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Third edition March 2012
East Africa News
OFF POWER OFF WATER OFF INTERNET WHAT NEXT
The patience of users of utilities, including electricity, water and internet / international phone services has been sorely tested of late for parts of Eastern Africa and Uganda in particular.
Electricity generation has been a problem in the entire region, but felt most harshly back here in Uganda, where our governments inability to pay contractually agreed dues to independent power producers led to the shutdown of some plants, which operators simply ran out of cash and were unable to put diesel or heavy fuel oil into the machines. Government then went on to explain that the promised subsidies on electricity bills could no longer be sustained, leading to a massive increase in tariffs and likely more power thefts by people unable to pay for electricity from here on and that available resources would be shifted towards gearing up generating capacity. Well, a fair point except for the failure to gradually phase out one policy element and alongside phase in another approach without disrupting the countrys power supply in the process. UMEME, Ugandas monopolist electricity distributor, failed in a media offensive as both parliament and the Electricity Regulatory Authority have asserted themselves and sharpened their claws, and last week the CEO of ESKOM, former owners of UMEME before selling to a British company, was detained by the CID at parliament after failing to give satisfactory answers to the investigators on the committee. Earlier this week she was reportedly too ill to appear for another round of grilling questions.
Talking of ill when one seens the often brown froth coming from our pipes, courtesy of Kampala Water, which if used to boil then has a brownish foam cover emerge on top, one can only say good riddance to their former CEO peacock, who was strutting about singing his own praise while shortages increased and the quality suffered. Mineral water producers now do booming business as many, at least those who can afford the 5 or 6 thousand shillings for the 5 gallon bottles, now use it to cook next step may be to shower with it too to prevent my grey hair taking on a brownish hue
And last to the internet providers a cut in one of the three cables off Djibouti, the owners never did come out to say if it was an accidental cut or sabotage in the pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden, was followed by the cut of a second cable off Mombasa, where harbour inefficiencies caused ships to stay on off shore anchorage and on dropped its anchor right on the cable. Repairs for both are still ongoing but the third, still functioning cable, then got cut inside Kenya, again not clear if by accident or sabotage, bringing internet and international calling traffic first to a halt before the much slower satellite backups kicked in. Still, the day was a mess, power disruptions attributed by a senior staffer of UMEME to a daily challenge we have to face due to the state of the network rich considering the obligations by UMEME to modernize the network since they took over under a clouded deal from former state corporation UEB, aka Uganda Electricity Board. It was also revealed yesterday that the company has reportedly written to the local World Bank office complaining about being harassed by parliament and the Electricity Regulatory Authority, prompting public howls of outrage and expressions of intent to refer UMEME to the International Criminal Court for crimes against electricity
On this humorous note I end, to face another day in paradise struggling with our public utility companies and service providers in darkness of course living off batteries, what else.
COMMUTER BUSSES IN KAMPALA, A NOVEL WAY TO EXPLORE THE CITY
The recent, yet politically highly charged introduction of a fleet of brand new commuter busses into the city has opened up new options for visitors to Kampala, finally being able to cut through the maze of routes and pick up points of the commonly used taxis or otherwise referred to as matatus and being able to drive across Kampala with fixed pick up and end points of a published route network.
At a price of a ticket of just 800 Uganda Shillings per trip, the cost for the wananchi is now half of that using a matatu and no wonder have those chaps gone on strike, shortlived as it may have been.
Politicians with a reported vested interest in the public transport sector, some of them alleged to own dozens of the commuter taxis licensed to carry 14 people but often cramming in a lot more, incited the strike and tried to ban Pioneer Bus from starting operations including misusing parliament to do their dirty work. Pretending once more to be the advocates of the people they as usual ended up being the tormentors of the very people they were elected to represent, in parliament and in the city council too. Only weeks ago did a court ruling reaffirm the KCCAs decision not to renew the almost 30 year old and hugely lucrative contract by UTODA, the Uganda Taxi Owners and Drivers Association, and take transport management on directly, boosting its income and cutting the cords between corrupt politicians and the alleged corrupters, also alleged to be billions of Shillings in arrears. Drivers then welcomed their release from literal bondage but when the KCAA then demanded that they pay 120.000 Shillings per month in licensing fees, they were swift to strike for a few days, prompting government to fast track the introduction of the new Pioneer Bus services.
And I still say lo and behold, government and the Kampala City Council Authority did stand up to be counted and did the right thing and let operations commence, while the finer details of registrations, licensing and permits are being resolved.
City dwellers have taken to the new services with a gusto and considering the savings they can make, it can translate into as much as a litre of milk they can now afford to bring home every day instead of having to fork it out on transport cost, the new way of safer and cheaper commuting options surely is here to stay. 4 to 5 regular matatus loads of passengers fit into any one of the new busses which have a capacity of 30 seats and 30 stands strictly observed I am told by a source from within the company and with over 500 of them ordered, 100 imported and over 60 already now plying the roads of Kampala and environs that created added capacity for commuters and bargaining power as matatus already started to slash fares. The city authority has designated some 800 bus stops and information from the company has confirmed that more busses will be arriving over the coming months as they seek to capture their market share in Kampala, before probably expanding to other urban centres.
For visitors on a budget, who have up to now often resorted to taking the Evil Kneevil copy cats, aka Boda Bodas or moped / light motorbike transport option, they now can use a bus service to explore the city from end to end, as yours truly used to do when visiting Berlin for a couple of summer vacations back in the 60s, using subways not available of course in Kampala and busses to drive from start to finish on a route.
In London of course tourists do that all the time with the Tube and the London busses, and here at least visitors to Kampala have an added option to explore, relatively safely, the Kampala Metropolitan area and see life as it is in Kampala, traffic jammed, busy, hectic to a point, colourful, varied but far from what the international media often make it out to be they will not see riots, not see burning as much of that is a fiction created by media houses, and I am not saying scuffles have not taken place, just not as they have been portrayed and shown.
In my Kenyan days a lady called Kathy Eldon, aka The Iron Stomach, was a food critic and ate her way across the finest restaurants in the city but also the take aways, the road side pork roasting joints along River Road and local restaurants only locals would frequent. I intend to emulate her in my own fashion, she wrote about food and I write about travel, by taking the Pioneer busses myself and commute some distance with them across the city to have a firsthand experience, until now only narrated by my staff and Ugandans commonly using public transport.
But for now, it is a welcome sight on our roads to see the new orange coloured busses and the prospect of less congestion and wider choices for Kampalas stressed commuters.
DELHI WILL BECOME KENYA AIRWAYS SECOND INDIAN DESTINATION
The Pride of Africa is set to launch flights to Delhi, Indias capital city, from the 15th of May onwards, extending their operations to a second destination on the subcontinent after having flown for many years to Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay.
The airline will fly from their hub in Nairobi four times a week, to start with, using a B767-300 aircraft on the route, and traffic days have been confirmed for Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. It is expected that this flight will eventually go daily, as loads justify the gradual increase in operations. Besides offering 196 seats in economy class and 20 flat bed seats in business class each flight will also be able to uplift up to 10 tons of palletized air cargo..
Only last week did the airlines CEO Dr. Titus Naikuni during a media presentation at the Nairobi Serena Hotel offer a glimpse into Kenya Airways ambitious 10 year plan, which foresees a particular focus on India and China, as Kenya has close economic ties with both countries and seeks to attract more tourist visitors too from the two most populous nations in the world. As and when new long haul aircraft become available to Kenya Airways, India will see additional gateways open up and it has been projected that a total of 6 major cities will then be connected to Nairobi with nonstop flights. For now however there is a countdown ticking over the next two months before Dehli goes online, so watch this space for more announcements nearer to the time.
NEW FIRES NOW THREATEN THE ABERDARE NATIONAL PARK TOO
Prolonged drought conditions and insufficient rain have been blamed for the outbreak of fires now also reported form the Aberdare Mountains, where KWS is hand in hand with fire fighters and volunteers now also trying to extinguish raging fires, as recently reported about from Mt. Kenya National Park.
Reports from Nyeri are such that the extent of the fires in the Aberdare National Park may be greater than the fires already burning high up on Mt. Kenya, causing serious concerns amongst wildlife managers and the conservation fraternity at large over the damage done to the fragile alpine ecosystems found high up on both mountains.
Firefighting efforts are reportedly faced with several problems, like the high elevation of the fires on Mt. Kenya to which access is only available on foot, taking several hours from the most advanced drop off point 4×4 vehicles can reach, as well as the lack of water and equipment to combat the flames.
