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
First edition July 2011
East Africa News
TASTE FOR MORE ON EAST AFRICA?
I am often asked about where my readers can find more material, and more specific details of what is going on across Eastern Africa, and my answer, with few variations, is almost always the same:
Access on the web such publications as KenyaBuzz, a weekly guide outlining a rich variety of where to go, what to do, what to attend, were to travel to, where to eat out, what superb options for self catering holidays are available across the country, especially the coast and what sporting and cultural events take place over the following week or month. Visit them via www.kenyabuzz.com
For Uganda and Rwanda it is The Eye, available every two months in Uganda in print and on the web and every three months in Rwanda, again in print – for free – and on the web. Details here are available via www.theeye.co.ug and www.theeye.co.rw – often including main features articles by yours truly.
And then, yes there is more still to read and get all salivating over where to visit next … the web publication of Travel News Kenya via www.travelnewskenya.travel and the Africa Travel Magazine’s ‘Shamwari’ web editions featuring updates between the ‘must read’ print editions of Travel Zambia, Travel Namibia, Travel Zimbabwe and of course the main magazine Travel Africa. These superb magazines are available for subscription too as nothing beats sitting in a hammock, at least not for me, and leafing through these magazines and gobbling up news from Africa’s tourism and conservation scenes, appreciating the stories and pictures and even enjoying the commercials and adverts, so good and well designed are many of those.
Their main web portal can be found via www.travelafricamag.com from where links lead to the other editions. What’s left to say – COME VISIT, there is no time like the present.
COBATI LAUNCHES NUBIAN VILLAGE PROJECT IN BOMBO
Last month saw the launch by another community tourism initiative by COBATI, the Community Based Tourism Initiative founded by Maria Baryamujura. The Nubian villages, over 30 of them are located in the Bombo area outside Kampala en route the highway to the North of the country, better known for the location of the army headquarters than for the Nubian villages in fact, something Maria’s project aims to radically alter. Four of these villages are now directly linked to the project, which was financially supported by the MTN Foundation Uganda, benefitting over 80 group members who in turn support over 600 family members through their work with COBATI.
Maria’s intention was to link the community with the tourism fraternity by creating a model ‘Nubian Village’ where the unique crafts produced by the women in the community are displayed and offered to tourists for sale but also show visitors how village life unfolds day in day out, how food is being prepared and served and allow tourists to sample some of the dishes. Home stay experiences too are possible to let tourists get a hands on and close up experience of how life in rural Africa really is. Folklore displays and performances are part of the ‘organized’ showings for visitors who come for either a home stay or for a shorter visit, a feature reportedly much enjoyed by the ‘wagenis’. Story telling, henna painting and hair braiding too is on offer, and in particular female tourist visitors are regularly taking advantage of ‘getting their hair done’ or have their hands, feet and arms ‘painted’.
On sale are woven mats and baskets of various shapes and forms and colours for that matter, displayed at a ‘cultural centre’ and proceeds are used for the development of a local school and to give the women a regular cash flow to support their families.
All in all a splendid idea, well executed and beneficial for the locals, as it spreads tourist dollars into the grassroot levels of Ugandan society. Well Done Maria! For more information visit www.cobati.or.ug.
AIR UGANDA RESUMES MOMBASA – ZANZIBAR FLIGHTS
Only days after Fly 540 had hit the market with an all inclusive fare between Entebbe and Mombasa, return of course, of US Dollars 350 is Uganda’s passenger airline ‘Air Uganda’ also resuming flights to Mombasa again, after a break during the ‘low season’ which follows the Easter weekend and traditionally lasts until the end of June.
The flight, which will reach Mombasa from Entebbe nonstop, then proceeds on to Zanzibar before returning to Entebbe again. Fares between Entebbe and Mombasa have been set at 295 US Dollars PLUS taxes while Entebbe to Zanzibar will cost US Dollars 300 PLUS taxes and flights will take place twice a week. Check www.air-uganda.com for details on schedules, destinations and special promotions – bookings on the website are possible now. And a parting comment from this correspondent, exploring East Africa is now easier than ever before, especially when going by air with one of the many airlines now flying across our skies and connecting all the important places in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and of course Uganda so ‘Go Fly’.
SHILLING FALLS THROUGH 2.700 MARK, PROMPTS MAJOR CENTRAL BANK INTERVENTION
Pressure, presumably caused by widespread external and internal speculation, continued to drive the Uganda Shilling downwards, and causing it to fall substantially into the unprecedented 2.700 range against the US Dollar. This in turn prompted finally an intervention by the country’s central bank, the Bank of Uganda, which reportedly purchased excess Dollars from the market to the tune of nearly 100 million, bringing the halt to a standstill before driving the shilling back into the high 2.400 range.
Currency dealers however seem to count on a further slide again, as the Bank of Uganda also raised interbank interest rates by 1 full percent, struggling at once against inflation, still raging in the 15 percent range inspite of lower food prices, and the ongoing devaluation of the currency.
Tourists were also reported to have argued over the suddenly reduced rates of exchange, following the central bank intervention and appeared angry ‘feeling cheated’ as two put it on closer questioning, saying the day before they were getting 2.700 plus shillings and were told it might get better for them only to find the rate had dropped by over 200 shillings overnight.
Tanzania and Kenya too suffered recent slides in their currency values vis a vis the US Dollar and other hard currencies while Rwanda in stark contrast appears to be holding on better, inflation wise and devaluation wise compared to her East African partners. Watch this space.
FORMER TOURISM MINISTER IN CROSS HAIRS FOR INCOMPETENCE
The immediate former Minister for Tourism Trade and Industry, Hon. Kahinda Otafire, thankfully removed from this crucial ministry to wreak havoc elsewhere, has come under intense scrutiny for alleged incompetence over a range of decisions he made in regards to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, as is now being widely reported in the local media. Known for his remark of being a ‘Minister for Crocodiles’ and other comical episodes, it appears that the UWA saga had rattled the entire cabinet at the time when an election campaign was underway, giving way to an internal investigation to be carried out on direction of the Prime Minister, who had tasked one of his deputies to provide a fast tracked report before Christmas last year to the President.
The damning document, parts of which now leaked into the public domain, focused on the appointment of the current Acting Executive Director, who was uprooted from his position as Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe by the minister’s ‘appointment’, which it declared ‘irregular’ before stopping short of hanging out Otafire to dry when adding that his (Otafire’s) request to have the President appoint a ‘caretaker board’ would have ‘complicated issues’, diplomatically leaving out what might well have been added verbally, that this too would have been another illegal move.
A resolution by the investigative committee that a new board be proposed within a fortnight by Otafire seemingly fell on deaf ears though as no such proposals were reportedly made, leaving the Uganda Wildlife Authority in a lurch and hamstrung, adding further injury to the damage the minister had done earlier already.
While Otafire is now Minister of Justice, a position where he might well learn a lesson or two about legalities, the new Minister for Tourism, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, is now tasked to sort out his predecessors messes and diplomatically refrained from direct comments on the circumstances of exactly who is legally who in UWA at this moment in time. Sources from within the Ministry of Tourism, itself now seeking a new home after becoming a separate entity from Trade and Industry again, however confirmed that the UWA affair keeps occupying both the Minister and the Minister of State, both of whom were working hand in hand with the office of the Attorney General in order to bring about legal responses and action as provided for under the Wildlife Act, which governs the running of UWA and which was contemptuously ignored by Otafire.
Staff at UWA in the meantime are said to be worried about their own future, considering the Otafire instituted Commission of Enquiry recently caused four more staff to be suspended, and work, while superficially continuing, is according to internal and external sources far from running smooth, with decisions instead of being taken as was the case in the past being ‘referred upstairs’ if for nothing else but to protect individuals from being ‘railroaded’.
