TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Get daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or read the daily postings on my blog via: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com
Second edition May 2011
EAST AFRICA HOPING FOR FLY DUBAI INTEREST
The announcement earlier this week, that Dubai’s own low cost airline ‘Fly Dubai’ is eyeing over 40 destinations by the end of 2011, has raised hope and interest in Eastern African aviation circles, that after the recent opening of the route between Dubai to Addis Ababa other destinations like Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Entebbe could be on the airline’s drawing board. The airline is presently flying to 36 destinations from its hub in Dubai, all within a 5 hour range, and the key Eastern African airports do fall into that bracket. The success of Sharjah’s low cost airline ‘Air Arabia’ on the route to Nairobi, increasing their frequencies to daily flights at present, will also be a ‘hint’ for Fly Dubai that there is room for a lot more traffic, especially in the low cost segment of the market, which has hitherto been rather underrepresented in the traffic uplift by conventional full service airlines inspite of eye catching special offers at certain times of the year when seats are in less demand and have to be filled at almost any cost.
Fly Dubai, now just about two years in operation, is presently taking delivery of NG B737-800’s at a record pace, with a total of 50 such state of the are single aisle planes on order and due to join the fleet over the next four years. Watch this space for the latest news and updates from East Africa’s aviation scene.
CONSULTATIONS COMMENCE ON EAST AFRICAN ECO SYSTEMS BILL
Members of the East African Legislative Assembly have started their region wide public consultations ahead of hearings by the full assembly about the pending Trans Boundary Ecosystems Bill. The East African Community member states share a range of ecosystems across the common borders, including several national parks but also lakes, foremost Lake Victoria and it is especially outside the protected areas where the need for joint protective measures has become a top priority.
Stakeholders in all member states are presently providing input during meetings in the respective capitals but also on selected sites the EALA committee members have proposed to visit to receive first hand information on the deteriorating status of such ecosystems, where actions on one side of the border, or no action as has been the case in the past affect the ‘other side’ of the border too. Notably the Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources Committee has a wider understanding how unchecked exploitation and pollution affect key areas of East Africa’s economy by impacting on the ability to grow food but also protect the resources for wildlife and nature based tourism, which brings by conservative estimates over 3 billion US Dollars into East Africa every year.
Lake pollution and silting up are two areas the EALA members are said to be particularly keen about, having singled out the Lake Jipe area which is shared between Kenya and Tanzania and subsequently many questions the committee members are asking are focused on the protection of water towers, unchecked extraction of water from streams and rivers reducing the inflow into lakes.
Conservation stakeholders are also expected to raise the issue of the controversial Serengeti Highway project by the Tanzanian government, which is expected to have a massive impact on the annual wildebeest migration between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya but also the equally controversial soda ash project planned for Lake Natron, another ecosystem in Tanzania linked to the Kenyan Lake Magadi area. Using the region’s lawmakers appears to be a preferred option at present as the national parliament in Tanzania is dominated by the ruling CCM party, which government is behind the reckless drive to ‘modernize and industrialise’ without any apparent sensitivity or much public concern towards the impact of such major projects on the environment and the fallout for protected areas and tourism.
Consultations are due to continue until the 15th of May after which the Committee for Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources will prepare their report of findings before the proposed bill heads for deliberations in the East African Legislative Assembly. Watch this space.
THURSDAY TO BE PUBLIC HOLIDAY IN UGANDA
The swearing in ceremony set for Thursday, 12th May, when President Museveni will take the oath of office for another term following his resounding election victory at the end of February, will give Ugandans from all walks of life the opportunity to celebrate the day too, being off work.
Around a dozen fellow presidents, prime ministers and special representatives will be in Kampala for the event, and most of the visiting dignitaries will be staying at the Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo near this correspondent’s residence, enjoying the tranquility of the Lake Victoria shores.
Sections of the opposition comprised of the more mature and levelheaded politicians have already accepted to attend the main function at the ceremonial ground in lower Kololo, while known rabble rousers will be trying to hold a separate ‘swearing in’ for three times election loser Besigye, having failed to come to terms with their broad rejection at the ballot box during the general election.
Members of the new parliament will be swearing in over a period of three days from the 16th May onwards, and the outgoing parliament is due to end its term this week too, setting the stage for the announcement of a new cabinet by the president, all due to parliamentary clearance needless to say.
In the meantime have several tourism associations finally spoken out against the violence wreaked upon Ugandans by sections of the political opposition and in carefully chosen language pointed to the damage the ill conceived ‘walk to work’ campaign has done to Uganda’s reputation abroad, the loss of business since then and a substantial downturn in tourist and visitor arrivals for the rest of the year, should dialogue not take centre stage and confrontation persist.
To read regular updates from Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, look in at our leading daily newspaper and our tourist board websites via www.newvision.co.ug and www.visituganda.com
EMIRATES MOVE LEAVES OTHER AIRLINES TO SCRATCH THEIR HEADS
Ugandan travelers, but also those flying abroad from Nairobi and Dar es Salaam have reason to flock to Emirates in even greater numbers, when it became known that the airline had with immediate effect scrapped all fuel supplements introduced in recent weeks. The swift reaction by Emirates to the sharp fall in jet fuel prices in recent days has however left other airline executives in Kampala wondering, as they had no word as yet on Sunday night from their own head offices how to react, leaving for the time being at least their own fuel surcharges in place. Competition, especially during low season periods, is intense amongst airlines flying into Entebbe, and the arrival of more recent ‘newcomers’ like Turkish Airlines, which started out with extraordinarily low fares, has stirred the travel market more than some established airlines would have liked, although during the high season, when demand for seats in and out of Uganda peaks, seats still sell at a premium, if any are to be had.
