East Africa Tourism Report

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi on Wednesday amid a media flurry of speculations on her “added” reason for the visit. Officially, she is heading a large delegation from the US, the US business community, and government representatives to attend the AGOA summit in Kenya, which will bring together public and private-sector participants from many African nations benefitting from the AGOA legislation. Some 2,000 participants are expected to gather in Nairobi for the meetings. At the same time, dire warnings from Washington and London reminded the Kenyan government and others in attendance that accountability and transparency, good governance, and best international practice are a MUST to assure continued economic and political cooperation. This may well be aimed at the Kenyan government, first and foremost, which has been dragging its feet over decisive action against the inciters and participants in the post-election violence a year ago.

There is also speculation that US Secretary Clinton may attend talks over the security situation at the Horn of Africa, where fighting on the ground between AU peace keepers, government troops, and Islamic militants has intensified in the recent past and where acts of piracy have greatly interfered with trade to and from eastern Africa.

Information has emerged that government agencies owe the Uganda Civil Aviation some 68.7 billion Uganda Shillings, while the CAA was compelled to borrow nearly 80 billion Uganda Shillings to carry out improvements and infrastructural developments at the country’s main airport and other aerodromes across the nation. Sources within the CAA, preferring anonymity, also talked about the UN’s operation at the international airport in Entebbe. The UN apparently pays no landing, navigational, or parking fees, in spite of such requests being made to the government, which apparently granted the UN the “freedom of the airport,” i.e., gratis use for setting up their main east-African supply base at the old airport in Entebbe. This information was likely made public in light of recent reports about having the international airport concessioned out to private management, a move which raised strong emotions in the public debate over the issue.

Uganda’s premier visitor guide for the next two months is now available on the web again, an alternative at least for those unable to get a hard copy. Those are distributed for free through hotels, lodges, travel agencies, restaurants, airline offices, and a range of other places, giving the latest updates of where to go, what to do, plus a whole range of other useful information like contact lists for all and sundry. Check out for more details – must read material for intending visitors to Uganda.

Notice has been belatedly received in Uganda that Shell Kenya apparently has stopped the supply of aviation fuel across the lake in Kisumu. The airport there has been a convenient fuel-tech stop for general aviation flights dropping in to load on AVGAS for the next leg homebound to Entebbe across Lake Victoria or while flying further into Kenya or Tanzania.

In a Ugandan first, the Entebbe-based Classic Africa Safaris has recently gone carbon neutral after purchasing carbon credits through the globally accredited Carbon Trading Bureau Uganda. This initiative covers not only the safari cars that are regularly on the road with clients from around the world, but also the carbon footprint of the company’s offices, workshops, and private residences. Congrats on this achievement go to Mel Gormley, CEO and principal owner of Classic Africa Safaris – the well-remembered and much-respected former chairperson of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators. Congrats also to their entire staff and board of directors. Well done indeed! Who is next?

March 13, 2011 will see Uganda go to the polls again to elect representatives on the local and national level, from local council representatives to parliament to presidential elections. The process, however, will start off much earlier with voter-registration updates, determining where the polling stations will be located, and training of staff of the Electoral Commission before launching the respective campaigns proper. Traditionally, an election period and campaign brings about more excitement in the country but has, in the past, been generally peaceful and orderly, as witnessed by this correspondent since the early 1990s. Intending visitors can be assured that their holiday enjoyment is most unlikely to be impacted in any way by the event.

Gamewatcher Safaris and Porini Safari Camps have recently provided data on the lion population near their camps close to Amboseli National Park and the Masai Mara Game Reserve. The companies attributed the success to closer cooperation with the resident Masai herdsmen, which reduced wildlife-livestock conflicts substantially in areas where Porini operates camps. Several lion cubs were born recently and can now be seen by safari guest of the respective camps.

The company also launched a new product – lion research safaris – which mainly focuses on areas in northern Kenya’s Samburu National Park, the Buffalo Springs, and Shaba Game Reserves, which are split by the main road leading from Isiolo, further north to Marsabit and the Ethiopian border. Guests on such safaris, this column was told, have the opportunity to participate, to an extent, in research and educational activities, like radio tracking those lions fitted with collars, patrolling with and recording data gathered by scouts and rangers, investigating lion-livestock incidents, and helping in carnivore education presentations in local schools and community centers.

Porini Safari Camps are renowned for their efforts to preserve bio diversity and improve community relations through the establishment of wildlife conservancies, revenue sharing schemes, employment, and other related incentives. Visit for more information.

Kenya Airways has once again stepped in and became the major sponsor of this motor sport event, which takes place every few years and traverses a different route every time across Kenya and other parts of east Africa. The rally brings together the big names of rally driving of yesteryear and, of course, features the “classic” rally cars going back to the 60s and 70s, when the main Safari Rally was still on the annual world championship calendar. Check this column in the coming weeks for more information about the event.

