Weekly Roundup – News from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region, fourth edition February 2011

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 via Twitter @whthome or on my blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

Fourth edition February 2011




On a regular basis I am showing links here, to give friends of Eastern Africa the opportunity to learn more about our region, about what’s on, what’s happening, where it is happening and generally giving an insight into local events otherwise rarely seen by ‘outsiders’. Some of these web based publications in fact give the option to subscribe to weekly or monthly mailings all aimed to bring ‘the buzz’ directly to the readers.

Visit www.kenyabuzz.com for all the news there are from Kenya, including regular updates on fabulous self catering properties at the coast and upcountry.

Visit www.theeye.co.ug for the bimonthly premier ‘all in one’ guide to Uganda or its sister publication in Rwanda via www.theeye.co.rw



Uganda News


President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was as predicted re-elected with a massive majority of votes – 68 percent to be precise – leaving his opponents trailing in his wake with some hardly getting much more than a percent of the overall votes cast. It does leave one to wonder what on earth they were doing on the ballot in the first place, more so as one of the ‘aspirants’ did not even vote himself, failing to make it to his polling station on election day. Pre-election opinion polls were also once more right on target, leaving opposition protests about ‘rigging and malpractices’ sound as hollow as the claims themselves were. The following was overheard in the supermarket: ‘I am telling you, we could not lose, so if our man lost it was by rigging’… there still is no medicine for self delusion though.

Three times election loser Besigye too will hopefully now call it a day from politics, having excelled in  little else but saying no to much and instead of developing and presenting sound policy initiatives and alternatives to governmental policies, once more relied on his overall theme to simply get the office holder out of state house. Little was said about how he would run the country over the next 5 years and voters clearly took notice of the absence of a clear strategy other than wanting to sleep in State House. This approach again was a recipe for failure, as it was in 2001 and 2006 already and no amount of whining and complaining will change that now.

Hence it is congratulations to the winner President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for another 5 year term of office, hopefully used wisely in developing the nation, considering Uganda’s newly found oil riches making major infrastructural, educational and health programmes financially affordable. Well done Mzee!



Minister of State for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities in the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry Hon. Serapio Rukundo, lost his quest to return to parliament when he was beaten by an independent candidate in his home town of Kabale in South Western Uganda.

Rukundo was repeatedly in the news when a parliamentary committee investigated the expenditure for the 2007 CHOGM Summit in Kampala, where he was cited as responsible for the loss of billions of shillings. In one case he was alleged – alleged because the case never did go to court up to now – to have been responsible for the payment to complete a ‘CHOGM Hotel’ along Entebbe road THREE days prior to the summit opening, yet this hotel had never even been approved by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, leaving observers bewildered how such could happen. In the second instance he was alleged to have authorised massive overpayment for consultancy services for training hotel staff ahead of the summit, a deal in fact literally ripped from underneath the national Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Jinja, which had laid all the ground work, done all the proposals and relevant write ups and was then left to rue having faithfully handed it over to the Ministry of Tourism, amongst others only to see it ‘swim away’. There allegedly money was made, or squandered, by contracting ill suited companies and individuals keen to put their snouts into the money trough and the parliamentary committee did make it clear that little value if any was received for the country and the hospitality industry.

A source in Kabale attributed Rukundo’s loss however rather more to the complex and complicated local politics in South Western Uganda’s biggest town, while conceding that the bad publicity over CHOGM had done the minister no favours as he sought re-election. Allegations of ‘rigging’ in the NRM primaries had also emerged, prompting the ultimate winner to go ‘independent’ and then beating the minister at the polls.

From the same ministry did also the State Minister for Trade not make it back to parliament and out in the political cold. This will likely result in new faces taking charge of these portfolios when the new government is being formed and announced, expected to be sometime in April. Watch this space.


Kenya News


‘The Pride of Africa’ has today started using their own fully certified simulator facility at the ‘Pride Training Centre’ in Embakasi / Nairobi, after receiving the requisite ‘paperwork’ from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and the British CAA. Having certification from Britain too will allow the facility to be used by airlines from around the world to train their pilots on the B737-800 simulator, which will open new revenue streams for KQ in these financially challenging times.

