Weekly roundup of ATC News from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands, Fifth edition December 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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Fifth edition December 2013

East Africa News

AND THE WINNERS IN 2013 ARE …

(Posted 28th December 2013)

This year again, I travelled far and wide to bring stories and travel experiences to my readers and this is the time of year that I simply must share ‘The Best of 2013’ with you, though I shall spare you ‘The Worst of 2013’ for which you need to scroll down my TripAdvisor reviews to put names to the downside of my travels.

Let me start in Uganda, where I after all live, when I am not out and about travelling the world.

For Kampala there is no doubt that the Kampala Serena is my hotel of choice and my hotel of the year, head and shoulder above the competition, but for the exception of the best hotel lounge which honours go to the Sheraton Kampala Hotel for their ‘Sky Lounge’ on the 10th floor. There, from early morning till late guests can enjoy free coffee, tea, juices and water besides ever ready snacks, from a light breakfast till Hors D’oeuvres time and beyond.

Nkuringo Walking Safaris this year is my choice of adventure and activities operator and here comes my overall winner for Uganda, the quirky and funky Chameleon Lodge which majestically sits on a ridge over Lake Mutanda. While a newcomer to the Ugandan lodge scene, there cannot be a shred of a doubt in my mind that they rose to the top in no time and as usual, good things need mentioning.

On the downside, barbs for all those who constantly mouth off why I write so little about Uganda – check your facts by the way – and yet treat every development worth talking about and writing about in their own backyard like a state secret. My advice for 2014 – make up your mind once and for all, you want PR and exposure, for free by the way, then talk and tell or else hold your peace forever.

In neighbouring Rwanda, again Serena take the honours for my choice of best city hotel, and when the new competition arrives later in 2014, they will have a fight at hand if they want to dislodge this hospitality gem from the top. Upcountry, there are three winners in my book, each on their own merit, each for their own special features.

First the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, for the location as much as for their hospitality, which has matured very nicely over the past years. On Lake Kivu, two places captured my heart, sharing Gisenyi as their base but otherwise widely different in appeal. The Lake Kivu Serena is my trusted friend when returning to those lake shores on business, as their facilities, especially their suites, always give me a home away from home, and an office away from my office, where I can work on the terrace, the lake below and the hills across the water in the Congo in the distance, good food but a call to room service away.

A little further, in Bralirwa, home of the brewery, however is my secret favourite located, the Paradis Malohide, where I always spend happy moments and most of them across the water on their little island, sitting in the grass, finding inspiration before returning to the main lodgings to sample another one of their fab pizza creations.

In Kenya, let me start by first mentioning my most favoured area this year, and it is the central highlands around Nanyuki and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a place I named as Kenya’s most complete wilderness experience where the Big Five can be seen after a road journey of just 3 ½ hours from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, or alternatively a 40 minute flight with Safarilink, my favourite Kenyan safari airline, from Wilson Airport. Kenya is also the home of Kenya Airways, my favourite regional and continental airline and I acknowledge and applaud their seemingly never ending supply of red carpets along the way.

I always treasure a return to one of Nairobi’s most historic hotels, The Sarova Stanley, for their food and hospitality, but then my ‘former home’ of 3 ½ years in the 1970’s, the Nairobi Serena Hotel too is always worth a visit. The honours on the top though this year must go to Hemingways in Karen, the most memorable feature being their taste bud busting food, produced during my stay by Michelin star rated chef Barry Tonks. That said, equally impressive was their general hospitality and their suites, each with their own butler – now that is what I call style. On the safari circuit it was a close race, with Porini’s Rhino Camp beaten by a short nose as Ol Seki Hemingways took the top spot.

And then of course my favourite destination across the area I report from – the Seychelles. ‘ONLY’ two visits this year but very memorable ones again. The Festival Kreol was an eye opener, allowing me to discover the archipelago’s cultural roots and at the end of an eventful 8 days I took two days out and stayed at what turned out to be my property of the year, the www.residenceontherocks.com … a superbly located and tastefully furnished private residence, adjoining the Banyan Tree Seychelles, which offers two master bedrooms in the main house, one master bedroom in the pool villa and another master bedroom in an ‘ocean view’ villa, set behind the outdoor hot tub and whirl pool. I am sure, were I able to spend more time there, I would finish my long in the making book in no time as that place inspired me to write and find the right words like nearer at home only the Chameleon Hill did.

And then there was Reunion, that French Indian Ocean island tucked away between Madagascar and Mauritius and an eye opening return it was after over 20 years. European infrastructure combined with Creole culture and spirit, a blend of food bringing together the finest French traditions with Creole and Indian Ocean spices and dishes and a variety of attractions, from white water rafting to rock climbing, paragliding, heli-safaris across the rugged interior with 360’s just metres from waterfalls gushing down thousands of feet over the rock faces of the mountains, a life volcano and whales and dolphins meandering alongside our yacht – this was the bonus trip of 2013 and much looking forward to returning again in 2014.

For all those places I did not mention by name or location, countries visited included, you all did ok at one level or another and perhaps for my end year review in 2014 you will make it into the top rankings through some exceptional experiences I take home with me when I next come calling, officially as well as often done almost incognito.

For now, thank you to all my readers of my blog and the daily ATC News. As of today I count over 520.000, and I salute you for your support, your comments, your critiques – believe me I take as good as I give – and for your encouragement when touching on the many topics I cover, from aviation to mainstream tourism to conservation. Have a great 2014 – Health, Happiness and Success and keep reading …

GRUESOME DETAILS BEGIN TO EMERGE ABOUT LAM CRASH IN NAMIBIA

(Posted 22nd December 2013)

Reports are beginning to emerge about the last minutes of the ill fated LAM flight TM 470, which crashed enroute from Maputo to Luanda, killing all 33 passengers and crew on board on 29th November.

Detailed readings taken from the flight data and voice recorder, both of which were recovered and sent to the United States for analysis, appear to suggest that the captain of the flight, when his first officer had left the cockpit for a short while, locked the door from the inside and then disengaged the programmed route and programmed the aircraft to rapidly descend to below ground level.

Preliminary releases yesterday talk of the new flight path being recorded on the data recorder while at the same time the copilot tried to gain access to the cockpit, with what has been described as shouting from outside the cockpit and sustained banging on the reinforced door, which unless when opened from the inside is now nearly impenetrable following the events of 9 / 11 and the subsequent changes in aircraft safety and security measures which includes a secure cockpit.

Captain Dos Santos Fernandes is now the focus of an added investigation into his private life to establish if he had cause to commit suicide or made previous comments towards that end, was in financial or personal trouble, all aimed to establish a motive for this apparent suicide / mass murder.

No comments have been made by the airline since the Mozambique Civil Aviation released the particulars yesterday.

