News Update

Kenya and Uganda aggressively using eclipse to break new grounds in tourism

Tourism officials in Kenya and Uganda have started a fight over the rare eclipse expected in Turkana on Sunday.

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Tourism officials in Kenya and Uganda have started a fight over the rare eclipse expected in Turkana on Sunday. The November 3 hybrid eclipse will be seen across the world but the totality, which thousands of eclipse-lovers are chasing, will only be viewed in Congo-Brazzavile, the DR Congo, Uganda and northern Kenya.

Both Kenya and Uganda are aggressively using the event to break new grounds in tourism. But barely a week after Kenyan officials said experts had identified Turkana as the best place in the world to view the total eclipse, Uganda has rubbished those views.

Tourism minister Maria Mutagamba said that “experts” have actually said Uganda has the best location in the world to view the eclipse. Maria told the state-owned New Vision newspaper the government would spend USh500 million (about Sh17 million) for the preparations.

The announcement came days after the Kenya Wildlife Service said it would spend Sh10 million “in preparations to host thousands of astronomy enthusiasts” on the eastern shores of Lake Turkana.

Kenya Tourism Board and the KWS have fought back insisting Turkana will be the epicentre of the once-in-a-life-time occurrence. “We can confirm that there are over 1,000 bookings for the event but we expect more astronomy lovers and adventure enthusiasts to join the caravan,” said KTB managing director Muriithi Ndegwa.

Uganda says it expects at least 3,000 tourists, mostly scientists and academicians. Sunday’s hybrid eclipse is extremely rare and important in astronomy because it is a combination of three eclipses.

Kenyans who miss it will wait until 2041 for the last total solar eclipse viewable in the country this century, according to the US space agency, Nasa. KWS says it is using the eclipse promote adventure tourism and exploitation of astro and archaeological Tourism in Northern Kenya.

Local astronomers said Kenya is indeed the best place to catch the action because of a high chance of clear skies and a unique background of Lake Turkana.

“The area surrounding Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya is the best land-based eclipse viewing site along the track,” says Susan Murabana, who heads communication and marketing for the Nairobi-based African Astronomical Society. “There’s a 75 per cent chance of clear skies. The location is also beautiful and we’ll also have a chance to see Saturn and Mercury,” she told the Star.

The total eclipse makes landfall in Gabon, where there will be 68 seconds of totality. It will then move through Congo (53 seconds of totality), Democratic Republic of Congo (44 seconds), Uganda (19 seconds), and northern Kenya (13 seconds). It ends in southern Ethiopia and parts of Somalia, who get barely one second of totality, before the sun completely sets.

The totality is what star-gazers and eclipse-enthusiasts will be chasing. It is the part where the sun’s searing disk is totally blocked by the moon, which now appears like a black hole encircled by a glowing white halo from the sun.

This will last only 13 seconds in northern Kenya, beginning 5.25pm. Murabana says the rest of Kenya will actually witness the eclipse but will miss the totality. They will see the sun as a crescent, that’s all. “So everyone in Kenya should not look at the sun, unless wearing protective goggles,” she says.

Murabana says the entire eclipse will last two hours, beginning 4.13pm and ending at 6.27pm. “The 13-second totality in northern Kenya begins at 5.25pm,” she says.

Various tour operators say bookings are almost closing. Rotary Club has signed up almost 100 people who will go to Turkana on plane and on overland truck. “The proceeds from the trip will go to maternal and child health programmes in the area,” says Murabana, also a Rotary Club member.

University of Nairobi anthropology Dr Simiyu Wandiba will lead the Rotary group and give seminars on astronomy and anthropology. Turkana is seen as the best location because of its reputation as the cradle of mankind. Kenya to date has the highest number of fossils of human remains – approximately 1,000 individuals – mostly excavated in Turkana.

The county also hosts one of the world’s oldest astronomical sites at Kalokol village. The 19 large basalt pillars found in the remote village date approximately 2,000 years. Scientists believe the stones align with the movement of the seven constellations and stars corresponding to the 354-day lunar calendar of the cushites.

It is also one of the poorest counties in Kenya but recently large amounts of water and oil have been found beneath its soils. Marsabit Governor Ukur Yatani is, however, not amused that neighbouring Turkana has hogged all the limelight. The upper part of Marsabit County, which actually includes most of Lake Turkana, falls on the path of the total eclipse.

Says Yatani: “With the solar eclipse coming up, and the best place worldwide to view it being in Marsabit County, we are fortunate. This is a major tourist attraction and it will attract huge crowds. It lastly, in 1973, attracted over 15,000 people from all over the world. Our target this year is higher than that number. I urge all Kenyans out there to come and share this historic moment with the rest of Marsabit.”

On the other hand, in Uganda, the total eclipse will pass through some remote villages including the rebel-infested Gulu area. Apart from Rotary Club, several other local and international groups will bring in eclipse enthusiasts.

KWS says it will host about 1,000 tourists at Sibiloi National Park in Marsabit County, on the eastern side of Lake Turkana. US Sky & Telescope magazine will also host an eclipse expedition on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana. The guests include leading meteorologist Jay Anderson, famously known as the high priest of eclipse-weather forecasting.

About the author


Linda Hohnholz

Editor in chief for eTurboNews based in the eTN HQ.

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