Weekly roundup of news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, Third edition August 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

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Third edition August 2013

East Africa News

EGYPTAIR MOVES TO REASSURE PASSENGERS

(Posted 18th August 2013)

Egypt Air, the national airline of this troubled North African country, has reassured the market that their flights are operating normally and that operations in Cairo, their hub and main transit point for many passengers from the rest of Africa enroute to their final destination, are continuing without hitches.

Surely cognizant of the fact how their traffic volumes collapsed during the initial wave of demonstrations and the ouster of former President Mubarak, the airline must be concerned that a similar downturn of fortunes could have a serious impact on the financial situation of the company and their sales staff across the African continent have reportedly gone out of their way to make sure that their regular travellers are kept informed and are told that there is no need, at this stage, to switch to other airlines over concerns of their Cairo transit.

The following statement has been availed, issued by the Egyptian transport ministry:

Abdul Aziz Fadel, Minister of Civil Aviation confirmed the steady operation of flights at Cairo International Airport and other airports without any flight cancelations.

233 departure/arrival flights carrying 21,000 passengers occurred from 12am to 12pm of Thursday 15 August, where Cairo International airport operated 179 flights carrying 14,000 passengers.

Other airports, such as in Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, Borg El-Arab, Luxor, Sohag and Assiut conducted 54 departure/arrival flights carrying 7,000 passengers.

The ministry spokesman confirmed that hospitality beverages and meals were offered to arriving passengers unable to reach their homes during the curfew.

He also added that coordination had been made with concerned entities to allow passengers to move during the hours of the curfew, provided they show their passport and flight ticket to officials at checkpoints.

The minister also announced that Egyptian airspace is open for regular air traffic and none of the foreign communities requested to leave the country. Fadel praised the efforts of civil aviation staff and their eagerness to maintain normal air traffic and continue serving passengers.

Fadel said the national air carrier, EgyptAir, will allow passengers on flights after 9pm to begin check-in procedures starting from 5pm, before the curfew begins. He also gave directives to exempt passengers from demurrage or any fees in case of delays due to road traffic.

Uganda News

NKURINGO RISING

(Posted 17th August 2013)

(Picture of Bwindi, as seen from the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp, courtesy of Robert Brierley / Nkuringo Gorilla Camp)

I was never so happy to see a Boda Boda’ …

I am sure that got you sit up and take notice, probably thinking ‘Wolfgang, the venerable Prof on a boda boda? Surely not!’ but yes, that is exactly as it was. But let me start from the beginning of what was to become quite an extraordinary experience if not outright adventure.

Flying in style on one of the Aeroclub’s (www.flyuganda.com) state of the art Cessna 208B Grand Caravans, driven by none other than their star acrobatic flier Capt. Howard Davenport, I embarked from the Kajjansi airfield one early morning, enroute to the Kayonza Tea Estate airfield. Once we crossed the Entebbe runway centre line, and after reaching our cruising altitude of 8.500 feet the flight was smooth all the way to South Western Uganda. The Kanyonza airstrip is maintained and managed by the Gorilla Forest Camp in Buhoma and Peninah Kesiime is the one who logs every aircraft in and out, which on a daily basis now pick up and discharge their passengers who want to reach Uganda’s prime gorilla tracking site of Bwindi in style and with ease. Flying saves visitors that crucial time, so important after coming all that way to see the Pearl of Africa and wanting to spend time in the parks and not on the road to the parks. The introduction of ‘per seat charters’ or as we used to say in the old days ‘coach services’ has gone a long way to attract more passengers. The cost of flying has come down considerably, compared to having to pay for a full charter flight, empty legs included when the aircraft has to return empty or arrive empty to pick passengers and even locals are now taking advantage of affordable fares to fly to Kayonza, or alternatively, depending on weather, the Savannah Resort airfield in Kihihi.

(Capt. Howard Davenport in front of his aircraft)

Tourists using the air option find their safari operators’ 4×4 vehicles waiting for them to drive them within half an hour, perhaps a little longer, to their camp or lodge at the fringe of Bwindi, where today an array of such establishments, from very budget to very posh, can be booked. Alternatively, the camps and lodges outside the Buhoma park gate of Bwindi will be happy to arrange, at a cost of course, to pick up clients and drop them back.

I in contrast had made no prior arrangements to have a 4×4 standing by at the airstrip, for no other reason but to find out just how easy, or difficult it would be to get to the park and share the experience with my readers. All I knew was that I had to make my way, by hook or crook, to Buhoma, where I was to be met by my guides by mid morning to hike across the forest. Failing to do so in time would throw my itinerary into doubt as by late afternoon I was expected at the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp, also home to Nkuringo Walking Safaris, my hosts for the next few days.

The passing pickup trucks and saloons were all full, so Peninah was good enough to arrange for a boda boda to take me, and after some successful haggling I was on the way. BUT, this was so not the moment that ‘I was never so happy to see a Boda Boda’, not by a long shot.

(Silagi Mugasha who delivered me and my bags from the Kayonza airstrip to the Buhoma park gate)

When reaching the park entrance, an hour or so later as the bike ran out of fuel in between, both guide and porter from Nkuringo Walking Safaris were already waiting for me, and none other than Nkuringo’s lead guide Asgario was there himself, who had come across the forest in the morning to give me the red carpet treatment along the trails.

Bwindi is of course primarily known for gorilla tracking, now offering 12 habituated groups, the most in any of the gorilla range countries, but it was not for the gorillas I had come but for ‘all the other stuff’ as one operator in Kampala had put it when we discussed the trip. And all the other stuff is plenty indeed, including mountain biking and hiking, bird watching, orchid discovery and butterfly ‘hunts’, to mention but a few of the activities tourists now find readily available, over and above the tracking.

