Weekly roundup of news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, Fourth edition May 2013

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

You can get your daily news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or join me on www.facebook.com/WolfgangHThome where the articles also ‘cross load’.

Read the daily postings on my blog via www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com which you can also ‘follow’ to get immediate notification when a new article is posted. Many of my articles are also published via www.eturbonews.com/africa with added news from the African continent and the world of tourism, aviation and travel at large.

Fourth edition May 2013

Uganda News

ROUTES AFRICA 2013 PROGRAMME IS OUT FOR KAMPALA MEETING

The preliminary programme for this year’s main African aviation event, Routes Africa has recently been released.

Routes Africa 2013 is hosted by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority and Entebbe International Airport and will Details on the programme line up are shown below and intending participants can contact Routes Online via www.routesonline.com/events/159/routes-africa-2013/ to sign up for an event which is expected to bring together record numbers of participants from African, European, Middle Eastern / Gulf, Asian and American airlines, airports, tourist boards and related organizations.

ROUTES AFRICA STRATEGY SUMMIT

DRAFT PROGRAMME

SUNDAY 7th JULY & MONDAY 8th JULY 2013

Day 1 – Sunday 7th July

14.00-14.05 Opening Remarks

Nigel Mayes, VP Commercial & Routes, UBM Live

Dr W Rama Makuza, MD, Uganda CAA

14.05-14.20 Welcome Address
14.20-14.40 Keynote Address – Honourable Maria Mutagamba, The Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities for Uganda
14.40-15.00 Keynote Address

Dr Titus Naikuni, CEO, Kenya Airways

15.00-15.45 Session 1 –

Public, Private Partnerships for Airport Management and Development – is this the solution to Airport Infrastructure in Africa. What are the pros and cons.

Moderator: TBC

Robinson Misitala, Managing Director, National Airports Zambia

Madame Ramatou Magagi, International Finance Corporation, IFC

Dr Waleed Youssef, Chief Strategy Officer, TAV Airports

Joachim von Winning, Chief Commercial Officer, Cairo Airport

15.45-16.10 Refreshment Break
15.10-16.30 Keynote Presentation

Overview of the African Market or Solutions to Challenges of Safety and Security in African Aviation Industry Or Solutions to air service connectivity in Africa

Ali Tounsi, Secretary General, ACI Africa

16.30-17.30 Session 2 – New Carriers for New Africa – the rise of LCCs.

Can incumbents compete with new carriers? Which will survive? The role of strong home based (national) Airlines.

Moderator: Kostas Iatrou, Managing Director, Air Transport News

Inati Ntshanga, CEO, SA Express Airways

Richard Bodin, CCO, Fastjet

Sergio Rosa, CEO, Air Burkina

Abderahmane Berthe, CEO, Air Mali

17.30 Closing RemarksNigel Mayes, VP Commercial & Routes, UBM Live

Day 2 – Monday 8th July

09.15-09.30 Opening Remarks – Nigel Mayes, VP Commercial & Routes, UBM Live
09.30-10.00 Presentation

Understanding the Market Opportunity

Marc Gordien, Vice President of Consulting, ASM

10.00-10.45 Session 3 – Driving Tourism in Africa. Where are the next market opportunities? What are the barriers to growth? What are the opportunities? The importance of the package.

Moderator: Minister Alain St. Ange, Minister of Tourism for Seychelles

Doreen Owusu-Fianko, Managing Director, Ghana Airports Company

Mr. Cuthbert Baguma, CEO, Tourism Uganda

Herman Carpentier, Vice President Africa, Brussels Airlines

Mr. Michael Mabuyakhulu MPP – KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development & Tourism

10.45-11.15 Refreshment Break
11.15-11.45 Presentation – Operating in Europe: Traffic rights and Airport Slots

Eric Herbane,Managing Director, COHOR

11.45-12.30 Panel 4 –

Outlook for the Future

Moderator – Raphael Kuuchi, Director, Commercial, Corporate & Industry Affairs, AFRAA

Michael Higgins, RVP for Africa, IATA

Driss Benhima, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer – Royal Air Maroc Group

ATR

17.15-17.30 Presentation

The Manufacturers Perspective – Regional Aircraft as a solution to network growth in Africa

Charles Carriere, Airline Marketing Manager, Bombardier

12.30 Closing Remarks – Nigel Mayes, VP Commercial & Routes, UBM Live

PARAA AND CHOBE LODGES RECOGNIZED BY TRIPADVISOR

Two of Uganda’s leading safari lodges, the Madhvani Group’s Chobe and Paraa Safari Lodges in Murchisons Falls National Park, have just received recognition as top rated properties by TripAdvisor the global industry leader in client based ratings of hotels, resorts, lodges, restaurants and other tourism attractions.