How the once mighty and shining organization has fallen at a time when oil companies are about to embark from test drilling to move to production, and multiple sites being located inside the Murchisons Falls National Park or along the Kaiso Tonya Game Reserve along the shores of Lake Albert, when first and foremost a strong UWA would be needed to ensure environmental compliance and full compliance with mitigation measures, already agreed and still to be agreed. Watch this space.
NEW UGANDA – TANZANIA RAIL CORRIDOR TO AVOID SERENGETI
Uganda and Tanzania yesterday signed an agreement to cooperate in the construction of a new standard gauge railway line, with an estimated overall cost of nearly 2 billion US Dollars, connecting the lake side harbour of Port Bell / Kampala via rail-ferry to Mwanza and then to the Tanzanian coast.
The ministers overseeing the transport portfolio in both countries, Hon. Omar Nundu from Tanzania and his Ugandan counterpart Hon. Abraham Byandala signed the pact in Dodoma, Tanzania’s political capital and when taken to task over the route reassured conservationists and environmentalists that the rail track would not cross the Serengeti as has been rumoured but follow a route around the Southern park boundaries, as will incidentally the new highway connecting the same area with the rest of the country. Here a decisive argument was finally won when common sense prevailed to keep the highway route out of the migration routes of the Serengeti and the commitment to have the new proposed railway follow a similar route is commendable and will be welcomed by the tourism fraternity too.
The Tanzanian railway development is also due to be linked to a greater use of a revamped rail network, extending and modernizing the links from Tanzania to initially Rwanda before then also reaching Burundi and the Eastern Congo.
This particular railway development is in line with Uganda’s declared intent to reducing its almost singular reliance for imports and exports of the Kampala to Mombasa railway and road network via Kenya to create both redundancy as well as bring competitive pricing for transportation of exports and imports into play. The new rail is a parallel development to plans by Kenya Railways and its Ugandan counterpart to modernize the current narrow gauge line and create a standard gauge connection between Mombasa’s port and Uganda, where freight trains could cover the distance within a day instead of taking up to a week and longer right now, especially considering the regular problems with derailments due to the poor track conditions at sections of the railway. Watch this space.
FLY 540 HITS MARKET WITH USD 350 FARE TO MOMBASA
The adverts this week by Fly 540 Uganda, offering an all inclusive fare of US Dollars 350 between Entebbe and Mombasa, is set to ignite another round of hotly contested competition on the route to the Kenyan coast, especially in view of Air Uganda having being off the route for the low season though resuming flights shortly, while the rival low cost carrier is cashing in on their absence to firm up their market support.
Fly 540 presently requires a change of aircraft and clearing customs and immigration in Nairobi, at times seen as more than a little cumbersome, while Air Uganda, when they resume flights to Mombasa, will offer a nonstop flight to the coast, which then in fact extends on to Zanzibar again, connecting the two main Indian Ocean holiday destinations of Eastern Africa with Uganda.
Immigration and customs procedures are in fact one of the key roadblocks to greater travel by the extensive expatriate community in Eastern Africa, as notwithstanding their registration status in their country of residence they are still treated as foreign nonresident visitors when crossing the borders to another East African Community member state, requiring Visa payments and customs inspection, as if they were trying to smuggle dirty socks across the borders. For many the day cannot come soon enough when East Africa returns to the procedures of the ‘old’ EAC when the national borders had literally been eliminated and travel across the entire ‘scheduled territories’ was free of controls such as inflicted today on travelers. Airline chiefs in fact two weeks ago blasted politicians and governments for not implementing a common East African Visa for tourists from overseas and also critizised the lack of opening up internal borders to stimulate more airtravel across the region. It is high time therefore for East Africa’s politicians to act and to live up to their endless declarations of ‘unity’ when they talk of East African integration.
Meanwhile though it is also time to fly with 540, as it is not likely to get any cheaper from here onwards. Visit www.fly540.com for details on fares, schedules and destinations in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
BIBLICAL RAINSTORM DROWNS CITY
A downpour lasting not more than an hour yesterday, admittedly as heavy as not seen in a long time, managed to drown sections of Kampala once again, bringing traffic to a standstill at the crucial bottleneck entry to the Central Business District at ‘Clock Tower’ and in many other parts of the city. This affected traffic to and from the airport too, delaying passengers trying to reach the airport for their flights while others had to wait for the floods to clear before they could reach their hotels or business appointments.
Shops were flooded in low lying areas like Bwaise as were residential houses while blocked drainages, full of compacted mud and muck, did not allow water to drain off as is should have been.
Two issues sprang to mind promptly, one the task of the new city administration to keep drainages cleared and free of blockages at all times AND to improve rubbish collection and cleaning of the city on a daily basis to combat the city’s waste being swept into drainages and eventually end up in Lake Victoria, polluting it ever more.
The other task for government is to restore wetlands and evict those who encroached on them. NEMA, now under a new Executive Director, should pull out the demarcation maps of wetlands and swamps in and around Kampala and begin a deliberate effort to ‘clean them up’. These important drainage areas between Kampala’s many hills have a crucial function, to soak up rain, absorb downpours like seen yesterday and eventually release ‘filtered’ water into the lake as it was in the old days. Now however, wetlands are few and far between and those which still exist are being encroached under the cover of darkness every night, with lorry load after lorry load of murram being deposited to create landfills at one site while across the city floods increase every time the heavens open.
Environmental degradation, under the pretext of ‘progress and development’ is like cutting one’s own legs off and creating a miserable living environment for the next generations of Kampaleans, and ironically, the big Range Rovers and other luxury cars of those responsible are equally stuck in the floods and resulting traffic jams as the little Toyota’s of the ‘small people’. A recent article here on the situation at the Lutembe Bay, a Ramsar Site under as much assault as the city’s wetlands and swamps, outlined the dangers of just ‘letting go’ and our environmental watchdogs abdicating their duties. Yesterday, in the aftermath of the massive rainstorm which lashed the city, the fallout was there for all to see, so this correspondent begs to ask the question which was on many Kampalean’s mind when they were faced to wade in knee deep floods to cross roads – when finally is action being taken? Does it take the President’s convoy to be stuck again in the such floods, as was the case two years ago along Entebbe road, to get those responsible kicked into shape and prodded into action? Watch this space.
FINANCE MINISTER PLEDGES HELP TO TOURISM – PUT THE MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS
The opening of a tourism exhibition yesterday, organized by the Kingdom of Buganda, brought the Minister of Finance from the Uganda government into play, when she visited the fair and officially recognized the role tourism can play in the development of the country, and of the kingdom in terms of investments, job creation and earnings for the country of foreign exchange, now needed more than ever to combat the slide in the value of our currency. Hon. Maria Kiwanuka then went on to say that the tourism sector was at the core of the country’s new 5 year strategy of creating wealth for all before asking why Uganda had failed to tap into the tourism resources like other countries, demanding that ‘Uganda must be marketed’.
Indeed Madam Finance Minister, Uganda must be marketed but marketing must be facilitated. It is appreciated that your arrival into office on Budget Day did not leave you the opportunity to stamp your mark on the document you presented to the nation, but the time to change this is NOW, setting the course for a supplementary budget allocation to the tourism ministry and the Uganda Tourist Board and to ensure that in the 2012/13 budget framework enough funds are set aside for tourism marketing to match the expenditure or our immediate neighbours Rwanda and Kenya. Both countries are reaping from their investments in tourism marketing while the meager handouts from government to the tourism sector here are a constant constraint and explain at least in part why we have not fully exploited our potential for the sector.
