3x/-/index.html)
Literally every person I spoke with, from Easy Coach over Gateway to Kampala Coach, Modern Coach to Queens Coach, developed fits of laughter, and kept laughing even after reading the relevant sections of the interview for themselves. Said Mukasa, working at one of the bus companies: ‘We charge 60.000 Uganda Shillings for a trip to Nairobi and double for return. Most of our bookings we get even on the day people want to travel or maybe the day earlier. Only for the big holidays do people book in advance because they fear the fares might go up. Even then, maybe two weeks or a week before they travel but otherwise most just come or call and book their seat and pay the ticket. Now we are in town. That is convenient for many of our passengers because they can use public transport to reach us on Dewinton Road. If they have to spend extra time and money to find transport to the airport, that will be an added expense they will think twice to pay for. Our buses are safe and we offer good service. Those travelling by bus will not suddenly fly because with us 60K is all they pay including baggage. There are no extra cost involved’.
A passenger called Mwangi, going back to Nairobi with that same company said: ‘I can afford the bus fare. This one goes via Busia but others go through Malaba. I have used them all but have to stop in Kisumu for some business. It is convenient even if a trip takes 12 hours. I can bring my drink and food and they never disturb me when I bring along boxes with goods I bought or bring to sell. This talk of a fare of 20 Dollars is also not true. I read the Nation last week and slowly it is coming out that there are too many added extra cost hidden and if I decide today to travel tomorrow, a ticket will be a lot more than just 20 Dollars. I stick to the bus’ while at another bus company a lady called Fatima said: ‘Me I cannot fly, they ask too many things at the airport and going to Entebbe and then from Nairobi airport to town also costs extra fares. It takes me 12 hours overnight and tomorrow morning I am in Nairobi Inshallah and buy my goods and when I am finished I take the next bus back to Kampala’.
These sentiments were echoed by several other travelers too who were keenly listening to explanations that the peddled fare of US Dollars 20 only was indeed misleading, as it was subject to a range of added charges, which are only slowly emerging now after pressure from the media to unearth the true cost of a FastJet ticket. The findings made it clear that hopeful travelers certain to raise the 52.000 Uganda Shillings fare at current exchange rates would have to cough up a lot more in real terms before being able to fly on FastJet, plus the added cost of going to and coming from the airports to the city.
A leading Kampala travel agent, Declan Peppard of TravelCare, in fact pegged the taxes and fees on a Kenya Airways return ticket between Entebbe and Nairobi to 190 US Dollars, revealing the level of add on to the basic fare, a reason why flying in the region has remained so expensive, as regulators and authorities act like vampires to suck every last shilling out of travelers pockets.
Bus company staff are therefore, and probably rightly so, dismissive of the notion that FastJet would be able to siphon any significant numbers from among bus travelers using overland coaches to travel across the region, nor will they make a big impact on the back pack budget tourists, as they like to get off at key waypoints like in Jinja for white water rafting and other adventure activities, or in Nakuru or Narok to see the national parks nearby, all places where FastJet does not and never will reach with their A319 aircraft. Fodder for thought no doubt, concludes yours truly, still laughing too.
AT SHERATON’S OKTOBERFEST WITH ‘DIRNDL AND GAMSBART AM HUT’
When the German Ambassador and the British High Commissioner sit down together over a Friday night meal, and in public, it must be special one might say, and it was. The Sheraton Kampala pulled out all the stops and the kitchen brigade produced a buffet full of German culinary delights – and no, that is not a contradiction in terms my friends – from genuine Pretzels, Kuemmel buns to all the things one expects to find on the menu in one of the real Oktoberfest’s large hospitality tents. Eisbein with Sauerkraut was as much there as the traditional Bavarian Weisswurst with sweet mustard, while other brands of Bavarian sausages too were on offer, from Nuernbergers’ to Fleischwurst and Leberkaese.
It was no surprise therefore that the distinguished members of the diplomatic corps were joined by scores of Ugandans and expatriates for the second of three nights of the Oktoberfest to sample German ethnic food and wash it down with some cold beers from large mugs, served by the Sheraton, staff dressed up with splendid imitations of Bavarian hats and wearing the typical ‘Hosentraeger’ one comes to expect in Bavaria, though not the ‘Lederhosen’.
James Rattos, the hotels Director of Sales and Marketing was at hand to receive guests in person, making sure that the hotel shows itself from the sunniest side, even after dark, ahead of the upcoming festive season, when big dollars are being spent by Uganda’s corporate who is who on catering for staff parties, receptions for business associates and cocktail parties chasing each other down the calendar towards the Christmas Holidays. And for couples, to add that bit of an extra goodie, the hotel was offering a rate of US Dollars 150 a night per room, sparing those with love for each other, but also for their beers, the risk of driving home and being nabbed by Kampala’s cops, who are known to be out enforce on weekend nights to catch those who dare to go over the limit, an offer according to James taken up by several diners.
A night out on the town, well spent and well eaten, with any pretence of being on a diet being deferred until the day after.
