TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Fifth edition August 2010
CHOBE SAFARI LODGE RE-OPENING IMMINENT
As reported previously here, the Madhvani Group’s Marasa hospitality subsidiary was busy since last year in reconstructing the former Chobe Safari Lodge, located above the Nile falls in the upper section of the Murchisons Falls National Park, to its former glory.
In the old days the lodge was a magnet for fishermen from the entire East Africa and further abroad, to try their skills in the river’s rapids for giant Nile Perch and other fish.
The lodge is now in the ‘soft opening phase’ and has started to take in guests, although the official opening, expected to be performed by none other than President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, may still be a few more weeks away. Opening was delayed when a major shipment of construction material got ‘taken’ when the ship was hijacked by Somali ocean terrorists and had to be re-ordered.
This correspondent will travel to the lodge over the weekend and file a full report, pictures inclusive, after sampling the hospitality, food, location, facilities and activities now soon available once again to guests.
The surroundings of the lodge are mainly forests, giving a very different game viewing experience compared to the savannah part of the lower section of the park below the falls, and in particular birding enthusiasts will be able to spot a large number of birds resident around the lodge and in the forest during drives and guided walks. Game however, in particular elephant, can also be seen, at times not far from the lodge itself, according to a reply received from one of the consultants who worked on the Chobe reconstruction.
Chobe was destroyed in a wanton act of violence by retreating soldiers of the former dictatorship, leaving it ruined for well over 25 years, before the Madhvani Group secured the concession and started reconstruction in 2009 at a cost of about 12 million US Dollars. The details of contacts and of the website will be published in the main feature article coming up here soon. Watch this space.
TULLOW OIL – BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
Imagine a scenario, where a major oil company purchases the assets of another, pays close to 1.5 billion US Dollars for this purchase and only then finds out that their transaction has failed to gain the mandatory regulatory approvals. Impossible you may think but true enough for Tullow Oil of Uganda.
Last year first indication arose for close observers, that Heritage Oil Uganda was considering heaving off their Ugandan oil wells and oil concessions, and it did indeed not take long before ENI of Italy came forward and offered to purchase Heritage’s interests for said 1.5 billion US Dollars.
ENI being still a state majority owned company in Italy, had all the backing of the Italian government including a ministerial visit to Uganda, during which a future investment volume of at least 14 billion US Dollars over and above the existing infrastructure was proffered to their Ugandan counterparts.
When the formally notice of intent to sell the assets was issued by Heritage, just ahead of the Christmas season last year, Tullow was scrambling to secure funding to make good of a public ‘promise’ to invoke their first right of refusal over the sale, contractually agreed in a previous partnership memorandum between Heritage and Tullow. Indeed, when decision day dawned, and inspite of the holiday season, they appeared to have secured those funds and formally responded by invoking their buyout clause.
Governmental sources in Uganda at the time were blowing both hot and cold over the deal, with some claiming that their approval would not be granted for Tullow to become THE main player in the oil industry in Uganda and ENI would be given the nod, while others claimed that as it was a contractual right of Tullow to invoke a buyout, this would be granted.
The timeline attached to this article will outline in what sequence events did take place, but meanwhile, government has used its powers to approve, or else decline approvals, to exert pressure over a tax claim made against Heritage stemming from the sale of the assets.
Why Heritage did not opt to just sell their shares in the Ugandan subsidiary to Tullow, which would have been a tax free transaction, and instead opted to sell only the assets – and here the disputes arise from – they claim to have advice that there is no precedence for tax claims and have referred the dispute with the Uganda Revenue Authority to the enshrined arbitration, taking place under their agreement with GoU in LONDON.
That in turn did not go down well with some circles in government, not a surprise considering elections are around the corner in Uganda, and demands were made privately and publicly to have Heritage delivery over 400 million US Dollars of their sales proceeds to the taxman.
In line with dispute resolution over taxes, Heritage deposited the required percentage into an escrow account in Uganda, subject to release to the URA in case the arbitration goes their way, but the balance of those claims is kept in an escrow account in the UK, where Tullow had paid the purchase price.
It is clear that the termination of a key oil exploration license by government, held by Tullow, is while probably correct in law is more of a technical matter, but the threat has upped the ante now with government insisting that neither would the license be restored nor the circumstances discussed unless the full ‘claimed’ tax obligation by Heritage has been paid.
Tullow now has a stark choice, having paid for the Heritage assets in full but now finding themselves unable to take possession or carry out work on the wells and fields. They either pay the tax burden as an ‘extra’ or risk losing another major permit on the 07th of September, when the next cut off period comes calling, effectively putting their entire assets and investments in Uganda at risk.
Heritage has quietly let it be known that as it was them who invoked the arbitration process – agreed under the Production Sharing Agreement or in short PSA – they are happy to wait for a ruling by the international arbitrators which they will fully respect. They have also let it be known that Tullow, should they wish to pay the taxes claimed for by URA but not recognized by Heritage, they would be free to do so but should not expect to get any money already paid for the assets back. One source close to Heritage Uganda in fact did point to the ENI offer, which had given indication that they may pay the 1.5 billion US Dollars to Heritage and pay any tax dues in addition, but when the government in Kampala rejected their offer and gave Tullow provisional approval for the take over and purchase this entire package was subsequently withdrawn. The same source was also clear in blaming Tullow for being naive and ill advised by their legal teams and paying without having the full and irrevocable approval of government in place. All subsequent deals Tullow had lined up with the Chinese National Oil Corporation and Total of France are now on ice until the matter is finally resolved one way or another and as more deadlines for the lapse of permits and concessions are looming now, where government can withhold consent of renewal, Tullow will indeed be between a rock and a very hard place to either pay up the extra 400+ million US Dollars or else have their management and board face the wrath of shareholders, who saw over half a billion UK Pounds wiped off the share values on a single day last week at the London Stock Exchange, where Tullow is quoted.
