Weekly roundup of news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, Second edition November 2013

AVIATION

TOURISM &

CONSERVATION

NEWS EAST AFRICA

A weekly roundup from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands of breaking news, reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

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Second edition November 2013

Kenya News

NEW SIMBA LOUNGE OPENS AT JKIA’S UNIT 2 FOR KENYA AIRWAYS PREMIUM PASSENGERS

(Posted 10th November 2013)

After the August 08th fire at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport did all the airlines have to come to terms with changed operating conditions, initially changing locations and plenty of temporary measures, and notably the absence of lounges for their premium passengers flying with them out of Nairobi.

During a recent flight to the Seychelles, the lounge experience was still substituted by the contracted use of a cafeteria near Gate 4 of Unit 2 of the airport, but when returning it was good to see that Kenya Airways has managed to be ahead of the pack once again and open a small facility on the departure level of Unit 2, the ‘Simba Lounge’ which can be used by their business class passengers an those of their codeshare partners flying to Nairobi like KLM or Korean Airlines to name but two of the extensive list KQ now partners with under their SkyTeam banner or through bilateral codeshare arrangements.

It is understood that additional lounge spaces will be made available, by other airlines as well as by Kenya Airways, to meet the demand from premium passengers for lounge comfort when either connecting in Nairobi to one of KQ’s many African destinations or else fly with them out of Nairobi.

The lounge staff confirmed that the opening was a very recent affair, aimed to boost service levels while the reconstruction of the international arrivals hall is now in the design stage and work on the new Terminal 4 is continuing around the clock.

True enough, the passenger experience now is certainly not what it used to be when travelling through Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport but it must be acknowledged that all the airlines, led by national carrier Kenya Airways, the largest user of JKIA as well as the Kenya Airport Authority have made extraordinary efforts to restore functionality until the new terminal will be opened and the ‘temporary’ terminal, able to handle a further 2.5 million passengers, has been shipped to Nairobi and put together. For now though, at least can KQ’s premium passengers once again enjoy a lounge ahead of their flight, where a full range of F&B services and free high speed internet are available for them.

GAMEWATCHERS / PORINI LAUNCH 360 VIEWING ON THEIR WEBSITE IN TIME FOR WTM

(Posted 07th November 2013)

A return to the sites of old exploits always gives the opportunity to take a fresh look at locations and what is new and has happened since a prior visit and while spending time on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and researching their brand new upcoming Wilderness Experience there was the opportunity to pay a visit to the Porini Rhino Camp. Located at a more distant part of the 90.000 acres estate, in an area clearly set aside to remain largely untouched, the camp is hidden away from sight until one actually almost stumbles upon it or in my case drives into it.

More will be said about the unique experience a stay in a very small but very posh place like the Porini Rhino Camp is like, where one is treated like royalty and where much of the luxury – besides some real touches – is rooted in the remoteness of the location and the privacy a stay there makes possible.

Before that narrative will make an appearance here, has the Gamewatchers / Porini Team however launched their latest innovation on their website, allowing for a 360 degree virtual view into some of their camps, the Porini Lion Camp and the Porini Mara Camp but also the Gamewatchers Adventure Camps.

I am often asked to provide more pictures, and I try to oblige so that readers can actually get a more detailed impression of the places I visit and stay in and while my narrative and pictures must suffice for the Rhino Camp, this upload of the weblinks should be giving readers some added buzz and perhaps turn the armchair safari into a real one real soon.

(Two of the more than 130 rhinos found on Ol Pejeta)

Ol Pejeta, as will soon be revealed here, is on course to provide what is probably going to be Kenya’s most complete ‘Wilderness Experience’, with the big five seen almost at will only 3 ½ hours drive from Nairobi, 100 Eastern Black rhinos, 4 Northern White rhinos – the rarest of the rare these days – and 28 more of the Southern White subspecies, the Rift Valley Adventures offering some real adrenaline boosting activities, Kenya’s only ‘in the wild’ chimpanzee sanctuary and a range of accommodation options from camping to Ol Pejeta’s Pelican House which sleeps up to 12 in self catering mode – perfect for groups of locals and expats coming up from Nairobi for a long ‘upgraded’ camping weekend – and from Serena’s Sweetwaters’ Safari Camp to Kicheche Camp, Bush Camp and last but not least the Porini Rhino Camp. Those latter three are located in the remotest part of the wilderness area of the conservancy and provide the base for some of the most spectacular safari experiences one can find outside the Great Migration in the Masai Mara once a year.

(www.riftvalleyadventures.com ‘s artificial rock climbing wall where participants in bush craft and outdoor skills courses practice before heading for the real thing)

Kenya’s tourism gurus are presently in London at WTM and hard at work to tell the world what a magnificent place this country is to visit, but even with the virtual sights now possible, nothing beats the close up and personal experience of actually standing in the open roof 4×4 and watching the big game and the big cats. The smell of dust in the air, of soil just soaked by a shower of passing rain, the clash of horns as the impala males fight over dominance and their right to mate, the hoofs beating the ground when a herd of zebras gets spooked and stampedes off, or the curious looks the giraffes are giving us ‘little things’ down on the ground while on a walking safari across the plains cannot be recreated in cyber space.

(The inside of one of Serena Sweetwater’s tented suites of the recently inaugurated ‘Morani Wing’.