KEMPINSKI VILLA ROSA PRESENTS NEW GENERAL MANAGER
Bernard Mercier was recently appointed as Kempinski’s first General Manager, for the soon to open Kempinski Villa Rosa in Nairobi as well as overseeing the Olare Mara Kempinski, an existing property being taken under the Kempinski branding, management and marketing. Bernard joins the newly built Nairobi Kempinski from China, where he last year opened a new Kempinski Resort on the island of Hainan before transferring to Kenya. Bernard started his hospitality career with InterContinental
Hotels but also gained experience with Starwood’s Sheraton, Hilton, Tivoli Hotels and Resorts, Peninsula Hotels and more recently the Kempinski Group. The takeover of the 12 tented ‘suites’ Olare Mara Camp, together with the rebranding will coincide with the soft opening of the new Villa Rosa which is located along the Waiyaki Way in Nairobi not far from the Museum Hill intersection of the new city highway and close to the International Casino. There guests can expect an array of restaurants, bars and facilities only a Kempinski would offer, alongs side 200 rooms, including 13 suites which already at this stage have gained a hearsay reputation as arguably the best in the city. Opening dates are yet to be finalized but will be published here well in advance.
Bernard is joined by Executive Chef Hans Lentz who has gained his experience as the Al Bustan Palace, the Addis Ababa Sheraton and the InterContinental in Chicago, by Britta Krug as Director of Sales and Marketing, Lydia Liu as Marketing and Communications Manager and notably has Miss Shikha Nayar joined the Kempinski in Kenya as e-Commerce Manager, after leaving the Nairobi InterConti earlier on to find a new professional challenge.
Created in 1897, Kempinski Hotels is Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group. Kempinski’s rich heritage of impeccable personal service and superb hospitality is complemented by the exclusivity and individuality of its properties and now comprises a portfolio of 73 five-star hotels in 31 countries. The Group continues to add new properties in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, each one of which reflects the strength and success of the Kempinski brand without losing sight of its heritage. The portfolio includes historic landmark properties, award-winning urban lifestyle hotels, outstanding resorts, and prestigious residences.
Kempinski is a founding member of the Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), the world’s largest alliance of independent hotels.
TOURISM STAKEHOLDERS DEMAND ‘MWAZO MUST GO’ OVER KTB APPOINTMENT
Kenya’s Minister for Tourism Danson Mwazo is turning out to be as hapless as his erstwhile Tanzanian counterpart Ezekiel Maige, who fell into his own sword over constant blunders, gaffes and major scandals in his ministry earlier this year. Already depicted as a poor substitute, elevated into a cabinet position when his highly respected and globally renowned predecessor Najib Balala was fired by his party leader for telling him off over undemocratic and dictatorial behaviour, Mwazo has incurred the wrath of the tourism sector on several occasions since his appointment. He stands blamed for failing to get the industry and in particular the tourist board the funds needed at this crucial period of time to promote the country to the fullest extent abroad, is blamed for having failed the sector vis a vis attempts to load VAT on tourism services besides uttering clouded statements as to the true extent of the industry’s downturn when talking growth for 2012 while all the key data talk lesser arrivals. It is in fact thought that his latest decision taken in isolation from the industry, not to renew the contract for the KTB CEO Muriithi Ndegwa, has much to do with this, as the tourist board within days of ministerial utterances published the true figures of the downturn in arrivals, exposing Mwazo as a peddler of hot air.
The most recent nails in the minister’s coffin was the hasty cancellation of the long awaited, and for the first time ever, World Travel Awards Africa Ceremony, due to be held in Nairobi, which the organizers cancelled at the last moment after the ministry welshed on earlier commitments of sharing the cost to organize the gala night, leaving industry stakeholder flabbergasted and the country’s reputation smeared. Only weeks earlier had he blundered again when appointing new boards for a number of newly created parastatals under the new tourism act, after overlooking the fact that he had failed to cause the new law to be formally gazetted, rendering his decision null and void and resulting in legal cases being brought.
It is understood from usually reliable sources within Kenya’s tourism fraternity, that the Board of Directors of the Kenya Tourist Board had in fact recommended that Muriithi Ndegwa’s contract be renewed, showing a further alienation between the Minister and the industry representatives on the board. This is now raising speculation that there may be resignations from the board by those feeling strongly that the minister not just ignored their advice but stumped on them with a vengeance.
After the recent departure of Jennifer Opondo who served successfully as Marketing Director of KTB, the appointment of Regional Marketing Manager Europe Ms. Jacintha Nzioka-Mbithi to the position as Acting Chief Executive, not long after being made Acting Marketing Director, has left a leadership vacuum in two of the most senior positions, as Muriithi Ndegwa and Jennifer Opondo were largely credited with the overwhelming success of reaching new arrival and revenue records in 2011, before budget cuts and political events in Kenya reversed the trend for 2012 beyond their control.
