TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
First edition January 2011
ENTEBBE ROAD UPGRADE CONSTRUCTION START PROMISED FOR MID 2011
It was learned during the last week that the Uganda National Road Authority has completed the design work for the new dual carriage highway between the capital Kampala and the Entebbe International Airport and expects construction to commence by mid 2011. It appears that the Chinese government is in the process of approving a major loan – one source put the amount in excess of 300 million US Dollars – towards the construction project, which should see transit time between the airport and the city substantially reduced when the new highway is ready.
Of added significance is one element of the new highway project, which is supposed to connect Kampala’s major leisure and conference facility on Lake Victoria, the Speke Resort and the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort with ‘Entebbe road’. This was already proposed ahead of the 2007 Commonwealth Summit, branching off from the main Entebbe road near Kajjansi, but available resources and time did ultimately not permit this connection to be constructed, which – if found correct – will also open up the lake shore views to road users. Another intersection is expected to link the home of Nkumba University, Abaita Ababire – located only a few kilometres from Entebbe – to the new highway. The exact routing however is still kept under lock and key to avoid unscrupulous elements profiteer from last minute land purchases for which government then has to compensate owners for at high cost.
UNRA has also remained shtumm over a solution for the main bottleneck into the city, the ‘Katwe’ area, where traffic for most of the day piles up kilometres at end in order to enter the central business district at one of the city’s main landmarks, the ‘Clock Tower’. Unless that section is turned fully into a one way – presently it is a partially mixed section with oncoming traffic – there is not much hope that entering the city, once reading the ‘bottle neck’, will be any easier. Watch this space.
STUDENT PROTEST AT NATIONAL HOTEL SCHOOL EXPOSES GOVERNMENT FAILURES
The students at the Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Jinja, based at the Crested Crane Hotel, have delivered a petition, via the District Resident Representative, to President Museveni, complaining about the lack of graduations since the institute was in an overnight action by cabinet at the end of 2007 transferred from the Ministry of Education and Sports to the Minister of Tourism. Sources at the school claim that a formal graduation would be difficult in the absence of an enabling law governing the institute, something cabinet – probably as a result of their hasty action in 2007 – had not only overlooked but ignored relevant advice offered at the time.
While under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, the institution and its organs were governed by the ‘Universities and other tertiary institutions act’, which, when it came into effect, repealed the earlier ‘Hotel and Tourism Institute Statute’. Hence, the Ministry of Tourism found itself with an institution overnight at the end of November 2007 but without a law, and subsequently no board could be appointed either, leaving the institution in legal limbo.
While under the education ministry, graduations were held on a regular basis but came to a halt when the institution found itself in a legal vacuum, covering courses et al.
Inspite of these difficulties has the management of HTTI, even in the absence of a formal board, made substantial efforts to increase students intake, make changes to courses and improve facilities for students, but a return to ‘normality’ can really only be achieved when a new enabling law has been passed by parliament. This however, considering that there is now an election coming up and parliament is presently adjourned ‘sine die’ for the holiday period, will only come about some time into the term of the next parliament and might take a year or more to achieve, to the detriment of the institution and the disadvantage of students paying the price for this unforgivable oversight by cabinet at the time.
Meanwhile it is understood that sections of the hospitality private sector have repeatedly tried to use the ‘vacuum situation’ to ‘get their hands on the institute’, remarkable for an industry which, apart from a few really professionally run hotels with their own internal training departments like the Serena or the Sheraton to name but two, has a notorious track record about in house training and is known to consider it as a financial burden rather than creating human resource assets. Watch this space.
UGANDA WILDLIFE AUTHORITY COMMISSION WATER TANKS FOR MGAHINGA NEIGHBOURS
Last week saw several newly constructed water tanks on the slopes of Mt. Muhavura / Mgahinga Forest National Park being officially handed over to the communities neighbouring the gorilla national park near Kisoro, according to information received from the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Reliable sources within UWA confirmed that the authority has spent over 80 million Uganda Shillings to construct the water catchment and piping system, which is feeding fresh water into the tanks. Nearby villages can now draw much needed fresh and clean water for domestic use and their agricultural and animal husbandry activities. The project was according to another source supported by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, in short IGCP, which donated funds towards the construction as part of their policy to support communities living at the boundary of such parks like Mgahinga, Bwindi or Volcanoes in Rwanda with infrastructural assistance to give benefits to local residents from gorilla tourism income. What a gift at the end of last year – asante sana to both UWA and IGCP.
