Weekly roundup of news from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, First edition May 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

First edition May 2011

 

Africa News

SOMBRE MOOD IN NAIROBI AND DAR ON NEWS OF OSAMA DEMISE

Hundreds of families and thousands of friends of those who perished in the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, as well as those of victims of other Al Qaida inspired terrorist acts in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, showed relief on the news of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hand of US special forces. In Nairobi many flocked to the memorial site where the names of each and every victim is engraved to remind us, today and forever, of the mindless and senseless killing of innocents. Hundreds more were maimed, blinded and disabled for life in the bomb attack, and few, according to a report from Nairobi, showed any joy over the news though expressed satisfaction that the mass murderer had at last met justice.

Vigilance and security in Eastern Africa were stepped up when the news broke yesterday to prevent any retaliation of Osama supporters and in view of the Somali Al Shabab links to Al Qaida, and the presence of active cells suspected roaming in Eastern Africa in search of targets, this indeed is a necessary precaution to ensure the safety or our citizens and of our visitors. In memory of the victims of the 1998 and subsequent terror acts, may their souls continue to rest in peace – not a wish this correspondent can extend to Osama though who died a mass murderer, a global terrorist and as a disgrace to Islam.

                                                                                                                                                            

AFRAA ATTACKS EU AIRLINE BLACK LISTING

The African Airline Association, based in Nairobi, has come out strongly against the ban on LAM Mozambique in the most recent blacklist edition published by the European aviation oversight body. Citing a ‘flawless record’ since 1989 AFRAA questioned which rationale was used to include LAM in the list of banned carriers. A source in Brussels though pointed to unanswered questions on maintenance which could affect the ongoing air worthiness of LAM aircraft, and the temporary measures taken earlier in the year when LAM opted to wet-lease a B767 from Air Seychelles. This arrangement however has since been discontinued by the new board and management at Air Seychelles, leaving LAM in a precarious position of having to fulfill EU maintenance requirements, a measure taken to avoid accidents rather than letting past record take precedence over fears for the future.

AFRAA however insists that the black list has become a tool for Europe to give unfair advantage to their own member state airlines, which readily absorb traffic previously uplifted by airlines subsequently banned. AFRAA had in the past taken issue with the large number of African airlines and countries being put on the EU black list but one source there had to quietly concede that continuous air worthiness of aircraft registered in certain parts of Africa and the supervision and enforcement of global regulation by certain African airlines remained an area of concern for the continental aviation body.

Watch this space for the most uptodate aviation news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

 

MULTIPLE OPTIONS FOR EAST AFRICA’S B787 PILOT CONVERSION TRAINING

The approval by the US FAA, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, by EASA and Far Eastern agencies of recently established Boeing 787 simulator facilities has now set the stage for formal conversion training of pilots selected by the respective airlines. Training will now be offered in Seattle, London, Singapore, Shanghai and Tokyo, giving carriers awaiting deliveries of the B787, as and when it should be pointed out, the option to place their pilots in a facility convenient to them.

Here in the wider Eastern Africa region the two leading airlines, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have the B787 on order and Kenya Airways only recently – as reported here – re-affirmed their 9 aircraft deal with Boeing, against what many aviation observers suspect substantial concessions to compensate for the extraordinary long delay in receiving these aircraft first ordered in 2006.

The similar cockpit layouts and functionalities between the new B787 and the B777 used by the two airlines already will further make the type conversion for selected pilots easier, although it is thought that it will primarily be the B767 cockpit crews selected first for the courses, as those aircraft, upon delivery of the larger and considerably more efficient B787, will be phased out by both Ethiopian and Kenya Airways.

The first commercial delivery of a B787 to Japan’s ANA is scheduled towards the later part of 2011 and it can only be hoped that a labour dispute pending between unions and Boeing will not once again cause added problems and keep this latest anticipated delivery date intact. High time to see the ‘Dreamliner’ finally take to the skies with commercial flights. 

 

Uganda News

HTTI STUDENTS GRADUATED – FINALLY

Last week saw the graduation of several hundred students at the Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Jinja, based at the Crested Crane Hotel. Presiding over the function was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry Ambassador Onen who stood in for his minister.

HTTI was hastily ‘sent back’ to the Ministry of Tourism in late 2007 following a cabinet decision, which removed the institution from the Ministry of Education and Sports, leaving it however in legal limbo as no provisions had been made to either restore the statute which formed the institute initially but was then rescinded when the Universities and other tertiary institutions act came into effect, nor create a new enabling law at the time. The permanent secretary did speak on the occasion about these anomalies, promising that by mid 2011 a new comprehensive law would come into place, but with a new parliament coming into being in a few weeks and their first major activity then being the national budget, this timeline has already been questioned by industry observers.

Almost 600 students of certificate and diploma courses graduated on the occasion, many of whom had to wait for several years due to the absence of any law governing the institution and the absence of a supervisory board. In fact, some of them did question the ceremony, asking under which law their graduation took place, with one in particular writing to this correspondent: ‘if PS talks about a new law by July, how then are we legally graduated. There is no law, that much we know. I am happy, my colleagues are happy that we have our graduation papers now. We have waited for too long and employers have always asked if our preliminary papers were even true. But still, government let this institution down very badly and when your board left [this correspondent was chairman of the board under the then prevailing Universities and other tertiary institutions Act] Crested Crane was just not the same anymore because of lack of funds and lack of law. Even the degree courses planned and the merging with Busitema University was all forgotten. We even fear that some hotel owners plan to grab the hotel site and we know they have no capacity like government to run a national institution.’

Congratulations in the meantime to the students, the staff, the lecturers and the principal Mr. Mzee Kafugani Magino for their efforts and achievements under at times very trying circumstances.

 

OUTGOING PARLIAMENT APPROVES FUNDING FOR NEW ENTEBBE HIGHWAY

The parliamentary session in Kampala yesterday of the soon to be retired outgoing house – when it makes way for the newly elected members – made a landmark decision to approve the proposed funding for the Entebbe highway. Government is now able to conclude a loan agreement with China over 350 million US Dollars, which will help to design the new highway, acquire land where necessary and then build it, connecting the ‘Northern Bypass’ to a new routing around the present major emerging population centres at the ‘old route’. The two highways will join just outside the municipality but will have several access points, notably near Lweza / Kajjansi from where a lakeside road will then lead to the Munyonyo side of the city, and from near Abaita Ababire, home of Nkumba University and the last centre outside Entebbe itself.

From where the ‘two’, the old and new highway meet, a dual carriage section will be added to allow swifter traffic to the international airport, but widening that section will require some major land and building acquisitions which are thought to be a challenge, in terms of both cost and the speed required to complete the project within the planned time frame.

There was expressed unease though by several parliamentarians over certain terms of the loan agreement, which also included the use of a Chinese consulting firm and a Chinese construction company, preventing any competitive bidding for the project and thereby setting aside the Ugandan procurement laws altogether. The loan, with a grace period of five years, is repayable over a twenty year period and the income from the toll road will be used towards repayment and maintenance. Subject to land acquisition construction is set to start in 2012 and could be completed by 2015, staying with the grace period during which no payments to the Chinese state bank are due.

Once ready visitors to the ‘Pearl of Africa’ will have a totally new arrival experience when driving to the city while being able to enjoy some very scenic sights as they ‘cruise’ through the evergreen landscapes. For more information on the country go to www.visituganda.com

 

INFLATION KEEPS RISING

The latest data released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics makes grim reading, given another rise of month on month inflation for April to now 14.1 percent, three percent up from March and well more than double compared to even February this year. Drought related food prices, combined with the escalating cost of fuel which drove transportation prices up, are largely to blame for the situation, which prevails across the entire East African region. Governments are consulting across the EAC to devise ways and means to cushion the rise of commodity prices for low income earners, and temporarily lower taxes and duties are being considered until the economic situation stabilizes again. Central Banks are also monitoring the current low levels in value of local currencies against the US Dollar, the Euro and other hard currencies but here experts are confident that the trend will reverse in the near future.