Of course priority will be given to train and give refreshers to Kenya Airways’ own pilots, but any spare capacity for the equipment can now be ‘sold’ on the international market. According to a source in Nairobi up to 5 crews can be trained per day and it is also understood that Boeing has been supporting KQ giving special training to instructors who now supervise the courses.

Global aviation regulations by ICAO require pilots to undergo simulator refresher training twice a year and the demand for approved and internationally certified facilities like the one now open at Kenya Airways are much in demand. The facility is the latest state of the art equipment available on the market.



The current series of wrangles, spits and spats in the Kenyan government over new appointments and a range of other issues following the introduction of a new constitution last year, has not amused tourism stakeholders at all apparently. Over the last weekend has the Chairman of the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association and other senior stakeholders voiced demands on government to seek a peaceful way forward and avoid any degree of violence amongst their supporters and expressed their hope that both President Kibaki and his Prime Minister, and their groups in cabinet and parliament continue to consult each other.

The Kenyan tourism industry was hardest hit in the aftermath of the controversial elections in late December 2007, resulting in a near collapse when the country descended into street violence, and it took the tourism private sector, and the public sector through the Kenya Tourist Board over a year to overcome the fall out of the negative publicity.

Last year Kenya then recorded the best arrival and revenue results ever from tourism and stakeholders are demanding that these achievements not be put at risk by irresponsible statements and public spats, which could potentially impact on visitor arrivals and new investments in the sector.

Wise words and the political who is who in Kenya better ought to listen to these sentiments.


Tanzania News


The TTB is reportedly planning a series of events for the tourism industry in the run up to the 09th December, which will mark the half century of Independence for East Africa’s largest country.

The various events will cover every aspect the tourism sector touches in its regular workings, and dedicated celebrations but also workshops, meetings and commemorations of the achievements over the years will be highlighted in coming months.

Tanzania was the first of the East African countries to attain independence from Britain in 1961 and has remarkable been spared of civil strife as a result of founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere instilling the sense of nationhood above the sense of the various tribes, whereas in many other African countries tribalism eventually became the bane of nationhood.

It is expected that a series of commemorative postal stamps will be introduced and guidebooks and publicity material be re-published for the occasion, allowing visitors to purchase mementos of the half century year.

Tanzania is globally known for Mt. Kilimanjaro but also for the national parks across the country, and inspite of the current threats to several of them remains one of the leading safari destinations from across the world. Once more details of the planned programmes and events become available, particulars will be published here, so watch this space.



The international airport in Dar es Salaam was closed last Wednesday night, when a series of explosions rocked a nearby military base once again, the last such blasts having occurred in 2009. Information, though sketchy, from Dar indicates that as many as several hundred people may have been injured when debris and shell fragments rained on them from the skies, as the explosions continued unabated for hours. Fire fighting services and army personnel were unable at the time to approach the ammunitions dumps for fear of their own lives but eventually set up a wide cordon, thought to be between 10 – 15 kilometers wide around the army base, not letting people into the cordoned off area and trying to evacuate people living within the perimeter.

Regular airline sources were swift to decline answering questions about the airport closure, with only one actually citing ‘fear from above’ if he would be found as a source of information on ‘such a sensitive case, more as it is the second time this happens’. However, other sources did confirm that the explosions were heard across the entire city and blast waves were felt. It was also ascertained that major hotels immediately stepped up security as did foreign missions, while speculation rose to fever pitch over the cause of the explosions. Said one reliable source in frequent contact with this correspondent: ‘I think we can rule out terrorism here. The same base had similar explosions some year or so ago and it was an accident then and is likely a case of serious negligence resulting in another accident now. Why they are keeping such ammunition dumps so close to the city, so close to the airport, it however something government here must address. Have they learned nothing from the deaths and injuries of the last such tragic event? They should move the ammunitions away from heavily populated areas immediately. If you report this, do make sure people understand this was not a terror incident but an accident the way I see it’.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office reacted promptly too, sending out a flash notice to British citizens living in Dar es Salaam to be extra cautious, citing a general warning on terror threats and possibilities of indiscriminate attacks on places frequented by expatriates and foreign visitors.

