AVIATION, TOURISM AND CONSERVATION NEWS from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands
A weekly roundup of breaking news, reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Get daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or read the daily postings on my blog via: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com Many of these articles then also appear on the Africa Travel Association web magazine and of course via the global industry leaders for travel, tourism, aviation and hospitality news, eTurboNews, on www.eturbonews.com or www.eturbonews.com/africa. Subscription to their daily mailings are FREE of charge and come highly recommended.
Second edition January 2012
NO LOVE LOST BETWEEN KEY GULF AVIATION RIVALS
When Emirates launched their global sales campaign on Boxing Day travelers from around the world flocked to their travel agents or booked online with up to 25 percent knocked off the cost of a ticket. Not so in Qatar it was just learned where authorities banned Emirates from advertising, promoting and selling their special deals, as no regulatory approvals had been obtained. It is understood that there is no time left until the campaign will expire to re-do the entire campaign while awaiting regulatory approvals so Emirates dropped the promotion in Qatar for good. Both Qatar Airways and Emirates are pursuing partly similar and partly different expansion policies and while Qatar Airways made that ambition known quite a few years after EK had gone on the prowl already, QR have made substantial inroads in terms of global market share and most notably outdone their Dubai based rivals by capturing the Airline of the Year award by SkyTrax now proudly wearing the bumper sticker The Worlds 5 Star Airline.
Emirates are said to be quietly fuming over the development while Qatar Airways will probably quietly smile, although the two are not likely to trade open exchanges over the faux pas, since technically this decision has been taken by the Qatari Civil Aviation Authority, inspite of the interlinkages known from the Gulf where Incorporated can be truly put behind the name of both Dubai and Qatar.
Reality though is that when it comes to cementing their aspirations for global leadership in aviation vis a vis the rest of the world, the two, and their nearest other rivals Etihad and Gulf Air, are standing united as one, even though the Gulfs internal competition is as intense as ever for superiority competitive advantages and scooping the latest PR coup in the global media. That said, here Qatar Airways Chief Executive Al Baker normally dwarfs his rivals with his witty yet often controversial comments, about the old aviation giants from Europe and North America and about the leading aircraft manufacturers, all of whom have learned to watch out for a thorough tongue lashing, before the champagne corks pop again soon afterwards, celebrating new orders. Watch this space.
East Africa News
MALAYSIA CONFISCATES MORE BLOOD IVORY
Reports came in overnight that Malaysian customs authorities have yesterday confiscated another half ton of blood ivory during a routine inspection of a cargo container, notably this time destined for Malaysia and not in transit to China as was the case with the previous seizures.
Last year was producing record hauls of blood ivory being found, not just in Malaysia but across the Far and South East, fueled by economic recovery in China which triggered a rush for the prestigious white gold amongst the nouvelle riche who wish to possess intricate carvings to show off with no regard to the cost to Africas wildlife.
Last year Malaysian authorities captured over 6 tons of blood ivory in at least three major raids and global wildlife and conservation NGO TRAFFIC has named 2011 as the worst year ever for elephant with a total global seizure of over 23 tons, representing over 2.500 slaughtered elephant. Yet, this by the admission of many in the global conservation fraternity, is only the tip of the iceberg as only a fraction of the illegally shipped ivory from Africa is actually caught and a substantially higher percentage thought to get through to unscrupulous buyers in Asia.
The year prior only 10 tons were actually seized, showing how the problem grew in size but also owed to the increased vigilance of port and airport authorities in Africa and in Asia, now fully aware of the spotlight being on them to see how they tackle the problem. Unless however the main importing countries like China effect harsher sentences and increase vigilance and cooperation with global organizations like TRAFFIC and CITES, the problem will not any time soon go away, while the increased presence of Chinese expatriates in Africa too are seen as a contributing factor to the sharp increase in poaching for ivory and rhino horn. Watch this space.
AFRICAN UNION INTEGRATES KENYAN TROOPS INTO AMISOM MISSION
News reached overnight that the African Union has now formally integrated the Kenyan troops inside Somalia into the AU / UN AMISOM mission. Kenya invaded the lawless territory under control by Islamic militants, mainly the Al Shabab group but also other Al Qaida affiliates, after several abductions and killings of foreign nationals including raids on refugee camps, invoking her right to self defence. The Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu gave consent to the military action too although sections voiced dissent, exposing them as traitors within. Kenyan ground troops, supported by air force and naval units, began pushing back the militants, clearing large tracts of Southern Somalia of their bases and disrupting their supply lines, from the air where notably Eritrea broke UN sanctions when flying in ammunition and arms before being kept away by Kenyan fighter jets and from the sea too. The recent entry of Ethiopian forces has strengthened the AMISOM mission too, where Kenyan, Burundian and Ugandan troops, alongside units of the TFG in Mogadishu, are now forming up a pincer movement to push Al Shabab units back while the Ethiopians, not yet under AMISOM but coordinating their movements with the head quarters in Mogadishu, have opened a new frontline, effectively now bottling up the militant strongholds.
This development is significant for Kenya as the cost of the operation has now shifted to the African Union and the UN, while adding much needed troops on the ground supporting and consolidating the gains made previously by Ugandan and Burundian soldiers. Launched as Operation Linda Nchi the forward defense was widely applauded in the region and found support from around the world but the most notorious fence sitters themselves suspected of being either in league with or covertly supporting Al Qaida and its various offspring groups.
The AU move is also seen as strengthening the fight against piracy from Somalia, and while the total elimination of that menace, aka problem from hell is still a long way off due to the pirates also allegedly having bases in Somaliland and other break away regions of the country, at least the part of the country between the capital Mogadishu and the Kenyan border is now being progressively cleared of criminal elements.
On the international scene a Somalia Conference was called by the UK for the 23rd of February in London, where it is expected that the current naval coalition members will discuss Somalia with representatives from the UN, the African Union and members of the AMISOM participants Uganda, Burundi and Kenya.
Meanwhile have sporadic attacks taken place in parts of Kenya near the border with Somalia, such as Garissa, prompting the already increased security in the region to be strengthened further after renewed terror threats by Al Shabab and their Al Qaida friends. Watch this space for upcoming news of any developments concerning Somalia.
BOMBARDIER VERSUS EMBRAER ON BATTLEFIELD EAST AFRICA
Aircraft manufacturers, keenly aware of Kenya Airways growth plans for the next 10 years, have turned their focus now on the wider region, where ageing equipment used by a number of airlines needs replacing sooner rather than later, for reasons of sheer economics such as fuel burn and maintenance, but also for reasons of image and perceived safety.
RwandAir has just announced, with the news actually broken here, that they have sold their two CRJ200 jets to an unspecified buyer, understood from other sources to be a start up in West Africa, and is seeking to replace them with two larger regional jets in the 90 110 seat range, bringing fresh hope of more sales to both Bombardier as well as Embraer. The former, probably encouraged by comment made by RwandAirs CEO John Mirenge to this correspondent about the CRJ900 series, appears to have been working overtime to structure a possible deal, considering that the airline wants to buy, needs a financing package and be sure of a June delivery date. Type conversion from the CRJ 200 to the larger version is clearly not an issue, for cockpit and cabin crews and there seems to be a significant advantage for RwandAir to staying with Bombardier jets.
Meanwhile has Embraer upped the ante, with a very recent visit and presentation of their E190, when they reportedly used the most recently delivered A190AR Kenya Airways aircraft, configured in a comfortable two class configuration of 1-2 in business class and 2-2 in economy class, to showcase the plane with a demonstration flight for the WB management. Embraer, boldened by their sales success with Kenya Airways, is pushing hard to place their aircraft in the region and is reportedly working overtime to set up an East African maintenance base, probably with Kenya Airways at Embakasi, where heavy maintenance and the conventional B and C checks can be carried out. That would give Brazilian manufacturer Embraer a distinct competitive edge over their Canadian rivals in a market where the possible entry of a Lonrho / Stelios alliance could seriously rock the market and spur a flurry of purchases or leases for state of the art, fuel efficient and easy to maintain aircraft. Here is possibly the biggest chance to bag a big order and unlike in Europe, where EasyJet used larger single aisle jets on start up, here in Africa they might well opt for a smaller regional jet with an extended range, if they go flat out as can be expected when Sir Stelios is involved.
Private Kenyan carrier Jetlink has shifted from their former DC9 and Fokker 28 aircraft largely to Bombardier CRJ 200 models and is not likely to change manufacturers, and according to findings are rather in the market for more of those birds available on the open market and while not brand new at least of a younger age.
