Weekly roundup of news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region, Fourth edition April 2011

TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Get daily breaking news updates via Twitter @whthome or on my blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

Fourth edition April 2011

Africa News

A HARD LOW SEASON LOOMS FOR EASTERN AFRICA

As the Easter season comes to a close, domestic, regional and international tourists begin their journey home from the beaches across the Eastern African Indian Ocean shorelines and from the safari lodges in the national parks. Hospitality stakeholders have expressed their concern to this correspondent about occupancy levels over the May to July period, and in particular the beach resorts along the coast from Malindi to Ukunda and across in Tanzania, but also on Zanzibar, are expecting lower occupancies. Some resorts will reportedly close for ‘maintenance’, more likely prompted by insufficient advance bookings to keep them open but using the time to spruce things up and give staff their annual leave and accumulated off days.

Across East Africa is the ‘low season’ a period of the year when special offers flood the market to attract domestic and regional tourists, stimulating demand and providing room occupancies, but this year bears an added challenge again. Rising fuel prices and rising commodity prices have taken a significant portion of freely available income away from potential travelers, leaving them to ponder if a holiday to the coast or into the parks is affordable after all, and airlines are struggling with the rocketing cost of jet fuel too.

While Kenya Airways hit the market with a special all inclusive fare from Nairobi to Mombasa, Malindi and Kisumu of 3.000/- Kenya Shillings one way, fares after the Easter holidays are returning to ‘normal’ and their main domestic competitors Fly 540 and Jetlink will equally assess market conditions, if not a reduction of scheduled flights or the use of smaller aircraft may be required to meet the challenge of higher operating cost due to current levels in the price of JetA1 fuel.

Air Uganda had already some weeks ago taken the decision to suspend their flights between Entebbe to Zanzibar via Mombasa for the low season, taking capacity out of the market when demand is traditionally low and undoubtedly all other airlines in the region with a significant leisure travel segment, will do the same.

Last minute ‘special deals’ by hotels, resorts and lodges too may be harder to justify and sustain this year, as the cost to run these establishments too have suffered the impact of rising prices, which made running generators in lodges and safari camps substantially more expensive compared to a year ago, while the cost of food has equally risen, limiting the scope of tariff reductions.

International tourists too are said to be affected by fuel supplements slapped on their holiday packages, with long haul flights from the key European gateways now ambushing tourists, and in particular the aggressive marketing by Egyptian and Tunisian resorts, located half the distance of East Africa from the source markets along the Mediterranean and Red Sea shores, has caused East African tourism strategists sleepless nights.

Tunisia and Egypt are reportedly offering rebates of up to 50 percent on their rates compared to last year on ‘specials’ with an average reduction of between 25 and 30 percent, luring hitherto undecided holiday makers who also have to count their pounds and pennies.

This therefore is the time to assess the product range and quality of hotels, resorts and safari lodges in Eastern Africa and make a determined effort to improve, refurbish and innovate, to attract travelers seeking not just a quality holiday but one at a destination like East Africa which so readily combines natural attractions and national parks with superb beaches, a competitive advantage Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda need to build on. Watch this space.

 

GOOD SAFARI GUIDE AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

With the annual award ceremony for ‘Africa’s Best’ now only just over a week away – to be held on the eve of the annual INDABA tourism trade fair dedicated to safari tourism in Southern Africa and beyond – ‘things’ are heating up for the nominees, of which over 300 names, companies and organizations have been put to the team of judges, which is made up from peers.

Three new categories of awards too have been created to honour ‘Best Personal Contribution to Safari Tourism in Africa’, ‘Best Wildlife Organization operating in Africa’ and ‘Best Personal Contribution to Wildlife Conservation in Africa’.

In these categories such illustrious and renowned names like the Jane Goodall Institute, artist David Shepherd, conservationist Diane Hunter and safari operators like Robin Pope and the long gone but never forgotten Norman Carr are amongst the nominees, making the  decision a difficult one for the judges as every one of these names has its own merit.

For those attending INDABA, make a note in your diary: 06th of May, 19.30 hrs in Durban – more details available via www.safariawards.com/ceremony

Good luck to all the nominees, and with a bit of bias especially those from Eastern Africa, where many past winners have their homes and areas of operations.

 

RECORD BLOOD IVORY HAUL CONFISCATED IN CHINA

One of the biggest shipments of illegal blood ivory from Africa, containing over 700 tusks and some processed ivory were recently captured by Chinese law enforcement officials. It was not immediately clear from which part of Africa the ivory came from but international organizations have put a logistics train into place which will assist in identifying the source countries by using DNA analysis. The shipment, seized last week already, is said to be worth about 18 million US Dollars, making a major financial dent into the operation of the smugglers.

At this stage it is too early to say if this seizure signifies a change of heart by China vis a vis the devastating effects of poaching in Africa, driven by the growing hunger for carved ivory exhibits which in China and other parts of the South and Far East underscore the social stature of their owners.

China has long been blamed, and critics are getting much more vocal now around the world, that they do little if anything to prevent the prohibited trade in blood ivory and other African animal products like rhino horn, skins and bones, but have until now in almost typical fashion ignored world opinion. Many international organizations have of late lobbied Chinese officials to prevail upon their government in Beijing to tighten up their legislation and introduce severe prison terms and stiff financial fines to crimes related to breaching the CITES Convention and related international agreements about in particular ivory and rhino horn possession, processing and  illegal importation.

Only recently was it reported here that a large haul of illegal ivory, in transit from a port in Thailand to China, was seized by Thai customs officials, after the Thai government introduced a range of measures to cooperate with African countries to halt the blood ivory trade.

