TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
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Fourth edition December 2011
East Africa News
CHINAS CHRISTMAS PRESENT TO EAST AFRICA RATTLES CONSERVATION FRATERNITY
News emerged just before the long Christmas weekend that Uganda and Tanzania have signed a joint agreement with CCECC, the China Civil Engineering Construction Company, worth over 450 million US Dollars, to prepare a feasibility study for a new proposed railway route from Tanga port to Musoma on the shores of Lake Victoria from where then a new railway ferry route is supposed to connect across the lake to a proposed new lake port in Uganda. Operated by Uganda Railways, a suggested new port would be connected by a rail link to the capital Kampala and beyond, strange considering that two lake ports already exist at Port Bell and Jinja, and are both grossly underutilized at present, which could be equally used for this purpose.
Additionally the two countries have reportedly also signed a binding Memorandum of Understanding worth over 3 billion US Dollars, under which the Tanzanian lake port in Musoma and the extension of the Tanga port in Mwambani are to be constructed and of course a direct standard gauge line railway connecting the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria.
The conservation fraternity was seemingly caught unaware by the preceding negotiations between CCECC and the governments in Kampala and Dar es Salaam and the subsequent speedy signing of a contract as people prepared to celebrate Christmas and were probably preoccupied with preparations for the festive season, to watch the development unfold. While the two countries had for some time discussed developing alternative routes to create much needed redundancy between Uganda and Indian Ocean ports the landlocked Pearl of Africa presently depends almost entirely on the main route to the Kenyan port city of Mombasa the lack of funding was seen as the key obstacle to actually drive the project forward.
Some conservation groups in Uganda are presently looking into the procurement process, as past complaints about ignoring or sidelining the relevant law has halted projects dead in their track, and questions are also asked under what authority the government in Kampala has borrowed their share of the reported US Dollars 450 million, again something an increasingly belligerent and assertive parliament would have to consent to in advance.
It is understood from sources close to the action in Kampala that China has offered preferential credit terms to pre-finance the feasibility study, similar to their preparations in building the TAZARA railway line between Dar es Salaam and Lusaka / Zambia in the 70s, and that the entire financing of the project may well also be arranged by China, clearly aiding their desire to establish further political and economic strongholds in the Eastern African region and cement its greater influence on the continent as the hunt for the remaining global resources intensifies.
It is unclear at this stage what, if at all, impact this project will have on other plans promoted by Kenya, to develop a new deep sea harbour in Lamu incidentally also largely to be financed by China it appears with a connecting new standard gauge railway line leading to Southern Sudan and into Ethiopia while the Kenya and Uganda Railways Corporations are also advancing plans to turn the present railway between Mombasa and Kampala into a standard gauge, high speed railway line in coming years.
In Uganda there has also for long been talk of reviving the dormant route from Malaba at the border with Kenya to Gulu and extend it to Juba, the present capital of Southern Sudan, but the presently proposed multiplicity of projects, all seemingly aimed at providing the much required SINGLE redundancy to the present main rail connection, may still cause added consultations and discussions between the partner countries and the financiers, to avoid costly duplication for the purpose of gaining a national advantage instead of focusing on the overall regional needs in terms of infrastructural improvements. That is of particular importance in Tanzania where a rail corridor is also to be developed jointly with Rwanda and probably Burundi and Congo, both of which are said to be keen to get their own rail link connect to that new line from Dar es Salaam. For that project the financing has already advanced and MoUs are in place, as has in the past been reported here. Ugandas response, and here national interests clearly supersede regional interests, was to propose the revival of the Kampala to Kasese rail line, with an extension into the Eastern Congo, while also repeatedly talking of their own add on rail link into Rwanda.
Western development partners, notably including the World Bank, hold regular consultative sessions to compare notes and avoid recipient countries playing them, in the process identifying and eliminating duplications, but as China plays its own power games here, they are not thought to be part of this process as it would arguably limit their own plans and designs for the wider Eastern African region.
Western economic woes at present also reduce the clout of the US and Europe in terms of availing the required major credits, singly or in syndicated formats, and reports of their begging in China for participating in bail outs and stabilization packages for in particular the Euro zone has further cast doubts over Western abilities at this time to fully and effectively participate in what cynical observers have already termed the new Berlin Conference. While not a formal conference the intent though is the same to take over Africa, this time however determined by deep pockets and readily available cheque book diplomacy, almost reminding one of the height of the cold war, except that in this round China is playing the lead fiddle with the Russians and Indians also trying to get into the game with but a few drumbeats in the background.