Across in Tanzania, should indeed their government put their money where their mouth has been for long, and recapitalize Air Tanzania to boost them from a single Bombardier Q300 to a real airline with a fleet of new aircraft, Embraer too as already knocked on their doors. Indications there however are that ATCL will go with Bombardier and acquire, money being available and permitting of course, CRJ200 aircraft to start with as they expand their fleet.
Inspite of economic worries, caused by the Euro zone crisis, the outlook for Africa appears bright with a large range of major infrastructure projects in the pipeline in the wider Eastern African region, and the discovery of oil and gas in Uganda, and the prospecting across the entire region for more such finds, will undoubtedly make the aviation sector a key element in the development and exploitation of such resources. Exciting times for sure, so watch this space as decision time is coming up at the top floor of RwandAir but also in the head offices of other airlines in the region.
LOCAL BBC AND RADIO FRANCE RE-BROADCASTS TAKEN OFF AIR
It is understood that officers of the Uganda Police over the weekend ordered the immediate disconnection of the BBCs local FM broadcasts, with Radio France International also affected as the CID investigates a series of allegations over corruption at state broadcaster UBC in connections with the illegal use of UBC facilities.
A number of other stations were reportedly affected too, as were internet service providers using UBC masts around Kampala. One source close to the BBC offices in Kampala, on condition of anonymity said: all I know is that our re-broadcasting facility was taken off air. Anyone who ever dealt with BBC should know that we have contracts in place for use of facilities and we do not steal as the police action suggests. I think personally that this was a knee jerk reaction by an overzealous police officer with no clue what damage he was doing, but of course one can never rule out other motives, when BBC and RFI are taken off the air at once.
The action also well near caused a diplomatic incident when at the same location the secure radio facility of the Italian Embassy was taken off air too, reportedly prompting a flurry of exchanges between the Embassy and the Foreign Affairs ministry in Kampala, demanding to have diplomatic installations left alone or risk a formal protest.
Over the past months repeated allegations emerged of individual station owners conniving with UBC staff to put unsanctioned installations on masts and even use the power, prompting police investigations but their latest range of disconnections without first establishing all facts ahead of such orders clearly opened the force to allegations in turn of ulterior motives and unproportionate use of their powers. Watch this space.
EMIRATES ADDS BUENOS AIRES KICKS OFF DUBAI SHOPPING FESTIVAL WITH FIREWORKS
Emirates added Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro to their expanding route network as was mentioned to this correspondent during the week from a regular source at the airlines offices in Kampala. We are now offering connections to the two most important South American gateways of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires and that is the start of sometime in the future covering all of that continent. Ugandans can now fly to Dubai, take a day or two for the annual shopping festival on the way to or from South America and fly nonstop from Dubai to their final destination. We can now proudly say we cover the world for our Ugandan brothers and sisters and there soon will be no point they cannot reach with Emirates.
Meanwhile has on Friday night the annual Dubai Shopping Festival kicked off, a major magnet for ticket sales on Emirates from around the world, bringing shopping addicts to the mega malls of Dubai. A major firework was ringing in the new season and while Dubai and the neighbouring Emirates of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, amongst others, always offer good value for money throughout the year, the DSF is simply a time of the year when deals make way for more and better deals. Sales are very good right now and Dubai is always a top destination no matter if on a limited or a big budget said the same source. Happy Landings!
MORE CONTROVERSY OVER MT. ELGON ENCROACHMENT
Following an article yesterday over the massive loss of forest cover in Uganda, over past years and more importantly projected to continue in the future, it is worrying to learn that rogue politicians are again inciting people around Mt. Elgon to maintain and increase their encroachment while making demands for the park boundaries to be changed to give free land to their constituents. The trend is in fact alarming considering the potential for landslides inside the park, caused by reckless cutting of trees, seismic events and human habitat spreading at the bottom of steep slopes now used for cultivating crops without terracing. Hundreds of people died in a major landslide not long ago and inspite of the increasing risked, those removed to safety by UWA and other government bodies often sneak back to their illegal little farms, ignoring the widening chasm higher up on the mountain which now spans over 40 kilometres in length. Changing boundaries of protected areas requires an act of parliament here in Uganda but wannabe leaders have often been prodding wananchi on to enter forests and parks, with cattle and for cultivation, bringing instant conflict between law enforcement and those misled. Mt. Elgon in fact is notorious for park rangers as several of them were killed when ambushed by squatters, with at least one tourist on a mountain hike met a similar fate some years ago.
Notorious, amongst many, is one Titus Wakooba, a self styled chairperson who recently strongly reject(s) the 2003 park boundaries to regain land unfairly grabbed by Uganda Wildlife Authority. Incitement of such nature has been spreading since the troubles began for UWA prompted by personality clashes and illegal appointments between former tourism minister Kahinda Otafire, aka minister for crocodiles in his own words, and the then top echelon of UWA. Otafire had appointed a cash grabbing and totally unfit chairperson who was eventually dismissed through a court order for being patently unqualified under the Wildlife Act to hold any such position. Wild mouthing offs at the time have since given way to embarrassed silence, but nevertheless are thought by many to be one of the reasons why encroachment and land grabbing at Mt. Elgon continues unabated, as UWA was structurally weakened and has not had either a board appointed nor a substantive Executive Director named ever since.
Conservationists point to the crucial role of Mt. Elgon as a national water tower, besides being a transboundary protected area shared with Kenya, which makes any changes in Uganda a matter of concern for Kenya Wildlife Service too.
None of the regular sources within the corridors of the ministry nor at UWA were ready to comment, one citing the sensitivity of the matter which made it prudent to remain silent, but it is understood that both UWA and the ministry of tourism are watching these development with increasing concern and that other security organs in the country have been alerted to this turning into another potential hotspot of illegal demonstrations and activities once again. One thing is clear though, if UWA and government fail to stand firm on this issue, it would open the floodgates for similar invasions and demands elsewhere in the country, critically endangering conservation efforts and potentially spoiling, through negative publicity, the impact of #VisitUganda2012 when the country has been named as top destination by Lonely Planet. Watch this space.
AIR UGANDA NOW GOES TWICE A DAY TO JUBA
A new schedule has taken effect between Entebbe and Juba, as Air Uganda has now commenced twice work daily flights between the two airports, offering a morning and afternoon departure and for the first time making a day trip from Uganda to Southern Sudans capital city a reality.
Leaving between Monday and Friday is a morning flight at 08.15 hrs while the afternoon flight leaves at 16.10 hours and the respective returns will land in Entebbe again at 11.00 and 19.00 hrs respectively.
Flights to Dar es Salaam are now also operating daily and Nairobi is served three times a day on most days of the week. As mentioned previously, Bujumbura now combines with Kigali on three days each week.
More details can be found in the latest U7 schedule as can be regular and market fares via their website on http://www.air-uganda.com/content/flights-fares
CONSERVATIONISTS DECRY LOSS OF FOREST HABITAT
When figures became available yesterday, that Uganda had once again lost nearly 90.000 hectares of forest cover to converted agricultural land and for producing charcoal, environmentalists were shocked and saddened, some of them clearly too stunned to comment even.
In 2010 a similar forest loss figure was released by the governments own biomass report and the forecast indicates that for 2012 no change is expected, as growing populations demand to be housed and fed. With electricity now not only not regularly available but also expensive, and set to cost more if government makes good of their intention to remove power subsidies, most of Ugandas households use charcoal and firewood to heat water and cook meals, contributing to the rapid deforestation seen across the country.
National water towers, like the Mabira Forest, are now in danger of being progressively eroded, and a report last week right here showed that clearing activities in Mabira apparently enjoy senior protection with armed guards keeping prying eyes and forest wardens away from the scene of the crime.
Yet, globally there is a rush to monetize forests through carbon trading schemes, with even Uganda having a carbon trading bureau, ensuring long term financial benefits for participating governments and private sector owners of forests, but such opportunities are often brushed aside to cater for immediate needs of exploding populations and in particular to cater for voters by promising them land, political protection when they invade and occupy forests while turning a blind eye to the immediate, medium and long term impact of such short sighted actions.
Foresters in Uganda fear that if the trend is not halted and they are pointing to neighbouring Rwanda where determined government policy has not just halted but reversed the de-forestation trends Uganda may be bare of forest cover within the next 40 years, with undoubtedly catastrophic consequences for those living here at that time. Global climate change combined with failed local conservation measures will be a time bomb waiting to explode in our grand childrens faces, unless government and civil society can finally agree on an action plan to protect crucially important resources like forest, and to maintain and safeguard biodiversity. Watch this space.