While congratulations are in order here for the Chinese authorities doing their job, much more however has to be done to stop the source of the trade and criminalize the ‘culture driven habits’ as one source at the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka put it recently.

 

Uganda News

PARK LAND GRABBING SPREADS TO QUEEN ELIZABETH NP

News came to light late yesterday, that residents living at the Katunguru trading centre, just across the bridge spanning the Kazinga Channel, have attempted to ‘grab park land’ in an overnight ‘raid’.

It is understood from a usually reliable source at Uganda Wildlife Authority, that this may be a ‘copycat’ action similar to the situation at Mt. Elgon National Park, where politicians incited people to indiscriminately move into the park, appropriate themselves land, cut trees and build makeshift huts to try and firm up their claims that the lands belongs to them.

The same ‘arguments’ emerged according to the same source when UWA staff discovered that makeshift huts had been erected on demarcated national park land. This also sheds more light on the recent poisoning of ‘Mary the elephant’ who was a regular visitor at the Katunguru trading centre where it amused tourist visitors but angered shopkeepers, who claimed the animal was a danger and prevented them from doing business. The animal was less than two weeks ago found dead and suspicions are, though no hard evidence has been discovered so far, that locals had their hand in the poisoning.

Tourism is a major source of income for locals living in and around national parks, and grabbing land and poisoning of animals is not only criminal but counterproductive. Local political leaders need to understand that tourists shun ‘hot spots’ and places of controversy and if they do want their own people to benefit from tourism income and employment opportunities, they need to embrace conservation fully and not sit on the fence, pay lipservice only or as seems the case here fundamentally oppose it. Watch this space.

 

NEW NILE BIRDGE CONSTRUCTION SET FOR AUGUST 2012

The Uganda National Road Authority has yesterday confirmed that all components were being put into place to have construction on the new bridge across the Nile in Jinja commence by August next year. Once construction has gone underway it will take up to four years to complete the works including the construction of several new access roads linked to the present main highway approach towards the Owen Falls dam, where traffic currently passes.

More than half of the property owners affected by the project have already been compensated, while negotiations with several others are in an advanced stage of reviewing values and relocation while a few owners have failed to respond to UNRA or could not be physically traced, leaving compulsory acquisition of those parcels of land as the only option.

Invitations to contractors for pre-qualification are due to go out through the media within the next two months it was also revealed, laying to ground work for formal tenders to be issued and a contractor to be selected. The Government of Japan has agreed to fund the bridge and has only this week reiterated that their bilateral cooperation with Uganda would continue and strengthen inspite of the problems caused in Japan by the recent wave of earthquakes and the devastating tsunami which then hit parts of the coastline.

Once the new bridge is ready, expected by 2016 going by present schedules, the main traffic axis from the Kenyan port city of Mombasa into Uganda and beyond will be substantially strengthened, as the current works carried out at the Owen Falls dam bridge will further ensure that a viable second crossing will remain in place, where all traffic from Eastern Uganda moves into the central part of the country to the main highways to Western Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan.

 

PERVERTING ‘THE WALK’ RIDICULES THOSE WHO HAVE TO

The stage managed and as previously suggested media scripted events of recent days in parts of Kampala have now led to the main ring leaders be kept in remand, while awaiting their cases of public order offences be heard in court after the Easter break. Notably, neighbours and residents of the area where one of the opposition (mis)leaders lives and from where he staged his ‘walk to work’ campaign, have also told him off in a determined fashion, suggesting he takes his political issues elsewhere and leaves area residents alone or else move away so that calm can return to the neighbourhood. This did ostensibly not please the man, who angrily argued with his neighbours letting his fury and anger get the better of him, further denting his already strained relations with people in the very place where he chose to live.

Meanwhile though have the international media picked up on the stream of deceptive and often patently untrue reports sent from Uganda by agitators and propagandists, including several well known ‘journalists’, some of whom are thought to have assisted in the scripting of daily events and were then conveniently at hand to film and record when ‘spontaneous protests’ attracted a response from security organs aimed to keep the roads open and rowdy ‘rent a crowds’ at bay and prevent them from looting during the melee and diversions they created.

Uganda is fundamentally a peaceful country, just conducted orderly elections where a clear winner emerged in the person of the incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, beating his main rival by a substantial margin, as incidentally predicted by all opinion polls including those commissioned by the opposition. Having lost at the polls and faced with a more than 2/3 government majority in the new parliament, sections of the opposition then took it upon themselves to resort to incitement and allegedly planned violent gatherings, yet notably several opposition leaders who stood for president have denounced the action and called themselves for calm, exposing the instigators of the present propaganda campaign for exactly what they are. They at least accepted that the present rise in fuel prices, which triggered an acceleration of inflation and hit the ordinary people hardest, was not to be resolved on the streets but by deliberate measures to create more jobs and move forward on domestic oil production and processing.

Many Ugandans walk to work daily, as repeated morning visits to the ‘Clock Tower’ conclusively prove, and they are neither hindered nor stopped by police and other security organs. In fact, thousands of them stream into the city every day on foot with a few claiming it is for ‘fitness’ while most of course cannot afford bus and matatu fares. According to feedback received from a top police officer in Kampala, none of those having to walk to work was committing any offence and not one police officer would find cause to charge them, haul them to court or otherwise impede their free movement in the city. Quoting him, although not aware this would be reproduced here, he said: ‘there are many Ugandans who are struggling to make ends meet. If they cannot afford fares every day they walk to work. That has long been the case and is not changing in the future. I sympathize with them, and in fact many of our own officers walk to their assigned duty stations. The force would never interfere with their freedom of movement, never. But those politicians have turned the daily challenge of life of ordinary Ugandans into something perverted. They assemble TV teams at their house and then begin a political demonstration from there. If you want to demonstrate in Uganda you apply for a permit. If the opposition wants to demonstrate we can give them a permit for a stadium, or the Kololo airstrip [ceremonial parade ground], they can go there and talk and peacefully leave afterwards. But this is not what they want, it gives them no publicity. They want chaos, block traffic, create unrest and they bring the same crowds every time, known hooligans who loot and steal on the sidelines. It is this we are here to prevent, to maintain order’.

