News from ‘Uganda – Gifted by Nature’, the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Second edition April 2010
BUJAGALI FALLS ‘TO DROWN’ NEXT YEAR
The famous Bujagali waterfalls of the River Nile, just below the original Owens Falls dam, will fall victim to the advance of construction of the new hydro electric dam and power plant a few kilometres down the river, and as early already as January or February next year, according to reports coming from Jinja. In fact it is expected that in a year’s time two turbines will be operational and feed as much as 50 MW into the national grid, with a gradual addition of more turbines until the full capacity of 250 MW is reached.
The present falls are a popular hot spot for tourists and locals alike and hundreds, on long weekends thousands throng the site to see the water gush over the rocks and watch rafters and kayakers negotiate the rapids, applauding those brave enough to attempt it and cheer on those whose rafts flipped, throwing the daring rafters into the clear warm waters of the Nile. Accommodation and restaurant facilities have been erected on site since tourism began its revival in Jinja in the mid 1990’s and ‘Bujagali’ has become as famous a name for white water rafting as the Zambezi and other challenging rivers.
Former power plant promoters AES of Virginia in the US still stand exposed as either fools or peddlers of ill intent, as their ‘studies’ for the power plant in the 1990’s projected tourism levels, both in terms of numbers and in terms of income, which were far from the truth then and have in fact been massively overtaken by reality since then, and it is therefore no wonder, that when AES fell upon hard times, following the ENRON collapse, few shed a tear when their project collapsed and they left Uganda with the proverbial tail between their legs.
Years later the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development came on the scene to revive the project, following hard years for Ugandans when the hydroelectric plant at Owen Falls had to reduce output after lake levels has sunk to record lows following prolonged draughts and increased use of water from source rivers for domestic, agricultural and industrial uses, leaving less and less reaching the lake in the end. With the new power plant on a sounder financial footing, and following extensive stakeholder consultations across the board, construction eventually went underway three years ago and by early next year the dam will be closed, leading to the flooding of all up river rapids and falls, rendering them unusable for rafting activities.
However, it is understood that the rafting companies will relocate to new ‘entry points’ below the new dam, while a whole range of other water and sports based activities may spring up on the new ‘lake’ forming behind the dam, affording other opportunities to utilise the river’s waters.
One of the big disappointments however was the location and route of the new high voltage power lines right along the path of the river, causing a distinct ‘visual pollution’ and remaining a source of irritation for those who had built houses and planned to put up facilities to promote a new ‘weekend hub’ for Kampaleans, the area being less than 100 KM from the capital and therefore within easy reach of large numbers of affluent citizens wanting to own weekend homes – not under high voltage power lines though, as is now being realised. It is also understood that not all property owners have been compensated as yet with some of those affected arguing that the money offered as ‘compensation’ is a far cry from the real market value of what once was and with some adjustments to the power line route could have been prime real estate along the Nile’s banks.
Some staff of rafting companies have confirmed to this correspondent that while they are willing to relocate, a number of logistical issues remain unresolved, such as opening up of new access roads to the river and improving existing ones to the new starting points for rafting, and finding suitable land to build new facilities on river islands or along the shores, all issues addressed by stakeholders during the consultative exercises years ago but with little done so far amidst high expectations and equally high cost for the affected companies in the face of vague ‘promises’ by the developers none of which, it turns out now, are legally enforceable and depend entirely on good will …
While the name ‘Bujagali’ will undoubtedly remain, in guide books and memories of tens if not hundreds of thousands of tourist visitors over the years, the attraction of the site will change and it is hard to foresee at this stage, how existing businesses like camps, restaurants and lodges will make do in the future, when the real ‘action’ is several kilometres downriver, once the water levels will begin to rise above the new dam.
Meanwhile though, as the countdown continues, this is the opportunity now to visit Jinja on last time, or many times as opportunity allows, and raft or kayak the original stretch of river for as long as is possible, as afterwards all which remains will be memories of Bujagali, joining those memories of old of Rippon Falls and only then found in old guide books and the work of historians.
TELECOM COMPANIES RESPOND TO CHANGING INTERNET MARKET
The leading Ugandan mobile phone companies have now started to respond to the availability in the market of added, if not excess capacities, since the connections to the various fibre optic networks have taken place last year. One of the market leaders, Uganda Telecom, has progressively reduced their monthly access charge to connect to the internet on their 3G network from initially a US Dollar pegged figure payable in Shillings to a fixed Shilling rate now standing at 80.000 UShs per month with unlimited access. The necessary gadget, a USB modem, presently sells for a mere 150.000 UShs, compared to 300.000 UShs at the launch of the product two years ago.
Other providers like Zain, formerly known as Celtel and soon to be part of the Indian Bharti Group with yet another name change in the pipeline, have made their USB modems the most affordable in the market at 53.000 UShs, and now also offer daily and weekly access rates, an important feature for visitors to the country from abroad, who want to or need to stay connected but do not require a full monthly subscription. MTN, Uganda’s largest mobile network, has reportedly not yet changed their pricing structure but is according to usually well informed sources actively considering a market move in the light of what their competitors are doing. They are reportedly also looking into higher connection speeds and ‘pro rata’ tariffs on a daily or weekly basis, as presently they also only offer monthly access packages.
All this is of course good news for tourists and business visitors to Uganda, who can already at the International Airport in Entebbe pick up a Sim card to enjoy local tariffs when making calls while in Uganda or else buy a USB modem and connect to the internet ‘on the go’, wherever they move in the country.
These efforts must be seen as providing very important ‘flanking measures’ for in particular tourist visitors to Uganda, who come for the country’s biodiversity, intact ecosystems (by and large anyway) and to see the fabled wildlife, raft the Nile, do horseback safaris long the Nile and at Lake Mburo National Park or climb the Mountains of the Moon. For them, these ‘extras’ available in Uganda like affordable communication services, do make a difference and the local Telecoms companies ought to be thanked for that effort, on behalf of us Ugandans but also on behalf of our growing numbers of visitors.