CHOBE SAFARI LODGES SPA DECLARED 5TH BEST IN THE WORLD WITH A VIEW
Ugandas Chobe Safari Lodge, owned and operated by the Madhvani Groups Marasa Africa, has put the country in the spotlight when CNNGo, in its annual listing of the 10 Spas with the most amazing views, has rated Chobe in a very respectable 5th position.
Overlooking the white waters of the River Nile, the Spa offers floor to ceiling windows for its users and permits a view over the three tier swimming pool to the river and the forest on the other shores.
Equipped to the most demanding standards with state of the art machines, the Spa and health club has become a favourite meeting point for lodge residents, wishing to work off some of the extra calories ingested with the fabulous gourmet meals, which start with breakfast and stretch across the day till dinner time.
(Picture courtesy of Marasa Africa / Chobe Safari Lodge / Murchisons Falls National Park, Uganda)
The lodge is located in the upper part of Murchisons Falls National Park in the midst of a riverine rain forest and offers commanding news across and down the Nile, which rushes by giving a wild water spectacle of the highest order. The location allows for spectacular bird watching but also for to see the rarer forest mammals otherwise hard to find in the lower part of the park nearer to Lake Albert. Fishing on the river too is rated top in Uganda as increasing competitions held at Chobe are testifying to.
The news are welcome as Uganda has been named as Destination 2012 by the Lonely Planet Guide Book Company, dramatically increasing enquiries from abroad for holidays and safari in The Pearl of Africa. Good news, gladly told and congratulations of course to Chobe Safari Lodges management and staff and everyone at Marasa Africa. Visit www.chobelodgeuganda.com for more details, tariffs and bookings.
RENEWED TERROR WARNINGS SHOCK KENYAS TOURISM FRATERNITY
Warnings by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK, about the possibility of an imminent terror strike on Kenya, and in particular targeting foreign nationals, especially British, has shocked the Kenyan public and the tourism fraternity and are putting a cloud over the otherwise bright prospect of an equally successful year 2012 as was 2011 which ended with new arrival and revenue records for the country.
Kenya, now officially part of the African Unions AMISOM mission, three months ago entered Somali with ground troops, naval and air support to pursue and eliminate Al Shabab militants, which had at the time made it an almost daily occurrence to cross the border into Kenya, hit refugee camps and most notoriously kill and abduct a few foreigners from resort locations between Lamu and the border to Somalia.
Many in Kenyas political establishment until then seem to have believed that sitting around the proverbial campfire and singing Kumbaya would solve the problems of their troubled neighbours, only to learn at their own expense that the problem from hell was not only not going away but was in fact spreading into Kenya, threatening national security.
First to go into Somalia several years ago was Ethiopia, clearly seeing the connections even then between radical Islamic militants and terrorists and their own hostile neighbours Eritrea. That isolated country is long suspected and regularly accused of aiding and abetting the Somali terrorists and the Oromo rebels, which hid in Somalia from where they perpetrated hit and run attacks into Ethiopia, similar to the killer militias in Eastern Congo were doing for long to Rwanda.
Sharply critizised back then by fence sitters and finger wavers, though immediately applauded by this correspondent for their courage, Ethiopia eventually withdrew their forces when the AMISOM mission was launched, but with troops only from Uganda and Burundi at the time, too few to do much beyond securing the TFG in Mogadishu, the burden was squarely on our own boys from Uganda and their brethren from Burundi. Djibouti joined AMISOM in December 2011 when they also sent in a contingent of troops to Mogadishu.
The cost for this involvement kept rising, a plane crash out of Entebbe flying supplies and high ranking officers to Somalia took the lives of all on board, and the casualties on the ground kept rising too, until at the eve of the World Cup Final in 2010 nearly 80 innocent lives were lost when Al Shabab operatives committed mass murder / suicide at two locations, simultaneously, in Kampala. The threats against us here in Uganda by Al Shabab have since continued, notable after several of their agents were caught and are facing trial, with one having been sentenced to life imprisonment already under a plea deal of him giving up information for not facing the hangman at Luzira High Security Prison.
Kenya, immediately after the invasion, already suffered some one off grenade attacks, and more such in areas bordering Somalia where militants can use the vegetation to cross the frontier under the cover of darkness. When last in Nairobi security everywhere was notably stepped up to levels we are quite used to in Kampala, though leading hotels had for years maintained and widened their security cordon to avoid incidents. Vigilance was hence already at a heightened state, beefed up further for the Christmas celebrations and the New Years parties across Kenya, at which time the government had warned citizens and visitors to be extra vigilant and not give Al Shabab the opportunity to inflict a terror strike on key locations. This advice has been repeated since by the Kenyan government and there is speculation that they may have broken an Al Shabab network leading to information which exposed the terrorists plans what targets to strike given a moment of laxity. Yet, the way international news networks, almost gleeful, then hammered Kenya also speaks for their own mindset another African country in a mess and easy target to bash. Instead of using a one paragraph info they started a right proper media blitz against Kenya, warming up the, and I say it with deepest regret, bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi and other past incidents, to put Kenya in a dark light instead of applauding for the courage to do the dirty work for THEM, preventing another Afghanistan to emerge at the Horn of Africa from where Somali pirates, operating often with sanction by Al Shabab, already are inflicting heavy economic damage to the world economy with their piracy activities on the high seas, commonly termed ocean terror by this correspondent.
Uganda, Burundi and Kenya are now part of the African Unions AMISOM mission and Ethiopia, equally concerned and threatened by terrorists hiding in Somalia and a hostile neighbour with a hidden agenda, are in the conflict under their own flag to create a forward defense, a legitimate cause when threatened by a clear and present danger to national security. Admittedly, we are all targets of Al Shabab lunatics and there is little defense against someone ready to die him or herself in a suicide murder mission. And yes, something might happen though the security teams from the entire region, boosted incidentally by friendly foreign intelligence services from the very countries whose news channels are now happily bashing Kenya, are working day and night to prevent incidents. We cannot rule it out and I for sure cannot say we are 100 percent safe, but we are not any less safe than 3 days ago or more in danger than a year ago or 3 months ago. The invisible smirk on the faces of the anchors and their editors in the back rooms must be wiped off and replaced with genuine concern for what is happening in our region, where Somalia either comes under the full control of a central government again or else we tolerate to have another Al Qaida breeding and training ground to deal with in years to come. Just stop bashing Kenya and in the process wreck their economy and no less than in an upcoming election year but then, Rupert Murdoch style, what has ever prevented the gutter media from even helping to create incidents to then make headline news, no matter the cost. At least our Kenyan friends know they do not stand alone and at least have the support from the region, inspite of the campaign waged against them by the global networks right now. I give all the blessings I can muster to the East African forces now fighting for our freedom and liberties inside Somalia and thank them for their sacrifice.
KENYA CEMENTS REGIONAL LEADERSHIP BY PUTTING FIRST RESORT CITY INTO MOTION
Kenyas ambition to maintain her standing as a regional tourism super power have gained added momentum earlier in the week, when news emerged from Nairobi that the planned Isiolo Resort City was moving further ahead, with the Isiolo County Council now being formally requested to avail over 6.500 acres of land some 20 kilometres outside the municipality. Local political leaders are said to be fully behind the plans, clearly seeing an opportunity of a life time emerging here and a chance to lift their own region and political fiefdoms out of poverty.
Work on a new airfield is already underway, eventually creating a crucial link to not just other parts of the country but the entire region, and the appointment of a Japanese consultancy firm to take the development lead last year now also yielded the first financial feasibility study and conceptual design layout for the project. Taken into consideration were such crucial elements as water, electricity supplies, access and security to what will undoubtedly be one or several gated communities, and facilities on site are to include hotels, resorts, golf courses and related sports facilities, Spas, meeting facilities and art / craft centres.
The site is literally bordering the Lewa Downs Conservancy to the South, Shaba and Buffalo Springs game reserves to the North and the Uaso Nyiro River to the West of the sprawling piece of land, located between the hills of Katim and Degishu and presently understood to be free of squatter or major developments.
Kenya in the Vision 2030 had initially earmarked 3 such leisure city locations, the one now described in greater detail outside Isiolo in Northern Kenya, a second one at Diani South of Mombasa which is already a tourism centre and the third at Kilifi, also at the coast and inspite of its huge tourism and residential potential grossly underdeveloped, although not far from it has a private gated estate been developed at Vipingo in recent years, airstrip and golf course included of course.
