Weekly roundup of news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region, First edition July 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.

First edition July 2013

Uganda News


(Posted 06th July 2013)

The introduction of 18 percent VAT on hotel and lodge accommodation will have devastating consequences on leisure tourism to Uganda’ said a regular tourism source in Kampala yesterday, when discussing the immediate impact of the restoration of VAT for hotel accommodation. Tour and safari operators are bound by contract to maintain quoted rates for safaris for up to 18 months ahead, and are now stuck with the added cost, which if to be absorbed will render the safari businesses not just profitless but turn it into a loss maker.

Ministry of Finance sources on condition of not being named denied any impact of the VAT decision, showing their blatant ignorance about the inner workings of a sector, which has for years, despite of government neglect, grown, albeit at a pace fare slower than it could have, compared to for instance neighbouring Rwanda, where tourism has been understood and embraced at the highest level of government and is being facilitated to create prosperity.

Leading stakeholders have in recent days gone on rare record in the media over these actions, accusing government of not just mere lipservice towards the sector but of creating a work environment radically opposed to the often talked about ‘enabling environment’, a phrase often used to self glorify economic advances even if glaringly absent.

What they have done is create a disabling environment for the tourism industry. The tourist board which is supposed to promote the country, got a paltry 250 million Uganda Shillings. What the hell are they thinking that can do other than pay rent and utilities and maybe staff’ ranted another regular source, for obvious reasons wishing to remain anonymous.

This will lead to job losses in the sector and will only make an already tough situation more difficult. Others of our neighbours treat tourism as a priority sector and here it is almost as if we are punished. Maybe they want to reduce tourism so that oil exploration can go ahead without us raising issues like in Murchisons, where they want to pump oil in a wildlife park. We are completely at a loss to understand how a sector with the biggest potential for immediate job creation, FDI and forex earnings can be treated so badly. This is unacceptable, completely unacceptable’ said yet a third source met on Friday, all expressing their utter frustration with the turn of events.

Accommodation portions of safari packages have since 01st of July increased by 18 percent and only a few booked safari groups have accepted this fait accompli while most reportedly resisted strongly. Other safari groups reportedly already cancelled their booked trips outright, unless the increase is revisited.

Safari operators in turn say they have no legal option but to accept the added cost, which hotels say they most reluctantly added to their bills but for fear of being raided by the Uganda Revenue Authority and made an example of should they fail to charge and remit the new tax burden.

Leading stakeholder representatives have also met with the committee on tourism in parliament to express their concerns and fears that the sector may be destroyed by action of ignorant government officials, who have for long displayed an attitude towards tourism as either ‘just happening’ or otherwise unimportant, generally perceived as an insult to an industry which last year earned the country over 800 million US Dollars.

One leading lodge operator in the country claimed, also on condition of anonymity, that their occupancies will suffer as a result of the tariff increases. It could not be immediately ascertained how the new VAT addition will affect conference participants now heading to Uganda for the Routes Africa meeting and other conferences, as their accommodation cost too is bound to increase by 18 percent. Watch this space.


(Posted 05th July 2013)

Uganda’s Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Amama Mbabazi, is set to open the Routes Africa meeting which start this weekend in Kampala, hosted jointly by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority and Entebbe International Airport at the lake side resort complex of Munyonyo, near this correspondent’s residence. The meeting expects over 250 key decision makers from African airlines, airports, civil aviation bodies, tourism boards and related service providers to assemble in Kampala and discuss future cooperation, the opening of new routes to bring Africa closer together and closer to the rest of the world and how to overcome the economic challenges of today and tomorrow, which have often hindered aviation developments on the continent.

Routes Africa just issued the following media release, but expect live updates from on site when this important continental aviation meeting goes underway this weekend.

Start quote

Hon. Amama MBABZI to join aviation industry leaders at Routes Africa in Kampala

4th July 2013

Taking place on Sunday 7th and Monday 8th July 2013 and open to all attending delegates, The Routes Africa Strategy Summit will open Routes Africa in Kampala. One of the highlights of the Summit will be a keynote address from Hon. Amama MBABAZI, the HON Right Prime Minister of Uganda who has recently confirmed that he will participate in the event. This year the seniority of delegates registered to attend Routes Africa has been very high and the event has seen high level registrations from all sectors of the industry including airline and airport CEOs and Ministers of Tourism.

Attendees of the summit will hear a welcome address from Hon. James Abraham Byandaala, Minister for Works and Transport for Uganda along with opening remarks from Dr W Rama Makuza, MD, Uganda CAAbefore keynote addresses from Hon. Amama MBABAZI, Hon. Maria Mutagamba, The Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities for Uganda and Dr Titus Naikuni, CEO, Kenya Airways.

“Uganda is indeed honoured to host this important event at which top decision makers from the airline and airport industries join tourism stakeholders to plan and discuss air service development across the African region,” says W. Rama Makuza, Ph.D Managing Director, Civil Aviation Authority Uganda continuing: “Uganda’s flora and fauna coupled with its strategic location in Africa gives all delegates, especially air operators, opportunities to make informed and pertinent decisions about future air service development options.”

“We are thrilled with the high calibre of delegates attending this year’s Routes Africa event,” said Nigel Mayes, VP Commercial – Routes, UBM Live explaining: “The strong support demonstrated by the participation of the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the country shows that the region is taking air service development seriously and that Routes Africa is the event where real business discussions can take place.”

Routes Africa, now in its 8th year, will take place in Kampala, Uganda on 7-9 July 2013 and will be hosted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Uganda and Entebbe International Airport. 250 key decision makers from across Africa and beyond are expected to gather at the annual event to discuss air service development.

Key carriers from the African region and beyond such as; South African Airways, Vueling, Etihad Airways, Kenya Airways, Air Uganda, Ethiopian Airlines, Fastjet, Egyptair, United Airlines have all registered their attendance at this key annual networking event.

End quote


(Posted 04th July 2013)

Uganda’s first ever guide application, developed by the Pearl Guide has during the recent Uganda Communications Commission 3rd Annual Innovation Award Ceremony been honoured with a special Judges Choice Award, recognizing excellence and initiative, on the technological side but also for the impact this can have on the country’s tourism industry.

