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

AVIATION, TOURISM AND CONSERVATION NEWS from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

A weekly roundup of breaking news, reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

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Fourth edition October 2013

East Africa News

QATAR AIRWAYS ANNOUNCES MIAMI AS 6TH US DESTINATION

(Posted 22nd October 2013)

Regular travellers from East Africa using Qatar Airways will be pleased to learn that come June 2014 they will be able to fly with them via Doha to Miami / Florida.

This latest addition to the growing list of destinations will be a result of taking delivery of more B787 aircraft, which are able to fly nonstop on such extended routes.

The announcement came a day after the end of Kenya’s Magical Kenya Travel Expo, where Qatar Airways was one of only two foreign airlines with a stand, showcasing their business class flat bed seat, tried out by none other than President Uhuru Kenyatta when he visited the exhibition hall prior to the official opening. Qatar Airways currently serves Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Entebbe and Kigali in East Africa, making it an airline of choice for many frequent travellers.

In a related development it is now only a matter of days before Qatar Airways will formally join the oneworld global aviation alliance on October 30th, giving both QR as well as oneworld added clout through pooled resources, more opportunities for codeshared flights and cooperation across the world.

oneworld has only recently won more accolades when the Business Traveller Magazine voted them as ‘Best Airline Alliancefor 2013.

Uganda News

WORK ON MULTI LANE HIGHWAY TO JINJA TO START IN 2015

(Posted 23rd October 2013)

(Picture courtesy of Uganda National Roads Authority)

Whether by coincidence or by design has the Uganda National Road Authority, in short UNRA, in recent days taken to the public and the media with their plans to build a state of the art highway from the outskirts of Kampala to Jinja as part of the intra African highway from Mombasa to the hinterland.

Of late some rather lunatic ideas have been floated in the media to build a Kampala city airport, some 45 kilometres away from the main international gateway of Entebbe for ‘convenience’ of people wanting to fly to Jinja which is a mere 80 kilometres away from the capital. Both municipalities, Entebbe and Jinja, will in due course be connected by multi lane highways, with the Entebbe route already under construction while the Jinja connection is due to be kicked off in a year and a half after land compensation issues have been addressed.

I think UNRA wants to nip that airport rubbish in the bud as early as possible because when you look at the overall cost, the stretch to Jinja might cost a trillion Uganda Shillings including all the compensation for land. Me I think they are driving home the point that there is only so much money to go around and it should not be wasted on non starters’ wrote a regular source when debating the issue mentioned in an earlier article about the Uganda Civil Aviation launching their strategic plan review during which the Kampala City Airport once again was raised, to the dismay of many who suspect this, as is the talk of the revival of a national airline, will be a giant scheme to milk public coffers without giving lasting value while opening the door to potential mega corruption.

Like with the Entebbe multi lane highway, UNRA has kept the planned route a tightly guarded secret to avoid speculation in land along that route escalating the cost of compensation.

The new Jinja highway will like the new bridge in Jinja over the Nile, upstream from the present road across the Owen Falls dam and the present railway bridge, be supported by the government of Japan, although the construction and operation of the road will very likely be done in the format of a private public partnership to reduce the cost for government. Highway users, like to Entebbe, will have to pay a road toll, a small price to pay considering that the present traffic jams are delaying journeys by road to both destinations considerably and linking the two new highways to the present Northern Bypass around Kampala to decongest city traffic. For now, it is clear that UNRA has been actively working on some major new highway projects, and while a decade late, compared to what has been happening in Kenya where in particular in and around Nairobi major highways have been complete or are at the final stage of completion, it is nevertheless encouraging to see that the Pearl of Africa is finally playing some serious catch up. Watch this space.

UGANDA CAA LAUNCHES 20 YEAR STRATEGIC PLAN REVIEW

(Posted 23rd October 2013)

A regular source close to the UCAA has confirmed that a full scale review and update of the Civil Aviation Authority’s 20 year strategic plan has been launched by the Uganda Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala. With traffic last year rising to over 1.4 million passengers has the country’s main airport, Entebbe International, been reaching capacity limits during peak periods, often giving a less than favourable impression on departing passengers, made worse by the arguably worst security set up in the entire region which compels passengers to carry their luggage from the distant parking area to the entrance of the departure gate. While assisted at the staircase – NO elevator or escalator is in place to assist travellers with physical challenges – where porters are on duty to schlep the bags upstairs, the main strain however remains on the passengers, exposed to either the hot sun or as the weather may play, to pouring rain, while the goons who invented this ‘precaution’ sit in their posh airconditioned offices and could not care less for the comfort of visitors to the Pearl of Africa’. However, the security apparatus has been largely unmoved by regular complaints filed by airlines, the CAA themselves and travellers in their social media comments, one reason that Entebbe has moved from a once preferred airport in the region of short un-crowded ways to an often nightmare experience today, especially when it rains.

Dr. Rama Makuza, CEO of the UCAA, announced the launch of the strategic plan review, due to be completed within about half a year, following which the CAA will decide which elements to implement first.

Aviation observers already poked fun at suggestions of a city airport to be built, so that people ‘can fly to Jinja without first going to Entebbe’ with one airline executive asking to provide figures of how many passengers in fact fly from Entebbe to Jinja and what traffic potential there is, considering plans that government intends to build a dual carriage highway to Jinja, where the construction of a new bridge across the Nile is also commencing shortly.

It shows the level of disconnect between some planners and reality on the ground. There is a fully functional airfield in Kajjansi and they talk of spending hundreds of millions of US Dollars they do not even have for a white elephant city airport. Instead they should engage with MAF who own the Kajjansi field to expand the strip, perhaps pave it and hey presto, you got your city airport at a fraction of the cost they are floating. But then we all know, that would prevent eating big’.

Continued suggestions to relaunch a national airline too have come under sustained fire by industry experts blaming the promoters of the idea on ulterior motives, as the option to buy into Air Uganda, currently the country’s quasi national carrier, is for all purposes still on the table but again, that would – according to another source – again prevent eating big. ‘Let government buy into U7 and get 20 or 25 percent. The owners have long said that when the circumstances are right they will float shares for the Ugandan public to buy into the airline and if government is on board already, that can only be a winning combination. Let us not waste time on the white elephants which in the past cost taxpayers very dearly. Let me remind your readers how Uganda Airlines was gutted when the only profitable division, ground handling, was cheaply ‘privatized’, condemning them to slow financial death, before messing up the privatization exercise in the process by scaring off investors. You think there has been any change since then? Think again!’ ranted the source, one with a life time in Ugandan aviation and therefore a true expert and not just a one off pundit.

Overall though has the CAA’s plan to finally engage in a complete review of their strategic plan been warmly welcomed, on condition of direct stakeholder input in the exercise and a joint public review with the country’s aviation industry stakeholders. Another regular contributor also insisted that airport management should be separated from the main UCAA activities by forming a Uganda Airport Authority, which would allow the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority to concentrate on their regulatory function and not mix this crucial element with managing airports and aerodromes, where one arm of the CAA would have to regulate the other.

This would be of particular significance considering that Uganda has a number of upcountry airports and aerodromes, including airstrips in national parks like Murchisons Falls and Kidepo Valley, which are owned and operated by the CAA, besides more such locations like Soroti – also location of the East African Flying School – Gulu, Arua, Kasese or Kisoro. Watch this space for more information as this process now unfolds, as and when updates become available.