When the Kenyan government then decided that a major new port would be build at Lamu and a new standard gauge railway line was to connect the new harbour with Ethiopia and Southern Sudan, Lamu was added as a fourth location for a major new city development besides a location in the Lake Turkana region, probably where the railway would branch off to Ethiopia while the main line will run on to Southern Sudan. Interesting to note that the presently preferred route of the railway would actually run through Isiolo as well, adding further connectivity to the planed new leisure city.
Together with major road infrastructure developments now underway across Kenya, and the progressive emergence of new medium and large scale residential developments, it goes to show that East Africas economic powerhouse is not standing still but determined to create a future for the country, inspite of political uncertainties 2012 is a crucial election year in Kenya and economic challenges, besides which the drought and flood cycles have significantly accelerated in recent years due to climate change spreading its fall out through the region.
Involved in the Somali situation now with troops on the ground, through becoming part of the AU / UN contingent, Kenya is flexing her muscles like never before, aimed to establish a vision and cement a leading role in Eastern Africa and within the two trade blocks, the East African Community and the larger COMESA which stretches from Egypt over Congo DR to Zambia.
Certainly new prospects and developments worth watching to unfold and take shape in coming years.
SASSY NEW WEBSITE FOR KENYA AIRWAYS
The Pride of Africa has something more to be proud of, now that their new website is up and running and the few teething problems have been sorted out. Tickets anyone, payment for a trip, check in on line, seat reservations, details on the Flying Blue mileage account, all now possible on line through www.kenya-airways.com where literally all transactions can be conducted from the office or from home in the armchair, or as is the case with this correspondent, from the famous hammock at the lake shores.
Schedules pop up at the click of a button, and even departure details can be obtained on line, possible even when on the move through BlackBerry or Android phones. Duty free shopping can be pre-arranged to be delivered on board and the new destination guide is another state of the art introduction, giving travelers the bits and bobs of what there is to know about the city they are flying to with Kenya Airways. And to get an inkling what latest films will be screened on the booked sectors, that too can be seen on line raising the ceiling for passengers leaving East Africa or in fact any KQ destination for a flight with The Pride of Africa.
And then there are corporate details, press releases and even career opportunities shown on the new site. New look for the New Year and it looks good.
ELSAS KOPJE BAGS MORE HONOURS
(Picture courtesy of Cheli & Peacock)
Exceptional in a collection of outstanding properties comes to mind when talking about Elsas Kopje in Meru National Park and it is no mistake that this extraordinary property has in the past attracted accolades from travel writers, travel magazines and won prize after prize in a highly competitive market.
Built first by Cheli & Peacocks owners Liz and Stefano in 1999 the small but oh la la safari boutique resort was named after the lioness Elsa of Born Free fame of Joy Adamson, and immediately established itself as a leading unit in the C&P circuit, sought after by the rich and famous but also often quite normal travelers with a taste for a true safari of a lifetime.
Andrew Harper, of Andrew Harpers Hideaway Report seems to have thought so too after staying at the Gem of Meru as it has been described to this author by those privileged to have stayed there, when he included Elsas Kopje in his list of best of 19 properties he visited last year and crowned Elsas Kopje as a Grand Award Winner. Travelling as a paying customer, not letting on at the time of his stay who he is and what he does, the monthly magazine continues to appear without advertising sweeteners, giving their global readership the confidence of an unbiased and fair assessment they can trust in, and find the facts as presented when travelling there themselves.
Just released a few days ago did the news break for the Cheli & Peacock family and they were swift to share the good news with me to make sure that the world is told, what truly amazing places Cheli & Peacock have to offer in Kenya, especially at the much underrated and yet absolutely spectacular wilderness of the Meru Conservation Area. Visit the following websites for more information on the safari resort via www.elsaskopje.com or else log on to www.AndrewHarper.com/grand-awards-2012
Magical Kenya, where else!
KENYAS AVIATION SECTOR IN A STATE OF FLUX
Nothing ever seems certain in the East African aviation industry, but the simple truth that what goes up eventually has to come down again. Key industry players, those in jet aviation like giant Kenya Airways, private carrier Jetlink owned by aviation veterans Capts. Aluvale and Patel, Fly 540 / East African Safari Air and ALS, a predominantly aircraft leasing company but with shares in SafariLink are the key stakeholders in a hardly fought over market for domination on the domestic routes. While for instance SafariLink flies predominantly on the safari routes across the country, there competing with such others as Air Kenya from Wilson Airport, Fly 540 operates both turboprops to the parks but also into secondary fields across Kenya, besides operating jets from Nairobis main international airport JKIA.
The announcement by Kenya Airways late last year, to form Jambo Jet, a supposedly new fully owned low cost carrier, to then unleash on the competition presently flying from Nairobi to Malindi, Mombasa and Kisumu, but probably also on regional routes, spurred some major activity amongst other players with notably Lonrho being rumoured that they had signed up with the founder of Easy Jet Stelios Ioannou. A report to that effect, published here a few weeks ago, at the time raised a number of questions as to its accuracy but it appears now that indeed that information was correct as Lonrho seems set to roll out an ambitious LCC strategy, first in East Africa and then in other destinations where Fly 540 has started to establish itself like Angola.
Speculation is now rife that a split of Fly 540 and the previously taken over East African Safari Air could be in the making, with the present management of Fly 540 moving on and out and doing their own bit while the jet operation has already seen new, Stelios approved management move in to turn ambition into reality. Losses incurred by Fly 540s management in Nairobi over the past years are said to be substantial and Lonrho got reportedly fed up over light red ink on the bottom line turning into dark red ink without remedy in sight by the current, or probably already former management. Ongoing legal cases, like the widely critizised and inexplicable departure of Uganda Country Manageress Jackie Arkle also left clouds hanging over the airline which now seems set to be bailed out by both funds and a competent at least 5 man strong team from the UK.
Regular sources at Fly 540 were reserved in commenting over the flurry of rumours presently flying around in Nairobi, in itself an indication that there could indeed be a major shift in the pipeline, but it is noteworthy that East African Safari Air has already filed an application with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to fly precisely those routes within Kenya which are presently operated by Fly 540s ATR fleet and other turboprop aircraft. It also appears from other sources that key staff may already have been shifted from Fly 540 to EASA, arguably in preparation for what the 540 top management must have seen coming with the writing on the wall to see for those with the eye.
Coincidence not in the opinion of this correspondent who has been monitoring aviation activities for years across the entire region and can smell a rat when the rodent may still be deep undercover. Watch this space as the battle for the East African skies is going into another phase, and by the look of it this will not be pretty at all as new constellations begin to emerge.
1TIME TO COMMENCE MOMBASA FLIGHTS IN MARCH
Information was just confirmed that 1Time, one of South Africas low cost carriers, will add Mombasa to their network by March this year, following successful flights between OR Tambo in Johannesburg to Zanzibar. The twice a week service to Mombasa will open the South African market for holidays at the Kenyan coast, and hoteliers have overwhelmingly welcomed the new connection, which will finally offer nonstop flights between South Africa and Kenyas Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa, eliminating the tiring and often hassle some transfer in Nairobi.
Initially only operating on domestic flights within South Africa 1Time has since its inception in 2004 widened their reach with flights to Livingstone / Zambia, Zanzibar and now Mombasa.
Visit www.1time.co.za for more information, details on traffic days, fares and bookings.
NO CAN DO SAYS TAWIRI
President Jakaya Kikwetes directive to TAWIRI, to strengthen anti poaching measures and devise ways and means to protect crucially endangered wildlife, which followed the recent submission of a devastating report on game numbers in the Selous Game Reserve and other parks, may not be quite as swiftly implemented as one could be tempted to think. TAWIRI, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, has now let it be known that they are lacking funding to step up anti poaching operations. A regular conservation source in Dar es Salaam had this to say: It is fair and good to give directives but what about funding. The wildlife sector is underfacilitated and cannot carry out its mandate the way they are supposed to. Partners from overseas are also holding back because there are so many unanswered questions about our countrys commitment to conservation. The Serengeti issue, the Lake Natron issue, the Coelacanth marine park issue, the uranium mining and plans for a big dam in the Selous and on those issues our government has been speaking with a forked tongue. Our credibility has suffered by saying one thing, then doing another and then even making U-turns like the road across the Serengeti. Donors want to be sure that when they support a park, support TANAPA or TAWIRI, that there is lasting value and those parks are kept intact and not cut up by roads or for mining.