The Pearl Guide Uganda Limited, developers and owners of the Uganda Guide Mobile App was recognized by the UCC judges as a key development that is going to be a ‘game changer in the way Uganda portrays herself globally as a travel destination and in the way common people access common services and amenities’.

The Uganda Guide was recognized for filling in the existing void in regard to making Uganda available to over one billion smartphone users globally. The new app, the initial release a few weeks ago was reported here the same day, offers users the complete background information on Uganda, listings of attractions and things to do, personalized digital maps, a complete travel directory with tour operators, taxi cabs, hotels, safari lodges, embassies, banks, forex bureaus and a host of smart mini apps such as Expense Trackers, Bus Fare Finder, Safari Package Generator, Trip Journal etc.

Way to go Pearl Guide, way to go for Uganda too as The Pearl of Africa becomes accessible to the big wide world.


(Posted 04th July 2013)

A third tremor, and the largest yet, has hit Kampala at 01.22 hrs this morning, setting the TL’s of the social media among Kampaleans alight even at this hour.

One tremor yesterday reached 5.2 on the open ended Richter Scale – the other one was minor – and was located in the Albertine Rift, the epicentre pinpointed to some 20 km below the surface under Lake Albert. The region, rich in oil, has been the focus of much of Uganda’s oil exploration but with the most recent quake clearly larger than the 5.2 one of yesterday, questions are already being asked on the preparations of the exploration companies in case a major quake would strike the region and what impact it would have on their equipment and installations. Earthquake Watch has since confirmed that the latest quake, originating in the same area, reached 5.7 on the Richter Scale and reports are now trickling in of some damage, the extent to be confirmed at daylight no doubt which is 5 hours away as this report is uploaded. Watch this space.


(Posted 03rd July 2013)

Disturbing news are emerging from Mombasa that a 20 ft container, reportedly originating in Uganda, was seized in a shipping yard in Changamwe near the port of Mombasa, while awaiting to be shipped to a yet to be confirmed destination overseas.

The source in Mombasa could also not ascertain if the seizure was a result of a tip off or general inspection of cargo destined for certain countries, which are now under increased scrutiny over their hunger and greed for blood ivory.

Several other containers from the same point of origin are still being tracked down, raising the spectrum of finding yet more illicit ivory concealed to smuggle out of Africa.

The quantity of the ivory confiscated was still under wraps by the time this information came to light but is reportedly substantial enough to be termed a major find.

While poaching of elephants in Uganda remains low and is relatively contained, compared to for instance Tanzania which has been named as the largest source of blood ivory by recent reports, Uganda is believed to be used as a transit point for ivory smuggled from neighbouring countries. While generally customs and enforcement agencies vigilance is high it clearly needs improving to prevent future incidents of the same kind.

No arrests have been made by the time of uploading this article but several individuals connected to the container and its’ ‘paperwork’ are wanted by police in Mombasa and in Kampala for questioning.

In an update received on 04th July it was confirmed that around 770 pieces of ivory were confiscated by Kenya Wildlife Service, weighing over 1 ½ tons. Kenyan officials put the value of the haul to over 29 million Kenya Shillings. Efforts are underway to establish the country of origin of the seized blood ivory, to find out if the tusks came from Uganda or third countries, as has been suggested by Ugandan wildlife officials, with common boundaries like South Sudan or the Congo DR, where, according to some sources, poaching is absolutely rampant.

Kenya News


(Posted 04th July 2013)

Kenya Airways is now flying to 61 destination, in Africa and beyond, as they launched their flights to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The Pride of Africa is codesharing the three weekly services with partner Etihad, after signing an extensive cooperation agreement some months ago. Etihad is presently flying 7 times a week between Abu Dhabi and Nairobi, using an Airbus A320, while Kenya Airways in turn is using a B737-800NG for the service. Both airlines have agreed to extend the codeshares to beyond their respective hubs in Nairobi and Abu Dhabi, giving Etihad access to one of Africa’s widest networks, connecting the Eastern African region and the continent with almost immediate onward connections, while Kenya Airways will be able to codeshare to destinations Etihad is flying to from Abu Dhabi. This opens up a wider reach for Kenya Airways passengers to such destinations like India, the Far and South East, Australia but also Europe and North America. No specific listing of such codeshared destinations has however been availed so far. It is expected that the number of flights will be progressively increased to eventually offer a double daily frequency from Nairobi to Abu Dhabi, one each operated by the respective national airlines. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from Eastern Africa’s vibrant aviation industry.


(Posted 03rd July 2013)

Flavio Briatore’s plans to build a Billionaires Resort in Malindi, reported about repeatedly in the past, has clearly opened the doors for similarly ambitious top of the range real estate developments along the Kenya coast.

With Kenya’s economy set for a major boom decade ahead, as a result of significant oil finds and huge infrastructure development projects like new railways, highways, a pipeline from the newly found oilfields as well as from South Sudan and a new deep sea harbour in Lamu (LAPSSET), there is clear optimism that top end real estate developments, like gated estates, golf estates and ocean front condominiums will attract substantial returns on the investments of the developers.

Those foresighted enough, like Mombasa’s Alnoor Kanji, started their project as pioneers and in his case at a prime location, perhaps the very best of them all, located right opposite Mombasa’s old town and the famous Fort Jesus on English Point.

It is there that Kanji is developing an international standard marina, where yachts from rich locals can moor side by side with yachts sailing along the East Coast of Africa or to and from the Indian Ocean islands, especially now that the ocean terrorists from Somalia have by and large been defeated.

Due to open phase one in late 2013, the first of its kind ocean frontage real estate development in Kenya will eventually see a fully fledged mini resort featuring owner occupied condominiums, 50 apartments have already been sold costing from 450.000 US Dollars to 750.000 US Dollars, with penthouses going for as much as 2 million US Dollars, condominiums the owners will rent out to short and longer term tenants and serviced apartments available for as short a stay as a night. A hotel, restaurants, shops and boutiques, a world class Spa and gym, a water sports centre and other facilities will be available for residents, guests and – it is understood against a daily membership fee – even outside patrons, with management however reserving the right of admission.