The onset of the current rains in parts of East Africa is promising however as food crops will again be available in plenty, bringing prices down across the board, but that cannot happen soon enough for those now counting every cent before spending it.

 

MY HEART CRIES FOR THE PEARL OF AFRICA

Rent-a-mobs, assembled and allegedly paid for overnight, descended into the streets of Kampala on Friday morning, and in fact some other towns upcountry too, to do the bidding of their political master, cause chaos, loot and steal and make Uganda look bad in the international media.

Alongside they spread false rumours that government had ‘killed’ three times election loser Besigye, further inciting the riotous mobs. Security organs responded robustly, more so when it became known that at least two policemen were shot and wounded and within hours the mobs were dispersed and order restored to the city.

Besigye, President Museveni’s personal physician during the 1981 – 1986 liberation war, and the one who arguably saved the life of Museveni’s brother Akandwanaho Caleb, aka Salim Saleh when treating him for a series of bullet wounds, was for long an ally and close comrade of Museveni, Saleh and other NRA/M ‘historicals’. After the war was won, and the various attempts by former regime troops to return defeated, Besigye continued to serve on active duty in the army, ranked a Colonel and held key positions as Chief Political Commissar, then as Chief of Engineering and Logistics and finally as Military Advisor, before seeking his discharge from active duty and was eventually permitted to leave the army, officially allowing him to enter elective politics.

Uganda in the meantime had written and enacted  a new constitution in the mid 90’s and embarked on a democratic course, which saw regular elections being held for local and central government organs.

Few, even in the inner circle understood fully, what REALLY prompted Besigye to turn against Museveni and stand against him in the 2001 election, although there were sources who ought to know who claimed it was a number of reasons, both prompted on a very personal level as well as by frustrations of remaining at Colonel rank while Besigye’s erstwhile colleagues had meanwhile been promoted to senior general ranks. Whatever the case, Museveni soundly defeated his opponents in 2001, again in 2006 albeit by a reduced margin and there was to be no third time lucky for Besigye, who again lost in the recent 2011 elections, and in fact by a wider margin than 5 years ago.

Frustration and anger must have gripped him and his camp, when the first opinion polls belied their public posturing of imminent victory, and even those opinion polls commissioned by the opposition, and then those arguably commissioned by ‘diplomatic and aid community friends’ all alarmingly showed Museveni holding a commanding lead with margins in the high 60 percent. The elections only confirmed this and the lackluster and angry campaign by Besigye, with little to offer but the objective to unseat Museveni, did not help their cause. Failing to unite the opposition, with many other candidates not trusting his true intentions and motives to run for the highest office in the land, was another reason why the opposition was once again trounced and the NRM swept into a two third majority in parliament and across much of the country in local elections.

With events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt however, the opposition, still reeling from the sound defeat at the polls, saw an opportunity arising and belligerent as ever Besigye is thought to have been at the forefront to plan a similar strategy, to still claim the presidency through unconstitutional and criminal crowd violence and riots a la Tunis and Cairo. In fact, in an act of self aggrandizement Besigye was reportedly planning to swear himself in on 12th of May, the day the official swearing in of President Museveni had been set.

Aided by the global rise in crude oil prices, which doubled inflation in Uganda from the low 6 into the low 11 percent range from February to March, and the resulting hardship for many Ugandans, Besigye and Co devised a plan to pervert the need of many to walk to work into an altogether more sinister political issue. Ugandans in their tens of thousands are walking daily to work, unhindered and unimpeded by police, because they have to in the absence of enough money available to pay for bus fares. Yet, they honestly walk to work every day, use their resources sparingly to feed their families and still found themselves mocked upon by the ‘Walk to Work’ politicians, who care not the least to improve the lives of those they pretend to care for but blatantly subverted the daily challenge life poses to the majority of fellow Ugandans towards their own reject politics. Besigye and a few, though notably not all recent candidates for the presidency, made a mockery of those who MUST walk by scripting and staging walks from their residences, with their media friends already in tow, in the process being joined by ‘rent-a-crowds’ which promptly blocked roads, became threatening as if rehearsed and of course soon brought the security forces on to the scene. Besigye was repeatedly arrested over the past two weeks for creating public disturbances, blocking roads and other public order offences, but was given bail to be released from remand and with alarming regularity broke bail conditions, a fact conveniently overlooked by the magistrates he appeared before who again set him loose only to continue breaking the law.

His latest arrest, under the spotlight of the media, was playing into the hands of the opposition as it was a bungled mess, where instead of towing his car which blocked a key intersection into the city, security operatives broke a window with the barrel of a handgun and then laced the inside with pepper spray and teargas, prompting calls for their own arrest and prosecution for using excessive force, however much Besigye might have invited that scenario and hoped for it to happen.

That night, under cover of darkness, Besigye’s lieutenants are now alleged to have used contacts into the criminal underground of Kampala, to get mobs organized and paid for, to disrupt morning rush hour traffic into the city at select locations, and then spread propaganda that Besigye was killed overnight by government. The combination of both triggered some sharp but in the end short interventions by security forces, using teargas, batons and rubber bullets, before at least two policemen were reportedly shot, triggering life fire in response. Unconfirmed reports speak of several dead, and this loss of life is deeply regretted and was also totally avoidable, but accepted as ‘collateral damage’ by those behind the riot plans.

Realizing that this latest plot to ‘burn the city’ had also failed, and that his designs and strategies had been revealed to security organs by informers, Besigye decided to call it a day and opted to fly to Nairobi for medical treatment, reportedly for conditions developed when being tear gassed and pepper sprayed during his last arrest. It is not known if this departure from Uganda to initially Kenya for treatment – which the Kampala International Hospital could have provided just as well – is the prelude of another self imposed exile, as witnessed before when Besigye had gone to South Africa a couple of years ago, but the robust response of police and other security services has surely dampened any taste by hooligans, professional looters and common thieves to return to the streets of Kampala, having been deceived and deserted by their political master.

The fall out though for the country has been negative, and inspite of the Royal Wedding in the UK taking up all the TV time and media attention, Uganda’s picture abroad has been soiled. Overzealous police and security operatives have shamed our country’s name abroad, and the propaganda pictures of foreign media specialists, avoiding the stone throwing crowds and the injured police and security personnel in their coverage but focusing on flames, tear gas clouds and sadly injured innocent bystanders, has done our reputation no good at all.

Those responsible for the use of excessive and at times grotesque force will face trial themselves, as it should be, but equally, those responsible for the breach of the peace, the looting and thefts too will face the music. It is their inciting political godfathers and equally political failures though who bear the greatest responsibility for the scenes in past days. Notably this comes at a time, when Somalia based Al Qaida associate Al Shabab has renewed threats against Uganda and when all eyes of our security services ought to be focused on preventing a repeat of the event of the World Cup final night last July, but here again, this seems of no importance to those who publicly profess to have the welfare of Ugandans in mind but privately only make use of them a ‘tools and fools’.

Word from the tourism fraternity has it that travelers missed their flights trying to leave for Entebbe on Friday morning while others arriving from the airport were considerably delayed in reaching their hotels, rendering the already limited marketing of Uganda abroad almost null and void. Trips planned to the main city markets for shopping and to mix with our friendly Ugandans in the streets had to be abruptly abandoned, leaving tourists stuck in their hotels and wondering what on earth was going on in the city. Already in the low season now, the sector has to brace itself for a possible market reaction to these pictures and reports making their way around the globe, wrongly portraying Uganda as a country in trouble, which in all fairness it is not.

Two passing thoughts in closing, aimed at the powers that be:

Let the next cabinet be an energetic and committed one, pruning old deadwood out so that the people who voted for President Museveni can actually see a change for the better and detect some credible seriousness in the fight against corruption – it can be done and it should be done, said by a faithful supporter.

Secondly, shift priority to tourism promotion and finally allocate the money needed, to allow the Uganda Tourist Board and the tourism private sector to go out and tell the world what Uganda is really all about – across the border this worked very well in Kenya after their post election violence in early 2008 and can surely be replicated here too. Tourism promotion is also generating good will for the country in many other areas of trade, investment and finance and it is time our president’s advisors put that fact of life to him, so that the forthcoming new term can deliver progress, stability and most important ‘Prosperity for all’. Tourism, as I often said before, can be the engine of economic growth for Uganda and even when oil production starts provide a lot more jobs and investment opportunities for many years to come, probably well beyond the country’s oil production days.

