Tourism News from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region First Edition August 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

First edition August 2010

 

HOUSTON MARKETING’S WORKSHOPS FOCUS ON ‘SPOTLIGHT ON AFRICA & INDIAN OCEAN’

South Africa based Houston Marketing is once again arranging for a series of travel trade workshops in Southern Africa, focusing on both inbound and outbound travel, permitting to promote African destinations to a wider audience and beyond the ‘normal’ trade shows and tourism exhibitions like INDABA. They recently published a schedule of these events in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, but also of overseas activities, all of them aimed at specifically promoting travel to Africa.

Said Derek Houston to this correspondent recently:

‘The South African Outbound Market into Africa continues to increase year on year. To keep up with the demand, regional African carriers are regularly adding more frequencies and new routes from South Africa to East and West Africa, as you frequently report in eTN.

Recent Kenya Tourist Board figures showed that South African visitor arrivals were in 6th place overall for the first six months of 2010. I have personally no doubt South Africa also ranks in the top 10 for most other East African countries.

To tap into this lucrative market almost a dozen East African hotel, resort and safari operators have joined our ‘Spotlight on Africa & Indian Ocean’ road show around South Africa from October 04th to 08th. Two sessions will be held in the Johannesburg / Sandton area (which accounts for 65% of outbound Travel) before the road show visits Durban and Cape Town, covering all the major South African outbound markets.’

Derek Houston will for these road shows invite corporate and leisure travel agents, outbound tour operators, conference organisers and incentive travel companies. Over 350 travel trade participants are expected to attend the four sessions.

Additional spotlight workshops are planned in Harare / Zimbabwe on 02nd September and in Maputo / Mozambique on 21st October. Central European road shows, covering Vienna, Budapest and Prague will take place between September 13th to 16th.

Contact www.houstonmarketing.co.za for more details or write to Derek@houstonmarketing.co.za to sign up or get added information.

 

Uganda News

FLY 540 ADDING KISUMU STOP ON WEEKEND FLIGHTS

The regional ‘original’ low cost airline Fly 540 has introduced Kisumu as an add on destination to one each of their Saturday and Sunday flight between Nairobi and Entebbe, offering the first time for many a year the option to fly on a scheduled service between the two lake side city destinations. Saturday’s morning flight will route NBO KIS EBB KIS NBO as will the Sunday evening flight, giving ample time for visitors to see the sights. The cost for a regular return flight was given at US Dollar 185 inclusive of all regulatory charges and the inaugural flight will take place next weekend already, i.e. the first weekend in August. Tour packages are at this moment not available yet but are expected to be launched soon too, giving travellers a variety of options how to best to spend a day and night in each destination, either Kisumu / Kenya or in Entebbe / Kampala. Near Kisumu are Lake Victoria island resorts and fishing camps available for overnight stays as are game reserves and a national park for a day out on safari, besides also offering the opportunity to see the paternal home of current US President Obama which is located just a few kilometres from the city’s airport. The Rusinga Island Camp in particular can be highly recommended and should absolutely be part of Fly 540’s upcoming package deals and visitors can be picked up from the airport by the camp vehicle or, against some added fee, take the speedboat to the island. Visit www.rusinga.com for more details and bookings.

Visitors coming to Entebbe meanwhile can see and explore the famous Botanical Gardens, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre with rare and exotic animals, birds, reptiles but also medicinal plants and trees, or else take a boat ride from the Entebbe pier to Ngamba Island where a large chimpanzee colony can be seen in a tropical forest and where a tourist camp also allows to spend the night. Details of this camp, operated by Wild Frontiers Uganda, can be found via www.ugandaexclusivecamps.com/ngamba.htlm.

Well done 540 for re-connecting more and more of East Africa – now let’s just do away with the nuisance Visa requirements for East African residents duly registered in one of the EAC member states wishing to travel to another, to encourage regional tourism.

 

CASSOA OPEN ‘OWN’ OFFICES IN ENTEBBE

The Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, a body established by the East African Community, has at last been able to officially ‘open’ their own premises in Entebbe, signalling a new phase in aviation cooperation in the region. Besides the pomp and glamour though aviators sampled in the region expressed their disappointment, some of them outright disgust, over continued non tariff barriers impacting on their ability to freely operated across the entire region.

One senior management staff of a commercial airline suggested to ‘scrap all bilateral agreements just as soon as possible which are in place between the EAC member countries and replace it with a new regime of open sky policy’ before adding ‘our aviation bureaucrats need to put into action what our politicians profess to in public, and fast’. Others continue to take issue with the fragmented licensing regime, which compels airlines to obtain in a worst case five separate operating licenses, in techno lingo called AOC’s, and demanded that this too be streamlined. Said one seasoned airline staff: ‘They need to recognize an AOC for instance issued in Kenya also in Uganda or Tanzania or Rwanda or Burundi. Now CASSOA is in their new headquarters and they already give binding guidelines for licensing of airlines registered in the member states. We need to cut through the red tape now. We need to bring relief in terms of bureaucracy and cost. Right now, say look at 540 Aviation, they have operations in three countries and needed to establish companies, get air service licenses, then get their separate AOC’s, install accountable managers. All this should in the new EAC be reviewed and once you have met the standards, once you are given an AOC in one member state, that should be binding for others too.’