Overall will the project cost a cool 55 million US Dollars, two thirds of which have been funded by one of Kenya’s own banking giants, the Kenya Commercial Bank.

The tourism industry at the coast has warmly welcomed the new project, with some saying it brings at last the glitz and glamour of water front developments to Kenya’s coast, pointing to the string of such properties along the Pacific Coast or along the Florida coast line in the United States, across the Mediterranean and especially along the Gulf coast. Short and longer cruises on yachts, under sail or engine, will surely enter the list of options for tourists when visiting the beaches north and south of Mombasa, with a new exciting attraction waiting for them, reminiscent of sailing trips across the Caribbean or in the Gulf of Mexico.

(Artists impression of the English Point Marina and resort complex in Mombasa)

Tourism is high on the agenda of the new Kenyan government, which has promised jobs and economic growth in double digit figures during their five year term of office and new developments like English Point will no doubt inject new hope and impetus into a sector which has for long rested on its laurels, as far as beach resorts are concerned. ‘Briatore and Kanji will probably kickstart a number of similar developments along the Kenya coast. There is enough space from the border with Tanzania and the Pemba Channel to Lamu. Once the success of the first two can be seen, no doubt will other developers and banks come in to drive a boom of sorts. We expect many many expatriates working in the oil industry when production starts. The pipeline will need building and maintaining, there will be thousands of new jobs in the new port and when expatriates see and experience our weather and our friendly people, they will want to plan ahead for their own retirement and buy real estate, condominiums and residences in gated estates. Already we have the Vipingo Golf Estate in Kilifi and it has made an instant impact. Owners come from Kenya, the region and even overseas. There they can combine golf and beach and new marinas will add yachting as a new attraction. Kenya has such a great opportunity now that we had peaceful elections and it is good for the country, good for tourism’ commented a regular source from Mombasa. The Mombasa County Government has set aside significant funds to support tourism with new infrastructure and other support measures, making it clear that the sector has been targeted for rapid growth with special emphasis of absorbing job seeking youths into gainful employment.

A similar development has in fact taken root on the Seychelles’ main island of Mahe, where South African interests have put up Eden Island, artificially raised out of the ocean after stringent EIA requirements were met by the developers. The owners of Eden Island’s condominiums, residences and villas all are guaranteed a mooring for their yachts, and every phase, when opened, was literally sold out already, having added a new scope even for visitors to the archipelago used to luxurious surroundings. Mauritius too is now looking at a similar development and it will only be a matter of time before entrepreneurs will copy cat the idea in Mozambique too, offering a string of options where to berth, or even buy property.

Watch this space to learn about the final weeks prior to opening of the new English Point Marina and the date when the tape on the gate will be formally cut, very likely by President Kenyatta, who is expected to continue his late father’s trend to visit the coast over the Christmas and New Year Holidays.


(Posted 02nd July 2013)

Details have become public over the weekend of new measures on the flow of traffic, to and from the Moi International Airport in Mombasa and in and out of the city from upcountry, both crucial elements for improving tourist traffic at the Kenya coast. A few months ago it was reported here that a massive traffic jam into Mombasa led to tourist vehicles being stuck for as much as 12 hours, before some of them were using rather rough roads across the country side to reach either the South Coast or the North Coast and drop their guests off at their resorts. Passengers leaving Mombasa by air have on some occasions in fact missed their flights as a result of traffic pile ups around the Changamwe area, leading to regular complaints from the coast tourism industry, alongside complaints about delays in crossing the Likoni Channel by ferry.

Coast stakeholders agree that a second bridge from the island of Mombasa to the North Coast and the long overdue bypass to the South Coast, which would like the international airport and the Nairobi – Mombasa highway to that part of Mombasa, would be hugely beneficial, but insist that access in and out of Mombasa across the Makupa causeway too need improving.

The Kenya National Road Authority together with the Mombasa County government have now announced new rules, in particular for trucks, which are often responsible for causing kilometre long jams, to avoid crucial sections around the Changamwe roundabout. This will give public service vehicles, private cars and tourist busses priority to get to the airport or leave the city on safari.

We need to wait and see how the new traffic rules will help the safari vehicles to get out of town or back to Mombasa. There have been a lot of issues about the time it takes for tourists who arrived in Mombasa to get to their resorts, or to get back to the airport when they leave Kenya. Key for long term improvements is the bypass to the South Coast, the widening of the Makupa causeway, better traffic regulation by police in and out along the Nairobi highway and a second bridge. Remember, we are supposed to get a big international convention centre at Bamburi and if we want to fill that with conferences our traffic issues need solving. For now I think everyone is grateful that some action is taken but we need to wait and see how this works out. They started yesterday with the new rules and it will take a bit to see how well it works’ contributed a regular Mombasa based source when passing the news. Tourism at the Kenya coast has been struggling since late last year and the downturn ahead of the elections in March literally wiped out what should have been a well booked high season. Feedback from the recently ended general meeting of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers however shows cautious optimism that the industry is set for a revival, made conditional though on the facilitation of the Kenya Tourism Board for a recovery marketing campaign. Watch this space.


(Posted 02nd July 2013)

News from Nairobi tell the story of continued vigilance against the smuggling of ivory through Kenya’s main airport, Jomo Kenyatta International, as two more individuals from South Sudan and the United States were nabbed over the weekend.

Both were found in possession of ivory bangles and other items, and while not related or travelling together, were independently caught during the checks instituted by local security, working hand in hand with KWS and other organs to prevent the smuggling of blood ivory.

Notably was the American citizen, caught with several bangles, rings and pendants, produced in court and let go after paying a fine of just 30.000 Kenya Shillings, causing once again consternation among the conservation fraternity over the lenient sentence. The South Sudanese man remains, according to information, in custody though he was found in possession of ‘only’ 5 bangles, which according to one source in Nairobi could have been in his possession or the possession of his family for long. This too raised concerns over the inequitable treatment of the two before court.

