NEWS EAST AFRICA
A weekly roundup from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands of breaking news, reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
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FIRST EDITION NOVEMBER 2013
EAST AFRICA NEWS
BRUSSELS AIRLINES BOOSTS INFLIGHT CUISINE
(Posted 31st October 2013)
(First class inflight meals with the help from a friendly chef)
Starting tomorrow, 01st of November, will Brussels Airlines introduce a range of new inflight meals on their intercontinental flights, which includes the routes from Brussels to Entebbe, Kigali, Bujumbura and Nairobi, the airline's East African destinations. Over the coming weeks will Belgium's top chefs, starting with Geert van Hecke, a culinary star from West Flanders, produce food for passengers in Brussels Airlines award winning business class, reflecting on both the season as well as the region of Belgium the respective chefs will come from.
As an old saying goes, that love goes through the stomach, so has Brussels Airlines apparently also concluded that passenger loyalty too goes through the stomach and the new range of meals available on their long haul flights to New York, Washington and the entire West African destinations, will go a long way to cement 'friendship' as the passengers taste buds are tickled at 39.000 feet above sea level. Savoir Vivre returning once again to the air, which has always been a hallmark, first of the good old Sabena days when this phrase was coined and now with Brussels Airlines. And for those travelling together as a couple on SN, perhaps the question 'Can I take you for dinner on Brussels Airlines darling' is now not completely out of question. Bon Appetite!
QATAR AIRWAYS JOINS ONEWORLD ALLIANCE
(Posted 30th October 2013)
Travellers using Qatar Airways from their East African destinations of Entebbe, Kigali, Nairobi, Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa will effective today be able to enjoy the benefits of QR having joined the third of the global airline alliances, ONEworld. It is thought that following the lukewarm approach by British Airways to the East African market place - they dropped flights to Tanzania earlier this year and more recently also their flights to Lusaka - ONEworld will get a visibility boost through Qatar Airways' membership as few others of their alliance members in fact operate into key airports across the African continent, in particular into sub Saharan Africa.
While aviation pundits are divided over who the greater beneficiary is, most leaning towards the alliance getting the larger boost from the entry of such a quality airline as Qatar Airways has become over the years, passengers loyal to QR will at least enjoy some added benefits with greater connectivity into the destination network of alliance airlines where the Gulf airline is not, or not yet flying directly to.
There is though the perception that some of the other carriers are in terms of inflight and ground handling abilities and qualities a distant second compared to the services passengers are used to from QR, lending credibility to claims that - while Qatar Airways joined in near record time after aligning and harmonizing systems and procedures - it is the other alliance members which now need to strive to attain the higher service levels Qatar Airways is bringing to ONEworld, a challenge in particular for the 'mass production' airlines like American and British Airways, the latter of the two today being a far cry from the once 'World's favourite airline'.
In a media release received from Qatar Airways, some of the immediate benefits to their own frequent flyer programme cardholders have been outlined as follows:
The 3 million members of Qatar Airways' Privilege Club loyalty programme will from midnight tonight enjoy the full range of ONEworld frequent flyer benefits when travelling with anyONEworld member airline worldwide - airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines and their 30 affiliated airlines.
Privilege members will be able to earn and redeem Qmiles on anyONEworld flight. In celebration of the airline's addition to the alliance, they will receive double Qmiles award miles when flying on Qatar Airways'ONEworld partners between 15 November and 31 January (except between 20 December and 5 January).
Privilege Club members will also receive Qpoints for tier status when flying with all these airlines.
Privilege Club Platinum cardholders will have Emerald status in theONEworld programme. Privilege Club Gold will be equivalent to ONEworld Sapphire and Privilege Club Silver will beONEworld Ruby.
From midnight tonight, Privilege Club Platinum and Gold members will be able to access more than 550 airport lounges worldwide offered byONEworld member airlines when they fly with one of the alliance's carriers - five times more than they can use up until now. Qatar Airways' First and Business Class passengers will also be able to useONEworld partner airline lounges.
AsONEworld Emeralds, Privilege Club Platinum cardholders will be able to use First Class lounges, where available - and receive an additional baggage allowance and access fast tracks through departure security at select airports.
Also from midnight tonight, the 140 million members of the establishedONEworld airlines' frequent flyer programmes will be able to earn and redeem awards and tier status points and receive all otherONEworld benefits when flying on Qatar Airways.
To celebrate the addition of the new recruit to oneworld, members of established member airlines' loyalty programmes will receive double the normal mileage awards when flying on Qatar Airways between 15 November and 31 January (except between 20 December and 5 January).