The minister is, according to several regular contributors from Kenya, now widely suspected to attempt and stuff these various boards with political sympathizers of his party leader and at least one senior source has already indicated that legal cases may be brought if even the slightest whiff of such improprieties emerges in the appointments. ‘The day that fellow is out of office cannot come soon enough. He understands zero about tourism and how our industry works and we miss Balala every day, he was a champion of the tourism industry and this mess is becoming intolerable. I know there is not likely to be a change before the elections for political expediency but really, he is not fit to lead our sector as a minister. And imagine, we are soon heading for WTM and these divisions are now all out in the open. Very bad timing, very bad decision by a very bad minister’ ranted one rather outspoken source before hastily adding ‘just don’t give my name or he will have my head for it’.
That all said, all the best to Miss Jacintha who now has a very large pair of shoes to fill and inspire the KTB staff to find new motivation and determination in promoting Kenya as WTM is now only 1 ½ weeks away. Watch this space.
AIR SEYCHELLES ADDS MORE INTER ISLAND FLIGHTS
Effective from Sunday, 28th of October, will Air Seychelles increase domestic flights between the international airport on Mahe to the aerodrome on Praslin by nearly 40 percent.
According to information received from the archipelago will departure periods with peak demand see a doubling of flights, providing over 5.200 seats per week with a further rise over the period between December 01st 2012 and January 12th 2013 with as many as scheduled flights per day, using the airline’s domestic fleet comprising 4 DHC Twin Otters and one Short 360.
Air Seychelles also operates charter flights to a number of other islands in conjunction with the archipelago’s leading DMC’s.
Details on the scheduled departure times effective this coming Sunday are available on the company website via www.airseychelles.com
CONGO REGIME LEADER BLAMES HIS OWN FAILURES ON NEIGHBOURS
Congo’s regime leader Joseph Kabila seems to have shaken off the stunning blow delivered during the recently concluded Francophone Summit in Kinshasa, when both the French President and the Canadian Prime Minister accused him publicly of stealing the elections and of an atrocious human rights record, when he returned to his usual belligerent self in accusing Uganda and Rwanda to be the source of his own troubles.
Congo had openly opposed Rwanda’s election as a non permanent member of the UN Security Council and this week invited a number of opposition scribes from Uganda to Kinshasa where he wined and dined them before laying into the Kampala government. Kabila claimed the loss of investments in Congo and the absence of tourists was directly linked to Uganda’s and Rwanda’s involvement in the civil war in Eastern Congo, where his regime plays willing host to killer militias and terrorist training camps aimed to destabilize the neighbouring countries. It is in the east of the Congo where powerful mining interests in league with his regime, and often hand in hand with militias and allegedly even the Congo army, run slave labour mines, while doing little if anything to ensure that protected areas like the Parc de Virunga, with its prized gorillas, are left alone.
Said a periodic source close to the seat of power in Kampala on condition of not being named: ‘Let him invite opposition mouthpieces and give them hate material. We know them from here, it is not new to us. It proves our point that sections of our media are fueled and driven by a foreign agenda and serve foreign masters. But they have failed to make any impact. When Kabila was in Kampala for our Golden Jubilee celebrations we held a summit. He realized all the EAC countries have stood together and exposed his schemes for what they are. If he raises the lack of tourists in East Congo, it is not a result of external meddling like he does it but as result of the lack of security he is responsible for. Let us remind ourselves that the Bwindi massacre was perpetrated by killers Congo gave refuge to and permitted to move freely. We and our Rwandan brothers simply defend our own territory and protect our own important tourism industry which prospers in the border triangle. And while we cannot always say what is on our minds, I like the way you wrote about the recent outbreaks being linked to the flood of refugees we received from Eastern Congo. We provide shelter for these poor people. Many flee not just from the fighting but from ethnic discrimination, perhaps ethnic cleansing. And when they come in their thousands they cannot be screened when they cross for what illnesses they bring and then we in Uganda have to deal with it. We would long be declared polio free for instance but for the constant threat of a case here and there along the Congo border. They have no health care network there, so people even cross the borders illegally to seek treatment here. And you are right, he [Kabila] would not invite you of course, he can only invite 5th column scribes who are willingly serving his purposes’.
Both the Uganda and Rwanda government are expected to react in due course to this latest verbal broadside from Kinshasa but will probably be undeterred in their expressed views that there is no evidence linking any official government contacts with individuals or groups on the ground in Eastern Congo other than using diplomatic means to bring the fighting to an end. Watch this space as Congo, oh Congo adds yet another chapter.
MARBURG OUTBREAK NOT A THREAT TO TOURISTS
Officials from the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Uganda Tourist Board have gone on record yesterday in Kampala, trying to calm the jitters which have spread across the tourism sector last week when an outbreak of the Marburg fever was confirmed through tests at the Uganda Virus Research Institute and the CDC in Atlanta. Five people have died and several dozen more are under confinement and quarantine to avoid the spread of the disease further, in a similar approach which last month saw the successful elimination of an Ebola outbreak. Both diseases are suspected to have been brought into the country through refugees from Congo, who fled the intense fighting in the border region with Uganda and Rwanda.