Information from Nairobi says that KWS had airlifted personnel higher up the mountain with helicopters to create firebreaks but that the elevation makes effective work difficult as ideally staff would need to get acclimatized to avoid elevation sickness due to lack of enough oxygen at heights of over 4.000 metres. The high altitude also exhausts staff rapidly making a frequent exchange of firefighters necessary, which in itself causes additional logistical problems for KWS.
Volunteers have been drafted in and offered their services to help KWS and other governmental bodies to bring the fires under control while at the same time security organs are pursuing the likely culprits, suspected to be poachers and illegal honey collectors, who could be responsible for causing the fires on Mt. Kenya and in the Aberdare Mountains.
Both parks are key elements on Kenyas wildlife circuit, and in particular the Aberdares are sought out by tourists to stay in the so called tree-hotels, like the world famous Treetops or the Ark, or hike the mountains with guides while many others come there for trout fishing.
A source close to KWS at their Langata headquarters also mentioned on condition of anonymity that some tourist routes on Mt. Kenya for hiking and climbing have been closed as a precaution and that the situation at the Aberdare National Park was being monitored before any decision would be taken to temporarily declare the affected areas off limit too until the fires have been brought under control.
The long rains are expected to arrive in Kenya soon but have not yet started in earnest and only sufficient rainfall can help at this stage to bring the fires under control and restore moisture content to the plant and tree vegetation to improve natural resistance. Watch this space.
KENYA TOURIST BOARD SEEKS NOVEL WAYS TO MARKET THE COUNTRY
A source close to the Kenya Tourist Board has confirmed that arrangements are being finalized to produce a theatre play named Out of Africa The Magic of Kenya due to be launched in some of Kenyas key European markets later this year. Shows are due in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and Denmark but according to the source this may only be the beginning of spreading the activity further into the EU, or else use similar shows in emerging and new markets, where KTB intends to showcase Kenya as a safari and beach destination with immense cultural and historical background too.
No information could be obtained though if Kenya would intend to showcase the performance at the annual World Travel Market in London in November this year, when the world comes to the UK for the years last big tourism trade fair to discuss trends and performances, but also to sign crucial contracts for 2013 and beyond.
Visit www.magicalkenya.com for more information on the countrys wide range of attractions or else click on to the site of Kenya Wildlife Service for details on the countrys safari attractions via www.kws.org. KWS presently managed 23 national parks incidentally 20 of them already rebranded under KWS new branding and park identity programme, 28 national game reserves, 4 marine national parks, 6 marine national reserves and 4 game sanctuaries.
KWS in conjuction with Magical Kenya is also promoting an increase in domestic tourism and last year launched their promotional social media platform #TembeaKenya, which is taking leading social media multipliers to parks, reserves and sanctuaries to popularize visiting the countrys wildlife attractions amongst Kenyans themselves. Watch this space.
SECTIONS OF MT. KENYA NATIONAL PARK ABLAZE
Information was confirmed overnight from sources in Nanyuki that indeed sections of the Mt. Kenya National Park, high up on the mountain, are ablaze with forest and moorland fires.
Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service have mounted joint fire fighting operations assisted by personnel drafted in from various fire brigades but the high elevation, lack of helicopters to douse the flames with water or anti fire chemicals and difficult access is rendering these genuinely serious efforts almost in vain.
Sources from within KWS blamed individuals seeking to extract honey from natural bee hives for having started the fires, when attempting to smoke out the bees before recovering the highly valued and prized honey, although there have been suggestions in the local Kenya media that it could have been poachers whose campfire may have burnt out of control.
Some routes for hikes and access to climbs on Mt. Kenya have already been closed for tourists to prevent any visitors and their guides to get trapped and it is understood that some climbers had to abandon their plans and return to base as a result of the fires. A regular source from Nanyuki told this correspondent that the smoke was visible from the Laikipia plains and that according to information they received from KWS at least 60 hectares have already been completely burned down. The alpine vegetation up Mt. Kenya is fragile at best and following a lack of sufficient rains been dry like cinder. This sort of fire damage can take years or maybe even decades to repair itself. Such fires also displace birds which lose their habitat and grazing for some of the game reaching the higher altitudes. Already the glaciers have reduced by a lot since I was a boy and this second fire in a year is not good for the biodiversity and not good for tourism also said the source in the course of the email exchanges before adding KWS are doing all they can and they even drafted in people from other parks. But the location is not good, not easy to reach and it takes half a day to even walk up there because no vehicles can reach. And when they reach they have to manually try to create fire breaks or extinguish flames without the help of water. The only real hope is a lot of rain to douse the fires which shows how difficult it is for KWS to put the fire out. No injuries to firefighters have yet been reported though, the one bit of good news in this sad story.
SERENA HOTELS PROFITS RISE BY NEARLY 20 PERCENT
TPS East Africa, the holding company owning Serena Hotels, has just announce a jump in profits for their financial year 2011 by 19.3 percent after revenues rose by nearly a billion Kenya Shillings to 5.46 billion from 2010s 4.48 billion Kenya Shillings. Indications are that a sound dividend will be declared again for shareholders, in the range of about 4 percent, which should give the share price a boost following a slow slide over the past 6 months, as worries over the tourism sectors performance made an impact on private and institutional investors. However, while 2012 is now generally seen as a year of consolidation, following records of arrivals and revenues in 2011, there remains the uncertainty over the elections dates in Kenya, which may be as late as first quarter of 2013 going by recent press reports on comments attributed to politicians. It is this doubt over the dates which also impacts presently on the forecast for the tourism industry and the economy at large. On the upside, the recent formal launch of the LAPSSET project in Lamu is expected to inject some level of growth, which will particularly benefit the Serena Hotel in Nairobi.
The group is present in four of the five East African Community member states with city hotels in Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali and Dar es Salaam, although there have been efforts by the government of Burundi to get East Africas best ruptured and arguably best run hospitality company to come into Bujumbura too.
The respective country circuits are completed by beach resorts in Mombasa and Zanzibar and a number of top rates lodges and tented camps in Kenya and Tanzania. It is understood that the construction of a new lodge outside the Parc de Volcanoes in Rwanda is soon to commence and that plans for at least two lodges in two of Ugandas main national parks are also still being pursued. Further South in Mozambique the hotel group owns and manages the Polana Serena Hotel, arguably the best in the capital Maputo.
Serenas Kenyan flagship property the Nairobi Serena will undergo a major transformation from later this year, when a new wing will be constructed, alongside a new car park while the present building is supposed to get another floor added. The existing rooms will according to reliable information be made bigger by converting three of the present rooms into two larger en suite rooms, similar as already done years ago on the ground floor with the much in demand Garden Suites each of which has its own little enclave of a private garden and a secure gate to the main gardens beyond. A recent visit to the Nairobi Serena Hotel also confirmed that the hotel remains in absolute ship shape, now under Daniel Kangu as General Manager, formerly serving as Deputy GM at the Kampala Serena Hotel.
E-TOURISM CONFERENCE SET FOR NAIROBIS INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL
The upcoming e-Tourism Conference in Kenyas capital Nairobi is taking place at the InterContinental Hotel in Nairobi where over 300 particpants from Africa and beyond are expected to gather to discuss how to push the tourism industry into the 21st century by using not only the social media but also e-Commerce solutions to transact future business. Organised by e-Tourism guru Damian Cook, the meeting is expected to be a sell out as all his previous seminars in Kenya and the wider region were regularly oversubscribed. This correspondent expects to be in Kenya on other business over this period of time and hopes to file some live reports from the conference. The attached details were kindly provided by Kenya Buzzs mailing (www.KenyaBuzz.com)
Bigger Better and more Affordable than ever!!
Following our sold out East African seminars comes a two-day conference packed with International Speakers, practical demonstrations and solutions for social media in tourism.
With online travel revenues set to double in 2012, anyone in the Tourism and Travel and related marketing and media should not miss this world class event.
Special Focus on Facebook Session
By August there will be ONE BILLION people on Facebook. Welcome to your largest source market for business- but how do you best access them? Justin Reid was the former Digital Head for Visit Britain whose innovative work saw them named the Most Influential Destination Online. Now he works with a leading Facebook developer creating strategic creative campaigns for the travel trade. In a full afternoon session he will take you through the steps to create, build and manage a Facebook campaign for Tourism.
