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
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Third edition September 2011
DUBAI A SHOPPERS PARADISE AND SO MUCH MORE
A travel report / September 2011
RwandAirs furthest destination received a major boost when the airline took delivery of their first brand new B737-800 at the end of August.
(RwandAirs new B737-800)
Not only considerably larger and much more comfortable with Africas first Boeing Sky Interior outfitting than the previously used B737-500, it finally offers the capacity to uplift all the shopping passengers manage to do while in the United Arab Emirates and bring it back to Kigali on the same flight. Dubai has often been described at Africas Mega Mall, as the citizens of the continent continue to flock to the Mecca of all shopping, at least in todays world and certainly true for us living in Africa.
Long gone are the days when we East Africans would for instance fly to London, Paris or Milan for shopping expeditions, and Visa complications are a major factor in this paradigm shift of travel habits, while cost is clearly another key aspect now influencing the choice of destinations.
The UAE Visa are regularly granted within two or three days of applying, and those with previous Visa at times get their approvals even in a day.
(Flying high the national flag from the worlds tallest flagpole)
This key pre-requisite sorted out, the choice of airline on which to travel from Kigali to Dubai, or once on the ground by road beyond to Sharjah, Ajman, Abu Dhabi or the other Emirates making up the UAE, is really quite simple.
Book your flight, or even an available package including hotel and transfers to and from the airport in Dubai with RwandAir, either on line, directly with the airline or via your favourite travel agent, turn up at least two hours prior to departure at Kanombe International Airport and hey presto, RwandAir will take you there, three times a week right now and soon it is understood, even more often. Dubais present international airport a second one is under construction and will be the worlds biggest with eventually 6 runways will by November this year by the way surpass most global airport rivals and become the World Number Two behind Heathrow in London for international traffic, but it is only a matter of time before they reach the top here too and become Number ONE.
(Dubais growing skyline, here seen from The Palm Jumeirah across to Dubai Marina)
Dubai is the high profile public face of the United Arab Emirates, the best known around the world of the 7 Emirates making up the UAE and it is the fastest growing city anywhere on the globe, THE tourist destination in the Gulf area, and EVERYTHING is of mega proportions as size clearly does matter here.
Studded with shopping malls, architectural marvels, hundreds of hotels and resorts from 1 star establishments to the fabled landmark 7 star Burj Al Arab, hundreds of restaurants offering ethnic and international cuisine suiting all pockets, Dubai can now easily be criss crossed by their new state of the art Metro, a fully air-conditioned rail system spanning the city from the airport to all corners of the city and soon to expand to the new Dubai World International Airport at Jebel Ali, which will open its doors next year. The stations, all air conditioned of course, have the shape of cocoons or sideway beehives and can be recognized with ease from the distance, hanging above the ground.
(A sunset impression of the Burj Khalifa, the Worlds tallest building)
Plenty of destination talk possible here as you can see, but let me start off with what remains the number one reason for visits by Africans to Dubai SHOPPING.
A conversation with a pleasant voice from the Dubai Tourist Office DTCM confirmed that the city, excluding neighbouring Sharjah or the little more distant Ajman, now has 68 shopping malls, many of which can easily be described as Mega Malls, including the biggest of them all, the Dubai Mall near the worlds tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The area, quite aptly, is now called the new downtown of Dubai, having displaced Deira and the core parts of the old city with Dubais new face, bigger and better than ever before.
(Dubai Mall, or rather part of it a Shoppers Paradise)
Second in the ranking in Dubai is the Mall of the Emirates, which itself took over from long time crowd favourite, the City Centre Mall in Deira when it was opened and has now given way to the latest and biggest again. And, added the pleasant voice from the other end of the phone, another at least 8 big malls are presently in planning or under construction, though no completion dates were available but for this fact: The Mall of Arabia in Dubailand will, when open, become the worlds biggest mall ever, before probably another one in the UAE will attempt to outdo them as well. As to the range of shops within those malls, some of you may from years ago remember the 340 different outlets at the City Centre Mall in Deira, then thought to be the pinnacle of shopping and yet the Dubai Mall now has 1.200 shops occupying the more than 12 million square feet of commercial space. Choices galore therefore where to go and many of the hotels offer shuttle busses to the various malls, something the concierges or front desks will be able to answer. Add to this the traditional back street shopping areas where smaller shops offer brand new or second hand goods, and no amount of time will be enough to go through them all, limited by both time and more likely the shopping budget, which can be spent in a day or two with ease in the marble and glass palaces or in some of the smaller back street shops made last longer and yield more, at least for those with patience and the skills to bargain. Taxi drivers are normally well aware of such places and are happy to take visitors there, in metered taxis still quite affordable or else on a negotiated daily rate. Having a car also makes it easier to ever so often store the growing number of bags in the boot of the car instead of lugging it along all day and then get back with the loot to the hotel in comfort, as tired feet claim their own toll. Driving in Dubai is on the left, like in Uganda and Kenya and although some of the cross city highways offer 6 or 7 lanes in EACH direction, during rush hour there are still traffic jams inspite of additional lanes having been constructed overhead.
During the hot daylight hours, in summer temperatures easily go well into the 45+C range, most malls are only frequented by the shopping tourists, from Africa but also from Central Asia, the former Soviet Union, Europe and the rest of the world, who flock to Dubai for that one reason, that one thing, SHOPPING.
At night however, when temperatures fall to more tolerable levels, the malls do fill up with locals too, as do the streets where cafes and bistros suddenly do brisk business and the city comes alive and turns into another City Which Never Sleeps as other metropolitan areas like New York or Hong Kong can claim.
Fancy Sushi and Seafood? Or Prime Ribs or giant T-Bone Steaks? Indian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean, Thai or the classic French Cuisine or Italian perhaps? Or, dare I ask, a trip to Pizza Hut, McDonalds or Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken? Hundreds of eateries, some Michelin star rated and others simply good or even very good can be found in the various areas of Dubai, some near your hotel and others further away. Most hotels also offer at least one, many in fact several specialty restaurants and the quality is normally good and prizes affordable. Buffets for lunch and dinner are mostly served in the main restaurants and offer as big a variety as can be imagined, themed as the week goes on to change the main courses from one side of the globe to the other, as is expected from a global destination as Dubai has become. Dining out can be outright cheap when using take away services, which even deliver to your hotel some hotels may not like the idea though and you might have to await delivery in front of the main entrance – or when using restaurants with a more local flair located along the back streets but even nearby your hotel. Eating out fancy though can be very pricy and in particular a good bottle of wine, served in hotel restaurants to tourists, can set you easily back several hundred Dinars, which exchange at about 3.67 to one US Dollar and has been stable for many many years. Restaurant guides, both printed and on the web, are available and one place where most, maybe not all but certainly most information is found is the TimeOutDubai websites restaurant link via http://www.timeoutdubai.com/restaurants?r=1 which covers locations across the city, the type of cuisine one would like to try out and it even has a dedicated section to Award Winning Restaurants in Dubai. Restaurants, which extend often on to the pavement outdoors or open air terraces, are quickly filling up after dark and the busy period only dies down in the late evening hours when it is the nightclubs and discos taking over from the malls and restaurants. Advance reservations, especially for popular restaurants are therefore almost essential.
Thursday night is the biggie in Dubai, similar to Saturday night elsewhere, as Friday is weekend day across the UAE. Many of the top hotels have their own in house night club or disco, but there are a range of night spots available around town and again, taxi drivers, concierges and front office staff at your hotel can point you in the right direction. Bring enough money though, as free entrance often only applies on off peak nights and cover charges, i.e. entrance fees on popular nights plus drinks can be expensive. Smart casual dress regularly helps to overcome the bouncers at the doors, who judge people by their appearance and decide who goes in and who does not, just like elsewhere in the world. Online publications also direct African visitors to nightspots frequented by other African tourists where the music is from the continent but in principle one can queue up anywhere and get in, or not. However, nightclubs are often only licensed to operate until 3 am at which time the music goes off and the bright lights come on, a signal to pack up and go home, unless invited to a house party by other revelers. A wide selection of nightclubs and discos can be found on the printed material hotels avail to their guests, or for those on line this section of TimeOutDubai again has the hottest tips and recommendations for you: http://www.timeoutdubai.com/nightlife
So up to here we covered shopping and food, two of the mainstream activities for visitors, and you might ask what else has Dubai to offer. Plenty of more of course but I have in the interest of space this could easily turn into a paperback novel otherwise chosen two more topics, architecture and tourism / sports activities, with a little reference to one or the other extra things, space permitting.
SPORTS activities, written in capital letters, because it deserves such bold mention, can be found both indoors and outdoors in Dubai. Excellent championship golf courses and sailing in the warm waters of the Gulf, maybe around The Palm Jumeirah are but two high profile activities visitors can take part in. Excellent diving grounds along the Dubais coast line are also found and equipment can be hired from many diving centres. Para gliding and parachuting are popular with action seeking visitors too. Creek Safaris on converted dhows can be booked on a daily basis and while during daylight the backdrop of Dubais growing and ever changing skyline is visible, at night such a trip turns into a romantic cruise, best enjoyed with company of course and not alone.
(This gives the word show boating a whole new dimension)
Some of the top hotels offer guest membership to golf courses and play takes place 24 / 7, at night under floodlight. Due to the temperatures tennis, available outdoors too of course, is really only advisable indoors, and most hotels offer a gym, some in fact fully fledged Spas and Fitness Centres with trainers at hand, while such facilities can also be accessed on a pay by visit basis across the city. Within the UAE there is horse racing and camel racing and even an annual F1 race consult your events calendar available at your hotel or ask your concierge or front desk staff and then of course there are Desert Safaris which include dune bashing, i.e. riding in 4x4s up and down the huge sand dunes not far outside the city which easily feels like a roller coaster ride and those daring enough can use a board to surf down the dunes sandy business though as the fine sand finds its way through your clothes everywhere. This trip out of town is often crowned with a traditional Arabic feast, something not to be missed. Or maybe a spot of skiing yes, indoors of course where the worlds largest indoor skiing arena has been built in Dubai, and as the saying goes Only in Dubai. Dont break a leg though inspite of the slopes being not too bad, which reminds me that travelers to Dubai should always carry a good insurance package for accidents and sudden illness, as treatment otherwise can swiftly deplete the available funds at hand. Every hotel has a range of sightseeing options available for guests, with prices all quite similar and again, printed guide magazines and leaflets are available from the concierge, the tour desk or the front desk, all of which will be happy to give good advice and make bookings for you.
Another main feature of Dubai is the ever changing skyline, the seemingly never ending construction of eye catching skyscrapers and the architectural marvels the city has to offer. In fact, this has become such a magnet for many visitors that tour agencies have introduced dedicated Architectural Tours where those interested to see extraordinary buildings get the most for their money.
