Tourism News from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, First edition December 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Twitter: @whthome

Blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

First edition December 2010

 

RECOMMENDED ‘MUST READ’ REGIONAL MEDIA CONNECTIONS

For those readers with an interest in learning more about the going on’s in Kenya and Uganda, the current December / January edition of ‘The Eye’ is now available in print or via www.theeye.co.ug, a bumper edition aimed at telling those interested where to go and what to do across Uganda.

In Kenya it is the weekly ‘Kenya Buzz’ which has once again caught this correspondent’s eye, as they too now publish bumper editions on the web via www.kenyabuzz.com every week in the run up to the holiday season. They are especially adapt to finding little hidden gems at the coast and upcountry, often for self catering and therefore more budget friendly, but find out yourself by subscribing to the newsletters via alix@kenyabuzz.com or visiting their site regularly to find out ‘what’s on’ in Kenya.

And not to forget the ‘Travel News’ – only available in ‘e’, has also been published, this edition covering both December and January, and containing a wealth of information from Kenya and the region – subscribe via tony@triad.co.ke to be sure to get it on a regular basis, especially those of you with the freedom to plan a holiday in Eastern Africa, as much ‘insider’ information can be found in the magazine.

 

Uganda News

FLY 540 LEASES DC9 AIRCRAFT TO BRIDGE GAP

Information was received last weekend that the regional low cost carrier Fly 540 has leased two DC 9 aircraft, for the first time offering business class seats in any of their fleet aircraft, as the configuration appears to be 10 C and 70 Y. It is understood that the aircraft will be a stop gap measure until additional CRJ aircraft arrive to join the fleet, and to provide additional seats for the forthcoming peak season on flights between Entebbe and Nairobi, but also from Nairobi to Mombasa, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

Fly 540 was according to reliable sources in Nairobi swift in getting hold of these two Kenya registered aircraft, previously flown by East African Safari Air Express and initially grounded when EASAX halted their own operations. It is also understood that the cockpit crews of B5 will be maintained on the flight deck, as will for the time being the cabin crew, while Fly 540 crew members attain the type rating on the aircraft to make deployment across the jet fleet ‘interchangeable’.

Passengers travelling with Fly 540 on these aircraft will now be able to enjoy wider seats in the front cabin, something no other airline besides KQ is presently offering on the route between Entebbe and Nairobi, as Air Uganda too uses all economy CRJ aircraft, unless their ‘stand by’ MD 87 is being used when demand exceeds the 50 seats on the CRJ. U7’s MD 87 has 20 C class seats and about 80 in economy class. Watch this space for the most current information on aviation developments in the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region.

 

EMIRATES TO WIDEN EUROPEAN NETWORK

A regular source a the Kampala office of Emirates – the award winning airline is currently flying daily between Entebbe and Dubai – has confirmed, that travellers to Europe will from next year have wider choices. The airline, according to the source, will in 2011 begin to offer a B777 service between Dubai and Geneva, initially four times a week from June onwards, before going double daily to the Northern German port city of Hamburg from September 2011. Emirates has in recent years established itself as a long distance ‘connection airline’ with a convenient hub in Dubai, where the airline regularly offers free overnights to passengers wishing to stop over. With an expanding global network almost every major airport on the 5 continents can now be reached by using EK and with the arrival of more ordered aircraft more destinations and frequencies can be expected to be announced.

 

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS NEXT EXODUS TARGETS

International airlines, especially those based in the Gulf region, have in the past made it almost a habit to snap up trained pilots, cabin crew and technical personnel from carriers in Eastern Africa to the dismay of local airlines who incurred heavy training expenses. Even ‘bonding’ has not fully stopped the outbound migration of such skilled individuals, as some pilots reportedly do receive ‘their money back’ from new employers, after quitting and paying off their ‘bond’, while yet others who decided the stay on successfully negotiated substantially better pay and terms and conditions from their employers – as repeatedly reported here in past editions.

The next aviation target group now appear to be the air traffic controllers, who like pilots, cabin crew and engineers are paid relatively little – by international standards that is – though of course have very handsome salary packages compared with the rest of the local labour market.

An upcoming shortage of ATC’s has according to a source in Nairobi triggered offers to such individuals to resign and sign up for lucrative contracts abroad, which would potentially leave the East African skies exposed should such a trend in the first place exist and then prevail. Training air traffic controllers, like is the case with pilots, is a lengthy and costly exercise and control tower staff are already working at near maximum capacity. Any reduction therefore could potentially leave screens unmanned and overwork the remaining staff, or see trainees turned out faster than should be the case. It is thought that the minimum time required to train ATC staff is three years but specialised training can push this to several more years before being fully qualified to work ‘alone’. Figures given by a source in Entebbe of air traffic control staff across the entire East African Community are less than 400 in the ‘best scenario’ while some put the figures nearer to the 300 mark, which if true underscores the need to not only actively recruit new trainees but also create a work environment and pay packages commensurate with their responsibility and skills.