East Africa’s largest Online Travel and Tourism Event will be held at the Intercontinental Hotel Nairobi on the 29th and 30th of March 2012.
The conference is packed with international speakers and presentations from some of the world’s leading online travel companies- including Trip Advisor, Expedia, Trave
lstart. A special training session on facebook and its new applications will also be included in the conference programme.
Plus MANY MORE from the E-Commerce, Mobile and Mapping sectors.
The cost is $300 plus VAT for the two-day conference.
Special Price if you book two tickets – it will be US $200 each plus VAT.
All delegates will also receive the Textbook – E-Tourism Frontiers: A Practical Guide to Online Tourism.
COAST TOUR OPERATORS DEMAND FERRY VIP SERVICES ON PAY AS YOU GO BASIS
The recent introduction of VIP services for tourist vehicles, to obtain priority boarding for vehicles for instance on transfers from or to the airport or on a tight schedule leaving for safaris, has been widely hailed as progress and a step long overdue by sections of coasts tourism stakeholders.
However, the demand by the ferry operators for a three month upfront payment of Kenya Shillings 166.000 or about 2.000 US Dollars is now seen as an obstacle to in particular smaller tour companies, which would prefer a pay as you use fee to be paid on the spot rather than having to fork out major money upfront. A fee of 1.200 Kenya Shillings or about 15 US Dollars per trip has been proposed by tour operators representatives but was rejected by Kenya Ferry Services, prompting an appeal to government to compel the ferry operators to review their stand and make the fast track option more user friendly. The Kenya Ferry Services CEO claimed to have been surprised by the request for fees per use as in his words, quoted in local Kenyan media, the company had only recently reduced the prepayment requirements from 6 months to 3 months and no further reduction would or could be considered for VIP treatment in a point blank pay or get lost attitude common for parastatal monopolists. This prompted safari operators to protest even more, saying that they have no issue with paying for extra services but only questioned the need to prepay several months in advance, when an on the spot payment could just as well meet the financial requirements of preferential service levels. In fact, added comments attributed to the ferry CEO that normal services would suffice just as well as all ferry users were served without delay caused a string of comments from safari operators and other ferry users, most of them unfit for reproduction.
The ferry service has in the past attracted severe criticism over docking accidents and stalled ferries mid stream, when crossing from the island of Mombasa to the southern coast and planning for a highway bypass from the international airport is at an advanced stage, bringing relief in the future to in particular the tourism sector, which can then avoid the bottle neck of the Likoni ferry and leave the service to local commuters or else use it only for the sightseeing purposes. Until that bypass however is ready, anyone who needs to go south of Mombasa will continue to depend on the ferry service and is subject to their terms and conditions, but also their failures as and when those happen.
KENYA AIRWAYS AND CAPITAL MARKET AUTHORITY ANNOUNCE SHARE ISSUE DATES
An elaborate presentation by the Chief Executive and Group Managing Director of Kenya Airways, Dr. Titus Naikuni, rang in the countdown towards the 30th of March, when the new share issue will be formally launched in the market, following the final approvals last Friday by the Capital Market Authority of Kenya.
This will be the largest ever share rights issue in the Eastern and Central African region, if not the whole of Africa, aimed to raise some 250 million US Dollars in new capital, and as a further novelty, 49 percent are already subscribed firmly by the Government of Kenya, which holds 23 percent and KLM / Air France which holds 26 percent of the issued shares.
Kenya Airways, initially formed in 1977 after the breakup of the old East African Airways, was put on the path of privatization by the Kenya government in 1996 and has since grown from strength to strength carrying over 3 million passengers last year and showing operating profits every year since.
Dr. Naikuni pointed out that the overall financial requirement until 2011, when the airline was to have grown from the present 34 aircraft to 119 aircraft, a fleet of dedicated freighters included, will be in the region of a staggering 3.6 billion US Dollars while in the near term some 151 million US Dollars were due for fees to EXIM Bank in the United States to issue guarantees for the purchase of aircraft already ordered and new orders to be placed very soon.
Amongst other developments was it mentioned that the B737-800 fleet will grow from the present 5 aircraft to 10 by 2014/15 and to 18 by 2018/19 financial years while the fleet of B777s of 300ER, 200LR and 200ER make is set to grow to 4 each and 12 overall. The presently ordered B787 Dreamliners are under current assurances by Boeing due to arrive from March 2014 onwards, no longer by the end of 2013 and the 9 under firm order and 4 options are likely to be sharply raised to meet the fleet and route development plans of The Pride of Africa 10 years from now.
From the current 55 destinations in 45 countries on 4 continents KQ intends to fly to 115 destinations in 77 countries on all continents from JKIA, also a reminder for the Kenya Airport Authority to pull up their socks and complete the expansion works presently underway and begin the long overdue construction of a second runway and yet another terminal, without which Kenya Airways plans would be in tatters for lack of infrastructure at their hub airport.
The trading in shares for Kenya Airways will close this Friday, 19th of March and will then not resume until the 12th of June, and in between the register of the shareholders will be closed at end of business Friday to establish who will obtain share issue rights, granted as 16 new shares for 5 existing shares at a discount of 32 percent below the average share price of the last 90 days. A total of 1.477.169.549 shares will be on offer as of 30th of March, with dealing commencing on 02nd April to last until 18th April. Final deadline is the 27th April to complete the exercise. When asked by this correspondent about competitive threats and anticipated market shares, Dr. Naikuni responded: Africa is the last great frontier in aviation and considering the vast expanse of the continent, in comparison with similar geographic expanses in Europe, Asia and America, there is room for growth in Africa. We have a market share in different markets of Africa between 40 and 50 percent and with our development plans we intend to maintain such market shares. About competition, British Airways has been flying to Kenya since the 1930s and we only started in 1977 and we are still on that route and hold our own, and fly more often than British Airways. Yes,the Gulf carriers are here but they also bring passengers to Nairobi whom we then transport to their final destination in the region or across the continent. We are not scared of competition, we welcome competition.
Capital Market Authority CEO Ms. Stella Kilonzo also addressed the gathering, confirming that all required approvals had been given and that this would be a unique opportunity for Kenyans and East Africans to invest in a major African blue chip company.
Kenya Airways The Pride of Africa, is now entering the arguably most exciting period of its corporate life with the rollout of Project Mawingu as the 10 year strategic development plan has been named. Watch this space for periodic reviews of progress of the share rights issue and the subsequent implementation of short, medium and long haul goals Kenya Airways has set for itself. Reporting live from Nairobi.
SINGITA GRUMETI GAME RESERVE ADDS NEW SERENGETI HOUSE
Information was received overnight that Singita Grumeti Game Reserves have embarked to convert a former managers house into an upmarket residence for tourist visitors. Up to 8 visitors at a time can stay in the house when ready, and a total of 4 self contained suites, offering bedrooms, private lounge and terrace spaces will be complemented by other facilities like a pool and tennis court.
Available for rent the house sells at US Dollars 7.500 per night for four, which includes all meals prepared by a dedicated and well trained staff who will be permanently stationed at the new safari residence in the wilderness. The new development joins the award winning Sasakwa Lodge, Faru Faru Lodge and the Sabora Tented Camp, also located on the sprawling conservancy which adjoins the Serengeti National Park.
Visit www.singita.com and follow the link to the Tanzanian operation for more information about locations and rates for tourist visitors.
NEW VISITOR CENTRE OUTSIDE SERENGETI TO BOOST TOURISM ACTIVITIES
Information was received over the weekend that the Ikona Wildlife Management Area, of which the Singita Grumeti Reserve is part, has now formally commissioned a new visitor centre, from which the entire area of some 26.000 hectars of land dedicated to wildlife conservation is to benefit. The centre was funded with support of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, a decades long donor to the Serengeti, the United States government and the World Wide Fund for Nature or WWF, but also received assistance from the tourism businesses located in the WMA, itself now a pioneer in community tourism programmes. Training of locals was also part of the setting up of the centre to provide much needed skills to the people from the area, instead of importing staff from other parts of Tanzania.
Wildlife Management Areas are a new approach to encouraging local communities to partner with investors and set aside land not overly productive in agriculture or ranching for wildlife conservation, aimed to create buffer zones for added protection of the main national parks and game reserves but also to spread economic benefits like jobs and tourism related income into villages which have previously been bypassed and ignored. Good conservation news from Tanzania, well worth applauding and making more widely known.
