News from ‘Uganda – Gifted by Nature’, the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Fourth edition May 2010
CONSERVATION EFFORTS GET BADLY HIT
A pride of lions, including a pregnant female, were found poisoned last week in Queen Elizabeth National Park by UWA rangers on patrol. The three female and two male lions were part of a larger pride which had split up. The park personnel also found ‘bait’ near the dead carnivores, thought to contain the lethal mixture of poison used to kill the big cats and over a dozen dead vultures were also found nearby, having also ingested the poison. UWA veterinarians are now trying to establish the exact cause and identify the exact nature of the poison used.
Queen Elizabeth National Park has in the past been the scene of prolonged invasions by cattle keepers seeking pasture who even then speared and poisoned lions to protect their livestock before eventually being pushed out of the park when the damage to the tourism industry became more and more evident.
Tourism is one of Uganda’s main sources of foreign revenue but conservation often clashes with the interests of cattle owners, an almost equally big business, and other parks like Lake Mburo had their entire lion population killed in the past before over Christmas last year first evidence of renewed lion presence emerged.
The latest escalation has prompted a strong reaction amongst the tourism fraternity, which depends on their tourist clients actually seeing game, and in particular the big cats, and several safari operators this correspondent was in touch with demanded a harder line from UWA and government at large to deal with poaching and deliberate game killings.
Said one: ‘if the lions go a big part of a safari experience is missing. Our neighbours will tell the market that to see lions you need to go to Tanzania or Kenya because in Uganda they are becoming extinct. You asked me about budget cuts for tourism, and this is just one more problem our industry now has. Government is not taking this seriously at all. UTB needs more funding immediately. When I read your articles you always write about Rwanda and Kenya doing so well, but their governments spend a lot of money, but ours here does not. Now they are killing off the lions again in Queen [Elizabeth National Park] like a few years ago. Way back then it took government many months to decide about the cattle invasion and kept UWA on the short leash. Even now we believe that there are other political factors preventing UWA from acting prompt and decisive. You see, when there are so few lions now even reproducing is difficult for them and one day they will be gone. Why does government ever only does something for our sector when things have gone so bad and never be ahead of problems?’ Another regular contact also dismissed suggestions in the local media that ‘poachers’ were responsible for the deaths. Did she say: ‘no skins were taken, poachers would take the skins, so this is probably just a speculation on the part of authorities. For us it is clear it was cattle herders to protect their herds which they keep driving illegally into the park.’ Oooops…
GREED AND ENVY LOT IS BACK
Having failed to substantially influence the political decision makers with their greed and envy cries, the same group has now resorted to appeal to the Inspector General of Government to revoke an agreement between the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Nkuringo Conservation Trust, under which auspices – as previously reported – the Clouds Safari Lodge was built and is now operating successfully, playing an important part in promoting gorilla tourism and conservation efforts for Uganda. The IGG’s office has now, according to press reports, gotten involved in the saga, arguably the last ditch effort to overturn a decision taken several years ago and ever since a thorn in the side of a few disgruntled people, whose biggest issue is that it was not THEM who got the deal.
The same quarters, generally considered a small minority, have also repeatedly in the past thrown mud on the Madhvani group over their existing and legally binding agreements with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, which grant them an exclusion zone around their lodges in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchisons Falls National Park for the duration of the initial agreement, with the agitators openly demanding that the contracts be broken by government. They have also been playing the ‘Asian racial card’ on a number of occasions, a despicable behaviour by any standards and exposing them for the disregard they so obviously have for the rule of law and respect for contractual agreements.
Sources close to USAID, one of the international agencies which funded the project from its onset, also confirmed that as far as they were concerned there were no irregularities over the funds granted to the project and the way those funds were spent, citing past audits which cleared and sanctioned their modus operandum. Said this source: ‘we also fail to understand or even appreciate why the Ugandan IGG should concern himself with our funding, we are answerable to Washington and they were and continue to be ok with it’. In addition, the African Wildlife Foundation, in short AWF, too is according to sources preferring anonymity ‘having a clear conscience’, that ‘the process at the time was completely above board’ and that it was both competitive and in ‘no way discriminatory as alleged by some disgruntled people who failed to submit proposals in time or failed to make proposals worth considering’.