TURKISH CONFIRMS A/C TYPE AND ROUTING
Turkish Airlines has belatedly given confirmation that they intend to use an Airbus A340 aircraft on the route between Istanbul and Entebbe, which is due to be launched towards the middle of 2010. It was also mentioned that at that stage most likely the new Entebbe flights will be linked with Dar es Salaam, although it is unlikely that THY would get any traffic rights to uplift passengers and cargo between the two airports in the absence of 5th freedom rights, and in the face of more than likely objections from local and regional airlines like Kenya Airways, Precision Air or Air Uganda, all of which fly either nonstop or directly on the route. Details on flight times are also not available as yet but it is expected that the new flights from Eastern Africa, i.e. Entebbe and Dar es Salaam, will arrive in Istanbul at such times to allow for convenient onward connections into the THY network to Europe.
AFRAA PROTESTS EU AVIATION BANS
The African Airlines Association has not taken kindly to the recent ban of airlines from the continent and the blanket ban on airlines registered in certain countries in Africa, claiming that 13 of the ‘banned’ countries are from Africa, out of a total of 17 ‘banned’ countries worldwide.
Sources in Brussels promptly rejected the suggestion of the AFRAA Secretary General that the regularly updated ‘black list’ is driven by motivations like undermining confidence in the continent’s airlines. The source strongly suggested that the only motive the EU’s ‘black list’ has is to improve aviation safety and let the rest of the world know where serious breaches in aviation regulatory oversight and enforcement of ICAO mandates exist, so that consumers, least of all in Africa, can make informed choices when booking an airline ticket. The source further reacted to suggestions by AFRAA that ‘black lists’ should only be published by ICAO directly. ‘This is within our mandate and obligation for freedom of information towards a wider public, in the EU first and foremost and then for everyone else to see’ before adding ‘other regulatory bodies like the FAA also ban airlines from flying into their airspace, and that is also published, maybe with less fanfare but it is on their information base’.
AFRAA however also pointed out that several of the airlines ‘black listed’ in the latest publication from Brussels are not even operational or lack a current AOC [air operators certificate], nor do others on the list presently fly to Europe or intend to fly to Europe but operate domestic flights or regional flights only.
However, all that said, there are a sizeable number of properly regulated and well managed airlines on the continent with full certification to fly to Europe from all corners of Africa. They fly under the auspices and oversight of Civil Aviation Authorities which have passed the audits of ICAO, the FAA and the EU time and again and are generally positive examples that African aviation is not ‘dangerous’ per se while of course a number of airlines operating on the continent definitely are, as the many reports here on aviation accidents also confirm.
What is needed is that the most affected countries be given logistical support by ICAO and the EU to improve and strengthen their regulatory functions, train their staff and provide them with competence, so that they in turn can sort out ‘their own rotten apples’ and shut down airlines which do not comply with maintenance directives, ignore airworthiness directives and flout other regulations including those regarding crew training and working hours.
AFRAA undoubtedly has a role to play here but confrontational broadsides over the issue will not exactly be helpful to achieve what should be a common, global goal: making air transport safer and reducing the far above average of air accidents in Africa to at least global averages.
GATELY ON NILE TURNS 10
A decade ago this correspondent sat on the terrace of the just opened Gately on Nile with proprietor Merryde Loosemore, enjoying their ‘signature dish’ Quiche de Maison and preparing to write an article for what was then East Africa’s leading leisure magazine, Travel News of Nairobi / Kenya. Merryde had a few months earlier taken out a long term lease on a dilapidated residential property overlooking the part of Lake Victoria where it begins to turn into the River Nile, just a few hundred metres away from the erstwhile ‘Rippon Falls’ where the river initially started its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea. Construction of the Owen Falls dam in the 1950’s then submerged these spectacular falls (as seen on archived pictures) and moved ‘the spot’ further down to the current location of the ‘source of the Nile’.
Intense renovations took place during those weeks, with Merryde by her own admission working around the clock, to meet her target opening date in April 2000 and to stay on top of the work to ensure the project was delivered on budget.
Jinja was beginning to emerge as ‘the adventure capital of East Africa’, courtesy of several rafting and adventure companies drawing in the crowds for rafting, kayaking, quad biking, bungee jumping and horseback riding and more quality accommodation was required to meet the growing demand. The nearby golf club and sailing club offer added attractions of course for visitors’ intent to ‘work out’ a little more.
The Gately on Nile, named after Merryde’s adventurous auntie she told me, became an instant ‘hit’, for guest staying in the homely atmosphere – including being able to go downstairs to the restaurant at night and fetch drinks before telling the bar staff in the morning to put it on the bill – but also for the restaurant which soon made it to the top of the list for eating out in Jinja.
Some years ago Merryde then managed to obtain a lease for the building and large plot next door and incorporated a second property into the Gately, now offering more rooms, more facilities but still the very same warm hospitality, good ‘home cooked’ food and most important, the owners attention to detail.
Last Saturday evening a large crowd assembled at the Gately in Jinja to help Merryde and her staff celebrate the achievement of turning ‘10’ and a very hearty ‘happy birthday’ it was for them all. For more information visit www.gately-on-nile.com or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
KASUBI TOMBS TO BE REBUILT
UNESCO officials were in Kampala last week to assess the situation surrounding the city’s only World Heritage Site, which burned down a few weeks ago, as immediately reported by eTN. The officials were meeting with government officials from the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry and with officials of the Buganda Kingdom, to which the ancient burial site of former kings belongs.
The main structures were burnt to ashes and many of the artefacts and priceless and irreplaceable mementos and collections of ancient tools, weapons and exhibits also fell victim to the flames, making it a difficult challenge, even after rebuilding, to restore the exhibition to its former glory.