Operators of light aircraft, mainly used for regional charters and tourist traffic into the parks, also added comments with one claiming: ‘right now the brutal truth is that the public is being deceived. Integration right now is an added layer of bureaucrazy. The functions now overseen by CASSOA must be removed from the national regulators, permits and licenses should be granted by CASSOA and then valid across the entire region. We should be allowed to fly tourists into national parks without being treated as invaders. Stop treating us as foreign airlines when we fly across East Africa. We want clearances just as fast as airlines registered in that country would get them, not wait for 24 hours, or 48 hours or longer. What is the point of our clients wanting to fly when in the end they get there faster by road because we are not given clearance fast enough.’

Upon further probing one regulatory staff, on condition of anonymity, conceded that there were still problems over integration and cutting red tape, and blamed it on one memberstate in particular, without however being drawn into giving the name … regular readers though can probably figure that one out themselves. Watch this space as this issue is ongoing and will undoubtedly attract future attention again.

 

NEMA BOWS TO PRESSURE – NAMES WETLAND ENCROACHERS

Media reports late last week highlighted once again the plight of conservationists in their efforts to retain, protect and restore wetlands, around the capital city of Kampala but also across the entire country. The National Environmental Management Authority has often been harshly critizised for doing little to live up to their mandate while at the same time constant allegations speak of selective enforcement only, as and when it apparently either suits them or for other reasons, much speculated over of course. Enroute from the city to this correspondent’s residence, in the so called Konge valley, the wetlands and drainage of rain water towards the lake has been massively encroached in recent years, but inspite of regular information sent to NEMA on that spot nothing at all has been done, encouraging the rapid closing up from both ends of the swamp for commercial and farming purposes.

However, the stinging criticism has not entirely fallen on deaf ears as NEMA has now named the top 100 encroachers they are presently dealing with. The list includes some of Uganda’s leading business names, including the Speke Resort in Munyonyo, the Islamic University in Uganda, Mukwano Industries, well connected individuals and also faded socialite and former ‘Miss Uganda’ organizer Sylvia Awori, all of whom are reportedly under investigation by NEMA.

The organization itself let it be known that often their enforcement officers are assaulted by private developer’s security guards while they still wait for the dedicated environmental police unit, created last year, to become fully operational and deploy into the field alongside NEMA staff. NEMA also announced that they would soon start on yet another demarcation exercise and that following its completion land titles in wetland areas would likely be cancelled to assist in the future protection of this crucial resource.

In a related development it was also learned that the water quality in areas affected by encroachment, be it through the run off of fertilizers or the unchecked flow into the lake by waste water and in particular the Nakivubo channel, has further deteriorated, requiring Kampala Water to introduce newer filtering and water treatment technologies. The resulting added cost of producing potable water is expected to rise in the future, making all consumers pay for the environmental sins of a few. See separate article on this topic and watch this space.

 

SHERATON INTRODUCES ‘THE BOOST JUICE BAR’

Following the global trends of eating and drinking ‘healthy’ has the Sheraton Kampala now opened a fresh juice outlet in the hotel. The new ‘health bar’ will serve customers using the Kidepo Health Club, but products are now also available at the swimming pool’s snack bar and the Paradise Terrace daily from 9 am till 10 pm. The ‘smoothies’, ‘crushies’ and full flavoured and textured  fruit and vegetable juices are prepared ‘to order’ from fresh ingredients and reportedly already found a faithful following especially amongst the ladies frequenting the health club and garden eatery.

 

FLY 540 NOW ADDS ‘HOLIDAY PACKAGES’ FOR ZANZIBAR

Vacation packages are now being sold by Fly 540 on the Ugandan market in conjunction with their flights to Zanzibar, via Nairobi for as low as 665 US Dollars per person sharing, all taxes included. Destination hotel will be the Zanzibar Beach Resort and meet and greet services, return transfers in Zanzibar from airport to the resort and back are included in the package price as is a welcome drink, a daily breakfast buffet, free wireless internet access when using one’s own laptop or netbook and a dayroom on the departure day. Use of the hotel’s fitness centre and a daily animation programme are also included in the package rate. The basic package is for two nights and add on days are available at the very reasonable cost of 75 US Dollars per person, valid between now and the 19th of December for Ugandan residents. Considering that the Zanzibar Beach Resort is a four star hotel this is very good value for money – Fly 540 operates daily to Zanzibar from Nairobi and double daily between Nairobi and Entebbe, giving travellers the choice of leaving any day of the week.

 

UGANDAN FORCES ENGAGE AL SHABAB IN MOGADISHU

No sooner had the African Union Summit ended in Kampala did the large Ugandan contingent based in Somalia make good of President Museveni’s threat, to go after the Islamic terror group Al Shabab, thought to be behind the recent twin suicide bombings in Kampala.

While the UN reportedly still has other ideas and tried to insist on ‘peace keeping only’ – forgetting that presently this is a complete misnomer as there is no peace – Ugandan troops made no mistake in decisively engaging a contingent of militia fighters coming too close to their positions and made short work of them with both artillery and other means, in the process decimating the terrorists and defeating their attempt to establish a forward base near the guarded zone of Mogadishu.

The AU Summit sanctioned an immediate further 2000 troops to be deployed, presently training in Djibouti before being flown to Mogadishu, and has somewhat strengthened the mandate for them, meeting military demands. An expert panel from the AU is now also considering how many more troops are needed to expel the terrorists from not just Mogadishu but to progressively expand the area controlled by the Transitional Federal Government and pacify parts of the country presently suffering from the barbaric rule of Islamic militias and pirates.