LACK OF CONSULTATIONS OVER ISIMBA THREATENS SURVIVAL OF RAFTING ON THE NILE

(Posted 21st October 2013)

Key stakeholders in Uganda’s adventure tourism sector have joined hands with local authorities and the Busoga Kingdom in voicing their growing concern over the lack of consultations about the planned Isimba hydro electric power plant and dam. From information available and gathered over the past weeks does it appear that no substantive consultative talks have taken place nor has an environmental impact assessment been made available to affected communities and tourism stakeholders, all of whom are bound to lose big time should two of the floated dam versions be implemented.

White water rafting has become one of Uganda’s trademark adventure activities and already suffered setbacks when after the closure of the Bujagali dam the water upstream began to rise, eventually flooding the formerly famous Bujagali Falls and turning the river into a lake of sorts, where previously dozens of rafts every day raced over the rapids, providing thrills to tourists from around the world.

Subsequently did all the operators have to relocate their river entrance point to below the Bujagali power plant, only to be confronted once again with the prospect of up to 16 kilometres behind the planned Isimba dam being turned into another mini lake, flooding rapids crucial to the rafting sport and potentially forcing them to close shop.

Several individuals involved in the rafting and kayaking business have since mid September provided details of how two of the three floated versions of the dam would effectively kill rafting in Uganda, leading to a major loss of jobs and foreign exchange earnings, as tourists seeking such thrills would then divert their visits to Zambia and Zimbabwe where they can raft the Zambezi River, to the upper sections of Kenya’s Tana River or to South Africa’s white water rivers, no longer coming to the Pearl of Africa.

Stakeholders claim to have been sidelined and given the cold shoulder by government offices where they sought information about the dam, with implied suggestions that they were ‘anti development’ in a classic tactical move used before when initial concerns were raised about the Bujagali power plant. Back then, when America’s AES was still involved, they equally tried to silence critics and portray them as ‘enemies of progress’ – turning the facts on the head as was later found out by grossly understating and downplaying the huge tourism potential of rafting and related businesses. As a result have stakeholders been forced to use the channels of the media to put their issues into the public domain, as attempts to engage directly with the concerned companies and public offices have failed to get any meaningful results so far.

The main issues brought to the fore are the almost complete lack of information on any environmental and social impact assessment for the project and subsequent opportunity to publicly review the details in such a study, its data and interpretation and mitigation measures. As a result the following demands are now being made by stakeholders before irreversible damage is being done by wrong decisions taken by bureaucrats, perhaps the same lot which sanctioned the Kira dam design which proved woefully inadequate and has failed to live up to the projections of power production ever since it was commissioned.

The effect of this dam on the tourism industry would be huge. Rafting and kayaking bring people from all over the world to Uganda, and a whole industry has built up around the river. There are all sorts of other secondary activities that benefit from the people who go rafting here and thousands of Ugandans that are employed by the industry. Members of the tourism industry here have compiled a list of 100 companies that will be affected by the Isimba Dam. Some of these are directly affected like the kayaking and rafting companies or riverside accommodation that will be flooded while others are affected in different ways (like accommodation provided for rafters) and some that are only affected partially (like tourist restaurants in the nearby town that will be affected by a downturn in tourism). In addition to the primary affect on companies, there are all sorts of other economic disadvantages, like the shop owners ,taxi drivers and alike that make their money predominantly from tourists.

It is understood that a feasibility study was begun by a Norwegian firm, who from what we can gather gave the government quite negative initial feedback about the projects viability, then they seem to have been moved from the project for unknown reason. From what we can gather feasibility is being done / has been done by a Ugandan firm with alleged political patronage. It may be finished already, but we don’t really know its status and it is hard if not impossible to get accurate information.

The proposed reservoir under two of the three known scenarios would flood pretty much all remaining white water on this stretch of the Nile and some of the best rafting and kayaking in the world.

From all the information we can gather the dam would need to be 1.2 miles wide, the banks on one side of the river especially is very flat, so the reservoir will be huge, and in order to get any gradient the dam will have to back up 16km of river.

Even with such an enormous reservoir and wide dam (and the obvious large corresponding environmental impact), the head will be significantly less than the Bujagali dam which was supposed to create 250 mega watts and is producing less than promised. The Isimba power plant is supposed to create 188 MW but is unlikely to do so.

The area that will be flooded is populated with subsistence farms and homesteads, who already live along the poverty line. The dam developers have reportedly said that they are going to pay the villagers large sums of money per household for displacement. However, from what we can gather this seems to be mostly a ruse to get public support in the rural area around the dam and reservoir behind it. We are highly skeptical whether the developers will deliver the amounts that they are saying they will give $10,000 per household to over 350 (or 600 depending on the source) households.

From what is on public record there was a clause in the contract between World Bank and the government for the Bujagali offset, that states there would be no other hydro power affect on the area within a certain radius, within which much of the reservoir sits. This clause was to protect among others the Kalagala Falls area and prevent damaging environmental, social and economic impact for the surrounding area.

It is very hard to get accurate information about this project. There was one stakeholders meeting where two of the 100+ companies that will be affected were invited that was part of the ‘feasibility’ study, we found out at the last minute and a few of the companies were able to go along and be represented, but it was a chaotic meeting with people who didn’t really know what they were talking about and were confident that the views of the tourist industry as a collective weren’t properly recorded or represented. We don’t even know what stage the project is at and whether the feasibility study has been completed. The local media report that the project a lot further along than the Ugandan company running the feasibility study say.

We therefore demand to get an independent study done on the impact the project is likely to have on the tourism industry and on the local community, the region and the country. More specifically, we want the study to provide tangible figures and facts for the people making the decisions so that they realize the scale of the effect the new dam will have on Uganda.

We also want to raise awareness online and in the media of this issue as too little seem to reach the public at this stage. Considering the scale of what is happening this is still an untold story which has to be made public.

Stark prospects certainly for the business owners along the upper Nile valley and sadly the same tactics and methods are being used which AES practiced, downplaying, bedevelling and foulmouthing those who dare to ask legitimate questions and challenge patently false answers. Perhaps the promoters of the Isimba power plant could take a leaf from the way the present Bujagali consortium approached these issues, with wide spread consultations, taking sound advice on board and giving stakeholders facts and figures in the spirit of open disclosure, but then, that was IPS, an AKFED company with ethics and standards of best business practice and not an obscure entity trying to stay in the shadows where they can evade and avoid being directly challenged. Watch this space.

Kenya News

SAND RIVER MASAI MARA OPENS FOR GUESTS

(Posted 24th October 2013)

Soft opened in July this year has the Sand River Masai Mara tented camp almost quietly entered the luxury safari market in Kenya, expanding the ‘elewana’ collection’s reach from their traditional base in Tanzania across the border into Kenya too. Built on elevated platforms do all the 16 tents offer privacy for guests, able to enjoy unrestricted views towards the Sand River at a location, where during the migration season regular river crossings of the large herds can be witnessed literally from the comfort of the arm chair.

Equipped to exacting standards is Sand River Masai Mara joining the top end of the market in Kenya and has according to their marketing staff met at the just concluded Magical Kenya Travel Expo made an immediate impact among their regular clientele. The camp set up offers two distinct accommodation and public areas, one with only 6 tents for smaller groups and families travelling together and enjoying a level of privacy while spending time together on safari, while the larger 10 tent unit – identical in tent layout and furnishings, caters for slightly larger groups of visitors travelling together but still seeking out top quality in a secluded tented camp rather than the conventional lodges.