It is understood that UNESCO will support the rebuilding of the tombs, while the Ugandan government too is set to contribute to the restoration of this national treasure and a major fundraising drive is currently also underway across Uganda and abroad to secure sufficient funds for the task ahead.
The Kasubi Tombs, where four of the former kings were buried, was an essential part of any city tour for visitors from abroad and many dignitaries and visiting VIP’s too in the past were taken there as part of an arranged cultural programme. Watch this space for updates and details of time frames towards a re-opening.
Uganda’s two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites are actually national parks and include Bwindi and the Rwenzori Mountains, although applications for more recognitions’ are pending. Once granted the coveted status any such attraction is bound to draw in extra visitor numbers and add to the global appeal of a destination, something Uganda much needs in her efforts to promote tourism.
ONE KING TO CELEBRATE, ANOTHER ONE ONLY TO ‘MARK’ BIRTHDAY
King Oyo of the Tooro Kingdom in Western Uganda will celebrate his 18th birthday this week and formally ascend to the throne, which he inherited as a very young child when his father passed away unexpectedly. Since then his mother, Queen Kemigisa, held ‘fort’ for her son as regent, but the full responsibility of the kingship will now pass to the young king as he turns 18 and formally becomes of age. He will be ruling his kingdom under the name of King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV. The ceremony will also be attended by President Museveni who has always maintained close ties with the Tooro Kingdom and in particular with the royal family since the passing of King Oyo’s father, but other cultural rulers, both kings and chiefs, are expected to come to Fort Portal from across Uganda and the wider African region to witness the event. Foreign delegations from kingdoms and royal families are also expected to visit for the coronation, as are governmental representatives of many friendly nations. The long awaited coronation will be covered by major international TV networks many of which have in the past taken a keen interest in the young king’s upbringing, and it is generally thought that broadcasting these news around the world will raise interest levels for tourism to Uganda, of which the kingdoms and their culture are an integral part. Tourism operators asked about the impact of the event however had mixed ideas, with only some of the leading firms intensifying the promotional aspects alongside the event to add extra focus on future tours covering the Fort Portal area, which is at the centre of four major tourism attractions, the Kibale Forest National Park, the Semliki Game Reserve [formerly Tooro Game Reserve], the Rwenzori Mountain National Park and a little further away the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Meanwhile have the birthday celebrations for the King of Buganda, Kabaka Ronald Mutebi been toned down as the kingdom is still in mourning over the fire at the Kasubi Tombs, where the last four kings are buried and which had been raised to UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The main structure and priceless artefacts were burned to ashes some weeks ago, dealing a major blow to the Buganda culture and depriving visitors to Uganda of the unique opportunity to gain an insight into the kingdom’s ancient traditions. Kabaka Mutebi is turning 55 this 13th of April and is considered the 36th King of Buganda
Happy Birthday to both King Oyo and Kabaka Mutebi and sincere congratulations and best wishes on the coronation of King Oyo later this week, may he be blessed with a long and wise rule and bring prosperity to his subjects.
VITAL CROSS BORDER BRIDGE SWEPT AWAY BY YET MORE RAINS
The bridge connecting Uganda and the Congo DR near Ishasha border post has reportedly been washed away last week, grounding traffic and causing a major backlog of trucks normally using the bridge to delivery their cargos to the Eastern Congo. It is one of the available routes into Congo and important for local trade between the border communities. No information was available when the bridge would be repaired, one of many across the country and in fact the entire region now destroyed following rains of biblical proportions in recent weeks.
Ishasha is also known as an area of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, where tree climbing lions are regularly observed and which is located enroute from the main areas of QENP to the gorilla parks of Bwindi and Mgahinga. Added attractions are sightings of chimpanzees, a large number of mammals including predators and over 250 bird species resident in the immediate area of the park. Lodging facilities inside the park are available and the Ishasha Wilderness Camp is operated by Wild Frontiers’ Ugandan operation. Visit www.ugandaexclusivecamps.com for more information or otherwise write to them for bookings or rate details via email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LAKE VICTORIA ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT PROJECT ENTERS PHASE TWO
The Entebbe based secretariat dealing with environmental and economic issues of Lake Victoria has announced that phase two, valued at 65 million US Dollars, is now set to commence, and that the two newly joined EAC members Rwanda and Burundi are now also taking full part in the project. The lake is a source of livelihood for millions of people of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya living along its shores, and fishing has become a key industry, however also poses a big threat as overfishing and the use of illegal small sized nets by fishermen and trawlers often catches undersized fish in their development stages, preventing them from growing to adulthood size. It is in this area, but also in tackling pollution, that the secretariat has been active in recent years. Pollution threatens the water quality and is often caused, or so it is alleged, by the run off waters of flower farms and agricultural developments along rivers leading to the lake or the lake shores directly, when the fertilizers are being washed into the lake, causing algae to develop which then smother, together with the notorious water hyacinth, the breeding grounds of lake fish, besides driving the cost of water purification up by as much as four fold (see related previous stories on the challenges of the Kampala Water Company). Reversing environmental degradation will be the challenge of phase two and the secretariat also called upon the media to highlight poor farming and other environmental practises to help achieve these goals.
However, flower farms have often proved obstinate and ‘anti’ best environmental practise introductions ‘for cost reasons’ as often told in private to this correspondent, claiming ‘until our competitors in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia too adhere to those measures, we will not take the lead, our cost base is already massive because of high electricity cost, high tariffs for the air cargo, so here we shall just wait’ – obviously not as long it is hoped until our entire environment is wrecked adds this correspondent. Watch this space.
NEW ‘EYE’ ON THE WEB
The latest, and 10th anniversary edition of The Eye is now available on the web via www.theeye.co.ug and contains a bumper ‘harvest’ of information about Uganda, where to eat, where to go, addresses, contact details, airline information, national park information, an almost complete listing of hotels, apartments resorts, lodges and safari camps and much more.