When these news broke in Kampala satisfaction took root and President Museveni’s hard stand to pursue and bring to justice those responsible for the recent atrocities got a visible boost when the success story reached the local media.

 

PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE HEARS OF ‘POISON ALGAE’

The natural resources committee in parliament last week heard about alarming developments in Lake Victoria near the city shores, when they were told of a growth of toxic algae now polluting the waters, presumably in Murchison’s Bay and beyond. These parts of the lake near the city are considered the most polluted of all, as the so called Nakivubo Channel, built on advise of the World Bank in a straight line towards the lake against all protests at the time by experts, is emptying the city’s water run off including rubbish into the bay.

Parliament was told that as much as 14 tons of pollution are carried into the lake by the channel, as the filtering function of the surrounding swamps and wetlands has been severely compromised by wetland encroachment in crucial area and the design of the channel into the lake.

When asked on funding available it was stated that only 2.3 billion Uganda Shillings had been allocated to combat pollution but that at least a further 12 billion was needed to effectively roll out reforestation along river banks and lake shores and unspecified amounts of money for the establishment of additional sewerage treatment plants for the city, its environs and the redesign of the Nakivubo channel.

Many of Uganda’s lakes and rivers are also threatened by increased deforestation along river and lake banks, adding to the woes of these water bodies as evermore silt is being washed into rivers and lakes, eventually making them shallower and impacting on the breeding patterns of fish, a staple diet for many Ugandans. It is for such reasons that these problems are of late receiving greater attention and publicity, in order to compel governmental bodies to spend more on educational programmes and re-forestation across the country but in particular to protect river banks and lake shores.

 

ANOTHER LAKE TRAGEDY INCREASES PRESSURE ABOUT SAFETY

News reports from Lake Albert tell a harrowing story of yet another lake boat capsizing in bad weather, and in the absence of sufficient life vests costing dozens of lives again. Overloading of boats, in this tragic case once more suggested as the main cause of the accident, combined with sudden storms and often poor training of the crew on board are regularly cited by authorities, but due to the many landing sites tighter supervision is often not possible. Many boat operators are also shy to invest in life vests to be worn by each passenger and NGO’s and development partners trying to promote lake safety are struggling to keep up with demand. The ill fated boat was reportedly on an 8 hour overnight journey from a landing site on the Lake Albert shores in Hoima district to Nebbi district across the lake and ran into a strong storm. Rescue operations have managed to find a number of people alive, clinging to floating cargo and debris but over 70 people are feared drowned in this latest calamity striking lake travellers.

In contrast, boats used for tourists to explore the shores of Lake Victoria, Lake Albert and other lakes and rivers are licensed, insured, well equipped, the crew have safety and first aid training, carry life saving equipment on board and are in communications with shore by both radio and – where available – mobile phones.  

 

Kenya News

STARWOOD SAID TO EYE KENYA

Following last week’s announcement of the takeover of the Holiday Inn Nairobi by South Africa’s Southern Sun Hotel Group have further news emerged that Starwood, the owners of amongst others the Sheraton global hotel brand, too is eyeing an entry into East Africa’s biggest economy. Present global brands like Intercontinental and Hilton have been operating leading hotels in Nairobi for decades and Hilton for some time even owned and operated two safari lodges, before divesting of those interests at a time when the market had fallen a little flat and concentrating on its core business with the Nairobi Hilton Hotel. Sheraton for a brief period in the 1980’s managed a beach property in Mombasa but having failed back then to understand the market soon afterwards withdrew from the contract.

Intercontinental owns and operates its Nairobi flagship property since the mid 1970’s and recently opened a Crown Plaza hotel in the ‘upper hill’ part of the city, which it operates on behalf of an ownership consortium, effectively covering the luxury and up market segment in Kenya’s capital.

Sheraton in contrast manage hotels in Kampala and Addis Ababa, both owned by the same middle Eastern group which also owns the Djibouti Sheraton, but had pulled out of a management deal in Kenya it had entered into with a highly controversial individual claiming to own former Block Hotels – inspite of warnings by many industry observers at the time – who, according to a source in Nairobi, for a while spent more time in court and remand than behind his desk. The recent strong growth in Kenya’s convention and meeting market however has made Nairobi in particular once more interesting for the ‘big boys’ and the expected opening in 2012 of the Radisson Hotel – a Rezidor brand – will add pressure to other global players to seek out a property to either own and manage or at the very least sign a long term management contract to establish a presence in the largest city of the region.

Kempinski has over the past years built a significant presence in Tanzania with one lodge, resorts and the leading business hotel in Dar es Salaam, but not spread their wings further into the region, while Fairmont has a strong presence in Kenya with lodges and the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, but again abandoned plans to build a hotel in Kampala, when the global financial and economic crisis made the going tough.

It is thought that with the further integration of the East African Community, and the harmonization and streamlining of the legislative and regulatory frameworks in coming years, the EAC will become a major focal point for investments by global hospitality giants, aided also by the fact that Nairobi has become THE regional aviation hub, further aided when the expansion and rehabilitation of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has been concluded. Watch this space.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS PRESENTS OPERATING REPORT

The latest release of operational data by Kenya Airways last weekend shows that the upswing and improvements for the ‘Pride of Africa’ continues unabated. The global economic and financial crisis impacted severely on the performance of the East African economies too, and combined with at the time huge rises in the cost of aviation fuel KQ had recorded reduced cargo and passenger loads, had to cut routes and capacity but over all still managed to avoid the mega losses compared to in particular US based carriers.