(At the Buhoma gate of Bwindi National Park)

Nkuringo Walking Safaris, the undisputed pioneer of hikes in Bwindi Forest and around the greater Nkuringo, Nteko and Kisoro area, including hikes up Mts. Mgahinga, Muhavura and Sabinyo, have built their reputation based on the quality of their guides, all 6 of them I eventually met while in camp, besides lead guide and co-owner Asgario who was born and grew up in Nkuringo and learned his craft and skills from own observations but also his formal guide and tourism training while working for the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

The seven of them seem to know all there is to know when leading their guests through the various trails across and around Bwindi, do the community trails around the Nkuringo and Nteko area or hike the 29 kilometres to Lake Mutanda and even on to Kisoro and beyond. They explain about birds, butterflies, medicinal and other plants, shrubs and trees along the way in a way as others introduce their friends or talk about football, with passion. Their experience and enthusiasm is evidence how much they enjoy their work in the field and sharing their knowledge with erstwhile strangers who leave as friends.

The self guided trail in Bwindi has for some time been closed by UWA, mainly to promote the use of guides with knowledge of the flora and fauna of the forest and they of course use the main trails, accompanied by UWA rangers who can act as a protective detail should one encounter the forest elephants which roam Bwindi.

Bwindi is an immensely varied ecosystem and biodiversity hotspot, rich in birds, visitors can find more than 350 species overall, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics and 14 found nowhere else in Uganda. The pickings are almost equally rich in butterflies and the park is home to some 200 including 42 endemic species. In addition visitors find plenty of orchids, can explore some of the over 400 regular and medicinal plants, shrubs and trees and see, some luck permitting along the trails, a few of the around 110 recorded mammals in addition to the different primates for which the park is known around the world. Elevations range between 1.160 metres to over 2.600 metres, an indication of the terrain’s topographical altitude variations and one of the reasons the forest is called impenetrable. Bwindi, formally made a park under the then Uganda National Parks in 1991 became one of Uganda’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994 and has for 2013, as for previous years, again attained TripAdvisor’s ‘Certificate of Excellence’.

(Best trips indeed, made in Uganda The Pearl of Africa – where else)

The cross forest trails though are well developed, and are relatively easy to hike, never too steep and never to dull either. Sturdy boots, add rainskins and water proof gear to that too, are of course a must, especially as some sections of the trails can become slippery after rain, and it does rain regularly in Bwindi, at times with fearsome thunderstorms offloading from above, soaking unprepared hikers to the skin.

The forest’s expanse is only understood, when either flying over it or else see it from the side of Nkuringo or Nteko, where it is becoming clear where the byname ‘impenetrable’ came from. 5 rivers and several smaller streams emerge from the forest, and when traversing the terrain, especially when tracking gorillas off the main trails, it soon becomes clear that thick undergrowth, steep descends to the rivers and equally steep ascends out of the many such places can take its toll. The hiking trails in contrast are clear of growth, lest for some fallen trees which however are regularly cleared off the tracks, and when starting hikes from Buhoma, the trail is wide enough for the first few miles to even use a 4×4, which of course is NOT allowed inside the forest, and not even done by UWA.

When entering the forest proper, the first sight in the tree tops was a Great Blue Turaco, which showed all its splendid colours lit up by rays of the sun falling on the bird, before in a sudden flash it flew off. This was followed by many more sightings, as Bwindi is home to some 350+ species, a treasure cove for birders.

(Source: Uganda Wildlife Authority)

Along the trails, the growth is on many places truly impenetrable, on occasions more open and then revealing the steep fall of the terrain towards one of the many streams, the sound of gushing water clearly audible but not seen as the vegetation is simply too thick.

At times, hardly a ray of sunlight falls to the forest floor and few glades are found along the main trails and in the deep of the forest the silence is the loudest, only interrupted by some sudden burst of bird calls, the crackle of a tree branch breaking off and crashing down or the soft voiced explanations of the guides, pointing out another orchid, bird or plant or showing a spoor left by a mammal which must have crossed the trail. Half way across the forest are the hikers welcomed by a rather rudimentary little shelter, where some snacks can be taken, and the guides and rangers watch with Argus eyes that all wrappings are duly returned into the back pack and NOTHING is left on site on which some animal could choke, and that includes empty water bottles and in particular the shrink wrappers which now litter the entire country. Notably did the guides periodically bend down to pick something from the forest floor which did not belong there, and stowed it in their pockets for proper disposal outside Bwindi.

The real test of mettle and stamina though comes at the end of the hike, whether one takes the slightly shorter trail towards the Nteko side or the longer route towards Nkuringo proper, when, after leaving the park and crossing the boundary Kashasha river, a climb of as much as 2.000 feet in elevation has to be conquered, before seeing wider tracks and roads again. From the river crossing, over a rough bridge made of timber, hikers are held in awe as there is Nkuringo rising ahead and towering above, almost as impenetrable as the forest one just left behind.

Late in the afternoon were herds of cattle, which come down daily to the river to drink and find pasture, driven up that steep escarpment, and when overtaking them, due to the width of the path rather squeezing by or through them, one better is aware that what goes into a cow … yes, no further explanation needed but caution is advisable, as the shrieks of another group of hikers, following us at some distance, indicated they must have found out at their cost – and at a location where the showers were still miles off.

The climb, unlike the trail through the park which worked out as the proverbial walk in the park, does take some stamina though the guides lead on at the pace of the slowest hiker in their group, in my case at my pace, being the only one though they do take in average some 5 or 6 clients at a go.

Eventually though, the sight of eucalyptus tree clusters above and the emerging chatter of people signaled the end of the test of will and strength, and when the trail, now wider again, eventually leveled off, lo and behold, ‘I was never so happy to see a boda boda’.

About a dozen or so were lined up, to ferry those hikers who had their fill for the day, by motor bike to their final destination, the camp sites or lodges near and around the Nkuringo village.