The fallout however does not stop there as yet, as Ugandans in general will be disappointed that the ambitious production start and construction of a mini refinery and gas or heavy fuel oil driven 100 MW power station will now delay a lot longer, while these disputes boil on.
(Time lines of this saga as ascertained by this correspondent in recent weeks:
October 2009 Tullow announces the want to sell a portion of their assets in order to develop the Oil fields in Uganda including construction of a refinery.
Tullow starts generating a huge volume of positive press reports that overstate the value of the block 2 which they want to sell a portion of. Included in these reports are discoveries by Heritage Oil which is their partner and the operator of blocks 1 and 3A.
Tullow stock rises based on the stories and the Tullow stock value on the LSE essentially becomes inflated
Tullow opens up a data room and invites 10 companies to make bids including Exxon mobile, Total and ENI
November 2009 Tullow announces a sale of some of their assets will take place in Jan 2010
End of November ENI announces on its website they entered the Tullow data room. However for whatever reason based on what they discover ENI makes a surprise bid for Heritage’s assets instead of Tullow’s.
Tullow states that ENI never entered its data room. The ENI CEO refutes this. At this stage no major oil company has made a bid for block 2 which Tullow wanted to sell initially.
December Uganda government sources bless the ENI – Heritage deal and announces that Tullow will not be allowed to stand in the way of the deal
Mid December Tullow vows to stop the ENI Heritage deal
Government backtracks issues statement through the State minister Lokaris. The line cabinet minister Onek is silent and refuses to comment
January 2010 the Italian Foreign Minister visits Uganda and promises his governments support for the Oil sector including construction of a refinery.
January 2010 Tullow drop plans to sell its assets in Uganda – announcement made by the Aiden Heavey
ENI CEO Scaroni announces they have a 14 billion dollar development plan with financing ready for Uganda.
January 2010 Tullow pre-empts the ENI Heritage deal on the 17th January basically they are forced to do so. They stand to lose on the 1.1 billion investment made by buying Hardman – which incidentally did not attract any tax claims from URA – which appears to be a less attractive than previously thought.
February Heritage and Tullow announce Sale of Heritage to Tullow will take place in the first quarter of the year
April – June Taxation becomes a big issue Government insists Heritage should pay capital gains on the transaction. Discussions between Heritage Oil and government take place but the case drags on for several months
July 2010 6 month pre-emption deadline about to expire.
July 2010 Heritage threatens to withdraw from the SPA and sends a letter to that effect to GOU.
Government asks for and is granted a one week extension
Heritage Oil officials return for talks, Government insists tax must be paid and declines Heritage offer of a 30% deposit and arbitration in the UK as per the PSA.
Heritage officials fly out of the country
Tullow panics and opens up direct talks with Heritage to break the deadlock. Based on the talks Tullow agrees to pay Heritage US$1.05 billion directly, US$121 million was deposited in a special account with the Ugandan Revenue Authority and US$283 million was put into escrow account pending arbitration of the Capital Gains Tax dispute with Heritage. An extra 100 million is paid based on the agreement Heritage had brokered with ENI which was to give them a oil field of a value equivalent to 150 million US in their deal.
Tullow pays this money in the belief that Government will be put under pressure to give unconditional approval for the takeover of the oil assets.
Tullow announces the takeover of Heritage Uganda
The Minister signs a conditional consent for the takeover
The President subsequently announces the deal is null and void until the tax is paid and he takes over all negotiations related to the oil industry in Uganda directly.
August 2010 Tullow officials including Aiden Heavey fly into Uganda for talks to resolve the issues
President insists the taxes must be paid otherwise the deal is off
A letter is sent by government to Tullow indicating the appraisal license for block 3 will not be renewed or extended and the Government plans to take back ownership of this block.
Government tells Tullow to stop drilling activities in block one after completion of the next appraisal well till transactional and tax issues are resolved.
Facts and Milestones
Tullow shareholders risk losing big time on the investments in Uganda, after the company has already fully paid for an asset they do not yet have possession of.
Tullow exposure in Uganda has now reached 3.1 billion dollars. 1.1 billion for the Hardman Oil buyout, 500 million for the exploration of block 2 and 1.45 billion for the Heritage buy out
Block 3A concessions and permits expire on the 7th September
Block 1 concession and permits expire next year
End of time line description – compiled according to available data, information and valid to the best of this correspondent’s knowledge at the time of going to press)
PARK TRACK FROM PARAA LODGE TO PAKUBA AIRFIELD DUE FOR MAINTENANCE
Information has reached that the Ministry of Works and Transport has advertised for tenders to be submitted for the re-grading and related maintenance work of the Paraa to Pakuba track inside the Murchisons Falls National Park. The track passes from the ferry crossing point along the entrance of the Paraa Safari Lodge to the airfield and then to the park boundary near the township of Pakwach, also located on the river Nile.