(A landmark in Dubai the Burj Al Arab with the helipad clearly visible on top of the building)
From the Burj al Arab, the 7 star hotel off the Jumeirah beaches, which stands 321 metres high and for long was the worlds tallest hotel, to the Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building, there are creations of steel, glass and marble to look at with an open mouth from one end of Dubai to the other. In fact the saying goes that once you have reached one end of the city and make your way back to the other side the way is going to be longer as another suburb has already sprung up, ever extending the city further along the coast line and into the desert. As much as Dubai has award winning restaurants, award winning hotels and resorts, so it has award winning architectural creations. The Palm Jumeirah, extending into the shallow waters of the Gulf, is one of those examples, created by some of the brightest architectural teams assembled it aimed for the establishment of a palms shaped peninsula reaching into the ocean, and though doubted by many at the onset is now reality and offers high rise apartments, villas, residences, shopping malls and such world famous hotels as The Atlantis and many more. There is no single one global hotel management company worth its salt, which has not gotten at least one major hotel or resort under their belt and they all have one thing in common, stunning architecture.
(The Atlantis straight out of a tale from A Thousand and One Nights)
Which brings me to one of those extra things, Dubais drive to become a globally leading Health City with first class hospital facilities, diagnostics and surgeons ready to attend to health tourists. The same applies for dental care facilities and those with international insurance cover can seek out what they think is the best available medical care relegating many other countries into the second league when it comes to density and expertise all available in one place.
When travelling with RwandAir, flight and accommodation packages are available and can be booked in Kigali already for hotels and transfers from the airport to the hotel and back. I opted for RwandAirs General Sales Agent in Dubai, Al Rais Travel winner of the prestigious Best Travel Agency Award 2011 which besides looking after the airline also offers transportation and tours with pick up from any hotel in the city will be eager to assist.
While coming from the airport I took the shuttle bus of the Holiday Inn Express, which is conveniently located opposite the airport and has an hourly bus service free of charge, I then opted for an Al Rais tour across the city, operated exclusively for me in a BMW limousine, and the driver had an answer for just about everything I asked, and that was plenty of course. The Holiday Inn Express where I stayed, also used by the RwandAir crew as a stopover hotel, gives excellent value for money and good rates are available via Al Rais Travel www.alrais.com directly or through the hotel packages from the airline in Kigali. Breakfast is complimentary at the HIEX and the daily dinner buffet at Dirham 59 per person is quite reasonable, considering the many choices it offers.
Dubai, reached from Kigali via Mombasa presently three times a week with RwandAirs new B737-800, is a city where one can spend just two or three days, but easily also a week and longer, or simply do two or more short trips spread over a year as time and budget permits. Dubai is a city for many tastes and many interests and warmly welcomes visitors from around the world. A few words in closing: have a camera at the ready when flying into or out of Dubai, because the light show below at night is just extraordinary to witness from the skies window seat permitting that is. Secondly, the show of public affection to ones partner is a taboo in Dubai best to be avoided and thirdly, no drugs of any sort please, not in the baggage nor on the person, authorities at the airport are keenly vigilant and the penalties are very stiff indeed. That said, go fly RwandAir and enjoy Dubai now.
FLY DUBAI SILENCE IS DEAFENING A PLATFORM FOR A COMPLAINT
While in Dubai recently on a flying visit I had contact with some friends but as the events played out we did not meet due to the packed programme. However, knowing what I do and what I mainly write about the friend used the opportunity to share a passenger complaint with me about an experience on Fly Dubai, to which the airline reportedly has not responded.
I had given Fly Dubai some mention in the past, like when they commenced flights to Addis Ababa, but being a low cost airline surely does not preclude having staff dealing with such events as described in Mr. Eisa Abdelgalils email, which is reproduced here so that others too can learn a lesson or else share their trials and tribulations at the hands of airline staff going AWOL at the most inopportune times:
Re. Notorious flight No. FZ 634 from Khartoum to Dubai
I am referring to Fly Dubai flight number FZ 634 Khartoum-Dubai, which was scheduled for Friday 9 September 2011. The flight was supposed to leave Khartoum airport at 12:20 at noon (by Sudan local time) and arrive Dubai airport terminal 2 at 17:25 by UAE local time. After checking in, passing through the immigration and customs procedures at Khartoum airport, boarding the plane, the plane took off a little bit later than the scheduled time. Shortly after the take off, the passengers noticed that the plane was flying unsteadily and moving in a circle and it became clear there was something not OK with the plane. Then the captain told the passengers that the plane had small technical problem and the crew was contacting the head quarter to fix the problem. This was all the information that was given to the passengers who at this point became very worried. The plane continued flying unsteadily at a low altitude and no one knows what is going on since no further information was given to us. After some time, the captain told us that the plane would return to Khartoum airport due to a technical problem and this return journey would take about 15 minutes. Finally, we landed at Khartoum airport and the landing was rough and the passengers felt that bumpy landing. Then all passengers were taken to the waiting hall at Khartoum airport and were told to stay there till further notice. The waiting room had no any facilities except for the seats and the air-conditioning, which was very cold and most passengers were shivering with cold, especially the poor children. After protesting the situation to the airport authorities, they allowed us to go to another waiting hall with some facilities such refreshments and toilet rooms but Fly Dubai did not offer us any food or refreshments. Till this time, no one from Fly Dubai Company has talked to the passengers; it seemed they were deliberately avoiding the angry passengers. The passengers were waiting and no information was forthcoming and every one was tired, exhausted and frustrated. This waiting took around 5 hours and no comfort or refreshments were given to the poor passengers. Finally, and after a long waiting, the passengers were told they could go home and come back to the airport at 10 Oclock in the evening and there would be a flight around 12 in the night. Those who had no home at Khartoum were offered to be taken to a hotel, but since no one has confidence any more on the company most people l preferred to go to friends homes in Khartoum rather than wait to be taken to a hotel which might take long time to be arranged. I am one of those who went to a friends home in Khartoum rather than wait to be taken to a hotel. This was around 6 Oclock in the evening by Sudan local time. Please note that I left my home outside Khartoum around 7 Oclock in the morning so that I could be at Khartoum airport at 9 Oclock in the morning and supposedly fly to Dubai at 12:20 at noon. As we were told, we came back to Khartoum airport around 10 Oclock in the evening hoping that we would fly to Dubai at 12 Oclock midnight. We continued waiting and no one from Fly Dubai had shown up and the passengers were not sure whether they would fly to Dubai or not. At this point, the passengers became very frustrated and angry and they were only calmed down because the securities forces at the airport threatened them that they would be taken to detention!!! After long waiting and a lot of row and chaos, the passengers were allowed to board the plane. Even here, there was chaos because the seating was free and family members had to be separated, though the cabin crew did their best to accommodate the families request to be seated together. Finally, the plane took off at around 2:20 Oclock in the morning of Saturday 10 September 2011. This means that the passengers had to wait for about 14 hours in an uncomfortable environment, even sometime it was hostile!!! Please note that there was a considerable number of children among the passengers. The suffering was unbearable and terrible and only those who went through it can tell you about it. In my case, I spent 25 hours between the time I left my home in Sudan and the time I arrived my home in Dubai!!! To add insult to injury, when we arrived at Dubai airport terminal 2, my checked in bag went missing and I only recovered it after two days with some damage done to it.
Fly Dubai should be sensitive to the fact most its Sudanese customers (i.e. passengers) have the view that Fly Dubai has been offering them the worst service in all its destination routes and its cabin crew (especially those originating from other Arab countries) treat them in a condescending manner and I have personally witnessed such incidents.
The main conclusions, from this is nasty experience with Fly Dubai, are the following:
Fly Dubai has terribly failed its customers and has not lived up to their expectations; and has not lived up to its own promise of offering excellent services to its customers. Fly Dubai staff at Khartoum office have mishandled the situation and they showed poor judgment. Most passengers on that notorious flight will think twice, if not thrice, before buying a ticket from Fly Dubai again. This incident will cost Fly Dubai dearly in terms of customers satisfaction and undoing the damage to its reputation. There should be an investigation on what happened and who will take the responsibility of mishandling the situation. Passengers on that flight should be fairly compensated for the material and psychological damage that was inflicted on them due to the mishandling of the situation. An official apology from the company to the passengers is in order.
Eisa Abdelgalil (Mr.)
Passenger on Flight FZ 634 Khartoum-Dubai
Email: eisaabdelgalil / Dubai, UAE
AFRICAN UNION STILL DEMANDS GADAFFI ROLE
The African Union has of late not exactly excelled in its role, not over Darfur, not over the continued aggression by the regime in Khartoum against their newest member the Republic of South Sudan, not over Somalia where dillydallying is the order of the day and for sure not over the Libyan situation.
Desperately trying to hang on to their erstwhile paymaster general Gadaffis Libya financed the lions share of the AUs running expenses reality does clearly not matter for the AU, as their latest demand from South Africa, where a mini summit was held this week continues seek an involvement by Gadaffi in a government of national unity.
These hollow utterances were made on the same day when Frances President Sarkozy and Britains Prime Minister Cameron actually were in Libya, hosted by the new government, the erstwhile rebels. Those two were received by tens of thousands of Libyans, freely without guns stuck in their backs as the Gadaffi Libya needed to do to bring crowds on to the streets, cementing diplomatic relations with the new government in Tripoli while the AU continues to alienate them.
Of course, Gadaffis friendship was worth pure gold, or money and investments anyway, with which he bought the loyalty and friendship of many equally despotic African leaders, giving credence to growing accusations that the AU is an increasingly useless and irrelevant body, unless it too undergoes an uprising of Arab Spring proportions, installing a new spirit and a new sense of reality in an organization dominated by the old guard of Africa.
Going by reports from Libya yesterday and overnight, the new transitional government in Libya will well remember those who stood by them and backed them up, recognized them first and supplied them with what they needed, and while clearly they will have Libyan interests on their mind first and foremost, they will do preferred business with their friends rather than immediately engage with those, including the AU, who for so long stood in their way and continue to do so in what is now a purely comical if tragic misinterpretation of reality. Meanwhile it seems that at least one of Gadaffis wanted sons has installed himself and his goons in Niger, a signatory state to the ICC convention and now suddenly reluctant to carry out an Interpol arrest warrant, probably convinced by heavy briefcases exchanging hands.
For Libya however the future now looks bright and while mopping up operations continue around former Gadaffi strongholds, life is progressively returning to normality. Airlines have started to resume flights to Benghazi and Tripoli after the damaged infrastructure has been repaired and there is now a trickle of business travelers starting to flow back into Libya, taking advantage of the genuinely friendly relations between Britain, France, contributing NATO countries and the new Libyan establishment.