Further updates will be available during the course of the morning when undoubtedly the major media will pick up the story and start their own reporting on it.



Information received from Dar at present pegs the death toll ‘near 20’ with reportedly hundreds of people, both from the base as well as from residential areas within a radius of several miles, injured.

The hospitals are not confirming details by phone on how many of those are in fact in critical condition, giving further indication that they are having both their hands full with the injured as well as been advised to avoid talking to the media.

Several thousand evacuees are according to another source assembled and kept at the national stadium in Dar, awaiting information from the authorities as to when they can return to their homes, many of which have of course been damaged if not destroyed, especially those near the explosion site – an ammunition dump at a major army base behind the international airport on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. There is apprehension amongst those evacuated over possible looting as it happened in a similar incident in April 2009, when thieves and robbers were swift to take advantage of the ensuing chaos with police and other security services pre-occupied with dealing with the explosion and evacuations.

Following the initial explosion at one depot, the fire then seems to have spread and exploding ammunitions, mines and rockets then set yet more depots on fire causing additional explosions in the process – indicating that no lessons about keeping ammo dumps better protected and further apart were learned from earlier such incidents.

Meanwhile it has also been ‘leaked’ that for safety reasons operations at the Julius Nyerere International Airport will remain suspended until all fires are out and the remaining unexploded ordinance has been dealt with, been secured or safely transported away from the explosion site.

Air traffic bound for Dar has reportedly been diverted to the Kilimanjaro International Airport or flights were landing in Kenya when clearances – in view of the fluid situation – were withdrawn and aircraft advised to seek alternate landing points.

Watch this space for further updates as and when available.




A regular aviation source in Dar es Salaam has through third parties passed his own views and that of several of his colleagues, even from other airlines, on the airport closure of Dar’s Julius Nyerere International Airport. He said he had to opt to use alternate routes of passing this information as:

‘I believe communications are monitored. This explosion is very serious and government takes not kindly to anyone found talking about it or going to the press with any information or details. They seem to think it is all about state security here. That is why our newspapers give little information, but we know of course why that is so and who is behind it. Anyway, the good news is that the airport is now open again and operating but there are still many passengers waiting for their international flight departures and domestic flights also have a backlog of passengers waiting to fly to their destinations within Tanzania.’

A series of explosions at a nearby army base, also used as a major ammunition storage, rocked Dar es Salaam on Wednesday night, caused widespread destruction, on the army base itself and across a wide perimeter around the base to businesses, residential housing and leading even to the closure of the international airport.

Flights enroute to Dar were diverted, as far as possible to Kilimanjaro International Airport near Arusha or else told to land while still airborne at a chose diversion airport. All international, regional and domestic flights in and out of Dar es Salaam were cancelled during the period of closure, leaving passengers stranded, angry and upset and without much if any information on the timeframe of their cancelled departures. Many were said to be further inconvenienced when businesses at the airport closed leaving them literally on their own as phone lines to the airlines or airport information service were either jammed or not answered at all.

The quoted aviation source in Dar had this to say: ‘we were told of a shutdown of the airport by phone from colleagues on duty at the airport. We heard the explosions across the city and first one would have thought of a big accident or other incidents involving the airport itself. Then gradually news filtered through it was the same army base which already exploded in April 2009 and we could not believe it. I got in touch with other colleagues and we are all very upset that government has failed to implement any safety measures at all and allowing such a thing to happen a second time. Imagine, aircraft, the airport building could have been hit by rockets causing big loss of life and aircraft. Where in the world does an army store a lot of bombs, rockets, mines and ammunition so close to the main international airport and not ensure total safety. My colleagues and I are very upset, and considering how we are often treated by airport security when going to our place of work, it is obvious that the army does not take safety and security of the people and assets they are supposed to protect equally seriously. This government talks about tourism and trade relations, but they cannot even keep our country’s main airport secure. If this had led to loss of life at the airport the tourism sector would be very hard hit because everyone would say ‘you can’t go there, it is not safe’. Our managers here will not talk either to the press, they are mostly expatriates and know how to keep silent over such issues unless they want to be sent home. It is pathetic, even the loss of life and the number of those injured are kept like a state secret. At least now the airport is open again but a friend of mine said he should really be given a flak jacket and steel helmet with his uniform to be safe’.