SECURITY REMAINS TIGHT WITH STAFF AT BORDERS ON HIGH ALERT
At least three Somalis, considered ‘suspicious’ according to an existing terror warning list, were arrested on New Year’s Eve as they tried to enter into Uganda from Kenya. It is understood that they were also in possession of most likely forged travel documents triggering instant alarm amongst immigration and security staff at the border. Overland busses, since the recent explosion of a parcel in Nairobi on a Uganda bound bus, are now searched intensely, as are saloon cars and trucks, in terms of passengers’ identities and all things carried, to ensure that the country remains safe. Security organs throughout the holidays remained on high alert, at airports and land borders, and even lakes bordering neighbouring countries are now subject to higher levels of surveillance and patrols. Hence, Ugandans enjoyed a peaceful New Year, aided by the direct security measures put into place in restaurants and hotels across the country – Happy New Year 2011 from ‘the Pearl of Africa’ to you all.
BLOOD IVORY SMUGGLER GETS OFF LIGHTLY
Legal shenanigans by a lawyer were blamed by conservationists for a ‘fine only’ ruling by a Nairobi magistrate’s court, after a Thai woman, nabbed at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport over the Christmas holidays was sentenced to a fine last week. She pleaded guilty to possession of nearly 20 kilograms of ivory, but in mitigation her lawyer claimed she had purchased it ‘legally’ in the streets of Maputo / Mozambique to take home to Thailand with her, before the contraband – at least by Kenyan law – was found during a routine check of luggage being transferred to her flight to Bangkok in Nairobi.
Conservationists were outraged over the ruling, claiming that international law and the CITES agreement to which Kenya is a signatory, made the transportation of ivory illegal, as – according to their claims – was the planned importation of the ivory to Thailand. Said one conservationist from Kenya in response to the ruling: ‘it is hard to understand how a magistrate cannot send this woman to prison for her offence. She admitted it and was found at the airport with hard evidence. I appreciate that everyone has the right to counsel and to be represented in court as good as possible, but such legal manoeuvres by shysters are not helping to stop poaching and support conservation. That lawyer might have gotten his client off lightly, but then it is always said that the law is an ass’.
It is understood that the 40.000 Kenya Shillings or about 500 US Dollars fine was paid, the woman released and departed from Kenya, although it appears that the ivory remained confiscated under Kenyan law.
AGREEMENT OR NOT, KENYA AIRWAYS AND UNION DIFFER
Confusion was spreading last week when the radical Aviation and Allied Workers Union denounced a press release from Kenya Airways in regard of the ongoing discussions and negotiations, as directed by a court order sometime last year. The union denied that any agreement was reached at all, clearly itching to inflict another strike on Kenya Airways and prompting calls from amongst Kenyan employers to take a leaf from the UK’s legislative plans to trim and cut the powers of unions in order to prevent callous strike action.
Court had banned the union, at the ultimate cost of being held in contempt, to go on strike in 2010 and directed that negotiations must continue, but that spirit seems to be undermined by union comments, that they could still go on strike should negotiations fail – having probably exactly that in mind to create a scenario which would allow them to walk away from the talks as they planned in the first place. Watch this space how the two sides progress towards a new pay deal.
KENYA FOLLOWS TANZANIA’S EXAMPLE AND ADDS NON-TARIFF BARRIERS
Safari companies from other East African countries will now be compelled, according to the latest information from Nairobi, to obtain tourist licenses from the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism, if they want to continue taking ‘their’ clients across the border for instance from Uganda and into the Kenyan national parks. Ugandan and Rwandan companies, where such rules are not enforced, are perplexed about the Kenyan move, which was seen as a retaliation against similar measures taken by Tanzania last year, ostensibly to keep Kenyan companies out of the Tanzanian national parks.
However, a source in Kampala also pointed out that the Kenyan move hurt Ugandan safari firms too now, and questioned the entire principle of the East African Community’s efforts to integrate the economies, while some national governments continue to erect additional barriers, out of a bad spirit to retaliate or else to keep unwelcome competition out of their ‘sphere of influence’.
Air operators in Uganda too have often voiced the same complaints, as they too are treated as ‘foreign’ when attempting to fly into Kenya and in particular Tanzania. Said one regular aviation source from Kajjansi: ‘this is no surprise, or should not come as a surprise to the safari operators if they had ever bothered to follow the issues we have with flying into the region. We in aviation have been suffering a lot from such prohibitive measures. For East Africa to become an integrated economy, we have to start treating non-EAC countries as foreign and designate ourselves, internally I mean, as regional, with full recognition of licenses and permits, which in our case [aviation] are now anyway issued under CASSOA regulations. Those apply to each member state’s aviation industry in the exact same format, and therefore there should be no reason at all to demand fresh licenses or permits when flying across a border within the EAC.