Even if traffic across Eastern Africa is nowhere near the intensity of Europe or the key Gulf airports, it still needs to be conducted safely and securely which requires sufficient staff on duty, on call and as back up. Only recently was it reported here that the Ugandan air traffic controllers celebrated the anniversary of their global organisation and it is now better understood why the numbers of the ‘celebrants’ was relatively small in numbers.

 

WIKILEAKS REVEALS UGANDA WAS TARGET TOO

The ‘tell it all’ website WikiLeaks last week also published material about the US’ efforts to spy on Uganda and prominent Ugandans in recent years. Maybe it is flattering to be a target for such, but with the discovery of oil in our country the US seems to have a mighty good reason to getting hold of classified information from our part of the world and getting ‘into the heads’ of decision makers, being our professed ‘friends’ that is. Of course, Uganda was for the past two years also a non permanent, rotational member of the UN Security Council and spying on the Ugandan head of mission there, Ndugu Ruhakana Rugunda, must have been tempting considering the controversial issues coming before the council over the past two years. And while here in Uganda only ‘mutterings’ were heard from the American embassy, across in Kenya the current US ambassador had to formally apologize to the Kenyan leadership ‘for what was about to become public’, while it was also learned that president Obama had to call the Kenyan prime minister to calm the upcoming storm – at this moment only a fraction of the dispatches from Nairobi to DC has been published and those are already bad enough.

In retrospect I now see that it would also possibly explain the constant and unwavering efforts of certain US sponsored programme personnel in Uganda to get into my own head and get a range of information from me and about me, having been the public face and president of the sectoral national apex body of the country’s tourism industry and chairman of the national hotel institute for many years between 2001 and 2008.

All their often ‘helpful’ suggestions and offers, and often thinly concealed attempts to get their hands on flash disks or hard copies of discussion and strategy papers now appear in a new light and it will be difficult to ever again believe any of them, be it Peace Corps volunteers or project managers, that they do not have an ulterior motive for anything they ask and do and then report back every nuance, idea and expression to their masters in Langley or at ‘Foggy Bottom’. Not that they got much, if anything from me during those years but for sure it seems this was not for lack of their trying.

Well, WikiLeaks had bigger fish to fry and the outcries over ‘leaked secrets’ is surely as much embarrassment over being reported for what was said behind closed doors and in ‘confidential’ or ‘secret’ communications as anything else. Many of those comments now in the public domain are frankly fit for being uttered in bars after a few drinks, but not coming from so called ‘statesmen’ or ‘diplomats’ – no wonder they are so angry, almost like a stepped on rattlesnake. Let’s enjoy their ‘red faces’ for as long as it lasts and hope for more courageous ‘deep throat’s’ to come forward.

 

UWA’S WOES FAR FROM OVER AS DONORS WADE INTO CONTROVERSY

Key development partners and donors of the Uganda Wildlife Authority have now formally written to the Government of Uganda, demanding that UWA return to proper management and oversight immediately, following the shenanigans of the former board chairman and the tourism minister, which well near wrecked the authority in recent months.

It is understood that the World Bank, USAID and others have jointly written to the Prime Minister, being concerned and alarmed that the huge funds poured into UWA since its inception in the mid 90’s are put at risk. The matter, inspite of the former chairman’s regular utterances of preferably Latin phrases – which impressed no one of substance by the way – has been coming to boiling point when court sacked a number of board members, including the former chairman, for being eminently unqualified to hold such a position due to lack of qualifications in relevant fields. Court also denied an application for an injunction until the appeal against the ruling has been disposed of, leaving a vacuum at the top of the authority and impacting on UWA’s ability to perform their tasks and duties.

Meanwhile it was learned that a panel of ‘elders’ including former tourism minister Prof. Edward Rugumayo, an astute mind and gentleman if ever there was one in politics here in Uganda, and former UWA chairperson John Nagenda, are to step in for a couple of months, assisted by other eminent personalities in conservation, to bring UWA back to the ‘straight and narrow’ and permit work to resume, which should never have been interrupted in the first place. A damning indictment all this is for in particular the minister for tourism, aka the self appointed minister of crocodiles – quoting his own words a few weeks ago – who committed an absolute blunder when he appointed his personal friend and personal physician to chair the UWA board. Hence it is mega barbs for them and a big bouquet in advance to the care taker team.