As if the country’s tourism industry needed such negative publicity following the storm of outrage over the past few months about the planned highway across the Serengeti’s migration routes of the great herds of wildebeest and zebras, the controversy over the possible construction of a hotel in the ‘Stone Town’ of Zanzibar and the likely revival of plans to build a hydroelectric dam along the Rufiji River’s Stieglers Gorge – besides the contentious issues of poaching, ivory smuggling and other related stories told here in past months. Watch this space.



Major construction can be expected at and near the prehistoric sites of Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakey family made their famous discoveries of early mankind. More recent finds some 40 odd kilometres away in Laetoli include footsteps dated back over 3.5 million years, but those have until now been kept literally under wraps, since they were discovered partly underground, to prevent destruction through the influences of weather or visitors in the absence of protective measures.

However, news reached now from Arusha that government intends to build a major new museum, or ‘a dome’ as the source put it, to make the discoveries open to visitors, including of course the building of necessary infrastructure like roads, staff housing, power plant and more.

President Kikwete on Sunday during a site visit, launching the ‘discoveries to the world’, gave the directive to implement the 30+ million US Dollars project, but reportedly avoided any questions on the controversial highway across the migration paths of the big herds of wildebeest and zebras at the northern end of the Serengeti.

In this regard an interesting titbit came out of Dar es Salaam, where a senior functionary in government was allegedly overhead saying: ‘this road will be built. Those green activists will have to learn to respect the decisions of a sovereign government and their godfathers in Kenya can forget about succeeding here. We will have our migration in the Serengeti here and are not concerned with other countries lamenting about what we do in our own country and what it might or might not do in theirs.’


Rwanda News


American actor Edward Norton, currently the UN’s Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, is presently in Rwanda to get firsthand experience on the legislative and regulatory measures taken to preserve, protect and restore biodiversity. As regularly reported here, Rwanda has an outstanding record in protecting flora and fauna and is reaping huge rewards as tourists from around the world are flocking to the ‘land of a thousand hills’ to see the wildlife, birdlife and – inspite of population pressures – intact nature.

Norton, while in Kigali, said he was hugely impressed and greatly inspired by what he saw across the country and felt that ‘little Rwanda is doing more than we do at home [in the United States]. Appreciation and recognition like this is generally hard to come by but surely much appreciated by the conservation and tourism fraternity in Rwanda.



The Rwandan national airline has entered into a long term arrangement with SITA to provide their new e-Commerce platform for web based transactions and secure payments with credit cards or e-transfers. The system launch date will be sometime in April this year, when other modalities have been resolved and final preparations made to seamlessly align the carrier’s own systems with those of SITA.

Other good news at the same time are that RwandAir is going to introduce the Horizon Frequent Flyer Programme of SITA, giving more benefits to their faithful travellers, especially important now that destinations and flight frequencies have grown in leaps and bounds during 2010.

Rwanda has last year been connected by fibre optic cable to the ‘international grid’ of super fast internet connections, allowing the national airline to push ahead with their ‘e-project’ and connect to travel agents within the country and the wider region with ease. Watch this space to learn when the system will go ‘live’.



Information was received from Kigali overnight that another course initiated by the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority, in conjunction with global body ICAO, has ended with the graduation of all participants. This dedicated security workshop and training session lasted two weeks and was aimed at members of the security personnel deployed at Kigali’s international airport Kanombe.

Staff was taught the latest techniques in safeguarding airports, surveillance and carrying out checks, at the perimeter, for cargo and passengers. The course agenda did contain the latest global recommendations on aviation security issued by ICAO to member states.