Two Uganda based tour operators, also regular contributors of opinions and information, were somewhat taken aback by the news and requested time to study the implications of the Kenyan requirements before commenting, but voiced off the record similar sentiments as expressed from the aviation sector. Said one on a related question: ‘we continue to let Kenyan registered safari cars into our parks but if they now demand licenses from us, we need to ascertain that first of course, which we need to get in Nairobi after having our own licenses issued already here in Kampala, then we may have to demand that our government too closes that door. Foreign to me means such companies like truck tours across Africa registered in the UK, or in South Africa, and of course one should demand from them that they get a license before they are allowed to operate here, but our brothers from Kenya and Tanzania, they are fellow East Africans, not foreigners, and that should reflect in the way we do business in the region’. Watch this space.
SERENA HOTEL’ OWNERS SEEKING FRESH CAPITAL FOR EXPANSION
Eastern Africa’s main hotel, resort and safari lodge company has started 2011 on a positive note, according to information from Nairobi. The leading hotel group has indicated, that following a strong recovery of demand for their properties in 2010 they are likely to continue with expansion and refurbishments of existing properties in coming years. The group now has a presence in all five East African Community member states and are market leaders in terms properties in Kenya and Tanzania, leaving room for similar ‘footprints’ in Uganda – where the group maintains an interest to expand into the national parks – in Rwanda and most notably also in Mozambique.
TPS, the holding company of Serena, is therefore likely to return to the capital markets during the year in order to tap into available financing, although it has not been ruled out that extra rights issues might be floated too in order to support a faster take-up of new opportunities, the last one having taken place in 2010 when some 1.2 billion Kenya Shillings were raised.
The company owns most of its properties but has of late also more aggressively branched out into management of properties owned by third parties, like the Lake Victoria Serena Hotel between Kampala and Entebbe. Watch this space.
NATIONAL PARK PATROLS BOOSTED BY AIRBORNE SURVEILLANCE
Information received from Arusha indicates that the recent slaughter of an Eastern Black rhino, relocated only months before from South Africa at substantial expense, may have triggered a knee jerk reaction by government, already under criticism from conservationists over a range of other hugely controversial issues. The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, during a site visit and meetings in the Serengeti last week, announced that helicopter and fixed wing aircraft sourced from other government departments have already been deployed to improve daylight surveillance of the park and seek out potential poachers who could then be pursued on the ground by rangers and other security personnel. In this connection it could be confirmed that added manpower was also deployed to have more rangers patrol the sprawling Serengeti on the ground.
The Minister also acknowledged that the killing of the rhino was having a negative effect on the country’s policy on conservation and a wakeup call – if any was indeed needed following long standing complaints by the conservation fraternity over a lack of funding and serious commitment to anti poaching operations – prompting a range of reactions to improve the situation.
The minister was reportedly not willing to give more operational details of measures now underway to ensure that poachers would not learn too soon what was to come their way, but the ministerial visit and public comments were nevertheless welcomed by sources within TANAPA and SENAPA who expressed their hope that things would now improve. There is speculation that webcams may be deployed on crucial spots to permit ‘real time’ surveillance being carried out, especially as mobile phone coverage extends to much of the national park now. The same TANAPA sources also confirmed that several suspects have already been arrested over the killing of the rare rhino and been charged in court while the search for others, and their ‘financiers’ was still ongoing.
WIKILEAKS DOCUMENT SUGGESTS ATTEMPTED CORRUPTION IN AIRCRAFT DEAL
Air Tanzania has come under added scrutiny, when WikiLeaks documents emerged, allegedly drawing on communications between the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam and the State Department. The cables contain direct reference to negotiations between Air Tanzania and Boeing, during which it was reportedly suggested to Boeing officials to use an ‘agent’ if they were to advance a possible deal. As similar ‘cases’ were at the time also making waves over other ‘deals’ in different sectors of the Tanzanian economy, the ‘hint’ was not taken too kindly by embassy officials, when they had been briefed by Boeing personnel and reported up the line, eventually finding their way to WikiLeaks and into the public domain.
Air Tanzania was at the time looking at both a strategic investor to bail the broke airline out, but also to upgrade and renew their fleet in order to provide at least some level of competition to other privately owned airlines operating in the country. The airline eventually settled for an A320, amongst other smaller commuter aircraft, and questions are now also asked if that addition to the ATCL fleet came about through corrupt practises or was ‘genuine’.
The news will do no good to ATCL’s present situation, which remains moribund and attempts to inject government funding into the airline will undoubtedly meet with strong opposition, leaving the question open if 2011 will be finally be the year ATCL will financially ‘crash’ and go into liquidation. Watch this space.