And there is more, demand in cabinet that the tourism policy, now in place for almost 7 years, is finally implemented and the funding mechanisms prescribed in it, i.e. the tourism levy, is finally implemented and channeled directly to the sector, DIRECTLY and not via the general fund from which a fraction at best would be returned to the industry. And when that is done, consult with your colleague Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu in the Tourism Ministry how to revamp and revitalize our tourist board to inject the brightest marketing minds found in Uganda into the organization to then go out and tell the world all about Uganda, The Pearl of Africa. Let deeds follow your words Madam Minister as all we got so far from our government, over many years, was lip service, paying tribute to an industry which could be the country’s locomotive of growth when we need it most, and yet an industry from which government habitually takes and really never gives back to. It is time to act Madam Minister.
KENYA AIRWAYS OPENS NEW LOUNGE AT JKIA
The Pride of Africa has just announced the opening of a brand new lounge for SkyTeam Platinum and Gold Card Holders, offering their own and partner airlines’ valued frequent fliers the best available lounge standards found anywhere at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
The new facility, able to accommodate up to 90 passengers in transit or awaiting their departure flights, will be able to enjoy hot showers, novel for JKIA, but also other amenities like super fast wireless internet access, hot meals, snacks and drinks besides superior range of reading materials and access to leading news and business channels on DStv.
The new lounge is now available to entitled passengers besides the ‘regular’ Simba Lounge for business class passengers which offers in particular passengers on regional and continental services an oasis of tranquility in the otherwise hustle and bustle of East Africa’s busiest airport. Said Kenya Airways’ CEO Dr. Titus Naikuni during the opening function: ‘The opening of this new and outstanding facility continues to set us apart from other continental airlines and continues to entrench our position as an international airline. It also elevates the profile of our hub, the JKIA, in line with our new SkyTeam status’.
LOW SEASON ENDS AS SAFARILINK AND AIR KENYA COOPERATE AGAIN
The more recent ‘battle for Ukunda’, when Air Kenya literally ambushed SafariLink with the introduction of a second flight, ditching the erstwhile cooperation of the two domestic ‘safari airlines’ on the route, is apparently a thing of the past now. Right in time for the end of the low tourist season have the two airlines, both of which operate out of Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, announced that they will again share the route equally with SafariLink operating the afternoon service while Air Kenya takes the morning departures.
Both airlines have pointed out that arrivals and departures link in with other of their scheduled flights which can connect their passengers, via a stop at Wilson Airport, from either the coast to the parks or from the parks straight to the fabulous Indian Ocean beaches South of Mombasa.
SafariLink has also re-started, after the low season break, their flight extension from the Masai Mara to an airfield right at the Tanzanian border in Migori, linked to their late morning flight from Nairobi to Kenya’s most popular game reserve. Travelers using this service can cross into Tanzania at the Isebenia border post, take a short transfer to the nearby Tarime airstrip and can from there fly to their Serengeti safari camps or beyond. However, while applauding this ‘shortening’ of getting into Tanzania by several hours and with much less hassle than flying via Wilson into Kilimanjaro, the fact remains that this is a ludicrous situation at best. While our politicians are falling all over each other talking air about the integration of the East African Community – only last week were pompous celebrations held to celebrate the 10th anniversary, travelers continue to be inconvenienced, at the expense of spreading revenue into the entire region for that matter, by the need for added Visas and inexplicable non tariff barrier restrictions on border crossing points and air access – for airlines from within the EAC no less – under the pretext of vague and obscure reasons none of which are true.
As the Kampala traders recently said during a meeting about the benefits of the EAC members – DUMP YOUR NON TARIFF BARRIERS AND DUMP YOUR PROTECTION! High time someone listens and makes the policy and regulatory frameworks conducive to bringing hundreds of thousands of more tourists into East Africa.
KENYA TOURIST BOARD TO USE HIGH PROFILE ATHLETES AS AMBASSADORS
It was learned yesterday evening from regular sources in Nairobi that the Kenya Tourist Board was finalizing plans to turn their globally known and acclaimed distance runners into tourism ambassadors, when they travel abroad to participate in competitions.
With the full athletics season now going underway in Europe and America many of these high profile individuals celebrate their victories by carrying the Kenyan flag high, and the Kenya Tourist Board is finally turning this into a competitive advantage when marketing the country abroad. Brand marketing, especially when a major rebranding is taking place as has for instance happened over the past year and a half in the Seychelles, can have a huge positive impact on promoting a tourism destination in a hotly contested market as East Africa is and when supported by, as is the case here, globally known World and Olympic champions the impact on the often hundreds of millions of viewers of such events on television is bound to develop an interest to come and visit the home countries of such sports women and men.
The Kenya Tourist Board is said to be in discussions with the Kenyan athletics federation and also the Kenyan Olympic Committee to bring the teams and individual athletes on their side to help promote their country abroad, and it is expected that in particular ahead and during the London 2012 Olympic Games, the next World Athletics Championship and key international events in Europe this summer the Kenyan flag will fly not only high but also for the purpose of promoting ‘Brand Kenya’ abroad. Well done indeed and kudos to the Kenya Tourist Board for this initiative.
KENYA AIRWAYS GOES DOUBLE DAILY TO JUBA NOW
Effective immediately, more likely to have kept the competition in the dark until it actually happened, has Kenya Airways, the Pride of Africa, introduced twice daily departures between Nairobi and the soon to be capital of the new independent Republic of South Sudan.
In time for the Independence Day celebrations on the 09th of July will KQ now add a departure at 07.45 hrs in the morning, timely for all network connections arriving from the wider East African region, while keeping the mid day departure.
Until the 06th September there will be no second flight on Tuesdays at which time the frequency will truly be double daily.
Competitors were taken reportedly unaware of this ‘coup’ by Kenya Airways, and by using their latest Embraer 170 and 190 aircraft, depending on passenger loads, travelers will enjoy a state of the art modern jet aircraft with full inflight service and the usual two cabin lay out offering business and economy class.
LAKE ELEMENTAITA SERENA NOW OPEN
Serena’s latest addition to the Kenyan safari circuit, the Lake Elementaita Serena Camp, is now open and true to the pedigree, being ‘born’ into the Serena collection, stands out by a head and then some more amongst its competitors along the Great African Rift Valley floor.
Lake Elementaita, part of the Soysambu Conservancy which spreads over more than 48.000 acres on what was in the past commonly referred to as the ‘Delamare Estate’. Already a recognized Ramsar Site, the lake was only last week elevated some more when UNESCO named it together with the other alkaline lakes of Nakuru and Bogoria as a World Heritage Site – a tremendous ‘shot in the arm’ for the marketing of both the new Serena luxury camp as well as for Soysambu as a conservancy operation.
24 extra large, and I mean EXTRA large tents await visitors, who only need to drive some 130+ kilometres from Nairobi on a very good road into the Rift Valley, and for those who need even greater luxury the ‘Flamingo Suite’ is available, inclusive of a Jacuzzi. Wireless internet connection is available in all tents for the addicts who cannot let go of their tools of the trade – yours truly included – but Soysambu and the new Serena should truly be enough to pry one’s hands away from the keyboard and go out birdwatching or see the Rothschild giraffes close up and personal.
A big advantage for visitors is of course the conservancy set up, which permits walks and night game drives, not ordinarily available in ‘proper’ national parks, where however often also the crowds are bigger too, making the Serena experience on Soysambu a particularly rewarding experience, privacy, closeness to nature and unrivalled luxury, service and food.