At night, the laughing noises of the hyenas, the barks of the hunting dogs – which incidentally just had a litter of 17 young ones – and the roar of the mighty lion can make one wonder just how safe the one single barrier between the wild outside and then indoors of a tented suite is, that piece of canvas, which separates the luxury of the indoors from the harsh outdoors where survival of the fittest is the order of the day. But for you readers, even given the opportunity to see what Porini has in store for visitors to their camps, there is really only one way to find out – by packing a bag, or two, getting a ticket on national carrier Kenya Airways of the other airlines flying to Nairobi and then heading into the bush, the great outdoors of national parks, game reserves, the forests and the savannah. Visit www.magicalkenya.com for all there is to know about Kenya as a destination or www.kws.go.ke where an overview about every single protected area across the country can be found, including some details of how to get there and where to stay. For now however, enjoy the views from Porini.

Click on the links below to see the stunning 360 degree views!
Porini Lion Camp

Porini Mara Camp

Gamewatchers Adventure Camps

THE RISING WATERS OF THE RIFT VALLEY LAKES

(Posted 06th November 2013)

(The rising waters of Lake Naivasha forced a ‘relocation’ from here to there)

After a recent report about the rising water of Lake Baringo literally ‘swallowing’ Lake Baringo Club and the nearby Robert’s Camp, besides drowning several private residences with record high waters never before recorded, several readers sent in messages about similar developments on other Rift Valley lakes, reason enough to devote part of my recent stay in Kenya to follow up on these leads.

(Link to previous article: http://wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/lake-baringos-waters-drown-camps-and-lodges/ )

Following the hugely successful Magical Kenya Travel Expo in Nairobi and the programme components running in parallel, I therefore travelled into the Rift Valley to see for myself, just how seriously some of the other UNESCO World Heritage Site lakes have been affected by rising water levels.

When reaching Lake Nakuru, it was immediately evident that the millions of flamingos, which regularly line the shores of the lake and paint it pink, had by and large gone. Local KWS staff explained that the rising water levels diluted the available diet the flamingos feed on, forcing them to other lakes where they can find food. The migration away of the flamingos has hit the park hard, as it has been known for decades to be the home of the flamingos and people from around the world are flocking to Nakuru to witness this spectacle. To add insult to injury has mother nature added yet more woes as the rising water levels have now turned part of the park into a wetland, impassable by even the strongest 4×4 vehicles, leaving a significant section of the park literally off limits for visitors. Game normally found there, apart from for instance waterbuck and other species regularly found in or near water, has moved to avoid suffering from hoof rot, compelling zebras and giraffes to move to higher ground, away from that part of the park which continues to see yet more water inflow.

None of the lodges are affected as both the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge and the Lake Nakuru Lodge are up on the hills, overlooking the lake but that is not the case on other lakes as it will soon be revealed.

Another lake, nearest to the capital Nairobi in fact, is the Lake Elementaita where water levels too have risen, again forcing many of the flamingos to fly off in search for fodder elsewhere, with far less remaining now than has been the case in many a year. Elementaita, and the wider Delamare estate is also home to the Soysambu Conservancy and many visitors do come more for the game than the flamingos but their absence or reduced numbers have been noticed of course, certainly by repeat visitors.

The most affected lake however appears, after Baringo, Lake Naivasha. I arrived in Kenya in days when Crescent Island was an island only to see it turn into a peninsula with access even by car possible as the water levels drew back more and more, adding on some locations several hundred metres of more lawn before reaching the actual water line. No more it seems. When last at the Lake Naivasha Country Club, construction was ongoing of the luxurious Kiboko Camp and there was no indication whatsoever that the water would come back any time soon, and then so rapidly. I heard that the camp was opened last year in time for the high season, wrote about it and then suddenly the flow of information went very silent.

On arrival at the Lake Naivasha Country Club and when approaching the Kiboko Camp, it was instantly clear why. The thick acacia forest and undergrowth, long home to waterbuck, zebra and impalas, and periodically even of giraffes, had thinned out as if a giant had moved through the little forest and knocked over trees at will while the undergrowth had withered away. The water had returned, and with a vengeance, and acacia trees, with shallow roots, could not withstand the soil getting softer and softer, then water logged completely until finally the sheer weight of the trees made them topple over as they lost their last anchorage in the black cotton soil. The camp is now visible from the main part of the country club and that was the first major change I noticed. Then came the second shock for the owners, Sun Africa Hotels, when the water levels rose dangerously close to the tents wooden platforms, compelling the removal of four of the eight to a rear position while halting the completion of the camp with two extra family tents comprising two bedrooms under canvas and a joint sitting area and deck space.

The main building of the Kiboko Camp is already inside water as are four of the tents, with no present threat and in fact almost adding to the appeal of staying there, giving the feeling of almost being on a house boat. Around the tents, the fallen trees have partly been cleared away while others were left to serve as roosting pads for the many birds which feed off the water like storks, ibis, herons, cormorants, darters, pelicans and kingfishers. Fish eagle calls went back and forth all day long, indicating the presence of plenty of pairs and individuals, providing a spectacle to tourists when they silently swoop down to the water level, scoop out a hapless fish caught napping and move back to their perches. The bird calls echoed around the shores, as if a message was being relayed, a message of easy prey or a message of warning, hard to tell without a bird dictionary spelling out the precise meaning.

In fact it reminded me of my own lake shores, 20 odd years ago, when dozens of fish eagles sat on the big trees along Murchisons Bay, only to see those uprooted one by one, when ‘development’ reached this more distant part of Kampala and plot owners mowed mature trees down by the dozens so as to create a ‘manicured’ garden … on Facebook I would respond with NKTest but alas, the damage is done and I am proud to have kept the integrity of my own compound, trees and all, intact over the years. Back to the Rift Valley lakes though.

The management team at the Lake Naivasha Country Club, led by Avis George, is eyeing the situation very closely indeed and they take regular readings of the water around Kiboko Camp, but should the lake level rise further, by a foot or more, the choices for Sun Africa will be limited, to set back the four frontline or rather water line tents and the main building or else take it down altogether and have another insurance case at hand, where the rising lake waters literally swallow up lake side developments.

