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 September 2011
East Africa News
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT FINALLY COMING TO EAST AFRICA
The East African Community has over the weekend announced that citizens of member states, wishing to reside in one of the other EAC countries, will now be guaranteed immigration clearance for 6 months at a go without the previously often used 30 days limit being continued.
The new rule however is presently only an intermediate step of the full freedom of movement, envisaged by the founding spirit of the EAC, as those wishing to work, at least in some member states, still require to obtain a work permit, unless exempted by an additional bilateral treaty as for instance in place between Rwanda and Kenya. There the respective nationals can both reside and work in the other country without additional bureaucratic hindrances.
A range of enabling protocols and regulations are presently being rolled out and implemented, leading to eventually a full free movement of goods and people across the region without the national border posts then having to play much of a role, if any.
National non tariff barriers and failures of the region to implement a fully functional and compatible ID card system has been largely blamed for the slow pace of permitting East African citizens to move freely between countries, making the use of passports mandatory, as for instance Uganda does not have a national ID card which in the future will permit the crossing of borders within the EAC, as long as all countries are compliant.
EAC passports, presently in any case only valid to travel within the EAC, are also not being issued at the moment as new technology is being introduced across the region to make the travel documents machine readable, while diplomatic efforts continue to ensure a wider recognition permitting holders to travel beyond just East Africa. Growing together in the region continues, albeit at a slow pace where much patience is still required to see the full privileges of the old EAC once again restored for the people of the region.
OF AIRPORTS AND AIRPORTS
As a frequent traveler I am probably in a better position to judge the functionalities of our regional airports, and the pain inflicted by overzealous security officials on those having to travel by air, or those simply coming to have a holiday of a lifetime.
In Nairobi for instance, vehicles continue to drive right up to terminals 1, 2 and 3, dropping off passengers and their baggage and parking, just opposite the terminal building, is very much a reality.
Departing passengers undergo an initial screening at the entry point into the terminal, but checked baggage is habitually screened again, for contraband ivory amongst other things, while passengers when entering the gate of their departing flight again undergo a final security check where, to the surprise of many, scores still carry pocket knives, scissors, lighters and other items on the prohibited list. Transparent containers at the check point, no longer as full as when those measures were first started, still contain visible evidence just how much stuff travelers carry on them instead of in their checked bags.
In Kigali, cars park outside the terminal and passengers then enter the airport building on foot, using available trolleys or pulling or carrying their bags with them.
Entry to the terminal is unrestricted, good for the business at the popular coffee shop in the main lobby, and passengers and their bags are screened only when entering the check-in area, and a thorough check it is as I can vouch for. Again, when entering the departure gate area, there is currently only one joint gate area available before the expansion works of Kanombe International Airport commence to create more check in counters and separate departure gates, passengers are screened once more, belts, shoes and all.
That said, similar stories could be told about Kilimanjaro International or the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, or Juba for that matter at present the least organized airport in the region, but when it comes to home, nothing can beat what Ugandans go through when travelling by air.
Come rain or shine, rain in the case of my most recent flight again, when entering the airport perimeter a check is unleashed upon unsuspecting travelers. The glaring disparities here are, that when you drive yourself, leaving the car in the long term parking, the car is superficially examined, they peep into the interior and regularly open the glove compartment, but otherwise you, the driver, then moves on to the ticket booth and hey presto, you are inside the secured perimeter.
Not so for passengers. While at times waved through, for no apparent reason, more often than not must passengers disembark from the car and undergo a physical check with hand held scanners, and when it rains they get soaked in the process. As an example, when it was my turn last night, my safari jacket, of course loaded with coins, pens and phones, made the scanner go beepedibeep what did I carry? Phones! How many are those? Three! But why do I carry three phones? Officer, I left two even at home! Ssebo, you must be important, you go!
Rained upon I re-entered my car, my driver got his entry ticket from the booth but driving to the terminal as the rain poured down on us ? NO.
At Entebbe you must disembark at a distant and often chaotic parking area far away from the terminal, heave your bags to the small shaded area where 6 automated machines only accept coins to pay for the parking fee the note slots have long been disabled and when out of service as often happens, one is compelled to pay an extra 1.000 Uganda Shillings on exit at the booth for failing to pay at the machines, working or not does not seem to matter. A nice additional income for sure for the concessionaire and few seem bothered, well I am.
Once there the struggle starts to find a trolley, during peak periods often in very short supply, and then trek admittedly under shades towards the terminal itself. In the absence of elevators on the key locations stairs await the travelers, and while most of the time uniformed porters are at hand to assist in carrying the bags upstairs to the departure level, still open air of course, a recipe to get wet, wetter wettest depending on just how hard the rain comes down, before entering the terminal.
There is an immediate pre-screening point, with two machines of which even at rush hour only one is operated, most of the times anyway, before getting to the check in counters. And of course, after clearing immigration, there are no exit customs declarations required, the gate check is the final hurdle before being able to board. Packed to the Rafters came to mind last night, as both KLM and Brussels Airlines checked in their flights at the same time and RwandAir passengers were compelled to queue in the long lines with Europe bound travelers as no separate gate had been assigned.
Many passengers still showed signs of having been rained upon when making their way from the parking area to the terminal, and many I overheard grumbling and uttering words like impossible or WTH are they doing that for or worse for Uganda never again.
Obscure security concerns have been cited for the measures described, but as my narrative also shows, the effectiveness must be doubted and other regional airport do not prevent vehicles from dropping off at the terminal and the air operators committee has repeatedly made efforts to go back to before but to no avail. In fact, some were given flowery explanations not to mess with security and leave it to the professionals yeah right. Not the warm send off we would like our visitors to get when leaving the country after a successful visit on business or for a safari, and not turning them into the ambassadors we would like them to become.
Fodder for thought, seriously now.
TELLING THE GOOD NEWS IS NOT ALWAYS WELCOME NEWS
The proverbial media paranoia, fed of course and nurtured by a repressive government in Dar es Salaam which has been clamping down on the local media, and equally hard on suspected informers, has reached a new level it seems. The scenario: one gets hold of newsworthy information, a major internationally recognized success story of privately led conservation efforts, thinks this must get the exposure it deserves because after all it is good news, and then goes off the whistle. Please take the article off your blog and off wherever it was published, because it will make us end up in the cross hairs of government officials conservationists and environmentalists are not in the good books of then Tanzania government right now. Thus was the tenor of several messages received, talking even of being thrown out of the country
Gave me new fodder for thought, right here in Uganda. While our own government is often accused of being heavy handed and anti media, I have personally never experienced anything of the sort. Of course, in most issues I do agree with government, even though I bemoaned the public disgrace of how arrests of the opposition leader were handled by security operatives a couple of months ago. I disagree with our President on the issue of Mabira, and have candidly said so and reported repeatedly about it. Yet, one thing I know, the fundamentals of the NRM, which came to power in January 1986, to bring freedom and liberties to Uganda and Ugandans, have not changed. They may at times dislike what you say, may at times take journalists to court, yet have not won a single case of this nature, EVER. Our courts have upheld the press freedom and this too is after all one of the fundamentals the NRM ushered in way back in 1986, to have an independent judiciary able to decide what is within the laws of the land and what is not.
Here we dont live in fear, not any longer anyway, not the kind Kenyans lived under during the height of the one party state and following the coup attempt in August 1982.
Our conservation fraternity has been equated with unarmed terrorists a phrase I took real issue with even though used by none other than our President and the battle for Mabira was taken to war level, again by our President.
I guess he knows, that by and large I stand by him and his policies and yet there are issues I do not agree with him. That is part of democracy and we can be glad to have it in Uganda. Others too though, like in Tanzania, probably need a few lessons in tolerance and accepting that conservationists and environmentalists are the voices of nature, of forests, of marine ecosystems and of wildlife and birdlife, advocates for protecting our environment and our biodiversity for our common good. Harassing them, intimidating them and having them beg to remove a major conservation achievement report from my blog for fear of repercussions is not the way.
And this piece my dear, will stand and not be removed, even at the risk of someone drawing the right conclusions and adding up the right numbers. What right is right and we should stand up and say so. Without fear, and without favour!
AFRAA BLASTS AFRICAN GOVERNMENTS AT AVIATION MEETING IN DAR
The African Airline Association took advantage of the just ended aviation conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to expose once again the lack of implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration, besides highlighting on behalf of their members the pressing issues of investments in the aviation infrastructure and brain drain of highly qualified professionals to particularly the Gulf region. The Yamoussoukro agreement, signed in 1999, was due to have been fully operationalised by 2002, but now, 9 years later, several AU member states still have not made an effort to implement its provisions. AFRAAs Secretary General Elijah Chingosho also spoke on taxation, another deterrent to the growth of aviation.
The conference was officially opened by President Kikwete and brought together over 200 participants, mainly from the region but also further abroad. Regulatory staff had come alongside government delegations, representatives of a number of African airlines and from ICAO, IATA and the FAA. The theme of the meeting, Air Transport in Africa Strengthening Leadership, Sustaining Growth discussed since Monday this week a range of pressing issues, amongst them the failure of governments to promote inter Africa air traffic while opening their skies to foreign airlines. One participant who regularly interacts with this correspondent pointed out that as long as cross border air transport within the East African Community was treated as foreign and non tariff barriers maintained vis a vis fees charged, clearances granted and restrictions in place to fly passengers to a final destination in a park for instance these conferences and meetings will remain talking shops. We would not mind having one single regulator again in East Africa, because right now we have five and each of them wants a slice of our cake by taking fees. In the process an airline could need 5 AOCs, 5 separate companies and five different structures if it would want to operate in each of the member states. This is very very costly and our fares and charges must reflect this. This is the crunch point here and is reflected in similar fashion across the continent where big Gulf airlines get all the freedom to operate and siphon off traffic while African airlines from neighbouring countries are treated often with disdain, treated as unwelcome, as foreign and as usurpers. This must change if air transport is to develop like in the US. Flying in Africa is an almost natural form of transport due to distances, lack of road and rail and of course for tourists. But when you even look at regulations for leisure flying, it is hard to believe that anyone would still bother, as they are so restrictive, so unreal at times for instance for micro lights. The mindset of regulators and of governments are challenged here to change, so that air transport can really take off.