The hardiest hikers though soldiered on, another two hours or three depending on their pace, while for yours truly it was a half hour on that boda boda, across some of the arguably worst roads in the entire Republic of Uganda, rocky, rutted, ruthless on the bikes but also on the passengers who got tossed about on the back of the boda boda, making me at the end of that half hour say ‘I was never so happy to be off a Boda Boda’ …

All in all though it was worth spending the 12.000 Uganda Shillings for the ride, make that times two for the guide and the porter too, as in our case a thunderstorm, which has been chasing us across the forest with thunder growing louder by the minute, threatened to finally catch us, and when it did, we were safely installed already at the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp, had our orientation and tea and were able to put our feet up and replay the best moments of the day’s hike.

The staff at the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp, my base for the next few days, had lined up as we drove into the compound, and relieved of the baggage, a cup of tea was offered, much needed after the long hours in the forest when bottle after bottle of the water carried disappeared down thirsty throats. The check in was swiftly completed and then the eager staff helped all the newly arrived guests to get installed in either the self contained cottages, the Virunga Terrace rooms or the tents, aptly named ‘lazy camping’ where habitual campers find all they would otherwise have to carry with them, spare blankets on the bed included. Lazy Camping is a budget option, the Virunga rooms offer a mid prized alternative and those with the addiction for something more posh, the cottages will do just fine for them. At present the camp can accommodate about 25 guests in tents, rooms and the cottages but a new two bedroom family cottage is under construction, bringing that number to eventually about 30. That one, when ready, will offer a full 180 degree view over Bwindi and will no doubt make for magic moments at sunrise, when from the valleys of Bwindi the fog rises as the sun emerges red behind the forest from its regular night stop.

That number of guests, between 25 and 30 maximum, leaves the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp, which is also the base for Nkuringo Walking Safaris, still small enough to find the unique Ugandan hospitality marked by smiles galore and staff rushing off to get another cold one, or pot of tea as may apply, and large enough to cater for slightly larger groups who now come in growing numbers from abroad to hike this remote corner of Uganda, which is bordered by Congo as well as Rwanda, all within sight and all adding to the appeal of the area. Visitors during my stay came from Spain, Austria, Germany, the UK, the US and Japan, perhaps other countries too, and at the communal dining table, animated tales were told, of their encounter with the gorillas or what adventure they met on the trails, mainly to do with ‘stuck trucks and pick ups’ which needed pushing out of the mud along the main roads, if that is what one prefers to call the motorable surface.

While, and a rare compliment here, UMEME has been busy planting their poles and stringing up the wires, from Butagota towards Buhoma – the works are perhaps 80 percent complete – and from Kisoro to Nkuringo – which is now waiting to be switched on any time soon – the roads are in part horrific and during heavy rain at times impassable. This is a crying shame for the district of Kisoro which benefits so much from tourism and also of course for the central government, which for years has been singing, like a broken record, that roads to tourism attractions must and will be done up. That tourism still prospers under such circumstances, is largely attributed to the local tourism and hospitality businesses which engage with the local population, fill the worst potholes themselves and by providing jobs and buying produce encourage the local villagers to willingly push cars out of the mud during the rainy season, giving tourists a sense of adventure rather than dwelling on the bad roads, were they for instance stuck overnight. Anyone gone through that will remember the friendly chorus of children shouting ‘Muzungu Muzungu’ while the adults wave hands and are less vocal in their greetings, but greet warmly nevertheless.

The view from the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp, perched on top of the Nkuringo ridge, is simply superb, be it towards Bwindi with the Congo DR in the distance or across the valleys towards Rwanda, where the volcanoes are forming a spectacular backdrop, leaving first time visitors in sheer awe.

I of all people know of course that luxury has many definitions and at the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp the luxury came in with steaming hot showers, albeit in communal but spotlessly clean facilities and the swift appearance of a pot of African tea, freshly brewed and served with the broadest smiles. It is often those little things which in our own personal views make a place and define its standing and Nkuringo Gorilla Camp and Nkuringo Walking Safaris for sure made an impact, not just on me but the other 24 guests who stayed there during my visit. Good home cooked meals start every day with a hearty breakfast, cereals and then eggs prepared to order, lunch comprising a single dish with second helpings readily available and a three course supper, soup, main course and desert all made the dining room chatter fall silent, a sign that the food was good enough to deserve some single minded attention. No wonder that TripAdvisor comments by clients catapulted the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp into the accommodation category awarded with a Certificate of Excellence, a sign of consistently good ratings and evaluation by the TA team.

But if that was not enough, the two companies also support the local Nkuringo community, not just with jobs and purchases of vegetables, eggs and poultry, but also through a recently created foundation, the Adept Foundation, which supports education in the neighbourhood, providing stipends for students attending a nursery school, preschool and primary education from P1 to presently P4.

The Nkuringo Gorilla Camp was the first Ugandan lodge to attain a 100 percent carbon neutral certification, not the least for the extensive use of solar water heaters and solar electricity generation. Located at just over 2.160 metres high, the lodge provides an ideal access point for gorilla tracking and several groups are found relatively nearby, such as the Nkuringo group itself and a little further Nshongi, Kahungye and Mishaya among others. Guests staying at the camp however not only come for tracking, some in fact come exclusively for the hiking trips now on offer and the rare opportunity to hike or bike across rural Africa, safely of course.

And how this came about narrated Rob, one of the three co-owners and faithful ally to Uganda Tourism through his site www.traveluganda.travel, when he said to me: ‘It was in 2002 during a visit to Kisoro whilst chatting with two backpackers at The Virunga Hotel I said to them it had to be possible to canoe and [then] walk to Buhoma from [Kisoro] by way of Lake Mutanda. I met them later in Cairo of all places where they said they had managed to make the traverse of the lake and the forest to Buhoma. These two guys pioneered the route for all intents and purposes.

