Weekly roundup of news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands, Fourth 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

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. Reproduction of any material will require prior written consent and when consent is granted author’s credit.

This blog is powered by Smile Communications, Uganda’s first 4G LTE wireless broadband system

(Visit www.smile.co.ug or www.smilecoms.com)

Fourth edition August 2013

East Africa News

SKAL REGIONAL WEEKEND ATTRACTS FANTASTIC TOP PRIZE FOR RAFFLE

(Posted 24th August 2013)

The Skal regional weekend, hosted by the Skal Club of Kenya Coast, will celebrate the 12th anniversary of Kenya’s second club, which emerged from combining at the time Mombasa and Kenya Coast.

Skal members from Nairobi and Kampala have been invited to attend the long weekend of 20th to 22nd September, and Diani’s finest resort, the Leopard Beach Resort and Spa, has availed very special rates to attendees to bring as many Skalleagues as possible together for the celebration.

Kenya Airways has already offered a special deal on air from Nairobi to Mombasa and also from Kampala to Mombasa and it is understood that Air Uganda too, flying direct from Entebbe to Mombasa, is considering a similarly reduced fare.

The resort is preparing for a feast for the Saturday night gala dinner, where it will proverbially snow food and rain drink – most of the liquids sponsored too – to create the right atmosphere combining a warm tropical night, the sound of the surf from the beach and hospitality galore.

Skal meetings are normally affairs with lots of good raffle prizes and door prizes available, generously donated by member’s companies but the top prize on this event surely must be categorized as truly outstanding.

Kenya Airways has put up 2 business class tickets to Bangkok as the top prize, and for those who know Skal member Eric Hallin from the Bangkok Skal Club it is no surprise that he has come on board to offer 5 nights at the Rembrandt Hotel and Towers, where he is the General Manager, including access to the hotel’s executive lounge where guests have access 24 / 7 to drinks, snacks and light meals ‘on the house’.

If ever there was a reason to join the merry band of Skalleagues at the Leopard Beach Resort in four weeks time, this surely must be it. Skal to All …

ONE MONTH TO GO TO THE SECOND AFRICA HOTEL INVESTMENT FORUM

(Posted 24th August 2013)

The Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) will return to Kenya this year for the second edition of this event, taking place between the 23rd to 25th of September at the Hotel InterContinental in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

In the last three years there has been a 9.7% increase in new projects in North Africa whilst at the same time, an increase of 53% in sub-Saharan Africa (Source: African Business). In Kenya alone some 1.469 new rooms are in the ‘pipeline’, a sign how strong the demand for additional quality beds is.

East Africa is thought to be one of the continents major growth markets for hospitality investments in coming years, following the discovery of significant quantities of oil and gas but also in view of major infrastructure investments being undertaken in new ports, new railways, highways, pipelines and power projects, which are thought to spur economic growth in the high single digit or even low double digit figures. The conference will subsequently reflect on such areas as shown below, among other topics.

Highlights of the Forum programme:

THE AFRICA GROWTH STORY – WHO WILL BE THE WINNING ECONOMIES?
AFRICAN GOVERNMENTS & THE PRIVATE SECTOR
HOW ARE THE INTERNATIONAL OPERATORS TACKLING AFRICA?
FINANCE FORUM
OVERVIEW OF THE TOP TEN DESTINATIONS FOR DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA
ABC OF HOTEL DEVELOPMENT
For more information & registration visit http://www.africa-conference.com/

RIFT VALLEY RAILWAYS SET FOR MAJOR REBRANDING

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

Rift Valley Railways, for long an embattled corporate entity, largely as a result of shareholder wrangles which went from the boardroom into the media arena courtesy of South African shareholder Sheltam – since then thankfully long gone back to obscurity – is set to embark on a major rebranding exercise soon, aimed to put the past firmly behind them and recreate itself in a better image.

Public opinion about RVR is at present largely negative, as a result of what happened in the past and a media presentation by the company’s top brass yesterday availed some astonishing facts which are worth sharing.

Darlan Fabio de David, Group CEO, flanked by Cosma Gatere, Director External Affairs and Mark Rumanyika, General Manager Western based in Uganda, in a frank and candid session at the Kampala Serena Hotel answered all questions by a group of very senior journalists, after first updating what was clearly outdated knowledge among the participants.

RVR currently – besides three passengers services a week between Nairobi and Mombasa and vice versa – carries some 1.5 million metric tons of cargo per annum, down from the 70’s when the then Kenya and Uganda Railways combined carried over 4 million metric tons. They however showed cause, credible cause, that their freight volume by 2015/16 financial year will again rise to match those historical statistics, after investing some 287 million US Dollars in line refurbishment, wagon and locomotive rehabilitation, purchases of new rolling stock and locomotives and the introduction of a state of the art tracking and train / cargo management system, itself costing a cool 20 million US Dollars alone.

RVR, now owned besides Egypt’s Citadel by two partners from Kenya and Uganda, has already spent 156 million US Dollars, almost four times their required benchmark investment requirement of 40 million US Dollars, which the present concession demanded of them. Much of that money went into the refurbishment of some 28 locomotives, rolling stock of wagons and the complete overhaul of over 70 kilometres of track on the Mombasa to Nairobi section, which was responsible for nearly 70 percent of the incidents reported from the line. Added improvements along the Ugandan tracks comprised the complete rebuilding of several key culverts, equally responsible for line blockages in the past after heavy rains, but now no longer an issue.

As a result have speeds increased with the best yet performance of a train from Mombasa to Kampala taking 4 days, a figure RVR in the future intends to reduce to 2.5 days, BUT with the qualification that the current average 22 days include totally unacceptable delays due to red tape and failure by revenue authorities to align their paperwork and cargo processing reaching up to 14 added days of delays in port, at borders and the end point of the line.

In the cross hairs of the RVR management now are some added 366 km of track for refurbishment for which purpose they have imported two track maintenance units which can complete up to a kilometre per hour compared to a few metres by traditional rail line work gangs.

Further good news were presented about the long disused line from Tororo via Gulu to Pakwach, on which trial runs with short freight trains have now taken place, using one small locomotive and up to 10 wagons, giving rise to hope that with some added work such loads can be gradually increased and offer a viable added transport option for goods to and from South Sudan, which can be loaded on to trains at Gulu station, as well as to and from Eastern Congo, for loading at Pakwach. ‘Speeds can now reach an average of 45 kilometres an hour, which compares with for instance Brazilian experiences where on narrow or metre gauge lines the speeds now stand at 55 to even 65 kilometres per hour. Some 15 or 20 years ago Brazil faced a similar situation like Kenya and Uganda with their railways but it was possible to turn around the fortunes of the railway system. One line from Bel Horizonte now carries more than 4 times as much cargo compared to the entire cargo load coming into the Mombasa port by sea. I am confident that this experience can be repeated in East Africa also. Our narrow gauge line has cost advantages over any newly built standard gauge line and we will be using further improvements and cost savings to make the use of our railway system attractive to users’ said Darlan when asked how they could compete against the planned new mega railway projects. He also reaffirmed that RVR will not go into standard gauge operations, but rather concentrate during the duration of the concession to increase efficiencies and streamline operations for cost savings.

Also exposed during the meeting were government policy failures, which require RVR to pay a fuel levy benefitting the road sector of 1.5 percent on all their diesel purchased, a costly oversight by government which – while encouraging cargo to be shifted back from road to rail makes the railway operator pay to improve the infrastructure of their main competitors, fleets of trucks on the roads of East Africa.

When asked about future plans about passenger services, in the past there were trains twice a day to and from Mombasa and Nairobi and at least one a day to Kisumu, the RVR managers were notably less enthusiastic but confirmed they were in ongoing discussions with tourism stakeholders about the restoration of more regular train services as well as rail charter operations which could satisfy the demand for travel by rail, possibly even using the venerable steam engines of old, to give that authentic feeling to people from around the world, who wish to experience the days of the ‘Lunatic Express’ or as also called the ‘Iron Snake’ once more. Time will tell all about such developments but for now will all eyes be on RVR’s upcoming rebranding exercise, which will put a new corporate image into the public domain at a time when by all signs the company has not just fulfilled the key indicator requirements of the concession but in part substantially exceeded requirements, while on the way to increase loads carried to meet that final demand by the two governments too.

Visit www.riftvalleyrail.com for more information including the latest available data on performance and investments.

ABOUT #DOWNWITHUMEME

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

You might of course be wondering, or as a Ugandan perhaps not, what my, and many others’ beef is with #DownWithUmeme.

This week their fat cats pranced about their corporate headquarters, strutting their stuff and popping the champagne corks celebrating record profits. This at a time when many ordinary Ugandans suffer regularly, some daily, from power interruptions and in the capital city of Kampala no less, not because there is a shortage of generated electricity but because the system keep breaking down with fault chasing fault. One of my FB friends who lives somewhere near Entebbe, has outages so often she habitually charges all her equipment’s batteries in the office to be sure to be able to do something when she gets home. And this in the year 2013.

But let’s go back a bit to their days when they were busy selling their shares.

With tariffs at a level that they can only be called exploitative, and still they want more of our shillings had the regulators not put their foot down, they spent a fortune to drum their share sale event into the public, and lo and behold, no sooner did they have the money in the bag did they retire some major shareholder loans, keeping only a fraction of what they raised to improve our national network, take down their rotten infrastructure and finally start a comprehensive upgrade. For that they may have to borrow again now, who knows, and for sure at more expensive terms than what the shareholder loans required for servicing, so ask what deal had been made there between managers and shareholders. One deal for sure was made, a promise of what many think will be unsustainable dividend payments for years to come, but then, one can always ask to raise tariffs again, yes?

I live off the main line from Kabalagala to Munyonyo, our national showcase conference and convention centre, and this line was completely refurbished and upgraded for the CHOGM Summit in 2007 – and yet, on a far too regular basis is our power down. ‘A small problem’ one hears often from the call centre, if at all those do have a clue. I mock them regularly on my Twitter TL, that in order to be employed there, key criteria would have to be ignorance, arrogance, incompetence, no hesitation to mislead us but also the ability, without fail, to read through the entire template of questions in front of them instead of just answering a darned question.