Tourism sources, shy to go on the record, expressed their concern that this second outbreak may put a dent into an otherwise successful tourism year, marked by the accolade from the Lonely Planet Guide Book company which had names Uganda as the top destination for 2012, the celebrations of 50 years of Independence from Britain and the competitive advantage since June of charging only 500 US Dollars for a gorilla tracking permit compared to the 750 US Dollars per person in neighbouring Rwanda. ‘When we were declared Ebola free two weeks ago it was a relief because we had a stream of emails asking about the where and the dangers. We told travel agents and tour operators not to worry because that was a bit distant from the tourist routes. But this one is right at the cross roads where the two gorilla parks are located and it is a bit tricky. Our drives to these parks pass by but do not stop and we see no risk at all for any visitors to get infected’ said one regular contributor, although conceding that the upcoming tourism trade show in London, the annual World Travel Market might be overshadowed by these recent events in the country. ‘We have a good product, we are diverse in our tourism activities, we offer adventure on the Nile, mountain climbing, the complete primate experience with gorillas, chimps and 12 other primate species and we are a safe destination by anyone’s measure. Of course it is a concern but we hope that 2012 will be another record year for tourism and look forward to an even better next year. We go to London to promote Uganda, not in defensive mode’.
SERENA NOW OFFERS HORSEBACK SAFARIS ON SOYSAMBU CONSERVANCY
The Lake Elementaita Serena, a very posh safari camp located on the Soysambu Conservancy comprising 24 tented suites, has added horse riding to their list of activities available for visitors.
The horses were selected to cater for advanced riders as well as for novices and the guides are trained not just in horse lore but bush lore as well when taking out guests for safaris into the sprawling estate.
Visitors are likely to experience the wilderness more close up and personal, able to see some of the 50+ species of game from the third dimension, as conventional game drives as well as guided walks are also available when exploring the conservancy. Birders in particular will find rich pickings as over 450 species of resident and migratory birds have been recorded on Soysambu, including being one of the rare breeding grounds for white pelicans.
Less than two hours drive from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, the Lake Elementaita Serena has opened up the Soysambu Conservancy and the shores of Lake Elementaita, where regularly large concentrations of flamingos add a shade of pink to the spectacular sights across the water.
The lake is recognized globally as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is part of the sprawling estate established in the late 1900’s by Lord Delamare and today still run by the family. Visit www.serenahotels.com for more information on this exceptional property and all the other locations where Serena can be found across Eastern Africa.
INTERPOL REQUEST TO NAB FOUR SUSPECTS RUBBISHES TANZANIA’S DENIALS
The recent seizure of blood ivory in Hong Kong by customs officials, said to be worth over 3.4 million US Dollars and containing over 1.200 tusks representing over 600 poached elephant, drew prompt denials from Tanzanian officials, when Dar es Salaam was named as one of the shipping points of origin.
The ‘it was not us’ chorus however was silenced in a hurry when Hong Kong police, through Interpol, sent a formal request to nab four suspects in Tanzania who were named when some of those arrested in Hong Kong started to spill the beans and revealed their contacts in Dar and beyond.
Added information revealed appears to confirm suspicions that the blood ivory could originate from the Selous and Mikumi National Park, where poaching on a commercial scale has found little serious opposition from security forces, inspite of continued full mouthed statements to the contrary. A parliamentary report earlier this year brought to the plenary in Dodoma, asserted that up to 30 elephant per day were killed by poachers in Tanzania and that the battle against poaching was certainly not won, but probably lost, as the big herds were being relentlessly cut down, while at the same time officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism insisted that hunting of elephant must continue because it generated revenue for them.
The denials must be seen in the light that Tanzania had just announced a fresh bid to sell about 100 tons of ivory on the open market, after losing a similar application at the CITES meeting in Doha in 2010. At the time the CITES Secretariat had compiled a damning report on the country’s laxity over anti poaching operations and regular trafficking through Tanzanian ports, which brought the roof down on the application when the delegates voted the request down alongside the one from Zambia. These latest damaging findings will therefore only fuel the sentiments of those opposed to Tanzania being permitted to sell stocks and calls are emerging for Tanzania to follow the example of Kenya and burn the ivory.
Watch this space as the onslaught against Africa’ wildlife heritage continues unabated, fueled by unchecked demand from mainly China for ivory and rhino horn.
UG@50 – REFLECTIONS FROM A LONG TIME RESIDENT
When I set foot into Uganda in April 1992, way ahead of celebrating the country’s 30th anniversary of Independence from Britain, it was an eye opener and a half for me. A country blessed with a lot of rain, good soil for ample harvests, a recently passed new investment code, a free currency regime leading in the region and opportunities galore in all sectors of the economy, agri processing, manufacturing, construction, engineering, the services sector like banking and insurance and of course in tourism.
The streets in those days were bare of traffic in Kampala but full of potholes, some of which so bad that a small car could almost disappear in them, but the roads upcountry were good, from the border with Kenya via Kampala to Mbarara and beyond.
The national parks were there, with Mt. Elgon and Kibale just transferred to Uganda National Parks, the predecessor of today’s Uganda Wildlife Authority and we still had the Entebbe Zoo, in a pathetic state admittedly before it was being transformed into the UWEC we know today.