Both were presented with the coveted ‘Certificate of Excellence 2013’ which puts the two Marasa Africa managed properties into the top 10 percent of reviews given by visitors.

While Paraa is located in the lower part of the park, near the main ferry crossing of the River Nile, the Chobe Safari Lodge is set in the real wilderness of the upstream section of the Nile above the falls, and while just 12 kilometres off the main Kampala to Gulu highway, giving visitors a feeling to be as remote as they can be in the midst of a mature tropical rainforest with magnificent views over the white waters of the river.

More about the two lodges can be accessed through the respective websites but here below a brief overview of both properties, which incidentally were repeatedly reviewed here in the past.

Chobe Safari Lodge/Uganda

The more recently opened and very luxurious five-star Chobe Safari Lodge, located in a little-known section of Murchison Falls National Park, is becoming one of Uganda’s key tourist destinations for adventurers, anglers, and aficionados of river-scapes. It comprises 36 elegant guest rooms, 21 luxury tents, four suites and a Presidential Cottage. A state-of-the-art Conference block can host up to 100 guests and is fully equipped for business meetings.

The lodge enjoys breathtaking panoramic views of the River Nile, coupled with the sounds of its frothing rapids.

Paraa Safari Lodge

Paraa, also known as the “Jewel of the Nile,” is situated in Murchison Falls National Park, with spectacular views of the river. Each of the lodge’s 54 rooms, suites, three luxury safari tents and Queen’s Cottage is designed with an authentic Colonial African style. Each has its own spacious balcony and en-suite bath, all overlooking the River. The Queen’s Cottage, named after Queen Elizabeth II’s mother who stayed there in 1959, comprises two bedrooms, a lounge, and a large balcony, and is ideal for families or friends traveling together.

Amenities include a holistic massage center, a gym and a large free-form swimming pool just above the entertainment area by the rustic bar, where bonfires and traditional African entertainment take place in the evening twice weekly. There is also a Business Center with internet and a gift shop selling local crafts and safari essentials. The Nile River itself offers world class game fishing for Nile Perch near the lodge which rents fishing gear and binoculars. The lodge operates a regular launch service to travel comfortably upstream to the bottom of the falls, where the mighty Nile squeezes through a gap of only 7 metres wide and falls nearly 50 metres, before it then meanders towards Lake Albert. Chimpanzee trekking may be arranged at a forest some 37 miles from the Lodge on a day excursion trip.

Watch this space for regular updates from Uganda’s national parks, game reserves and other tourism attractions.

SOURCE OF THE NILE MARATHON POSTPONED TILL NEXT YEAR

There is disappointment among the marathon enthusiasts that the 5th edition of the Jinja Source of the Nile Marathon, which was due to be run this weekend, appears to have been postponed until May 2014, according to information posted on the marathon website. This year would have been the fifth edition of Uganda’s second international marathon, after the MTN Kampala Marathon every year in November, and while attracting lesser numbers has nevertheless grown to be the biggest sporting event in Jinja, aka The Adventure Capital of East Africa. The event has until now offered two main races, one over 10 KM and one over the half marathon distance of 21 KM, but from reliable sources it was learned that a full 42 KM marathon will be introduced for the race next year. No reasons were available for the cancellation of the race which has up to now been organized by Hared, a Ugandan fuel company.