Bookings are now accepted and special deals are reportedly available for the ‘early birds’ wanting to take a few days off, especially as the ‘cold season’ in Nairobi is now looming while days and nights on the shores of Lake Elementaita are considerably warmer, and not just because of the roaring campfire where sundowners and, after a four course dinner, digestives can be taken. My advice – GO VISIT.
WE WANT A TOURISM DEVELOPMENT MASTER PLAN
Stakeholders in the tourism industry yesterday met in Nairobi to discuss a number of pressing issues but one highlighted to this correspondent was the absence of a tourism master plan, which according to regular sources from the Kenyan capital had gone ‘awol’.
While it was ascertained overnight that such a master plan did exist some time back, in fact comprising several volumes, no update or revision seems to have been worked on for the past 10 years or so. This has caused sections of the stakeholder community concerns, as inspite of recent record arrivals and revenues for the year 2010, and a present year increase of over 15 percent already, the industry could, according to these sources, make greater and more focused and determined progress if the goals and objectives of the sector, as well as the ways and means towards attaining those goals, would be clearly outlined.
The absence of such a ‘master plan’ however seems not to have put off ongoing and future investments in the hospitality sector, where in Nairobi alone over the next two years some eight new hotels are due to come ‘on line’, including some major global brand names until now conspicuously absent from Kenya. Watch this space.
KWS TARGETS ILLEGAL FISHING ALONG COAST MARINE PARKS
Welcome news was received overnight from a source in Malindi that the rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Services’ marine division had managed to nab some notorious fish and turtle poachers a few days ago, after laying an ambush for them. Four culprits were arrested and will be produced in court today to be charged with a number of offenses while their illegal gear, including boat and spear guns were confiscated by KWS. The source mentioned that spear guns were in the past also used as weapons to avoid arrest and that the catch was a triumph of bravery and resolve by the KWS staff involved. Also recovered was a rare green sea turtle, an endangered species, which the poachers had hoped to sell for the meat. On the positive side it was also confirmed that a local NGO formed in the Malindi area, Watamu Turtle Watch, was set to create a private turtle sanctuary where the rare species often found in the crystal clear waters off the coast could find a safe habitat suitable also for reproduction. KWS is reportedly in regular contact with the NGO and the recently launched sea turtle management plan will be used to run the turtle sanctuary near Marereni. Watch this space for future updates as and when available.
OL PEJETA WINS ANOTHER GLOBAL AWARD
Information received during the week is all good news about Ol Pejeta, the combined conservancy and cattle ranch on the Laikipia plains outside Nanyuki. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries handed Ol Pejeta a ‘Standards of Excellence Award’ during a recent meeting in the UK, recognizing the Sweetwaters’ Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located on the sprawling estate, for its achievements in providing a secure habitat for the chimps which of course were relocated there as none have their original ‘home’ in Kenya.
Veterinary health care in particular caught the attention of the judges, and Ol Pejeta’s senior supervisor for the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary Dr. George Paul in fact had come to Uganda a while ago to study the health care efforts by vets on Ngamba Island, Uganda’s own chimpanzee refuge and sanctuary in Lake Victora not too far off the Entebbe shores.
Ol Pejeta has established itself as a major force in Kenyan conservation circles, alongside such other illustrious names as Lewa Downs, and the December 2009 relocation of a small breeding stock of the rare Northern White Rhinos to Ol Pejeta catapulted the conservancy into the global spotlight. Over 100 Eastern Black, Southern White and the four Northern White Rhinos share the 80.000+ acres estate with elephant, buffalo, zebras – including the very rare hybrid cross breeds only found in this part of the country – giraffes, plenty of different species of plains game but also predators like cheetah, leopard and lions, coexisting with the cattle herds as a result of extraordinary measures taken by Ol Pejeta to protect livestock overnight and keep them mostly in areas of the estate where they do not ordinarily ‘clash’ with the big cats.
Ol Pejeta offers ‘regular’ accommodation vis a vis Serena’s Sweetwaters Safari Camp, the former ‘Kashoggi House’ but also at a more remote part of the conservancy the Porini Rhino Camp and two other very small private tented camps. Self catering accommodation is available on the estate with prior bookings and those can be done via www.olpejetaconservancy.org.
Entrance fees are now applicable for visitors but as Ol Pejeta offers all of the Big Five in a very concentrated area and has a well maintained track network, besides which walking safaris are possible from for instance the Porini Rhino Camp, it has become an absolutely ‘must visit’ location for visitors to the wider Mt. Kenya and Aberdare Mountains area. ‘Magical Kenya’ – manifested here at its best.
FORT JESUS MAKES IT INTO THE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE BOOKS
The latest round of declaring sites of significant importance to the world’s cultural heritage by UNESCO has seen ‘Fort Jesus’ included in the list of now protected and globally acclaimed monuments, landscapes and locations. The fort, originally built over 400 years ago by the Portuguese who treasured the safe anchorage they found in Mombasa, besides the opportunities to restock water and supplies for their onward journeys across the Indian Ocean. Fort Jesus is for long already part of the Kenya Museums and while already in great demand by tourists and on the itinerary of every city tours of Mombasa, the latest accolade and honour bestowed on it by UNESCO will undoubtedly lure even more visitors to the site, which is by the way often used for evening functions with special light displays on its massive walls overlooking the inner courtyards.
Visitor number in recent years were growing towards the 200.000 entries mark by both foreign tourists and locals including school and study groups but this latest elevation of the status of Fort Jesus is bound to drive the numbers across this threshold.
At the same announcement were the Kenyan lakes in the Great Rift Valley also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, extending from Lake Naivasha over Lake Elementaita, Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria to Lake Baringo. This is both a recognition of Kenya’s conservation efforts so far but also a further challenge to maintain biodiversity and expand conservation measures along the rift valley floor around the lakes, to ensure that their water sources, especially critical for Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru, remain intact and water is not ‘harvested’ for irrigation to the point where the lakes are starved of inflow.
And for Lake Nakuru, the inclusion in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, the plans by the National Highway Authority to carve out a piece of Lake Nakuru National Park’s land for a ‘bypass highway’ around the municipality of Nakuru too needs to be binned for good now, lest public opinion turns against the highway promoters with equal ferocity as was the case when Tanzania planned their controversial highway across the Serengeti. But for now, it is congratulations to Kenya for this remarkable achievement which will go a long way in supporting the country’s drive for more tourists visiting all corners of the republic.
A BIRTHDAY GIFT FOR SHABA FANS, COURTESY OF STEFANO CHELI
As Cheli & Peacock prepare to celebrate their 25th plus 1 anniversary this year in October, the company’s founder Stefano Cheli, who will celebrate his own birthday almost on the say day as he started his company nearly 26 years ago published a very special wish for that big day: Help him to re-open the Chaffa Gate at Shaba National Park and restore the ranger post and gate to functionality after it was completely vandalized by invading cattle herders in 2009.
With a few months to go, the company has appealed to their global clientele, the conservation fraternity and the public at large to assist them to achieve that goal, which would assure wider and easier access to the park by safari tourists.
Always quick to recognize a good thing worth supporting, the mail by Charlotte of Cheli & Peacock’s marketing department caught my eye and I am reproducing some of the details she provided me with for onward publication:
From long before Joy’s Camp was built by Cheli & Peacock in 2006, this forgotten, remote and beautiful part of the Samburu eco-system would occasionally be invaded by cattle, goats and camels, especially during drought years. Being the 3rd year of failed rains, 2009 proved no exception, and what little was left (in terms of Shaba Reserve infrastructure) at the Chaffa Gate was completely abandoned, vandalized and left to rot.