 

ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY FINALLY GETS TOP CLASS LODGE

The much in demand Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, now home to 9 rhinos and more being expected it is understood, is finally moving to meet the demand for quality accommodation, as the construction of the new Amuka Lodge is now underway. Due to open towards the end of January of 2011, the new lodge will offer guests initially two cottages, with two bedrooms each, accommodating 8 adults comfortably. Also available at the time will be the main building with reception, lounge, restaurant and bar with a swimmingpool of course not missing. At a later stage two more guest cottages, also each featuring two bedrooms, will be added to allow Ziwa to accommodate up to 16 guests.

That notwithstanding, the present accommodation near the sanctuary headquarters will remain open for business for travellers on a tighter budget as will the bar and restaurant there, and as the two ‘units’ aim for a very different market both are expected to prosper as demand for visits to and overnights at Ziwa continues to grow. This being the only location in Uganda where rhinos can presently be seen and tracked on foot in the Ugandan wild it is without doubt that eventually most safaris visiting Murchisons Falls National Park will plan a stop at Ziwa for their guests to makes sure they do see the ‘Big Five’ in Uganda too.

 

FESTIVE SEASON GOES UNDERWAY

Invitations to ‘year-end’ cocktails at this time of the year habitually rain down on us as companies and NGO’s, but also governmental departments and authorities gather their faithful around them to show their appreciation. Hotels are recording a wave of last minute bookings keeping their F&B departments busy with such functions, while also preparing for the ‘proper thing’, i.e. the Christmas and New Year period, one of the busiest seasons of the year for their restaurant outlets.

Most hotels, starting this year with the Kampala Serena Hotel and followed almost an instant later by the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, have now released their ‘programmes’ for Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day and of course the biggest night of the year, New Year’s Eve.

Prices this year in such venues have – courtesy of a lower shilling value against the US Dollar and Euro – remained under the critical 100 US D mark, generally being in the 200.000 Shilling region per person in the ‘top of the pop’ venues, but in turn creative 7 (and more) course menus and a range of door prices and other goodies await the patrons opting for a night out.

Those wanting to spend one night or several in the comfort of one of Kampala’s top hotels will also not be disappointed as very special rates have been put on the market over the holiday season, most of which include free internet, free newspapers, a full breakfast buffet which in the case of the Serena and Sheraton amount to full scale meals, and of course the use of the in house health clubs and spas to work off the extra food rations consumed the night before.

Security, it is understood from impeccable hospitality sources, will be at maximum for the night, so any visitors to Kampala wanting to spend the night out, are reminded to arrive at their chosen venue early as vehicles and passengers will be subjected to full checks, and those coming late will stand in the queues to await their turn while inside the celebrations will have started already.

State security organs too have vowed to be on full alert for the festive season, in part because of the ongoing election campaign but mostly to keep revellers safe, in the city and upcountry alike.

Lodges have mostly put up the ‘fully booked’ signs for the key dates although some space in some lodges might still be available, as it has become fashionable to take the families for a long holiday weekend to the parks over Christmas and New Year. UWA has not yet released details on reduced citizen and residents rates for entry to the parks but in past years offered a 50 percent rebate as a present to the nation and to make it more affordable for those with the tighter budgets to come to the parks and appreciate the biodiversity Uganda has to offer.

 

AYA BROTHERS UNDER RENEWED SCRUTINY

The Weekly Observer ran an article earlier in the week, alleging a series of ‘gangland’ like labour practices as told by staff interviewed by the newspaper. The so called ‘Kampala Hilton’ has for years now been in the bad press and made negative headlines, over deadly accidents on site to court cases with the company’s own lawyers and of course the full mouthed statements, often bare of reality, by the owners and the endless delays in getting this hotel ready. Read the very latest revelations on this seemingly never ending saga here: www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11202&Itemid=59

 

SHILLING CONTINUES TO SLIDE

Inspite of spirited central bank intervention in recent days it seems that the Uganda Shillings is set to slide further still, to new record lows now reaching the 2.320 mark versus one US Dollar. The slide is alarming in a way as all imported goods reaching the shelves, including fuels, will have to be increased accordingly, and with crude oil prices now hovering around the 90 US Dollar per barrel mark in particular petrol and diesel, but also AVGAS and JET A1 will cost a lot more very soon.

It is thought that investors in financial instruments are largely responsible for this development, as are major international investors, who according to two sources in the financial services sector are presently snapping up dollars to pay dividends or selling off their portfolio in government and other securities. This trend, it has been suggested to this correspondent, may have something to do with the upcoming elections, but as those are generally considered to unfold peacefully, there should be no such panic at all.