It appears that too much is expected from these organizations, under their existing mandate and by special directives without providing the budget to carry out these functions satisfactorily. Wildlife based tourism is a key economic sector for Tanzania but depends on goodwill, visible conservation measures and measurable commitments by government to financially support wildlife management, not just by mouth but by chequebook. Watch this space.
NEW RAILWAY TO AVOID SERENGETI?
Stung by the swift onset of international outrage, when plans became known of a possible railway routing across the Serengeti, aimed to connect Musoma at Lake Victoria with a planned new Indian Ocean port at Mwambani, where the Coelacanth marine national park is located, has the Tanzanian government rushed to deny several weeks late that is that any such plans existed. The global Save the Serengeti coalition had swiftly mobilized after initially being ambushed by the signing of an MoU between Chinas CCECC, Tanzania and Uganda before Christmas and tourism stakeholders, the conservation fraternity and big names from abroad denounced such plans vehemently. Criticism was particularly loud from partner country Uganda where the media caught on to the destructive potential of such a routing and its negative publicity for Uganda too and Tanzanian transport minister Omar Nundu over the weekend felt compelled to put this to rest.
While his announcement, that the routing would run at least 100 KM south of the Serengeti, was greeted in principle with both applause and relief by conservation groups, the question was immediately raised why the highway across the park was not equally shifted to the same routing and why the Tanzanian government still seems hell bent to build a gravel road across the Serengetis migration routes, which according to their own traffic forecasts will eventually carry hundreds of cars a day across the most fragile part of the national park.
There is also the added open question on the Chinese funded feasibility study, supposed to cost over 450 million US Dollars, which is to establish the most viable and cost effective route for the new railway line and based on which financiers, including China herself, are to be attracted to the multibillion dollar project. Should that study conclude that a more direct route would be best and have the greatest chance to attract funding, who would Tanzanias government then react, quietly go along with it or vocally demand for the longer route around the park to be made the official routing, at the risk of NOT getting it funded?
Also over the weekend did news emerge that the planned rail link between Rwanda and Tanzania, which is to connect central Eastern Africa with the port of Dar es Salaam via Isaka, was likely to kick off in 2014, after all the necessary funding will have been put into place. Estimated at over 3 billion US Dollars, this route is due for upgrading to standard gauge measures between Dar es Salaam and Isaka. The new add on line from there to Rwanda, and very likely on to Burundi and into the Eastern Congos main city of Goma and beyond has for some time been agreed and earmarked for development. Principal financial agreements with development partners have already been put into place and questions inevitably are now emerging how Tanzania could attract finance for two mega projects of such nature at the same time, when a full rehabilitation and transformation to standard gauge of the existing line between Dar es Salaam and the Lake Victoria port of Mwanza would provide better value for money.
Experts have also rubbished Tanzanias claim that a new port must be build at Mwambani instead of expanding Tangas existing port but with no environmental impact studies yet at hand, nor billions of dollars of loose cash floating around to create such white elephants, the plans suddenly seem a bit more distant again.
China, also involved in bidding for the new railway from Lamu into the African hinterland countries of Ethiopia and Southern Sudan, does herself not have limitless cash to spend on purely prestige projects and it is expected that all railway plans presently being put into place for Eastern Africa will, when feasibility and environmental studies are finally complete, be compared as to their economic contributions and abilities to repay the financiers. Undoubtedly is rail transport hugely important to lower the cost of imports and exports and to provide affordable linkages for both people and cargo, and at a lesser carbon footprint compared to expensive road transport. Yet, in the final analysis, even the best looking plans need to take environmental concerns into consideration and avoid biodiversity hotspots, besides needing to find the funds from somewhere to pay for the ambitious outlook of how to transform East Africa into an economic powerhouse. Watch this space to stay informed about any future twists and turns on this issue and expect quite a few more of those.
2011 ENDS WITH LESS AIR ACCIDENTS
A source close to the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that the recently ended year 2012 saw less civil air accidents in spite of more flying being recorded compared to the year 2010.
Last year only 12 air accidents were recorded in Tanzania compared with 13 a year earlier and only one fatal accident amongst them, although two aircraft were completely destroyed as a result of their respective crashes. In 2010 air accidents caused 2 fatalities and left 10 more with serious injuries while a total of four aircraft had to be written off.
The improvement in these statistics is according to the source attributed to closer oversight, more intense training and adherence to airworthiness directives and maintenance requirements. Flying in Tanzania, for tourists in particular, is of growing importance to cover the often vast distances from one game park to the next while Tanzanians themselves also depend on scheduled and charter flights to go about their business when they have to travel to the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, the capital Dodoma or other key towns across this sprawling East African country. Good news that flying in Tanzania got safer and an incentive that is for more and more people taking to the air.
PRESIDENT GETS INVOLVED TO SAVE WILDLIFE
The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, in short TAWIRI, has handed over a shocking report to President Kikwete earlier this week, showing a massive decline in elephant populations in the Selous Game Reserve and the Mikumi National Park, with estimates going as high as 30.000 elephant having been wiped out by poaching over the past years. The report, named the Tanzania Elephant Management Plan, painted a grim picture of game numbers following regular counts since independence, clearly causing enough concern at the Presidents Office to have the head of state give an immediate directive to TAWIRI to take the necessary action to ensure the survival of the Palahala or Roosevelts Sable Antelope, which has been decimated for its horns and skins. At the same time President Kikwete also demanded explanations what had led to the drastic decline of elephant populations and what measures were being taken or prepared to reverse the trend.
Conservationists will welcome this ray of hope from the highest office in Tanzania and two regular sources had this to say overnight: If the President is serious about it there is a lot which can be done. Last year they formed a task force which includes army units to combat poaching. If we are united in this we can win that fight while the other one said: If this directive is true it is good news. But let us not forget about the pending issues we have, the routing of the railway, the ongoing plans for the road across the Serengeti and a whole long list of other issues, Uranium mining, damming the river in Stieglers Gorge, the Coelacanth marine park issues, Lake Natron and so on. I think the president has to do more to convince us that his sudden conservation affinity is real and there to stay.
That all said though, the presidential directive is still a commendable and much appreciated effort, not to be underestimated, but to be followed through with conservation bodies and individuals helping TAWIRI to keep the spotlight on the problem of poaching and the need to facilitate anti poaching and conservation measures full heartedly. Watch this space.
11 COMPANIES EXPECTED TO TENDER FOR BUGESERA AIRPORT PROJECT
After selecting 11 companies, out of the 33 which had filed their expression of interest documents with the Rwandan authorities last year, those still in the running will be able to enter the next round of the elaborate bidding process later this week, when relevant documents are expected to be available to them.
By late March or early April then are final submissions due for Rwandas planned new airport, allowing government to study in depth the various proposals before making a final decision whom to award the contract to.
The project is to be undertaken in a BOT format, which includes the construction, subsequent operation and eventual ownership transfer to the Rwandan government.
Once the selection process has been concluded, the winning company is then expected to commence construction on site within a year, with the opening of the new airport then a further three years down the line.
The new facility will be of great importance to national airline RwandAir which by the time Bugesera is open very likely will already operate intercontinental flights, with two B787 Dreamliners due to join their fleet by 2015 / 16 while additional short and medium haul jets and turboprop aircrafts are also due to be in operation by then. In this regard is an announcement expected very soon, which regional aircraft type RwandAir will order to replace their two CRJ 200 models which have been sold last week to a West African startup company in Equatorial Guinea, according to findings made by this correspondent. In the running for a 90 110 seat regional aircraft are Bombardier, keen to sell their CRJ900 series while Embraer too has put a foot in the door following a demonstration flight for the RwandAir management last week, including senior captains, all of whom were impressed with the handling of the showcased E190.
Aviation is of crucial importance to the landlocked country as it depends on airlines to bring tourists and business visitors to the country and transact air cargo shipments for both imports and exports of in particular perishable goods to the consumer markets in Europe, where Rwandan produce, often certified as organic, has gained a stronghold.
Watch this space as more news emerge about the new airport project in Bugesera and as decision time nears on the top floor of RwandAir where to place their order.
RWANDA, WHERE THEY WALK THE TALK ON FOREST CONSERVATION
(NASA Earth Observatory Picture, showing Gishwati Forest and its location in relation to Lake Kivu)
When I hear suggestions why dont you just move there from nit picking members of the envy crowd here in Kampala, I know they mean Rwanda, a country which has won my heart on so many levels. Small but oh la la always comes to my mind when I report about tourism product innovations, newly introduced features and events from the presently three national parks. I am therefore happy to draw some more fire from those chaps and go on reporting about the arguably next, fourth Rwandan national park, one in the making for sure, by the name of Gishwati Forest. During the week did the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources Stanislas Kamanzi visit the Gishwati area to inspect progress on re-forestation of up to 3.000 hectares of previously degraded forest land, from where two years ago several hundred families were evicted after encroaching the forest and cutting trees to create land for cultivation. With those families successfully resettled, planting of trees, indigenous hardwood but also bamboo, went ahead and the entire 3.000 hectares are expected to be replanted by late in 2012.