Some other lodges and inns along the Lake Naivasha shores, and that was only relayed to me later one or I would have searched them out, have already had water knock on their front door, literally, as new buildings like rondavels, picnic sites and even cottages were built too near the shore at a time when the waters were going back, only now to be faced with the reverse trend.

Speculation is rife over what caused the rising lake levels, and were it just one, it could perhaps be explained with heavy rains, but all of them show signs that the waters have come up. One of the most plausible explanations could be that seismic activity has pushed the floor of the lakes upwards, and theories have in the past been floated that some of the lakes are connected underground. The Rift Valley is a seismologically active area, was in fact born out of a major volcanic eruption and the subsequent turmoil caused by earth quakes all those dozens if not millions of years ago. Tongue in cheek have others, no scientists of course but pranksters of the highest order, suggested that the recently found massive aquifer in the Lake Turkana region is in fact only an overflow facility for those lakes and is ‘leaking’ into them, pushing the water levels up. I reserve my comment on that line of thought but stick to the possibility of seismic underground activity which could have gradually pushed water levels up.

What to do in such circumstances? A stay in the very distant past on Lake Dal / Kashmir on a houseboat came to my mind and who knows, perhaps someone will turn adversity into opportunity the launch a few houseboats, safely moored of course, able to float up and down as the water levels rise or fall, and should dry land ever appear again, they can be set on foundations until the next biblical flood floats them again. I personally can imagine that there will be lots of tourists, and locals out there who would love to stay on a houseboat but only time will tell for how long this natural phenomenon will last. For now thought Crescent Island is again an island, and whoever forgot to drive their car back while it was still possible, prepare for a long wait.

The Lake Naivasha Country Club and the Kiboko Camp, almost aquatic now, continue to provide fine hospitality, great food and the location on the lake is and remains their star attraction. Guests continue to flock to the jetty and take their boat trips, morning afternoon and just before dusk, the birds are as plenty and varied as ever before and if anything I saw more storks, yellow bills in particular this time, stalking the shallow waters and feeding off little fish and frogs. Hence in conclusion, it is and remains a key destination within the Kenyan safari circuit and taking time out from a busy schedule and drive the hour and a half to Naivasha or two hours to Nakuru, is always worth it.

Visit www.sunafricahotels.com to find out all about the club and the camp where I stayed and perhaps follow my footsteps as I move on to cover other destinations on my regular #TembeaKenya trips.

CONSERVANCY CONCEPT GAINS MOMENTUM AS MORE COMMUNITIES SIGN DEALS

(Posted 06th November 2013)

The Northern Rangelands Trust, a conservation NGO primarily covering parts of Northern Kenya with their activities, is thought to be a driving force behind the recent signing of a new conservancy agreement between the Marsabit based Melako and Sera community conservancies and Mobile Expeditions. Mobile Expeditions, found on the web via www.robertsafaris.com has under the deal been given the rights to market the 110.000 acres area, which comprises mixed wildlife and livestock operations, giving locals the opportunity to earn sustainable incomes from future tourism activities while maintaining their, albeit now more carefully managed, way of life at the same time. The agreement will run an initial 5 years, during which tourist visitors to the area will pay a fee which will be shared with the community through agreed mechanisms while Mobile Expeditions can set up temporary tented safari camps, which leave little impact on the environment when they are taken down or shifted elsewhere, depending on weather patterns and game sightings.

The deal is according to sources in Nanyuki worth some 10 million Kenya Shillings per annum to the communities, though reportedly 40 percent of that fee will have to be channeled into conservancy operations by paying rangers and funding other recurrent expenses, while the remaining 60 percent can be spent on improving the life quality of the communities through projects ranging from provision of safe drinking water over health centres to schools. Once the initial 5 year period is up both sides have the opportunity, upon review of what mutual benefits have accrued, to renew the deal for a longer period of time or alternatively decide on another way forward.

(Map taken from the NRT website www.nrt-kenya.org)

Conservancies are one of the key elements of future conservation work in Kenya, where besides the protected areas like national parks and game reserves, which are managed by Kenya Wildlife Service, private or community driven conservation pacts will provide both buffer zones around protected areas but also keep some of the ancient migration routes for wildlife open. The latter is of major importance to keep the gene pool of resident game populations ‘refreshed’ as otherwise inbreeding would sooner or later take its toll as is already seen with isolated cheetah populations.

Prime examples are the conservancies which have now almost completed a buffer around the Masai Mara boundaries, except for presently some two major parcels of pasture land. Near Amboseli, where Gamewatchers / Porini have been pioneering the concept for many years, new interest in forming conservancies has been raised of late as a result of the success of these initial ventures between local communities and honest companies true to their word who held up their end of the bargain without ifs and buts and gave the local communities the confidence that there was indeed a future in such ‘deals’, providing a regular stream of visitors whose presence helps create employment and generate cash flow.

The following map shows in greater detail how many conservancies are working with NRT in the wider area between Marsabit, Maralal and Isiolo and how other stand alone conservancies have been created within this area also trying to tap into the tourism market. This move was and continues to be prompted by the need of local communities to find alternative sources of income over and above the traditional livestock keeping which always depends on the weather which wipe out the wealth of an entire tribe or community during a prolonged drought.