Across the border www.KenyaBuzz.com is also changing its format soon, so keep looking in at their website to get the most comprehensive information about ‘what’s on’ in Nairobi and the rest of our sister country. Essential literature for intending visitors!
BRUSSELS AIRLINES TO CODESHARE WITH US AIRWAYS
Information was received from a regular SN source, that an agreement has been reached with Star Alliance partner US Airways to code share on the Brussels – Philadelphia route, with those flights being operated by US Airways on behalf of SN. Domestic onwards flights out of the Philadelphia hub are also being added to expand choices for passengers from both sides of the Atlantic. In turn it is understood that US Airways will place their code on a number of Brussels Airlines destinations out of their hub in Brussels to a range of European and most important also their African destinations, including Entebbe, all subject of course to regulatory approvals, which are however expected to be granted without much ado.
ITS A HUNDRED RHINOS ON OL PEJETA
Last weekend good news arrived in this correspondent’s email inbox, when the Ol Pejeta Conservancy announced that with the recent birth of another Southern White the total rhino population on the estate is now standing at a proud 100, of which four are of the rarest kind, the Northern White, 12 of the Southern White variety and 84 of the endangered Eastern Black kind.
Ol Pejeta, visited in February by this correspondent, is one of the main ‘breeding grounds’ for rhinos in Kenya and has enjoyed great successes inspite of challenges which need to be dealt with.
The conservancy has now also started a naming contest on their Facebook Fan Page
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Ol-Pejeta-Conservancy/238056550323 and encourage readers to visit the site and give suggestions for names. A small committee on Ol Pejeta will review all the proposed names and will announce the winners as early next week.
The survival of the rhinos, both the black and white species, stands on knife’s edge as poaching has in recent years once again increased, in particular in Southern Africa, which makes for an alarming trend for the conservation fraternity, considering the ever growing hunger for their horns in parts of Arabia and the Far East, there mainly China and Japan.
Elsewhere in East Africa, Uganda had lost her entire population of rhinos in the early 1980’s, when dictatorships turned a blind eye to poaching, or when allegedly regime members were part and parcel of the poaching rings, and only a few years ago did the Rhino Fund Uganda bring the Southern White species back into the country and started a breeding programme on the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, where the three females have since given birth to three healthy young males. Six more Southern White are expected later in the year from South Africa and will help to accelerate the breeding programme, which is aimed to eventually restore rhinos to the wild, starting with Kidepo Valley and Murchisons Falls national parks.
Meanwhile in Kenya breeding programmes are much more advanced already, having commenced two and a half decades earlier, when the Lewa Down Conservancy and the equally private Solio Game Reserve were joined by the first two ‘official’ rhino reserves in Lake Nakuru National Park and in Tsavo West National Park below the Ngulia escarpment. Relative ‘newcomer’ Ol Pejeta however turned the tables on the more established breeding programmes when it became the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa and their ‘latest arrival’ was surely worth popping a few champagne corks in celebrations. Congrats to Ol Pejeta for this extraordinary achievement and all the best in the future for yet more success. For more information, also how to financially support Ol Pejeta, write to email@example.com or visit their website via www.olpejetaconservancy.org
SAFARILINK TO OFFER NEW DESTINATIONS
From the 01st of July will SafariLink offer added services to tourists and residents of Kenya, when they will launch an afternoon flight to Amboseli, the Chyulu Hills and Tsavo East, allowing passengers from the morning flights coming from the Masai Mara or from the Nanyuki / Samburu flights to connect with ease to their next safari destination in other parts of Kenya. Lunch as witnessed a few weeks ago is not a problem, since Wilson Airport now has several restaurant facilities available for passengers, from the venerable Aero Club of East Africa to several others, including snack bars and even a duty free shop for overseas tourists. The new scheduled service will run during the high season from 01st of July until 31st of October and then again from 16th December until 31st of March following. SafariLink operates a fleet of Cessna Caravans, Twin Otters and other turboprop aircraft, and more details are available via www.safarilink-kenya.com
QATARI AIRPORT PROJECTS COME BACK TO HAUNT KAA
The Kenya Airport Authority, from which controversial former CEO George Muhoho has finally retired in early April, is now faced with the fallout of one of the decisions he has personally pushed for during his reign of office, the ‘airport city’ due to be constructed on 90+ acres of KAA land allegedly leased to the Qatari group. However, the current chairman of the board has some time ago publicly announced that this project is on hold and will be subjected to additional scrutiny, before any construction for a hotel, conference centre and other facilities can go ahead. It appears that the land in question has not been surveyed as yet nor has it been marked or fenced off, a prerequisite for any project to commence. Yet a Qatari fact finding mission descended on Nairobi last weekend to establish if their 350 + million US Dollars project was still on and going ahead, and undoubtedly trying to find a way forward with the board of the KAA so as to ‘rescue’ the deal. The formal ‘ground breaking’ was delayed in March owing to these circumstances and no new date has been set as yet, so watch this space for new announcements as and when they happen.
THAI CRISIS ‘NOT REALLY GOING TO BENEFIT EAST AFRICA’
According to regular sources in Kenya and Zanzibar, the current political crisis unfolding in the streets of Bangkok is not likely to fill many more beds along the Kenyan beaches or in Zanzibar during the present low season. Speaking on condition of anonymity both sources did say that as the main showdown was taking place in the Thai capital, and most sun seekers were flying more or less directly to the Thai resort areas without transiting in Bangkok, there were few travellers now diverting from their holiday plans, while tour operators in Europe were of course carefully monitoring events and only keeping Bangkok red flagged. However, in view of the ongoing low season in Eastern Africa, which lasts traditionally until the end of June, added business, should it come, could be accommodated without problems. Said one: ‘we are not going to de-campaign Thailand, but our European tour operators know that should it become necessary to rebook larger numbers of people, we are ready to help them, accommodation is available, but the feelers we got from Germany, Italy or the UK are still very low key. If the situation in Thailand goes from bad to worse it may be different, then the travel advisories kick in, insurance issues arise, but right now we just have sympathy for our colleagues in Thailand; they must be tearing their hair out over the situation, again, not too long ago they had the troubles when the airport was being occupied by those now in government, then there were the rackets at the airport we read about, and when they are just getting back on track this happens. I hope our people in Kenya learn a lesson from that and we never have a repeat of the 2007/8 situation ever again.’