A regular source at an airline flying from Entebbe into the region has expressed relief over the fall in global fuel prices but was cautious as to when the cost of JetA1 fuel in Entebbe would be reduced, saying ‘fuel suppliers for JetA1 are always quick to raise pump prices but slow in reducing them, so I am not sure when we can lift our fuel supplements on tickets, just bear with us for a little while’.
Emirates flies daily with a B777 between Dubai and Entebbe, via Addis Ababa, and offers convenient connections from their Dubai hub across the entire world with a special attraction being onward flights on the sky-giant A 380 aircraft, which is now increasingly being deployed by Emirates and which has found great favour with Ugandan travelers, who often ask for a connection to fly the world’s biggest passenger aircraft to tell the story when they get home. Dubai stop overs are also popular amongst travelers from East Africa as packages are attractively priced and shopping in Dubai still remains good value for money, besides the relative ease with which Visa can be obtained through the airline’s offices. Watch this space.
CHINESE TO APPEAR IN COURT TODAY
An alleged ivory smuggler from China, who was nabbed late last week at Entebbe International Airport with ivory carvings while trying to fly out of the country, will appear in an Entebbe court today to answer a variety of charges. According to added reports now available he will appear with two more fellow travelers, who upon the discovery of the contraband in his luggage refused to leave the country. It is not clear though if they will also face charges, considering they did not have contraband on them or in their luggage, or appear as witnesses for the defense.
Should the accused be found guilty he, or they could face jail terms of up to three years and a fine of up to 10 million Uganda Shillings or a combination of both. The alleged smuggler will also face added charges of corrupting a public official, after paying US Dollars 150 to an airport security official who was subsequently also arrested and will face court for soliciting and accepting a bribe.
Fines and prison terms, across much of Africa, are however thought to be still too lenient and demands have grown louder in the recent past to increase prison terms to between 10 and 20 years for poaching, possession and smuggling of prohibited animal products including ivory and rhino horn, and to have fines set at a multiple of the market value of the confiscated contraband to inflict heavy economic punishment on poachers, smugglers and their middlemen and financial backers.
Once the court verdict is available, read all about it here, so watch this space.
CHINESE NABBED AT ENTEBBE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT WITH IVORY
East African airports are getting seemingly ‘too hot’ for ivory smugglers, as another Chinese citizen attempting to leave from Entebbe for his home country had to find out to his lasting regret.
Bungles and chop sticks made of ivory, weighing a total of 1 KG, little in comparison to recent seizures in Nairobi, were found in his baggage when he was trying to check in as customs and airport security, besides looking for terror suspects and narcotics are now also keenly looking out for other contraband like blood ivory and game trophies. The Chinese man was remanded in custody awaiting trial while a staff of airport security, according to other reports, was also arrested alongside him for demanding a bribe ‘to let him go’, before being arrested too by his watchful colleagues and supervisors, who had reportedly monitored the ‘exchange’ on CCTV.
To many observers of the conservation scene it did not come as a surprise that yet another Chinese was found to smuggle ivory out of Africa, as they now make up the majority of such cases, attributed to the growing number of Chinese citizens in Africa and their blatant disregard, if not contempt for conservation measures, laws and regulations. In fact, the global conservation fraternity now sees China as the key country fueling poaching in Africa, as their domestic demand for ivory carvings seem insatiable and their government stands by seeing Africa’s wildlife being depleted while publicly professing friendship to Africa.
It is understood from well placed sources linked to aviation security and safety that concerted efforts are underway in Eastern Africa to give baggage checked in for destinations in China, no matter on which airline passengers travel, ‘priority status’ as far as extra checks are concerned and Chinese travelers in particular should brace themselves for extensive checks of their hand luggage as well as checked baggage courtesy of their criminal countrymen and countrywomen. Transit baggage checked through to a final destination in China or elsewhere in the Far and South East is now also being given ‘extra treatment’ with sniffer dogs being deployed able to detect not only narcotics but also the scent of blood ivory, rhino horn and other game trophies.
Well done to the Entebbe security team and let the message go out widely that wannabe ivory smugglers should not travel via East Africa’s airport as they will surely be caught, arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
MADHVANI FOUNDATION SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE WORTH 550 MILLION SHILLINGS
‘Gifted, hardworking and financially challenged Ugandan students’, to quote the Madhvani Foundation in regard to its target group, will once again benefit from available scholarships worth the equivalent of nearly 250.000 US Dollars, or 550 million Uganda Shillings.
Courses are not just limited to the traditional science or engineering fields but can include hospitality and tourism management too, opening the door for more students to apply for consideration.
Applications are invited until the 31st of May and details can be sourced via www.madhvanifoundation.com or by writing to email@example.com which is Uganda’s largest privately operated scholarship foundation scheme and trust.
The Madhvani Group is at the forefront of Uganda’s hospitality investments in the safari lodge sector in Uganda with presently three lodges in two national parks but also, probably even better known for their Kakira Sugar Company, their manufacturing and insurance interests and is one of the best reputed family concerns in the country.
QATAR AIRWAYS SET FOR ENTEBBE
While available information remains sketchy and has in recent days come in bits and pieces, it seems clear however that Qatar Airways, the self proclaimed ‘5 Star Airline’, is set to commence daily flights between Doha and Entebbe from early November this year.
A regular source within the Civil Aviation Authority establishment in Entebbe has confirmed that much, but no light could be shed on the type of aircraft the airline intends to use, although there is speculation it would be a single aisle Airbus for the time being.
