Tourism News from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region Second edition September 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Second edition September 2010

 

TULLOW OIL’S 3.1 BILLION US DOLLAR INVESTMENT IN BALANCE

 

(One of the ‘ready’ oil wells in Murchisons Falls National Park, previously owned by Heritage Oil & Gas PLC and recently sold on to Tullow Oil)

 

As reported via a tweet shortly after it actually happened, the Ugandan government has withdrawn the licence of exploration block 3A, one of if not the richest oil basin found so far in the country. Only recently was I able to give a complete timeline overview of the events leading up to this – for Tullow Oil at least – catastrophic development. The company spent big bucks in Uganda, an estimated half a billion US Dollars for exploration and related activities, an estimated 1.1 billion US Dollars for the acquisition sometime ago of Hardman Oil’s Ugandan interests and only recently nearly 1.5 billion US Dollars when they paid for the interests of Heritage Oil, after invoking their pre-emptive rights at the last possible moment, after ENI of Italy had made Heritage an offer they simply could not refuse, while offering under the same deal a 14 billion US Dollar investment package in Uganda’s oil industry to government.

Heritage, now harshly critizised for their ‘cut and run’ however are by nature an exploration firm, and having done their job and discovered the biggest fields up to now in Uganda, they did rightly feel that their work was done and they should leave production to others more qualified to engage in this stage and move on. While the Hardman transaction did not attract taxes when Tullow bought their assets, Heritage was faced with a tax claim, and citing precedents to the contrary opted to refer the dispute to arbitration as provided for in the PSA (production sharing agreement). Once Heritage had formally objected to the tax claims, they went for the contractually provided arbitration, located in London / UK, deposited 30 percent of the tax claim as required under Ugandan law with the Uganda Revenue Authority and are keeping the balance of about 280 million US Dollars in an escrow account in the UK, to which Tullow had paid the ‘disputed’ amount following a probably misunderstood communication to them that this was or would be in order and acceptable to government.

Yet, this was clearly not so, as they – Tullow – found out the hard way when they incurred the wrath of the powers that be in Uganda who wanted the tax paid, in full, full stop. In order to make Tullow see ‘the light’ and technically entitled to do so, government has now started to withdraw their licenses and permits for Tullow, with the richest oil finds taken from them only yesterday, when Block 3A was recalled.

Government has now the option to re-advertise these blocks and hand them to the highest bidder, but could permit Tullow to be amongst the bidders putting proposals forward, and there is no indication how government is going to proceed at this stage. They might even return them to Tullow, but for sure only after the tax claims have been satisfied in full. Should the fields be re-advertised, with the knowledge of proven reserves, Uganda would in any case stand to gain a lot more as potential bidders now know what rich finds are underground, giving further rise to speculation what Uganda might in the end do. This could in fact bring Italy’s ENI back into the picture, as they had received much sympathy from key government officials when initially tabling their bid for Heritage but were then sidelined when Tullow exercised their pre-emptive rights, a move they may now well wish to have thought harder about at the time. ENI had in fact gone that far as to indicate their willingness to meet the Ugandan tax claims over and above the negotiated sales price, leaving government also to ponder right now if it was the right thing to do to give initial approval to Tullow’s demands to respect their first right of refusal – which technically the Ugandan government could have overruled and opted directly for ENI, which incidentally presented at the time a fully fledged oil development and production proposal, which puts them head above shoulders over all their potential rival bidders already.

For Tullow Oil though their entire investment in Uganda is now at risk, as more deadlines for their remaining assets also loom, and it is not clear if they are willing, or financially capable to sweeten government’s mood by paying the tax claim a second time in order to retain their ‘fields’ and move towards production, but this option may rapidly run out of time too for them.

That notwithstanding though, Heritage is sitting comfy, having first sold their Uganda interests, then been paid in full and then – as one newspaper put it last week with ‘military precision’ – withdrawn all their expatriate staff from Uganda. The company’s office in the UK has only stated that they will fully submit to the arbitration ruling by the panel in London and would release the tax money now in escrow to the URA, should the decision go against them, but equally would expect URA to return the 30 percent deposit to them, should the decision be in Heritage’s favour. They also say that ‘the deal is done, we sold, we were paid and are now no longer party to anything to do with our former fields and operations, which now belong entirely to Tullow Oil, to which all  enquiries should be directed’.

Tullow’s management, and in particular their legal advisors and key figures in Uganda, will be facing harsh questions from shareholders how they could have permitted such a situation to develop and put over 3 billion US Dollars capital outlay at risk – a story which surely will make a text book reading in the future for economics students, of how NOT to do things.

Production in Uganda, initially envisaged to start in 2011 and aimed to produce enough gas and heavy fuel oil to run a 50 MW power station and the first component of a refinery, will now undoubtedly be pushed back for some more time until these issues are resolved and the oil fields can be prepared for production, while at present the Tullow oil story will surely see some more twists and turns before the saga comes to a conclusion.

 

Uganda News

KAMPALA AERO CLUB TEST FLIES ‘CLASSIC’

The Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre has recently taken delivery of a ‘classic’ Stinson and an equally ‘classic’ Jungmeister and the first test flight with the Stinson took place last week from the Kajjansi airfield, to the fullest satisfaction of Captain Howard and his colleagues.

