Weekly roundup of news from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, Second edition June 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 instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or read the daily postings on my blog via: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

Second edition June 2011

 

East Africa Regional News

BREAKING NEWS

KHARTOUM ESCALATES BORDER DISPUTES WITH AIR RAIDS

News reached overnight that the regime’s airforce has resumed bombing raids on the territory of the soon to be independent South Sudan, aiming to pave the way for yet more military incursions into the oil rich parts to the South, ostensibly set to grab the oil wells before independence.

The leadership in Juba is set to launch immediate diplomatic protests about the violation of the CPA and the Southern airspace and envoys are being briefed and dispatched as this story is filed to start a series of meetings in regional East African capitals but also in Europe and the US as well and the UN in New York.

Previous article have already highlighted the Janjaweed like raids on populations in South Kordofan, the Nuba mountains and in Abyei, driving tens of thousands of innocent civilians again from their homes.

As is alleged in Libya where Gadaffi reportedly gave orders for mass rape to intimidate and cow his own population, equal suggestions are being made now as far as militias loyal to Bashir’s regime are concerned as well as the conduct of the Northern occupation army units.

The ‘scorched earth’ policy again unfolding, as in Darfur and prior to the CPA in the parts of the South held by Khartoum troops and militias, is aimed at destroying property and unleashing brutal terror on the African population of the South while trying to create facts on the ground to grab the Southern oil wealth in what can only be called ‘grand theft and armed robbery by a nation state’.

It is understood from usually well informed sources that anti aircraft units are being deployed now to the border region with the North though as often in the past this will only force the regime’s Antonov bomber aircraft to fly at high altitude and more likely than not hit civilian populations instead of military targets, in this case not ‘collateral damage’ but a deliberate act of yet more war crimes. It is now 29 days to go until independence of the South and it appears that the Bashir regime is going to make the final countdown as difficult as possible, showing the true faces of an Islamist hardline regime practicing oppression and enslavement of Africans in their own continent.

 

ABSENCE OF FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR TOURISM SECTOR RATTLES STAKEHOLDERS

‘We shall lobby the East African Legislative Assembly now because our own governments do not listen to us’ was the tenor of many stakeholders this correspondent was in touch with since the reading of the national budgets before the respective parliaments on Wednesday.

No sector specific incentives were visible in the budget outlines presented to the parliaments in Nairobi, Dodoma, Kampala, Kigali and Bujumbura, raising question marks within the sector if at all their finance ministries and the bureaucrats preparing budgets had understood the crucial importance to support a potential growth sector on all fronts.

‘Egypt and Tunisia are pouring money into tourism promotion presently as if there is no tomorrow’, one stakeholders told this correspondent, and ‘South Africa is riding high after last year’s successful World Cup and still spending more on promoting their sector. Especially Egypt and Tunisia are also from what we hear giving their tourism industries tax and duty breaks to attract more investments and we pay through the nose’. These sentiments went on across the region where hoteliers wanted to have duty concessions on imported capital goods not available within the East African Community to keep the rapidly rising construction and refurbishment costs under control while safari operators demanded that their vehicles should be put on the road without any duty payments, those becoming due when the vehicle after 3 or 4 years use is being sold on the open market.

Said an leading tourism trade association member from Nairobi: ‘I think our presentations and case studies we submitted to the finance officials dealing with our budget have not been understood. We will continue, through our Minister for Tourism, to lobby for greater recognition and respective incentives and rewards for our sector but must take the battle to Arusha now. We will discuss with EALA members the need to have a regional recommendation drawn up to once and for all sort out sector incentives. They should be long lasting and predictable, not come one year and go the next – imagine a hotel or resort being planned will take years to complete and yet incentives may expire half way through the project. Government can put special vehicle registration license plates on our safari cars, transfer busses, but this also is important for boats and yachts to attract tourists to the water front in Mombasa where they can hire boats to go out sailing, and it also is important for the deep sea fishing industry where again duties are a big part of the investment into new equipment. There is much to be done and as we grow into a full open market in East Africa our sector aims to become the number one for job creation, forex earnings, investments and future revenues.’

Valid comments for all the right reasons, but at least here in Uganda, where officials still tend to think ‘tourism happens’ it is the right avenue to pursue and start lobbying the EALA members to finally get an open ear and support at regional level for putting the sector right and on a path to future growth and prosperity. Watch this space.

 

AFRAA CONTINUES TO OPPOSE EU’S BLACKLIST

Information was received from aviation sources in Nairobi that the African Airline Association has stepped up their opposition against the EU’s aviation blacklist, which they claim now covers over a quarter of all African countries and airlines. AFRAA in particular cited the safety record of LAM Mozambique, which has since its formation, according the details available from AFRAA, not suffered even one accident, but the EU had nevertheless put the airline on the list over maintenance concerns  for their long distance fleet of B 767’s. It could not be independently verified where LAM is having their heavy maintenance for their Boeing’s carried out, and whether that organization has approvals to carry out heavy maintenance from other countries too applying strict safety standards along the lines of EASA and the FAA.

A known source in Brussels, previously asked on the matter, had then stated that ‘better safe than sorry’ must have been a reason for the blacklisting, but would also not go into details what specific reasons were cited about ‘maintenance concerns’ of the LAM fleet.

The EU bashing by AFRAA will of course draw applause from affected airlines and countries but the organization in a turnabout of sorts also urged member airlines to substantially improve their aviation safety standards and measures employed, especially the aviation oversight functions by regulators who often lack competent personnel or sufficient competent personnel to carry out such regulatory tasks, in the process then giving rise to suggestions by the EU that ALL of African aviation and regulatory oversight is lacking.

This clearly is not the case as the success of airlines like South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, RwandAir or closer to home Kenya Airways or Air Uganda demonstrate. Still, African aviation has many challenges ahead, like the renewal of ageing fleets for many airlines, the training of and retention through adequate terms of service of regulatory personnel and the intensified cooperation of countries and airlines in need to improvements with those who already excel on the continent. Watch this space.

 

Uganda News

MORE FUNDS FOR PARK NEIGHBOURS

The Uganda Wildlife Authority has over the weekend handed out nearly 300 million Uganda Shillings to representatives of six districts neighbouring the Queen Elizabeth National Park as part of the legally mandated 20 percent community share of gate receipts recorded.

The funds can be used by communities to pay for such projects which improve the lives of residents near parks, like water and sanitation projects but also health centres and educational facilities, so that benefits from wildlife based tourism can actually reach those often neglected by the major money flows tourism generates for businesses but rarely for the people.

District representatives expressed the thanks from villagers who have in the past benefited from the scheme and also from those who will now see improvements to their daily lives, sentiments gladly echoed here as praise once again is due for UWA and their intense community relations.

 

MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK GETS NEW TRAIL

The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has just opened its latest attraction, the ‘Batwa Trail’, which gives visitors the option to hike for several hours along the pathway with their guides, experiencing the inside of the mountainous rain forest ‘close up’ and coming face to face with trees and vegetation, forest insects and birds and an occasional glimpse at spoors or even game, hiding deep inside the forest.

Ordinarily visitors come to Mgahinga to track the mountain gorillas, but with the habituated groups prone to migrating across the common borders to Rwanda and even Congo that can often not be guaranteed. This has in the past left the park with fewer visitors than what it deserves, considering it scenic setting, and the opening of the ‘Batwa Trail’ has now added an attraction ‘nearly as good’ as one source from within UWA had described it.

The trail extends over 8 kilometres, and the guided walks reach elevations of about 2.700 metres above sea level but are comfortable nevertheless as no climbing is required. Notably is the Memorandum of Understanding the Uganda Wildlife Authority signed largely in favour of the local communities, where the guides are also drawn from, as they get a revenue share of 50 percent from the income accrued from such hikes, while of course in addition the communities get a further 20 percent of the gate receipts, which is mandated by law so as to give those living near national parks a stake and finance facilities which otherwise these rural communities would find hard to put up.

All round, this is good news for the Kisoro area, now well connected by tarmac from Kabale as recently reported here and with only a gap of 10 miles remaining in the completion of this scenic road, Kisoro and its natural attractions like Mgahinga, Lake Mutanda and Bwindi, all reachable from the township in a short time, can look forward to finally getting its own share of the growing stream of tourists coming to ‘The Pearl of Africa’.

 

WORKSHOP TOURISM GETS HAMMERED

The annual budget reading  yesterday provided a level of shock to the local hospitality industry, when the new Minister for Finance announced a cross the board cut in government budgets and funding  for ‘workshop tourism’. Hon. Maria Kiwanuka, in her first action as minister – she took over from her predecessor Hon. Syda Bumba only hours prior to presenting the annual budget outlines – slashed the respective budget allocations by 30 percent, leaving hoteliers and venue providers reeling from the likely impact of this decree, taken according the Minister to reduce ‘wastage’ in government funding.