Flights to Entebbe will close the gap for Qatar Airways in East Africa, as they already fly to Nairobi and to Dar es Salaam, and both destinations recently saw a major boost in the number of flights, serving notice to travelers and other airlines that Qatar Airways sees a strong traffic potential in the region which it aims to tap into and connect via their hub in Doha to the rest of the world, competing with the likes of Emirates and Kenya Airways on the routes to the Gulf and beyond.
A new mega airport under construction in Qatar will aid further expansion plans by the small country’s national airline, which has in recent years made waves about their ‘phenomenal inflight service’ according to someone who recently travelled with them from Nairobi and sent in rave reviews to this correspondent.
Inspite of flying for many years into Nairobi, and later on to Dar es Salaam, Entebbe – Uganda’s international airport – had been left out so far and it will be a coup of sorts for the CAA to have attracted Qatar Airways to fly into the country on a daily basis, offering more choices to passengers both from and to Uganda. It is in the latter segment, where in particular tourism and trade can benefit from the added exposure Uganda will be getting, when the airline starts marketing their new destination in earnest across their network.
More seats on more flights normally translates into a lot more visitors to the country, coming to explore Uganda’s attractive investment opportunities – including the nascent oil sector – but also for touring the country’s national parks and seeing the Pearl of Africa’s scenic attractions from Lake Victoria, over the River Nile to the Mountains of the Moon.
Watch this space for breaking news and regular news updates from the aviation scene in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.
TURKISH AIRLINES CAUSE CHANGE IN VISA POLICY
The Turkish national airline has reportedly prevailed upon their immigration service in changing Visa rules for African citizens, flying with Turkish from the airline’s growing network across the African continent, connecting in Istanbul for their final destination.
A source close to the airline in Kampala confirmed, while discussing the related issue of a Turkish Food Festival, that any passenger, wishing to do a stopover in Istanbul, or travel to see the ancient sites along the Mediterranean Sea and further inland, could now do so, as long as s/he already holds a valid Schengen Visa, a Visa to the United States or the UK.
This change in policy seems to emulate the successful campaign Emirates has been running for decades now, in which they assist travelers from Africa with the procurement of a visitor Visa, and Turkey will have taken a lead from this success and now implemented measures to bring more visitors, and more cash, into their own country.
Travelers from Africa, especially those already cleared for Visa to Europe, the UK and the US / Canada pose a minimal risk to ‘jump’ and remain while enroute outbound or homebound, and it was probably for such considerations that the Turkish authorities listened to Turkish Airlines in their quest to capture more passengers and bring more visitors to Turkey.
The airline presently flies several times a week between Istanbul and Entebbe, before flying on to Dar es Salaam.
Alongside these changes Turkey has also of late embarked on a diplomatic offensive in those African countries they fly to, bringing in government and private sector delegations aimed to discuss increased trade links, tourism and generally closer economic and political ties with key African countries. Turkish Airlines has one of the fastest growing fleets and is a member of Star Alliance, the global aviation industry leader. Watch this space for the latest news updates about aviation developments in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO SHERATON FOR ‘TURKISH FESTIVAL’
When the culinary mind strays to the subject of food festivals, especially here in Kampala, Oktoberfest would probably be first on the list of options, but again the Sheraton Kampala took the lead by organizing an authentic Turkish Food Week, coming up between May 16th to 21st.
James Rattos, the hotel’s recently appointed Director of Sales and Marketing and previously Food and Beverages Manager, ‘tied the knot’ with Turkish Airlines, now a regular ‘visitor’ to Entebbe, to arrange for this exotic feast and popularize Turkish delicatessen in Uganda.
Chefs will fly in, courtesy of Turkish Airlines of course, as will food stuffs, spices and other crucial ingredients but also authentic decorations be shipped by the airline. The authenticity of the Turkish Food Festival will be enhanced by musicians and dancers who will try to give the Ugandan and expatriate community attending the event a peak into the variety of a country which has its roots in both Europe and Asia Minor.
Alongside the event will an artist from Turkey paint his Ugandan impressions, to be displayed at a later stage. Food addicts, take notice, there is a new menu coming to town, and as often all roads for that lead to the Sheraton Kampala Hotel.
In a related development has a source close to the Turkish Airlines office in Kampala expressed satisfaction with load factors since flights between Istanbul and Entebbe commenced last year, attributing it to amongst other reasons the attractive fares, the airline being a member of Star Alliance and offering an extensive and still growing route network across Western and Eastern Europe and to the rest of the world. Watch this space.
INTERCEPTED BLOOD IVORY COST 50 ELEPHANT LIVES
Last night did surveillance of customs and other security officers at the cargo area of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport again prove their worth, and their courage, when they seized a suspicious shipment, allegedly from an embassy in Nairobi – providing the Foreign Ministry in Nairobi with a pronounced headache over the violation of ‘diplomatic mail’ privileges – which upon closer inspection contained around 100 tusks, representing 50 slaughtered elephant.
The shipment, which was about to be loaded was found to lack some documents, which when not forthcoming then triggered added interest from customs and security officials routinely deployed at JKIA. Undeterred by the ‘embassy origin’ of the crates, they apparently used sniffer dogs which confirmed the presence of contraband inside the sealed crates, prompting the confiscation of the cargo, and when opened revealed its bloody contents for all to see.
While the trade in ivory is banned worldwide since the late 1980’s, aimed at protecting the remaining elephant herds in Africa, more recently an upswing of demand mainly from China but also other Far and South Eastern countries, has led to a virtual skyrocketing of poaching cases in Eastern, Southern and Western Africa, of elephant and more critically even of rhinos, which horns are falsely believed to contain medicinal properties – yet known by experts that the substance of rhino horn is the same as human finger and toe nails.