The track, officially still a transit route through the park from Masindi, is now largely used by safari vehicles visiting the park, as a very impressive all tarmac highway has been built around the park to the Nile bridge in Pakwach. During the terror reign of the LRA in Northern Uganda many vehicles actually opted to drive through the park due to better security, but when the terror group was pushed out of Uganda into first Southern Sudan and then into the Congo and the Central African Republic, government swiftly embarked on the construction of this key road link to the West Nile region of Uganda, a move which paid off handsomely for not just bus and cargo transporters using it but also benefitting the park itself by removing the transit traffic and leaving the national park to its intended purpose, i.e. wildlife protection and tourism.
A source from Paraa Safari Lodge praised the upcoming track maintenance as it will make the journeys to and from the airfield for visitors coming by air from Kajjansi or Entebbe much smoother, adding to a very positive ‘first impression’ while being driven from the airfield to the lodge.
FERRY REPAIRS AT LONG LAST UNDERWAY
A public outcry over the intolerable delays in the maintenance work of a key lake ferry now prompted government to speed up the process, after weeks of uncertainty over the fate of the vessel and sharply risen cost and dangers for ferry users now forced to use traditional lake boats. Those are often in the bad news when reports come in from Lake Victoria, Lake Albert and other lakes that they have capsized in storms and bad weather, claiming many lives in the process, as many of the private boat operators tend to overload for a quick profit, while the ferries are better regulated and supervised, belonging to government. A ministerial source was quoted in the local media saying that it is understood and appreciated that the public is angry over the delays but that procurement rules made a long process necessary, claims dismissed by members of the public as untrue, as early preparations ahead of taking the vessel out of operation on the ‘due date’ could have avoided delays of this nature.
Repairs and maintenance is hoped to be complete by mid to late September, at which time the MV Kalangala is expected to return to full service.
SHILLING REMAINS WOBBLY AS CENTRAL BANK SHORES UP RESERVES
The value of the local currency Uganda Shilling remained depressed after a brief respite last week, as the Bank of Uganda got more active in the market with suggested purchases of up to half a million US Dollars a day to shore of the country’s foreign exchange holdings. Presently reports indicate that the country has reserves covering about 5 months of imports, not an alarming level for economists but it has been pointed out that this ratio should and could be improved. The Bank of Uganda has not put a time frame on the mopping up of foreign currency to stash away in the reserves but it is understood that should the value of the shilling begin to drop too rapidly that purchases may be deferred from one day to the next, or for a longer interval, and also not ruling out to releasing foreign exchange into the market to keep it stable, should this be required. Presently one US Dollar fetches about 2.250 Uganda Shillings.
PHONE COMPANIES TRY TO TRUMP EACH OTHER
Competition in the telecoms voice sector remains as tough as ever inspite of murmurs by company executives that the next ‘round’ would play out in the data sector, which – as previously reported here when elaborating on the latest technological advances with the arrival of 3+G – is equally hard fought over.
Warid Telecom, embattled after remaining in the 2G data range and having to come to terms with a changeover of management, again, is now offering a dual Sim card phone for literally free, as buyers get air time worth 50.000 Uganda Shillings with the phone purchase, which too costs the same amount. Uganda Telecom is promoting their solar charged phone, giving two for the previous price of only one at a cost of 60.000 Uganda Shillings, also with preloaded airtime. Top of the range phones are available from Orange Uganda, at highly subsidised prices while wireless landlines are also being pushed by the more recent smaller entrants into the market which operate on a CDMA platform. Bharti, the new owners of what used to be Celtel and the Zain, have already vowed to cover every last corner in Uganda to tap into the still enormous potential of new subscribers in the rural areas, and going by their recent head on clash in Kenya with market leaders Safaricom, they will make good of their promised in Uganda too, where market leaders MTN and Uganda Telecom are bracing themselves for a level of competition over price and reach not seen before.
But nevertheless, this now seems to become more and more a side show to the oncoming battle for the data market, where rumour has it that the companies are planning to lift the data limits from subscriptions, as the pressure grown to utilise the available capacity of the three fibre optic systems now spanning across Eastern Africa, where at present only an exponential growth by added subscriber numbers gives hope to progressively use the new infrastructure to a greater extent. Watch this space as the battle of the air waves continues, not only in Uganda but across the region.
HANDS OFF THE SOROTI FLYING SCHOOL
Alarming news have reached supporters of East Africa’s single publicly owned aviation academy in Soroti, designated by the East African Community as an educational centre of excellence. Land belonging to the flying school appears to have been earmarked for ‘selling off’ in an act of ‘divestiture’ but has met stiff opposition by the school’s board, management and the area MP and other members of parliament, who brought the machinations into the public domain, after alerting the local media to these plans.
It is not clear what motive the promoters of this scheme have, but should indeed the school be revamped as is planned and turned into what it could and should be, the half square mile of land may well be needed in the future, be it for buildings, runway extensions or as emergency drill area. Also included in the proposed ‘sell off’ are reportedly staff houses, probably one of the reasons the opposition to the scheme was swift and is gathering momentum. Watch this space for future updates.