Located in a part of the Masai Mara where no other camps or lodges exist has Sand River opened up an area rich in resident game, making a visit worthwhile across the entire year, not just for the migration period.

The new camp joins the AfroChic Resort in Diani Beach, one of Kenya’s finest beaches, as the second property in Kenya while the other six properties are located in Tanzania where operations initially started before setting sights on also covering key regional tourism hotspots.

Unbeknown to many has the Bangkok based Minor Hotel Group acquired a 50 percent stake in Elewana in 2008 and has since been supporting the East African operation through added marketing activities in MHG’s core markets. MHG is a hotel owner, operator and investor with a portfolio of over 11,000 rooms across 96 hotels, resorts and serviced suites under the Anantara, AVANI, Per AQUUM, Oaks, Elewana, Marriott, Four Seasons, St. Regis and Minor International brands.

For more information about the Elewana properties in Tanzania visit www.elewanacollection.com.

KENYA AIRWAYS’ PREPARES FOR FERRY FLIGHT OF NUMBER 45

(Posted 24th October 2013)

Tomorrow, Friday 25th will Kenya Airways’ latest and biggest bird ever take to the air from the Boeing manufacturing plant in Seattle to start the ferry flight home to the airline’s base in Nairobi. The 400 seat aircraft, offering 28 seats in Premier Class and 372 seats in Economy, will after arrival later on Friday be prepared for service at the Embakasi hangar of Kenya Airways, before entering service on 05th November with a planned flight to Guangzhou in China.

Equipped with the latest communications technology is this aircraft the first in the fleet to offer inflight WiFi connections, a brand new seat product in both classes and a state of the art entertainment system to allow passengers pass their time during the long nonstop flights from China to Kenya.

Details received from the airline speak of excitement among the airline’s management and staff over the arrival of the new bird and Dr. Titus Naikuni, CEO of Kenya Airways, was quoted in a media release received overnight as having said: ‘Our fleet and route expansion is gaining momentum and we are excited to receive the Boeing B777-300ER. It enters service in November and will fly nonstop to Guangzhou in China’.

Once the new Boeing has arrived one more aircraft will join the fleet before the end of the year, an Embraer E190, before additional deliveries resume in 2014 when in March the first of 9 B787 Dreamliners will be delivered to The Pride of Africa, allowing for the retirement of the ageing B767 fleet and allowing for major fuel savings, expected to be over 20 percent compared with older aircraft.

The new B777-300ER will be officially introduced to Kenya’s business community and frequent travellers on the 04th of November, before commencing commercial flights the next day. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from East Africa’s vibrant aviation sector.

CULINARY DELIGHTS – KENYA STYLE

(Posted 23rd October 2013)

A pictorial of what this travelling scribe found so far on his plates while on safari to Kenya … and a big compliment to the chefs encountered along the way, except that is for the soup and main course at the WTA Ceremony, where THAT host hotel lost out big in the opportunity to showcase themselves from their sunniest side. They staged such a well rehearsed service and then the food let them down … and NO, I took no pictures of that culinary assault, so shocked was I at the time … thankfully though there was plenty since then to make up for it. Just one more reason to visit Kenya, not just for the fabulous beaches of Diani or Watamu, the famous national parks and game reserves but also for the food, fresh, mostly organic and as tasty as it look. Bon Appetite, Kenya’s chefs are waiting for you to thrill your eyes and taste buds, making their own contributions to Magical Kenya. Karibuni Kenya!

KENYA HOSPITALITY TRADE FAIR AND HOTEL SUMMIT EAST AFRICA NAME 2014 DATES

(Posted 23rd October 2013)

With less than 7 months to go to the 2014 edition of the Kenya Hospitality Trade Fair and the Hotel Summit East Africa, more than half of the available exhibition space has already been sold and pending enquiries can push that on confirmation to three quarters of exhibition stands, a vote of confidence by participants of this year’s fair and symposium back in July.

The 2014 edition has been moved slightly back, from July to May and will take place between the 14th and the 16th, with exhibition and symposium running concurrently once more.

Both Lucy Gachuru and Steven Owuor, who also exhibited with their events company www.slujan-events.com at the just concluded Magical Kenya Travel Expo, expressed their commitment to make HOSEA and KHTF a bigger and better event next year, with sharpened focus on speakers and topics, enough time to discuss presentations so that the audience can take greater value home and with added time for B2B meetings between exhibitors and visitors. The survey conducted after the 2013 event showed some intriguing results, worth sharing with readers from across Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, who may want to consider either exhibiting or attending the trade show as buyers.

VISITORS

The Kenya Hospitality Trade Fair and Hotel Summit East Africa provided a unique opportunity for exhibitors to

meet with key players in the industry, make contact with decision makers, interact and engage with the hospitality,

travel and tourism industry. More than 3,500 visitors from East & Central Africa attended over the

course of 3 days – filled with pure business interaction.

VISITOR AREA OF BUSINESS

(21.2%) – Hotel/Resort

(10.46%) – Distributors/Agents

(10.2%) – Interior Designers/Decorators

(7.63%) – Manufacturer

(5.76%) – Restaurants/Bars/Fast food

(4.81%) – Architectural practice

(4.05%) – Facilities management

(3.30%) – Spa/Fitness facilities

(2.48%) – Government/ Public sector

(1.35%) – Property Developer

(0.84%) – Events services

(0.5%) – Publishing/Journalism

Kenya Hospitality Trade Fair -Post Event Report 2013

9

VISITOR JOB DESCRIPTION

(30%) – Hospitality

(2.1%) – Developers/Investors

(16%) – General Managers/Owners

(25%) – Hospitality Suppliers

(11%) – Purchasing/Procurement Managers

(11%) – Food & Beverage Managers

(1.8%) – Marketing/Sales Managers

(1.5%) – Distributors

(1.2%) – Interior Designers/Architects

(1.2%) – Tours & Travel Consultant

SURVE Y RESULTS

84% visitors arranged to do business with a new or existing supplier

74% visitors learned about new products at the visit

MAIN REASO NS FOR VISITNG KHTF 2013

33% source a new supplier

21% find/buy a specific product or service

16% establish new business contacts

14% attend the conference

12% keep up with emerging trends

4% meet up with industry colleagues

For more details visit info. Book a date with KHTF2014 and with Nairobi for next May, which will also be a date of sorts with yours truly who has already been signed up as a speaker for the symposium at the Hotel Summit East Africa 2014. Watch this space.

LUXURY SKY SAFARIS CONFIRM NEW TRENDS

(Posted 22nd October 2013)

Travel exhibitions often showcase new products and businesses, which, while they have been around for some time, have almost by stealth made their way into the big league of quality operations, and finally decided to tell the world about themselves. So has the Elewana Collection almost quietly completed their Sand River Masai Mara luxury tented camp, only their second property on this side of the border with Tanzania after their Afro Chic and the beaches of Diani.

In Tanzania itself the group operates 6 properties, from Kilindi Zanzibar over the Arusha Coffee Lodge to Tarangire Treetops, The Manor Ngorongoro to the two camps in the Serengeti, Serengeti Migration Camp and Serengeti Pioneer Camp.

