News from ‘Uganda – Gifted by Nature’, the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Third edition May 2010
FRIEND A GORILLA CAMPAIGN TO MOVE TO US SCHOOLS
The campaign for the conservation of the mountain gorillas, and by extension for www.friendagorilla.org, has taken another step, when Hollywood celeb Simon Curtis returned for the second time in a year with a film team in tow to shoot a documentary on his current visit. One of the target groups is the ‘Key Clubs International’ high school association and their over 250.000 members across schools in the United States. The documentary however will also aim at target groups beyond these school associations to ensure that a generation grows up aware of the need to conserve the environment, protect biodiversity and look after our flora and fauna for the common good of future generations.
Curtis started his tour through Uganda with a press briefing last week before embarking on a safari to Kibale Forest National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park before returning to Bwindi Forest which he last visited in September last year with some of his other celeb friends.
MORE RAINS, MORE MUDSLIDES, MORE PROBLEMS
Over the past few days Uganda again suffered from torrential rains in parts of the country, both East and West, and subsequent mudslides again took a number of lives as they cascaded down Mount Elgon and the hills around Rukungiri destroying homesteads and everything else in their way.
A route through the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park was also temporarily impassable as the Ishasha River broke its banks and rose high enough to flood the bridge, bringing traffic in that part of the park to a standstill and marooning park visitors and transit traffic from and to the Congo border at Ishasha on either side with long hours of waiting before the water eventually subsided, but still leaving the roads treacherous and muddy.
SHELL GIVES UP ENTEBBE AVIATION FUEL DEPOT
Following growing pressure from the aviation fraternity and constant complaints over the lack of AVGAS on the Ugandan market, and bitter comments in the local media aimed against Shell, has the oil giant now ceded their interest in the Entebbe aviation fuel depot to TOTAL, signalling the beginning of the end of their engagement in Uganda. ‘Nothing is well at Shell’ was the comment of one aviator from Kajjansi, who has suffered constant supply problems for AVGAS in recent months and accused Shell’s Ugandan management of ‘indifference and arrogance’ when dealing with complaints and demands to restore fuel stocks. Shell has also failed to live up to repeated verbal commitments made to the aviation fraternity to actually commission an AVGAS facility at the Kajjansi airfield outside Kampala, also prompting those affected by this failure to call for governmental intervention and a swift change of guard, so that a new fuel company can then resume AVGAS and related supplies.
Only recently did news emerge that Shell was to withdraw altogether from the retail fuel business in East Africa and across 21 countries of the continent.
It was also no surprise that Shell’s comments about the Entebbe development were feeble and hardly credible and were swiftly dismissed by aviation observers as ‘irrelevant’.
GULF OF MEXICO OIL SPILL TRIGGERS WAKE UP CALL FOR UGANDA TOO
The National Environmental Management Authority seems to have woken up to the stark reality of the inherent dangers of drilling for oil and producing crude oil in ecologically sensitive areas, following the global media coverage of the extremely damaging oil spill off the US Gulf coast. Fragile ecosystems there, inspite of the technological might and status of general preparedness of the US authorities and emergency response teams, are being damaged – some are saying beyond repairs – and comparisons are already drawn with the Alaska oil spill of the Exxon Valdez long ago, where the damage to fish, wildlife, birds and the coastline until today continues to show fallout and negative effects.
Here in Uganda, a similar accident would likely spell even greater disaster to the fragile areas of Murchisons Falls National Park, the river Nile, Lake Albert and the length of the Albertine Graben, where exploration is ongoing.
Hence, and for some as a complete surprise, did NEMA react by raising matters of concern to them over the present exploration, pointing out the disposal practises of some of the oil companies in respect of drilling mud and ‘cuttings’, but reportedly also turning their attention now to disaster preparedness and the measures and technologies put into place by the oil companies to deal with a worst case scenario in Uganda, should ever such an accident happen.
Much of Uganda’s oil wealth has been found along the Albertine Graben where fragile ecosystems presently exist and great biodiversity has attracted numerous tourist visitors to the various national parks and game reserves located along the rift valley and its lakes.