These sentiments have been lingering for years, it is recalled, while in addition the cost of aviation fuel, and its general availability like for AVGAS for instance, is a related issue preventing aviation from being considered a form of mass transport as it is elsewhere. Watch this space.
MORE IVORY CONFISCATED IN HONG KONG
Nearly 800 elephant tusks were yesterday found in containers, shipped from Africa via Malaysia to Hong Kong. The consignment weighed nearly two tons and is estimated to have a street value of about 13 million Hong Kong Dollars. CITESs Secretariat and Interpol will be conducting a DNA analysis on the blood ivory to ascertain the precise origin of the contraband, working hand in hand with police and customs authorities in Hong Kong. All shipping documents linked to the container are also being forensically examined and audited to track the route of the shipment back to the port of origin in Africa.
Only last week were 1.041 tusks confiscated in Zanzibar by customs officials, also allegedly destined for Malaysia but widely thought to have China as a final destination.
The most recent finds mean that for the two consignments alone over 900 elephant were butchered but considering the amount of blood ivory which has not been discovered and reached its destination, estimates are that between several thousand elephant will have been killed this year to feed the growing greed for the white gold stemming from the demand for ivory on the Chinese market.
The global conservation fraternity, while welcoming the vigilance of the Hong Kong customs officials and security organs, is now demanding that China immediately strengthens their relevant laws on import, possession, processing and trading in ivory products and introduces crippling fines and long term incarceration for culprits found guilty in a court of law.
Existing laws provide presently for fines of up to 2 million Hong Kong Dollars for importation of un-manifested cargos, or imprisonment of up to 7 years, or both while under the law providing for the protection of endangered species and plants a fine of up to 5 million Hong Kong Dollars and imprisonment of up to two years can be dished out.
Conservationists have privately voiced their disgust over the level of punishment, considering that the wildlife legacy of Africa is being recklessly plundered and proposed jail terms, in Africa itself for the poachers but also in the importing countries, of 10 years and more be introduced while fines should be aimed at financially crippling the culprits as a deterrent against poaching.
Two weeks ago the Executive Committee of CITES met, and initially tried to exclude NGOs and civil society organization and activists from their meeting but reversed their decision when immediate global pressure was applied on them to allow the conservation fraternity into the meeting.
It emerged that poaching and illegal ivory trade were high on the agenda and of growing concern to many countries and proposals were made to withdraw Chinas status as an approved ivory trading nation to tear off the mantle of legality from basically illicit transactions. Watch this space.
TORRENTIAL RAINS SWEEP AWAY BRIDGE TO KIDEPO PARK
The present torrential rains in parts of North Eastern Uganda, which already claimed dozens of lives last week when another mudslide coming down the slopes of Mt. Elgon killed dozens of villagers, have now disrupted transport to the Kidepo Valley National Park. The Kaboong bridge was reportedly swept away, cutting the road link between the district headquarters and the park itself, making road access to this already remote park even more of a challenge. Ministry of Transport officials conceded that the bridge was gone but also said that repairs could only be made when the rains recede, as the continuous flash floods after intense downpours would make work impossible.
Kidepo National Park, Ugandas most remote, is nestled in the border triangle with Kenya and South Sudan and generally accessed by air from either Entebbe or Kajjansi. While designated as an international airfield and operated by the CAA, nevertheless special arrangements have to be made to have a customs and immigration officer present before flights directly into Kidepo from the region can be cleared without needing to land in Entebbe first.
The Apoka Safari Lodge, owned and operated by Wild Places Africa, is a luxurious facility in the heart of the park, overlooking the Kidepo valley, but self camping facilities are available through the UWA park headquarters while a newer safari camp, outside the park enroute from Kitgum, is now also open.
Visit www.ugandawildlife.org for more information on the countrys 10 national parks or see more on Ugandas tourism attractions via www.visituganda.com
GEOLODGES AT BRIDE AND GROOM EXHIBITION TO PROMOTE DOMESTIC HONEYMOONS
The current exhibition ongoing at the UMA Lugogo Showground, focusing entirely on weddings and what it needed to make them a success, and affordable by the way, has been used by Geo Lodges Uganda to promote their lodges, the Rain Forest Lodge in Mabira, the Nile Safari Lodge just outside Murchisons Falls National Park right at the banks of the River Nile and the Jacana Safari Lodge at Lake Nyamusingire / Queen Elizabeth National Park as honeymoon destinations.
Emily Wissanji of Geo Lodges passed on details on the promotion, aimed at keeping young Ugandan couples at home while showing them the natural wonders of Ugandas national parks besides pampering them with extra goodies and attention during those first few crucial days after entering married life.
Rose petals leading to the double bed, sparkling wine for the couple, tropical fruit baskets, the chocolates to sweeten the couples palate and mood, breakfast in bed if so ordered and romantic settings for lunches and dinners away from the curious eyes of other guests are just a few of the package contents, and of course at the end of the honeymoon a late checkout to make the most of the day of departure back into normality before leaving the lodge.
The trips are organized by Geo Safaris, a sister company to Geo Lodges to ensure a quality operation from the time of leaving Kampala until the return of the couple, delivered at their place of residence of course.
The exhibition was organized by the New Vision, Ugandas leading newspaper and media group and several thousand visitors were recorded already as the show enters its last day today.
In a related development has Geo Lodges also announced a very special event for Queen Elizabeth National Park where they will hold workshops dedicated to safari and general photography between 07th and 09th October this year with participants staying at the Jacana Safari Lodge, conducted by Christopher Kidd. Write to workshop for more details.
MEHTA NOW DECLINES MABIRA FOREST OFFER
In an unexpected turn of events has the head of the Mehta Group family publicly turned down an offer from government, to give the ailing sugar company over 7.000 hectares of prime rain forest to expand their sugar cane plantations. The comments were reportedly made at a meeting of Ugandas Indian Association.
It is however understood that the Indian community in Uganda, foremost the leading business families, had come down hard on the Mehta Group, citing the violent outbursts against the entire Asian community in Uganda during the violent anti Mabira demonstrations, when police tactics to contain an otherwise peaceful demonstration prompted the protests to turn violent. Public opinion at the time in 2007 turned suddenly from broad tolerance and generally a warm welcome to foreign investors to hate speech and targeted attacks, when anti government elements managed to hijack the peaceful agenda of anti Mabira give away protesters and activists.
In the present economic climate, Telecom companies have just started to double tariffs in the face of a 21.4 percent inflation rate for August 2011, the value of the Uganda Shilling falling to record lows, fuel prices rising to record highs and looming strikes in the education sector which led to the closure of Ugandas top public university Makerere, analysts believe that another round of Save Mabira Forest protests could be the trigger for more unrest, strikes and opposition figures attempting to again inject their fifth column into the conservation battle for their own ends.
A statement reportedly signed by over 100 prominent Indians living in Uganda was circulating in Kampala yesterday, supporting the Save Mabira Forest movement, adding more woes to President Musevenis hard stand that the forest must go and making that position more unsustainable by the day. Development partners have called on the Ugandan government to keep the forest intact, the World Bank is insisting that signed off-set agreements with Uganda be respected which guaranteed the physical integrity of Mabira and in particular the tourism sector has pointed to the enormous damage which the Mabira saga could inflict on the industry. Citing the Stop the Serengeti Highway campaign, which went global like a tsunami, the attention it brought to Tanzania was overwhelmingly negative and resulted in ever more environmentally damaging projects by the current government being unearthed to the detriment of promoting Tanzania as a tourism destination. Ugandas tourism stakeholders fear a similar campaign to take hold, and combined with a more volatile political situation caused by a sagging economy and record inflation it could brew the perfect storm, keeping tourist visitors away.
An eco tourism lodge, award winning for that matter, the Rain Forest Lodge operated by Geo Lodges, would be hugely affected as the planned sugar plantations would literally come to its doorsteps and existing plans to turn Mabira into a tourism hub with hikes, cycling tracks and possibly a treetop canopy walk would evaporate, should sugar cane substitute the rain forest.
Conservationists also took exception to be called unarmed terrorists or to be dismissed as anti government and phrases used as going to war. We are the voices of nature in Uganda and only want to see our environment kept intact to serve future generations of Ugandans. Look at Rwanda where they are committed to increase forest cover. What is wrong with our officials not to see that there is a direct link between intact forests and a prosperous future. Mabira is a water tower, the green lung between Jinja and Kampala absorbing carbon emissions. What exactly is it those people who call us terrorists do not understand said a senior conservationist following the breaking of this news story through a tweet by Daniel Kalinaki of the Daily Monitor. The source also reiterated: We will use our right to peaceful protest, to build a global alliance and we will not permit this noble task to be undermined by third parties aiming to create mischief. Government should once and for all abandon this crazy plan to cut 7.000 hectares of forest and Mehta must make binding commitments if he wants us to believe him.
Watch this space as this latest twist in the Mabira saga now plays out and how it ends.
AIRTEL FOLLOWS MTN WITH 4/- PER SECOND TARIFF
The honeymoon clearly is over now amongst Ugandas Telecom companies as the number two in the market, Airtel, also moved their tariffs to the 4/- Shillings per second range with immediate effect.