During that year of extreme competition for parched grazing, the Northern Rangelands Trust, at the request of local leaders, started to work with communities surrounding the Shaba Reserve, and the Nakuprat-Gotu Wildlife Conservation Trust was formed. Continuous dialogue, grazing committees, and donor partnership have now transformed the area, and Joy’s Camp are supporting Nakuprat-Gotu in their efforts to rebuild their community, schools, security and stability.
Stefano’s vision is to start strengthening Shaba’s management capacity by reinstating Chaffa Gate itself, as well as reconstructing the two main accommodation blocks, building stone walls around a metal security hut, and installing showers, toilets and a kitchen so that rangers can be fully self-sufficient on site. A radio mast and solar panel unit for charging mobile phones will also be essential for effective communications in running the reserve.
How to Donate
Together with NRT, Stefano aims to raise $30,000 to launch the holistic wildlife conservation initiative with the reconstruction of Chaffa Gate, which is likely to have a significant impact on Shaba’s wildlife and future. If you would like to buy him a birthday present this year, please donate to the Cheli & Peacock Community Trust so that we can realise his vision. In order to donate, please contact Chania Frost who will be able to send you the C&P Community Trust bank details.
50TH INDEPENDENCE COUNTDOWN TO START THIS WEEK
It was learned overnight from a regular source in Dar es Salaam that President Jakaya Kikwete will on Wednesday night this week launch the countdown towards the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence day, due to be celebrated on the 09th of December this year.
The ‘official countdown’ will start with commemorations of the formation of the Tanganyika African National Union on the 07th of July 1954, beginning a 7 ½ year political struggle against British rule, eventually resulting in London granting independence ahead of Uganda and Kenya.
Chama Cha Mapinduzi, the present ruling party, then came into being through a merger with Zanzibar’s Afro Shirazi Party much later, when founder President Julius ‘Mwalimu’ Nyerere was in power in Tanzania.
The Tanzania Tourist Board is in a related development also due to release details of their planned ‘special events’ for the half century ‘Golden Jubilee’ celebrations, where ‘specials’ are to be offered to promote the country abroad. Several airlines have already indicated, first amongst them South African Airways, that they will ‘chip in’ with specially discounted and reduced fares to allow as many visitors to come to Tanzania in the run up of the anniversary as possible. Watch this space.
TANZANIA GOVERNMENT SETS STAGE FOR NEXT BATTLE WITH CONSERVATIONISTS
News just broke that no sooner had the Tanzanian government been compelled by intense global criticism and threats of decampaigning its tourism industry to write to UNESCO and give a written binding undertaking that NO highway would be constructed across the critically important migration paths of the great herds of wildebeest and zebras, that they were set to start yet another battle over the equally UNESCO World Heritage Site protected Selous Game Reserve.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Hon. Ezekiel Maige was quoted today in media dispatches after an interview with the BCC’s Swahili Service in Dar es Salaam that uranium mining in the reserve, not by law as strongly protected as full scale national park, would most definitely go ahead, in the process displaying a lack of understanding of crucial issues which speaks legends.
The Minister claimed that mining would only involve about 1 percent of the parks overall area of nearly 55.000 square kilometres, requiring only minor ‘boundary corrections’ and that the income accrued from mining would help government to pay for the upkeep of the park.
Giving a figure of an estimated value of 200 million US Dollars the selected mining company would make per year from the mine, he then went on to state the Tanzanian government would earn 5 million US Dollars from the project each year, a measly 2 ½ percent ONLY of the estimated proceeds going into the ‘investors’ pockets. Seemingly unaware of this grossly disproportionate figure he went on to claim that uranium mining would not increase radiation levels any more than already registered while the metal was still underground, an astonishing statement for a supposedly well informed and well briefed government minister.
To make matters worse, the Minister then reportedly insisted that as a sovereign nation Tanzania would not require nor seek permission from UNESCO over the mining plans inside the World Heritage Site – a diplomatic affront of the highest order and only explained by having had to eat humble pie a few days earlier when after full mouthed statements to the contrary he had to sign a letter to UNESCO declaring the Serengeti highway project officially dead and buried.
The minister would also not be fully drawn into questions over the fate of the Udendeule Forest adjoining the Selous, giving his hidden message between the lines of answering that this too is a matter for the Tanzanian government to decide and no one else, in other words letting them do as they please with no concern for the environmental impact of interfering with such a crucial ecosystem. Here the full impact of the recent presidential directive of withdrawing the application to UNESCO for recognition of the Eastern Arc Mountains becomes clearer as it portrays the Tanzanian governments intent and purpose to recklessly exploit such resources without having to justify their actions to international bodies like UNESCO as was the case over the Serengeti highway plans which were ultimately brought to a halt by a global network of environmentalists, conservationists, activist and finally the crucially important tourism industry. The latter had threatened to decampaign Tanzania as a tourist destination, in the process also galvanizing local opposition from tourism stakeholders and associations, leaving government in the end no choice but to make a U-turn.
One of the Selous’ main attractions, the Stiegler’s Gorge, is also under threat as plans from the early 70’s to build a hydro electric power plant and dam have recently been dusted off and revived, which has already drawn criticism about the reckless approach by the current Tanzanian government in dealing with their natural resources supporting tourism, and this latest approach vis a vis uranium mining only deepens the suspicion that not all is well within the government’s top echelons and their departure of the commitments made by founder president Julius Mwalimu Nyerere in regard of environmental policies.
A recent article ‘The Corridor of Destruction’ had outlined a number of critical issues, including the plans for a soda ash plant at the breeding grounds of the lesser flamingos of East Africa near Lake Natron, all the way down to the coast where the only 3 year old marine national park near Mwambani is due to be turned into a new deep sea harbour only miles away from an existing facility in Tanga.
UNESCO in the meantime will be assessing this latest assault on one of their globally acclaimed sites and in all likelihood send a team of assessors and inspectors to the reserve to establish what impact a full scale uranium mining operation will likely have on the Selous, in particular the required roads to the mine, the housing and production areas and the site where gravel and rock from the excavation will be stored above ground – especially in regard of radiation exposure to humans, animals and the water sources originating or crossing the part of the park intended to be set aside for the new mining venture.
What is clear though once again it that Tanzania has learned little if anything from the controversy caused over the Serengeti highway plans and is once again pursuing a confrontational course with conservationists and the green lobby, which they may still rue in time to come should an equally determined opposition be formed against the violation and assault on the Selous as was the case with the Serengeti. Watch this space.
CHEETAHS RETURN TO LAKE MANYARA NATIONAL PARK
After an absence of several years from the park, with not one sighting recorded, was only recently a female cheetah with two almost grown cubs spotted inside the national park again. Last year the government of Tanzania almost doubled the size of this park, extending it around the entire shores of Lake Manyara and hence providing greater protection for animals inside the protected area, a move which seems to have paid off with the ‘return of the cheetah’.
The sighting was reported by a wildlife guide employed by &Beyond’s Lake Manyara Tree Lodge from where a source in Arusha had picked the news with the request that the ‘origin’ of the sighting be duly credited to Mr. Hassan Abdallah of &Beyond. Well spotted and do keep us posted on any future sightings, of these three and any others making their way back into the park.
SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS TO SUPPORT TANZANIA’S ‘GOLDEN JUBILEE’
South African Airways, a member of the world’s leading airline grouping ‘Star Alliance’, has announced the introduction of very special fares between Tanzania and the United States, for travel in both directions over the period between September and December, when East Africa’s largest country will celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain. The Tanzanian Tourist Board, alongside other government departments, is working on a range of special programmes and events to offer visitors to Tanzania added value during their holidays, and details of the special celebrations are expected to be released soon.