I am spending time this week on one of Kenya’s leading conservancies, which in fact in recent years has quietly established itself as a prime wilderness area, for mainstream tourism and for adventure tourism, Ol Pejeta. Insights gained will be shared with readers ranging from available accommodation – covering budget to posh – over their star attractions like the four Northern White rhinos or the chimpanzee sanctuary to the activities of Rift Valley Adventures. Policy issues as well as being on the forefront of anti poaching operations with the planned introduction of UAV’s all possible aspects of interest will be covered. For more information on the work and objectives of NRT follow them also on Facebook via www.facebook.com/NorthernRangelandsTrust

ASANTE SANA TO THE TANZANIAN CIVIL AVIATION AUTHORITY

(Posted 06th November 2013)

(A view of the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, almost bare now of any major icefields and snow)

When Kenya Airways’ celebratory launch flight KQ 7773 with their brand new B777-300ER, the airline’s largest ever aircraft, approached Mt. Kilimanjaro enroute to the Kenya coast, Capt. Mwangi made an announcement which had all passengers put their hands together for an instant and prolonged round of applause and then some more, for none other thanTanzania’s civil aviation authority.

We have received permission from our brothers in Tanzania to circle Mt. Kilimanjaro’ he said and then promptly changed course to enter Tanzanian airspace from the Kenyan side to allow passengers an unrestricted view of the mountain top. While the lower slopes were covered in thick clouds, the top was visible from the aircraft and for many it was clearly the first time that they were able to see into the crater and have that close up and personal experience. A big thank you is due to the Tanzanians for permitting this special over flight but it also raises the question if we could not make that a more permanent feature to have sightseeing flights organized, from Kilimanjaro International Airport, from Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Mombasa to give ever so often people a chance to have an equally amazing experience, and a nice bundle of money could perhaps be made of it, considering how popular sightseeing flights are over other attractions on the continent, like the Victoria Falls, or in America the Grand Canyon. So it is a big Asante Sana to the Tanzanian officials who made this possible and gave the 250 invited guests on board the aircraft such a unique opportunity. Webare Nyo, Danke Schoen and Thank you very very much for making this possible,

KENYA AIRWAYS LAUNCHES THEIR LARGEST AIRCRAFT EVER

(Posted 05th November 2013)

Masai Mara’ is the name of Kenya Airways’ first B777-300ER, a 400 seat aircraft offering 372 seats in an enhanced economy class and 28 seats in a classic layout with state of the art flat bed seats in the business class cabin. Notably does the aircraft offer a 3x3x3 configuration in economy class, providing distinctly more space than other airlines do with a the more common 3x4x3 cabin layout. This will give passengers flying with Kenya Airways on this aircraft those much coveted extra inches of space to stretch out on the long haul flights to and from Guangzhou in China, to where this B777 will start operating from next week.

The greatest innovation on the aircraft though is the availability of a wireless network which passengers can access at a cost and which comes to live at cruise levels above 10.000 feet, keeping travelers connected while in flight, able to send and receive emails or post pictures and comments on Twitter and Facebook.

(Configured in a generous 3x3x3 layout the cabin gives the feeling of much more space while the state of the art entertainment system allows passengers individual access to a multitude of films, news, sports and series. Each seat has a USB charging terminal as well as under seat power sockets to keep laptops and phones charged up)

The new aircraft, registration 5Y-KZZ is the 45th in the Kenya Airways fleet and was officially launched by none other than President Uhuru Kenyatta in the presence of his Deputy President William Ruto, members of his cabinet, the entire Kenya Airways Board of Directors and the airline’s top management. In addition did a broad selection of invited guests attend the function, comprising members of diplomatic missions, captains of industry and leading members from the business community in Kenya and the wider East Africa but also special invitees from a cross section of Kenya’s civil society.

Dr. Titus Naikuni, the airline’s CEO, confirmed to this correspondent that the fleet will grow by one more aircraft this year as over the space of the next two weeks another Embraer E190 will arrive, pushing the overall number of aircraft operated by KQ to 46.

Starting from March next year will Kenya Airways receive their first Dreamliner B787, before over the course of 2014 another 5 such aircraft will join the fleet, besides two more B777-300ER and 3 B737-800NG featuring Boeing’s new ‘sky interior’. Dr. Naikuni also confirmed that as many as 4 of the presently used B 767’s will leave the fleet as soon as the new Dreamliners come on line in order to capitalize on the fuel savings the newer Boeings will generate, thought to be over 20 percent less consumption compared to the aged B767’s.

During the launch ceremony it was also confirmed by Transport Cabinet Secretary Kamau, answering a direct question from President Kenyatta, that the new ‘Project Greenfield’ groundbreaking will still take place this year with mainstream construction taking off in very early 2014. This meets a key demand made by Kenya Airways, to improve and expand airport infrastructure to cater for their planned fleet increase and the opening of new destinations as more aircraft arrive under their ‘Plan Mawingo’ – their strategy paper covering the period up to 2022.

A temporary terminal, capable of handling up to 2.5 million passengers a year, will also be constructed early in 2014 and will be ready within weeks of being assembled at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to ease the pressure on the present facilities until the new Terminal 4 will be completed.

With the delivery of this new aircraft has Kenya Airways entered a decisive phase in their fleet renewal and expansion which, positive economic developments of the world economy anticipated, will also see the carrier to return to profitability in the next financial year.

Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from across Eastern Africa.

KENYA AIRWAYS STARTS COUNTDOWN TOWARDS DREAMLINER DELIVERIES IN MARCH

(Posted 04th November 2013)

Kenya Airways has confirmed that they have started the regulatory process of including the B787 Dreamliner in their fleet, as they are preparing to formally introduce their latest aircraft, a Boeing B777-300ER to the Kenyan public this morning. The airline had filed an application with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to amend their air service license and include the B787 as one of the aircraft operated by them, and approved by the authority.