Also citing higher cost in a statement literally copied and pasted from the one MTN had issued 24 hours earlier, the development smacks of a cartel like practice and has already been condemned by consumer organizations. Phone users with UTL the embattled Telecom company now seemingly in court with all and sundry over unpaid debts Warid and Orange are now holding their breath to see what Friday will bring, as it is expected that those will either aggressively market their lower tariffs to capture market share amongst phone users disgusted with the two market leaders or else meekly follow suit and also raise charges.
The 100 percent increase of phone charges is bound to have a fallout on inflation in Uganda and when the September statistics are out in early October the country is likely to see another rise in annual inflation, which had just risen to 21.4 percent in August.
No comments have been received as yet from the Uganda Communications Commission over the increases and the duplicity of action taken by the number one and two mobile companies in the country. Only months ago was UCC under pressure to explain why they should dictate to the market that a 1/- Shilling per second tariff was prohibited by them, only to let it go after a storm of public opinion, and it is now wait and see if they will make any move to cap increases overnight, considering the marketing promises made by the companies over the duration of the record low tariffs when they were introduced.
TELECOM WARS MOVE TO OTHER PLATFORMS
The announcement by MTN to double its call rates from 2 Uganda Shillings per second to 4 Uganda Shillings per second is the first such rise since Warid Telecom entered the Ugandan market and Airtel took over Celtel/Zain last year. Telecom operators since then kept lowering call charges, and while MTN with 2 Shillings per second was the most expensive other operators went as low as 1 Shilling per second to break into the market and harvest market share.
MTN was citing inflationary pressures when making the announcement, a development certainly not welcomed by government as it will impact on the September inflation figures without doubt.
On a different level Airtel and MTN are also taking on the now government majority owned UTL the Ugandan government had taken over the Libyan shares of about 69 percent when the UN mandated sanctions against the Gadaffi regime with mega claims on interconnection charges being pursued in both commercial court and the public arena. Here Airtel followed earlier proclamations by MTN to cut off calls from and to UTL numbers, putting pressure on government to step in and settle. Accumulated claims from both major rivals of UTL sum up to over 25 billion Uganda Shillings while the media owners association has also barred UTL from advertising in the local media due to non settlement of allegedly huge claims.
The crisis was made worse when it was learned that Gadaffis regime had failed to inject promised capital into the company, leading to the failure to pay outstanding debt, while senior staff were also quietly leaving the sinking ship as one contact formerly with UTL put it to this correspondent.
Whichever way UTL will go is now more likely than before a decision the Ugandan government, holding much of the shares at present both directly and indirectly will have to decide, but it cannot be in the public interest to let the company go under. Government will also watch closely if the other players, like Warid, Airtel and Orange will follow the example set by MTN to double their tariffs too, while Ugandans brace themselves for more double whammys on the economic front, having to dig yet deeper again in their already empty pockets to pay for phone calls.
INFLATION JUMPS 20 PERCENT
Ugandans woke up to shock news when the latest data of the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and from the Bank of Uganda emerged overnight, suggesting the annual inflation rate had risen to 21.4 percent in August.
Alongside this piece of bad news came yet more bad news, that banks were raising interest rates for commercial loans while alongside the value of the Uganda Shilling continued to move lower.
While largely, though not totally, influenced by external events, the Ugandan economy is facing its biggest challenge for over 20 years now and consumer confidence is said to have dropped sharply too.
Across the region inflation figures were already in the deep double digits in July, getting worse in all countries except Rwanda, which seems more insulated to these events, probably as a result of governments efforts to control spending, which for instance in Kenyas public sector seems rampant while the gaps between spending on imports and earnings from exports in Uganda and Tanzania is widening.
Adding to the woes of the Ugandan government are pay disputes with teachers and a range of other public servants, whose often low pay has been eroded over the past months by galloping inflation.
Economists are divided though on the best course of action of how to combat inflation without hurting the economy too much by central bank measures of mopping up excess liquidity, while equally divided over demands to introduce subsidies for key ingredients of daily life to lower the cost of living for the wananchi.
The announcement of Tullow Oil over uncertain timeframes to commence oil production too has rattled the market as an early production start was seen by many analysts as an almost guarantee to get the economic house back into order. According to political observers the companys statement could not have been timed worse if it had been designed to cause yet more problems and is likely to trigger another standoff with government just days before Tullows sale of a major stake to Total of France and the CONNC of China was to be completed. The perfect economic storm emerging from the horizon? Time will tell so watch this space.
MABIRA RHETORIC GETS SHARPER
While the World Bank has given the clearest indication yet that they will use all means at their disposal to hold the Ugandan government to its commitment to leave Mabira alone as part of an offset agreement signed between the parties in 2001 over the financing of the Bujagali hydro electric power plant, has the language used in Uganda escalated once again. President Museveni was reported to have called opponents of Mabira arrogant and taking alcohol while visiting bars, insisting he needed no lessons on forests while meeting a delegation of teachers representatives who called on him to advance their demands for salary increases to make up for years of stagnant pay and inflationary erosion of their earnings.
While applauding the World Banks stand on Mabira, conservationists in Uganda took exception to the Presidents outbursts with one in particular saying to this correspondent during a conversation: I have been voting for the president every time because I support NRM. But if he now starts calling those of us who oppose the Mabira give away to Mehta drunkards, he only exposes that he lost the plot. We are not drunkards and we do not oppose the forest destruction in bars but in offices, in workshops, in consultations and through sensitization of the public. We build a coalition with international bodies of big reputation, those are not rabble rousers but people and institutions of substance. If he says he needs no lessons on forests, he is mistaken because he has been either misled or else knows little about the impact of giving a quarter of this forest away. Let him show us degraded parts of Mabira, his minister failed to find any degraded part to give away. The president needs to learn a little lesson in humility and should understand that he is not always right. We have an enshrined right in the constitution to speak our mind, oppose peacefully government project which are not good for the environment and he and his staff should stop describing us as terrorist, drunkards and the like.
A source close to the World Bank office in Kampala confirmed that their office had contacted the Ministry of Finance for clarification, saying they had not been informed of any plans by government to propose degazetting sections of the forest, which in its entirety was to remain untouched. On condition of anonymity the source added: The body to degazette in Uganda is parliament and government has to bring this to the house. There is a lot of opposition in parliament against the plans to cut down so much of Mabira. The recent revelations on Mehta Sugar are also not good for them and that government has divested from that sugar company over constant losses is making the case even weaker. But our main issue is the agreement over Mabira the World Bank has with Uganda. Such agreements are very strong and firm and not easily broken without consequences. There is a lot of rhetoric now going on but this matter will be solved when all fact are on the table, not by discussing it in the newspapers.
Civil society organizations, the conservation fraternity and the environmental lobby in Uganda are now strategizing on the way forward and how to use legal means to halt the Mabira give away plans, boosted by news from Arusha that the East African Court of Justice has overruled objections by the government of Tanzania against a legal case brought against them by environmentalist groups over their Serengeti Highway plans. Here the court just ruled that the case was to go ahead on its merits and groups in Uganda are also now consulting with their legal advisors over their option to take this issue to Arusha as well to save the Mabira forest from destruction. Watch this space for future updates.
PARK FEES RISE AS LOW / MED SEASON TARIFFS SHELVED
Visitors to Kenyas national parks now pay 80 US Dollars per person per day to enter into the prime national parks across the country, as a new set of tariffs became effective earlier in the week.
The new rules appear to have discontinued the low and shoulder season tariffs of 60 US Dollars, and raised the year round fees to the high season level of 80 Dollars, a move not generally welcomed by the tourism fraternity. Our recovery is still ongoing, there are many factors out there which can set us back this year. We are ahead in arrivals compared to 2010 but there are storm clouds again over the fate of the world economy we cannot ignore. I personally feel that this change in tariffs with immediate effect was not in the best interest of the tourism industry, they should have consulted and if at all given long notice of the rise in fees to cater for it in quotations and our pricing said a regular source from Nairobi in an email communication overnight.
Other stakeholders dismissed the claims by government that KWS needed to raise revenue, citing the favourable exchange rate development last year KWS got a little over 70 Kenya Shillings for the dollar and now they get over 90 Kenya Shillings for the dollar, that is almost 30 percent more they now get into their accounts. Still they raise their tariffs with no notice which is bad practice and makes a mockery of their partnership with the private sector wrote another source from Mombasa.
Only yesterday did news break that the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority was planning a fee whopper with some increases reaching up to 400 percent over current fees, and tourism and aviation stakeholders are accusing government of being insensitive to observing consultative dialogue and giving maximum notice of such tariff increases. Watch this space and ready it fresh off the press what visitors to East Africa can expect in terms of new developments but also of the story behind the story.
KENYA CIVIL AVIATION PLANS FEE WHOPPER
While aviation stakeholders have been locked in a seemingly never ending argument with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, with a near breakdown of relations when KCAA broke a gentlemans agreement on the implementation of hugely controversial new regulations last year, the stand offs are not about to end it seems. The general public in Kenya will be waking up today to news that KCAA is attempting to raise regulatory and other fees but not just by making up for inflationary trends. Doubling up to quadrupling of rates is on the card for them as they are seeking government approval to do a vampire act on us as one usually very candid aviation source from Nairobi put it to this correspondent.
Several aspects of the planned fee increases have been vehemently critizised, such as plans to raise fees related to pilot aspirants, with certain examination fees tripling under the proposed new regime.
The aviation industry is facing a serious challenge to find enough young pilots as it is, and fleet expansion by Kenya Airways and ongoing brain drain to the Gulf has prompted aviation observers to question the wisdom of making pilot training more expensive, instead of making it more affordable to create a larger pool of future commercial pilots.
While it has been acknowledged that the last major fee revision was over a decade ago, in particular the general aviation sector, including the leisure flyers on weekends can brace themselves to see an already expensive hobby become even more expensive. Needless to say, there are substantial objections to the KCAA proposals but few expect government and KCAA take notice of those, as they are known to brush aside submissions from the private sector and do what they want in a near unaccountable scenario, similar to the take it or get out attitude shown over the introduction of the last round of regulations.