NEMA is expected to review all emergency procedures, taking into account the latest lessons taught by the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, where clearly the company initially downplayed the true extent of the damage to their installation and the quantity of the leak, very likely delaying a swifter and more comprehensive response from US government agencies, notwithstanding the fact that it is BP which is legally responsible to the fullest extent. If foreign technical advice from environmental watchdogs, and the findings and recommendations of the unfolding enquiry in the United States will find their way into the NEMA deliberations, is however still to be seen, although of course highly recommended.
NEMA’s action has compelled several of the licensed oil exploration companies to store, for the time being, the toxic drilling mud and cuttings in steel containers, until a safe method of disposal can be established, and it has been learned that attempts to ‘evaporate’ the potentially deadly mixture have failed, leaving oil company executive scratch their heads while looking for other options.
Watch this space for future updates – meanwhile, efforts to have Tullow Oil honour an earlier invitation to discuss relevant issues with them are so far falling on deaf ears, as after an initial willingness expressed in a mail to this correspondent by the CEO of Tullow in Uganda no further replies could be recorded from them. Compared to previous experience with Heritage Oil, which was very forthcoming and accommodating to the media, the question now lingers in the back of everyone’s mind I spoke with, what exactly is it they do not want us to find out … Oooops…
NILE WATER TALKS TO CONTINUE
Uganda over the weekend restated her desire to continue dialogue with Egypt and the Khartoum regime over the new Nile Treaty, after affixing the official signature on the document in line with agreements reached by the ‘producer countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Ethiopia. The assurances were given when hosting the ‘formal’ presentation of the new Nile Treaty for signature. Four of these countries (Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia) have already signed the new document and a process of ratification will go underway once all remaining signatures (Kenya, Burundi and Congo) have been affixed, at that stage severely limiting Egypt’s input. Once the new treaty is ratified by the national parliaments, no further changes can then be affected with ease. The use of the waters of tributary rivers and lakes feeding into the Nile had been contentious for long, after the Eastern African countries started to assert themselves and their ‘birthright’ over this crucial resource and they increasingly ignored the colonial treaties of 1929 and 1959, which are now thought to be dictatorial, unjust and no reflection of economic and political reality in today’s Africa. Egypt, under the old treaties, has a veto right over the use of any of these waters, considered unacceptable in this day and age, and while the new treaty does reflect certain rights by downstream countries to the use of the Nile waters, this must under the new document be done by negotiations and not by wielding political sticks or uttering thinly concealed threats of war aimed to intimidate the Eastern African countries and bully them into giving in to Egypt’s demands with little if any regard to their own development.
One particular comment enraged public opinion across Eastern Africa when a Northern Sudanese delegation official was quoted as having said: ‘they [the East Africans] do not need this water, they have rain. Here in Sudan we need [that Nile] water’ … as if we here in East Africa count for nothing but to be slavish suppliers of water to the downstream countries ?!?
KASUBI RECONSTRUCTION STARTS
Kampala’s one and only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Kasubi Tombs of the Buganda Kingdom, is now being readied for rebuilding, following a devastating fire a few weeks ago. At the time this sacred site was almost completely destroyed by a sudden fire, and no details are available as yet to the cause of the fire or those suspected to have lit the proverbial ‘match’. While Uganda lost a priceless tourism asset the Kingdom of Buganda lost an essential part of its identity and heritage.
It is understood that building activity will begin this week, and that a perimeter wall will be constructed, besides working on the shells of the burned out buildings.
This first stage is likely to take until the end of the year before further work will then follow. UNESCO is supporting the reconstruction as is the Ugandan government, the city council, the Buganda Kingdom and many individual supporters. The funds raised so far and still expected from a variety of fundraising activities both inside and outside of Uganda will be managed by Price Waterhouse Coopers, a globally renowned accounting and business consultancy firm to avoid any suggestions of misuse of donated money.
TO JUBA AT LAST
Kenya Airways has at last confirmed that they will commence daily flights on their Embraer 170 jet aircraft from the 07th of June, closing a huge gap in their regional network inflicted on themselves in the past. The airline had left this profitable market to other airlines from Kenya and the Southern Sudan, which were flying happily between the two destinations, while KQ stood by citing obscure concerns they would not specifically comment on.