Initially the air accident investigation concentrated on the weather as having been a major contributor to the crash as torrential rains were reported from the area of the crash, while also looking initially at pilot error through loss of situational awareness.

The head of IACM, the Mozambiquean Institute of Civil Aviation, one Mr. Abreu, gave the details to the media in Mozambique yesterday, providing a horror scenario to the relatives and friends of those who died in the crash as a result of what now appears to be a deeply disturbed pilot’s actions.

LAM has been and continued to be banned by the European Union for flights into and across the EU’s airspace.

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

East Africa News

CHRISTMAS RUSH EAST AFRICA STYLE – DISCOUNT IN SHOPS VERSUS HIKED FARES

(Posted 23rd December 2013)

As East Africans count down the hours to the Christmas holiday and do their final preparations to travel to what we call here ‘upcountry’, visiting their rural homes and extended families, like every year the paradoxes of the cost of it all become once again apparent.

In the shops, discounts are offered and special deals advertised to induce spending – a tough proposition as by and large inflation has again eaten into the available household incomes and left less than a year ago in terms of disposable money, leaving many with the stark choice to spend, in addition to the December salary, and those who are lucky with a good employer, an end of year bonus even their January salary. It is the time for many to take out loans or ask those they loaned money to over the year to get it back – in most cases a lost cause of course. Still, those prone to last minute gift shopping can be sure to get good deals now and find bargains in the stores or perhaps hear ‘sorry, sold out’ as a reminder to start the gift shopping in November already.

The resorts and safari lodges – for the holiday period – add a surcharge to their tariffs but in turn provide a bag full of goodies for their guests, from little gifts to ladden buffets, enhanced entertainment programmes and more, so there is value for money in having to pay a little extra.

International airlines too offer excellent deals for travel on specific dates, something most East Africans however cannot take advantage of as they need Visa, and those places are now in winddown mode till the New Year. That leaves expatriates and those with long terms Visa in their passports, but then, who wants to fly into the cold – perhaps the reason the airlines give such deals to sell an extra seat or a few.

In contrast, local airlines at this time of the year charge full fares, especially when it comes to flying to the resort areas like the Kenya coast or Zanzibar,potentially leaving a deep hole in people’s pockets and the special packages travel agents put together, are long sold out of course. Last minute deals? Not in East Africa, not yet anyway.

And then there is of course the annual drama with the busses and public transport in general. Fares are hiked almost at will, in some cases twice of what the normal fare was, and yet, across East Africa are people grudgingly parting with their hard earned money to buy their tickets just to be sure they get to their home areas. The exodus started for those lucky to have days off on Friday last week and over the weekend, and those who still have to work this Monday and part of Tuesday may end up paying an added premium when they finally manage to travel on Christmas Eve. The annual trials and tribulations of the Christmas holidays … when those in the villages expect their city children to come home, with boots full of presents and hence, those who have cars, will very likely pack them up, every last seat occupied, the boot packed to the point where it takes a rope to hold it down and the passengers still having packages and plastic bags full of things on their laps. Many cars, barely holding on during their daily trips in Kampala, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam or Kigali to make it to the offices, will huff and puff along the way and those inside them better have spare cash to pay for a tow truck or some unexpected repairs, to fix a broken fan belt or worse.

For all of them, my best wishes for a safe journey, to and from wherever they go. Travel safe and be alert to your surroundings as this is also a time when those with mischief in mind may try to find holes in the security dragnets our police forces are now spreading out to make sure nothing untoward happens.

And a word of thought dedicated to the suffering people of South Sudan and those expatriates still there and the Ugandans and Kenyans still trying to get out – perhaps those who started all this mess may mellow under the Christmas Spirit and declare a ceasefire, not that I have much hope for that though.

Happy Holidays to all my East African brothers and sisters – and don’t touch that rent money, the school fees and the shopping budget for January or 2014 may start not nearly as well as it should, says yours truly.

BEST WESTERN EYES EXPANSION ACROSS EASTERN AFRICA

(Posted 22nd December 2013)

The world’s largest chain hotel operation, Best Western, is reportedly eyeing to expand their footprint across East Africa, where after the opening earlier in the week of a hotel in Mombasa, they now have three properties, one in Nairobi and one in Dar es Salaam.

The new Best Western Creekside Hotel in Mombasa, overlooking the Tudor Creek, offers 100 rooms and suites under the Best Western Plus brand, joined the Best Western Nairobi which opened earlier this year as reported here at the time, making Kenya presently the only country across the wider Eastern African region with two Best Western branded hotels.

The hotel group is now reportedly eyeing additional opportunities in Kampala / Uganda, another location in Dar es Salaam and reportedly one in Zanzibar. Best Western is joining a growing number of global brands now keenly pushing into the region after the discovery of significant oil and gas deposits and ongoing tourism potential in particular for meetings, conventions and exhibitions, a market segment until now largely underexploited.

Watch this space for breaking and regular news from East Africa’s hospitality sector.

Uganda News

SERENGETI HIGHWAY MENTALITY BROUGHT TO BWINDI

(Posted 26th December 2013)

True, it would shorten the way a lot between Kisoro and the Buhoma side of the Bwindi Forest but it would also completely wreck the park and I bet it would not take long before a gorilla group will be mowed down by a speeding car’ commented a leading Ugandan tourism stakeholder overnight as news emerged that district leaders from the South West of Uganda had demanded that government construct a road across the park. ‘We are dealing with hopelessly ignorant political peasants here who have no appreciation for what they have. UWA has habituted many new gorilla groups over the last years and they are spread around the entire Bwindi forest. Government has completed the new road from Kabale to Kisoro, which opened up that part of the country. I thank you by the way for highlighting the tourist attractions in the last two The Eye editions which has helped that part of Uganda to become more popular. Those who want a quick crossing, they can even hike through the forest from Buhoma to Nteko and Nkuringo but a road is the last thing we can allow through that park. Gorillas are our most high profile tourism activity and we are known for that around the world. If news get out that we have such demands for local politicians, that will for sure get another campaign underway like you triggered for the Serengeti highway. We need to shut this down immediately and once and for all. There must be no road, ever, across Bwindi’ the source then added.

Singled out for this intended assault on Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park were local politicians from Kanungu district, a Miss Josephine Kasya, and Kisoro politician John Nizeyimana, the latter of both exposed for his lack of comprehension when he reportedly babbled about the benefit of quick access to intermarry between the two districts. He was further ridiculed over remarks that because gorillas share 98 percent of the human DNA they would be able to adapt to the road and the traffic. ‘Such buffoons give Uganda a bad name, they make people think we are all uneducated and ignorant but in truth it is only a few politicians who I must admit score highly along those lines. They say anything to garner favour with the voters, next he will propose because gorillas share so much DNA they should get voters cards and vote for him? Surely that is the most idiotic thing I have heard all year that gorillas could adapt to road traffic’ was the parting shot of the source, clearly seething with anger over the road plans.