CAA SEEKS TENDERS FOR GULU AERODROME / ENTEBBE
The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, both regulator as well as airport and aerodrome operator, has last week advertised for tenders to repaint the taxiway and runway markings in Entebbe, to keep the airport in ship shape and have the markings visible at all times. CAA has also invited tenders for consultancy services to improve the aerodrome in Gulu, where they are intending to construct a new passenger terminal, apron lighting, parking away from the buildings as recommended by international guidelines in view of latest security recommendations, a perimeter fence, navigational equipment upgrades and an additional cargo area. A runway extension is reportedly also within the scope of the consultancy work, indicating that Uganda may be developing Gulu as an alternative to Entebbe in case of weather or cases of emergency, while at present aircraft are diverted in such circumstances to either Eldoret or Nairobi.
SPARKS ARE FLYING BETWEEN KENYA AIRWAYS AND BOEING
The recent announcement by Boeing, which incidentally came once again as hard as pulling teeth, stated that their first delivery of the B 787 to their launch customers might well slip from late 2010 into early 2010. This has promptly caused added worries for airlines in Eastern Africa like Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, both of which had banked on having these state of the art aircraft arriving much earlier in order to boost in flight efficiencies and take advantage of lower operating cost and larger capacities. Boeing has in the past been accused of belittling, downplaying and concealing problems with the development of their ‘Dreamliner’ – now often dubbed the ‘Nightmarer’ considering the years of delays, cost overruns and loss of reputation by Boeing in aviation circles over their problems with the B 787. While Ethiopian Airlines has already made firm arrangements with Airbus for delivery of new wide bodies, a ‘first’ for ET, Kenya Airways is still apparently considering options, but a regular source from the company’s Embakasi Head Office has confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that NOT ALL is well in the relations between KQ and Boeing, letting it slip that unlike other airlines suffering from delivery delays Kenya Airways apparently has not received meaningful offers of compensation for these delays, which already cost the airline dearly.
KQ is on the proverbial prowl now that the global economy has shaped up again, and is currently embarking on an aggressive development of new routes, while also adding frequencies to their present destinations.
It is here that the delayed deliveries ‘bite’ as the lack of aircraft, and the continued use of existing older Boeing 767’s, which operate at higher cost compared to ‘younger’ aircraft, is impacting on the growth strategy of the airline and its profitability. It is an open fact that the Kenya Airways management and board have been talking to Airbus about the purchase or lease of several A330’s to bridge the gap caused by Boeing, which would signal a return to the European manufacturers after a prolonged ‘Boeing only’ period, which however was infiltrated first by Saab turboprop aircraft and then by the purchase of Embraer jets, which made KQ the largest African Embraer operator already. KQ did in the past operated Airbus A310 aircraft but phased them out to go all Boeing for their long haul fleet, a situation which could be reversed in the very near future already when the company makes their final decision on the true financial and operational impact the fresh delay may bring for them. Hurt feelings over being brushed aside by Boeing, as the word from Nairobi has it over demands for compensation, may clearly not help the US based manufacturer’s case and until swift and comprehensive offers are put forward to KQ, the dice, already in the air, may fall the way of Airbus. In fact, at this stage a cancellation of the B 787 order is considered possible, should Boeing not make broad amends and extends substantive sweeteners to keep the orders on their books.
Partner airlines KLM and Air France in any case are major Airbus operators already and their technical expertise will undoubtedly help KQ, should they sign up for the A330’s, to retool their own maintenance facility at the Embakasi base, where they are approved MRO for Boeing aircraft – and again Airbus is waiting at the wings to take advantage of an opportunity here too by getting a foot in the door.
Meanwhile has the same source also confirmed that KQ is trying to get more slots for added flights to London Heathrow, which presently operate daily but should, as traffic and demand grows, eventually go double daily and are currently restricted by available landing slots with only two extra traffic days firmed up so far. Watch this space for the most timely aviation updates from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region.
MORE TROUBLE AT THE FERRIES LANDING
The Likoni ferries plying the route between the Mombasa island and the southern mainland ran into trouble once again last week when a truck ran into the water at the South landing site, which already is quite narrow and a source of congestion as vehicles and passengers are scrambling to get on and off the ferries in a place proverbially between the rocks and the water.
As navigators had to be extra careful when landing and setting off, delays piled up and the back log of cars, busses, lorries and passengers grew and caused problems for commuters most of last Monday.
The Kenya Navy and salvage operators did eventually manage to pull the wreck out of the water but admitted that rough seas and high tides had been preventing them from accomplishing this task much earlier. Meanwhile sections of the tourism industry have once again used this opportunity to lobby government to make a commitment about construction a highway access from the Nairobi highway and the international airport to the south coast to ease transportation of tourists, for commuters and for cargos and defuse the constant bottleneck the Likoni ferry crossing has become over the years, inspite of now using two new ferries with a higher operational performance standard.
Meanwhile, as if this problem had not been enough, did one of the new ferries stall mid channel last Wednesday evening and needed to be ‘rescued’ by a tug boat which was called to site to avoid the ferry drifting off. One regular source from the coast subsequently sent a message comprising a single word in response to my enquiry for more details; ‘ALREADY?!?’ before later on, in a second message, adding ‘government has to put up either that long overdue road now from the mainland to the south coast or consider building a bridge high enough to let ocean vessels get into Kilindini harbour so that wananchi and our tourists are not constantly suffering from these mishaps or worse, a possible bad accident.’ Watch this space.