With this major forest restoration then complete, the scene is set for yet greater use of the forest for tourism, and it is understood that trails are being mapped out already to show the fascinating sights of the forest and its landscapes to tourists, willing to pay premium rates to experience the literally untouched wilderness areas deep inside the forest valleys. The forest is also home to primates, legions of birds, butterflies, orchids and rare medicinal shrubs and trees, where research has not even scratched the surface of its unlimited potential yet. There is even speculation that in a private public partnership a second forest canopy walk may in fact be created in Gishwati, similar to the hugely popular and financially successful canopy walk in the enchanted forest, aka Nyungwe, which has drawn growing numbers of visitors to the park where they are able to see into the treetops and beyond from as much as 200 feet up. More visitors means more entrance fees, more discretionary spending on site and more hospitality facilities needed which provide both primary and secondary jobs, evidence that tourism has the potential, and is exploited towards that end in Rwanda, to be a lead sector in East Africas economies.
Yet, across the various borders things in the forestry sectors are not well at all, with Uganda recording massive shrinkage of her forests, Kenya diddling on the issue of one of the countrys key water towers, the Mau Forest and in Tanzania having the UNESCO application for recognition of a World Heritage Site withdrawn last year upon a directive by President Kikwete of the Eastern Arc Mountains, where logging companies are now licking their fingers to get their concessions and turn forest heritage into short lived cash.
Again, Rwanda stands firm and stands out in her commitment towards promoting biodiversity and protecting her environment, all the more commendable as it is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, if not THE most densely populated country. But smart thinkers in top echelons of government see more clearly where their future lies and how they can ensure long term economic prosperity. Tourism, nature tourism and in particular the highly rated forest tourism is a key to that prosperity.
Gishwati is very much on this correspondents visiting programme for Rwanda in 2012, as is a return to the enchanted forest, aka Nyungwe to personally assess once again how forests can be turned into tourism assets while at the same time improving the micro climate and serving as crucial water towers. Watch this space.
RWANDAIR SELLS TWO CRJ200 TO MAKE SPACE FOR LARGER JETS
News were just confirmed that RwandAir has sold, with immediate effect, their two CRJ200 aircraft which the airline had acquired two and a half years ago from Germanys Lufthansa Cityline.
The jets will leave service right away and the schedule, recently beefed up, will be adjusted until in June this year two additional regional jets will join the fleet.
RwandAir will remain with two leased B737-500, provided by GECAS, two owned B737-800 and one leased Bombardier Dash 8, provided by ALS in Nairobi.
Important schedule changes for the time being will be the reduction of flights to Nairobi from 3 per day to 2 per day, the reduction of flights to Dar es Salaam from presently 5 to 4 per week while all flights to West Africa, i.e. Brazzaville, Libreville and Lagos will remain as was. Flights to Dubai, 3 via Mombasa and 3 nonstop services from Kigali, will also not be affected.
RwandAir CEO John Mirenge had in a conversation with this correspondent in Abuja / Nigeria last month all but confirmed that they were looking at the CRJ 900 series to take the place of the CRJ 200, which in the meantime had become too small considering the risen demand.
However, the airline has not at this stage confirmed which type of regional jets would be acquired other than that the aircraft will be brand new and join the fleet by June 2012.
This development is in line with ambitious plans by RwandAir to connect the landlocked country comprehensively with the region, key destinations on the continent and by 2015/16 with intercontinental flights, as delivery of two B787 Dreamliners are expected by then.
In the meantime has RwandAir put code share arrangements into place to connect Kigali under an WB flight number with Brussels, Amsterdam, Addis Ababa and with a range of Turkish Airlines destinations, when that airline commences flights by April 2012. Watch this space for breaking aviation news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.
MOUNTAIN GORILLA FAMILY GETS BABIES OVER CHRISTMAS
Information was just received that the Kabirizi and Mapuwa families, habituated groups of mountain gorillas in the Congo DRs Virunga National Park, has had one birth each over the Christmas period or in late December. The Mapuwa group now counts 17 members while the Kabirizi group has grown to 33 members, the largest of the habituated groups of mountain gorillas on the Congolese side of the volcanoes.
The Greater Virunga Transboundary Cooperation, which brings together the three wildlife management bodies, RDB Tourism and Conservation in Rwanda, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and their Congolese counterparts ICCN, has over the past years effectively dealt with local and cross border poaching and instituted a range of measures aimed to not only protect the prized animals but create a conducive environment for them to breed. The last tri-partite meeting was in fact held in Kampala / Uganda in October last year and by coincidence was the meeting report and resolutions published a few days ago, as the news of the new births in Congo also arrived. The report is available on request through this correspondent for interested parties, but in the meantime it is a warm welcome to the youngest members of the mountain gorilla community in the border triangle between Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
Southern Sudan News
ETHNIC VIOLENCE AND WAR THREATS LIKELY TO KILL FLEDGLING TOURISM
Tourism once was a beacon of hope for the newly independent Republic of Southern Sudan, but those hopes are being dashed now on multiple fronts and all at once. Inter ethnic violence struck earlier in the week when several thousand armed youths of the Lou Nuer tribe set upon their perceived rival tribe Murle, reportedly killing as many as 3.000 women, children and men while abducting a large number of young boys and girls, for slave labour and to turn them into child soldiers or forced wives.
The long simmering conflict came to a genocidal head just a few days ago, leading to the total destruction of villages, looting, raping and burning with most of the livestock also driven away as bounty. These tactics are reminiscent of the Khartoum regimes affiliated militias, used as proxy fighters to do the dirty work in Darfur and of course in the disputed territories of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei. There, the regime is engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Africans, to tilt the playing fields when they will finally hold the agreed referenda on the future of those regions, and aerial bombings supported by artillery attacks on villages and towns were also followed by a policy of burned earth, with systematic looting, raping and murdering of civilians driving over a hundred thousand new refugees into the independent South.
The Lou Nuer attack has all the hallmarks of having been instigated by the North, using tribal sentiments as a foundation on which to ferment trouble while Sudanese troops have repeatedly and directly violated the territorial integrity of the South including aerial bombings of Southern villages and refugee camps.
Only when SPLA troops arrived in Pibor and engaged the Lou Nuer directly did the murderous militia attacks stop, leaving however total destruction behind them.
These tribal differences, seen as potentially the biggest challenge to the new country besides the constant threats by the North, are not boding well for economic development. Already struggling to turn oil exports into readily available cash, Khartoum is trying to block such exports through the pipeline system to Port Sudan, trying to extract ransom through blackmail vis a vis huge transit fees while allegedly stealing large quantities of Southern oil as a matter of policy.
Such worries however have started to impact on the willingness to invest in the Southern Sudans tourism industry, and a leading hospitality stakeholder from Nairobi in a discussion on the phone said: for the time being major investments are not likely to happen. This is for a number of reasons. The security issue clearly weighs very heavily on any potential investor, but even if that is resolved, other problems have surfaced. Southern Sudan needs an investment law, protecting investors on many areas. Being able to pay foreign sourced loans with enough hard currency is one, repatriating dividends when one reaches profit stage another. There have to be incentives like tax breaks, duty and tax free importation of inputs for projects. Land ownership seems very complicated and complex as it involves several levels of competing authority and the parks have no guidelines on concessions either so far. And besides the legal system has to be in line with the rest of East Africa, by compatible laws and an independent and functioning court system. They are also lacking relevant laws governing tourism, lack regulations. Southern Sudan in the medium term is important and interesting for us but they really got to sort out a lot of issues, including the entire process of arrival and departure from Juba. They need to shed their pre-independence red tapes they had to do for the sake of still being part of Khartoum Sudan but now, a lot of those registration issues should just be dropped.
At the same time it was learned that, while the SPLMs economic agenda had tourism earmarked as a sector capable to generate employment, attract FDI, bring in foreign currency and drive the economic recovery, the tourism ministry is given little in terms of budget support, leaving it unable to effectively promote the existing national parks or develop the sector overall. At times, due to their dire financial situation, they are unable to finance even the smallest projects and when given money from private sources or NGOs it appears they are being almost dictated to by stakeholders with their own vested interests, to cement their own and at times personal presence and influence in Juba and the parks and keep competition away.