They always start asking the location, as if that could not be stored permanently in their records, popping up on the screen when the account number is read out to them. But no, that is impossible it seems, so they have to ask that detail time and again, in my case perhaps hundreds if not thousands of times over the years. ‘What landmark is near you’ I am regularly asked and on one occasion, tongue in cheek, I told the hapless person at the other end ‘There is an aircraft flying overhead’ to which she responded ‘Haya, the technician will see that’ – now that was NOT tongue in cheek but in full earnest. How she got to answer phones at the #DownWithUmeme call centre will forever be a mystery.

On many occasions in the past, now largely sorted out, power used to go off for a few minutes, come back on, go off again, come back and that cycle could go for an hour or two. Not once did the call centre have any clue, NOT ONCE, of why that was the case, if someone was playing with switches because as a young lad he did not get enough toys or whatever other reason. It just prevailed until one fine day it had stopped, still no reason explained, EVER.

And of course, how often are the phones not answered or not going through. And when one does get through, questions like ‘You mean your power is off’ are so not helpful, because why the heck would I otherwise call #DownWithUmeme – surely not to complement them the power is on – which is their darned job they are doing badly enough – but to report a fault???

I often rap them about their repairs with ‘string and celotape’ and while some take exception, well one or two anyway, most just hear it and move on, yet, when the lines are down for their so called maintenance, be sure that on subsequent days, when strings and celotape have fallen off the poles, power goes again. And before queries are raised, it happened again over the past two days when the day prior to that ‘maintenance’ was ongoing all day.

Dim lights, another speciality of theirs. When reported, instead of taking the line off to prevent damage to people’s equipment in their houses when they are out, no, the dim lights have to stay until, often many hours later, eventually someone puts whatever prompted it back in order.

When I see comments related to #DownWithUmeme on the Twitter TL or on Facebook, most of them bemoan long outages, protest overcharges on bills and here I get going even more.

Paid up, no outstanding, the new bill is delivered and has already the passage printed in: ‘Supply may be DISCONNECTED without further notice as bill payment is overdue’ … ahem, overdue, yes? Really? No outstandings shown and yet the past zero balance is overdue and the amount just billed apparently too? Get real!

If the provider of brown froth, aka Kampala Water, has done one famous thing, it is equipping their meter readers with a gadget which when fed with the meter details instantly prints a bill showing current outstandings, if any.

And when one makes payment at a bank, or by mobile money, you can be sure there is an instant SMS confirming receipt of the money – with #DownWithUmeme, they are still in the stone age of meter reading, manual recording, multiple visits to read the metre again and again and delivering the bills by hand through couriers, who, when it rains have in the past repeatedly thrown the bill over the gate, at times with the neighbours’ bill stuck to it. Or they don’t deliver at all, as has happened and be sure that the goons will be at the gate momentarily to cut off your supply for nonpayment, even if the entire neighbourhood has not seen bills for weeks.

And so in the corporate suites the brass celebrates profits, gained from the sweat of ordinary Ugandans who dread getting their yellow, green and white invoices at the end of the month for fear that they may have to sell their car to be able to pay them or raid the school fee account of their children. The consumers suffer and the fat cats celebrate profit margins, as this is the most normal thing to do.

How I, and many others, wish back the days of UEB. Wishful thinking, I know … Let me rush, the lights are already flickering again and before they go I better safe this rant and post it on my blog before I lose it … quite intentionally I would suggest by those with their fingers on the trigger at the #DownWithUmeme switch centre who surely suspect something of this sort come their way today.

Corporate Mordor at its best … and how befitting to be called the Dark Lords …

Uganda News

MADHVANI FOUNDATION SELECTS 152 FOR SCHOLARSHIPS

(Posted 24th August 2013)

This is the moment to congratulate the 152 Ugandan students who are the best of the best and exceptionally bright and deserving and have been selected by The Madhvani Foundation, part of the Madhvani Group in Uganda, to get scholarships totalling Ushs 650 million ( or approximately USD $ 250,000 ) for 2013/2014 alone. This is the single largest private sector contribution to education in Uganda and is made annually. Notably graduate and postgraduate studies will be supported in hospitality management but also forestry and environmental studies, crucial to create future skills in sectors closely associated with tourism. Visit www.madhvanifoundation.com for more details.

SHERATON PLAYS HOST TO ANOTHER VINTAGE AND CLASSIC CAR SHOW THIS WEEKEND

(Posted 23rd August 2013)

This Saturday will the Sheraton Gardens again be the venue for the annual Vintage and Classic Car Show, a key society event for owners of antique cars, all of which are lovingly maintained and still drive. Allowed to enter into the competition are vehicles manufactured before 1988, which is the cutoff date for this year’s participation.

Fun castle for kids will keep the youngster busy for sure as parents, in this day and age not just the dads’ inspect those classics they always dreamed of driving, before life happened to them that is.

Winners for this year will be announced in the evening when music is played by some of Uganda’s leading performers and a fashion show will further entertain guests. The Sheraton Kampala, strictly by invitation, is hosting guests in their hospitality tent where, going by past experience, it will snow food and rain drinks. Again, the Sheraton Kampala this weekend will be the place to be. Don’t miss it and get more details through the following website www.vintageuganda.com

SHERATON SUPPORTS NGAMBA ISLAND FUNDRAISER

(Posted 23rd August 2013)

When on the evening of the 31st of August Uganda’s corporate and society who is who will congregate at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel for a fundraiser in favour of Ngamba Island, Uganda’s sole chimpanzee sanctuary island on Lake Victoria, one organization will already have put their commitment down to the tune of some 30 million Uganda Shillings, the Sheraton Kampala Hotel itself.

Long at the forefront of conservation support, with their Green Fund and most notably their support to the rhino re-introduction to the country when the hotel sponsored the importation of Sherino, now housed at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe.

For this event did James Rattos, Director of Sales and Marketing at the hotel, say to this correspondent: ‘Sheraton Kampala Hotel is supporting Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary raise funds to feed orphaned and rescued chimps. We started by hosting a Press Conference for them. Now we have provided for them space to sell their tickets which we printed for them including posters and fliers. We are also helping them market this event. The meals that will be served on that day will be charged at cost. The hotel is not making any money at all. Our contribution in monetary terms towards this event is close to 30 Million Shillings.

The vvent will be a Dinner Dance with the chef putting up a splendid array of dishes. It will be a buffet so the guests can choose and enjoy as much as they want. A live band will be in attendance and there will be an auction as well as a raffle draw so that we can raise more funds’.

Time for Kampaleans to make that appointment with conservation for the last Saturday of the month, with tickets available at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel lobby between the reception and the elevators.

CHAMELEON HILL – A LODGE OR AN ARCHITECTURAL FASHION STATEMENT

(Posted 23rd August 2013)

When rounding the last corner and getting my first glimpse of the Chameleon Hill Lodge, I must have made a sight to behold, mouth wide open, staring in disbelief, training the binoculars on the lodge, or was it a fantasy castle, an array of watch towers sprung from a tale, a field experiment for Robbialac or Berger Paints?

I am still trying to find the right or better words to describe what must be Uganda’s most unusual lodge … certainly not a lodge which looks like any other safari lodge I have ever seen, and those were plenty and then some. Art deco? Fashion statement? Architectural somersault? Or simply the dream of the owner turned into reality, no matter what looks of disbelief must have been thrown at her by plenty of people and plenty or critics who, truth told, might be more concerned about the superior competition she brought to the area than anything else. Take a bet that very soon those colour schemes and the creative tower design will appear somewhere else, sold as ingenious and original but then, we already know better.

I settled for the words Quirky and Funky and after long thought dismissed colourful, which, though completely true, does so not describe the array of colours, of the buildings, the fabrics, the rooms, inside and outside.

Of course, like the lodge is the owner, Doris Meixner, not in any way or shape ordinary herself, as no amount of warnings and caution and perhaps shrieks of disbelief over her concept did in the end stop her from investing her life savings and then some more to turn her dream into reality.

Sitting pretty on top of an extended ridge, high above Lake Mutanda, the Chameleon Hill Lodge, which just soft opened its doors a month ago, only gets better as one gets closer to it and finally enters the imposing gate.

Three towers rise from the entrance hall, dominating the view from close up and from far away, and already are the colours apparent, which like the proverbial chameleon will mark every nook and cranny, every corner and every angle.

A large deck extends from the interior of the main building and offers, in fact demands of visitors to step out and stand in awe, as on sunny days the Virunga volcanoes form the backdrop of the vista of the lake and its dozen islands and even on a clouded day, the sight is still so compelling that, no wonder, some American visitor stood there and kept mumbling ‘awesome, awesome, just awesome’.

On entry, once through the reception with the high ceilings which offer a look up into the towers from the inside, one steps across an ingenious floor mosaic, designed and put together by Doris of course, and across a second one enters the bar and dining, which opens to the deck but also extends into the main lounge.

A fire place in the dining, roaring with a wood fire at night, is duplicated by a larger one still in the lounge, where cushions along the wall, sofas and arm chairs invite to put the feet up after a long day of hikes, having one’s favourite drink at arm’s length and either read a book – the ‘library’ is filling up already quite nicely too, chat with fellow travellers or just, chair turned to see across the lake, soak up the sights.

One often talks of the million dollar view but here, at Chameleon, I generously added some zeros and made it the billion dollar view, especially when the Virunga volcanoes are in sight. Mgahinga, Muhavura and Sabinyo mark the distant horizon, a landmark sight imprinted forever in a visitor’s mind.

The walk to the cottages, each, needless to say, decorated in a different colour, outside AND inside too, follows a series of stairs which are following the contour of the garden and to reach the last or 10th cottage it is a bit of a walk, which takes time, not for the distance but for the constant stopping, looking again through the spaces between the cottages, taking more pictures and then, almost reluctantly moving further.

Inside, the rooms are tastefully and artfully decorated, from little glass bead fish hanging from the windows to the matching cushion décor which sees itself replicated in the paintings above the bed.

Good mattresses and excellent warm duvets – additional blankets are available in the rooms for cold nights – make sure that guests can rest well, after taking a shower with instant hot water courtesy of a gas boiler fitted outside. Everything is very functional, of excellent quality, be it bathroom fittings or the furniture. Everything is finished almost to perfection – but then, nothing ever is perfect and even I have to come to terms with that. All in all it gives the property its character, an interwoven fabric of art, colour, furnishings and fittings all aimed to either love it or hate it. What impresses me, I grant, may not meet the taste of others and there is therefore no middle ground about Chameleon Hill. I loved it, every bit of it, but others alas may not, not at first sight perhaps but then getting used to it and starting to develop a love affair with the place which in my case was instant. That is as far as the shapes, colours, decors and all is concerned.