Understandably were no park officials available for comment over the Christmas holidays but it is known that UWA is strictly opposed to interfering with the integrity of Bwindi’s habitat as it is the park with the highest earnings for them, besides that any interference with the ecosystem would bring widespread global condemnation from the conservation fraternity. Unlike the highway plans for the Serengeti, where the Tanzanian government seems to have lost its way and is putting mining and commercial interests before conservation, it is not expected that the central government in Kampala will entertain such requests. Christmas is sure the season for bearing gifts but these politicians got perhaps carried away under the influence of the holiday spirit, if not something stronger.

Bwindi is one of Uganda’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and as such invaluable for the promotion of tourism for the country. Visit www.ugandawildlife.org or www.visituganda.com for more information about Bwindi and the other 9 national parks of Uganda.

PREPARE FOR THE BACK LASH FOREIGN COUNTRIES TELL UGANDA

(Posted 21st December 2013)

The passing of two laws by the Ugandan parliament this week has once again highlighted the level of ignorance among the members of parliament, of what negative publicity such ‘laws’ can generate abroad.

The first one, commonly referred to as the ‘Anti Mini Skirt Bill’ was introduced by what many describe as a religious radical out of tune with reality, one Fr. Lotodo, and it brought howls of laughter on the social media from abroad while local Ugandan’s poked yet more fun at the poor Father – or former Father turned politician – for what some suggested must be his fear of the devil should his eyes accidentally or deliberately be set upon a bit of female skin.

More significant though for Uganda’s standing abroad is the new legislation against homosexuality, and while the death penalty has been removed – it was initially proposed by religously motivated zealots under the initial version brought to the last parliament – some of the prohibited activities still carry a life sentence, once the president has assented to the bill to turn it into law.

One regular reader from a foreign mission in Kampala, understandably on condition of anonymity, had this to say: ‘The lesbian and gay communities in the West have gained significant political influence in recent years. It is absolutely no longer possible there to make negative comments, not just politically incorrect but legally prohibited under the various equal rights laws, to bash gays or lesbians. There it is recognized that what you do in your own bedroom, or your choice of lifestyle, is yours to determine and not the state’s to regulate. Uganda, while of course a sovereign country with the perfect right to legislate as they see fit, has crossed a line here which may cost them dearly. Countries depending on tourism with similar laws in place have been put on the global black list of lesbian and gay activists and are being very actively decampaigned. Once the news have spread that lesbian and gay travelers are not only not welcome but can be put in jail for their choice of partner, just wait and see what will unfold in the social media and the mainstream media. In fact I expect a number of Western nations to lodge their concerns with the government here. Travel advisories may well introduce a section, like already in place over narcotics offenses in some countries where citizens are warned to expect the death penalty if found smuggling drugs, that gays and lesbians better not go to Uganda as they may be prosecuted and jailed, so as to publicly warn them of the consequences they are faced with even as tourist visitors. Additionally these groups will now lobby hard at home to deny Uganda financial aid and support for projects and that also could hit the country quite hard, considering the ongoing dependence on donor support’.

Tourism stakeholders were unwilling to comment on this development or speculate what impact this might have for the Ugandan tourism sector and as no specific statistics are available on the number or percentages of openly lesbian and gay foreign visitors it is hard to quantify what the damage could eventually be.

That notwithstanding though, Uganda can expect bad press over this once again, as was the case when the last parliament had a private member’s bill threatening the death penalty for lesbians and gays, which prompted a number of Ugandans to actually seek political asylum abroad rather than to stay at home, more so after a gay advocate was murdered. At the time were foreign media full of anti Uganda comments and similar sentiments are certain to re-emerge if and when the president puts his signature on the new bill.

Kenya News

KENYA SET FOR PUBLICITY BOOST THROUGH CHRIS FROOME’S TOUR DE FRANCE WIN

(Posted 28th December 2013)

Chris Froome – Made in Kenya’ will be screened on Sky Sport News as part of the channel’s year review programmes, dedicated to the win by Chris of the world’s most famous cycling race, the Tour de France. After coming runner up to a Sky cycling team mate a year earlier, he managed to capture cycling’s most coveted trophy in 2013 and is already training hard to retain the crown and the yellow jersey.

Chris Froome, though racing for Britan in national and olympic events – he also captured an Olympic medal during the London Olympics in 2012 – was born in Kenya to Jane and Clive Froome, the father being keen on horse racing and capturing a number of key cups including the Kenya Derby in his Kenyan days.

The documentary will follow the path young Chris Froome took from his early schooling days to entering cycling, as a Sky news team followed him to rediscover his roots in the fall of this year when he triumphantly returned to the land of his birth, though for many sadly not the land of his nationality.

A thirty minute long special feature will be screened on the 30th of December at 19.30 hrs (07.30 p.m.) and repeated on New Year’s Eve on Sky Sport 1 at 18.30 hrs (06.30 p.m.) – showing the backdrop of the Kenya where Chris started his career and gained his first endurance laurels before going fully professional in Britain, where his talent was received with open arms.

Kenya’s tourism gurus are hopeful that some of Chris’ sporting success and subsequent glitz and glamour will rub off on the destination and bring some added visitors to the country in early 2014 and beyond.

Chris, known to this correspondent when he was a young and rather quiet lad at the time – I worked for his father back in the 1980’s in Nairobi before taking the leap into self-employment – has for sure turned into a splendid ambassador for Kenya and the country’s sporting tourism segment, which is of course better known for its athletics exploits in the medium and long distance track and cross country events.

For more details visit http://www1.skysports.com/cycling/news/15264/9086510/chris-froome-documentary-to-be-screened-on-sky-sports-news-on-december-30

KENYA AIRWAYS PULLS OUT ALL STOPS TO EVACUATE STUCK KENYANS

(Posted 26th December 2013)

In the lastest development over the story broken a few hours ago it now transpires that Kenya Airways will use a window of opportunity to fly at least four times today from Nairobi to Juba, to airlift Kenyans out of the fighting zones.

The airline has confirmed they will use a Boeing B737-300 for the service with 116 seats overall, giving a ray of hope to nearly 500 stranded people wanting to do nothing but come home and celebrate the long end of Christmas with their loved ones.

Initially the airline, in conjunction with the Kenyan government, had planned for just two flights but then upped the game in a spirit of Christmas and after assessing the operational safety and security of such flights.

The first flight in fact is now already enroute back to Nairobi after taking a full load of passengers on board and the atmosphere will have been electric on board until the plane was airborne and the captain eventually announced that they entered Kenyan airspace.