The Kenyan rift valley lakes, most notably Lakes Naivasha and Nakuru, reportedly keep losing size as a result of massive deforestation in the main water catchment area of Mau Forest, over which a major political row and controversy has erupted. Several of Lake Nakuru’s tributaries have started to dry up, partly as a result of the drought, which makes communities living along the river banks take out more and more water for domestic and agricultural use, while at the same time the water discharged from the springs and smaller streamlets has also greatly shrunk. Lake Baringo is also said to be affected, all three of the lakes being major tourism attractions, besides the other well-known lakes of Elementaita and Bogoria. Rising average temperatures are also blamed for increased evaporation of water from the lakes, and in the absence of heavy rainfall, which might fill up the lakes, no relief is in sight any time soon until the next long rains later in the year.

Kenya has, in the recent past, also shut down at least one of their hydro-electric plants owing to low water levels in the dam. Famine is also said to be threatening portions of the country – of eastern Africa – as a result of severe drought conditions in marginal areas.

In light of the ongoing drought condition in many parts of eastern Africa, the Kenyan power company has announced that power rationing, in local lingo called “load shedding,” has resumed. Priority will be given initially to hospitals, public institutions, industry, and manufacturing at the expense of “ordinary” consumers, to at least minimize the economic impact of the drastic measure. Residential areas can now expect to have at least two days a week without power, undoubtedly leading to a fresh run on inverter systems and back-up generators to keep fridges and lights working at least for some hours during such days.

Like done in Uganda two years ago, the Kenyan government is also considering the introduction and distribution of energy-saving tube bulbs, replacing the conventional light bulbs, a measure expected to save up to 50 MW across the country. Until then, however – which is when the rains come and restore water levels in the dams – expensive thermal energy will have to supplement production in Kenya, causing the cost of electricity undoubtedly to rise once again. Water levels in some of the dams are reportedly at a half century low, and unless the next rainy season produces above average rainfalls, the situation may go from bad to worse.

Meanwhile it was learned in Uganda that the Bujagali hydro-electric dam is not expected to begin generating electricity by late 2010. The projected start date has now been pushed into the second half of 2011, causing much speculation, as the company has hyped for a long time now how very much they are within their building time frame. Watch this space for updates.

One of the greatest problems with aviation in Kenya is the lack of accurate meteorological data and weather forecasting. A new system being actively pursued by the Aero Club and a number of cooperative aviation enthusiasts and sponsors is a network of “webcams” placed strategically throughout Kenya.

The photographs taken by the webcams are updated every few minutes and online users can look at the latest weather picture in the general area to which they are flying. The following webcam photos are now operating and publicly available on the Internet or 3G Mobile Phone: Kijabe-Rift Valley, Wilson Airport-Aero Club of East Africa, Ngong Hills from Langata, Lamu, and Kilimanjaro-Kampi ya Kanzi.

A webcam at Nyeri should be up and running later this week and more are coming. Bookmark as the main page for all Kenyan webcams. You can also use the link on the Aero Club website Check it out and tell all pilots. Your suggestions for positioning additional webcams in strategic places are welcome.

Some further information became available from the venerable Harro about the forthcoming Kenya Navex Air Rally to be held in October of this year. The event is open for entries from all corners of the world, as long as participants register in time and visit Kenya with their own planes in good time for the air rally.

Plans are well underway for the 2009 edition of the Annual Navex – the air rally in which the skills of pilots and navigators are tested to the utmost. Participating aircraft are starting the rally at Orly Airpark on Friday, October 9, 2009. They are expected to fly on a given track, on time, and within 250 meters of center line. Secret marshals are distributed throughout the route to verify times when the aircraft flew over and the accuracy. Penalty points are given for any errors, 360 degree turns are forbidden, and GPS is not allowed. The day’s route of about 200 miles will lead north, into the Laikipia area, ending in the afternoon at Ol Malo Lodge where the Francombe family will host the competitors and marshals. Ol Malo is one of the top lodges in Kenya.

Saturday, October 11, is a fun day during which competitors will amuse themselves with parachute jumps, aerobatics displays, spot-landing competitions, and other aerial activities. Then, on Sunday October 12, the air rally will continue back to Nairobi. It is hoped that all private aircraft operators, flying schools, and charter companies will provide at least one or two entries. Please circle your calendars for this aviation delicacy of 2009. Entry fees will be announced shortly, while the team of Dean Hardisty, Ashif Lalani, and Alex Galley will all use their combined powers of connivance to design a route that will put even the most seasoned air rally aficionados off track.

Hot on the heels of complaints by aviation experts about the increasing build up in the approach and take-off path of Wilson Airport, came news that a small light aircraft crashed into the “High Rise” estate in Nairobi, killing the pilot on impact and leaving reportedly three passengers injured. No information was immediately available if any persons on the ground were injured when the plane crashed, although a fire apparently broke out at the crash site, later put out by the fire brigade.

Sources from Nairobi speak of a flight out of Wilson Airport for the purpose of taking aerial photographs or taking film footage of parts of Nairobi. The plane apparently came down when attempting to return to Wilson Airport as it came down too low.

This is the second such light aircraft incident within a few weeks, after most recently a two-seater plane crashed when landing in Kiwayu along the Indian Ocean beaches.