Novel however, and catching my eye as I wandered across the Kenyatta International Convention Centre exhibition hall, was their SkySafari – aviation being in my blood from an early age when my WW2 fighter pilot father took me for my first spin up into the skies over my home town to experience the freedom above the clouds.

A customized Cessna B208B Grand Caravan is being used as the main conveyance to take clients on their bespoke safaris, flying out of either the Arusha Municipal Airfield or Kilimanjaro International Airport, and then using the 4×4’s of the respective camps for those all important game drives, which open up the real wilderness experience an African safari can still produce, if only put together by experts, guided by experts who know the immediate area around the camps like the back of their hands and hosted in fine camps renowned for their location, their food and overall hospitality.

I had a few months ago written about a similar venture out of Kenya, which however has already spread its wings across the entire East Africa and on to South Africa, offering the African highlights along the way, from the Masai Mara over Ngorongoro, the Selous to the Victoria Falls and other South African game parks and private conservancies.

In this day and age of buying off the shelf, which includes beach holidays and safaris, it is refreshing to see that ther are still companies where the attribute of ‘bespoke’ is fully justified, where safaris are crafted and not bought in the supermarkets of tourism – but that said, these fine examples of the old style personalized safaris can of course be checked out and booked on the web and THERE are no limits to visitors clicking on to www.elewanacollection.com or www.skysafaris.com/skysafari-plus. And even there, you know quality when you see it. Welcome to the world of Luxury Travel which against many odds is undergoing a revival of sorts.

MAGICAL KENYA SHOW A ‘GREAT SUCCESS

(Posted 22nd October 2013)

The just concluded 3rd edition of the Magical Kenya Travel Expo at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre has dwarfed previous attendance records by a wide margin,

For the first time did international exhibitors attend Kenya’s premier tourism show as the tourism boards of the Seychelles, India, Zimbabwe, Burundi and South Africa were represented with stands as was the Uganda Association of Tour Operators, the latter to forge closer cooperation with their Kenyan counterparts. Foreign airlines too attended for the first time, namely Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, while from Kenya national carrier Kenya Airways showcased itself alongside the two leading safari airlines Safarilink and Air Kenya. A total of 94 exhibitors included for the first time since the devolution of government four county governments including Narok, Kirinyaga and Nairobi. The Kenya Wildlife Service was represented with an own stand to present the country’s national parks, game and marine reserves and other protected areas.

KTB and partners like Kenya Airways, leading hotels in Nairobi and tour companies hosted 149 buyers from 29 countries who had come from across the world to sample a piece of Kenya’s natural attractions before attending the trade show, while alongside the exhibition did a symposium on areas of key interest take place, featuring international and local speakers, presenters and panelists.

KTB was particularly pleased to have President Uhuru Kenyatta open the Magical Kenya Travel Expo as it endorsed the tourism board’s initiatives and efforts to move to aggressively marketing the country abroad, starting with the World Travel Market attendance in two weeks time in London.

Participants in the symposium but also in the exhibition were able to give an instant feedback to KTB staff who will analyze the various reactions, observations, recommendations and proposals made to stage and even bigger and better Magical Kenya Travel Expo in 2014. Watch this space.

ONLY IN KENYA – DINNER A LA CHEF IN A ROYAL SUITE

(Posted 21st October 2013)

(The Limuru based Sovereign Suites)

There are a few places where, when travelling, I dare to leave the choice of menu to the chef without getting my stomach into a nervous twist. The MAIA in the Seychelles is one, the Hemingways in Karen another and before I make a longer list which may bore you, the Sovereign Suites too fall into that category.

The hour long drive – on a Sunday afternoon – from the central business district of Nairobi up into the lofty green hills of Limuru was worth the journey, not just for the tranquility of the all suite hotel but also to enjoy a bit of opulence in one of the suites on the upper floor, where the terrace offers sweeping views into the hills across the valley. Opulence of rooms here blends with indulgence, as the meals are made of fresh organic ingredients, and the plates come loaded with food to give diners who take the trouble to come all the way from the city not just quality but quantity too.

On arrival I casually mentioned that for dinner, if agreeable with the chef, he should prepare a meal of his choice for me, perhaps a signature dish or two, but what came out of the kitchen was a 7 course meal, petit fours alongside the tea included.

A honey melon sweet and hot Gazpacho was followed by a selections of hot bitings comprising wrapped prawns, a tangy tasting pea dumpling and a calamari, perfectly done and enhanced with a stuffing of olives and scallops. Next came a roasted apple and walnut salad with Tahini Mayonnaise, before a soup appeared, broccoli, asparagus and carrots making for the colours in the bowl and the soup itself ladled on to it. The bread selection made an own course, and while I sentimentally eyed those creations, I dared not to touch them for fear of not being able to stop, especially the spiced ones – until all the different breads would have vanished into my stomach.

The main course was to be a surprise and NOT to be meat or poultry. I half expected a seared salmon fillet, or some red snapper but what I got was a lobster thermidor, and not as a small tasting portion but complete with all the trimmings … Death by indulgence came to mind, as I scooped a few pieces onto a side plate and then gifted the rest to the kitchen team, so that they could finally taste some of their own creations and not just see those vanish into the stomachs of eager diners.

And if ‘Death by indulgence’ was but a distant thought when I looked at the lobster it turned into a reality when the dessert arrived … the chocolate and coffee mousse and the banana palate prompted me to start eating into it before I even managed to take a picture, so appealing did it look and so divine did it taste. Death by chocolate, for sure not the worst way to go …

Why this story you might wonder, explaining about food and suites. Well, over the past few days I participated in the Magical Kenya Travel Expo’s seminars and workshops and then the show itself. While talking with the hosted buyers, several of them dug deep to find out just how safe Kenya was and one was royally shocked when I told her that the previous evening I had walked from the KICC to the Sarova Stanley Hotel where we incidentally both stayed. Safe I told her, give it a try, and I will walk with you I told her but I could see how she was influenced by the perception that it was after all ‘Nairobbery’ … not for me it wasn’t and I can only say that walking the streets of Nairobi during the day too felt safer than in a long time, with cops keeping an eye on things, the way it should be.

KTB is presently moving from the defensive mood in the immediate aftermath of Westgate into an offensive mode, taking the battle for tourists to the markets and when making that crucial appearance at the World Travel Market in two weeks time, the world will see the spirit of defiance, a spirit of resilience and a spirit of belief in a better brighter future for Kenya tourism. MICE business will be specifically targeted and not just for Nairobi but also for the Kenya coast where facilities to host larger scale meetings exist in some of the leading resorts.

Kenya hosted in recent weeks two major conferences, the African Hotel Investment Forum and the Eco Tourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference, both global events which brought top executives to Nairobi. In addition did the Skal Clubs of Kenya bag the Skal Congress 2015 for Mombasa, another show of not just immediate solidarity but a testament too that Kenya got what it took to secure such a prestigious event. Kenya has the hotels, the resorts, the safari lodges and the attractions, as the just concluded World Travel Awards showed, when Kenya as the host country swept much of the winners trophies. Kenya has the culinary experience and talent in the kitchens around the country, from the Michelin rated chef at the Hemingways in Karen to chefs who trained at Utalii, earned their first spurs and feathers in their caps as sous chefs, then went abroad, often to the Gulf, to learn more, absorb experience and then come back home to practice the fine art of high cuisine. And Kenya has Kenya Airways, a national airline keen to play the role the private sector expects them to play, connecting Kenya to the world and the world to Kenya.