In 1996 I made my first visit to Mgahinga National Park to climb the volcanoes of the Virunga having driven from South Africa in VW Camper Bus. I made several further climbs of these volcanoes in the following years. I really loved the challenge of climbing Mount Sabinyo most especially and whenever in the locality it was on my ‘must do again’ list. Asigario was one of the UWA guides at Mgahinga although I do not ever recall trekking with him. He was aware of my role in the Uganda Travel Planner initiative and asked me to come to Nkuringo to see if I could do something to establish a presence on the Travel Planner website for what was then the Nkuringo Campsite.

A tour of the campsite as it was could been done in the blink of an eye. Those first visit pictures [I] shared with you from 2007 speak for themselves. My gut feeling after experiencing the drive in from Kisoro was that making a business work in Nkuringo was a non starter. I could certainly help to promote the campsite on the Travel Planner website where any involvement in helping to develop the facility was not on the agenda or even discussed.

I did stay a while longer that first visit to have a chat with Asigario warming our open hands over the embers of a campfire. I casually shared the idea of a walking activity between Buhoma and the volcanoes with Nkuringo being an overnight stop on this multiday trek. The views from the site that day were incredible even jaw droppingly spectacular. The place was very special that was true.

After the habituation of the Nkuringo gorilla group in 2004 a parallel sustainable tourism initiative other than that on the table proposed by ICGP and the establishment of what is the Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge was likely never envisaged as being tenable. An alternative activity that was to be complimentary to those coming [to] Bwindi for gorilla tracking where a pooling of skills and very little seed capital has certainly seen the birth of a sustainable tourism activity benefiting many well beyond the boundary of the forest’.

Rob, Lydia and Asgario took that leap into the unknown and succeeded beyond their own wildest dreams. Nkuringo Rising, from the Kashasha river valley up the steep escarpment but also in terms of business and acceptance by the market, today is an integral part of tourism in South Western Uganda and has brought significant improvements to the livelihood of the communities in Nkuringo, Nteko and beyond.

Surprisingly though, there are still many gaps in knowledge in Kampala and beyond of what has in recent years happened in Nkuringo and I hope that this narrative will make more people aware and get more people out of the armchairs, put their hiking boots on, shoulder their backpacks and head for Bwindi and Nkuringo as I did.

This trip was made possible through the generous support of the AeroClub (www.flyuganda.com), the Uganda Wildlife Authority (www.ugandawildlife.org) and last but not least the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp (www.gorillacamp.com) and Nkuringo Walking Safaris (www.nkuringowalkingsafaris.com), all keen to showcase what exciting new tourism products are available, from scheduled flying to hiking across Bwindi and beyond to a camp which can cater for literally all pockets. Time surely to pack that gear into a back pack and head to the South West of Uganda, by air, by bus or by car, to explore what surely has become one of the country’s primary tourism hubs. Welcome to one of the best kept secrets of the Pearl of Africa’.

ANOTHER OUTBREAK HITS UGANDA

(Posted 17th August 2013)

Government sources yesterday late afternoon confirmed the presence of at least one confirmed case of the Congo Crimean virus, which causes a lesser kind of hemorrhagic fever, not as deadly as Ebola or Marburg in the recent past but a contagious disease nevertheless.

The alpha patient has reportedly died and one more patient been admitted to a local hospital and is under strict quarantine similar to practiced during past outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg in the country, with health ministry personnel reacting quickly once the symptoms had been communicated to them and the Uganda Virus Research Institute confirmed the presence of the virus.

Several individuals thought to have been in contact with the two initial patients have also been taken into isolation to prevent the spread of the disease.

The location of the single outbreak was given as the recently established district of Agago in the North of Uganda, and suspicions are now flying high and low of how the virus could have been transmitted, with ticks or other insects very likely to be the source. This is the first ever such recorded case in Uganda and health ministry staff are working hand in hand with WHO staffers and other virus research personnel to learn as much about the virus as possible. Congo Crimean has a fatality rate of some 40 percent, unlike the more potent Ebola and Marburg variants, where over 90 percent of the patient normally die.

Tourism stakeholders were quick out of the starting blocks reassuring their clientele that the location was distant from where any tourist would pass on a standard or even tailored itinerary and pointed to the WHO communiqué that NO travel advisories were needed due to the location and being contained already.

Open and ready to do business in the face of adversity, a hallmark of The Pearl of Africa.

KARUMA FALLS GROUNDBREAKING SIGNALS START TOWARDS 600 MW OF ADDED POWER

(Posted 13th August 2013)

President Yoweri Museveni yesterday performed the ground breaking ceremony for the proposed 600 MW Karuma Falls hydro electric plant, for which contracts had only been signed weeks earlier after a long drawn out wrangle between bidders, Uganda’s public review and complaints office at the Inspector General of Government in the process of which allegations of fraud and corruption were flying high and low.

The new power plant, due to come on line in either late 2016 or early / mid 2017, after a construction period of between 3 to 4 years, will provide Uganda’s growing economy with much needed additional power sources, as the more recently introduced Bujagali plant’s capacity is already being rapidly absorbed.

The rollout of rural electrification too will add extra demand to the market and the construction start at Karuma cannot come soon enough. A second contract to construct another hydro electric power plant on the Nile has also been signed recently, again with a Chinese firm which according to information available will also arrange for the require financing. The President, when breaking ground, in fact hailed the economic partnership with China, where in his words the financial arrangements are free from a string of terms and conditions normally attached to loan finance by the World Bank, the IFC or bilateral arrangements.

