TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
First edition September 2010
AIR UGANDA ADDS THIRD DAILY FLIGHT TO NAIROBI
It was learned last week that following the low key delivery of another CRJ200 aircraft Air Uganda, in local aviation circles also known as U7, has added a third daily flight between Entebbe to Nairobi, laying down the challenge to Kenya Airways, the still predominant carrier on the route with 4 daily flights – including the first out of Entebbe and the last out of Nairobi – but more so to Fly 540, which also operates the CRJ200 on the route but is as a point to point operator more of a threat to U7 than Kenya Airways, which has graduated into a network airline through their Nairobi hub.
The third flight, scheduled to leave Entebbe at 14.30 hrs daily for Nairobi and taking off from NBO for the return flight to EBB at 16.15, will give Air Uganda however a competitive edge over Fly540 which remains on two flights a day, but considering the package of goodies KQ offers their passengers via bonus miles, a far superior frequent flyer programme and the availability of a premium business class cabin on all their aircraft used on the route, the challenge for U7 still remains tall and large.
In a related development it was also learned that the airline’s Director of Finance, Mr. Michael Rugadya, who was with U7 since before their start-up, has left the airline after 3 years for greener pastures. Rugadya, a former senior banker at Nile Bank during their acquisition by Barclays Uganda, is likely to return to the banking sector which has in recent years expanded in leaps and bounds across the country and is offering rapid promotions and advancement for professional Ugandans of his calibre.
IATA PUBLISHED AFRICA AVIATION DATA
The International Air Transport Association last week released data on the growth of air traffic across Africa, where the continent is recording an impressive performance during the first half of 2010 with over 13 percent growth in passengers, indicating that the effects of the global economic and financial crisis are finally over for Africa, benefitting air transport in the process in general and leading airlines, with excellent networks and young fleets in particular. However, passengers also prefer nowadays such airlines with a reputation of safety and a firm commitment to constantly training their staff in order to keep service standards in the air and on the ground high. Ethiopian Airlines for instance was releasing information last week that they were to spend nearly 4 million Euros to upgrade their training academy and its available equipment, which according to a source in Addis will include the additional introduction of as many as 10 trainer aircraft for their pilot school and the installation of a new simulator in Addis.
This development follows in the footsteps of Kenya Airways, which over the past years aggressively built up their own training facilities at their Embakasi base – the ‘old’ airport across the runway at JKIA – which included the introduction of several flight ‘simulators’ and a new dedicated academy building nearby, where KQ now trains their own staff but also conducts courses for aspirants keen to join the aviation sector. Way to go for the leading East African airlines!
CULTURAL SITES HOLD TOURISM POTENTIAL
The West Nile region of Uganda, often overlooked by travellers and certainly not on the map for main stream tourism as yet, has been advised by staff of development and peace partners to identify and rehabilitate the known existing monuments and cultural sites in the area, before marketing them to the tourism industry and generating job opportunities for local residents as custodians, caretakers and guides.
A source in the Ministry of Tourism’s department for museums, monuments and antiquities was in the same connection also quoted as having said that West Nile alone had over 40 such identified sites already, including ‘Fort Dufile’ of the legendary Emin Pasha, erected by him when he was on his expedition to this part of Uganda as he travelled up the river Nile.
Cultural and heritage tourism is as yet not much exploited in Uganda but could become a mainstream activity for visitors keen to learn more about the kingdoms, chiefdoms and their ancient customs and ways of life, still often practised like decades and centuries ago in the remote rural areas of the country.
ENVIRONMENTAL PRESSURE GROUPS TARGETS CHEMICAL USE
The national association of professional environmentalists in Kampala has last week released information that they will now also target the production and use of chemical substances with their work, after successfully leading the advocacy in the past against destruction of forests, water catchment areas and the encroachment of wetlands and swamps, all considered crucial to maintain environmental balances and ensure a sustainable future in the country.
The group, much maligned in the past over their opposition to the Bujagali hydro electric plant and their determined struggle to retain the integrity of the Mabira Forest, which an unscrupulous ‘investor’ wanted to turn into a sugar cane plantation, has maintained their work inspite of being often branded anti government, while in fact they were anti destruction, anti exploitation and anti over exploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources in order to protect the country’s forest cover, river banks, lake shores just as much as the cultural impact of unplanned developments on neighbouring communities.
