TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Second edition January 2011
TWO MORE GORILLA BABIES BORN BEFORE YEAR END
The Uganda Wildlife Authority just released details about the birth of two more gorilla babies in December, both born in the Bwindi National Park. They ‘belong’ to the Kyaguriro group – all habituated groups are named – which is not commonly available for tracking by tourist visitors, as its range near the Ruhija park centre made the group ideal for exclusive research and monitoring by park staff, vets and zoologists.
UWA also reported in the same release that two ‘wild’ adult gorillas and an infant had recently joined up with the same group, boosting its number to the delight of the Ruhija staff.
CONGO PARROTS IMPOUNDED AT UGANDAN BORDER
The vigilance of customs officers and other security staff is responsible for the confiscation of over 150 African Grey parrots at the common border near Kasese in Western Uganda.
Like in other Eastern African countries with borders to hinterland countries Uganda too is often used as a conduit country to smuggle wildlife, birdlife and reptiles through before ‘exporting’ the illicit cargo to its final destination. African Grey’s are now endangered as a result of such activities and in particular irresponsible expatriates here in Uganda, often even diplomats, are showing off by displaying captured birds in cages, rather than enjoying them in the wild, as this correspondent still does in his lake side residence.
Tropical birds fetch high returns overseas, at least for those birds which survive the journeys as they are often packed into small size boxes without food and water, and prices of several hundred dollars per bird, for rare species going into the thousands, are reportedly charged by traders.
Customs has in the meantime released the birds to the custody of the Uganda Wildlife Authority and efforts are underway, after ascertaining the health status of the birds, to eventually release them into the wild again.
FLY 540 STARTS 2011 WITH DELIVERY OF ANOTHER CRJ 200
The regional low cost airline, now operating across Eastern Africa in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, has on Wednesday taken delivery in Nairobi of another CRJ 200 aircraft, which will at the earliest possible time be deployed on their growing network of destinations across Eastern Africa.
After the acquisition of East African Safari Air Express in December there was some speculation over the pace of future developments within the Fly 540 network, but critics and doubting ‘Thomases’ were given a reality check, when the aircraft, painted in their trademark orange colours, touched down in Nairobi yesterday to join their fleet.
It is understood from usually very reliable sources that a third CRJ 200 aircraft will soon join their fleet too, and having the ‘former’ EASAX DC9’s also flying for the airline group will give them yet more jet aircraft capacity to operate their services on time with back up aircraft available at last.
Kenya’s aviation sector, the most active and diverse in the region and way ahead of Uganda and Tanzania, is expected to see exciting new developments in 2011, as Kenya Airways continues to aggressively reclaim their domestic market share while other private airlines like Fly 540 and Jetlink, but also the ‘safari airlines’ operating out of Wilson Airport into the national parks, will undoubtedly give as good as they get in this intense competitive environment, where only the financially and operationally fittest are expected to make it.
KENYAN AVIATION SECTOR HIT BY VAT ON LANDING / PARKING FEES
Airlines in Kenya are slowly coming to terms with the unwelcome news, that the charges of the Kenya Airports Authority for landing and parking will now be subject to a 16 percent Value Added Tax, a measure contained in the current Finance Bill but apparently not spotted by aviation lobbyists and the airline association. Kenya Airways, Fly 540 / EASAX, Jetlink but also the ‘safari airlines’ like SafariLink, Air Kenya and others will now have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for navigation, landing and parking fees at airports they fly to across Kenya, opening the door to financial hardship, considering that raising fares in Kenya’s extremely competitive aviation landscape is not the easiest option.
Fuel prices too are on the up, caused by a combination of a weakened Kenya Shilling, now trading in the 81 range versus one US Dollar and continued high crude oil prices, which are beginning to find their way into the cost of Jet A1 and AVGAS.
None of the regular contacts was ready at this stage to go on record as to what went wrong and why the applicable sections of the Finance Bill were not objected to by the aviation industry while the draft was in the committee stages and changes were still possible, in itself telling the story that associations and individual airlines seemingly ‘slept’ through this process only to wake up to a 2011 financial hangover. It was also not immediately clear if foreign airlines flying into Nairobi and Mombasa would also be subject to paying the VAT on the landing and parking charges or would under international aviation conventions be exempt, leaving the local airlines to carry the burden alone.