TANZANIA SCRAPS VEHICLE ENTRY FEE AT BORDERS WITH KENYA
Faced with massive pressure by the four other East African Community member states during a recent ministerial meeting in Mombasa and the prospect of a diplomatic fallout at the head of state summit last weekend has Tanzania rushed to reassure in particular Kenya that they would now remove the controversial US Dollars 200 charge per vehicle entering Tanzania and also remove the need for work permits for East African citizens when entering on the country on business.
The fallout in the media was swift and commentaries across the region full of dripping acid over the two faced approach Tanzania took, when first one Minister made reconciliatory comments after the matter was first raised on bilateral level only to be hung out to dry by a cabinet colleague who last week insisted the charges would remain until at least 2015. That latest slap in Kenyas face, as it was perceived across the entire region, was however seemingly the last nail in that coffin as the potential fallout for Tanzania in East Africa could have been major, with the other member states reportedly siding with Kenya and talk of unspecified countermeasures echoing in the corridors of the meetings before propelling Tanzania into removing the unilaterally applied non tariff barriers.
It now remains to be seen if this was merely another tactic to appease the community partners or if indeed on Monday the directive will go out to stop forthwith the collection of the fees and stop demanding work permits for business people coming from the region.
During the weekend summit in Nairobi it was also decided that Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi would remove all so called road blocks where trucks and busses have previously been inspected while Kenya committed to reduce such check points along the central transit corridor from a staggering 36 to only 5, with those also under operational review in order to make free trade and transport across East Africa a faster reality. In this context it is also important to notice that Tanzania dropped another contentious obstacle and joined the partner states to fully recognize the certificate of origin each EAC country issues to certify that goods shipped meet the requirements of locally manufactured input criteria to qualify for the zero rated tariffs.
Other sectors however were swift to demand equal treatment, in particular the aviation industry asking to remove the restrictive policies hitherto employed against airlines registered in other EAC member states and wishing to fly into Tanzania while tourism stakeholders from the wider region expressed their hope that the border issue between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara at Bologonja / Sand River and the uneconomical restrictions on safari tourists having to change vehicles at the borders with Tanzania would also be resolved very soon.
Questions to EAC officials about the time frame for a common tourist Visa were not answered over the weekend, leaving that question still wide open. Watch this space.
NEAR MONOPOLY EARNS SWISSPORT RECORD PROFITS
While officially at least the monopoly of Swissport as the sole handling agent at key Tanzanian airports has been lifted, when a few more licenses were granted last year, the reality is that it remains a quasi monopoly, which is bringing huge profits and benefits to the shareholders, all of whom are known to overtly or covertly work on maintaining the status quo and keeping the competition at arms length.
Information from Dar es Salaam suggests that that the annual dividend per share will be over 157 Tanzania Shillings, compared to just over 97 a year ago.
Airlines though are said to be unhappy with the continuously high charges, compared to what is commonly now being quoted in Nairobi, where some 10 handling companies have brought rates down and improved services, as it should be in an open market economy. Flights in and out of Tanzanias two main airports, Julius Nyerere International in Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro International outside Arusha, have last year grown by nearly a quarter, with cargo volumes still up by a remarkable 17 percent, all contributing to an increase in handling income for Swissport and the subsequent rise in profits.
This is a similar trend to Entebbe, where a dominant handling company pulls the strings and keeps charges way above Nairobi too, prompting Air Uganda last year to seek the coveted selfhandling status which save that company nearly a million US Dollars in fees and charges with the saving invested in their own equipment besides creating more jobs at U7. Here too have airlines complained about the level of charges, citing time and again comparable figures from Nairobi, something which has also given the regulators fodder for thought, as they actively seek to invite an international bidder to come and invest in ground handling in Entebbe to make the airport overall more competitive. Watch this space.
ANTI SERENGETI HIGHWAY COALITION CELEBRATES LEGAL VICTORY
The appellate division of the East African Court of Justice has dismissed an attempt by the Government of Tanzania to question the jurisdiction of the East African Court of Justice, to which environmentalists and the conservation fraternity had taken their case, trying to block it from building a highway across the park.
The long awaited decision now firmly gives the EACJ the liberty to not just hear the principal case but also rule on it, a situation the government in Dar es Salaam feared as the justices of the EACJ are not subject to the usual pressures governments apply to their own legal systems to get their way.
The ruling stated that being a member of the East African Community, Tanzania had to subject herself to the rules and regulations in place, including recognizing the jurisdiction of the court itself and that the case raised by the plaintiffs had merit and should be heard. A total of 6 specific objections filed by the Attorney General of Tanzania were thrown out in the judgment, leaving the political establishment keen to build a road across Lake Natron and through the Serengeti to new mining areas reeling.
The main case is now expected to take off in full session just as soon as the court administration will set a date, giving friends of the Serengeti and the global group Stop the Serengeti Highway new momentum and hope that the plans to build a highway, albeit not tarmacked as conceded already by government, may now never be built at all. The plaintiffs had cited EAC treaty provisions on environmental issues touching on transboundary ecosystems, as the Serengeti / Masai Mara qualify under, and the case is all the more interesting as Tanzania has dilly dallied over other environmental laws the East African Legislative Assembly has been proposing to pass, again aimed to wrest jurisdiction from the East African Community and its more balanced views on development as opposed to the environmental havoc predicted over some of Tanzanias hair brained schemes in search of either quick money or else out of political obligations over promises made ahead of the last elections to mining companies and mega corporations vis a vis Uranium mining inside the Selous Game Reserve and generally about the Corridor of Destruction planned with highways, harbours, railways, mining and logging, as amply written about here in the past.
Notably was the Stop the Serengeti Highway movement, now turned into a proper NGO, started following breaking news stories here on eTurboNews, back in May 2010, that the Tanzanian government had internally decided to build a highway across the Serengetis most fragile parts, cutting the annual migration off from their grazing grounds in the neighbouring Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, before bedevelling the conservation fraternity and green lobby as enemies of Tanzania and enemies of progress as perceived by the beneficiaries of the mega deals. Visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/STOP-THE-SERENGETI-HIGHWAY/125601617471610 for more information on the opposition towards the highway construction, and the constructive proposals for a more southerly routing around the park.
For now though it is joy and satisfaction that the East African Court of Justice has upheld the law and will in due course hear the principal case, reports about which will as usual appear right here. Watch this space.
PRECISION AIR EYES LILONGWE AND HARARE
Information was confirmed that Tanzanias premier private airline, Precision Air, will be commencing flights to Harare, via Lilongwe, from 02nd of June onwards. This new combination will open up Zimbabwe as well as Malawi as new destinations from Tanzania, offering tourists and business travelers direct links instead of travelling via Nairobi or Johannesburg.
The airline intends to use a B737-300 for the flights which will operate initially three times a week every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Precisions home hub is in Dar es Salaam from where it serves currently some 16 destinations in Tanzania and across Eastern Africa but has made announcements already that a number of new destinations will come on line as new aircraft join the fleet of predominantly ATR turboprops as well as a growing number of B737s. Watch this space for upcoming announcements by Precision Air of additional aircraft orders, new destinations and frequency increases in particular for domestic flights within Tanzania and across the East African Community member states.
FEE ISSUE ON TANZANIA KENYA BORDER CONTINUES TO INFLAME EMOTIONS
As reported here a while ago, the contentious issue of having to pay a US Dollar 200 fee per vehicle to cross into Tanzania has caused border post blockages not too long ago, bringing about some diplomatic intervention with ministers responsible for East African Community affairs meeting to discuss the problems.
At the time the Tanzanian minister denounced the fee, saying it was not sanctioned, only to be now hang out to dry by a deputy minister for EAC affairs who proclaimed earlier in the week that the fees were there to stay until 2015.
Predictably did the noise levels amongst traders and the business community in Kenya rise to crescendo once more, depicting the Tanzanian government as unreliable, internally confused and contradicting each other and generally being anti EAC and anti Kenya.
Citing the protocol for the establishment of a free market, the zero duty internally across the East African Community and other related protocols on the freedom of movement by EAC citizens, the Tanzanian demands for fees are seen as counterproductive to these goals, in violation of certain treaty aspects and have been described as yet another non tariff barrier erected to keep Kenyans in particular out of Tanzania or else make them pay through the proverbial nose. The woes increase when one considers the dual membership of Tanzania in SADC, the only East African Community member state to belong to the South African led group, while Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi belong to competing block COMESA, something often seen as partly responsible for the different sizes of the respective goals to start with, before the shifting of goal posts even began.