The chairman of the East African Aero Club did not mince words either as he described KCAA as a leech on an already embattled industry.
Said one regular source: KCAA and government cite lack of inspectors, which is true, there are not enough, but instead of pooling their resources with other EAC aviation regulators, they are just looking at their own fiefdom. Airworthiness inspectors and specialists should be shared amongst EAC countries, is could save considerable expense which can translate in lower charges for flights. They also should do a thorough analysis of their internal dead wood and stop forcing the industry from requiring multiple and repetitive permits and licenses. When one has an AOC in Uganda, when one has a pilots license in Tanzania that should be accepted without ifs and buts here in Kenya too, after all East Africa is now under CASSOA and has harmonized regulations. But it shows it is all about fees and to finance a structure of national regulators which should be merged into one body under EAC and branch offices in the member countries.
Watch this space as the latest round of spats, accusations and counteraccusations unfolds between the KCAA and aviation stakeholders and airlines.
MALINDI HOTELIERS WANT FIRE BRIGADE UPGRADED
A recent fire in Watamu, which reportedly destroyed several holiday villas and nearby buildings, brought renewed demands from members of the coast branch of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers to improve the fire fighting capabilities. Tourism is the most significant business in Malindi and Watamu and the opening of new larger facilities at Malindi Airport is bound to further increase the inflow of visitors to the area. However, the often makuti covered roof structures of beach resorts and holiday villas are also bound to burn easily, inspite of being treated with chemicals supposed to prevent the dry palm leaves panels from catching fire or burning rapidly. Strong winds often fuel fires, blowing debris to other nearby roofs and only a swift response from the fire brigade can avoid a property burning to the ground.
Hotels but also insurance companies are at the forefront of demands to the Malindi and Watamu councils to introduce an added fire station and equip them with state of the art vehicles, capable to responding to fires at an instant, to save lives and property. Tourism is a big source of income for the council. They should invest some of the income back into infrastructure. A good fire brigade is not just for hotels but the entire community. But the resorts are vulnerable to negative press reports after a fire happens and we cannot respond quickly. These reports spread faster than the fire because our guests stand there and watch and use their phones for social network messages, Facebook or Twitter. In fact when a fire breaks out their friends far abroad know often what is happening, even with pictures, before the fire brigade is even aware of a fire. And when then an old vehicle arrives and there is not enough water for instance, that is going around the world these days instantly and makes us look bad did another regular source from the Kenyan coast add in an overnight response to questions asked by this correspondent. In closing, investments in the safety of tourists, but also of area residents, seems a crucial component of the tourism industry and governments, in the entire region, have a challenge at hand to improve their track record.
FIX THE MARA ROAD OR ELSE
Tourism stakeholders have once again demanded that the Kenyan government finally lives up to its often made and yet to be delivered promises, to have a crucial tourism road fixed up.
The section of road between Narok and the Sekenani gate, a major entrance to the world famous Masai Mara Game Reserve, is in a growing state of disrepair and according to a regular source from Nairobi a total disgrace for our country and a damning indictment on our politicians and government as a whole.
Tourism is a major economic sector in Kenya, second in foreign exchange earnings only after tea though expected to reclaim the top spot this year as arrivals are booming, and the Masai Mara is one of the most high profile parks. Known around the world for the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras from the Serengeti, between late June and October each year, getting to the Mara has been a nightmare for many safari drivers.
While those tourists who can afford it fly to the Masai Mara on one of the many daily scheduled flights from Wilson Airport or even from other national parks, those who cannot pay that price for comfort are literally condemned to suffer one of the worst roads in Kenya according to another source.
I blame the Narok council as much as central government. We do not care over jurisdiction, we care to have this road fixed immediately. When tourist vehicles get stuck overnight it is very bad publicity for us, when our shock absorbers break, the springs snap and tourists arrive in the Mara all sore and aching, their enjoyment of the safari is spoilt and they already complain on arrival about the trip back. Narok council is chewing big from gate receipts and we demand that infrastructure, including access roads, are maintained. Right now voting is ongoing for being part of the 7 modern wonders of the world and the Masai Mara will lose because those who can vote will remember the bad roads said yet another source.
Government sources, stung by the harsh criticism, were swift to defend themselves claiming tenders had been awarded but critics rejected this explanation out of hand, saying this statement is now a broken cassette played to often in Nairobi while the little left of the road keeps falling apart.
In contrast has the Kenyan government invested big time in new highways through, around and from the capital city Nairobi towards Mombasa and Thika but also other major highways across the country, leaving open questions to be answered if it the Narok to Sekenani road is not a political football, kicked around at the expense of the tourism industry. Watch this space.
(One of Kenya Airways brand new E190AR)
Within hours of Kenya Airways serving notice of intent about its future, when they signed a 26 aircraft deal with Embraer of Brazil, did other airlines express their fears in an uncharacteristically candid fashion in communications with this correspondent. Fly 540s Nixon Ooko, Director of Operations, was quoted in sections of the Kenyan media to have said: You cannot have an experienced pilot in less than five years and this raises the possibility of Kenya Airways hiring experienced pilots and retraining them to fly these new jets. Others, not officially going on record, nothing unusual in East Africa were more candid and accused KQ without however giving any particulars or details: They will be poaching our Captains and First Officers, that much is clear. If they get 26 new planes between now and 2015 or 2016, they cannot produce enough new pilots in their own academy and from those sent to South Africa to train. This leaves me to conclude that they will again recruit on the open market like they did before. I agree, that as a smaller airline we will find it difficult to retain our pilots, even so we believe our packages are superior and we are more flexible employers. KQ however will bait them with career prospects to move from single aisle narrow body to the larger wide bodied planes in the future, and that is the aspiration of many pilots to eventually captain a B777 or a B787. And there is another threat even KQ suffers from, that is the Gulf airlines constantly recruiting, with head hunters and through their offices when they spread word that there are jobs in these airlines as expatriates. Even experienced pilots flying light aircraft on the safari routes are now showing interest to move up and there will be a rat race to capture them, entice them. As a Kenyan I am happy to see KQ grow but to be honest, for our company this means nothing but more problems. And just remember that salary packages for pilots have doubled over the last couple of years already. This is becoming a big factor in our cost structure and can break our financial back if we cannot approach this sensibly.
Kenya Airways in the meantime let it be known through established channels that far from poaching staff and in particular pilots, the airline was committed to expand their in house training programmes and external courses for pilot aspirants, which will be sufficient to cater for the increase in aircraft number over the next few years. It was also suggested that Embraer will assist KQ, which is now the Brazilian manufacturers largest customer in Africa, with the training of pilots and the recruitment of Brazilian expatriate pilots has in fact not been ruled out by the sources this correspondent spoke with. Said one regular source from Embakasi on condition of anonymity: We invested in a flight simulator for the B737 and we are now getting a lot of Embraer aircraft, so we might invest in a simulator for those aircraft also. We are committed to training our staff and will continue to do so. Eventually we will have over 30 Embraer 170 and 190 aircraft flying so it makes sense to train our pilots at home. No other airline in Kenya has invested in training like we do, so they should not be too worried.
As recently explained in a series of articles over the East African aviation markets, this will undoubtedly play out over the coming months in an increasingly competitive environment, where the gloves will come off and only the financially strong and fit will survive. Watch this space for the most up to date information from the regional airline industry.
KENYA TO DISCUSS AIR LINKS WITH US
A bilateral meeting between the United States and Kenya at the end of September will have aviation on the agenda, it was understood from a source in Nairobi.
The inexplicable cancellation of a Delta Airlines inaugural flight in early 2010, ostensible over obscure security concerns, caused consternation in Kenyas government circles, more so considering the growing number of American tourists coming to East Africa and landing initially in Nairobi. The reasons were also soundly rejected by other airline executives in Kenya at the time, low key of course considering the possible overkill reaction by the Americans when it comes to matters of national security where common sense and reason no longer seem to have any place.
The bilateral meeting, to be attended amongst others by the ministers responsible for tourism and for transport will undoubtedly try to get the US lift their objections and permit Delta to finally commence flights, and with over 100.000 American tourists expected in Kenya this year there is a growing commercial and economic reason for having direct airlinks alongside the traditional routes via Europe.
The same sources also commented on Kenyas intention to have flights between Russia and Kenya resume. In the old days Aeroflot regularly landed in Nairobi but has since shed the route while undergoing restructuring, but with a growing number of visitors from Russia to Kenya, and via Nairobi into the region, there as is the case with America reasons exist to finally look again at direct flights and not leave the entire uplift to mainly Gulf carries which connect Russian cities several times a day to their hubs in Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
For the latest aviation news updates from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region, look no further, read it all here.
KENYA AIRWAYS PUTS PEN TO PAPER WITH EMBRAER
Today will see the formal signing ceremony between The Pride of Africa, aka Kenya Airways and Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer. During the recent Paris Air Show was the initial announcement made, and instantly reported here, that KQ had expressed their intent to buy 10 more Embraer E190AR jets, and this deal is being formally inked today.
It was however also learned that options for a further at least 10 more Embraer jets, not determined yet whether the 170 or 190 version, will be obtained by Kenya Airways, which can at an appropriate time be turned into firm orders, keeping potential production slots available for the airline.