NAS EMPLOYEES IN COURT OVER ALLEGATIONS OF SABOTAGE
As a strike is looming at NAS, Kenya’s leading aviation catering firm, several of their employees were produced in court and charged with intent to bring harm to airline passengers, after they were allegedly found to have put sharps into meal portions made ready for delivery to customer airlines.
As many as 5 staff are faced with stiff prison terms if found guilty and although it could not be absolutely ascertained that their actions were deliberate as a result of the ongoing dispute between workers, their union and the company, suspicion of course lingers that their alleged criminal plot was prompted by their albeit illegal desire to make the company consent to wage and terms and conditions demands made on behalf of the unionised workforce by the union. At present though a source close to NAS has played down suspicion that this was a concerted action with masterminds still at large, claiming the employees in question were acting alone in a small group of agitated but misguided workers. The court case, when heard, will undoubtedly tell a fuller story.
FLY 540 UPDATES
The regional low cost airline has just announced a few changes to schedules and aircraft operated on certain routes which deserve sharing. The ‘new’ recently introduced flights from Wilson Airport to the safari destinations Masai Mara, Nanyuki, Samburu and Amboseli are using C208 ‘Caravan’ equipment. The late afternoon / evening NBO – MYD – LAU flight operates now Monday to Saturday, with no flight on Sunday afternoon. Effective 20th September the flights from Nairobi to Eldoret and Kakamega will be combined on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to provide a convenient weekend connection for travellers, operated on the Dash 8. The Bombardier Dash 8 is now also being used between Nairobi, Mwanza / Tanzania and Bujumbura / Burundi. As a result of the add on routing to the Saturday morning and Sunday evening flight to Entebbe via Kisumu the CRJ is now appearing on that route on a regular basis, other flights being operated by ATR equipment. And finally, effective 20th of September the inaugural direct Nairobi – Dar es Salaam flight will also take place, operating daily on the route. Look in on their website www.fly540.com for more information and most up to date schedules.
NEW ‘ROUGH GUIDE TO KENYA’ HITS THE SHELVES
The ninth edition of this ‘must have’ guide to the parks and beaches of Kenya is now available in leading bookstores or by online purchase. The latest edition has updated information on all the places worth visiting in Kenya, and there are too many to tell here, a compliment to the attractions Kenya has in store for tourist visitors from across the world. Researched and written by Richard Trillo, a dedicated fan of Eastern Africa, the book offers detailed insights into a range of topics of how to ‘rough it’ or in other and better words, how to visit Kenya on a small budget and still see much of what the rich and famous see too at a mega budget. This does not mean however that the guidebook is ‘only’ for those travelling on the proverbial shoestring as it contains a wealth of information useful to any visitor to Kenya, no matter what their individual budget actually is. Visit www.roughguides.com for added information, and to also see their Zanzibar edition and Swahili ‘made easy’ phrasebook, or follow the Rough Guide blog site where comments and experiences, but also feedback to the book itself can be posted and where the latest updates are available on a range of issues between the print versions at www.theroughguidetokenya.blogspot.com
ROTHSCHILD GIRAFFES NOW OFFICIALLY ‘ENDANGERED’
The latest information from conservation circles in Kenya has it that the number of Rothschild giraffes has shrunk dramatically in recent years, with reportedly only 250 now remaining. Some years ago focus was strong on the protection of the species, supported initially by the Giraffe Manor in Karen / Nairobi, while at Lake Nakuru National park breeding was encouraged by well protected surroundings.
Several of these rare giraffes were in fact relocated several years ago to the Kidepo Valley National Park to boost the breeding herd there, as numbers had also dropped, by disease and through predators.
Sources close to the Kenya Wildlife Services are said to be concerned enough to specifically from a task group to study the reasons for the drop in population and devise ways and means, most likely through translocation, to once again afford special protection to the species and get a breeding programme underway once more.
PRECISION AIR TAKES DELIVERY OF ANOTHER ATR 42-500
Tanzania’s premier airline has confirmed last weekend that they have taken delivery of their latest ATR 42, part of a major order placed with the French manufacturer some years ago. The new 48 seater turboprop aircraft will be christened ‘Bukoba’ according to an airline source, after a municipality in Western Tanzania. The last, 7th such aircraft is expected to join the Precision Air fleet later, probably as early as end of September, allowing the airline to further expand their domestic and regional route network which they now dominate as a result of the near demise of Air Tanzania. Well done Precision Air – and adding evidence that private sector owned aviation companies in Africa, especially in the Eastern African region, can be successful and financially viable if only run by competent professionals free of interference by governments or megalomaniac owners on an ego trip.
HELICOPTER OPERATORS TO REAP BIG
The upcoming election campaign in Tanzania will be a welcome bonus for those airlines operating fleets of light aircraft and helicopters as the ruling party CCM and some of the opposition parties have already vowed to traverse the country by using aircraft and in particular helicopters to reach remote areas of the country, landing right on site of the campaign venues and then canvass for votes.
The use of state resources is under existing laws not permitted, so even President Kikwete will have to charter his own airborne transport, while he is however permitted to use his security detail which will in such cases travel in government transportation.
It is generally expected that the Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or in short CCM party, in power since the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere founded the Tanzanian nation, will win once again very handsomely, both the Presidency but equally important also a wide majority of seats in parliament.