Notably has the Uganda Investment Authority come out strongly in favour of the investors and the deal, telling the detractors to stop ‘messing with the investor’ in a hard hitting message published in the local media over the weekend. UIA’s executive director Prof. Dr. Maggie Kigozi was throwing their institutional weight behind The Uganda Safari Company / Wild Places Africa in an unequivocal way, saying TUSC had invested where others did not dare and promoted Uganda’s tourism industry abroad to the extent of having Prince Charles visit Uganda and staying at their Nakasero based ‘Emin Pasha’ boutique hotel.
The matter may now be heading to court, as UWA, the Nkuringo Trust Fund and the operator of the Clouds Safari Lodge are unlikely to comply with IGG ‘directives’ without a full legal battle, more so as several of those controversial ‘rulings and directives’ made by the office of the IGG in the past have recently been overturned by Ugandan courts in favour of the complainants, lending credibility over allegations of bias and favouritism. It seems greed and envy, and wanting to grab what is not theirs, are indeed might motivators and drivers … Watch this space.
EMIRATES TO GO TWICE DAILY WITH THE A380 TO THE BIG APPLE
The local Emirates office has confirmed that effective October this year the airline will operate their A380 ‘sky giant’ twice a day between Dubai and New York’s JFK airport, making the journey from East Africa to the United States even more comfortable and pleasurable.
Emirates currently flies daily to Entebbe, via Addis Ababa, using a B777 aircraft, and other destinations like Nairobi are already on double daily flights, making it easy to connect either directly to the US or spend some time in Dubai for shopping or recreation.
Ugandan travellers have reportedly shifted loyalty again away from British Airways in view of the upcoming strike action and one of the big beneficiaries in this market is Emirates, which connects East African travellers via their hub in Dubai to the rest of the world on a daily basis, using one of the most modern fleets of aircraft found anywhere.
MTN EMBRACES FACEBOOK – FOR FREE
Subscribers to the MTN mobile network in Uganda, and the wider region it is understood, have reason to celebrate once again. The latest innovation of MTN is free access to 0.facebook.com via the MTN data platform on enabled mobile phones, which now permit Facebook users to check their status, updates and post new messages FOR FREE … visitors to Uganda will undoubtedly now have a double temptation to purchase a local SIM card from Uganda’s leading mobile telecom company, as they can not only make and receive calls for low local charges but also stay in touch with their network of Facebook friends at no added cost. Facebook in turn may also capture a hitherto unexplored and untapped market since MTN has over 100 million subscribers across Africa many of whom may in the past not have been able to join FB or were even aware of its existence.
MTN was also the first company to introduce Google Search on their mobile network, trying to stay ahead of their competitors in a hotly fought over market, now crowded by 7 mobile operators and a number of dedicated ISP operators offering only data services.
ANNUAL NILE MARATHON FOR 30TH MAY
The ‘Source of the Nile’ marathon will be run in Jinja and its environs on Sunday 30th May this year, when it will kick off at the ‘real’ source of the river, located opposite the Speke Monument across the river and below the Jinja Golf Club. The event will see a full marathon, but also a 10 KM race and a half marathon run, and the events will commence at 07.00 hrs a.m. sharp. Participants can reportedly still sign up although the maximum contingent of 5.000 runners is likely to be filled rapidly now. Corporate sponsors Hared Petroleum have pointed out that registration fees remain at 10.000 Uganda Shillings – or just under 5 US Dollars – while corporate teams will pay 500.000 Uganda Shillings per entry.
Visit www.nilemarathon.com for more information or to send in a last minute registration request. The race routes are shown on the link to a Google map below for those wishing a peek preview on the event: View Source of the Nile Marathon-21 Kilometres
UGANDA’S TOURISM MINISTRY FACING MAJOR BUDGET CUTS
It was learned from usually reliable sources that the Ministry of Finance seems set to inflict a major budget cut of nearly 20 percent on the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry for the next financial year 2010/11. Figures obtained indicated a cut from the current year’s almost 48 billion Uganda Shillings, or about 24 million US Dollars equivalent, to just over 41 billion Uganda Shillings for the next financial year.