Queen Elizabeth had one functioning lodge, Mweya, where the water was often cold and the beers warm but the hospitality of the staff was even back then warm and friendly, inspite of the difficult working circumstances they suffered from. Game viewing though was surprisingly good even then, 6 years since President Museveni’s NRA had marched into Kampala and driven the last of the dictators out power, as security back then extended to the parks too – hardly a report of poaching back then.
There was a new spirit in the air back then, a firm belief that Uganda had finally emerged from the dark days, ready to claim her place in East Africa, and suddenly the business activity turned the tide from pure trading to real investments. The Hotel Equatoria of Karim Hirji was the first of the old hotels to be reconstructed and reopened in 1993, almost at the same time as Gordon Wavamunno opened the Lake View Hotel in Mbarara and across the country did similar ventures suddenly prosper, albeit still lacking the skilled and well trained staff – most of the hotel professionals were still working abroad at that time.
Industries sprang up, in Kampala, Lugazi and Jinja and suddenly locally produced goods appeared in the shops, many of which were reopened along Jinja, Kampala and Bombo Roads, which were previously boarded up. The kingdoms were restored in 1993 as well, granting ‘Ebyaffe’ to the historical cultural entities and with the increased output of both Nile Breweries and Uganda Breweries, and the resumption of softdrink plants, beer and sodas were once again available in almost unlimited quantities, no longer needing a ‘chit’ from a minister or other well connected individual. Shopping trips by expatriates, who still had access to a duty free shop at the basement of the Nile Conference Centre, to Kisumu across the border with Kenya, progressively phased out as the shelves filled up, at a cost but a range of consumer goods finally available again. Uganda moved from the ‘Money bricks’ bank notes of 50 (reddish), 100 (blueish) and 200 (orangish) denominations, tied together like brickets, to the introduction of first the 1.000 note and then the 5.000 note, ushering in a new age when money no longer needed to be carried in a carry all when going to the Sheraton for a dinner with say 6 or 8 associates, signaling that the economy had truly started to mature.
The elections for the Constituent Assembly were held, which then sat at the Nile International Conference Centre writing a new constitution for the country, drawing the battle lines for the future of the country and its political direction. The international community took notice of these developments and slowly but surely did more and more visitors trickle into the country, to track the gorillas which became officially possible in 1993/4 and the other parks, where newly introduced concessions allowed for the reconstruction of derelict lodges and the building of new ones. The elections of 1996 saw President Museveni and his NRM beat all rivals hands down and suddenly Uganda was booming and buzzling with economic activity.
Kampala roads were done up, and going by the look of it are still being done up, periodically, and the first traffic jams signaled ‘progress’ with fancier and newer models replacing the ‘My Car’ and the late 80’s Toyota Corollas which had once dominated the roads. Coins were re-introduced in 1999 replacing the small denomination notes by end 2000. A 10.000 note had joined the smaller denominations before a 20.000 note followed.
When Uganda reached the 40th anniversary of Independence on 09th October 2002, President Museveni has won his second round of democratic elections earlier that year, again whipping his rivals in the post 9 / 11 period which had changed the world we knew before then.
Entebbe International Airport saw during those years a sharp increase in the number of airlines flying to Uganda, a trend which has continued until today and the pre – CHOGM summit remodeling and additions made Uganda’s main gateway more functional and yet kept it compact, adding dual percentage figures year after year in flight movements, passenger and cargo growth.
Kajjansi as a hub for light aircraft saw the Aero Club being formed in 1997 and there as in Entebbe did traffic grow, for owners MAF as well as for newcomers Ndege Juu, and the onset of drilling for oil in earnest saw the fortunes of the Kajjansi airlines boosted in leaps and bounds.
In tourism did the Marasa Africa Group emerge, part of the Madhvani industrial, agricultural and service empire, joining such companies like pioneer Inns of Uganda, Volcanoes Safaris and Wild Places Africa. Inns of Uganda in a major rebranding has since transformed itself into GeoLodges Africa, with Uganda’s hospitality sector now offering a range of options for the growing number of tourists. Smaller indigenous owned properties followed suit when Great Lakes Safaris put up their own strategically placed units, alongside Wild Frontiers and a few others. Ahead of the CHOGM summit of 2007 was hotel capacity in Kampala boosted with the most significant additions being the Kampala Serena Hotel, which had acquired the former Nile Hotel International in 2004 and re-opened officially in 2007, and of course had the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort joined sister hotel Speke Resort at the lakeside location of Munyonyo, now forming the backbone of Uganda’s growing MICE business, standing for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events, for which ‘Munyonyo’ as it is now commonly referred to is famous, the annual socialite event ‘Royal Ascot Goat Races’ included of course.
Restaurants spread offering almost every ethnic cuisine one could wish for and as a result there was a need to create a regular guide to keep visitors abreast with the latest, newest and most uptodate information on lodges, hotels, restaurants, airlines and a thousand things to do – The Eye Uganda was born in 2001 and has since grown to become Uganda’s premier entertainment guide, maps and locations all at one’s finger tips and available for FREE to make life for new arrivals, for visitors and tourist, but locals too easier.