Authorities in Nairobi are presently unwilling to discuss if any suspect has been arrested, but confirmed that the absence of an embassy of the country given on the shipping documents had raised their suspicion, as had indeed the intermediate destination of Lagos / Nigeria, via which main airport the cargo was arguably to reach its final destination.
Conservationists across Africa have long demanded that China take drastic action to introduce harsh legislation to prevent and outlaw ivory and rhino horn smuggling while equally asking African government to finally wake up and increase the level of fines and prison terms to such levels that it would financially ruin poachers and their middle men while putting them away for not less than 10 years and as many as 20 years, similar to prison terms for manslaughter. Congratulations once again to the Kenyan customs and security services at JKIA whose vigilance has at least intercepted the blood ivory, while of course not able to safe the elephant’s lives. Watch this space.
MADHVANI GROUP’S HOSPITALITY INTERESTS IN KENYA ‘TO GROW’
The acquisition two years ago of the Mara Leisure Camp by the Ugandan based Madhvani Group was the first such cross border investment coming from Uganda into Kenya, with previously only the reverse direction being the case, as Kenyan tourism companies invested in Uganda.
Top management of the company in Kampala were open in their comments back then to this correspondent, that investing in Kenya’s premier game reserve was to be but a start of a wider strategy, to expand their operations from Uganda across the border. Being the undisputed market leader in the lodge sector in Uganda in terms of volume – other companies may have more properties and more locations but less rooms – it made sense, especially with an eye on the growing integration of the East African region into a single market, to spread the wings and create a presence first in Kenya before then eyeing Tanzania and other EAC member states. Only a few weeks ago was the news broken here that the Madhvani Group had finalized the purchase of the Aberdare Country Club and the Ark from Fairmont Kenya, a development already intimated here way back in November last year. The group is now in the process to establish a reservations office in Nairobi to process bookings for their three Kenyan properties and the appointment of a General Manager Kenya has also been confirmed earlier this week.
Kenneth Mugira, who previously served as General Manager in both the Paraa and Mweya lodges in Murchisons Falls and Queen Elizabeth national parks respectively, before being posted to the Mara Leisure Camp, has assumed that position and will be based in Nairobi, also overseeing the operational side of the Madhvani Group’s properties. Watch this space for future updates and breaking news, as the Madhvani story in Kenya will certainly not end with these three properties – conventional wisdom says, there is more to come yet and you can read about it here, as and when it happens.
CRIPPLING FUEL SHORTAGE ATTRIBUTED TO HORDING AND PROFITEERING
A major fuel crisis has once again made life in Kenya even more difficult, as besides record prizes motorists now have to drive from station to station to find the precious liquid and then often queue for hours before eventually reaching the pumps.
Nairobi was particularly hard hit again, but other locations across the country reported difficulties too in getting fresh supplies. Safari operators, at least the leading companies, have for a while now stocked fuel, in their main depots and at strategic places across the safari circuit, to prevent any sudden ‘halt’ when taking tourists around the country, but a key source has expressed concern over the recurring shortages. He said in a message sent overnight: ‘for one it is our procurement process where new rules and regulations introduced last year seem to have had a negative effect on the free flow of petroleum products into the country. Secondly there is now strong suspicion of hoarding in hope of making unnaturally high profits on the commodity. Government should review their rules and regulations to cut out bureaucracy and red tape but also find and prosecute those causing artificial shortages. We in the sector are concerned because it can impact severely on tourism operations, and just imagine it were not the low season right now, imagine all our fleet were deployed on safari, it could be bad’.
Across the border in Uganda and other hinterland nations the market is bracing itself too for shortages, as when it happens in Kenya the effects are quick to spill over to neighbouring countries too. Watch this space.
ELEPHANT POACHERS TARGET ‘COLLARED’ ANIMALS
Shocking news have emerged overnight from Kenya, where – as in many other African countries – poaching is again on the increase. In the dense forests of Mt. Kenya National Park, but even outside the official park boundaries, elephant have for times immemorial migrated through established ‘corridors’ to follow available food, although human population growth makes the ‘long migrations’ between Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare Mountains, or further up North through Samburu as far as Marsabit, ever more difficult now.
NGO’s dedicated to the protection of the elephant, and keen to study their now much restricted migration patterns, had last year fitted as many as 7 animals in the Mt. Kenya area with collars, to allow researchers gather data and increase the knowledge of where the elephant go, and when.
News therefore that the collared animals are now specifically targeted by poachers came as a shock to the conservation fraternity in Kenya and beyond, and it was confirmed yesterday that 4 out of the 7 are now dead. Reports from sources closely involved in the park and its protection have also confirmed that snares and traps are now common in the dense forests, where even well trained KWS rangers and wardens patrolling the park are finding it difficult to hunt down poachers.
Besides the loss of the animals, the loss of the expensive collars and subsequent loss of data collection is hurting conservation efforts and suspicion has grown that the targeted elimination of collared animals is only the tip of the iceberg, undertaken to conceal to the ‘watchers’ the true extent of poaching presently underway.
Efforts are being made to fit more elephant with electronic tags which can be monitored through satellite
GPS but for now all hands are on deck to determine how best to bring the poachers to book and stop the killings. Every source contacted in Kenya has also pointed fingers to the rocketing demand for blood ivory from China, and blamed the Chinese government for failing the international conservation community by sitting on their hands instead of introducing legislation with stiff fines and long prison terms for anyone found in the possession of ivory, processing ivory and illegally smuggling ivory into the country. That however, as and when the Chinese government yields to growing pressure and finally faces up to their international responsibilities, needs to be accompanied by making possession of ivory a social ill, unacceptable by the population and as shunned as wearing a coat made of Panda skins, something surely the Chinese will understand.