Aircraft movements in Kigali have increased by over 40 percent in the recent past, as a result of more flights by airlines serving Kigali, new airlines adding Rwanda to their flight schedules and a sharp increase in flights by national airline RwandAir. It is therefore reassuring that training of personnel is keeping up the pace with  operational developments since most international visitors actually arrive by air in Rwanda when coming for the country’s tourism attractions, for business or to attend the ever more numerous conferences, meetings and conventions now held in the ‘land of a thousand hills’.


Congo News


Previous eruptions in recent times may be dwarfed by the expected next eruption of Mr. Nyiragongo, which towers over the Eastern Congolese city of Goma. 9 years ago, in January 2002, when the region’s most active volcano erupted, the reportedly rather ‘liquid’ lava swiftly covered a sizeable part of the city and even brought air transport to a complete standstill, when a portion of the runway was covered by lava, which when finally cooling down was measured to be 6 and more feet thick and as wide as a kilometre, leaving total destruction in its wake and making over 120.000 residents homeless. The eruption then reached as far as Lake Kivu and only a major effort supported by the UN and international partners made the airport somehow usable again, albeit with a still shortened runway which makes the use of larger aircraft impossible and impacts on the operations of the airport even with smaller jets. Accidents have in fact been recorded at Goma attributed at the shortened runway making every landing and take off an adventure of sorts.

An earlier major eruption in 1977 too caused similar havoc but population numbers were considerably less back then and the main path of the lava was not directed frontally against Goma. There are reportedly only two ‘main exit routes’ for the lava, as researchers have established and therefore the chance of Goma being hit again during the next eruption is 50/50.

Entrepreneurs have since the 2002 eruption, and after the volcano had quieted down again, even introduced guided tours to the volcano’s peak, allowing visitors to have a look into the lava lake, ignoring warnings from volcanologists to stay well clear of the crater. While in the past, ahead of major eruptions, earthquakes and seismic events indicated increased activity of the volcano, the absence of monitoring equipment is hampering the ability of researchers to adequately monitor the mountain and predict imminent eruptions but neither the ‘volcano operators’ nor the population at large seems overly concerned at this stage, inspite of recent pictures being taken from aircraft overflying the crater, showing it once again filling up with enormous quantities of lava. A few months ago it was reported here that the lava’s reflections on low clouds could be seen all the way into Uganda, again underscoring that there is indeed now a growing possibility of another upcoming eruption, many of which in the recorded history of the volcano have come at 10 year intervals.

The African Rift Valley, which extends from the Red Sea across much of Africa to Malawi, has always been an active seismological zone – as another active volcano, Mt. Ol Donyo Lengai in Tanzania demonstrates – but of late have disquieting reports emerged that the underwater ‘rip’ in the Red Sea seems to be widening, as minor eruptions have been reported from the border area between Ethiopia and Djibouti. It is there that the ground has lowered too and subsequently seismic monitoring has been substantially increased to provide early alerts of imminent developments. In the Eastern African part of the Rift Valley, and especially for Mt. Nyiragongo, this does not seem to be the case at present however, leaving the populations near such volcanos at greater risk, and with no meaningful evacuation plans in place, leave alone the assets in place and the resources available, the Goma volcano can be considered a disaster in waiting. Should in fact the airport during a future eruption be closed again, feasible evacuations and the arrival of supplies and equipment will then only be able to reach Goma by road from Rwanda or else across the lake, where however shipping capacity too is minimal. Watch this space.


Seychelles News


The European Union has awarded the Seychelles Island Foundation a grant of over 800.000 Euros after approving a project drawn up and designed by SIF recently.

The foundation is tasked to look after two crucially important UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the visitor magnet ‘Vallee de Mai’ on the island of Praslin, and further away, but not less significant, the Aldabra Atoll, which the government of Seychelles has set aside for research and environmental monitoring, and to a lesser extent for tourism purposes. Visitors to the atoll however can only ‘land’ during daylight hours and must spend their overnights on their yachts, as besides the research teams no accommodation facilities are allowed on the atoll to minimise the impact of human presence.