SAA, which offers direct connections to New York via Johannesburg hopes to bring a greater share of visitors from the US into Tanzania, not just for the ‘Golden Jubilee’ but even for the time afterwards, as it promotes its direct flight links from an African gateway and with an African airline to the US, otherwise only possible when flying with Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa or with Egypt Air via Cairo.
The recent turnabout over the controversial Serengeti highway plans, long considered a potential threat to the celebrations over fears of being de-campaigned by environmental and conservation groups – the Tanzanian government through the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism has written to UNESCO and assured them the plans would not go ahead – will also add fresh live to the plans to put on an extraordinary show for ‘Independence Day 50’ when Tanzania, first to be let go by Britain at the time in East Africa in 1961, will take stock of half a century of self governance. Watch this space.
RWANDA’S RELENTLESS CLIMB INTO THE TOP 10 AFRICAN INVESTMENT DESTINATIONS
The latest information available from sources close to the Rwanda Development Board indicates that the ‘Africa Business Panel’ has ranked Rwanda now at the number 7 most preferred investment destination in Africa, after such illustrious names like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Angola and Tanzania. Rwanda has in recent years invested heavily to become Eastern Africa’s ICT hub and added infrastructure in roads while pursuing a direct rail link with the Indian Ocean port city of Dar es Salaam, as an extension railway with standard gauge between the inland dry port of Isaka and Kigali.
A new international airport is also in planning as has the national airline RwandAir been catapulted to prominence in the region with wise investments in right sized aircrafts and a strategic expansion of their network and flight frequencies to the most important trading partners in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. The creation of a ‘One Stop Investment Centre’ under the auspices of the Rwanda Development Board, under which incidentally also ‘Tourism and Conservation’ falls since the former ORTPN was merged into one comprehensive national development body, has also helped in putting Rwanda on the map as will undoubtedly plans to merge all tertiary educational institutions under one single University of Rwanda, of which they will become constituent colleges, driving manpower development and skills transfer to a new level unprecedented in the entire region.
Congratulations for this achievement to my Rwandan friends, who only recently were crowned ‘most in demand tourism destination’ in East Africa, Well done indeed!
RWANDAIR ADDS MORE FREQUENCIES TO NAIROBI AND JOHANNESBURG
RwandAir’s Commercial Director Alice Katiti has confirmed that effective July 01st the national airline of Rwanda will add a third daily flight between Kigali and Nairobi, operating at either 11 a.m. or 20.45 hrs p.m., depending on traffic days. The daily 07.00 a.m. and 16.00 hrs p.m. departures remain unchanged but travelers will now have an added option to either fly late morning or in the evening.
Johannesburg too will get a fourth weekly flight effective beginning of July using the B737-500 while the airline’s domestic destination Gisenyi will move to 6 flights a week, on that route using a Dash-8 aircraft.
She also confirmed that effective August, when the airline is expected to receive their first of two brand new B737-800 aircraft, a fifth weekly flight between Kigali and Dar es Salaam via Arusha / Kilimanjaro International will be added and that due to demand the equipment was ‘upgraded’ from the previously used CRJ 200 to the B 737.
The two NG B737-800’s will be deployed on the routes between Kigali to Johannesburg and Dubai but are also expected to make appearance in the West African destinations Brazzaville and Libreville. Watch this space for the most up to date information from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean aviation scenes.
KWITA IZINA 2011 – THE DAY OF NAMING GORILLAS
When I told some of my acquaintances in Kampala recently that I was once again going back to Rwanda to attend Kwita Izina 2011, their reaction was almost predictable as they promptly shot back at me: Kwit WHAT EXACTLY?
Having had that experience before I patiently set out to explain that Kwita Izina, pronounced KWITIZINA, was Rwanda’s annual naming of newly born mountain gorillas and a weeklong festival celebrating conservation and honouring the local communities living near the Volcanoes National Park in Musanze, formerly known as Ruhengeri. ‘Ahh, ok, now we understand, KWITIZINA’ was the reaction to that effort, to which I nodded and also said ‘Yes, KWITIZINA’ …
Inaugurated in 2005, when the naming ceremony was held for the very first time – although gorillas had been named before by their trackers, rangers and the wardens in the park, or else the researchers often living with them for prolonged periods – the ‘formal naming’ was kicked off by none other than President Paul Kagame and his wife Jeanette, who were the first ‘Namers’ in 2005 to ‘baptize’ a twin pair of baby gorillas ‘Byishimo, meaning Happiness and Impano, meaning Gift’. The two babies, born to their mother Nyabyitondere were of the Susa Group.
Since then a further 122 young gorillas have been named by a succession of Hollywood celebrities, world renowned conservationists and gorilla researchers, business people and most notably local Rwandans from the neighbourhood of the park, demonstrating the ‘ownership’ by locals of ‘their gorillas’, from which they now earn substantial benefits. Porters going with each group of tourists up the mountains carry water and back packs and earn between 10 to 20 US Dollars per trip, while more locals are now employed in the park directly as trackers, wardens and guides. Others sell locally made curio items or T-shirts tailored to the very gorilla group the tourists visited, just as soon as they get back to the ‘jump off points’ where their safari vehicles await them again. A revenue share scheme is in place, giving 5 percent of each tracking permit sold back to the communities for the building and maintenance of schools, water wells, water tanks and other social amenities, and with a permit selling for 500 US Dollars a person, and as many as 64 such permits available per day – often sold out months in advance – this can amount to well over half a million US Dollars per annum, being distributed equitably amongst the villages along the 5 volcanoes where the mountain gorillas have their habitat.
When Kwita Izina, incidentally with details available on the web via www.kwitizina.org, started in 2005, it was a one day event, which in the meantime has grown to a weeklong festival of activities, including a cycling race attracting athletes from all over Eastern Africa – this year an Eritrean won again – but also from beyond Africa, such is the appeal to come to Rwanda, The Land of a Thousand Hills.
In addition Rwanda now hosts a full day conservation conference, and mindful that 2011 is the UN’s International Year of the Forests, the theme this year was selected as ‘Forest Stewardship by Communities: Contributions, Benefits and Future Prospects, which brought hundreds of conservationists from East and Central Africa, but also from as far as Israel, South Africa, Angola and even the US and Europe together.
Relevant presentations by renowned scientists were followed by intense group discussions and interaction between participants, before agreeing on a set of recommendations which were handed over to the Government of Rwanda and copied to the East African Community headquarters in Arusha for regional consideration.
The Rwandan Minister for Natural Resources, the Hon. Stanislas Kamanzi, reiterated Rwanda’s commitment and determination, to widen forest cover across the country and especially in the areas between Nyungwe Forest and Gishwati Forest to 30 percent by 2020, up from just over 20 percent at present, a model surely for many other countries to follow, in on our continent and beyond.
Also in the same week could visitors see the launch of Rwanda’s cultural tourism component with the National Institute of Museums inaugurating a former palace of the ancient Rwandan kingdom, bringing the history of the country closer to tourist visitors but also their own people, especially the younger generation who grew up after the country had been turned into a republic.
The handover of community projects near Musanze / Ruhengeri preceded the main event on Saturday 18th of June in Kinigi, near the park headquarters, when four 80.000 litre community water tanks were handed over to villages, available to the people living there and sparing them long distance walks to rivers and springs, while 52 small farms received their own rainwater fed tanks against a small personal contribution to the overall cost of installation, bringing great relief to them too as their daily water needs for domestic use, to water their livestock and for use in irrigating their gardens was now made easier and faster by the new tanks.
But prior to the big day, when 22 new born gorilla babies were to be ‘baptised’, opportunity arose once again to actually visit the gorillas, and it was the Hirwa Group, into which twins were born only weeks earlier I was privileged to see.