Their latest target, chemicals and chemical industries, will undoubtedly bring about renewed opposition to their work but alas, who ever said that working for the environment is going to be easy. It is understood that they will keep special attention on the use of expired products and such products imported into the country but already banned overseas, to avoid ‘dumping’ of toxic substances which are harmful to people and livestock.
NOMINATIONS FOR PRESIDENT IN LATE OCTOBER
The independent electoral commission, which is overseeing the process towards the 2011 general election, has now announced October 25th and 26th as the two days when presidential candidates are to be formally nominated by their respective political organizations.
Incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, already endorsed by two key party organs, is expected to received the final backing later in September from the NRM’s national delegates conference, and there is little doubt that he will be the party’s candidate and then also win next year’s general elections with a sound majority in both the presidential vote but also in parliament.
Other candidates, already smelling their defeat, not entirely unexpected considering the bickering amongst opposition parties and their failure to agree on a single joint candidate, have voiced complaints that the president will be allowed his usual security convoy while they are restricted to 2 ‘official’ vehicles each, which however is the norm around the world where an incumbent, standing for re-election, is granted state security for all his movements, including roaming the country in search of votes. Hence, as can also be expected from yours truly – all the best Mzee and go win that thing.
FREAK STORMS CAUSE FLOODING IN CITY – AGAIN
The Kampala City Council, generally considered inept and facing constant allegations over corrupt practices and shoddy work in the local media, was once again under the spotlight last week, when on subsequent days freak storms unleashed not just the proverbial tons of rain but also hail over the city.
Clogged drainages swiftly started to overflow and within minutes of the skies opening up were sections of roads, roundabouts and even market places and office buildings beginning to flood. Traffic ground to a halt and pedestrians sought shelter wherever possible.
Many organisations have in the past blamed NEMA and the political opposition dominated KCC for their selective approach and largely absence over the constant encroachment of wetlands and swamps, which used to help to drain the city of excessive rains, but with those drainage areas towards Lake Victoria increasingly being filled in, built over or blocked off, nature now takes revenge on the city time and again when it pours from the heavens, as poor drainage maintenance too contributes to the problem.
The rains have also aggravated the already worsening problem of potholes across the city, some of which have developed into mini lakes threatening to swallow up small cars and otherwise causing damage to car suspensions and shock absorbers. Kampaleans cannot wait until the central government takes over the management of the city and shows the present breed of city fathers and bureaucrats the door, in order to bring better services to the long suffering residents. But who knows, maybe one of these days a rainstorm will drown city hall and sweep it clean …
CONGO POACHERS TARGET UGANDAN ELEPHANTS
Disturbing reports have reached that a group of Congolese poachers have in recent days crossed into Uganda along the common border’s Semliki river and have killed several elephants, cutting out their tusks before attempting to return with their bloody loot back to their forest hideouts in the Congolese jungle. It was then that at least one of the poachers was apprehended by a UPDF contingent patrolling the border, during which the culprit was caught red handed with fresh tusks and a firearm. The UPDF then handed him over to the Uganda Police where charges are presently prepared, ranging from poaching to illegal entry to illegal possession of a firearm, while more charges may follow once the culprit if produced in court later in the week. This is reportedly the first such incident at the Semliki Game Reserve and security along the border and inside the reserve will undoubtedly have been stepped up already in order to prevent further incursions, which – knowing the nature of such rogues camped in the Congo jungle – could well have ulterior motives too and only been ‘testing the waters’ and probing the strength of Uganda’s border security. Watch this space.
TOURISM E-CONFERENCE SEES ELECTRONIC PAYMENT LAUNCH
During the tourism e-commerce conference in Nairobi last week did East Africa’s biggest bank, the Kenya Commercial Bank, also launch their electronic payment platform, which will now allow hospitality companies to promote safeguarded online payments for their customers booking rooms and services on line via their websites or major booking engines.
The global aviation and hospitality industry is already the largest single user of e-commerce transactions and the introduction of such services in Kenya, expected to be expanded by KCB into their regional branch network, will undoubtedly support a greater penetration of ‘e’ into the way how business is from now on transacted.