The Karuma project, including the necessary power lines to connect the plant fully to the national grid, is estimated at 1.65 billion US Dollars, explaining the enthusiasm of President Museveni when he said ‘I salute this partnership with China’. While for this project China has already provided up to half a billion US Dollars in loans, another half a billion US Dollar loan has been agreed with Uganda for another 200 MW hydro electric plant at Isimba, some 40 kilometres downstream from Bujagali.

The added 800 MW, when finally on line in a few years time, will help to further industrialise the country and crucially provide more households with access to electricity, substituting firewood and charcoal and thus aiding the protection of forests, which at present are over harvested.

SEAFOOD GALORE AT SHERATON

(Posted 11th August 2013)

The periodic food events in Kampala, organized by leading hotels who often bring in acclaimed international chefs from sister hotels or from hotel organizations like The Leading Hotels of the World, are always enthusiastically received by the foodies of Uganda’s capital. Yes, foodies, that sort of gourmets and connoisseurs has evolved in Kampala over the years and they take to food events like fish to the water. The location last week switched to the Sheraton Kampala Hotel where the chef had a range of ingredients, including seafood galore, flown in from Dubai and then prepared a feast for aficionados few who got a table will forget.

Plenty of ‘go shows’ were turned away it was learned and even a second sitting was apparently not enough to meet the demand, prompting the Director of Sales and Marketing of the hotel, James Rattos, to say:’ It was really fantastic, we had a really good crowd that was enjoying the wide spread variety of Seafood that the Chef had on offer. We actually turned away so many guests that had no reservations while others opted to wait until perhaps a seat fell vacant. On offer for the guests were king prawns, queen prawns, grilled lobster, Calamari, Crab, King Fish, Red Snapper and so much more. The guests were so happy with the spread and quality of the food that they kept asking for us to do it again’ and that is exactly what the Sheraton is planning to do in coming weeks.

Perhaps this will become a more regular feature, alongside the very popular Friday evening ‘Mediterranean Night’ which draws large crowds to the Sheraton every week, with live music of course and during the dry season partly outdoors to enjoy the warm Kampala evenings the city is so famous for. Food anyone ??? Be sure to watch this space to find out exactly where the next goodies are served.

Kenya News

KAA’S GICHUKI FINALLY SACKED

(Posted `17th August 2013)

In a long overdue move was the CEO of the Kenya Airport Authority, Stephen Gichuki, finally sacked, following the disastrous fire two weeks ago at Kenya’s main international airport, Jomo Kenyatta International.

While in any such circumstances CEO’s would very likely offer their resignation, a civilized way of acknowledging failure of such epic proportions, Gichuki tried to hang on to a job which saw him preside over demolition squads both outside as well as inside the airport – the recent illegal demolition of the duty free shops is just one case in point – his presiding over the destruction of parts of his own airport in the end was not survivable.

Gichuki, whose term of office already started under a cloud with open allegations of patronage, nepotism and favouritism, headed the KAA when an avalanche of issues raised vis a vis the construction of Terminal 4 and more so the planned Greenfield Terminal dogged his tenure at the top with repeated calls in the past for his removal.

Once actually suspended by his board, another saga all in itself with former transport minister Kimunya knee deep in the mud of corporate infighting, he clawed his way back by obtaining a court order against his own chairman of the board, a situation which ultimately made working together literally impossible, and finally now leading to his downfall, among other reasons as stated before.

It is understood that the board exercised the right not to offer Gichuki an renewal of his contract which was due to end in October and sent him on terminal leave pending the selection of a new KAA CEO.

Meanwhile was Ms. Lucy Mbugua, presently General Manager Marketing and Business Development, appointed Acting CEO and has her work cut out already.

The board, following Gichuki’s failure of making an impact on sorting out the JKIA challenges for international arrivals and departures, has directed her to immediately embark on the following measures to improve passenger handling: ‘

The JKIA parking garage will within three weeks be converted into a temporary arrival hall housing immigration and customs points to move out of the tented structures.

Unit 2 Departures between Gates 4 and 8 will be made operational immediately for Kenya Airways’ departures.

Unit 1 Check in will within the space of 3 weeks be modified for the use of all other airlines for check in of passengers.

A larger temporary terminal will be established and operational within 2 months.

Parts of the new Terminal 4 must be completed for use by airlines by the end of this year, while work in other areas will continue on a 24 / 7 basis to bring forward the commissioning of the new terminal building from the projected dates in mid to late 2014.

Aviation sources were prompt to react to the news in essence saying good riddance to bad rubbish, though using words unfit to be repeated here, blaming Gichuki and his administration for failing to implement a range of findings made during past fire drills while concentrating on politicking and showboating. ‘I can point you to at least a half dozen others who should follow Gichuki and be sacked too. KAA now has a chance to be professionalized on the top and though Gichuki worked at KAA for long, his career collapsed in thin air. He was appointed instead of a more competent person and this is the prize Kenya has to pay for such nepotism’.

Reports coming in from JKIA however speak of largely exemplary behaviour from airline staff as well as from the staff of government agencies for arriving and departing passengers to make a very difficult situation easier to bear, while more remedies are now being out into place on the fast track. Watch this space.

SKAL IS HEADING TO DIANI BEACH’S CHUI FOR REGIONAL GET TOGETHER

(Posted 13th August 2013)

The two Kenyan Skal Clubs, Nairobi and Kenya Coast, have now rescheduled their planned coastal getaway and announced the weekend of September 20th to 23rd, with a Beach BBQ Dinner scheduled for Saturday the 21st of September to be the one to mark in the calendar as ‘must be there’.

Ugandan Skal friends from the Chapter 611 Kampala Club have been invited too for a long overdue reunion, and with Air Uganda flying direct from Entebbe to Mombasa, as does Kenya Airways via Nairobi, there are plenty of options how to get to Diani Beach’s finest resort for a weekend of sun and fun. In fact, anyone flying to the coast from Nairobi has the added option to fly from Wilson Airport with Safarilink, which serves the Ukunda airstrip with a daily flight, and as the both John Buckley and Anu Vohora are also Skal members, a deal for sure can be negotiated with them.