Jinja has over the years embraced tourism, in particular adventure sports tourism, with a gusto and offers along the upper Nile valley, below the Source of the Nile and the two hydro electric dams, world class rafting, boating, bungee jumping, quad biking, cross country cycling, horseback riding as well as golfing and fishing. A range of lodges, resorts and hotels are available for all budgets, starting from backpacker accommodation to 5 star resorts along the river banks or even on islands in the middle of the roaring white waters of the world’s longest river. Visit www.nilemarathon.com for more details or look up Jinja’s attractions via www.visituganda.com

UGANDA CAA ANNOUNCES PLANS TO REMODEL DEPARTURE AREA OF ENTEBBE AIRPORT

Travellers using the Entebbe International Airport have for long been suffering the inconvenience of being made to walk long distances from the car park to the main terminal, often subjected to bucketing rain, as a result of the security apparatus gone bonkers over keeping vehicles away from the terminal. ‘Entebbe is the only airport in the region where you cannot drive up to the terminal and offload your passengers and baggage, or park even just opposite. Nairobi is the best example, and surely their threat levels are no different from ours because they are also in Somalia with troops. Kigali is another example, or Kilimanjaro, where you drive up, drop off and go for check in. It is sad to note that airlines and the CAA are subjected to dictates of this sort. It impacts on the departure experience of our visitors and many are very very upset about the arrangements security forces on us, especially when it rains and they come to the check in all soaked. The staircase to go upstairs to departures is not protected from rain and crossing the road with baggage and then often ending in a queue before they can enter the terminal is just not userfriendly at all. We have told them that so often but are basically told to shut up and that it is for security. Security is important but so is user friendliness. We compete with other destinations in the region and this is the worst experience a traveler can have at any of the big airports’ ranted a regular aviation source from Entebbe on strict demand of anonymity for fear of repercussions.

The Uganda CAA, as managers of the airport in Entebbe, are acutely aware of this problem and have, according to another source, repeatedly tried to get the access restrictions lifted, but to no avail.

It was now learned that as a result the CAA is putting up additional parking areas to address the shortage of parking caused by security declaring previous parking areas nearer the terminal off limits – again in stark contrast to what other airports in the region do – as well as adding more cover from the elements to protect travelers from the downside of the weather. Indoors will a team of consultants also redesign the flow of passengers from the entry gate security check to the check in terminals through immigration to the departure lounges, in what could be a major functionality upgrade as the number of passengers using Entebbe continues to grow by double digit figures.

The last major overhaul of the airport took place for the Commonwealth Summit in 2007 and while a grand masterplan for the expansion and redevelopment of the airport has been completed, much of it has not been implemented at this stage. The cargo area adjoining the passenger terminal for instance was due to be moved to a new, integrated cargo handling area at the ‘old airport’ side, to make way for an expansion of the passenger terminal, and while in Nairobi the construction of Terminal 4 is ongoing and Project Greenfield due to kick off later this year, Entebbe currently seems to stand still. Both Kigali and Addis Ababa are due to get new airports, while in Tanzania JNIA in Dar es Salaam will undergo a complete modernization now that funds have been secured from the Dutch government – which has also co-financed similar work at Kilimanjaro International Airport.

If we want to be a destination of choice, for safari holidays, adventure holidays and conferences, we need to invest in infrastructure. The traffic situation into Kampala is unbearable and Entebbe, once the queen of airports in the region, is now tired and comes across as almost dysfunctional. It is not userfriendly any more and the way security has taken over is totally different from any other airport in the region I have been to. The new Entebbe highway must be accelerated. A new access plan into and through the city must be put into place to stop those traffic jams. Look at Nairobi what they are doing there with new cross city highways, a commuter rail plan and bypasses. Have our planners and implementers slept while all these super highways were built in Nairobi? Tourism needs infrastructure to prosper and it is time to work on that now, because otherwise we might be left behind by our competitors in the region’ said a senior tourism stakeholder, when discussing the issues yesterday.

The announcement by the CAA was broadly welcomed by aviation and tourism sources even though no time frame for the completion of the changes was attached to the announcement. Watch this space for more information as and when available.

JAMES TUMUSIIME APPOINTED NEW CHAIRMAN OF UGANDA TOURISM BOARD

In a marked departure from past practice, when often political considerations influenced the appointment of members of the Board of Directors of Tourism Uganda, has the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Hon. Maria Mutagamba announced a team of seasoned professionals comprising leading industry representatives to oversee, in what can only be hoped, the revival of Uganda’s tourism fortunes on a grand scale.