Chinas charm offensive in Africa, which now dates back at least two decades in earnest, focuses almost entirely on infrastructural developments, following which mining and a rather one sided trade have come into the equation. This cheque book diplomacy as born fruits as Chinese money is not tied to the Western credo of human rights, governmental transparency, best practice and anti corruption measures to name but a few the American and European governments nowadays link to giving aid and financial support, lest they be crucified by their own constituencies at home. Environmental standards for projects too are high on the agenda of Western development partners and the newly emerging world power China seems less concerned about all those requirements to do business and has become a viable alternative in this day and age, as the pilgrimage of African leaders to China and the rapidly expanding presence of the Peoples Republic in Africa, politically, economically and in terms of expatriate labour amply demonstrates.
It is no wonder therefore that the conservation fraternity in Tanzania is deeply suspicious of the Chinese involvement, as best practice is not something commonly embraced by Chinese companies, which have often in the past sought to bypass or circumnavigate environmental requirements by using political interventions and directives.
Ugandan sources close to the action have, upon raising the spectrum of the railway cutting across the Serengeti with them arguably the most direct route from Musoma immediately pointed to the sole responsibility of the Tanzanian government to determine a routing, and urged to await the outcome of the feasibility studies and the various routing alternatives, but had to concede that they would not stand in the way of Tanzania taking their pick of those, even if it would run across the Serengetis migration routes. And here the more suspicious minds amongst the conservation fraternity and environmental groups are already seeing the doomsday scenario for the Serengeti revived, coupling an earlier highway project with a railway. Inspite of a written commitment by the Tanzanian government to UNESCO earlier in the year, that no highway would be built across the park, this was later on exposed as a skillfully crafted lie, as in particular controversial tourism minister Maige had not long afterwards rubbished his own letter to UNESCO, proclaiming that the road would go ahead, nothing new of course for a man who habitually belittles the dangers of mining Uranium in the Selous or denies that the icecap of Kilimanjaro is going to disappear if climate change is not halted or reversed.
The Facebook based Stop the Serengeti Highway movement, now over 44.600 strong and growing, incidentally launched following articles about the then largely unknown plans by the Tanzanian government to build a major road across the Serengeti, has already indicated that they would equally strongly oppose any plans to build a rail line across the park. Those in the know are aware that a rail link would then also open up pending mining concessions in the area between the Serengeti and Musoma and possibly give the much needed green light for a soda ash factory at Lake Natron, another pet project of the Tanzanian President, which could only viably export soda ash using rail transport.
In an article titled The corridor of destruction a series of plans have been exposed and linked together in this format for the first time, of major projects between the Coelacanth habitat at the Tanga Marine National Park at Mwambani all the way across the Serengeti to Lake Victoria, posted on the 01st of May and available via this link: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/tanzania-conservation-breaking-news-the-corridor-of-destruction-from-the-coast-to-the-lake . The read is giving ample reason to sit back and take a more holistic look at the present Tanzanian governments plans to rapidly exploit its natural resources for short lived profits, eventually leaving a destroyed and diseased habitat behind when the mineral riches have been siphoned away. They are also almost willfully ignoring the other green option, i.e. the sustainable use of its nature and wildlife resources, which in the long run would bring greater economic benefits to the country and the Tanzanian people than allowing foreign greed and hunger for the ever sparser resources our planet has remaining, to dictate which way to go.
In addition has experience shown that poaching is experiencing a particularly sharp upturn near major work camps where Chinese companies, in Eastern and Southern Africa are engaged in big projects, adding this component to the issue of the now proposed railway routings and their impact on biodiversity hotspots. Here again China is in the bad books of the global conservation movements as THE main cause for the increase in poaching in Africa. Chinese citizens relentless hunger and greed for blood ivory and rhino horn, which has now become the number one threat for the survival of not just species but the hugely important safari tourism industry in Eastern and Southern Africa has been the stuff of much chat room and blog comments and with a railway line being constructed from the coast to the lake, workers camps will be set up near protected areas with plenty of opportunity to go out poaching or induce and pay for poaching after hours. From Southern Africa one gruesome story after the next emerges of wholesome slaughter of elephants and rhinos, the latter often found still alive after their horns have been hacked off, leaving them die in sheer agony. The arrival on the East African shores of yet more Chinese funded mega projects is very likely to bring this evil right to the doorsteps of our own national parks here in the region.
