Another Shimoni looming in Uganda?

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UGANDA (eTN) – Following the disastrous decision some years ago to throw out the Shimoni Primary School pupils and teachers and uproot the Shimoni Teachers Training College from their premises in reco

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UGANDA (eTN) – Following the disastrous decision some years ago to throw out the Shimoni Primary School pupils and teachers and uproot the Shimoni Teachers Training College from their premises in record time, to make way for an investor who promised to build a 5-star hotel for the then upcoming Commonwealth Summit – that site still lies idle – has reportedly changed hands at least once since then. The principal owner of Kingdom Hotels, was the one who schmoozed his way into the corridors of power at the time, making lots of promises and delivering on not a single one, before eventually declaring that he “had lost interest,” a diplomatic way of admitting that the financial crisis of 2007/8 saw his cash flow get thinner and thinner and wanting to invest his remaining bucks elsewhere than in Uganda.

A related and equally sad saga evolved when the notorious Aya brothers, better known for their milling business and regular appearances in the local dailies over a range of allegations, were granted the land of the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation on Nakasero Hill, ostensibly to build another CHOGM hotel to be managed by Hilton. Again, the UBC offices – buildings thought to be protected under the national monuments regulations – were literally emptied overnight of equipment and staff and knocked down into rubble.

The brothers made headlines, since then, when making unsustainable promises such as to build a floor a week; that they were going to employ 2,000 people when the hotel was finished (and train them on the job – how Hilton must have cringed over this utterance); and then constantly shifting deadline after deadline for the completion of the hotel more than three years after CHOGM came and went. A statement made early this year that the hotel would be finished by September, was again far from reality, a clear sign that investors in the hotel and lodge sector in Uganda ought to be thoroughly scrutinized over their financial clout and management experience elsewhere, instead of being given the country’s “family silver” as if there was an endless supply of such.

A similar story broke this week when it was learned that the country’s main ivory tower, Makerere University, appears to have been stripped of a valuable piece of land they own, when another investor in record time – it reportedly took all but 5 minutes to make out a lease and register the name change – tried to get his hands on another prime piece of Kampala real estate. When found out, he also made his way into the corridors of power, obtained a directive to give him the land, and leave him alone, as he was to create a 5-star hotel at the cost of US$17 million.

If memory serves right, Serena Hotels spent over US$30 million to completely rebuild and refurbish the then Nile Hotel, before reopening as the Kampala Serena Hotel – a genuine investment by any standards. The proposal to build a 5-star hotel several years down the line at the increased cost of US$17 million for construction, can only be a fluke.

This latest saga, as was the Shimoni charade, will again be closely monitored to ascertain what if anything is going to happen on this site and what, if anything, will be built there and to what standards. One thing is for sure, the language of “luxury” and “5-star” are some of the most misused or otherwise most misunderstood denominations for a hospitality business in these parts and for sure more stories will follow here in due course.

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