Chairman of the Board is Mr. James Tumusiime, a leading member of the publishing and media fraternity in Uganda, signaling a new partnership with the media in the making.

Also on the board now is the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority Dr. Andrew Seguya, significant as much of Uganda’s tourism industry is based on wildlife experience and visits to the 10 national parks.

Similarly was Ms. Lilly Ajarova, the Executive Director of the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary appointed to serve an initial 3 year term on the board. Others are Mr. Roger Wamara, Sales and Marketing Manager of Qatar Airways in Uganda, Amos Wekesa, CEO of Great Lakes Safaris, Ismail Sekandi, Managing Director of Rwizi Arch Hotel in Mbarara and immediate former Executive Director of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association. From the government side were Mrs. Edith Kassaja-Kateme of the National Planning Authority appointed along with Mr. Michael Aliyo from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

Mr. Cuthbert Baguma, the Executive Director of Tourism Uganda, serves as an ex officio member and Secretary to the Board.

While announcing the appointments, the Minister also signaled a further significant change to the funding of the Uganda Tourism Board, when she indicated that the long overdue operationalisation of the Tourism Development Levy, provided for in the Tourism Act of 2008 but never, until now, made a reality, is due to be tackled in the next financial year 2013/14, which could turn the fortunes of Tourism Uganda around.

Long hampered by a lack of funding, inspite of regular verbal commitments to the sector, which has in recent years become a key economic activity for the country, Tourism Uganda’s budget allocations were barely enough to meet recurrent expenses and had promotional activities overseas restricted to attending just the most important tourism trade fairs, like ITB, WTM and a few others. When the levy becomes operational, an estimated 10 million US Dollars will become available for a range of tourism related activities, spelled out in the law and related regulations of the upcoming Tourism Development Fund, key among them financing the operations of Tourism Uganda. This will put Uganda, in terms of available marketing budgets, at par with other key destinations, not only in the region but the continent at large. Budget analysts expect that UTB will for the next financial year be allocated between 1.5 and 2 billion Uganda Shillings, a fraction of what industry observers consider the bare minimum, but with the levy now apparently becoming a reality, the long lasting financial woes of Tourism Uganda seem to be finally coming to an end.

A regular source, when discussing the appointments, provided this insight: ‘Finally we get a competent board with experience from across the entire industry. Airlines, hotels, safari operators, wildlife attractions, they are now all present at board level. But the best news is that the levy will become a reality now. As you know, for a long time there were these issues of who collects and where does the money go, and the industry was totally opposed to see the money go to the Ministry of Finance, because it would be used for alien purposes. If lucky we would get a fraction back. But like CAA collects airport service charge and uses it as they see fit to develop our airport, so should tourism have the same right to collect a levy and use it as the industry decides. You have some years ago already said that UTB should have between 1.5 and 2 million US Dollars as a marketing budget. The levy could substantially increase that now. Uganda can finally build on the top ratings we got from Lonely Planet and National Geographic and many other sources, naming us a leading adventure and safari destination. We can match such recognition with a presence at all key tourism trade fairs. The Adventure Travel Trade Shows in America for instance could bring us a lot of traffic. We can go into new and emerging markets like Eastern Europe and China and make our attractions known. The airlines are ready to bring extra capacity from such markets, especially our long standing partners like KLM, Kenya Airways, Brussels Airlines or BA but also those from the Gulf like Emirates and Qatar or Turkish Airlines. We might see new airlines wanting to fly to Entebbe even. These are the first rays of real hope tourism had in a long time and the sector will blossom from it’.

While all eyes will now be on the new board to see how they shape their agenda and implement it, at this moment in time it is congratulations to the newly appointed Board of Directors of Tourism Uganda and all the best for the work ahead in coming years.

Kenya News

NEW TOURISM SECRETARY ANNOUNCES 10 POINT PLAN TOWARDS RECOVERY

I have come up with a ten point plant highlighting the areas that we shall prioritise going forward. These include streamlining the boards of State corporations in tourism, hastening the implementation of the Tourism Act and setting up a tourism market recovery programme to recover Kenya’s lost market share in tourism. The national tourism strategy is at the moment being crafted and will be in place in the next few months’ was Mrs. Phyllis Kandie, the new Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, previously known as Minister, quoted to have told a meeting of tourism stakeholders, who were anxious to hear what government had in store to revive the flagging fortunes of the country’s tourism sector. Former tourism minister Mwazo, now openly described as the worst in Kenya’s history, had like a bull in a china shop caused havoc and left the sector’s political administration in the proverbial tatters, before making his escape to a senatorial seat in the last elections.