Adding salt into the wounds the deputy minister was also quoted that the Tanzanian governments requirements for work permits for anyone wanting to do business inside Tanzania would also remain in place, prompting Kenyan traders in Taveta to in turn ask the Kenyan government to arrest and prosecute Tanzanian traders crossing the border into Kenya freely and trading without licenses and permits, bringing the scenario of a fully fledged retaliation into play, causing diplomatic efforts behind the scenes by other EAC members to defuse the situation between Kenya and Tanzania before it was spiraling out of control.
Tourism stakeholders in both countries have also long been opposed to their different goals of either opening up or keeping market access in lock down, with the contentious question of the border at Bologonja between the Masai Mara and the Serengeti remaining closed for commercial traffic, compelling tour companies from each country to cross at other border points, mostly in Namanga, where passengers have to change vehicles or at best being able to reach Arusha or Nairobi respectively before having to shift.
Air operators too blame Tanzania as the most restrictive country to fly into, with few options open for flights from Uganda or Kenya carrying tourists destined to the parks, as they too have to be dropped, normally at Kilimanjaro International Airport instead of being dropped straight at an airstrip near the camp or lodge they are heading for. Said an aviation source from Nairobis Wilson Airport recently when discussing cross border traffic with light aircraft: I think it is now fairly easy to get landing permits when flying to Uganda or vice versa. Yes, there are still a few issues but those are being addressed on a bilateral basis. In Uganda we can even drop passengers to the parks and some of the airfields have been designated as entry and exit points, which is where we in Kenya still have some work to do. Right now you have to clear customs and immigration in say Kisumu or Eldoret or Nairobi but there is movement. Rwanda is the same in fact, getting easier but our brothers across our Southern border in Tanzania, that seems stuck in a time warp. They sign protocols and agreements but the minds are apparently not inside the EAC, not in spirit and not in reality and only when official speeches demand saying something nice.
EAC officials known to this correspondent also remain tightlipped over where the main obstacles remain in the introduction of a common tourist Visa for East Africa, but as Uganda has expressed the desire to fast track this, as has Rwanda, and with Kenyas tourism minister Najib Balala repeatedly demanding immediate action over the past 12 18 months while lamenting about unnamed opposition to the scheme, it can only be assumed where the njet is coming from.
Said another source from Nairobi last week when chatting over coffee about this issue, amongst many others: It feels like needle pricks. One or two can be absorbed, but when there is a barrage of them it starts to seriously hurt and cooperation is doubted, suffers. By now we should have one common stand at ITB for instance featuring all the East African Community member states but still we are separate. We were hoping for a joint promotion of one region with many attractions and that has not taken off either. Selling East Africa as one destination is bound to increase our reach across the world, offer more options to travelers and draw in more tourists. Airlines like Qatar Airways now start to fly not only to the main centres but are adding Mombasa, Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro. There is the option of open jaw travel that a tourist flies into one airport and then has road transport or even regional flights and then leaves the region from another airport. We should capitalize on such opportunities and not continue to create fresh obstacles for each other. Cooperation is needed instead of confrontation, equitable sharing instead of proprietary attitudes. When I hear utterances like Kenya is stealing Kilimanjaro I just wonder what that is all about. That mountain is in Tanzania like Mt. Kenya is in Kenya. Such talk is just to stir up sentiments, emotions and are lacking all substance but to serve shortsighted goals of a few.
As talks on a common currency are also seemingly stuck in a rut, inspite of an initial goal to finalise all prerequisite arrangements, the question surely can be asked, Quo Vadis East African Community. Watch this space.
PRESIDENTIAL ADVISORY COUNCIL FOCUSES ON TOURISM
On the eve of linking Rwanda with 5star flights to the rest of the world through Qatar Airways award winning service QR is the first of the major Gulf giants to fly daily to Kigali effective 21st of March did news emerge that the Presidential Advisory Council met with President Kagame yesterday to discuss the focus of Rwandas future economic growth. It came as no surprise that tourism was high on groups agenda, as the country has seen the sector emerge as the number one foreign exchange earner, attracting more and more visitors year after year and bringing in significant investments in the hospitality sector in particular. Only 2 weeks ago did Rwanda once again steal the limelight at the annual ITB tourism trade show in Berlin with their cultural performances and warm hospitality accorded to every visitor to their stand.
John Gara, the CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, reportedly gave a presentation on private investments in Rwanda with Ms. Rica Rwigamba, Head of Tourism and Conservation at RDB, giving the overview on the sectors performance in the past and the projections for coming years. The advisory council is today touring parts of Rwanda to get acquainted with project implementation and areas set aside for new investments before convening for a final session on Wednesday, the day when Qatar Airways is officially welcomed to the Land of a Thousand Hills.
Part of Rwandas success in becoming one of Africas showcase countries for social and economic progress, with strict adherence to environmental protection and especially a groundbreaking re-forestation policy which is being implemented to increase forest cover by 2020 to 30 percent of the country, is attributed to the political leadership drafting in expertise from all walks of life and all corners of the world. Often dubbed the Switzerland of Africa for its scenery but also functioning services and a largely un-corrupt public sector, Rwanda has in recent years become one of East Africas leaders in development and an African case study how a country can be successfully propelled into the 21st century.
Only yesterday did news also break here that RwandAir, the countrys national airline, had signed a purchase deal with Canadian manufacturer Bombardier for 2 brand new CRJ 900 NG aircraft, with a further two on option, which makes them East Africas number three full service carrier after Kenya Airways and Precision Air. Tourism is in the long term seen as a crucial cornerstone in economic development and the arrival of international hotel groups like Marriott in Kigali, the global brand is set to open a new hotel and convention centre later this year, is part of the secret of success the country enjoys. Watch this space.
KANOMBE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT CONDUCTS EMERGENCY DRILLS
The Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority yesterday carried out a live fire exercise at the international airport in Kigali, for which all emergency services were put on full alert to test the state of readiness and response time should ever a real emergency arise. The simulation involved the imagined emergency landing of a 70 seater passenger aircraft with an engine on fire, overshooting the runway on touchdown and bursting into flames. With over 100 volunteers being drafted in to stage a real scenario of casualties strewn on the ground, the airport fire brigade and on site emergency first aid services were supported by units from the Rwanda Defense Forces, personnel and ambulances from Kanombe Hospital and the main King Faisal Hospital in the city, staff trained in emergency responses from RwandAir, Akagera Aviation and other airlines as well as the Rwanda Red Cross.
With few but the planners of the exercise aware the raising of the alarm and the smoke seen from the staged fire at Kanombe International Airport raised also an immediate onslaught by the media, trying to find out what had happened at the airport, only to be told that this was a drill, not the real thing.
Normal traffic continued to be facilitated at the airport with several planes landing and taking off during the training mission.
Meanwhile was it also confirmed that the Pearl Lounge at the airport is preparing to host the inaugural flight celebration on arrival of Qatar Airways on Wednesday, when the first ever scheduled flight by a major Gulf carrier is expected to land in Kigali. It seems all systems are go for that event, so watch this space for updates and live reporting from Rwanda.
RWANDAIR SIGNS FOR TWO NEW BOMBARDIER CRJ 900
Rwandas national airline has, following protracted negotiations with several manufacturers of regional jet 70 110 seat aircraft, this morning signed a purchase deal with Canadian manufacturer Bombardier for the delivery of two CRJ 900 planes, due to be delivered already in October this year. It is understood that options for two more aircraft from Bombardier are included in the deal. This will undoubtedly be a disappointment for Brazilian manufacturers Embraer, who had left no stone unturned to get an order from RwandAir but the Bombardier team had reason to smile following months of negotiations and presentations.
The airline had earlier in the year disposed of two smaller, 50 seater all economy CRJ 200 aircraft, now thought to be too small to cater for continued growth in passengers from the wider region, connecting in Kigali on to the longer haul destinations like Lagos, Dubai and Johannesburg. The two new aircraft will be delivered in a two class configuration of 7 business class and 68 economy class seats and will allow RwandAir to more effectively compete against other regional airlines on the routes to Entebbe, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Bujumbura, plus new routes to be announced in due course.