Due process requires, as the anticipated delivery of the first such aircraft in March next year will also be the first ever registered in the country, that the Kenya CAA is involved in the process and approves the aircraft type for operations under Kenyan registry. The first step has now been taken as the latest Kenya Gazette Notice has notified the general public of such an application received and being processed by KCAA.

Additional measures will be the submission by the airline of type specific operations manuals, maintenance manuals and other mandatory documentation, all of which will be reviewed and processed by KCAA’s technical officials before the aircraft will receive clearance for registration and finally to be delivered by Boeing to the national airline.

KQ at present has 9 such aircraft under order but also has additional options to be converted in to firm orders, something which the expansion plans outlined under Plan Mawingo – the airline’s strategic 10 year plan – is on the drawing board. With rising fuel cost has the arrival of the new aircraft gained even great significance as the present fleet of 6 B767-300 aircraft is aged and consumes more than 20 percent more fuel compared to the per seat performance by the state of the art B787’s. While no specific confirmation has been received about the exact dates when the old B767 fleet will be phased out it is thought that once at least two, perhaps three of the new B787’s are in service the older B767 will be retired as more of the B787 are delivered, leading to both an increase in operating fleet as well as avoiding interruptions of service by phasing out the 767’s too soon.

Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from across Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

KENYA AIRWAYS SPONSORS THE 2013 EDITION OF ‘EAST AFRICAN SAFARI CLASSIC RALLY

(Posted 04th November 2013)

One of the rally sport’s most popular events, if today not THE most popular one, the Kenya Airways East African Classic Safari Rally, is once again taking place this year and will run from the 21st to the 29th of November. Full house has been reported with the permitted 60 spots all taken up while at least 10 more potential entrants are on standby, should one of the confirmed participants have to drop out at the last minute.

Many Safari Rally fans have never forgiven the international sports body for axing the safari rally as a World Championship event, which took place every year over the Easter weekend. It was then that hundreds of volunteers had the time to flock to the teams to support them and the organizers, but as Easter is a variable holiday it no longer suited the bureaucratic officials to change their programming every year. The motor sports body at the time also had issues with having a rally run over at times in excess of 5.000 kilometres and progressively forced the Kenyan organizers to cut this down further and further, until in the end on only a shadow of the past glory of the match of car and driver against some of the roughest tracks on the planet remained.

Revived by none other than repeat runner up and local racing legend Mike Kirkland, in the format of the Classic Safari Rally, the biannual event has swiftly brought the aficionados of old together again and spectators as well as racers once again meet, often deep in the Kenyan ‘bush’ where the cars have to driver over grueling terrain and face both dust and mud to the delight of onlookers, as kilometre long dust trails rise behind the speeding cars while on other spots they have to splash their way through muddy sections, if they do not get stuck in the mire.

The car lineup this year will again include the venerable Porsche 911 but also multiple winning car Datsun, as the Nissans were called back then. Winner of the 2011 event Bjorn Waldegaard from Sweden, a multiple world champion, will race again against 2009 winner, local Kenyan Ian Duncan and another 58 other entrants, trying to defend his title from two years ago. Cars entered must all be pre 1978, using the ordinary manufacturers’ engines with turbo technology barred to level the playing field like in the old days, when Volkswagen Beetles competed with Porsches, Mercedes’ and even Ferraris. And like in those days, all the cars have to use regular fuels available at petrol stations in Kenya or Tanzania, while servicing the vehicles too is restricted to a mere two hours at the end of each stage. The sight of those classic cars alone is expected to draw crowds numbering thousands to the main viewing points and the start and finish locations of the various stages.

In its original format did the rally cover all three East African countries, but following rather negative experiences with their first and so far only sojourn into Uganda after the revival of the Classic Rally, the event was since then restricted to race through Kenya and Tanzania only.

This year’s rally, running over a distance of some 4.100 kilometres, will start and end in Mombasa, flagged off on the 21st November at 08.30 hrs and will end with the declaration of the results by the stewards on the 29th November at 17.00 hrs followed by the gala and prize giving ceremony at 19.00 hrs the same day.

Kenya Airways is once again the main sponsor of the event, of special significance this year as tourism to the Kenya coast has taken a serious downturn, bringing the spotlight back on a country which, inspite of a recent event remains largely safe and continues to be a prime vacation destination, for safaris and for beach holidays. For more information on the rally visit www.eastafricansafarirally.com or www.facebook.com/EastAfricanSafari or else pay a visit to www.kenya-airways.com and www.magicalkenya.com

SAROVA STANLEY WINS ‘BEST LUXURY HISTORICAL HOTEL IN KENYAAWARD

(Posted 02nd November 2013)

David Gachuru, General Manager of the Sarova Stanley Hotel, received this year’s Luxury Hotel Award on behalf of Sarova Hotels during the award ceremony yesterday evening in the holiday resort of Phuket / Thailand.

World Luxury Awards are globally recognized as the standard bearer of top quality hotels, resorts and safari lodges and being on the podium is always a special occasion, more so for the Sarova Stanley which has now bagged the same award twice in as many years.

While some staff had already left for the upcoming World Travel Market in London they surely found the information on arrival and will make a buzz of it, telling their clients that the Sarova Stanley has done it again.

The picture below shows David on the red carpet, proudly displaying ‘his’ trophy which, knowing his leadership style, he will share with this staff back home in Nairobi and then put it in the display case in the lobby of the hotel for all to see and appreciate.

Congratulations to Sarova Hotels and especially the Sarova Stanley, which has in its 111 year history continued to excel, host heads of state and government and accommodate not just the who is who but thousands of guests keen to experience quality hospitality and excellent food, taken at the world famous Thorn Tree Café, the Pool Deck or the Thai Chi Restaurant as only recently once again experienced. Welcome to the world of luxury hospitality.