When it comes to food though, attention to details there too is evident. Breakfast is a part buffet and part a la carte affair, lunch is served with salad and main course, home baked bread of course served warm and dinner is a three course menu, soup, main course and desert, prepared by a dedicated and keen chef who is at the end of the meal making the rounds with guests to get a feedback. The beers are cold, the tea is served steaming hot and those settling for some wine, mostly some great South African vintages, can be sure it is served at the right temperature too.

And then of course comes the inevitable question, WHAT is there to do.

Well, on arrival, be it by car from Kampala via Kabale and Kisoro on a rather rough road, or per pedes apostolorum when hiking in from Nkuringo or on the back of a mountain bike, as more and more people do these days, the first thought will be on getting a rest and putting the feet up. But once that is done, many hikes and trails are available for visitors, to explore the neighbourhood, get down to the lake proper and take a canoe or motorized boat, round the many islands in search of birds and perhaps some otters. Not too far is Lake Mulehe, a five to six hour round trip on foot, and the staff is of course happy to provide a packed lunch and drinks so that a picnic on the shores of either Lake Mulehe or on Lake Mutanda can provide sustenance after putting in some miles.

Good hiking boots or comfortable walking shoes are a must, as is water proof gear like a backpack and a rain skin as even on bright days a thunderstorm can suddenly chase down on hikers, coming out of the depth of the distant Bwindi forest or from across the even more distant Congo rain forests. A handful of hikes are available I know of, perhaps more known by the local guides who should absolutely be used when talking extended walks and they of course are also knowledgeable about taking guests as far as to the Virunga volcanoes of Mgahinga, where Golden Monkeys can be tracked besides the family of mountain gorillas which is found in Uganda’s second gorilla national park. The Nkuringo Walking Safaris company (www.nkuringowalkingsafaris.com) will be delighted to make arrangements for such guided hikes as will the guides associated with www.gorillahighlands.com who actually operate out of the Lake Bunyonyi side of this part of Uganda and who offer multi day hikes which can, at the request of the guests, end at Chameleon Hill Lodge.

Aerolink flies now daily from Entebbe via Kihihi to the Kisoro airfield and the lodge is able to arrange for transport from and back to the little airport at a reasonable cost. At present, give or take an hour and a bit for the ‘commute’.

Connectivity at the lodge is limited to a decent MTN reception though Airtel, stung by criticism about being forced to roam inside Uganda with their DRC and Rwanda networks, is in the process of putting up a tower too in the vicinity. That will allow visitors who have local phone connections to use data bundles on their smart phones to surf the web, post pictures on Twitter and Facebook and even use a USB modem for their laptops, though the speeds, as witnessed, cannot be compared with those in Kisoro leave alone Kampala.

The lodge, now in the soft opening phase while the landscaping is maturing and final touches are made before the last of the contractor’s team are leaving, is a fine example of what an intrepid mind can conjure up and a hardy investor can accomplish. And not that there were no obstacles for Doris and her team. The stories told to me over lunch and dinner, about how difficult it was to clear her containers with customs speak volumes, sadly, for the way we treat serious investors in Uganda and how individuals, rotten to the core, are hell bent to eat where they have not labored. Doris however was not to be deterred and with perseverance and persistence brought her little ‘baby’ to maturity. Great to have this little gem on our Ugandan safari circuit now, at a location second to none really as the pictures above will surely show and sooner or later, Chameleon Hill Lodge will have a faithful following of visitors, from within and outside Uganda, who come to Lake Mutanda for an active vacation and to get something quirky and funky, art deco style and more in the process.

LAKE MUTANDA FINALLY COMES OF AGE

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

(A view of Lake Mutanda, its islands and the distant Virunga volcanoes from the Chameleon Hill Lodge)

Lake Mutanda, and the nearby Lake Mulehe, have for long captured the imagination of locals and visitors alike, but have never quite made it to the top of the tourism rankings in Uganda, when one was considering where to go, for a long weekend or for a few days of a family trip exploring the country side. It was always Jinja, or Murchisons or Queen Elizabeth or Lake Mburo, Mbale perhaps with the Sipi Falls but few would take the trouble to travel all the way into the border triangle of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.

Those roads, no thank you’ was a common reaction I received from friends who do regularly traverse Uganda in search of new places to discover when I mentioned to them where I was heading. But truth told the roads from Kampala via Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale and then on to Kisoro are in a much better state today than they have been in many years. While there is still work going on at sections between Mbarara and Kabale, the Kabale to Kisoro road is fully operational, perfect tarmac and scenic like few others in Uganda. That road in fact was truly a reason in the past to shun Kisoro, especially when after a few rainy seasons the surface resembled a washing board, but no longer.

(From this in the old days to the new look road of today)

Thankfully that is presently changing mainly due to the brand new 75 kilometre tarmac road but in part also because of hospitality investors finally promoting their lodges, resorts and related activities to a greater extend now that they are more easily accessible. Electricity poles and installations have already reached as far as Nkuringo, and the Lake Mutanda area too is foreseen to be put on mains supply in due course. The road from Kisoro to Lake Mutanda and beyond to Nkuringo and Nteko is due for upgrading under a government policy to open up areas of key tourism potential but that of course will also benefit the local farmers who at last can get their produce to the markets. Additionally is added interest in this part of Uganda triggered by the sharply grown focus on the area among foreign visitors, those coming by overland trucks, back packers who often spend a week or more and who actively post their pictures on Twitter and Facebook and write about it in their blogs. That of course applies to mainstream tourists just as well, who often fly into Kisoro – Aerolink now operates daily flights from Entebbe via Kihihi – or reach in the comfort of their 4×4’s. Many of those have written rave reviews on TripAdvisor about the lodges they stayed in, the hikes they did and the parks they visited, finally spurring interest among the local expatriate community too who, as mentioned before, are always looking for other places than the ‘regular’ adventure and adrenaline activities of Jinja. When coming to the Kisoro / Lake Mutanda / Nkuringo area they can be assured of a place where they can get active if they want to and laze about if that is what they prefer. Whether they hike, boat or have brought their mountain bikes with them to explore the area, they will not be disappointed, nor will they be from their sunbeds at Chameleon Hill Lodge with that breathtaking 180 degrees vista.

The locals, friendly as all Ugandans are, have a lot of lore and tales to tell about the lakes while the wagenis are of course mainly interested in the scenic value of the locations to take pictures galore of one of Uganda’s better kept secrets and the lakes and the hills and volcanoes around Kisoro town..

Among the foreign travelers coming to Uganda has the Kisoro area steadily gained a reputation as a must see location, and many indeed combine their visit to the Mountain Gorillas of Mgahinga or Bwindi national parks or the tracking of the Golden Monkeys at Mgahinga with an added stay at one of the lakes.

Lake Mutanda is located just 17 kilometres outside Kisoro, the elevation of just under 1.800 metres making for warm days and cool nights, never too cold and never too hot, allowing for a range of activities, on the lake and around it. The lake can be reached easily by public transport, aka taxis or the equally common boda bodas, though the road is rough from the moment one turns off the tarmac in Kisoro town and heads out into the country side. Visitors coming with their own cars are therefore well advised to have a second spare tyre in the boot or bring repair kits for their mountain bikes, should they intend to ride those over the rocky roads leading up to the lakes.

The rewards for visitors are those magnificent vistas from higher elevations, marked by the islands of Lake Mutanda against the backdrop of the Virunga volcanoes Sabinyo, Muhavura and Mgahinga.

I was on this trip coming from Nkuringo after first hiking across Bwindi and exploring the forests and hills to and from Nteko and Lake Mutanda was the next key stop on my tour of South Western Uganda and another eye opener it was to become.

I will write separately about the new Chameleon Hill Lodge I found perched on a ridge high above the lake, coming suddenly into sight like a castle in the air, but for now let it suffice to say it is arguably Uganda’s most colourful, quirkiest and funkiest lodge I have seen yet and at a location where the proverbial million dollar view has surely turned into the billion dollar view.

From the lofty heights of Nkuringo, the road gradually made its way towards lower elevations as it hugged its way tightly to the mountain sides before reaching Kisoro down in the valley. Through small farms terraced into the steep hills, little villages and plenty of homesteads, this being one of Uganda’s most intensely farmed and populated areas, the road snaked from one steep corner to the next and drivers surely need to take care and not go too fast, though the road conditions will not really allow for that.

Especially in the morning hours, the valleys below are often ‘boiling’ with fog and mist, making for impressions which will last a lifetime when one comes from higher up only to witness such spectacles of nature in the early hour after sunrise.

Hikers with guides – absolutely recommended – or without guides – not so recommended – find it easy going downhill, probably steeled already by the experiences of previous days when they had to scale the escarpments and steep paths while hiking and the few boda bodas and pickup trucks, besides an occasional 4×4, pose no real problems when strutting along what on maps appears to be a major road but in reality remains an often deeply rutted challenge to drivers and cars.

A fork in the road, some kilometres from Nkuringo towards Kisoro, without any sign posts for that matter, gives one the choice to go on directly – using the left – or else hike via Lake Mutanda – using the ‘right’ branch – the latter direction leading through patches of forest, shambas and wetlands on the bottom of the often steep valleys, with not a single car passing until the lake came into sight. Birds aplenty can be seen while walking, something often lost when sitting in a car, and the fresh air carries an occasional whiff of wood smoke, a pointer to a nearby homestead where the main meal of the day is being prepared. When Lake Mutanda finally comes into sight, hikers will get their reward on sunny days, as behind the lake the distant volcanoes are visible, making for an awe inspiring sight. The lake itself is dotted with islands which are worth exploring and canoes are available at a reasonable cost, and recommended as long as they carry life vests for their passengers. Again, bird sightings are the main feature of course, especially along the main shores of the lake where reed grass provides a perfect nesting and foraging environment for our feathered friends.

Motor boat options are now available to traverse the lake but nothing beats the almost silent way how the canoes are floating across the waters, the only sound being the boatman’s paddle being used, or the calls of birds of prey above, seeking to take advantage of birds being startled by the canoe approaching and flying up from their hiding places in the reed grass to see what is going on.