Meanwhile though are KWS and other Kenyan security organs faced with containing the gangs of poachers and eliminating them, lest the wildlife based tourism industry should suffer lasting damage, from loss of animals and the loss of reputation. Watch this space.
VILLAGE LEADERS ACCUSE GOVERNMENT OF SPREADING FALSEHOODS
It was learned over the weekend that political leaders at village grass root levels near the Serengeti National Park have protested claims that they had allegedly advocated for the removal of the Serengeti as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as has been peddled in the local media by proponents of the hugely controversial Serengeti highway project, the Tanzanian government is presently advancing. The ‘pro highway’ lobby has been introducing ‘testimonies’ from affected villages in regard of needing and wanting the highway to be build, but their dirty tricks campaign has now once again been exposed when people from one particular area adjoining the park stood up and claimed that they benefited from the park and its status and they should be left alone and not be used as a political football. To the contrary, the ‘anti highway’ lobby now takes fresh hope that many of the statements peddled by government’s mouthpieces, allegedly speaking for the highway’s construction, may in fact be false and manufactured to serve to sway public opinion although they concede that some village officials may have made statements to that effect after being induced to do so and without the knowledge of those they claim to represent.
The Tanzanian government has since the news on the highway broke been accused of being insensitive to conservation needs and the devastating impact a highway across the key migration route from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara would have for the great herds of wildebeest and zebra, threatening their very survival. The murky waters were even more muddied when – and this is based on hearsay by someone who claimed to have inadvertently heard the discussion, something which could not be independently verified – a government official in Dar es Salaam was overheard discussing the issue with someone and allegedly saying: ‘we will have this highway, the president wants it and the people want it so it will be built’ before in the context of the exchange also saying: ‘let the Kenyans lament as they like, they are exploiting Lake Magadi and they only want to protect their monopoly on soda ash so we will not take that serious at all’ and then at a later stage adding ‘the so called conservationists are in truth only Kenyans who are worried they are missing a bit on the animals which go there for a short time, but this will not stop our plans, we are sovereign and not have to ask for their permission to build a road anywhere in our own country’.
It is again stressed that this narrative of an alleged conversation in Dar es Salaam recently was overheard by a regular and usually reliable source, clearly not wishing to be named for fear of personal safety, but it must also be pointed out that such sentiments by Tanzanian officials have been reported on and off for a while now when the issue of the highway was discussed amongst them.
Watch this space as East Africa’s biggest conservation controversy continues unabated.
TANZANIAN IVORY SEIZED IN VIETNAM
Only hours after news broke from Nairobi, that over 100 tusks were found at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, did yet more bad news emerge for the conservation fraternity, this time from Vietnam. Customs and security officials discovered 600 kilograms of blood ivory, concealed in a rubber container originating from Tanzania according to available information about the shipping documents. The well hidden loot was discovered following an anonymous tip off, and it could also be established that Vietnam was only being used as a transit country with the final destination of the blood ivory again being China, to where the loot was to leave shortly.
While relentless pressure is being exerted by the global conservation community on the Chinese government to take legislative action against possession, processing and importation of blood ivory from Africa, they have so far continued to turned a blind eye to the problem. Displaying ivory in one’s home in China is a status symbol, much cherished and coveted, and the trend coupled with the desires of the nouvelle riche in China to emulate their more established peers has driven a poaching tsunami across Africa. Unless therefore stiff criminal penalties are imposed by China, and the practice be made socially unacceptable, like the wearing of expensive fur coats in the West some decades ago, Africa will be fighting a losing battle against their loss of wildlife, on which much of the income from tourism is based.
The growing flood of Chinese companies and workers coming to Africa too has impacted greatly on the increasing trade in illegal game trophies, animal bones, rhino horn and ivory, and most individual caught at African airports with blood ivory are said to be Chinese citizens on their way home.
International law enforcement agencies in conjunction with the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka are now working, as in all other such cases, to take a DNA analysis of the seized ivory to establish its true origin, as although the shipment came from Tanzania the ivory could conceivably have been smuggled through Tanzania, which has gained a reputation as a trafficking centre and exit point for life birds and ivory in the recent past. Watch this space.
PRECISION AIR EXPANDS WEB BASED SERVICES
Tanzania’s leading privately owned airline, Precision Air, has now formally launched their web based payment engine, which allows clients to settle their ticket cost by using the leading credit and debit cards. Plans for this were advancing well and when all technical requirements about transaction security had been met the airline ‘went live’ a few days ago to offer this new option to their faithful travelers.
More and more airline passengers in East Africa are now using the internet to search for connections and ‘best deals’ before making a decision on which airline to fly with across the region, and Precision’s latest measure will ensure that passengers can book their flight, pay on line and then print their e-Ticket all in one go. Travel agents have been reluctant to discuss these latest innovations by airlines, giving passengers greater freedoms to do ‘things themselves’ and airlines in turn are equally reluctant to discuss the percentage of direct e-bookings. Going by global trends however it can be expected that ‘direct bookings on the web’ will be a fast growing segment of ticket sales from here on in East Africa too, now that secure payment mechanisms have been developed and introduced following the approval by relevant authorities.
RWANDA WINS RECOGNITION AT WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM IN CAPE TOWN
The just concluded World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town / South Africa saw Rwanda singled out by a leading World Bank executive for their tireless efforts on conservation and to promote tourism as an engine of sustainable economic growth.