Embraer has been aggressively courting African airlines, backed by the Brazilian government and credit guarantees by the Brazilian export credit agency, and after capturing an initial order from regional aviation giant Embraer positioned itself for a deal expanding potentially to 30 aircraft. KQ right now flies 7 Embraer 170 and 190 aircraft, with three more to be delivered under an existing deal between now and early 2012 before the second firm order for 10 more 190s comes up for deliveries. Regional and continental expansion plans by The Pride of Africa were boosted by the acquisition of the Embraer jets, which unlike its CRJ competitor jet by Bombardier offers conventional underfloor baggage and cargo space. Operating economics and the ability to fly to smaller airports and destinations with lower demand soon convinced the KQ economists and analysts that they had a winner on their fleet and were swift to convert interest into contracts. All Embraer jets are delivered to Kenya Airways in a two class configuration, and while the business class is clearly less than on the airlines B737 fleet, nevertheless offers a degree of additional comfort to their premium passengers. The seating, in both economy and business is 2×2 is considered ideal for Kenyas domestic routes between Nairobi and Mombasa, Malindi and Kisumu but also for some of the regional routes where demand could not fill the larger B737s while new destinations across the African continent can now be opened up as the E 190AR has the reach and offers optimal seat availability.
The ceremony today will elevate Embraers status with Kenya Airways to very nearly the fleet level the airline maintains with Boeing jets and is very likely also a precursor to Embraer supporting Kenya Airways in establishing a maintenance base at Nairobi, where other airlines from the continent, opting to purchase or lease Embraer aircraft, can then have their jets serviced and maintained, possibly creating a number of additional highly paid positions for Kenyans trained as aviation engineers and technicians. Watch this space.
TANZANIA ACTS ON POACHING
Following growing concern amongst the conservation fraternity over the number of poaching incidents and seizures of blood ivory and other wildlife trophies has government at last, and many say rather belatedly acted late last week. A national anti poaching unit was introduced to be deployed as and where the situation may demands but also to more intensely police the airports and seaports of Tanzania, through which allegedly large quantities of ivory have been smuggled in the past.
Donors to and financial supporters of TANAPA have been critically viewing developments over the past 18 months, since Tanzanias attempt to legally sell ivory was thwarted by a vote in the CITES tri-annual assembly of member states. The report published at the time by the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka was rather damning over lack of political will and material facilitation of anti poaching operations and it was only the killing of an Eastern Black Rhino in the Serengeti, received just months earlier by none other than President Kikwete, which triggered a broader review of the fight against poaching and wildlife smuggling.
Other ongoing controversies over Tanzanias commitment towards conservation too have resulted in negative publicity for the country, spoiling its erstwhile excellent reputation as being a global guardian of a rich wildlife heritage and endangering funding towards conservation from around the globe.
The introduction of a national anti poaching unit however seems to underscore that government and its various organs have now finally understood just how critical a sustained anti poaching effort is, to promote the country ahead of the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain as a desirable tourist destination but also to retain the wildlife experience for safari tourists and future generations.
The new unit on the first deployment to the Katavi National Park already showed encouraging results as gangs of poachers, roaming almost at will until now, were scattered and arrested and dozens of firearms confiscated.
The Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism also announced that more equipment will be availed to the unit, such as helicopters for rapid deployment and aerial surveillance and reconnaissance. It is also understood from a usually well informed source that army units can be called upon for special operations, to deploy sufficient counterforce against poachers armed with sophisticated automatic weapons, which is in line with a statement made last year by government but was a long way coming towards implementation. For now it is kudos for the Tanzanian government for their effort to combat poaching and stop the illegal trade in ivory, which is threatening to wipe out entire elephant populations across the Eastern and Southern African safari tourism countries if not brought to a halt.
Said a regular source from Arusha overnight: This is a good step in the right direction. Anti poaching operations are very important in the field, to create a deterrent, to bust the gangs. But there are other places we need to fight too. The last CITES executive committee meeting got damning reports on the scale of poaching in Africa. They also know the main destination of the ivory. It is there that political intervention is needed to criminalize the demand in these countries. And thirdly airlines, shipping companies have an obligation to make sure that there is no contraband hidden in containers, in parcels and cargo. Anti poaching on the ground is a battle we can win, given enough manpower and equipment. I have no doubt about TANAPAs commitment to do what it takes to wipe out the poachers. But the other two issues are beyond us here in Tanzania, that needs a global reaction, a sort of coalition to help rescue Africas natural heritage. In South Africa they are heading for a new poaching record and rhinos are killed daily now. That only started about 3 years ago when suddenly we saw a big inflow of Chinese companies, Chinese expatriates. I am not saying all Chinese are involved in that but there is a hard core, a criminal hard core who are doing that, driving the poaching and their own government is doing too little to stop it. We need bigger fines, longer sentences for such crimes. But even here in Tanzania, even in Kenya and Uganda, the fines and sentences are a joke, poachers get bail and go back immediately to poach again, that all has to stop.
Sentiments often voiced by this correspondent who on this occasion however gratefully acknowledges the latest move by the Tanzanian government to establish a strong anti poaching deterrent and finally move from lip service to action.
PRECISION AIRS IPO FINALLY GETS TAKE OFF CLEARANCE
Regulatory authorities in Tanzania have finally bowed to increasing pressure to allow Precision Air, Tanzanias premier privately owned airline and partner of Kenya Airways, to go ahead with their long planned and often halted initial public offering of shares. Government in Dar es Salaam had come under intense scrutiny over their apparent double standards, on one side making verbal statements as to attracting investments in the aviation industry most recently during the opening of the aviation conference last week in Dar es Salaam by President Kikwete and yet placing hurdle after hurdle in the way of Precision Air in a wide range of areas. Foul play was suspected when upon the opening of the airlines maintenance facility at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar no taxiway had been linked to the multi million US Dollar investment by the Tanzania Airports Authority, as was during the airlines long struggle to attain the status of self handling, allowing it eventually to escape the greedy clutches of a handling monopolist.
The halt of the IPO earlier this year was reportedly linked to a, what was generally perceived as frivolent and politically motivated winding up petition against Precision Air over an alleged debt of some 100.000 US Dollars, prompting the Dar Stock Exchange to throw the book at the airline claiming it could not proceed with the sale of shares while winding up proceeding were ongoing.
Tanzanias mainstream politicians, many of them mentally rooted in the command economy days, also played a part in constantly demanding that government revive the near dead Air Tanzania and only recently was a huge maintenance bill paid on ATCLs behalf to get a Bombardier Q300 aircraft back into operations, a single turboprop plane compared to the many recently acquired ATRs and jets of Precision.
Kenya Airways being a key partner of Precision also reportedly fueled sentiments against Precision, inspite of KQs expressed desire to reduce their current shareholding of 49 percent to approximately a third of the shares during the IPO.
Yet, all is well what ends well as Precision apparently got final permissions to launch their IPO within weeks of this announcement in October, setting the stage of a major boost for the Dar Stock Exchange and injecting added capital into the airline at a time when it is clearly set on an aggressive expansion course.
Meanwhile has the airline taken delivery of another B 737, which will be deployed on the route between Nairobi to Dar and between Dar and Mwanza, bringing the total number of aircraft operated to 11. Precision has already announced that they intend to add a further 6 planes between now and the end of 2012, affirming its status as Tanzanias number one airline, connecting the country domestically, regionally and across the continent of Africa. Watch this space.
HOTEL ASSESSORS GRADUATE
17 course participants graduated during the week from a two month training exercise aimed to equip them with knowledge and skills how to rate and grade hotels, resorts, safari lodges and other hospitality businesses. The East African Communitys effort to harmonize the standards of the hospitality industry in the region is gradually getting into gear, and across East Africa is training underway to provide the manpower needed to start this Herculean task.
An extensive catalogue of criteria was developed several years ago already to finally embark on a regionwide grading and classification of hospitality businesses aimed to uplift standards and give visitors from abroad the certainty that star ratings are applied in a uniform, transparent and logical way. The Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, who was present at the occasion of the graduation, was reported to have said: The best way to realize the objectives [to promote the industry] is through continued training for capacity building. The 17 finalists receiving certificates today have a significant contribution to the growth of the [tourism] industry.
Tanzanias tourist board is presently rebranding the destination and set to launch a major PR and marketing initiative to coincide with the forthcoming celebrations of Tanzanias 50th year of independence from Britain, hoping to bring tens of thousands of additional tourists to the country.
GRUMETI RESERVES UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT AGAIN
Investigations have been launched against some Grumeti Reserves wardens over the alleged beating of a poaching suspect, who later died in hospital. The three staff are now in custody alongside a game officer from a nearby outpost, who was also arrested to help with investigations.
The alleged poacher was arrested a few days ago and taken to a police station, but after complaining of ill health transported to a local medical facility where he later died.
Grumeti Reserves is owned by the US based Paul Tudor Jones who has invested substantially in the Grumeti sectors tourism industry and owns three luxurious safari camps in Ikorongo, Ikoma and Grumeti.
The company has often been in the news over controversies with staff and reportedly fired several of them recently over allegations of covertly supporting poaching and the sale of bushmeat, a case now apparently in court, while on another occasion allegations were made against a manager for locking a staff member into the cold store.
The company made waves when it was reported some years ago that they were planning to build an international airport near the main Serengeti National Park, prompting opposition from conservationists who in turn had proposed to rather invest in Mwanza Airport and fly passengers from there with light aircraft to their safari camps, all of which have nearby airstrips for that purpose.
Concludes this correspondent, that whatever the truth is and will come out during the investigation, it is once again negative publicity for Grumeti and its American owner and maybe time that they comprehensively review their community relations, operating practices and rules of engagement when arresting alleged poachers.
ZANZIBAR TO LAUNCH SECOND MAJOR CULTURAL FESTIVAL
September 02nd until 04th will see the inaugural edition of the Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festival, to be officially launched by Zanzibars President Ali Mohamed Sein. The island is already home to one of the most significant music and cultural festivals on the entire African continent, Sauti Za Busara and this second festival is aimed to further entrench Zanzibar as THE cultural, music and performing arts centre, not just in East Africa but for the entire continent.
A press statement obtained from Zanzibar, issued by the presidents office, says: I believe this festival will raise awareness on [the] importance of peoples culture, democracy, respect for human rights and better management of Africas resources.
