News from ‘Uganda – Gifted by Nature’, the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Second edition May 2010
GOOD SAFARI GUIDE 2010 WINNERS ANNOUNCED –
AND IN MEMORIAM PRIMROSE HAVELOCK STOBBS
The Good Safari Guide (www.thegoodsafariguide.com) last weekend held its annual award ceremony in Durban / South Africa’s International Conference Centre, just ahead of the opening of the annual INDABA tourism trade show.
While several category winners came from Southern Africa, and congrats to them too of course, important for us here in Eastern Africa was that Kenya ended up with the runner’s up position in the African 2010 vote for ‘Best Tourist Board’. Kenya won the award in 2009 but was giving way to South Africa’s Tourist Board this year which ran a superb marketing campaign towards the FIFA World Cup in June. Congratulations are nevertheless in order for the Kenyan effort and also to the Zambia Tourist Board, which came a surprising third.
Elsa’s Kopje at the Meru National Park in Kenya, of Cheli and Peacock fame, earned ‘best safari property in East Africa’ and doubled the honours when also taking the overall ‘best safari property in Africa’, while their owning / managing company Cheli and Peacock also took the honours as ‘best safari accommodation group in Africa’, an amazing development considering the competition out there across Eastern Africa and Southern Africa, leaving the ‘big boys’ out in the cold. Cheli and Peacock then added another award when they bagged the ‘best community safari property’ award for their Loisaba Lodge. Hats off to C&P for this extraordinary achievement and congrats to all their staff for making this possible.
One of this correspondent’s personal favourites on the safari circuit, Gibbs Farm, came a notable third as ‘best safari hotel’. Gibbs Farm, for those not in the know, is located on an extensive coffee estate and farm on the foothills of Ngorongoro, near Karatu, an ultimately charming stopover en route to the crater or the Serengeti beyond, or simply to get away for a few days and enjoy the excellent home cooking, peace and quiet for a couple of days.
Kenyan company ‘Porini’ made it on to several finalist lists but sadly did not gain any honours this year, other than this mention here for their equally outstanding settings and hospitality, while across the border in Rwanda Governor’s Camps’ (yes, those from Kenya) Sabyinyi Silverback Lodge came top in Africa for ‘best new safari property in Africa’.
And in closing the award mentions, my personal recognition and respect goes to the late Primrose Havelock Stobbs, formerly of Abercrombie and Kent and a long time Kenya resident, who was posthumously awarded a life time achievement award by the Good Safari Guide for her contributions to the tourism and safari sector over the decades. Primrose passed away just about three weeks ago in the UK, after a long illness very bravely borne and has undoubtedly looked down from heaven to see her name announced, while her eyes will have followed the big herds across the plains of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, which she so loved in her lifetime. The award was received on behalf of the late Primrose’s family by Nigel Vere Nicoll. Nigel is the CEO of the Africa Travel and Tourism Association (ATTA), who worked with Primrose for a long time. My profound condolences to the family of the late Primrose and may she rest in heavenly peace, surrounded by the wildlife she so loved.
Sadly for us here in Uganda, no property or company made it into the top three, although the Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala and the Clouds Safari Lodge were once again nominated amongst the finalists. Better luck to them next year and here is a challenge for other Ugandan safari properties, to shed mediocrity and pretence and aim to rival those truly outstanding, truly luxurious and truly exemplary examples set by the award winning Kenyan, Tanzanian, Rwandan and Southern African companies. Try do us here in Uganda proud next year?!?
Visit www.thegoodsafariguide.com for the full list of finalists and awardees in this year’s competition and make sure you select and start voting now for excellence in service towards next year’s edition.
SPARE US THE SHAME AND PAY UP
Sad news emerged over the weekend when parliamentary committee investigations and enquiries’ revealed the ongoing default in subscription payments by Uganda for key international tourism and conservation bodies.
The UN World Tourism Organisation is now owed nearly 700 million Uganda Shillings, accumulated over many years and belying constant assurances to the tourism sector by government that they would pay up to restore full membership to this crucial body and resume participation in its organs and receive assistance readily availed to the group of least developed nations, which ordinarily are a great multiple of the annual subscriptions paid to the UN body.
In addition it was discovered that major arrears have now also accumulated for membership in the World Conservation Union and CITES, amounting to nearly 600 million Uganda Shillings. Other continental bodies too claim backdated arrears. The Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry predictably blamed the Ministry of Finance for not allocating them enough funding to meet international obligations of this nature, but this sort of excuse has been peddled to the parliamentary committee, the media, the tourism industry and the public at large for too long now, without any visible action being taken. Time to wake up and PAY UP to restore Uganda’s reputation within these international bodies, on which our tourism and wildlife sector so much depends.