So yes, I give a resounding vote of confidence to Kenya’s tourism industry and their ability to pull that magic rabbit out of the top hat, just like we did in Uganda on several occasions in the past when we had to deal with the evil side of mankind.

To my friends at KTB a vote of thanks, for a well organized Magical Kenya Travel Expo, for the excellence of the speakers and panelists selected for the MICE Seminar and the Symposium held alongside during the Expo, for the selection of venues and for bringing the private sector on board, from Kenya Airways to the hotels and the tour companies, the logistics suppliers and the communication providers, all chipping in, all pulling their weight with but one objective in mind, to showcase Kenya and to blitz the markets. Good luck and God’s speed for WTM and beyond. Kenya is here to stay and will recover before doing better and better again. Three cheers to that as the 50 day countdown has started towards the 50thGolden Jubilee of Independence which is coming up in December and will be celebrated with 50 events and showcases along that route. Watch this space.

KENYA AIRWAYS WINS TEMPORARY REPRIEVE IN COURT

(Posted 21st October 2013)

The Kenya Court of Appeals has on Friday last week sided with Kenya Airways’ argument that they should not have to re-instate the employees made redundant last year. 447 of an overall 578 had taken the matter to court, seeking not only reinstatement but also continued salary payments, something the court now stopped until such time that the principle case has been concluded.

The Industrial Court had late last year, as was reported here at the time, in a shock decision given orders to Kenya Airways to reinstate the plaintiffs, which prompted the airline to seek an injunction from a higher court, which was granted on review of the Industrial Court’s decision and now upheld, after the counsels for the plaintiffs tried but ultimately failed to have the injunction overturned.

Kenya Airways incurred a substantial loss in the last financial year, and staff restructuring was one of several courses of action the company took to cut losses and return the airline to profitability. Other measures are the replacement of ageing aircraft with modern state of the art jets, like progressively exchanging the B767 fleet with the B787, which offers over 20 percent savings on fuel burn and a larger capacity for passengers and cargo.

Meanwhile is a KQ delegation in the United States to oversee the last touches being put on the airline’s latest acquisition, a B777-300ER, which will over the course of the next week be flown to Nairobi before it is being put into service in early November. The 400 seat aircraft, 372 in economy and 28 in business class, will feature a totally new cabin product of the latest in seat technology, access to wireless internet connectivity and a state of the art entertainment system. The four B777-200LR will be progressively retrofitted with the new cabin when undergoing heavy maintenance. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from East Africa’s vibrant aviation industry.

LADY LORI HELICOPTERS BUYOUT COMPLETE

(Posted 21st October 2013)

According to information received while in Kenya have the original owners of Lady Lori sold their stake to key members of their staff, including company CEO Ian Mimamo, maintenance manager Peter Njagi and one Adi Vinner. The company was formed by an American couple, Jim and Lori Nooyer and set up initially at the Nanyuki airfield, before eventually opening a second base at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. The ISO 9001 certified company operates a mixed fleet of helicopters of EC130B4 and AS350B3 makes, as well as a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan and even a hot air balloon which operates in the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

Lady Lori has in the past supported conservation efforts including aerial game counts and donated rapid deployment missions out of Nanyuki when reports of poaching came in. Animal relocation, collaring and darting from the helicopter have been regular assignments for Lady Lori pilots flying out of Wilson or Nanyuki, something which is expected to continue now that the ownership of the company has changed. Also to continue is the partnership with the Loisaba Community Trust, where Lady Lori has been a major contributor towards classrooms, housing for teachers, students and medical staff of the local community health centre. Lady Lori is a member of the Kenya Association of Air Operators and also of ATTA, the Africa Travel and Tourism Association.

Visit www.flyladylori.com for more information on the company, the fleet and other details.

(Picture courtesy of the Lady Lori website)

Tanzania News

MAFIA ISLAND TOURISTS ENJOY INCREASED SIGHTINGS OF WHALE SHARKS

(Posted 27th October 2013)

Information from Dar es Salaam speaks of a windfall of marine experiences for tourists visiting Mafia Island, as increased sightings of the whale sharks have been reported in recent months. Marine experts are in fact at a loss to explain why against the more ‘regular’ behaviour of whale sharks, which are known to migrate through the waters at a steady pace, the more recent sightings indicate that they are lingering in the waters around Mafia Island for much longer periods than normal. Opinions are divided if this may be caused by a ready supply of plankton, the micro organism the whale sharks feed on, or if other factors could be at play, something a study now launched is due to scientifically establish.

Tourist visitors will be interested to learn that during the period between October 2012 and March 2013 some 87 whales were spotted in the waters off Mafia Island, many coming to the surface in order to feed while others were seen by divers deeper down in the ocean. From information at hand most of the whale sharks observed were males and again most of those sighted considered adolescents, not yet grown to the massive 15 meters the mature whale sharks can grow. Local operators based as the main resorts on Mafia Island organize regular whale shark tours for visitors, making it one of Mafia’s key attractions for tourists coming to this more remote island off the Tanzanian coast line.

SAUTI ZA BUSARA LINEUP NAMED FOR 2014 EDITION OF AFRICAS ‘BIGGEST MUSIC FESTIVAL’

(Posted 23rd October 2013)

Music, art and culture enthusiasts are well advised to make early arrangements to attend Zanzibar’s Sauti Za Busara Festival between February 13th and 16th next year after the organizers Busara Promotions (www.busaramusic.org) have released their lineup of both renowned and new artists and groups – a mouth- or rather ear-watering prospect by any standards. Sauti Za Busara has over the years established itself as arguably Africa’s best known festival of this kind and the experience of past years shows that late comers find it hard to get confirmed bookings by air or in hotels and resorts across the island. The suggestion to book early this year has in fact been reinforced when the festival organizers provided for the first time an option to purchase early bird tickets sales through their website, for both single day tickets as well as for the entire festival. Tickets are available for general access as well as for the restricted ‘seated’ area of the festival and in particular East African residents can get a 50 percent rebate for the festival pass upon proof of residency in countries of the East African Community. Early birds will earn a 20 percent ticket cost rebate if signed up by the 30th of November while the period between December 01st to 31st January will still qualify for a 10 percent discount.

This however is topped this year by a special Sauti Za Busara Preview Night on the 29th of November in Dar es Salaam at the Triniti Bar and entrance, payable at the door, will be 15.000 Tanzania Shillings or just under US Dollars 10. Contact marketing for more details on location and artist lineup, but so much can be told already now that crowd favourite Msafiri Zawose will launch their latest album that night besides featuring Hoko Roro and Seven Survivor on the night.

While over 300 participants have been selected to perform next year, here is a lineup of the key acts, with links to the festival website and their bio’s to allow wannabe visitors to get a preview of what they can expect to hear and see when the festival goes underway and more such previews should become available over the next few weeks as momentum builds and anticipation rises for ‘African Music under African Skies’.