KENYA’S HRA COMPLAINS OF INADEQUATE FUNDING
The Hotel and Restaurant Authority, launch in 2010 by the minister for tourism, has a herculean task ahead of them in the new year, as an updated classification exercise was to go underway in January.
Lack of adequate funding is now threatening the start and roll out of the hotel and restaurant inspections, following which the classifications granted before will be reviewed and where necessary revised, both upwards of course should better standards make it possible, but also downwards where standards have visibly slipped. Sections of the hospitality industry have already started to lobby government to allocate enough funds for the new classification, with some of them claiming that previous exercises may have been flawed in their outcome and influenced by well connected individuals, and that only a fresh classification could now address such concerns.
PORINI’S SELENKAY CONSERVANCY EXPANDED
The Selenkay Conservancy outside the Amboseli National Park, operated by Porini Camps and Gamewatcher Safaris, has just been substantially expanded under a renewed lease agreement, which will see the current contract between the Masai clans owning the land, and Porini extended until 2026.
The information was provided by Jake Grieves Cook, recently retired as chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board, and now concentrating once again entirely on his conservation tourism business. Said Jake: ‘the original 15 year contract was still running for another two years and the new agreement will supersede the existing contract and run initially a further 15 years.’ Jake also told eTN that as a result of their performance in the conservancy, and the resulting royalties for every guest booked into the Amboseli Porini Camp, the Masai families decided to give them more land for conservation of wildlife. Frequent droughts, which in particular in recent years have decimated the herds of cattle and goats, have reduced the wealth of the Masai clans, who still largely depend on herding, but the income from ground rent, the opportunities for employment – over 90 percent of the staff come from the local Masai community – and dedicated community support projects such as schools, clinics and water bore holes, have persuaded many of the Masai that there is a better future in tourism and conservation than in the traditional ways of herding.
A personal visit some time ago also provided the insight that the grazing grounds were suffering from degradation to a far greater extent than the land set aside for wildlife conservation, since overgrazing and soil erosion – caused by the daily trek of livestock to the watering holes – was not an issue as game has different and less taxing feeding habits compared to cattle and goats.
Having conservancies adjoining national parks and game reserves also creates much needed buffer zones against human encroachment and gives wildlife more room to roam the African plains while spreading tourism income more directly into the neighbouring communities, something ‘traditional’ wildlife based tourism is still struggling to emulate.
Only a few weeks ago did Jake also accomplish the addition of more land to his conservancies just outside the Masai Mara, closing the ‘gap’ between two existing conservation areas hitherto fragmented by livestock grazing blocks. This is a strong indication that a revived tourism sector in Kenya is now driving crucial conservation measures by communities, who are convinced that their future prosperity is better protected by moving from exclusive ranching to a mixed use of their ancestral lands and by embracing tourism. Visit www.porini.com for a fuller overview of their activities and community support programmes.
MORE POACHERS NABBED IN KENYA
Three poachers were arrested last week in the Laikipia area of central Kenya, while in possession of two rhino horns and over 80 tusks. Firearms and other sophisticated equipment used for poaching were also recovered, as this ‘under cover’ operation was successfully concluded. Amongst the items found were also night vision goggles, uniforms resembling those of official government agencies, high quality rifle scopes and communications equipment. One of those arrested was notably out on bail, while standing trial for a similar offence, and calls immediately emerged to deny poaching suspects bail and keep them locked up until their trials are concluded. Conservationists also demanded that the laws be immediately reviewed with the aim of keeping suspects in jail for a lot longer than the present maximum term of four years and that the fine option, if at all to be granted, be revised from the present 40.000 Kenya Shillings – little more than 500 US Dollars – to become open ended to punish the culprits also in their pockets.
The operation was instigated by the Kenya Wildlife Service intelligence unit in conjunction with other security agencies and it is understood from usually well informed sources that similar ‘sting’ operations are also underway. Anti poaching patrols too have been stepped up country wide in response to the increased number of reported poaching incidents but what is considered of equal importance is to capture the financiers, middlemen and traders to deal the black market in blood ivory a mortal blow.
SAUTI ZA BUSARA JUST A MONTH AWAY
The now globally renowned music and performing arts festival in Zanzibar, Sauti za Busara, is now only a month away for their 8th edition. It will take place between 09th and 13th of February on the ‘spice island’ of Zanzibar and a superb range of performers from across Africa have confirmed they will attend and play or perform for their ‘faithful’ followers.