When launching the ‘Africa Competitiveness Report 2011’ the presenter, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for the region, heaped praise on Rwanda’s achievements in bringing local communities ‘on board’ when implementing conservation measures, creating jobs, percolating benefits to rural communities adjoining national parks and giving ‘locals’ a stake in the industry. A source from Cape Town repeated this correspondent’s own sentiments when saying: ‘Rwanda has risen like the Phoenix from the ashes of the genocide. No one thought it possible but good governance and a vision for the country’s future have made it possible. I admire the discipline Rwanda shows in conservation and how it has banned plastic bags for instance to promote a cleaner environment. Their re-forestation ratio must be the best on the continent from what was said here in Cape Town and many other countries should emulate Rwanda’s example.’
True words – Well done Rwanda!
RWANDA’S TOURISM UNIVERSITY COLLEGE TO GET NEW CAMPUS
Information was received overnight that the RTUC has finally been given the green light to commence the construction of a new purpose build campus. Operating until now, and since its inception, from rented premises has created issues over the full licensing as a tertiary institution of higher learning but this anomaly is expected to be rectified when the first two lecture and classroom blocks are completed.
The new facilities are expected to be open by October this year, at which time the second of several building phases will begin, until the ‘final product’ will be available in approximately 5 years time. Watch this space for regular updates from Rwanda and in particular the country’s efforts to improve human resource development and training for personnel in the tourism and hospitality industry.
DUBAI WORLD’S ‘GORILLA NEST LODGE’ SUFFERS FIRE DAMAGE
Information reached late yesterday that a fire has yesterday partially destroyed the luxurious ‘Gorilla Nest Lodge’, which is owned by Dubai World and strategically located just outside the Volcanoes National Park, home to the prized mountain gorillas.
Information received was sketchy and efforts to get more details were futile, but it seems established that the fire started in the kitchen area of the main building before spreading further into the facility.
It is understood that guest rooms were not affected by the fire, which was however causing major damage to the public areas and facilities of the main building, hampering operations.
Management is understood to be making urgent arrangements to open a temporary dining room, bar and lounge for the clients staying at the property in coming weeks while undertaking urgent repairs following an assessment by engineers and insurance loss adjusters.
Sources in Kigali were unable to give a timeframe at this time of how long repairs would take but vaguely spoke of ‘several weeks’. As and when available an update will be provided here and when repairs are complete this too will be mentioned in this column.
The ‘Gorilla Nest Lodge’ is one of two lodges owned and operated by Dubai World, which in the aftermath of the global economic crisis scaled down their planned investments in Rwanda considerably, but completed and opened the Nyungwe Forest Lodge last year, which has immediately gained a reputation for being a very luxurious and well managed property in a relatively new park featuring the only tree top ‘walk way’ in Rwanda and in fact in Eastern Africa. The company is however said to be monitoring demand and market developments in Rwanda and could restore some or all of their initial plans in the future.
GAMBELA NATIONAL PARK – MUST CONSERVATION MAKE WAY FOR PROFITS
In a remote corner of Ethiopia, not far from the border with the soon independent South Sudan, the little known Gambela National Park is found, visited by a very few adventure tourists who, going by blog reports found on the web, were enchanted by their experience and raving about their ‘discovery’, with few if any other tourists around at any given time of the year, making it one of the most exclusive safari experiences available on the market today. This very diverse park, in terms of scenery and landscapes as well as the game found, does not even feature on the web very much as yet, and information sourced from there is at times contradictory, as its size according to different sites is pegged between about 5.000 and as many as 20.000 square kilometres, an incredible variance by any standards and probably one of the main reasons for this article, as will become evident soon, in the absence of defined boundaries.
What is however beyond doubt is the majesty of the park area, from the mountains down to the plains and wetlands which extend towards the South Sudan border, where according to a source in Addis Ababa over 400 species of birds are found as well as over 50 mammal species including predators like lion, leopard, cheetah, hyenas and a variety of smaller cats and foxes. The presence in the park of a permanent major river, the Baro, which flows towards the Nile, adds to the attraction of the park as it is navigable for much of the year – though reportedly not used for regular trips by tourists – and its depth and width makes good habitat for many hippo colonies and the giant Nile Perch. The most common ‘plains game’ are reportedly the white eared kob, also found in their hundreds of thousands at Boma National Park in Southern Sudan, and the Nile or Kafue Lechwe. Ethiopia as a tourist destination remains well behind its potential, and while known for its history, ancient cultures and allegedly hidden treasures – the mystical Ark is rumoured to have been hidden in Ethiopia somewhere – the country is not too well known for its national parks.
It is therefore probably for lack of demand by tourists, itself of course caused by a lack of determined marketing of the country’s natural attractions, that an alarming trend has been observed, in particular around the Gambela National Park.
While it is of course true that Ethiopia has in the past been suffering of devastating droughts and subsequent famine – maybe one reason why the country is not considered the typical tourist destination inspite of its attractions – and the parallel need to produce more food for the population in parts of the country which is less prone to drought effects, the agro-industrialisation lobby has now earmarked the national park land to provide more farmland for expansion. Sadly for the hungry in Ethiopia, the anticipated production though is not aimed at the local market but for export to feed the growing populations in India and the Middle East, where added farmland is either impossible to get or where climatic conditions, like in Saudi Arabia for instance, make it impossible to grow food crops on a large scale in a sustainable fashion.