Tanzania News

KIKWETE SAYS ‘POOR IMPLEMENTATION BUT NO ILL INTENT’ ABOUT ANTI POACHING

(Posted 08th November 2013)

When addressing parliament earlier this week did Tanzania’s President Kikwete defend his government’s efforts to combat poaching and at last take a stand against the criminal gangs involved in the wholesome slaughter of entire elephant populations. He however conceded that the exercise dubbed ‘Tokomeza’ [a Kiswahili
word best translated as terminate or end’] had shown inherent weaknesses and overstepped its mark and required a fresh look and an assessment of how to better make use of the available resources and redirect the efforts of the forces involved in the counteraction. He also confirmed that in cases where officials acted against the spirit of the operation, a soft reference to cases where officers misused their powers to settle either old scores or else allegedly tried to profit by confiscating livestock from pastoralists instead of going after real poachers, those found guilty would face punishment.

He also confirmed that the long standing partnership with the Frankfurt Zoological Society was used to roll out a wildlife census to establish once and for all how much wildlife the country had and to compare previous census figures with new findings, allowing more informed knowledge about just how many elephant the country had lost to poaching in recent years.

Members of parliament had a few days prior made a range of accusations against the way the operation was handled by senior officers, all but saying that ‘Tokomeza’ had become a free for all to remove pastoralists and their livestock from protected areas in violation of their birth rights and to confiscate herds from them instead of hunting down real poachers. ‘Directing such action against herdsmen in places like Serengeti or Ngorongoro and areas adjoining those parks was plain wrong. The main poaching is going on in the Selous and Ruaha parks and it is there where the forces should be deployed and the efforts concentrated. It is almost like some of those in command were trying to discredit the exercise and that raises questions why they are doing that. Are they protecting the poachers by being at the wrong place and the right time? Anyway, the points were taken and the operation has been halted as parliamentarians demanded until such time that better terms of engagement and deployments have been developed. They rushed into action and that was poorly organized and resulted in bad actions against innocent people’ commented a regular source from Arusha when passing the information about the President addressing parliament over the outcry.

A parliamentary committee report, not disputed by government, speaks of up to 30 elephant a day being slaughtered, which would translate to approximately 10.000+ elephant a year, though conservationists have regularly suggested the real figure could be much higher as a result of poaching taking place in areas hard to access and where the no proper count of dead elephant has taken place. Watch this space to find out when operation ‘Tokomeza’ will resume again.

KAGESHEKI INSPECTS 1.9 TON IVORY SEIZURE FROM CHINESE RESIDENTS IN DAR

(Posted 04th November 2013)

Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Amb. Khamis Kagesheki, was swift to visit the residence of three Chinese living in Dar es Salaam, after some 1.9 tons of blood ivory was discovered there, seized and the two suspects arrested. It is suspected that over 200 elephant were butchered for this, going by the number of intact tusks and cut up pieces of ivory found during the operation. From reports received is appears that the ivory pieces were submerged in a mixture of pieces of snail shells mixed with some strong smelling potion containing garlic to mask the presence of ivory in the packages. More Chinese are now sought by the Tanzanian police after the three suspects reportedly started spilling the beans on others involved in the ivory trade and during the course of the week more arrests are expected as well as additional ivory seizures.

Kagesheki also dismissed suggestions that the ongoing anti poaching operation would be halted over allegation made in parliament last week in Dodoma, that a range of human right abuses had taken place and the focus of the operation was misguided towards pastoralists as well as concentrating on the wrong areas of the country.

Chinese citizens have been making up the bulk of arrests of foreigners in Africa found either smuggling ivory through airports like Nairobi, when in transit from other African countries where they bought it on the black market but China itself is under growing pressure to tighten their own legislation to more effectively deal with the demand side for blood ivory. Most major finds over the past two years were from shipments destined for China or already heading into Chinese territory from among other ports in Hong Kong, but also in Singapore and Malaysia, giving a clear picture of the trend where Africa’s elephant tusks are headed for.

China’s involvement with Africa has both a good and a very ugly side. For one they help create infrastructure and have made big investments on the continent but the downside is, wherever they are poaching has gone up. They get arrested for ivory smuggling or for even found eating our wildlife as if it were a food source. Perhaps for them it is but their embassies need to sensitize them that our wildlife has no place on their menu and that our elephant are to be left alone. Too much blood ivory is heading to China and there they hand a death penalty to anyone poaching a Panda but it seems killing our elephant for ivory is almost ok with them.

They really must step up now and make ivory imports, processing and even possession a criminal offense. Our elephant are worth as much as their Pandas and if they are at all concerned about their reputation in the world, this is a case in point where they can show they are adhering to common norms of law and civility’ wrote a regular Nairobi based source yesterday evening after briefly discussing this latest development in Tanzania.

A parliamentary report last year in Tanzania pegged the daily poaching rate of elephant to at least 30, although other conservation groups suggested at the time that the true figure could be twice as high, with the sprawling Selous and Ruaha National Parks the most notorious for commercial style poaching, mostly due to lack of aerial surveillance capacity, rapid deployment units and generally lack of manpower and resources dedicated to the fight against poaching. Stung by rising global pressure and threats to massively decampaign the tourism industry vital to the Tanzanian economy, there seems finally some movement vis a vis a more concerted effort to combat poaching but there is also growing suspicion that involvement by well connected figures of politics and business in the lucrative blood ivory business would swiftly interfere in the operation and keep it away from areas where the main activities take place. Added another regular source from Arusha on the issue: ‘Our government must get its act together. When you see how they treated people in Western Tanzania they expelled brutally a few weeks ago and how property was looted from them, the present anti poaching operation is very much conducted along similar lines. There are allegations that anti poaching is used to clear pastoralists off disputed areas where government may be planning to have more hunting concessions or take land over for what they say is adding a buffer to protected areas. But the truth is, let those anti poaching operations go to the Selous and concentrate on armed gangs and not innocent and helpless cattle herders and take their livestock from them. That is what happened and I firmly believe this has been orchestrated to discredit anti poaching, raise people’s sentiments against it and then let business as usual continue until our elephant have all been killed’ harsh words but by no means a lonely opinion as many other texted and social media messages can attest to.