Once full order is restored, the oil starts flowing again and a new administration of public affairs and the judiciary has been installed, Libya will also be able to begin tapping into its unique tourism potential, having the longest stretch of Mediterranean coast line and a treasure cove of ancient monuments, temples and ruins from the Roman days. Many regular travelers who in the past shunned Libya over their principled opposition to Gadaffi, his murderous regime and his terrorist past, will suddenly find that a new destination will be opening up, just a few hours flight from home across the Mediterranean, and as tourism generates jobs and foreign exchange earnings, and easily attracts as much investments as the oil industry does, this will be one future economic cornerstone for the reborn country.
Meanwhile does the question remain, when of when will the AU and many of its members actually realize that Gadaffi is a man of the past and the future of Libya, and continental diplomatic relations is with the new chaps in Tripoli. Time will tell, eventually!
East Africa News
CURRENCY DEVALUATION AND FLUCTUATIONS MAY FAST TRACK COMMON CURRENCY
The present slide in the currency values of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, though notably not in the more austere Rwanda, has given rise to hope that Central Bank chiefs and economists may be able to persuade their political masters that the time is ripe to make a final push for a common East African currency.
While eyeing the events in Europe, where the precarious situation of countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal have put pressure on the Euro, regional economists privately say that had it not been for the Euro those countries could have gone bust already as the other European countries might not have been under such pressure to arrange for bailout packages.
The same source also said: For East Africa to become one economic zone, to promote free flow of goods within the region, a single currency will make this easier as exchange transactions between our currencies, or worse the use of a foreign hard currency like the Dollar for payments, can then be expired and a lot of savings generated. As more of our citizens work across the region they can also send money home without losing on exchange transactions. Our banks must open up too and stop making transfers from one member country to the next a matter of going via New York or London. They must establish a mechanism that transfers within the region should be as simple as transfers within a member states banking system.
All this will be simplified by the use of a common currency unit which in itself can lead to greater integration with passports looking the same and just showing the issuing country as an identifying feature, driving licenses, kipandes [local word for ID cards] and a lot more. Insurers could follow by offering coverage for cars extending across the region, like in the old days when scheduled territories were on the documents to explain the validity. East Africa has a huge economic potential, and our tourist industries will also benefit from using one common currency, it will attract interest to explore our neighbours attractions also.
The envisaged monetary union is part of already existing protocols between member states and officially due to be in place by the end of 2012, though doubts on the time frame have emerged repeatedly over past years. The current runaway inflation and sliding currency values however may now prompt timely action to bring about a more stable common currency unit for the benefit of the regional economies overall. Watch this space.
ITS ENGLISH OR ELSE
Information was obtained from Arusha that the Council of Ministers had finally discussed the application by Burundi to have French made an official language of the East African Community, and reportedly rejected the suggestion. Official were however swift, when the news broke, to play down the snub as it is perceived in Burundi, by claiming a final decision would still be made some time in the future.
However, there is growing sentiment in the region that only English and Kiswahili should be used across the EAC, English as the language of record and official language while Kiswahili was to be promoted as the language of the people and lingua franca. If correct therefore the decision will also serve notice to other would be applicants, that English is and will remain the principal language of the EAC.
In contrast to Burundi has Rwanda ditched the French language and elevated English to be the medium of instruction in schools, and the commonly used language in business transactions, though French is still spoken but has been overtaken as second language by Kinyarwanda, the local vernacular also understood in Burundi and parts of neighbouring Uganda.
The language barrier has often been cited as an obstacle for Burundi of doing more business within the East African Community and is also thought to be a contributing factor seen by this correspondent that feedback and information from Burundis tourism sector, to be featured in articles, is extremely slow in coming. Government in Bujumbura has also been told, according to a reliable source in Arusha, to step up the teaching of English in schools and the wider use of the language in the business community to be able to interact with the rest of the region with greater ease.
Next applicant, the Republic of South Sudan, is an English speaking country already, as is potential applicant Ethiopia, but others in the region, like the Comoros Islands have retained French as their main language, giving them some challenges to resolve before they are ready to apply for membership of the EAC. Fodder for thought for sure as other issues like a common currency and further economic and political integration continue to dominate the agenda.
AVIATION STAKEHOLDERS DENOUNCE CASSOA AS GREEDY
Emotions were once again running high between aviation stakeholders and the regional Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, when the latter announced the introduction of yet another fee to finance operations. These bureaucrats never learn. They also never listen. They are the main obstacle to make flying in the region more affordable. Each CAA levies us with fees and charges, here in Kenya they want to raise fees by 400 percent in some cases. When we fly across East Africa we are treated by some countries like foreign airlines and made to pay higher fees. Now CASSOA also wants to dig our pockets, wants flying to get more expensive. There is a lot of duplication in the region, which makes us acquire multiple permits and licenses for the same thing we are already licensed at home. If the other CAAs do not recognize our permits and our licenses, what does that tell you? Do they not trust the integrity of the process here in Kenya when we are compelled to acquire the same permits in Uganda or Tanzania? If that is so we want know what objections they have. After all we all now have the same regulations. It is time to uproot these bureaucrats from their comfortable offices and create just one aviation regulator for East Africa with branch offices in each member state for convenience of applicants and airlines. This will save a lot of money and can translate in lower ticket charges and fares. I also blame the FAA for funding some of these processes and see duplications remain, obstacles becoming higher and they only believe their regulatory brethren and also do not listen to input from airlines. Can CASSOA justify their financial demands? Whom to they answer to and are accountable to. When they direct we must jump but when we complain they take ages and are defensive. We want an aviation ombudsman for the region with real powers, we want meaningful and regular interaction where they have to listen and absorb our input, not just nod and grin and then put it aside and get on with their own things. This is becoming a joke, but an expensive joke said a regular source from an airline operating from Nairobis Wilson Airport, who blames aviation regulators for being dictators, not partners, they are autocratic like old headmasters ruling with the cane and not logic.
Harsh words and surely not the last we have heard of this latest exchange of spats between our airlines and the regulators. Watch this space.
BLEAK OUTLOOK FOR EAST AFRICAN ECONOMIES
Record inflation and sliding currency values are now combining with higher interest rates, posing further challenges to the economies of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in coming months.
Consumer confidence, from the little research available in the region, is nearing record lows and in particular rising food prices, partly as a result of the worst drought in half a century affecting the Horn of Africa and parts of the East African region, has made life for tens of millions of wananchi almost intolerably expensive. Power shortages affected manufacturing across the region and though tourism is generally flourishing negative headlines over the environmental impact of big development projects in Tanzania, tragedies in Kenya and political wrangles in Uganda have not exactly helped to promote the region as the most desirable tourism destination, when tourists from Europe, America and the Far East have plenty of choices where to go. There is now speculation how long the currencies of Kenya and Uganda will take to reach new low points and while central banks are periodically flooding the market with US Dollar sales to stabilize the local currencies, such action soon evaporates as it had never happened. In Kenya the Shilling tumbled to below the 95 level before another intervention but speculation is rife if the currency could hit the nightmare threshold of 100 versus 1 US Dollar while in Uganda the 3.000 Shilling range is looming in the distance too.
Inflation in Uganda is over 21 percent, in Kenya still, but only just under 20 percent and banks have now responded to the raising of key borrowing rates by their central banks to raise their own interest rates for loans by 2 and more percent.
Economists agree though that many of these developments are externally triggered, by the uprising in the Arab world, the ongoing conflict in Libya, poor economic performance in the US and the continuing crisis in the Euro Zone are all contributing factors, besides often the lack of spending discipline here at home in the region where in particular the ballooning cost of administration, through the creation of new districts in Uganda and new constitutional organs in Kenya for instance are draining the public coffers.
Oh how does one wish the good old days back when things, at least in retrospect, appeared so much easier aided by hindsight of course
MORE HABITUATED GORILLA GROUPS EASE PRESSURE FOR PERMITS
The Uganda Wildlife Authority has confirmed the coming on line of two newly habituated gorilla groups for tourism activities this November in Bwindi National Park. Both new gorilla families, named Oruzogo and Kahungye will be located in the Southern part of the park, bringing the total number of daily permits available in Uganda to 64, as the 8 groups available for tourism purposes can cater for a maximum of 8 tourists each per day.
This will take Uganda amongst the three East African gorilla countries of Rwanda, Congo DR and Uganda to the top in terms of daily permits, although it is understood that the presently 7 gorilla families habituated for tourism in Rwanda may also soon see another one or two groups added.
Uganda has reportedly also broken ranks with her neighbours over a previously agreed common fee for tracking gorillas which has strained relations in terms of cooperation on other issues according to a source from Kigali, after a downturn in demand for permits in Uganda, following political events earlier in the year, sent the sector into a rushed and panicky reaction according to the same source from Rwanda.
Take up of the added permits in Bwindi is expected to be high as gorilla tracking remains Ugandas best known tourism attraction, though plenty of more parks and adventure activities are on offer across the country. Visit www.visituganda.com or www.ugandawildlife.org for more information about the country and its national parks and other protected areas.
UGANDA IS RAFTING FOR RHINOS AGAIN
The Rhino Fund Uganda / Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary has sent out a timely reminder that on the 24th September the annual Raft for Rhinos race will be taking place on the River Nile.
Organized with one of Ugandas leading adventure travel companies, Nile River Explorers, the raft race will take place from the original jump off point below the Owen Falls dam and will run for about 4 kilometres towards Bujagali Falls, where the finishing line has been set.
As a number of teams are expected to participate from across Ugandas corporate and NGO scene, there will be heats to establish the finalists before the race winner is established.
Team members are due for a briefing at 09.00 a.m. on Saturday 24th at the Nile River Explorers camp at Bujagali Falls which is also the race headquarters and main stage for watching the rafts come down the river to the finishing line.
Additional attractions like jet boat rides are also on offer, with the proceeds going to the Rhino Fund and all profits made during the day from food and drink sales at the Nile River Explorers Camp have already been pledged to the Rhino Fund too. Expect a great show and, mindful of traffic, be early to secure good parking and front row seats to watch the spectacle on the Nile. Contact angie or leslie for more information and to sign up.
For details on Nile River Explorers see www.raftafrica.com and to learn more about the Rhino Fund Uganda and the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary go to www.rhinofund.org
CHANGE AT BRUSSELS AIRLINES UGANDA OFFICE
After nearly 7 years at the helm of Brussels Airlines is Pierre Declerck leaving Kampala to move an hours flight away to Nairobi while Benjamin Puissant is taking over from him. A new title too is on his calling card as Country Manager Uganda and South Sudan, giving indication which direction the think tank in Brussels is looking when it comes to expanding their network in Eastern Africa. The farewell party last night coincided with the monthly meeting of the Belgian Club at the Le Chateaux restaurant where original Belgian Leffe dark beer from the cask was served to a large number of invited guests, amongst them key travel agents and frequent travelers using Brussels Airlines.