At the same time advertising budgets for all government bodies were slashed by 50 percent, leaving those media depending on extensive government adverts reeling too.

The new budget outline seeks to re-allocate as much as 40 billion Uganda Shillings made in such savings to other sectors like health, education, infrastructure and business support as the new minister demands ‘austerity’ from government and is intent to cut discretionary spending across the board.

Hence, the tourism and hospitality sector in Uganda braces now for a double whammy as local spending on workshops and seminars, a mainstream activity by many hotels in Kampala, Entebbe, Mukono, Jinja and across the entire country in fact will see a third less bookings from government bodies while the allocation of funds to the newly created Ministry of Tourism and most notably the Uganda Tourist Board remain frugal, to put it nicely.

Yet, the budget also addressed key issues on price rises for ordinary wananchi, like the removal of excise duty on kerosene, removal of taxes and duties on imported farming implements like hoes and a substantial reduction on the import duty on food supplements, which should translate to lower prices on the market very early and – good for tourism – take the sting of the opposition campaign to create chaos in the city riding on the sentiments of the poorest in society. A calm and peaceful country is a country more likely to attract more visitors and those we need to fill the beds in our lodges and camps in the safari parks and the hotels and make up for the loss of spending by government. Watch this space.

 

UWA COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY IN DOLDRUMS

The chairman of the ongoing Commission of Enquiry into the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s World Bank funded PAMSU programme has reportedly ‘halted’ any further work of the commission, citing a ‘break in and evidence tampering’ as the reason for his decision. According to reliable sources from the Ministry of Tourism retired Supreme Court Justice George Kanyeihamba had gone to Central Police station to file a formal complaint, prompting the police to get involved in the affair which however suggest deeper underlying issues between the Commission, or rather its chairman and senior officials in the ministry.

It is alleged that Rtd. Justice Kanyeihamba directly accused the Permanent Secretary Ambassador Onen and the Undersecretary of involvement in the alleged break in, setting the two parties on a collision course bound to blow up in everyone’s face.

Ministry sources in contrast claim that after the split of the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry during the formation of the new government, the newly created Ministry of Tourism required space in Farmer’s House where both ministries are now located, and that the commission’s offices were simply moved to another location within the building, with police officers present to witness that no evidence was removed or tampered with, and that the offices were not broken into but opened with keys. The same source also claimed that the commission had been requested to agree to a move to a different set of offices for over two weeks but failed to acknowledge the request or act on it, leaving the ministry no choice but to act in order to make space for a ministerial office now urgently needed.

The commission has initially been bogged down when Rtd. Justice Kanyeihamba accused the ministry of not funding it properly, and then announced a series of ‘problems’ with witnesses and evidence submitted, culminating in demands for suspension of UWA staff and making unscheduled appearances at the UWA  head offices to demand for evidence in person, actions rather unprecedented in the history of past commissions of enquiry and probably pointing to what may be an altogether different agenda behind such almost comical theatrics. Watch this space as the latest twist in this saga takes shape.

 

OPPOSITION ‘WALKS FROM WORK’

The shameful behaviour of sections of the opposition continued yesterday when they staged a ‘walk FROM work’ protests as they left the chambers during President Museveni’s State of the Nation address. This unprecedented behaviour, reminding this correspondent of recent events in the Seychelles where the losing opposition vowed to stay away from parliament too in total disregard of their mandate and duty to represent their own voters and live up to democratic principles, will leave many Ugandans wondering why they gave their votes to the few opposition MP’s in the first place, if those are not able to play by the rules and be there when it matters most.

A jovial president, unperturbed by the deserters, in fact quipped to the Speaker if those going AWOL would be able to drawn any allowances for attendance of a parliamentary session, causing wild laughter following the last leaving the chambers, but on a more serious note, when will African opposition parties ever learn that elections are won by standing up FOR something and offering credible alternative policies instead of pursuing a singular aim of being AGAINST everything and only wanting to capture government, in our Ugandan case clearly by literally any means.

In an interesting side development did also yesterday the Speaker of the House of Commons in London tell MP’s who came to the chamber after the Foreign Secretary started his statement about events in Libya and the Middle East, that he would not allow them questions on the subject as they had come late – a hint to our own Lady Speaker to consider when parliament discussed the State of the Nation address.

There are still a lot of Ugandans out there who need to be represented by their MP’s in parliament, considerably less than a third of MP’s going by the present distribution of seats but Ugandans nevertheless who freely practiced their choice in the voting booth. Are they to be abandoned and cast aside by their elected representatives now that they have served their purpose, only to be remembered in four and a half years time when the next elections come calling? It is high time to see through the opposition’s shenanigans, and after the ‘walk to work’ and ‘hoot in traffic’ campaigns have miserably failed – mainly because they were once more against and not FOR something – and have those ‘working’ members of parliament and in particular our new government show Ugandans that they DO have their interest at heart and WILL work to improve their circumstances and DELIVER on elections promises made so that during the next elections the deserters and absentees can get their score cards from voters reading ‘failed’.

 

BREAKING NEWS / STOP PRESS

NEW RHINO BORN AT ZIWA

Information was received in the early hours of today by the Executive Director of the Rhino Fund Uganda that overnight a fourth Southern White rhino was born and the good news went better when it was established that the little baby is actually a female, the previous three births having been males.

This is the first established female rhino birth in well over 30 years recorded in Uganda, since the species was poached into extinction by rabble army units of the then dictatorships, and conservationists will be overjoyed to learn of this latest success of Ziwa’s and RFU’s breeding programme.

The little female calf is being fiercely protected by her mother Nandi, who is in fact chasing her first born ‘Obama’ vigorously away now to give the little rhino baby all her attention, care and protection, leaving ‘Obama’ totally bewildered and reportedly ‘crying’ for his mother who was his sole companion since his own birth two years ago.

The total number of rhinos now on Ziwa is 10, with 3 adolescent males, three mature males and three mature females, the other two also being with calf and due to deliver in coming weeks.

Four of the rhinos were purchased from Kenya’ Solio Game Reserve while two were gifted to RFU and Ziwa by Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida.

The Rhino Fund Uganda and Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary have decided to ‘auction’ the name of the young baby rhino girl to the highest bidder and interested parties may apply via angie@rhinofund.org with the minimum offer starting at US Dollars 3.000

The first picture below was taken by the sanctuary’s head ranger Sergeant Godfrey Lutalo and reproduction has been granted by RFU and Ziwa, acknowledged here with many thanks.

 

 

Kenya News

KTDC PROMISES HOTEL SECTOR BETTER LOAN FACILITATION

A recent meeting of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers got good news from the CEO of the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, when she announced that the ceiling of loans, and related terms and conditions were being reviewed with the aim of raising finance packages to a level now required to embark on the construction of new resorts, hotels and tourist facilities. It was also announced at the same time that the scope for financing would be expanded to venture into hitherto new areas of tourism developments like marinas, of which presently only one project at the Kenyan coast is being developed at the ‘English Point’ overlooking the entrance to the old harbour, which when complete will indeed offer a new range of services to visitors as well as an investment opportunity to own a piece of prime real estate, if only through a condominium, to foreign ‘fans of Kenya’. Watch this space.

 

KENYA’S MARCH TOWARDS ‘GOING GREEN’ GETS MAJOR BOOST

The French Development Bank has just signed a major loan agreement worth nearly 60 million Euros with the Kenyan Geothermal Development Company to finance the purchase of drilling rigs and other equipment used to tap into the extensive geothermal potential in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The project, when complete, will produce at least 400 MW of ‘green energy’, and will cost nearly 900 million US Dollars at current prices to complete, but will also upon commissioning reduce the country’s carbon foot print substantially. The provision of affordable electricity to rural communities is high on Kenya’s agenda for the coming years to reduce the use of charcoal, which in turn depletes forests on a significant scale up to now and contributes to changing micro climates as well as to global warming.

The first 10 MW unit is already producing electricity near the Menengai Crater in Nakuru with two additional such units nearing completion it is understood. Kenya’s power generating company has projected that the country could produce as much as 5.000 MW from geothermal sources, which while expensive to install is relatively cheap to run and has a long lifespan. This will permit Kenya to progressively phase out thermal power generation using heavy fuel oil and diesel plants, reducing carbon emission and lowering tariff as the same time substantially, considering the present and future cost of crude oil.