Kampala’s Skal President Ms. Monalisa Aman, has already started to lobby the Ugandan membership for attendance and their Kenyan colleagues will be extending the traditional Skal friendship to them, and in fact any other international member who, following this report, will attend the function. Go Skal, Go Leopard Beach.

RIFT VALLEY FESTIVAL ANTE PORTAS

(Posted 12th August 2013)

The legendary Fisherman’s Camp, already a venue for fun weekends in my younger days, located directly on the shores of Lake Naivasha, will be the location for this year’s Rift Valley Festival, which will be co-hosted by social event organizers Blankets and Wine which is moving their own fete into the Rift Valley for what will for all purposes be an overnight trip for many, able to relax and let the hair down.

Also partnering is the Kenya Tourism Board, where their staff dealing with the local market leave no opportunity go by without promoting their #TembeaKenya campaign which aims to increase domestic travel by Kenyans and expatriates alike, and especially off the beaten track.

For more details, on the bands playing, the facilities available, the way to get there and alternative overnight places like the Lake Naivasha Country Club or their Kiboko Camp, visit info.

One day tickets sell for 2.000 Kenya Shillings and for 4.000 Kenya Shillings for the entire weekend. Camp sites will no doubt be booked up soon, as well lodges and camps nearby the venue, so remember, there is no time like the present to make arrangements and have some serious fun, time out and help raise funds for the Ross’ brothers community support programmes.

KENYA AIRWAYS TAKES THE BROADSIDE OF ADDED EXPENSES AFTER JKIA FIRE

(Posted 12th August 2013)

National airline Kenya Airways has seen added cost and loss of ticket sales heaped upon it to the tune of over 4 million US Dollars, according to Dr. Titus Naikuni’s statement to the media yesterday, made in Nairobi.

Flight operations, Kenya Airways is the largest single user of JKIA, are being gradually restored and by mid week full services should be back on line, however with significant operating challenges for departing and arriving as well as connecting passengers due to the logistical problems airlines now encounter at JKIA.

Arrivals is totally burned down. Domestic has been shifted to the cargo side which required additional transport from Unit 3 where passengers come out after the clear immigration and customs. In the past it was just crossing the road by foot, now they need car transport. International arrival have to crowd through Unit 3 which was tailored to cater for domestic flights and departures too need basically more space than they have right now. These challenges will remain for all airlines but especially for KQ because they operate the most aircraft with the most flights to the most destinations from Nairobi’ said a regular JKIA based aviation source, shedding some light on what airline personnel now have to cope with in order to minimize inconvenience to passengers.

Aviation observers are divided on two issues at present, the full scale of the cost the airlines affected by the fire will need to absorb and secondly if they have an recourse to file insurance claims or liability claims, something which is presently being assessed by legal teams looking at ways and means to recover ad hoc expenses, which in the case of Kenya Airways could rise to well in excess of the figure now quoted by their CEO.

Meanwhile has the government apparently given the green light to KAA to go ahead and construct a temporary terminal facility able to process up to 2.5 million passengers per annum, a solution which a few months ago was discarded due to the cost but is now being revived as a result of the massive fire damage. Added the source: ‘Previously they felt that this added expense could not be justified and rather tried to accelerate the completion of the new Terminal 4. Now that has all changed. They are pushing left right and centre to have Terminal 4 ready on the fast track by end of Q1 next year but also now need options before the entire arrivals complex can be rebuilt. That in effect is now pulling forward that section of the airport because after Terminal 4 is complete, the present Unit 1 and 2 were to be refurbished and rehabilitated if not expanded in stages along with arrivals.

If they spend the money to put up that temporary terminal building, which I gather is sort of prefab and only assembled at JKIA, at least it is a bridging measure, not just till Terminal 4 is finished but also until Greenfield is completed in 2016 or 17.

In a related development it was also confirmed that Kenya Airways will go ahead with the deliveries of 2 more Embraer 190 jets and a B777 between the end of this month and the end of the year. A usually well informed individual close to the action at Embakasi said: ‘The fire is a big issue but the airline cannot just stop aircraft deliveries. The expansion of destinations and increase in flight frequencies is ongoing. The problems on the ground with handling now affect everyone, Kenya Airways most because they are the biggest airport user in Kenya. But life goes on and KQ is looking at the future’.

Insurance assessors are now on site at JKIA to start their painstaking work to compile and monetize the losses, for not just KAA and other government organs but shops, banks, car hire firms and airlines. It is unclear if KAA has in fact insurance which covers the loss of advertising revenues and royalties until such time that the facility can be re-opended, or if in fact shop owners and others may not seek admission of liability from KAA and claim damages in compensation for their losses. Watch this space for future updates.

HOTEL PRIVATISATION SUFFERS ANOTHER SETBACK

(Posted 12th August 2013)

The finishing line tape for the privatization of government held shared in the Mountain Lodge, the Hilton Nairobi and the InterContinental Hotel Nairobi suddenly seems to get more distant again, rather than coming closer, as more recent announcements suggested this may go into the final stretch by August this year.

Repeatedly delayed in the past, for various reasons, the latest delay is according to the Privatization Commission of Kenya a result of missing information required to complete the due diligence, before an asking price can be set for the share, which then must be offered to existing shareholders under a first right of refusal clause.

A Nairobi based source indicated that two out of the three properties singled out for the first round of selling off such stakes, are nearly complete – though suggesting delays there too – while information from the third unit appears far from complete.

The need of government for more funds to finance their ambitious election campaign promises, combined with having to find at least 25 million US Dollars to repair the damage of the recent fire at JKIA, left the government with little choice but to sell off some of the share assets held in hotels and lodges, though there will be a fair amount of arguments over the expected variances in asking and offering prices for those shares.