Two new A 330 aircraft are expected to join the SN fleet shortly, permitting at last more flights, but it is understood that West and Central Africa are now vying with East Africa to get the new birds to open up new destinations and add more frequencies.
Entebbe is a code shared destination with Lufthansa, itself still delegating flights to Kenya and Uganda to partner and family member SN, while again Kenya and Tanzania are served by Swiss, another member of the Lufthansa Group. Hence there is space for expansion in Eastern Africa when Brussels Airlines gets additional aircraft with opportunities to increase frequencies to their existing destinations Kigali, Entebbe, Bujumbura and Nairobi and with new destinations like Juba and Tanzania.
Juba though will pose an operational challenge at present as the airport is not operating beyond daylight hours and refurbishment and modernization has been agonizingly slow in past years. However with the new government in place, aviation has been identified as a priority sector to link the new but landlocked country with the region and the rest of the world as a matter of great urgency and it is understood that planning and preparation of relevant tender documents is in high gear.
Further news were also confirmed that Brussels Airlines will shortly commence daily flights between Brussels and New York, which will make SN an even more interesting partner for many frequent and occasional flyers travelling from Uganda and the rest of Eastern Africa to the United States. The Big Apple is one of Americas foremost gateways with connections right across the entire country and the new destination is bound to cement SNs market position vis a vis their most direct rivals KLM, BA and Emirates from Entebbe. Watch this space for the latest updates from East Africas aviation scene.
MUSEUM TO STAY SAYS NEW MINISTER
Ahead in wisdom and intellectual capacity over his predecessor by miles has the new Minister for Tourism, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu finally said in public what was an open secret in the corridors of the tourism ministry: The Museum will stay. The previous minister, notorious for a range of shoot from the hip decisions, mainly to do with the Uganda Wildlife Authority which subsequently got messed up real good according to a tourism stakeholder, had insisted on megalomaniac plans to build a Trade Centre of 60 floors on the ground of the Museum, irrespective that the National Museum is a place of unique historical value for Uganda and for Ugandans. Minister Otafire, then in tourism, insisted that those opposing the knocking down of the Museum were opponents of progress but suffered a crushing defeat in court as was the case with several of his decisions over UWA when opponents of his plan obtained an injunction against government, prohibiting any tampering with the site and the building.
Tourism stakeholders breathed a sigh of relief when Otafire was moved to the Ministry of Justice, which left however the legal fraternity in stitches, and warmly welcomed the gentleman Minister as another stakeholder put it to this correspondent, when Prof. Kamuntu, previously a Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism Trade and Industry was made a full cabinet minister holding the stand alone tourism portfolio.
Our new minister is speaking on crucial issues like he was one of us said a regular source to this correspondent from within the safari operators, showing that his hard work during the first few months in office is beginning to pay off and earned him the respect of the tourism fraternity.
The assurance over the museum will now put another foul taste in the mouth of the industry behind, as other decisions on a new board of directors for UWA and the appointment of a new Executive Director are also being taken soon, according to a well placed source within the ministry. Well done Bwana Minister adds this correspondent, at last the sector has once again a sensible and respected voice in cabinet!
TOURISM MINISTER LAMENTS LOW FUNDING FOR HIS MINISTRY
Our sector contributes 9.2 percent to the GDP of Uganda and yet we are only getting 0.14 percent in budget allocation from the overall annual budget said the Minister for Tourism Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu earlier in the week when addressing tourism stakeholders in Kampala. He asked his government colleague in the Ministry of Finance to consider a sectors contribution to the national economy when making decisions how to fund the activities of that ministry, a demand which has been made for long but regularly brushed aside in support of other sectors. Notably the budget for the Ministry of Tourism is also not protected, i.e. it can be reduced and encroached upon when cash shortage arise elsewhere and in past years this has resulted often in even less money reaching the ministry and its subordinate bodies than the little it was initially projected to receive.
There is general agreement that the tourism sector, and in particular the Uganda Tourist Board and the national Hotel and Tourism Training Institute, are poorly funded causing them to underperform as a direct result of a lack of cash. Unlike in neighbouring Rwanda and Kenya, Uganda spends the proverbial peanuts in tourism marketing, and apart from a few high profile one off actions in past years, which had no lasting effect due to lack of follow up, marketing the destination is in urgent need of funds from government, but has been denied a fair share which could substantially boost the industry, re-invigorate it a have it finally live up to its huge potential in creating jobs, earning foreign exchange and attracting further much needed investments.
Yet, the Tourism Act, which provides for a funding mechanism through a levy, has not been fully operationalised as yet, while bickering continues within government over who would collect and administer such a levy. Tourism stakeholders are opposed to the funds going first into the governments usually empty pockets, as one stakeholder put aptly put it, and demand a format where payments go directly to a dedicated fund from which the industry can draw as per agreed entitlements, similar to the way Kenya has for years been collecting their catering levy.
Also lacking still are the implementations of key areas of the countrys tourism policy, once seen as a groundbreaking vision for the entire region but now gathering dust as the ministry would need to yield a range of functions to a revamped tourist board, something which did not go down well with several ministry bureaucrats rooted in the mindset of the 70s command and control economy.
Meanwhile are Ugandas neighbours reaping results of their aggressive marketing campaigns, as Kenya and Rwanda keep publishing updated arrival and income figures showing significant gains compared to previous record breaking years, while Uganda stands by, almost in awe, and wonders what has gone wrong in the Pearl of Africa. Watch this space.
FLOODED RIVER MUZIZI CUTS DIRECT ROUTE BETWEEN PARKS
The most direct connection for travel by road between Murchisons Falls National Park and the Queen Elizabeth National Park, with Kibale, Rwenzori and the Semliki Game Reserve also enroute, has been cut yesterday when the Muzizi river burst its banks following prolonged heavy rains lashing the catchment areas.
Ongoing work, aimed to repair damage to a key bridge and dredge the river area of debris from earlier flooding came to a stop as machinery was also swept away as wave after wave of flash floods came rushing down the river.
Road transport between Hoima and Fort Portal has been diverted and now either passed all the way via Kampala or else has to use back roads which in view of the rains are not a safe bet as they are not tarred and may see vehicles get stuck in mud, further complicating an already difficult situation.
Conservationists were swift in pointing fingers at a lack of implementation of environmental policies and excessive cutting of forests, which according to a regular source diminishes the capacity to absorb heavy rain fall and then results in flooding downstream of the rivers. He went on to say: The same will happen if a quarter of Mabira is given away for sugar cane farming. The forest would lose valuable trees and the land can then not absorb rainfall any longer the way it used to. Flash flooding and soil erosion will be the first signs of the fallout but it will be too late then to do much about it. We need to restore forests to prevent environmental damages like with the Muzizi river. Yes it has flooded in the past too but never so extensively like now when it disrupts traffic from one part of the country to another.
It could not be established overnight if or how many safari tours were disrupted and had to opt for the longer detour via the capital.
THE COST OF GETTING TO THE TOP
Details emerged over the weekend from Nairobi of the potential cost of Kenya Airways drive to become the number one airline of choice in Africa, connecting the continent via their Nairobi hub.
Only recently did The Pride of Africa sign a record breaking deal of 10 firm orders and 16 options with Brazilian manufacturer Embraer, which upon completed delivery, should all options as expected be turned into firm orders, will double the airlines current fleet. Also coming on line, as and when Boeing is able to delivery that is, will be at least 9 B787 aircraft on firm order, with a further 4 options, which will eventually replace the ageing 5 aircraft B767 fleet Kenya Airways has been flying already beyond its intended use and essentially allow KQ to add more long haul destinations such as flights to the US, India and the emerging tourism markets for Kenya in the Far and South East.
The cost however is mindboggling with figures ranging from 2+ billion US Dollars upwards over the coming years according to sources in Kenya. The forthcoming share rights issue by Kenya Airways is expected to create a core fund to finance this expansion but borrowing and retaining profits at the expense of higher dividends will be other avenues the airline will have to use to be able to pay for the ambitious expansion plans.
At the same time there is intensive lobbying going on to have government boost aviation infrastructure at the countrys main airport in Nairobi on the double, where a second runway is a pre-requisite to roll out the fleet expansion while more terminal space and parking spaces for aircraft too are required to handle the added passengers and aircraft movements. Delays by past KAA management are now coming home to roost as capacity constraints are not only hampering Kenya Airways growth plans but also prevent more airlines to fly to Nairobi while others would like to boost their number of flights.
Only days ago has KQ announced the start of flights to Jeddah and Beirut too is on the cards, just as soon as the next two Embraer E190 aircraft join the fleet in coming weeks to allow the re-deployment of B737NGs to the new longer distance routes. Watch this space.
JAMBO JEDDAH SAYS KENYA AIRWAYS
Effective 18th of October will Kenya Airways commence twice weekly flights between Nairobi and Jeddah, the commercial capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The aircraft on the route will be a B737-800 which the airline can now re-deploy after the most recent arrival of yet another Embraer E190.
Saudi Arabia has been on Kenya Airways route network before, so this is a return to a known territory and not a completely unknown destination for KQ. KSA is of growing importance for Kenya as a trading partner and also for tourist visitors from there to the Kenyan coast or the safari parks, but also important for Kenya Muslims wishing to travel for Umrah or Haj to Mecca.
However, besides point to point traffic Kenya Airways will now offer Saudi business travelers network connections across most of the African continent via Nairobi on a more or less direct route, which will save time and effort, both valuable commodities for the business community where time is money.
At the same time of receiving this information it was also confirmed that the next Embraer E190 delivery is actually taking place in early October already, bringing Kenya Airways fleet then to a total of 33 passenger aircraft, plus their recently acquired B747F all cargo aircraft.
Kenya Airways is one of the fastest growing airlines on the African continent and is in a neck on neck race with Ethiopian Airlines for the coveted number one spot for connecting Africa best through their home hubs. Happy landings to the inaugural flight, crew and passengers and many more thereafter.
LIKONI FERRY GIVES COMMUTERS A MAJOR SCARE
Only a week after the sinking of the MV Spice Islander ferry enroute between Zanzibar and Pemba, when over 200 lives were lost and others are still said to be missing, did the Likoni Ferry in Mombasa give passengers a similar scare yesterday. Coming from the mainland and about to dock on the Mombasa island ramp, it appears that the crew lost control of the vessel which then drifted back into the Likoni Channel, the main entrance from the Indian Ocean to the port of Mombasa, where it collided with another ship. It then drifted further away towards a dredger, used to deepen the entrance channel to the harbour but was eventually brought back under control without causing more damage.