It appears though that both aircraft, which arrived in Uganda in a container properly dismantled and stowed, had sustained a little damage in transit, probably along the notorious potholed roads from the coastal port to Kampala, but were put into ship shape again at the KAFTC’s own maintenance base, with the Stinson coming out first from the hangar and taking to the skies over Kampala.

The classic planes will in the future be used for exhibition flights, leisure flights and in air shows in Uganda and probably the wider region and should substantially raise interest levels amongst the younger generation to take an interest and learn how to fly.

KAFTC is licensed to operate commercial flights, but also holds an MRO licence to maintain aircraft and a licence as training organization, approved by the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority, to teach young aspiring individuals how to fly. Their Kajjansi base, in particular the leisure area around the swimming pool, is at weekends often a meeting place for club members and the general public interested to see light aircraft take off and land ‘close up’.

It is understood that in this year’s edition of the ‘Royal Ascot Goat Races’, set for this weekend, Saturday 18th, the Stinson will perform in the skies above the crowd, undoubtedly a much expected spectacle for the thousands of visitors coming to Munyonyo, weather permitting of course. Last year’s event was ‘skipped’ in favour of doing a bigger and better show this year, but going by past weather records one can only hope that the spectators and participants will this year be spared a soaking from above and can enjoy a sunny day out at the lake shores.

 

CITY CONTRACTORS DOWN TOOLS

Alleged non payment of bills and advances has reportedly let a number of road contractors in Kampala to stop work, leaving city residents bewildered as to why potholes are not just NOT fixed but getting worse in the present period of heavy rains. Garbage collection companies contracted by the city council too have joined the ‘strike’, prompting renewed calls for central government to finally take over the management of the capital city and bring relief to the long suffering residents of Kampala at the hands of inept city fathers, who are – to make it worse – constant targets of corruption and incompetence allegations. A very public disagreement and intense animosity between the mayor and the town clerk, the city’s top bureaucrat, has also not helped amidst accusations and counter accusations. The KCC is dominated by politicians largely belonging to the main political opposition groups to government but have failed to make an impact, to the contrary let the city slide more and more into a less than presentable state impacting on the otherwise good impression visitors to the country take home with them after visiting upcountry areas and national parks. Truly, elections cannot come soon enough now to get rid of this breed of ‘city fathers’ and install more competent managers who can bring the shine back to Kampala.

 

BRUSSELS AIRLINES EXPANDS REACH BY CODESHARES

Passengers booking their flights on Brussels Airlines recently received good news from their Kampala sales team, when they were told of the new code shared flights between Brussels and Montreal – via their partner Air Canada out of Brussels, and of course with United/Continental to Washington. The added ‘reach’ is starting to pay off for SN, out of all their Eastern African destinations, and the market seems keener to try this option compared to the previous arrangements SN had with American Airlines, which never really made much of an impact – no wonder considering AA’s inclination to do business with BA, but ultimately to their detriment as Star Alliance members have started to capture the lion’s share of global traffic to Africa via their respective hubs in Europe, but also through their African alliance members via Cairo and Johannesburg.

Lufthansa’s codeshares to Entebbe are also reportedly bearing fruits as transit passengers from LH’s German and international destinations have indeed taken up the offer to fly via Brussels to Eastern Africa, where Lufthansa continues to be absent with their own flights, except for Addis Ababa, leaving Entebbe, Nairobi, Kigali, Bujumbura and Dar es Salaam to their ‘family members’ SN and SR.

SN flies presently 4 times between Entebbe and Brussels and 6 times into the region, where all flights route to two destinations in a triangular operation, and more flights, though much hoped for, can according to usually reliable sources only come on line when the airline acquires another A330 aircraft, said to be in the final stages of a board decision. Watch this space for the most up todate aviation news from the region.

 

TURKISH TO OFFER ‘ONE STOP’ SAO PAULO FOR EAST AFRICAN TRAVELLERS

It was learned from aviation sources in Kampala that Turkish Airlines, a member of the global Star Alliance, will from December onwards offer three weekly flights, using B777 aircraft, to connect travellers originating from Entebbe, Nairobi or Dar es Salaam to Brazil’s industrial capital of Sao Paulo. The flights are due to commence over Christmas and are due to be expanded to four flights, or so it is understood, by the end of the first quarter of 2011.

Turkish has made quite an impact in Africa when they started to expand their network to the continent and as one of the fastest growing airlines – and being a Star member – it is offering a growing number of global destinations for passengers connecting with them through their hub in Istanbul. Growing choices, growing options are here at last for travellers from Uganda and the wider region.

 

UGANDA STUDIES NEW METROPOLITAN ROAD NETWORK FOR NAIROBI

A group of city and road planners from Uganda recently went to Nairobi to inspect the ongoing road works, reported here several times in the past already, which are aimed to link the wider metropolitan area of Nairobi with Thika on one side and Athi River on the other side. Some of the exit and entry highways which are now being constructed include flyover or underpasses to decongest major intersections, and long stretches of the road will be giving motorists 6 lanes to keep traffic flowing in, out and through the city.