For God and My Country – for which my heart cries out in pain after the events of recent days.

 

LIBYAN OWNED UTL IN DIRE STRAITS

One of the frozen assets owned by Gadaffi Libya, Uganda Telecom, has suffered a severe blow in court yesterday, when the Commercial Court delivered judgment on a pending suit brought by telecoms giant MTN against UTL over ‘interconnection fees’.

Once one of Uganda’s most promising companies, after being privatized from the former Uganda Post and Telecommunication Corporation, UTL made swift inroads into the market then dominated by MTN, and was the first to introduce a country wide 3G mobile internet network alongside their GSM communications.

However, when Gadaffi’s Libya bought into the company, amongst promises of added capital injections and turning UTL into the leading telecoms company, things began to change. The introduction of hapless Libyan appointed managers left locals stunned, and when no further money was availed to expand and further modernize the company’s network, customers became frustrated and migrated to new arrivals on the scene like Orange or returned to re-join the Airtel network which had taken over Celtel/Zain.

The court order yesterday most notably settled UTL’s call links to Southern Sudan, where in agreement with a Juba based telecoms company they permit the use of Uganda’s +256 international access code, to ensure calls would not need to route via Sudan’s +249 access code entering the country in Khartoum, where monitoring and call tapping is a happy occupation of the regime’s security agents.

Court rejected UTL’s argument that there were ‘international’ calls and upheld MTN’s argument that the use of Uganda’s international prefix clearly indicated they were local calls, with subsequently much higher interconnection fees becoming due.

UTL now has to immediately pay almost 10 billion Uganda Shillings to MTN unless they would risk a nearly 20 percent interest penalty, and with Libyan shares frozen and Libya’s financial assets unavailable, the erstwhile deep pockets of Gadaffi will no longer be able to come to UTL’s assistance.

A source overnight suggested that this could financially severely impact on UTL’s operations and the coming weeks will tell just how well they will cope. Meanwhile though, visitors to the country have plenty of choices left to hook up to a local network, with MTN, Orange, Airtel and Warid offering the widest options for voice calls while Orange, MTN and Airtel in addition offer 3+G mobile internet connections through attractively prices USB modems to allow foreign visitors to stay in touch with family, friends and business.

In a related development is the case for the winding up of RwandaTel coming up in a Kigali court shortly, where Libya’s telecom interest has suffered a crushing setback when an official receiver was installed by court last week, indicating that the company is heading for an officially ordered winding up, rendering Gadaffi’s multi million US Dollar investments worthless.

 

SHELL RAISES AVGAS PRICE TO USD 2.71

Shell has been accused by sections of the aviation fraternity of blatant exploitation, with the word ‘racketeering’ not being formally spoken but certainly floating between the lines, when their latest price for AVGAS rockets to US Dollars 2.71, compared to Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, where the commodity sells at US Dollars 1.90 only. Considering the transportation cost of about US Cents 25 per litre, this type of aviation fuel ought to sell in Kampala or Entebbe at 2.15 US Dollars or slight above that, but clearly market mechanism her have failed exposing Shell as the ruthless monopolist and corporate gorgon.

Aviation sources in Kajjansi claim that Shell has refused to discuss the price rise and were not willing to discuss their reasoning for the exorbitant charges, which prompted a 10 percent rise in charter flight cost for any flight out of Entebbe and Kajjansi.

It is understood that the airlines affected have plans to involve the Civil Aviation Authority, which has given Shell a concession to market fuels at Entebbe and the Kajjansi airfield but no card blanche to rip off the air operators and making flying literally unaffordable.

Shells’ African retail market exit has not yet been fully concluded and the general mood amongst those most affected is now ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’, while one particularly outspoken aviator revived the slogan ‘Shell is Hell’. Well, who am I to argue with this under such extraordinary circumstances. Watch this space.

 

KAMPALA AERO CLUB TAKES DELIVERY OF TWIN OTTER – 400

Information was confirmed this morning that the Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre, aka KAFTC, has taken delivery of their long awaited twin engined De Havilland Twin Otter – 400 aircraft, which is now being integrated into the growing fleet of the ‘charter only’ airline at the Kajjansi field outside Kampala. Capt. Russell Barnes, co-owner of the airline, also confirmed that a second Twin Otter – 300 will arrive by mid 2011 to operate as the main back up of the – 400 version and for charters as required.

In addition will the flying school division of  KAFTC shortly bring a ‘Great Lakes’ open cockpit biplane which will be used to teach pilot acrobatic flying, to add more training experience for aspiring pilots or those seeking to move from their PPL – private pilot’s license – to a commercial pilot’s license, in short CPL, or simply for pilots wishing to expand their envelope of flight experience and skills.

Fun flights will be arranged from the Kajjansi field by KAFTC on request and more details are available via www.flyuganda.com – pilots training for ‘visitors’ can also be arranged and lessons can start just as soon as an aspiring young pilot has undergone registration with the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority and been cleared for the course.

 

EMIRATES’ A380 USE ON SHANGHAI ROUTE EXCITES TRAVELLERS

Yesterday saw the first of now daily flights by Emirates from Dubai to Shanghai, using the sky giant A380 aircraft. The introduction of the world’s biggest passenger aircraft was welcome news to travelers from East Africa to China, where much of the continent’s business is now conducted and where in particular a never ending stream of traders and importers are flocking to.

‘It is a sign of very good demand of travel to China. We now serve three destinations with the A380 in China, Hong Kong and Beijing and Shanghai is the latest. People from East Africa like to travel with us because of our stop over options in Dubai, where we offer easy Visa, but mainly for our good service and many connections’ said a regular source at the airline’s Kampala office.

Airline analysts however also pointed to the effect this development would have on other airlines flying from the region to China, like Ethiopian and Kenya Airways, which one suggested was the main target for the introduction of the A380 by Emirates, to gain a further competitive advantage by offering the most exciting new aircraft to travelers seen in a generation.

Seems the joys of one may be the cause of concern for others. Happy Landings though in the meantime for my fellow East Africans travelling to Shanghai via Dubai with Emirates.

 

BANKS AND CREDITORS NOW AFTER LIBYAN EMBASSY

A notice has reportedly been served on the Libyan Embassy in Kampala about the imminent auction of top of the range vehicles financed by a local bank, and notably not the Libyan owned Tropical Bank, which assets were recently frozen by the Ugandan government and had a new management installed by order of the Bank of Uganda. The embassy, already being pursued by a large number of creditors over other debts incurred, including hosting Gadaffi’s son’s and entourage during past state visits, is said to be flat out of cash as the UN led sanctions are making the transfer of funds impossible at present. A source close to the embassy also claims that a cash delivery during the early stage of the sanctions regime ‘had been taken’, insinuating that the cash had ‘disappeared’ and that under the present circumstances, with the regime fighting for survival back home, no money will be available to pay for utilities, staff salaries and benefits, rents and other expenses until well after the civil war in Libya has been ended and a new, transitional or liberation government put in place. Hotels, restaurants, car hire firms, travel agencies but also suppliers of other goods and services are having collectors literally following embassy personnel still around – several are said to have ‘de-camped’ to the liberation movement – and camp out near the embassy compound and their residential properties to attempt and serve notices and demands on them, no wonder considering the hundreds of thousands of US Dollars in accumulated debts.

A quick check with sources in other East African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi also shows a similar trend that loyalties are split amongst embassy staff, some remaining loyal to embattled dictator Gadaffi while others have declared their support for the liberation movement, and that across the region the embassies have run out of cash to finance their day to day operations. Watch this space.

 

Kenya New

KENYAN PARLIAMENT PASSES NEW TOURISM BILL

Last weekend news reached that the parliament in Nairobi has finally voted for the new tourism bill, which will bring long overdue new regulatory bodies and a new organizational structure for the public sector of the tourism industry into place.