Of key interest for the sector were, as recently mentioned in a related development, infrastructure developments like the completion of a road between Narok and the Masai Mara Game Reserve, the bypass from the Nairobi – Mombasa highway and the Moi International Airport to the south coast and, as one source put it: ‘… to get us the funding KTB needs to run a recovery marketing campaign across the world. Last year Mwazo just make empty promises on which he failed to deliver and you see where we now are. The man was just incompetent and good riddance is all I can say. If he had delivered on his promises to get tourism the funding required we would be better off and now we have to clean out after him. Well, the new boss in tourism has shown she got the message and we will now wait and see how she delivers on her 10 point plan’.

Keenly awaited now are the upcoming announcements on who will chair the boards of several new parastatals which were created under the tourism act, although there are already whispers emerging from within key stakeholders that perhaps the formation of a single tourism authority would serve the sector better than a fragmented regime of several bodies, which could well lead to sectoral infighting over turf claims instead of all pulling into one direction. ‘The creation of many parastatals was a result of the grand coalition of the last government needing to create a lot of jobs for cronies. Now that we have a single government again, maybe we should revisit some of those issues and seek a better way forward. Tourism authorities are working well in other countries like Zimbabwe, and from what I know Tanzania is looking at creating one too. Right now we have a situation of many chiefs. The recurrent expenditure will be high and eat into the marketing budget. It is something we need to improve upon’ added the same source, setting the scenario for what will be an interesting year ahead for Kenya’s tourism industry. Watch this space for regular updates on what’s on in tourism from across the region.

CHELI AND PEACOCK INTRODUCES NEW BOARD MEMBERS

Cheli & Peacock, one of Kenya’s foremost safari and safari camp operators, has just announced the appointment of Antonia Glen and Bilal Yusuf as Directors of International Sales and Finance respectively.

Effective immediately they will join the board where they will serve alongside company owners Stefano and Liz Cheli. Bilal, who joined the company in 1999 as Chief Accountant rose through the ranks before recently being promoted as Director for Finance while Antonia, who also joined the company in 1999, equally rose through the ranks to attain the position of Director International Sales.

Stefano was quoted in a media release just received here as having commented: ‘Both Bilal and Antonia have been with the company for many years and their promotions reflect their enduring hard work, professional aptitude, loyalty and ongoing contribution to the firm. Liz and I are thrilled to welcome them both to the Board of Directors and, along with the rest of the team, we wish them many congratulations. As one of the leading and longest-established safari operators in the business, we are delighted that Cheli & Peacock grows from strength to strength. This is a very exciting time for us and we look forward to the coming years’.

Tourism trade personnel attending the leading trade fairs on a regular basis will no doubt have been acquainted with Antonia over the years, but for those not in the know, above is a preview of whom they will meet at the next tourism show.

In a related development it was also just learned that two of C&P’s collection of gems, Loisaba and the Elephant Pepper Camp, have once again received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for 2013, confirmation that the all important vote for quality by those who really matter, the clientele, has again opted to raise those two properties to the top of their class. Both properties have in the past gained international recognition through a number of awards given to them by travel trade media, The Good Safari Guide Awards and other internationally recognized organizations. Well done to the teams at both camps.

For more information on the locations of C&P’s stunning safari and beach properties, visit their website via info

TOURISTS STRANDED BY STRIKING TRUCK DRIVERS

A massive traffic jam along the main highway to Mombasa was blocked yesterday for over 8 hours by striking truck drivers, with cars on both sides of the Mariakani weight bridge backed up for over 20 kilometres.

As a result were safari vehicles stranded for the duration, in the absence of any bypass or detour possible, leaving tourists infuriated by the delays getting them to the game parks, while those returning from safari to their respective beach resorts too were victims of the strike.