Ebo Taylor
Ghana / Germany
Jupiter & Okwess International
DRC
Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate
Guinea / USA
Wunmi
Nigeria / UK / US
Jhikoman
Tanzania
The Nile Project
Various
OY
Ghana / Switzerland
Tausi Women’s Taarab
Zanzibar
Sona Jobarteh
Gambia / UK
Swahili Vibes
Zanzibar
Addis Acoustic Project
Ethiopia
Tarabband
Egypt / Sweden / Iraq
Baladna Taarab
Zanzibar
Hajamadagascar and The Groovy People
Madagascar / France / Austria
Hoko Roro
Tanzania
Tritonik
Mauritius
7PO
Reunion / France
Joel Sebunjo ft. Lenna Kuurmaa
Uganda
Seven Survivor
Tanzania
Abantu Mandingo
Tanzania
Segere Original
Tanzania

Notably does the call for submission of music films still run until the end of November, giving artists and groups some extra time to still ‘get on board’ and online guidance can be obtained via www.busaramusic.org/callforfilm.

The festival organizers have also asked to acknowledge the generous support of their main donors and sponsors, The Norwegian Embassy, Hivos, The Goethe Institute, The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Memories of Zanzibar, Zanzibar Unique Ltd, Bluebay Zanzibar Hotels, Azam Marine among many others. Sauti Za Busara, a must not miss affair for aficionados of African music, poetry and performing arts.

TANZANIA WANTS CHINA TO REFURBISH TAZARA RAILWAY

(Posted 21st October 2013)

The railway link between Dar es Salaam and Lusaka, which was established in the early to mid 1970’s, then financed and built by the Chinese government, has for long been ailing as a result of poor maintenance and management problems. The line which is over 1.860 kilometres long covers some of Africa’s most challenging terrain but it was the lack of rolling stock and locomotives combined with regular line outages which have reduced the initial cargo volumes considerably in recent years, causing Zambia to increasingly use their rail links with South Africa to have reliable access to a deep sea port. The government owned Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Corporation has now reportedly offered to refurbish the line, in phases, when meeting the Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda during a recent visit to Beijing.

A first section due for overhaul, once the two governments have agreed and signed the relevant agreements, will be the stretch from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro before thereafter the second section from Morogoro to Dodoma will be tackled. The TAZARA Railways is operating both cargo and passenger trains and has in the early years after the launch in 1976 provided a crucial link between Zambia and Tanzania, giving the former access to the Indian Ocean for exports and imports alike while for Tanzania it provided a vital domestic transport axis across the entire country to the border with Zambia.

DAR GOVERNMENT CHANGES TUNE AS CHANCES FOR PRECISION BAILOUT RISE AGAIN

(Posted 20th October 2013)

Information received from a source close to Precision Air has confirmed that a bailout deal by the Tanzanian government is now back on the table following a fresh look at all the negative implications of letting the airline ‘hang’.

It is understood that the Tanzanian government has made a deal apparently contingent on an independent evaluation of Precision Air’s value and share prices, as the company continues to be listed at the Dar es Salaam stock exchange as the only airline in Tanzania. However, as there has been little trading in PW shares of late the share price has remained rather static and is not a perfect indicator right now of the true value of the company.

While hopeful that a deal can eventually be struck and the Tanzanian government can step in by acquiring a major share, perhaps even giving it the ‘Golden Vote’ besides a position on the board of directors, the airline itself, in close discussions with shareholders, is also looking at a range of other or additional options to return to a sound financial footing. ‘There are now no sacred cows to be spared. For one shareholders may be asked to inject additional capital as it is the direct way to raise cash in a publicly listed company. Other options are the sale of assets and to then lease them back. That can be buildings or even aircraft, which Precision has bought outright but which are still under finance arrangements. This may lessen the debt to equity ratio and make it more attractive for either buying into the airline or advancing long term finance. The underlying factors are still positive for Precision. They cover the country like no other airline and provide a public service to remoter airfields. From what I know government is also taking a look at the fare levels other airlines offer on certain routes to determine the long term viability of such fares and may compel them to raise those fares, more so if they see that such companies are operating at losses and for causing a fare war. But the important thing here is that talks are back on and are held in a positive spirit beyond the unfortunate utterances of a few two weeks ago’ wrote a regular aviation source from Dar es Salaam when passing the information.

Major shareholders are the company founder Michael Shirima and partner airline Kenya Airways with each holding slightly over 40 percent each, but both stakes are likely to reduce should the Tanzanian government come on board. Such a scenario might however also impact on Tanzania’s financial ability to continue absorbing the losses of Air Tanzania, which has just made announcements last week of plans to acquire a Bombardier CRJ200 jet for regional flights, naming Bujumbura as one of their intended destinations. This has in many circles been seen as a political decision to link Dar with Bujumbura directly in line with recent events in the East African community where Burundi has been charmed by Tanzania as well as the other partners now known as the ‘Coalition of the Willing to get their ‘swing vote’ to either support or else oppose the fast tracking of infrastructure, energy and tourism cooperation which has unfolded over the past half year between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

Watch this space, for breaking and regular aviation news from Eastern Africa but also for details on the upcoming mini summit of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ later this month in Kigali and the subsequent Head of State Summit of the East African Community.

Rwanda News

DEMAND FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN KIGALI TRIGGERS ADDITIONAL BUS ORDERS

(Posted 20th October 2013)

The recent introduction of a new public transport system in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali has triggered a rush of demand on the busses put on the road by the three licensed transport companies, leaving many users frustrated over long waits and crowding. The new system was launched only two months ago and the vehicles available proved woefully inadequate compared to the number of people now wanting to use public transport and leave their vehicles at home when going to work.

City officials according to information received have however reacted promptly and it was learned that nearly 150 additional brand new busses will be added to the fleets before the end of the year, some coming on line as early as November, at which time the traffic patterns will also have been analyzed to establish if the various designated routes need changing or adjusting. Said the source while mailing the information: ‘We in Rwanda believe that we want the best there is. We are aiming to set standards others can follow. But when a new system is launched it can take a while to get it right. We have named and numbered streets across the entire city. Some people might still find it a challenge to navigate even with the new system but they will get used to it. Street maps are available and The Eye magazine publishes maps in every edition. The free internet will also allow visitors who seek a particular road or spot to go on Google Maps and get guidance on their mobile phones. Besides, Rwandans will always be happy to help a visitor out and offer directions how to get to places. Now about the busses, the demand went up very fast and it now takes a while for the bus companies to import more busses but it is in hand. When you come back we will show you what has been done but for now you can reassure your readers that Kigali city officials and bus companies are aware of these initial challenges and are dealing with it’.

Meanwhile has the Rwandan delegation returned home from the Nairobi meeting of the technical panel which is tasked to develop the logistics for the new single Visa regime between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and after also representing the Land of a Thousand Hills at the Magical Kenya Travel Expo in Kenya’s capital. The latest information in fact has confirmed that the three countries will make a formal announcement at the forthcoming World Travel Market which is held in London during the first week of November, explaining the urgency why the three delegations held an unscheduled meeting in Nairobi ahead of the upcoming Kigali Summit of the three Heads of State. Watch this space to be sure you do not miss such breaking news as and when they are told.

Mauritius News

AIR MAURITIUS SEEKS COMMERCIAL PARTNERSHIPS

(Posted 27th October 2013)

Information received from Mauritius indicates that the airline may have dropped its search for a strategic investor and shifted attention to the level of commercial agreements. The airline’s top management was reportedly in Dubai last week seeking to reach an agreement with Emirates, which flies twice a day to Mauritius using B777 aircraft, with one of the two flights soon being upgraded to an Airbus A380 to add more seats for the island, a key demand made in the past by the hospitality and tourism industry.