The proposed cut comes at a time when tourism marketing could urgently do with a financial boost so as to promote the country and the numerous attractions in existing, new and emerging markets but hope towards that end is now fading, when the extent of planned budget cuts became apparent.
Funding for the country’s marketing body ‘Tourism Uganda’, aka Uganda Tourist Board, has long been a bone of contention between the private sector and government, with the former often accusing government to pay mere lip service to the sector and continuing to think ‘tourism is just happening’ without understanding that for instance in Rwanda and Kenya the sector has developed so well, over the years and after a severe crisis, BECAUSE government allocated major funding increases to ‘sell the country’. Alongside, government has so far also failed to implement the tourism policy goal, set in 2003, to introduce a financing mechanism for tourism marketing through a ‘tourism development fund levy’ as stone age mindsets within sections of the ministry’s civil service do their best to hinder the launch of the levy, as it would also entail a range of other measures, mainly moving several oversight and executive functions to the reformed ‘Tourism Uganda’, a notion not all civil servants are happy with.
In stark contrast, Kenya, last year’s winner as best tourist board in Africa by the ‘Good Safari Guide’ this year came second only to South Africa, which had poured mega millions into promoting the FIFA World Cup and their tourism industry, while Rwanda for instance walked off for the past four consecutive years as ‘best African stand’ at the ITB in Berlin.
With development partners also confirming that tourism is NOT on the list of economic priority sectors they are asked to assist under bi- and multilateral assistance programmes, there is clearly a lack of political will to help the tourism industry in Uganda develop as it should, as it could and to reach its full potential in terms of new investments, job creation and foreign exchange earnings. Is anyone listening at the Ministry of Finance? Anyone?
MORE LANDSLIDE THREATS ON MT. ELGON
Latest information emerging from the east of the country indicate that further deep cracks are opening up on the mountain slopes, not far from where a few weeks ago a major landslide claimed several hundred lives. The terrain is according to sources getting weaker, following yet more torrential rains and the residents are now being warned to evacuate their homesteads ahead of more expected land and mudslides.
Farming methods are now being blamed as a major factor for these developments, as the residents relentlessly cut down the tree cover, which helped to not only absorb heavy rains but which roots also kept the soil together. Residents, some illegally squatting inside the national park boundaries, are also not using terracing but grow crops up the steep slopes. This according to sources sent to the area to assess the danger potential, helps trigger mudslides, which then often wash away not just the soil and the crops but also the homesteads built further down the steep mountain sides.
Some 8.000 people are said to be affected by the latest developments and remembering the death toll of a few weeks ago appear more willing to be moved to safer parts. The cracks which opened up measure, according to reports from the site, from inches to feet and with more rains on the way it seems a matter of time before another massive landslide will come down the mountain.
It is also understood that several hundred of hectares of deforested terrains are now earmarked for tree planting and re-forestation and that the project will start when the ground has sufficiently stabilized to allow safe planting operations by the teams of the forestry and wildlife departments.
Meanwhile though are the rains continuing with a vengeance and even the west and south west of the country are now beginning to suffer of landslides caused by the extreme weather conditions with roads and bridges being flooded across widening areas.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority has however also pointed out that hiking routes into and up Mt. Elgon National Park used by tourists are monitored and considered safe, and that the overnight camp areas and the ascend and descend route to the mountain top have shown no sign of potentially dangerous cracks or landslides. The clarification by UWA came following reported cancellations of hiking and climbing tours into the park, as reported in the local media in recent days.
Meanwhile has the meteorological department in Entebbe warned that the current rains would extend well into June with above ‘normal’ volumes compared to ‘ordinary’ years’ recorded rainfall.