Hence have officials and tycoons from such countries sought out opportunities on the African continent, where governments of relatively poor countries can easily be induced by grand schemes and grander cash resources to part with arable land on a major scale. Hundreds of thousands of acres are in coming years, and probably sooner rather than later, to be converted into mega farms, growing food crops, oil crops and there is even speculation that crops aimed to produce bio fuels – the bane of feeding the hungry in Africa and the rest of the world – are to be grown.
With the expected inflow of farm workers, talk has it that tens of thousands might be needed, along with whom come roads, villages and farm infrastructure. Extensive swamp lands are earmarked for draining, to use the water and create added farming areas, interfering with crucially important ecosystems responsible for the moderate micro climate this part of Ethiopia enjoys. With the biodiversity such threatened, environmentalists and conservationists are starting to ask hard questions, now that these developments are slowly coming into the public domain, hitherto carefully hidden from the ‘prying eyes’ of the conservation community and the global media but not this correspondent.
One leading tourism expert in Addis Ababa, with whom this correspondent is in regular contact, was careful about his reaction and almost paranoid about not having any identity revealed for fear of repercussions, something which the regime is notorious for. Said the source: ‘even in Addis we hear little about the plans for Gambela. A lot is shrouded in secrecy because of the deals which have been made, are being made. What Ethiopia should have done first is to tap into tourism on a scale like Kenya or Tanzania do, or you in Uganda. This park is really not known, only very few know about it. But the wildlife numbers are very big, the scenery is spectacular in fact. I hear even across the border into South Sudan they want to tap into the Boma national park for tourism where they have also a big migration of kobs. Last year I was aware of a global group, Wildlife Conservation to work with some officials to survey Gambela and other wildlife areas. There are reports but I do not know where they are kept or if they are available for us to read and learn about findings. I think our government needs to sit down with us internal experts and discuss our country’s way forward. This should be for all of us to decide, do we want to mortgage our land to foreign investors or become investors ourselves in tourism and make it a big industry. Ethiopian Airlines is the best in Africa and flies to the most places everywhere. Let us work hand in hand with them to promote tourism. It brings investment, jobs, foreign exchange and is sustainable. But once we drain swamps, destroy habitat for crops, the animals will become enemies of the farmer because they eat the crops, then they are hunted, fenced out, starve. I think this story has to become public knowledge, like you did with the Serengeti story since last year. Please help us spread information’.
Added details obtained from other sources also speak of imminent displacement of the hunter / gatherer tribespeople living in the area, who will have to make way for agro conglomerates and either end up as menial farm labourers or in camps, in both cases losing their freedoms to do as they wish to and having to give up, likely against their will, age old customs and lifestyles. Deforestation is already evident in parts of the park previously covered by woodlands and will arguably accelerate further, when firewood will be needed to fire boilers, for households’ domestic use and for timber to build houses.
In closing it is hoped by this correspondent that a healthy debate will ensue from here on, and that all pro’s and con’s of these developments are discussed and affected populations consulted to ensure the long term survival of one of Ethiopia’s and in fact East Africa’s last pristine wilderness areas, where with some degree of careful planning agriculture and conservation could easily co-exist, instead of one having to give way to the other by force.
Like ‘the corridor of destruction’ in Tanzania, where from Lake Victoria to the shores of the Indian Ocean at Mwambani near Tanga major consumptive and destructive industrial and infrastructural projects are being planned and relentlessly advanced by the Tanzanian government, totally insensitive to the outcry by the global conservation community and their domestic tourism sector, here in Ethiopia too similar forces seem at work. Coincidence or the plan of the world’s rich and powerful to carve up Africa and suck its resources dry before discarding us when we have nothing else left to give. Watch this space.
SEYCHELLES TOURISM ACADEMY IN PACT WITH REUNION
The Seychelles Tourism Academy has just announced the renewal of a partnership and cooperation agreement with similar institutions on the island of La Reunion. Information released by STA indicates that over the past three years, since they first signed a pact in April 2008, over 50 students from Reunion had been able to come to Mahe and study at the STA campus, before either returning home with their new found skills and return to their original workplace or else, as in several other cases, being recruited to work in one of the resorts across the archipelago where demand for qualified and experienced staff remains high and beyond what the Seychellois labour market can presently provide.
The renewed agreement also provides for lecturers from STA to visit their Reunion counterpart institution to both teach as well as absorb experience, while arrangements have also been put in place to have as many as 20 STA students visit Reunion where they will study and train before returning home.
The Seychelles have in recent years been a driving force in cooperation with other Indian Ocean island states, and while La Reunion is technically a French overseas territory a close partnership is nevertheless in place for the benefit of both in terms of joint tourism policies, promotion of cruise tourism and trade.
EMIRATES HOLIDAYS CROWNS SEYCHELLES TOURIST BOARD
Awards for the Seychelles seem to chase each other these days, in recognition of the outstanding value and appeal the destination now commands around the world. In India the Seychelles were given ‘Best promising destination’ as more and more passengers connect with Emirates from their Indian gateways via Dubai to the archipelago and in Singapore, days later, the Asia and AustralAsia region named the Seychelles tops for their ‘Best Overall Travel Experience Award’.
Emirates, the award winning national airline of Dubai however crowned it all when last night, during a sellout function at the Atlantis alongside the Arabian Travel Market which takes place this week, named the Seychelles Tourist Board the ‘Most supportive National Tourist Office’ from amongst all they are working with. This level of recognition will be music to the ears of STB’s Chief Executive Alain St. Ange and his entire staff in Mahe and their offices abroad, encouraging them to continue with the most remarkable turnaround of fortunes seen in recent times, when they steered the destination from the abyss of meltdown after the onset of the global economic and financial crisis to the most successful year ever for the archipelago in 2010, and being well on course for an even better result in 2011.