According to a Mombasa based source did the truck drivers strike over allegations of massive corruption at the weight station, where allegedly vehicles with ‘arrangements’ are allowed to pass while the rest is subjected to harassment, intimidation and worse, or so it has been alleged.

These allegations are not new and weigh bridges have for long been identified as money extraction machines for corrupt police officers, though no amount of government action, transfers of personnel or arrests have been able to change that. Said a regular source from the Kenyan coast in response to a mailed enquiry: ‘This is the low season and we need every tourist we can get. Now those who came and went on safari yesterday were messed up by these issues which have been festering for a while. We need weigh bridges to protect our roads from the massive overloading which has in the past destroyed even new roads very quickly. But these stations need to be professionally managed and effectively supervised to prevent corruption. This was not a good day for tourism and the affected clients reached their destinations very very late. Traffic in and out of Mombasa can be bad and we demand that the highway must be expanded, the bypass to the south coast constructed and a second bridge built over Tudor creek to the northern mainland. There are reasons we have been demanding this for many years and the new government must act if they are true to their word to boost tourism. Without infrastructure, tourism cannot prosper, and we in Mombasa demand equal rights to Nairobi where so many new highway and bypass projects are underway. This is not right’.

Sometime last year was traffic stuck in and out of Mombasa for nearly a day, when road works, combined with undisciplined driving by trucks caused a major traffic jam. The tourism industry also has for long been asking for a bypass from the international airport in Mombasa, linked to the Nairobi – Mombasa highway, to the south coast in Ukunda, to facilitate easier road transport and avoid the often unreliable ferry crossing at Likoni. Added the source: ‘When we get our international conference centre, the roads must be ready too to carry that added traffic. There is no point to build new facilities if tourist and business visitors cannot reach there, or miss flights because of traffic jams. The central government and the county government must sit down with stakeholders and show us the way forward, the time for talking is really at an end now’, signaling increasing frustration with the past lack of attention to coastal infrastructure developments. Watch this space.

ETIHAD LAUNCHES AMSTERDAM FLIGHTS

Travelers from Nairobi / Kenya, presently the only East Africa destination Etihad, Abu Dhabi’s national airline is serving, now have the added option when travelling to Amsterdam to route via the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, as the airline launched flights to the Netherlands last weekend. The daily flights on Airbus A330-200 aircraft, which feature 22 business and 240 economy seats, are codeshared with KLM.

A few weeks ago did Etihad sign a comprehensive MoU and code share agreement with Kenya Airways, an almost natural development considering that KQ’s second largest shareholder KLM equally has developed strong commercial ties with Etihad since late 2012. While no member of any alliance, as yet, Etihad has developed their own concept of strategic partnerships, with shareholdings in Air Berlin, Air Seychelles, Air Lingus and Virgin Australia, and a similar deal is currently awaiting finalization with India’s Jet Airways.

There is growing speculation that Etihad may also take a significant shareholding in KLM/Air France, itself a lead member in the world’s second largest airline alliance SkyTeam, leaving space for yet more speculation if Etihad may eventually join that alliance or else opt to stick to their proven model of partnerships through shareholdings and commercial code share agreements.

Meanwhile has Etihad over the weekend also completed the takeover of the Abu Dhabi Airport Services, the Abu Dhabi Inflight Catering and the Abu Dhabi Cargo Company to have full control over the quality of services these previously state owned companies offer and which will in the future add significant revenue streams to the Etihad Group.

Tanzania News

LEAKEY DISCREDITS HIMSELF WITH RESPONSE ABOUT CONCERNS RAISED

Following the revelations that Dr. Richard Leakey had waded into the Serengeti Highway debate with a hair brained proposal to build a flyover highway across the migration routes of the wildebeest, did one of the world’s foremost Serengeti defense groups, Save the Serengeti write to him, expressing concerns over his statements and requesting clarification. Save the Serengeti is made up of renowned individuals, supported by leading conservation institutions, and is credited with encouraging factual debate over the initial proposals to build a highway across the Serengeti’s migration routes. In fact, StS is the voice of over 51.500 individuals and NGO’s and THE place where factual exchanges were facilitated since the group was formed in 2010 and which has provided a platform for conservationists from around the world standing together to ensure that Serengeti Must Not Die. The group’s letter is quoted verbatim here below:

Dear Professor Leakey,

It is with great concern that we have again learned of your support for an elevated highway across the Serengeti National Park.