Come what may, tourists coming to Uganda can suddenly discover just how much more their Dollar, Euro, Swiss Franc, Pound and Yen is worth and how much in terms of locally produced curios and souvenirs they can purchase, and how many beers they can drink without feeling the pinch.

 

Kenya News

KENYA AIRWAYS TURNS ON MORE HEAT WITH NEW STAND BY FARES

Undeterred by pending legal action and the sound of the collective teeth gritting in the industry has Kenya Airways just launched another volley into the aviation sector’s hottest route, when introducing a new stand by fare, at Kenya Shillings 3.000 return, all taxes included.

The other airlines on the route between Nairobi and Mombasa reacted with incredulity when first confronted by this correspondent with the breaking news a few moments ago, before claiming ‘I need to check this out first please before commenting’ – while ostensibly taking a deep breath and wondering what next would be cooked up by KQ’s marketing department.

The fare is available across the day, payable at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and valid in economy class only, but with presently 10 flights a day between the two cities – there is speculation that over the peak period between just before Christmas and just after new year the airline may add yet more flights to cater for the expected traffic increase – there is ample opportunity to actually travel, if not on the next then the flight afterwards.

The fare wars have brought smiles to the faces of travellers and hotel and resort owners at the Kenya coast, as more and more people will be taking advantage of such fabulous offers while they last, while the accountants at other airlines will be scratching their heads and getting into strategy sessions to determine counter moves. Meanwhile so it does appear as if KQ’s new aggressive pricing and frequency strategy is bearing fruits as more and more travellers are making it on their flights between the coast and the capital, while the other airlines on the route are putting on a brave face, playing down the impact of these measures by ‘the Pride of Africa’ on their own flight occupancies and bottom lines.

The ‘battle for the skies’ has meanwhile extended to the Kisumu route, where KQ has just put an 8.800/- Kenya Shillings return fare on the market and increased their presence to 25 flights a week, serving notice here too to their competitors that they mean business from now onwards on the domestic market. Watch this space for the latest and most up to date information from the East African ‘skies’.

 

FIRST CASUALTY IN AIRFARE WARS IN KENYA

East African Safari Air Express, airline coding B5, has halted all flights in the face of ever stiffer competition in particular on their main routes to Juba / Southern Sudan and shrinking traffic to what used to be their ‘plum destination’ Lokichoggio / Northern Kenya.

The airline, which was operating aged equipment of the early generation DC9’s never managed to achieve what for instance their erstwhile partner and latter day rival Jetlink managed, to convert their fleet to modern day jets with superior operating parameters in particular as far as fuel burn was concerned, leave alone firming up market perception about ‘being on the move’ and not standing still.

Some weeks ago the DC9 fleet was effectively grounded in a last ditch effort to cause a financial turnabout, and substituted for two South African registered BAE 146. That however too did not stop the bleed apparently and ever more dismal loadfactors seem to have scared off the joint venture partners from South Africa. It is understood that when they withdrew their planes the end game approached rapidly for EASA and the halt of operations finally confirmed this.

In particular the route to Juba has in recent weeks become substantially more competitive, after Kenya Airways finally entered the frame and commenced daily flights between Nairobi and the Southern Sudanese capital, and together with Jetlink – they are operating twice a day in fact on their modern CRJ200 jets – they will undoubtedly try to see off other competition to this highly profitable destination. The use of EASA’s outdated, worn and far from state of the art aircraft was surely one of the many reasons why B5 in the end operated with what some say barely 30 percent load factor while those using newer jets operate well near with full house on every departure. On the Juba route this development also serves notice to other operators with old equipment, which is expensive to maintain, and the coming weeks will tell the story if others presently operating in Kenya will follow EASA to the exit.

In a twist of sorts, a senior Kenya Airways manager – now taken to court by Jetlink together with KQ itself – made comments last week about B5 not going to operate, but in a mistaken belief seems to have packaged EASA with Jetlink, which in fact not only operates but has just added new routes, and now faces a court case over libel. While we await the outcome of this case – some sources have indicated that KQ may wish to settle this out of court in view of the blunder by their employee – the aviation industry in Kenya is undoubtedly now facing a period of ‘survival for the financially fittest’, as Kenya Airways slug it out on the main routes between Nairobi and Mombasa, but of late also Nairobi to Kisumu, with Jetlink and Fly 540. Ever newer and ever lower fares, as reported yesterday when KQ launched a ‘stand by fare’ of 3.000 Kenya Shillings (1 US Dollar is worth about 80 Kenya Shillings) one way between Nairobi and Mombasa, inclusive of all taxes, make operations now only viable when combined with high loadfactors, and the next few months will let aviation observers and the general public know who has the fortitude of deep pockets and high loads and who else might have to face the inevitable and join EASA in the history books of Kenyan aviation. Watch this space for the very latest information on aviation developments in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