The energy crisis of 2006 bit hard, just around the time of the elections at the time, costing the government a few percentage points for sure, but the commissioning of the new Bujagali hydro electric power plant just ahead of the country celebrating 50 years of Independence has put that to rest at last.
The country, in my 20+ years, has seen by and large an upwards trend, with a few downs sprinkled in between but it only goes to prove the resilience of Ugandans to be able to deal with 30+ percent inflation, power shortages and still, at an amazing rate, populate the hills of Kampala, from the erstwhile 7 to surely now 70 in the wider metropolitan area while narrowing the gap between the city and Entebbe on one side and Mukono on the other. 50 years and counting, much to celebrate, much to reflect upon and much still to look forward to when the oil finally starts flowing and hopefully bringing new economic prosperity to all, as the slogan of 2006 for President Museveni’s reelection campaign went.
Now a resident for life, let me conclude that we all tend to complain a lot but when push comes to shove, Uganda is my home as it is for many others. Expatriates once we have been integrated into society and embraced by our Ugandan brothers and sisters, and there is no doubt that it has become my permanent home, with few places around the world rivaling our location, weather and a friendly and industrious people. I wish my compatriots once again a Happy UG@50 and all the best for the next 50 years, though I doubt I will still be here to write a piece for UG@100. As we say when ending a speech or major address: For God And My Country.
AFTER ACROBATIC FLYING COMES PARAGLIDING FOR THRILL SEEKERS
No sooner has acrobatic flying at the Kampala Aero Club’s Kajjansi field become popular with the thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies living in or visiting Uganda has the next adventure activity taken off in the Pearl of Africa.
Paragliding is the latest adrenaline booster and a most welcome addition to a number of adventure experiences now available in Uganda such as white water rafting, quad biking, bungee jumping and acrobatic flying, amongst others.
Fly Mami Afrika is now offering regular ‘flights’ from a location outside the Eastern Ugandan town of Mbale from Mt. Wanale, which stands at 2.320 metres high, and offers packages in cooperation with the Sipi River Lodge. \The take off site is reachable by 4×4 vehicle, sparing the dare devils wanting to fly with easy access and keep them fresh to enjoy the silent flight in the company of an experienced parachutist guide with hundreds of jumps under his belt.
Other locations across Uganda are presently being explored, with plenty of choices available considering the Great African Rift Valley’s Albertine Graben running across the land, or considering the alpine hills of Kabale and Kisoro. For more information on the company’s activities visit info
FLY 540 KENYA WOES CONTINUE UNABATED
A temporary relief, granted by court for a period of 30 days, may be the last lifeline for embattled Fly540 in Kenya, as creditors are now moving in for the proverbial ‘kill’ to have the airline wound up.
Defying a court verdict by commercial court Justice Jonathan Havelock to pay nearly 700.000 US Dollars for outstanding fuel bills in mid February this year were reportedly ignored and from a source close to the action in Nairobi it was learned that some cheques were not paid. Justice Havelock in an unusually strong sentiment called the defense mounted by the airline at the time a ‘sham’ and though the airline later claimed to have dismissed the fuel claims as not true, the judgment of the Commercial Court still stands, unless appealed and overturned by a court of the next instance.
Besides the fuel suppliers have reportedly at least two former airline staff also joined in the application to have the company wound up, with others considering the same step, which would likely bring very dirty laundry into the public domain, should they enter the witness box and spill the proverbial deal over the tactics and methods employed by the airline’s management.
Said a regular aviation source from Nairobi, on condition of anonymity fearing vengeance by 540 executives: ‘You just have to look who runs that airline and the track record, failed at Regional Air and failed before, why should this time be different really. Except this time we have a new judiciary which has already proven that they will rule on fact and not on fiction’.
With the temporary relief from winding up running till 12th of November, watch this space about the outcome.
Meanwhile have other regular aviation sources from Kenya and Tanzania pointed to the increased frustration by new kid on the block FastJet over the problems in Kenya, which compelled them to start up in Tanzania instead of their intended launch of flight operations in Kenya, which is a substantially larger aviation market and would be more conducive to reaching their ambitious passenger targets.
RWANDAIR ENTERS NEW PHASE OF EXPANSION AS FIRST CRJ900NG ARRIVES
(Picture courtesy of Bombardier / RwandAir’s CEO John Mirenge cutting the tape in Montreal)
Kigali’s international airport came alive to the sound of drums when the first of two, and potentially four CRJ900NG aircraft arrived in Rwanda, The Land of a Thousand Hills.
RwandAir is the first African airline to purchase, and use, one of the most economical short and medium range jets from the Bombardier CRJ family, setting another continental first in the aviation industry.
The second such aircraft will arrive within the next two weeks, then bringing the RwandAir fleet again to 7 aircraft, 2 owned B737-800, 2 leased B737-500 and 1 Bombardier Dash 8-100.