The conservation fraternity and environmental watch dogs are still coming to terms with these latest developments, not the least as the timing was well chosen as many, including the investigative media, are off on vacation, but come the first week of the new year, phone lines will run hot again in an effort to assemble and gather as much information about the MoUs as possible and to the evaluate the options, from going to court over local to regional to international lobbying to make certain, that environmental and conservation concerns are not bulldozed aside by the political masters hell bent to turn their pet projects into a legacy.
The question only is, what legacy will that be in the long term? As the saying goes in German und nach mir die Sintflut, none of them will be bothered much of what happens to their countries environment after they are gone, bringing a new meaning to the phrase of burnt earth, the type with a delayed reaction after the profit have been reaped by those with no concern for the long term impact and with the money gone, the resources gone and climate change accelerating unchecked, there may indeed be not just the proverbial burnt earth looming beyond the horizon but a real one
Do I even dare to wish my readers a Happy New Year 2012? Well, I do it anyway as there is always hope and we have prevailed in the past to change or halt seemingly cast in iron projects.
Join or like STOP THE SERENGETI HIGHWAY on Facebook to make your objections known and get the latest updates and information on this newest assault on Tanzanias hitherto still largely pristine environment. And as always, watch this space for breaking news from Eastern Africa and from the Indian Ocean Islands.
NFA GETS NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR BUT CHOICE IMMEDIATELY QUESTIONED
The National Forest Authority, which has been without a substantive Executive Director for the past two years following the initial suspension and then, depending where one stands either sacking or non renewal of contract for Damian Akankwasa who suffered from a wide range of personal and professional woes, has finally seen a new Executive Director appointed.
The Minister for choice finally was for Mr. Michael Mugisa, defeated earlier in the year as Kabarole (Ft. Portal) District Chairman, who incidentally was ruled out during an earlier recruitment process by the Board of the NFA for lacking the experience required to hold such an important position.
This contradiction apparently notwithstanding, promptly brought claims of political favouritism into play, which if found true would further hollow out and undermine the past records of the NFA as a determined defender of the countrys forests. Media reports in fact swiftly fanned the sentiment of his appointment being a consolation price as he was apparently promised to get something to do when his political defeat had become known at the time.
The NFA of last has been embroiled in a range of controversies, from the repeat attempt to once again give a quarter of the Mabira rainforest to a financially ailing sugar baron to alleged permissions to dissect the Kitibulu Forest Reserve in Entebbe to forest invasions across the country going unchecked after having spend vast resources to evict squatters and encroachers in the past.
Will the year 2012 bring this crucial environmental protection agency back into calmer waters, given these reports? Time will tell, so watch this space.
TOURISM MINISTER OPENS NEW HERITAGE MUSEUM, LAMENTS LACK OF FUNDS
The Minister of Tourism, Minister Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu lamented the lack of funding when opening a new privately owned heritage museum in Mbarara just before Christmas. He used the opportunity to ask for equitable funding for his ministry and the tourism sector, commensurate with the contribution of the sector to the national economy, which he pegged at over 9 percent of GDP, and yet in his own estimate his ministry was receiving a paltry 0.13 percent from the national budget allocation.
Only recently was Uganda elevated by Lonely Planet as THE destination for 2012 but in the absence of sufficient funding, matching the promotion and marketing expenditures of say Kenya or Rwanda, Uganda is expected to fail capitalize on this unique opportunity, leave alone being able to produce some very special promotional campaign as the country enters its 50th Independence Year.
President Museveni, who was present at the opening ceremony of the new museum in Biharwe township / Mbarara / Western Uganda, was seen nodding to the remarks, giving some hope that a directive to the finance ministry may yet come forth, but its value immediately put in doubt considering the general budgetary constraints of government, in the light of economic developments and runaway inflation.
While most lodges were booked up over the Christmas holidays, fewer than normal Ugandans were seen entering the parks, leaving the field to wealthier expatriates who are not hit by the devaluated shilling as they are paid in hard currency, countering a policy of bringing more and more Ugandans into the national parks and game reserves and staying in the safari lodges and safari camps, unlike in Kenya where the Kenya Tourist Board together with Kenya Wildlife Services has launched the #TembeaKenya campaign, having to get Kenyan know their country better. Watch this space.
NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK GETS 100 EXTRA HECTARES
(Nairobi National Park main gate at Langata)
The conservation fraternity had reason to celebrate this week when the park was expanded by 100 hectares or over 250 acres of land, courtesy of John Keen and his family, who through an easement gave Kenya Wildlife Service control to administer and manage their ancestral land as part of the national park.
Nairobi National Park has in past decades been more and more hemmed in with crucial migration routes across the Athi plains also being reduced and developed, leaving the crucially important DNA exchange through migratory arrivals to suffer.
The ceremony at Masai Lodge was attended by the Kean family, top staff of KWS including Chief Executive Dr. Julius Kipngetich, the President of the African Wildlife Foundation Dr. Helen Gichohi, the Director of USAID Mrs. Erna Kerst and a number of conservation supporters from various organizations.
While the Keen family will retain ownership over the land, the easement now restricts them contractually in their use of the land, so that wildlife conservation can be the number one priority and any agricultural, industrial or large scale domestic developments are now barred.
Similar schemes will, according to a KWS source, be pursued in and around Amboseli, Samburu, along the Kerio Valley NP, in the Tana Delta and on the Loita plains, where talks with landowners are already in progress. Well done and an immense ASANTE SANA to the Keen family and those involved to make this generous gesture a reality in the interest of conservation.
LAKE BARINGO CLUB, WHERE I WAS CHILLING WITH THE BIRDS
Leaving the hustle and bustle of Kenyas capital city Nairobi behind is the desire of many of its residents, while the proper wagenis of course in any case spend little time there, perhaps a day or two at most on arrival and departure again, while in between heading out into the Kenyan countryside for their safari.
Nairobians are spoiled for choice where they can go for a weekend or for a vacation, and while other destinations are closer in June of this the year I wrote about the Lake Naivasha Country Club which is just over 100 kilometres from the city Lake Baringo is some three hundred kilometres from the capital but anytime worth the 5 hour drive. UNESCO had officially declared Kenyas Rift Valley lakes as World Heritage Sites earlier in the year, recognizing the countrys conservation efforts to preserve biodiversity and protect crucially important water sources, and from Lake Naivasha over Lake Elementaita to Lake Nakuru and on to Lake Bogoria and finally Lake Baringo all of them are now enjoying their new and higher status.
(Morning impressions as the sun rises above the Tugen Hills and illuminates Lake Baringo)
My route chosen took me into the hills above the city, by European elevation standards mountains really, as we drove via Limuru through coffee plantations, along the golf course and posh residences to the top of the Great African Rift Valley. There, spectacular views extend from horizon to horizon, and no matter how often one has passed the viewing points, a stop is quite mandatory, as are picture taking, capturing the mood of the day, the different cloud formations and the key attractions, the Longonot Earth Station, one of Kenyas international communications backbones and Mt. Longonot itself, an extinct volcano which is now a national park under Kenya Wildlife Services and an attraction in its own right.
(The Great African Rift Valley, as seen from one of the viewing points with Mt. Longonot in clear sight)
The drive had soon left Lake Naivasha behind and we were passing Lake Elementaita and the Soysambu Conservancy established there, and just off the highway the Kariandusi National Monument site, a place visited by far too few who zap by in their cars looking for the big things when small so often is beautiful.
On the road went, via Gilgil to Nakuru where one turns off to the right at the second roundabout in the direction of Kabarnet, Marigat and of course to Lake Baringo, where I was headed.
(Reaching at the end of the day, I got to the right place on good tarmac roads with sufficient signage)
My destination for the next couple of nights was the Lake Baringo Club, right at the lakeshores and a short distance off the main road, where only days earlier the Prime Minister of Kenya had commissioned a new road project, aimed to construct a tarmac highway to Lodwar and the border to Ethiopia, with a branch off into the Southern Sudan. A better road means more traffic and more traffic means more business for the lake side resort, something needed since, inexplicably, the old circuit road from Samburu via Archers Post, Wamba, often with a stop at Maralal, has seen traffic decline in past years, cutting out some of the most scenic drives across Kenyas wilderness areas.
(One of the many resident fish eagles, which can be seen along the lake shores)
New owners and managers Sun Africa Hotels have already left a mark on the Lake Baringo Club as it presented itself to me and they are set to have the property rise and shine at the same levels as the Keekorok Safari Lodge and the Lake Naivasha Country Club, both now as fine a property as one can wish for.