Jetlink, a privately owned Kenyan airline in fact flies their CRJ twice a day to Juba and a number of other operators also fly daily or several times a week.
It appears that common sense at last prevailed amongst the decision makers at Kenya Airways to add the route to their regional network, finally offering visitors to the Southern Sudan from overseas a seamless connection on their preferred airline alliance.
KISUMU AIRPORT PRIORITIES CHANGES
It was learned over the weekend that the various ongoing work stages of the reconstruction of the Kisumu airport will be fine-tuned, to allow for a full re-opening by latest August this year. The contractors will no concentrate on completing the runway shoulders and the runway extension with absolute priority, while additional car park facilities and a completely new cargo parking area will be added at a later stage, in order to get the most out of the available funding at this stage.
There is reportedly also a ‘downsizing’ of the airport terminal building in the making although no specific details could be obtained from sources in Kisumu willing to discuss the changes.
A full rehabilitation and expansion was floated by the previous Kenya Airports Authority management but it would appear that a ‘reality check’ has now set in when the KAA board has been reviewing available funds verses the ambitious projects previously ‘sold’ to an unsuspecting public.
Kisumu can presently only received smaller narrow bodied aircraft up to the size of a B737 but when the runway expansion is completed wide bodied aircraft up to the size of a B767 or similar can land and take off from the lakeside airport without restrictions.
POACH AT YOUR OWN RISK
A combination of Kenya Wildlife Service anti poaching personnel and other security organs have successfully tracked down a group of poachers last weekend in the Kora National Park area, following a surge in poaching this year. The criminals were ambushed and engaged, killing one of them instantly while some others managed to escape and are being pursued. Ivory was recovered by the officials, believed to originate from two elephant killed only days earlier, as were AK 47 assault rifles and ammunition.
Kenya has started a no tolerance policy against poaching and is cracking down hard in order to protect its lucrative tourism business which depends on an intact environment and sizeable wildlife numbers and is clearly also showing the way to some of her neighbours still pondering how to go about anti poaching measures.
TOURISM SECTOR RECORDED STRONG FIRST QUARTER PERFORMANCE
The Kenyan tourism industry is confident, following the publication of first quarter arrival data that they are firmly on course to a record year, exceeding the arrivals of 2007.
Some quarters in the sector however are cautious in regard of revenues, as – according to their observations – tariffs and rates are still depressed following the rebates and discounts needed to kick start the industry after the global financial and economic crisis of 2008 and 2009.
First quarter arrival figures available show that indeed the record of 2007 was very slightly exceeded, incidentally with a rise of nearly 25 percent over the last year of 2009.
Global recovery undoubtedly aided this trend but also political peace and quiet in the country and the wider region has helped to restore consumer confidence. As reported last week the Kenya Tourist Board was only ‘beaten’ into the runner’s up position of the continental rating undertaken by the ‘Good Safari Guide’ by South Africa, which poured mega money into their pre World Cup campaigns and reaped their due reward for their Herculean efforts. Meanwhile though has Kenya also made inroads into the conference market and with the launch of new safari and culture circuits, the launch of new domestic air destinations and the introduction of new products, like learning bushcraft from Masai warriors as part of a safari itinerary, has catapulted Kenya right to the top of the most preferred destinations in Africa, while the wider region is undoubtedly benefitting too from this trend.
However, to sustain this laudable trend constant product innovation, product excellence and relentless marketing in existing, new and emerging markets must continue to lift the tourism sector to the top of the Kenyan economy once again.
COAST TOURISM INDUSTRY DEMANDS MORE ROADS AND BRIDGES
The constant traffic jams in and out of the city across the Nyali Bridge from the northern mainland and across the dam between the airport and the access from Nairobi into the city have now also ignited the ire of the tourism sector at the Kenyan coast. For long have commuters and the business community at large complained to the council and government about a lack of attention to infrastructure, and failure to create new bridges, dams and roads into the city – Mombasa being an island as it is.