MAKERERE UNIVERSITY SCRAPS TOURISM COURSES
Questions are being asked if the recent ‘scrapping’ of tourism related courses by Uganda’s main university is another sign that the sector is poorly understood and only the focus of lip service by government and its organs. Late last week did news emerge from the ivory tower that tourism and conservation related bachelor degree courses would be axed from by the university administration, including – but not restricted to – three year studies on conservation biology, wildlife health and management, environmental journalism, travel and tourism management, hospitality and leisure management and catering and hotel management.
New students expressed their dismay over the decision, after setting their sights on joining one of these courses and then starting a career in the tourism industry after graduation, as they may now have to join one of the private universities which continue to offer such courses, albeit at times with lesser credentials and acceptance in the market place. It was learned though that these courses would be ‘wrapped into one or two post graduate diploma courses’ but no longer available as a bachelor degree course.
Meanwhile has the row ignited again between the main university and the Makerere University Business School which is often at loggerheads with the main administration, when MUBS announced that they will continue to offer some of the courses scrapped on the main campus, such as hospitality and leisure management, as the courses ‘are in demand’ and ‘profitable’.
Questions were also raised if the discontinuation of these courses was done after due consultations with employers or the tourism industry, which has in the past often asked for more rather than less courses and training opportunities, focused on quality, hands on training and relevant course content to make graduates immediately employable. Oooops…
FRIEND A GORILLA CAMPAIGN GETS NEW MOMENTUM
The film documentary of the visit of several Hollywood celebs last year in September has yielded an added bonus, when it was awarded a second place at the Brazilian TourFilmBrazil tourism film festival last week. The documentary shows the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat in Bwindi forest and of course the tracking by the celebs when they visited the forest.
It was also learned that Simon Curtis is due to return to Uganda during this week – ash cloud permitting that is – to engage in some additional promotional activities aimed to raise awareness and funding for the conservation of the gorillas’ habitat. For added information visit www.friendagorilla.org and for details on the film festival see www.tourfilmbrazil.com or www.cifft.com
TIME UP FOR CHOGM THIEVES
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has last week directed that decisive action must now be taken against those suspected and alleged to have diverted CHOGM funds or delivered shoddy or nonexistent work, according to press reports in the Ugandan national media. Besides possible prosecutions this also involves the non renewal of any contracts by senior civil servants implicated before the parliamentary committee and in the audit report.
Sources close to the CID are also all but confirming that case files are being prepared already following the revelation in the audit reports and the reports coming from the public accounts committee of parliament, and prosecutions in court now appear imminent with apparently little regard to the individual’s standing or positions. As CID officers are in any case attached to Parliament they have already interviewed a number of suspects who were referred to them by the public accounts committee and files have been opened there for some time now. The final report of the public accounts committee has formally recommended that officials implicated should be prosecuted although there are already indications that a renewed ‘fight’ over the report will take place in the plenary session of parliament, especially over recommendations as to who should be prosecuted forthwith. Meanwhile have some election strategists for the ruling NRM party of President Museveni also shown some relief over these pending developments as it will put them in a better position to highlight government’s efforts to combat corruption and underhand, shady deals.
Visit the following links for all the gory details: www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/912276/-/wyisuv/-/index.html, www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/13/718594 and
FED UP WITH BA
News that another strike is looming at British Airways immediately brought moans and groans from travel agents and regular frequent fliers in Uganda and a small flood of messages and comment to this correspondent, as was the case on previous strike votes. Customer loyalty will be tested to the limit once again should the strikes go ahead, and it is notable that the mood is changing against the BA top management, whom one leading travel agent, previously cautiously in favour of them, now described as ‘stubborn to the point when the whole thing will go bust’ while another decried the management’s position of all or nothing. It is increasingly becoming clear however, that another series of disruption of scheduled services, so soon after the now notorious ‘Icelandic ash cloud’ brought air traffic to a halt in and out of Europe, will likely spell financial disaster for BA at a time when they are still struggling with the fallout of the last strike. Agents in Uganda are already forewarning clients booked over the periods in question and try to rebook them to be sure that travel can take place in case flights are brought to a standstill by the strike. Watch this space.
FLY 540 REINSTATES THEIR SATURDAY MORNING FLIGHT
It was learned last week that the airline will with effect from 05th of June reinstate their Saturday morning flight between Entebbe and Nairobi, also operated with one of their new CRJ 200 jets, and a flying time of just over 45 minutes, making it arguably the fastest connection available. Other upcoming schedule changes across their network can be obtained through their official website on www.fly540.com or by writing to them (contact link on the website). Fly 540 is operating in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and the airline is expected to expand operations further into neighbouring and regional countries.