As the flights are done for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nairobi, which has put a hot line in place yesterday for Kenyans in South Sudan and for their relatives at home, and are coordinated by the Kenyan diplomatic mission in Juba, the free lift home will be an added bonus for many Kenyans many of whom have reportedly lost property and money before managing to reach the relative safety of the Juba airport.

At present no one can confirm if these evacuation flights will continue tomorrow but for now, all scheduled flights remain suspended until at least 31st of December.

President Kenyatta and the Ethiopian Prime Minister are expected to fly to Juba and talk to the regime of Salva Kiir in order to find a political solution but Kiir’s abrasive behaviour and abrupt departure from talks with the Father of the South Sudan nation’s widow, Mrs. Rebecca Garang, do not give much hope for immediate reconciliation and a cease fire. Watch this space.

MALINDI KIKOI FASHION RELOADED

(Posted 26th December 2013)

Malindi is getting ready, not just for the New Year’s Eve celebrations but also for the second edition of the Kikoi Festival, which will take place on the 30th of December at the ‘White Elephant’.

The catwalk fashion show will bring the latest Kikoi creations into the public eye, offering another eye candy for fashion conscious Malindeans and visitors from upcountry and abroad.

Fashion and culture – like the Gedi Ruins or the Vasco da Gama Monument – but also deep sea fishing, which is so good that it brought Ernest Hemingway in his days regularly to this part of the Kenyan coast, have been at the centre of Malindi’s rebranding itself and the addition of new properties in recent years, like Flavio Briatore’s award winning ‘Lion in the Sun’ and his more recently opened ‘Billionaires Resort’, the Medina Palms in Watamu and the magnificent revival of the favourite of locals and expatriates, the Driftwood Club, has added to Malindi’s fresh appeal.

Regular flights connect Malindi with Nairobi, making visits to that part of the Kenyan coast a quick and easy trip. Watch this space for regular destination updates and news from the hospitality industry along the East African coastline.

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT PREVAILS AS KENYA AIRWAYS SET FOR TWO EVACUATION FLIGHTS

(Posted 26th December 2013)

Kenyans still stranded in Juba will be receiving an unexpected Christmas gift, when Kenya Airways, in conjunction with the Kenyan government, will operate at last two chartered fligths from Nairobi to Juba, security situation permitting it should be pointed out, to evacuate those who were unable to leave by road or be on the last flight KQ took in and out of Juba on the 23rd of December.

After reports emerged that evacuation flights over the past days had been hit by fire from the ground, even wounding 4 American service personnel on a mission to Bor, airlines exercised added caution for their flights into South Sudan.

Kenya Airways wishes to inform its customers and the general public that it will be, in partnership with the Government of Kenya, operating two chartered flights from Juba in South Sudan to Nairobi on December 26, 2013’ did a statement sent out on Christmas Day read, after the Kenyan government realised the magnitude of the sheer number of wannaby evacuees still stuck in Juba.

It is not known what aircraft type Kenya Airways will use for these two flights, which are according to added information sources free of charge. Normally KQ operates the Embraer E 190 on this route but there is speculation that the airline could use a wide bodied aircraft for the evacuation flights.

Christmas spirit at its best no doubt and giving a few hundred Kenyans at least the chance to chatch up with family and friends and celebrate Boxing Day, rather than remaining marooned in South Sudan where the situation is murky at best and from where little factual information is coming out, other that the fighting for key positions continues. The statement received also said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nairobi has established a South Sudan Crisis Management Centre (SSCMC) at its headquarters in Nairobi to coordinate the operation and that for assistance those in need of information, or with information to pass on to them this number should be used: +254 203 10325.

KENYA’S PRESIDENT KENYATTA SIGNS NEW WILDLIFE BILL INTO LAW

(Posted 25th December 2013)

The conservation fraternity in Kenya had reasons to welcome Christmas as news broke yesterday in Nairobi that President Kenyatta had assented to the new Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill, making it the law of the land with immediate effect.

For years had the country’s conservationists demanded that harsher penalties be imposed as often poachers, when nabbed, were released on bond or bail almost immediately as they faced minimal fines and often short prison terms, which led to a sharp increase in poaching across the country with hundreds of elephants and dozens of rhino killed.

Now, under the new law, poachers, their financiers and the traders will face substantially higher fines, confiscation of property and long prison terms, but most significantly will those nabbed at airports, in possession of blood ivory or other prohibited wildlife items, face fines of not less than a million Kenya Shillings and prison terms of not less than five years. Many smugglers have been caught over the past years at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the majority of them Chinese citizens. ‘I hope the next one caught will now be given an exemplary sentence, to pay the million shillings fine, or more, and be sent down for the full 5 years, or more, depending on how much ivory they carried. Only when we start to seriously put them away will the message take hold that when you come to Kenya, or when you transit in Kenya, DO NOT CARRY CONTRABAND. That is the only language they will understand and to protect our wildlife we need harsh sentences. Any magistrate who now fails to impose both fines and custodial sentences must be hauled before the disciplinary committees and investigated for possible links with poaching syndicates. Let that be therefore a warning to the smugglers and to the lower judicial cadres’ wrote a regular Nairobi based source when passing the information that the long awaited amendements to the law have now been put into effect.

A full overview of the new law can be found here by clicking on the link below: http://www.kenyalaw.org/kl/fileadmin/pdfdownloads/bills/2013/WildlifeConservationAndManagementBill2013.pdf

Perhaps some belated relief for Kenya’s beleaguered wildlife on Christmas? Time will tell how the new law will affect the poaching activities in Kenya, so watch this space for future updates.

KENYA’S DECLINING ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE TIED TO POOR TOURISM RESULTS

(Posted 24th December 2013)

An erstwhile staunch supporter of the present government in Kenya last evening wrote: ‘They are getting what they deserve, they cannot harvest because they did not look after key economic sectors. Now it is becoming clear that the government will fail in their economic growth targets and one of the main reasons is that they messed up tourism with VAT, failure to facilitate KTB, creating uncertainty over KTB’s future and failing to listen to the key stakeholders’ when figures were released from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics that slowed to 4.4 percent in Q3, a long way off to the projected annual growth figure of 5.6 percent the Kenyatta government had peddled to the public.

Others over the past weeks had already raised the spectrum of coast tourism going into a steep decline, and while the holiday period has recorded strong bookings, forecasts from mid January onwards are described as poor and getting worse as charter companies from Europe have indicated their intention to withdraw from the Mombasa route.

The latest data from the South Coast in fact show, that for the week ending on 22nd December the occupancy levels of All Inclusive Resorts stood at a measly 65 percent in average while full service resorts’ occupancy was even less with just 57 percent, way down from a year ago and even more down compared to the record year of 2011.

