Wolfgang East Africa tourism report


News are just coming out from Jinja that the municipality has allegedly given out the entire site of the “Source of the River Nile” to a private investments consortium from Malaysia under a yet undisclosed deal. This will undoubtedly raise the debate heat once again over what can, what should and what should not ever be privatized and given away. The “Source of the River Nile” is a global resource, a key segment in the treaty mechanisms for the Nile waters and a cultural and historical site of the greatest importance to the country and the region. Sites like this ought to be managed and maintained by a public museums and monuments body, aimed at preserving and promoting cultural and geographical points of interest to visitors and locals alike and any element of “privatization” ought to include the local community to bring employment and sustainable income to grass root levels.

NEMA, Uganda’s environmental watchdog agency, has also claimed to have no knowledge of any development plans on the site, which are understood to include a luxury hotel and golf course with substantial impact on the area’s environmental circumstances. Undoubtedly this column will be able to report more about this ludicrous give away in coming weeks.

Jinja Mayor Mohammed Kezaala, in the meantime, claimed that he and the council was following directives from President Museveni but it should be noted that the Mr. Kezaala belongs to the opposition FDC party, casting immediate doubts over the credibility of his claims. Uganda’s opposition has for a while now been on the back foot, loosing one parliamentary by-election after the other and has been resorting to desperate claims while trying to win back their ebbing support base ahead of the next election campaign in early 2011.

During the licensing meeting of the Civil Aviation Authority yesterday at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala, the CAA heard about a dozen applications for new licenses and renewals of existing ones. It is understood from usually reliable sources, that Fly540 has been granted an air services license to operate as a Ugandan registered airline, besides operating already from Nairobi. The airline is likely to base at least one of their ATR aircraft in Entebbe once their air operators’ certificate has been issued, bringing some movement into the aviation sector.

Martinair of Holland is reported to have been granted a cargo license to operate cargo services in and out of Entebbe, which will bring relief to importers and exporters who have struggled for capacity since the market exit of Das Air Cargo, which for over 20 years was Uganda’s main cargo airline. However, local airline analysts are not too pleased over this turn of events, as they long suspected Martinair may have allegedly been in league with the Dutch aviation authority when Das Air was grounded in Amsterdam in late 2006 and subsequently banned from Europe for several months, before resuming flights again. At that time however the damage was done and Das Air never recovered from that blow which ultimately pushed it out of business. Having gotten rid of a competitor they now have easy pickings from what was Das Air’s home market, much to the disgust of many patriotic Ugandans.

Full-mouthed public statements some months ago over the public controversy, caused by Kingdom Hotels not commencing construction, have been proved wrong once again. The 17 acre prime city center ‘Shimoni’ site once upon a time housed a leading city primary school and teachers training college. The premises were demolished hastily to make way for a 5 star hotel construction, when the land was given for near free to Kingdom Hotels to build in time for the Commonwealth Summit. Many children, parents and teachers suffered great hardship in finding new schools and accommodation over the sudden eviction and much public argument has arisen since then. Soon it was becoming clear however, that the company, which had caused the destruction of the school, showed no sign of the promised building activity. As public pressure grew on the supporters of the deal, some quarters eventually made public promises that construction would commence by March this year – but lo and behold, the month has come and gone and the site is still a major empty space with no evidence whatsoever, that anything would happen to it soon. The company is in the meantime however spending major money in Kenya, where it had acquired Lonrho Hotels some time ago and is engaged in a massive refurbishment for the group’s properties. Kingdom Hotels is said to be interested in investments in Tanzania too, while all along sitting on their hands in Kampala. Mega barbs therefore for Kingdom Hotels and their owners for continuing to take Uganda for a ride. Watch this space for more news.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority has now invited proposals and bids for new and existing sites across the country’s national parks and reserves. Amongst them is the Lake Mburo National Park for the Buffalo Tented Camp and Bandas, the Ntoroko campsite at the Semliki Game Reserve, the Gwara Fishing Concession at the Karuma Wildlife Reserve and joint collaborative management opportunities for Ajai Wildlife Reserve, Pian Upe Game Reserve and the Matheniko – Bokora Wildlife Reserve. Contact uwa@uwa.or.ug for more details if interested to submit a proposal. Final deadline for submission of bids is the 04th June and bid forms are available as of April 15th at the UWA headquarters in Kampala, next to the National Museum along Kira Road at a cost of Uganda Shillings 50.000 or about US$30.