FLY 540 KEEPS EXPANDING DOMESTIC NETWORK
The latest information coming from the region’s first true low cost / low fare airline now indicates that they will link Kakamega in Western Kenya to their growing domestic network, opening up Western Kenya some more for tourism purposes but also for business travellers.
Fly 540’s flights to Eldoret, Kitale, Kisumu and now Kakamega will offer a swift access for tourists wanting to see ‘Obama’s roots in Kenya’, as his paternal village is just a few kilometres outside Kenya’s lakeside city of Kisumu, flights to Kitale offer easy access to Mt. Elgon National Park and nearby game reserves and their latest addition of Kakamega will bring the Kakamega Forest nearer too.
The Kenya Tourist Board has in the recent past created additional ‘circuits’ in parts of the country yet less visited by overseas tourists and the added airlink will undoubtedly entice tour and safari operators to be more proactive when promoting these ‘novelties’ and offering tours and safaris to Western Kenya.
More and more tourist visitors are now using air services to the national parks to spend time IN the parks as opposed of spending time ON the roads to the parks, a sensible choice when time in the destination is limited and yet visitors wish to see many of the country’s highlights.
The aircraft used on the Kakamega route will be a Beechcraft 1900 or depending on demand a Bombardier Dash 8, which are also used for the newly added off peak flights to the coastal destinations of Mombasa and Malindi and of course to Lamu.
KENYA AIRWAYS SET TO GET B737 SIMULATOR
As part of KQ’s ongoing investment in their in house training programmes is a new flight simulator now on the way to be installed at the KQ base at the ‘old’ Embakasi airport side of JKIA. It was learned that the airline’s training budget would on arrival of the new equipment be rededicated as the expensive training abroad, mandatory twice a year for pilots holding an ATPL, could then be saved to a large degree and the funds used for other purposes.
Kenya Airways has in recent years been progressively building training capacity for cabin crews and the new facilities for pilots will be a most welcome move, as it will also be available ‘for hire’ by other airlines in the region using the B737.
Presently nearly 100 pilots are deployed to foreign simulators on a regular basis to conduct their training in order to be re-certified under international aviation regulations.
IVORY FOUND IN VIETNAM ALLEGED TO COME FROM KENYA
A shipment of ivory tusks, concealed in other cargo shipped allegedly from Kenya’s main seaport, has been detected in Vietnam after the containers were inspected by officials. Kenya Wildlife Services officials are said to be trying to get DNA confirmation to establish the actual origin of the tusks, which could also have been transhipped via Mombasa. Two tons of ‘blood ivory’ have reportedly been found but information at hand suggests that the final destination of the ‘white gold’ was to be China, where the hunger and greed for ivory is legendary. The Lusaka Agreement task force has also been involved in the investigations to be certain that impartiality prevails when determining and then announcing the true origin of the loot.
ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME REPORT PUBLISHED
Last week saw the publication in Dar es Salaam of a long awaited report on the environment, and in particular of crimes committed and laws broken in the recent past across the country. Predictably poaching too was part of the report as were issues surrounding illegal logging, clearing of forests without licences, other offences against the wildlife act and violations of the fisheries act. It is understood that similar reports are due for publication in other countries of the East African Community, plus Ethiopia, the Sudan and Mauritius.
One of the outcomes of the combined findings will be a likely strengthening of legislation, monitoring and enforcement to improve on the participating countries’ ability to fight environmental crimes, illegal logging and trade in tropical hardwoods, and in the process also disrupt the bloody chain of poaching and the illegal trade in ivory, animal products and live species.
WE DO WITH OUR IVORY AS WE PLEASE…
Tanzanian government officials showed resilient stubbornness in the face of their recent ‘defeat’ in Doha, when CITES’ general assembly rejected their application to sell, what Tanzania calls ‘legal ivory stocks’. Kenyan government officials had tried to discuss the disagreement with their Tanzanian counterparts only to be robustly rebuffed.
Ahead of the CITES meeting earlier in the year emotions ran high already when Kenya led a coalition of ‘elephant defenders’ in opposing new applications to lift the ban on trade in ivory, and each side made determined efforts to lobby other countries into taking their sides, something Kenya and her allies clearly did better, most likely also being armed with better arguments.