Passengers exited the ferry on the double when it eventually was safely docked but MV Kwale was then withdrawn from service to assess the damage and interview the crew at the controls at the time the incident happened. The crossing of the Likoni Channel has for years been plagued with problems of ferry breakdowns and drifting incidents following engine failures, prompting constant calls in particular by the business and tourism sectors to hasten the construction of the bypass highway, which will eventually connect the Moi International Airport in Mombasa, and the Nairobi Mombasa highway directly to the South Coast. However, this project is still to take off inspite of advanced planning as reported here previously and this latest incident will only renew calls to get on with the new highway tendering process to select a contractor and then start building. Watch this space.
KISUMU OPENS NEW TERMINAL AND FACILITIES
The long awaited day has dawned that the new buildings and facilities at Kisumu Airport were finally handed over and opened their doors to airlines, service providers and passengers. The new terminal, able to handle 500 passengers an hour with ease, has state of the art facilities, shops and restaurants, unlike the rather crowded and tired old buildings. The runway too has crucially been extended from the initial 2.000 metres to 3.300 metres, which now permits the safe landing and takeoff by larger aircraft including cargo planes which can fly produce and chilled fish directly to the consumer markets in Europe and the Middle East, without having to truck the cargos first to Nairobi.
Next in line for opening in October are the new facilities at Malindi Airport, and while both will see an official tape cutting and commemorative plaque revealing at a later stage, the aviation fraternity nevertheless will be happy to see that at last two of the countrys airports have now returned to a fully functional state as they wait for Nairobis Jomo Kenyatta International to follow suit in a few years time. For now it is happy landings to Kenya Airways, Jetlink and all the others flying scheduled services between Nairobi and Kisumu.
THE BATTLE FOR THE SKIES TURNS INTO THE BATTLE FOR PILOTS
The arrival earlier in the week of another Embraer E190 jet at Kenya Airways base in Embakasi, the prospect of two more such aircraft coming to join the fleet very shortly and the apparent review of terms and conditions by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, which is also seeking to recruit pilots as inspectors and technical experts, has put yet more pressure on the already stretched market for cockpit crews.
Airlines contacted in the region are reportedly ring fencing their pilots for fear of losing them to higher bidders but are offering little insight of their own efforts to train younger pilots, either from scratch or by offering them upgrades from their commercial pilot licenses to the ATPL level, i.e. moving them from flying single and twin engined light aircraft to turboprops and jets.
Kenya Airways is, besides Ethiopian Airlines, the only known airline in the Eastern African region with a deliberate pilot training programme, which is being carried out in various aviation institutes and supported by their introduction of simulators at their Embakasi base.
Salaries and benefit packages for qualified pilots have already rocketed in recent years and are set to further improve according to a well placed source in Nairobi.
If Kenya Airways is to double its fleet over the next few years, and right now they employ already almost 400 pilots, they might need to increase that number accordingly. Precision Air, their partner in Tanzania, is also growing fast and they too have followed KQs example. But some of the other airlines in the region, the new ones in South Sudan, in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, they are all worried. You cannot bring more aircraft if you do not have the crews to fly them and to become a First Officer, or a Captain, you need a certain number of hours flown on that type of aircraft. This varies from airline to airline but not by very much because such qualifications are literally mandatory and also under regulatory supervision. Kenya Airways recent statement that they have struck a deal with Embraer to assist them in regard of pilot training may go further in fact than just training. Embraer might supply them with Brazilian pilots as expatriates.
RwandAir is getting new aircraft and has recently announced they will also more than double their fleet in coming years. They are also using expatriate pilots while gradually bringing up Rwandans to gain experience on their smaller aircraft and smaller jets but generally recruitment is becoming more difficult, retaining crews is becoming more difficult. The biggest threat are the fast growing airlines in the Gulf. Some airline executives have played this down but it is a known fact. They recruit cabin crews, technicians, qualified handling staff and in particular pilots. Regulators therefore find it even harder to get pilots for open positions because public sector pay is poor compared to airlines and when the CAAs do not have enough qualified inspectors, they find it hard to carry out supervision which is mandated through ICAO. Our governments have been told about this for many years but even the East African Aviation Academy in Soroti (Uganda) is under equipped. Instead of investing in such facilities government ignore them for too long and then rush to put out fires. Training aircraft technicians and pilots takes years, there is no quick fix for experience. Private aviation schools are expensive and unless a young man or woman has a sponsor, they often fail to raise the funds to pay. And training abroad, like in America, is too expensive and too difficult because we Africans are all potential terrorists for them since 9/11. These were the sentiments of a senior figure in the aviation private sector in Kenya when asked to comment on this issue, painting a cloudy forecast for the finance chiefs of airlines in the region, who need to brace themselves for higher wages to recruit and retain their cockpit crews while having to save money elsewhere or else raise fares. Talk of being between a rock and a hard place!
VIGILANT CUSTOMS STAFF IMPOUNDS 32 TUSKS AT MOMBASA PORT
China was the destination of a container, which upon closer inspection by customs and enforcement staff was found to contain 32 elephant tusks, when a gut feeling prompted officers last night to open the shipment only to discover blood ivory.
A shipping agent was subsequently arrested to help the authorities with their investigations to establish where the tusks originated from and who was the owner of the cargo or the immediate sender of the cargo.
Kenya as become a hot spot for ivory smugglers as KWS is now habitually deploying sniffer dogs at airports and sea ports, which over the past months has led to multiple arrests and seizure of contraband.
Notably, most of those arrested were Chinese citizens and most of the cargos were destined, at times via waypoints, to a final destination in China, leaving the Chinese government open to a growing chorus of accusations of doing too little to discourage their people to stop the purchase of ivory or its illegal transportation. A country which so liberally applies the death penalty to so many crimes, here the Chinese government seems reluctant to use similar deterrent. Thousands of elephant are being slaughtered in Africa and the blood ivory ends up in China. Hundreds of rhinos have been butchered for their horn and the stuff ends up in China. What is wrong with these people, unless they think of us Africans and our heritage in wildlife on the continent that we are worthless, useless unless the elephant are dead and the ivory is carved for their nouvelle riche said an outspoken conservationists to this correspondent, before expressing his joy that a Chinese citizen was sentenced to 4 years in prison in Brazzaville for possession of ivory and fined 7 million Francs overall for the crime. This must be replicated everywhere in Africa. Law abiding Chinese are welcome as everyone else, but sadly there are just too many Chinese now caught red handed.
Laws across the region are weak and have been contributing with light fines and short sentences to the upswing in poaching but are under review in most safari countries now with the aim of inflicting crippling financial penalties on poachers and their financiers and hand down long sentences. Congratulations to the officers involved in the seizure yesterday night and keep up the good work.
STOP HARASSING OUR DRIVERS, SAFARI OPERATORS TELL TRANSPORT BOARD
The Chairman of the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association Mohamed Hersi has made sweeping accusations against a reported crackdown by the countrys Transport Licensing Boards personnel engaged in road blocks and vehicle checks in the area around Voi, a popular cross road from Mombasa into Tsavo East National Park, the Taita / Taveta area and Tsavo West.
According to reports sent in to company offices in Mombasa by drivers with mobile phones, and apparently backed up but dated and timed pictures taken by tourists, it appears that overzealous TLB staff held up a number of tourist busses were held up beyond a reasonable period of time, giving rise to speculation that TLB staff may have tried to extract bribes from exasperated driver guides, who are normally on a tight schedule and cannot afford to waste an hour or more at road blocks.
The stinging criticism swiftly brought TLB Chairman Hassan ole Kamwaro to the scene, in turn accusing Mr. Hersi of acting on hearsay and claiming Hersi was not there, yet conveniently forgetting that phone cameras and phone videos would be able to not only fully document events at road blocks but also be transmitted instantly to those who needed to know and needed to react on behalf of the industry.
A Mombasa based safari operator had this to say: and we all know how vehicle checkpoints work in Kenya. TLB should be quiet over how they ambush vehicles, and if indeed a safari car would be found with an expired license, give them a ticket and let them go but do not spoil Kenyas name by playing games with delays or trying to get bribes. Police and authorities have not learned a thing since their almighty days in the old Kenya, they should learn PR when dealing with Wagenis and modern standards of policing and not give the image of a police state.
Hersi in turn rejected Kamwaros accusations and stood his ground, saying he did not need to be in the field to witness transgressions himself but could rely on phoned in reports from member companies and their field staff. Guess who will win this round Mr. Kamwaro, who stands reminded not to become the scarecrow of the safari drivers.
KWS TO SHIFT DOZENS OF ELEPHANT FROM FARMING AREAS INTO THE MASAI MARA
Information was given overnight that the Kenya Wildlife Service will embark next week to relocate as many as 200 elephant roaming the farmlands in the wider vicinity of the reserve and surrounding conservancies into the Masai Mara, following persistent complaints by farmers and administration officials of the growing damage the animals do in search of fodder. The operation will be launched on the 22nd September when the initial target is the relocation of some 50 elephant, before progressing in further stages until all of them have been located and brought into the protected area.
It was also learned that some of the elephant due for relocation will then be fitted with electronic collars to monitor their movement, mainly to ensure that they are not returning into areas more and more populated as a result of the growing need to find new farming area and settle burgeoning populations, which is causing more and more conflicts between people and wildlife, not just in the Narok area of Kenya but right across the country. While the process is generally hailed by the conservation fraternity there have also been warnings that fencing and forced relocations of free roaming herds are progressively cutting off the ancient migration habits as the age old routes are now fenced and farmed, having a long term effect on the gene pool of the affected animals and turning the East African safari parks into very large but nevertheless glorified open air zoos, the way a particularly outspoken critic of the idea of capture and release has stated overnight to this correspondent.
Preparations by KWS for the relocation of the elephant are now in full swing but have been ongoing for some time to establish capture and release sites and routes for the vehicles into the Masai Mara. The estimated cost of the operation has been given as about 350.000 US Dollars.
UK SPECIAL FORCES AND DETECTIVES JOIN HUNT FOR ABDUCTED WOMAN
Lamu and Kiwayu Island have been swarmed by the international media since the killing of a British citizen and the abduction of his wife a few days ago. In the very first release here speculation was already raised, at a time when official Kenya still talked of bandits, that a group of Al Shabab Islamic militants could be behind the crime and what implication this could have for the region.
Al Shabab for long has tried, unsuccessfully it must be said, to draw neighbouring Kenya into the conflict, and a series of border violations and the occasional exchange of gunfire across the border has still kept minds in Kenya cool enough to let reason prevail, keep the borders as secure and as well monitored as possible, considering the distances and remoteness of the frontier, and otherwise stay out of the Somali conflict and leave it to the African Union troops to deal with it.
The abduction, if indeed carried out by Al Shabab, and there is growing indication this may be so, however has, at least for now, changed the game plan. Kenyas security apparatus is in full pursuit along the stretch of coast between Kiwayu and the Somali border and UK Metropolitan Police experts but also special forces are said to be in the area, with officials of course tightlipped over questions if such contingents may have been inserted into Somalia already to either cut off the escape route of the abductors and their victim or else engage in hot pursuit.