FRIEND A GORILLA CAMPAIGN NEEDS FRESH IMPETUS
Following the visit of Simon Curtis last week to Uganda, aimed to produce a documentary film about the endangered mountain gorillas, further details have come to light about the progress and in fact limited success of the September 2009 launch of www.friendagorilla.org where presently, according to the site metre, only 14.730 ‘friends’ have signed up, way below the optimistic projections given by people involved in the creation of the project and launch last year. UWA has also last week confirmed that from the ‘friend fees’ and related donations some 60.000 US Dollars were raised so far over the past 8 months, which while laudable in itself is again below expectations.
It is understood that the presence of Simon Curtis triggered a general review of the project, its aims, objectives and expectations to devise a revitalised strategy in promoting gorilla conservation and raising much needed funds from overseas supporters. Readers are invited to visit the ‘Friend a Gorilla’ pages on Facebook, where a minimum contribution of only 1 US Dollar can ensure a ‘lasting friendship’ with the selected individual animal, all of which are shown on the site.
CAA MOVES TO 24/7 CARGO OPERATIONS
The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, which also manages the country’s main Entebbe International Airport, has last week announced that at long last cargo operations, including customs, banking and cashier services would from 01st of June begin to operate around the clock.
For long this has been a source of dispute between the CAA, cargo operators and clearing agents, many of whom claimed that the facilities available and created at high cost must be utilised around the clock and not for the traditional ‘office hours’ only. Some of the last to come on board were the banks now represented at the airport with branches, which will now also work around the clock, at the same time serving departing and arriving passengers using flights in the small hours of the day.
Thankfully the CAA has seen the light, as has the customs departments, and importers and exporters can now have access to services whenever they need it and not when offices are ‘open’.
EAST AFRICA COMMUNITY DECRIES LACK OF US CONNECTIONS
The Secretary General of the East African Community has last week regretted the lack of direct air links between the United States and member states of the EAC, inspite of two countries being cleared by the FAA for such connections. Although the US has supported the EAC to update their aviation regulations in recent years, assisted in the establishment of CASSOA (Civil Aviation Safety and Security Agency) and supported the introduction of sophisticated immigration technology, details of which are reportedly regularly shared as a matter of course with US authorities, no flights have commenced as yet. Delta of the US was all set to start flights to Nairobi last year, only to pull out on the eve of the inaugural flight over obscure ‘security concerns’ which however in retrospect rather look like a political tool by the US administration to express their ‘concerns’ over other issues in their relations with Kenya.
In contrast, neighbouring Ethiopia has direct airlinks by Ethiopian Airlines with the US as has incidentally also Egypt and South Africa, a strong incentive for the East African region to strive and equally gain access to the US market place through direct connections. With another strike by BA now underway, it is high time we in Eastern Africa get direct airlinks with the United States to avoid having to route via Europe or other way points and ensure a regular flow of tourist and business visitors to our region.
LATEST ‘TRAVEL AFRICA’ EDITION NOW AVAILABLE
Last week also saw the arrival in this correspondent’s P.O. Box of the latest edition of ‘Travel Africa’, another gem full of well written articles and great pictures, promoting travel to the African continent. Edition 50, this year’s ‘spring edition’ is featuring a range of ‘places to see’ which can be combined with a visit to one or several of the FIFA World Cup matches in South Africa.
Additionally a small guide book to the winning ‘The Good Safari Guide’ properties across Eastern and Southern Africa was also enclosed, and how refreshing it is to sit on the terrace and leaf through ‘the real thing’ as opposed to scrolling through website content.
Support this ‘must read’ publication for Africa fans by subscribing for your own personal copy via firstname.lastname@example.org
KENYA AIRWAYS LEASES TWO ADDITIONAL EMBRAER 170
Finnair has signed a four year lease agreement with ‘the Pride of Africa’, commencing according to reliable sources from Nairobi on the 01st of June. Finnair itself operates a fleet of these economical twin engined 70 seater jets but has according to other information obtained leased several of them to other operators. It was also confirmed that it will be a ‘dry lease’ under which Kenya Airways will provide the crews for the operation of the aircraft. KQ already has three Embraer 170 flying for them and these latest additions to their fleet will undoubtedly assist to intensify their presence on domestic and regional routes, where the recent economic upswing has resulted in a recovering market and more demand.