From 15th December we should basically be reaching full house but this year this was not the case. By the end of last week occupancies were not too good. Bookings for the Christmas and New Year period will be better but guests from upcountry have also shown a trend of booking for less days than in the past, probably because all the tax increases have cut deep into their available budgets. If government does not reverse some of their negative decisions they took about taxing tourism, that trend for the coast will continue and we will have a very tough 2014 ahead of us. Other segments will also not grow as much as they could because the tourism board does not have the money to blitz the world. The decision to stay away from the Arabian Travel Market shows that the poor facilitation of KTB is costing the country. Uhuru Kenyatta, who was once chairman of KTB, is showing an extraordinarily poor relation to the sector and considering that his family owns resorts at the coast, they are cutting their own legs off. All the hullaballoo of launching new projects will dim when in early 2014 more resorts will have to close and their staff will be laid off. As far as tourism is concerned, their first year in government will be a shamble’ added another outspoken regular source from the Kenya coast.

It will be interesting to see when the KNBS will publish the final statistics of overall economic performance for 2013 and in particular for the tourism industry, as are all eyes also on KTB to publish the latest arrival figures. There some sources in fact claim those data are overdue and being held back, perhaps because they are showing a further decline in tourists coming to Kenya.

For now though, it is Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings to all my friends in Kenya’s tourism industry, and in a week best wishes for a Happy New Year, though the level of prosperity and growth next year will clearly depend on the reversal of bad government decisions and embracing private sector input to the fullest extend. Watch this space!

SERENA LIGHTS UP CHILDREN’S FACES

(Posted 24th December 2013)

The wife of Serena’s Chief Executive Mrs. Janmohamed joined members of his staff in bringing the Christmas spirit to the children of the Cottolengo Centre, when hosting them at the Nairobi Serena Hotels for a luncheon before letting Santa Claus shower the kids with gifts. These children were considered as particularly needy as they are orphans affected by HIV / AIDS.

This year Serena decided NOT to go the usual corporate way of splashing in season gifts but dedicated those funds to make the season memorable across the countries where they operate, from Kenya over Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania to Mozambique. In all those countries did the company pool their resources and lit up the faces of little kids rather than the conventional Christmas trees.

Officiating the handover event and celebrations was the General Manager Nairobi Serena Hotel, Mr. Daniel Kangu, who was joined by several guests, business suppliers and members of staff. Mr. Kangu took time to appreciate all who had helped make the children’s dreams a reality, and applauded especially his members of staff who had over the past months engaged these children at various levels to get a view of the gifts that would make their Christmas tide glow.

I am deeply humbled by the presence of these little angels here today and more so by all of you for the selfless contribution towards making this day a success’ said Mr. Kangu before adding: ‘I am reminded of the gentle words of Mother Teresa who once said that it is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving. And it is my sincere belief that all of us here have been involved out of nothing but pure love for the children of Cottolengo Centre’.

The spirit of the season, clearly, but something Serena in many CSR activities across the year excels in and practices. Merry Christmas to the Serena staff on this occasion who have shared their stories throughout the year and kept their company in the media spotlight with good news.

The Cottolengo Centre plays home to about 80 vulnerable, abandoned and orphaned children, affected and infected by HIV/ AIDS. Established in 1994, the Centre’s main objective has been to provide a holistic environment for the development of the children, while ensuring their nutrition and medication needs are also met.

Tanzania News

TANZANIAN CONSERVATIONISTS REJECT URANIUM MINING APPROVALS

(Posted 27th December 2013)

Reactions to media reports in Tanzania, publishing details of approvals for uranium mining given by the country’s Atomic Energy Commission, were swift and harsh, and predicatably given on condition of anonymity, no wonder considering Tanzania’s record of often brutal supression of dissent, especially when big commercial intererests are at stake.

Several contributors took special exception to the reported phrasing of sections of the report, like the required compliance by the commission with the principles of government justification of the projects, understood and interpreted as rolling over to provide precisely the results the government wanted to hear.

Uranium mining in the Selous has led to world wide protests and led to the government putting a mechanism into place to carve out over 200 square kilometres of the Selous territory to evade sanctions by UNESCO, which had made the Selous Game Reserve a World Heritage Site – for the Tanzanian government not an issue it seems as they habitually ignore that status in favour of ‘development’ as the equally controversial Serengeti highway plans prove.

Uranium mining is by wide consent a hugely toxic affair, and even carving out the Selous site for mining and production will still affect the reserve and its water sources, as well as the people depending on the rivers and streams, for generations to come.

One other section in the report quoted was stating that ‘overall the pollution of air, water and soil was to be avoided to minimize any impact from the [mining] sites on people and the environment

Wrote one regular source, a highly respected conservationist: ‘What do you expect when a government hellbent to mine uranium commissions a study undertaken by a government agency. Of course they dance to their masters tunes. They continue to belittle the fallout and effects of uranium which is a toxic substance. Many countries are now reviewing their atomic energy exposure in the aftermath of the Japanese problems with their power plants affected by the earthquake. The toxic fallout in the water has spread across the Pacific and in Japan itself the areas around that power plant are off limits perhaps for generations to come. Across Japan the radiation levels have significantly increased. The biggest problems are how to deal with accidents, Chernobyl is another good example, and with the storage of used uranium rods. Experts expect the demand for uranium to fall because of exactly the lack of answers how to deal with the material once it has been enriched and used up. Tanzania has a huge potential in tourism especially in the Selous where only a small area has been tapped into. New camps could generate a lot more employment than a uranium mine would do and it is sustainable long term which mining is not. But there are of course those pending issues with poaching, which has been rampant in the Selous and government is doing little to stop it because word has it senior people are benefitting from the trade in blood ivory. So perhaps, cynical as we know them to be, they let the reserve be poached empty and then shrug and tell us that is is no longer suitable for tourism and did they not always say mining is the future for the country? And of course the Selous region is remote, so they are obviously not bothered about the relatively few people who will be affected when the toxic fallout strikes. Investigative journalism in our country is all but dead because of the way the media are harassed when they exposed bad schemes in the past which involved government. No one will dare to really expose the dangers of uranium mining to the Tanzanian public and so most people will only get the uptalk of government and not the downside of the environmental fallout’.

Besides the plans to mine uranium in the designated area of the Selous, plans for the building of a hydro electric plant and dam at Stiegler’s Gorge, in the very core of the area designated for tourism at present in the Selous, are equally threatening the very fabric of this game reserve and cast doubts over Tanzania’s real commitment to conservation, which by common consensus today is but a shadow of the efforts made in the days of founding father Julius Nyerere, for whom the harmony between people and environment was at the core of his government’s conservation policy. Watch this space as this saga will undoubtedly continue into 2014 and beyond.