(Map courtesy of www.gorillahighlands.com – an initiative for the economic and cultural transformation of southwestern Uganda through branding and promotion, multimedia products and cultural tourism)

Wherever one chooses to stay, at one of the resorts right on the lake, the eco tourism centre or as far as Kisoro itself, where plenty of options are now available, offering 1 to 3 star hotels and even non star rated accommodation which serves those travelling at the tightest shoe string budget, access to these trails and tours is now available to all visitors. These excursions and hikes, lasting from a few hours to a full day, are covering both Lake Mutanda and Lake Mulehe. Seasoned hikers however also have the options to discover the trails of the Virunga volcanoes on the Ugandan side, starting with Mgahinga where Nkuringo Walking Safaris offers tailor made trips or else make their way up to Muko and Lake Bunyonyi along yet more scenic winding roads as long as they have a few days to spare for such multi day trails. www.gorillahighlands.com organizes such hikes as well as boat trips on Lake Bunyonyi, which opens up the amazing, and at times baffling history of that area.

The Eye, in its printed version or via www.theeye.co.ug has a range of accommodation options listed for visitors to the area, but information is now also available when simply googling Kisoro or Lake Mutanda and yet more details are found via www.visituganda.com the official site of the Uganda Tourism Board or via www.ugandawildlife.org where links to Mgahinga National Park also give added information about the wider Kisoro area.

Those going to this part of the country should also know that not all phone networks have constant coverage and anyone bringing a USB modem to get connected through tablet or laptops, unless in Kisoro itself, can have a rude awakening. Some networks in fact jump to expensive roaming services of their sister networks in Rwanda or even Congo and getting wireless connectivity – as long as a signal actually can be captured which depends on location – is normally the better bet through smart phones compared to the use of USB modems. Those often at best get that notorious green light, indicating a slow Edge or GPRS connection but rarely get into the high speed range, if they can hook up at all.

And one final tip, do not leave Kisoro without buying some locally produced organic honey. A bee keepers’ cooperative is now marketing different types of honey, from the forests as well as the more open areas around Kisoro and in their shop even bee wax candles can be bought. Kisoro honey is arguably Uganda’s finest and any purchase will bring money directly to the rural folks allowing them to improve their lives.

After two recent trips to this part of Uganda I certainly once more fully appreciate that Uganda is indeed The Pearl of Africa.

Kenya News

COURT CASES IMMINENT NOW OVER JKIA FIRE

(Posted 24th August 2013)

Information is coming in from Nairobi that an initial 6 individuals have been singled out for charges to be brought against them in connection with the massive fire which swept two and a half weeks ago through Kenya’s and the region’s most important airport, Jomo Kenyatta International.

At least five of those have been identified, after extensive questioning by detectives and other security experts as having failed to act when they spotted the fire first, contributing to the rapid spread which eventually destroyed the entire arrivals hall, offices above and shops, banks and other service providers.

From details received it seems that CCTV footage helped to identify the 5 as checking on the source where the smoke came from before walking away without raising either a fire alarm or else using nearby fire extinguishers or hoses. If found correct, and proven in court, they could face lengthy prison terms and dismissal from their employment. It could not be ascertained with any form of certainty what charges may be brought against the 6th individual though it was mentioned that more may yet face charges when the final report on the fire is completed and submitted to government by mid next week. Watch this space for more breaking news.

HOT AIR BALLON FESTIVAL TO SUPPORT KENYA’S ANTI POACHING CAMPAIGN

(Posted 23rd August 2013)

(Source www.prestige-promotions.co.uk)

An international line up of hot air balloons will congregate in Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve between 06th and 08th of December this year, to throw their support behind the growing momentum of Kenya’s anti poaching campaign. Organized by Prestige Travel the event hopes to see dozens of foreign hot air balloons take to the skies over the Masai Mara and the international media is expected to cover the three days of aerial spectacle over the reserve. Several teams from Europe and the United States have already confirmed their participation but as the publicity spreads more confirmations are sure to come.

Poaching has become Kenya’s conservation enemy number one and only yesterday was a Chinese woman, who got nabbed at the international airport a few days ago, sentenced to 31 months in prison in a landmark ruling, which shocked her and her lawyer after she had pleaded guilty hoping to escape with a token fine, as has been the case until now. ‘There is now a new resolve to deal with this problem. In the past smugglers paid a few hundred dollars fine and were let go. Now we confiscate the ivory, they pay fines and they go to jail. Let that message go out loud and clear. You get caught in Kenya with ivory, you try to smuggle it out, you go to jail, full stop. If Kenyans get caught abroad smuggling contraband, they also are sent to prison and we now do what should have been done so long ago. Dozens of cases were reported with small fines and the culprits are on the next plane. Our outrage knew no bounds then and why it took so long we will never fully understand. Any magistrate now handing fines instead of jail terms can expect to be immediately investigated and reported to the Judicial Service Commission for action. Next will be to send poachers down for 10 or 15 years. Wildlife is the back bone of our tourism industry. Destroy our wildlife and you destroy the most important economic sector we have’ commented a regular conservation source from Nairobi when passing the information about the balloon festival yesterday evening.

Another source did point out though that in view of the short time available till December all necessary approvals need to be secured, from civil aviation to the park managers at the Narok County Government to be certain that all regulatory permissions have been obtained so that the event can take to the skies. Watch this space.

NAROK COUNTY REACTS TO MANY COMPLAINTS ABOUT BAD DRIVING IN THE MASAI MARA

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

The present migration season in the Masai Mara, which has seen a daily influx of hundreds of vehicles into the Game Reserve, has also brought an increasing number of complaints about rough manners by drivers, attempting to push themselves between and in front of other vehicles, not making space for others to get vantage point views or having passengers climb on the vehicle roofs, among other citable behaviour.

The Narok County Government has now, in conjunction with KATO, the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, issued a notice outlining how drives are expected to behave and the various sanctions and penalties bad behaviour and ignoring park rules will have.

The full published details are shown below. Well done for reacting promptly and restoring law and order on game drives.

KENYA AIRWAYS MOVES INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS BACK TO UNIT 2

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

Kenya Airways has just confirmed that they have started to move their international departures back to Unit 2, which has been made operational again following a devastating fire two weeks ago. The airline has issued a statement also informing passengers of slight changes in departure times to be able to process flights in a more traveler friendly way.

In the following the full statement is shown for the benefit of readers and those who are now travelling with Kenya Airways on their international and regional flights:

Kenya Airways is pleased to announce that our international departure operations will all be

consolidated into Unit 2 with effect from tomorrow, Thursday, August 22, 2013. Kenya

Airways code-share partners and customer airlines will also process departing passengers from

unit 2. Consequently, the other airlines which were operating from Unit 2 will move to Unit 3.

We wish to apologize in advance to our Premier World, business class and Skyteam Elite card

holders on the lack of lounge capacity. We have plans in place to remedy this situation in the

near future.

Domestic departures and arrivals will continue to be handled at the cargo terminal whereas

Kenya Airways’ international arrivals, incorporating KLM and partner/customer airlines,

continue to be handled at a tented facility at the Presidential Pavilion. Transfer processes

remain the same.

Meanwhile, we are also pleased to announce that we have rescheduled our international

flights for the period August 22-31 to enhance connectivity. The time difference varies between

10 minutes and 1 hour 10 minutes. The full schedule of changes is as follows:

Kenya Airways Schedule Update

Flights Rescheduled effective 22nd August 2013

Southern Africa

Al Fl No Origin Destination Day of Operation STD STA Comment

KQ 756 Nairobi Antananarivo Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun 08:45 12:05 10min later departure

KQ 757 Antananarivo Nairobi Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun 12:55 16:15

KQ 716 Nairobi Gaborone Mon, Thu 21:35 00:50 +1 1hr later departure

KQ 717 Gaborone Nairobi Tue, Fri 01:50 07:00

KQ 700 Nairobi Harare Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sun 09:00 11:00 10min later departure

KQ 701 Harare Nairobi Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sun 11:50 15:55

West & Central Africa

Al Fl No Origin Destination Day of Operation STD STA Comment

KQ 554 Nairobi Kinshasa Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun 08:30 10:00 5min later departure

KQ 555 Kinshasa Nairobi Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun 11:05 16:35

KQ 550 Nairobi Brazzaville Mon, Wed, Fri 09:25 11:05 10min later departure

KQ 550 Brazzaville Kinshasa Mon, Wed, Fri 11:55 12:40

KQ 550 Kinshasa Nairobi Mon, Wed, Fri 13:30 19:15

KQ 542 Nairobi Lagos Mon, Thu, Sat 18:00 21:20 25min later departure

KQ 542 Lagos Cotonou Mon, Thu, Sat 22:10 22:50

KQ 542 Cotonou Nairobi Mon, Thu, Sat 23:40 07:15 +1

KQ 526 Nairobi Yaoundé Tue, Wed, Sun 08:55 10:55 1hr 10min later departure

KQ 527 Yaoundé Nairobi Tue, Wed, Sun 11:45 17:45

KQ 520 Nairobi Abidjan Mon, Thu, Sat 09:05 12:10 20min later departure

KQ 520 Abidjan Dakar Mon, Thu, Sat 13:00 15:50

KQ 521 Dakar Abidjan Mon, Thu, Sat 16:40 19:30

KQ 521 Abidjan Nairobi Mon, Thu, Sat 20:20 05:55 +1

East Africa

Al Fl No Origin Destination Day of Operation STD STA Comment

KQ 470 Nairobi Kigali Daily 07:50 08:20 5min later effective Sep 13

KQ 471 Kigali Nairobi Daily 09:10 11:40

KQ 460 Nairobi Bujumbura Daily 08:35 09:15 15min later effective Sep13

KQ 461 Bujumbura Nairobi Daily 10:05 12:40

KQ 410 Nairobi Entebbe Daily 08:00 09:15 5min later departure

KQ 411 Entebbe Nairobi Daily 10:05 11:15

Northern Africa

Al Fl No Origin Destination Day of Operation STD STA Comment

KQ 408 Nairobi Djibouti Fri 23:30 02:05 +1 1hr later departure

KQ 408 Djibouti Addis Sat 02:55 04:10

KQ 408 Addis Nairobi Sat 05:10 07:15

KQ 406 Nairobi Addis Sat, Sun 23:25 01:35 +1 1hr later departure

KQ 406 Addis Djibouti Sun, Mon 02:25 03:45

KQ 406 Djibouti Nairobi Sun, Mon 04:35 07:15

KQ 344 Nairobi Khartoum Mon, Wed, Sat 23:55 02:45 10min later departure

KQ 345 Khartoum Nairobi Tue, Thu, Sun 04:20 07:15

Domestic

Al Fl No Origin Destination Day of Operation STD STA Comment

KQ 600 Nairobi Mombasa Daily 06:15 07:15 15min later departure

KQ 601 Mombasa Nairobi Daily 07:55 08:55

KQ 604 Nairobi Mombasa Daily 09:45 10:45 15min later departure

KQ 605 Mombasa Nairobi Daily 11:25 12:25

KQ 608 Nairobi Mombasa Daily 13:15 14:15 15min later departure

KQ 609 Mombasa Nairobi Daily 14:55 15:55

KQ 612 Nairobi Mombasa Daily 16:25 17:25 15min later departure

KQ 613 Mombasa Nairobi Daily 18:05 19:05

KQ 621 Mombasa Nairobi Daily 07:00 08:00 15min later departure

For more information, please visit the Kenya Airways website http://www.kenya-airways.com or