It is expected that the two additional aircraft will be configured in a C / Y cabin layout similar to the Embraer aircraft already operating under KQ’s banner. Watch this space for the most up to date news from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region’s aviation sector.
OL PEJETA TO CHARGE VEHICLE ENTRANCE FEES
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy on the Laikipia plains in central Kenya has just announced that they will from the 01st of June begin to charge an entry fee for vehicles, which was hitherto free of charge.
Maintenance of the tracks and roads across the sprawling conservancy require of late ever more funds, probably as a result of the sharply increased visitors numbers, and like in other national parks and game reserves, they too will now begin to levy a fee on cars entering their area.
Charges will range from Kenya Shillings 300 for a saloon car, equivalent to about 4 US Dollars, to a maximum of 8.000 Kenya Shillings for a bus with more than 45 seats, equivalent of just over 100 US Dollars. The money raised through this measure will go towards maintenance of tracks, roads and opening up of new game viewing circuits. Visit www.olpejetaconservancy.org for more information about the work done on the conservancy and sign up for their newsletter to get the latest updates.
ANNUAL RHINO CHARGE TO RAISE CONSERVATION FUNDS AGAIN
May 31st has been set for the annual rhino charge event in Kenya, which is once again expected to rake in funds for rhino and other conservation projects. As has become customary the venue / charge area will only be revealed shortly before the event countdown starts to avoid hordes of ‘chargers’ doing recce drives and trying to gain an unfair advantage over their would be competitors. Visit www.rhinocharge.co.ke or else writ to them for more details via email@example.com
KTB BAGS ANOTHER AWARD
The Kenya Tourist Board has reportedly added another trophy for their display cabinet, when the promotional team returned last week from the Asia – Africa Trade Fair where they were recognized as the ‘best exhibitor’ in the Middle East, Indian Ocean and Africa category. The award was won last year by Mauritius and Kenya can be proud to have wrestled the honours away from them and carried the prize home. It was also learned that the award is sponsored by Emirates Holidays which will undoubtedly give Kenya an added boost in their efforts to capture the cash rich holiday market in the Middle East and in particular in the United Arab Emirates.
Meanwhile has the Minister of Tourism put a 2 billion Kenya Shillings tag on the budgetary requirements for the Kenya Tourist Board for the next financial year, to be spent on opening up new markets and supporting existing and emerging markets through promotional campaigns, aimed to bring more tourists to Kenya’s Indian Ocean beaches and safari parks. At the same time the minister also pointed out that the two main airports in Nairobi and Mombasa needed further work to entice more airlines come to Kenya, as he cited ‘lack of adequate seats’ as a major constraint which needed to be addressed immediately.
FLY 540 BUILDS PARTNERSHIP IN WESTERN KENYA
It was learned over the weekend that Fly 540’s Kenyan operation has entered into a partnership agreement with an Eldoret based tour company last week. The deal will give tourist passengers arriving in Eldoret quality ground transportation for visits to nearby tourist attractions, wanting to explore the Kerio Valley or generally tour this hitherto touristically underexploited but nevertheless very scenic part of Kenya.
Fly 540 has been pioneering flights to Western Kenya to provide easy access for business travellers from and to Nairobi and Mombasa, and the wider region, but has obviously now also targeted tourists destined to Western Kenya. The airline offers, besides Eldoret, also other destinations like Kitale, Kakamega and Kisumu on their domestic network to upcountry locations.
Undoubtedly will the Kenya Tourist Board be grateful for these initiatives as Fly 540’s latest effort is in support of their own objectives of opening up new parts of the country to tourists, and flying there obviously is now the first choice after combining the flights with meet and greet, tour-guiding and transportation services.