Now only awaiting the anticipated presidential assent to make it the law of the land, the new bill fundamentally overhauls the set up of the industry. The bodies, some ‘old ones’ in a revised format and altogether new ones are tasked with specific responsibilities but expected to work hand in hand under the supervision of the Ministry of Tourism which retains policy formulation and political oversight. A Tourism Regulatory Authority has been created, which will be the licensing, monitoring arm of government, also able to direct enforcement for defaulters and violators of regulations, taking over a range of functions from the present Hotel and Restaurant Authority.

Other bodies will be the Kenya Utalii College, already in existence since the early 70’s and a showcase institution of higher learning for the hotel and tourism sector across Africa, the Kenya Tourism Board, the Kenyatta International Conference Centre and notably a Tourism Protection Service.

Also new will be a Tourism Finance Corporation, which will absorb the previous Tourism Trust Fund and resemble the former Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, and a Tourism Research Institute, which will support the sector with data and case specific studies aimed to improve sectoral performance and lift the product quality across the board while supporting the development of new products.

Finally, a Tourism Tribunal will handle all forms of appeals against decisions taken by these previously mentioned new organizations by stakeholders not satisfied with rulings, to allow a swift resolution of disputes at this level before matters would head to an already overloaded court system. Well done Kenya on this achievement, which was long in the making and has finally materialized.

 

COMMUNITY CONSERVATION TAKEN SERIOUSLY

Ol Pejeta, one of Kenya’s leading mixed conservancies – they are rearing cattle side by side with an impressive array of wildlife, including predators – has just completed another community support project, harvesting rain water. Ol Pejeta’s community outreach programme has in recent weeks distributed and installed about 40 water tanks across communities surrounding the conservancy cum cattle ranch, each with a capacity of 2.500 litres, which spare the women folk in the villages extremely long walks to fetch their daily rations of water. Some reportedly had to walk as far as 25 kilometres during a return trip to a water source, including carrying 80 litres of water on their way home, part of their daily ‘duties’ while attending to the homestead and its needs.

Ol Pejeta has in the past excelled, and been recognized for excellence in community relations and the establishment of sustainable support programmes, and here again Richard Vigne and his team have gone out of their way to re-invest some of the company’s financial returns into their neighbours welfare.

Alongside has the Ol Pejeta Bursary Fund supported as many as 300 deserving and academically bright young students, helping them with school fees to achieve their life’s dreams and objectives rooted in a sound primary, secondary and tertiary education. Very well done indeed.

Visit www.olpejetaconservancy.org for more information on the work they do, how you can support them or write to info@olpejetaconservancy.org to be added to their mailing list for regular news updates, besides what you can read here.

 

PARK COMMUNITIES DENOUNCE OFFICIALS

Community leaders around the Masai Mara, one of Kenya’s best known game reserves, have minced no words recently when denouncing the Narok County Council and other officials for perpetuating poverty amongst the people living near the park boundaries.

While the Kenya Wildlife Service is in charge of most of the national parks and reserves around Kenya, the Masai Mara is managed by the county council, and probably hiding behind their greater obscurity – in comparison with the public image of KWS at least – that organ seems less concerned with development and percolating benefits from tourism down to ‘the people’ than would be the case with the national body.

Said one source in Nairobi, when discussing the issue: ‘there were always arguments pro and con to move the management of the Masai Mara to KWS but domestic politics and the powers of the Narok politicians always prevented such a streamlined solution. The people living around the reserve simply don’t see anything much coming back from the council to them, in form of schools, bore holes, clinics, roads and other services. They see the tourists go in and out of the Mara in bigger numbers every year and they get frustrated. A few lodges and hotels have established ties with neighbouring communities and support them directly, raise funds even from amongst their clients. They paint class rooms, add more buildings to schools, organize health clinics, donate essential items during drought periods, assist with water and so forth but most of those reaping big with their camps inside the park don’t do that.’

True enough this matches the experience of this correspondent, last to the reserve a year ago, when interviewing at the time a number of stakeholders. Notable exception was Porini Camps / Game Watcher Safaris, which invested in long term lease of former grazing grounds now converted to wildlife conservancies, and their success in sharing the proceeds equitably with their ‘land lords’, i.e. the Masai clans who own the land adjoining the reserve, has only recently seen yet more land being converted and brought into conservancy management, closing a crucial gap between two existing conservancies.

Porini, as do other responsible conservancy management companies, employ almost all their staff from the clans in conjunction with the clan elders, train them in house and in special training institutions and pay not just ground rent but a substantial royalty for each paid bednight tourists spend in their camps. Additionally tourists also contribute to special projects directly benefitting Masai villages and homesteads, in the process creating the goodwill and support those operating inside the reserve have failed to generate.

The income from tourism into the Mara is estimated at over 3.5 billion Kenya Shillings, of which according to available data just under 20 percent go back to the communities, but this is disputed on the grounds of in-equitable distribution, favouritism and generally thought to be too little, while according to a Nairobi based source ‘council bosses get fat and rich while their people suffer’.

How far this round of protests will go is not yet clear but sustained opposition against the council over the distribution of tourism wealth could potentially flare up and affect operations, something all tourism stakeholders are aware and afraid of. Said another source from Kenya: ‘the council in Narok needs reforming, they have for the past decades blamed everything on everybody except accepting responsibility for the things they do and failed to do, mainly to serve those who elected them’.

True enough, concludes this correspondent. 

 

ANOTHER CHINESE NATIONAL NABBED WITH 100 KG OF BLOOD IVORY

Airline security in conjunction with customs and police deployed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi have last night arrested yet another Chinese national, transiting in Nairobi with blood ivory in his baggage. This latest find is again attributed to the increasingly alert officers at the airport who now routinely screen even bags loaded from one flight to the next, often using sniffer dogs to discover the loot.

It appears that he was coming into Nairobi on a connecting flight from the Congo DR, where he must have bought the ivory, hoping he would get it home undetected and make a fortune with the contraband.

He was produced in court today, Friday, where charges of illegal possession of ivory were read to him before he was remanded in jail awaiting a full hearing of his case. Other charges may be added but several suspects have previously pleaded guilty, forfeited their loot and given lenient sentences before being deported.

Eastern African airport and sea ports have over the past few months recorded increased attempts to smuggle rhino horn, game trophies and in particular ivory out of the region to the Far East, where the revived economy is thought to be largely responsible in fueling demand for ivory and rhino horn and has driven poaching to a never before seen scale across Southern, Eastern and Western Africa.

The officials in Nairobi must be congratulated for their latest seizure and arrest and hopefully this will be a warning for all future wannabe smugglers, not to use Nairobi as a transit point.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS TO RESUME FLIGHTS TO ABIDJAN

It was learned overnight that ‘The Pride of Africa’ will, effective 02nd May, resume their operation into the Ivory Coast’s capital city of Abidjan, following months of unrest which ended with the capture of defeated former president Gbagbo recently, after he had refused to step down and make way for his duly elected successor. At the height of the crisis, when fighting had brought Abidjan to a complete economic standstill and the airport was taken over by French troops, Kenya Airways, as many other international airlines, had to halt flights, due to the prevailing insecurity and concerns for the safety of crews, passengers and aircraft. The three flights per week will operate out of Nairobi according to the latest schedules published by Kenya Airways, which can be accessed via www.kenya-airways.com. Watch this space for the very latest updates and information about the aviation industry in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

 

Tanzania News

WITH POACHING IT IS FOREIGNERS TOO

‘Foreigners’ seems to be one of the key word these days in Tanzania when it comes to apportioning blame for a range of assorted crimes and society ills, as the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism has learned too. He blamed the increase of poaching, as seen in Tanzania in recent years and months but which for long many officials strenuously denied that it even existed, on ‘foreigners’ while citing an example of how a gang of poachers was arrested not long ago in the Katavi National Park. Having fulfilled the demands of the political hymn-sheet circulating in Tanzania at present – only the other day the opposition against the controversial Serengeti highway and the Lake Natron soda ash factory were also blamed solely on foreigners – he then commendably however turned a leaf and started to address some of the root causes, albeit leaving out the key component of what drives poaching in Africa at present.