Elections are to be held on October 31st and intending visitors to the country’s beaches and game parks can be reassured that elections in Tanzania in the past have always been peaceful and that for the forthcoming round this trend is fully expected to continue.
Anti travel advisories, issued by some foreign countries, in particular about potential pre-election violence on the islands, can be taken for what they normally are, an overreaction by foreign office bureaucrats trying to cover their proverbial … no tourists have to the knowledge of this correspondent ever come in harm’s way at any of the past campaigns and on election days, not on the mainland and not on the islands and no less is forecast for the end October elections, vote count and subsequent declaration of winners.
CHINESE NATIONAL CHARGED IN COURT OVER GAME TROPHY OFFENSES
A Chinese citizen, working for a company rehabilitating the railway, was last week produced in court and charged with a series of offenses over the alleged possession of ivory. The accused was reportedly nabbed at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, as he was preparing the leave the country with his ill gotten loot of ivory carvings. Sadly, once again it is China, or rather her citizens and their greed and lust for ivory, which has come into the ‘bad news’, a trend regularly repeated across Eastern Africa and Southern Africa, where of late a large influx of Chinese workers has been recorded following various aid agreements between China and Africa for large infrastructural projects and joint ventures in manufacturing and industry. Yet, the lax legislation back home in China, and several other Far and South Eastern countries for that matter, over the possession and processing, and sales of ivory, has done little to prevent citizens from those countries to try to buy blood ivory, fueling a substantial increase in poaching in the still game rich parts of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa.
Little movement has taken place yet in persuading such countries to tighten their own legislation in support of CITES and the global protection of wildlife and it is hoped that the more Chinese citizens end up in courts in Africa for possession and smuggling of blood ivory and related animal products, that sooner their home governments will join the rest of the world to fully outlaw the possession, processing and sale of African wildlife items.
Meanwhile though one culprit was also produced in court in Nairobi last week over similar allegation of trying to smuggle 5 rhino horns and as much as two tons of blood ivory out of the country, reported in last week’s column. Surprisingly court granted bail worth half a million Kenya Shillings for the defendant, after the public prosecutor did not oppose the bail application, lending credibility to suggestions that the defendant is either willing to name the true masterminds or else is being put under 24 / 7 surveillance to lead investigators to the ‘real’ owners of the loot.
Another Chinese national was also nabbed at the international airport last week with ivory carvings in his luggage, produced in court where he then pleaded guilty to the charges of illegal possession of prohibited items. He was subsequently sentenced by the magistrate’s court and was sent down for 18 months, a sharpish reminder for him, all and sundry to once and for all keep their hands off blood ivory, rhino horns and other animal products to stem the tide of poaching, fuelled by the greed of South and Far Eastern nationals to possess a piece of carved ivory or consume powders made from rhino horns at the expense of keeping our wildlife alive.
TANZANIA TO BOOST NAVAL CAPACITY TO GUARD AGAINST PIRATES
The Somali sea pestilence, aka pirates, aka ocean terrorists will have another thing coming soon should they try to enter Tanzanian waters, which extend 200 miles into the open Indian Ocean from its shores and have in the past seen the terrorists criss cross the vast area in the absence of deterrent and detection.]
Information from Dar es Salaam is now telling a different story, as the capacity of the Tanzanian navy is apparently being boosted by friendly nations, as is the case also in Kenya and the Seychelles, also affected by the pirate trade. State of the art detection and surveillance equipment is being procured and will be installed soon, while the navy is also due for new fast boats able to chase, engage and neutralise the pirate’s motherships and skiffs, once detected by shore based personnel.
This will be good news for shipping which had suffered sharply risen insurance cost and delays due to taking wider routes around the areas infested by the Somalis, and importers and exporters will be breathing a sigh of relief once the new equipment is operationa.
BRING IT ON SAYS RWANDAIR CEO
The arrival last week of a second B737-500 on a yearlong lease from GECAS has brought to a conclusion the immediate fleet renewal and fleet expansion of Rwanda’s national airline and is now allowing RwandAir to add destinations and frequencies to existing routes. The company’s CEO Rene Janata also proclaimed they are not shy of competition, considering that more airlines have expressed desire to fly to Kigali from Southern, Eastern and Central Africa. RwandAir it was stated, is confident that an excellent product in flight and on the ground, and the use of modern aircraft like the CRJ200 and the forthcoming deliveries in 2011 of two brand new B 737-800 will convince the market that flying with RwandAir is a superior choice.
The airline also reflected on cooperation with new airlines coming to Kigali rather then head on competition over pricing, a sound strategy of course to avoid over capacity and fare dumping as seen in other unregulated market places.
SWEARING IN OF PRESIDENT KAGAME FOR SECOND TERM FOR SEPTEMBER 06
Next week will see the formal inauguration of President Paul Kagame for his second 7 year term of office, following his landslide victory in elections a few weeks ago, when he swept the ‘board’ with a whopping 93 percent majority of votes cast. The day is expected to be announced as a public holiday in Rwanda but no fall out is expected for tourist visitors, other than that banks will be closed on the day, while forex bureaus will operate as normal during weekends and holidays.