One tourism source in Nairobi, when contacted overnight, was elated by the news saying that Kenya going green with the use of wind-power, solar power and geothermal power would assist greatly in keeping the destination at the forefront of eco-aware and eco-sensitive travelers wanting to see the Kenyan national parks and game reserves where nature was still intact.

 

SOUTH AFRICAN TRYING TO UPSTAGE KENYA AIRWAYS’ CARGO PLANS

The recent announcement in Kampala that South African Airways was about to introduce a once weekly cargo flight from Johannesburg via Dar es Salaam to Entebbe, using a B737 converted freighter, will have provoked some attention within the Kenya Airways quarters, as KQ also finalises the introduction of a converted B737 freighter to serve their regional network out of Nairobi.

Air cargo business has produced astonishing growth rates in recent months, worldwide but especially in Africa where much of the urgent cargo can only be delivered by air in the absence of sufficient road and rail infrastructure, and Kenya Airways announcement some months ago that they intend to introduce a dedicated freighter to serve their regional routes by delivering palletized cargo shipments was greeted with enthusiasm by importers, exporters and shipping companies.

However, it seems the early announcement has given other airlines the chance to outpace KQ’s acquisition of a cargo aircraft but it is expected that Kenya Airways will stamp its own authority over this region’s passenger and cargo traffic on the market just as soon as this aircraft will join the fleet and enter service. Watch this space.

 

KENYA AIRPORTS AUTHORITY HIT BY ANOTHER BLACKOUT

News are gradually filtering in of yet another power outage at Kenya’s and the region’s premier airport, Jomo Kenyatta International in Nairobi, which was hit on Saturday evening by a blackout lasting several hours and forcing the diversion of arriving flights to Mombasa and as far as Entebbe. Departing flights were delayed for takeoff too when after the initial KPLC power failure the backup generators failed to start, leaving the entire airport, runways and all in darkness. The debacle follows earlier such outages when for instance in Mombasa some time ago operations were restricted to daylight operations when the lighting conduits for the runway, approach lights and taxiway perimeter lights had failed for several days but Nairobi too had in the past been hit by outages with backup equipment then failing to operate.

Being the region’s primary airport with about 50 international and local airlines operating out of JKIA, this, according to an aviation source, is simply not acceptable, considering the level of charges KAA levies on airlines and the slow process of the airport expansion work which has, going by the same regular source ‘been going on for too long and we see too little progress’.

This correspondent only recently travelled repeatedly via JKIA and was able to see the extensive work going on, and judging by his own recollection vis a vis previous visits to Nairobi can vouch that work is indeed progressing, steadily but still not fast enough. In particular the main terminal continues to be a beehive of activity most of the day, as ‘hub and spoke’ operations continue throughout, and the limited space in the terminal’s main section, where arriving and departing passengers still mix, must be addressed fast and comprehensively to ensure Nairobi can become a convenient and comfortable transit airport as it should be and not showing itself the way it has been for too long, congested, overcrowded and subsequently NOT inviting at all. Barbs once more for KAA for failing to keep their systems maintained and in 100 percent working order.

 

MOHAMED HERSI NEW MCTA CHAIRMAN

The Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association recently elected Mohamed Hersi, previously Vice Chairman of MCTA, as their new figure head during their annual general meeting held at the famous Nyali Beach Hotel. Mohamed, an ‘institution’ in his own right by now, works as Regional General Manager Coast for Sarova Hotels, overseeing the operations of the Sarova Whitesands Resort and the Taita Hills Lodge and Salt Lick Lodge bordering the Tsavo West National Park.

He also served previously as Skal Chairman and as Chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, Coast Chapter while also serving in many capacities in tourism associations for many years.

He takes over from Capt. John Cleave of Mombasa Air Safari, who retired as chairman during the AGM.

MCTA is the Kenyan coast’s most prominent tourism association, cross cutting from hotels, resorts and lodges over restaurants to tour operators, operators of tourism attractions to deep sea fishing operators, including everyone with a stake in the tourism sector from Lamu over Malindi, Watamu, Kilifi, Kikambala and Mombasa to Ukunda and beyond to the Tanzanian border.

The lobbying organization has an illustrious history and this correspondent was privileged to serve under the chairmanship of the late Lorna Hayes MBE back in the 70’s and 80’s while posted in Mombasa.

MCTA often speaks on matters of great concern to stakeholders in public and in private with government and governmental bodies, providing crucial input and advice on matters of infrastructure, tourism development, zoning and governance issues as and when required. Congrats Mohamed and all the best to MCTA under your leadership in coming years.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS CEO ELECTED TO IATA BOARD OF GOVERNORS

Information from Nairobi confirms this breaking news story that Dr. Titus Naikuni, Chief Executive Officer and Group Managing Director of Kenya Airways was elected during the 67th annual general meeting of the global aviation industry body in Singapore as a member of 31 strong Board of Governors and also to the ‘Nominating Committee 2012’. This is the second time Dr. Naikuni was chosen by his industry colleagues following a successful first ‘stint’ between 2004 and 2009.

IATA represents over 230 airlines globally and thus nearly 95 percent of all scheduled air traffic around the

world, making it the predominant aviation body.

Following his appointment Dr. Naikuni said: ‘I am greatly honoured by this appointment and wish to express my gratitude to the IATA members for their confidence in my election to serve them. This appointment is very exciting because it comes at a time when the economies of Africa are poised for takeoff. Transport is an important factor in Africa’s economic development and the aviation industry will undoubtedly play a major role in the pursuit of this development. This appointment is an indication that African airlines are ready to take their rightful place in leading the decision making in the world’s aviation industry. I will strive to serve the interests of all members while seeking to ensure that airlines in Africa in particular are able to meet the safety, environmental and sustainability agendas that IATA drives.’

Congratulations Titus on this occasion and all the best in coming years at the helm of ‘the Pride of Africa’ and on the IATA Board.

 

ANNUAL MIGRATION STARTS EARLY THIS YEAR

Large numbers of zebras and wildebeest have started to pour across the common border from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara Game Reserve, bringing to life the annual spectacle of the great migration reaching its furthest point of the age old cycle of the herds following the rains and the pastures.

Reports are pouring in from several places in the Masai Mara that the leading parts of the endless columns of wildebeest and zebras have started to cross the Mara River, running a gauntlet of hungry crocodiles and other predators lying in wait for them as they come up to the river and create a giant ‘traffic jam’ piling up on the river banks and beyond before the animals can reach  and then cross the narrow section where it is possible to get over the river, up the steep banks and into ‘their promised land full of green grass’.

The spectacular crossing shown in the picture below was witnessed from the banks of the Sand and Keekorok rivers in the Masai Mara and it was learned that demand for safaris to the Masai Mara, especially the lodges located near the crossing points like Keekorok at present, has immediately sprung to life inspite of this still being the low season, so visitors can take advantage of lower rates at least until the end of June.

The annual migration lasts normally from mid or late June or July until as late as October and even November, before the great herds return into the Serengeti and make their way to the low grass plains between the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro massif where they then all assemble to give birth to the next generation of wildebeest before once again resuming their long trek back into the Masai Mara.

This annual event is one of the greatest global wildlife attractions to witness and accounts for much of the tourism receipts in both Kenya and Tanzania, which share this natural wonder between them. GO VISIT!

(Picture courtesy of Safaritrails Kenya)

 

NOW TSAVO WEST ON FENCE LIST TOO

No sooner had plans been disclosed by KWS to fence off Mt. Kenya National Park and the Marsabit National Park did calls emerge from district administrators along the crucial Tsavo West park boundaries that they too want an electric fence to be put up, to prevent elephant from leaving the park and raiding nearby farms. In recent weeks, as reported here on several occasions, did large numbers of elephant, on one raid alone over 800, leave the park in search of pasture and had to be driven back by KWS wardens and rangers, leaving a trail of destruction behind and wananchi clamouring for compensation over lost crop, injuries suffered and property destroyed.

Elephant in the area however follow their instincts and when food gets scarce in the park they migrate as in long gone times they would then undertake long treks, often across what is now a border between Kenya and Tanzania, deep into the hills there or as far as Mt. Kilimanjaro, to find water and food before eventually returning to close the circle of migration.

Today though these migration routes are often cut off for them, fenced or else cultivated by farmers growing cash crops and their own food and when their instinct for survival, their need to find pastures takes over they are in immediate conflict with humans, claiming and ready to defend their own.