contact the Kenya Airways contact centre on; Tel: +254 711024747, +254 734104747, +254 706999999

or +254 020 3274747

Face book: www.facebook.com/PrideofAfrica

Twitter: @KenyaAirways

Mbuvi Ngunze

Chief Operating Officer

MEDINA PALMS OPENS IN WATAMU AS MORE POSH CONDO COMPLEXES ARE PLANNED

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

From Mombasa’s English Point to Briatore’s Billionaire’s Resort in Malindi, posh condominium, villa and residence complexes are now springing up along the coast, and Watamu’s Medina Palms is only the latest in a string of such developments. The newly found oil wealth in Kenya’s Turkana region, mega infrastructure projects and in particular the new Lamu port and the associated LAPSSET project, which will connect Ethiopia and South Sudan by rail, road and pipeline with the new port in Lamu, have given Kenya the prospect of a new wave of prosperity and economic development, in the wake of which upmarket property developments are now sprouting.

At Medina Palms, a 50 unit development resembling Arabic Mediterranean architectural styles found in North Africa, the 4 billion Kenya Shillings sunk into the project are paying off handsomely for the developers as 40 units have already been sold, and the rumour mill is full of names floated of the international Schickeria who are drawn to such locations as much by the vista and location itself as by the names of their immediate neighbours.

2 bedroom apartments are selling at as low as 30 million, a bargain considering the sunny beach side in Watamu, one of Kenya’s prime beaches but prices are rising to as high as over 260 million for the top end ‘palaces’ – none of which is now left according to a coast based source.

Medina joins such other Watamu based upscale properties like the Blue Bay Cove and similar developments, and the Kilifi based Vipingo Ridge estate and Ol Pejeta’s Living with Wildlife at the fringe of Nanyuki have one added component in common – easy access by air. While Vipingo and Ol Pejeta use ‘ordinary airstrips’ or at best at Ol Pejeta the main Nanyuki field, Watamu has a short access to the expanded Malindi airport, which is in years to come to be upgraded to a full international airport, then permitting owners to fly in on their own jets without the need to stop over in Nairobi to clear customs and immigration.

The source also confirmed that Kenyan authorities are now more than happy to grant foreign owners of such upmarket residences and condominiums residency in the country, all aimed to attract the rich and famous and th glitter glitz and glamour community to come to Kenya, buy real estate and help give the country a good name abroad. Nearby resorts, like Hemingways, too add of course to the attraction as they organize regular fishing tournaments, including an annual championship event, again something this target groups seems to be happy to associate with. Well done for little Watamu, a sleepy little resort area no more for sure but graduated into the big league but the look of it.

KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE EARMARKS THREE DAYS FOR ADAMSON COMMEMORATION

(Posted 21st August 2013)

Yesterday marked the 24th anniversary of the death of George Adamson, whose work with lions – alongside his wife Joy Adamson – made the couple ‘immortal’ in the world of conservation.

For several years now have friends of George, and friends of the Meru Conservation Area, a wilderness area par excellence, celebrated his life and accomplishments by doing pilgrimage to Kora, where George and Joy’s camp was located back then.

Doris Schaule, a well known Kenyan conservationist and tourism stakeholder, has posted the following piece on the Friends of Meru site on Facebook, worth republishing here:

Doris Schaule

"Hundreds of conservationists from across the world are set to mark the 24th anniversary of George Adamson’s death.
They are scheduled to meet at Kora National Park in Tana River County next week .
Mr Adamson, a renowned British wildlife conservationist, put Kenya on the global wildlife conservation map through his pioneering work of rehabilitating orphaned lions in the 1970s.
KILLED BY BANDITS
He was shot dead by Shifta bandits on August 20, 1989, at the age of 83.
He is buried at a site known as Kambi ya Simba (lions’ camp) in the Kora National Park near Masyungwa area in Tseikuru District.
He and his wife, Joy Adamson are best known through their captivating movie Born Free and best-selling book under the same title.
It is based on the true story of Elsa the Lioness, an orphaned cub they had raised in Kitui and later released it into the wild.
DOMESTICATED
The late conservationist, then popularly known as the father of lions in Africa is best remembered for keeping and nurturing a pack of domesticated lions in the wilderness of the expansive park.
Records at Kenya Wildlife Service show that Mr Adamson was murdered by people who were unhappy with the success of his conservation efforts and his strange antics of domesticating and living with the dreaded big cats.
KWS has organized a three day event dubbed the George Adamson commemoration weekend in the Kora wild which will run from August 31, 2013 to Sunday September 1, 2013.
POACHING MENACE
The event comes as the country grapples with a poaching menace that has seen elephants and rhinos killed by a network of suspected international crooks.
According to KWS communications manager Paul Udoto, the event to be held at Adamson’s grave aims at celebrating his conservation efforts and devise ways of getting the new generation of Kenyans to carry on with his legacy.
“Though he was deeply loved and respected by so many people all over the world, not many have visited where he used to work, to see how he used to live, where he was buried and consider ways of continuing with the work he started,” Mr Udoto said.
Mr Udoto said visitors will camp at his grave for the three days and they will watch his films and a gallery exhibition.
CAMPING
They will also visit Kora Rapids and Kora Rock before participating in a cultural festival on Saturday August 31 night.
“He is the founding father of wildlife conservation in Africa. His heroic actions, sacrifice and legacy remain an unfailing inspiration to many across the world” Mr Udoto said of the late Adamson.
He added that the event will also capture and market unique features and activities in Kora National Park.
RECOGNISION
In a quick recognition of Mr Adamson’s conservation efforts, hardly two months into his death, the government gazetted the game reserve within which he died into a National Park in October 1989.
Other movies in remembrance of the late Adamson also include Living free, To Walk with the Lions and the Land of the Lions."

For additional information write to rmm or visit the Friends of Meru Conservation Area Facebook page via https://www.facebook.com/groups/290052387659/ where additional details about the event, how to get there and even where to stay will be posted. Rest in Peace George, Rest in Peace Joy – you will always be remembered by those you taught to care about wildlife and conservation.

QATAR AIRWAYS UPS NAIROBI FLIGHTS

(Posted 20th August 2013)

Information was confirmed by Qatar Airways that effective immediately, the airline will increase their double daily flights to now 18 per week, following a sharp rise in demand.

The added flights will operate on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, leaving out only Monday, Wednesday and Thursday for now.

The airline operates an Airbus A320 on the route between Nairobi and Doha, where the third flight will improve connectivity into the global Qatar Airways network.

Planned flights to Mombasa however remain under review it is understood, as do flights to Zanzibar, both destinations having been on the wish list of the airline for expanding services across Eastern Africa and making Qatar Airways the airline of choice for flying to the most airports in the wider region.

Dar es Salaam presently is served twice a day with the same aircraft type and Entebbe, in conjunction with Kigali, has presently one flight a day. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from East Africa’s vibrant aviation scene.

NAROK TURNS TO KATO AFTER MARA TICKET SALES LOGISTICS CONTINUE TO DOG THEM

(Posted 20th August 2013)

The termination a few weeks ago of the revenue collection deal between Narok County and Equity Bank, still a matter of a bitter legal dispute between the two parties, exposed the soft underbelly of administering the Masai Mara Game Reserve and collect entrance fees. At the time it was reported that a number of tourists and safari operators, with prepaid funds on the smart cards in use back then, were subjected to hardships of having to pay up again, while being promised refunds, but it is understood from a reliable source in Nairobi, that not all such cases have been settled yet, leaving those affected to bemoan their bad luck to have cash tied up by the county, unable or unwilling to pay up.

Meanwhile though it became also apparent that the Narok County administration was facing a tsunami of logistical problems to administer ticket sales and account for the revenues accrued. It was in fact those ‘leakages’ found out in the past which had prompted the council back then to sign a deal with Equity Bank, following which revenue collections accounted for rocketed, an indicator of how bad the situation was pre – smart card days.

A regular source in Nairobi has now sent in details that Narok County has engaged with the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, reaching a preliminary agreement on sales of entrance tickets for the Masai Mara, whereby members of KATO can purchase tickets needed for safaris from the association offices, with payment however only permitted by bank cheque.

If these guys employ thieves and therefore reject cash payments, it is their problem, not ours’ ranted one regular contributor however in response before continuing: ‘To get a bank draft or bankers cheque takes time and costs extra fees. Mostly I am concerned about the time issue because this is high season and tourists can come any moment into our sales office and buy a tour and want to depart within the hour. If our drivers cannot pay at the gate in cash, what sort of customer service is that from Narok. True, I still have an issue with some of the prepaid money from the Equity days but as long as our bank notes are legal tender they are quite mad to reject payment in cash. They also do not use credit or debit cards at the gates and are therefore making life difficult. What about self drive tourists who hire our cars and drive to their lodge in the Mara. Do they have to get a bank draft also? It is almost like a hotel or restaurant telling you that payment has to be done by bank draft because their cashiers are stealing? How much does one have to inconvenience visitors just because they have thieves in their ranks they suspect of siphoning off the cash’.

From added information at hand it appears that Narok County staff are now camping at the KATO offices where they sell entrance tickets, against bank drafts only, showing how the county government is still short of a comprehensive approach towards managing one of the country’s biggest tourism attractions. ‘With such failures no wonder there are demands coming up again to have KWS manage this resource. Narok may have invited new tenders to design and implement a collection system but that will take time. Until then they should open every avenue to sell tickets in Nairobi, in Narok and at the gates. Imagine a guest on self drive who intended to stay two nights decides to stay for four or five because of the spectacle of the migration. When leaving those guests will have to pay for the extra nights. They carry travelers cheques and cash and credit cards and are then held for lack of a bank draft? Those officials have no clue of all the implications of their decisions. I also say give it to KWS and they remit a fair share to Narok because this is unacceptable’ added yet another regular reader.