Dr. Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, Chief Executive of the SIF – an extensive interview with her was published in eTN a year ago – was at hand to sign the documents and expressed her delight that the project was chosen for financing which will allow SIF now to take stock of any invasive species of plants and animals found in the two sites and devise appropriate and adequate measures to removing such species from the WHS’ for good.

The duration of the project is initially set to run for four years but regular monitoring and reports from the sites will allow information updates here, as and when available. Watch this space.



The Seychelles’ first ever ‘Carnival Festival’ due to be held between 04th and 06th of March continues to attract attention from the traditional carnival countries, many of which have committed to send delegations to Mahe, but of late also from another quarter.

The coastguard / navy of the Seychelles has invited members of the naval coalition to ‘show flag’ at the port of Victoria during the festival, and a special invitation has been extended to the navies of the Eastern African mainland countries like Kenya and Tanzania, to each send one of their ships to the archipelago.

This is thought to be a measure of both adding an extra attraction, having warships in harbour during the high profile festival, but also a measure of solidarity since the Seychelles continues to be a base for replenishing ships on ocean duty and a much desired R&R destination for the crews.

The Seychelles has established itself as a main base for anti piracy operations, including regular aerial surveillance flights which relay crucial information to surface ships and the uncompromising stand of the Seychelles government has in the past repeatedly led to the freeing and rescue of ships and hostages. ‘Showing flag’ therefore at the port of Victoria will undoubtedly also send a message out that the archipelago, and its numerous allies, are determined to defend and keep open the sea lanes for cargo and passenger ships.

Meanwhile though, all eyes will be watching the calendar as the countdown continues towards ‘The Creole Carnival’ the archipelago’s tourism industry has promised to their visitors in early March.



EGS Explorer left the Victoria port on Mahe yesterday to commence a long distance survey mission, which will end on the African mainland at Dar es Salaam port, aimed at establishing the contours of the seabed along which the fibre optic connection will be laid. East Africa is now connected to three main fibre optic cables but no link was ever established with the Seychelles where the slower satellite links are still being used as the main route of data and voice communications. The project is undertaken by Cables & Wireless in conjunction with Airtel, ensuring that the two leading communications companies are also financially underwriting the cost of the investment, with government being the third major shareholder and contributor.

Completion of the link is expected by mid / late 2012, also depending on weather of course which might have an impact on the actual deployment of the cable. At that stage will the archipelago be fully linked to highest speed global communications, likely resulting in lower tariffs and subsequent wider usage of the internet.

The journey from the Seychelles to Tanzania is expected to last for about 2 weeks and the data collected will then allow the ‘design team’ to establish the most viable routing for the cable.

It is understood that the ship’s progress is being monitored by aerial assets available to the naval coalition and that the ship is equipped and manned to deal with any eventualities they may encounter during their journey.


South Sudan News


The project to lay tarmac on this crucial highway, linking the South Sudan capital of Juba with the northern Ugandan municipality of Gulu, has been formally launched last week when President Salva Kiir, the US’ Consul General in Juba and contractors’ representatives met for the ceremony.

The highway is due to become a major road link to South Sudan’s southern neighbour and most important trading partner Uganda, and will – when it reaches Nimule – link with the highway to Gulu from where it connects to Kampala.

Over 190 KM are now being tarmacked by three contractors’ work teams, after 7 bridges crossing rivers were completed last year, as also reported here. The new highway is the first of its kind to be constructed in the South Sudan, notably NOT by the regime in Khartoum but through internal efforts and partnerships by the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) and a major section of the new highway is expected to be completed already when independence comes calling on the 09th of July this year and the Republic of South Sudan will come into formal existence.

The Ugandan part of the road will undergo re-construction commencing by later in 2011 and this portion will cover the section from Gulu to Nimule. Road connections are considered crucial to not just trade but also to attract tourist visitors to the South Sudan national parks, in particular the one at Nimule which is nearest to the border with Uganda. Watch this space.

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