The festival has over the years become one of the biggest cultural festivals in the entire Africa but for sure the most important one in Eastern Africa, and growing visitor numbers and demand for ‘performance places’ underscores just how ‘big’ it has become over the years.
AFTER WIKILEAKS EXPOSES ATCL ‘AIRBUS DEAL’ ALSO SAID TO BE OFF
The Air Tanzania management did clearly not want to wait for a call ‘from above’ and swiftly issued a statement on their aircraft purchase plans, after WikiLeaks blew a wide hole into their silence over ongoing allegations that not all was well in their negotiations with the two leading aircraft manufacturers.
‘The Airbus deal is off too’ was the message from corporate headquarters, trying to avoid even more intense scrutiny for the nearly bankrupt state owned airline, which has been gobbling up resources like a bottomless pit and yet is still hoping for another bailout from taxpayers money. Airbus was the company declared ‘chosen’ by management, and the allegations now are that as Boeing told them they would not accept ‘middlemen’ for their proposed deal that the ATCL managers then went to Airbus, trying the same thing. The public announcement therefore is seen and interpreted as ‘seeking absolution’ by pre-empting anything which might emerge on their discussions with Airbus at a later stage.
Now largely a ‘spent force’ as one aviator from Dar es Salaam put it to this correspondent when discussing the circumstances of the WikiLeaks documents, he went on to add: ‘I think parliament may after such revelations not give them more money, and if that is so they must liquidate the company. Since the crash of their B737 they simply have not gotten back on their feet and with only one aircraft left for them, what really can they do. At least Precision Air has stepped up their flights in Tanzania and I hear they will be starting to offer shares to the Tanzanian public very soon. If that is so, we no longer need a state controlled airline which cannot perform, and if they close, the staff worth absorbing can get new jobs easily with other airlines, even Precision or 540 Aviation. So I hope our politicians after this latest scandal over Air Tanzania also got enough now and close this chapter for good’.
SERENGETI HIGHWAY PLANS FUTURE UNCLEAR
The visit of the Tanzanian Vice President last week to the Serengeti – sold to the public as a private holiday – on closer scrutiny did provide added clues as to the government’s anxiety over the intense pressure from around the world to cancel the Northern highway route or else face cuts in aid budgets, project support and risk to be de-campaigned as an eco friendly tourism destination. It is understood that Dr. Bilal was briefed by park staff during his ‘private holiday’ on the controversy over the highway route across the migration paths and in particular he was alerted to the negative impact of a highway across the park vis a vis the survival of the great herds and tourism arrival numbers and revenues.
The founding father of Tanzania, the late ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere, had made firm policy commitments towards maintaining the Serengeti ecosystem but his political ‘grand children’ seem to have conveniently forgotten about his teachings while looking to maximise profits from mining, which the road would open up and make possible.
‘Officially’ the government in Dar es Salaam has not yet changed position, ever careful NOT to give the political opposition and opponents of the plans ammunition over ‘U-Turns’, but signs are slowly emerging, as predicted here before, that the powers that be have finally started to understand what is at risk should they push the highway construction through. A further EIA – environmental impact assessment – is also still underway and the minister for tourism, unlike his predecessor who never even made it through the nomination process as a result of her pro highway shenanigans, has already indicated that whatever results the EIA would present, should be accepted, EVEN IF it would stop the project altogether. Hence, watch this space as gradually a clearer picture emerges over the way forward and a final decision inches closer.
CIVIL AVIATION AUTHORITY ALSO BENEFITS FROM TRAFFIC GROWTH
Information was received last week that the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority’s income had risen substantially during 2010, largely as a result of more flights from abroad landing in Kigali and the increased frequencies of RwandAir, the country’s national airline. Revenues grew by about 25 percent, according to a Kigali based source with passengers traversing Kigali for the first time exceeding 300.000 during the period under review. The same source also suggested that 2011 is likely to be going a better year even, as the effects of the late addition of more flights by such airlines as KLM would be felt over an entire financial year and not only for the few weeks at the end of 2010, when the new schedule took effect.
Codeshared operations between such overseas based carriers like Brussels Airlines with RwandAir are also expected to bring more passengers to the ‘land of a thousand hills’, for both business and tourism purposes.
