(eTN) – Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who rose to some notoriety in Uganda over his failed investment for a 5-star hotel ahead of the CHOGM Summit in 2007 – in spite of having been given a prime chunk of city land for free – has apparently set his eyes on the region once again, after visiting Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, earlier on.
The Burundian government has made it known for some time that they would like to see international investments in the tourism and hospitality sector come to the country from which branded hotels, with the exception of Novotel, continue to be absent and which lags behind in tourism arrivals and successes compared to the four other EAC member states. Although Burundi’s stand at the globally leading ITB Tourism Fair received first prize last year as best African exhibitor and came in at runner up this year, this has not translated into greater visibility as yet, in spite of improved air connectivity since Kenya Airways’ upped their flights out of Nairobi, Air Uganda starting to fly three times a week from Entebbe, multiple daily flights by RwandAir from Kigali, and international services by Brussels Airlines. The latest addition was South African Airways, which combines Bujumbura with their 3 times a week flights between Johannesburg and Kigali.
The slow pace of introducing English as a main commercial language continues to be hampering Burundi’s efforts to take deeper roots in the East African Community, more so since the powers that be have ruled out making French another EAC official language besides Kiswahili and English. While trade has been growing modestly with the other EAC member states, the language barrier is thought to remain a key obstacle for fast-tracked alignments as for instance seen in neighboring Rwanda, which made English their main commercial and educational language and has since then even joined the Commonwealth of Nations in line with Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Wrote a source from Bujumbura overnight, in French no less, which required some Google translation and polishing up: “Burundi, just like Rwanda, has forests and lakes and opportunities for tourism. We are still settling down after our civil war, but we are willing to learn and participate. We have interest to partner with Rwanda to create a transboundary park, which includes their Nyungwe park and our adjoining Kibira park. We have several other parks of our own, and we have Lake Tanganyika and other lakes. What we need is to find investors to put us on the map. If the Saudi Prince can invest in a big hotel or resort and safari lodges, it will be good for everyone. He has business in Kenya, he was in Rwanda, and now he came here. Burundi is a beautiful country but few know us until now. We need to change this, and investments help.”
Prince Alwaleed reportedly met with Burundian president Nkurunziza during his visit to discuss the opportunities for investments in tourism, hospitality, and other sectors of the economy, but only time will tell what results this exploratory trip will yield for Burundi.