The order is worth over 90 million US Dollars, with the two options, if exercised as expected bringing the overall value of the deal to about 185 million US Dollars. RwandAirs CEO John Mirenge said upon signing the contract this afternoon: Our two 50-seat CRJ200 aircraft have performed very well for us and have helped grow our business to the point that we require aircraft with more capacity. Based on our experience with the CRJ200 aircraft, the dual-class 75-seat CRJ900 NextGen aircraft was the logical upgrade. CRJ900 NextGen aircraft also provide exceptional reliability and have much in common with other CRJ aircraft. These aircraft will be configured to have 7 business class seats and 68 economy class seats. Other key factors that contributed to our decision to choose the CRJ900 NextGen aircraft are Bombardiers customer support offering and cooperation in further developing RwandAirs technical capacity.
Watch this space for breaking and regular news updates from the aviation industry in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.
RWANDAIRS DASH 8 NOW FLIES WB COLOURS
(Picture courtesy of RwandAir)
Already on the RwandAir fleet since early 2010 on a long term wet lease from Kenyas leasing specialist firm ALS, the WB Bombardier Dash 8 100 was during the last maintenance also repainted and is now proudly flying the RwandAir colours across the East African skies.
The aircraft makes periodic calls on Entebbe in Uganda or Bujumbura in Burundi but is now mostly deployed on scheduled domestic services within Rwanda, from Kigali to the border towns of Gisenyi and Kamembe, both located on Lake Kivu and right at the frontiers with the Congo DR.
Gisenyi is presently served 6 times a week while the demand for flights from Kamembe has resulted in operations last year moving from a few times a week to now 11 frequencies. It is from there that a large number of passengers, originating from the Congo, cross the border by land and then fly safely with RwandAir to Kigali and beyond.
It is understood from usually well informed sources close to RwandAir that the airline is studying the acquisition of a second larger turboprop plane to have capacity match the growing demand for seats from in particular Kamembe and a decision on this is expected later this year.
Visit www.rwandair.com for more details on Rwandas national airline, the network now reaching Dubai, West Africa, South Africa and across Eastern Africa, but also for schedules and special offers. Joining RwandAirs frequent flyer programme is also possible on line. Watch this space.
CNN FOUNDER TURNER SUPPORTS GORILLA CONSERVATION WITH A MILLION DOLLARS
Ted Turner has according to information received from Kigali overnight donated a million US Dollars to the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund. The donation is aimed to allow the Ruhengeri / Musanze based Karisoke Research Centre to widen its reach and set up an outstation in Congo where the lowland gorillas are said to be under intense threat, unlike their cousins the Eastern African mountain gorillas which have for years now enjoyed increased protection.
While mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Congo DR and Uganda have become a major economic factor for the tourism sectors, lowland gorillas have in turn not been habituated, foregoing a source of revenue which can be used to keep the species protected and farmers compensated for loss of crops via the permit fees charged to tourists.
The Karisoke Research Centres focus will therefore, according to a source in Kigali, be centred on the getting crucial information on the habitat and spread of the lowland gorillas, and get relevant data which can then be used to setting up protective measures while tapping into the dormant tourism resource at the same time.
Gorilla tracking is still Rwandas number one tourism activity although the country has diversified the sector with the introduction of new products in recent years, unlike Congo which suffers of negative publicity and keeps mainstream tourism receipts well below the income generated by Rwanda for instance.
Ted Turners generosity has been applauded by conservation circles in Rwanda and there is speculation he may be invited either this year or for next years 10th anniversary of Kwita Izina as one of the namers of recently born young mountain gorilla babies in recognition of his support for gorilla conservation. Watch this space.
QATAR AIRWAYS COUNTS DOWN TO KIGALI FLIGHTS
It is now a week to go until Qatar Airways, the worlds 5 star airline, will commence operations to Kigali. The airline is extending their daily flights between Doha and Entebbe to the Rwandan capital and the aircraft used will be an Airbus A 320 operates in a two class configuration of business and economy.
The airline has full traffic rights between Entebbe and Kigali, granted by the two respective Civil Aviation Authorities in Uganda and Rwanda, although it is understood that these flights are not codeshared with RwandAir.
This makes Qatar Airways the first of the big league carriers in the Gulf to fly directly into Rwanda, outflanking Emirates and other potential aspirants. While RwandAir flies 6 times a week with a B737-800 to Dubai, three times in fact via Mombasa and three times nonstop, Emirates has at this time not made a move to claim reciprocity. However, with a new airport being planned at Bugesera outside Kigali, and Rwanda being one of the political and economic star performers in Eastern Africa with access to the huge markets of Eastern Congo, it will only be a matter of time until that omission is being addressed.
Meanwhile are all systems go for the inaugural party on the 21st of March at the Kanombe International Airport in Kigali, a multimedia presentation and press conference at the Kigali Serena Hotel and related visits by members of the Qatari delegation on board, who will use their commercial presence to also seek closer political ties with Rwanda.
Meanwhile was it also confirmed that as part of their expansion programme with destinations in Africa, Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania, located between the towns of Arusha and Moshi, will become a Qatar Airways destination later this year, the second after Dar es Salaam to where Qatar Airways now flies double daily. This follows an announcement made at the inaugural flight celebrations in Kampala in November last year, that Mombasa and Zanzibar would be added in 2012 too, at which time Qatar Airways will cover all key commercial airports in the region apart from Bujumbura. Watch this space.
VIRUNGA PARK OIL EXPLORATION DEAL TRAMPLES ON UNESCO WHS STATUS
The government of the Congo DR has reaffirmed its dubious pedigree of being at best lukewarm towards conservation and at worst opposed to it for the motive of profit, when news broke that a preliminary oil exploration license was given to SOCO International for initial seismic tests and exploration drilling. The Kinshasa based regime had last year attempted to appease the global conservation fraternity, when news of their plans broke through insider leaks and whistleblowers, that absolutely no activity would be licensed before a comprehensive environmental impact study had been produced, only to now stand accused of having made deliberately misleading statements to garner favour with the international community keen to see Congo DR respect conservation treaties and best global practice. Conservation sources inside Eastern Congo have swiftly pointed out that to their knowledge UNESCO has not been informed nor granted permission following a laid down procedure the Congo DR government has to initiate to undertake any commercial activities inside the UNESCO World Heritage site while Congos own laws and regulations on environmental matters has been ignored and sidelined in favour of receiving massive concession payments now allegedly due to the cash starved regime in Kinshasa.
It is understood from impeccable sources in Goma that the company intends to establish at least one major base camp inside the Virunga National Park, one of the four mountain gorilla parks inside the border triangle of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo DR to the dismay of conservationists and in particular the various NGOs dealing with gorilla conservation.
The company is known to have advanced such frivolous arguments in the past that the presence of drilling and exploration teams would increase security, a submission instantly dismissed as an outrageous misrepresentation of facts, as any human presence in the park, other than strictly regulated tourist visitors, is seen as counterproductive to conservation efforts. A further massive intrusion into the fragile ecosystem, already disturbed enough by the regular presence of militia groups has raised the added spectrum of yet more peripheral activities counterproductive to conservation. There are fears that poaching will immediately increase and that the constant coming and going of vehicles to and from the various camps will make illegal activities easier to conceal.
Individuals contacted overnight, who deal in particular with the protection of gorillas, have expressed shock and disbelief that the Congo DR government could grant exploration licenses for this biodiversity hotspot, and denied SOCOs claims of widespread and intense consultations having taken place with concerned stakeholders including the transboundary cooperation partners.
Said one on condition of total anonymity: This constitutes a massive setback to efforts to conserve the environment for the mountain gorillas in a tripartite way. The three countries wildlife management bodies have been working hand in hand to reduce poaching, like with recent joint patrols between Rwandan and Congolese rangers, because of the massive increase in the detection of snares inside the park on the Congolese side. If an oil company or more are allowed inside the park it will disrupt the habitat of the gorillas. Population numbers have stabilized over the past years but only due to a big effort driven by the Rwandans and Ugandans. The gorillas continue to be a critically endangered species. Oil exploration is known to have big side effects. Even in Uganda the drilling companies were regularly accused of fueling poaching near their camps where a significant increase in poaching was seen. There at least is a rule of law but in Eastern Congo we still are faced with militias and regular fighting, illegal mining promoted by vested interest groups so oil exploration is just another nail in the coffin now. As you know I am quite involved here with gorilla conservation on a multilateral basis for the Greater Virunga area and this is raising alarm bells everywhere.