Meanwhile has Qatar Airways' CEO Akbar Al Baker commented on his airline's joining of oneword when he said: 'ALLIANCES ARE PLAYING AN INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY TODAY - AND THAT WILL CONTINUE LONG INTO THE FUTURE. BECOMING A MEMBER OFONEWORLD IS ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT LANDMARKS IN QATAR AIRWAYS' HISTORY. IT WILL STRENGTHEN OUR COMPETITIVE OFFERING AND GIVE OUR CUSTOMERS WHAT THEY FULLY DESERVE - MORE CHOICE ACROSS A TRULY GLOBAL NETWORK SERVED TOGETHER WITH AIRLINE PARTNERS WHO INCLUDE SOME OF THE BEST AND BIGGEST IN THE WORLD. IN QATAR AIRWAYS' RELATIVELY SHORT HISTORY, WE HAVE QUICKLY ESTABLISHED A REPUTATION FOR INNOVATION, QUALITY AND EXCELLENCE IN EVERYTHING WE DO. WE ARE PLEASED TO BUILD ON THAT BY BECOMING THE ONLY MAJOR AIRLINE FROM THE GULF TO JOIN ANY OF THE GLOBAL AIRLINE ALLIANCES - AND WE ARE PROUD TO BECOME PART OF WHAT IS CLEARLY THE WORLD'S TOP QUALITY AIRLINE ALLIANCE, oneWORLD'.
In contrast have the other two major Gulf airlines opted to go their own ways, with Emirates notably relying entirely on their own strengths in the global market place. While cooperating with other airlines, when they see benefits in commercial agreements, they are clearly not interested to become part of any alliance but prefer, and rightly so, to remain purely Emirates, which is set to soon become the world's largest international airline.
Etihad opted for a different approach, also outside the conventional alliance framework, by making strategic investments in key airlines, among them Air Berlin and Air Seychelles, and seeking close commercial ties and code share partnerships with others where it enhances the market standing for themselves, and those selected for cooperation.
Watch this space for breaking and regular news from Eastern Africa's vibrant aviation market.
COMMON VISA ANNOUNCEMENT FOR UGANDA, RWANDA AND KENYA DELAYED
(Posted 29th October 2013)
An announcement was to be made at the World Travel Market next week in London, that the long awaited common tourist Visa, applicable for Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, would be launched by the first of January next year, to add to the marketing buzz the three countries will be generating. However, the latest information from Kigali, following the third Head of State Summit of the 'Coalition of the Willing' - a phrase coined here and now widely used in local and regional media - indicates that such an announcement will now be made at the next summit, which is due to be held in late December. Tourism operators were immediately suspicious over this development as they had been led to believe that WTM would be the best possible platform to promote this decision, which will, when finally implemented, cut down on Visa cost for tourists visiting more than one country to the region.
'WE HAD ENOUGH OF THESE CONSTANT DELAYS' wrote a regular source before continuing 'I UNDERSTAND THAT THERE WERE BIG ISSUES WHEN THE COMMON TOURIST VISA WAS ON THE AGENDA FOR THE ENTIRE EAC COUNTRIES BUT THEN, THE THREE MADE A LOT OF NOISE ABOUT IT AND OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS AGREED AT THE NAIROBI MEETING TWO WEEKS AGO THAT WE CAN MAKE THE ANNOUNCEMENT IN LONDON. NOW WHAT HAPPENED IS A MYSTERY BUT IT SEEMS THERE ARE STILL UNRESOLVED ISSUES. WE HAVE ALREADY INFORMED OUR CLIENTS OVERSEAS THAT IN FUTURE, COME 2014, THEY CAN SEND CLIENTS ON A SAFARI ACROSS THE THREE COUNTRIES AND SAVE ON VISA FEES AND I HOPE THIS WILL STILL BE ON TRACK EVEN IF THE FORMAL ANNOUNCEMENT HAS BEEN DELAYED. THE CREDIBILITY OF THE FAST TRACKING IS AT STAKE HERE. SLOWING DOWN TO THE PREVIOUS PACE IS NOT AN OPTION FOR US'.
At the same time however good news emerged from Kigali that work permits for citizens of the three countries, come January 2014, will be issued free of charge, a move seen to further promote regional integration and filling urgent manpower shortages in the hospitality industry. On the downside it was learned that the single sky operation will have to wait a little longer as regulators and airlines are still searching for a modus operandum to which all can sign on. What was apparently agreed upon was the integration of the three single air traffic management systems over the coming months before full rights, already existing on paper for that matter, will be extended to any registered and licensed airline in any of the three countries for cross border flights.
NORTHERN UGANDA BRACES FOR MASSIVE VISITOR INFLUX AHEAD OF 'HYBRID ECLIPSE'
(Posted 01st November 2013)
Over 10.000 visitors made up by a large number of locals and several hundred foreign tourists, are expected to flock to Northern Uganda from today to witness, good weather permitting, one of the great spectacles of the skies above us, a hybrid solar eclipse.
While sections of the private sector have been working on this 'project' for over a year, getting ready by block booking accommodation ahead of the pack and even contracting temporary tented camps to be erected for this weekend, 'official Uganda' took rather long to catch on to this event, but when they did they made up for lost time and engaged with a vengeance.
Major security arrangements have been put into place in the districts around Pakwach to ensure the safety of visitors while hotels and lodges which still have a bed or a few to sell, are now charging full rack rates, some in fact reported to have added 'eclipse supplements' to their rates.
The path of the eclipse has favoured the locations around Pakwach, though it will also be seen in Eastern Congo and Northern Kenya, before traversing into the Indian Ocean after crossing the African continent.
Uganda was last year Lonely Planet's top global destination, was named this year by National Geographic as one of their top choices to travel to and the Kidepo Valley National Park named by CNN as their top choice in Africa. The upcoming eclipse is seen as one great opportunity to showcase the country ahead of next week's World Travel Market in London, where Uganda will of course be present, led by the Uganda Tourism Board and a large number of private sector representatives from hotels, lodges, the national parks and other attractions and of course the DMC's. Time to visit 'UGANDA, THE PEARL OF AFRICA'.