It is hoped that lessons will be learned and swift adjustments be made to the collection mode to ensure that as many visitors as possible can actually get into the Masai Mara and are not kept away over the issue of cash versus bank draft or bankers cheque. Watch this space.

KENYA CAA REJECTS ETHIOPIAN’S APPLICATION TO FLY CARGO TO JOHANNESBURG

(Posted 18th August 2013)

Information from Nairobi has confirmed that Ethiopian Airlines’ application to operate cargo flights between Nairobi and Johannesburg, has been turned down by the Kenyan authorities, although another route, from Nairobi via Addis Ababa to Liege in Belgium, has been granted to the Ethiopian flag carrier.

Kenya Airways has in the recent past introduced two converted B737-300 freighters and has for over a year now operated a joint cargo flight with Holland’s Martinair using a B747-400F, which regularly flies from Nairobi to Europe, then on to Asian destinations before returning to Nairobi.

While there is no confirmation that KQ had filed a formal objection to the application by ET, it would nevertheless make sense in order to protect the cargo being uplifted on passenger flights between Nairobi and Johannesburg and vice versa.

In this case though KCAA took no chances of having the market of their own national airline put in danger especially in view of Kenya Airways having to play catch up with other airlines’ cargo operations, only rather late entering the market with dedicated freighter aircraft.

According to Plan Mawingo, the Kenya Airways strategic 10 year plan, it is foreseen that by 2022 KQ will operate some 12 dedicated cargo aircraft, in addition to the projected 107 passenger planes. In the short term though has the conversion of additional passenger B737-300 been halted for the time being, waiting to see the air cargo market stabilize and resume growth. Watch this space for regular and breaking aviation news from Eastern Africa.

Tanzania News

FASTJET’S BOARDROOM AND SHAREHOLDER WOES NOW HIT TANZANIA STAFF

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

A range of woes, as previously reported here, and incidentally backed up by other media like Air Transport World in their own investigative articles, in the boardroom and among shareholders now seems to have reached the airlines’ Tanzanian employees. Several, according to a report from Dar es Salaam, have already been laid off and more are expected to lose their jobs, up to 12 percent in fact according to the information passed on from what is a usually reliable source.

Comments attributed yesterday to the airline’s general manager in Dar es Salaam also seem to confirm the notion that discussions about redundancies have already taken place and are continuing, reflecting financial challenges for Fastjet, very likely rooted in their success to have sold a large number of tickets, according to some figures at hand over 40.000 at the very lowest fare, bound to impact of course on their bottom line.

Aviation observers continue to blame FastJet’s situation on the airline’s inability to access directly the much larger Kenyan market, the losses sustained in the premature start up of flights to Zanzibar which then had to be halted within weeks as the route bled money and the delay in commencing domestic flight operations in South Africa.

The planned first international flights though will commence on 27th September to Johannesburg and are still on course. Fastjet will initially operate three times a week using one of the airline’s A319 aircraft. Fares are said to start at 100 US Dollars, PLUS TAXES AND OTHER FEES, leaving customers again in the dark over what the final cost of a ticket will be until they actually purchase it.

Consumer organizations have now also reportedly taken an issue with this sort of advertising and are likely to make representations to government to compel all businesses, the airlines included, to publish the final and all inclusive price one has to pay, no exceptions permitted. Watch this space.

TANAPA AND SENAPA STAFF CALLED ‘PARROTSBY HIGHWAY OPPONENTS

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

When the East African Court of Justice resumed its hearings earlier this week, one of the first cases to be heard was the suit against the Tanzanian government by environmentalists and conservationists to permanently halt the construction of a highway through the Serengeti.

As the case progressed, the TANAPA Principal Ecologist Dr. James Wakibara and SENAPA’s Chief Warden William Mwakilema took to the stand, reportedly vigorously defending the highway plans.

What do you expect of them. Professional ethics no longer play a role for those. They know, if they do not sing from the government hymn sheet, they can be sacked or worse. So they leave their brains at the door when they check into court and play parrot, plain and simple’ said a regular conservation source in Arusha when discussing the merits of the case again and its current standing. ‘They surely know that a highway across the migration routes with the projected growth in traffic volume, as per the government’s own forecasts, cannot be any good to the animals. But for protecting their jobs they made a deal with the devil and are ready to say literally anything. Their professional integrity is out of the window now and they are discredited as professionals, both of them’ continued the source, hoping that the judges will see through the ‘charade and smokescreen’ as the source put it and eventually rule for a permanent injunction against the highway.

The Tanzanian government, in this case as in similar cases like the soda ash factory project in the breeding grounds of the flamingos at Lake Natron, has in the past refused to even distantly entertain the possibility of a Southern route around the park, which according to several studies would reach a far greater population. The World Bank and the German government have offered to finance the feasibility studies through grants and then assist in financing the alternative route, but clearly bound by commitments made behind closed doors to election financiers, thought to include top mining interests, the government is stuck with a plan repeatedly called ‘evil’ to link the mining concessions between the Serengeti and Lake Victoria with a direct highway, along which it has been alleged even a new railway line from Tanga to the planned new port at Musoma may run. The soda ash export is only viable via railway, giving credibility to such allegations and as it is unlikely that such a railway arm will stand alone, when only separated by a relatively short distance to Musoma, it is easy to imagine how critics of the Tanzania government’s plans have concluded what is about to unfold, should the highway be allowed to go forward.

No date could be obtained when judgment may be expected or if in fact another day of hearings will have to be scheduled or additional submissions in writing be required from the judges. Watch this space.

DAR ES SALAAM RESIDENTS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER LOSS OF HISTORICAL BUILDINGS

(Posted 20th August 2013)

A regular source from Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam has just forwarded an article in yesterday’s The Citizen newspaper, which decries the loss of historical buildings at a rate, which, if not halted, could destroy this Indian Ocean port city’s heritage within a few years.

I happily oblige to republish the entire article, author’s credit included of course, for the benefit of my readers:

Dar losing identity because of demolitions, says expert

Karimjee Hall, one of Dar es Salaam’s historical landmarks. PHOTO | FILE

By Lucas Ligangam The Citizen Chief Reporter (

Posted Monday, August 19 2013 at 08:59

IN SUMMARY

· “It isn’t surprising that civil discontent is growing,” Ms Annika Seifert, an architect, researcher and author said in an interview with The Citizen over the weekend.

inShare

A German architect living in Tanzania has expressed concern over the demolitions that have been going on in Dar es Salaam in the last 10 years, saying the city was very close to a point of no return because it will have rid itself of features and characters that gave it its identity.

“It isn’t surprising that civil discontent is growing,” Ms Annika Seifert, an architect, researcher and author said in an interview with The Citizen over the weekend.

She said from traditional Swahili houses and colonial buildings to the beautiful architecture of Uhindini and early post-independence structures, historical buildings in Dar es Salaam tell the remarkable story of a nation going from precolonial through colonial to post-independence times.

“Their historical significance is not only defined by their architectural beauty and cultural richness but equally by their history,” said Ms Seifert. She added that these buildings have great potential for the citizens’ identification with their city, for cultural tourism and, not least, for the real estate market.

“Prominent examples like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and many others have shown very successfully how to benefit from sustainable heritage management, on the long run,” said the architect.

Ms Seifert suggests that the obvious first step would be to move from the demolitions to preservation of the various historically significant buildings held in trust for the Tanzanian people by government authorities, the National Housing Corporation (NHC) and municipalities.

“Secondly, the legislation needs improvement; the existing list of protected buildings is incomplete and enforcement procedures are unclear,” she said.

Thirdly, Ms Seifert said, public authorities should establish incentives like compensations or tax reductions for private owners willing to preserve architectural heritage.

She said in a booming city like Dar es Salaam it would be too easy to blame individual property owners for selling their plots to often foreign investors who are willing and able to spend millions in real estate development.

However, unlike in most other cities, a majority of Dar es Salaam’s historical buildings is managed by public bodies like the government itself or the NHC.

The architect said where private owners might not be expected to put the general welfare over their individual profit, Tanzanian citizens should have the right to ask exactly that from their government and its institutions.

“What the city has witnessed over the past ten years resembles a sellout of the city’s historical assets for the sake of short-term profit while the public is left behind with an overstrained and semi-dysfunctional city centre comprised of high-rise buildings of often alarming poor quality,” she said.

She said Dar es Salaam was a city of roughly 1,500 square kilometres, adding: “Other more easily accessible zones outside the historical centre lend themselves to dense real estate development to host the growing economy and thriving businesses of the country.

At the same time concepts for the re-use of old buildings and investment strategies for the refurbishment and maintenance of historical fabric can be developed, said Ms Seifert.

, adding that it will be crucial to involve the general public as well as to create awareness for public bodies.

She said the Architectural Association of Tanzania was currently establishing DARCH, a Centre for Architectural Heritage in Dar es Salaam.

Contracted by the ministry of Finance and funded by the European Community the project intends to pool capacities for the conservation, research and documentation of historical architecture in Tanzania.

“Committed individuals and civil society initiatives are encouraged to address DARCH with concerns and ideas. At this point citizens shouldn’t wait for authorities to solve the matter,” said Ms Seifert.

ZANZIBAR TOURISM STAKEHOLDERS BEMOAN DROP IN REVENUES

(Posted 20th August 2013)

News of a significant drop in revenues from tourism, reportedly now standing at some 150 billion Tanzania Shillings versus 165 billion Tanzania Shillings for the previous year, have raised added concerns among tourism stakeholders on the spice island. The figures were just released by official sources, reflecting the financial performance of the financial year 2012/13 which ended on the 30th of June, vis a vis the preceding year 2011/12.

Regular sources from the main island of Unguja have attributed the drop to several factors, one being the softening economies in their main source markets, but also at the same time the failure of tourism marketing to identify and nurture new and emerging markets. One source also pointed at negative publicity over politically inspired riots and demonstrations, the burning of churches, killing of a Catholic priest and – though this could not yet have had a full impact – the recent attack on two British volunteers in the heart of the ancient stone town for which Zanzibar is globally known.