Kenya Wildlife Service is aware, this correspondent has been reliably informed, of the growing potential of such conflict and has started looking into alternatives to keep wildlife inside the park even when drought strikes, pondering feeding and watering schemes which however are expensive and almost unsustainable in the long term, considering the numbers of game the organization has to deal with in an extensive park like Tsavo West. More fodder for thought on the future of wildlife conservation and how mankind continues to encroach wildlife habitat in the first place before then turning and blaming game for a conflict it did not cause in the first place. Watch this space.

 

NEW HIGHWAY PLANS SHOCK KENYAN CONSERVATIONISTS

No sooner had plans been revealed that the Kenya Highways Authority had designs to build a road across the Nakuru National Park, one of the most visited parks in all of Kenya, did fresh news break that the same governmental body had targeted the Nairobi National Park too for a ‘Southern Bypass’ around the city.

Sinister motives are now being suggested already, in fact very much in line with a recent article published here about the enormous land pressures on the park when Nairobi, as is projected, reaches the 10 million inhabitant mark and the government in place then might just yield to inducements and demands to carve out land from the park, piece by piece, until nothing but a glorified open air zoo remains, if anything in fact at all.

Officials within the authority are now accused of conniving with land developers and long term speculators, but also government officials needed today already to determine the future ‘development plans’ for the country and able to create administrative facts on the ground leading to enormous if not mindboggling riches being misappropriated by those in the early know and able to get their hands on land options if not title deeds outright.

Land use changes over the past decades have already substantially impacted on the free flow of migratory species which in the past supported the introduction of fresh DNA into the animal populatoins ‘resident’ in the park and what once used to be a wide corridor linking the national park area of today with locations as far away as Amboseli and the Chyulu Hills has today narrowed into literally nothingness, considering industrial, housing and agricultural developments which sprang up right inside the core area of the migratory routes, cutting off game from age old long distance treks in search of pasture and for mating.

Nairobi National Park’s fencing was controversial amongst conservationists as it is, with some recognizing the importance of DNA exchange and promoting land purchases to keep a migratory corridor open, but at the same time the fencing was also almost the only recipe for keeping the area’s integrity intact, as prior to this visible demarcation by fence encroachment along the main Mombasa roads’ boundaries and from the Athi side was frequent and carried out with the impunity only politically protected individuals are able to wield and get away with.

It is therefore no surprise that the ‘Friend of Nairobi National Park’ website has now raised the alarm over the latest assault planned on this unique piece of African wilderness real estate, the only one national park so close to a capital city anywhere in the world and for that reason both precious as well as a natural target for ‘developers’, speak individuals with no scruples and ready to ruin our planet in the hope to catch a spaceship to a new planet they could then also set out to destroy, leaving the rest of humanity to struggle with the fallout of their environmental crimes and personal greed. I have taken the liberty to copy the map of the planned highway developments from the FoNNaP website and in fact encourage readers to join hands with FoNNaP to prevent this planned development as much as the one schemed up for the Nakuru National Park.

http://fonnap.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/niarobi-map-2.jpg

Considering the success of the campaign I managed to initiate through the exposure of the Tanzanian government’s plans in May last year to build a highway across the Serengeti – that ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway’ movement now has over 41.000 members and multiple petition sites – FoNNaP can surely take some hope that not all is lost, as long as the conservation fraternity manages to gather support and bring about a global coalition to stop any further atrocities against nature being committed in the name of ‘progress and development’. Watch this space.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS JOINS UNEP’S CN-NET

The Kenyan national airline, aka as The Pride of Africa, already ‘green’ by global standards with their carbon offset programme at home and by complying with the EU’s directives too, has just gone a significant step further in helping to make the future of air travel more sustainable.

The airline announced yesterday that they were teaming up with the United Nations Environment Programme’s ‘Climate Neutral Network’ or in short CN-Net, which is spearheading the global transformation towards lower carbon emissions and low carbon footprint economies.

This is all the more astounding as Kenya is a developing nation, yet depending hugely on an intact biodiversity and nature for its tourism industry, and is generally thought to have less available resources to put into an unconditional acceptance of medium and long term carbon emission goals.

Kenya Airways is breaking ground again leading the way for many other airlines, in Africa and around the world to follow suit and adding this latest initiative to the option introduced recently for their passengers to make voluntary contributions towards approve ‘green’ projects the airline supports with such funds. Said Dr. Titus Naikuni, Group CEO of Kenya Airways, on the occasion of announcing the airline’s joining with UNEP: ‘Our participation in CN Net confirms our commitment to addressing environmental issues including the challenge of climate change by being able to accurately account for the Green House gases that our operations emit and investing in environmental sustainability strategies to reduce and offset the emissions’.

Eastern Africa is expected to be amongst the hardest hit regions of the world from the fallout of global warming and the resulting climate change, as the fast shrinkage of the ice caps on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya and across the Rwenzori Mountain range already proves, while still there are ‘scientists’ and in particular politicians out there denying what is there to see for anyone with open eyes.

Rapidly accelerating drought and flooding cycles have in recent years taken hold in parts of Eastern Africa but across the continent too and are threatening the long term survival of agriculture and hence of society at large, and it cannot be stressed enough how Kenya Airways’ ongoing commitment does make a difference and should be emulated by not just other airlines but industry and society. Watch this space.

 

Tanzania News

RARE TOAD SPECIES COMES BACK HO it, ME TO ROOST

Information was received over the weekend that a rare species of toads, near extinct now after the construction of a dam at Kihansi some time ago first greatly reduced the habitat of the ‘Kihansi Spray Toads’, aka Nectophrynoides Asperginis, before the remaining population suffered of a fungal disease which wiped out much of the remaining stock, likely caused by the change in habitat for the rare species, something the promoters of the dam had initially strongly denied and disputed.

However, some of the species had been taken to safety and were brought to some US zoos while some were kept under laboratory conditions at Dar es Salaam University, ensuring they could breed and the species would not disappear completely. This is now paying a handsome dividend, as hundreds of them, brought back to Tanzania from the United States were last week cleared by vets and declared free of any potential diseases and will alongside their ‘Tanzanian’ brethren be returned this week in a first wave of releasing them back into the Kihansi habitat. That part was greatly enhanced when the company eventually installed a spray irrigation system which maintains the resemblance of the toads former habitat and allows them to stay moist to avoid a future outbreak of the fungal disease which almost extinguished the species.

A success story at last, though with regrets that developers had initially dismissed the concerns with contempt only to be taught a mighty lesson along the road.

 

SAUTI ZA BUSARA DEADLINES LOOM

The most important and most widely recognized East African cultural and performing arts festival held annual in Zanzibar, Sauti Za Busara, has reminded artists wishing to participate in the 2012 event, due to be held between February 08th and 12th next year, that they must apply for selection by latest 31st of July, i.e. in just a few weeks time, to allow the organizers to process and select their lineup.

Sauti Za Busara 2012 is set to become the biggest and best organized festival yet since its inception a few years ago, when few media – besides this correspondent – paid much attention to the fete, and hotels are already experiencing a rush in reservations for the period of the festival. Admission during day to the festival area is again free although nominal charges apply for evening performances to assist the organizers in meeting the ever greater cost to set up and stage a festival which is now renowned around the world as THE most important Swahili, African and general performing arts show in Eastern Africa if not the entire continent.

African music films, a new category to submit entries to, however have still until 30th September this year to apply for entry. Sauti Za Busara is now also visible on Facebook and more details about the festival can be sourced via www.busaramusic.org or by writing to Busara@busara.or.tz

This is a definite ‘Do absolutely NOT miss’ event.

 

USE OF ARUSHA MUNICIPAL AIRFIELD TO OPEN FOR REGIONAL FLIGHTS

The aviation fraternity across the East African Community member states have welcomed a ministerial statement made during the just concluded Karibu Tourism Trade Fair in Arusha, aka the Safari Capital of East Africa, that the municipal airfield will soon become available for nonstop flights arriving from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya. Presently only the distant Kilimanjaro International Airport is permitted to receive flights from ‘abroad’ compelling charters from other EAC members states to use the more expensive facilities there, a major factor for the less then optimal tourism growth for Tanzania way below its potential. Many tourists, when told of the complications caused by non tariff barriers erected by the Tanzanian civil aviation authority vis a vis regional charter airlines, then opt to ‘forget about’ the option to visit some of Tanzania’s magnificent parks on the Northern safari circuit and instead of spreading their money across the region spend it in the country they originally arrived in.

The absence of the common tourist Visa, still awaiting implementation, too has hampered cross region travel for in particular the upper income segment of travelers, who have the means and resources to decide on the spot to fly from say Murchisons Falls to the Serengeti, but are then put off by bureaucracy – pun intended – and their criss crossing from one airport to another and the need to change aircraft and crew as for instance a Ugandan charter company would most likely not get timely permission right now to fly into Arusha Municipal and from there on to the Serengeti.