The two options are likely to be exercised when the leases for the 2 leased B737-500 expire next year, although there is growing speculation that as a result of the ongoing roll out of the airline’s 10 year strategy for growth by that time additional aircraft orders might be announced.
Unlike many other airlines in the region has RwandAir opted to purchase state of the art modern aircraft, which keep operation expenses down while at the same time instilling a feeling or pride and sense of ownership in the Rwandan public as well as give confidence to passengers from across the African and Middle East network.
The new jets offer a dual class configuration of 7 business class seats in a 2×1 layout and 68 economy class seats in a 2x layout, ideal for the short and medium distances RwandAir presently flies to.
Bombardier also has a long foot in the door at RwandAir to eventually replace the leased Dash 8-100 with a more advanced and larger Q400, which is now also available in a dual class configuration – the first type of which only got delivered to Ethiopian Airlines a few weeks ago.
A regular source close to RwandAir confirmed yesterday that the airline is on course to increase frequencies to key destinations in the region and across the network and expand from the presently 14 destinations over the coming months, as it builds on its success of connecting Africa through Kigali as a new but fast emerging hub. Watch this space for breaking aviation news from the East African region.
OUTRAGE OVER AIR TANZANIA LEASE AGREEMENT GROWS
When information was unearthed last week about the cost of the lease of an aged B737-200 aircraft, Air Tanzania seems to have wetleased from a South African firm, Star Air Cargo. The 32 year old aircraft, which first went into service in 1980 at British Airtours in the UK, before migrating through half a dozen other owners or operators in Europe and South America, will cost the Tanzanian tax payer at least 200.000 US Dollars a month for an initial 3 months lease, as ATCL – against better advice once again it appears – committed to fly 150 hours a month at 1.350 US Dollars for each hour. Additionally must ATCL meet the cost of upkeep for the crew, estimated to be in the region of a further 80 – 100 US Dollar per day per individual, which while not out of range known from similar arrangements, still amounts to significant cost outlay at a time when the airline only flies between Dar es Salaam – Kilimanjaro – Mwanza, funded by the Tanzanian taxpayer.
Aviation pundits were swift to jump on the deal, claiming that such aged aircraft should cost less than the agreed rate, some suggesting that the hourly rate was ‘loaded’ to facilitate vested interests, while others took issue with the operating cost of such an aged aircraft. ‘The fuel burn of this aircraft type is much greater than it would be for a modern jet, and therefore the operating cost is significantly higher for each flight. Airlines today say that fuel cost now constitutes as much as 40 percent of their overall cost, but when one uses a very old aircraft, that cost shoots up. What happened to ATCL claiming they would use more modern jets? Passengers should not be deceived by the new shiny coat of paint, because what matters is underneath and not visible. They talked about getting CRJ aircraft, smaller jets which fly more economically and are large enough for the restart of business. But as we can see, it is same old same old again. First the bungled lease with the Gulf company which might cost the country a lot of money just like the Airbus saga which parliament unearthed. And now they bring in a very old aircraft. They lack the vision it seems and employ stop gap measures only. You wait, soon you hear they have gone begging again to government to eat more of our tax shillings’ said a regular aviation source from Tanzania when discussing the leaked information. The same source also confirmed that ATCL was frantically working behind the scenes to resume flights to Nairobi ahead of the expected launch by FastJet and commented: ‘If there is any delay for FastJet in starting flights to Nairobi and it has to do with approvals and permits, you can take a safe bet what the cause for that will be’.
Air Tanzania’s last B737-200 suffered a premature end when involved in a crash in Mwanza, thankfully without the loss of life, but damaging the gear, hull and at least one engine to the point of not being viable to repair. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from East Africa’s aviation scene.
And in closing, as I return to ‘normal’ with my programmes and all on a new HP Mini, here is some much missed material from Gill Staden’s The Livingstone Weekly
Beyond the Victoria Falls
I have just got in some more copies of my book. If anyone wants copies for resale in the shops, please get in touch with me.
It is also available on Kindle.
Baboon Menace at the Victoria Falls
Baboons have always been a problem at the Victoria Falls Border Post and around the Victoria Falls Park. Is there a solution? Can you imagine all our visitors for UNWTO having to dodge baboons every time they cross the border?
Well, during the week I was watching a programme on the Beeb about an experimental strategy which is being developed in Cape Town. Cape Town has probably the biggest baboon problem on the planet. They go into cars, houses, restaurants; they steal; they create havoc. Residents are completely fed up with the situation. Baboons are protected in South Africa but from time to time some have had to be shot.
I am not too sure the complete strategy in Cape Town but it involves the use of paintball guns and pepper. The shots fired by a paintball gun are not going to kill the baboons but are giving them a nasty belt in the bottom every time they come into the built up area. Somehow, too, using pepper, the built up area is ‘scent marked’. The hope is that the baboons will eventually associate pepper with danger: ‘Smell pepper’ get a ‘belt on the bottom’. ‘Rangers’ have been equipped with the paintball guns and are on duty throughout the day to keep the baboons at bay.