EASTERN BLACK RHINOS FIND NEW HOME IN SERENGETI
Last weekend did the first C 130 aircraft arrive from South Africa in the heart of the Serengeti’s Seronera airstrip, greeted by President Jakaya Kikwete himself and a large number of officials, volunteers and TANAPA staff, carrying the precious cargo of 32 Eastern Black Rhinos. The relocation of the species is done, and largely paid for, under the auspices of the Government of Tanzania, in conjunction with the Government of South Africa, and aimed to restore a healthy and wide spread rhino population in the Serengeti National Park. The cost of relocation for each animal is estimated to be in the region of about 9.000 US Dollars, but money well spent according to a jubilant source from Arusha who said to this correspondent: ‘this is a proud day for us. We had our president here to greet the rhinos and speak to us. He reassured the tourism industry that the rhinos will be protected 24/7 and general security of game parks will be improved. I think he knows how important tourism is for our country. Tanzania can make a lot of money from visitors from abroad and because so many go on safari instead of only the beaches we are doing financially very well.’
Only weeks ago did a group of other Eastern Black arrive in Tanzania, donated by the Czech Republic. Those animals are now in a secure rhino sanctuary at Mkomazi National Park and are forming the core of a breeding programme there.
The presence of the Tanzanian President underscored the importance Tanzania now attaches to its tourism industry and wildlife conservation, which prior to the recent CITES Conference in Doha had come under sustained criticism over gaps and loopholes, said to aid and abet poaching and facilitating the transit of blood ivory, birds, reptiles and other animals for illegal exportation.
Interesting enough, the ‘rhino returnees’ are offspring of initially 7 sent to South Africa to breed there, when poaching across Eastern Africa was rampant and rhino numbers plummeted across the region, even wiping out the rhinos in Uganda at the time.
A few months ago has the Frankfurt Zoological Society made a massive donation worth nearly 2 million Euros towards capacity building and training of park staff in preparation of the relocation, an effort now paying off as the park service has more vehicles, more communications equipment and more funding for fuel and other recurrent expenses available. The FZS has been supporting the Serengeti since the days of Prof. Dr. Grzimek, whose films and TV narratives ‘Serengeti must not die’ have immortalised the park in Germany and many other parts of the world and helped to continuously raise funds towards conservation efforts in Tanzania.
Meanwhile though it was also learned that another project to popularize the Serengeti across the world through webcam transmissions has stalled due to lack of sufficient funds – it is understood that about one million US Dollars would be required to kick of the project, a figure unlikely to be raised from local sources owing to the general economic situation and the continuing fallout of the global economic and financial crises over the past two years, which is also affecting public finances in Eastern Africa.
PIRATE ATTACK IN TANZANIAN WATERS
A vessel bound for Mombasa was reportedly attacked last week by Somali ocean terrorists about 130 miles off the Tanzanian shoreline, while enroute to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, some 350 miles further to the North. Many of the crew took shelter in the engine room while the remaining crew on duty then switched off all lights and managed to escape into the emerging darkness after being fired upon by the terrorists and the vessel sustaining damage.
Calls have subsequently increased in East African shipping circles to strengthen naval capacity and dispatch navy ships into the affected areas to ensure safe passage for ships coming to and leaving the East African ports of Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, and to be given a mandate to relentlessly hunt the terrorists inside the territorial waters.
Meanwhile has Kenya also changed course vis a vis the prosecution of ocean terrorists caught and handed over into their legal system, after the EU has availed more funding for the prosecution of such cases in Kenyan courts and added logistical support to subsequently imprison them to serve their sentences once found guilty.
LAKE TANGANYIKA SET FOR MAJOR CLEAN UP
Government and related bodies have reportedly secured the funding of a major new initiative and project to clean up Lake Tanganyika and its environs, it was learned last week. The lake, its shores and environs are a source of great biodiversity and fragile ecosystems and while currently hardly touched by tourists nevertheless important for the local population in regard as a water and food source through fishing.
The GEF, short for Global Environmental Facility, the African Development Bank and reportedly also the Nordic Development Fund are all contributing some 14 million US Dollars in total towards the establishment and execution of the project, due to unfold in coming months.