It is important for visitors to Kenya to understand, even for those only transiting in Nairobi to their final destination, that under our law it is a criminal offence to carry any ivory products without a proper licence or permit. From the old days many in Kenya still have elephant hair bracelets or jewelry made of ivory, and it is strongly recommended they obtain a proper license for such property. Otherwise, one might just be arrested and such family heirlooms be confiscated. For the South Sudanese man, the trial might establish the facts but for the American it is clear he purchased the stuff somewhere and his sentence should have been custodial and the fine a lot heavier. Only then can we expect justice to be done, and seen to be done, but such laughable fines are not a deterrent’ commented a source close to KWS, when asked to shed light on the circumstances of both cases. ‘Travelers should be told by their travel agents, and the airlines, that it is illegal to carry ivory products and that they will be prosecuted when found with it, in the absence of a valid permit. Please help us to spread that information widely’.

KWS, and other security, employ sniffer dogs to detect blood ivory concealed in baggage, similar to checks carried out at the port of Mombasa, through which major quantities of blood ivory have in the past been exported.

Kenya Airways, the national airline, too has strict policies in place now to prevent blood ivory to be shipped with them as air cargo but in particular passengers, connecting often from other African countries via Nairobi, are regularly found flouting the rules and attempting to smuggle ivory back home.

Visitors to Kenya, and the other East African countries, including Ethiopia, are therefore once again cautioned to refrain from carrying either ‘legacy ivory’ in form of jewelry such as pendants or bangles – even if it has been in the family for a very long time – or to illegally purchase and then attempt to smuggle ivory, processed or raw, as the chances are very high to be caught and prosecuted, and subsequently banned from any future return as a convict in the respective countries.


(Posted 01st July 2013)

Major stakes in some of Kenya’s best known hotels, the InterContinental Nairobi, the Nairobi Hilton and the Mountain Lodge, will be up for grabs by existing shareholders, as Kenya’s Privatization Commission has named July as the month during which these transactions are due to go underway.

The Kenya government presently holds a 33.8 percent stake in the InterContinental Hotel, a 40.57 percent stake in the Nairobi Hilton and a 39.11 percent stake in Mountain Lodge, where Serena Hotels have shown interest, as an existing shareholder, to purchase those shares.

The sale has been on / off for several years now, and involves a far greater portfolio than just these three best known hotels, as properties previously part or fully owned through the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, some dating back to the days of African Tours and Hotels and Msafiri Inns, are prepared for sale to private investors.

Where the government has other shareholders in the limited liability companies, the existing law demands that those shareholders are given the first right of refusal and have the option of buying out such shares, subject to agreement of course on the valuation of such stakes.

No estimates have been given how much government expects to realize from the sale of those shares in the three prime properties, nor in fact in the upcoming sale of other holdings in hotels, lodges and resorts, of which Kenya Safari Lodges Ltd, comprising Ngulia Safari Lodge, Voi Safari Lodge and the Mombasa Beach Hotels is another jewel in the crown of government holdings.

Tourism is one of Kenya’s key economic sectors, and part of President Kenyatta’s declared plan to achieve a double digit growth during his first 5 year term of office, even though recent attempts to raid the proposed tourism budget by hapless members of the parliamentary budget and appropriation committee have cast serious doubts over such ambitious plans. ‘Tourism can be THE growth engine for Kenya, but it needs the funds to go out and promote the country. If they cut the promotions budget the results will be very disappointing. Tourism is a cash cow for Kenya but needs feeding and looking after. If government puts the foot down on this, investing in the sector will be a guarantee for long term financial returns. We are expanding our airports, a new convention centre is planned for the coast, we are getting new railways and highways, international hotel groups are queuing up to build or manage hotels in Kenya, the future can be very bright. Let us not spoil the party by being shortsighted and cut the promotion budget after the downturn of late 2012 and early 2013. That would be disastrous’ claimed a regular tourism source from Nairobi. The just concluded meeting of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, one of the country’s most influential tourism trade associations, had equally demanded that the budget for tourism be fully restored, and secured the support of Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie and members of parliament on the committee for commerce and tourism in their quest.

Projections for 2013 are earnings in excess of 100 billion by the tourism sector, with 3 million arrivals expected by 2015, a target however only achievable if the Kenya Tourism Board is adequately funded to further penetrate new and emerging markets in Eastern Europe, India and the Far East, especially China while working existing markets in Europe and North America with renewed vigour. Watch this space.


(Posted 01st July 2013)

The recent announcement that Kenya Wildlife Service is to recruit at least another 1.000 rangers to put boots on the ground in poaching prone areas, has received a further boost over the weekend.

A regular conservation source in Nairobi has confirmed that at least 500 of those to be recruited will be drawn from the ranks of Kenya’s national youth service, a voluntary service scheme which provides among other topics paramilitary training, a key in getting rangers ready for deployment.

It is understood that instead of having to train for a full 9 months, as fresh recruits would require, those new rangers drawn from the national youth service will be field ready in just 2 months, allowing for rapid deployment into the field and the most poaching prone areas like Tsavo and parks in Northern Kenya. The balance of ranger specific course elements, like tracking, field craft and related topics will be taught at the Manyanyi KWS training camp.

Once ready for graduation, be sure you read all about it right here, so watch this space.

Rwanda News


(Posted 04th July 2013)

Today, 19 years ago, did the then RPF take complete control of Rwanda after completing the liberation of the country. The killer militias had been driven out of the country, across the border into the Congo – where until today they enjoy a status almost as treasured and honoured guests, a root cause of much of the ongoing troubles in the wider Great Lakes region. They were driven out but left behind a country ravaged by one of the most gruesome genocides in modern history, during which they killed, and caused to be killed, nearly a million Rwandans and even foreign residents living in the country back then.

The genocide started almost immediately after then President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by hardliners in his own administration, who were vehemently opposed to him having made concessions at the Arusha peace talks, while they were busy scheming up and preparing for a mass slaughter of the innocent. April the 07th is now a day of nationwide memorials in Rwanda, commemorating the start of the 100 days of brutal killings, and year after year are tributes paid to those who lost their lives, the babies, the children, the women, the boys and the men, the elderly, the able and the disabled, in their houses, in their fields and most foul, in their churches with many priests collaborating with the killers, luring the innocent to their place of worship only to have them killed. The 100 days are marked each year across the country to remember, to remind the survivors as well as the perpetrators, to remind the world at large of the saying ‘Never Again’, but said with a resolve and conviction which surpasses anything other nations with a genocide in their past have done.