See - the official Uganda Tourism Board website or - the official site of Uganda National Parks for more details about the country. Another useful site is , a bi-monthly full detail free visitor guide to Uganda.
AIR UGANDA LAUNCHES MOBILE MONEY PAYMENT OPTION
(Posted 30th October 2013)
Air Uganda yesterday formally launched their new payment option which prospective passengers can now use to pay for their ticket. An agreement with MTN's Mobile Money now permits instant payment when booking on line, securing the reservation made by simply accessing their mobile money account via their phone, touching a few dials, entering a few digits and successfully concluding the transaction.
The airline's CEO Cornwell Muleya was in a media release sent out overnight quoted to have said at the launch of the new feature: 'USING MTN MOBILE MONEY, OUR CUSTOMERS CAN NOW PAY FOR AIR TICKETS AND FLY! AT AIR UGANDA WE WANT TO EMPOWER OUR CUSTOMERS, SO WE INTRODUCING INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS AND TECHNOLOGIES TO EASE THE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE FOR THE CUSTOMER. THIS MOBILE MONEY PLATFORM IS EASY TO USE, CONVENIENT, RELIABLE AND FAST. IT WILL SAVE OUR CUSTOMERS A LOT TIME, SINCE THEY CAN NOW BUY TICKETS FROM WHEREVER THEY ARE'.
Air Uganda flies from their home base in Entebbe to Juba, Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Bujumbura, Kigali and Mogadishu, using a fleet of 3 Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft.
The two other main mobile money operators in Uganda, Airtel and Uganda Telecom, have reportedly also expressed interest to sign up with Air Uganda to provide equal services to their own subscribers.
UGANDA IMPOUNDS OVER 2 TONS OF IVORY AS TWO CHINESE ARRESTED IN KAMPALA
(Posted 28th October 2013)
Last weekend did security operatives working hand in hand with enforcement officers from the Uganda Wildlife Authority arrest two Chinese and two Guineans in Kampala, with a haul of over 1.9 tons of blood ivory ready to be shipped out of the country, after earlier in the week confiscating 116 kilogrammes of ivory at the airport.
UWA intelligence personnel were, following that seizure, able to confiscate the larger consignment which was due to leave the country by road to Mombasa and make the arrests.
The Guineans, according to a Kampala based source, were already arrested two weeks earlier and their testimony thought crucial in arresting the Chinese.
Ugandan officials were swift in reassuring that the ivory was not likely to have come from inside Uganda but was brought into the country from possibly Eastern Congo or South Sudan, where poaching is rife and little done in terms of law enforcement to protect their elephants or prevent regular smuggling of the contraband out of the country. One of the parcels seized appears to have been sent by overland bus from Bujumbura / Burundi to Uganda, but as no poaching figures are available from Burundi it is again suspected that the ivory could have come from either neighbouring Congo DR or even from Tanzania, where in recent weeks the government finally seems to take a stand and make a more determined effort to combat poaching and ivory smuggling.
The four now in custody in Kampala are considered important elements in the search for financiers and traders and indication was given that more arrests could be made soon to hopefully dismantle the entire smuggling operation using Uganda as a transit point for their criminal activities. Well done UWA.
TURKISH WEEK ENDS AT KAMPALA SERENA
(30th October 2013)
A week of delightful Turkish music and cuisine came to an end on Monday night as the Kampala Serena Hotel hosted a dedicated 'TURKISH WEEK' which they had organized in conjunction with Turkish Airlines. Chefs, foodstuffs and spices were flown into Entebbe by Turkish, as were the musical performers, aimed to showcase Turkey as both a trading partner and also as a destination to visit, besides of course promoting travel by Turkish via Istanbul.
With over 200 aircraft in service, a modern fleet from both Airbus and Boeing, Turkey and Uganda now enjoy daily flights and passengers have a host of European, Asian and American destinations to choose from.
By the end of 2014 will Turkish Airlines connect some 40 African cities, mostly using their Boeing B737-800NG and on selected routes the larger B737-900NG aircraft, while then for onward flights from Istanbul using wide body equipment in a classic hub and spoke operation.
The Kampala Serena has also announced that they will shortly launch their holiday season programme for Christmas and New Year, with special culinary extravaganzas planned and special offers for guests staying during the holiday period when business traffic will have largely come to a standstill. This will apply to both the Kampala Serena Hotel and the Lake Victoria Serena Hotel outside the city at Lweza. On sale over the holiday season will be gift hampers and the hotel's renowned pastry shop will be turning out Christmas 'Stollen' and Christmas puddings, besides cakes made to order.
BLAZING NEW TRAILS - A JOURNEY FROM KABALE VIA BUNYONYI TO KISORO
(Posted 27th October 2013)
The South West of Uganda has of late made waves among tourism operators as new lodges, camps and even home stays have started to line up along the various tourist routes and hiking trails, which visitors can explore by foot, mountain bike, boda boda, taxi, public busses and even using dugout canoes to get across the extensive waters of Lake Bunyonyi. Of course there is always the option of using one's own car to get to these places and then stroll about a bit before motoring on.