For a long time has the tourism industry demanded that a completely new road from the Nairobi road and airport must be build to the South Coast, where key tourism resorts are located which presently can only be reached through the equally congested ferry. Located at the Likoni Channel, which opens the Kilindini sea port of Mombasa to the Indian Ocean, the ferries have been unreliable for long, cited a risk due to having ‘overstayed’ beyond their planned lifespan and many tourists have in the past missed flights when stuck on the southern mainland side when ferries had broken down.
In order to gain a higher profile in the ranking of globally renowned beach destinations, the Kenyan government must now decide what added infrastructure will be needed in terms of roads, bridges, dams, water, electricity and refuse collection, amongst others, so that tourists can be lured to the Indian Ocean beaches and truly enjoy a holiday of a lifetime without having to crawl through thick traffic on arrival and departure.
NEW BRIDGE CONNECTING TO MOZAMBIQUE OPENED
A vision dating back into the mid 1970’s by the then presidents of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and of Mozambique Samora Machel has at last come to its fulfilment, when a week ago a key bridge was officially opened by the current presidents Jakaya Kikwete and Armando Guebuza. The new road link across the river Ruvuma is thought to improve trade relations between the two neighbouring countries but also facilitate easier movement of business and tourism visitors in an area where such infrastructure was for long lacking. According to information sent to this correspondent by sources in Dar es Salaam the bridge cost Tanzania nearly 30 million US Dollars to build and spans over 700 metres across the river. Previously crossings had to be done by boats, canoes and as and where available ferries.
However, government opponents were swift to point out in separate messages to this correspondent, that the project, besides the ‘opening fanfare’ was far from complete as access roads were ‘in a pathetic state’ and immigration and security installations not ready for use. Hence, opinion is divided between ‘wow’ and ‘ooops’ for the moment until further information can be received.
In response to an enquiry a governmental source from Dar es Salaam however was quick to point out that link roads to the new bridge and related added infrastructure was already included in the next budget which is due to be presented soon, dismissing opposition claims that the bridge was a ‘white elephant’.
Said the source on condition of anonymity: ‘this road and bridge link us to our neighbours Mozambique. Our founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and the founder President of modern Mozambique Samora Machel have so long ago dreamed about closer links between our countries. Now it is reality at last, and both sides have spent much money to achieve this. Why would opponents now rubbish our work and efforts. Extra roads will come, others to the bridge will be renovated, it is a small issue when considering that the big issue, the bridge itself, is now complete. We expect many overland tourists to come this way to visit us or go to Mozambique. Tourism there is only starting now, so we will benefit from the road and bridge link. For myself, I am proud of this achievement, and those who are not are simply not patriotic, please write this!’
Undoubtedly here as in many other cases time will tell just how successful the road / bridge link between Tanzania and Mozambique will be, but for now it is congrats upon the completion of the new link bridge.
PRICELESS CARVING RETURNED TO TANZANIA
A ‘Makonde’ carving, which went missing over a quarter of a century ago from a museum in Dar es Salaam was returned last week to Tanzania. In the mid 80’s a number of art pieces and exhibits disappeared from the national museum in Dar and the recovery of this particular piece, which was found in a Swiss museum which had acquired it in good faith, was done under the UNESCO convention, which now governs claims by the initial owner countries of items found elsewhere. In this particular case however verification of the claim and subsequent negotiations took over 12 years, a time frame not acceptable any longer in this day and age. As and where looted or stolen artefacts are discovered they should, once verification has been carried out under UNESCO auspices, be returned at once.
Interpol, the International Council of Museums and UNESCO were all involved in the case and were thanked at the handover ceremony, after the carving had been airlifted back into Tanzania on the 09th of May.
It was also pointed out that several similar cases are still being pursued by government and officials are hopeful to bring those also to a successful conclusion.
STARK WARNING ON FOREST DISAPPEARANCE
Forests in Tanzania could disappear within decades, it was learned last week from a regular source in Arusha, if not checked immediately and massive reforestation undertaken. According to the source Tanzania presently has over 400.000 hectares of forests, but the loss of forest cover has been extensive over the past 50 years and accelerated over the past decade.