Today, Rwanda commemorates Liberation Day, only a few days after Independence Day. From my own experience, while other nations celebrate their Independence Day with parties and fireworks, in Rwanda that day is laden with the memories of earlier genocides, before and after independence from Belgium, the time of brutal repression and killings, of discrimination and of an entire community being targeted for a treatment of impoverishing them, denying them human rights and robbing them of their dignity. In the Rwanda of today, the Liberation Day is the one which supersedes Independence Day, and yet, it is not a day of celebrations as seen for instance in the United States, where the 04th of July is truly celebrated. In Rwanda, such days are days of commemoration, of national remembrance, only too aware that the enemies of progress, of democracy and of economic opportunities for all Rwandans are ready, armed to the teeth and standing by to once more pounce, like the proverbial orcs and goblins in Tolkien’s tales were set to destroy the Elf Kingdom, given only the smallest of chances.

Today in Rwanda is a day of solemn marches, prayer services and remembrance, held at grass root levels across the country, ending the annual 100 days of facing up and looking back at events, which should never have happened.

Then the world stood by and watched from the sidelines and today it is hoped that the world will stand with Rwanda, as allies and friends, extending support to accomplish a lasting peace which will howver only be possible once the dark forces of the past are defeated, politically, ideologically as well as on the battlefield, should it come to that once more.

Today I bow my head as I too look back over 19 years, as I stand side by side with my many Rwandan friends, before we all raise our heads again to look into a brighter future for The Land of a Thousand Hills.


(Posted 02nd July 2013)

During a recent visit to Kigali it was possible to assess building progress on the new national convention centre and adjoining hotel, the government of Rwanda is putting up in order to attract a growing share of the continental MICE business. The facility is gaining shape and tourism stakeholders expressed cautious optimism that both facilities will be ready by late 2014, though delays have plagued similar projects in Kigali in the past as has been seen on other, similar construction sites.

The 5 star, 300 room and suites luxury convention hotel will be managed by Radisson Blue, a brand of global hospitality group Carlson Rezidor. The group in fact has just released a press announcement that they will also open a Park Inn in Kigali, another one of their brands which include also Regent and Hotel Missoni.

The new Park Inn will feature 161 rooms and suites and will is expected to be graded as a four star hotel. The statement of Carlson Rezidor reads as follows:

Start quote:

Carlson Rezidor, one of the ten largest hotel groups worldwide and one of the leading hotel operators on the African continent, announces the Park Inn by Radisson Kigali in Rwanda. The stylish upper midscale property featuring 161 rooms is Carlson Rezidor’s second hotel project in Kigali: The group already develops the Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Centre Kigali that is scheduled to open in Q2 2104. The Park Inn by Radisson will welcome the first guests just a few months later in Q3 2014. “We are delighted to introduce our young and dynamic brand Park Inn by Radisson to Rwanda and to further strengthen our presence in the country. Africa is a key development market for our group, and our African portfolio now comprises 50 hotels with a total of 11,000 rooms in operation and under development across 21 countries”, said Wolfgang M. Neumann, President & CEO of the Rezidor Hotel Group. The site of the Park Inn by Radisson Kigali is centrally located in the up-market Nyarugenge district of the city centre – less than 12km west of the International Airport, Rwanda’s primary point of entry. Besides 161 comfortable and functional guest rooms, the hotel will offer a 225m² all-day dining restaurant, a 80m² lobby bar, a club lounge, an outdoor swimming pool with a 110m² pool bar and terrace, 500m² meeting & conference facilities as well as gym, spa, hair salon and nightclub. Kigali is Rwanda’s most populated city with more than 1 million inhabitants and is also the country’s most important business & convention destination. Tourism, minerals, coffee and tea are Rwanda’s main sources of foreign exchange; and with Rwanda having joined the East African Economic Community, it is aligning its budget, trade, and immigration policies with its regional partners. Joseph Mugisha, Chairman of Hotel Vision Limited, the hotel owning company of the Park Inn by Radisson in Kigali, commented: ‘We are delighted to partner with such an important international hotel company like Carlson Rezidor and their exciting Park Inn by Radisson brand because of its outstanding quality and renowned services. Our companies share a common vision that will make the Park Inn by Radisson in Kigali the hotel of choice in the mid-market category in Kigali’.

End quote

Other global giants eyeing Rwanda are Marriott International, which is due to open their 250+ rooms and suites hotels, located near the Kigali Serena Hotel, by around March 2014, as well as Sheraton, a brand of Starwood Hotels, but Hilton too is said to be keenly interested in entering the Rwandan market, as the country continues to make economic inroads with growing tourist arrivals, establishing itself as a premier ICT hub in Africa and has targeted mining among other sectors to stimulate growth.

Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, presently features less than 6.500 rooms across the board, including low budget accommodation, but the top end of the market is thought to be seriously short of the capacity needed to host major continental and global meetings, conventions and conferences, able to house thousands at a go and still have a few rooms to spare. Visit www.rwandatourism.com for generic information about travel to and across the Land of a Thousand Hills or www.RwandAir.com for details of connections from the East African region, South and West Africa, Dubai and Europe to Kigali.


(Posted 01st July 2013)

Happy Independence Day to all the people of Rwanda

When the name Rwanda comes up, at least in tourism circles, gorilla tracking comes to mind, first and foremost, as the Land of a Thousand Hills is indeed best known for offering well organized tours to see the prized animals in their natural habitat. The Rwanda Development Board’s Tourism and Conservation Department in fact acknowledges that inspite of concerted efforts over the past years to diversify the tourism products and introduce new attractions, inside and outside of the three national parks, gorilla tracking remains the highest profile activity for now, though birding and hiking, especially in Nyungwe Forest National Park, have started to make an impact in the statistics.

The Virunga massif, a transboundary ecosystem located in Rwanda, Uganda and neighbouring Congo DR, is home of – going by the latest figures available – some 480 mountain gorillas and has been described as the world’s ONLY stable great apes population. It is here, that on the Rwandan side some 11 habituated gorilla groups are available for tourism purposes, the 11th only named 10 days ago during the annual Kwita Izina naming ceremony, when a ‘breakaway group’ gained their own recognition, name and status. Additionally are there 10 other habituated group which are strictly reserved for research and monitoring, outpacing the other two gorilla range countries.