RWANDA COMPLETES FIBRE OPTIC CABLE ROLLOUT
Information was received last week that Rwanda has now concluded the laying of fibre optic cables across the entire country, bringing information and communications technologies closer to the population. The main links from the ‘landing points’ at the Kenyan coast are connected at the Rwanda / Uganda border and have now reached all corners of Rwanda. Visitors in particular appear satisfied with the greater speeds of their internet connections while call rates too have come down in recent months to the delight of Rwanda’s business sector.
Kigali, the country’s capital, in particular has been ‘wired up’ and wireless connection points spread across the central business district and residential areas, supporting government’s desire to turn Rwanda into an ICT hub in coming years, which will also help to promote the ‘land of a thousand hills’ as a tourism destination.
POACHERS NABBED, REPATRIATED TO CONGO
During the Christmas season did two Congolese poachers try their luck to come across the common border to Rwanda, laying snares and traps in the Volcanoes National Park, hoping to ‘get lucky’. Thankfully the Rwandan park rangers were alert, holidays or not, and nabbed the pair red handed.
Following the discovery of snares, with a young gorilla needing rescue and treatment by wildlife veterinarians, a major patrolling exercise was launched, during which several hundred snares were found on both sides of the border, reportedly most of them in the Congolese national park.
This will undoubtedly cause concern amongst the conservation fraternity but also amongst park staff, who in particular in Rwanda pride themselves for their vigilance and surveillance, which kept poaching at very low levels. The two poachers, who already in Rwanda admitted to their crimes, will likely be prosecuted in Congo although they have according to sources from Kigali pledged to turn themselves into ‘anti poaching agents’ supporting the wildlife rangers in the future to prevent the spread of the evil activity.
Gorilla tourism is the most recognised activity for foreign visitors coming to Rwanda but Congo – likely because of its reputation stemming from long civil wars and unrest in the East of the country, is not getting many visitors compared to Uganda or Rwanda out of security concerns for the safety of foreigners in the area. Meanwhile, well done to the park staff for their positive results!
ROGUE REGIME DETAINS JETLINK AIRCRAFT AND CREW
A Jetlink CRJ aircraft was ‘detained’ on arrival in Madagascar last Friday, when landing at Nosy Be to reportedly fly an Italian airline crew back to Kenya. Sources in Nairobi claim that the flight had received all the required clearances before taking off from Kenya for Madagascar, a normal procedure in fact for airlines all over the world, and the company was taken aback when learning about the detention of their crew and aircraft over their alleged failure to secure landing clearance in advance.
A senior pilot in regular contact with this correspondent also explained, that crews on such charter flights do not take off, especially to such destinations like Madagascar – the country is ruled by a rogue regime in power by force of arms and being shunned by the African Union after breaking several reconciliation agreements – if they do not have all their paperwork together. He then added: ‘when you approach a country’s airspace, like in this case, the Jetlink aircraft would have been over the Indian Ocean radioing ahead, they [cockpit crew] would give their particulars to air traffic control, and that includes a clearance document reference. So if the Madagascar authorities claim they were not aware, that is frankly rubbish, because when communicating, if there was indeed no clearance document, they would have told the aircraft to turn back and get clearance first. But then again, Jetlink would not have taken off without having all required documentation and permits in place. I personally think, in that country, the way it is run, maybe the left no longer knows what the right does and communications within could have broken down or been faulty between Antananarivo and Nose Be’.
Diplomatic efforts were made from the Foreign Ministry in Kenya to ascertain the fate of the plane and crew and it is understood that they were eventually released and able to fly their charter passengers from Nosy Be back to Kenya, as should have been the case in the first place.
The incident has of course made its way into travel advisories and across the aviation fraternity nevertheless, warning of unpredictable behaviour by the Madagascar authorities, a development which will only add more woes for the country’s tourism industry, which frankly deserves better than it gets from its regime, considering the many natural and unique attractions the world’s largest island holds for potential visitors. The ICAO’s report on the status of the country’s airports, equipment and management last year already put Madagascar into the bad books of airlines and this latest incident will not help to improve their reputation abroad.
175.000 ARRIVALS MISSED BY A WHISKER
The Seychelles have recorded their best ever tourism arrival and revenue year in 2010, when they managed to add over 17.000 extra arrivals to their previous record in 2009. Leading nationalities of visitors were once again Italy and France, followed by Germany and the UK, although it was learned that German tourists stayed the longest in the islands averaging over 13 days. The total number of visitor arrivals was pegged at 174.529, a remarkable result considering the downturn only two years ago when the fallout of the global economic and financial crisis hit the tourism industry on the archipelago hard.