MT. MERU HOTEL TO REOPEN IN LATE 2010
Once Arusha’s foremost hotel, the Mt. Meru then went into decline in the late 70’s and into the 80’s before Accor’s Novotel brand took over the management and refurbished the property in the mid / late 80’s. The Tanzania Tourist Corporation, to which the Mt. Meru belonged, then however changed hands when government divested from the company and the hotel has since been lingering along before being closed last year for a major refurbishment and renovations.
While owners representatives announced last week that the hotel will re-open as a 5 star property, such claims have in the past often failed to meet the expected standards and it will be seen at the time of re-opening if indeed the new owners can live up to this billing. The Mt. Meru Hotel, when reopening, will offer about 180 rooms and suites and a fully fledged new conference centre, trying to rival the Arusha International Conference Centre, which is home at present to the UN’s tribunal on the Rwanda genocide and seat of the East African Community head quarters, and overall also in need of a major refurbishment and modernization.
IT KEEPS GETTING WORSE FOR ATCL
Following a series of damaging revelations about Air Tanzania in recent weeks, and in the wake of the crash landing of their remaining B737-200, things could not really get much worse, or could they? Now the staff were taking their grievances to parliament it is understood, complaining that their pay is bad and that their working conditions are poor. Consider this however, the airline now has ONE turboprop plane remaining according to sources in Dar es Salaam, continues however to support more than 180 staff on their payroll, with no significant revenue coming in, while they owe mega money to travel agents (see story of last week), the Tanzania CAA and other suppliers and appear to be between 40 and 50 billion Tanzania Shillings in the red…
The parliamentary committee on infrastructure looking into the cash starved erstwhile national airline also appears bewildered when the fact became known, and predictably asked for yet another report from the board of directors, whose mandate however also appears to have expired some time ago, adding more questions than answers.
Should no financial investor be found very soon, and with the circumstances mentioned above this is less and less likely now, government will face a stark choice, to either throw more good money after the bad one of before or else finally pull the plug on ATCL, painful as it may be, and leave the aviation sector to the private sector players like Precision Air, Fly 540 Tanzania and a range of other airlines, all of whom now in any case ARE the mail players and stakeholders in the Tanzanian skies, leaving ATCL almost as bystanders on the ground. Watch this space.
ZANZIBAR CRUISE VISIT CANCELLED
The ‘problem from hell’ continues to inflict economic damage to the harbour cities traditionally on the annual schedule of port calls as Zanzibar now once again came to realise. The activities of the ocean terrorists, aka Somali pirates, have driven away a significant portion of cruise tourism to safer waters and the latest such ‘victim’ is the Seven Seas Voyager, which has been diverted to another destination out of safety concerns for both ship and passengers, instead of making the scheduled visit to Zanzibar.
While the recent more robust responses to the problem, most notably the decisive action by the Seychelles coast guard – which could serve as an example to other naval coalition vessels – is encouraging, there is still no naval blockade in place keeping the terrorists marooned in their land bases, nor have more robust rules of engagement been practised to ‘show flag’ and deal with motherships and skiffs where and when spotted from the air and from the sea and prevent them from reaching their targets.
Meanwhile will be hundreds of thousands of US Dollars in revenue lost through this cancelled cruise ship visit in Zanzibar alone, while millions are at stake for tourism businesses in Kenya, the Seychelles, Tanzania and Zanzibar and other Indian Ocean islands as long as the ocean terror is allowed to continue.
It is understood from impeccable sources that some cruise lines are now placing added security on board during their voyages through potential danger areas, while others like Star and Olsen have withdrawn their vessels altogether and relocated them to the safe waters of the Caribbean and other cruise destinations.
GENOCIDE REMEMBERED – ‘NEVER AGAIN’ THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE AFTER 16 YEARS
Last week the whole of Rwanda and millions of her friends around the world paid tribute to the victims of the 1994 genocide, which was perpetrated against the population by murderous militias and former government hardliners, costing the lives of anywhere between 800.000 to 1.000.000 innocent people.
Communities around the country were busy in preparing the various memorial sites where victims have been buried for the various commemorative services to be held during last week, for which many visitors from the region and further abroad are expected in country. An international Genocide Symposium also took place last week in Kigali, which brought together experts and researchers from around the world discussing how to treat trauma, heal suffering and most important to promote reconciliation between the affected communities and finally how to stop genocide from happening elsewhere in the future. Rwandan diplomatic missions around the world also held memorial services, one most notably at The Hague. At the same time reports emerged from Stockholm, where former Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, who was in charge of the UN’s commission of enquiry, apparently heaped blame on the UN for betraying the Rwandan people in 1994, saying it was simply not possible to exonerate the international community nor the UN for their abandonment of those subsequently killed in a murderous spree of 100 days of madness.
Meanwhile, there are still cases of absolute denial that the genocide ever happened becoming public, perpetrated by the same quarters which initially sparked the killings, an absurd idea of course in particular for someone like this correspondent who was in Rwanda with a humanitarian relief mission from Uganda not long after the mass murders had been committed. Our all thoughts and prayers should be with the entire Rwanda this week, the survivors and the victims alike while maintaining vigilance that such crimes against humanity are never seen again, not in Rwanda nor anywhere else around the world.