PETITION SEEKS KAGESHEKI REINSTATEMENT

(Posted 25th December 2013)

Clearly did the sacking of Amb. Khamis Kagesheki as Tanzania’s Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism not go down well with that country’s tourism and conservation fraternity as a petition is now circulating to have him reinstated. Many see his sacking as misguided, if not an outright coverup, though his three sacked colleagues in turn have gotten the thumbs down.

Kagesheki’s took the fight, from the moment he was appointed as minister, to lazy and corrupt officials in the wildlife and forestry departments and, inspite of ongoing meddling and thinly concealed opposition from other government officials did what he could to marshal his forces and enforce antipoaching measures, often obstructed, mired in red tape and short of resources to roll out a major offensive.

Tanzania has been cited as the worst slaughterhouse for the African elephant and only recently did the Prime Minister, himself under pressure to resign, mention that in the Selous only 13.000 elephant were left. That figure, and there was no clarification given as to where the figures came from or are based on, would be, if correct, a damning indictment of the Tanzanian governments inability, perhaps unwillingness, to confront poaching as in the past the number of elephant in the Selous was counted in the tens of thousands. A game survey is underway in Tanzania now and it is hoped that the true figures of elephant, and other game, can eventually be verified to take stock of what has happened since the last major such exercise.

Like with every government official we had issues with Kagesheki too but overall he was doing a good job. I personally think, and so do many of my colleagues, that he was the sacrifical lamb. He was targetted by the poaching syndicate and of course never given the resources to coordinate and carry out anti poaching under his ministry or through TANAPA. The botched Tokomeza operation was almost deliberately divided over several ministries and from all we know Kagesheki was never briefed in advance about locations, operational details and so forth. He was in the dark and at times had to find out things through the press or was told after things happened. I support the petition and will lobby to have others sign it too’ commented one stakeholder with more than average insight into the affairs of the Tanzanian tourism and conservation sector.

To sign the petition go to:
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_President_of_the_United_Republic_of_Tanzania_Resume_with_immediate_effect_the_Minister_of_Tourism_and_Natural_Resour/?aLFAvbb

Meanwhile once again all the best to Ambassador Khamis, Merry Christmas and a fresh start in 2014, wherever that may be.

KAGESHEKI SACKING CALLED THE ULTIMATE ACT OF COVER UP

(Posted 21st December 2013)

Amb. Khamis Kagesheki was sacked yesterday evening by Tanzania’s president Kikwete alongside three other cabinet colleagues, allegedly over the mishandling of anti poaching operations. Reactions were swift and united in calling this the ultimate act of a coverup, as Kagesheki was known as a minister full of integrity and backbone and had made a name for himself since replacing his hapless predecessor Ezekiek Maige.

Kagesheki wielded the axe in his ministry without fear or favour. He sacked those who were lazy and worked in cohoots with poachers and timber vandals. It is now clear to all of us that his remaining in office would have been a very big threat to those who organize poaching and profit from it and some are in the highest levels of government. He was as usual the first to react when reports filtered in that some of the operations in the field targeted herdsmen and pastoralists instead of poachers. He was right to then call for a temporary halt of such operations until new orders could be established.

He also stood up against very powerful interests over the Serengeti highway, the Lake Natron issue and other projects which endangered the principles of conservation in Tanzania. You wrote a lot about those issues and from what I read you always were very fair to our minister. He was an excellent minister and Kikwete surely must have succumbed to pressure to remove him because he was an obstacle to the evil schemes to keep poaching our wildlife and ransack our forests’ wrote a regular contributor from Dar es Salaam overnight, after the news broke that Kagesheki and his colleagues Mathayo (Lifestock and Fisheries), Nchimbi (Home Affairs) and Nahodha (Defence) had been sacked unceremoniously.

Another source wrote: ‘This makes Kagesheki the scapegoat. He is the one who reacted first when it became clear how the commanders in the field behaved. Some settled scores, others enriched themselves by stealing cattle. It was Kagesheki who stepped in and now he is being sacked? It shows that you were right that the entire operation Tokomeza was mishandled to make sure it had to be stopped. There are a lot of ulterior motives around and a lot of people who benefit from poaching are celebrating today that they brought him down. But for tourism and conservation it is a big blow. Some of the others may have been responsible but not Kagesheki’.

It is unprecedented that in one term of office a president in Tanzania sacks two of his ministers for natural resources and tourism in subsequent years, the first entirely justified of course but the second clearly done to please pressure groups with deep pockets bound to further benefit from this development.

Fare well and all the best to Ambassador Khamis Kagesheki, now immediate former Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism.

ARUSHA MUNICIPAL AIRPORT OPEN AGAIN AFTER DEPARTURE OF ETHIOPIAN’S B767

(Posted 21st December 2013)

Local aviation sources in Tanzania have confirmed that regular operations to and from the Arusha Municipal Airport, in short ARK, will resume in full in the morning. Flights to that local airport were disrupted when Ethiopian Airlines mistakenly flew a B767-300ER in a high risk landing into ARK which is not certified for such operations and neither runway nor terminal or handling facilities there are ready to receive such jets.

The aircraft, after being ‘lightened’ first, took off yesterday for the minutes long ferry flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which cleared the way to have any potential damage assessed by the Tanzania Airport Authority and Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority staff to establish if any claims can be brought against Ethiopian Airlines before regular operations with light aircraft resumed.

http://youtu.be/UKEqYfMVc5A

The moment of the departure of flight ET 815, a B767-300ER leased by Ethiopian Airlines, registered as ET-AQW and without any livery painted on it, was captured on camera and shows the enormous dust cloud as the jet lifted off, after powering down the short strip with full throttle.

ARK’s specs, to repeat the details here, are: The runway is 1.620 metres long, or 5.315 feet, ARK (IATA three letter code) / HTAR (ICAO four letter code) and the airport’s elevation is given in official documents as 4.550 feet above mean sea level or 1.387 metres.

Local airlines like Precision Air, which were forced out of ARK by the Ethiopian Airlines’ ‘arrival’ are now busy to prepare for a shift back from Kilimanjaro International Airport to the Arusha field, after incurring substantial cost in moving their flights to JRO during the past two days. It is expected that they too will file claims for such financial damages against Ethiopian Airlines.

On the upside, those at Arusha’s municipal airport witnessed again a remarkable piece of airmanship and skilled flying though of course the root cause of having this aircraft land there in the first place is now subject to a full investigation by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority. This enquiry will hopefully unearth the precise reasons why the aircraft, unable to land at Kilimanjaro, was not diverted by the crew to Nairobi or Dar es Salaam as every other airline would have done but opted to land at ARK. Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from the East African region.

Rwanda News

ISIMBA GROUP LOSES DOMINANT SILVERBACK

(Posted 24th December 2013)

A regular contributor from Musanze, formerly known as Ruhengeri, the main town outside the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, has passed on sad news just now.