NEW AIRPORT TERMINAL FOR ZNZ
The Chinese government is reportedly going to pay for the construction of a brand new passenger terminal in Zanzibar, according to information sent to this correspondent late last week. China extended a 70+ million US Dollars loan agreement to the Zanzibari government, part of which will be dedicated towards the building of new facilities at the airport. Work there, aimed to extend the single runway to accommodate larger wide bodied aircraft, is already ongoing and is being financially supported by fund from the World Bank and other bilateral funding agencies.
Tourism is besides fishing and agriculture – Zanzibar is of course also known as the ‘Spice Island’ – the main source of income for the island’s economy and an expanded and modernised airport will be hugely helpful to attract greater visitors numbers from overseas.
GORILLA MONITORING TO BE STRENGTHENED
Following the untimely passing of four mountain gorillas recently, attributed to extreme weather conditions up their mountain habitat, has RDB – Tourism and Conservation stepped up monitoring by trackers and veterinarians, to be able to intervene should any of the rare animals show signs of illness or exhaustion. The measure has been hailed by conservationists who were shocked about the passing of four gorillas a few weeks ago on a single day, but those spoken to have all accepted that this was very obviously weather related and not caused by a lack of vigilance or lack of care by the park authorities, ‘but an act of nature’ as one regular contact in Kigali put it. It is also accepted that infant mortality amongst mountain gorillas is relatively high again attributed to their habitat at high elevations where the weather always plays a role.
The information was received ahead of the start of the annual gorilla naming ceremony ‘Kwita Izina’ which is due to kick off at the end of May and will feature a number of activities lasting a week.
South Sudan News
PRESIDENT KIIR SWORN IN
The President of the Semi Autonomous Region of the South Sudan, Gen. Salva Kiir, was sworn in last Friday for his first elected term of office, following the conclusion of a general election across the entire Sudan, the first for a generation. Gen. Kiir was already in office, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or in short CPA, assuming office after the fatal crash of erstwhile SPLM/A leader Garang in a helicopter crash in July 2005. A new government is expected to be announced shortly, and again expected to be a government of ‘Southern Unity’ incorporating politicians of other parties than the winning SPLM. Across the 10 southern states have also the elected governors been sworn it and the newly elected state and southern parliament is now also due to sit soon to commence their work and create the legal and regulatory framework for the independence referendum due on 09th January 2011.
This correspondent extends his best wishes to the Southern Sudan as they now march towards that big day and are at last able to determine their own future and destiny, from which they were prevented by a cruel regime over many decades.
RENEWED FIGHTING DESTROYS HOPES FOR TOURISM RECOVER
The rival political factions in Madagascar last week again used force and opened fire on each other in Antananarivo, the capital of the island country. Regime leader Rajoelina, in power since early 2009, has on many occasions fooled missions of the African Union and snubbed reconciliatory efforts led by the former President of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano, first feigning to accept agreed negotiated positions but upon his return to his lair reneging promptly on the commitments made in the meetings. Madagascar has been put under sanctions by the African Union and excluded from all continental and regional meetings and committees, but to little avail so far as the illegitimate regime has been seeking support from other radicals around the globe. SADC, the Southern African Development Cooperation, has also slapped sanctions against the regime, with equally little effect however.
Meanwhile have contacts on the island expressed their dismay that the latest fighting – regime security personnel reportedly opened fire first on several hundred protesters – will stifle any little sign of recovery for the country’s tourism industry, on which the island’s economy in the past heavily relied, before the political squabbles and the coup of last year brought a constant stream of visitors to a near standstill. Watch this space.
NORTH ISLAND FOR SALE – ANY BIDDERS?
The famous ‘North Island’, located in the inner circle of islands around Mahe, is reportedly up for sale by its owners, the Southern African Wilderness Safaris Group. The news broke when the stock exchanges in both South Africa and Botswana issued a cautionary public notice to shareholders, that the apparent sale of the island by a company associated with Wilderness may have an impact on their share price.
The island’s owners were not immediately available for comment. North Island and its top of the range resort (www.north-island.com) are considered a nearly priceless asset to any hospitality concern and first indications received from the Seychelles are that buyers are likely to be lining up from around the world, with bidders from the Gulf already positioned in the front row. Watch this space.