In the past on line payments were possible only for the pioneers in East Africa using such services but via rather more expensive and difficult to regulate off shore payment platforms, not via a domestic transaction platform using a local / regional bank. It is this latest change which will undoubtedly help to promote the method to a larger audience in Eastern Africa, starting with Kenya, in order to capture the growing number of travellers making independent bookings on line and wanting to pay their deposits to secure the bookings there and then. The new e-payment platform will also comply with all local banking regulations, giving participating companies an added element of confidence as they could use local jurisdiction or arbitration in case of any emerging disputes instead of seeking redress far abroad at great expense. Well done indeed.
FIRST MAJOR 4G NETWORK BY SAFARICOM IN JANUARY
The ongoing ‘battle for the data waves’ is set to take a major leap in Kenya when by January 2011 Safaricom will roll out its fourth generation network, said to be going into the test phase within weeks from now. 4G will allow streaming videos and news broadcasts to play on a computer without much if any buffering required, a step further and faster compared to the present top of the range 3+G networks in use by some operators in the region. Safaricom has already indicated that speeds of up to 1.5 Gigabyte per second for large corporate customers will by the norm, once the new technology has been installed.
These technological upgrades are eventually thought to reach the entire region, now that a fibre optic back bone has been rolled out across Eastern Africa, already reaching the major cities and urban centres and eventually connecting even remote areas. Three fibre optic cables, linking East Africa to the rest of the world, are now in place, offering huge capacities and all seeking customers to pay for the massive investments made over the past years, but this will only be possible when, besides the burgeoning corporate market individual subscribers by the millions ‘connect’ via mobile devices or built in modems in their computers. The leading operators in the region, MTN, Orange, Vodacom are expected to roll out major new investments in coming months and years to bring East Africa into the ‘cyber age’ and bridge the gap between the developed and the developing world, while at the same time offering full connectivity to all the visitors coming for holidays or for business at affordable rates.
ATTEMPTS TO JUSTIFY BASHIR VISIT TO KENYA DISMISSED
Some feeble attempts last week by sections of the Kenyan political establishment and later on by President Kibaki to justify somehow their invitation to Khartoum’s regime leader were dismissed by many Western nations and international bodies like the UN, heaping criticism on Kenya for having brought Bashir for the promulgation of the new Kenyan Constitution to Nairobi. Information from the COMESA meeting in Swaziland, held last week, also has the following quote from the Kenyan president, raising yet more eyebrows: ‘It is my wish that the international community would appreciate the delicate situation of Sudan and act proactively. We should not isolate the people of Sudan. Let us encourage them to play their rightful role in the community of nations’.
This statement in particular drew the ire of many as no one was isolating the people of the Sudan, to the contrary in fact and especially not the people of the Southern Sudan who enjoy global support in their march to independence. However, the alleged war criminal and genocidaire Bashir, who brought countless suffering with his policies of oppression, enslavement and occupation first to the African South, until his regime as a result of a military stalemate was forced to sign a peace treaty, and then subsequently to African Darfur, where atrocities still persist against innocent people, is with his regime of course being isolated by all people and nations with a grain of conscience and compassion in their bodies.
Meanwhile has a team from the ICC arrived in Kenya too last week continuing their own case against alleged perpetrators and masterminds of the post election violence which swept Kenya in early 2008, aimed to bring a number of individuals to justice at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Watch this space.
AIR BERLIN FLIGHTS TO MOMBASA NO LONGER UNDER STRIKE THREAT
Following a resolution of the imminent strike threat made by the German pilots union ‘Vereinigung Cockpit’ are flights of the airline to the Kenyan resort city of Mombasa now ‘safe’ and will continue without interruption. Disagreements between union and company had led to a ballot which overwhelmingly endorsed a potential walkout by the pilots but as a compromise was reportedly reached last week in negotiations the union has lifted the strike threat and all flights will proceed as normal.
Air Berlin is also considering, besides the present all inclusive tour charters, to offer scheduled flights from Berlin to Mombasa, alongside with similar operations to Dubai and Miami, but no final decision on this move has been made, or at the very least not been published.