The construction will reach well into the city, where residential homes had to make way for the new highway, leading to confrontations and even violence in the past and while those affected will likely harbour eternal ill will most others cannot wait to see the project, undertaken by Chinese companies, to a conclusion.

Kampala too is due to be ‘enlarged’ by law to create a metropolitan area which according to the planners will connect the capital with Entebbe on one side and Mukono on the other side, where the planning of roads, highways, public transport, utilities and social services like schools, health centres, hospitals and administrative access are now all being integrated in order to make the future ‘mega’ Kampala more liveable and attractive to its citizens, unlike now where an incompetent city council incurs the daily wrath of Kampaleans. Watch this space for future updates on major infrastructural work across the region aimed to improve the flow of traffic, the lives of residents and the impression for visitors from abroad.

 

FUEL PRICES ON THE UP AGAIN

The continued weakness of the Uganda Shilling versus the US Dollar and rising crude oil prices on the international market were blamed for yet another increase in the local cost of petrol, diesel and kerosene. A litre of petrol, especially upcountry, has now gone well beyond the 3.000 UShs mark while diesel now costs in the range of 2.500 UShs and kerosene has jumped above the 2.000 mark. Fuel stations, both in Kenya as well as in Uganda, also ran dry once again, causing panic buying which makes the problem worse.

The major fuel companies have rejected suggestions of once more profiteering from the situation and blamed, as predictable, external factors for price increases and the arrival of fuels in Uganda via Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, while quietly blaming a mountain of red tape introduced by the Kenya Revenue Authority over the shipment of fuels from Mombasa to Uganda for the repeated shortages experienced in the country. They also blamed the Kenyan energy regulator for playing politics with the sector after the KERC withdrew licences and permits from market giant Kenol / Kobil last week, which seems to have prompted a run on the reserves in anticipation of this fallout.

Meanwhile has a regular source from the aviation sector also confirmed that AVGAS shortages also persist while the cost of the JET A1, which ‘drives’ the commercial aviation sector here in Uganda and across Eastern Africa, has now reached about 80 US Cents per litre … and one wonders why flying in these parts is so expensive …

 

AIR UGANDA LAMENTS HANDLING CHARGES AT ENTEBBE

Information reached the media over the weekend that the airline’s CEO Hugh Fraser last week lamented the fact of high handling charged at Uganda’s main international airport, when he was reported in local media to have said that charges in Entebbe were almost twice compared to Nairobi.

Seemingly the airline is keen to commence ‘self handling’ at the expense of the two licensed airport handling companies ENHAS and Das Handling or else may use this ‘declaration’ to get a better deal from their present handling company.

Comparisons with Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport are also a little stretched, as JKIA handles a great multiple of traffic and has more licensed handling companies from which airlines can get quotations, while Entebbe with considerably less traffic movements presently, according to a senior CAA source, ‘is well catered for as far as handling is concerned’. Said the source on condition of anonymity: ‘when we have more traffic we can consider inviting bids for a third handling company, but right now we have two and there is capacity between them for doing more work’. The source then went on to suggest that ‘have they compared the rates from the two companies? We know that one is according to our sources quite a bit cheaper and also look after big clients like Kenya Airways. In any case, our apron in front of the main arrival building is already congested and if more equipment is brought in we may have a problem there where to store it, park vehicles etc when not in use. Until the present cargo area next to the passenger terminal is eventually moved to the projected new cargo terminal, we have constraints and this has been explained, yet some people have other ideas and ignored these factors’.

The Air Uganda CEO apparently also claimed to have obtained a presidential directive to be allowed ‘self handling’ but as the various processes at the CAA are subject to current regulations and rules, this may require, if found correct after all, a technical evaluation report first before any decision can be made based on facts rather than on the interests of one company.

 

KARUMA HYDRO POWER STATION TAKES FIRST STEP

Government has now taken the first concrete steps towards building a 700 MW ‘tunnel version’ hydro electric power plant near the Karuma Falls, when surveying of the area commenced last week. An estimated area of nearly 500 acres, extending into three villages along the river Nile, will be set aside for the power plant and installations needed and those affected will be compensated and resettled by the authorities. It was also learned over the weekend that final preparations are underway to advertise for tenders for the construction very soon, so as to commence work on site just as soon as a contractor has been selected and mobilised resources. Once the Karuma plant goes on line in a few years time Uganda will for the first time in decades have some power to spare, allowing for expansion of electricity infrastructure to rural areas and providing a buffer for future industrial growth, presently somewhat hampered by electricity production shortfalls. Watch this space.

 

UWA CASE ‘BOUNCES’

The scheduled hearing of a case filed by the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and several of his colleagues, to reverse what they termed ‘illegal’ suspensions and dismissal by a ‘board gone wild’ has literally bounced yesterday, when it emerged that a required affidavit by the tourism minister Kahinda Otafiire had not been obtained and submitted to the court, a legal requirement as he had to file a formal defence against the allegations made by the applicants. Failure to submit a defence normally leads to the applicants being awarded the case without much further ado and the minister now has only a couple of days left to comply with court’s requirements or else risk lose the case.