Not rosy signs for a sector which still could make a difference in the new Republic of Southern Sudan, but much has to change and the international community is clearly not doing enough to protect the South from the Northern aggression or support the government in Juba to deal with its internal challenges, political as well as economic. Watch this space.
ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES TO INSTALL BLENDED WINGLETS FROM NEXT MONTH ON B767-300ERS
Information was confirmed from Addis Ababa that Ethiopian Airlines will convert initially three of their current B767-300ER aircraft from early February to a blended winglets format, aimed to reduce operating costs due to substantially lower fuel burn but also lower the airlines carbon footprint. Other B767 aircraft still on the Ethiopian fleet are due to be modified progressively thereafter.
The move became necessary due to the continuously rising fuel cost and the delay by Boeing to deliver the 10 long overdue B787 Dreamliners which ET was due to have in operation by now.
The three aircraft will be converted at the airlines own maintenance base in Addis Ababa, where their team of own technicians will be assisted by personnel from Aviation Partners, a Boeing affiliate company. The conversion is according to information obtained from a source in Addis going to save up to 500.000 gallons of fuel per aircraft per year, reducing carbon output by up to 5.000 tons per aircraft, and will increase payload and range respectively by about 7+ metric tons or over 300 nautical miles.
Across the border in Kenya has a regular source provided feedback when asked to comment that Kenya Airways is constantly reviewing all options of how to lower operating costs across the entire fleet not confirming or denying that the recent visit by Boeing top executives, when showing off the B787 Dreamliner in Nairobi in mid December, had discussed remedial measures for the anticipated delayed delivery of KQs first B787 in late 2012 such as the retrofitting of blended winglets in KQs B767 fleet. That however seems to have been the outcome of the visit of the aircraft and Boeing team to Addis Ababa only days before their move to Nairobi, raising expectation that something similar might be announced from Embakasi very soon.
No cost estimate was provided by the source in Addis Ababa, suggesting that some of the cost could be borne by Boeing as part of the compensation package agreed with Ethiopian Airlines for the long delay of delivering the B787 Dreamliner. Watch this space for the very latest breaking news and information on Eastern Africas aviation industry.
ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES SELLS FOKKER 50 FLEET
It was confirmed from a periodic source in Addis Ababa that Ethiopian Airlines has sold their entire fleet of turboprop Fokker 50 aircraft to a buyer in South East Asia, reportedly to a company based in Singapore.
The 5 aircraft are expected to yield anywhere between 30 and 35 million US Dollars although it is possible that the buyers may have negotiated better terms.
In line with a recent announcement that ET will install a Bombardier Q400 simulator at their aviation academy at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, it is a foregone conclusion that Africas leading airline will purchase more Q400s to replace the aged Fokkers and provide more economical operating financials. Ethiopian according to data available currently flies 8 of the Bombardier turboprop aircraft.
No confirmation of an immediate announcement of additional aircraft purchases was however forthcoming by the time of going to press.
In the meantime has ET also announced that flights to Muscat / Oman were due to be launched shortly while further information about the delayed flights to Mahe / Seychelles puts the April to June period into the frame for starting flights. Watch this space for regular and breaking news updates from East Africas vibrant aviation sector.
RESORTS AND HOTELS EXPRESS SATISFACTION WITH 2011
By the end of November of last year had 852.347 visitors arrived in Mauritius, confirming that by the end of the year data are not yet available the island will have an anticipated overall arrival summary of around 940.000 visitors for 2011. This will represent an increase of about 4 percent compared to 2010 and put the goal of 1 million visitors within reach for 2012, subject to favourable economic conditions around the world of course and subject to getting more airlines to fly to the island or increase either frequencies or size of their aircraft used on the route.
According to the chairman of one of the islands hotel associations, quoted in the information sent to this correspondent tourist arrivals have increased before however cautioning that it still does not fill the hotels with the number of rooms available.
The Mauritius tourism sector has been vocally advocating for the government to review their aviation policy vis a vis access to the island by more airlines, but it was learned that the events in neighbouring Seychelles, where the national airline is presently being gutted as part of a massive restructuring has scared the Mauritius government, fearing apparently that opening the skies, as the Seychelles did, would equally result in a demise of Air Mauritus, once foreign carriers had gained the upper hand and cornered the islands source markets with fares Air Mauritius would not be able to match.
Watch this space to find out during 2012 what decisions will be taken and which airlines will gain greater access to the Mauritius skies or if the government in Port Louis will stick to its guns and continue to protect their national airline as they did in the past.
STB AND STA AWARD LONG SERVING STAFF
51 staff of the Seychelles Tourism Board and the Seychelles Tourism Academy were last weekend recognized for their dedicated and committed long service to the industry in various capacities over the years. Having served between 10 years, the threshold for being called up to the podium, and 39 years for the longest serving member of staff, they were all congratulated by STB Chief Executive Alain St. Ange, who never fails to credit his incredible staff for their hard work in putting the Seychelles on the global tourism map. Only recently did he in a personal communication to this correspondent use the opportunity to pay a glowing tribute to them all heap praise on his staff, those at the Bel Ombre head offices of STB, those abroad heading and working at the Seychelles Tourism Offices, the tourism attaches at a number of foreign embassies and High Commissions, the Tourism Ambassadors around the world and his colleagues in the private sector, saying without them all this success would not be possible.
Notably was STA Principal Flavien Joubert the one to receive recognition for 39 years of uninterrupted service in and to the tourism industry of the country, initially as an ordinary staff at a resort before graduating through the ranks, becoming a chef, a lecturer and finally principal of one of Africas finest hotel and tourism academies.
Congratulations to them all and all the best for 2012, to make it yet another record year for the country in terms of tourist arrivals and revenues.
WINDPOWER CONTRACT AWARDED
It was learned that last week were firm contracts signed for the construction of initially up to 8 wind turbines on Mahe, which when operational will produce a further 6 MW of power. Under the Seychelles long term plan does the use of renewable energy sources rank high and in conjunction with Abu Dhabis Masdar renewable energy company was South Koreas Unison selected as contractor. Five turbines will be erected at the Ile de Romanville while the remaining three will be placed at Ile du Port. Construction is expected to commence soon after the company has mobilized resources and manufactured and shipped the units to the island.
The overall cost of approximately 28 million US Dollars comes as a grant from the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the warm relations between the two countries are again paying off, as was the case last year when two additional desalination plants were rushed to Mahe from Abu Dhabi as a gift by Abu Dhabis ruler to the people of the Seychelles, when drought has seriously affected the available water supply. Good to have friends like that who are willing to financially support development goals and help the Seychelles to attain her goal of having a 15 percent renewable energy base by 2030. Keeping Seychelles green watch this space.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE VICTORIA CARNIVAL FESTIVAL
Some may see this as a classic misnomer, as of course it is the air lanes which connect the Seychelles with the outside world, but nevertheless, like when in ancient times all roads led to Rome, the attention of the global carnival communities will focus on the upcoming second edition of the Carnaval International de Victoria.
Hosted this year jointly between La Reunion and the Seychelles, the two tourist boards are busy putting final touches to the PR campaign which is due to unfold as the countdown continues towards the March 02 04 event, and with over 40 traditional carnival nations participating in the festival, the show is going to be bigger and better than last year according to a regular source from Mahe. Emirates, emerging as THE global airline, is the main sponsor and Festival Airline once again and will promote the event across their growing network, from where travelers are but one stop away from getting to the tropical island paradise of the Seychelles.
This is only our second edition of this festival but it has taken the media by storm. In fact many tourists are coming in March to see the festival and parade. We now have a calendar of major activities across the entire year and it supports our aim to bring in more tourists by offering more attractions beyond our paradise location. We see ourselves as blessed with a unique natural setting in the middle of the Indian Ocean but also want to establish the islands as a place where things happen. The Carnaval Festival is one such event and we look forward to host the world again in March said a regular source. Watch this space as the programme for the three day festival will be released very soon and for anyone wanting to see floats, dance groups and bands perform, the time to book is now. Visit www.seychelles.travel for more information on the archipelagos tourism industry.
RUSSIAS TRANSAERO LAUNCHES SEYCHELLES FLIGHTS
After receiving all regulatory approvals from Russia and the Seychelles has Transaero finally started their long awaited flights between Moscow and Mahe. The Seychelles private sector last year had made urgent representations to have flights approved, and while presently only running until Easter, Transaero is said to be seeking permission to obtain 5th freedom right to fly on to other Indian Ocean island destinations and create a viable basis for year round flights.