Such a project is not only impractical in the extreme, it would undermine the very existence of the ecosystem we all wish to protect. The cost of constructing an overpass would be enormous to the point of being prohibitive. According to a former World Bank transportation expert with years of experience in East Africa, it would cost not forty percent more than a similar New Jersey highway, but up to ten times as much.

Instead of thirty miles in length, it would need to be much longer. As you know, the migration spans a large area outside of the park. Fifty miles is more like the required length. The Frankfurt Zoological Society concurs with us, stating:

“Just absolutely ridiculous from the cost side. We are talking billions. In Germany it is significantly more expensive 120 million € for 4 km! This reason alone, makes any further thinking useless.”

They cite the Danyang-Kunshan Bridge in China, which is 100 miles in length. It took 10,000 people four years at a cost of about $8.5 billion.

Here is how the transportation expert describes it:

The foundations and bridge piers would be poured on site, and then concrete precast beams, or steel beams, trucked in to support the concrete deck which would be cast on top of the beams. As for the design, it might be possible to get away with one lane each way, separated by a crash barrier, provided that passing places, a sideways expansion of the bridge, were installed at about 500 meter intervals. Service areas would have to be provided at about five kilometer intervals to allow vehicles to turn around.

The first requirement for such a massive project would be the building of a road to provide large quantities of resources and materials. There is no sand or gravel available in Serengeti, so all the material for the concrete would have to be trucked in. Large quantities of other materials, would need to be produced and transported. Where would the water come from? Camps and catering for hundreds or thousands of workers would have to be set up, with the likely result of a thriving bush meat trade, as commonly happens with such projects.

Adding to the cost is the fact that a highway would be constructed on black cotton soil that is unstable, particularly in the rainy season. Engineers say it would shift and move causing cement pillars to crack and fall. This is also a highly active volcanic area that includes earthquakes – a 6.0 was recorded in 2007.

Who then would bear the enormous expense of maintaining such a highway? Tanzania has so little money now that it can barely keep its electric grid running. Accidents and breakdowns are common in Africa. What happens when a huge truck jackknifes in the middle of an elevated road?

Construction would last years, with a large swath of destruction from heavy machinery and trucks – all this during several seasons of migration across this critical area.

Both the construction and the highway would have long term impacts. As pointed out by Andrew Dobson of Princeton University in his published study, habitat fragmentation of the Serengeti ecosystem would likely mean the collapse of the migration.

The project would be a terrible waste of scarce funds. What a huge opportunity cost this would represent, using funds that could be used for real development.

Who would visit the Serengeti during the years of construction? But not just construction would impact tourism, a huge international protest would cause a drop in tourism income and jobs. The Serengeti would be taken off the UNESCO World Heritage List. It would no longer be regarded as a unique wilderness area, but a monument to a useless engineering project. A priceless heritage would be irreparably scarred and ultimately lost.

Finally, the big question – why would one build such a project in the name of development when a superior alternative exists?

A highway to the south of the Serengeti would not only connect populations to the west of the park, it would benefit vastly more people, connecting the Lake Victoria region to the central and eastern parts of the country.

The advantages of such a route are clearly documented in a presentation by the Frankfurt Zoological Society. See the attached for a detailed socio-economic analysis.

What’s more, the government of Germany has offered to build local roads for communities around the Serengeti and the World Bank has offered help to build a southern route.

We trust that the facts speak for themselves – the tremendous impact of an elevated highway, tunnel, railway, any sort of commercial corridor, would be devastating to a place we all wish to preserve for future generations of Africans and visitors.

We urge you to join the Frankfurt Zoological Society, our organization and many others in supporting a southern route around the Serengeti.