A quick chance poll amongst tourist visitors to Uganda, met in Kampala, showed also that they enjoyed their holiday in the country and were not confronted by nor had they witnessed any of the scuffles, which took place mainly in areas already notorious for ‘rent a crowd’ appearances and not on any tourist itinerary, other than the global media hunting for stories where there are none.

Suggestions therefore made in the global media, by bloggers and by tweets, that Uganda is descending into a police state and be mentioned in the same breath as Libya, are without foundation and only driven by the dented egos of a few, who once again failed to impress Ugandan voters and are now in the political cold. Uganda is fine and at peace, while a few clearly are not. Happy Easter to everyone.

 

DOUBLE WHAMMY FOR UGANDAN ECONOMY

There was more bad news for the Ugandan business community when the Bank of Uganda, ostensibly in a measure to keep inflation under control, raised the ‘interbank lending rate’ by a full percentage point to 10.6 percent yesterday. Leading commercial banks responded by raising their ‘prime lending rate’ by various margins, some to as much as near 20 percent, making ‘regular’ lending jump back into the low and mid 20 percent margins.

This comes hot on the heels of inflation figures being released for March 2011, which were up to 11.1 percent, from a low 6+ percent figure still recorded in February.

The higher cost for bank lending will according to a regular source from a key business association office be passed on to the consumers, adding on one side more pressure to already heavily burdened ordinary people while at the same time depressing demand for more loans and credit from businesses.

Hotels, normally charging their clients in US Dollars, or the equivalent in Uganda Shillings according to the daily exchange rate, have not yet given any indication of raising their tariffs, probably considering the current low season and fragile occupancies, while a few safari operator did talk of raised charges for transportation in view of sharply risen fuel prices. Visitors to the country are advised to ascertain in advance if there are any changes to package prices they have been quoted a while ago to avoid unpleasant surprises. Otherwise, with foreign currency values fetching near record exchange rates, visits to the country will remain affordable for tourists and the ‘Pearl of Africa’ remains open for business inspite of ongoing challenges.

 

Kenya News

TSAVO ELEPHANT SEEK TO ESCAPE DROUGHT

The game rich but drought hit area of Tsavo East National Park and the adjoining Taita Hills Game Reserve are traditionally the home of large numbers of elephant, traversing the protected areas in search of food and water following an age old pattern. However, the present drought condition has apparently prompted several hundred elephant to leave the safety of the park and reserve and made their way into the farming communities living in the area. Over the Easter weekend reports emerged from Nairobi that Kenya Wildlife Service was compelled to deploy dozens of rangers in a desperate effort to drive the animals back into the park, after local farmers filed angry reports with their district administration and security forces. The elephants had by the time the rangers were on scene already destroyed over 100 acres under crop, a hard blow to local farmers considering the lack of rains already making farming a daily challenge. At least one farmer was seriously injured during an elephant attack while working on his ‘shamba’ and it could not be ascertained if he had tried to chase the elephants away or if he was attacked outright.

Several villages literally went into lock down mode, with villagers staying indoors as the elephants strayed through and around their homesteads and the arrival of KWS personnel at least brought some hope to them to return to ‘normal life’ after the elephant were chased off.

A surveillance aircraft supported the team on the ground, which used both vehicles and ground patrols to establish the whereabouts of breakaway groups of elephants before ‘engaging’ them and gradually driving them back towards the national park.

KWS has only recently concluded ‘collaring’ several elephant in the area to establish a movement pattern through electronic surveillance measures but it is not clear if any of the collared animals had actually been part of the group of several hundred elephant which had ‘escaped’ the drought stricken parts of the park.

The devastating drought between 2007 to late 2009 forced KWS in some cases to purchase food for the wild animals and then engage in a wildlife relocation to boost species numbers where they had fallen below critical reproduction levels, and more recently reports emerged that KWS had to buy water to elephant herds in another part of the country, where water sources had started to dry up.

Residents of the affected areas have appealed to government to quickly provide them with emergency food aid to make up for the lost crops, and also for new seeds to replant as soon as possible, to avoid potential shortages of food. KWS sources acknowledged their responsibility to care for the safety of both game as well as protecting people living near protected areas and promised that surveillance would be stepped up and patrols strengthened to avoid the elephants returning to the farmlands.

No information could be received at the time of going to press what compensation the villagers can expect and how fast relief would be delivered to them, in itself a crucial component of garnering community support for conservation measures. Watch this space.

 

WORLD BANK TO FINANCE MOMBASA AIRPORT AND SOUTH SUDAN ROAD WORKS

Information was received over the Easter weekend that the World Bank has reportedly agreed with the Kenya government to extend a soft loan of up to 25 billion Kenya Shillings to co-finance two crucial infrastructural projects. One, important to tourism, is the modernization and likely expansion of the Moi International Airport in Mombasa, the main entry gate for hundreds of thousands of sun and fun seeking holiday makers from Europe, arriving on charter flights from key gateways across Britain and the European mainland. This alone will be welcome news to the tourism sectors stakeholders, as alongside this project the new highway linking the airport with the ‘South Coast’ of Mombasa is also due to go ahead.