Strike action last year, by many observers thought illegal at the time as the union ignored a court order, and then the European ‘ash cloud’ earlier this year too caused financial wobbles, but now it seems the airline has put all of this firmly behind and is progressively returning to its star performance of past years.

The operational report pointed out that KQ’s B777 fleet is presently undergoing heavy maintenance, and that their B767 are taking up the routes albeit with lesser uplift capacity, underscoring the urgency to bring additional aircraft into the fleet, considering the long delays with the deliveries of the ordered B787 aircraft. It was in fact the B787 which was due to replace the ageing B767 fleet progressively from 2011 onwards but the airline has remained shtumm on this issue and refrained from confirming if indeed they have made a deal with Airbus to bring A330’s into the fleet as an intermediate measure.

Hence, the routes to the Middle and Far / South East are presently down by 8 percent, largely due to the use of the smaller B767, but still up from last year overall, while it is again the African route network which shows the largest upswing. Flights to South Africa were up by 22 percent during the period under review, supported by world cup traffic, into which KQ tapped successfully by using their Nairobi hub for the onward connections to Johannesburg.

East Africa capacity by KQ on papers seems ‘down’ by 7 percent, but informed observers, including this correspondent, attribute this to the increased use of the smaller capacity Embraer jets and a greater integration of traffic into Tanzania with partner airline ‘Precision Air’, which is now playing a larger role in cross border traffic, giving KQ the ability to re-deploy their own fleet to other valuable destinations in the region. Visit the company’s website www.kenya-airways.com for more information on corporate and financial performance.

 

‘NEW’ TRAVEL NEWS APPEARS ON THE WEB

As mentioned a while ago, Tony Clegg Butt, formerly of ‘the’ Travel News, has made good of his promise to launch a new travel magazine in Kenya. The web based ‘Travel News’ is similar in editorial content selection to the former print version, which had many faithful followers across the region after establishing itself as THE travel and lifestyle magazine. However, after selling the magazine to a South African media group the new owners merged it with their own creation ‘Twende’ and then managed to run the magazine into the ground through a series of management errors, which included letting go of key creative brains and staff behind the erstwhile Twende and then committing other blunders, serving as ‘afterburners’ for their magazines’ free fall into oblivion.

The ‘old’ Travel News interestingly was never on the web, not even for a fee, and the ‘new’ Travel News will according the Tony ONLY be on the web and available there for subscribers in a marked departure from past distribution and availability channels – surely saving a forest or two in the future by NOT having use paper to print on.

Write to travelnews@triad.co.ke to be added to the distribution list, and meanwhile all the best to Tony and his team for the future – East Africa needed you back!

 

SOUTH – EAST COOPERATION ITINERARY NOW AVAILABLE

Kenya’s ‘Bush Adventures’ and South Africa’s ‘Peace of Eden’ have now published the itinerary for September, the first such cooperation between the two companies. Both companies have specialised in unique features such as survival training and teaching ‘bush craft’, taught by Masai in Kenya and Bushmen in Southern Africa to the participants of courses and activities.

Peace of Eden will offer the first of their East Africa adventures between 17th and 22nd of September, from and to Nairobi and the full itinerary and cost, excluding flights, Visa and items of a personal nature can be accessed via www.peace-of-eden.co.za/corporate-wildlife-teambuilding-experience-with-the-maasai-from-the-ilingwesi-clan-itinerary.htm

This being a unique and rather novel vacation adventure, interested parties are advised to book swiftly to be assured of a place.  Find details of the Kenyan operation via www.bush-adventures.com

 

CAMPSITE RAIDED IN MASAI MARA CONSERVATION AREA

Reports are being received from Nairobi that shortly after 8 p.m. last Monday night a group of armed raiders, thought to have crossed the border from Tanzania into neighbouring Kenya, attacked a private tented camp put up for the night by long term Kenya residents on a local vacation. After first firing a salvo of shots into the camp, a previously never experienced method of robbery, they then raided the campsite and made away with valuables.

The campsite, normally used by and popular with East African residents and Kenyan campers is reportedly located on one of the conservancies in the so called Mara Triangle, below the Ololoolo escarpment and near the common border.

According to reliable sources two of the campers suffered gun shot wounds while one of the group was fatally wounded and succumbed not long afterwards to his injuries. According to a very reliable source in Nairobi this person in fact celebrated his 60th birthday that day. An aircraft of the Flying Doctor services has since then collected the injured and brought them to a leading Nairobi hospital for treatment where they are said to be in a serious but stable condition.

A combined team of Kenya Wildlife Services rangers and other security personnel stationed in the wider area was deployed just as soon as the information reached them, and this being a full moon night they immediately began tracking the criminals who reportedly fled in the direction of the border with Tanzania. Additional security teams were airlifted into the Masai Mara or dispatched from their observation points to join in the hunt for the gang, and it is understood that Tanzanian authorities too dispatched rangers and security forces to the area close to the incident on the Tanzanian side to also join in the search, hand in hand with their Kenyan counterparts.

This is a ‘first’ of its kind of such a brutal attack, never seen before, and as and when caught the culprits will be facing the death penalty when convicted. It is presently of no consolation to this correspondent that no foreign tourists were involved in the incident. The tragic loss of life and the injuries to the survivors are harrowing and shocking as it is and being East African residents does not make this any less serious than had it been foreign tourists.