Aerial surveillance too has been stepped up and it is understood that this extends into Somalia airspace to hopefully spot signs of the criminals and then direct operatives on the ground towards their position.
No demands have yet been received for ransom, nor has any group claimed responsibility but this is thought to change when the abductors have reached their safe havens and can then make their demands.
Meanwhile has the Kiwayu Safari Village website been temporarily disabled as a flood of hits would probably have crashed their servers anyway. The future of the very remote, very private and very upmarket resort now hangs in the balance, as travel advisories are now declaring the entire stretch of pristine coast line between the Somali border to Lamu as off limits, very likely also affecting other such properties future occupancies. While clearly the Kenyan government will step up surveillance and their security presence along this 60 mile stretch of coastline between Lamu and the border, it will be a Herculean task to provide absolute security at all places at all times, leaving the resort owners to strategize over their own security arrangements and the cost of it, and if under such circumstances their continued presence is still financially viable.
One thing though seems almost sure, that the Somali conflict has come home to roost in Kenya and that the African Union and the UN are now at cross roads over their future engagement in Somalia and their strategy to pacify the lawless country at the Horn of Africa, drive Al Shabab into the ocean and restore lasting order which has been missing for the past 20 years.
And in closing, many of the critics of the erstwhile involvement by Ethiopia in Somalia, the first earnest effort to combat terrorism and Al Qaida affiliated Islamic militant groups in Somalia, should now eat their words of criticism, applaud Ethiopia and support decisive action through the UN, to prevent another Afghanistan like situation develop on the African continent which could endanger the security of the entire region.
KWS MARKS WORLD RHINO DAY WITH CYCLING RACE IN NAKURU NP
The increasing threat towards the very survival of the rhinos on the African continent will be highlighted when World Rhino Day is celebrated, drawing attention to the need to boost anti poaching measures, give greater protection to the species and make it abundantly clear that the substance of rhino horn is the same as that of a human finger nail, i.e. not worth killing the animals for it.
Especially in Southern Africa has poaching of rhinos reached new unprecedented levels and governments were slow to respond, leading to accusations of indifference if not complicity. In Kenya several rhinos were poached this year alone, and while this is nowhere near the scale of slaughter like in South Africa, alarm bells have been ringing amongst the conservation fraternity to prevent more poaching through more decisive measures. Kenya Wildlife Service only recently established task forces and set up camp on the Laikipia plains where on Ol Pejeta the highest concentration of rhinos in Kenya are kept, of the Eastern Black, the Southern White and the rarest of them all the Northern White variety.
The 2011 World Rhino Day will be celebrated on 22nd September in Kenya with a special event, to raise awareness and funds for wildlife conservation. KWS is organizing a cycling race in the Lake Nakuru National Park, in fact three races for juniors, amateurs and then the 74 KM event for the more professional riders while alongside a corporate exhibition event will be held, as will a childrens fun park operate before all visitors and participants can enjoy a big party at the end of the day.
Lake Nakuru National Park was the first national rhino sanctuary in Kenya to where the endangered species was moved in the early 80s to ensure its survival, as were the Rothschild giraffes in fact, and both species have as a result of this move prospered and many rhinos were released back to other national parks across Kenya when Nakuru reached the limit of its natural carrying capacity.
Private rhino sanctuaries like Solio, Lewa Downs and Ol Pejeta too have supplemented, and in fact at times outdone the public conservation efforts, ensuring that rhinos in Kenya were able to survive the challenges of poaching 30 years ago and will equally survive the current unprecedented wave of poaching seen on the continent.
Rhino horn demand has shifted from Yemen, where the horns were used to make ceremonial daggers in the past to the Far East, where in particular in China demand has skyrocketed as a result of economic prosperity, which has seen more and more people able to afford concoctions using ground rhino horn in the mistaken believe of miracle cures. China too is at the forefront of the illegal trade in blood ivory and has inspite of intense pressure failed to strengthen legislation on importation, possession and processing of illicit ivory, and to the contrary attempted in the most recent CITES Executive Committee session to exclude the most vocal and outspoken critics of the ivory trade from the proceedings. Poaching increase has seen across the African continent a direct correlation with the increased presence of Chinese companies and expatriate workers and most arrests at airports in connection with ivory smuggling are in fact Chinese citizens, according to statistics available. Watch this space.
CONSERVATION AND HIGHWAY DONT MIX
Comments made over the weekend by Tanzanias Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda did not go down well with the conservation fraternity in Tanzania at all it appears, as comments and broadsides came flooding in to this correspondents mailboxes once again. The politician reportedly made his contradictory comments when visiting Musoma, where he reaffirmed the Tanzanian governments intention to tarmac new roads right to the boundary of the Serengeti National Park, from Mto Wa Mbu along Lake Natron on one side and linking Lake Victoria from both Mwanza and Musoma to the Serengeti from the other side of the park.
Such investments of course make no sense at all unless the crucial link across the national park is eventually established too, and with the expected traffic it is only a matter of time before the strictly gravel road will be upgraded to bitumen standards. Development partners from around the world have tried to persuade the Tanzanian government to seek a routing for the road around the Southern edge of the Serengeti / Ngorongoro ecosystem but just how deep that has registered within the Tanzanian establishment seem more and more uncertain now, especially as global mining giants insist that they will only invest in the region between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti if a highway links their areas of operation with the rest of the country.
The Tanzanian government is now caught in a web of lies and deception, trying to downplay their secret plans for the highway in the public arena while however comments made by politicians unable to control their utterances paint a clearer picture. Controversial tourism minister Maige earlier in the year wrote a soothing letter to UNESCOs World Heritage Committee, assuring them that no highway would be built across the park, which was in danger of being listed as a World Heritage Site under Threat, not something even the most stubborn politicians in Tanzania could have wanted when gearing up for the 50th anniversary of independence. This event was to be a trigger for the Tanzanian Tourist Board to roll out a fresh campaign to attract tourists to the country, but a wave of industrial and infrastructure projects has tainted the destinations image in the global arena, where conservation and environmental issues play ever bigger roles in tourists decisions where to go and spend their money. Maige gained notoriety soon after writing the letter to UNESCO when he publicly called them an inconsequential entity only to cause more controversy when downplaying the massive environmental risks of Uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As President Kikwete departed over the weekend to New York to attend the UNs General Assembly and other meetings, he can be certain that these controversial statements by his Prime Minister will bring the Serengeti issue, and many other similarly controversial projects, on the agenda again of the green lobby once more and he will be faced with uncomfortable questions as to upholding the credo of the founding father of Tanzania, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, for whom conservation was an unmovable cornerstone of his political vision for the country. Betrayed by his political offspring he must be turning in his grave surely. Watch this space.
KIGOMA AND TABORA TO BE ATCLS FIRST DESTINATIONS
The arrival of Air Tanzanias Bombardier Q 300 turboprop aircraft from South Africa over the weekend, where it had been undergoing heavy maintenance since February but was only released after the Tanzanian government bailed out the financially ailing airline, has prompted an announcement that by the end of September two destinations would be opened up again from Dar es Salaam. The airline said over the weekend that the aircraft would commence flights, all regulatory approvals in place by that time that is which is by no means certain yet, to Tabora and Kigoma. Never shy of making full mouthed statements it was also revealed that within three years Air Tanzania would once again dominate the domestic and regional market, a threat which left aviation observers frankly perplexed about their perception of reality.
Added information was also received that ATCL is apparently seeking to lease at least two CRJ 200 aircraft, sourced from within the region, to restore jet operations between such key routes as Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro / Arusha, Mwanza and Zanzibar. This, according to the airline, will then eventually be followed by a return to regional routes, where however the airlines of neighbouring countries like Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda now have the upper hand due to the long absence of ATCL from the routes to their capitals. Within Tanzania it is in particular Precision Air, due for an IPO soon unless government finds another excuse to stall this exercise as has been seen in the past which has taken over the marketshare previously held by Air Tanzania, by offering more destinations and a largely improved service delivery, while other domestic rivals like Fly540 have yet to make the big impact which was expected of them. Watch this space for emerging news from East Africas aviation sector.
FOUR IN COURT AS MANHUNT FOR CAPTAIN OF STRICKEN FERRY CONTINUES
Four people were charged in a Zanzibar court on Saturday for being responsible for the death of over 200 passengers when a ferry sunk enroute from Unguja to Pemba.
Those charged include a reported shareholder, the first officer on duty at the time the ferry sunk and an official of the ports authority in charge of inspections of vessels.
The first accused, the captain of the ferry, is however still at large as he fled the scene of the disaster and has not yet been traced inspite of intense searches by policy and security organs.
The ferry, reportedly already leaning to the side while still in port due to poor cargo loading, sailed heavily overloaded and sunk when hitting rough seas on the open ocean between the two islands, leaving over 200 people dead, with more allegedly missing and trapped in the wreck. South African divers failed to reach the sunk vessel to ascertain if and how many bodies were trapped inside, partly due to bad weather and partly due to the reported fact that they could not descend that deep to the ocean floor in the absence of special equipment.
It is understood that bail was denied for the accused who were remanded in custody and more people may still be charged with the same offences as the prosecution is compiling more evidence. The fact that the charges were brought within a week after the sinking of the ferry is testimony to the strong emotions within the island community and the sense by government to have failed the publics safety by not using existing regulations to enforce load limits and even withdraw licenses for ships not seaworthy.
Officials are also shtumm on the urgent question of insurance covers which could at least help the relatives of those who died in the accident with some financial compensation and there is speculation that if at all there was adequate insurance cover, something some sources deny even existed, the insurance would pull out as a result of the gross misconduct by the crew who deliberately overloaded the vessel causing any insurance cover to lapse. The Tanzanian government had on learning the breaking news released some 300 million Tanzanian Shillings to assist families with burial expenses but it is now up to court to establish the level of culpability and what damages will eventually awarded to the victims families, though materializing any claims will be most unlikely should the owners of the shipping company go into administration and eventual bankruptcy.
TAZARA TURNS 35
The obligatory birthday celebration took place in Dar es Salaam yesterday for the Tanzania Zambia Railway, build in the early 1970s by China to link Zambia with a safe port in Tanzania while the then apartheid regime in South Africa all but blocked imports and exports to and from Zambia for supporting the ANC and other groups struggling to end the demonic regime.
In the early years the railway provided an outlet for the copper mined in Zambias copperbelt but also allowed all types of cargos and passengers to safely travel between Dar es Salaam and Lusaka.
Over the years however serious rot crept into the operation of the railway and it had to be financially bailed out multiple times. Chinese experts have in the recent past taken a closer look at the requirements to rehabilitate the now 35 year old railway system and make it fully functional again, as it also opens wide stretches of Tanzanias own hinterland up to the coastal areas.