Further inland though a second key project, also with likely impact on tourism, but more so on trade in this case, is to be financed with the loan. The road between Kitale and the border to the South Sudan is to be upgraded, aimed to make ‘direct traffic’ from Kenya to South Sudan a reality without having to travel via Uganda, the most efficient route at present. Once the road from Kitale to the Kenya / South Sudan border has been completed, and the link from there to Juba via other important towns in South Sudan also been upgraded, travelling time will be cut into less than half compared to present circumstances. This road connection can conceivably also be used then to transport safari clients to the attractive and little explored game parks in Southern Sudan, where 6 national parks and over a dozen game reserves have been set aside for wildlife and nature conservation.

South Sudan, upon attaining independence on 09th July this year, is expected to make immediate efforts to become a member state of the East African Community, which when it becomes a reality will make travel across a unified region even more attractive for tourists seeking to explore the great wildernesses of our region. Expect regular updates on these developments and progress on the projects right here.

 

MORE TROUBLE BREWING FOR BOEING’S DREAMLINER?

Information was received overnight that a complaint by the relevant trade union over Boeing’s second B787 assembly line in South Carolina has now brought the National Labour Relations Board on the scene. The company was served with a notice by the NLRB over allegedly victimizing union members, who had in the past repeatedly gone on strike at the main Boeing plant, by transferring production to a non – unionized plant back in 2009. From details provided it appears that the unions may have a strong case as Boeing executives at the time made repeated public reference to strikes and options to prevent further industrial action by moving production away.

Both parties are now able to seek a negotiated solution but if by mid June no progress has been made or settlement be reached  between Boeing management and union representatives the matter may then have to be decided by a NLRB judge, which could trigger lengthy appeals in federal courts and spur further industrial action by the unions. How this would affect the production of the long delayed new airliner is hard to judge but the second plant was to assemble three aircraft a month while the main plant is due to assemble 7 B787’s a month, all of which are scheduled for deliveries to customers already angry and frustrated over the three year delays. It can only be hoped that a negotiated settlement can be reached in due course as here in East Africa Kenya Airways only last week re-affirmed their order for 9 of the B787’s while neighbouring Ethiopian Airlines too has a substantial number of the new aircraft on order. Neither airline has officially reacted yet to these news but will certainly be monitoring these developments with concern, as will other Boeing customers with pending orders for the ‘Dreamliner’. Watch this space.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS SIGNS ADDITIONAL UNION AGREEMENT

News that Kenya Airways and the Aviation and Allied Workers Union had signed a breakthrough agreement this morning in Nairobi, covering aspects of job evaluation and related matters following an earlier ‘return to work’ agreement with AAWU appears to have taken the wind out of the sails of union radicals.

The airline had in the recent past been repeatedly subjected to strike threats by radicals with a political agenda of their own, but a court directive mandated that negotiations had to continue and a strike would be illegal and prompt contempt of court proceedings.

The airline’s CEO Dr. Titus Naikuni had this to say after putting pen to paper and shaking hands with the Union’s Secretary General and the mediators from the Federation of Kenya Employers and the Central Organization of Trade Unions COTU: ‘Kenya Airways has had a cordial relationship with the Aviation and Allied Workers Union and the Central Organization for Trade Unions. We are therefore glad that the job evaluation exercise has been successfully concluded since it was a critical component of the return to work formula we signed in August 2009’. He went on to add that the airline and the union had committed in the agreement to finalize on the remaining aspects of the Collective Bargaining Agreement after the implementation of the Job Evaluation results as soon as possible. 

The job evaluation (JE) exercise was done jointly by a team of trained evaluators with representation from both the union and the management levels in the airline. Both Kenya Airways and AAWU participated in the selection and subsequent appointment of the HayGroup Consultants to conduct the training and moderation of the just concluded Job Evaluation process. 

This latest agreement underscores the airline’s seriousness during the last round in court when it committed to serious and honest negotiations, something dismissed at the time by union radicals but now proven to be entirely correct. With any strike threat now removed the airline can concentrate on their corporate strategy of expanding their network and increase frequencies to destinations in demand, a welcome development surely by their growing number of faithful travelers.

 

Tanzania News

LAKE NATRON SODA ASH FACTORY – BY HOOK OR CROOK

The long Easter weekend produced some startling information from Tanzania, when it became known that the Minister for Industry and Trade stated categorically that even if the still in the making Environmental Impact Assessment study would recommend against the building of a soda ash plant on the shores of Lake Natron, the project would nevertheless go ahead, regardless of objections.

Lake Natron is the ONLY breeding ground for the presently millions of flamingos, traversing the Great African Rift Valley every year in search of food before returning to the hot mud flats of Lake Natron, where they make mud nests and lay their eggs, which mature assisted by temperatures well into the 40’s C every day. This being the only breeding ground for the bird species has attracted a wide coalition of opponents to the project, which is being promoted by India’s Tata Industries. It is expected that court action will  be launched against the project and a global ‘anti Tata alliance’ be formed to exert both legal and PR pressure on the company to mend their ways and respect the environment and biodiversity of an already fragile ecosystem which Lake Natron undoubtedly is.

Flamingos are said to be sensitive to the slightest disturbance and the establishment of an extraction plant in Lake Natron, a net of pipelines to the production facility and sharply increased human movement and activity will according to experts in flamingo lore lead to a significant reduction in the bird population, if not their extinction in years to come, robbing Eastern Africa of a crucial component of natural attractions.

Only recently has president Kikwete given the directive to the ministry to go ahead with the project, when visiting the ministry, causing an outcry by conservationists around the globe, and earning the Tanzanian leader yet more nick names, besides ‘Serengeti Killer’ with the now added ‘Flamingo Killer’.