While Minister Kagesheki has found some much needed success story, he surely also knows that this will be short lived and that major challenges remain, from resources to the political will to unmask those high up in the country’s hierarchy involved in the trade. Watch this space.

SWISSPORT TANZANIA COMMENCES HANDLING AT SONGWE AS FASTJET ADDS MBEYA

(Posted 03rd November 2013)

Swissport Tanzania has added groundhandling services at the Songwe Airport which serves the region around Mbeya but reportedly also opened a station at Mtwara Airport recently, as the number of flights to both airports has significantly increased in the recent past following refurbishment and modernization in particular at Songwe. This had added traffic potential and after handed a concession by the Tanzania Airport Authority to provide ground handling services, Swissport has now moved to commercialize these rights.

FastJet meanwhile has commenced their scheduled flights, initially three times a week, from Dar es Salaam to Songwe, competing on the route with Precision Air which operates ATR turboprop aircraft as opposed to FastJet’s Airbus A319. Precision Air moved from initially 4 flights per week to then daily and has since in fact added extra flights on days with higher demand for seats. Notably though is fuel availability of JET A1 still an issue at Songwe inspite of efforts by TAA to have an aviation fuel supplier to set up base at that airport, compelling the airlines to carry enough fuel with them to complete the return journey to Dar es Salaam.

The expansion to Mtwara, a region in Southern Tanzania not too far from the border with Mozambique and located near the massive gas fields which were discovered only recently and to Songwe / Mbeya, where tourism has a significant potential but has hitherto been unable to tap into it due to lack of regular connections, has been seen as one of Swissport’s growth strategies. As handling in Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro has reached near saturation point further growth is now only possible through either added flights by existing airlines handled by Swissport or new airlines coming in which presently are far and few between after British Airways dumped Dar es Salaam earlier this year. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from Eastern Africa’s aviation sector.

Rwanda News

RWANDAIR AND SOUTH AFRICAN SIGN DEAL FOR JOHANNESBURG – KIGALI ROUTE

(Posted 06th November 2013)

The national airlines of Rwanda and South Africa yesterday signed an extensive bilateral code share arrangement which will come into effect on the 07th of December.

RwandAir will be operating 7 flights a week between Kigali and Johannesburg and back, which South African will put their codeshare flight number on it. SAA will no longer operate flights on the route themselves. South African Airways Acting General Manager Commercial Manoj Papa, who signed on behalf of his airline, was quoted to have said upon putting pen to paper: ‘RwandAir’s professionalism and strong adherence to safety and security standards makes it an great partner in the region’s booming aviation industry’.

In his reply did RwandAir’s Chief Executive Officer John Mirenge say: ‘O.R. Tambo International Airport is a well known hub for most African world travellers. But todate we do not have many optimal hubs within the region that support the network of multiple airlines. This codeshare agreement helps us develop Kigali into a new hub, furthermore connecting it with other existing hubs like ORTIA and allowing the two airlines to join their respective networks’.

Only last week did RwandAir bring home the honour of being named as Africa’s leading short haul airline at Nigeria’s main tourism fair AKWAABA.

South African Airways, a member of global industry leader Star Alliance, operates a fleet of 49 passenger aircraft, mostly of the Airbus A319/320 family (15) as well as the long haul Airbus A330 (6) and A340 (17) and 11 B737-800’s while RwandAir operates a fleet of 2 each B737-700 and B737-800, two CRJ900NG and one Bombardier Dash 8-200 which in March next year will be replaced with a brand new, two class Bombardier Q400.

Seychelles News

AIR SEYCHELLES RECORDS MASSIVE PASSENGER INCREASE

(Posted 09th November 2013)

The third quarter of the current financial year has produced a year on year increase of passengers carried of 91 percent, in real terms from the 2012 figures of 28.847 to 55.238 in 2013.

The airline’s CEO Cramer Ball attributed this massive improvement in his own words to: ‘the solid performance across our entire network in Q3 with solid growth in all our key markets and a strong and accelerating contribution from our codeshare partners. With our continuing focus on containing costs, we are confident we will deliver a strong financial return to our shareholders and to our home economy’.

In its highest quarterly performance on the Mauritius route in three years, the airline carried 9,041 passengers, up 38.5 per cent from a year ago (2012: 6,525). Traffic was boosted by extra flights in August in response to local demand during school holidays. Air Seychelles currently operates three times a week to Mauritius with a two-cabin Airbus A320 aircraft wet-leased from Etihad Airways, with 16 seats in Business Class and 120 seats in Economy Class.

Passengers have more than doubled on the airline’s Abu Dhabi route in Q3 to 22,694, up from 9,187 a year ago. Seat factor on the Abu Dhabi route rose by 13.3% to 63.7%, despite a 67.7% increase in Available Seat Kilometres (ASKs), from 89.3 million to 149.8 million.

Traffic on the airline’s services to Hong Kong saw a quarter-to-quarter increase of 21.6 per cent, up 2,451 to 13,788 (Q2 2013: 11,337), a reflection of the increasing popularity of the connections to Seychelles and to Hong Kong offered by the airline’s schedule over the Abu Dhabi hub.