It is also worth pointing out, that UWA has now put a limit on the number of concessions to be held by a single company. Any applicant, already holding two or more concessions at the time of application, will be ruled out of the consideration and only a maximum of two concessions can be awarded to successful applicants.

The somewhat controversial investment undertaken by government ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting summit in the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort is to be withdrawn, the Minister of Finance assured the parliamentary select committee on CHOGM during the week. Competitors in particular and the business and development partner community in general had criticized government for injecting some US$7.5 million in the venture at the time, but government defended the move as being “of strategic importance” to create the needed hotel and conference meeting room capacity ahead of the summit meeting. Once the withdrawal of government from the joint venture is complete, the opposition dominated public accounts committee and committee on CHOGM will have one less axe to grind, having anyway been taken by surprise by the government’s move to divest voluntarily from the hospitality joint venture.

The Egyptian flag carrier Egypt Air, presently serving Uganda with passenger services twice a week, plus a separate dedicated cargo service, has given out information in Kampala last week that they will join Star Alliance by mid 2008. This will bring to two the number of Star’s member airlines serving Entebbe International Airport, with South African Airways being the first one. Star Alliance is arguably the world’s biggest airline alliance and their global linkages will undoubtedly assist in further promoting tourism and business visits to Uganda through increased connectivity via Cairo. It was also learned that the airline will progressively replace several of its “older” A320 and A321 aircraft and their B737-500s it has been operating for some time. The airline presently uses new A330 wide body equipment on the Entebbe route and seems set to add more flights in the future, as demand for air travel to and from Uganda continues to grow.

Several passengers connecting via London Heathrow’s terminal 5 in recent days, both coming to Uganda but mainly connecting in London to European destinations, have reported to have been caught up in the massive flight cancellations, the baggage and handling chaos at the new landmark building, which was to become the pride of Britain and of British Airways and is now a source of shame to the entire UK. Comments received here – most of them not fit to be repeated in this column – indicate that BA is truly no longer “the world’s favorite airline,” something it has probably not been for some time now and there was overwhelming consensus about avoiding London for future transiting and not flying BA any longer.

Said one recent Heathrow traveler: “I arrived in this fantastic building and then the nightmare started. My onward flight to Europe was canceled and I was told to go to Gatwick. No explanation how, no funds for the cost of going there and no assistance. Staff was tense, their language sort of terse, I could see that they were lost. And hundreds of other people around me left to our own devices. I for one will from now on travel with other airlines directly to Europe and will even save the UK transit Visa. My travel agent also agrees with this. They are trying to get something from BA for me for the transit costs and my loss of time and extra expenses. They also told me they will only sell BA if the client really insists on them.”

This will undoubtedly benefit airlines like Brussels Airlines, KLM, Emirates and even Ethiopian Airlines, when it comes to choosing a carrier to travel with from Uganda to destinations in Europe and beyond. All of them offer convenient connections from Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport through their main home hubs every day (Emirates and Ethiopian daily, SN and KLM four times a week). This should be a cause of concern for BA, which already has a poor rapport with travel agents here in Kampala over their handling of the commission issue and their contentious office closure.

Maybe it is time for heads to roll at the helm of the airline, and at BAA for that matter, for having so badly prepared for the shift of flight operations to the new terminal, which ended up in unprecedented chaos lasting for nearly three weeks. British Airways pilots too earlier this week poured scorn over their top management, but that is of little help to those passengers who lost their baggage and missed important connections to their final destination, while having to use BA’s new terminal.