Some of the older TripAdvisor commentaries talked of staff not being bothered, inedible food and other shortcomings, and it was a most pleasant surprise to be welcomed by staff members at the entrance gate already with a cheerful Jambo Bwana, an experience repeated time and again, especially from Ms. Caroline Onkware who transferred recently from the Lake Naivasha Country Club to run the front office at the Lake Baringo Club and welcomed me cheerfully as a long lost friend. This continued from check in till departure , especially the broad smiles of Assistant Manager Mr. Jacob Lugadiru popping up everywhere, when the staff lined up to wish me Safari Njema and Kwaheri Ya Kuonana after failing to persuade me to stay a few more days.
But there are more stories to be told, so back to the Lake Baringo Club, my three night stay over a long weekend and how things to do were plenty, leaving me spoiled for choice.
Having left Nairobi at late lunch time, and endured the horrendous traffic which is worse on Fridays it seems, my Sun Africa Hotels driver delivered me safely to the Lake Baringo Club just around 7 pm, as the sun was setting and myriads of insects started their night time concert, joined in no time by the frogs from the lake. A cool towel was offered at the reception to wipe off sweat and dust and then followed by a chilled fruit juice. My reservation details had been transferred on to the check in form and all it took was to sign it, get my key and be whisked to my cottage, located at the furthest end of the property, guaranteeing peace, quiet, time for contemplation and time to write this story without the constant coming and going of neighbours.
I had not been to Baringo for over 20 years and the last time the water in the lake was very low after a long drought and way out from the lodge, so I was surprised to see the water having risen to near record levels, not seen since the early 1960s, when according to a former neighbour, who came by to see the place one afternoon, the water in fact was almost three feet higher than today, later confirmed by an old fisherman mzee who told me the same thing in a mixture of Kiswahili and English. It is generally expected that the water levels will progressively reduce again and draw back from where they presently are, as close as between 30 to 150 feet to the buildings of the lodge, something quite unprecedented since the Lake Baringo Club was first opened in the late 60s. At that time the hotel was taking over from a tented camp which had been put up a few years earlier before it was taken down to make way for what is now the main building, bar and dining, later to be followed by rooms 1 8, which are no longer in use today and are due to be demolished soon.
(Risen lake levels, as a result of prolonged heavy rains this year, are expected to return to normal very soon)
So, along the way to my suite, hippos snorted from the close by water and a croc hastily rushed back into the lake when the askari shone his torch on it, him knowing that the beast was there and the beast knowing that only a swift retreat was to save it from being chased with stick and stones. It was probably the same croc which was ambushing me the second night but its hissing sound gave its location away and it stayed put, mouth wide open as if considering if I was the sort of supper it had in mind, before then rushing back into the water after I swung my stick around making equally hissing sounds.
(Not a problem for Crocodile Wolfie)
The cottage was prepared for the night already, the bed turned down and a full mosquito net, covering the bed around all corners, fully deployed. Flowers on the table and a selection of chilled fruits, clearly only put just before I got to the room myself by the attentive housekeeping staff, were complemented by a selection of tea bags, freshly ground coffee, the aroma of which filled the room no sooner as I had lifted the lid from the container and of course a choice of sugar, sweetener and even tea spices. I had a cup of tea brewing as I unpacked the few things I brought, to hang them out in the simple but adequate wardrobe space, before heading for a quick shower, hot water there in an instant.
(Flowers and wine await the valued guests)
By the time I was changed and heading back to the main building for supper, an askari was waiting outside for me with a torchlight, to safely guide me to the dining, a proper precaution it turned out on the third night when a hippo had come on land and had to be avoided.
A couple of other guests, a Kenyan family amongst them, had already sat down for supper which was in table d hote format, a set menu with soup, salad, three choices of a main course, fish, meat and vegetarian and desert of course.
The food was well prepared, well presented and tasted good, putting to rest the negative TripAdvisor comments of past years, which recommended to eat out, not an option nor a question for this author it turned out. Coffee or tea is part of every meal, be it lunch or dinner, so no need to spend extra money for a cuppa.