Comments were also received about the continued use of the word ‘foreign’ in the context of regionally registered and licensed airlines, with literally all stakeholders this correspondent was in touch with overnight demanding that equality is at last granted by all for all, something Uganda has generously implemented a long time ago but was never reciprocated with.

Tourism stakeholders, in particular in Tanzania, are equally happy about this upcoming development as it can potentially increase tourism arrivals and revenues by very substantial margins and boost the sector by simply removing red tape, non tariff barriers and – as has been said before – the ill will at times seen when talking ‘East Africa’ as opposed to ‘nation state’.

Watch this space for future developments which you can be sure to read about right here.

 

Rwanda News

KWITA IZINA FESTIVAL WEEK KICKS OFF WITH CYCLING RACE

Yesterday saw the official start of the Kwita Izina Festival week and countdown to the formal naming of new born gorilla babies next Saturday in Ruhengeri, at the entrance of the Volcanoes National Park.

Over 60 cyclists had enrolled in the race through the hills and mountains of Rwanda and started at Kigali’s main Amahoro Stadium, but only 45 of them reportedly reached Rubavu at the end of the first stage, with the strain of climbing one hill and mountain after the next taking its toll. The second stage will go underway today determining the winner of the event currently led by an Eritrean cyclist.

Kwita Izina, originally a one day event to name gorilla babies born during the preceding 12 months, has today grown into a fully fledged conservation festival week, where sporting events are held alongside a now globally renowned conservation conference, community tourism and conservation festivities before moving to the main venue in Ruhengeri where on the 18th of June 22 gorilla babies will be named by selected personalities connected with Rwanda and its tourism and conservation fraternity.

This correspondent will report ‘live’ from Ruhengeri and other venues starting Tuesday, courtesy of RwandAir and the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation and their private sector partners who have invited a select group of media friends of Rwanda to cover the Kwita Izina 2011.

Watch this space.

 

MUSEUMS TO PROMOTE CULTURAL TOURISM

The Rwanda national museums have just in time for the big Kwita Izina week announced that they will play their part in promoting cultural tourism aspects to visitors, showing them the rich history and variety the country has enjoyed for many generations going back hundreds of years.

The launch of the project is set for 14th June at the Rukari National Museum in Nyanza District of Rwanda where a range of artifacts and memorabilia will be shown to Rwandans and foreign visitors alike to create awareness of just how rich the country’s history, inspite of the events of 1994, really is.

The Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation too is throwing its weight behind the scheme, as is the tourism private sector, to enrich itineraries for tourist visitors while in the country and give them a glimpse into what life in Rwanda used to be, as well as what it is now. Visit www.rwandatourism.com for more information.

 

Seychelles News

EXECUTIVE TALK – INTERVIEW WITH THE HON. JOEL MORGAN,

MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS, ENVIRONMENT, ENERGY AND TRANSPORT

GOVERNMENT OF SEYCHELLES

On occasions opportunity arises to interview high ranking officials during my many trips across Eastern Africa or to the Indian Ocean islands and recently, during a visit to the Seychelles, the Hon. Joel Morgan consented to be interviewed for eTN’s Executive Talk, discussing a range of issued including the ‘Problem from Hell, aka ocean terrorism, aka Somali piracy where the Minster expressed strong views which should be embraced by more and clearly saying that defeating piracy is a matter of national survival for the Seychelles.

 

eTN:

Mr. Minister, thank you for the opportunity to speaking with you about a range of issues of interest to eTN’s readers. Do explain your role in government as there is often a lot more behind the title of a ministry than meets the eye as after all you hold a wide brief in terms of the portfolio, Home Affairs, Environment, Energy and Transport.

 

Minister Morgan:

To me it is very exciting in terms of the work that I do and I personally love it. I find it very very stimulating to be involved in so many areas and to have a chance to make a difference in so many key areas. For instance, in my work responsible as Minister of Environment I have a chance to steer the whole environmental management sector of our country and I can make sure that there is continued protection of what we all hold so dear in our hearts and what is basically the mainstay of our tourism oriented economy, and that is the environment. We are in fact moving forward to protect our pristine natural environment even more, with the soon to be made declaration that 51 percent of our territory will become a legally protected area. Already we lead the world in this regard with 47.2 percent of our territory being protected as marine national parks and terrestrial national parks. In this ministerial capacity I also deal with all issues of climate change which is crucially important to a small island state like the Seychelles. It presents a huge challenge to our country in terms of our water resources [author’s comment: the Seychelles depend overwhelmingly on rain for their water consumption and the changes in rain patterns only recently made it necessary to double their desalination capacity from 2.5 million gallons to 5 million gallons production, courtesy of a gift by Abu Dhabi] but the mitigation of climate change impact on our coastal zones is another big area or concern; sea level rise, subsequent storm flooding and tsunamis – the latter not connected to climate change but a real concern to us – are very key issues, considering that the largest part of our 86.000 strong population live along the coastal areas. Nature conservation is part of this portfolio’s brief, both marine as well as terrestrial conservation. Here the work that I do, the decisions taken here with other colleagues in government, do make a visible difference about development of some areas and the preservation of others. This all has a significant impact on the future or our country, on our children’s future and our country’s environment, to maintain it for future generations, so I enjoy being in the midst of it today and being able to make a positive impact.

 

Another key sector of my responsibility is transport, a key to our economy in both the maritime and aviation sectors. The maritime sector is hugely important for our economy, for imports and exports as we depend a lot on importation of goods but also for our fishing industry. A lot of maritime traffic in our waters is connected with fishing, bringing fish to Port Victoria for processing and then re-exportation. Being able to set transportation policies for our country and helping shape the future of such an important part of our lives, our economy, is a very exciting aspect of my work here. To improve access to the rest of the world we are re-developing Port Victoria and also our main fishing port for better maritime services and to move on to air-transport, we are also in an advanced stage to re-develop our international airport. This is a key for our tourism industry which depends almost entirely on the airlines bringing in our tourist visitors but also allows our own people mobility, and we are a very mobile people with as many as 35.000 trips undertaken by Seychellois going abroad. Being in the middle of the Indian Ocean, so far away from everywhere else, means we depend on good air access and that we have improved a lot in the most recent past through an open air access policy. I deal often directly with airlines when we negotiate bilateral agreements and we had great success in bringing more airlines to Seychelles and others now flying a lot more often than was the case in the past. Emirates will soon be coming here twice a day, Qatar Airways is now going daily, Etihad will start with four flights in November and our own national airline Air Seychelles remains a key partner for our tourism industry and to ensure constant access to key markets and destinations. The immediate plans are to start a code share arrangement into the Far East with China to open that market with direct access and thereafter negotiating similar access to Korea and Japan.

But my work as Transport Minister does not end there, I am also responsible for national transportation, public transport on and across the islands, where we have overcome past problems and modernized our bus fleets, added a lot more vehicles, responded to demands for new scheduled, new routes and now offer reliable and affordable public transport to our citizens and our visitors too.

Energy is another part of my portfolio and here we are again set to become a global leader in the way we will introduce sustainable energy uses in the future when we implement our new policies. We want to move progressively away from the use of fossil fuels an tap into renewable energy sources like solar, ideal on our island with so much sunshine across the year. This is a passion of mine, a personal passion. We will start with the island of La Digue which we intend to remodel into an island of pure sustainable and renewable energy use. There we are looking at wind energy, solar energy for lighting and hot water production and going further by introducing and eventually only using hybrid or electric vehicles for transportation replacing conventional diesel and petrol engines.

 

eTN:

But the oxcarts on La Digue will remain?

 

Minister Morgan:

Yes, the La Digue oxcarts will remain in place.

We intend to champion the use of renewable energy sources globally and will shortly install, with the help and financial support from our friends in the UAE, an 8.5 MW wind turbine plant which should come on line by the end of this year and is then followed by a solar installation feeding electricity during day hours into the national grid. But we are not stopping there. We are pursuing a policy to encourage our households to install solar water heating and solar panels to get their own electricity from and will with the help of international finance institutions create a fund to give grants to Seychellois willing to convert to fully renewable energy use for their homes.

 

eTN:

Have you already mandated the use of energy saving bulbs to save electricity?

 

Minister Morgan:

We in fact did this a while ago already through incentives to consumers to switch to compact fluorescent bulbs by handing out replacement energy savers while at the same time removing all taxes and duties on the import of such energy savers to promote a ‘greener Seychelles’. That went hand in hand with promoting the use of LPG gas cookers to reduce electricity use during peak hours, and there too we took out taxes and duties for equipment to make it affordable for our people, for hotels and resorts and restaurants.