LATEST ‘TRAVEL NEWS’ HITS THE CYBER WAVES
And just released, as I am going to ‘print’ myself is also the latest edition, the second in the ‘new age of TN’ in fact, of Travel News, published by Tony Clegg Butt in Nairobi – find out everything they wrote about in their latest publication via www.travelnewskenya.realviewtechnologies.com
Now if that does not encourage your appetite to visit Kenya, and maybe the rest of Eastern Africa, then I really don’t know what else to do to entice you …
CESSNA 206 COMES DOWN HARD
A reported engine failure during takeoff from Sumbawanga brought a Cessna 206 with two passengers and a pilot down hard beyond the airfield last week. Thankfully no injuries were reported from the scene, although the aircraft sustained damage to the undercarriage owing to the force of impact when returning to ground. The plane was reportedly enroute to Dar es Salaam and was operated by an Arusha based domestic charter airline ‘Flight Link’. Investigations into the cause are underway by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority to establish the reasons why the engine failed while in the meantime the pilot was applauded for saving the lives of his passengers.
TRANSLOCATED RHINOS DOING WELL
The recent translocation of rhinos from South Africa into the Serengeti has now reached the stage where the animals, fitted with electronic transmitters to establish their whereabouts at all times, are to be released into the ‘wild’ proper, from their ‘holding boma’ where they had to stay to undergo veterinary inspections and supervision and getting acclimatised to their new home.
Information was sent last week that three females and two males will be allowed to enter into a electric-fenced 40+ square kilometres area, where they can enjoy round the clock protection while allowing visitors to track them by car.
A second group of rhinos will be relocated from South Africa towards the end of the year, and as reported here previously the total number will eventually reach 32 of the Eastern Black species, all aimed to provide a core herd for breeding and restoring healthier numbers of the rhinos to the Serengeti ecosystem.
Involved in the exercise was ever faithful supporter Frankfurt Zoological Society which partnered with TANAPA and others to make this ambitious project a reality.
Questions however are also being raised by international rhino conservation and support groups about the present plans by government to build a highway across the Northern part of the national park instead of using a Southern route which would leave the park untouched and could not just reach a greater population but still connect the communities to both lake as well as central Tanzania. These disturbing issues are also impacting on the willingness of donors and development partners to presently commit more funding for conservation work in the Serengeti, and information is emerging, should this highway routing go ahead, that some major funding sources may sooner rather than later possibly dry, up should the controversial road routing not be shifted to the Southern route.
Meanwhile though will the five rhinos be able to enjoy their new home and roam the Serengeti plains – and hopefully heed the command to ‘go forth and multiply’ before the next batch of ‘immigrants’ will be delivered to the Serengeti later in the year.
LAKE CHALA TO GET ‘PROPER’ SAFARI CAMP
The present campsite at Lake Chala will soon be expanded to offer a fully fledged safari camp with self contained large tents, in addition to the present facilities already available for visitors to this yet to be more widely discovered part of Tanzania, located on the border with neighbouring Kenya.
As of now, only the chosen few ‘in the know’ are aware of the unique attraction the Lake Chala area holds for visitors, the green caldera lake and the surrounding wilderness area just waiting to be discovered.
Presently a campsite is available for visitors, including a bar, restaurant and wash room facilities, and for those without their own tents equipment can be hired from the owners.
The new development is expected to be ready by the end of the year and can be reached with both 4×4 but also saloon cars, although the latter are not recommended during the rainy season or for those wanting to drive into the nearby wilderness in search of wildlife, as otherwise a different type of adventure could happen, i.e. getting stuck in the bush.
Contact them by email via firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more about Lake Chala through their public Facebook pages:
SERENGETI ROAD ISSUE ENTERS POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS
A candidate for parliament standing at one of the Arusha constituencies was dragged into the controversy over the planned routing of the Serengeti highway, when opponents and conservationists accused her of being one of the ‘people behind’ the ill conceived project. Dr. Burian of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi or CCM party in turn threatened those making the allegations to bring evidence or else she might sue them, denying any involvement with the highway. Her main opponent from the Chadema party nevertheless continued to raise the issue in, claiming that the highway would kill wildlife and scare the animals away from their ‘home’. Efforts continue to have government revise their stand on the routing of the road, and the core of the argument is that the Southern route offered as an alternative would serve more than 2 million more people, open up productive agricultural areas, was a little shorter and still reach the communities the Northern route would target, all the more reasons for moving the proposed highway from the Serengeti beyond the park. By doing so government would appease the international conservation and tourism communities, restore some confidence on their commitment to conservation and more than likely garner all the votes along the alternate route in the process, making it both a political as well as a conservation success. CCM party sources have meanwhile denied that the issue of the road was divisive and had led to a lack of support for some of their candidates and a shift to opposition candidates in the affected areas.