Hotel owners on Tanzania’s Mafia Island vowed not to stop their campaign against an increase in fees, imposed earlier in the year for visits to the marine reserves. The trustees had doubled the entrance fees charged to visitors, which the investors opposed in view of the present global economic and financial crisis. When faced with the constructive criticism, the trustees in turn tried to smear the credibility of the resort owners through a blanket accusation that “some hotel owners evade payment of user fees.” This raised the temperature of the debate instantly, and as one resort owner told this column, “Let the trustees produce evidence to this unfounded allegation and take whomever to court and prosecute,” then added, “but otherwise stop smearing our names – is this the partnership they talk about? Doubling fees right now is the wrong way; everyone has started lowering prices, Visa fees have been slashed, and those guys think this is the time to double fees – let them learn about timing. When tourism [has] picked up again, let’s talk about it then, but not now.”

Such public spats, while not unprecedented, are, of course, not helpful to promote tourism to the island, or the country as a whole, and a meeting between the two parties appears the best way forward right now, rather than engaging in public finger pointing and making accusations of profiteering towards one party and incompetence towards the other.

The ailing national airline of Tanzania, long overtaken by their private sector competitors like Precision Air and of late Fly540 (T), may have a ray of hope coming across the distant horizon. News broke that the government was still committed to signing a deal with a Chinese company. Initially that was to have taken place over a year ago, but the emerging global economic and financial crisis scuttled that opportunity at the time. With recovery now emerging for the global economy, the deal seems back on the table to restructure the airline, rebrand it, and kick-start operations with as many as 9 aircraft to counter the advance of other airlines on both domestic and regional routes. Accumulated losses and capital requirements to achieve a full turnaround are estimated to be in the half billion US dollar region – not a mean price for any potential suitor. Up to 49 percent shares are available to foreign investors, while the rest must, under Tanzanian law and aviation regulations, remain in Tanzanian hands to qualify as a Tanzanian airline.

Six accused were denied bail earlier in the week when a magistrate of a Dar es Salaam court told them it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the application and told the suspects to make an application in the High Court, as the crime they were charged with was both substantial and fell under the Economics Crime Act. The six were also charged with illegal dealings in game trophies without a license. Good news for the conservation fraternity!

In a move to further align relevant legislation with the rest of the east African member states, the Rwandan cabinet, during the week, agreed on new civil aviation legislation, which is now in line with the respective protocols agreed by the East African Community. The new legislation is expected to be tabled before parliament for approval, which is currently in recess until early October.

Figures availed by the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks, which is part of the Rwanda Development Board, show that nearly 440,000 visitors came to Rwanda in the first quarter of 2009, a 7 percent increase over 2008. This is all the more remarkable as the global economic and financial crisis has thrown a spanner into the world-wide tourism industry and speaks volumes about Rwanda’s efforts to attract more visitors to the country. Hence, in terms of improving the tourism arrivals, Rwanda has taken the lead across eastern Africa. Business visitors appear to be the biggest segment, closely followed by visiting friends and relatives, dedicated holiday visitors, and others. Well done indeed.

Information received from the Rwandan national airline indicates that they will offer special fares throughout the year whenever exhibiting at trade shows in order to attract more visitors to Rwanda. The fares need to be booked on site and paid for right away, but besides this, only a few other terms and conditions apply. Look up for more information.

The US-based global coffeehouse company, already using Rwandan quality coffee in their outlets, has signed a further partnership agreement with textile manufacturers. Soon to be found in the coffee shops across the United States will be cotton bags and other fabrics such as t-shirts for sale, again under a fair trade agreement, which gives cotton farmers and workers in the textile industry added benefits. Rwanda is presently the home of the only Starbucks office on the African continent and is aimed at furthering trade links, influencing branding and marketing, and most importantly, ascertaining consistently good-quality products reaching the global markets. Now, if every Starbucks customer could see, while in the shop, some DVD presentations about the natural wonders of Rwanda and the whole of Eastern Africa, might that then entice a couple of ten thousand more visitors? While waiting for this development, well done in the meantime!

Information was received earlier in the week from Kigali that 17 future trainers have started a course about ecotourism planning and wetland management at the Kitabi College for Conservation and Environmental Management. During the month-long course, participants will hear from a variety of experts in environmental management on how best to counter a deteriorating environment and restore it to best serve its intended purpose. Some 10 percent of the country is considered to be wetlands and needs extra protection in view of the growing population pressures. Once graduated, the course participants are expected to be deployed to sensitive areas to begin their work in earnest.

The Nyabarongo River, a major tributary to the Kagera River, which empties into Lake Victoria, is due for a major cleanup operation, according to information given by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority. Funding is provided by the United Nations Development Program, and several hundred young people are expected to assist in the operation. Over 40 kilometers of river banks will be re-cultivated with bamboo and reeds to improve soil retention, while stricter measures against uncontrolled discharge of waste water into the river will also be enforced. The overall cost is expected to reach US$6 million.

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About the author


Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.