RWANDAIR RETURNS TO MWANZA – TANZANIA’S CITY ON LAKE VICTORIA
(Posted 01st November 2014)
After a break of just over 2 years has RwandAir today resumed flights from Kigali to Mwanza, Tanzania’s second largest city after the commercial capital and main port city of Dar es Salaam. This is RwandAir’s third destination on the Tanzanian mainland adding to Kilimanjaro International and Dar es Salaam.
The inaugural flight was met with the traditional water cannon salute when taxiing off the runway towards the parking position and a delegation of local dignitaries, administrative and political leaders met the aircraft and the Rwandan delegation to extend a warm Tanzanian welcome to them.
Located on the shores of Lake Victoria is Mwanza a springboard to explore the lake and its many islands but also offers swift access to the Serengeti, which is just over half an hour’s flight or two hours’ drive away.
RwandAir will be using their dual class turboprop Bombardier Q400NextGen and flights will, for the time being, operate three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This will allow for weekend safari packages to be tailored for visitors wishing to see the sweeping plains of the Serengeti. The flights come with convenient connections for travelers from Mwanza into the wider RwandAir network, which includes such destinations like Dubai, Johannesburg and Lagos, among many others and of course allow for swift transit time in Kigali when flying to Mwanza.
(Mwanza, Tanzanias Lake Victoria lake side city / source: ExoticExpeditionsTanzania.com)
Even for many East Africans does Mwanza still have an exotic ring to its name and more often than not, geography classes at school notwithstanding, some would place Tanzania’s lake side city somewhere else, on Lake Tanganyika perhaps or not even inside Tanzania. Thankfully, the pilots of RwandAir who flew us there today knew their bearings and they safely delivered us passengers on the inaugural flight to the Tanzanian shores of Lake Victoria. Mwanza has become a city which is now a growing springboard for tourists, intent to explore the lake islands and even the famous Serengeti, only two hours drive away but also for traders coming on business as they sense a thriving market.
But first things first, starting with a bit of a history class. Mwanza was founded in 1892 and this year celebrated its 122nd anniversary, no mean achievement for a city in East Africa, when Nairobi was only founded in 1899, i.e. 7 years later. With a total population, again unbeknown to many, of over 2 million inhabitants, this number makes it Tanzanias second city after Dar es Salaam, not the political capital Dodoma, or the East African safari capital Arusha, but Mwanza claiming that honour.
(Mwanza’s city centre and suburbs)
Main economic activities are, no surprise here, the fishing and fish processing industry. Eastern and Central Africa’s largest fish market, Kirumba is found in the city and of course the mainstay economic activity of it all, due to the good soils and favourable climate, is agriculture. Mining too has become an important factor in the wider region around Mwanza, where with the airport a key link to the outside world exists. Mwanza is also a major transport transit point for the railway, connecting the Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam via Mwanza by rail ferry to Port Bell in Kampala, which brings employment and money into the community. And finally tourism, at last, seems to be catching up too after the lake zone complained about not getting a fair share of attention by the country’s tourism marketers, inspite of some world class attractions within hours of landing in Mwanza.
It is the latter we shall focus on, leaving descriptions and explanations of the other economic mainstream activities to the business journals while letting our imagination roam across the lake to the various islands and as far as the Serengeti National Park, the nearest gate less than two hours’ drive from the city.
A sight closely associated with Mwanza, if not a main feature of the city, off shore in the lake are found the so called Bismarck Rocks, named after the most famous German Chancellor in the days prior to the World Wars, who served his Kaiser at a time when the notorious Berlin Conference, which divided Africa and Africans into colonial possessions and created boundaries over which many modern African countries today still are in dispute.
And there goes some pre-independence history. 100 years ago Tanganyika, as the mainland then was called, and even Rwanda/Burundi indeed were colonies of Imperial Germany, only ceded to the British and the Belgians after the German navy units were decisively engaged and destroyed at both the Rufiji River delta with the Koenigsberg and on Lake Tanganyika with the Graf von Goetzen. This is all the more significant this year as in August 2014 were commemorations held in the region, especially in Kenya and Tanzania, on the day the great European war came to East Africa.
(Bismarck rocks, a major feature off the Mwanza shoreline)
But these rock formations are not just found off shore but also scattered around on land, huge boulders of rocks, a sight incidentally also found in the Serengeti where these rock outcrops, which look as if they have just escaped the earth, are called Kopjes. Much myth and much history are attributed to some of those rocks by the African tribes which lived on the lake shores for time immemorial, since this part of Eastern Africa was long proven to be the cradle of mankind from which modern man evolved.