The eTN East Africa team expresses their sorrow and sympathy and extends heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those affected by this senseless act of violence.

 

KENYA REFERENDUM ON NEW CONSTITUTION EXPECTED TO BE CALM

Senior tourism stakeholders in Nairobi and Mombasa have expressed their confidence that the imminent referendum over the new constitution, due to be held on Wednesday 04th of August, and which was hotly contested by proponents and opponents for months now, will be conducted in a peaceful and mature manner and that NO repeat of the post election violence in early 2008 is expected. In fact, leading safari operators, while acknowledging ‘contingency plans’, are said to be not really concerned about the voting and counting, as the high season for safaris – especially into the Masai Mara where the annual migration of wildebeest and zebras can now be seen – is underway. While no official statement could be obtained from government other usually reliable sources connected to governmental bodies and authorities were giving reassurance and portrayed optimism, that tourists visiting Kenya would as usual be safe and could enjoy their vacation without any problems.

All indications are that the people of Kenya will vote ‘YES’ to finally get a new constitution, and while it is acknowledged even by proponents of the document that it has flaws, these can always be amended at a later stage without throwing the entire document for a second time after 2005 into the bin.

Meanwhile it was also confirmed that Wednesday will be a public holiday in Kenya, to permit citizens to vote on the new proposed constitution, while civil servants will be having three days off, to allow for travel on Tuesday to their home areas, vote on Wednesday and return to their duty stations on Thursday …

 

YEMEN AIR TO START EAST AFRICA FLIGHTS

From December this year, or so says the information passed to this correspondent by sources in both Kenya and Tanzania, will Yemen Airways be flying three times a week between Sana’a and Nairobi, before then continuing to Dar es Salaam. The return is due to follow the same routing. The airline will reportedly use one of their relatively new NG Boeing 737-800 aircraft for this service. The flight will not be operated under any code share arrangement with other airlines and offers upon landing in Sana’a connections into the region, details of which however were not available by the time of filing this report. Watch this space for the most up to date news from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean aviation scene.

 

Tanzania News

DAR ES SALAAM TO GET NEW AIRLINK WITH SOUTH AFRICA

It was confirmed last week that Comair, the franchisee for British Airways in South Africa and also operator of low cost airline ‘Kulula.com’ will commence flights into Dar es Salaam from November this year. The airline is set to fly five times a week between Johannesburg and Dar, the limit set under their present licence granted by Tanzania’s air transport licensing body, but has already stated their intent to eventually operate daily flights. It is presently not entirely clear if the flights will be operated under ‘Kulula.com’ or under Comair’s British Airways franchise, but intending passengers will probably not mind that at all as long as added options for flights are put on the market at affordable fares.

In the past South African tour operators sent plenty of visitors to explore Tanzania’s national parks, beaches and islands but the near collapse of Air Tanzania, and the resulting unsettled huge claims for tickets already paid when the airline ceased operations on the route to Johannesburg, has deeply upset the travel and tourism stakeholder affected. (Such contingent liabilities actually are one of the major reasons for the reluctance of potential core investors in ATCL the government has been wooing) However, with this new connection, operated by a rather more reliable and better reputed South African airline, this reluctance to promote Tanzania will probably be overcome in coming weeks ahead of the inaugural flight and ‘regular’ business will undoubtedly resume soon.

 

TANZANIAN POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENT TRAMPLES ON NYERERE LEGACY

 

“The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration, but are an integral part of our natural resources and our future livelihood and well being.

In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grand-children will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance.
The conservation of wildlife and wild places calls for specialist knowledge, trained manpower and money, and we look to other nations to co-operate with us in this important task – the success or failure of which not only affects the continent of Africa but the rest of the world as well.”
Julius K. Nyerere, Father of the Tanzanian nation and Founder President of the United Republic of Tanzania, in his pre-independence Arusha Manifesto, 1961

 

The announcement by President Kikwete during a campaign speech last weekend, that ‘the Serengeti road will go ahead’ was a hard slap into the face of the legacy left by founding father Julius Mwalimu Nyerere, who had immediately prior to Independence in his ‘Arusha Manifesto’ vowed to protect the Serengeti and recognized its importance as a world heritage, belonging to all of mankind. It is also a stark departure from not only these but other ‘teachings’ of Nyerere too, whom Kikwete has often described as his political mentor and inspiration.

Plans to build the hugely controversial highway across the sprawling wilderness, home of the one of the last of the world’s great herds of migrating wildlife, have repeatedly been defeated in the past, but industrial mining interests, allegedly combined with huge campaign donations, are hard at work to succeed this time round. International financing institutions like the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the East African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank and others will be reluctant though to fund such a project, as their own environmental guidelines prohibit them from touching such follies and as opposition is already forming on their own doorsteps by conservation NGO’s, civil society and an unfolding letter and email campaign by thousands of individuals from around the world. Such concerted efforts ordinarily swiftly throw a spanner in the work of assessing loan and grant applications and these bi- and multilateral institutions are not likely to incur the wrath of influential NGO’s in their own ‘back yards’ when an alternative route is available.

