Wolfgang’s East Africa report


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Sunday, February 4, two earthquakes once again hit the region, with epicentres located near the Rwanda/Congo border and just inside Congo respectively. A church filled with worshippers collapsed in Rwanda, killing over 20 people instantly and many other casualties from the affected areas were also reported. The East African region has in past years experienced a number of quakes, minor and major, as well as some volcanic activity, a constant reminder of what danger is slumbering underneath the Great African Rift Valley.

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

In his final address to the assembled representatives of the Uganda government, members of parliament and the judiciary, the diplomatic corps, leading representatives of the German community living in Uganda and business and civic leaders, President Koehler demanded an immediate end to the violence in Kenya, which he said was affecting not only Kenya but the entire region.

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