Will it work? No-one knows, but it is worth a try. Should we think of using the same tactic at the Falls?
If you want to have a look at the clip about the baboons in Cape Town:
I’ll try to keep an eye open for progress, but if anyone hears anything, please let me know.
Investor found for UNWTO convention centre
According to the news an investor has been found to construct a Conference Facility at Showgrounds for the UNWTO. The mind boggles … at this late stage ??/
We wait …
So how are preparations going for the UNWTO?
We notice that some anonymous company has stated that they will construct a conference facility in Livingstone. I will quote Given Lubinda who said that Livingstone must be ‘beautiful’. If we are to construct a new conference facility which is beautiful, it will need time … time which we do not have.
Livingstone has planted some trees …
Livingstone’s Airport, renamed by our new government as Harry Mwaanga Nkubula Airport (I had to look that up!) is progressing well and will be 100% ready for the UNWTO – new everything and to world standards. The main work is a new International Terminal Building which has been ongoing for some years now, but Government is making sure that it will be finished on time.
Guy Scott, the Vice President, has said that many roads will be repaired in Livingstone next year. Our main road to the airport has been done and is fantastic. However, the road through town to the Victoria Falls is all lumpy and bumpy. The contractors must have made a bit of a mistake when mixing the bitumen and as soon as the trucks drove over it, these lumps appeared. Some of our side roads are in an appalling state … although others are fine.
Our biggest problem, I think, is our street vendors. Street vendors have been ‘legalised’ because the President felt that they had the right to earn a living. The other day when I parked my car I had to pass a stall with dried fish – gosh, it was smelly. I know if I opened a stall with dried fish I would have to get a hundred licences to operate. Next to the fish seller was a man washing the carpets from his taxi and putting them out to dry on the pavement. I had one suggestion from a Weekly reader that we should make a special place in town for the vendors to operate. She told me that in Asia they had exactly the same problem and the government built them a special market from which to operate. Not only has it cleared the streets but the market has become and popular place with locals and visitors alike. Maybe we should consider that …
Meanwhile in Victoria Falls Town …
We have seen that the border is having a huge makeover. The road to the border will be first class.
According to reports the hospital is being renovated to excellent standards. Joice Mujoru: At the Victoria Falls District Hospital, there is work on the ground and they are saying that by March, everything will be in order.
Things are promising and we are ready for the conference. Yes, we have some work to do like sprucing up the image of the town, the construction works at the airport which is close to 10 percent but by August next year, everything will be in place.
What we have now is good enough and we can host the event if we are asked to hold it today …
The latest news, though, came when a team arrived in Victoria Falls Town last week and was asking stakeholders what they wanted in next year’s budget. The main concern was water for Bulawayo – the new pipeline from the Zambezi River has been promised but there seemed to be no action.
On the town itself, Thembinkosi Khumalo, Council Treasurer, said: The budget should focus on work in progress, as you are aware, we as Victoria Falls are hosting the world next year. We have pleaded to government and we don’t want to fail.
Zimbabwe has so many problems right now. Bulawayo and Harare have virtually no water in the taps; sewage is leaking and contaminating some water supplies. It is likely that there will be renewed outbreaks of cholera and typhoid during the coming rainy season. The electricity company, ZESA, is failing to keep its power stations up and running with the result that most people who can afford it are now living with generators. The rest of the people just suffer.
The Constitution which was started a decade ago is still not in place. Add to that the people’s concern over an election next year in March. During the run-up to the last elections in 2008 there were human rights abuses. What will the elections bring us if they take place in 2013, only months before the UNWTO?
Victoria Falls Town is an ‘island’ in Zimbabwe, being a 5-hour drive from Bulawayo and a 10-hour drive from Harare. Rarely does any trouble start in the town as people just get on with their lives. But when Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, because president he is sure to be, gets up on the podium to address members of the UNWTO, I hope the participants have images in their mind of the sad state of affairs in the rest of Zimbabwe.
Fresh Air the new joint venture airline, known to us in Livingstone as 1time will stop its flights to Livingstone replacing them with flights to Victoria Falls. The new schedule starts on 2 November. Fresh Air will run 3 weekly flights from Johannesburg airport – Mondays, Fridays and Sundays.
However, there is more to 1time. From Business Day:
The JSE warned shareholders on Tuesday that the embattled low-cost carrier 1Time Holdings had missed the three-month deadline for submitting its accounts to the stock exchange for its half-year period to end June 30.
In August the airline was forced to seek shelter from its creditors by applying for business rescue after it could not reach agreement with creditors, one of the largest being the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), on a payment plan to get itself out of the hole of debt it has created over the past few years. This is the second time this year the company has failed to submit its accounts to the stock exchange in time. …
The company has accumulated about R320m in short-term debt and has not been able to generate enough income from ticket sales with its older, gas-guzzling fleet in a high fuel price environment. …
Helicopter Flights over the Falls
A new company, Chikopokopo, has been given a licence to operate flights over the Victoria Falls. According to the spokesman of the company they are targeting 60 passengers per day.