However, politicians are notorious around the world for sticking to what they once said, irrespective of facts to the contrary presented to them at a later stage, as ‘eating’ their words seems to give them political indigestion. Yet, there is still hope that the growing pressure of world opinion may after the elections change government’s approach, and for the better it would be.
Again, it is pointed out that the opposition to the road routing now on the drawing board is NOT antidevelopment nor Anti Africa as has been suggested by diehard sycophants, but is simply suggesting that the road is moved to a more viable route around the Southern end of the Serengeti National Park, a fact conveniently overlooked or even denied by the minute minority of opinions voiced on ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway’s present planned routing’ Facebook site.
In a related development Dr. Burian was also accused by her opponents of misleading Arusha voters over her promise to establish a national tourism institute in the municipality, and considering that the national institute in Dar es Salaam, only a short while ago established with the help of the French government, already has an affiliated college in Arusha where the courses taught are progressively expanded, this is not a far- fetched allegation. Trust know whom …
SECOND DUBAI WORLD PROPERTY TO BE READY BY YEAR’S END
The ‘Gorilla Nest’ safari lodge near Ruhengeri/Western Rwanda, and not far from the entrance point to the Volcano National Park, is seeing the last work phase of the refurbishment and rebuilding being undertaken now and is according to a source at the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, going to be ready before the end of the year. Dubai World had taken over the lodge about two and a half years ago, when the company was still on course to roll out a multi hundred million US Dollars investment plan including a major new city luxury hotel, but when the global economic and financial crisis struck, these projects were scaled back to the point of only completing, at least for the time being, those properties already acquired or started, like the Nyungwe Forest Lodge. Other planned projects in Rwanda but also other planned projects on the African continent, including a major one on the Comoros Islands, were also scrapped as Dubai World fought for financial survival, now seemingly assured according to reports from the UAE.
However, the announcement by the company that the work on the ‘Gorilla Nest’ lodge is advancing is reassuring as quality accommodation in the Ruhengeri area still needs boosting to cater for the growing number of tourist visitors coming to not only see the gorillas but also take hikes and walks to spot birds, see orchids, butterflies and game beyond ‘just the gorillas’. Expect more information about this top of the range safari lodge as and when it is getting completed.
RWANDAIR ASKED TO RENEW CODESHARE WITH SOUTH AFRICAN
The national airline of Rwanda, now operating B737-500 aircraft with a dual configuration of C and Y cabins on the route to Johannesburg, has reportedly been requested by SAA to restore a code share arrangement under which the two airlines operated in the past.
It was learned from sources in Kigali that South African Express, a partner of SAA, has apparently applied for traffic rights between South Africa and Rwanda, a matter presently before the relevant aviation body in Kigali for consideration, but sources were swift in pointing out that a code shared operation was still possible even if both airlines were flying on the route.
It is RwandAir’s intent to eventually fly daily between the two cities but the question on everyone’s mind is if there is sufficient traffic for two airlines and for even more flights without impacting on the load factors and financial feasibility of such operations then.
SUBIOS COMES OF AGE
The 21st edition of the ‘Sub Indian Ocean Seychelles’ festival is once again around the corner, and this latest contest – held annually since 1989 – has it truly come of age. SUBIOS is one of the most renowned underwater film and photography festivals around the world by now and brings together the crème de la crème of film makers, under water photographers, joined by a growing number of ‘amateurs’ trying their hand and competing with the professionals for honours and recognition. Focus this year, as always, is on promoting the phantastic underwater world around the archipelago and strengthening the understanding of the great need to preserve this pristine sea-biosphere for future generations.
This year’s festival will be held between October 1 – 3 and final registration of intending participants ought to reach the Seychelles Tourist Board by 17th September, i.e. not very long from now.