The minister conceded that a lack of personnel, for instance in the Selous Game Reserve, made it easy for organized gangs of poachers to get away with their bloody work, as effective policing of the Selous would require more than three times as many game wardens compared with present numbers.

Corruption too was apparently an issue for the minister, who called for a more refined screening of wardens and game rangers, before they are employed and while on the job, to avoid collusion with poachers and turning a blind eye towards them in exchange of money.

A damning CITES Secretariat report about poaching and anti poaching measures in Tanzania, published a year ago ahead of the Doha CITES conference, had at the time caused an outcry of denials by ministry officials, but with both the then minister and the then PS gone, the tune seemingly has changed as the lessons taught from the report seem to gradually sank in.

The poaching of a newly imported Eastern Black rhino in the Serengeti a few months ago likely had a great impact on the way Tanzania now looks at the handling of anti poaching, as that case in particular had swiftly made it into the global news, forcing a change of attitude. The president on at least one occasion during past weeks promised to support TANAPA’s anti poaching operations with troops and other security agencies’ personnel, at last recognizing what damage to Tanzania’s reputation abroad, over and above the highway controversy, the soda ash plant controversy, the Eastern Arc Mountains controversy and the Stiegler’s Gorge controversy has been done.

While the minister’s lamentations are generally considered genuine and credible, considering his past stand on conservation, he however failed to put the ‘foreigner’ aspect into the right perspective, treading softly as if to avoid stepping on the toes of China. Across Africa concrete evidence has been emerging that the wave of Chinese aid projects and the arrival of ever more Chinese in their wake have triggered a massive, and directly related poaching boom, driven by the greed and hunger in China for ivory, rhino horn, skins, trophies and even bones of wildlife. The relationship of the two can no longer be denied, and while the Chinese government at home has so far failed to tighten their laws on importation, trade, possession and processing of blood ivory and other wildlife products, African governments – arguably afraid to bring the free flow of ‘aid money’ to an abrupt halt – have been notably silent on addressing publicly the root causes of the increase in poaching on the continent.

So ‘foreigners’ it is alright Mr. Minister, if you could now just put a name on it, invite the Chinese Ambassador to Tanzania into your office and tell  him so yourself, without mincing words to avoid any ambiguities. Then the conservation fraternity will have renewed faith into you and can take government’s public statements about poaching a little more seriously.

 

IT IS ONLY THE FOREIGNERS WHO ARE AGAINST THE HIGHWAY – OH REALLY

The member of parliament for Ngorongoro, one Ole Telele, raised a storm of heated arguments yesterday in Dar es Salaam during a WWF – World Wide Fund for Nature – sponsored dialogue over the pro’s and con’s of the proposed highway across the Serengeti. Clearly stung by growing criticism about the road, the MP ‘let fly’ in a series of utterances heaping blame on what he called ‘foreigners’ being opposed to the highway project. This however did not go down well with representatives of the Tanzanian tourism industry, several of whom took the member of parliament to task with facts and figures, promptly belying his argument that no locals were against the road project and the entire campaign was foreign sponsored.

Serious concern about the impact of the road on the migration of the great herds and the breeding grounds of recently re-introduced Eastern Black rhinos was raised by top tourism stakeholder representatives from TATO – the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators and also the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania, the sectoral apex body for the entire industry. They all repeated what has often been said before, that the road was likely to damage the long term future of the safari sector and called upon government to agree to an alternative route around the southern end of the Serengeti to avoid cutting off the main migration route and risking the great herds of wildebeest and zebras to dwindle into insignificance.

When closing the one day workshop the organizers acknowledged that emotions were running high over the plans and called for more dialogue between government, conservationists and the tourism private sector in order to reach a consensus and solution. Watch this space.

 

MORE MOUTHPIECES FRONTED ‘IN FAVOUR OF SERENGETI HIGHWAY’

In the face of continued global lobbying against the controversial Serengeti Highway plans, which have considerably damaged Tanzania’s public image as a conservation minded nation, has the government in Dar es Salaam resorted once again to ‘fronting’ locals.

A village chairman was this time round selected to speak out against the national park’s UNESCO World Heritage Status, claiming it was ‘useless’ and had not brought development to his area, probably overlooking the very fact that he and his fellow councilors may be the primary movers, or failures, in bringing ‘development’ to their village in the first place. Sources within TANAPA and SENAPA however denied that the UNESCO status had ‘failed Tanzania’, pointing to the growth in visitor numbers to the Serengeti in recent years, to a large part attributed to the publicity the park receives as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sources also denied that villages and areas around the Serengeti, and other parks for that matter, were ‘neglected’ in view of the many projects supported by the wildlife management body and park management aimed to support neighbours to improve community relations and percolate tourism and conservation benefits down to those most closely living at park boundaries.

The previously obscure chairman’s well scripted objection, almost too good to have been drafted by him alone, follows hot on the heels of president Kikwete’s recent directive to withdraw a pending application to UNESCO for WHS recognition of the Eastern Arc Mountains, revealing the darkening attitude in the mindset of Tanzanian leaders against all and everything to do with global accountability in regard of their conservation measures. The local media in Tanzania, when they picked up the story, also cited comments that the planned highway could be set to become a major traffic axis from the Tanzanian coast to the hinterland countries of Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo, belying government’s assurances that ‘traffic will be limited and the road not be paved’. It is here in particular that experts have already pointed to the soft top soil composition along sections of the planned route, which would inevitably require paving when the government’s own projected traffic levels will reach the ‘several thousand cars a day’ prognosis.

Last year Tanzania suffered an unwelcome defeat at the hands of CITES when their application to sell ivory stocks was rejected, and the indignity going along with it when the CITES Secretariat’s report on anti poaching measures, or rather failures in Tanzania became public knowledge. Stung by these developments sections of government started to lash out against neighbours – claiming one of them ‘led the campaign against Tanzania’ while others proposed to leave bodies which were not sympathetic and supportive of governmental plans. Watch this space for more upcoming revelations of how this all fits into a bigger picture of new harbours, roads, highways and mining developments.

 

THE CORRIDOR OF DESTRUCTION – FROM THE COAST TO THE LAKE

A fuller picture is starting to emerge about the extent of the Tanzanian government’s plans to ‘modernize’ the country on the fast track, after looking at seemingly unrelated but upon closer review very directly related and interlinked projects.

When breaking the news a year ago about the plans to build a highway across the most sensitive part of the Serengeti, only sketchy information was available at the time about the powerful interests behind the revival of this highway project. Previously considered at least twice, it has in the past had been equally often thrown out over environmental concerns and the likely impact on the migration, feeding and reproduction patterns of the great herds of wildebeest and zebras, which in their hundreds of thousands follow an annual trek from the low grass plains between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro to the Masai Mara in Kenya and back.

From Mto Wa Mbu, and the foot of the escarpment near the Lake Manyara National Park, the proposed new route soon leaves fertile agricultural areas as the shadows of active volcano Ol Donyo Lengai loom ahead. The volcano, following a more recent outbreak, has been spewing ash across the grazing grounds of cattle and goat herds tended to by Masai herdsmen, who subsequently had to seek new grazing grounds to escape toxic fumes and the layers of ash which had covered the sparse vegetation. The proposed route conveniently links the planned, and going by a recent directive of president Kikwete, urgently needed and therefore ‘must have’ soda ash plant’s location at Lake Natron, and the expected impact on the sole breeding grounds of the East African Lesser Flamingo has been described here only recently.

Beyond the Serengeti, between the national park boundaries and Lake Victoria, a look into Tanzania’s mineral survey maps and mineral concessions either already granted or else still available for future allocation gives yet more answers. Global mining giants have put there markers down, ready to exploit the buried riches, as a gold rush seems imminent – Tanzania already is Africa’s third largest producer of the precious metal – were it not for the absence of a highway, supporting heavy vehicles and the constant movement of workers and machinery.