Government officials blamed the situation on the increase in use of charcoal, which in the absence of affordable and easily available electricity is often the only means of heating water and cooking meals, in both remote rural areas but also amongst the urban poor living in squalid conditions with no electricity nor piped water.
This latest report was published by globally respected Conservation International in an attempt to draw much needed high level attention to the dire situation, in order to protect biodiversity, fragile ecosystems and alongside keep the tourism sector up and running which depends most heavily on an intact environment for visitors to come from overseas and spend their money in Tanzania.
Tourism is a key source of foreign exchange earnings for the country and also one of the largest sectors in terms of creating employment and Tanzania could not afford to neglect these issues if the upwards trend of tourism arrivals is to continue in the future.
NEW ARUSHA – MUSOMA ROAD TO ROUTE THROUGH SERENGETI
Information received from Arusha indicates that government has at last taken a decision of the exact route the new proposed road from Arusha to Musoma is to take, bringing bad news to conservation activists, who tried to prevent the new highway to cut right through the traditional migration routes in the Serengeti National Park.
For those acquainted with the geography of Tanzania, the new road link, much in demand by the way from the business community and local communities, the new road will start at Mto Wa Mbu – located on the foot of the Manyara escarpment, and then move through along Engaruka, pass Lake Natron, Loliondo, the Serengeti before reaching Musoma.
Proponents of the road reportedly considered the impact of the main highway leading through Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, where a tarmac road runs through the park towards Kasese, but migration there is limited to smaller number of animals crossing the road, while the new highway cutting through the Serengeti will at certain times of the year see the big herds march across the area in their tens of thousands while a traditional elephant migration route is also being divided by the new highway.
Construction is due to start in early 2012 after a full feasibility study has been completed by the end of this year and further anticipated impacts been dealt with. It could not be established from TANAPA what made them accept the routing they fought against for so long, and if political ‘instructions’ came down on them like the proverbial ton of bricks, but the unusual silence of regular sources within and close to TANAPA speaks volumes for itself of course. Watch this space.
NEW AIRPORT AND RAILWAY TO BE FINISHED UNDER PUBLIC / PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP
The Rwandan government has last week confirmed that amongst several projects shortlisted for PPP were also the planned new international airport at Bugesera but also the planned railway which will eventually connect the port city of Dar es Salaam with Kigali.
Both projects have a bearing on many sectors of the economy but notably also tourism, as air and rail links are crucial to bringing more visitors to the ‘land of a thousand hills’ as Rwanda is also known. The announcements were made last week at the end of an investment conference where the country was showcasing major infrastructural projects aimed to attract and impress global investors and financiers. While the railway is thought to cost in excess of 4 billion US Dollars at current prices, the new airport is expected to cost nearly 650 million US Dollars when finally completed.
The investment conference attracted over 100 high level delegations and individuals from around the world who wanted to get firsthand experience of existing and upcoming opportunities in Rwanda and judging from feedback obtained from Kigali the participants were widely impressed, leading to further negotiations between interested parties to go into partnership.
GORILLA DEATHS A BLOW TO CONSERVATION
Just weeks ahead of this year’s Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony and country wide celebrations highlighting the country’s conservation efforts, did news break earlier in the week that four gorillas, a mother and baby and two more adolescents were found dead high up in the forests. Speculation is that the extreme weather conditions of torrential rains over prolonged periods of time may have contributed to this sad development, and it is understood that vets working with the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, are trying to figure out the exact cause of death.
The animals belonged to two groups normally found high up on the mountain where the biting cold and almost constant rain and fog in recent weeks seems to have taken its toll on weaker animals. The loss of four of the rare mountain gorillas at one time is most unusual and almost unprecedented and the tourism and conservation fraternity will mourn this loss, while taking hope for more births in coming weeks and months as Rwanda sets out to begin its annual celebrations next weekend.