Specialized tour operators, fully licensed of course with qualified guides and relevant insurance covers, today welcome dozens of hiking enthusiasts during the high season months, but interest according to Asgario, the Nkuringo Walking Safaris chief guide, now spans the entire year, even the rainy season.
Another one who confirms the growing interest is Miha Logar, who authored the e-Book about the GORILLA HIGHLANDS, a must read guide to South Western Uganda which leaves literally no question unanswered, so detailed and exhaustive are the topics in it.
Getting to Kabale by road is, for most of the route, no longer an issue though some sections are still undergoing work, and from Kampala, taking a short fuel and pit stop at one of the stations in Mbarara into account, the journey should not take much over 5 hours by private car. Busses, including the reliable Post Bus service which leaves Kampala every morning at 8 a.m. sharp, ply the route throughout the day and at an affordable cost, and the number of 'muzungus' in these busses, carrying backpacks and heading to the highlands, has been steadily growing over the past years.
Kabale has no airstrip, yet - the Uganda CAA and government have been talking about establishing one for years - so anyone who wants the quick and easy solution of getting there will have to use one of the Kampala Aero Club's helicopters, at a cost of course and surely not the way how Joe Average is travelling ().
So it was in the end an almost foregone conclusion that travel by bus it had to be, considering that after reaching Kabale days of hikes lay ahead, ending in Kisoro. This would make the use of a private car sort of difficult as, once going per pedes apostulorum (Latin for 'footing it'), it would not just make an appearance by genie at the other end of the trail no matter how one would wish for it or look for that magic lamp to rub.
Kabale has in recent years grown in leaps and bounds and the good old White Horse Inn still rules the hospitality landscape from its position perched high above the municipality. That said of course, there are a large number of smaller hotels which have sprung up in recent years and available accommodation within and outside the municipality for any budget can be found with ease, especially when carrying the latest edition of The Eye Uganda () where all details down to the latest phone numbers can be sourced. The golf course near the White Horse Inn is inviting but carrying that gear in addition to the 'regular' hiking outfit and backpack content would be have been stretching it more than just a bit for the purpose of this particular trip.
Kabale is a springboard for tourists visiting the South West of Uganda, and whether they stay put and explore from there, go on to Kisoro and beyond or drive on to Buhoma, perhaps even through the forest itself, passing the tropical forest research station in Ruhija, just getting there is an experience in itself.
When the bus starts the long climb up the hills soon turned mountains, their slopes carefully terraced to enhance crop production and prevent soil erosion and landslides, the reason why this part of country is often called the 'Switzerland of Uganda' becomes evident, and while the mighty rock peaks of the alps are missing from the scenery, the volcanoes are not, when they eventually come into sight.
Homesteads are scattered all over the hills outside the regular small roadside settlements, where little shops and kiosks line the streets. The people living there have nowadays often moved to beyond mere subsistence farming by growing produce they can sell, either at the road side or to middlemen and traders who then take it to Uganda's main urban centres, Kabale itself, Mbarara and of course the capital city of Kampala, where now over 1.5 million regular inhabitants depend on a steady supply of matooke, Irish and sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, peas and a range of other vegetables and fruits. In some places along the road eggs are sold, artfully packed in banana leaf wrappings and while many small farmers opt to display their wares on the road near their homesteads, there are regular colorful markets popping up as the bus speeds by. It is at such roadside markets that travellers heading 'home' load their cars, often already full to the brim with people and their bags, adding the farming goodies of the highlands, until every last nook and cranny inside that vehicle is the filled with food stuffs able to last them for a week or more.
From Kabale it is a short distance to the border with Rwanda at Katuna, should visitors wish to venture into the land of a thousand hills, though the more scenic route undoubtedly would be via the brand new tarmac road to Kisoro and from there along the volcanoes to Cyanika and across the border to Musanze, an equal tourism hub in Rwanda as are Kisoro and Kabale on our side. Also within a short distance from Kisoro is the border with the Congo DR at Bunagana, where to my surprise those packpackers unable to get a gorilla tracking permit in Uganda, often go across the border to see the mountain gorillas from there, brave perhaps or foolish even, considering the ongoing turmoil in that country but a sure bet to get to meet those prized mountain gorillas, and often at a 'negotiated' rate rather than those published.
It is this brand new road which is seen by many as the greatest gift government has made to this part of the country, as in the past an often badly washed out murram road made the journey to Kisoro not just an adventure but outright dangerous, especially during the rainy season. Area residents were often unable to ship their produce to the markets due to impassable roads, but today, the new road has served them a dual purpose, to sell their harvests to the markets and have a growing stream of wagenis come to visit and spend their money on location, while enjoying the often spectacular sights, the wildlife of Mgahinga and Bwindi, Lakes Mulehe and Mutanda and of course, the warm hospitality of the local people.