Two visits over the past month to Musanze, which has laid claim to the title ‘gorilla tracking capital of East Africa’, allowed to gain some further insight into the challenges and achievements of gorilla conservation, and it is clear that RDB and conservation NGO’s are working hand in hand towards a common goal, protecting the mountain gorillas while at the same time ensuring that tourism pays many of the bills this mammoth task incur month after month.

The Greater Virunga Transboundary Cooperation, in short GVTC, is a trilateral body, based in Kigali,, comprising RDB, UWA and ICCN, which coordinates conservation and management matters, shares research results and coordinates security measures put into place along the national frontiers between Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo DR.

There is GRASP, the Great Apes Survival Partnership, which falls under the UNESCO / UNDP framework of conservation partnerships under which all institutional bodies come together to share information and rally to preserve the ever shrinking habitat of great apes around the globe.

Gorilla Doctors bring vets together who volunteer their time to assist, largely free of cost for their professional services, to rush to the scene should the trackers, who spend much of the day with their charges up the volcanic mountains, call for medical support.

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme, in short IGCP, is a partnership devoted to the conservation of the mountain gorillas by the African Wildlife Foundation, Flora and Fauna International and the World Wide Fund for Nature, best known as WWF.

And then there is the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International , the local headquarters based in Musanze, which is arguably the highest profile organization of them all, the offices in white and green highly visible for everyone who drives through what used to be Ruhengeri. The fund emerged from Dian Fossey’s DIGIT Fund, renamed in Dian’s honour in 1992 as the DFGFI.

Dian, immortalized through the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, which portrayed her life’s work and dedication to the cause of protecting the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Congo, back then still known as Zaire, was killed on the 27th December 1985, but left behind a legacy which lives on and has grown from strength to strength. Controversial as she may have been in life, she was an outspoken opponent of using habituated gorillas for tourism purposes and had reported run ins’ with fellow researchers too, in death she became a uniting factor for gorilla conservation and her name, and that of the fund, continue to be magnets to raise money, material contributions and attention around the world. Today, the gorilla population, which was seriously endangered when Dian was still alive and working in the field, has significantly increased in size, to now around 480 overall, but with an estimated carrying capacity of around 800 gorillas, some in fact say up to 1.000 while others put the capacity of the Virunga massif to lesser numbers.

The fund operates the Karisoke Research Centre, headed by Felix Ndagijimanawith over 150 staff in Rwanda and across the border in the Congo DR, plus a number of volunteers and collaborating scientists. The main thrust of activities is, as previously mentioned, research and monitoring of the gorillas, conservation education among school children but also the adult population living around the national parks and last but not least community outreach programmes including health and education interventions.

For tourists coming to Musanze with spare time at hand, the centre in the heart of the town is open for visitors and staff are readily willing to give a tour of the facility, which contains well over 100 gorilla skeletons for study, as well as a bio research lab where hormonal traits are extracted for further study and DNA analysis. Anecdotal and material memories of Dian Fossey are also preserved here, including the desk on which she read and wrote.

Nearby, by the way, within a few steps from the Karisoke Research Centre offices, is the Hotel Muhabura, back in Dian’s days known as the Mimosa Hotel, where she regularly spent her time when she came down from the mountains, staying in Cottage 12, preserved to this day in her memory as a ‘live in museum’ as the hotel allows guests to stay there, at a slightly raised tariff, well worth paying. The present owner, Gaudence Rusingizandekwe, is a most charming host and ever willing to share her life story, how her late father bought the hotel from a Belgian owner, renamed it to Muhabura and how the hotel fared over the years, maintaining its unique character and style amid growing competition and yet pulling in the numbers, especially those tourists wishing to get a feel of the history of the area.

The volcanic mountains, often obscured by clouds but on clear days dominating the skyline in the distance, are ever present and it is for its ‘tenants’, the mountain gorillas, that up to 88 tourists a day – 8 are the permitted maximum for visiting the 11 habituated ‘tourism’ gorilla groups come to Musanze, and in fact to Rwanda. Golden monkeys too can be tracked on Mt. Sabinyo and hikes up the mountains are available through the tourism office in either Musanze or at the park headquarters in Kinigi, some 12 + kilometres outside the town. No entry into the park is permitted without being accompanied by a guide and rangers, as much a safety measure in case hikers encounter buffalos as for the protection of the flora and fauna.

Musanze’s wider area has however more to offer, as recent articles can testify to, the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo, the Musanze Caves now open for visitors and the Buhanga historic ‘eco-park’ where the kings of old were inducted into their duties before being fully installed at the King’s Palace in Nyanza, near Huye. And within an hour’s drive one can set eyes on Lake Kivu, home of such fine hotels like the Lake Kivu Serena or the Paradis Malohide lake side resort, where one can have a few days rest, lay lazily at the beach, go out fishing or just enjoy the vista, with Congo DR’s mountains visible across the lake.

In Rwanda, all tourism roads lead to Musanze and Kinigi, inevitably, but from there also on to the Nyungwe Forest National Park and the birding areas created on community land, along the swamps, valleys and patches of forest which can be found aplenty as one drives across the thousand and many many more hills.

Visit www.rwandatourism.com for details on the destination and www.gorillafund.org for information on the work of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Airlines flying to Kigali are www.RwandAir.com, www.Kenya-Airways.com and www.Air-Uganda.com from the wider East African region and the continent but also Brussels Airlines, KLM, Qatar Airways, South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines from further abroad.

Ethiopia News


(Posted 06th July 2013)

Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa’s leading carriers and one of the three African members of Star Alliance, has earlier this week taken delivery of their sixth B777-200LR in a ceremony at Boeing’s Seattle assembly plant. The aircraft has since arrived in Addis Ababa and is being readied for deployment on long haul flights. This version of the B777 is capable of very long distance flights with full passenger and cargo loads, and allows ET to fly nonstop from Addis Ababa to for instance Washington DC, Toronto or Beijing. Ethiopian also operates an all cargo version of this aircraft, the first one in Africa to do so.