The same court two weeks ago granted the applicants, Mapesa and co-applicants, a full injunction against the board, returning them effectively to office, and preventing the board from interfering with amongst other issues the bank accounts of the organisation. Yet, it is the latter which seems to have been ignored according to some media reports and this will undoubtedly be raised by the applicant’s legal teams when the case does eventually go ahead.

At the time when the injunction was granted by court both the minister and the chairman of UWA had also ignored parliamentary summons to appear before a committee and answer a range of questions over their recent actions, and parliament was then adjourned to allow members to return to their constituencies and campaign for party primary elections and prepare for the NRM’s national conference.

The absence of the affidavit by the minister does not come as a surprise, as Mr. Otafiire was reportedly busy over the past weeks to campaign for the office of NRM party secretary general, where he had vowed to unseat the incumbent, fellow cabinet minister for security Hon. Amana Mbabazi. This attempt however ended in miserable failure over the weekend, when the minister was soundly beaten, as was in fact the vice president too who had to the surprise of many his eyes on the office of secretary general. Hon Mbabazi trounced his opponents by a very wide margin of votes, and time will now tell how the other candidates, especially the tourism minister, will be able to shape their political future after being so rejected by their own party. It was learned that as soon as the sworn affidavit was obtained the case’ hearing would resume.

Meanwhile all eyes will be on parliament which is expected to resume sittings this week, and the parliamentary committee on tourism, which is expected to renew summons to the minister and chairman to appear before them and face questions over their actions on UWA and their leading staff members. Watch this space.

 

Kenya News

KENYA UPSET OVER DELTA MOVE

Liberia last week welcomed the inaugural flight by Delta to Monrovia from Atlanta / Georgia, which while celebrated with great fanfare there left aviation observers in Eastern Africa befuddled and in some cases angry and disappointed.

Last year Delta’s inaugural flight to Nairobi, previously postponed several times already when the economic circumstances were not favourable, was cancelled just hours before the aircraft was to the leave the United States for East Africa, throwing the welcoming party at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport into total confusion, until finally confirmation was given that the flight was ‘off’, while causing consternation amongst those invited to fly from the US to Kenya to witness the occasion.

At the time, or so the story was told, security concerns had ‘suddenly’ emerged leading to the airline’s permits being withdrawn by US government agencies, upsetting the Kenyan establishment which saw this as a politically motivated action aimed to ‘clobber us into submission on so many issues’ as one official in Nairobi put it to this correspondent at the time.

The latest snub for Kenya came last week when Delta launched their Monrovia flights, again leaving out Nairobi, reportedly on advice from the same US government agencies over ongoing security concerns – something which however fallen on deaf ears by a multitude of other airlines and their own home governments who consider flying to Kenya as ‘normal’.

Sources from Nairobi were swift in condemning the move, which some said are in line with the laughable anti travel advisories the State Department habitually peddled against Kenya, and in line with recent public statements made by President Obama, when he strongly condemned the visit by Khartoum’s regime leader Bashir to the promulgation of Kenya’s new constitution.

‘This is just another attempt by the American government to make us give in to so many demands from them but we are a sovereign country and they should not dictate to us or use such methods to force us’ said one regular aviation source while another in a rather sarcastic fashion said ‘did Obama’s father not come from here? What issues does he have with us, we even gave him a special paternal home attraction near Kisumu and for what, that we can be pushed around by them’? Strong words and sentiments but not completely without foundation of course, considering the history of Liberia – which undoubtedly under their new government has made great progress – while singling out Kenya for what really smacks of ‘sanctions’. Watch this space.

 

KWS ORGANISES BIODIVERSITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE MEETING

The Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi was chosen as the venue for the KWS inspired meeting on climate change and biodiversity, due to be held between September 15th and 17th. Participation is free, and encouraged, as Kenya will amongst other things also discuss the preparation of a biodiversity inventory to be able to keep better track on the disappearance of species, especially those not immediately in the ‘public eye’ like big game. Sadly the information received here is rather too sketchy and it is therefore recommended that interested parties write to the email address given below for details of the agenda on each day, participants and key speakers so as to better understand the objectives of the meeting.

Write to biodiversityconf@kws.go.ke

 

LAMU PORT PROJECT GETS UNDERWAY WITH PUBLIC TENDERS

The proposed, and in some quarters opposed plan to create a second deep water port near the ancient town of Lamu, seems to finally gather momentum with the first public tenders now advertised by the government in Kenya.

Once the project goes underway added infrastructure, like a proposed railway line from Lamu to the landlocked countries of Ethiopia and Southern Sudan is due to be constructed which could open up parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and the Southern Sudan now literally cut off from the rest of the world due to lack of all weather roads or rail connections.

Considering the status of Lamu as an ancient cultural site, protests are expected to come in thick and fast and the project planners must undoubtedly be able to meet the challenges to bring modern times and infrastructure together with the historical and cultural elements without destroying Kenya’s heritage and natural beauty found along the shores near Lamu. Watch this space.