(Maps courtesy of )
But back to Kabale where my journey by foot, and again by boda boda where necessary to cover distances on the faster track, was to start. Arguably one of the key features of or near Kabale is Lake Bunyonyi, a local word meaning 'the place of many little birds', and I want to concentrate a bit more about what has been happening there in the recent past, as it has emerged to be a major tourism hub in its own right. Bunyonyi is not just a lake but mired in lore and history and for those actually taking a canoe to explore the shores and islands, be aware of some dark secrets, some of which will be told here. The maps below, thankfully provided courtesy of and Miha Logar, the brain behind the publication of the e-Book on what he calls the Gorilla Highlands, show the area and give, most important, hints of distances and the available trails, some starting right in Kabale and others nearer to Lake Bunyonyi.
As the maps show, an array of small accommodation facilities has sprung up around Lake Bunyonyi, and even on some of the islands in the lake, but notably have homestay options become available where visitors travelling on a small budget can find a bed for a night in the home of a family, get a decent night's sleep and enjoy a home cooked meal for dinner and some porridge of millet or maize flour for breakfast. All meals are prepared from local ingredients harvested on the day and often accompanied by a fish caught fresh just hours before it went in to the frying pan.
Such features have emerged almost unnoticed by many in Kampala, travel agents included, and the feedback on my articles about hiking through Bwindi and up to Nteko and Nkuringo in the last edition, was evidence enough how that information provided helped many potential travellers to plan trips to that part of Uganda and read The Eye beyond just the pages of Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja.
(Starting point for the many hikes now available from Kabale to Bunyonyi, Kisoro and beyond)
When reaching the shores of Lake Bunyonyi, in my case not hiked but boda boda'ed, and as long as one is on time for the canoes to leave on a day trip out on the lake, an exciting couple of hours lie ahead or if so arranged, an overnight on one of the islands can be included in a trip itinerary of course. In fact, to fully explore the lake, up to three day / two night trips are available 'off the shelf' and special itineraries can be tailored at short notice for those wanting to watch birds or simply relax on one of the islands, either camping at night or using a home stay option or else staying on one of the little resorts on the shores or on an island.
My admittedly rushed visit for the day took in most of what regular 'hikers' get to see, and perhaps a bit more after it was known that I am writing an article for The Eye, and my stops included such illustrious and mysterious names like Punishment Island - wherein olden days girls were literally dumped when found pregnant outside marriage - Upside Down Island - a place where witchcraft is one everyone's lips, or perhaps not for those who are seriously superstitious - before venturing on to Dr. Sharp's Island - named after the founder of the leper colony - and finally Bwama Island, where in days long passed that very leper colony was located.
Gliding almost silently across the surface of Lake Bunyonyi has its own magic, the silence only interrupted by the splash of the paddles or the calls of birds of prey, ever watchful gliding through the skies above but swift to swoop down and catch a careless fish lingering just under the water surface and unaware of the imminent danger of becoming lunch for a bird. For those in a hurry, like I was, motorized boats cut down substantially on travelling across the lake and allowing to see many of the islands in a day, which for those who have to paddle is not quite that easily possible, assuming there are no Olympic champions with a rowing title among the passengers on the canoe.
My trip took me the following day to the Echuya Forest, where a short Batwa trail can be explored, before moving on to Lake Kayumbu. It is also here that one can follow the trail very likely taken by a small British expeditionary force sent to the South West in 1914 to finally deal with a 'rebel' - yes even back then Uganda had those - by the name of Katuregye, but that is an entirely different story and perhaps it will be told here in one of the future The Eye editions, to give an insight how even 100 years ago people struggled to shed the yoke of colonialism and determine their own future, not much different from the pre-independence struggle East Africa experienced in the last 50's and into the early 60's until granted independence at last.
From Lake Kayumbu it is a short distance to Lake Chahafi, where only two weeks ago a small lodge was opened, offering camping facilities and a little restaurant and bar, taking care of stilling that peckish feeling built up over the miles and miles of cross country hikes. From Chahafi it is but a short distance to Kisoro itself, and it can be covered by foot or by boda boda, even special hire if arranged at the Lake Chahafi Resort.
And here closes the circle, well literally it does, as it was in Kisoro that my previous trip ended at the airfield from where Aerolink now flies daily to Entebbe. That last trip took me from Buhoma across Bwindi to Nteko and on to Nkuringo and then via Lake Mutanda's Chameleon Hill Lodge and along Lake Mulehe to Kisoro.
Hiking is possible in both directions and Nkuringo Walking Safaris and are happy to arrange hikes tailored to ones' available time and budget. Options for accommodation range from the very modest homestays over the various simple but clean to more upmarket B&B's. Some of the fancier lodges are now found on Lake Mutanda and Lake Bunyoni and then there are the hotels in Kisoro and of course those in Kabale.
Going by bus to Kabale allows to hike the trails, like the one described or via Muko, to Kisoro or Nkuringo straight, giving the option to fly from Kisoro to Entebbe or, when hiking across Bwindi from Nkuringo or Nteko to Buhoma, with the Aero Club's regular coach services from the Kayonza Tea Estate field back to Kajjansi.
Nothing can make up for a personal experience, of the people encountered along the way, their friendly disposition towards those exploring the country on foot or the children cheering on the muzungu riding as passenger on a boda boda across some back breaking tracks and roads, at least that is what the maps call those corrugated rutted lanes.
Uganda is renowned for her friendly people but it is really in the rural areas where this comes across best, when those tilling the fields stop their work, however briefly, to greet when a greeting is called in their direction from the roadside or track before returning to their hard work which feeds their families as the wagenis hike on.