A report about anti poaching efforts and efforts to stop illegal shipments and the transit of ivory through Tanzania painted a negative picture about the capacity and political will to bring the menace to an end, and while predictably officials in Dar es Salaam cried foul, they had little to offer in terms of a substantive rebuttal. Contradicting statements too did not help Tanzania’s cause, as even the responsible minister blundered in several off the cuff remarks, that ‘only part of the sales proceeds’ would go towards conservation and anti poaching financing, leaving the question unanswered where the balance, and exactly which balance in percentage terms, would go, had the sale application succeeded.
Other wildlife officials too conceded that their capacity was weak and needed strengthening, but decried the little funding they were getting through the government budgeting process every year to fulfil their functions. Other more recent report brought into the public domain also speaks of an increase in the smuggling, from and through Tanzania, of birds and reptiles, which ordinarily would be another nail in the coffin of a renewed application to sell ‘legal’ ivory stocks, as long as such practises in Tanzania are not only common but on the increase.
Yet, inspite of such surrounding circumstances Tanzanian officials insist that burning the ivory, as Kenya did in the past, was NOT an option for them to even consider and that they would maintain their ‘all or nothing’ approach when filing a fresh application with the CITES secretariat in Lusaka ahead of the next global meeting. The minister, although denying to widen the rift with Kenya over this issue, insisted that burning ivory was not for Tanzania, saying ‘it doesn’t make sense’ and ruling out further conciliatory talks to establish a common East African position by throwing down the gauntlet to the Kenyan delegation when announcing that a renewed application would be filed.
Sources from Nairobi also rejected accusations made in Tanzania that Kenya had a hidden agenda against Tanzania when assembling the anti sale coalition ahead of the Doha CITES summit and one source, usually well informed, said: ‘…accusing us of betrayal is rich. We tried to talk to them [Tanzania] well ahead of Doha but more influential figures there carried the day, although we are aware of differing positions amongst their wildlife service. We even asked third parties to talk to them, but in vain. Technical advice was thrown out there over political opinions. In any case, it was not Kenya alone who voted against the sale, more than half of signatory states voted against. We can only invite our Tanzanian brothers and sisters to sit down with their fellow EAC countries and openly discuss a way forward, find common ground and maybe find a solution, but even as I say this they are busy closing this avenue. You ask if this is stubborn? For sure it lacks flexibility and the will to talk. But we will bring this on the agenda, on the table to discuss in Arusha [at the East African Community] and not in the media. Some of you [the media] have been stoking the heat of argument, some of you were very factual and fair, but generally we have to sort this out behind closed doors.’
Click on the following article links, sent by sources in Dar es Salaam and Arusha, for more information on this subject and to understand better how the Tanzanian media report on this controversial matter:
AKAGERA CONSERVATION BY ‘COALITION’
Conservation efforts were given a boost in Rwanda last week when nearly 2.500 police officers came on site and helped park staff and neighbouring communities to create crucial fire ‘breaks’ by clearing shrubs, dry undergrowth and removed vegetation. The park has in the past, especially during the dry season, often been subject to bush fire outbreaks which on occasions spread on to the grazing land outside the park, and the newly created natural barriers are hoped to put an end to such acts of nature.
Rwanda’s police force is currently celebration their 10th anniversary, after being completely restructured and remodelled in comparison to its predecessor body, and used the opportunity to present itself in a fashion to rural communities which will go a long way to improve ties between ‘the people’ and the police. Well done!
NEW MARRIOTT HOTEL DUE TO OPEN IN TWO YEARS
Global hotel chain Marriott has confirmed that they will partner with the Government of Rwanda and others to build and then manage a 60+ million US Dollar five star hotel in the heart of Kigali. It is understood that the land was initially set aside for Dubai World’ to build there but when the global economic and financial crisis hit all their investment plans for Rwanda fell apart. However, Rwanda being an up and coming tourism and investment destination it did not take long to rekindle interest from other parts of the world and the entry of Marriott can only be applauded, as it will give Kigali and Rwanda added global exposure through Marriott’s own marketing activities to fill the new hotel when completed.
PRESIDENT KAGAME SWEEPS PARTY PRIMARIES
Ahead of the upcoming presidential and general election in Rwanda has incumbent President Paul Kagame seemingly swept the board of country wide primary elections, where the various parties elect their flag bearer for the position of President. It is generally expected that the president will easily secure a second term in office, allowing him to continue rebuilding society and the economy in the ‘land of a thousand hills’ as Rwanda is fondly known amongst her many friends in the region and around the world.
All primaries have reportedly been conducted in a civil manner and without any troubles and tourists sampled were not even aware of the ongoing process. Well done!