 

Tanzania News

NOW KENYA WADES INTO SERENGETI HIGHWAYS CONTROVERSY

The Kenyan government, with the referendum and promulgation of the country’s new constitution now behind them, is seemingly now once again focusing on ‘matters arising’ as information filtered out of Nairobi last week over imminent talks with their Tanzanian counterparts over the controversial highway routing presently preferred across the Serengeti, almost parallel to the common border which separates the Serengeti from the Masai Mara in Kenya.

The prospect of the routing ruining the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras, and potentially decimating the big herds from their present number of an estimated 1.5+ million animals to as few as 200.000, according to case studies by leading global conservation bodies, has raised serious concerns amongst tourism operators on both sides of the border. Yet, while the Kenyan were more outspoken in the past, as witnessed across a spectrum of social networking sites, their Tanzanian counterparts are rather more subdued, most likely because the country is going to the polls on the 31st of October, the president has in an ill considered speech thrown his weight behind this, instead of the available alternative Southern route and in the best tradition of African politics, no one now wants to be seen to tell the president that he erred in his judgement, lest seen and then branded as anti government – something which can have serious consequences in this part of the world.

Kenya has reportedly made early approaches through their High Commission in Dar es Salaam, but also involved the good offices of the East African Community based in Arusha while ministerial contacts and in fact top level discussions are also said to be lined up in order to resolve the problem, but talks are considered ‘spicy’ as many other pending and unresolved issues are on the agenda between the two neighbours. Relations are at times hampered by ‘being stuck in the past’ when antagonistic feelings over economical superiority by Kenya have often led to sharp public spats in the best tradition of the breakup of the ‘first’ East African Community in 1977, which was followed by a more than 7 years closure of the common borders for all traffic. Hence, it will be wait and see what talks, as and when they take place, can achieve, while not much is expected to happen before Tanzania’s general election is concluded.

Meanwhile have reports emerged that Facebook has tampered with the global efforts to move the road to the available Southern route, when reports emerged that the ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway’ page administrators were unable to post items or make changes, and that clicking on ‘links’ posted by third parties was for a while impossible too. This led to prompt allegations that FB had been ‘gotten to’ and was party to muzzling discontent and restricting the freedom of speech, available to the FB management in the US but allegedly now denied to the global community by their actions. Watch this space.

 

MORE BLOOD IVORY FROM TANZANIA FOUND IN FAR EAST

Information was received late last week that a shipment of over 1.5 tons of ‘anchovies’ sent from Dar es Salaam / Tanzania to Hong Kong was upon inspection found to really be blood ivory, containing dozens of tusks smuggled out of Tanzania without the authorities there catching on to it in the absence of stricter inspection standards – or through corrupt practices. Yet customs officers attached to the container port of Hong Kong did spot the illicit cargo and according to reports at least two suspects were arrested on the spot, now faced with stiff fines and jail time. Lax enforcement has been Tanzania’s Achilles heel in recent times as they came under scrutiny and ‘fire’ ahead of the global Cites meeting in Doha earlier in the year over exactly such allegations, strongly refuted then but obviously true enough, as many cases since then have made their way into the global media to the embarrassment of the full mouthed ‘parrots’ trying to deny the obvious.

It is however also thought that China’s reluctance to strengthen the laws and to impose even greater fines and longer jail terms for trade in prohibited game items like ivory and skins, is largely responsible for the impunity with which such shipments continue to find their way into the South and Far Eastern countries, where the greed and hunger for rhino horns, elephant tusks and rare skins have been fuelled by the renewed economic prosperity and an unchanged mindset amongst the rich and prosperous that they need to have such ‘stuff’ in order to be respected. Well, see if you are still respected after serving jail time?!? Our message from here in Africa is ‘hands off our wildlife’.

 

Zanzibar News

DIVING CENTRE AND BEACH BANDAS DESTROYED BY FIRE ON ZANZIBAR

An internationally recognised diving school and several neighbouring banda type beach resorts, but also private beach side residences burned down last Thursday when the strong winds from the ocean blew burning debris from the original fire on to the makuti roofs of neighbouring compounds. While the fire brigade was promptly alerted, it incurred the anger and felt the ire of affected residents and owners, when the single fire truck dispatched to the scene ran out of water soon after its arrival and then got stuck when trying to replenish water from the nearby ocean.

Only a few weeks earlier had a similar fire on the other side of the island also destroyed beach residences and small accommodation units, but the fire last Thursday seems to have been rather more extensive as it destroyed several such small banda type hotels and the diving centre’s meetings rooms and bedrooms, stores, offices and back of house facilities.

No feedback was given on the value of the properties burned down, or if they were insured against fire damages and loss and there continues to be speculation, over the cause of the recent fires as much as about this one, leaving one to wonder if a technical electrical fault, careless handling of open fire in a kitchen or arson were to blame.

Several guests staying in the affected properties also claimed to local media representatives that they lost their entire belongings in the fire as their rooms burned down. No indication has been given how long the repairs or rebuilding of the affected properties might take.

 

Rwanda News

RWANDAIR GOES ‘MOBILE’ FOR PASSENGERS

Information was received last week that the national airline of Rwanda has now embraced modern technology in communicating schedules, departures and arrivals to their passengers, when they activated a SMS facility via MTN and TIGO in Rwanda, through which information can be ascertained about flight times. It is understood that plans are advanced already to introduce the same services in Uganda and Burundi, the followed by Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa where final touches are being put in place to offer this facility to all passengers flying with  RwandAir or else wishing to obtain this type of information on their phone handsets.