SEYCHELLES STEPS UP ANTI PIRACY EFFORTS
Information was received during the week that the Seychelles government is in the process of establishing a separate chamber in its court system to exclusively deal with pirate trials, supported by friendly nations participating in the naval operations off the Horn of Africa and across the expanses of the Indian Ocean. The Seychelles is presently the only country to accept recently caught ocean terrorists, after Kenya has decided to stop putting them on trial, maybe also motivated by the vicinity to the Somali borders across which hostile Islamic militants are only waiting for a chance to spread their hellish gospel into neighbouring countries.
In the Seychelles however there is political will and determination to deal with the problem, and when an additional patrol boat comes on line for the country’s coast guard, provided by the UK government, it will be deployed along the Northern approaches to the archipelago.
Discussions between members of the naval coalition, the Seychelles and the African Union backed transitional government in Somalia are also ongoing, trying to have Somalis caught at sea serve their sentences in Somali jails, in view of the rather too limited places currently available on the islands.
The Seychelles have in the past made determined efforts to combat ocean terrorism even with their limited resources, as after all the menace potentially affects the two mainstay economic activities, fishing and tourism and have in conjunction with the naval coalition caught increasing numbers of often hapless Somalis at sea, who several times in their ignorance even tried to attack navy vessels. Ignorance and stupidity however being no excuse, they too are facing trial and long prison terms, as they are charged with both piracy related crimes and terrorism.
SEYCHELLES CIVIL AVIATION UNPERTURBED BY SHTA OPEN LETTER
Sources close to the Seychelles CAA have been in touch with this correspondent over the recently published letter of the chairperson of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, which laid heavily into both the SCAA and Air Seychelles.
The source made it clear that there were several ‘misjudgements’ – this is the best translation from French I can come up with – on part of the SHTA which needed to be cleared up.
The SCAA has under the bilateral air services agreement granted Emirates 7 flights per week, with six presently operating, but the arrival time slot of the proposed 7th flight was not available as other wide bodied aircraft were already scheduled to arrive over this time frame. The limited space at the Mahe International Airport is presently not permitting to add a third wide bodied aircraft on the ground at the same time, before substantial additional handling capacity was created first to increase processing of passengers and cargo at the entire airport.
It was also pointed out that other reasons advanced by the SHTA in this connection were also not correct, since two of the present 6 flights were already using a different time slot at the airport and were not showing any lesser passenger occupancies compared to the other 4 flights.
Wrote the source: ‘to say SCAA or our national airline have stopped the 7th flight is misleading and you ought to make the truth public’.
At the same time the same source also took exception about comments made over the general level of air access to the islands, saying: ‘Government of Seychelles and SCAA have entered into dozens of bilateral air services agreements which govern air transport between countries. SCAA, as does the government, encourage in fact more countries to enter into negotiations with us to bring more traffic to the islands, the only real way tourists can in fact arrive here. Air Seychelles is our national airline and makes representations when we negotiate such deals, and we also encourage commercial agreements where Air Seychelles can tie up with other airlines, like they fly on behalf of Air France between Paris and Mahe. Anyone suggesting that SCAA, or government, or Air Seychelles would be opposed to more flights and more connections, is simply misinformed or did not understand these complex issues of aviation business.’
No comment was available at the time of going to press from Air Seychelles but it is hoped that for next week a statement can be obtained from them too for the sake of clearing the air.
RONNY RENAUD ESQ. MOVES TO ISLAND DEVELOPMENT COMPANY
The current Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles (Marine and) National Park Authority, Mr. Ronny Renaud, featured here in a full scale interview a few weeks ago, has been appointed as Deputy CEO of the Island Development Company as part of that parastatal’s reorganization. Taking over from him at the SNPA will reportedly a Mr. Denis Matatiken, who is currently working at the Department of Environment.
The IDC is a key to the development of islands across the archipelago and of crucial importance to the further enhancement of tourism, fishing and related economic activities.
New chairman of the IDC is Mr. Patrick Lablache, who according to sources in Mahe has a wealth of experience in both public and private sector.
The changes at IDC are reportedly part of the Seychelles public sector reform which seeks to streamline administration and cut cost through a variety of measures.
Congratulations to Ronny, whose interview is still available at eTN’s Executive Talk.