South Sudan News
BORDER DEMARCATION ABOUT 80 PERCENT COMPLETE Sudan, and in Khartoum for that matter, following the first elections in a generation, is focus now shifting to the upcoming referendum due for January next year.
Boundaries between the South and the North will continue to be drawn up by a joint commission of the North and South and in line with the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Over 80 percent of the boundary line has now reportedly been agreed upon and although it is thought that
As efforts are now underway to form a new government in the semi autonomous region of the Southern
the remaining 20 percent may be the most contentious portions remaining, there is hope that a final agreement can be reached before the Southern population goes to the polls again next year to decide on their future and if they wish to become an independent state or remain in a united Sudan, where the regime in Khartoum has in the past inflicted war upon them and shamelessly discriminated against the African population.
The referendum law itself is mute however on key issues like resource distribution, water rights and other crucial issues, as the SPLM in the South has taken a position that the referendum should come first and negotiations over the sharing out of the ‘family silver’ can take place when the results are known, after the referendum, which is largely expected to confirm the South’s desire to shape their own destiny.
Meanwhile has a high ranking delegation from the US government also expressed their support for the Government of Southern Sudan, in short GOSS, to help them build capacity for their police force and security organs to be able to deal with any threats in the future, both ahead and after the independence referendum.
EGYPT ACCUSED OF MEDDLING IN SOUTHERN AFFAIRS
The recent visit by the foreign minister of Egypt and more ominously the intelligence chief of Egypt to Khartoum were greeted with protests from the Southern population, which is now readying for an independence referendum after the completion of the first general election in a generation and the formation of a new government in the South.
Egypt has in the past not minced words that they prefer a united Sudan, while the Southern African population, oppressed, discriminated against and attacked by the regime’s war machine until 2005 are overwhelmingly expected to vote ‘YES’ when the independence question is posed to them in January 2011. One of Egypt’s major concerns, although not openly admitted, is their fear that an independent South would promptly join hands with the water producers countries upstream, i.e. Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, from where the Nile waters originate and of which Egypt demands the lion’s share under outdated, outmoded and dictatorial treaties signed in 1929 and 1959 by the colonial masters and then shoved down the throats of the newly independent Eastern African nations as part of their own independence deals.
Egypt, and the regime in Khartoum, have stalled and obstructed discussions and negotiations with the upstream countries, which also includes Ethiopia from where the ‘Blue Nile’ springs, and have demanded that the old formulas remain, prompting the Eastern African water producer countries to begin a unilateral process of signing on to the new draft agreement to be followed by a process of ratification starting next month across the region.
The presence in the delegation from Cairo to Khartoum by the country’s ‘spy chief’ sent ominous signals to the Southern government and to East African regional observers of the exact motives why the highest ranking security official would come to Khartoum at this stage, unless with ulterior motives aimed against the Southern Sudan. This was underscored by statements from Khartoum and Cairo that Egypt would ‘work towards Sudanese unity’ without specifying what measures they would take to achieve this, and having often rattled their sabres in the past over the water issue, nothing really can be ruled out at this stage. It was also mentioned by a source from Juba that the assurances of Egypt to ‘respect the outcome of the referendum’ were generally much weaker in tone and language than their noises over ‘supporting unity’, denting the credibility of such statements. Watch this space.
EDEN ISLAND MAIN SPONSOR OF OCEAN YACHT REGATTA
The Seychelles’ annual ocean regatta will take place between May 22nd and 29th and bring a number of yachts to the starting line at Eden Island, which’ owning company is also the main sponsor. A race course has been set to see a route from Mahe to Silhouette, Praslin and La Digue before returning to Eden Island on the last day when the up to 70 foot racing boats will rush towards the finishing line.
Included this year are tasks of deep sea fishing – reportedly with a tag and release policy – which will be a separate competition within the main race.
A variety of sponsors have offered substantial prices for the winners in the various categories to give incentive for extra efforts and spectators can see the races from island vantage points, elevated hills, mountains, the various beaches where the race will pass by or follow the yachts with chartered boats or even helicopters. An event not to be missed.
AIR SEYCHELLES NEW WEBSITE NOW ALSO IN FRENCH
As mentioned recently, when coinciding with the move to their new headoffice at the Mahe International Airport the Seychellois flag carrier also launched a new English website, the next step was taken earlier in the week, when their new ‘French’ site was officially commissioned.
Added foreign language versions in Italian and German are due to follow soon, to make it easier for Air Seychelles’ passengers and travel agents in their main markets to book flights via the web pages.
Secure payment transactions have also been built into the new site allowing for transaction by leading credit and debit card organizations.