Thankfully though Rwanda has risen from the ashes of the genocide like the proverbial Phoenix and has once more become a major tourism and investment destination in Eastern Africa.
NEW DICTIONARY WILL HELP VISITORS
Information was received last week from Kigali, that a new dictionary has been launched in Rwanda, offering translations between English and Kinyarwanda, the main vernacular language spoken in the ‘land of a thousand hills’. Tourist visitors, but also business visitors, now have a chance to pick up a few words in the local language and in fact make sure they correctly pronounce the words with the help of the new dictionary. Well done Fountain Publishers for this extraordinary effort to promote the local language and help it be understood by visitors.
SUCCESSOR FOR ROSETTE RUGAMBA NAMED
The Rwanda Development Board has now named the successor for the long serving Rosette Rugamba, who after 7 years at the helm of first ORTPN as Director General and then as Deputy CEO in charge of Tourism and Conservation under the newly formed RDB left a few weeks ago to enter a career in the private sector.
Mr. Rica Rwigamba was appointed as the new head of the tourism and conservation department, and will report – as will others in the economics cluster – to the Chief Operating Officer, a new position directly answerable in turn to the CEO Mr. John Gara. Said John in a press release sent to this correspondent: “All these changes will enable the RDB to better strategise and attract more investments into the country and to maximise the potential of its existing staff. We are dedicated to serving the best interests of our clients, and we remain focused on fast tracking development in a way that is profitable and sustainable for the country.”
It was pointed out that all staff presently working for RDB in the various national parks, were retained in the restructuring of RDB although it has not been ruled out that should similar agreements be struck as recently for the Akagera National Park, they could be transferred to the payroll of a new concessionaire. It is also understood that some positions remain yet to be filled as suitable candidates are being sourced but that by and large the restructuring goals have been achieved and the process is now completed. Congratulations to the new appointees, especially Rica and all the best in the future to keep tourism and conservation in the limelight and on track to yet greater things to come.
RWANDA APPROVES EAC COMMON MARKET PROTOCOL
Rwanda has taken a decisive step to fully implement the latest protocol of the East African Community, which will allow freedom of movement of labour, persons, services, goods and capital across the national borders within the 5 EAC member states. Rwanda has been at the forefront of implementing certain provisions ahead of time, including waiving work permit requirements for EAC citizens where reciprocity has been established, and is again expected to take the lead in ringing in the other required changes ahead of their partners. After the approval and ratification by both chambers of parliament President Kagame is now expected to sign the documents within days.
It seems that the latest entrant into the EAC is now taking the leadership in driving the Community into the 21st century and bringing back the hopes of a borderless region as it was before the breakdown of the ‘old’ EAC in 1977 – and fond memories those are.
Southern Sudan News
ELECTIONS HELD, DOOMSAYERS EXPOSED
The Southern Sudan over the weekend joined the rest of the country in the first national elections in nearly a quarter of a century, a precursor of things to come in January 2011, when the South will vote on Independence – overwhelmingly expected to be in favour through a YES vote – or to remain as part of the Republic of the Sudan – less and less likely considering the conduct of the regime in the run up of the elections.
The voting across the 10 Southern states went by and large without major incidents although scores of Ugandan and Kenyan traders left for home just ahead of the election weekend to monitor events from back home. Airlines were predictably fully booked out of Juba to Nairobi and Entebbe while busses too were full on their return journeys from Juba. This situation will likely prevail until after election results have been announced and new leaders been installed in their respective offices, before those jittery travellers will return to their business stations in Juba and across the other towns in the Southern Sudan.
The start of the election process was marred by logistical issues, when in a number of rural constituencies the ballots arrived late or names were found missing from voters’ registers, but that did not deter the Southern population to exercise their democratic rights for the first time in nearly a generation, and they rather patiently queued and waited until everything was ready than abandon their opportunity to cast their votes for candidates of their choice. Even Southern Sudan’s President Gen. Salva Kiir reportedly had to wait to cast his vote when ‘his’ polling station in Juba opened late, and the Southern Sudanese Vice President Dr. Riek Machar voted on Sunday in Unity State, according to a Facebook message received from him. The Southern leadership, in view of these problematic logistics, also called for an extension of the voting across the entire week, instead of closing the polls on Tuesday evening, and by the time of going to press the country’s electoral commission had already responded and added an extra two days of voting until Thursday evening. Watch this space for election updates in the next edition.
AMAZING RACE SEYCHELLES EPISODE SCREENED BY CBS
Reportedly some 14 million viewers had the chance last year to capture a bit of the Seychellois spirit when watching the latest episode of the ‘amazing race’ series. A few weeks earlier the entire production team had descended on the Seychelles to prepare for and then film the participants being put through their challenges, which extended across the main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, amongst other venues. Much of these challenges had to do with swimming in the crystal clear waters the archipelago is renowned for, but also the carrying of coconuts – though not the fabled ‘coco de mer’ – and bananas, a staple food on the islands.
The Seychelles Tourist Board extended all the help and assistance they were able to muster to make the production of the island episode a success and considering the extraordinary fares on the US market now by Emirates it can only be expected that the sharply risen interest in this particular location will bring many more American visitors to the Seychelles in coming months.
Only recently did STB participate in the New York Times travel show and a delegation has also been to Miami to promote the Seychelles as a cruise destination.
REUNION – HERE WE COME AGAIN
A strong tourism delegation has flown to the island of La Reunion last weekend to further promote and strengthen ties between the two islands, which had increased sharply following the addition of a second flight by Air Austral between the Seychelles and La Reunion last year. The promotional tour, a repeat of last year’s successful visit, is supported this time by accompanying musicians and artists helping STB to showcase the islands’ many attractions for visitors, while also underscoring trade, sporting, economic, political and other links between two.