The B777 used by Transaero will make three flights a month, once in every 10 days, and is aimed at the Russian holiday market where travelers are seeking to escape the harsh winter conditions and book holiday packages for a date with sun, sand and sea.
Hoteliers and DMCs are reportedly happy with the new flight which over the coming months is expected to bring over 2.500 additional visitors to the archipelago, hopefully creating market awareness in Russia of the Seychelles being a dream holiday destination all year round. Russia is high on our list of emerging markets and has the potential to produce significant visitor numbers for Seychelles. Our airline partners in the Gulf are presently connecting Russian travelers via their hubs in Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi but nonstop flights have their own attraction and the Transaero links with Russian travel agents will open up a new market segment which we otherwise might not catch said a regular source from Victoria.
Transaero is one of the first privately owned airlines in Russia and was started in November 1991, flying to 156 destinations from their Moscow hub with the Seychelles being the latest addition. Needless to say that Transaero has IOSA certification and ranks amongst the 10 safest airlines in the world, according to available statistics, operating 73 aircraft including B747-400s and B777s.
Happy Landings for now until the end of March at which time Transaero might hopefully consider expanding operations to year round. Visit www.transaero.ru for more information on the airline and dont forget to pay a virtual visit to the Seychelles via www.seychelles.travel
And in closing today again some worthwhile material taken from The Livingstone Weekly, my regular Monday literature courtesy of Gill Staden. Gill took some amazing pictures of the Victoria Falls last weekend and I have selected one to start off her weekly appearance here with a piece of eye candy.
[Zambias Minister for Tourism] Given Lubinda visits Livingstone
Given Lubinda is the new Minister of Broadcasting, Information and Tourism. He visited Livingstone during the week to see the Tourist Capital for himself. He had a busy schedule visiting many of the tourist operations to see things for himself. On Saturday in between a Jet Boat ride and a Steam Safari he held a meeting for tour operators at the Zambezi Sun.
(Picture courtesy of Gill Staden)
There were presentations by Kingsley Lilamono, Chairman of LTA, followed by one by Mr Lubinda. Kingsley went over the LTAs wish list for improvement of economy for the tourism industry in Livingstone.
Mr Lubinda then spoke. Before I list the bits of Mr Lubindas speech which I can remember, I know many of you reading this will think: Here we go again. What promises are going to be offered only to be broken?
Mr Lubinda seemed to be talking from his heart and had some positive comments. During the speech he told us what he had already done. Firstly he had stopped (for the time being) the new Tourism Levy which we were all expecting. He felt that if the sector was not doing well and that Zambia was already known to be an expensive destination, how could the government add more to the costs. Secondly he told us that he had stopped the signing of the new Hospitality Act because he wanted input from the hospitality industry. He would be calling for submissions. Finally he said that they were revisiting the ZAWA Act. He knows that tourism and the environment must work together so the Act should improve the quality and quantity of wildlife in Zambia.
So, with that backdrop, maybe we have hope that things might get done. So here are the things from his speech which I can remember and seemed important:
Tourism is a volatile industry therefore tourism policies must be long term and must be through public private dialogue and be for the benefit of the industry.
The tourism industry must be honest in its accounting.
The UNWTO will either make or break Livingstone (and Zambia) as a tourist destination. Planning must be done properly. The Commonwealth Agricultural Show to be held in Livingstone between 15-27 September will be a good time for Livingstone to practice.
The tourism industry must always be one step ahead of government; government should follow with the proper legislation.
The new one-stop shop for businesses in town will be used as a model which may be followed in other towns in Zambia.
The movement of the Provincial Headquarters to Choma should enhance the Livingstone environment. The town environment should be improved and needs people with an eye for beauty. The town should not get ugly buildings like the many he has seen in the town.
The park needs to be expanded so that we can offer a better wildlife experience to visitors.
Although time was not with Mr Lubinda to see the Kazungula and Sesheke borders he sent a team there to have a look and will receive a report. He is aware that improvements need to be made.
While driving to town he stopped at a road block where the police were stopping foreign cars. He asked them why the foreign cars were stopped. The policeman on duty said that often the foreign vehicles have not paid the correct fees at the border. Mr Lubinda commented that the reason for the visitors not having the correct paperwork was because the Zambian authorities were at fault; the police should base themselves near the border to advise. He felt that Livingstone needed a friendly police service because it was very intimidating when in a foreign country to be stopped by police.
Generally, he felt that the staff at lodges/hotels/activities were excellent. He did however notice a few which were not up to scratch. It was important to have a good training centre so that staff can get proper training. Walter Mzembi, the Minister of Tourism in Zimbabwe has stated that if Zambia comes up with a good training centre, the Zimbabwe trainees will be sent here.
The airport needs to be completed on time and to be of the highest standards. Livingstone should be the regional hub for flight arrivals.
Domestic tourism has to be increased. Operators should find ways to promote this through low season prices or by getting the children to visit their operations.
The boundaries of Livingstone will be extended to include Chief Mukunis area. Chief Mukuni had offered land on which to build a conference facility.
I think that was about it. There was no time for many questions which obviously needed to be asked so Kingsley said that any submissions could be sent to him and he would forward them on (I have already sent mine!)
Is there hope for Lochinvar National Park?
Previously I reported after a trip to Lochinvar that the lechwe were dying; the land was covered in an invasive weed mimosa pigra. I attributed this to the lack of flooding by the Kafue River because of the Itezhi-tezhi dam upstream which holds back the water for power generation.
This week I found a report of a study which has been undertaken on the effects of dams in our African environment, a study which looked at the effects on the dams on the environment of the Kafue Flats. Here are some bits:
Bernhard Wehrli explains how scientific research currently focusing on large dams in Africas Zambezi River basin will help contribute towards the sustainable design and management of hydraulic structures in the future
Of all continents, Africa has the smallest reservoir storage capacity, the lowest proportion of irrigated agriculture, and the lowest degree of electrification. Dams offer solutions to these problems and could thereby contribute to socio-economic progress. However, the urgent need for expanding water storage capacity in Africa conflicts with the negative social and ecological impacts of large dams that have been identified in the past. In exploiting the hydroelectric potential and the irrigation capacity of African rivers, major challenges will be to improve the operation of existing dams and to avoid past mistakes when designing new ones.
Meeting these challenges requires scientific progress in order to design and manage complex hydraulic structures in sustainable ways; and it will also require improved institutional settings for transboundary water management.
The acronym ADAPT stands for an interdisciplinary research project on integrated water resource management in the Zambezi River basin, which will offer scientific insight to adapt the planning and operation of large dams to social needs and environmental constraints. The overarching goals of the ADAPT project are to:
New technologies with spatially distributed hydrologic and hydraulic models are being developed based on new approaches for real-time incorporation of remote-sensing data. Such models give managers and stakeholders spatially and temporally explicit information on flow rates and water storage in the entire Zambezi River basin. More detailed versions are now already available for the Kafue River basin and allow predicting the extension of flooded areas in the Kafue Flats, a large wetland downstream of Itezhi-Tezhi dam. Such predictions are essential for optimising dam operation in this ecologically sensitive environment.
In order to assess water quality effects of large dams, detailed sampling and analysis campaigns were conducted over the past four years in the Kafue and Itezhi-Tezhi reservoirs and in downstream river reaches. The studies of the transport and transformation of carbon, nutrients and particles revealed that lakes Kariba and Itezhi-Tezhi act as effective sinks for nutrients and sediments. As much as 70% of nitrogen and 90% of phosphorus are trapped in Lake Kariba and this nutrient supply is missing in downstream ecosystems. In addition the riparian zone of Lake Kariba dam acts as an important source for the bubble-emission of methane, an important greenhouse gas. The study also revealed that the dams water intake is well-designed for minimising the release of greenhouse gases downstream of the turbines.
Mitigating the downstream effects of dams on large wetlands is only possible if the consequences of different operation rules on biodiversity hotspots can be predicted. Ongoing research into the changes in terrestrial vegetation in the Kafue flats after dam closure document the invasion of shrubs and the expansion of lagoons, both at the expense of grassland which is the feeding ground of the Lechwe (an endemic antelope species). Analysis and modelling of these landscape-scale changes as a response to the hydrologic regime will help quantify optimal managed floods for the ecosystem.
The ADAPT project started in August 2006 with a pilot phase for establishing a close collaboration between Swiss research groups and partners in Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The synthesis phase will end in 2012.