WAP or browser enabled phones are required to access the flight details. The airline also announced that the introduction of the internet booking mechanism via their website is now only a short time away, which will give passengers not using the services of a travel agent the facility to pay securely by using a credit card. Well done, small airline yet big services.

Meanwhile, in a related development, it was learned that the Rwanda government expects the airline to break even over the next three years before starting to turn profitable, at which stage the presently ‘shelved’ privatisation plans will be re-activated. Financial suitors or strategic investors are of course more likely to buy into a financially healthy RwandAir. Information from Kigali in fact speaks of plans by government to invest, until the airline will be partially sold off, nearly 100 million US Dollars, some expenditure of which has already taken place when the airline bought two CRJ200 jets, including a maintenance support package, from Germany’s Lufthansa, while more funds will be injected when the two ordered B737-800 will be delivered in a year’s time.

The time frame for privatisation will also very likely correspond with the projected opening of the newly planned international airport, which is due to be constructed under a public – private partnership and may open as early as 2014. Watch this space.

 

COMMONWEALTH MEMBERSHIP PAYS OFF

Not long after Rwanda joined the Commonwealth has ‘pay off’ started to filter down to the country. Besides a range of cooperation agreements has now the Commonwealth Youth Conference taken place in the ‘land of a thousand hills’ when last week youths selected by member countries assembled in Kigali for a two week training programme focused on peace building, human rights and international cooperation.

This ‘Nkabom’ programme is one of the long standing youth education and training programmes and having selected Rwanda as the venue and host country speaks volumes for the support and esteem other Commonwealth members have for the country.

 

RWANDA RAILWAY ‘ON COURSE’

Information received last week from Kigali and Dar es Salaam confirmed that the ambitious joint project to construct a standard gauge railway line from the proposed inland port of Isaka in Tanzania to initially Kigali, before extending it to Bujumbura and into the Eastern Congo, was on course as the final touches were being made on the feasibility and route studies now nearing completion.

The new line is due to cost a staggering 3 to 4 billion US Dollars but this will be money well spent as Rwanda, Burundi and the Eastern Congo and of course Tanzania can all benefit from faster train connections, greater reliability of the trains and improved capacities to carry imports, exports and people to and from the Indian Ocean port city of Dar es Salaam, instead of having to rely on the very much more expensive road transport from the coast into the hinterland.

The same source also confirmed that the section of the railway line between Dar es Salaam and Isaka will be upgraded from its present narrow gauge to the internationally preferred standard gauge, while work on the section to Rwanda and beyond will in part at least be undertaken in parallel.

A final preparatory review meeting is due to be held in Dar es Salaam in October at which time the financial commitments already given by friendly countries and development partners will be assessed to ensure enough capital has been raised to go into the tender stage of the project and then, after selecting the main contractors, go ahead with the construction.

 

Ethiopia News

ET TO GIVE ASKY AIRLINES ADDED ‘OMPF’

The West African airline ASKY, in which Ethiopian Airlines presently holds a 25 percent stake and is involved in the management and maintenance but also systems controls, will receive a boost as more flights are to be introduced between Addis Ababa and Monrovia. It was also learned that ET will transfer their own operations in Monrovia to ASKY in order to strengthen the start up airline, give it wider reach and scope and more progressively expand into the Western African region, feeding and de-feeding from ET arrivals and departures.

This underscores the importance of the West African market to East Africa’s two leading airlines, Ethiopian and Kenya Airways, both of which pursue a very similar strategy to ‘collect’ traffic from across Africa and route it via their respective hubs in Nairobi and Addis to final destinations, often in the Middle East, the Far and South East but also to other African destinations which are comprehensively covered by the two regional African airline giants. However, a major difference continues to be the absence of US bound flights by Kenya Airways, while Ethiopian is for many years now already cleared to fly to Washington DC, a clear advantage in terms of connectivity for American visitors to Eastern Africa and the rest of the continent. Well done ET and great news for quality aviation in Africa.

 

ETHIOPIAN DUE TO TAKE DELIVERY OF THEIR FIRST B777-200LR

Ethiopian Airlines is expected to take delivery either late next month or in early November of the first of several B777-200LR, Boeing’s current state of the art long distance wide body aircraft. This enhanced version, first flown commercially in 2006, will allow ET to fly from their Addis Ababa base nonstop to literally any destination across the globe without having to stop for fuel, making it an ideal aircraft for the airline’s flights to the United States but also to the Far East. This ‘first’ delivery of several of these aircraft on order to ET will also be a ‘first’ for the African continent, since the other B777 models used for instance by Kenya Airways are the ‘older’ type. A second craft is according to the same source due for delivery then before the end of 2010 and more are scheduled for 2011 and beyond.

The aircraft will operate with a two class configuration of 287 seats in economy and 34 in business, besides which cargo capacity will also benefit from the improved inflight economics of a lighter aircraft structure and a reduced fuel burn.