While in Rwanda later in the week this correspondent will follow up on the story with contacts in Kigali and Ruhengeri / Musanze to explore what options are left to wildlife managers and their colleagues in the conservation NGO fraternity and how international bodies, like UNESCO can be brought into a coalition to halt this assault on one of the worlds most scenic and diverse ecosystems. Watch this space as yet another saga evolves where the environment is assaulted in favour of development and progress now catch phrases for a card blanche to let the big business and vested interest juggernaut steamroll over environmental and conservation concerns.
44TH INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATION GRACED BY PRESENCE OF SEYCHELLES PRESIDENT
President James Michel of the Seychelles was Guest of Honour earlier in the week as Mauritius celebrated their 44th anniversary of Independence. The entire island thrilled its tourist visitors with displays of cultural performances and the evening fireworks were according to a regular source a sight to behold.
The parade on the occasion of the celebrations was made livelier by a fly past of helicopters from the Police Helicopter Squadron and of aircraft from the National Coast Guard, before a precision jump by parachutists from the Mauritius defence forces parachute regiment.
The presence of President Michel was also used to enhance bilateral relations with the signing of two major agreements, one for the joint administration and exploration of the nearly 400.000 square kilometres continental shelf of the Mascarene Islands, last year handed to the two countries by a UN panel and a second treaty over joint measures to protect the biodiversity of the ocean while regulating exploitation and use of marine resources.
Notably have during the recently concluded ITB in Berlin the two countries tourism ministers Alain St. Ange from the Seychelles and his Mauritius counterpart Michael Yuen met too to discuss matter of mutual interest and concern. The two will again meet later in March when RETOSA, SADCs tourism body, will bring the ministers of member states together in Port Louis for their regular meeting. Watch this space, but for now it is congratulations to the government and people of Mauritius on the occasion of their 44th Independence Day.
La Reunion News
REUNION TOURISM VOTED TOP FOR BEST I-PAD APPLICATION
The island of La Reunion, recently in the media spotlight following the hugely successful co-hosting of the Carnival International de Victoria in the Seychelles, has just been voted via Travel DOr as the worlds best application for viewing on the I-Pad. This accolade is bound to bring added global interest to the French Indian Ocean island, which has developed a close partnership with the Seychelles under the Vanilla Islands marketing and promotion cooperation under which the Indian Ocean island work hand in hand to increase the profile of their respective destinations. Between 25th January and 15th of February over 15 million internet users voted after reviewing the various applications and La Reunion won top spot in competition with over 250 other sites. Congratulations to Ile de La Reunion Tourisms Pascal Viroleau and his team for this phantastic achievement. Visit the Travel DOr website for more information www.traveldor.travel/edition-2012/les-laureats-2012.html and look up www.reunion.fr
PRESIDENT JAMES MICHEL APPOINTS NEW AIR SEYCHELLES BOARD OF DIRECTORS
President James Michel has last weekend formally appointed a new Board of Directors, ahead of the first meeting of the newly constituted board on Friday, made necessary by the acquisition of 40 percent of the company shares by Etihad, the national airline of Abu Dhabi. The following line up of board members has been confirmed from Victoria / Seychelles as follows:
Chairman of the Board: The Hon. Minister for Home Affairs and Transport Joel Morgan
Vice Chairman of the Board: Etihad Airways Chief Strategy and Planning Officer Mr. Kevin Knight
Members: Ambassador Maurice Loustau Lalanne, Principal Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Steve Fanny, Principal Secretary for Finance, Trade and Investment
Mr. Jean Wheeling, Seychelles Private Sector Representative
Mr. Duncan Naysmith, Vice President Financial Reporting Etihad Airways
Mr. Basaam Al Mosa, Vice President Corporate Investments and Subsidiaries, Etihad Airways
According to the information obtained by this correspondent earlier on, President Michel said that while a ministerial appointment to the board of a Government-owned company is no longer the norm in Government practice in respect to principles of good governance, an exception has been made in the case of Air Seychelles. President Michel said verbatim: Given the strategic importance air access plays within the economy and therefore at this point in time, it is necessary to have high level Government representation on the Board to ensure the safeguarding of the countrys key economic interests.
As shown, Etihad Airways now holds three of the seven positions on the Board of Directors including the Vice Chairmanship while the Government of Seychelles has appointed four members to the board, also holding the Chairmanship, which reflects the 60 : 40 shareholding between the two partners. Good fortune to the new board members and happy landings to the airline.
AIR SEYCHELLES SHRUGS OF OPPOSITION CLAIMS, FOCUSES ON FUTURE
A press conference last Friday in Victoria saw the Minister for Home Affairs and Transport, the Hon. Joel Morgan, make a joint appearance with Etihads CEO and President James Hogan and Air Seychelles CEO Cramer Bell, outlining the future of the airline. Earlier in the week did opposition sources raise issues over the need to form a new national airline, not quite sure though if for domestic flights only or also on international routes, exposing a lack of understanding to the complexities of airline start ups and operations, the huge capital required, leave alone giving a chance to how the new Air Seychelles was intending to reposition itself and what the new partnership would bring in benefits to the airline and the country.
The late in the week press conference subsequently reassured the Seychellois public but also friends of Air Seychelles abroad, that the airline was on track towards a fleet renewal and new strategy. The press conference confirmed that the current B767-300 will be returned to the lessor ILFC and that two Airbus A330 will be introduced to the airline, once the lease arrangements have been made and the crews been retrained for certification on this type of aircraft at the Etihad aviation academy in Abu Dhabi.
Presently Air Seychelles is flying to Mauritius and Johannesburg but is understood to eye additional destinations on the African mainland while the present two flights a week to Abu Dhabi complement Etihads four weekly flights on the route on a close code share cooperation, with a daily frequency shared between the two partners due for June this year, when daily flights between Mahe and Abu Dhabi ensure full connectivity on a daily basis for travelers to the archipelago. The press conference also confirmed a hardly kept secret that Air Seychelles was planning to fly to China, namely Beijing, to establish a nonstop route between the two countries and tap into a fastest growing market for the country with a convenient connection. Also discussed where the benefits of code shared flights to a number of European destinations beyond the previous Air Seychelles routes of London, Paris, Milan and Rome and the benefits of having Germanys second largest airline, Air Berlin in the Etihad stable too, allowing for one stop connections from Germany to Mahe.
Etihad took a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles following an agreement between the Seychellois President James Michel and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates and it is now becoming increasingly clear which way forward the new Air Seychelles is taking in coming months.
What is still under intense review though, it is understood from a regular aviation source from Victoria, is the extend and future of Air Seychelles domestic operations, which presently connect the international airport with the second largest island Praslin on a scheduled flight basis and other islands on a charter basis. Here some announcements are expected soon, as to frequencies and fares which in the past were different for foreign visitors and Seychellois citizens and residents. The first joint board meeting under the new board composition was concluded later in the evening with cocktails at the Banyan Tree Resort where the partnership between Etihad and Air Seychelles was formally launched in the presence of leading tourism and aviation stakeholders including Ministers Joel Morgan, Alain St. Ange, the Chairman and CEO of Seychelles Tourism Barry Faure and Elsia Grandcourt, the Chairman of Seychelles Civil Aviation Capt. David Savy and the Chairman of the SHTA Louis DOffay, amongst many others.
While in the Seychelles recently it was also established that former CEO Bram Stellar has remained on site and is now acting as a senior aviation advisor and consultant, after Etihad took a major stake in the airline and brought in a top team comprising of CEO and CFO in accordance with the partnership agreement. Bram came from Kenya Airways in October to join Air Seychelles as CEO, initiated the painful downsizing and cost cutting exercise and was part of the team putting the Etihad deal together and he is reportedly much missed by his former colleagues and staff in Nairobi so watch this space with a keen eye.
True to the words of the Seychelles Tourism Board was the 2012 Second Edition of the Carnaval de Carnivals, the mother of all carnivals in Victoria / Seychelles, bigger, better, more colourful and under an unprecedented media spotlight, bringing the Seychelles once again to the global TV screens, into radio broadcasts on all continents and into the global print media. Over 80 media organizations had been invited, nearly as many attended and continue to keep the Seychelles in the global spotlight. Attracting participation, after the traditional Ash Wednesday brought the carnival seasons in German, Brazil, the UK, Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere to an end, was not easy but still, groups from these countries made their long way to the Seychelles, courtesy of the massive sponsorships by airlines like Emirates and Etihad, who flew the groups via their respective home hubs in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to the archipelago, equipment included. A lot more visitors came this year from Africa as it is after all an African festival as much as a Seychellois festival, the only significant one in fact on the African continent, and with Visa not an issue, none are required to visit the archipelago, more carnival pilgrims than ever before made their way to Victoria.