The tourism industry has overwhelmingly welcomed the re-election of President Kagame, whose government is expected to continue predictable and stable economic policies, including high focus and attention to the tourism industry, a major employer and foreign exchange earner for the ‘land of a thousand hills’. Sources have also dismissed recent attempts via the comment section of articles posted in eTN to blame the government for acts of violence ahead of the elections, with one regular source calling the attempts ‘laughable and not worth being repeated’ before then adding ‘does anyone believe such nonsense, President Kagame and the RPF does not need intimidation to win elections, they stand on their record of security, reconciliation, peace, development and economic progress and those who cannot stomach it should first tell the world how they can do better’. Well said.
CENSUS TO ESTABLISH THE CURRENT NUMBER OF SEYCHELLOIS
The archipelago is in its final phase to conduct a national census across the islands, aimed to establish the present number of Seychellois citizens living on the various islands. Census results are a key indicator of population growth, age, demographic and social distribution of the populations in the country and will allow government, as and where necessary to shift focus and resource allocation to areas with larger population growth and in greater need of added resource allocations.
It was pointed out to this correspondent that while visitors will be counted in this exercise as well, their disruption will be minimal as the main thrust is towards the indigenous population.
Seychelles has an estimated 27+ thousand households and nearly 400 trained enumerators have commenced the exercise on 26th of August and were expected to finish their count by the 30th of August at the latest.
INVOLVE SEYCHELLOIS, TOURISM SECTOR TOLD
The ‘Agenda 2017’ made progress last week when consultants sat down with Seychelles’ aspiring tourism investors and existing operators to discuss the ‘where to and how’ of getting indigenous Seychellois to participate to a greater extent in the flourishing tourism industry. Under proposals already made with the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and the Seychelles Tourist Board, indigenous participation in the sector, through the work place but also through investments, a significant shift towards greater local ownership and workforce is foreseen.
After studying the value addition chain in place across the archipelago the consultants then held sessions with the private sector, participants from civil society, trade association and governmental senior bureaucrats. Also involved were key stakeholders from the country’s education sector and leading vocational and other tertiary institutions, whose input for training young Seychellois and assisting in skills transfer to the local workforce will have a key role to play, in order to achieve the objectives of ‘Seychelles Agenda 2017’.
SEYCHELLES TOURIST BOARD TO TURN PUBLIC BEACH INTO SHOWCASE
STB last week signed two landmark MoU’s before taking custody of the Anse Royal Beach and the Creole Village, both of which will in the future be managed by the tourist board.
The transfer was effected by the National Heritage Foundation to STB in an effort to provide not only better services on the two sites but also ensure their full inclusion in the tourism circuit – as well as keeping the Anse Royal accessible to Seychellois citizens.
The development comes soon after President Michel, under whose direct supervision the tourism portfolio now falls – signalling the increasing importance of the sector to the national economy – had directed that Seychellois should be able to access all parts of the archipelago, learn about the country and equally appreciate the beauty, scenery and biodiversity as foreign tourists have done over the years in their hundreds of thousands. The president during his address also mentioned transportation tariffs for inter island commutes and indicated that the cost for Seychellois ought to be affordable if they are to travel across the archipelago as ‘domestic tourists’.
Both the Creole Village, aka Craft Village, and the public beach will over the coming months be redeveloped and refocus to become centres of excellence and showcases for best practise when managing such public assets successfully.
LET 410 CRASH CLAIMS 20 LIVES
The terrible record of the Congo DR aviation sector took another turn to the worse last week when a Czech built twin engined turboprop 19 seater LET 410 crashed in bad weather, after apparently running out of fuel. The ‘Filair’ operated plane came from the Congolese capital of Kinshasa but could reportedly not land immediately at the destination airport of Bandundu due to unspecified reasons before eventually crashing at the outskirts of the town. None of those on board, crew and passengers, survived the crash.
All of the Congolese airlines, including Filair, are banned by the EU for lack of sufficient safety oversight by the Congolese aviation authorities which have long been blamed for simply not being able to build the capacity from within to administer safety regulations and airworthiness directives by manufacturers and oversee their licensed airlines in appropriate fashion to ensure regular competent maintenance is being carried out.
While ICAO, the FAA and the European Union have all in the past offered technical assistance to turn the country’s civil aviation authority around, train staff and recruit new competent officers, flying in the Congo DR remains nevertheless a risky proposition until aircraft maintenance and crew training reach internationally acceptable standards and the aircraft operators are starting to use state of the art aircraft. Condolences are extended to the families and friends of those on board the stricken aircraft.
EGYPT AIR TO START ALEXANDRIA – KHARTOUM FLIGHTS
Following hot on the heels of the introduction of a flight from Cairo via Khartoum to Southern Sudan’s capital city of Juba – now operating twice a week – comes the news that Egypt’s national carrier plans to commence flights twice a week between the Mediterranean city of Alexandria to Khartoum. Egypt’s policy towards Africa has in recent months taken a new approach by seeking closer trade cooperation with sub Saharan countries while affirming the continental ‘strength’ of Egypt through a range of bilateral aid agreements aimed at supporting a diplomatic ‘offensive’. In Eastern African in particular Cairo based investment firm ‘Citadel’ has made inroads recently when acquiring a major interest in near failed railway concession operator Rift Valley Railways and in particular for the Southern Sudan an aid offer has been made towards infrastructural projects worth 300 Million US Dollars.