(A view across the city of Mwanza from the surrounding hills)
Some of them seem precariously shaky, as if put together by children of giants playing as with pebbles, and are much photographed of course as evidence that truly one has been to Mwanza. Local guides will be happy to take visitors to such locations, proud to show them around.
(Do not come near me during a storm! … this standing boulder seems to suggest)
What to do in Mwanza as a tourist?
Fishing for tilapia or the giant Nile Perch on the lake – tick.
A visit to Saanane Island National Park, half an hour from Mwanza by boat into the lake – tick.
A trip to the Ukerere Island to see the Dancing Rocks, where only men are allowed to visit – tick.
The Bukora Sukuma Museum where dancers often perform with pythons writhing in their hands and which shows what life was in long gone days – tick.
Or the big one, a trip into the Grumeti sector of the Serengeti, just two hours drive from Mwanza, one of the worlds most renowned names in wildlife conservation, either as a classic camping safari or staying in one of the top of the pops lodges and tented camps like Serena Hotels’ Kirawira Serena Safari Camp which was just voted into Conde Nast’s Global Top 50 properties or any of the luxurious camps Grumeti Singita have established in that part of the Serengeti – tick.
Hotels of various standards are now found aplenty in and around Mwanza, from simple, affordable guest houses to the more fancied four star hotels or beach resorts. The 4 star New Mwanza Hotel, or the Ryans Bay Hotel, also rated as a four star or the Tilapia Hotel which has sister properties in the park are ready to welcome guests but then so are a number of other places, suiting anyone’s budget and fancies. And then there is of course the Malaika Resort where RwandAir celebrated the inaugural flight and had invited the local business community and political leaders for the event. With 50 rooms and located directly on the water front the resort’s extensive gardens and sandy beaches are the closest one can get to a beach experience that far inland.
Therefore, while in Mwanza, I would recommend a place directly at the lake, which is after all the main geographical feature of the city and there is a certain magic in the sunsets across the water, which extends from horizon to horizon.
Restaurants have sprung up all over the city now, admittedly not as ethnically varied as say in other cities of similar size in the region, but worth eating out nevertheless. Pizzas at the Pizzeria Restaurant, Indian curries and dishes at the New Mwanza Hotel, Zainabus Caf for those classic African dishes along Postal Road or vegetarian fare at Bint Maringo, and of course guests in hotels and the lake resorts have a choice of snacks, a la carte dishes and buffets, which are popular among the locals for lunch and on weekends for dinner.
And there are more history lessons in store, as the remnant of the Hangmans Tree is now a treasured site, but in the colonial days the scene where the rulers hanged condemned prisoners and criminals, as we know today often for the minutest of crimes. But it is part of history nevertheless of course and a monument for visitors to see and stand in contemplation. A number of other sites too are still found in Mwanza of those long gone days a hundred and more years ago, like Dr. Kochs residence which allows for sweeping views across the city of Mwanza from the hills, and all these landmarks can be explored by taking on a local guide.
And there is the memorial site to see and pay respect to the victims of the MV Bukoba sinking more than a decade ago, when hundreds drowned as the vessel went down, also now part of the Mwanza history as the marine disaster took place within sight of the city of Mwanza.
(Treasured remnant of the Hangman’s Tree site of executions during the German colonial days)
Mwanza’s name perhaps does not have the magnetic ring and pull of a Mombasa or a Dar es Salaam, but it goes to show that there are hidden treasures found in Eastern Africa. Any city with more than 2 million inhabitants in our region is BIG and that means business opportunities wait to be explored, investments to be made. As Tanzania is a member of the East African Community travel by East Africans is easy and for expatriates simple, though requiring a 50 US Dollar Visa fee on entry, even if they are residents in a neighbouring country or, as the case with me, enjoy Residency for Life.
The business community in Mwanza, the hotels, resorts and the tour operators and travel agents based there are keen to see more regional visitors come over and connect with Tanzania and they hope that plenty will make the trip in the future, for both business and leisure. In fact, the option still exists to use the lake ferries and cross from Port Bell to Mwanza port by lake, while air connections also route via Nairobi or soon it was learned via Kigali from within the region. RwandAir’s General Manager Commercial Gobena Mikael and his team for sure took plenty of assurances with them when they returned to Kigali after the celebrations that the new flight would be taken up, not just to visit Rwanda but to use the airline’s network connections for travel to for instance South Africa and to Dubai.
What else now is left to talk about and to cover, oh yes, go visit your nearest travel agent or book your flight to Mwanza online with RwandAir via www.rwandair.com.