Air Mauritius has over the past years started to implement sharp cost cutting measures, including dropping routes to some of the island’s European core markets, leaving connectivity to among others Emirates which now connects sun seeking tourists via their hub in Dubai. The source in Port Louis indicated that there may be further consolidation ahead for Air Mauritius on some routes in order to exploit synergy effects with commercial partner airlines. Additionally it was learned that a much needed capital injection from shareholders, Air France among them but with a stake of under 20 percent, is increasingly unlikely, putting a question mark over the airline’s plans to modernize their fleet, which notably still uses 6 Airbus A340 which should for all purposes be exchanged with the more fuel efficient A330’s or at some point in the future with either A350 or B787 aircraft, both of which will allow for fuel savings of over 20 percent compared to the A340. Other aircraft in use are two A319 for shorter routes to the African mainland and to neighbouring islands, two A330-200 and two ATR 72 for flights to Rodrigues.

Media reports from Mauritius are suggesting that the airline may have to sell some assets to be able to finance a fleet overhaul and their hotel in Rodrigues, Cotton Bay, has been named among other properties which could be put up for sale. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from the Indian Ocean’s aviation scene.

Seychelles News

SEYCHELLES TOURISM BOARD LINE UP COMPLETE WITH APPOINTMENT OF DEPUTY CEO

(Posted 26th October 2013)

The line up at the top of the Seychelles Tourism Board is now complete with the appointment by President James Alix Michel of Ms. Nathalie Didon as Deputy Chief Executive last Friday.

The various changes became necessary when former CEO Elsia Grandcourt left for Madrid to take up her new position as Director for Africa at the United Nations World Tourism Organization, in short UNWTO. Sherin Naiken at the time was appointed as new CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board. Since then was Rose Marie Hoareau seconded to the tourism board by the private sector as Director of Marketing and with the vacant position of Deputy CEO now filled, the trio at the top can now move forward in keeping the momentum up for the archipelago’s continued marketing juggernaut.

Chairman of the Board of STB remains Mr. Barry Faure, who incidentally on the day the announcement was made also launched the formal marketing and sales campaign for the new Ile Soleil, another manmade island – similar to the now hugely successful pioneer Eden Island – aimed to offer space for the growing demand for land to develop. Located off the eastern shores of the main island of Mahe, Ile Soleil will comprise both residential as well as commercial zones, including an area set aside for tourism purposes. Covering over 12 hectares, any development on the island will follow an agreed master plan which makes the use of state of the art technology mandatory, such as using solar panels to supplement electricity generation and solar powered hot water systems. Parties ready to invest in some of the commercial ventures can now apply for the allocation of plots up to 23rd of December via their website www.ilesoleil.sc

Watch this space as Seychelles truly remains Another World.

MIHIN LANKA DUE TO LAUNCH COLOMBO – MAHE FLIGHTS ON 16TH NOVEMBER

(Posted 25th October 2013)

Following a state visit by Sri Lanka’s president to the Seychelles a few months ago did it not take long for the promised airlinks between the two island countries to be announced. While in the Seychelles this week it was reliably learned that Mihin Lanka, a government owned low cost carrier closely aligned to national airline Sri Lankan, will commence flights between Colombo and Mahe on the 16th of November, using an Airbus A320 on the route, configured in a single class cabin. Initially there will be two weekly flights between the islands, operating on Wednesday and Saturday. While initially there was talk of Sri Lankan been keen to operated themselves with the option to fly on to the African mainland – Nairobi / Kenya was mentioned at the time – there were apparently no breakthroughs yet on the thorny issue to 5th freedom rights from Mahe into Kenya, ultimately leading to Mihin Lanka then becoming the designated carrier for the route but flying in codeshare with Sri Lankan. This will permit passengers travelling from Mahe to Colombo to seamlessly connect to a large number of destinations in for instance India or further in to the South and Far East, with tickets to for instance Bombay or the Thai capital Bangkok being way under the fare levels of other airlines. Aviation sources spoken to here in Victoria expressed their satisfaction over the fast tracked permissions and landing rights which has also delighted the tourism fraternity in the Seychelles. A source close to the Seychelles Tourism Board in fact commented that ‘these flights will allow us to tap even more into the Indian and Asian markets. Their fares are very attractive and can bring us a clientele which will support our indigenous hospitality industry. We can match a low cost ticket price with budget hotel accommodation, guest houses, self catering establishments and even holiday apartments, which can bring the cost of a Seychelles holiday down. The details are on the tourism board website under the links of Seychelles Secrets and budget accommodation, most of which can be booked on line. This will then give travellers the comfort to have accommodation secured and when they arrive in Mahe, because they need no Visa, all they have to show is their return ticket and their hotel or guest house booking confirmation. The new flights will help the Seychelles to meet our growth targets and will be especially beneficial for local hospitality owners’.

Watch this space for breaking and regular news from the Indian Ocean’s vibrant aviation scene.

FESTIVAL KREOL NUMBER 28 LAUNCHES IN VICTORIA

(Posted 25th October 2013)

(It is Festival Kreol time on the Seychelles, bringing the Creole World to Victoria, Kapital Lemonn Kreol)

Victoria has truly become the Capital of the Creole World, as Creole people from around the globe have come to the Seychelles to celebrate, what has all the hallmarks of the Creole Nation in the making, their food, their music, their art, their culture and their unique language.

A very special blend of people has emerged over generations, with origins in Africa, Asia, China, the Middle East and Europe, and this is visible in a rainbow of different colours but similar traits which can be found wherever Kreol people live.

Visitors for the Festival Kreol arrived from Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion, but also from as far as Haiti and Martinique though the official delegation from Louisiana had apparently fallen foul of the recent government shutdown which scuttled their travel plans for this year.

The Seychelles celebrate the 28th of October, the International Day of the Creole People, with a dedicated festival for the past 28 years now, longer than any other country has acknowledged and showcased ‘being Creole’ and it is no wonder that the Creole language is truly the main means of communication between the people of the island, besides their spoken English and French, uniting them beyond any other measure.

(The first ever ‘Seychelles Musician’s Walk of Fame’ artists were honoured on opening day)

(Remembering Francois Havelock – Minister St. Ange standing with the family)

(Family members of David Philoe at the ceremony)

(The Seychelles business community has come together to support this key annual event)

This year’s festival, the largest and longest ever with events chasing events for an entire week, will among other key activities see the Seychelles Music Walk of Fame inaugurated with two dedication outside the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, a dedicated plague unveiled at Venn’s Town / Mission Lodge – a location which awaits UNESCO’s approval to become the archipelago’s third World Heritage Site and the commemoration of all things Creole at the ‘Lenstitit Kreol’, the Creole World Institute at Au Cap, where the traditions of Creole culture, poetry, art, cuisine and language, among other elements, are studied, preserved and shared with the Creole Nation, wherever they are around the world.

Later today will ‘Laserenad’ and ‘Pilpili’ unfold in the centre of Victoria, which has rightly claimed the title as the ‘Kapitla Lemonn Kreolor in English the World Capital of the Creole people, after the gala launch of the festival last night, graced by the presence of Seychelles’ President James Alix Michel, his Vice President Danny Foure, the Vice President of Mauritus and the President of the Regional Council of Reunion, Didier Robert.