The Tanzanian government has been particularly insensitive to the concerns of the conservation fraternity in regard to their plans to cut the Serengeti apart by constructing a highway across a crucial migration route of the great herds of wildebeest and zebras, terming opponents as ‘enemies of progress’ and ‘paid foreign agents’, as if to prepare the ground to eventually silence and imprison those leading protests against their ludicrous plans. When more recently the president also ordered the withdrawal of an application to UNESCO to recognize the Eastern Arc Mountains as a World Heritage Site, his critics saw yet more evidence that Kikwete was deep in the pockets of mining and logging interests, and no amount of lip service about pro tourism conservation and anti poaching measures will now divert attention from the apparent true intent of Kikwete during his final term of office to hammer through his anti conservation agenda.

Other related plans, interlinked with the Serengeti highway – itself skirting Lake Natron and providing an access road to the planned soda ash factory – have also recently come to light and will be discussed in a related article shortly. There a greater agenda will be unearthed and it will be revealed how the starting point of a new traffic axis will also very likely destroy a marine habitat at the Tanzanian coast, again showing evidence how little today’s leadership cares about the legacy left by founding father ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere, who had pledge to maintain Tanzania’s biodiversity through conservation for future generations. Seemingly, this no longer counts now as the financial interests of global mining conglomerates recklessly push aside whatever stands in their way. Watch this space.

 

TOURISM CONFEDERATION OF TANZANIA OFFERS COOPERATION

The Tanzanian tourism sector apex body TCT has offered government the cooperation of the private sector in the tourism industry during a recent function, when meeting the recently appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and saying ‘kwaheri’ to their former long serving PS.

TCT incorporates the key sectoral associations like TATO, TASOTA, HAT and TAOA and also includes the Zanzibar Tourism Investors’ Association, providing the main private sector platform for dialogue and is the main private sector counterpart to the public sector. While traditionally in Tanzania after independence the public sector chose the tunes and the private sector was to dance to them, things in recent years have changed considerably, as more investments poured into the tourism industry, arrival numbers grew and earnings multiplied, lifting tourism to the top of the economic performance scale.

Wise words were left by the previous PS Dr. Ladislaus Komba to his successor Ms. Maimuna Tarishi when he reportedly said to her: ‘Try to seek advice from stakeholders. Although they won’t provide all the answers, but they stand a better position to give insight to the development of the sector’.

TCT Chairman Gaudence Temu in response had this to say: ‘“The existing Public Private Partnership has facilitated implementation of strategies to improve services within the industry.
We will give you every support needed for the sector to achieve successful growth and development while protecting Tanzania’s natural and cultural heritage. TCT will continue to advise the Government on tourism issues relating to fiscal, legislative, regulations regarding standards, environmental, infrastructure, taxation, institutional development as defined by the National Tourism Policy, and other legal instruments related to the tourism industry’.

It is yet to be established though how government will eventually react to the outspoken comments made by TATO, and those of other sectoral associations, recently in regard of the hugely controversial plans to build a highway across the main migration routes of the wildebeest and zebras in the Serengeti, plans which have been broadly condemned by tourism stakeholders, or other recent issues emerging in the Tanzanian media like the cancellation of the application to UNESCO for World Heritage Status for the Eastern Arc Mountains, the plans to convert Stiegler’s Gorge in the Selous into a hydro electric plant site, the increase in poaching, encroachment into protected areas and illegal logging, all of which are threatening the very foundation of wildlife and nature based tourism.

Stakeholders in regular contact with this correspondent were unusually reserved over these issues though one did concede that ‘it has to be discussed with government, we in tourism cannot just sit still and see all this happen. We must bring our experience and expertise on such matters to government’s attention. They need our advice because it seems they have not listened very well to others’.

Watch this space.

 

Rwanda News

ADDED INVESTMENTS IN AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK ON COURSE

News emerged from Kigali that a top level meeting between the Akagera partners, the Rwanda Development Board on behalf of the Government of Rwanda and the African Parks Network, which own the Akagera Management Company, have reaffirmed their commitment to invest an initial 12 million US Dollars this year. The funds will be used to create additional park infrastructure in particular with a new visitor reception centre offering state of the art services at the main gate, work on roads and tracks, fence off sections of the park closest to neighbouring farming communities and villages and generally improve on areas seen as degraded. A new five year strategic plan, developed in recent months, was also reviewed and subsequently approved by the board of the company.

In order to improve on park management it is also expected that a new workshop will be set up, as will current facilities be expanded, rebuilt and modernized to create better working and living conditions for staff. It was also learned that a site had been identified where a new up-market tented safari camp will be set up, to add more beds for visitors to the Akagera National Park while tapping into a new market segment.

The development will be welcome news to tourism operators in Rwanda seeking to diversify their products away from being ‘only’ a ‘gorilla tracking destination’ – in itself of course a major global attraction – and the revamp at Akagera will open new options for more varied safari itineraries for visitors, allowing for the key objective of ‘longer stays, higher expenditure’ per visitor to be achieved. While no specific time frame for the work has been given, expect to read about it as and when it happens right here.

 

KIGALI ADDS NEW ROAD NETWORK TO ITS ATTRACTIONS

The Rwandan capital city of Kigali, proudly claiming to be the cleanest and most orderly – traffic wise that is – city in East Africa, will soon be able to add more ‘good claims’ to its name, when a new 36 KM road network is being handed over by the contractors to the city council.

KCC, the Kigali City Council – not to me mistaken with the often hapless past Kampala City Council sporting the same abbreviation – has been busy expanding, resealing and upgrading roads, including the one to the international airport, and while the works were initially due to end in late 2011, this was now brought forward to next month already as the contractors are way ahead of schedule inspite of meeting the stringent technical specifications for the new roads.