All these measures are aimed to keep Seychelles green and reduce our carbon footprint in coming years, we want to spearhead it globally where we can to show that here, where climate change will have its first big impact, we are doing what it takes and what we can to play our part in the global fight against climate change. And holding the portfolios of both energy and environment also made another project easier for which I pushed very hard, as we are now starting to move from pure landfills for rubbish disposal to converting part of it into energy which again will produce electricity in the future.

 

And the last key area of my responsibility, which I have taken on since last year and which is very challenging, is Home Affairs, comprising national security, police, prisons, border control and immigration, civil service and of course the issue of piracy which overlaps with Foreign Affairs and Defense.

 

eTN:

You have at times been described as the ‘anti piracy minister’, do you think this media slogan does your work any justice?

 

Minister Morgan:

I think is does do my work justice, yes I do. I am dedicating a lot of my time, nationally and internationally to this problem and to combat it. I am doing it because it threatens my country, it is putting my country at risk and the President has given me this responsibility. I am giving it my heart and soul to bring on board the international community, to sensitize our partners, to mobilize and galvanize support for Seychelles. Our President in fact championed the fight against piracy and he was the first and remains at the forefront of our active diplomacy around the world to build a coalition with our partners to fight this menace. Piracy today is the single biggest threat to the entire region, and in fact not just to our region but to the entire international trade which passes through our waters, our region using ships to import and export goods from around the world.

 

eTN:

A major naval coalition was of course formed a few years ago to combat ocean terrorism which is the phrase I use to describe the menace …

 

Minister Morgan:

I entirely agree with that!

 

eTN continues:

…which is perpetrated by a very small section of Somalis and their financiers and middle men which has led to the unjustified broad condemnation of the Somali people as a whole. What has the naval coalition done for the Seychelles to secure your waters, to protect your economic exclusion zone and what significant material support like naval and aerial assets, training and other measures have friendly countries given to Seychelles to allow the country to also mount an own defense.

 

Minister Morgan:

Our partners have been very positive in the help they have provided to Seychelles, because they have seen that we are very proactive in our stand and reaction. We have taken and continue to take a very strong stand against piracy and to protect our national integrity and our rights, the rights of shipping to peacefully use the sea lanes and as a result of President Michel’s leadership and his policies the global community has come together and helps us, supports us. Our closest friends and allies have responded to our needs very well. For instance the UAE have donated 5 naval assets to us, five ships our coast guard uses to patrol our waters alongside the naval coalition vessels to improve safe passage and security for ships. Previously the UAE also donated an aircraft to us for surveillance, doing daily flights to gather information and direct surface vessels. India has just donated a new Dornier surveillance aircraft to Seychelles and has underwritten the use of another one until the new aircraft comes off the assembly line for delivery, also allowing for training of our own personnel. This aircraft is actually armed and contains state of the art equipment assisting us in pinpointing positions and come to the aid of vessels in distress. In addition India has donated to us two big navy vessels which we use alongside the others to patrol and safeguard our waters, our fishermen and our islands.

The UAE is also assisting us in building a totally new major coast guard base for our ships and as a control and command centre complemented by a radar surveillance system covering all our key islands to allow for early detection of any threat to our national waters and our national security, be it pirates or other groups.

China is delivering to us two Y12 aircraft, also fully and state of the art equipped, which will very much expand our reach and allow for constant around the clock airborne monitoring, surveillance and directions for NavFor and Seychellois surface ships.

 

eTN:

Is it a matter of national survival for the Seychelles to defeat the ocean terrorists?

 

Minister Morgan:

It is a matter of national survival for some of the key aspect of our national economy, tourism, fishing and trade. We depend heavily on ships moving freely across our waters, into our port and transiting with their cargos to Asia, to Africa and beyond.

 

eTN:

I was pleased to see a large cruise liner calling on Port Victoria today, and I understand this is now a very rare event compared with the old days when Port Victoria was a ‘must visit’ destination for any cruise ship sailing the Indian Ocean. Security assessments have changed the classic Indian Ocean cruises from or to the Seychelles via Mombasa, Zanzibar, Mauritius and South Africa and all the exotic places in between, and the cruise companies are very afraid of one of their cruise liners coming under attack or even being captured, especially in view of several pirate groups being closely linked with militants like Al Shabab, sharing proceeds and in case of a cruise ship capture likely sharing the hostages.

 

Minister Morgan:

I agree with you there, about the links and the sharing of proceeds.

 

eTN:

What options does the Seychelles government have to secure the sea lanes to bring the cruises back, to return tens of millions of US Dollars in tourism and related revenues to the Indian Ocean ports from Victoria to Mombasa and along the Eastern coastline of Africa. Is it possible to ‘shadow’ the passenger cruisers from when they enter critical waters to the time they reach port?

 

Minister Morgan:

This is not viable, the area is vast is huge, which the different forces patrol and the naval assets are spread out already, so allocating additional surface assets is not possible, However, what has proven to be very very effective and which has been pioneered here in the Seychelles, is the ‘vessel protection detachment’, which is putting trained and armed personnel on board of these ships until they reach safe waters again. We started this with fishing boats, our own boats but also the Spanish and the French, and it has proven an effective deterrent against pirates capturing any of those boats so protected. After analyzing the results we are now pushing for more such detachments to be placed on ships because the deterrent does work, not one of the ships so protected was captured by pirates.

We are now talking to cruiselines and are telling them that as they are losing a lot of market and revenue by avoiding our area, avoiding calling on the Seychelles, that with the right measures this is doable. Yes there is an ongoing risk but it can be minimized, reduced to almost zero with the right precautions.

 

eTN:

It is our understanding that you have UAV’s based at the Mahe International Airport, none of which are presently armed. They could be armed?

 

Minister Morgan:

Yes, they could be armed.

 

eTN:

Do you have any plans in that direction to increase your deterrent and ability to respond to incidents or prevent incidents, increase the risks for pirates to actually come out from their own territorial waters and try it on?

 

Minister Morgan:

The UAV’s belong to the Unites States Army and they are here under an agreement we have with the United States of America to operate missions for anti piracy surveillance. They principally gather intelligence information which they feed back to the US and share with us here in the Seychelles and NavFor members about locations of suspected pirate motherships and skiffs. The agreements we have in place right now with them does not provide for the arming of the UAV’s at this point in time.

But what Seychelles now has is our own aerial assets, aircraft which are armed like the Dornier we have from India and the new one we are getting from them. And under our own rules of engagement, we can and will use armed force against pirates when our own aircraft are involved in surveillance or coming to the assistance of vessels in distress and when the crew deems it necessary to either deter or neutralize the threat posed by such pirates.

 

eTN:

This week the Seychelles Regatta takes place using catamarans, not the ‘tall ships’. It is a big business elsewhere in the world and before ocean terrorism became an issue many round the world regattas stopped over in the Seychelles, bringing visitors and revenue. Will you in the future actively promote a return of the big regattas to Seychelles and will you be able to secure them from the air?

 

Minister Morgan:

We would like to see a return of these ships to our waters, however at present, with the limited assets we still have at our disposal, ensuring the complete safety of yachts and their crews would be difficult to assure right now, but for the future we want to be in total control of our waters and are working towards that objective.

 

eTN:

You mentioned you have your own rules of engagement here in the Seychelles. Under these rules you have staged several successful rescue missions for which you must be congratulated of course. It must have taken some courage to actually give your commanders on site the go and leave it to them to act as they were trained to do. You used your new naval and aerial assets well and were widely praised for your robust response, but you were also critizised, including by a few members of the naval coalition calling it a ‘risky strategy’. One particular source of criticism suggested it would cause a hardening of actions by pirates when they have captives on board after seizing a vessel. Will you in the face of such critiques continue with your robust handling of pirates when they are encountered on the ocean?

 

Minister Morgan:

Most definitely we will continue with our line of robust responses. In fact, we will not only continue but intensify our responses and actions. Our message to the Somali pirates is very clear: you come into our waters, you come to threaten us, our territory, our citizens, our livelihood, our economy – the consequences will be deadly.

 

eTN: Why in your opinion then are certain members of the naval coalition so loath to engage the ocean terrorists as decisively as you do. A few have stopped pondering and diddling about and equally started to engage them robustly too but generally with the vast superiority of assets and equipment, for monitoring and surveillance they have they let the Chandlers be taken hostage standing by watching as London did not give the commander on site the approval to move in and prevent it. Doesn’t that show that the naval coalition needs to sit down an agree on a new set of robust rules of engagement, leaving the decisions to their commanders on site rather than making political decisions in the European capitals?