UPCOMING COMPLETION OF ROUND ISLAND RESORT EXCITES MARKET
It was learned last week that the construction of the Round Island Resort is advancing very well and that completion of this new luxury resort is set for later this year with 10 top of the range private villas along the secluded beach on which the new property sits. The new development has caught this correspondent’s eye as in a remarkable approach to landscaping the owners and managers have set up a tree and plant nursery on Mahe Island, where the plants, ferns and trees found on the island were nurtured and matured, ready for bringing back to Round Island and enhancing the already lush tropical flora found there. This is almost unique, and although similar ‘nurseries’ are part of almost every resort development now, here the plants were carefully collected, relocated to the dedicated nursery on the archipelago’s main island and will all return to their ‘original island world’ ahead of the opening. This sort of costly dedication and focused conservation efforts can still not to be taken for granted and the owners of the resort ought to be commended for this unilateral approach to enhance ‘their’ island, which is surrounded by one of the marine national parks.
All villas do have their own infiniti pools to provide maximum privacy for the guests choosing to stay on Round Island and a luxurious Spa will round up the range of facilities available. Transfer by speed boat from the Mahe pier is expected to take not more than about 15 minutes but helicopter transfers from the international airport are also on offer for those who want to spend every possible minute on Round Island … Visit www.enchantedseychelles.com for more information.
ALDABRA ATOLL ADDS ‘RAMSAR’ TO THEIR WORLD HERITAGE SITE STATUS
It was confirmed recently to this correspondent that the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Aldabra atoll, which is managed by the Seychelles Island Foundation (see recent interview with their CEO Dr. Frauke Fleischer – Dogley) will now also be recognized as a Ramsar site, adding global recognition to the extraordinary conservation work done on the atoll by its ‘keepers’. This will be the third Ramsar site on the archipelago, after the original mangrove forest at Port Launay (recognised in 2005 as the Seychelles first), as Mare aux Cochon was equally recognised by the Ramsar secretariat at the same time. Three more applications are pending for further inclusion as Ramsar sites, it is understood, but no imminent announcements are expected at this time until further reviews have taken place.
COUSINE ISLAND BOOK NOW ON THE MARKET
A full documentation and pictorial book has just been launched about the conservation efforts made on Cousine Island, which besides the detailed illustrations also serves almost as a handbook for how island conservation should be approached, what challenges arose and how they were dealt with and what steps have to be taken to ensure success. The new book covers the entire period of work between the early 1990’s until very recently, when the book’s manuscript was handed over to the publishers.
Interested readers can find our more information about this highly recommended book by visiting the following site: http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1444333097,descCd-description.html – available through Amazon Books worldwide. Incidentally, there is one little resort on the Cousine Island, according to a source in Mahe, offering 4 private villas for a maximum of 10 guests, who will be able to enjoy the unique flora of the island almost for themselves, even when the resort is booked up. Visit their site at www.cousineisland.com for all you need to know about the history of the island, the present ownership, their conservation credo and of course rates and booking details for intending guests.
ISLAND CONSERVATION SOCIETY WARNS OF CORAL DISEASES
The renowned Seychellois NGO ‘Island Conservation Society’ has last week given an overview of present coral diseases threatening the underwater biosphere around the reefs of the various islands across the archipelago. Studies earlier in the decade already pointed to some of the causes and the potential spread of the problem, but a more recent study by the ICS has ‘dug deeper’ to identify the root causes for disease, whether water based or originating from land through for instance building activities like dredging, reclamation of land, settling of sediments and of course warmer waters due to the ongoing climate change. This study was funded by GEF and UNEP to provide harder facts than previously available in this regard.
Information availed speaks of three main diseases, the ‘Orange Patch’, ‘Brown Patch’ and ‘Black Patch’ but little is known what causes the discoloration and disease, although bacteria are suspected to play a major role without however being able at this time to offer scientific proof. A full presentation of the facts gathered from the latest studies will be presented next month in Victoria, on the island of Mahe, to other scientists, NGO’s, governmental departments and the interested public. Visit www.islandconservationsociety.com for added information and details of where and when this presentation will take place.
And in closing again some material taken from the Livingstone Weekly, courtesy of Gill Staden reporting from Livingstone / Zambia, as always with sincere thanks, for content, variety and effort, effort and more effort!
First there is a piece on the flood levels of the Zambezi River, as the current rainy season affects both Eastern and Southern Africa alike with swollen rivers bursting their banks. Also included today is a response to an article by Gill recently published about her comparison of tourism in Botswana and Zambia, and a rebuttal against Protea Hotels’ well crafted recent statement about their intent to build a massive lodge a couple of hundred metres across the Zambezi from one of Zimbabwe’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Oooops comes to mind when you read that piece below:
|UPDATE DAILY FLOOD REPORT 31 MARCH 2010
Zambezi River at Katima Mulilo: 7.11 m (-3 cm since this morning)
The Zambezi River is further subsiding at Katima Mulilo. ZRA readings indicate the development of a new flood in the upper catchment. At Chavuma the flow levels reached the highest for this year and are higher than for the earlier flood that has just passed Katima Mulilo. This new floodwave may attenuate but will still affect Caprivi by the middle of next week by keeping waterlevels high or pushing them up again.
Kavango River at Rundu: 7.38 m (+ 3 cm since this morning)
Catchment area for the Zambezi
Some Photos of Kariba Dam
A Response to my Article on Zambia/Botswana tourism
From Kaingu Lodge, Kafue
First and foremost Botswana has a much longer history as a tourist destination than Zambia and has a very good national PR policy to get tourists into the country. Furthermore:
1) Concessions for lodge or camp sites in the Zambian Parks are for new-comers very expensive : up to $ 20.000.- to be paid from as the first day. Building a lodge takes about two years and you have to pay the fees without having had ONE single guest. It takes another 5 years to get to “cruising speed” and hopefully break even. During all these years you have to keep pumping money into the operation for maintenance, staff, PR and marketing.