Kigali is also embarking on the implementation of a recently completed city masterplan, which will see the de-congestion of the city centre by introducing new suburban ‘hubs’, which will offer a complete range of services for business and residents alike. The vision for a ‘new Kigali’ expands in fact beyond the present city boundaries, incorporating a greater metropolitan area and setting aside specific locations for specific purposes like recreational facilities, housing, the hospitality and conference sector, residential estates and manufacturing and warehousing.

Well done Kigali, again a shining example for what can be achieved by a determined government and determined people.

 

Ethiopia News

BOEING EXPANDS TECHNICAL COOPERATION WITH ETHIOPIAN

Information was received from Addis Ababa that Ethiopian Airlines, already a major maintenance base and MRO for Boeing aircraft in Africa, was chosen by the American manufacturer to participate in an expanded service programme for B777 aircraft. It is understood that Ethiopian is one of the few global partners of Boeing and has been selected for their proven proficiency and skills in carrying out heavy maintenance at their base in Addis Ababa. The contractual agreement covers three B777-200LR already flying for Ethiopian as well as the remaining two deliveries expected between now and mid 2011.

Ethiopian, while having a number of Airbus models on order, has been a predominantly Boeing airline for a long time now and has built a reputation as an approved maintenance and repair organization too, servicing not only their own fleet but carrying out extensive contract work for other African airlines.

 

Madagascar News

EU BANS AIR MADAGASCAR B767’S

The latest edition of the now both eagerly and anxiously awaited EU Aviation Blacklist has added two long haul aircraft of Air Madagascar to the growing list of aircraft and airlines banned from flying into European airspace. It was learned overnight that two B767-300ER, the apparently only long haul aircraft of Air Madagascar able to fly to Europe, have been black listed over a range of safety concerns to do with maintenance and subsequent doubts over their continued airworthiness. This will effectively cut off Madagascar from their key trading and potential tourism markets in Europe, aiding critics of the current regime which has been shunned even by the otherwise lukewarm African Union, and has been under varying degrees of trade embargoes already from many other countries. In fact, many airlines have halted flights to Madagascar, also over growing concerns about airport safe operations, since ICAO a few months ago issued a damning report about blatant shortcomings in operational safety.

The island’s tourism traffic, already dwindled to a trickle due to the bad publicity the regime has generated, will be hit yet more as intending travelers now have to make considerable detours and very likely will have to pay substantially higher fares, should they still wish to visit the otherwise famous national parks and forest, where the rare lemur’s have their habitat.

 

Seychelles News

SEYCHELLES COAST GUARD RESCUES FISHERMEN

Ocean terrorists from Somalia have taken another beating from the Seychelles Coast Guard, when earlier in the week they were overpowered and outgunned by two navy vessels in hot pursuit after an SOS call about being seajacked came in from the fishing boat. Aerial surveillance, using the Indian sponsored Dornier aircraft, aided in the swift location of the boat and two navy ships were dispatched to pursue and ambush the terrorists about 150 nautical miles off the main island group of the archipelago. An apparent shoot out, initiated by the Somalis who attempted to flee, resulted in three of them being wounded while one of the four rescued Seychellois fishermen too was injured. They are receiving initial treatment on board of the navy ship and will be assessed further upon landing in a few hours at the main Seychellois sea port in Victoria.

The Seychelles government has now repeatedly demonstrated to the world that determined and robust action produced the desired results, as several seajacked boats and fishing vessels have in past months been recovered and the ocean terrorist been brought to justice.

The trials of several of those captured in the past have been concluded and the convicts are now serving 20 year sentences, although a repatriation agreement has earlier this week been signed with Somali authorities, ensuring that the criminals will continue to serve their full sentences in a Somali prison once they have been deported home. This cannot be a welcome prospect for them surely when they have to leave Seychelles hospitality, albeit given to them in prison and have to rot away behind bars in Somalia.

The naval coalition can and in fact must take a leaf from the Seychelles in regard of rescue missions and their robust handling of such situations, and it is high time that the rules of engagement, as often demanded here in the past, are being changed beyond monitoring, determent and containment into offensive operations to bring the ocean terrorists down. This must include denying them land bases through appropriate action from the air and on the ground to achieve this objective. It must also be a certainty for the terrorists, that once they leave Somalia’s territorial waters, and look and act like pirates, the outcome would be swift and final for them, instead of trying to appease the weeping and politically so correct ‘advocates of human rights’, who show more compassion for the aggressors than their victims. Meanwhile, congratulations to the government of Seychelles, their brave coast guard and navy personnel and welcome home to those rescued.

 

AIR SEYCHELLES CREATES NEW DIRECTORATE FOR IT

The Seychelles national airline Air Seychelles has just announced the creation of a new position at director’s level, when they appointed long serving IT specialist Chang Lam as new Director IT and Telecommunications. Lam has been with Air Seychelles for over 20 years and was the ‘founder’ of the airline’s digitalization when introducing progressively the use of computers, first in accounting and then eventually spreading across the entire organization. Lam oversees a staff of 25 young Seychellois professionals who trained as specialists in various fields and were instrumental in moving Air Seychelles into the e-age, including the introduction of e-ticketing some years ago.

Said Chang Lam on the occasion of his promotion: ‘Today, Airline IT lies at the intersection of IT and the air transport industry and one must understand the functionality of the airline industry as being very dynamic. At Air Seychelles, most of the IT infrastructures have been implemented and are being maintained by a group of young and dedicated Seychellois team. The new e-Enabling Project currently being worked on, will allow the IT network connectivity of a flying Air Seychelles aircraft to communicate to the Air Seychelles IT & Telecommunications infrastructure on the ground. This will allow the delivery of electronic information from the aircraft to the company’s head office and other departments. The strategic use of the information obtained through sophisticated applications, software and infrastructure will improve efficiency and increase aircraft reliability’. Happy landings!