Price categories once again include ‘best video’ and ‘best picture’ besides the ‘local’ category of ‘best unedited video’ to be submitted by Seychellois participants.
Visitors to the Seychelles over this period of time can attend the various venues which will be published in the local media or are available from the STB offices in Mahe, on Praslin and their representative franchise offices across the other main islands.
Southern Sudan News
RAILWAY LINK FROM JUBA MAY GO DIRECTLY TO KENYA
Information is circulating in Kampala that following the recent re-signing of the Rift Valley Railways concession, which reportedly granted the dormant routes from Kampala to Kasese and more important to Gulu in Northern Uganda to the company too, that promoters of the Southern Sudan railway link may now opt for a direct rail link with Kenya via Lokichoggio.
The South of the Sudan will hold an independence referendum on the 09th of January next year, and if, as widely expected, the population votes of separation from the North, the new country would be in urgent need to create infrastructure links to their Southern neighbours, through which’ territory most if not all of their imports and exports would then be routed.
A direct rail link between the Southern Sudan and Kenya would also give Kenya a competitive edge over Uganda, as goods from the region’s main Indian Ocean port in Mombasa, and from the planned new harbour in Lamu, could then be transported directly to the South Sudan without having to go via Uganda.
There were in the past indications that the rail link would route from Juba via Nimule and Gulu to Tororo, the border station between Uganda and Kenya, but if the latest information proves to be correct, not only would RVR have a substantially greater, and much more expensive task ahead of them to revive the presently dormant Gulu line but then also to secure the consent of the Southern Sudanese government to expand their line to Juba. This is even more of a factor considering that RVR seems to favour the narrow gauge for this particular route, while the Southern Sudan is committed to build a ‘standard’ gauge railway line to the Kenyan coast allowing for substantially higher speeds and carrying capacity, all crucial in this day and age to attract cargo and passenger traffic away from the roads. Watch this space.
And in closing today once again some material, courtesy of the indefatigable Gill Staden, from her publication ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ … thanks Gill for all your hard work …
ELEPHANT ARE BACK
The eles are back. The road to the Falls is now busy with crossing elephants, much to the delight of many people except some truck drivers. The header shows a lot of people happily watching the elephants as they were feeding by the road near the Maramba River. No-one was complaining. And then along comes a big red truck, hurtling along at about 80 kph – it just went headlong for one elephant who was forced to rush off the road to avoid being hit.
I understand that Livingstone is a commercial centre as well as a tourist centre, but surely something can be done about the reckless attitude of some of our truckers.
I buzzed down to Bulawayo during the week and it reminded me that I hadn’t shown you a photo of the Toll Gates. ZIMRA is obviously making a lot of money as the toll gates are now becoming permanent structures. The fact that, by normal standards, these toll gates are illegal does not seem to matter. Toll gates should only be found on major highways when there is an alternative route. Of course, this is not the case in Zim.
Between Bulawayo and Livingstone I passed through 8 road blocks, 2 toll gates and about 6 speed traps. I got caught in one speed trap doing 131 kph in a 120 kph limit. The police pulled me over and started with their gruff attitude, being all pompous. Of course, I am quite used to being caught in speed traps so I was not terribly impressed. I waited while they filled out an Admission of Guilt form (I have quite a collection now) and watched as they swatted mopane flies from around their heads. The police lady had tissue stuffed in her ears because she was so bothered by them – I really wanted to take a photograph but I don’t think they would have approved …
The other week, near Harare, as I was forced to travel in the dark, something I hate to do, and I could hardly see where I was going. I think that at least 25% of the oncoming vehicles had faulty headlights. The road markings too were so faint that keeping on the road was a mission.
If the Zimbabwe police want to make the roads safer, they should get out on the road at night and do something about all those headlights. Maybe, too, the Roads Department can get on with their job of painting the road markings. But that is wishful thinking …
I have some copies of the Historical Guide to Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town. It was originally printed in 1996 and I have worked with Kristin Ese, the author, to update it and to include some stories from Victoria Falls Town. If you would like a copy, let me know. The prices are:
Wholesale (20+ copies) at US$7 (K35,000)
Retail at US$10 (K50,000)
Write to email@example.com for a purchase