All maps and pictures are from with special permission by Miha Logar after the temporary 'loss' of my own pictures taken en route. UGANDA, THE PEARL OF AFRICA, close up and personal and ready to receive visitors from near and far.
DELAYED PAYMENTS BY KENYA GOVERNMENT MAY SEE TRAVEL AGENTS BARRED BY IATA
(Posted 01st November 2013)
Some of Kenya's leading travel agencies are in reported trouble with IATA and the Kenyan BSP over alleged failure to fully remit their outstanding ticket sales, which by contract are due every month by the 17th.
At least one source, wishing understandably to remain unnamed, has confirmed that getting money out of government right now is a growing nightmare, as ministries claim to be underfunded and yet the Cabinet Secretary for the Treasury continues full mouthed statements that his ministry allocates sufficient funds to the line ministries which in turn are responsible to pay for services they source from the private sector. 'GETTING A GOVERNMENT ACCOUNT IS ALWAYS A BIG THING, THEY HAVE A LOT OF TRAVEL BUSINESS AND SOME MINISTRIES HAVE THEIR STAFF TRAVEL MORE OFTEN THAN OTHERS. SO IF YOU LAND A BIG ACCOUNT, THAT JOY CAN BE SHORTLIVED WHEN THEY START SLOWING DOWN WITH PAYMENTS. WE AS AGENTS MUST PAY BSP ON TIME AND IF WE DON'T THEY ISSUE WARNINGS WHICH CAN ULTIMATELY RESULT IN AN AGENCY BEING CITED, SUSPENDED OR EVEN KICKED OUT OF THE CLEARING PROCESS. WHEN YOU NEED SEVERAL STAFF DOING NOTHING ELSE BUT CHASE OUR MONEY, THE PRO AND CON START DRIFTING APART. IF WE HAVE TO PRE-FINANCE THOSE PAYMENTS WITH BANK OVERDRAFTS TO MEET DEADLINES, THIS CAN WIPE OUT THE ENTIRE PROFIT FOR THAT ACCOUNT BECAUSE INTEREST RATES FOR SUCH OVERDRAFTS ARE A BIT HIGH. SO IF THAT HAPPENS FOR SAY TWO MONTHS AND WE STILL HAVE NO MONEY, OUR BOTTOM LINE STARTS TO DROP. REVENUES AND MEETING SALES TARGETS THEN BECOME A FUTILE RACE IF THERE IS NO PROFIT LEFT TO PAY STAFF, OVERHEADS AND ALL. SOME AGENCIES HAVE BOOSTED THEIR CAPITAL BASE TO BE IN A POSITION TO PAY PERHAPS FOR AS LONG AS 3 MONTHS BUSINESS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT. GOVERNMENT SHOULD BEHAVE LIKE ANY OTHER CLIENT BUT I GUESS WITH THE NEW MEDIA LAWS I CANNOT EVEN TWEET MY DISGUST OR SEE A STORY WRITTEN IN THE PAPERS FOR FEAR OF BEING CHARGED AND JAILED FOR CAUSING DISAFFECTION FOR GOVERNMENT, AND YET IT IS THE TRUTH. AND TO BE HONEST, AT TIMES I HAVE A FEELING THAT THEY EXPECT A KICKBACK TO RELEASE OUR MONEY AND OTHERWISE SIT ON THE PAYMENT VOUCHERS. BUT IF I SAY THAT LOUD WHEN THAT BILL HAS BECOME LAW, I GO TO JAIL INSTEAD OF THOSE ASKING FOR CHAI'.
Other agencies were reluctant to discuss the emerging media reports that as many as a dozen of them could be in greater or lesser trouble and it remains to be seen if any intervention by KATA, the Kenya Association of Travel Agents will bear fruits to mitigate any default on current dues and give the concerned agencies a breathing space.
That however may not go down well with other accredited agencies who pay in time, all the time, as they will likely blame those in default for having walked into the trap with eyes wide open and now have to pay the price for putting revenue growth before profitability and collectability of dues from ticket sales. Expect a twist in the tail of this story and watch this space for future updates.
ANTI POACHING OPERATIONS MAY BE HALTED OVER OUTCRY ABOUT HARSH MEASURES
(Posted 02nd November 2013)
Members of parliament in Tanzania have voiced their concern over the harsh measures used by security forces drawn in to the fight against poaching, which has in recent weeks gathered some momentum as global pressure over the unabated mass slaughter of Tanzania's elephant finally registered at the highest level of government, prompting deployment of army units alongside regular TANAPA anti poaching operations.
Allegations were flying high and low as members of parliament whose areas were affected by such operations told apparently some gruesome stories of abuse, confiscation and killing of livestock and even killing of pastoralists trying to defend their herds rather than turning wrath on poachers proper.
News from Tanzania has it that as a result, and faced with potentially huge law suits for infringing on human rights and over the destruction of property, the ongoing anti poaching operations may be halted until such time that rules of engagement have been defined and the obscure, not written down but implied and publicly announced shoot to kill scenario is off the table. It was learned in fact that an ad hoc committee of parliament would travel to places where abuse was reported from to get to the bottom of the allegations.