That alternative route would benefit millions more people with access to markets and the urban centres than the Northern route but has been dismissed as ‘not viable’ by some Tanzanian governmental mouthpieces and politicians seeking re-election on the back of the president’s past campaign promises, likely uttered at the spur of the moment and now hard to disown. Yet, much of ‘official’ Tanzania certainly ignores if not outright disowns that alternative route option in the face of expert advice available to them. The ‘Southern Route’, as can be seen on websites advocating against the route through the park, is meeting the access needs of more villages and productive agricultural areas and still connect the very parts of Tanzania the present park road proposal seems to secure. The minor climb down by government last week, ‘not to tarmac’ the park section, is minimalist in its nature as a commercial road, even if only constructed with murram, will still attract thundering trucks, since at both ends of the park tarmac is beckoning for them. Other government mouthpieces are pointing to ‘existing roads through the Serengeti’, conveniently mixing the term ‘road’ with  the type of tracks established and maintained by the park authorities. These tracks are narrow, often causing even safari 4×4’s to pass each other at walking speed, while the proposed commercial road would be of standard width to permit heavy traffic pass each other, or overtake with ease. 

Notably, the Tanzanian government hierarchy is also silent to apparently most, if not all enquiries being made for a ‘statement on the record about the project’, rightly fearing that this may in time to come harshly backfire on them when, as the doomsday scenario for the Serengeti is painted in greater detail, they may one day be held accountable for their complicity in ‘killing the Serengeti’.

However, it is also established already that countries applying lesser standards for loans and known to habitually ignore the issues of environmental protection, are likely to step forward and offer funding against securing concessions and the hope of huge profits, leaving Tanzania in the end with deep holes in the ground, a wrecked and poisoned environment and the loss of biodiversity and the big herds in the Serengeti, bled dry of natural resources and likely left in greater poverty rather than less. Intriguing enough, it is one of those ‘usual suspects’ country which is constantly in the news when smuggling of ivory and rhino horn is mentioned in the media and many citizens from that country in the Far East have been arrested for their involvement in smuggling blood ivory and poaching operations, not just in Eastern Africa but also further down south on the continent, where the problem is even more acute.

It has become evident now that the ‘Save the Serengeti’ coalition needs to shift their focus to lobby their respective home governments and global institutions and have Tanzanian plans exposed, so that at least a temporary ‘pariah’ status can be attached to the country until the route for the road is shifted to the Southern side of the Serengeti, where according to information at hand a great multiple of a population would benefit from the road links – but of course lengthening the access route for the future miners, their equipment and supplies.

Tourists visiting Tanzania too should bring their voices to bear on their tour operators back home and their safari operators in Tanzania to compel them to speak up and expose the project for the what it is, a sure killer for wildlife and an insurmountable obstacle for the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras in search of food, the lack of access to which will surely decimate the present big herds to a fraction, as the bisons’ were decimated across the North American prairies. Sadly though, the media in Tanzania and much of Eastern Africa are shtumm on the issue, apart from a few isolated articles and dissent in particular in Tanzania itself seems deliberately kept out of the media spot light, probably – as several sources in Arusha and Dar es Salaam confirmed, speaking from third party phones in a tell tale sign – to avoid political repercussions, framed up arrests and worse before the elections at the end of October. The mention by the president last week, when he pointed to opposition to the road coming mostly from outside Tanzania, is – while technically correct – also an affirmation of having successfully muzzled dissent to the project within Tanzania, leaving only web based media to give information to the Tanzanian people as their own media continue to let them down. Even media contacts, known to this correspondent for many years, have become shy to even discuss the issue by phone or exchange emails on the matter, with two giving almost identical responses: ‘you know how things are, this is election time, don’t put me at risk please. We see what is written on the internet and appreciate but Tanzanians really cannot speak up against it. Just remember what happened to the former TANAPA chief who was completely opposed to this road’.

Serengeti Shall Not Die for the last nearly 60 years was the slogan the world listened to, attracting huge funding and a huger following by friends of the Serengeti, and of Tanzania, from abroad, but for how much longer that will continue, should this project go ahead.

The project is, according the available projections and studies carried out before, a certain death sentence for the Serengeti herds migration pattern and those holding the hangman’s noose are none other than President Kikwete and his orchestra of sycophants surrounding him, and either unwilling or unable to tell or show him the errors of his way. It is therefore mega barbs for the Tanzanian establishment and their industrial and big business backers and bouquets to all those in support of saving the Serengeti from this fallacy.

In a related, and under the circumstances truly ironic development, was the Ngorongoro Conservation area, including the Olduvai Gorge, last week made a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside the Serengeti, a status the latter will surely lose if indeed the road project goes ahead as presently suggested.

Follow the developments and new postings and articles on Twitter via @stopserengetihw or sign up to and regularly visit the ‘official Facebook’ site to post your own comments and contributions via www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/STOP-THE-SERENGETI-HIGHWAY/125601617471610?ref=ts

 

Rwanda News

RWANDAIR REPLACES FOREIGN CHARTERED AIRLINES FOR TROOP TRANSPORT

Having acquired additional aircraft in recent months the Rwandan national airline has now won a bid to fly peacekeeping troops from Kigali to Darfur, where the country maintains a major presence under the United Nations mandate. Previously foreign carriers had filled this gap and operated the regular flights, at times dogged by controversy, but now that RwandAir does have B737-500 aircraft on their fleet they were at last able to not only contribute troops but also fly them there.