Alongside the music performances a series of workshops will be organized to and the winners of a school writing competition on the theme Writers for Peace will be announced in a special award ceremony towards the end of the festival on Sunday.
Venue for the festivals main performances is the Old Fort and a nominal entrance fee will be charged to enter the area.
Adds this correspondent that Peace through music, literature and arts surely complements the better known Peace through Tourism. Flights to Zanzibar operate several times a day from Nairobi, Mombasa and of course Dar es Salaam on several airlines including Precision Air, Kenya Airways and Fly 540. Dont miss this unique opportunity to hear African jazz interpretations.
SERENGETI HIGHWAY OPPONENTS CELEBRATE COURT VICTORY
News came in overnight that the Tanzanian government has suffered a sharp setback when their application to throw out a legal case brought by a range of opponents to their Serengeti highway plans was denied by the East African Court of Justice. Court ruled to uphold the suit brought by conservation groups and will hear the case under its jurisdiction. This will give fresh impetus to the campaign to keep the Serengeti untouched, much needed considering the lukewarm and often outright contradictory statements by government after sending an assuring letter to UNESCO only to do U-turns time and again.
A range of other megaprojects along the Corridor of Destruction will now very likely also brought to court by environmental and conservation groups opposed to destroying the habitat of the lesser flamingo by a planned soda ash plant at Lake Natron, the uranium mining plans in the Selous, the building of a hydroelectric dam at Stieglers Gorge, also in the Selous and the building of a new port at Mwambani right in the middle of a marine national park launched to protect prehistoric Coelacanth fish.
Across the lake in Uganda were these news also received with both jubilation as well as giving hope to the Save Mabira Forest coalition, where president Museveni seems hell bent to destroy a quarter of the sprawling forest to allow a near bankrupt sugar company owned by an Indian tycoon to grow sugar cane. Groups in Uganda have already started to mobilize to take their grievance also to the East African Court of Justice, now certain to hear such cases after dismissing the Tanzanian governments objections on jurisdiction and substance of the case. Watch this space.
RCAA TRAINS MORE IN EMERGENCY RESPONSE
Airport personnel at Kanombe International Airport but also staff from several airlines, including RwandAir and Akagera Aviation amongst others, were trained during the past two weeks in emergency response protocols and firefighting techniques, to overall improve the safety standards at Rwandas main international aviation gateway. While the airport reportedly never suffered of any major fire, the RCAA nevertheless felt it imperative that staff be alerted to the presence of fire extinguishers and their use, as well as in evacuation procedures to be used in case of an incident.
The training is part of a greater initiative to provide staff with added skills which has been ongoing for a while, not just in the aviation industry but the tourism sector too, both of which play a crucial role in Rwandas efforts to position the country as a desirable investment, conferencing and tourism destination. RCAA in recent years also invested in new equipment and modernizing the airport and as reported previously here an expansion programme will soon go underway to further improve and enlarge facilities at Kanombe International Airport. Watch this space for the most current updates from East Africas aviation scenes.
(The state of the art cockpit of RwandAirs new B737-800)
It was learned overnight that upon completion of the mandatory crew training and check out on the new B737-800 the aircraft is due to enter commercial service this weekend with flights to Dubai via Mombasa and Johannesburg.
The new bird is offering not only more seats compared to the previously used B737-500 but is also featuring a complete inflight entertainment system for passengers, who can now enjoy the latest series and films, but also music from over a dozen channels.
(A view of the new look business class seats)
The seats are all in leather in the economy and business class section of the aircraft and offer a wider pitch, with in particular the business class extending to 51 inches between chairs. The added comfort, especially on the medium distance routes to the UAE and South Africa will be appreciated by passengers and be a point worth considering when deciding which airline to use when flying out of Kigali.
Enhanced inflight service can also be expected to give passengers on the two routes the best possible product and create loyalty through excellence, on the ground and in the air. New menus await those flying with RwandAir to Johannesburg and Dubai while the eyes of passengers too will have something to feast on, when the new Boeing Sky Interior the first on the African continent begins its light spiel on the ceiling throughout the cabin, changing colours and moods either as programmed by the crew or to reflect the time of the day or night with appropriate lighting. Expect a full report from the inaugural flight early next week, so make sure you watch this space.
RE-FORESTATION CONTINUES IN RWANDA
The Rwanda Afforestation Support Programme earlier in the week released data of their accomplishments, having planted over 160 hectares of land along main roads with trees while planting over 460 hectares on previously degraded and encroached forest land. The group, with funding from Belgium and the Netherlands will continue their work, now eyeing a further 500 hectares with the overall objective being 2.000 hectares to be replanted with valuable tropical trees. Improved forestry management too is part of the projects aims and will expand over 10.000 hectares, guiding local communities on best forestry management practices.
This NGO initiative is copied all over Rwanda by other civil society organizations and NGOs, often with support of development partners, donors and the Rwandan government, which has an expressed policy to increase forest cover by 2020 to 30 percent of the country in order to protect water sources, maintain bio-diversity and protect the local micro climate from radical changes.
This sets Rwanda apart from countries like Uganda, where the powers that be want to give away over 7.000 hectares of intact tropical rainforest to allow a financially ailing Indian owned sugar company grow sugar cane not long after his own government divested from that very company for constant financial losses over the past decades. Watch this space.
South Sudan News
NEW AIRLINE FOR NEW COUNTRY
South Sudans latest privately owned airline, Southern Star, took delivery last week of their first aircraft, a Dash 8 supplied by ALS of Nairobi Kenya on a long term contract.
The new airline is reportedly planning to start operations with domestic flights across the vast Southern Sudanese territory, connecting Juba with such towns like Malakal, Rumbek and others. Air transport is seen as a fast and safe mode of travel within the South Sudan, where a nationwide cross country network of highways and roads is only now beginning to be constructed.
According to a source from Nairobi Southern Star is due to receive additional leased aircraft from ALS in due course, to expand their network into the wider region. The new Republic of Southern Sudan is expected to commence negotiating bilateral air services agreements, in short BASAs with first neighbouring countries, which when coming into effect will regulate the number of frequencies and spell out the number of designated airlines from both BASA partners allowed to fly on the route. Presently airtraffic in and out of Juba is dominted by foreign airlines but sooner or later the principle of reciprocity will come into play, giving airlines registered in South Sudan a stronger position when it comes to claiming their share of the traffic.
The ownership of Southern Star could not be immediately established nor could suggestions that ALS was a partner in the venture. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from the East African regions aviation sector.
NEW CURRENCY ONLY FROM NOW ON
The one month transition period of using both new and old outgoing currency notes in South Sudan came to an end during the week. After exchanging nearly 750 million US Dollars worth of old currency notes against the new notes introduced upon independence from the oppressive regime in Khartoum, the swap has been announced to be a success and the parallel use of old and new been discontinued.
Meanwhile has the newly appointed cabinet also been sworn in for ministers in the first post independence government in Juba formally taking office, continuing the work to build a new country.
Information has also been sourced from Juba that the government has made a principal decision to seek an oil outlet via Kenya through a pipeline to the coast, to be able to ship crude oil without being subject to constant blackmail by the former slave masters in Khartoum.
When becoming independent 75 percent of the oil deposits in the formerly united Sudan went South with the new country, and this may increase still more should Abyei opt to join the South instead of remaining with the North. That referendum though has been delayed several times and the regime in Khartoum only a few weeks ago sent in troops to occupy and arguably cleanse Abyei of those thought to vote for independence, when eventually the votes are cast.
A source in Kampalas oil sector however expressed some cautious confidence that the South Sudan may also wish to participate in the setting up of oil refining facilities to jointly process crude into the more lucrative white fuels which would command a much higher price on the world market and some of which could then be sent back to the South Sudan from a nearby facility at much lower cost. Watch this space.
WHEN WILL SOUTH SUDAN GET ON THE MAPS
Ever tried to get the Weather Channel show you the temperatures and daily weather updates from Juba, the capital of the newly independent South Sudan? Think again. The relentless propaganda by the former slave regime in Khartoum has managed to keep Juba off the Weather Channel map, and in fact the same propaganda machine continues to attempt to keep the new Republic of South Sudan off the maps of global organizations and mapping services, including Google Earth and others.
Long time supporters of the people of South Sudan, and their aspirations for liberty and freedom, are now gearing up to change that too and have the new country, already a member of the United Nations and the African Union, put in its proper place and do away once and for all with the pretence by the North that the country is still one.
RoSS, the Republic of South Sudan, is presently joining up with a range of global bodies like the International Telecommunications Union, ICAO and others to be sure to be heard and have their rightful place in crucial organizations, which have a significant influence over how things are done in certain sectors of the economy. But most important, the new country needs to get on the maps for would be visitors to the countrys national parks in particular Boma which has already been given global exposure through National Geographics TV series Great Migrations so that they can find the location of the country and the exact location of the national parks and game reserves. Being absent from such crucial fact finding sites on the web would otherwise play in the hands of the erstwhile regime and be a deterrent to potential tourist and business visitors, who now habitually Google locations and countries before they embark on a trip.
Sign the petition to include the South Sudan in world maps and on key search engines and websites via Change.org through the link shown her for convenient access: www.change.org/petitions/south-sudan-is-an-independent-nation-include-it-on-the-world-map
SEYCHELLES HOSTS MAJOR ANTI PIRACY CONFERENCE
The Government of Seychelles in conjunction with the South Asia and Africa Regional Port Stability Cooperative are hosting a meeting to discuss added anti piracy measures and review existing measures already implemented. Observers are also on Mahe from other Indian Ocean island countries affected by piracy, from the European Union, the United States and Interpol amongst others.