Conservationists immediately stepped into the controversy demanding that anti poaching operations continue uninterrupted to avoid the poachers either time to regroup or else continuing their bloody handiwork. Other conservationists however echoed the sentiment by members of parliament and sections of civil society, saying that the direction and focus of the anti poaching operations were far from where things happened in the field and perhaps deliberately let get out of hand so that the exercise could be officially stopped and 'business as usual' resume. 'TOKOMEZA' as the operation was named by government, is therefore likely to undergo a period of review and further consideration, before new guidelines will be provided of how to deal with ordinary pastoralists who for times immemorial have walked the pastures with their animals to keep them fed and watered.
As an intermediate step did the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Amb. Khamis Kagesheki, issue instructions that any confiscated property, livestock and other, be immediately returned to the owners - a move also seen as an attempt to appease the voting population as the next election is drawing ever nearer and such memories tend to linger on and disenchant the electorate from a sitting government.
Calls for the resignation or even sacking of the ministers responsibly also emerged during the debate in parliament, reminiscent of last year's events, when following a detailed investigation by a parliamentary committee Minister Kagesheki's hapless predecessor Ezekiel Maige was sacked together with other cabinet colleagues for a number of failures seen as too great and too many to remain in a cabinet position.
Watch this space as another twist in the tail of anti poaching operations in Tanzania now emerges, at a time when record hauls of blood ivory are confiscated in African ports, ports in the Middle East and in particular in ports in the South East of Asia, most with final destination China.
RWANDA TAKES TOP HONOURS AS 'BEST EXHIBITOR' AT JUST ENDED AKWAABA FAIR
(Posted 02nd November 2013)
Information received from Rwandan participants in this year's 9th edition of African Travel Market / AKWAABA in Lagos Nigeria tells the story of yet another Rwandan success at a tourism trade fair. The Rwandan stand was voted, by participants and other exhibitors, as the best stand of the trade fair. Rwanda had brought their Intore dancers and drummers with them to Nigeria and their displays of the gracious Rwandan dances must have made all the difference for the 'voters' in acknowledging the effort of the delegation from the land of a thousand hills.
RwandAir had earlier on already taken the prize for 'BEST SHORT HAUL AIRLINE IN AFRICA' and taking the overall exhibitor award crowned Rwanda's presence at the Lagos fair.
RwandAir now connects Lagos daily with Kigali and the number of visitors to and from each country has risen sharply since the introduction of direct flights and Rwanda' abolishing the requirement for advance Visa for citizens of AU member countries, now giving them on arrival in Kigali - something many hope Nigeria will soon reciprocate as that particular issue is often cited as the greatest obstacle to increasing visitor numbers even further. Many members of the Rwandan delegation, after returning home, will now head to London to attend the World Travel Market and hope to generate equal interest in visits to their country. Congratulations go to Team Rwanda, well done once again.
KIGALI SERENA HOSTS BOTH TRIPARTITE AND 'TRANSFORM AFRICA SUMMIT'
(Posted 30th October 2013)
The Kigali Serena Hotel, without argument Kigali's best city hotel and subsequently awarded the World Travel Award during the Africa award ceremony earlier in the month in Nairobi, is currently hosting the 'TRANSFORM AFRICA SUMMIT' to which the Rwandan government has invited key partners from across the continent. This follows hot on the heels of the Tripartite Summit between hosts Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, where a range of issues was reviewed and progress measured towards various goals aimed to make the movement of goods and people easier come 2014.
Rwanda has in recent years positioned itself as an upcoming ICT hub country and since linking up to the fibre optic cables from the Indian Ocean coast at Mombasa has progressively rolled out internet connectivity across the entire country. Public service vehicles increasingly offer in car WiFi and many hotspots in Kigali now offer free connectivity to locals and visitors alike while most hotels provide free internet access. Visitors to Rwanda's capital of Kigali now habitually surf the net when searching for hotels, restaurants and other things to do, bringing home the full benefits of online sales opportunities for the country's hospitality and tourism industry. Schools have been connected for free too by the main ISP's which has hugely assisted school administrative staff but also the pupils who were equipped with small laptop computers under the 'One Laptop Per Child' policy the government in Kigali has launched two years ago. This is aimed to not only to make the next generation of Rwandans computer and internet literate but to empower the next generation in social and economic ways difficult to imagine just a few years ago.
Present at the summit, besides head of state designated representatives, are presidents Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Salva Kiir from South Sudan - these three also attending the Tripartite Summit where South Sudan was present as an observer - and Blaise Compaore from Burkina Faso besides Ibrahim Boubacar from Mali. Those interested in the summit proceedings can watch updates and sessions via the following links: ' and .
RWANDAIR SCOOPS 'BEST SHORT HAUL AIRLINE' AWARD AT NIGERIA'S TOP TRAVEL EXPO
(Posted 30th October 2013)
The 9th Akwaaba Travel Fair in Lagos / Nigeria, where this year the tourism boards of Rwanda and Kenya represented East Africa, has on the opening day awarded RwandAir the coveted trophy as 'BEST SHORT HAUL AIRLINE IN AFRICA' to the delight of the entire Rwandan delegation, which then witnessed the award being received by RwandAir's Head of Marketing Patrick Manzi, as shown in the picture below.