It was also learned that the delivery of the second leased B737-500 was on schedule for end August, allowing the airline to roll out their planned network, frequency and capacity expansion as reported about in earlier articles. This has according to a source in Kigali already resulted in adding a Sunday flight to Kilimanjaro / Arusha in Tanzania, making it now four a week.

Meanwhile has the airline announced sweeping changes in their scheduling of flights out of Kigali and intending travellers are urged to visit www.rwandair.com for updated information, or else call RwandAir or their travel agent to avoid either missing their flight or coming way too early to the airport.

 

NAKUMATT GIVES BOOST TO GORILLA CONSERVATION

One of East Africa’s leading retail giants, Kenya’s Nakumatt, has made good of a pledge made earlier in the year to donate 1 percent of their revenue accrued during the month of June in their Kigali shop to gorilla conservation projects. A cheque was handed over last week to the Ministry of Environment and Lands to eventually benefit RDB – Tourism and Conservation in their projects and activities, worth 5.9 million Rwandese Francs.

Gorilla tourism is the highest profile tourism activity in Rwanda and conservation is a key cornerstone of government policies, aimed to maintain bio diversity and protect species from which tourism, the biggest foreign exchange earner for the ‘land of a thousand hills’ can benefit in the long term.

 

RWANDA VOTES ON AUGUST 09TH

As previously indicated, Rwanda is holding general elections across the country to choose new members of parliament and – what seems a foregone conclusion – confirm President Paul Kagame for a second term of office. Tourism stakeholders have contacted this correspondent seeking to reassure tourist visitors about to arrive in the country, that these elections will be held in a mature and peaceful manner and that no problems or any nature are expected for tourists, when coming to see the country’s cultural and natural attractions. Previous elections in the ‘new’ Rwanda, which emerged from the 1994 genocide like the proverbial ‘phoenix’ from the ashes, were also held without any significant incidents and safaris to the national parks went on as scheduled without any interruptions, as is expected this time also. Visit www.rwandatourism.com for updates and information.

 

Seychelles News

CHINA TOURIST OFFICE TO OPEN SOON

The Seychelles Tourist Board has confirmed that they are at an advanced stage to formally open a marketing office in China, to promote more tourists visit the archipelago. Excellent air connections via Emirates flights routing through Dubai are available six days a week to Mahe, soon to rise to daily flights once scheduling conflicts have been resolved. The Seychelles also discussed direct airlinks with China during a recent visit by President Michel to China and while this may still be a while off before bearing fruits it would certainly boost tourism links between the archipelago and the Far East.

Already one staff, Ms. Stephanie Lablache from STB, is attached to the Seychelles diplomatic mission in Beijing and looking after the promotion of tourism but the planned opening of a ‘proper’ tourist office will undoubtedly help the Seychelles to work the market better.

 

AIR SEYCHELLES TO COMPLY WITH EUROPEAN EMISSION CONTROLS

The EU emission trading scheme has been a challenge to airlines flying into European airspace and progressively have foreign carriers started to comply with monitoring and reporting requirements. Air Seychelles too is now ‘on board’ with this and has instituted measures and procedures to meet the European Union’s requirements, based on which continued traffic rights into the EU are anchored. The Seychelles’ national airline is expected to buy ‘carbon credits’ if necessary but may also take advantage of free carbon credits once the first schedule of reports has been submitted to the EU and reviewed by their experts.

Air Seychelles operates scheduled flights to Italy and Britain and charters as and where required from mainland Europe and Britain to the archipelago, but also currently operates a contract for the UK to the Falkland Islands, all of which fall under the EU’s new regulations.

It was learned that the reporting and data processing was outsourced to ‘Aviation Footprinter’ as a result of doing in house trials first, a decision the airline took to promote accuracy and full compliance with a variety of rules but also to obtain added data relevant to aircraft and engine maintenance.

Meanwhile has Air Seychelles also confirmed that they expect to take delivery of their first Boeing B787 ‘Dreamliner’ by 2013, when the replacement of the current fleet of B 767 aircraft will begin in earnest.

 

NAME CHANGE FOR SEYCHELLES HELI OPERATORS

Following two earlier articles on the planned joint venture by Helicopter Seychelles and Zil Air, the merger has now taken place and the new corporate identity and name was revealed yesterday, in time to be reported her in ‘breaking news’ fashion.

‘L’ Air DeZil’ was the name revealed to the public yesterday, combining Creole, English and French terminology and translating broadly into ‘the fragrance of the islands’.

Also highlighted were the key corporate values as:

Right Thinking – Right Experience – Right Team – Right Now

Good luck and happy landings and when the new corporate logo is revealed you too will be amongst the very first to see it.

 

Southern Sudan News

BORDER DEMARCATION REMAINS A CHALLENGE

As the rainy season is now beginning in parts of the Southern Sudan’s territory adjoining the North of the country, the ongoing verification exercise – dealing with the remaining 20 percent of hitherto unmapped boundary lines – is facing suspension due to transportation and access problems. It is thought that the remaining mapping however is also focused on the most contentious areas and about three quarters of the remaining work scope will be ‘hotly’ disputed, according to a source in Juba. The regime in Khartoum is already using the pause to threaten the South with a shift in referendum dates, claiming that unless the border lines are verified and agreed no vote on independence can take place, a notion firmly rejected by the Southern leadership who have already vowed that the referendum will take place as scheduled.