Gold production and processing, as is the case with other mineral extraction and refinement for export, requires road links and water, and while some of the locals who were clearly hoodwinked, and probably paid for, into ‘spontaneous enthusiasm’ have high hopes for jobs, few of them understand, probably not even their local political leaders, about the toxic fall out of such operations, and what it means to their neighbourhood environment and their already sparse water resources. Water in these often drought stricken areas is – for those living there at least – as precious as gold considering their very life depends on it as does that of their livestock. That however, going by the current political hymn sheet in use amongst Tanzania’s political leadership, does not seem of great concern and uprooting a few or even several thousand inhabitants from such areas earmarked for mining will be a small price to pay for them, to give the international mining giants a clear run without having to deal with potentially troublesome ‘locals’. Notably, a source in Arusha, attempting to establish the degree of understanding local residents and their leaders have of the potential contamination stemming from gold processing and other mining operations fallout, is also painting a grim picture, as these area residents know little about what jobs such conglomerates will bring and less about the environmental impact of such operations, leaving them with a hole in the ground and toxic waste and their lifestyle destroyed when the last ounce of something precious has been squeezed out from their underneath their native soil.

How, however, will the output and products generated from mining, the harvests of tropical tree hardwood from the extensive Eastern Arc forests – now very likely never to be accorded the recognition of UNESCO World Heritage Status after president Kikwete’s veto – be shipped to the global markets of China, India, Russia, of Europe and beyond. And the search for this answer opens an insight in to the full dimension of how planners with little if any regard to the environment, biodiversity hotspots and protected areas are riding roughshod over conservation concerns. It is here that the greater picture of the insensitive approach of the current Tanzanian leadership becomes apparent, when one links the dots of the mining and mineral exploration concessions to the planned new harbour at the coast.

Dar es Salaam is notoriously congested, some say just badly mismanaged, and while it is of course the main import and export hub of shipped goods for Tanzania, it is avoided as much as possible by the hinterland countries due to the bureaucrazy – pun intended – the red tape and the general hassles associated with shipping through the commercial capital of the country. Hence, the exploiters, processors and exporters of the newly found riches have in the past often voiced their ‘concern’ over the state of the harbour in Dar, and not unexpectedly advocated for a new sea port to be established, with its own rail and highway link, avoiding the populated areas around Dar, offering arguably greater protection for their shipments and keeping watchful eyes at a greater distance.

A new purpose built port ‘extension’ is planned for Mwambani Bay, incidentally not very far from the existing and still very underutilized port of Tanga [last year’s shipping volume touched about 650.000 tons only] and dates back to 1977 and in fact prior to that, when the East African Harbour Authority developed a study for expansion of harbours along the East African coast, including Tanga.

Yet, with the left not knowing what the right does, in 2009 the Mwambani Bay was declared a marine park, as off shore from the planned harbour site is the habitat of the Tanga Coelacanth, a CITES protected ancient deep see fish species, for which the marine park was thoughtfully created amid much fanfare and publicity. Mwambani Bay, where the new harbour extension according to sources in Dar es Salaam is to be build, is of course also the home of many fishing villages and nearby subsistence farms, feeding thousands of people. While a few may indeed find a menial jobs should the new harbour construction indeed commence at this site, most of the present thousands of residents are expected to become internally displaced, left at the mercy of the Tanzanian government and its promises to ‘resettle them and give them land elsewhere’, none of which has so far materialized for those already chased away. Detailed reports at hand at this stage portray a picture of blatant disregard for existing law, rules and regulations, there is a peanut compensation scheme for those already driven from their ancestral land and claimants being ‘jerked about’ while waiting for new land and funding to relocate, sinking into abject poverty where previously they were able to make an honest living from farming and fishing.

Other reports speak of ‘forced’ evictions, using cloak and dagger methods, intimidation and threats, all denied by official government mouthpieces but true nevertheless. The intimidation reaches even into law offices, where no law firm of repute in Tanga seems ready to represent the Mwambani people, very likely fearing repercussions and loss of future business. Human rights advocates and conservation groups are considering using law firms based in other East African countries, or from further abroad to seek justice but one source closely involved in this struggle said: ‘we do not expect justice to come in a timely fashion from Tanzania’s court system. If at all we get a fair hearing in the first place it will be delayed for ever by motions of the defendants. We are considering pushing this case to the East African Court in Arusha which is in our opinion unbiased towards the claims’.

Equally it was learned, that representation in the few ‘consultative meetings’ discussing the new harbour project did not include local residents or their chosen representatives and those actually participating were brought on board as part of a very selective and discriminatory decision, showing intent to keep things ‘under wrap and out of the public domain’ for as long as possible.

The human dimension here will be tragic for those affected, as few promises made by East African governments in regard of ‘resettlement and compensation’ have ever yielded the hoped for results, with those driven from their land under acquisition orders and vacation notices more often than not were condemned to poverty after losing the land of their ancestors. They will be a new recipient community for international donors and aid organizations, depending on long term handouts after being robbed of what was theirs by a government gone ‘development crazy’ in the most insensitive manner.

As important for conservationists however is the despoilment of a pristine marine area with critically endangered marine life, as certain to be destroyed by a constant stream of ships and resulting pollution, as is the great migration in the Serengeti once an endless train of trucks, busses and cars races across from end to end, thousands in a few years and probably a great multiple in a few decades.

Here the circle closes conclusively for the informed observer, laying bare the schemes and manipulations of the Tanzanian government to put short lived profit before conservation of what truly are world heritage assets and obstinately refusing to look at other viable options, even if for instance in the Serengeti the German government would fully fund an alternate route so as to save the Serengeti. It does appear that president Kikwete’s mind is made up, for reasons best known to him and his inner circle, and knowing fully well that his time in power will be up in 4 years, probably being the best pointer in this all to the undue haste and speed with which all these connected projects and developments are being pushed.

Conservationists in Eastern Africa have now few options left, but pursuing those with great vigour. Legal challenges are expected to be launched, both in the domestic court system but also through the East African court system thought more unbiased and fair when hearing such critical high profile cases, and conservation advocates are also procuring legal opinions from leading experts on international conventions Tanzania is signatory to and might be in breach of.

And then there is the final arrow in the arsenal of opponents, the call, should it become necessary, for a tourism if not wider boycott of Tanzania over the wanton destruction and reckless carving up of the national heritage, so cherished by founding father ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere, who with his long time friend Prof. Dr. Grzimek worked tirelessly to not only protect the Serengeti but to make the name immortal through the television series ‘Serengeti Must Not Die’.

Well, the political grandsons of Nyerere seem to think otherwise, as DIE is the most plausible and likely outcome for the Serengeti as we know it today, should a highway cut the great herds of wildebeest and zebras off from the mid- and late year grazing grounds in the Masai Mara. Expert opinion and a study by the Frankfurt Zoological Society is available that already in the short and medium term the size of the herds might be reduced by as much a 70 percent owing to food scarcity, a disrupted breeding pattern and an upset social structure of the herds.

A similar fate awaits Lake Natron’s flamingo breeding grounds, where the ‘lesser flamingo’ exclusively breeds before returning to their wide spread Eastern African breeding grounds, but again, no amount of expert advice has been heeded towards that likely outcome.

The Eastern Arc Mountains, stripped of the UNESCO World Heritage Status before it could even be awarded, are also expected to be subjected to robust and unsustainable exploitation of resources, with all the environmental fallout expected from increased logging and conversion to short lived farm land, and when the function of the mountainous forests as a crucial water tower has been damaged, no government will be able to alleviate the effect on people and their way of life.

At the coast, again displacement of people and marine life will trump conservation, if developers, global mining giants and international financiers have their way, and it can only be hoped that exposing all of this will trigger a fresh round of well argued and presented opposition to maybe still sway the powers that be from this utterly destructive course.

If not, a final hope is vested in the court of international public opinion and the courts of justice of Tanzania and East Africa, but do not hold your breath as this may be a long and protracted process while government keeps snipping away at its very best natural assets any country could wish for, trying to create irreversible facts on the ground by use of state power and its organs, to which few would dare, nor likely be able to successfully stand up against. Watch this space.