 

MISSION LODGE SET FOR WORLD HERITAGE STATUS?

The Seychelles Department for Culture has recently submitted details of potentially new World Heritage Sites to UNESCO, in a bid to add the coveted status to yet more extraordinary places across the archipelago. Already are the Vallee de Mai on the island of Praslin and the Aldabra Atoll recognized by UNESCO and the added exposure have made the Vallee de Mai the most visited natural attraction in the Seychelles, with visitors coming from the other islands where they stay just to see the ‘coco de mere’ trees, the tropical forest and the rare birds, some of which are only found there.

Mission Lodge, incidentally visited by this correspondent during his last visit to Mahe, is of great historical and cultural significance to the islanders, as it was the first school available to liberated slaves when the islands were still under colonial rule.

A special exhibition was held last weekend at the site to draw public attention to the government’s desire to see Mission Lodge globally recognized, coinciding with the World Heritage Week observed in most countries.

 

CONSTANCE EPHELIA INTRODUCES SEYCHELLES FIRST CLIMBING WALL

The Seychelles’ resorts, host to visitors from around the world, have rarely disappointed guests when it comes to entertainment and activities, in the water, on the water and on land. Yet, ever keen to add more attractions for their faithful clientele, has the Constance Ephelia luxury resort recently opened a full scale climbing wall, suited to entice beginners under the careful watch and guidance of a trained team of experience rock climbers, but also offer the expected challenges to the aficionados of the ‘sport’. The ‘wall’ is open daily between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and climbs take place upon prior notice, to have the required staff on site for safety and the security of those daring enough to give it a go. Courses for beginners and advanced climbers are also available now with immediate effect.

The information given by the resort also speaks of more such attractions being planned on a different location of Mahe, where a canopy ride and a ‘zip wire’ are being installed for adventurous tourists. Notably does the sister resort on Praslin Island, the Constance Lemuria offer a championship golf course, the only of its kind on the archipelago, putting both resorts ahead of the pack in terms of sporting opportunities. Visit www.epheliaresort.com and www.lemuriaresort.com for more details.

 

South Sudan News

IT IS ALL KHARTOUM’S DOING

The present wave of militia incidents in Southern Sudan, combined with aggressive threats by leading operatives of the Khartoum regime in regard of the consultations and elections in South Kordofan – due for the 02nd of May – and issues surrounding the disputed oil state of Abyei have confirmed long harboured suspicions, that Bashir’s goons and henchmen are far from happy with the South Sudan attaining independence on 09th July. Inspite of soothing words uttered during Bashir’s visit to Juba a few days ago, reality on the ground speaks a different language, and a concerted effort is emerging to unsettle the South and create an ‘intervention scenario’ for South Kordofan, the Blue Mountains and Abyei areas, which historically belong to the South and were most hotly fought over during the civil war but still ended up with special status, putting many hurdles in their way to become free too from aggression, quasi slavery by the Khartoum regime and enforced Sharia law over the Christian majority population in those states.

Fighting in recent days intensified but a well prepared SPLA responded quickly and not only quelled a potential hotspot but in the process captured and killed several high ranking officers, including generals, of a breakaway faction sponsored by Khartoum.

Well placed sources in Khartoum also speak of a hidden agenda in regard of the South Kordofan state, which sections of the regime appear set to break up by re-creating a West Kordofan state, which could be the long feared trigger of another round of hostilities, as the Southern population there could not stand by idle in the face of such provocative acts and let go of territory, many hope will one day soon also be part of a free and liberated South, where people can decide on their own destiny without being treated as second and third rate citizens in their own country. Notably, the current Khartoum installed governor is also on the list of indicted persons by the International Criminal Court, alongside regime leader Bashir, wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against the Southern Sudanese population during the liberation war.

Said a regular source in Juba in this context: ‘we shall become independent on 09th July. Let there be no doubt. We always knew it would be difficult but we are up to the challenge. We are vigilant and prepared but unlike Khartoum we are not warmongers. It is not us provoking, we respond only to provocations launched by regime friendly and sponsored trouble makers. We are now just over two months from independence and we stand firm here, we knew they would try, this maybe the peak now but we shall get this under control before we become Africa’s youngest and newest nation.’

East African governments too are said to be watching the situation with concern and some are said to have sent emissaries to Khartoum warning the regime of any mischief, without at this stage however committing any troops or assistance other than at diplomatic level to the government in Juba. Yet, some leaders in the region are on record that should Khartoum return to the warpath, the South would not stand alone, leaving the possible level of support however still open to speculation.

Watch this space.

 

AND, in closing today once again, courtesy of ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ some interesting and relevant material from ‘further down south’ … enjoy Gill’s latest exploits and travel reports as she criss crosses the Southern African region

Travelling the Four Corners

The Four Corners is a name which is often given to this part of the world because it is the only place where four countries meet at a point – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.  They all meet in the middle of the Zambezi at Kazungula.  I travelled through three of the four countries during the week. 

I went over the border to Botswana at Kazungula, then through to Ngoma at the end of Chobe National Park Riverside.  The following day I crossed into Namibia at the Ngoma border and then back to Livingstone via the Wenella border at Katima Mulilo. 

My first comment is on the border at Kazungula.  We should all be pleased to know that operations there have improved.  There are signs up telling visitors what to do and where to go.  And the border staff seemed friendlier than they have done previously.  So, well done for that.  Comparing the Zambian Kazungula border with the others, though, it is clear that there is a lot more work to be done.  I think the biggest concern has to be all the waifs, strays and touts who patrol the border area – it is like a village.