 

Minister Morgan:

I believe so, in fact I have been propagating a change of the rules of engagement by the different partners in the naval coalition and amongst naval detaches directly deployed to the area to safeguard the shipping of that particular country. We must stop pondering and must move on to action. Had we done that a year ago already, I firmly believe that the Somali pirates would have seen a really strong deterrent and it would have had a big impact on the level of attacks we have seen since then. They would have known very clearly, if they take innocent people hostage at open sea, then they would face deadly consequences. The fact that this has not happened yet has been like an open door …

 

eTN:

has it encouraged the ocean terrorists?

 

Minister Morgan:

Of course it has, of course, it has been like an open door for them, and even if they are captured at sea, caught in a skiff, they are disarmed and put ashore in Somalia, they are back on the ocean within a week. Here in Seychelles, we have evidence that people we have captured were involved in previous hijackings, got caught and were released back to Somalia and went back out to sea again.

 

eTN:

Uganda where I come from has the most troops based in Somalia under the AU’s peace keeping force and our President has on several occasions demanded that Somalia has to be under a total sea and air blockade to have the mission succeed first before embarking on the economic reconstruction of Somalia, create jobs for young people instead of see them join Al Shabab or the pirates. Do you think a naval and air blockade would help you in your fight on the ocean when the militants and pirates are actually uprooted from their safe havens no land?

 

Minister Morgan:

We need to be smart how we tackle the problem of Somalia and the problem of piracy. It is clear that the state of anarchy in Somalia has to be brought under control and the structures of government have to come in to stabilize the country, to have governance, to have infrastructure rebuilt to have the economy restart, create employment and opportunities, although this is a long term process.

The immediate problem we have is dealing with terrorism from Al Shabab within Somalia and its links with Al Qaida, which have now been proven and of course also the problem of piracy which in my mind is also linked to financing Al Shabab. I am convinced that one way or another the proceeds or part of the proceeds from piracy, the ransom payments, not only go to the businessmen who are behind the piracy but they are also paying Al Shabab for various favours, for protection, for their rackets and their scams. What we need to do is to stop the flow of arms into Somalia. This is big money! Big international companies, which supposedly offer security services within Somalia are in my opinion involved in the arms trade into Somalia …

 

eTN:

In arms trafficking?

 

Minister Morgan:

In arms trafficking, both small and big arms. I think the international community, especially the countries of the EU, the United States and other countries like Russia for instance need to tackle this problem, take it very seriously as well as the UN of course. The all need to clamp down on the supply of arms into Somalia. The second thing which needs to happen is that international institutions involved in combating financial crimes need to go after the money flow, after the people who finance piracy. Because piracy has become a business. It has become a business for people anywhere, they sit in Europe, they sit in all four corners of the globe. They are putting money into financing piracy because if provides huge returns. It is no longer just a question of pirates getting into skiffs, going on the ocean to hijack ships for ransom, it has become an ‘organized crime’.

 

eTN:

The capabilities exist to do this, there are global agreements to disrupt and end the financing of terrorism …

 

Minister Morgan:

Yes, this is just another face of terrorism! The money which ends up in the hands of financiers of piracy is used to traffic narcotics, to traffic arms, to traffic humans – it fuels the international terrorism process. We must not be naïve and say these are just people making money, yes, they are making money, they are profiteering from piracy but they are using such money to pay for other things, as organized crime syndicates.

 

eTN:

So you think those syndicates and godfathers have a clear agenda?

 

Minster Morgan:

Evidently they do and whoever believes otherwise must be naïve!

 

eTN:

In recent months pirates have landed and been arrested in Tanzania and other parts of Eastern Africa, even Indian Ocean island it has been reported. Those in Tanzania were spotted and arrested as they came ashore trying to commandeer fuel and supplies. The Seychelles with 115 islands and the extensive geographical spread across the Indian Ocean is a vast area to secure. Can you assure the public that your islands are safe and you have put all measures in place to ensure no pirates are going to land on your shores, your islands and that your own people and the tourist visitors are safe?

 

Minster Morgan:

I can assure you that our people and visitors are safe. We have in place all required plans and taken measures to effectively and efficiently tackle any attempted landing by any pirates on our inhabited islands and even on uninhabited islands we now have measures in place to prevent such. I am not saying it is impossible, please let that be very clear, but we have done everything humanly possible to prevent such an incident from happening in the Seychelles and we are confident we have the ability to deal with such situations.

 

eTN:

You mentioned earlier on that you are also responsible for transport, in particular air transport. Is the government, your ministry, giving any incentives to foreign airlines like 5th freedom rights to have them come to the Seychelles, to fly more often into Mahe? Emirates are now at 12 flights a week, soon going to double daily, Qatar Airways coming daily and Etihad planning to start with 4 flights a week from November.

And of course the inevitable question on Air Seychelles, will the airline be privatized as has long been speculated or will it for the time being remain in the hands of government as a strategic national asset.

 

Minister Morgan:

We are presently studying the issue of 5th freedom traffic mainly because we had requests from certain airlines to be granted such rights as part of renewals of existing bilateral air service agreements. We have to look at that very very carefully because we cannot compromise and endanger the viability and financial ability of our national airline Air Seychelles. We believe in fair competition here, we believe in an open air access policy here in the Seychelles, but we still have to be very careful about giving 5th freedom rights to other airlines.

Air Seychelles is our back bone, our king pin as far as air connections are concerned for our tourism industry, so we must be careful not to put our own national airline at risk. This is why we are taking our time to comprehensively study the implications of 5th freedom rights for other airlines, for the routes they want those rights for and we I believe are right in taking our time to look at all aspects and implications.

As to Air Seychelles and privatization, at this point in time we have no plans to privatize or divest of our national airline.

Air Seychelles, as far as government is concerned, can seek out or go into strategic partnerships with suitable other airlines, and this can involve even a strategic investment in Air Seychelles but we have no plans to divest ourselves from our national airline. For us, Air Seychelles is so important to our economy so we cannot say you are privatized, go fend for yourself financially and otherwise, this is not possible. Air Seychelles is a strategic asset to us just the same way as our public utility corporation is a strategic asset which too we will not divest of or privatize.

 

eTN;

How far would a ‘strategic investment’ go, 24 percent?

 

Minister Morgan:

It would be a minority investment, of course because government wants to maintain a majority stake in Air Seychelles for reasons of having the national interest prevail.

 

eTN:

The Seychelles Tourist Board, after restructuring and re-organization, has put ‘Brand Seychelles’ on the map, on the global map …

 

Minister Morgan:

Yes they have, they have done an excellent job …

 

eTN:

Are the government’s structural changes and reforms working and what more is needed to build the Seychelles of tomorrow, considering the example of the tourist board and the experience drawn from that  major reform.

 

Minister Morgan:

I think the way for the Seychelles of tomorrow, the way President Michel has explained his vision for Seychelles in his re-election manifesto, in his programme, is an expansion of economic activity in our country. Basically, Seychellois, alone or even with partners from overseas, need to become the main actors in the development or our country. Government will provide conducive policies, will facilitate through appropriate mechanism, will act as an enhancer of what the country’s private sector is involved in and will provide infrastructure. What we want to see, and taking the example of the tourist board, the people of Seychelles take ownership of the future development of their country and we will be there to help, facilitate and support and they are doing that already in many sectors of the economy.

 

eTN:

You talk of the President’s vision, President Michel was just re-elected for another 5 year term with a very convincing majority giving him the mandate to carry on with economic and social change. The Seychelles Tourism Academy is maybe a good example to further that thought. STA is being expanded considerably, is being given a completely new campus, to train young Seychellois to get jobs and start a career in the tourism industry. Are you planning similar initiatives for other sectors of the economy like fishing or trade to empower your young citizens, give them the skills and abilities to build a future for themselves?

 

Minster Morgan:

We are doing this with the Concessionary Credit Agency and the Development Bank of Seychelles, we are for instance helping the food production sector, the farmers, the fishermen and we are doing a huge amount for the small business sector in all forms like repairs and maintenance contractors, cleaning contracts in our districts,  the people involved in graphic art, music. The entire private sector’s small busineses, including catering, take aways or the craft sector, you name it, and government is putting in place, the President and his team are putting in place the right structures and so we can tell our people about the opportunities which now exist in the private sector, here is available financing, go for it.

 

eTN:

Minister, in closing, you have been describe to me as a rising star in politics, very well respected and one person said even admired. Is the sky the limit for you?

 

Minister Morgan:

I am a very humble person, I dedicate myself to my President and to my country. I made a decision many years back to work for my country, in all humility.