Eastern and Southern Africa are presently in a rush to create new rail, road and air infrastructure to improve communications, the flow of goods and people as the two main trading blocs SADC and COMESA are holding talks to explore options to cooperate more closely or even merge. Functioning mass transport systems are thought to hold the key of creating more trade between African countries but many remain literally cut off from the rest of the world due to lack of rail and roads, such as South Sudan and the Eastern Congo and yet they hold enormous potential for farming, agro processing and mining, all of which however require swift access to markets and ports along the East African seaboard.
Chinese companies are at the forefront in exploring and harvesting such riches and they will be particularly keen to see TAZARA refurbished and modernized so that they can tap into Africas hidden treasures and ship raw materials back home to fuel one of the fastest growing economies on the globe. Watch this space.
TRANSPORT MINISTER DEFENDS FUNDING FOR AILING AIR TANZANIA
At the launch of the Transport Week on Wednesday this week, part of the ongoing preparations and celebrations of Tanzanias 50th independence anniversary, has the Minister for Transport Mr. Omar Nundu defended the 16 billion Tanzanian Shillings the government has poured into the financially and operationally stricken airline. It is understood that part of these funds have been used to pay for a long standing bill for heavy maintenance of the airlines Bombardier Q 300 aircraft, which had been flown to South Africa early in the year but failed to return due to lack of funds to pay the bills.
The remaining funds are understood to be used for recurrent expenditure, paying other long overdue bills and hopefully settling some of the claims by travel agents who never got money for tickets paid up already back when the airline stopped their flights to South Africa a couple of years ago. There is no certainty though over claims by the minister that the funding will be sufficient to lease one or more planes for ATCL, as lessors are now weary of the airlines pathetic record on meeting financial obligations, especially since Air Tanzania has been thrown out of the IATA clearing house over their default on payments.
Calls for Tanzanians to get financially involved with ATCL rather than waiting for a foreign investment consortium which may never materialize by the Minister however caused consternation amongst aviation circles, coming so close to the long overdue launch of Precision Airs IPO. There is strong suspicion that the Tanzanian government is still stuck in their post independence socialist mindset and fundamentally opposed to truly opening up the aviation sector in the country, and rather hang on to a near dead corporate entity like ATCL than fully supporting the private sector, which in recent years has indeed kept Tanzania connected to the region and beyond as Air Tanzania failed the country time and again.
The timing of the remarks surely was either very unfortunate, which would be bad, or in a rather more sinister way deliberately made so as to cast further doubt on the planned IPO of Precision Air, which would be very bad indeed but no surprise considering past official slaps dished out. A timely reminder to differentiate between what governments in our region say and what they do.
WHERE NEXT RWANDAIR?
As the airlines second B737-800 is due to go on the production line very soon and will come to Rwanda during the second half of October, speculation is growing over the next routes RwandAir will introduce, now that their fleet is growing. While destination Kinshasa is dogged by a number of issues leaving it off the map for now, WB is already flying to Brazzaville and Libreville. It is thought that a further expansion into West Africa is a logical progression and Lagos in particular is seen as an obvious choice for RwandAir, considering the close political ties and the sheer size of the Nigerian travel market, leave alone the business links both countries are eyeing. A chance meeting in Kigali some weeks ago with a long lost Skal friend from Lagos also added to this speculation, as he is already busy in the GSA market, representing other quality airlines in Nigeria, and why else would he have otherwise come all this way to witness the arrival of the first B737-800 Boeing Sky Interior in Kigali if not to combine fact finding with business.
In the East African region there are not many gaps in RwandAirs network, as the airline is already covering Bujumbura, Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam and Entebbe. The border region with the Congo DR is now connected with daily domestic flights although a growing number of passengers is reportedly crossing the border from Congo DR to fly with RwandAir, and not just to Kigali but beyond into the network, clearly being fearful of the appalling reputation of some of Congos own airlines. On these routes there is still a lot of potential to increase traffic and it is understood that the Eastern Congolese market is being worked very intensely to exploit RwandAirs good name and easy connections.
Juba is still not spoken for and while Addis Ababa is connected to Kigali by Ethiopian, the seat of the African Union is not yet an own destination for RwandAir. Down south talk has been about linking up with Lusaka, maybe in connection with the Johannesburg flights, and here traffic rights between LUS and JNB would certainly be helpful to increase loadfactors and make the route even more profitable.
Added frequencies are being talked about too, and already has the B737-500 been deployed on the high demand flights to Tanzania and Nairobi, upping capacity considerably from the previously used CRJ200. Subject to the progression of load factors for the Dubai flights, presently three times a week with full traffic rights via Mombasa, this route could see a fourth flight come on line before too long, but it is beyond Dubai that speculation persists about a service to Mumbai.
Meanwhile though has RwandAir put a smart set of code share agreements in place, with Brussels Airlines, with KLM and when Turkish commences operations with THY too, opening up a range of new destinations for travel by business and holiday traffic to Rwanda as well as from Rwanda.
While the airline is still committed to exploring partnerships the focus for now seems on the implementation of the new vision for the airline and to grow, turn profitable and only then will the search for a strategic investor most likely resume, by this correspondents assessment not before 2015. Of course, at that time RwandAir could be a shining gem many would want to put into their crown, with much higher value and a much greater ability to put Rwandan interests first and foremost, when mapping out the future.
RwandAir, a rising star in the skies above Eastern Africa and well worth watching.
RWANDA OPENS CONSULATE AND RDB LIAISON OFFICE IN ISTANBUL
Diplomatic and business ties between Turkey and Rwanda are bound to benefit from the opening of a Consulate in Istanbul earlier in the week.
This was followed by the establishment of a liaison office by the Rwanda Development Board, aimed to promote investment and trade, but also tourism, ahead of the start of direct flights by Turkish Airlines between Istanbul and Kigali next year.
Notably had RwandAir preceded this development by signing an extensive cooperation agreement with Turkish Airlines a few weeks ago, which will cover schedule harmonization and codeshares extending into the respective destination networks, training and maintenance support and other areas of mutual benefit and interests. Turkish, one of the fastest growing members of the worlds leading Star Alliance only this week confirmed another order of 35 B737-800 aircraft, the same now used by RwandAir, to expand their network from Istanbul into Africa, which will from April next year include flights to Kigali.
RwandAir is expecting a second B737-800 in the second half of October, bringing their fleet to 7 aircraft at the time and permitting the introduction of more destinations and frequencies.
Meanwhile though has Rwanda again shown that business and politics can go hand in hand to the benefit of the countrys future development.
RWANDAIR PROMOTES NEW AIRCRAFT WITH SPECIAL FARES
Information was received from Kigali overnight that RwandAir, the countrys national airline, has used the arrival of their first B737-800 and the imminent going into production of their second B737-800 to promote the destinations where the new bird is being deployed with extra special fares.
The new aircraft will be making some guest appearances on the entire network to show it off to the regular travelers hitherto used to the CRJ 200s or the B737-500s and on selected traffic days over the next week will East Africans have a chance to sample the inflight comfort of Boeings Sky Interior.
Travel from Entebbe to Kigali and back tomorrow for instance will only cost 100 US Dollars return in economy while in business the fare will be 200 US Dollars, while the onward flight from Kigali to Johannesburg will be 200 and 400 US Dollars respectively.
Dar es Salaam / Kilimanjaro in comparison will go for 180 and 320 US $ respectively but the biggest present will be given to West African destinations where for instance Libreville and Brazzaville to Dubai will sell in economy at 350 US Dollars and in business which comes highly recommended at 600 US Dollars only.
Equally will travel from Nairobi via Kigali to Johannesburg sell on a selected travel date for US Dollars 200 and 400 respectively, and in all these fares are INCLUSIVE OF ALL TAXES, a real gift by any measure and it is understood that bookings are coming in thick and fast to take advantage of these special fares. Bookings can be made directly at the airlines offices, through travel agents or via www.rwandair.com GO FLY
AIR MAURITIUS ANNOUNCES EXTRA FLIGHTS TO DURBAN
Information was confirmed overnight that Air Mauritius will as a result of the upswing in demand for seats to and from South Africa add three extra flights between Pt. Louis and Durban in December this year and into January 2012. Regular and special promotions by the South African tourism trade are thought to have spurred extra interest for travel to South Africa in Mauritius and growing trade links too are playing a role it was learned.
Overall passenger numbers from Mauritius to South Africa were given as over 140.000 passengers last year, making the route a significant revenue earner for Air Mauritius.
NEW CARGO AND FREEPORT PLANNED FOR PT. LOUIS INTERNATIONAL
The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolan International Airport in Mauritius will see a second effort to create an expanded Cargo and Freeport zone after the first invitation for bids did not generate the expected interest from developers. While much of Mauritius trade comes and goes by ocean going cargo ships, more emphasis is being placed now on the development of air cargo on the islands as new manufacturing ventures will in the future depend more heavily on the speedy arrival of supplies and shipment of finished or semifinished goods to the consumer markets of such products.
The airport company is ideally seeking a single developer of the new facilities but it appears that subcontracts will be possible when the scope has been presented, approved and is going into the construction phase.
Last year Mauritius, according to data at hand, handled under 50.000 tons of air cargo but this is expected to rise in coming years to 90.000 tons by 2025, making a substantial increase of cargo handling facilities, using the latest technology and equipment necessary.
SHARK NETS INSTALLED ON ANSE LAZIO BEACH ON PRASLIN
Information was received from Mahe over the weekend that the anti shark campaign continues to be high on the countrys agenda following two unprecedented shark attacks some weeks ago.
While fishermen and coast guard are still searching for sharks in the pristine waters off the Seychelles inner islands, in particular around Praslin where the attacks took place, and have in fact landed several of the beasts since the hunt opened, more protective measures have been instituted by government hand in hand with the affected tourism industry. Boat patrols continue to guard the beaches off Praslin to ensure that predator fish are spotted early and destroyed.
It was learned that an anti shark net has been installed off the famous Anse Lazio beach on Praslin and is now only awaiting inspection by the Seychelles Maritime Safety Administration before swimming can be official allowed again in certain sections of the beach. Other beaches too will then see the installation of similar nets, aimed at keeping the predators away from the shallower waters near the beach where tourists like to swim and snorkel. Praslin, alongside Mahe the archipelagos largest island and home to the capital Victoria and La Digue are the most popular tourist islands and of crucial importance to the countrys tourism industry.
(Picture courtesy of STB, showing the Minister for Transport, the Hon. Noel Morgan making the formal announcement, flanked by Bram Steller, CEO, Maurice Loustau-Lalanne, Chairman and the other members of the board of directors)
Following the breaking news announcement here about the appointment of Bram Steller as the national airlines new Chief Executive, has President Michel yesterday also announced a new board of directors for The Creole Spirit.