Sincerely,

The two responses by email to the letter, seen by this correspondent but not cleared for publication by the recipients, can at best only be described as rude, offensive and condescending and at worst as fame gone to the head, a head swollen with an inflated ego or a head gone soft with age. Playing on the cheapest sentiments, otherwise perhaps found in bar conversation just before closing time when the discussants are sufficiently inebriated, the good Dr. Richard wasted no thought on the facts but instead opted to rant about unrelated issues and throw missives at Save the Serengeti. Instead of engaging with the substance of the proposals made by the Frankfurt Zoological Society for the southern route, which has received the full support of the German government, the World Bank and other development partners including offers for soft loans and grants to carry out a full feasibility study before building the alternative road, he decided to go on the offensive by throwing mud and calling the credentials of StS into doubt. Humility clearly is not something the good Dr. Richard has engrained in himself and as a result, the considerable professional respect hitherto accorded is now dented and will, should no substantive focused response still come forth from him, evaporate completely.

The internet has a great capacity for naming and shaming, and like the Tanzanian government has found out such flow of information prevails, even though that government has and continues to bedevil critics and opponents of their scheme to build a highway across the Serengeti and is calling them enemies of progress and worse. Through the Internet, pressure groups have the ability to garner global support for causes, enlist help to lobby key global institutions and in this case has it has played a major role to ground the highway project, at least until an ongoing court case at the East African Court of Justice to obtain a permanent injunction against the Tanzanian government, is decided.

Egomania has been the bane of many failures in the past to make conservation a centerpiece of a new global policy approach in how to protect crucially important ecosystems for future generations. It is reminiscent of the failure of CITES to not just totally ban the trade with ivory but challenge the main culprits by naming and shaming them. They got away because of, among other reasons, too many egos needing to be stroked of people who continue to sit on the fence or voice their opposition, because their egos have, or so they perceived it, been rubbed the wrong way. Like in school, there is a bad boy corner on the Internet too, and that is where the good Dr. Richard is headed for, unless he can come to terms that even he does on occasions talk utter rubbish. Time to make swift amends or else bear the stain of complicity in the attempt to ruin the Serengeti. Watch this space.

POACHING REPORT DEMANDS GOVERNMENT ACTION ON CHINA CONNECTION

The following media report by Florian Kaijage is repeated here in full to have readers appreciate what others have to say about the poaching tsunami which has hit Tanzania:

Dar’s secret poaching report implicates China

BY FLORIAN KAIJAGE, 18th May 2013,

http://www.ippmedia.com/frontend/index.php?l=54837

Investment relations between China and Tanzania have been cited in

elephant poaching in Tanzania, calling for serious government

intervention, a report on the elephant poaching crisis has revealed.

According to a well-detailed report authored by the Tanzania Elephant

Protection Society (TEPS) made available to the Guardian, though the

Chinese investments were important in the country’s economy and

development, they shouldn’t compromise country’s natural wildlife

conservation efforts.

The report — which states clearly the current rate of 30 elephants

killed every day and 850 elephants shot every month — poses

unprecedented risk of the country’s elephant population perishing in

the next seven years notes: “China is the number one investor in

Tanzania … but the majority of tusks exported illegally from Tanzania

end up in China due to the huge demand for Ivory in China” It

affirms: “Tanzania’s partnership with China is of great benefit to the

country’s economy and development but it must not be at the expense of

Tanzania’s vital natural resources and tourist industry … this

requires political will and strong leadership.”

The document, whose was availed to The Guardian recommends: “Tanzania

government should make investment from China and other countries

strictly conditional on China tackling its demand for ivory at home ,

and stronger law enforcement collaboration to halt the flow of ivory

from Tanzania to China.” Experts also recommended for the presence of

sniffer dogs working 24 hours at every port and airport.

In one of its four recommendations to the government, the report says:

“Ivory is a big business for major criminal … also involved in

trafficking drugs and violent crimes. The issue must be treated as a

serious crime which is a major threat to the nation. “These syndicates

are able to engage in corrupt practices to ensure that their

consignments are not subjected to law enforcement intervention in the

countries of origin, on transit and destinations. We hope thae

statistics presented would raise the hairs of the policy and decision

makers and cause them to quickly act to rescue the situation” says the

report.

Winding up debate on the 2013/2014 fiscal year, the Minister for

Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki, said a kilogramme of

a tusk is traded at $1,000 at the international market, whereas a

kilogramme of rhino horn is worth $1 million, a revelation that the

poaching and illegal trade of natural resources involves people with

big money.

The report also recommends enactment of emergency laws providing for

sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment for illegal hunts of an

elephant or trading in ivory

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