Egypt Air’s drive for more African routes reflects changing times, as in particular Turkish Airlines has of late aggressively expanded into the continent and in order to retain the crucial connecting traffic via Cairo Egypt Air, a members of the global Star Alliance, may well have been prompted into a significant reaction to competitors reaching into Africa for the same market share. Watch this space.
BASHIR SNEAKS IN AND OUT OF KENYA, BRINGS WILSON AIRPORT TO A HALT
Last week’s promulgation of the new constitution in Kenya saw several heads of state grace the occasion with their presence, including Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and they all landed with full protocol at Nairobi’s main airport Jomo Kenyatta International. In stark contrast however did Khartoum’s regime leader Bashir sneak into the Kenya through Wilson Airport from where he also left the country later on under a shroud of secrecy. Air operators and passengers normally using Wilson Airport were reportedly irate over the closures of the airport for all traffic between arrival and departure of the tyrant, and three regular sources minced no words over this event, none of the comments however fit to be repeated in the public domain, probably in itself a hint how strong the sentiments were and what words were flying. Flights in and out of Wilson, East Africa’s busiest airport, were halted and then long delayed, scheduled flights to and from the national parks were disrupted and charters had to be halted as passengers could either not get into Wilson Airport or because all commercial operations were grounded for the duration.
It appears that many of the leading politicians in Kenya did not know of his presence, and subsequently squabbles arose in Kenya’s political establishment over the wisdom of inviting an alleged war criminal and alleged genocidaire, wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Kenya is a signatory country to the ICC Convention and will be facing not just tough questions by the ICC but has already incurred the wrath of US President Obama and many other world leaders, who sharply condemned the invitation and presence of Bashir in Nairobi for the event. It is also understood that the ICC referred Kenya’s decision and behaviour to the United Nations Security Council where the case is due to be discussed and a possible reaction and response will be prepared.
The ICC is also drafting indictments against perpetrators and promoters of the post 2007 election violence and instead of revelling in the newly found world attention and spotlight the day was by all accounts spoilt by Bashir’s presence. The alleged war criminal, brought to the venue by tourism minister Balala – a visitor Balala too would rather like to forget soon considering the negative publicity it brought to Kenya – had according to a reliable source in Nairobi’s foreign ministry secured guarantees beforehand that the arrest warrant would not be executed against him and only travelled to Nairobi after these assurances were given in writing. Subsequently some government mouthpieces tried to defend the presence of Bashir in Kenya for the big day but were rubbished by the comments of many Kenyans posted on blogs and social websites, who openly questions the sanity of the invitation.
The fallout has also reached the Southern Sudan, where regular high ranking sources, on condition of strict anonymity, expressed their anger and disappointment with Kenya, having fully expected to see the First Vice President of the Republic of the Sudan, who is also the President of Southern Sudan, Gen. Salva Kiir represent their country. In fact some opinions proffered to this correspondent spoke of unspecified ‘consequences’ for Kenya in their dealings with Southern Sudan. It appears that Gen. Kiir was all set to fly to Nairobi but was apparently told last moment that his presence would now after all not be required as regime chief Bashir would travel himself.
Upon probing if they would have wanted Bashir, their former archenemy, arrested they were however all more guarded, with one claiming ‘it would not have helped us with the independence referendum’ before adding ‘we know that hardliners in Khartoum and their backers abroad are not happy with Bashir for permitting us to move to independence. We are aware that there is underground movement about this, but we hope all stays in place until 09th January 2010 when we will vote to become an independent country. After that the North can do what they want about Bashir, it is no longer our concern then’.
Kenya’s ‘Second Republic’ was launched with glitz and glamour in a grand ceremony at Uhuru Park, where in 1963 the late founder president Jomo Kenyatta took the oath of office as he led his then nascent and young nation into independence, but the presence of Bashir has shaken many international observers and friends of Kenya who now ask what if anything has really changed so far as several laws seem to have been broken by the Kenyans’ responsible for the invitation, and with absolute impunity.
Tourism stakeholder meanwhile, while appearing somewhat unsettled over the huge controversy the Bashir presence caused in the country and worse for them across the world, were still jubilant over the fashion the referendum was held, the votes counted and the new constitutional requirements are now unfolding, that it will ensure lasting peace and reconciliation amongst leading political opponents, giving hope for free and fair elections in 2012 and allowing the tourism industry to prosper and grow, at last fulfilling Kenya’s enormous potential along the Indian Ocean beaches and in their national parks and game reserves.
Indeed, this is the wish of this correspondent too, but LESS any future visits of such wanted individuals, who only bring shame with them but no benefits.
Southern Sudan News
TORIT TOO GETS NEW ROAD ACCESS
Reporting in the past has often concentrated on the main axis of road construction between Juba and the Ugandan border, hugely important of course, but doing no justice to many other road projects across the vast Southern Sudan which presently comprises 10 states. Eastern Equatoria’s capital Torit is now reportedly also getting a road link towards Katire, to ease traffic for passengers and cargos, but other links too are under construction, nearly 100 kilometres of feeder roads, to ensure that Torit is linked by road without problems to other state capitals and Juba itself. The project is funded by USAID, a strong sign of commitment by the United States to the development of Southern Sudan, where roads are of crucial importance for farmers and ranchers to bring their products to the main markets while in turn opening up the area of easy delivery of goods and services and allowing all important foreign visitors to travel the Southern Sudan with greater ease.