Mr. Maurice Loustau-Lalanne, for the past 6 months Executive Chairman of Air Seychelles, will retain the non-executive chairmanship of the board but otherwise return full time as Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
New on the board are Mr. Alain St. Ange, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, who will as a result of his new appointment step down as a member of the board of director of the Seychelles Civil Aviation as will his colleague Mr. Damian Thesee. Other new board members are Ms. Veronique Laport, Mr. Ahmed Saeed, Mr. Jean Weeling and Mr. Gerard Lafortune. The appointment of Mr. St. Ange is thought to be significant as it closely links the national airline with the countrys tourism board, allowing a fuller coordination of activities and participation in the opening up of new markets for the archipelagos tourism industry.
This appointment, announced on behalf of President Michel by the Minister of Transport, the Hon. Joel Morgan, concluded the intermediate restructuring of Air Seychelles which started earlier this year with the departure of the former CEO and long serving Executive Chairman Capt. David Savy and was followed by the appointment of a number of Seychellois citizens to the position of departmental directorships and deputy directorships as part of the companys forward looking human resource development.
Only recently, also of course reported here as breaking news, did Air Seychelles expire a contract for the British Ministry of Defense to fly twice a week from Brize Norton to the Falklands Islands and re-integrated the B767-300 used for that contract into the regular fleet of HM.
It is understood from usually well informed sources that the airline will now focus on aggressively marketing the passenger services from their European destinations London, Paris, Milan and Rome while seeking to expand its reach into the new and emerging markets in the Far and South East, where Singapore is already being linked to Mahe once a week.
Exciting times for Air Seychelles ahead of the formal start of Bram Stellers contract on the 01st of October, who brings a wealth of experience with him to the Seychelles national airline and will undoubtedly help shape the future of HM as he did at Kenya Airways. Happy Landings to the new team and for readers the regular reminder You read it first here the most current and regularly breaking news from East Africas and the Indian Oceans aviation sector.
SEYCHELLES CALENDAR OF EVENTS JUST KEEPS GROWING
The annual calendar of major events in the Seychelles just keeps growing as the archipelagos tourism industry is moving towards having one big thing every month in the future.
2012s calendar is now out and available and the year will kick off with the Eco Healing Marathon in February, alongside which Korean Night will be staged. March 02 04 is the annual Biggie when the second edition of the Seychelles Carnival will be held, with participants for the worlds leading carnival nations coming to Mahe to participate with colourful floats and performances. Last years first ever such celebration continues to draw media attention and the forthcoming second edition is bound to have the global spotlight once more focusing on the Creole Island Paradise, aka Seychelles.
June will see three celebrations, first the Seychelles Regatta from 02nd till 09th followed by two national holidays on 18th and 28th, when the country will mark National Day and Independence Day respectively. The annual regatta is expected to once again attract major international competitors and will be one of the sporting highlights for the year, sponsored by Air Seychelles, the Seychelles Tourist Board and a number of corporate sponsors including the Eden Island Company.
July will be dominated by the Miss Seychelles beauty pageant, for the first time under the auspices of the Seychelles Tourism Board and also in July will the Samoan Circus take place, a tribute to another island nation.
In August The Feast of Assumption on La Digue island will be partnered by STB too for the first time, highlighting an even on this charming though smaller island a short distance from Mahe and Praslin by ferry, which shows how the local community celebrates a traditional event in style.
September, like this year already, is dedicated to World Tourism Day, officially celebrated on the 27th and the nearest weekend to that day will see the next edition of the Seychelles Ball be held where captains of industry, tourism personalities and the media will have a night out to recognized the contributions of the tourism sector to the Seychelles economy.
The Creole Festival in October will highlight the unique culture and history of the country between 25th and 31st and this will be followed just days later in November by long time favourite SUBIOS, held between November 02nd and 04th, which highlights the wonders of the ocean with film and photographic exhibitions and contests showing the underwater marine world for which the archipelago have become so famous. Asia Geographic is partnering this event with STB.
And the years calendar of events will conclude with the annual Christmas Concert on 22nd December, before all the hotels and resorts on 31st December, together with the islands people, will see off the old and welcome the New Year in style.
As the saying goes, Seychelles Another World be part of it and enjoy the Creole hospitality.
Mahe is reached by Air Seychelles from London, Paris, Milan and Rome, but also from Singapore and Johannesburg, by Emirates, presently 12 times a week and soon double daily, Qatar Airways daily flights, Etihad from next month 4 times a week and Kenya Airways via Nairobi 3 times a week.
AIR SEYCHELLES GETS NEW CEO
Bram Steller is according to reliable sources going to join HM as new Chief Executive Officer, taking over from Mr. Maurice Loustau-Lalanne who has served as stand in Executive Chairman for almost six months, since Capt. David Savy retired from the airline following the departure of the former CEO.
Bram served with KQ as Chief Operating Officer since 2008 and was previously already with Kenya Airways between 2001 and 2002 as Commercial Director amongst many other senior positions in various airlines in Europe.
Sources at Kenya Airways have been tight lipped over the development, knowing that Brams departure will leave a very large pair of shoes to fill for his successor, and having generally been considered one of the chief architects of Kenya Airways recent successes in rolling out a Pan African network was largely attributed to his strategic and operational thinking.
Air Seychelles, an airline with a huge potential but also facing substantial challenges, has undoubtedly gotten the right man for the job as it searches for new strategies and new routes in the face of the forthcoming 25 frequencies operated weekly by Emirates Double Daily, Qatar Airways daily flights and the upcoming 4 flights a week by Etihad. HM is presently operating 6 times a week between Paris and Mahe in code share with Air France, a partner well known to Bram as KLM / Air France is a major shareholder in Kenya Airways, and there are indications following a recent renewed agreement between the two airlines that this flight could move to a daily departure, with London, Milan and Rome also looking at a possibly greater presence from Air Seychelles to cater for rising demand.
Other routes to Mauritius and South Africa will be assessed too, as will other African mainland destinations come up for consideration, but it is in the Far East, where the airline presently flies to Singapore only once a week, that more opportunities exist. Air Mauritius has just started a direct flight to China and with Chinese visitors numbers rising fast, it is conceivable that, supported by the Seychelles government, Air Seychelles may well target a China mainland destination next.
Congratulations to Bram on his new appointment, as he moves to the Indian Ocean Creole Island Paradise of the Seychelles.
Exciting times ahead for sure, so watch this space where East African and Indian Ocean aviation news are regularly told first ahead of the pack.
SEYCHELLES ASSURES VISITOR SAFETY AMIDST SECURITY REVIEW
The events in Kenya in recent days, when a remote beach resort half way between Lamu and the Somali border was attacked, a British tourist killed and his wife abducted but suspected Somali intruders, has reverberated across the Vanilla Islands, triggering an immediate review of their own respective security arrangements and boosting monitoring and surveillance to prevent any seaborne landings.
The Seychelles, already at the very heart of global anti piracy efforts, is also the base for US Army operated UAVs used to carry out aerial surveillance while fixed wing aircraft operate around the clock out of the Mahe International Airport to keep the extensive waters around the archipelago under constant watch.
A reliable source from Mahe in fact responded to an emailed question, saying that such scenarios have been at the core of the countrys defensive measures to keep the islands safe, and that the latest technology was being used to prevent any ship, boat or craft illegally nearing any of the inhabited islands without triggering a major response from coast guard and other security organs. .
The Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon. Joel Morgan, in an interview with this correspondent in May this year, also made it abundantly clear at the time that the government in Victoria was doing its utmost, with the generous support by friendly countries, to boost its defensive assets and improve joint surveillance and ocean monitoring alongside the naval coalition operating in the Indian Ocean, to keep the citizens and visitors safe at all times. While conceding that something of the sort could conceivably happen he was also swift to point out that all humanly possible was done to make sure it will not happen and that no expense was being spared to keep the Seychelles safe.
Along the East African coast line, from Kenya via Tanzania to Mozambique, have navies been put on a higher state of alert as is the case in the Comoros Islands and all the way to Madagascar and Mauritius, to where Somali pirates, aka ocean terrorists, have been maneuvering in search of targets. Watch this space.
True to form has the Seychelles Tourism Board and the tourism industry across the archipelago raised their game again and will hold Seychelles Ball 2011 to commemorate the UN World Tourism Organizations World Tourism Day in style.
Saturday the 24th of September will see the Seychelles tourism who is who assemble at the Berjaya Beau Vallon Beach Resort to celebrate and network with colleagues and invited guests from government and the business community at large. It is understood that the Seychelles Ball will now be an annual event on the growing list of activities STB will promote across the year, such as SUBIOS, the phantastic underwater festival or the Seychelles Regatta and of course the already famous Seychelles Carnival which will see its second edition go underway next year.
Tourism is the countrys key to a successful economy besides fishing and trading and STBs high profile and high visibility media campaign over the last two and a half years had repositioned the archipelago as a global frontrunner for top end holidays, while not forgetting Affordable Seychelles, a segment of the market aimed to make holidays on a budget equally a reality by staying in Seychellois owned and managed guest houses, Bed & Breakfasts or holiday villas. Have fun and enjoy adds this correspondent in closing for all his friends from the tourism industry across the islands who will undoubtedly attend this high profile social night out.
AND after a weeks break, due to travel by Gill, here is once again some interesting stuff from as I call it Further Down South taken from The Livingstone Weekly. Read below where she went and enjoy the pictorial which goes with it:
The other day I did a trip around The Four Corners. I went from Livingstone to Vic Falls Town in Zimbabwe, then through to Kasane in Botswana, via Kazungula. After coffee I took myself off to Ngoma border with Namibia; crossed the Caprivi Strip to Katima Mulilo and had lunch there. Finally after a bit of shopping, I headed over the Wenela border into Zambia; two hours later finding myself back in Livingstone. A long day but enjoyable.
The route passes through Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana. But the best wildlife sighting I had was in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the way down to the border from Livingstone. There was a family group of about 20 elephant crossing the road followed by a flock of egrets (the header).
At the Vic Falls border I met up with a lone warthog patrolling along the railway line. The Zambezi National Park was very quiet; I saw some baboons …. Going through Chobe I saw several small groups of eles, some warthog and ground hornbill.
the reason for my trip was to drop off some copies of Beyond the Victoria Falls, which I did. Peter and Judy will have them in their shop in the Audi Centre in Kasane. Katy has some copies in Tutwa Tourism in Katima Mulilo. Paddy still has some at Vic Falls Saf Lodge in Vic Falls. I will be dropping some off at Backpackers Bazaar soon.
The good news too is that the book will be available in UK next year! March! Cant do anything about that it is a case of budgets, I am told. The book is now available in Bookworld but I still have some copies if anyone wants to get a bit of discount for their lodge shop.