In a related development it was also learned that the airline had planted over 7 million trees over the past two years as part of their environmental policies and a pledge is in place that for every passenger carried a tree would be planted by Ethiopian.

 

Seychelles News

DHEVATARA BEACH RESORT SET FOR OCTOBER OPENING

The island of Praslin will see another all suite ‘boutique’ resort open its doors to the public next month when the 10 suite ‘Dhevatara’ opens its doors to the public and visitors from abroad. The room size of at least 50 square metres will ensure that all creature comforts are packed into the luxurious rooms but the entire resort, public areas, pool et al have been designed to give maximum comfort and privacy to guests.

State of the art technology can be found in the bedrooms, such as Satellite TV using the latest flat screens, DVD player and I-Pod station, wireless internet access but also the ‘usual’ amenities such as a coffee maker, a small fridge stocked with the favourite brands of the guests while at the resort and an exquisite line of beauty products in the bathroom. An adjoining dressing room gives added space to spread out luggage without cluttering up the main bed / sitting room, a very thoughtful addition and surely much appreciated by female guests. Put on my personal list of ‘must visit’ locations when next coming to the archipelago. All the best to owners, management and staff for the grand opening and ‘full house’ as often as possible. Visit their website via www.dhevatara.com and find, besides more information on the Praslin resort, also details on the sister properties in the UAE and Thailand.

 

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS TAKES A GIANT STEP

The Global Environment Facility’s programmes dealing with the Indian Ocean Marine Highway Development and the Coastal and Marine Contamination Prevention Project have funded a series of major training sessions in the Seychelles, aimed to equip workshop participants with the latest techniques and skills to combat chemical and oil spills in the archipelago.

The Seychelles are world renowned for their commitment to keeping their environment intact, on which their two mainstream economic activities rest, tourism and fishing. Hence, the island government has in the past invested heavily in creating skills and technical capabilities to dealing with pollution, as and where detected, and the latest GEF funded exercise too is aimed to keeping the skills honed and the capabilities up to date in accordance with the latest global trends.

The workshops are going to strengthen, according to information availed, both the command and control structures in emergencies but also focus on the ‘front line’ responses. Participants are drawn from coast guard, police, environmental agencies and NGO’s, fire and rescue services and local administration, besides a few individuals from civil society volunteers.

The project will eventually expand to Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar, Reunion and Mauritius, involving all key Indian Ocean island and shoreline states, with the exception of war torn Somali, where conditions are not yet thought conducive to conduct such training.

Theoretical ‘class room’ training will be supplemented by practical’s to show the participants how best to use state of the art equipment and turn their newly found skills into real action. Considering the number of ships passing across the archipelago’s waters and the impact spills, deliberate or accidental, would have on the country’s environment, tourism and fishing, the costly efforts is highly commendable. Congrats to the Seychelles for taking the lead in this important area.

 

SEYCHELLES CRAFTS A HIT AT NAMIBIA TRADE SHOW

A group of three Seychellois craftswomen cum traders, has used the recent opportunity of a SADC meeting in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, to display and promote craft unique to the archipelago and reflecting the culture, art and history of the islands. In turn the participants also learned and absorbed lessons from what they saw brought to the exhibition by some 50 other participants from the African mainland while at the same time creating networking opportunities for giving greater global exposure to their unique wares.

The participation was supported by the Seychelles government and other institutions as part of the country’s present drive to make a greater impact on the continent of Africa, through presence in bilateral and multilateral fora, trade shows, exhibitions, meetings and conventions.

It is thought that in particular visitors to the Seychelles, the main target group at present for the sale of such crafts and curios, will benefit in the future from new and more ingenious new products reflecting culture and heritage of the islands.

 

Madagascar News

MAIN AIRPORT FAILS TO MEET ICAO STANDARDS

The International Civil Aviation Organization has sharply critizised the Madagascar authorities over their failure to heed a final deadline given to them to improve aviation security at the main international airport in Antananarivo, but also other airports across this large Indian Ocean island.

Inspite of extending the deadline previously, by July the final deadline for improvement had once more passed without any significant improvements or action by the present regime.

This comes as a surprise to aviation observers, as the island could technically be ‘banned’ through relevant information given to airlines still operating to Madagascar, a prospect the regime is clearly not too bothered about, considering that they are already under sanctions from the African Union and others over the coup d’état  which brought the former mayor of the capital into power – however not recognized by anyone by his own cronies. The struggle of the island has seriously impacted on tourism, a major foreign exchange earner and employer for Madagascans’ and the possibility of free and fair elections continues to be under serious doubt too inspite of many personal efforts by former Mozambique President Chissano.

It is not clear how the ICAO will react or how foreign airlines will in the future operate into the island with much of the state of the art security, surveillance and safety equipment not in place and if the airports of Madagascar may be blacklisted as a result, which would make trade and travel even more difficult than it already is. Watch this space.

 

Southern Sudan News

ALLEGATIONS INTENSIFY OVER ‘DIRTY TRICKS CAMPAIGN’

Last week saw a sudden increase in allegations mounting over the use of the Ugandan rebel group LRA by the regime in Khartoum to disrupt the preparations of the independence referendum scheduled for the 09th of January 2011.