 

JETLINK GETS CLEARANCE FOR ASMARA

Information was received from Jetlink, one of Kenya’s successful private airlines, that following the launch of their flights from Nairobi via Kisumu to Mwanza they have now also been cleared to commence operations to Asmara / Eritrea. This new destination will come hot on the heels of Hargeisa in Somaliland, a relatively stable breakaway part of Somalia seeking independence and recognition as an independent country.

The airline has also confirmed that they have signed interline agreements with such prominent global airlines as Emirates, Brussels Airlines and Qatar Airways, which will allow passengers on either airline to be ticketed through to their final destination and receive their bags, subject to customs clearing points, at their final destination.

 

TWO NEW CONFERENCE CENTRES FOR MOMBASA AND KISUMU

The Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, the governmental body to support the tourism and hospitality sector financially and through other means, has last week committed to construct two more major conference centres in Kisumu and Mombasa in coming years. This announcement was greeted with broad support from the sector, as it would allow Kenya to tap more successfully into the MICE market, presently dominated by the capital city of Nairobi, where several conference facilities, including the Kenyatta International Conference Centre are in operation.

Other parts of the country, in particular the lake side city of Kisumu, have seen little of mainstream tourism, leave alone MICE traffic, but with several airlines now flying multiple frequencies between Nairobi and Kisumu, and more hotels being planned, could well become another option for organisers of conferences, meetings and conventions.

The same can be said for Mombasa, where apart from hotel and resort conference facilities no ‘official’ conference centre of international stature exists as yet. Considering the existing hotel and resort capacity available along the ‘North Coast’, the addition of an international quality conference centre would support the tourism sectors’s ambition to make Mombasa a truly ‘year round’ destination and fill beds during the traditional ‘low season’ as well, when bringing conference tourists to the coast.

The announcements were fittingly made by Kenyan tourism minister Najib Balala while also officially launching a 700 million Kenya Shillings special fund available for the hospitality sector through the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation – another shot in the arm of the sector undoubtedly as this will make co-funding of new projects substantially easier for developers.

 

ECOTOURISM SOCIETY OF KENYA HONOURS CONSERVATION EXCELLENCE

Last week saw ‘green excellence’ recognised and rewarded, when the Eco Tourism Society of Kenya, in short known as ESOK, made the results of the 2010 ‘winners’ public.

Amongst the winners in the various categories were Game Watchers, an associate company to Porini Camps – itself a price winning company – which was declared ‘top of their class’ in the tour and safari operator group. It was also no surprise to see SafariLink announced as winner in the local airline category, as they are now operating in a ‘carbon neutral’ environment, having invested substantially in tree planting and forest restoration measures over the past years and having made ‘flying green’ possible for the first time in Kenya’s aviation history.

Other winners included the Severin Sea Lodge, a resort along the Bamburi beach of Mombasa’s northern stretch of beaches, and the Olonana Camp in the Masai Mara. The awards are now in the fifth year and have gained huge interest as the winners stand to gain substantially in terms of promotional ‘mileage’ after receiving the stamp of approval from the powers that be of the conservation fraternity.

Eco Tourism Kenya is also the one and only regional body at present to rate and grade performance parameters in terms of eco friendliness, making it nearly impossible to use the words ‘green’ and ‘eco’ in advertising material unless cleared by ESOK first, unlike in some countries in the region, where ‘green and eco’, together with ‘luxury’ are some of the most misused terms, often introduced in promotional material without any level of local, regional or international certification process and therefore aimed at hogwashing clientele into believing what is not ‘formally on record, audited, certified and documented’.

Meanwhile has another block of Masai grazing land been turned into a conservancy, courtesy of Game Watchers and Porini amongst others, connecting two other conservancies located along the Masai Mara Game Reserve boundaries, after the local elders and communities had come to appreciate the successes of those privately managed tracts of former grazing land. Well done to all the winners in all categories in Kenya and hopefully a stimulant to replicate such also in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

 

Tanzania News

DIRECTOR GENERAL OF TANZANIA NATIONAL MUSEUMS PASSES AWAY

The sudden death last week of the Director General of the National Museum of Tanzania, Dr. Kayombo, left the institution in a state of shock and a vacuum, considering he has been at the helm of the institution since 1999, i.e. for over 11 years.