Emirates, cognizant of this support, has in turn gone from ‘less than daily’ to soon ‘double daily’, connecting the world via Dubai twice a day to the Seychelles and thus becoming the most important foreign airline flying to Mahe. Emirates Holidays has given the resorts and hotels across the islands high visibility and demand from within the UAE and the Gulf region has increased manyfold compared to the past.
Well done, to the STB team and the entire tourism industry across the archipelago, where building ‘Brand Seychelles’ is now one common and determined effort by a team of united public and private sector stakeholders.
South Sudan News
KHARTOUM REACTION ON BIN LADEN DEATH ‘EXPOSES TERROR FRIENDS’
The news from Khartoum, that senior officials and members of parliament of the ruling NCP described Osama Bin Laden as a ‘martyr’ and a ‘holy fighter’ brought about instant condemnation by a wide section of the Southern Sudanese leadership. The soon to be independent South Sudan has fought a long war against oppression and slavery but also against the unilateral imposition of Sharia Law on the mostly Christian Southern population, and forced the regime in Khartoum to concede their losses when they had to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005 in Kenya.
Since then an uneasy relationship, marked by ups and downs, had the two erstwhile enemies ‘co-exist’ but while Khartoum hang on to its old and devious ways, the South progressively parted with the North’s failed policies, amongst them their firm stand against global terrorism.
The South, committed to fight this evil, aligned itself with a broad anti terror coalition, leading to assurances that all sanctions would be lifted when the new country is born on the 09th of July, while the regime of ICC wanted Bashir continued to blow hot and cold on the issue.
The hysteric outbursts in Khartoum, following the breaking news that Osama was finally brought to justice, and chants in parliament, amongst other places of ‘Martyr Martyr’ are a dead giveaway now of the mindset of the Khartoum regime and one regular source in Juba said in an email message: ‘whereas there is no doubt on our commitment to stand with our allies and fight terrorism, the regime in Khartoum can again only be described as a partner in that global crime. How can senior officials be overheard to say Osama is a ‘holy fighter and martyr’ and they are not immediately sacked by Bashir. But that is the true Northern Sudan, and we here think that many allegations against the regime about supporting terror are true. That is why sanctions against them remain in place as state sponsor of terrorism’.
Only recently did the Israeli air force target a car inside Sudan, with terrorists planning attacks against Israel being eliminated when the car was struck by a guided missile launched from an Israeli fighter plane, and previously convoys carrying arms and ammunition for Gaza based terrorist organizations were likewise hit and eliminated as part of a forward defense against global terror activities.
Bin Laden was enjoying a glorious exile period in Khartoum between 1991 and 1996, courtesy of the Bashir regime, before being asked to leave by the regime. After the cruise missile attack on a Bin Laden factory fears also grew that this could be repeated against other, including regime targets, eventually compelling the Khartoum regime to publicly soften their stand on terrorism while behind the scenes their support allegedly continued to this day.
Said another source from Juba: ‘we cannot wait for independence to break with this regime in Khartoum. These outbursts are disgraceful, considering the mass murders Al Qaida committed under Bin Laden, and we in the South are better than that. We know Khartoum will try to punish us for being better than them, but our alliances are growing strong and we are no longer alone’.
Watch this space for future updates on South Sudan and the march towards full independence.
AND, in closing today as most times some interesting contributions from ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ courtesy of Gill Staden, starting with ‘promoting’ her guide books to business and leisure in Livingston
Livingstone Business Directory
The Directory is now in the shops. I am still printing some more – have run out of ink for the cover!
And, don’t forget the Historical Guide …
Sunday 15th May: Guided Birdwalk Sable Dam, Chisamba
Sunday 22nd May: International Day for Biodiversity
Weekend 2nd to 6th June: Visit to Bangweulu to see the Shoebill
Saturday 4th June: June Birdgroup walk Forest Reserve no 27
Sunday 5th June: World Environment Day
Sunday 19th June: Guided Birdwalk Shamabolo Lodge
From State House, Zambia
THE World Bank has approved a US$4.8 million (about K22.6 billion) grant to establish trans-frontier management of biodiversity in Nyika Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA) that borders Zambia and Malawi. The TFCA is a 3,000 square kilometre rich biodiversity and a spectacularly scenic park that joins together Zambia’s smallest national park in the Eastern Province in Chama and Malawi’s largest national park.
This is contained in a statement issued by World Bank office in Lusaka yesterday. The statement says out of the US$ 4.82 million, Zambia will be allocated US$2.54 million while the remaining amount will be for Malawi. …
From All Africa.com
Lake Tanganyika is a natural phenomenon, and if not properly maintained will lose its beauty, especially that the lake sustains life and livelihoods for millions of people in the vicinity. In the recent past, the lake has been declining because of the assault of climate change and human overuse through activities being carried out by the community who live near and around the lake. …
It is for this call that the four countries (Zambia, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which surround the lake have come together to overcome this problem through the implementation of the Lake Tanganyika Regional Integrated Development Programme.
It has been observed that the lake is exposed to danger, indicating a threat to the ecosystem. Some of the threats that are being faced by Lake Tanganyika are the over-exploitation of the biological ecosystem resource because of over-fishing and the use of destructive fishing methods resulting in the reduction of the fishing potential and the unique bio-diversity. Pollution, which involves industrial and domestic waste water and solid waste from large cities and towns like Bujumbura, Kigoma, Uvira, Kalena, Mpulungu and Rumonge and other small villages, is a big challenge. …