We are engaged in talks with government, here in Zanzibar and on the mainland, and are also discussing new ways forward with our tourism marketing officials. There are many issues which need resolving. Budget for marketing Tanzania and Zanzibar is one, increasing tourist security to more visible levels another. We have to package ourselves better. Zanzibar has top rated resorts and more are being built. The quality is outstanding and our beaches can hold their own in comparison with the world’s best. We have all the right ingredients in combination with the mainland safari parks. Maybe we also need to strengthen the visibility and reputation of the entire East Africa in our key markets because when one country has issues it seems to affect us all’ said a regular contributor from the island’s tourism fraternity.

It was recently reported here that ZATI, the Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors, has renewed their efforts to engage government on a range of issues of concern to hotel and resort owners and tour operators, with the aim to improve government’s focus on tourism as a major source of revenue and job creation through dialogue. Watch this space.

Rwanda News

KIBUYE’S PRIMUS PORT SET TO HOST LAKE KIVU’S FIRST BARGE PARTY

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

We are doing such festivals and location specific activities to promote domestic tourism to the less visited sites in Rwanda and taking this boat party to Kibuye will encourage others to come up with their own ideas’ said a regular source from Kigali when passing the information that the lakeside town of Kibuye will be the host for Lake Kivu’s first ever boat, or barge party.

Lake Kivu, along which on the Rwandan side the Congo Nile Trail has broken new ground in East Africa to bring tourists to this scenic part of the country, where they can over a distance of 224 kilometres hike, bike, boat and 4×4 the trail, has long been one of East Africa’s hidden gems, deserving much greater publicity and visitor numbers.

The main town of Gisenyi, home to Serena Hotels’ westernmost property in East Africa, the Lake Kivu Serena, sees more traffic due to the border vicinity of Goma in the Congo DR but other parts along the lake could well do with more visitors, Kibuye as well as Kamembe, where presently Air Rwanda flies daily to using their Embraer Dash 8 aircraft. ‘You know of course the islands one can visit from Kibuye, or the forest park of Nyungwe, or Gishwati which is a national forest reserve. We have refined our coffee and tea tours to show visitors how tea and coffee are grown and processed before we invite them to taste the special flavour only Rwandan tea and coffee have. There are now many accommodation facilities along the lake from Gisenyi to Kamembe and those cater for any budget. The barge party this weekend hopefully will bring a lot of visitors from Kigali and maybe even from outside Rwanda to Kibuye. While there our visitors can see Napoleon Island or Amahoro Island the following day before returning home’.

Don’t I wish to be back on the shores of Lake Kivu for this weekend, a wish sadly not granted as duty requires my presence at the shores of Lake Victoria. Watch this space.

Seychelles News

AFFORDABLE SEYCHELLES GETS PRESIDENTIAL NOD

(Posted 25th August 2013)

Affordable Seychelles appears a concept which many around the world, even those in the travel industry, often take with a grain of salt, a shake of the head and a frown of disbelief. In fact, one can hardly blame the doubting Thomases, considering that the archipelago is of course marketed around the world as a destination of glitz and glamour, home for many of the world’s rich and famous and the hospitality industry only comprises of 5 and 6 star resorts and hotels.

But there is another side to the coin, the side of true affordability, as incidentally shown in past articles posted here. More and more Seychellois owned guest houses, bed&breakfast and self catering establishments have sprung up in recent years, supported by a government which has shifted economic focus towards empowering the citizens of the country and by drawing them into the most important sector of the Seychelles’ economy, tourism.

Holiday apartments are now easily available, as are holiday villas, the latter of course somewhat more pricey, but when visiting ‘Seychelles Secrets’ on the tourism board website, it is immediately evident that tariffs per night are expressed in the tens of Euros and not the hundreds of Euros a visitors might otherwise expect to be charged. In fact the STB website specifically refers to the board’s mandate to promote this segment of the market when they state: ‘Additionally, STB is responsible for the Small Establishment Enhancement Program (SEEP), a marketing initiative that has been developed to help promote the country’s smaller establishments under the brand name “Seychelles Secrets’. These facilities can be accessed via two links on the main website of the Seychelles, namely http://www.seychelles.travel/en/plan_your_visit/budget_holiday_accommodation.php where in fact approved and licensed establishments show tariffs from as low as 25 Euros a night and then the main link how to book on line an affordably holiday via www.seychellessecrets.com

None other than President James Alix Michel has a few days ago underscored the importance of such empowerment programmes and the political will of his government to further promote the involvement in the sector by Seychellois citizens, when he visited a number of such establishments in Bel Ombre and the Beau Vallon Bay area, accompanied by tourism and culture minister Alain St. Ange and Sherin Naiken, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board. While there the president was also given an overview of the planned re-development of the ‘Golden Mile’ which is at the centre of making the Beau Vallon Bay area into a showcase for a user friendly park and promenade, to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

The president visited, among other places, the Hanneman Residences, the Treasure Cove, Casadani, the Sable d’ Or apartments as well as the famous Boat House Creole Restaurant and the Blue Sea Divers Centre. More than 70 Seychellois owned businesses are located in this part of the main island Mahe alone, evidence of how this market segment has taken roots in recent years following the economic changes introduced under the Michel presidency. President Michel in fact was quoted to have said during his visit: ‘I think this is very good and very healthy for the economy that we empower the Seychellois to seize the opportunity to take part in the development of the tourism industry. I was really impressed by what I have seen and all the operators have expressed satisfaction at the way their business is developing and I would encourage other Seychellois who want to join the business to also take the opportunity made available for them and help create wealth for themselves and for the country. It was important in the beginning to focus on large hotels to get the necessary volume in order to give a boost to the tourism industry, which was not performing well. This strategy has worked well through incentives the government offered and the industry has now picked up and we have succeeded in making visitors eager to visit Seychelles. I believe now the time has come to empower Seychellois entrepreneurs for them to benefit from the industry as well. It is important for me to give more attention to important sectors of our economy. It shows that Seychellois entrepreneurs are heeding my call to leve debrouye and are taking the initiative, are interested to join the business and help develop the industry. There is a need for more pavements and walkways and street lightings. These are important for the security of both visitors and locals.
The president then added, in relation to the new beach front developments at Beau Vallon Bay: ‘It was also an opportunity to see and get detailed explanations on site by Minister St Ange on how the new promenade at Beau Vallon will be built’.

Minister St. Ange in turn replied to the president when he said: ‘There was a time when we had to bring in five-star hotels through different brands in order to reposition Seychelles as a reputed holiday destination but now we have to consolidate our tourism industry and in so doing we have to bring in Seychellois entrepreneurs. We can never consolidate the industry with foreigners only’.

Access to past articles is available through the links below to give an even greater insight into the transformation of Seychelles’ tourism, which has opened up an entirely new market segment which has made the Seychelles reachable and affordable for a whole new range of visitors, from the African continent and around the world.

http://wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/affordable-seychelles-a-reality-and-no-longer-a-myth/

http://wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/seychelles-tourism-news-update-affordable-seychelles-myth-or-reality/

http://wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/seychelles-news-update-affordable-seychelles-campaign-to-stay/

The next two main events in the Seychelles will be the Seychelles Ball on the 21st of September and then the Festival Kreol between 25th and 31st of October. Watch this space.

SEYCHELLES DELEGATION LEAVES FOR UNWTO ASSEMBLY

(Posted 22nd August 2013)

The Seychelles’ Minister for Tourism and Culture, Alain St. Ange, is leading his delegation to the upcoming General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization, where he will deliver a key note address, besides standing for election to the UNWTO Executive Committee.

St. Ange is accompanied by his Permanent Secretary in the ministry Mrs. Anne Lafortune, Ms. Sherin Naiken, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, the immediate past CEO Elsia Grandcourt – who according to the grapevine may in fact be taking up a senior position at the UNWTO headquarters in Madrid – alongside David Germain, Director of Marketing for Africa and the Amerivas and Jenifer Sinon, Director of HR and Administration at the STB headoffice in Bel Ombre on the main island of Mahe.

The Seychelles marketing juggernaut has over the past several years attracted huge attention and is now cited as a case study in many places of higher education where marketing trends and activities are being dissected, scrutinized and analyzed to determine, what makes one destination more successful than others and why some, like the Seychelles, though relatively small in size and numbers, so massively outranks larger destinations. Other destinations too are turning to the Seychelles model of engaging with the media and the travel trade, the airlines and other partners to showcase the archipelago from its sunniest side.

All the best to Alain St. Ange for his elective bid, where he no doubt will make an outstanding representative for Africa at UNWTO.

SEYCHELLES’ AFICIONADOS LOOK FORWARD TO SESEL SA!

(Posted 21st August 2013)

A new tourism magazine, Sesel Sa! – the Voice of Seychelles Tourism, will soon be launched it was learned from regular sources on the main island of Mahe. The new promotional magazine will be produced by Paradise Promotions which is also behind the popular lifestyle magazine, Potpourri. This will be done in collaboration with the Seychelles Tourism Board and the A5 sized magazine will have an initial print run of 10.000 copies.

Sesel Sa! will be a magazine for the Seychelles tourism industry as well as agents and media abroad to provide an informative and diverse insight into the latest news and events. Selected articles, editorials and features will cover a broad spectrum of Seychelles tourism-related topics to be published under one banner and communicated to the world.

Tourism is about filling the knowledge gap’, commented the new CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, Sherin Naiken, before adding ‘which is an important component of the visibility we are seeking as a destination and Sesel Sa! will be an invaluable tool to help us achieve that.’

Predominantly aimed at overseas tourism partners as a tool to enable them to sell the islands more effectively, Sesel Sa! will be widely distributed at trade fairs, workshops and road shows and also via all the Seychelles Tourism offices across the world.

The online version of the magazine will provide a quick source of reference for tourism agents around the world to have the most up to date information at hand to assist them book clients with ease. The PDF document will be in simple format for easy download and email and no larger than 3MB.

Produced in A5 format, Sesel Sa! will contain informative editorials on the destination as well as articles covering its niche markets such as diving, sailing, fishing, etc and interviews with key tourism stakeholders on a rotational basis. It will be the ideal medium for disseminating up-to-date industry and aviation news and key messages from the Seychelles Tourism Board and the local trade. The high print-quality magazine will also provide valuable statistics and facts to help differentiate Seychelles from the competition.