These results are also a clear indicator that the involvement of the private sector in tourism marketing, which started in early 2009, has paid off very handsomely for the archipelago’s tourism sector, and the added restructuring of the Seychelles Tourist Board, undertaken in 2010 has laid the foundation for future successes and yet greater numbers of visitors in coming years. Notably, STB had forecast a figure of 170.000 arrivals for 2010 and will be more than happy to see this projection exceeded by 4.529. Well done to Alain St. Ange, CEO of the Seychelles Tourist Board, and all the staff at home and abroad.
INDIA BASES ANTI PIRACY AIRCRAFT ON MAHE
Last week saw the arrival of an Indian military operated Dornier surveillance aircraft, which will now be based at the international airport of Mahe. The Indian government had committed to provide a brand new such aircraft, and two helicopters, said to be worth over 20 million US Dollars, to the Seychelles government as a measure of their support towards anti piracy operations. However, as production and equipping the aircraft will take some more time India decided to base one of their own at the archipelago to bridge the gap, before delivering the new equipment later in 2011.
The Seychelles government has taken a tough stand on Somali perpetrated piracy, engaged the ocean terrorists on several occasions decisively, recovered hijacked ships and brought Seychelles citizens and other seafarers home safely, leaving no doubt that the country will continue to employ robust measures to combat the menace. The aircraft, like the recently handed over 5 high seas patrol boats given to the Seychellois armed forces by the United Arab Emirates, will boost the archipelago’s capacity to carry out surveillance and defend and protect the extensive territorial waters around the islands, extending some 200 nautical miles into the Indian Ocean.
The new plane, according to reliable information received from Victoria, is capable of flying for over 7 hours nonstop on ocean patrols and has a radius of 700 nautical miles within which it can carry out surveillance, supported by the latest electronic monitoring equipment on board. The aircraft will also be armed, allowing it to give aerial support to surface patrol boats of the Seychelles coast guard, should this be required. A group of Seychellois military staff will be trained to conduct these operations once ‘their own’ plane will be delivered from the manufacturers in India.
In a tourism related development it is also noted that leading cruise lines are now gradually bringing their vessels back to the Seychelles for port calls, having the confidence that their approach and departure lanes are tightly controlled and help is always nearby, from members of the naval coalition as well as from the Seychelles coast guard, navy and military aviation wing. Well done Seychelles and what an example they set for other affected countries in the wider region.
Southern Sudan News
A NEW COUNTRY IS BORN
First indications from Juba and other towns in Southern Sudan speak of overwhelming support to the ‘YES’ vote by the population during the week long independence referendum. All signals are now showing ‘green light’ and when the results are formally announced, expected very soon, the countdown will begin towards full independence, expected within in six months from the starting day of the referendum.
Crowds in Juba, the Southern Sudanese capital city, and other towns and municipalities, were ‘jubalent’, already celebrating their independence from the oppressive regime in Khartoum, which treated the Southern Sudanese Africans like second and third rated citizens in their own country, which had literally enslaved them for generations, exploited the South’s mineral wealth while giving back mostly in the currency of civil war, i.e. aerial bombings, indiscriminate warfare and a near total lack of infrastructure and the destruction of the little there ever was, at least until the CPA was signed in early 2005 in Kenya.
However, the northern regime in Khartoum did little if anything to entice the South during the last 5 years to stay in the union and habitually dismissed complaints over cheating on the sharing of oil revenue, the creation – or rather lack creation of new infrastructure in the South, their ongoing support for criminal gangs and militias trying to cause havoc amongst the Southern population while also constantly making threats against the Southern leadership overtly and covertly about ‘consequences’, should the region indeed make good of their right to chose independence.
This however will all soon be a thing of the past, when the country in a few months time can raise their own flag for the first time, sing their own national anthem and become the youngest country, not just in Africa but across the world. Congratulations to our brothers and sisters across our (Ugandan) Northern borders for having behaved during the referendum in a mature and determined way and by doing so honoured all those members of the public and the SPLA who laid down their lives in pursuit of freedom over the past decades.
And more news from ‘further down South’, i.e. from Gill Staden’s The Livingstone Weekly will appear once again next week.