Some of the borders are important for both sides as huge oil deposits were found along the North / South divide and Khartoum will by hook or crook try to grab some of the oil by having border lines drawn along their own image rather than follow historical division lines, when few from the North were ever coming to the South other than to raid for cattle and slaves.

The international community has supported the peaceful progress under the CPA of January 2005 and not ruled out arbitration, should some stretches of the boundaries not be agreed upon between the two parties, similar to the Abyei case which was partly resolved before the international arbitration panel in The Hague.

Meanwhile has the regime in Khartoum poured more oil into the ‘fire’ when introducing parallels of the Ethiopia / Eritrea conflict over unresolved border issues, conveniently pushing aside the fact that an independent border commission had ruled long ago on those disputed boundaries and leaving unsaid the aggressive nature of the regime which prior to the CPA brutally oppressed the Southern population and occupied their land, inflicting a great loss of life at the time … trust know whom …

 

 

And in closing today again some interesting material, courtesy of Gill Staden who produces ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ down South in Zambia at the Victoria Falls …

 

Kariba Bush Club

I took a mad dash to Kariba Bush Club during the week.  There one day, back the next … but it was worth it.  It is such a beautiful spot on the lake. 

Kariba Bush Club is a 5-hour drive, through Choma and on to Batoka where you turn east on a tar road towards Maamba.  It is well sign-posted so impossible to get lost.  The last stretch of road is dirt so a car with high clearance is probably best. 

I arrived in the afternoon to be welcomed by Chennay who took me across the lake to the houseboat which was moored in a bay off one of their islands.  I joined the rest of the group on the boat – family and friends – who were all idling around the deck, some fishing in a half-hearted fashion.  All were enjoying an afternoon beer so I joined them with a Mosi. 

The island is stocked with game so we watched as waterbuck, eland, impala and kudu came down to drink.  The water is still high but has gone down about half a metre from its highest level.  As with all the islands in the lake, the water has covered much of the grazing along the water’s edge.  All the animals on the Bush Club’s islands have been given supplementary food to help them get through the lean times.  Once the water level has gone down and the new grass has grown, there will be plenty for the grazers to eat. 

The evening was spent chatting on the deck and enjoying the breeze from the lake.  Peter and Chennay cooked a great meal and, after that, I decided I needed to sleep.  I left the rest of them playing a ridiculous board game – apparently until midnight.   

I was the first up in the morning and as I had no-one to chat to, I decided to have a go at the fishing thing.  I didn’t expect to catch anything … and I didn’t.  I was joined a while later by Steve from England who also picked up a rod and threw a lure into the lake.  We were trying to be quiet as the midnight revellers were still sleeping.  Then suddenly Steve yelled: I think I’ve got one.  And a huge tigerfish leapt out of the water on the end of the line.  Of course, this woke everyone up, so we all watched as Steve landed a 4kg fish. 

Having roused everyone we all had cups of tea and coffee, started up the boat and trundled round the island and across the lake to the mainland for breakfast.   Peter took me for a bit of a tour to see the new ensuite tents, the children’s playground and a few other developments since I had last visited.  He told me that they can now take 78 guests, so, if you have a large family, they can all fit at Kariba Bush Club.

They have two houseboats.  The small one we used can take six people comfortably, but a few extra can find a mattress on the deck.  The other one is large and can take about 20 people and has a plunge pool. 

Then it was time for breakfast so we all tucked into bacon and eggs with lots of juice and coffee.  With a return journey to Livingstone ahead of me, I packed my car and set off with a promise to myself that I would go back again soon. 

 

Hungry lion saves rhino, causes arrest of poacher
From Patrick Chitumba in Victoria Falls

A hungry lion attacked a group of poachers who were about to kill a rhino, resulting in their arrest and recovery of an AK 47 assault rifle, a fully charged magazine and 50 rounds of ammunition.

The officer commanding police in Victoria Falls district, Chief Superintendent Regis Munyaradzi, confirmed the arrest of five poachers, who included a Zambian.

“Yes, I confirm that five poachers, including a Zambian, were arrested at a hide-out in Mkhosana Township in Victoria Falls in the early hours of Monday after failing to poach a rhino for its horn as per their plan,” said Chief Supt Munyaradzi. “We believe this could be a syndicate and investigations are under way and because of that, we are still withholding their names and the area they wanted to poach from.”

Chief Supt Munyaradzi said on Sunday night, the poachers descended on an area he declined to disclose, where they were sure of gunning down a rhino for its horn. “Luck ran out on them when a lion approached them. In fear, they ran in different directions. As a result, the lion took after one of the poachers resulting in him climbing a tree while others fled and went back to their base,” he said. Chief Supt Munyaradzi said the poacher who climbed the tree spent the night clinging to the branches so that he would not fall as the lion was waiting for him under the tree.

“The lion only walked away from the tree when there was daylight after which the poacher climbed down,” he said. Chief Supt Munyaradzi said as the suspected poacher made his way out of the park, he was seen by rangers who were on patrol. They then apprehended him. “The poacher was brought to the police and he revealed that he was working with others,” said Chief Supt Munyaradzi.

He said the police then laid an ambush at a house in Mkhosana Township in the early hours of Monday, leading to the arrest of the four other poachers and the recovery of the rifle and ammunition.

“So we are tracing the origins of the rifle as part of investigations and they will appear in court soon,” said Chief Supt Munyaradzi.

ADDS yours truly – this lion ought to be given a medal for his work as a rhino conservationist.

3 Comments

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