Now flying to 75 destinations in North and South America, Europe, Asia and across Africa, the ongoing fleet renewal and additions of new aircraft like the B787 Dreamliner and this latest B777-200LR have pushed the average age of Ethiopian’s fleet to around 7 years, expected to go down further while the ageing B767 fleet is being progressively retired as more and more B787’s are delivered.

Ethiopian only recently launched their flights from Addis Ababa to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo with a waypoint stop in West Africa, where they pick up traffic in conjunction with their partner airline ASKY.


(Posted 06th July 2013)

Too little is known really about Ethiopia, even though Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s leading international carrier, flying to North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and of course, being the erstwhile Pan African airline, across the continent. Yet, most of their passengers fly THROUGH Addis Ababa and too few, by any standards, are actually coming to Ethiopia to tour the country. It is therefore always a pleasure to tell a bit of good news about tourism developments in that country, where history, culture and even national parks offer aplenty to those keen to learn more about one of Africa’s hidden gems.

The Viewpoint Lodge, located just under 50 kilometres or about an hour’s drive outside Addis Ababa, on Lake Babagoya, is set on the rim of a crater lake, overlooking the clear waters and offering a vista of the Yerer volcano and the Zequala mountain in the distance. Some 360 species of bird have been identified around the crater lake and at least 50 are found with ease when just walking within the grounds of the lodge, which has 8 rooms available for visitors. The lodge has for the second year running now received the coveted TripAdvisor recognition ‘Certificate of Excellence’ and will hopefully get a further boost in popularity by telling the story about it. Details on TA reviews are found here for added information: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g1510664-d2042872-Reviews-The_Viewpoint_Lodge-Debre_Zeyit_Oromiya_Region.html

Owned and operated by a Belgian / Ethiopian couple the lodge offers kayaking on the lake, bicycle tours around the crater, visits to the six other lakes found in the vicinity of the lodge, namely Hora, Bishoftu, Kilole, Green Lake and the Cuban Lakes. Just two and a half hours away is the Awash National Park with its waterfalls and a little further away is the Ethiopian Rift Valley, to where the lodge owners are happy to arrange 3 day / 2 night trips.

Find out more about the lodge via https://sites.google.com/site/viewpointlodge/welcome or visit the bird watching site giving an overview of Ethiopia’s rich aviary finds via http://www.birdwatchingethiopia.com/

So if you are flying with Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com) to somewhere in Africa, perhaps this would be the time to consider and plan for a stopover in the country to explore a bit, but at least to spend a few nights at the Viewpoint Lodge.


(Posted 02nd July 2013)

Travellers who were set to fly with Ethiopian Airlines to Manila / Philippines on board the flights which were due to commence today, will be disappointed to learn that one of Africa’s best will not just yet be taking them there.

Information was sourced from Addis Ababa that the airline has for the time being shelved plans to introduce flights to Manila, which were to route from their hub in Addis via Hong Kong.

At the root of the delay is apparently the airline’s failure to secure fifth freedom rights between Hong Kong and Manila, something their route strategists have been banking on to ensure sufficient additional loads of passengers and cargo between the two Asian cities. With such rights not immediately available, it suggests that Ethiopian rather opted to postpone the launch than operate flights to Manila with the prospect of incurring unsustainable losses.

Ethiopian was due to use a B767-300ER on the route. Also, no further news could be obtained at this time about the airline’s plans to fly to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, which were announced last year when Ethiopian launched flights to Singapore. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from Eastern Africa’s vibrant aviation industry.

Seychelles News


(Posted 05th July 2013)

The Seychelles Tourism Board had estimated a growth in arrival figures for 2013 by a conservative 3+ percent, reflecting the global economic outlook at the time the forecasts were put together.

It came as a surprise therefore for many, though not for those closely monitoring the arrival statistics which are issued week by week through the National Bureau of Statistics, that over the first six months of the year this forecast was exceeded month after month by significant margins. Figures just confirmed by the country’s statisticians show a closing by the end of June with a 14 plus percent increase compared to the same period in 2012.

The Seychelles Minister for Tourism and Culture, Alain St. Ange, commented through a mailed communication as follows on this trend: ‘Despite all the challenges our tourism industry is facing, we are still riding a good wave. The economic difficulties in our main markets is showing no sign of redress, but the planning undertaken by the Tourism Board’s Marketing Team and the Board’s Overseas Offices at the the annual marketing strategy meetings keeps us being proactive and intelligent in our sales and marketing actions. We have broken into the world of events because we knew that this would increase press coverage for Seychelles over and above providing entertainment for our people. The annual Carnival International de Victoria continues to surpass the expected press coverage it attracts. We now have to raise the bar for the Festival Kreol, and we need to do for SUBIOS, our Festival of the Sea. Then we have to sell the events centered around our diversity of culture and promote our celebrations of the Commonwealth Day, the La Francophonie celebrations and now the Indian Day in Seychelles and we shall have to also promote the Chinese Spring Festival when this is finally launched. Our diversity is a unique selling point and we need to be proud of the five source branches making the Seychellois Nation we see today. Europe is showing an increase over 2012 with France alone increasing by a 12 percentage point, UK by 14%, Germany by a staggering 29%. Asia is also showing signs of growth as is Africa and the Americas. The diversification policy at the Tourism Board has worked and the push to continue to claim our fair share from our traditional markets at the same time is keep us moving forward. We now need the private sector to look at how to increase yield from our tourism industry and this is not and cannot be just the room rates. We need more for tourists to spend on and this is where the private sector needs to continue to be encouraged to innovate’.

These figures come hot on the heels of a change at the helm of the Seychelles Tourism Board, where Ms. Sherin Naiken took over from Elsia Grandcourt on July 01st, who left STB on an all time high, considering that the year 2012 too had produced a new arrival record for the archipelago. Stakeholder sources attributed the growth to both the efforts of the tourism board but also pointed to the German market, where the codeshared flights between Air Berlin and Air Seychelles, both members of the Etihad family, generated a nearly 30 percent growth in arrivals for the Seychelles.