 

Rwanda News

RWANDA’S TOURISM INCOME SHARPLY UP COMPARED TO 2010

The first quarter results of tourism’s sectoral performance were released yesterday and the earnings confirmed by government sources are in the region of US Dollars 56 million, compared with a figure of only 43 million US Dollars last year, which ended as the best ever nevertheless.

Visitor arrivals too climbed by an astonishing 32 percent compared to the same period in 2010, underscoring the successful efforts by Rwanda to market the country abroad and portraying Rwanda as THE destination in Eastern Africa.

Sources contacted in the tourism industry attribute the success of the first three months of 2011 to a greater variety of tourism products and destinations, with one citing the Nyungwe National Park’s canopy walk, which since its commissioning last year has already entertained thousands of visitors. Further forests are being considered for conversion into national parks and lake based tourism activities too are now taking hold, offering yet more to see and to do when visiting Rwanda. New ‘birding routes’ too are set to be launched later this year, allowing visitors to see the wide variety of birdlife resident in ‘the land of a thousand hills’.

The generous Visa regime too has been cited as a key factor in attracting more and more visitors every year, with a number of important ‘source countries’ not needing Visa at all, which sets Rwanda apart from all her East African partners.

In a related development was the theme of this year’s ‘Kwita Izina’ gorilla naming festival revealed, which is ‘Community Development for Sustained Conservation’. 22 baby gorillas born since the festival last year will be formally named on 18th of June and hundreds of extra visitors will be coming to Rwanda to participate in this event, which will be accompanied by a series of guest lectures, workshops on conservation and community relations and sporting events designed towards the annual celebration.

Watch this space.

 

RWANDAIR IN BRAZZAVILLE TRADE EXHIBITION

Not long after the Rwandan national airline commenced flights between Kigali and Brazzaville – with an onward sector to Libreville – did news emerge that the airline was to participate in a three day trade exhibition organized in the Congolese capital. The airline will be joined by the Rwanda Development Board, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Rwanda Private Sector Federation and as many as 30 companies promoting trade and travel between the two countries.

RwandAir presently operates three flights a week between Kigali and Brazzaville, with convenient connections for travelers from other East African countries.

 

Seychelles News

SEYCHELLES’ BEST KEPT SECRET

Information is starting to appear that the recently married royal couple of Prince William, now Duke of Cambridge and his wife Catherine, will after all enjoy their honeymoon in the tropical Creole island paradise of the Seychelles. It is understood, though not independently confirmed at this stage – even the best regular sources remain shtumm, in itself a dead giveaway – that they were on arrival at the International Airport in Mahe flown by helicopter – Prince William himself is notable a British navy helicopter search and rescue pilot – to a secluded small island where they will enjoy their honeymoon bliss free from prying eyes and away from the spot light of the international paparazzi.

The Seychelles has in the past hosted high profile visitors of this kind and made sure that privacy was totally respected and ensured, by throwing a wide security cordon around the chosen location, which allowed the ‘special visitors’ their privacy while thousands of other holiday makers on the archipelago would not be the wiser for it.

If indeed therefore the royal couple will honeymoon in the Seychelles, it would be for one an affirmation of the unique status of the islands as a world class destination and give their tourism industry an ‘afterburner’ effect when going out to promote the resorts, hotels, villas and bed and breakfasts’ in the global arena.

Watch this space.

 

SEYCHELLES WIN JOINT CLAIM TO SEABED AREA

The United Nations’ Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea has now formally recognized the claims jointly made by Seychelles and Mauritius over the ‘ownership’ of the seabed along the ‘Mascarene Plateau’, adding a total area of almost 400.000 square kilometres to the control exercised by the two countries beyond their present economic exclusion zones.

The two Indian Ocean island countries, in an unprecedented application, jointly applied to the UN and this was according to a source in Mahe one of the main reasons, besides the strong foundation of the claim itself and its superb presentation, that the UN so swiftly accepted the claim.

The two countries are presently in the final stages to present a comprehensive document for adoption, outlining joint management procedures, oversight and other measures to put a bilateral legal foundation to the ‘deal’ and require any third country, or companies from third countries, to first get explicit consent to any activities of exploration, mapping or exploitation from the governments of Seychelles and Mauritius before entering the area.

Both countries are to be congratulated for their ground breaking cooperation and the success they so richly deserved and can now enjoy. 

 

COMMITTED TO SECTOR EXCELLENCE STA GETS NEW CAMPUS

The Seychelles Tourism Academy remains at the centre of the governments’ efforts to increase the skills of the workforce in the tourism and hospitality industry, supporting the ‘affirmative action programme’ of absorbing more and more Seychellois citizens into the workforce. Tourism is the number one foreign exchange earner of the archipelago and as more and more new resorts are springing up across the islands, more and more job opportunities arise for young Seychellois wishing to make a career in the sector.

Hotel management companies have in the past relied heavily on expatriate staff but the ratio has over recent years started to change, as the Seychelles Tourism Academy has continued to introduce new and relevant courses, while cooperating with international tertiary institutions specialized in hotel management and tourism courses, to offer their students the very latest course content and study opportunities.

Earlier this week the ground breaking ceremony for new campus buildings took place, performed by none other but President James Michel, whose presence once again demonstrated the level of attention given to the tourism industry by the president, who took the tourism portfolio last year directly under his own control. Also present were a number of high ranking government officials, led by the Vice President, and tourism board CEO Alain St. Ange and his deputy Elsia Grandcourt as well as top tourism stakeholders were at hand too to celebrate the occasion.

The next two years will see the construction and roll out of new facilities like lecture, meeting and event rooms but also a ‘business’ element with villas and a hotel to earn income for the academy while giving students the opportunity to practice new skills and train for the workplace. Small country – big vision, welcome to the Creole island paradise a thousand miles apart from everything else.

 

AIR SEYCHELLES CONTINUES RE-ORGANIZATION

The Seychelles national airline has according to the latest reports from Mahe continued its drive towards becoming a more efficient organization with the introduction of ‘deputy directors’ positions for all of the presently eight directorates of the airline.

The directors of flight operations, technical operations and ground handling services, freight, marketing, information and communications technology, finance, human resources and finally training and administration will all be deputized from now on by young Seychellois showing the leadership skills and job competence to allow them this promotion.

Five of the director’s positions are held b Seychellois citizens while three remain with expatriate staff who are expected to eventually hand over to their deputies, once they have acquired sufficient working experience. Visit www.airseychelles.com or follow them on Twitter for their latest news updates @air_seychelles

 

South Sudan News

KHARTOUM’S REGIME THREATENS RENEWED WAR

Stung by an internal revolt last week leading to the sacking of his national security advisor, Khartoum’s regime leader Bashir, true to his colours finally shown in public again, threatened to go back to war to keep the disputed oil state of Abyei under Northern domination. This was learned overnight from a source in Juba responding to an enquiry by this correspondent. Offering more insight into the workings of the regime in Khartoum the same source then added that that Bashir’s own position in the regime was weakening following the nearly 100 percent vote for independence in the South and that he was being blamed by hardliners for the ‘defeat’. It was suggested that both Darfur, where open conflict still rages on, and the remaining Southern states of Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan will be the most likely areas in the coming months where the regime will try to make a stand. While cautious of a direct military intervention, considering for instance the international involvement in Libya at present, they might once again use proxy militias, like the Janjaweed in Darfur, to wage terror on the population and keep hold of the oil reserves found in Abyei.

Meanwhile is the leadership in the South pursuing diplomatic options in enlisting the support of regional countries in Eastern Africa but also of the international community with one senior source openly saying: ‘we are seeing how the situation in Libya has brought NATO into play. Their no fly zone has helped the liberation movement to face a more level situation on the battlefield. Should Khartoum really try to go back to war, we expect something similar to happen here. We trust the international community to do the right thing this time, not like in Darfur where it took too long or here in the South were we had to fight our own battles and Khartoum bombed our villages. If Khartoum does not respect the rights of the people of Abyei in the referendum, if they deny freedom from slavery for our brothers and sisters from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, they are miscalculating very badly.’