AIR SEYCHELLES TWIN OTTER’S FERRY FLIGHT ‘ON COURSE’
The latest information of the two week ferry flight operation all the way from the West of Canada to the Seychellois island of Mahe is that ‘all systems work beautifully’ and the aircraft is presently in European airspace, en route via Greece to the African continent, from where the ‘final hop’ will take place between Mombasa and Mahe. Regular updates on the flight are available via my Twitter account @whthome and in the next edition we hope to report the safe arrival of the first commercially delivered ‘new type’ Twin Otter DHC6-400, which will soon be deployed on the archipelago’s domestic network, where it will join three other Twin Otters and a ‘Short’ for regular scheduled and chartered flights to Praslin and other outlying islands’ airstrips.
Meanwhile, also from the Seychelles, it was learned that Hilton has signed a management agreement with the owners of Silhouette Island Resort, which will now be managed by the global hospitality giants and bring added brand recognition and market value to the resort.
Southern Sudan News
EGYPT AIR’S JUBA FLIGHT UNDER ‘FIRE’
Travellers returning last weekend to Juba, and having travelled via Cairo to use the Egypt Air flight, which now operates twice a week but first stops over in Khartoum, complained bitterly about the alleged shenanigans of staff at the Cairo airport, when they got ‘stuck’ there due to a takeoff delay.
Juba is presently restricted to day light operations in the absence of sufficient approach, runway and taxiway lighting, and when the flight departure from Cairo got delayed, passengers destined for Juba were told that the crew could not fly the plane from Khartoum to Juba, as it would arrive there and find the airport closed. This naturally resulted in arguments, as only two flights a week operate on to Juba, while Khartoum is served daily, and passengers were left reportedly distressed by these news, with others getting into hot arguments with airport staff, as they had planned to be home for Christmas. It was in one of those conversations that some airport staff then allegedly called the Southern Sudanese ‘slaves’ in an Arabic phrase often used by regime sycophants in Khartoum prior to the peace agreement, and many still do so in private conversations, though no longer very openly in public these days. It stems from this fact that added information was credible that those passengers travelling to Khartoum also engaged in tirades against the Southern Sudanese, and it is difficult to establish who ultimately threw the most invectives and insults, the airport staff or the Northern Sudanese, who are known to be increasingly angry over the expected forthcoming separation after the independence referendum on the 09th of January.
It is understood that Egypt Air did eventually book the affected passengers into hotels and gave them some cash compensation for the inconvenience they had been subjected to, but the incident has not done Egypt Air any good in the South Sudan, where the airline is now being actively de-campaigned and where prospective passengers are ‘helped’ by travel agents to make other flight arrangements and rather fly via Entebbe, Nairobi or Addis Ababa and change planes there to their final destination, if only to avoid travelling via a hostile Khartoum and similarly hostile other Arab countries – which exactly reflects the sentiments and perception amongst the Southern Sudanese population.
In a related development it is also understood that passengers on this particular flight to Juba are well advised to remember, that Khartoum does not recognise Visa issued by Southern Sudanese missions abroad for visits to the North of the country, i.e. when entering the country through Khartoum, and that they demand separate Visa for the ‘Republic of the Sudan’ in such cases. Independence surely cannot come soon enough now for the Southern Sudanese people. Watch this space.
ALL SYSTEMS GO FOR REFERENDUM
Information from several sources in Southern Sudan’s capital of Juba all speak of increased levels of security and an orderly preparation by government to supply voting materials for the January 09th referendum, in which the Southern population is expected to vote for full independence from the Khartoum regime.
Voices from Khartoum too have toned down their rhetoric in recent days, likely influenced by key members of the Arab League already distancing themselves from the regime and indicating that they will not only accept an independence vote but also blaming Khartoum for their failure to keep the country united.
Both Egypt and Libya are known to have quite openly concluded that the Bashir regime failed to use the last 5 years, since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the SPLM, to assist the South in developing infrastructure and making an honest effort to re-distribute national wealth.
Sources in the South went however way beyond that sentiment and accused Khartoum to have done little more than cheap the South on the oil revenues, support anti SPLM militias, blocking legislation, hindering the resolution of agreeing on a common border and doing nothing when ‘hot heads’ in the regime abused the Southern population and leadership. They also termed the most recent ‘peace’ initiative by Khartoum as no longer of value, in particular since most of the Eastern and some of the Southern African states have already made it plain that they will not tolerate the resumption of hostilities initiated by Khartoum, which in clear text means a likely intervention on the side of the South as allies in arms.
Initial results of the referendum will be announced on Twitter via @whthome, so do sign up to get the most up to date news from Juba as and when available in coming days.