On the agenda are such pressing issues as the impact of ocean terrorism on the cruise industry, trading in general and of course on the fishing industry. Operational responses too will be candidly discussed it is understood and will judicial responses to the menace, when pirates have been captured and need to be dealt with in a court of law. Placement of armed escorts on ocean going vessels traversing pirate infested waters too is being discussed, a measure the Seychelles in particular favour as, according to their Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon. Joel Morgan, not one ship such protected has been hijacked by pirates. The meeting is also seeking dialogue with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to create an environment of coastal surveillance and economic progress to prevent Somalis from taking to the seas to hijack ships and to offer viable alternatives to young Somalis to find gainful employment on land.
The Seychelles have been at the forefront of fighting piracy and have with the support of friendly nations increased the size of their navy and coast guard while also serving as a base for aerial surveillance and monitoring. Here they are using US Army UAVs as well as fixed wing aircraft deployed for the purpose of constantly flying over the vast Indian Ocean area and guiding surface vessels of the anti piracy coalition towards targets.
SEYCHELLES WORKS UGANDAN HONEYMOON MARKET
Weddings in Uganda are big business and so are honeymoons. Last week did the New Vision, Ugandas leading daily newspaper, organize a Bride and Groom exhibition, lasting for three days.
Pearl Hoareau, Managing Director of the Uganda Travel Bureau and Tourism Ambassador in Uganda for the Seychelles, hosted Amia Jovanovic of the Seychelles Tourist Board to present those tying the knot in the future with information and booking options for one of the most sought after honeymoon destinations in the world the Seychelles.
Business at the exhibition was described as brisk and companies participating and showing off their wares and services expressed satisfaction over both attendance and transactions recorded.
Early in the week a workshop for travel agents will also be held, organized by STB and Pearl, aimed at giving Ugandan agencies more information of the archipelagos attractions and how to get there.
Kenya Airways offers three times a week convenient one stop connections from Entebbe via Nairobi to Mahe and within a few hours flight can the honeymooners enjoy their vacation on one of the Seychelles famous beaches. Resorts have special packages available for honeymooners, full of extra goodies for the newlyweds and even holiday villas and guest houses, and B&Bs for that matter, are keen to host honeymooners to further entrench the Seychelles reputation as THE honeymoon destination.
Visit www.seychelles.travel for more information on the range of resorts, hotels and guest houses available, and what else to do while on the islands. Affordable Seychelles or Seychelles Another World there is a place for everyone wanting to visit the Creole Island Paradise.
FIBRE OPTIC CONNECTION REMAINS ON TRACK
Information was received from Mahe overnight that a meeting of contractors and project promoters established that the planning for the laying of the fibre optic cable was on track and on time. Work is expected to commence in February 2012, when a specially equipped ocean vessel will begin the sink the cable, which will link the present fibre optic network along the East African seaboard in Dar es Salaam with the Seychelles. Work it expected to take several weeks before the cable is due to reach Mahe by mid 2012 but the system is only thought to go operational, after a successful testing phase, in the last quarter of next year.
The connection, promoted by the Government of Seychelles in conjunction with Cable and Wireless as well as Airtel, is due to connect Seychelles to the information superhighway with superfast speeds, which fibre optic can guarantee compared to the much slower and capacity restricted satellite up- and downlinks.
The nearly 30 million Euro cost is underwritten by the members of the consortium and has been co-financed by the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank.
Once complete, even tourists are due to benefit from much faster and much cheaper connections for both voice and data traffic and is likely to increase the Seychelles visibility on the world wide web even further.
RECORD CHINESE ARRIVALS FOR SEYCHELLES
With several months still to go in 2011 the arrival of Chinese citizens have already exceeded the entire arrival number for 2010, itself a record breaking year, and the current trend shows an increase of more than 75 percent compared to last year. Active promotion, by the Seychelles Tourism Board but also Air Seychelles, which connects Chinese travelers once a week via Singapore, and of course Emirates, Qatar Airways and soon Etihad, has spurred a boom of sorts with interest by Chinese travelers about Seychelles being high and growing according to a tourism source on Mahe. Gulf airlines will by the end of the year fly 25 times a week to the archipelago and offer convenient connections through their hubs in Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi for Chinese travelers, now able to reach the Seychelles with only one stop.
The trend is being boosted right now by a four page feature in a leading travel magazine issued regularly by the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority China Flights which is reaching a wide readership amongst the main STB target group of Chinese society.
It was also learned that a delegation from the Seychelles will travel to China later in September for bilateral talks, likely to include discussions on a direct airlink, possibly on a code share basis, between China and Mahe, to promote trade and travel between the two countries.
Tourism arrivals for 2011 are expected to break all previous records as are expected earnings in hard currency from tourism related income, keeping the sector as the key performer in the Seychelles economy with the highest foreign exchange earnings and the biggest single creator of new job opportunities.
Seychelles Another World for sure.
SEYCHELLES ELECTION TIME NEW PARTY NEW GAME?
With the general election just a few weeks away now the Seychelles politics are set to change as a new political party, the Popular Democratic Party is entering the main arena of an election fight for the first time.
Long time opposition leader Wavel Ramkalawan, following his significant defeat in the May Presidential Elections, threw in the towel soon afterwards, and in an act of defiance seems to have propelled his own party, the SNP, into the abyss too. First refusing to take part in declaration of election results he then went on to stop attending parliamentary proceedings and compelling his partys assembly members to follow his example, culminating in his declaration that the SNP, as if a piece of personal property, would not participate in the next round of parliamentary elections at all.
Thus taking the one major opposition to the ruling Party LEPEP out of the equation, this went not down well with many of his followers who now doubt not only his wisdom but his rationale and motive. Having observed the Presidential elections in May this correspondent made a number of contacts on the archipelago, from both ruling party and the opposition, and even then was the glaring absence of Wavel at the election results announcement noted with disgust amongst some of his party members. One of them commented in an unsolicited email to this correspondent: We lost the Presidential Elections fair and square. No one believes the allegations made then about vote buying. Our candidate was tired, our campaign was tired and the President showed he is his own man now and no longer from the old guard. But the worst part was boycotting parliament and trying to make points in public. This failed and led to one of our own members voting with government to dissolve parliament. Now we have a new electoral commission, and while a lot more has to be done, we the SNP should be part of the process. Declaring that the SNP will not participate, was that Wavels decision or was it made by all party members? I do not remember that our supporters were asked. So now we have had to drop SNP and form the PDP. Maybe it was over ego maybe not, but whatever achievements Wavel could look at are now destroyed, SNP has been destroyed. The new party will offer many familiar faces to the voters, moderates from the opposition and we hope that the traditional voters for SNP will give their votes to us now. At least we must try to stop LEPEP from gaining a two third majority, but Wavels decision has made this difficult for us. There is so little time now to get organized.
It is understood that the new party will field candidates in all constituencies and while no one right now can gauge the level of support for the new opposition team, it is widely expected that opposition voters, in the absence of Wavel and his SNP, will switch loyalty to the new group.
Ruling party members have expressed optimism that the problems of the opposition would resonate through the electorate and that LEPEP would gain once again a 2/3 majority in the assembly, although there were words of caution too from those who felt that Wavels firebrand policy of no, no, no was critical to governments success in the past, since President Michel first came to power. Said a source closely linked to the ruling party: We are ready for elections. Wavels SNP was not. Many of his former members deserted him now. Our candidates will face some very familiar names, now standing under a new party. We are sure to win by a big margin but only when results are declared will we know where we stand. Only then can we know the impact of Wavels departure from politics. What we hope for is to have members in the assembly working for the future of all Seychellois, for the good of the country and not just for their party interests.
Tourism sources in the meantime dismissed any suggestions that the forthcoming elections would have any impact on tourism arrivals or the safety of tourists on the archipelago. Our people are mature, there will be no rowdy scenes at election rallies and campaigning will be peaceful and orderly. Elections will be over three days and you saw yourself in May how organized things were and how smooth everything went. [this
correspondent was on the Seychelles to monitor and observe the election
process and reported widely about his impressions at the time] Tourists will arrive just like then and except for posters not even realize there are elections. Opposition and government party both know that we are all Seychellois, all responsible for the future of our country and its well being, to create jobs and maintain jobs. Tourism is the biggest business in Seychelles and both sides know it, will respect it and keep the peace during campaigning and elections.
Watch this space for the unfolding campaign process and read about the eventual outcome of the elections when results are announced and will be published here.
GOVERNMENT ALLOCATES MORE RESOURCES TO POLICING
The Seychelles government has responded swiftly to calls by the tourism fraternity to strengthen security measures, acknowledging that the safety of tourists and citizens alike was a high priority and needed extra input, also in line with President Michels commitment to vigorously combat crime and social ills across the archipelago.
A follow up meeting between the Minister for Home Affairs Hon. Joel Morgan, tourism stakeholders and community leaders on the island of La Digue brought these assurances to the attention of the public and giving resort operators the result they were seeking in an earlier meeting when they demanded government action on a range of issues. The minister revealed in the presence of the Commissioner of Police that a special training unit of the South African police force was assisting the Seychelles in modern surveillance and crime fighting techniques while the setting up of a serious crimes unit was providing the organizational changes needed to address the concerns of citizens and tourism stakeholders.
The current force of 13 police officers on La Digue will be boosted to 20 just as soon as renovations at the police station were completed, but it was noted that the private sector had offered to host additional police officers until then to facilitate an immediate deployment.
The Seychelles Tourism Board CEO Alain St. Ange, who hails from the island of La Digue, welcomed the news as did Louis DOffay, Chairman of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, who also attended the meeting at the Chateaux St. Cloud.
AIR SEYCHELLES CONFIRMS DREAMLINER FOR 2013
Information was received from Mahe overnight that Air Seychelles will begin receiving their ordered B787 Dreamliner aircraft as of 2013, with no specific delivery date however confirmed as yet, probably because Boeing is still struggling to get production of their latest commercial aircraft revved up. Other African airlines like Ethiopian and Kenya Airways too have pending orders for the Dreamliner, and ET will be the first according to information at hand, to receive the brand new plane on the African continent.