It would help if one had to start paying concessions only from as the 3rd or 4th year. We know at least of one Operator in the Central part of the KNP who has given up. Not to mention the catastrophe for Kafue Horses who had a concession near lake ITT, built a lodge and stables only to find out that their concession was no longer valid (signed by the CEO of Zawa) and left with all their horses to the Shiwa N’gandu. Literally $ 100’000.-s spent for nothing and a lot of bad feelings left behind and the big question for the other operators if signatures of ZAWA officials are really worth something. There are judical proceedings going on for the moment regarding Kafue Horses.
2) Unfortunately distances are tremendous in Zambia (and some roads are just unbelievably bad) unless you fly and thus make destinations quite expensive if you do not have the chance of having scheduled flights which is the case for the South Kafue.
3) We do wonder whether in the North Kafue the lodges, including Wilderness Safaris break even. They are all consolidating which means breaking even or losing money. We will tell you one day under “four eyes” how much we are losing every year to keep this adventure named KaingU Lodge alive. As for the “lifestyles” : Please do not use this word anymore. It has a definitely negative connotation and is denigrating for those who want to live in the bush and do something for wildlife and the communities. We are absolutely conscious of the fact that “nothing” might help. Nevertheless, KaingU is for instance building a school in the nearby villages with the help of a Dutch Trust which was formed after a lady had visited KaingU.
4) As to only “one lodge” in the South Kafue : There are at least 4 middle to up-market lodges in the South Kafue : Mukambi, KaingU, Konkamoya and Nanzhila, apart from further community lodges and middle-market lodges at Lake Itezhi-Tezhi. See also out www.kushiyana.com website.
Protea Hotels’ defence of Zambezi River Hotel Project slammed
The Protea Hotels group in South Africa appears to be disregarding concerns raised by communities near the site of the group’s proposed 72-room hotel on the Zambezi River, the location of which has been opposed by tourism operators and conservationists, both in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Operators in the area say community representatives have said, in writing, they would not object to the development if it took place outside the eastern Chiawa Game Management Area (GMA) and closer to the Chiawa community bordering the GMA. Protea, however, claims the community has approved the current site inside the GMA.
The community’s letter includes signatures of the Community Resources Board Chairman and the Royal Establishment’s representative to the Board. The CRB is empowered by the Wildlife Act of Zambia to manage land use in Zambia’s game management areas.
The proposal by the Zambian franchise owner of the Protea Hotel brand, Union Gold, to build the hotel and conference centre in a wilderness area has raised a storm of protest from operators in the area, Lower Zambezi, and the general public.
The double-storey hotel, if built on the site currently proposed, would compromise the unspoiled wilderness appeal of the Chiawa GMA and the adjoining Lower Zambezi National Park. The site is just 500m across the river from the Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, a World Heritage Site.
Currently there are 136 commercial beds available in the GMA provided by 12 camps and lodges along the river. The biggest lodge in the area has 28 beds, the maximum the management plan for the area allows. The new 144-bed hotel will double this overnight, changing the high-value, low-impact tourism the Lower Zambezi is popular for.
Protea Hotels head office in South Africa issued a statement this week defending its actions. An abbreviated version of the response to it by lodge and safari operators in the GMA is carried below.
Protea says a recent media article stating that 12 out of 15 traditional leaders in the Chiawa Region have signed a petition against the development is not true. It further states these traditional leaders do not exist in the Chiyaba Chiefdom in Chiawa, which is ruled by Chieftanness Chiyaba who has supported the hotel project..
Safari operators agree that Chieftainness Chiyaba is the one traditional ruler of the area although they are concerned that Protea Hotels’ avoidance of the relocation request by the Community Resource Board may be viewed as an attempt to undermine the board’s, and hence the Wildlife Act’s, authority and purpose to protect and sustain Zambia’s GMAs and National Parks.
Whilst the Chieftainness and operators continue to show support for economic development in the Chiawa area, community leaders say they will not object to the project provided it is located on an alternative site outside the protected area, a view widely shared by operators.
Protea says the development site is outside the Lower Zambezi National Park.
The impacts of the development will inevitably include the park itself, as well as the GMA and Mana Pools World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe. This statement only highlights the seemingly scant regard for the extent of the proposal’s impact.
These impacts will include: additional settlement within the protected GMA; light and noise pollution in the wilderness area; a significant increase in road and river traffic; and an estimated 30 000 additional visitors annually to an area that is already stressed.
Protea says written submissions on the project were made 18 months ago and Protea Hotels has consulted with all stakeholders.
Apparently no submissions were ever received by any of the interested and affected parties in Zimbabwe, whilst many Zambian stakeholders were given just two days notice of the Protea Scoping Meeting on 19 April 2009 and were not able to attend.
Protea says the Zambian government has been involved at every stage of planning.
Lodge operators say Protea’s environmental impact study (EIS) ignores the Zambia Wildlife Authority’s General Management Plan for the Chiawa GMA and Lower Zambezi National Park, ratified by the Minister of Tourism in 2001. This imposes a moratorium on all new tourist developments within the area.
Protea says the ecologically sensitive Mana Pools area is in Zimbabwe and the proposed hotel development in Zambia.
Lodge operators say the hotel site is located less than 500m from the Zimbabwe bank of the river in a shared eco-system. Protea’s response also implies insufficient due regard for initiatives planned for the area such as the proposed Transfrontier Park linking national parks on both sides of the river, suggesting Protea’s interests transcend global conservation initiatives.
Protea says it is the only operator in the Lower Zambezi doing a full EIS and it is lobbying Zambia’s government to ensure all developments in the area comply with the same requirements to comprehensively understand the environmental impact there.
Lodge operators say this development is five times larger than any other establishment in the area and will require permanent infrastructure in the form of all-weather roads, electric power and telecommunications to facilitate construction in an area with no other permanent human settlement. Therefore Protea is creating the environmental concerns it claims to be trying to address in its EIS.