THE VALUE OF ‘SURVEYS’
Only last week did I come across a survey, which rated the cleanliness of Mauritius ahead of that of the Seychelles. Mmmmhhhh did I think, really now. Having been to Mauritius in the past, there is no denying that they have wonderful beaches, excellent resorts and hotels, and their island tours and deep sea fishing do not fail to impress visitors. HOWEVER, when looking at the two capitals I do not think that the state of cleanliness of Victoria should by any standards come second to that of Port Louis, as I personally rate Victoria higher and think it is cleaner. That is not to say that Port Louis is dirty, not at all, and certainly not in comparison to say Nairobi or Kampala, where dust and litter are the order of the day. So in all fairness, to the peddlers of such ‘surveys’, which we all know are often biased towards the paymasters, give credit where it is due … both Mauritius and the Seychelles have their unique charm and attractions but ranking down one at the expense of the other is surely not the way to go about credible journalism and ‘surveys’ especially when the name of the publication is ‘Forbes’. Oooops…
AIR SEYCHELLES RESPONDS TO SHTA LETTER
As was almost predictable has the Seychelles national airline responded to allegations made in the open letter recently published here from the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, in regard of issues raised about their own performance and issues pertaining to them and the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority. In the ongoing interest of providing a balanced picture their response too is published here and thanks go to Capt. David Savy, Executive Chairman of Air Seychelles, for his input:
Air Seychelles categorically refutes the allegation that the SCAA or Air Seychelles as a ground handler is impeding Emirates 7’th frequency.
The SCAA has offered EK alternate timings. The timings specifically requested by Emirates on a Thursday morning is totally unrealistic given congestion at the international airport.
The Seychelles international airport is currently designed to process no more than 500 passengers per 90 minutes. The principal limitation being that in check-in facilities and baggage sorting areas.
Typically the airport is subjected to peaks on certain mornings and on Saturday nights. Otherwise the airport is idle and under utilised at other times.
Accepting the Emirates timings would have meant 4 arrivals within 30 minutes and 3 departures within 40 minutes. With all the goodwill in the world the current infrastructure cannot accommodate this. The other operators would face delays and passengers greater inconvenience.
Emirates currently operates 4 morning flights and 2 afternoon/evening flights weekly. The proposal to Emirates was to operate the seventh service in the afternoon/evening or if they had to do so in the morning it had to be done prior or just after the peak timings.
Emirates like Air Seychelles is subject to slot and airport restrictions to most airports it operates to and what was proposed to Emirates is no different.
The SCAA and Ministry of Transport is actively looking at increasing the arrival and departure halls to alleviate the current congestion.
Extensive works were carried out to the International terminal and long term aircraft parking last year to alleviate congestion at peak times.
The current apron can only accommodate safely 4 wide-body aircraft at any one time.
A 5’th parking position is possible but when used there is an encroachment on the parking of domestic aircraft.
Likewise the expansion and enhancement of the Domestic terminal is long overdue.
The Government has plans to build a new international terminal to meet the growing demand from airlines but a start date has yet to be announced.
As until a totally new facility becomes operational flights will have to be spaced out so that passengers are not inconvenienced.
And in closing can this correspondent confirm that the extra flight Air Seychelles operates into the UK since earlier this year, this flight was not given permission by the UK authorities to fly to London Heathrow but had to route to London Gatwick, in the absence of available ‘slots’, requiring Air Seychelles to set up a costly parallel operation at London’s second airport, while awaiting a slot to be granted at Heathrow. This lends credence to the comments made last week by a source close to the SCAA and underscores above comments from Air Seychelles, than indeed capacity restrictions rather than the alleged ill will are the main cause for the request to Emirates to shift their arrival times for their planned 7th flight, as indeed already two of the six current flights arrive at an alternate ‘slot’. It was also learned from aviation sources in the Gulf that Emirates is indeed considering operating their seventy frequency to arrive in the evening, as two of their flights already do, which in view of their ever improving connectivity in Dubai with other flight arrivals would still give swift connections to passengers flying to the Seychelles via Dubai. A storm in the proverbial tea cup?