Rwanda had already made big waves when their Intore dancers and drummers created a buzz as the exhibition kicked off, with their drum beat drawing the crowds to the Rwanda stand in droves, to enjoy the spectacle of their performance. This coincided with the RWANDA DAY which was 'celebrated' yesterday in what is West Africa's most important tourism show. RwandAir is flying daily to Lagos / Nigeria using one of their recently acquired B737-800NG aircraft, but has in addition added flight extensions via Lagos to Accra / Ghana, as they continue to roll out more West African destinations. Besides existing services to Brazzaville and Libreville, Lagos and Accra is RwandAir planning to add Douala and Abidjan, presenting itself as an airline of choice for many who want to not only fly to Rwanda but beyond, using the easy network connections with RwandAir out of Kigali to Johannesburg and Dubai on the longer routes and into the East African region's destinations like Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Entebbe, Bujumbura and of late even Juba.
Congratulations to the RwandAir team in Lagos and all the best to the Rwandan exhibitors which include Serena Hotels and New Dawn Associates, among several others. Watch this space.
VANILLA ISLAND ORGANIZATION SIGNS MOU WITH CONSTANCE HOTELS
(Posted 30th October 2013)
The Reunion based Vanilla Island Organization, the formation of which was announced in September alongside the UNWTO Conference on Sustainable Tourism Developments on small island states, has yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Constance Hotels in the Seychelles capital of Victoria. The accord covers various areas of cooperation, especially important as Constance Hotels has resorts on several of the Vanilla Islands, such as the Seychelles - the Ephelia on Mahe and the Lemuria on Praslin - but also on Madagascar, Mauritius and the youngest member country of the VIO, the Maldives.
Key among the agreed points is that Constance Hotels will offer free accommodation and meals to the Vanilla Island Organization when they bring in the travel trade for fam trips and the media to report about the islands' attractions and cover special events like this week's Festival Kreol.
Airlines flying to and within the islands too have indicated their willingness to play their part in bringing the travel trade and journalists to the islands, as seen this week when Air Seychelles brought in a large number of media personnel from as far as Europe to Mahe, in conjunction with partner Etihad, while also flying in the delegations from Reunion, Mauritius and journalists from as far as South Africa, who came to the Seychelles for the Festival Kreol, one of the Vanilla Island Organization's annual calendar events.
A new logo is expected to be launched next week at the World Travel Market in London for the Vanilla Island Organization, and a major press conference will also be held at the trade fair under the auspices of the UN World Tourism Organization, when the formal launch of VIO will be announced and key personnel like their CEO, Pascale Viroleau and their Director of Marketing, Derek Savy be introduced to the global travel trade. Watch this space.
LE MERIDIEN BARBARONS TO CLOSE IN EARLY 2014 FOR MAJOR OVERHAUL
(Posted 02nd November 2013)
Information obtained and confirmed while in the Seychelles speaks of Le Meridien, a Starwood brand for resort operations, will very likely lose the management of the Le Meridien Barbarons, when it reopens in mid to late 2014 after a planned shutdown to allow for major renovations, rebuilding and upgrade of the property.
The owners paid a visit to the Seychelles Tourism and Culture Minister Alain St. Ange's office just prior to his departure for the World Travel Market, briefing him and his senior staff on their plans.
The Le Meridien Barbarons was also earlier this week the venue for an IMF review meeting of progress made on the Seychelles' economic reform programme launched 5 years ago, which as attracted praise from international development partners for the accomplishments during this period of time.
Details sources from usually well informed stakeholders have already put a name to the 'new' Barbarons, which his likely to reopen as Barbarons Beach Avani / Seychelles, then being managed by a company associated with some of the owners. Minor Hotels are also 50 percent partners in the Elewana Collection which owns and operates boutique style safari camps and small but exclusive beach resorts in Tanzania, on Zanzibar, at Mombasa's Diani Beach and in the Masai Mara.
No comment could be received, perhaps due to the short notice or else for senior staff leaving for WTM in London, from Le Meridien in the Seychelles, which will upon the changeover at the Barbarons only retain the Le Meridien Fishermen's' Cove in Bel Ombre at the far end of the Beau Vallon Bay beach,
Watch this space for breaking and regular news from the fast changing hospitality scene across the Indian Ocean islands.
MEET ONE OF THE SEYCHELLES' HIDDEN GEMS - THE RESIDENCE ON THE ROCKS
(Posted 02nd November 2013)
Travel to the Seychelles is always a much anticipated affair, an affair which in my case has lasted for many years and which keeps growing stronger every time I visit the islands. In my 'line of business' I regularly come face to face with luxurious hotels, resorts, safari lodges and safari camps, from the world's top ranked properties in the Gulf to the award winning boutique collections in Eastern Africa and beyond.
Most of these places excel in one key aspect, individuality, though attention to detail, F&B service and superior guest relations, there when you need them and gone when you don't too are key ingredients to earn them my professional respect and the accolades which go along with them. I am known to rate simple facilities, like for instance the Gorilla Camp in Nkuringo with 5 stars, in its own class that is and in comparison with similar places, while tearing down those self awarded 5 stars where the owners live in cuckoo land and need a serious reality check to learn what the word 'Luxury' really entails and involves. Luxury in fact has come to be one of the most abused notions and words in parts of Eastern Africa, and I guess b