This a ground-breaking promotional tool and its versatility will be sure to make a huge difference in raising the profile of Seychelles in the highly competitive, global tourism arena’ said Seychelles’ Minister for Tourism & Culture, Alain St.Ange on the occasion of making the announcement. Seychelles, truly Another World.

LA DIGUE FESTIVAL BROUGHT THOUSANDS TO THE ISLAND

(Posted 20th August 2013)

The Seychelles’ most important religious festival, the La Digue Island Feast of Assumption once again presented itself as a crowd puller last week, when thousands of Seychellois but notably also foreign tourists flocked to the archipelago’s third largest island to witness and participate in the celebration of this Catholic event.

This year’s celebration was unexpectedly greatly enhanced with an ad hoc photo exhibition of old photographs of years long gone by.

Details received from none other than the Seychelles Minister for Tourism and Culture Alain St. Ange, who was born and raised on this island, about the exhibition read as follows:

The Organising Committee of the La Digue 2013 celebrations brought about a new addition to the feast with a photo exhibition of old La Digue photos. This exhibition became a reality following an appeal by the 15th August organising committee for the people of La Digue to come forward with their most cherished old shots from family albums.

The pictures attracted many to see life of days gone bye through a superb collection of photos of people, homes, musicians, work areas etc.

It was Hon Chantal Guislain, the elected Member of the Seychelles National Assembly for the La Digue Constituency who welcomed everyone to the photo exhibition at the District Administration Centre in the presence of Minister Alain St.Ange, the Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism and Culture, Sherin Naiken, the CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board and the La Digue District Administrator.

Hon Chantal Guislain said that the island of La Digue was proud to be adding a new event to the La Digue feast: ‘This photo exhibition will remind everyone of how we lived on La Digue in days gone bye. The old photos will bring many a familiar personality back to life, and this should remind everyone of La Digue’s way of life many years ago’.

When he took to the podium to officially open the La Digue photo exhibition and the Lafet La Digue 2013 Minister Alain St.Ange, the Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism and Culture and a La Digue Island born and bred personality said that the old pictures of La Digue that are on display brings back many fond memories of life on La Digue. ‘Firstly I need to congratulate Hon Chantal Guislain and her 15th August Celebration’s Organising Committee for the initiative to include such a photo exhibition as part of the 2013 celebrations. As a Diguois I have enjoyed admiring these old pictures depicting life on our island many years ago. I have also seen many familiar faces who have since sadly left us and this brought back many pleasant memories’.

The Minister went on to say that it was important to know where we come from to be better able to trace the way forward: ‘Today we have fast ferries linking Mahe to Praslin in just one hour, but when I was young and growing it took us four full hours on the ferry Lady Esme or the schooner Aroha to get from Mahe to La Digue. Today our ferries dock at the La Digue jetty, but before we had to use a whaleboat to disembark from boats right here at La Passe’.

Following the success of this annual calendar of events festival, all eyes are now on the next big event, the Seychelles Ball which is due to take place on September 21st at the Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay Resort and Casino. And as the saying goes, Seychelles, truly Another World.

AND in closing the regular dose of news from ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ courtesy of Gill Staden – THANK YOU!

Events on the Way

12-22 August: Mzanzi Trophy. Etosha to Livingstone.

20-24 August: Three Nations Golf Challenge. Victoria Falls Town.

21 August: Zambezi Classic Fishing Competition. Katima Mulilo

24-29 August: UNWTO

26 August: Miss Tourism. Chrismar, Livingstone

13-15 September: Fishing Competition. Eagles Rest, Siavonga

2-4 October: Fishing Competition. Kariba Town

26 October: Zambezi Kayak Festival.

26-31 October: World Adventure Travel Summit. Windhoek

Returning to Zambia

After spending 10 days in Zimbabwe I was feeling happy to get back to Zambia and a bit of normality. Sadly my happiness rapidly disappeared when I arrived at the Victoria Falls Zambian border. The queue was coming out of the door and people were standing in the sun, melting. I thought, probably, that there was a queue because of a bus and decided to sit in the car and wait for it to die down. 20 minutes later with the queue hardly moving and more people joining, I went to have a look.

I found that the Immigration officers had been given some new toys and were taking snapshots of everyone passing the counter. It was taking at least 5 minutes to process each person as the officers fumbled with their new equipment.

I joined the queue to wait … As I was standing patiently in the queue I noticed tour operators with their clients arriving and going in the side door and jumping the queue. I saw it a couple of times and thought I would try the same trick. I was told to go to the back of the queue and wait my turn. I complained but was not listened to …

After over an hour I finally arrived at the counter. My passport was flicked through and I was asked where my permit was. It is in the car, I said. I want to see it, he said. I knew he was just getting his own back for my previous misadventure when trying to push in the line. I got my permit. He flicked through that and conferred with some of his colleagues. They didn’t take my snapshot, although everyone else before me had had their taken. He stamped my passport and I was allowed to proceed.

This is going to be fun during the UNWTO! Can you imagine the people trying to pass from Zambia to Zimbabwe, rushing from one bit of the programme to the next?? They can expect a couple of hours standing in the sun while the Zambia Immigration officials snap each person and scan their passports. Oh no, I hear you say – all the delegates will have special passes to get through the border … But what about those who are not delegates – the press, the onlookers, the family and friends who have just come to see the Victoria Falls during this time … will they have passes? I doubt it.

For myself I handed in my car papers and vowed never to go through the border again until the Immigration officers had broken their new cameras. Either that or they learn to operate them efficiently and not inconvenience our much-needed tourists …

A Helicopter Ride

I hadn’t done the helicopter ride over the Falls for many years and I had forgotten how good it is. I arrived on time just before 8 in the hazy morning and watched the microlights. Then the helicopter was ready and I joined another couple to board. Headphones on, strapped in a seatbelt, the pilot, Kevin, took us into the air speeding across the ground. The first sight is the Zambezi River stretching across the length of the view. Gosh, it is big. We forget …

And then we were over the Falls. There was not much spray that morning; the river is rapidly going down with only a few streams of water coming over the Zambian side. The water was gushing down Devil’s Cataract on the Zimbabwe side and I could see clearly the difference in height of the lip of the Falls which makes the water head over the Zimbabwe side.

The water at Devil’s Cataract is slowly, oh so slowly, eroding the rock to make a new gorge … but it will be thousands of years before it happens, so nothing for us to be concerned about. According to information the Falls have taken 100,000 years to eat back the rock and make the gorges to where they are now … so, yes, we have a long time to wait before we see another gorge … what on earth will it be called? We can’t call it first gorge because that already exists …

I noticed all the trucks queuing up on the Zimbabwe side of the border waiting to be processed through Customs … I really think that we should have another border away from the Victoria Falls. The border is so chaotic and is a blot on the landscape for our most famous treasure. Can you imagine how beautiful we could make the Victoria Falls Park on both sides of the river if we did away with the formalities of the border crossing? I don’t know how it could be done, but it is worth thinking about …

Should we blame Cecil Rhodes for placing the bridge where it is? No, of course not – it is as special as the Falls themselves. What we need to do is to make another bridge over the river away from the Falls so that the trucks and non-tourist vehicles are diverted from the area.

Having flipped over the Falls for a while we headed back to Batoka Land and took a quick spin over the river and the Mosi-oa-Tunya Game Park. I noticed lots of elephant on Siloka Island; Kevin pointed out warthog, buffalo, impala in the park. All the animals looked like ants on the ground. The bush was dry and we could see all the elephant damage to the trees. Now that the fence is going up around the park we are going to contain the elephants into a smaller area so, surely, we need to see how we can extend the park up into Dambwa Forest. The elephants are increasing in numbers every year and we love them but they do need lots of space …

We saw, too, the boma where the new animals are being held prior to be released into the park.

This is going to be a real treat to have a wider species range within the park. I don’t know what is there, but it can only be for the good. Now we just need to remove some of the impala and giraffe and replace them with others to increase the gene pool.

Parks like the Mosi-oa-Tunya Park, because they are so small, need to be carefully managed – the environment and the wildlife. We are keeping the animals in a small area for the benefit of people so the environment needs to be kept healthy. The wildlife cannot migrate from the park and find new mates so they too have to be managed.

Anyhow, I digress … Sadly we landed at the helipad and the ride was over. It was far too short … Thank you Batoka Sky.

UNWTO Preps

Of course all the media have been full of the UNWTO preparations because it starts this coming Saturday. I did attempt to get a programme of events, but failed. All I know is that the first couple of days will be spent in Zimbabwe with the opening ceremony there and the last couple of days in Zambia.

From the Times of Zambia we are told that Zambia and Zimbabwe will run joint operations of the Police Services to ensure safety. According to the report there will be water patrols; the delegates will move freely between the two countries and the two police forces will be in constant radio contact.

As the region around the Victoria Falls is probably one of the safest places in the world, I think their job will be minimal unless, of course, unruly elements are attracted to the congress. We know that, on the Zambian side the sex workers have already been removed and someone told me the other day that people on buses coming to Livingstone were being checked by Immigration on the way in.

Whether the UNWTO should be held at the Victoria Falls or not because of the problems in Zimbabwe, is past being discussed anymore. It was a hot topic previously and some countries have pulled out because of the excesses of the government in Zimbabwe. The decision-makers in the UNWTO did not seem concerned about Zimbabwe, so it is with surprise that I read an article that Edwin W. Leslie, President & CEO of Leslie Hospitality Consulting is to put forward a referendum for members of the UNWTO to boycott the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, because of its stand on gay and lesbian people. Although delegates at the UNWTO will be from all over the world, it seems unlikely that they will give this item on the agenda much time … Most of Africa, including Zambia and Zimbabwe are against gay and lesbian people … It is still a hot topic and certainly not one which they want to discuss at the moment …

Anyway, here are some nice pics:

Vic Falls new road signs

New VIP Guest lounge at VF Airport

New conference facility at Elephant Hills … sorry about the chappie with the dust mask … I was on a bus …

And, in Zambia, our conference facilities at the Royal Livingstone. This will be removed afterwards unlike the one at Elephant Hills which is said to have a 30-year lifespan.

Machenje Fishing Lodge

From Africa Wildlife Foundation

KAZUNGULA DISTRICT, Zambia, August 13, 2013—The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Taonga Safaris, and residents of the Sekute Chiefdom today celebrated the opening of Machenje Fishing Lodge, a community-owned conservation enterprise located about 60 km outside of Livingstone, Zambia. Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts, Hon. Sylvia T. Masebo, MP, officially opened the lodge. …