Over time he had developed close ties with international institutions, discussing the return of fossils kept abroad, and his Ph.D. studies in Germany – where some of the fossils are kept – came in handy to forge close ties with colleagues from Europe and the rest of the world.

Under the auspices of the national museum is also the site between Ngorongoro and the Serengeti – Olduvai – where the Leakey family had found evidence of man’s early ancestors dating 3.5 million years back. This ‘outlet’ of the national museums is much in demand by visitors from overseas, who however also visit the main museum as part of organised tours to Tanzania.

Condolences are expressed to the late Dr. Kayombo’s family, friends and work mates at the museum.

 

LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND RECORDS FORCES 2 MIO US DOLLAR REFUND

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, already in the bad book of donors and development partners over their vague stand about the hugely controversial Serengeti highway project, has come under added scrutiny last week, when news broke that Norway had demanded the equivalent of 2 million US Dollars in development aid back. The timing could not have been worse for the new tourism minister, who in his capacity under the ‘old’ government was the deputy minister of tourism and therefore politically also responsible for this mess, as global concerns and a wave of letters and emails about the highway project, and renewed controversy over Tanzania’s fresh application to CITES to sell ivory stocks, keep Tanzania in the spotlight of global conservation organisations and individuals.

Sources in Dar es Salaam have suggested that ministry officials were swift to downplay the impact of the ‘refunds’, and claimed fresh negotiations are already underway for more funding – but NOT saying that development partners will apply substantially strengthened rules and regulations, audit demands and compliance, which the present situation in the wildlife sector is not making any easier.

It was also downplayed that about half of the funds received under the scheme appear to have been spent on workshops, allowances and travel related expenses, while in other cases materials and equipment ordered were paid for but never delivered. This was leading in some cases to outright anger amongst the donors and development partners and their reluctance to ‘throw more good money after them’ as one source in Dar es Salaam put it, until substantially improved governance and transparency can be demonstrated by the Tanzanian counterparts. Ooops…

 

Rwanda News

25 YEARS ON THE WORLD REMEMBERS DIANNE FOSSEY

The fateful day, when Dianne Fossey aka the ‘gorilla lady’, was brutally killed at her simple cabin residence cum research station up the Rwandan mountains, is still firmly rooted in the memory of many who lived in East Africa in those days. It was a complete shock for most of us to learn of the news, as after all she was getting as well known then for her research on gorillas as is for instance today Cynthia Moss for her work on the Kenyan elephants and Jane Goodall for her work with chimpanzees. Had Diane lived on, having spent already nearly 2 decades with her research and care for the plight of the mountain gorillas, the three would have made an awesome trio of outspoken conservationists, amongst the many more of course there are and cannot all be mentioned by name.

The ‘Karisoke’ research centre and the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund last Thursday celebrated Diane’s all too short life while commemorating the 25th anniversary of her murder.

Many prominent guests from the conservation fraternity, the Rwandan government, the diplomatic corps and civil society attended the gathering to support the cause and raised several million Rwanda Francs in the process, all of which will go to the Karisoke centre, founded by Dianne way back in 1967.

It is generally thought that in her death Dianne Fossey became a conservation icon and the subsequent film released in the late 80’s ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ popularised her work around the world and hugely helped in Rwanda’s eventual procative conservation measures being introduced to safeguard the animals and protect their environment. Tracking mountain gorillas today is at the core of the country’s tourism industry and the current RPF government is according the sector full support and has passed numerous laws and regulations towards environmental protection, maintaining the often fragile biodiversity and by doing so ensuring the long term survival of the endangered mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains.

 

AKAGERA PARK RANGERS KILLED BY POACHERS

The menace of poaching has finally reached Rwanda too in its worst form, when reports reached early this week that two game wardens in the Akagera National Park were killed by poachers, while a third was critically injured in the shootout.

The team of wardens was reportedly on a routine patrol and found itself being ambushed by poachers, who have since evaded capture inspite of the massive manpower being seconded to the park by other security organs. Ms. Rica Rwigamba, head of tourism and conservation at the Rwanda Development Board, has acknowledged the incident and praised the park staff for their dedication to the point of giving their lives for the work they love, while also announcing that a major manhunt is now underway and hideouts and equipment of the poachers have already been found while tracking them.

By the time of dispatching this report one suspect has been taken into custody and is helping the authorities with their enquiries. Condolences to the bereaved families from the eTN team and a speedy recover to the injured ranger.