Kenya’s government, through the Ministry of Transport, has now signed three additional bilateral air services agreements with their counterparts in Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Bangladesh. The new agreements will allow the national airlines of those three countries to commence flights to Nairobi at a time of their choosing while Kenya Airways could now also start flights to Tunis, Dhaka and Colombo.

Meanwhile, aviation sources from within Kenya Airways have shared their concern with this correspondent over the fresh delays envisaged for the Boeing Dreamliner B787, of which KQ has several on order to eventually replace their B767 fleet. There is speculation now that the first delivery to Japan’s All Nippon Airways may be up to two years delayed, much longer than expected and admitted by Boeing’s executives so far, which would cause a ripple effect for all further deliveries, too, of course.

Ethiopian Airlines too is amongst the launch customers for the new Boeing wide body long range jet, having succumbed to the overtures of Boeing at the time at the expense of opting for an Airbus fleet renewal, something the Ethiopian flag carrier may come to regret if the impact on their own fleet overhaul becomes to severe.

Adds this correspondent: “The erstwhile thinly concealed glee at Boeing over the massive problems, Airbus Industries encountered with their own two year delay of the A380 launch has now surely evaporated completely, underscoring the complexity involved nowadays with the launch of newly designed aircraft, especially in view of product liabilities in case of any incidents or accidents with such aircraft.”

Nairobi’s prestigious Grand Regency Hotel has this week reverted to government ownership after a more than a decade long battle in various courts. Previous, and ever disputed owner Mr. Kamlesh Pattni, finally decided to give up on further court action to regain his control of the hotel. The 5 star, 220 room and suites facility on Uhuru Highway at the edge of the Central Business District, built in the early 1990’s, was long under receivership, as legal battles raged on. Mr. Pattni himself was repeatedly taken to court since then over allegations of being mastermind of one of Kenya’s grandest corruption schemes, the “Goldenberg Scandal,” under which the Kenya government paid mind boggling sums of money as ‘export compensation’ for gold exports, much if not all of which was later alleged to have been fictitious. Kenya’s anti-corruption tsar Justice Aaron Ringera hailed the development as a warning to others, stating that in at least another 120 cases the clock for repossession of corruptly owned properties was also ticking down. The hotel was some years ago already valued at over 2.1 billion Kenya shillings and is today arguably worth a lot more, now that the ownership has at last been resolved.

The two recently acquired Bombardier Dash 8-300Q have now commenced service, after having been repainted in the livery of Tanzania’s national airline. The two aircraft will be deployed from Dar es Salaam on the routes to Kilimanjaro/Mwanza, Zanzibar, Kigoma, Mtwara and Dodoma as well as other domestic destinations. It is also understood that the Tanzania Government has now issued the guarantee to the lessor/owners of the new A320, which Air Tanzania is to receive shortly, fulfilling the last outstanding contractual element before delivery of the aircraft. Technical personnel and crew are already undergoing training and typerating on the aircraft, ready for delivery and deployment. Additional aircraft purchases are also at an advanced stage, underscoring the political will of the Tanzanian government to keep ATCL independent from snap up vultures hovering in the region and operationally capable to strongly compete in the East African aviation market and beyond.

Suspected Interahamwe militias – known for their gruesome genocide inflicted on the Tutsi (and to a lesser extend the moderate Hutu) population of Rwanda in 1994 – have once again gone on rampage across the Uganda border from their safe havens in Congo. Reports received in Kampala indicate that a group of the free roaming militia stole household goods, supplies and life stock from innocent villagers along the common border before running away when Ugandan security forces were alerted. Congo’s rogue regime has long been suspected to allow such terror groups to use Congolese territory for hide outs, from where they safely, and regularly, conduct hit and run attacks on Uganda and Rwanda. This most recent incident belies the assurances of the Kinshasa regime for peaceful cooperation and is an indicator that they only engage in military operations in the East of the country against groups of Tutsi ethnicity while leaving the true culprits largely alone. No comments could be received from the UN command in the area, which also speaks for itself and supports ongoing speculation about bias by the UN forces in Eastern Congo.