Traffic on the Johannesburg route saw 11.8 per cent year-on-year growth with a 342 per cent quarter-to-quarter growth in revenue contribution from South African Airways.

Cargo also performed well during Q3, with a 190 per cent year-on-year growth in tonnage (from 561,945 to 1,631,965 tonnes).

On the airline’s domestic operations, the airline saw a 19.3 per cent increase in the number of flights in Q3 to points in the archipelago to 3,893, up from 3,263 a year ago. Passenger numbers on the Praslin route increased by 6.9 per cent to 44,708 (Q3 2012: 41,820). Only last week did Air Seychelles order 3 brand new DHC6-400 aircraft to replace the aged DHC6-300 types presently used.

Mr. Joel Morgan, Seychelles’ Minister for Home Affairs and Transport, and Chairman of Air Seychelles, said when commenting on this performance: ‘It is a pleasure to see these results which show that we are solidly on track for a second year of profitability, confirming that our business plan was soundly constructed. With continued focus, it is certain that Air Seychelles will continue to deliver strongly. Considering our convenient schedule and connections, we offer a powerful proposition to the traveling public, which will continue to contribute to the record number of tourists visiting our islands’.

Key indicators Q3 2013 Q3 2012 Variance
Passengers 99,946 70193 +42.4%
Cargo tonnes 1,631,965 561,945 +190%
Revenue passenger kilometres 209,780,276 89,803,101 +133.6%
Available seat kilometres 367,933,929 156,430,925 +135.2%

SEYCHELLES’ LEADING HOTELS STAY AT THE CUTTING EDGE WITH PRODUCT UPGRADES

(Posted 08th November 2013)

While the Kempinski Seychelles Resort has just completed a month long work phase, during which the resort was closed for guests, has Banyan Tree Seychelles concluded a rather longer period of upgrade and refurbishment, some 10 years after the resort was initially opened.

A stay on Mahe coincided with the re-opening of the Kempinski on 23rd of October, and repeat guests will have immediately noted the various visible and subtle changes which were made to improve their vacation experience.

Jean Marc Michel, the resort’s General Manager, had this to say in a communication sent a few days ago, but only now used due to extensive travels: ‘Feedback from guests and trade partners, and our aspirations to exceed guest expectations at Kempinski’s first resort in the Seychelles, were at the centre of the decision to further enhance key areas of the property. Our resort really showcases the beauty of the Seychelles. By opening a new dive centre and creating more outdoor dining space through expansion of our restaurants, we are able to offer more of a high-definition paradise experience to our guests’. Domed pergolas now enhance the naturally breezy main restaurant Café Lazare while offering an additional 40 outdoor seats. The pergola theme continues along the L’Indochine restaurant terrace, where an additional 20 outdoor seats extend along the lagoon and permit looks out the huge granite boulders. The Windsong beach bar has during the closure been transformed into a fully operational restaurant with a barbeque grill station, offering immediate access to guests preferring to stay in their beach attire or come from the pool side for a quick bite at lunch or an order from the menu.

Meanwhile at Banyan Tree was an eight month upgrade phase completed in August 2013 which included an extensive re-design to the villas, public areas and dining outlets designed to improve guests’ experience and enhance its unique setting over Intendance Bay on the main island of Mahe. All of the 60 private pool villas have been

refurbished with new furniture, selected local artwork and polished marble floors.

The Hillside Pool Villas, Pool Villa by the Rocks and the Intendance Pool Villa have all been re-painted.

The most stunning feature though at Banyan Tree is undoubtedly the tropical gardens and forest surrounding the property into which the resort has been carefully inserted so as not to disturb the balance between nature and resort.

It is such measures by leading resorts which keep the standards of the leading properties on the Seychelles at par with the world’s best destinations and which ensures that visitors will come back time and again, certain that their chosen resort remains in ship shape at all times. Seychelles, truly Another World.

AIR SEYCHELLES REACHES FURTHER INTO SOUTHAFRICA WITH NEW CODE SHARES

(Posted 08th November 2013)

Air Seychelles has announced an increase in codeshared flights to destinations within South Africa, in conjunction with South African Airways, substantially increasing its reach into key markets beyond Johannesburg.

New are 6 codeshared flights each from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth, which will link visitors going to the Seychelles directly to the three Air Seychelles Airbus A330 flights which operate each week between the two countries. During the peak tourism season Air Seychelles will add 5 more flights from Mahe to Johannesburg, on December (2013) 14, 21 and 28 and January (2014) 04 and 11 to meet the sharp rise in demand for seats to the islands. These flights are codeshared with South African but operated by Air Seychelles as are the 6 flights from Mahe to Praslin which have been designated as code share flights. It is understood from usually well informed sources close to the airline that discussions are already underway to add more regional destinations in Southern Africa to the present code share deal, as well as destinations outside the African continent, there mainly looking at South African Airways’ South and North American destinations, which would offer the most direct link in terms of flight distance and routing from there to the Seychelles.

Cramer Ball, Air Seychelles’ CEO, was quoted to have said on the occasion of making the announcement of the increased code share partnership: ‘Thanks to our new codeshare expansion, South Africa’s regional cities are more accessible than ever to our guests. It is the logical next step in our cooperation, which has seen solid quarter-to-quarter traffic growth on the Johannesburg-Seychelles route since the partnership began in May. With the help of South African Airways, we look forward to extending awareness of our beautiful islands in these four cities, appealing to a new generation of business and leisure travellers, thereby providing revenue that will contribute to the future of our airline and our home economy’.

Details on the various schedules of code shared flights can be accessed via www.airseychelles.com