(seen here the mother of the twins, called Kabatwa, one little one ‘backpacking’ and the other one hidden from sight below the mom. They were the following day named ‘Isangano’ and ‘Isango’ respectively by Mr. and Mrs. Mark van Modrick).
Having had ‘hard tracking’ in the past, with up to 8 hours including pouring rain and knee-deep muddy stretches, this trip was very different, to and from in less than three hours, the longest actually being the approach walk up to the perimeter wall which runs along the entire national park boundary from the Ugandan border to the border of the Congo DR.
No sooner had we cross into the park proper, were we greeted already by one of the armed trackers and guards, which are almost permanently with the gorillas to ensure their safety, and Francois, our main guide, gave us a final round of instructions before we left our porters, back packs and water canteens behind to make a final approach to the gorillas.
(Francois giving final instructions of ‘do’s and don’ts’ before leading us right into the middle of the Hirwa Group which is 16 members strong)
Through thick bamboo forest we had to make our way towards the gorillas, which were spread out, on the ground but also high up in the trees, and the closer we got to these magnificent animals, nearest to mankind in their DNA make up after the chimpanzees only, the more we heard them, munching, crunching and as we got closer even punching the ground. Adolescents ‘abseiled’ from the trees, others were happily swinging above us while the females watched their young offspring AND us to make sure none of us 8 visitors got too close to them. That said, the younger gorillas showed their sense of adventure and came close to us, one in the process even holding on to my trouser, leaving me standing absolutely still until this little one had moved on before breathing out …
All along though the dominant silverback, named Munyinya before I re-baptized him ‘Salongo Munyinya’ – after all he had fathered a very rare pair of twins – was always positioning himself between us and his family, protective and alert and yet still finding time to devour fresh bamboo shoots and other forest delicatessen he picked from trees and bushes or from the ground.
(Hirwa’s silverback, previously known as Munyinya and now also called ‘Salongo Munyinya’ a name given by the Buganda people to fathers of twins)
The one hour with the gentle giants of the Virunga mountains was up in no time and Francois ushered us firmly away from the animals, leaving their ‘regular’ guards and wardens behind, as we made our way to the perimeter wall, exited the park and then began to discuss our adventure, not being able to speak loudly while inside the forest and near the gorillas.
And then the big day dawned on Rwanda, Kwita Izina 2011 had finally arrived and with the Right Honourable Prime Minister of Rwanda Bernard Makuza as Chief Guest at the function, the Rwandan government once again showed their commitment to conservation.
22 gorillas, born since Kwita Izina 2010 were named, by a cross section of conservationists, local people and business representatives of companies which had during the last 12 months again shown their commitment towards conservation in Rwanda and generously contributed to a range of conservation and community projects across the country – and Kenya Airways, The Pride of Africa was one of them, represented by their Rwanda Country Manager.
(Some of the ‘Namers’, dressed in traditional Rwandan outfits, with RDB – Tourism and Conservation’s Miss Rica Rwigamba at centre stage making the announcements)
Rwanda presently has 8 habituated gorilla groups, spread over the 5 main volcanoes Muhabura, Mgahinga, Karisimbi, Visoke, also at times called Bisoke and Sabyinyo, bearing the following names: Sabyinyo Group, Karisoke Group, 13 Group, Amahoro Group, Umubano Group, Susa Group, Hirwa Group and Kwitonda Group. Up to 8 tourists per day are allowed to approach the animals in their natural habitat up the mountains but are only allowed contact for a maximum of one hour to protect the ‘gentle giants of the Virunga mountains’ from disease and disruption of their social fabric.
(Traditional dancers enjoying themselves as much as the crowd did)
(Cultural performances portraying life in Rwanda as it once was)
ETHIOPIAN ADDS MILAN TO EUROPEAN DESTINATIONS
Effective July, in other words immediately, will Ethiopian Airlines add 5 weekly flights between Addis Ababa and Milan / Italy, using a B767 aircraft. Traffic days out of Addis will be Monday to Thursday and Saturday, with no flights on Friday and Sunday for the time being. Return flights out of Milan will correspondingly take place between Tuesday and Friday, with no Saturday or Monday flight to Addis.
The timings are convenient for travelers from across Eastern, Central and Southern Africa as connecting flights from those parts of Africa arrive in time to make an easy connection in Addis.
Ethiopian is also flying daily from Addis to Rome and this latest addition of a European destination will undoubtedly spur yet greater competition with ‘neighbours’ Kenya Airways, which is presently lacking long haul aircraft, due to the delays of their B787 delivery, to add more destinations on their intercontinental network, while in inter African traffic the two arch rivals are neck on neck in terms of destinations. Watch this space.
MAURITIUS CONSIDERING ‘TAX AND DUTY FREE’ STATUS FOR TOURISTS
In an effort to regain momentum in the global tourism markets are thoughts being floated amongst Mauritius’ tourism and trading community to turn the entire island into one giant ‘tax and duty free shop’ where tourists can enjoy shopping for electronics, cosmetics, shoes, accessories and clothes and actually all and sundry, and on exit from Mauritius get their sales taxes (VAT) back at the airport against production of receipts.
Sources from the island are intimating that as much of the imports are already duty free, with remaining duties to be removed progressively, Mauritius could be turned in to a shopping paradise a la Dubai in order to attract much needed tourist visitors. Prerequisite though would be a sharp increase in air connections to the island, likely at the expense of protectionist policies vis a vis the national airline Air Mauritius and the upturn in investments in more resorts and of course dedicated shopping facilities, similar to the mega malls in the UAE which in recent years accounted for much of the visitor increases to Dubai and the neighbouring Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman.
For now the ideas are just being discussed as a possibility but competitors of Mauritius would do well to monitor the trend and outcome of such strategic forward thinking and be prepared to match, whatever the outcome finally will be.
EMIRATES AND STB TO INVITE TOP PERFORMERS TO THE SEYCHELLES CARNIVAL
Four top selling travel agents will enjoy a visit to the Seychelles next year, for the second edition of the Carnaval de Carnivals – the ‘mother’ of all carnival celebrations when the leading ‘carnival nations’ will again be represented in Victoria in the main parade with floats and participants.
Travel agencies from the Gulf states but also from European gateways of Emirates will learn in February next year who topped the sales scales and will as a reward receive free tickets from the airline and a four night complimentary stay, courtesy of the Seychelles Tourist Board.
This ‘incentive’ is bound to raise a lot more interest and spur efforts by travel agents to ‘push’ Seychelles in their ticket sales, made easier of course by Emirates Holidays offering a range of superb holiday options in conjunction with their flights. The airline presently flies 12 times a week to the archipelago but by end of this year will offer a double daily flight option out of Dubai, linking their entire global network to the Seychelles with only one stop en route, and a short one for that matter.
The Seychelles Tourist Board was only months ago crowned by Emirates as ‘Best Tourist Board partner’ affirming the close ties the airline has developed in the recent past with STB in order to promote the islands attractions across the airline’s global destination network. See you at the ‘Carnaval International de Victoria’ is now the hope of hundreds of travel agents vying with each other to be the chosen ones. Good Luck to All.
IT IS 40 YEARS OF JET FLIGHTS INTO MAHE
The Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first ever passenger jet flight into the Mahe International Airport with an open day event, highlighting the importance of air transport to the entire archipelago. Monday 04th July in 1971 did the then BOAC, aka British Overseas Airways Corporation, the predecessor of today’s British Airways, land a Boeing 707 on the islands sole international airport laying the foundation for what has today become the Seychelles main link for people from the world to visit and from the Seychelles to go abroad. An aviation and services exhibition was staged yesterday at the airport giving Seychellois the chance to learn more about what is transpiring in the aviation sector and a formal commemoration will follow tomorrow Monday, the actual anniversary date.