The opening of the 3 day Carnival International de Victoria in itself was a show worth coming to the Seychelles for, with glitz, glamour and scanty outfits of the Notting Hill samba group bringing the crowds to their feet. The speeches were short and to the point and left plenty of time for song, dance and the captivating interludes by the MCs who were on top of their game too.
Festivities across the city broke out just as soon as the formal opening was concluded and bands played, food stalls offered Creole cuisine delicacies as well as the traditional and more conventional hot dogs and burgers and the three day party was underway.
The weather was kind on the day of the big parade and led by none other than Alain St. Ange, now of course the newly sworn in Minister for Tourism and Culture, the big do started to gather pace and rolled like a juggernaut through the streets of Victoria.
It may be the smallest capital in the world but it laid claim to become a big carnival city in its own right brining together local, regional and international participants. Local floats interspersed with the international displays, which included a fire eater from India, and troupes and groups came from as far as China, Korea, Indonesia, South Africa, Zimbabwe but also from Trinidad, the UK and Germany. Notably their float captured my attention and gave me fodder for thought. Carnival German style is some very serious business indeed, as the parades in Duesseldorf, Cologne, Mainz or across Baden Wuerttembergs Alemannen Fastnacht amply demonstrate.
In my old country there have to be Karnevalsvereine, clubs dedicated to promoting the carnival traditions, holding festive and celebratory events, gala nights and of course organize the parades.
Every year, on the 11th November at 11.11 hrs a.m. does the annual season kick off, then lasting depending on the annual date of Easter, longer or shorter, as Ash Wednesday concludes the craze of in particular the last few days from Thursday till Tuesday.
(Duesseldorfs Carnivals Prince and Princess)
At that stage in November the outgoing Prince and Princess are being replaced with the pair for the new season and the Prinzengarde are shaking their shapely legs and do their dance performances on stage to the delight of the onlookers. Now in typical German fashion, even fun and laughter has to be highly organized, not a concept I wish to see imposed on my Creole friends who are so free spirited and happy to start with, but perhaps one or two good elements could be incorporated for future events, like the #SeychellesCarnvial2013.
Maybe the election of a Royal Couple for the season, maybe the establishment of a Prinzengarde, maybe have the formal official countdown start on the 11th of the 11th at 11.11 with a grand press conference and a preview of the exciting things to come when the parade goes underway in February next year. Lots of maybes and lots of fond memories of the 2012 event, which proved that after just two years the carnival has taken roots, has established itself as one of the key annual events on the Seychellois tourism calendar and has attracted co- hosts, this year La Reunion and next year probably three, four or more co-hosts, all now willing to jump on the juggernaut bandwagon which Alain St. Ange and his now former team of carnival inspired staff at the STB have created. With him at the helm now of the newly created Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and his expanded reach as a result, the Carnival International de Victoria is bound to grow more, incorporate more ideas and bring more participation from Africa to the Seychelles, as well as from around the world. Success breeds success, and success in this endeavour is what the the Creole Island Paradise has created within just a year and a half. Well done and while for now The Carnival is over there will be another edition in just under a year. Watch this space.
SEYCHELLES TOURISM ACADEMY, SET TO BECOME AN AFRICAN CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE
(Front left is Mr. Peter Moncherry who oversees the project of transforming STA into an African Centre of Excellenc)
Big plans are afoot at the Seychelles Tourism Academy to turn the institution into not just a source of national pride but to catapult it to the top of the rankings for hotel and tourism schools in Africa.
The Seychelles depend overwhelmingly on tourism income and investments, but the same investors often used to employ scores of foreign staff, citing lack of competence and skills amongst the Seychellois workforce. Even though the doors of the STA predecessors opened already in 1973, the institution then called the Hotel Training College at Mt. Fleuri, before becoming the Department of Hotel and Tourism of the Seychelles Polytechnic, it took until 1995 to transform it first into the Seychelles Hotel and Tourism Training Centre before being renamed again to Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Training College in 1997 and moved to the location of the former American listening outpost at La Misere, one of the most commanding hilltop positions of the islands with vistas second to none.
The structural reforms instituted by the government of President James Michel, which saw the entire tourism public sector undergo major changes towards private sector principles of management and performance measures, also saw the Seychelles Tourism Academy being formed in 2007 to succeed the SHTTC and was then put under the direct mandate of the equally restructured Seychelles Tourism Board, now overseen by a committee of professionals including some of the archipelagos top hoteliers.
As reported here before, a strategic plan developed by Principal Joubert and his team was approved last year by the Seychelles government and construction has now started on the new facilities for STA which will make it a true state of the art campus fit for the 21st century. Financing was secured from Middle Eastern financial institutions on a 20 year concessionary loan with an initial grace period, allowing the new academy to be completed before repayments set in. The government of Seychelles in turn is putting in a 10 percent share of the multi million US Dollars project cost as their direct contribution.
Temporary wooden buildings were put up in preparation to keep classes on campus and students on site while construction will be ongoing, expected to last until 2015, when the third and final phase of the new academy will be getting ready.
For now, a purpose designed multistory classroom block is the first building to go up, which will upon completion house all the certificate and diploma course classes with a full capacity of some 650 Seychellois and foreign students. Also new will be a dedicated building for hospitality management students, a new training kitchen for aspiring cooks and chefs, a new restaurant which will be open for outside diners and tourist groups for lunch and dinner, aimed to present them with the finest Creole and international creations the trainers and students can conjure up. These facilities will be supplemented by a Conference Centre, also available for use by corporate clients or institutions from the islands, a new state of the art Spa where local students can acquire the skills of body care treatments and massage techniques, a fully fledged 3 star hotel where students can learn to apply their theoretical skills from the classroom and at least two luxury villas, very likely equipped by and named after leading resorts on the islands, where butlers and valets can train before joining the workforce.
It is in fact this level of cooperation with the private sector and leading hotel groups on the archipelago, like The MAIA, Hilton, La Meridien, Constance Hotels and Beachcombers including the in house career academies on Mauritius of Constance and Beachcombers, which are considered a major factor towards making graduates employable and get them ready for a smooth transfer from the classroom to the workplace. The concept of apprenticeships is further aiding the hands on orientation of courses and the present curriculum is undergoing further evaluation and adjustments towards the next academic year to offer relevant course contents which can provide the required skill levels when entering a career in the hotel and tourism industry. No longer will employers be able to claim lack of skills when the graduates of the STA apply for positions, and to the contrary it was ascertained that often the best students are offered jobs well before they graduate, as progressively Seychellois are taking over from expatriate staff, a key commitment to create jobs for the youth given by President Michel himself.
Also new at STA is the appointment of a quality assurance officer tasked solely to ensure that required contents are taught and that a measurable output can be certified as a reassurance to future employers and cooperation partners like the Guild of London and the Shannon Institute in Ireland which respectively offer certification of courses and facilities to complete a Bachelor Degree programme.
The transformation of STA is overseen by Peter Moncherry who will also upon completion of the construction manage the hotel, restaurant, conference centre, the Spa and the villas.
I was privileged to see the latest developments on site and speak in length with Peter when visiting the Seychelles on the occasion of the Carnival International de Victoria, using time graciously set aside by my hosts for some R&R but seemingly better used to roam the island, check out new resorts and most important, call on the Seychelles Tourism Academy and keep up todate with this exciting project. The new STA will catapult the Seychelles into the front row of African hotel and tourism training institutions, a big achievement considering the size of the country and having to compete with institutions of some pedigree on the continent. My welcome was warm and friendly, it was good to see familiar faces again and the enthusiasm of Peter Moncherry was undeniable, especially when he stood in front of the STA model which showed what the campus at La Misere will look like in a few years. He was beaming with pride to explain the three phases of construction and the time frame and was as fine an ambassador for his academy as they come.
I felt more than a little envious I must admit, having been chairman of Ugandas national hotel and tourism training institute for some time, and seeing how others have the good fortunes of foresighted political leadership to invest in training staff in the hospitality and tourism sector, putting their money where their mouth is, unlike in my case, where the completion of a new classroom and administration block was all my board could achieve as the written promise of 40 acres of land for the construction of a purpose build new campus for as many as 1.200 students never did come about.
In closing, one tag line comes to mind, time and again, when writing about the archipelago: Seychelles, ANOTHER WORLD where the future is taking place right now already.