While there is little doubt that Serena Hotels will happily take over the share of Mountain Lodge, a property they have invested in and been managing now for many years, the sale of the Hilton shares may prove more difficult to accomplish, as the shareholders then, in addition to that expense, must find the funds to co-finance the long delayed refurbishment of this downtown hotel, which in recent years has lost its shine and lustre and requires a massive capital expense to try and lift the property back to acceptable Hilton standards.

At the InterContinental Hotel though two key shareholder groups have already indicated their both interest to acquire the shares government intends to sell, raising the prospect of one trying to outbid the other to the benefit of government earning more than forecast.

Be that as it may, the new delay is not boding well for the completion of the transaction, which the source in Nairobi now puts into 2014, rather than completing all three divestitures in 2013 as was anticipated.

Watch this space for regular and breaking news updates from Eastern Africa’s vibrant and fast expanding hospitality sector.

THE CHUI MAKES 5 NOMINATIONS FOR THE WORLD TRAVEL AWARDS

(Posted 12th August 2013)

The Leopard Beach Resort and Spa, arguably the resort with the highest reputation and greatest magnetic pull for thousands of repeat and many more new guests at Diani Beach, has made an astonishing 5 nominations for the World Travel Awards 2013, which will be hosted by the Kenya Tourism Board on the 16th of October in Nairobi.

The Chui, as the resort is fondly known by its friends, won over the past years 6 consecutive ‘Leading Coast Hotel’ awards by Kenya’s foremost travel and lifestyle magazine Travel News and for 2011 and 2012 the WTA Award as ‘Best Resort in Kenya’, giving rise to justified hope a hatrick is actually within reach this year.

The Leopard Beach is currently also in the final stage of constructing 28 fully furnished 2 and 3 bedroom villas within the sprawling resort complex, adding the first such innovation to the Kenya coast. Forest and Pool Villas, all of them of course with their own pool, offer privacy for guests and great comfort levels, almost like transferring the familiar surrounds of home, with sitting and dining room and a small kitchenette into the exotic location of Diani Beach. The Lemongrass, a self professed fusion restaurant, will serve as lunch and dinner spot alike for guests of the villas, though the main restaurants in the resort, including the one and only Chaine de Rotisseur member restaurant at the South Coast, are also open to eat where they choose.

Only recently has the Chui also introduced an added gourmet meal option for resident guests, and for outside patrons subject to space in their Chui Grill, when they launched a Saturday night five course feast, inclusive of specially selected wines for each course from their extensive wine list which comprises nearly 70 choices.

Voting ends on the 27th of August, and like a few others mentioned here recently, the Chui undoubtedly deserves your consideration, for a visit as well as for your vote via http://www.worldtravelawards.com/vote-for-leopard-beach-resort-spa-2013 – Magical Kenya at its best no doubt.

Rwanda News

RWANDAIR AND AIR UGANDA SIGN CODE SHARE AGREEMENT

(Posted 17th August 2013)

Earlier this week did RwandAir and Air Uganda put pen to paper, signing a code share deal which will bring the number of departures between Kigali and Entebbe to 24 a week for each airline, up from the previously operated 17 and 7 respectively.

RwandAir and Air Uganda have both agreed to offer competitive fares and rates with respect to the code shared flights and both carriers will, according to a media release received, make every effort to promote mutually beneficial joint fares. With this agreement now in place should the passengers of both airlines will benefit from added departure options while being assured that their interest when flying on the partner’s service, will attract equally attention. It is expected that the codeshare partnership with Air Uganda will benefit travel between the two countries, considering the reduced traveling time of just 35 minutes vis a vis a full day by bus.

RwandAir is committed to providing our customers with easy and convenient access to our destinations; this new codeshare relationship with Air Uganda affirms that commitment’ said John Mirenge RwandAir CEO on the occasion of signing the deal while in response, Cornwell Muleya, CEO of Air Uganda answered: ‘We are happy to sign this agreement with RwandAir, mainly because of the convenience it offers to our customers and the travelling public. With this partnership, we are confident that business and tourism will grow between our respective countries, because of the increased flight options and flexibility for travel’.

The flights can be booked through the respective airline sales offices as well as on line via www.RwandAir.com and www.air-uganda.com and will earn miles on both carrier’s frequent flier schemes.

Ethiopian News

EXPLOSIVE DEVICE DEFUSED AT ADDIS ABABA’S BOLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

(Posted 17th August 2013)

Ethiopian security operatives are credited with preventing a potential explosion at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport, when they on Friday detected and then successfully defused what appeared to be an improvised explosive device in the departure terminal.

The operation, during which the terminal area was temporarily cleared of passengers, delayed flights but no travelers came to any harm. It could at the time of posting not be confirmed through regular sources in Addis, what suspicion security and police have in regards of potential perpetrators but having been involved in the Somalia conflict and combating radical groups opposed to the government in Addis, operating from the safe distance across the borders in neighbouring countries, it is obvious that such groups will be one of the main targets for the unfolding investigation. It is equally a mystery right now how, in view of the tight terminal security at Addis, the explosives could have been brought inside, again a key focus now of the investigation to find any loopholes in the security cordons.

Addis Ababa, courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s leading airline, is one of the continent’s busiest hubs for not just visitors to Ethiopia but connecting across the entire Africa, and flight delays will take a day or two to clear before all scheduled departures are back to normal.

Seychelles News

NEW FERRY ADDS CAPACITY TO MAHE – PRASLIN ROUTE

(Posted 13th August 2013)

A brand new catamaran ferry will be joining the fleet of Cat Cocos to add much needed capacity for the growing number of locals and tourists going by sea from the main island of Mahe to Praslin.