If you go to any of the other borders the only people you see are the uniformed staff and the people passing through.  I am sure that the border officials at Kazungula will say that it is impossible to control all these excess people because the border is so busy with trucks, marketeers and tourists.  However, when you go onto the Botswana side which obviously copes with the same amount of traffic, it is orderly, clean and efficient.  

For those who are interested, the ferry for my car (4×4) cost K56,000 (US$12); a normal saloon car costs K42,000 (US$9).  For foreign registered cars the charges are saloon: US$21, 4×4: US$28.

There is also a Council levy which is K20,000 for all vehicles – local or foreign – but as the Council staff rarely come out of the office, I would be surprised if they collect much.  The lady in the office was busy munching on a loaf of bread, along with police officers, a guy in handcuffs and a lady with her baby. 

It took quite a while to get over the border because it was busy; I think I caught the fourth ferry crossing. 

The Pula (Botswana currency) I had taken with me to pay for the custom fees for the car was old notes so I didn’t have money to pay (they won’t accept foreign currency).  I was sent into Kazungula to change some US.  Fortunately there are a lot of new buildings and shops at Kazungula now and one of them was a bureau de change.  I changed my money and trundled back to the border to pay.  It was P240 (US$38) because I was going through to Ngoma and not coming back to Kazungula, otherwise it would have been P190 (US$30).

I drove through to Ngoma, staying there overnight.  I will tell you all about that next week. 

At about lunchtime the following day I went down to the Ngoma border to Namibia.  Completely hassle-free until I tried to start my car – it wouldn’t go.  All the officers from the border post came out to see what the problem was.  We all tried to get my car to start but they were all as clueless as me mechanically.  Although, having said that, I do know my ancient car slightly better.  I sat in the car and read a book for half and hour and tried to start it again … it started. 

Then on to the Namibian border, over the bridge which crosses the Chobe floodplain (the bridge in the header).  In Namibia you have to pay ‘Cross Border Charge’ for the vehicle, but they don’t do it at the Ngoma border – you pay in Katima Mulilo.  So I just pottered through the border and took the 70 km tar road through the villages to Katima.  Surprisingly I came across two police road blocks on the way (the police checked my driving licence).  So either the Namibians are taking a leaf out of Zambia and Zimbabwe’s books or there is a problem there. 

On arriving at Katima I wanted to buy a hose pipe and I needed some Namibian dollars.  There are no bureaus in Katima so I had to go to the bank.  Currency controls there are extreme; my passport was photocopied, the cashier had to call the supervisor to approve the exchange and then he generated three sheets of A4 paper which he scribbled all over … finally I was given my money.  Thank goodness Zambia has moved on from all this paperwork.  Can you imagine all the trees which have to be cut down so that tourists can change a bit of spending money in Namibia???

I got my hosepipe and headed for office to pay my Cross Border Charge – Nam$240 (US$38) – and then to the Wenella border to Katima Mulilo in Zambia.  Painless on the Namibian side.  I went to the Zambian side.  ‘Oh my goodness me’ I said to myself, ‘I can’t find my Zambian Temporary Export Permit for the vehicle’.  I realised that I had left it the previous day at the Kazungula border.  I thought of all the scenarios when I went to Customs:

‘You can’t bring your car in to Zambia’

‘You will have to go back to the Kazungula border to get your TEP’

‘You will have to leave the car here and go and get a police report’

The list of possible problems went on in my head.  The last thing that I thought of was what actually happened.  I went to Customs and told the officer my story and she said …

‘You can go’

Another well done to Zambia.

While I was at the border I checked on the Council levy.  It is only applicable to foreign vehicles and is K30,000 (US$6).

I was a bit late and knew that I was going to travel part of the distance of 200 km to Livingstone in the dark.  Very stupid, but it was because of reading my book at the Ngoma border and waiting for my cantankerous car to start.  The first stretch of the road was horrid.  The road is full of potholes.  I hit one and knew that had I been in a less robust car, I would have ended up with bits falling off.  Fortunately I made it through pothole heaven and reached Kazungula where the road improved but dark descended.  The taxis flew down the road from the Kazungula border.  Zoom, zoom, zoom, one by one they overtook at high speed.  Finally going through the National Park the taxis were still flying, trucks too.  I thought of the animals in the park and hoped that they were safe because surely the drivers had no care for them. 

I got to my house … to no electricity … power shedding … welcome home.

INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR PEACE THROUGH TOURISM

Lusaka, Zambia, 15-20 May, 2011 

There is now less than one month to the 5th IIPT African Conference which will bring together leading experts in tourism and climate change, Ministers of Tourism and the Environment, senior government officials, and executives from the diverse sectors of the industry; UN agencies, donor agencies, and NGOs; researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners; representatives of related sectors, including environment, culture, and sustainable economic development; and leading academics to share their knowledge, experience and research related to climate change response strategies, programs and actions in Africa and developing countries throughout the world.  …

Conference Aim                                                                                      
The aim of the 5th IIPT African Conference is to showcase models of ‘best practice’ in mitigating and addressing the anticipated impacts of climate change to tourism in Africa and the developing world.

Conference Goals

Demonstrate the critical linkages of climate change to tourism and poverty reduction.

Identify factors and practices that contribute to “Meeting the Challenges of Climate Change to Tourism” while continuing to grow and nurture sustainable tourism development that lifts people out of poverty.

Promote Public- Private Sector – NGO – Civil Society partnerships and collaboration towards socially and environmentally responsible sustainable tourism development.

Continue “Building Bridges of Tourism, Friendship and Collaboration” among nations in Africa and other regions of the world in support of the UN Millennium Development Goals while recognizing that we are all custodians of our planet’s bountiful resources and majestic beauty.

 

 

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