The gentle giants of the Virunga mountains are not always gentle it seems, as a fight between Getty, the dominant silverback of the Isimba group, was found dead yesterday after what was apparenlty a fight with a stray, perhaps unhabituated silverback.

Already last year did Getty need treatment after getting into a territorial fight with Suswa group silverbacks but had since then of course recovered.

Staff and a veterinarian from Gorilla Doctors, when getting reports from the trackers who normally spend the daylight hours with the gorillas, made their way to the Isimba group but were on arrival told that Getty’s body had been recovered by the park rangers already.

Thanks for the efforts of Gorilla Doctors, even though this time they were unable to save Getty’s life. Visit www.gorilladoctorsblog.org for more information about the work this volunteer group does with the mountain gorillas of the Virungas, how to donate to allow them continue their work and where to find their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube social network sites which provide details on a regular basis about their deployment and the cases they treat.

RWANDAIR LAUNCHES NEW FORMAT WEBSITE

(Posted 24th December 2013)

In time for the holiday season has RwandAir launched their latest version of their website www.rwandair.com offering the latest technology for proactive features. Now integrated in to the website are RwandAir’s social media pages from Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, allowing passengers and supporters of Rwanda’s national airline to interact, seek feedback and make suggestions. New services also include cargo tracking, an important feature for importers and exporters. Access to an online version of the airline’s inflight magazine INZOZI is now also possible and perhaps most important, the site is now available in other languages too such as French, Kiswahili, Arabic and even Afrikaans, covering the languages of all the markets RwandAir is presently flying to.

Earlier in the week did RwandAir also sign an extensive agreement with Ethiopian Airlines for the maintenance of their two B737-800NG, their two B737-700NG and even their Bombardier Q400 aircraft, which is due to arrive in Kigali in late February 2014, replacing the wetleased Bombardier Dash8-200.

RwandAir’s chairman of the board Mr. Girma Wake, a former longserving CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, is thought to have been instrumental in negotiating a good deal for aircraft maintenance, one of the foremost such centres on the African continent.

RwandAir also used the opportunity when passing their latest media release to extend Seasons Greetings to their passengers and supporters.

RWANDA LAUNCHES NEW MARKETING INITIATIVE FOR EAST AFRICAN VISITORS

(Posted 21st December 2013)

Coinciding with the launch of the common East African tourist Visa on the 01st of January 2014 – this accomplishment largely credited to Rwanda’s nifty diplomacy after being tasked by fellow EAC members Uganda and Kenya to prepare the logistics for it – will the Rwanda Development Board’s Tourism and Conservation Department also unveil their new regional marketing strategy.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary year of the gruesome genocide, and ahead of the 10th anniversary of Rwanda’s celebration of their prized gorillas with the annual Kwita Izina Festival (visit www.kwitizina.org) will the tourism gurus in Kigali take new steps to have East African citizens and expatriates working within the EAC come and visit the Land of a Thousand Hills.

RDB released the following statement to this effect:

Start Quote:

Rwanda Development Board Launches Tourism Marketing Program Aimed at East African Community (EAC)

Coinciding with the new EAC Single Visa January 2014 launch

(Kigali, Rwanda) December 20, 2013 – This month the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) is launching an extensive new tourism marketing program to promote Rwanda amongst the East African Community (EAC).
The inauguration of the18-month EAC marketing program coincides with the recent announcement at the World Travel Market in London by the governments of Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda introducing the East African single joint visa. The new EAC visa will take effect on January 1, 2014, allowing visitors to travel more freely through the 3 nations with a single and more affordable visa ($100 US).
The EAC marketing program will compliment the visa’s launch through engaging social media campaigns for regional travelers as well as special events and partnership opportunities for tour operators, travel agents, and journalists.
The EAC Marketing Campaign will build on the broad recognition Rwanda is receiving as a top international travel destination. National Geographic Traveler recently selected Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest as one of the top 20 destinations in 2014 for “what’s authentic, culturally rich, sustainable and superlative in the world of travel today.” Condé Nast Traveller lists Rwanda as one of its “Top 10 Destinations to Watch in 2014,” citing the country as Africa’s emerging safari hostpot. Rwanda is the only African destination to be included on the list. G Adventures, an international tour operator, identified Rwanda as one of its five hottest destinations in 2014 for British travelers.
The program will differentiate Rwanda from neighboring destinations by informing EAC nationals, expatriates and international travelers about the country’s extensive nature- and culture-based tourism attractions, while enticing them to add Rwanda’s to their regional circuit or to extend the Rwanda leg of their multi-country itinerary.
Ultimately the program will result in increased visitation and tourism receipts for Rwanda. Tourism is the nation’s largest foreign exchange earner, thus the investment in EAC promotion is important to secure future economic growth.
The EAC Tourism Marketing Program is being implemented with the support of Solimar International, a Washington, DC-based tourism development and marketing firm. They bring extensive international expertise and several years experience working in East Africa.
For more details about tourism in Rwanda visit: www.rwandatourism.com

End Quote

Earlier in the year had NDA – The New Dawn Associates, in collaboration with other partners, RDB and RwandAir organized two major familiarization tours for travel agents, tour operators and selected media representatives to showcase what Rwanda has to offer under the theme ‘Beyond the Gorillas’, giving a comprehensive insight into the wide range of tourism attractions, along the shores of Lake Kivu, the Nyungwe Forest National Park, aka Enchanted Forest, birding areas and the cultural monuments like the King’s Palace in Nyanza, the National Museum in Huye and the newly opened up sites near Ruhengeri where the new kings were being introduced to what the kingship entailed.

The private initiative was also copied by the cooperation between RwandAir and Brussels Airlines, which brought several groups of travel agents and media representatives to Kigali, to get a brief about the highlights of the country but also to sample the inflight services of the two airlines and experience SN’s new cabin layout at the time.

Well done to Rwanda for targeting the regional market with renewed vigour and enthusiasm especially ahead of such a significant year of both reflective commemorations but also celebrations, and a year when the new Marriott Hotel Kigali will open its doors.

Ethiopia News

ETHIOPIAN PLANS TO PUT FIRE DAMAGED B787 BACK INTO SERVICE

(Posted 22nd December 2013)

Information was confirmed yesterday that the B787 Dreamliner of Ethiopian Airlines, which suffered severe structural damage during a fire, while parked at Heathrow earlier in the year, has undertaken test flights with the aim to restore the certificate of airworthiness before returning the aircraft into service. On July 12th did a malfunctioning locator beacon at the aft of the aircraft ignite, burning through the hull and leaving the aircraft bascially a write off, or so it was thought at the time, before news emerged that the airline decided after all to repair the B787 and return her to scheduled passenger operations. Not only needed the entire rear section of the aircraft’s hull to be fixed but also all the entire interior fittings, which were damaged by smoke. Wall and ceiling panels, overhead bins, seats and carpets were entirely replaced, giving the plane an ‘as new’ look with no future passengers the wiser for the fiery past of this aircraft, unless informed travellers recognize the plane’s registration.