An overall capacity of 475 seats will offer a business class section with only 15 seats, where catering of snacks and drinks is standard service, while the three deck ferry then offers the option of seating in the 23 seat Island Hopper Class or else on the main deck and the upper decks, depending on the type of ticket purchased.

The Inter Island Ferry Company has in recent years been investing in new equipment to ensure that the scheduled trips between the two largest islands of the archipelago are running with minimum delays.

The ‘Isle de Mahe’ will be formally entering service on the 20th of August, i.e. in exactly a week from today, after final touches have been made to the new ship and the crew been fully acquainted with its operation and safety procedures in a series of trial runs.

AND in closing the regular dose of news from further down south, courtesy of Gill Staden and her ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ …

ZIM-ZAM

UNWTO Preparations … only just over a week to go …

The tourism sector alongside Governments is gearing themselves for the UNWTO. There is much cooperation between the two countries as well as some healthy rivalry.

The hotels to be used in Livingstone will be The Royal Livingstone, David Livingstone Safari Lodge, Zambezi Sun, Protea Hotel, Courtyard Hotel, Chrismar Hotel and Fallsway Lodge. In Victoria Falls Town it will be Elephant Hills Hotel, Victoria Falls Hotel, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Ilala Lodge and possibly Cresta Sprayview which has just completed its renovations. All the hotels are in tip-top condition and many have undergone rehabilitation works recently. The Royal Livingstone, as an example, spent US$7million last year to upgrade its facilities – it is really now a hotel to compare with the best in the world.

The conference facilities are being set up at Elephant Hills on the Zim side and at the Falls Resort on the Zam side. All hotels have high-speed internet connection as the conference is trying to become a paperless one with no trees cut down for its deliberations!

I have not heard much about transport and the logistics of busing the delegates between each country. I really hope that the trucks are removed for the period as not only do they clog up proceedings but they are an eyesore. Also I have not heard anything about the yellow fever inoculation requirement for people visiting Zambia. It seems such a ridiculous rule when we do not have yellow fever here at all and that anyone visiting the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe does not require a yellow fever certificate and yet if they travel half a kilometre over the border to Zambia they do. Don’t we just love bureaucracy … the purpose of which often seems to be keeping people in jobs …

On the rivalry side I know that both Zambia and Zimbabwe are keen to present the best of their talents during the event. Zambia will hold a Miss Tourism Show where the best looking young ladies of Zambia will vie to become top. This will be held at Chrismar Hotel on 26th August. On the Zimbabwe side a music festival will be held at the beginning of the Congress and a Golf Tournament too. I am sure there will be lots of fringe events with both countries showing their best sides.

In the meantime the townsfolk are wondering if they will see anything of this much-hyped event. The chances are that the delegates will be holed up in meetings every day and not get the chance to see some of the local colour. But it is not the delegates that the people have to impress; it will be the camera crews from TV stations all over the world who will come. I am sure we will find them out and about in the towns, in the markets and talking to the local people.

We must all be on our best behaviour …

Rhino Stats

Rhino poaching continues on a big scale in South Africa. I have not added too many articles recently about it because it is ‘more of the same’ with obvious inside connections to allow it to continue. Also, because the sale of rhino horn is part of organised crime syndicates, there is far too much money involved. While these syndicates continue to espouse the ‘benefits’ of using rhino horn and governments in Asia doing little to contradict these claims, it will go on. Meanwhile the good men and women on the ground who fight the seemingly endless battle against the poaching should be congratulated and encouraged.

Here, though, are some statistics about rhinos, which against all odds seem to be holding their own … for now …

Status and Trends Despite high and increasing levels of poaching, both rhino species have continued to increase in the wild, with white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) up from 20,165 in 2010 to 20,405 and black rhino (Diceros bicornis) up from 4,880 in 2010 to 5,055 ( see Table below). – Emslie RH, Milliken T, and Talukdar B (2012) African and Asian Rhinoceroses – Status, Conservation and Trade. CoP16 March 2013, Doc. 54-2-Annexe 2 CITES Secretariat, Geneva, Switzerland.

Species White Rhino Black Rhino Total
Subspecies C.s.cottoni C.s.simum D.b.bicornis D.b.michaeli D.b.minor
Northern Southern Trend South Western Eastern Southern Central Trend
Angola 1 Min 1
Botswana 185 Up 9 Up 194
Kenya 4 394 Up 631 Up 1029
Malawi 26 Up 26
Mozambique 1 Down ? ? 1
Namibia 524 Up 1750 Stable 2274
South Africa 18910 Up 206 68 1770 Up 20954
Swaziland 84 Stable 18 Up 102
Tanzania 100 27 Up 127
Uganda 14 Up 14
Zambia 10 Up 27 Stable 37
Zimbabwe 283 Down 422 Down 705
Total 4 20,405 1,957 799 2,299 25,464

Although these statistics should make us smile, we all need to know that the poaching continues and that it is not just rhino horn anymore:

Customs seize HK$41m in ivory, rhino horns, leopard skins (China/Nigeria) from Associated Press

A shipment of illegal ivory, rhino horns and leopard skins worth HK$41 million was seized in Hong Kong’s second big bust of endangered species products in a month. The haul is also the latest in a string of big ivory seizures over the past year in the city.

Some 1,120 ivory tusks, 13 rhino horns and five pieces of leopard skin weighing a total of 2,266 kilograms were confiscated at Kwai Chung Container Terminal, the government announced on Wednesday.

They were found on Tuesday hidden in a shipping container declared as wood from Nigeria.

As the people from Africa we need to put the blame squarely on Asian countries who allow this practice to continue. It is an international crime. Yes, the Asian syndicates use local Africans to do the actual poaching, but we are being used … Remember that Asian wildlife has virtually disappeared because of their ancient beliefs. Do we want ours to go the same way???

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