 

Seychelles News

DETERMINED ANTI PIRACY FIGHT REASSURES CRUISE LINES

Two major cruise ships visited the Seychelles’ main port of Victoria over the past three weeks, first the MV Bremen, operated by shipping and tourism conglomerate Hapag Lloyd, before the Seven Seas Mariner docked in Mahe last week.

The visits are signs of re-emerging confidence that the waters around the Seychelles ‘are safe’, following a series of convincing ‘victories’ by the Seychelles navy and coast guard against pirates attempting to hijack ships within the sovereign waters of the archipelago.

On at least two occasions it was reported that the  Seychellois naval forces had cornered and engaged hijacked ships and captured the pirates while freeing the hostages, serving clear notice of intent that pirates are due for an open ended hunting season and that the Seychelles ‘mean business’.

Cruise tourism across the mainland and island ports of Eastern Africa has in recent years reduced as fears over possible pirate attacks grew but these two visits show that promotional efforts by Port Victoria and the Seychelles Tourist Board combined with a determined patrolling and surveillance of the ocean waters by Seychellois and friendly nations’ forces was beginning to pay off.

Both cruise ships were given a full traditional welcome at Port Victoria when anchoring and the crews and passengers enjoyed the cultural performances given in their honour.

 

NEW CABIN CREW JOIN AIR SEYCHELLES

Air Seychelles last week passed out 18 graduates of their flight attendants course, after the new recruits had undergone a full schedule of training modules and passed their examinations. All of them were reportedly trained in an approved facility on Mauritius, regularly used by Air Seychelles for training of new personnel and refresher courses and mandatory training sessions of their cabin crew.

HM has in recent years increasingly employed Seychellois citizens across the board for their ground and inflight operations and the new staff are according to information from Mahe already deployed on international and inter island flights. At the same ceremony did the airline also recognise excellence amongst their staff with several awards to top performers

 

Southern Sudan News

EGYPT’S DIRTY TRICK CAMPAIGN AGAINST SOUTH EXPOSED BY WIKILEAKS

Water seems to be a key factor for the government in Cairo to stand against the independence desire of the Southern Sudan, as leaked documents obtained by WikiLeaks apparently showed last week.

The north African country depends overwhelmingly on the Nile waters and had an iron grip on the water ways following  the 1929 and 1959 treaties, which the British colonials forced upon the newly independent Eastern African nations.

Of late however have Eastern African countries denounced those treaties as outdated, dictatorial and not equitable enough, and have following prolonged negotiations with Egypt and the Khartoum regime put a new treaty on the table, to which Egypt in particular vehemently objected.

Documents seen on WikiLeaks now confirm that Egypt sees a newly independent Southern Sudan – a referendum on this question is due on 09th January – as a threat to their water safety, as Cairo thinks the Juba government will side with the other East African ‘water producers’ and their final share of Nile waters would be reduced. Hence it appears that Cairo used the ‘big guns’ when lobbying Washington to lean upon the Southern Sudan and accept a delay in their independence vote for as much as 5 years, a proposal shot down in the proverbial flames by GoSS officials based in the US.

Regular and well informed sources in Juba have however denied such allegations, citing ulterior motives by Cairo in support of the Khartoum regime, and affirmed that even a newly independent Southern Sudan would stand by the new treaty which the Eastern African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo DR and Ethiopia have put up for signature. Watch this space for future updates on this very controversial issue, as in particular for Egypt ‘water is life’, nothing less and nothing more.

 

SUDANESE POUND SLIDES FURTHER – SOUTH PREPARES FOR OWN CURRENCY

The Central Bank in Khartoum was last week forced to open the flood gates some little more, when adding a greater margin on the trading limits for foreign exchange bureaus dealing in hard currencies.

While the differential between the ‘black market’ and the ‘surcharge market’ has narrowed, it is still wide enough to keep the unofficial dealers in business, as the country continues to find itself short of Dollars, Euros and other major international currencies.

The premium, according to a source in Juba, is now nearly 18.3 percent over the ‘official’ rate band set by the Central Bank in Khartoum, making imports more expensive for the semi autonomous South and adding to calls to swiftly introduce their own currency, aligned to a currency basket including the East African currencies when independence finally comes calling.

Consensus right now is that following the independence vote on 09th January the ‘new’ country will officially become independent on or about 09th of July – a date long awaited by the equally long suppressed Southern population who were kept as second grade citizens by the hardline regime in Khartoum. Watch this space to learn more about development in the Southern Sudan, as the march towards full independence continues unabated.