When the old Air Seychelles was pushed out of the Frankfurt route two or three years ago, the German market remained with Condor and the Gulf airlines connecting through their hubs in Dubai or Doha or Abu Dhabi. An important link had gone missing and the market showed some weakness afterwards. When the new Air Seychelles signed code share agreements with Air Berlin to fly German passengers from several airports in Germany to Abu Dhabi, where they then join the Creole Spirit for the final leg to Mahe, suddenly the Germans showed renewed interest in coming here for vacations. Concerted efforts at ITB and sales missions before and afterwards also pushed the market to new heights. It is good that we have our traditional markets show growth again but we are not letting up in exploring new and emerging markets. Arrivals from China are up by 67 percent, and this contributed to the overall result of a 14 percent plus year by year’ added a regular source from Mahe, when asked to comment on the results.

It is now expected, unforeseen developments excluded, that by year end the Seychelles will look at yet another new arrival record in a single year, which will contribute to rising occupancies in the resorts, guest houses, holiday villas and B&B establishments but also bring a smile to the faces of the airline executives as their seat occupancy on flights to Mahe will no doubt rise. Watch this space for upcoming news about the Festival of Assumption in August on the island of La Digue and other key events taking place across the Seychelles islands in the second half of the year. Seychelles, truly Another World.


(Posted 01st July 2013)

The ongoing State visit by Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa to the Seychelles has strengthened the cooperation already in place between the two Indian Ocean island countries.

Following a one on one meeting between the two presidents did the full delegations meet at State House Victoria, where a range of issues of mutual concern and interest were discussed, covering such topics as trade and investments, air links, cooperation in the banking sector, fisheries, maritime, defense, education, health, tourism, energy, legal affairs, piracy and small industries development.

Notably were aviation and tourism on the agenda, which follows in the footsteps of Alain St. Ange’s push to have Sri Lanka made a full member of the Indian Ocean’s Vanilla Island cooperation, which promotes travel to and between member islands besides concerted marketing efforts to showcase the destinations.

President James Alix Michel, in a media release received from Mahe, was quoted to have told his guests: ‘Your Excellency it is with immense pleasure that I welcome you and your delegation to Seychelles. Your visit here in Seychelles is a landmark of friendship and strong collaboration developing within our two countries. We have made remarkable progress in our bilateral cooperation in many areas such as in education and training, defence, trade, fisheries, health, judiciary and renewable energy. Your visit will undoubtedly consolidate our relations and progress achieved. There is no better way to celebrate the anniversary of the 25 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between our two Indian Ocean states’.

During the meeting, President Rajapaska confirmed that SriLankan Airlines are keen to start flights to Seychelles this year and that the details of these new airlinks will be further discussed in the near future. President James Michel reportedly warmly welcomed the decision, adding that the airlinks would boost trade and tourism between Sri Lanka and Seychelles. ‘The new flights will surely open doorways for business, tourism, cooperation and trade exchanges between Seychelles and Sri Lanka. Seychelles can become a gateway to Africa and other parts of the world. The airlinks will be a catalyst to ensure increased cooperation between our two countries’ was President Michel quoted to have said in response.

The two countries have a Visa waiver agreement in place, making travel for the nationals of the two island states easy. President Michel visited Sri Lanka last year and is expected to attend the CHOGM Summit later this year, where he is expected to further promote his agenda on the ‘blue economy’ and climate change, which is a particular threat to island nations as a result of rising sea levels. Watch this space for regular updates from the Seychelles.

AND in closing, as most weeks, some recommended reads from further down south, courtesy of Gill Staden’s The Livingstone Weekly

Put Foot Rally

The Rally arrived in Livingstone for the third year running on Monday, 24 June. The participants like coming to Livingstone. It is well organised by Tony King and the Saf Par team; there is a great party afterwards at the Waterfront. Of course, too, there is the chance to go white water rafting or bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge!

The vehicles all arrived at the Katima Mulilo border – the new one. Although things started off smoothly I think the border officials got a bit confused with so many strange vehicles passing through to Zambia and the formalities began to take time; one person commenting that it took 2 hours to come through. These were no ordinary tourists and although there were rather a lot of them, one would think that the border officials could make a plan to get them through speedily. Let’s hope for some improvement next year.

On Tuesday all 60-odd vehicles, with around 240 people, paraded through town with a police escort, entertaining the townsfolk. The parade ended at Zambezi Sawmills School where the children were waiting for a new pair of shoes; 239 children and 239 pairs of shoes. There were some added extras too like socks and stationery, and a cool drink as well.

I could tell that the children were a bit overawed by the occasion and must have had some misgivings about what all these strange people were about to do. Never had they seen such a thing.

After some speeches, entertainment and a bit of organisation the Put Foot participants seated themselves on a row of chairs and one by one the children came to be fitted with their new shoes.

The shoes were all made especially in a factory in South Africa and sent ahead of the rally to Zambia. And what sizes did we need? Well, all the children had been measured beforehand and their orders sent to the organising team.

The shoes are all paid for by the participants who pay to be part of the rally and well-wishers.

After enjoying the fun in Livingstone the rally went north, through Lusaka and up to Malawi.

The plan was to travel back through Mozambique but there is trouble in Mozambique so they will be trekking back through Zambia.

Upcoming Events

13-14 July: Vic Falls Marathon

25-27 July: Pumping Legs for Water. Hwange National Park

24-29 August: UNWTO General Assembly jointly hosted by Livingstone / Zambia and Victoria Falls / Zimbabwe

11-16 August: Cycle Zambia.

26 October: Zambezi Kayak Festival.

26-31 October: World Adventure Travel Summit. Windhoek

Uneasy Situation in Mozambique

During the week reports were coming out of Mozambique about Renamo rebels on the rampage and Mozambican government moving in to root them out.

One report said that all tourists were evacuated from Gorongosa National Park.

There were also reports of shooting on the main road between the Save River bridge and Maxungue. Another said that Renamo had looted weapons, killing 6 soldiers, at a depot on the road from Dondo.

It would appear that the Mozambique government is determined to disarm the rebels once and for all, but in the meantime, things don’t look good.

Travellers are warned to be cautious.