I am not ambitious in the sense that I aspire to higher political calling and office and I would rather let my work and action speak for themselves.

Would sometime in the distant future come the possibility for higher office I would consider that with all the humility but what drives me is not that, I am not driven by power or an agenda of self advancement but I am driven by an agenda to work for my country based on service. This comes from my heart.

 

eTN:

Thank you for your time Minister on behalf of the entire team at eTurboNews.

 

Minister Morgan:

And I thank you and eTurboNews for the support you extend to the Seychelles – it is hugely important what you put out there and has a huge readership and it is fair and balanced in their views and presents a picture of Seychelles as it really is. I personally believe in fair and balanced reporting and for that I am very grateful indeed.

 

NEW INTER ISLAND FERRY ARRIVES

Creole Travel Services, one of the archipelago’s leading destination management companies, has imported a sister ship to the ‘Cat Cocos’, the main catamaran ferry in use between Mahe’s port and the island of Praslin. The new ferry, ‘Isle La Digue’ will very likely run alternate scheduled services between the two islands, be used as back up and for charters and provide much needed extra capacity when big international cruise liners dock at Port Victoria.

The new ferry arrived from Australia, where it was built for Creole Travel Services and has similar facilities for passengers, i.e. a bar on board and two different classes as the larger ‘Cat Cocos’.

It was not immediately possible to confirm when the new ferry would enter full service while various inspections by the new owners and maritime authorities of Seychelles are being carried out before officially launching the new ferry in a public function.

 

MAIA LAUNCHES HELIPAD

One of the Seychelles foremost resorts, and there is no hiding, this correspondent’s favourite, has yesterday launched their own helipad which allows guest to ‘chopper in’ from the international airport, after they arrive by scheduled or charter flight or on their own jet, as reportedly many of the MAIA’s guests do.

The project was commissioned in the presence of Alain St. Ange, the CEO of the Seychelles Tourist Board, who flew in from Mahe International Airport on the Zil Air helicopter, warmly welcomed the new facility which now allows guests to do day trips to some of the other islands for picnics or beach barbeques, something the MAIA will be happy to arrange for them, complementing the sailing option with the Kir Royal which can also be chartered out of the MAIA Luxury Resort and Spa.

The resort’s Managing Director Frederich Vidal was at hand to welcome his ‘inaugural flight’ and proudly stated that with the opening of the helipad the resort had again anticipated the needs and wishes of their clientele, something the MAIA took pride in.

A press release received also confirmed that NO overflights would be permitted over the resort to protect the privacy of other guests and that both approach and departure path would lead around the peninsula on which the MAIA  is located. Well done indeed, next visit I get there a lot faster!

 

AIR SEYCHELLES RESTRUCTURING TO CONTINUE

Information has just reached from Victoria / Seychelles, that the ongoing restructuring of the national airline Air Seychelles will continue uninterrupted as President Michel yesterday extended the initial three months term of the Acting Executive Chairman, Ambassador Maurice Loustau-Lalanne by the same period of time.

The airline is presently recruiting a new Chief Executive Officer and has taken various steps to ensure continued financial  survival in a heavily competitive market, which now has 19 frequencies from the Gulf alone, rising to 27 by the end of 2011.

Air Seychelles operates a jet fleet of five B 767 aircraft, both the -200 and the -300 series besides which they operate inter island domestic services with a recently acquired DHC Twinotter -600, three more DHC ‘classic’ Twinotter aircraft and one Short 360-300, serving the entire archipelago from their base in Mahe.

‘HM’ earlier this year moved into their own head office premises at the international airport and has more recently also opened their new ‘Vallee de Mai’ Salon for First and Business class passengers, giving a sweeping view across the apron, runway and the Indian Ocean beyond and entertaining guests in a truly classy and hospitable atmosphere. Happy Landings and all the best to Ambassador Maurice in his challenging tasks ahead.

 

ZAMBIA FINALLY ALSO GETS SEYCHELLES TOURISM AMBASSADOR

The Seychelles Tourist Board has just announced the appointment of Mr. Jamil Din Butt as their first tourism ambassador in Zambia, aimed at ‘spreading the gospel’ about the unique beauty and unspoiled nature the Seychelles has to offer to visitors.

Africa has seen one of the fastest growth rates in visitors to the archipelago in recent years, mainly supported by the country’s ‘NO VISA POLICY’ which admits every single tourist to the country as long as they have a return ticket and booked flight, booked hotel accommodation and sufficient funds for upkeep while on the islands. For visitors from Africa a Yellow Fever Certificate is also required, but little else but good spirits and the intention to have a holiday of a life time.

Jamil, of course a born Seychellois, has built himself businesses in Zambia and regularly comes ‘home’, as a result of which he is well acquainted with the latest information about tourism developments across the archipelago and can answer literally each and every question fielded to him by travel agents or individual travelers from Zambia who wish to holiday in Creole Paradise.

Tourism Ambassadorships were first introduced during the launch of the revamped STB’s tourism marketing conference in January 2010 and have become the envy of many tourism marketing organizations, as Seychellois citizens now support and assist the country’s new ‘Brand Seychelles’ and help the STB team to actively sell the island as a preferred holiday destination.

However, not one tourist office has yet managed to copy the concept successfully nor has anyone been able to copycat the ‘Friends of Seychelles – Media’ initiative also born from the strategy session of the Seychelles Tourist Board, giving a continued ‘advantage Seychelles’ to the archipelago.

Seychelles – Another World indeed but for travelers from Africa it is worth to point out that there is also ‘Affordable Seychelles’ available, so GO VISIT.

 

South Sudan News

A MONTH TO GO AND COUNTING

Today the long awaited Independence Day for the new Republic of South Sudan is a month away as the countdown and preparations across the South Sudan continue with increased determination, considering events of recent days and weeks.

The alleged war criminals and perpetrators of genocide in Khartoum, showing their true faces again, have in total defiance of UN demands, the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 and the diplomatic pressure by East African Community member states embarked on a direct military offensive, raping, looting and burning in Abyei and now also doing the same in South Kordofan, where one of the ICC wanted alleged criminals has been installed as ‘governor’ following a hugely rigged election a few weeks ago. The Nuba mountains too are according to overnight feedback a target now of Northern troops and loyalist Janjaweed type militias who are allegedly doing the raping and burning on behalf of their Godfather in Khartoum’s presidential palace.

Refugees are again streaming further South into the ‘safe areas’ of Southern Sudan, as the SPLA led administration in Juba considers their options, not being too keen to let the hooligans and goons of the Khartoum regime dictate the agenda over the next month until Independence becomes finally a reality.

Said a senior and often quoted source in Juba to this correspondent: ‘Khartoum is in a last ditch effort to derail our Independence. They are trying to spoil our party by using military aggression and by committing more crimes against humanity and war crimes targeting civilian innocents. They know in a full scale conflict they cannot beat us. Now we are assured for military assistance from our friends, overseas and in the region. But still they are trying. We will not return to war, because that is what they want to provoke us.
We now have the high moral grounds, the world can see who the aggressors are and that we seek nothing but peace. I want to warn Khartoum to look at Libya, because what Gadaffi does there is the same what Bashir is doing to us now. We know that if worst comes to worst we can count on international support and if Khartoum is not very careful they might find raids coming to the regime there too.

In a month we are independent. We will immediately seek membership of East African Community for even better trade and commerce ties which benefit our people. Khartoum will block its own future with their war mongering to be taken as a partner of EAC and they might lose our trade and our goods. They take a lot of our produce right now but we can export those commodities just as easy after independence. Then we have our own banking access without our money coming from Khartoum, we have our won phone links without Khartoum interfering and listening, we have our own airline powers to allow flights to Juba without having to beg Khartoum and we will get a railway link very soon too to connect us with our neighbours. Roads and bridges are ready to go to Uganda, to Kenya, so Khartoum is damaging their own future and prosperity when they keep harassing us. Our people have spoken, 99 percent are for independence and the same is true for South Kordofan, Abyei and the Nuba mountains if the international community insists on a free and fair vote for our people there. We are tired to be treated like slaves, like third grade citizens in our own country just because we are African and they are Arab. We do not want Sharia law, never wanted it, because we do not believe in such dictatorship and still they tried to force it on us when we are Christians.

For now we are going ahead with preparing the big party celebration on 09th July and I know you will be here to celebrate with us because you have supported us for very long when very few took our side. Long live
SPLM and long live the new Republic of South Sudan.’

Strong sentiments expressed by a very senior source who spoke on condition of anonymity free from his heart and expressing what the sentiments in the South really are at present. Watch this space as the South Sudan now rushes towards independence and expect a live report from Juba when it happens.

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