 

 

 

And  in closing some material, as most weeks, courtesy of The Livingstone Weekly by Gill Staden:

 

News From Liuwa Plain via Robin Pope Safaris

Robin Pope Safaris, in their weekly newsletter told us about the work by the Zambian Carnivore Programme who are researching in Liuwa Plain. 

So here are a few updates from there. 

As it is the rainy season, the wildebeest have started to arrive on the plain from their northern haunts.   

The wild dog numbers are increasing with a new litter of 9 pups, the pack now numbering 18.  All are alive and well.  The pack has been named the Sausage Tree pack.  The team also found signs of another pack of wild dogs outside the park to the northwest in West Zambezi GMA.

The hyena are the dominant predator in the park, with 4 large clans.  Anyone who visits Liuwa is sure to see hyena on the plain. 

Excitingly there have been many sightings of cheetah, including a group of them that visited the Matamanene camp, home of the ZCP and Robin Pope Safaris.  The Zambia Carnivore Programme would like photos of cheetah in Liuwa during the past few years.  This will enable them to estimate the ages of the cheetah.  If you have any, please send them to ZCPLiuwa@gmail.com

Lady Liuwa, the lone female lion, is still well and spending time with her two male companions who were trans-located from Kafue National Park.  Unfortunately it does not appear that Lady Liuwa is pregnant. 

PUBLIC REACTION TO LODGE PROPOSALS IN MANA POOLS: CALL FOR MORATORIUM

WILD ZAMBEZI reported in its last newsletter that, less than a year after international outrage at Protea Hotels Zambia seeking to develop a 72-bed conference facility on the banks of the Zambezi River right opposite Mana Pools National Park and World Heritage Site, Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has now asked stakeholders to ratify four new 24-bed lodge developments for Mana Pools on its own side of the river.  Three of these proposed developments are muted for sites along the eco-sensitive Zambezi river frontage and one inland.

The reaction of the local and international public who are familiar with Mana Pools and hold it dear to their hearts has been one of horror.  

Conservation groups, tour operators and visitors from all over the world who have written to express their views are almost universally against further tourism developments along the Zambezi River frontage in Mana Pools.  They believe that the proposed developments will result in increased volumes of visitors, staff, traffic, noise etc that will have major negative impacts on the sensitive ecology and wildlife of the narrow “floodplain” area.  The wilderness tourism experience that brings visitors to Mana Pools will also be diminished.  Indeed, a warning came from tourism-associated organisations in both Kenya and Tanzania that Zimbabwe should not fall into the same trap that these countries have done with regard to overcrowding national parks for maximum gain while ruining the tourism experience.

A number of people have suggested that Zimbabwe’s Parks Authority should rather concentrate on developing small-scale tourism facilities at selected sites inland of the floodplain area away from the river where impacts will be less.  Some suggestions have even been put forward for these locations.

Overseas tour operators who send international visitors to Mana Pools have expressed the view that Africa is already full of “luxury lodges” and that the attraction of Mana Pools is that it is different.  Its simple tented camps, they say, provide a unique “close to nature” feel which should be retained, in order to attract visitors seeking a wilderness experience – something which is increasingly valued in the modern world.  Several overseas tour operators went so far as to claim that they would no longer bring clients to Mana Pools if these developments were allowed to go ahead, because of the loss of wilderness. 

Some local visitors to Mana Pools feel that the addition of more private sector expensive and exclusive lodges will further diminish the ability of Zimbabweans to enjoy their national heritage at affordable rates.  They argue that operators should rather be encouraged to enter into Joint Ventures to upgrade the five existing Parks tourism lodges. 

The strong public reaction has resulted in an appeal for a moratorium on all new riverside developments at Mana Pools until the Park Management Plan (recently completed, but as yet unsigned by the Environment Minister) can be revisited in the light of these new proposals, which were not included or discussed during public consultation. The transparency and accountability of the Park planning process has come under criticism because of this and indeed, concerns have also been raised about the allocation of tenders for the proposed developments. 

Wilderness Safaris, who were named as one of the proposed developers, but have since withdrawn their proposal, are among those who believe that the planning process should be widened to include the whole Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore World Heritage Site area, thus allowing for more flexibility and creativity in planning for tourism development throughout the middle Zambezi Valley. 

However, such an exercise will be expensive.  Zimbabwe’s Parks Authority currently has insufficient funds to effectively manage the protected areas under its jurisdiction.  In the current economic and political climate, creative solutions will have to be found.  In the meantime, though, the Authority is urged not to lose sight of the need to carefully balance its long-term responsibilities as custodians of a nation’s present and future heritage and the Zambezi valley’s globally-significant wilderness areas, with its short term desire to settle the bills. 

 

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