39 programme components make up a nonstop juggernaut of ‘Creolism’, including church services held in Creole language where choirs perform hymns in Creole, fashion shows, art exhibitions, childrens’ talent shows, cabarets, public speaking competitions to promote the use of ‘high Creole’ and even a traditional wedding reception, one for real I am told and not staged.

The colour displays across the city of Victoria, arguably the smallest capital in the world, have been running riot and provided a delightful background against the white washed walls of buildings and the bright blue skies overhead, showcasing the Seychelles from a side few would so far have heard about.

Most visitors come to the archipelago for the pristine crystal clear waters, the world famous beaches and the glorious sunshine when the weather back home in Europe, America and the Asia’s has turned all grey and dull, but those on Mahe will have an eye opener or two in coming days, when they learn and experience more than they have possibly bargained for when coming face to face with the Creole people and their culture at every street corner and across the entire centre of Victoria. The streets around the main launch venue yesterday were packed with locals and tourists alike, who had come to enjoy the music from the centre stage and long after the official part had ended did the city centre of Victoria stay alive with impromptu song performances and of course bands playing, their sound levels competing with each other from opposite sides of the festival area, and food and drink stalls did brisk business, especially those drinks containing the elixir of island life, the Takamaka rum.

And with that potent, some say perhaps ‘lethal’ mixture – which reminded me of the ‘Dawa’ at Nairobi’s Carnivore – be sure to follow the daily updates from Victoria, almost certainly from the standpoint of an elevated mood, spirited and inspired by what can only be described as coming from highly infectious smiles, genuine expressions of happy celebrations and generous amounts of Takamaka being proffered at far too many corners.

(All performers take to the stage at the end of the formal launch celebration of the Festival Kreol)

AND in closing again some worthwhile reads from ‘further down South’ where Gill Staden covers Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa like no other. Enjoy.

Barotse one step closer to becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the Zambia Weekly

A representative from the International Council of Monuments and Museums, Karrel Bakko, is currently in Zambia to assess the country’s application to have the Barotse Cultural Landscape inscribed on the World Heritage List managed by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

It is a cumbersome process to have a site recognised as world heritage. Currently, Zambia only has the Victoria Falls, but seven other sites are on the Tentative List of possible World Heritage Sites, including the Barotse Cultural Landscape (submitted by the National Heritage Conservation Commission in 2009), Chirundu Fossil Forest (2009), Dag Hammerskjöld Memorial – crash site (1997), Kalambo Falls (2009), Kalambo Falls archaeological site (1997), Mwela Rock Paintings (2009) and the source of the Zambezi River (2009).

The Barotse landscape is proposed for inscription as a “cultural landscape that bears a unique and exceptional testimony to a living cultural tradition.” The Kuomboka and the reverse Kufulehela ceremonies have been taking place for over 200 years. The Barotse landscape is also a “cultural landscape with an outstanding example of traditional human settlement and land use representative of a culture and human interaction with the environment.” This interaction, for instance, has resulted in land reclamation; over centuries soil was piled up to form mounds upon which the communities could live, farm and bury their dead. The Barotse Cultural Landscape has been inhabited continuously since the early 1800s. The two palaces of the Litunga, along with villages, canals, mounds and their sacred burial grounds are a remarkably intact physical expression of the society and its spiritual and material culture.

Kafue Trip

We had spent a couple of nights at Leopard Lodge. I told you about the magnificent lions padding along the river but I forgot to tell you a bit about Leopard Lodge and their facilities. Leopard has chalets but no camping. The chalets are all ranged along the river with excellent views over the park.

Wildlife does walk through the camp – there is no fence, of course, as it is in Lunga Luswishi Game Management Area. Elize told us about lions and elephant in the camp. It seemed that they were constant visitors. All we encountered was a group of warthog which arrived to eat Elize’s lawn. The staff were quickly out to shoo them away. Elize only keeps a very small amount of grass because, although there is plenty of water in the river, it has to be pumped and the pump is noisy and uses diesel. In the middle of Elize’s lawn is a very tiny flower bed. On the day we were leaving one of the gardeners was building a stockade of branches around it. Why? I asked. The gardener told me that the elephants come in and eat everything including the flowers and the mangoes. I thought to myself that Elize was fighting a battle she would never win …

It was time to move on. Fortunately a couple had arrived at the lodge for a cool drink while travelling between Kasempa and Lusaka and told us of an alternative route to Mumbwa. I had been having nightmares about doing that road … it was too awful. Anyway, this alternative route was longer but on good farm roads – we decided to give it a whirl.

Our first hurdle on the road from Leopard Lodge to Mumbwa was the ferry at Lubungu, over the Kafue River. We crossed with no problems because this time I had remembered to put the car into 4-wheel drive. I had to smile as the pontoon reached the opposite bank and the operators had to jump up and down on the ramp to get it into place.

From there the road passes through the GMA, past Mulungushi Conservancy (needs investigation … next time …), then through the Gates at Kabulushi (not operating as a checkpoint) and Chalanta and then we were into the villages again. A short distance after Chalanta we met a T-junction and instead of going south along the terrible Mumbwa-Kasempa Road we went north. After about 15 -20 km on a good dirt road we arrived at a village called Mwonga and took the road south. This road was perfect and we enjoyed the journey through large commercial farms – Amatheon Agri. We arrived at Mumbwa, un-rattled and happy that we had found this route. We joined the queue for petrol. It seemed to me that Mumbwa could manage at least one more petrol station – each time we had been there the queues for fuel were long.

We were heading to Mukambi for a night so we took to the main Lusaka-Mongu Road and beetled along, not seeing much but enjoying a bit of tar … We arrived at Mukambi to find Basil, the hippo, ensconced in the bar. I suppose we should have expected that …

Mukambi Lodge is perfectly located and their service is spot-on. We enjoyed another night there. We were on our way the following day to Kaingu via the new spinal road to the west of the Kafue River. But I will tell you about that next week because it needs lots of space …

Conservation Lower Zambezi

CLZ team is pleased to inform you that we successfully distributed the school uniforms you donated to the grade ones both at Chiawa and Mugurameno Primary Schools on the afternoon of the 19th September 2013. When the CLZ team arrived at Chiawa they proceeded to the Chiawa primary school were they met Francis Habasune the head teacher, members of staff, pupils and parents.

The head teacher, members of staff and parents were very pleased to see the CLZ team and welcomed our team at the school.

Chiawa Primary School was given 27 uniforms for the girls and 40 for the boys. After distributing the uniforms at Chiawa primary school the CLZ team preceded to Mugurameno primary School. Upon arrival around 1500hrs we were met by the new head teacher Mrs Virginia Mponda and the staff.

At Mugurameno primary school we distributed 35 uniforms for boys and 31 for the girls.

The exercise left the children happy, as they did not have the uniforms prior the donation. Chiawa and Mugurameno primary schools head teachers and members of staff were equally happy with the donations. Both schools were optimistic that the uniforms motivate children and will assist to reduce the rate of absenteeism, which is high among the grade ones especially those without the uniforms. CLZ team managed to make sure that the uniforms were distributed to the relevant beneficiaries. Thanks to you the Cumings family.

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