(Picture taken from www.theguardian.com)

The aircraft, registered as ET-AOP undertook an extended test flight over the North Sea yesterday, reaching up to 39.000 feet though more such flights are very likely carried out before the aircraft can be certified again for operations. This being the first ever major structural repair of a hull made of composite materials, engineers have broken novel ground even though one source from an MRO – an aircraft Maintenance and Repair Organisation – indicated that this aircraft will undoubtedly be subject to intense monitoring when returned to service.

Watch this space for breaking and regular news about the aviation industry in Eastern Africa.

South Sudan News

AIRLINES FLYING TO JUBA DECRY LOW INBOUND LOADS AND HIGH INSURANCE COST

(Posted 27th December 2013)

Airline personnel still remaining on site at Juba’s International Airport are lamenting the low passenger numbers presently arriving on flights, but also acknowledge that inspite of Juba being by and large calm, the country overall may presently not be on the bucket list of travellers and that few of the South Sudanese who sought refuge abroad in the immediate aftermath of the start of the fighting are simply not coming back at this time.

Kenya Airways, which operated government evacuation flights yesterday, while President Kenyatta was in Juba for multilateral talks with the regime, has suspended commercial flights until at least 31st of December. Other airlines flying from Nairobi, Entebbe and Addis Ababa presently continue their flights, as does Fly Dubai which operates 4 flights a week at present. All of them, according to a source, are in constant contact with their station managers in Juba to get first hand information before a flight is then allowed to take off for Juba.

While flights out of Juba are now regularly full, inbound loadfactors have plummetted, making routes commercially hard to sustain in the long term while at the same time insurance companies are demanding higher premiums for flights to the South Sudan, which is now categorized as a war zone.

Most countries with diplomatic offices in South Sudan have either already evacuated their nationals or continue to do so, especially those countries like Kenya and Uganda with thousands of their citizens stuck. Kenya’s interior ministry in fact made history yesterday when establishing communication channels via Twitter and Facebook, besides providing conventional phone hotlines, to get as much information about Kenyans being unable so far to leave the country and return home. Information from Nairobi suggests that the Kenyan government will continue to offer assistance to leave the country once people have reached either the main airport in Juba or other airfields considered safe for evacuation flights.

While some sort of agreement was reached in talks between neighbouring countries and the two opposing sides in South Sudan, meetings – due to be hosted by the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa, are not expected to go underway just yet as several delegation members for the talks nominated are reportedly being held by the regime in Juba which has refused to let them go free.

Meanwhile have prices for commodities, if available that is, risen in Juba as supplies normally coming in by road from Uganda are slow in making their way into South Sudan over fears of the potential loss of cargos, damage to vehicles and risk for the drivers and turnboys. A large number of trucks are waiting on the Ugandan side of the border to Nimule, either hoping for military escorts or else until sit it out until the situation has calmed down sufficiently and their security can be assured. Not a Merry Christmas for sure it was in Juba and across the South Sudan nor will it be a Happy New Year either on Tuesday next week at midnight for many of that country’s beleaguered citizens. Watch this space.

KENYA AIRWAYS SUSPENDS JUBA SERVICES AS OF TODAY TILL END OF DECEMBER

(Posted 24th December 2014)

Information is emerging from Nairobi that Kenya Airways will as of the last flight yesterday, 23rd December, suspend flights in and out of Juba until at least 31st December this year, during which the airline will be carrying out a full assessment of security and safety issues by then. A source close to the airline confirmed that concerns had risen over the past two days of operational safety of incoming and outgoing flights in Juba, eventually leading to Kenya Airways taking this hard decision.

Passengers, who heard about this development yesterday in disbelief if not outright panic, were crowding at Juba’s International Airport in order to get out of the South Sudan capital city before dusk brought flight operations to a halt – Juba can only operate in daylight due to a lack of technical facilities – as rumours swept the grapevine of an imminent attack by rebel forces on the capital. Those left behind, when the last of the three daily Kenya Airways flights left for Nairobi yesterday, now only have hope that the Kenya Air Force may send in more aircraft to evacuate Kenyans, though other nationalities will now ponder their next moves of how to get out as the conflict spreads.

Fly 540, the other airline flying from Nairobi to Juba, is reportedly continuing flights but will according to a source at Juba airport assess the situation from flights to flight and only operate after their station personnel have given them the latest updates from the airport before a flight leaves from Nairobi.

No comments could be obtained from Air Uganda or RwandAir about their continued operations into Juba from Entebbe and Kigali respectively over the holiday period, though it was learned that the Rwandan government was looking into evacuating Rwandan nationals in South Sudan who want to leave for home.

Dark times for those left stranded in Juba and beyond across South Sudan as Christmas Eve dawns, more so as President Kiir’s reported walkout of talks with the wife of former SPLA leader Garang indicates that there may be no hope for progress in halting the fighting and dimming prospects of a ceasefire over Christmas. Watch this space.

Vanilla Islands

Reunion News

AIR AUSTRAL ANNOUNCES A RETURN TO THE SEYCHELLES

(Posted 23rd December 2013)

From the 23rd of June onwards, in other words in six months from today, will Air Austral make a return to the Seychelles with direct flights from Roland Garros International Airport in St. Denis, Reunion’s capital, to Mahe, the main island of the Seychelles’ archipelago.

The announcement was made yesterday by the management of Air Austral, in the presence of the Seychelles’ Tourism and Culture Minister Alain St. Ange and the President of the Region of La Reunion, Didier Robert.

The final touches were put on the agreement during Reunion’s festival of the abolition of slavery, known as ‘Liberte Metisse’, for which the Seychelles had come with a large delegation to support on of the Vanilla Islands’ main calendar events of the year.

Flights will operate every Wednesday and Monday and negotiations to conclude a code share agreement with Air Seychelles for these flights are progressing and it is anticipated that an agreement will be reached soon between the two airlines.

Didier Robert, on the occasion of the announcement, had this to say: ‘This good news will reinforce the links between the two islands and it will enhance the economic development. Minister Alain St.Ange, the Minister of Tourism and Culture of the Seychelles on his part said that this announcement will be well received by the People of Seychelles, adding: Our island’s tourism industry will benefit from this opportunity and we have given our commitment to work with Air Austral to develop the route for the benefit of the airline and for the consolidation for the Seychelles Tourism Industry’.

(Seen here are from left to right President Didier Robert, the CEO of Air Austral Mr. Marie-Joseph Male and Seychelles Tourism and Culture Minister Alain St. Ange)

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