Changes in the recent past of the country’s aviation policy have seen in particular Gulf based mega carriers take advantage of operating more flights to Mahe, and the present 19 weekly services by Emirates and Qatar Airways are due to become 25 by the end of the year, when Emirates will have gone double daily while Etihad will have commenced their initial 4 flights a week.
Air Seychelles, the national airline, is meanwhile connecting the archipelago to Paris in a code share with Air France/KLM, but also with London, Milan, Rome, Singapore, Johannesburg and Mauritius, besides the domestic services connecting the various inner and outer islands with Mahe.
Visit www.seychelles.travel for more information on the destination, the wide range of resorts and accommodation facilities now available, destination and weather information, or simply take a holiday in the ‘Seychelles, Another World’.
SEYCHELLES CELEBRATES 35 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE FROM BRITAIN
June 29th marks the 35th anniversary of the day when the Seychellois national flag was raised across the entire archipelago for the first time in 1976. The Seychelles islands were ‘disputed’ between the French and British for a considerable period of time but finally became a British colony after the surrender of the French administration on the islands in 1810 although this only became a formal arrangement in 1814. Colony status was lasting until independence was granted in 1976, rather belatedly considering the ‘empire’ had been in decline since the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when colonies demanded their freedom and while at times granted peacefully in other cases the ‘locals’ like in Kenya fought campaigns against the British before finally being ‘let go’.
President Michel, in power since 2004 when President Albert Rene stepped down, was first re-elected in 2006 and then again only recently in May 2011, is expected to be at hand during the official flag raising ceremony and will address the nation later that day. Meanwhile many other activities are planned to celebrate 35 years of independence as a sovereign nation, culminating in a school sporting championship at the national stadium in the afternoon. Congratulations to all my Seychellois friends on Mahe, Praslin, La Digue and the other islands.
South Sudan News
A WEEK TO INDEPENDENCE AND COUNTING
As the 09th of July inches closer and closer the entire South, inspite of a series of problems caused by its erstwhile slave masters and warlords in Khartoum, is preparing for the big day of Independence, with the eyes of the entire continent and in fact the world focused on the event.
Ahead of the celebrations has Vice President Riek Machar Teny who just returned home from an extensive tour of the United States, announced a half trillion US Dollars investment rush for the new Republic of South Sudan to develop infrastructure like highways, roads, rail, bridges, airports and aerodromes, hydro electric power plants and dams, but also affordable housing, hospitals, educational facilities and administrative service centres across the vast territory besides heavily investing also in oil development like a pipeline going South to export the commodity through ‘friendly’ neighbouring countries and reducing dependence on the currently single pipeline for oil exports via Port Sudan at the Red Sea.
While big money has been pledged to the new country already from the World Bank and the world’s major economic blocks and powers, much of the projected investments will come from private sector sources, since the new republic is seen as virgin territory for investments and for doing business with. In this regard it was also learned that the United Arab Emirates will be hosting a major investment conference for the South Sudan later this year where the global business community will have the opportunity to learn firsthand what potential there is in the new country, from oil over agriculture to agro processing, forestry, manufacturing and tourism, to name but a few key sectors already identified as key to the South’s future development.
In regard of tourism has the South Sudan worked for several years now with the US based Wildlife Conservation Society to identify game migration patterns, establish game numbers through aerial and ground surveys and devise methods to protect in particular the great migration of the white eared kobs emerging from and then returning to the Boma National Park along the borders with Ethiopia, said to be the world’s second largest migration of animals after the Serengeti to Masai Mara migration of the wildebeest.
The government of the South Sudan is also said to be setting aside more resources in the future management of the presently 6 national parks and over a dozen game reserves already in place, while considering to declare yet more areas as both parks and reserves in order to stimulate wildlife based tourism after independence.
In a related development it was also learned from regular sources in Juba that Google Earth will undertake a major mapping exercise across the newly emerging country, working hand in hand with local residents and with the support of such illustrious names as UNOSAT, RCMRD and the World Bank, to provide detailed maps of the new country for visitors, both real and via the internet.
Watch this space as the countdown now goes into the final week before Independence and the final closure of a sad chapter in Sudan’s history where the African people of the united Sudan were at the receiving end of exploitation, domination and well near slavery conditions by their Khartoum based ‘masters’ – it is time now to shake off the yoke.
And in closing today again some interesting ‘stuff’ from ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ – courtesy of the indefatigable Gill Staden who this week was bracing long periods without power and a biting cold … yes, that happens in Africa too …
President Banda launches new Zambian logo for tourism
Zambia has always been ‘Zambia, the Real Africa’ but in Lusaka this week, in a speech read for him by the Minister of Tourism, he launched the new branding: ‘Explore Zambia.’ He also welcomed the initiative to offer holiday loans to promote domestic tourism.
He hoped that these two initiatives would spur on the tourism industry in Zambia.
Toro Lodge taken over by Botswana Development Corporation (BDC)
Botswana Development Corporation is wholly owned by the Botswana Government and was set up in 1970 to promote commercial and industrial development. They have recently acquired Toro Lodge in Kasane. Mowana Lodge was a BDC development.
The aim is to take the lodge from its present 2-star rating to 5-star.
Kalahari Desert Race
The Kalahari Desert Race was introduced in 1975, but discontinued for a while when it was based in South Africa. In 1981, however, it returned to Botswana. It takes on a different route each year and takes place over two days but is based near Molepololele.
The race is organised by South Africa 4-Wheel Drive Club and is the highlight of their annual calendar.
There were two main events. The Production Vehicles race was won by Chris Visser in a Ford Ranger in 14 hours, 31 minutes; the Special Vehicles race was won by Karl-Heinz Sullwald in a BAT Spec 4 in 14 hours 24 minutes.
Environment Investment Fund of Namibia (EIF)
The Namibian government has approved the appointment of Benedict Libanda as CEO of the EIF for a period of three years. According to the report N$15million has been allocated for this year’s budget.
The EIF aims to promote the sustainable economic development of Namibia through investment in and promotion of activities and projects that protect and maintain the natural and environmental resources of the country. The EIF will hopefully get funds from International donors but will also maintain an endowment fund that will generate a constant stream of income. Funds for the scheme will also be found locally from fees and levies.
The funds will be used to protect and promote the wise use of the environment through sustainable use of natural resources. It is hoped that this will benefit the poorest sections of society.
Cape Seal Cull
The cull of 89,000 seals, 80,000 of them pups, was expected to start on 1 July. The pups are clubbed to death and the adults shot. The government has issued a media ban on the area so there is no news available as to whether it has actually started.
The government of Namibia states that the cull is necessary to protect fish stocks along the coast. It maintains that the seals are depleting fish stocks.
Activists state that the reason for the lack of fish off the coast is that Namibia has increased its fishing beyond capacity. They say that the seals are being culled for their skins which are used for coats, handbags, shoes, etc. Apparently, too, the genitals are also used in Asian medicine as an aphrodisiac.
Activists also state that much more value to the economy can be realised if the tourism value of the Cape Seals is increased. The ‘cullers’, they say, are casual labourers who work for a small amount during the time of the cull. The real benefit goes to the overseas buyers who manufacture the leather products.
The Cape Seal is only found along the coast of Africa between Namibia and South Africa. South Africa virtually banned all seal culls although it has acted in certain cases to protect some areas.
The Cape fur seal is listed as Lower Risk by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). This species is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Fur seal pelts and penises are traded by Namibia. Trade is authorized under CITES Appendix II with the appropriate export permit or re-export certificate.