In recent weeks a wave of Khartoum sponsored attacks by their proxy militias were taking place in some parts of South Sudan, ably defeated though by the SPLA and her allies, ahead of Independence Day which will take place on the 09th of July with the main celebrations to be held in Juba. Watch this space for more updates on the march to independence by Africa’s youngest emerging country.

 

And in closing today again interesting material taken from ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ produced and published by Gill Staden, but for the full version subscribe via livingstoneweekly@gmail.com or via gill@livingstoneweekly.com

 

This week some of her travel exploits but also an insight into the trials and tribulations of day to day life:

Ngoma Lodge

I went through to Botswana the other week to have a look at a lodge being built next to Muchenje Lodge.  The new lodge is called Ngoma Lodge.

It is on a stunning site overlooking the Chobe floodplain.  The floodplain was inundated and the view was beautiful.  Ngoma lodge will be finished during May and it is targeted to the luxury market.  It has 8 rooms and is meant to attract the visitor who wants that personal touch. 

The lodge is on traditional land next to forestry and the Chobe National Park.  It is also next to a major animal corridor down to the Chobe River.  I watched over the valley for ages seeing impala, zebra, waterbuck, buffalo.  All the other animals pass through too – leopard, hyena, giraffe, … and all the other Chobe animals.  The good news is that the lodge is constructing a waterhole just below the lodge, so that should attract the animals to come close. 

As with a lot of the Chobe Riverside, the elephants have had their way and knocked down many of the trees.  The lodge will, I am sure, plant many more to give it that oasis feel.  Definitely the heat of Botswana can be oppressive at certain times of the year and this site, although relieved by a refreshing breeze, is no different. 

But my main reason for visiting the site was to meet up with Errol Tarr.  Errol is the landscaper for the lodge and is working his magic on the surroundings.  He was busy building the pool while I was there and I sat for hours chatting with him while he worked. 

Errol’s forte is the building of pools – for swimming, fish or natural – and it was quite an education watching him.  Each rock is carefully selected, positioned and concreted in place.  There is no lack of rocks on the site, fortunately, so Errol had spent the previous weeks picking rocks with interesting features and was, while I was there, busy choosing the ones which fitted his design. 

Although I love my gardening I just cannot see how Errol manages to have this design in his head and work on steep hillside, incorporating his ideas to fit the environment.  But he does.  It was not finished while I was there, but I hope he will send me pictures when it is done.   

Errol has been on site for over 6 weeks, working with the other construction teams, doing the last touches to the lodge.  He says that his biggest job has been clearing up after the builders – removing their rubble, debris and leftovers.  He reckons that the first person on a site for a new lodge should be the landscaper – in that way the fragile environment can be protected from the excesses of bricklayers, plumbers and electricians as they excavate the site, lay cables and pipes, mix cement.  This is generally not the case, the landscaper is usually the last person to be called …

Anyhow, Errol has been working on the site and cleared up much of the building debris, laid the pathways, trimmed the trees and identified the ongoing needs of the site.  The day I left, the electricians were digging up his pathways because they had just been informed that lightning conductors had to be put in place … the digger was hard at it as I left …  Errol just shrugged his shoulders and said Oh, well, I suppose I will have to do them again. 

My thoughts on Ngoma Lodge:  I really loved the site and know that guests will sit for hours just watching the view and the animals that come to visit.  The management will be, I think, a combination of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and Muchenje Lodge, so the service will be first class.  And, of course, Errol’s pool will be amazing. 

And Errol?  Well, Errol now lives in UK but hopes to spend half his time in Africa as he loves it here.  Being a Zimbabwe refugee, he has joined many others who have left home and now feel rather displaced, but Africa will always call.

Livingstone Business Directory

I am about the print the Business Directory.  It has been a long time coming and I apologise for that.  The reason for the delay is that I am now basically alone in my business and I have had a lot of other work to do. 

When the first directory came out in 2003, I was sponsored by Business Development Services to assist in the promotion of small-scale business.  Then I was able to pay someone to help with the task of collecting information from all the small businesses. 

But, this year, though, I had to do it myself.  Here is a normal scenario:

Walking around town I locate a company selling, say, stationery.  I walk in and greet the person I find (usually a young girl twiddling with her cellphone).  I explain my mission.  The response:

I am sorry but the director is not here.  Can you come back at 1400 hours

I come back at 2pm and, with luck, the ‘director’ is there (usually not, though).

I explain my mission to the ‘director’.  He listens, asks how much it is to advertise.  I give him all the prices.  Usually at this point his cellphone rings and I wait as he completes the call. 

He then says that he will think about the advert.  Can you call back tomorrow?

I call the next day.  The director tells me that he has decided that he will just put his phone number in. 

That’s fine, I say.  Can I write you the invoice? And can you pay me now? 

Oh, I don’t have money today.  Please can you come back on Friday?

And, for those of you who don’t know the cost, this is for US$2.  It has taken me a minimum of three trips to this shop and I have to wait for another 2 days to receive US$2. 

I kept saying to myself: I can do thisI just have to be patient.  Of course, in the end, I started to stress and almost go into hysteria as I realise that, for a whole day’s work, I have probably earned US$10 all day. 

I kept saying to myself: You have to keep going.  …  But, of course, in the end, I failed.  It was far too frustrating. 

The directory will have to be completely re-configured as an economic proposition.  It is a handy book and should be there for small businesses, but if small businesses can’t wake up and realise the importance of marketing, then it will have to be their loss.  I am not going to be the one to lose money in the process of teaching them how to market their company.  

We have had NGOs after NGOs ‘helping’ small businesses, but we don’t seem to be any better off now than we were 10 years ago.  NGOs, of course, have workshops and meetings.  What they need to do is to get inside these companies and work with the ‘directors’ and get them to FOCUS.  Sorry, I am ranting – the frustration coming out …

Shoebill Trip

Birdlife Zambia

Our Shoebill trip is scheduled for the first weekend in June. The plan is to drive to Wasa camp in Kasanka and then on to Luwombwa and then up to Shoebill Camp for 2 nights and then a long drive back to Lusaka as detailed below

2nd June -Wasa

3rd June – Luwombwa

4th June – Shoebill

5th June – Shoebill and then

6th June – depart for Lusaka.

(If time is an issue then you could start at Luwombwa on the 3rd June)

Rates wise Kasanka have given a special deal of ZMK 500 000 per person per night fully inclusive for ZOS members  if they provide their  own transport to get around the park.

Self-catering will still be the usual rate of ZMK 280 000 per person per night excluding Park fees and activities.

Bookings need to be made directly through Ernst Jacobs ernst@kasanka.com and please copy in zos2010@gmail.com so we have an idea of what is happening

Here is some information on the Shoebill. It stands at over a metre tall with a wingspan in excess of 2½m.  Its huge size, strange appearance and the inaccessibility of its usual haunts give it top billing to any bird watcher’s list.

In Zambia the Shoebill is found mainly in the Bangweulu Swamps which has an estimated population of 134 birds (2009) so it is considered a Globally Threatened Species. It is also found up at Mweru Wantipa in top northern sector of Zambia and it has occasionally been seen at Lufupa in the Kafue National Park and at Kasanka National Park where it was seen in January this year. …

Kaza Conservancy

From the ‘Namibian’

A development plan for the cross-border Kavango-Zambezi (KaZa) Transfrontier Conservation Area is currently being discussed in the Kavango Region.  Colgar Sikopo, the deputy director of parks and wildlife management in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism told The Namibian that a two-day workshop to discuss the plan is to start at Rundu today.

Sikopo said each of the five countries that form the KaZa project is required to come up with its integrated development plan for the project.  He said Zambia and Zimbabwe have already completed their plans, while Angola is finalising its plan.

“It’s only Namibia and Botswana that have not come up with theirs and this workshop is the start of the process,” said Sikopo.

The integrated development plans will be guiding documents for these countries towards the management of KaZa on their parts of the project and will then be incorporated into one master plan for KaZa.

The meeting is being attended by representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Kavango and Caprivi regional councils, local conservation NGOs, traditional leaders and the chairpersons of all conservancies in the two regions.

Victor Siamudala, the project manager for the KaZa Secretariat in Botswana, will also attend the meeting.

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