Air Seychelles has been successfully flying the B767 for the past two decades and will continue to fly wide bodied aircraft just the same when the new B787 is coming to the archipelago.
Significant operational savings are projected, as is greater cargo and passenger uplift, for the airline with the new state of the art aircraft which only last week got its full certification by the FAA and EASA ahead of launch customer ANA of Japan beginning commercial operations.
The airline has also announced an action plan to comply with the EUs emission control measures, inspite of other airlines having launched legal challenges, so as to ensure continued operations to Air Seychelles key European destinations Paris, London, Milan and Rome. With half of the Seychelles territory declared protected areas the airline may be able to take advantage of free carbon credits to offset their aircraft emissions while within European airspace and details on the final requirements will be appearing here, so watch this space.
AIR SEYCHELLES MOD FLIGHTS TO FALKLAND ISLANDS END THIS WEEK
Information was sourced from Mahe that the contract between the British Ministry of Defense to operate flights between the UK air force base in Brize Norton and the Falklands, via Ascension Island is going to expire this weekend and that HM will not be seeking a contract renewal.
Air Seychelles was selected by the MoD as a proven operator to remote island locations, and has two decades of experience in operating the B767 from and to Mahe. The last flight for the MoD will be this Friday following which the aircraft will return to the Seychelles from where it will be deployed as of 08th September on the regular route between Mahe via Rome to London. The installed medical suite which was providing for the uplift of seriously ill people or service personnel from the Falklands will be removed from the aircraft and the standard business / economy configuration restored.
The Executive Chairman of Air Seychelles, Mr. Maurice Loustau-Lalanne reportedly commented that the airline would now mind its core business of passenger air transport between the archipelago and key destinations from where tourists fly to the islands and had therefore decided to opt out of the arrangements with the British Defense Ministry.
It was also learned that the long search for a new Chief Executive Officer has apparently yielded results and the new man, known to this correspondent already for some time, will be revealed in due course. Watch this space for regular and breaking news updates from East Africas and the Indian Ocean regions aviation industry.
SEYCHELLES NATIONAL PARK GETS NEW BOARD
The Minister for Environment, the Hon. Joel Morgan, has yesterday appointed a new board of directors to guide and supervise the Seychelles National Park Authority. Mr. Flavien Joubert has been appointed the Chairman of the Board while Dr. Frauke Dogley, CEO of the Seychelles Island Foundation, was appointed to the board. Others are Capt. Jean Atalla from the Seychelles Coast Guard, Philomena Hollanda representing the Seychelles Tourism Board, Roy Clarisse from the Seychelles Fishing Authority and Dr. Reine-Marie Hoareau of the Department of Education.
SNPA is tasked to look after and manage the territorial national parks like Morne on the main island of Mahe but also marine national parks, after the two bodies separately responsible for marine and terrestrial parks were merged last year to streamline conservation measures and implement government policies under one roof. The Seychelles is the only country in the world which has over 50 percent of its geographical land area under protection and has been able to cash in through increased tourism receipts and arrivals on their global reputation to be an absolutely green destination. Chief Executive of SNPA is Mr. Denis Matatiken.
Congratulations upon this appointment to all members of the board and all the best in their challenging task and work ahead.
And in closing, as most weeks, a roundup of news from further down South, taken from The Livingstone Weekly by Gill Staden:
Here is an interesting bit of a story from 1948. In those days air transport was just in its infancy. Livingstone/Vic Falls was one of the destinations of the float planes which used to arrive from England after several days journey. The story comes from David Whitehead, England, who sent me a newspaper clipping.
The arrival, on Friday, April 30, of R.M.A. Southampton carrying members of the Press and agents on the first Solent passenger service to South Africa was the climax to seven months hard work at Victoria Falls, during which a new station as well as a new road four and a half miles long, were literally hacked from the bush in the face of strong opposition from elephants, hippos, crocodiles, torrential rains, and from the Zambesi River itself.
The story begins in July, 1947, when Corporation officials, with representatives from the office of the Director of Civil Aviation for Southern Rhodesia, met in Salisbury to plan the stretch of the river four miles above the world-famous Victoria Falls, which was to be a new alighting-area for our flying-boats on the run to South Africa.
The writer (named only as a reporter for the Bulawayo Chronicle) arrived at Victoria Falls on October 1, 1947, and in conjunction with officials from the Public Works Department, Bulawayo, laid out the site for the Terminal building on the southern bank of the river. The site itself had long been used by local elephants as a bathing place. It was chosen for the very reason that, over a period of year, the surrounding area had been flattened by the innumerable large feet and access to the river bank was made easy.
From the start of the actual building operations we had a battle to keep our footing in the area, as the elephants quite naturally resented this violation of their bathing rights. The first round went to them the foundations of the Terminal building were continually being flattened overnight. Finally, aid was solicited from the local police and the Game Warden in driving the animals up-river. …
Vultures in the News
Vultures are an indicator of the well-being of any environment. If the vultures are happy, then the environment is too.
Vultures have been in the news a bit during the week. It was Vulture Day throughout the world. Rory McDougall sent his email on the vulture count. Sadly Rorys email came along with some pics of a vulture which had been poisoned in Lower Zambezi it is thought from an impala carcass which had, itself, been poisoned.
In an article from Kariba, Zimbabwe, it was saying that vultures were being poisoned deliberately by poachers. Vultures, of course, will home in on any carcass but, if the vultures are all dead, then the poachers can hide their activities.
Remember the story I put in the Weekly some time ago about the Asian vultures. Medicine was being given to cattle which was a killer for vultures when they ate the carcass. The vulture population plummeted. Since 2006 the medicine has been banned and the vulture population is now coming back, but it is feared will never reach the numbers it was before.
From Birdlife Botswana:
"In Botswana, vultures have been killed incidentally by farmers taking problem animal control measures into their own hands" says Pete Hancock, Conservation officer for BirdLife Botswana "they put poison into the carcases of livestock killed by predators with the intention of killing the predator, but instead kill large numbers of vultures needlessly". This illegal activity must be addressed if vultures are to continue playing their useful role in the ecosystem.
"Birds provide a window on the rest of nature. They are very useful indicators of ecosystem health: if they are faring badly, then so is wildlife more generally", said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research and Indicators Co-ordinator.
Vic Falls Saf Lodge
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is a great place for vultures as they feed them every day. If you want to see a whole mass of them, go there around 1pm any day.
From the Zambian Weekly
More on ZESCOs plan to destroy northern beauty spots
It is ironic that one branch of the GRZ, the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), advertises the Northern Circuit and its magnificent waterfalls even going on expensive road trips to the US and Europe to promote these destinations, while another branch, the Ministry of Energy and Water Development, wants to sell two of the same waterfalls, the Kundabwika and Kabwelume on the Kalungwishi River, in the form of electricity to the mines and Congo.
It is also ironic that MoTs National Heritage Conservation Commission has spent lots of their scarce funds to build entrance gates, visitor centres, camping facilities and nsakas at Kabweluma and Lumangwe Falls
(on the same river) to enhance visitor numbers when having to dismantle them soon to make room for construction crews.
The plan to build power stations on the Kalungwishi River is old. Already in 1999, ZESCO commissioned a feasibility study viewpoint: When natural heritage disappears down the power line of the power potential of the Kalungwishi and Luapula Rivers. For Lumangwe it concluded that due to its scenic beauty, the falls will not be exploited for power generation. This year, Mwendoi Akakandelwa, Deputy Minister of
Energy and Water Development, when asked in parliament about ZESCOs plans, said there is no Lumangwe Hydro-Power Station Project (parliamentary debate 17 June 2011).
In 2007, it was reported that South African power utility ESKOM was bidding to construct the Kalungwishi Power Station (Mining Weekly, 9 February 2007). The following year, ZESCO signed a deal to build
Lumangwe Power Station, oddly with a milling company, Olympic Milling (Times of Zambia, 10 October 2007). Yet, nothing happened. Maybe the milling company didnt have the capacity (or technical know-how)?
In June 2010, former Kawambwa District Commissioner, Wilbroad Mumba, alleged that President Bandas administration was deliberately delaying the Lumangwe Power Station by withholding over 406 million US
dollars meant for its construction. He claimed a financing agreement had been signed with the Chinese government over a year earlier (Zambia News Features, 2 June 2010).
The latest deal, the Kalungwishi Power Project, reportedly includes two instead of one single power station. And not at Lumangwe, but in the gorges below the Kabweluma (the mini-Victoria Falls) and Kundabwika Falls which will wipe out both falls. So what has changed between June and August 2011?
Between Akakandelwas assurance that there will be no power station project and ZESCOs announcement of the new deal?
Needless to say, more of this is going on in other areas. Last month in Northwestern Province, I learnt that work had started on the Kabompo River Power Station (to feed the new Trident Mine), in the process washing out the Wushingwe Falls (not exactly a tourism hotspot). Earlier this month, I found evaluators of the Zambia Environmental Management Agency at Mujila Falls (a series of four falls, again hardly known,
though very scenic) in preparation for a Japanese-built Mujila Power Station. And soon the Chusa Falls near Shiwa Ngandu will be no more, drowned by yet another hydro-station.
I. Mwanza, Lusaka
Co-Author of Guide to Little-Known
Waterfalls of Zambia
Adds yours truly, that this guide book is an extraordinary piece of work, recording a large number of smaller and often unknown and previously undocumented waterfalls across Zambia, as a result of dedicated work and a huge effort by the author Ilse Mwanza and her contributing colleagues. Comes highly recommended for purchase and to learn about the magnificent wilderness of Zambias interior.