While government circles in Nairobi continue to downplay the embarrassment caused by the presence of Khartoum’s regime leader Bashir for the promulgation of the new Kenyan constitution and the onset of the ‘second republic’, it was conveniently overlooked that Bashir’s hands are literally dripping with blood, after the latest Janjaweed and Khartoum backed militia raids in Darfur, which claimed dozens of innocent lives once more.

The LRA was long suspected by our government in Kampala that they received logistical support during their bloody campaign from Khartoum and arms caches captured from them pointed clearly into that direction in the past. Having been driven out of Uganda, then further chased from the Southern Sudan into the Congo and finally into the Central African Republic, recent events in the North Eastern Congo and the Southern Sudan however lend credence to the allegations that the numbers of the LRA were strengthened by not only abductees pressed into service, including allegedly a large number of children, but that their fighting capacity was also boosted by ‘attachments’ from Janjaweed and other regime supported militias. Word from reliable sources in Juba has it that across the border from the Yambio area of Southern Sudan the LRA has become more active and aggressive, and while the UN – deployed in Eastern Congo to prevent such renewed outbreak of hostilities – continues to downplay those reports, facts on the ground speak a different language.

Well placed senior sources in Juba claim that Khartoum, seeing the overwhelming mood amongst the Southern population, and having substantially failed to further delay or disrupt the upcoming referendum with their political dirty tricks campaigns, is now resorting to sponsored ‘proxy’ violence once again to prevent the Southern population from voting after sufficiently intimidating them first through violence and attacks. It was also pointed out that the referendum would be held, while alert levels for the SPLA would be maintained at a very high level and strategic deployments undertaken to prevent any direct military or related threat from trampling the aspirations of the Southern people for independence into the dust.

It is also understood that Uganda and the Southern Sudan may once more directly cooperate through joint intelligence and search and destroy missions, should the LRA indeed pose a substantive threat again, as the security of Uganda too would in such a case be threatened.

Meanwhile has the US administration also conceded that independence for the Southern Sudan is all but inevitable now and committed resources to prevent any outbreak of hostilities while encouraging a negotiated settlement over the many pending issues between the regime in Khartoum and the presently semi autonomous government in Juba, such as border demarcation, the referenda in Abyei and other parts claimed by the North, water rights, oil rights, mining rights, distribution of assets and debts in case of separation and much more. Watch this space.

 

Eastern Congo News

CONGO OH CONGO, WHEN WILL THE SUFFERING STOP

Alarming reports have once again emerged from the Eastern Congo, where in recent weeks mass rapes are alleged to have taken place, perpetrated by allegedly the erstwhile killer militias from the ‘old’ Rwanda, which ran off after being defeated in 1994 and have since then been a festering sore in the side of the Congo DR, Rwanda and Uganda.

In theory peacekeepers from the UN – the Congo is the UN’s largest deployment anywhere – were to have prevented such incursions and renewed activities by rebel groups and militias, but have time and again failed to do so, as have the periodic appearances of the Congolese army. The only time of relief for the long suffering populations in the area came when Rwanda attached her forces to fight jointly with the Congolese army for a while, but they were told to leave before completing their mission.

Both the UN and the Congo regime in Kinshasa have in the past come under sustained criticism over the level of inactivity, collaboration and engaging in illegal trade with precious stones, gold and other valuable minerals like coltan, but little appears to have changed since the last big row took place which put the UN’s operation and staff under the microscope and intense scrutiny. 

Verbal commitments from the UN and from Kinshasa are therefore to be taken with a grain of salt. Conservation and tourism into the Eastern Congo therefore remains a challenge, in particular as in theory the three countries are to cooperate (Congo, Rwanda and Uganda) in all matters concerning the endangered mountain gorillas, but with growing insecurity on the Congolese side of the border even adventure tourists are now opting to rather track for the animals in Uganda or Rwanda than risking a visit to the Congolese side. Meanwhile has the BBC once again uncovered the human tragedies as done in the past when they had undercover teams in the area to ascertain allegations against ‘peace keepers’ by locals affected by violence, murders and rapes, habitually used by the militias and rebels to impose themselves on an area they can then control and exploit for financial gains. Only last week did news break from Kinshasa that the so called ‘conflict mining’ was to be banned but information from Goma, given by usually reliable source, claims there is little evidence to the ban being enforced, as government troops too are alleged to share in the illicit loot, making a quick buck while stationed in the East of the country.

Calls have been getting louder once again to effectively name, shame and sanction the militia’s overseas contacts and backers through which funds and supplies are being routed, designate them as supporters of terrorists and afford them the same treatment as if they were in league with Al Qaida – and high time it is to see this happen. Congo oh Congo, when will the suffering of thy people end?

1 Comment

  1. Excellent post. I find this blog is incredibly rich with content. Thank you very much!

    I found the note about flights to Kenya particularly interesting as I have just returned from Kenya. It is an amazing place and there should be no worried about safety/security issues in Kenya. You are more likely to get mugged in Atlanta.

    After returning from my trip I was on their mailing list. I recently got sent a online game from Kenya. http://www.big5drive.co.uk You just drive across the country. Pretty fun.

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