(Lake Baringo Clubs main building where all the meals are served)
And when sleep came calling on the first night, slumber came equally swift on a good bed and with comfy pillows, lasting until the birds started stirring up in the trees above the cottage, ready to begin their morning concert. I was not sure when I woke up if I had indeed heard hippos snorting and fighting outside, if it was a dream or reality, but what did it matter. A night at the lakeshores, close up and personal, with warm temperatures and a soft breeze sweeping across my room, I had not slept like this in many a moon.
Other guests too commented on that like I slept like a baby, attributed surely to the scents of flowers, the taste of the lake in the air and the soothing noises of the night.
My other two nights were equally restful and going back to the city was suddenly a notion no longer so welcome, but with Christmas just a few days away, there really was no choice but to pack and go when Monday morning finally, and far too soon, came calling.
Until then though I had two more days to spend at the Lake Baringo Club, which I used to explore the lake shores from the water by boat, slightly shaken by a hippo suddenly crashing to the surface quite too near the boat for comfort, splashing water and snorting threats to us invaders, prompting the boatman to rev up the engine and drive out of that chaps house. Bird walks followed, mornings and late afternoons, to see some of the incredible variety of birds, now numbering over 460 identified species I was told. Terry Stevenson, now a recognized international birding expert, was in his early days based for some time at the Lake Baringo Club as resident ornithologist, where besides doing his guided bird walks he also wrote the first of his books, aptly titled The Birds of Lake Baringo, published in late 1980. Hillary Garland, another resident ornithologist in those days, in turn identified all the trees within the grounds of the Lake Baringo Club, 36 in total at the time of compiling her research into a pamphlet, and an eye opener for most on the level of biodiversity found at this part of the country.
(This pair of Jacksons Hornbill beauties are regular guests at the Lake Baringo Club restaurant where they wait to be fed with morsels of food, crusts of bread or bits of fruits)
In between there was of course time to take a couple of refreshing dives into the crystal clear waters of the swimming pool, take some naps which otherwise is quite out of question for this author, further evidence of the effects the Lake Baringo Club has on its guests, offering relaxation galore. Here you come to watch birds, or not, and for those who choose or not they can just laze about in the gardens under the tall acacia trees, enjoy the sun beds around the pool or sit in the lounge or on the terrace and read a book, really leaving the challenges and burdens of everyday life behind them for a few days at least while at the Lake Baringo Club.
(Just chilling guests enjoy the tranquility of Lake Baringo Club, which is quite infectious)
Going for boat rides, or a spot of fishing is also possible, as is a visit to a nearby Njemps village, the tribe living around the lake shores and on the islands.
(Lake Baringo Club has their own boats and guides to take guests out on the lake to fish, watch birds or see the Njemps fishermen at work)
When you find yourself still sitting at the lunch table on the terrace, watching out over the lake and then being told tea is served, you realise time has raced away unnoticed and the meal on offer has moved seamlessly from lunch time to tea time. It is then you begin to appreciate that no hurry in Africa has taken on a new dimension. No wonder all the other guests came as couples, something truly recommended by the look of things to enjoy this level of seemingly timeless progression from hour to hour, from day to day and from night to night.
The variety of food on the menu, always served as table d hote instead of buffets, was kept up with not one repeat over the three days I stayed and though there was no pepper mill the service staff did one better, getting me freshly crushed black pepper, faithfully delivered to my table at every meal once they had noticed my preference.
Travelers from East Africa have many options where to go, in their own countries or across the borders in the other member states of the East African Community, and for those coming to Kenya on business, there is often the question where to perhaps spend a weekend, or a few days. Lake Baringo is surely a prime choice, not just for those in search of birds, insects, reptiles, flowers, trees and plants but especially for those in need to get away for a bit, relax, recharge ones batteries and refresh body and mind before the return to the daily grind. Some places might be nearer to the capital but frankly few are as relaxing, as quiet and as tranquil as the Lake Baringo Club.
Said Mrs. Jane Bosire, who had stayed for the weekend with her husband and two children: I so love this place, it is so tranquil and peaceful, I love hearing the birds or just watch the water on the lake. If I could I would take this place with me because it is so unlike Nairobi. No phones, no TV, no hassle at all. Just relaxing. I dont want to go back to Nairobi and wish we could stay longer. That was a sentiment heard from all guests who were leaving the Lake Baringo Club and for a reason. For sure this is not a place to stay just one night, perhaps three but better 5 or more to really have the places tranquility and peace leave its mark on the visitors.
More information on this lakeside resort can be found via www.sunafricahotels.com where reservations and bookings can also be made on line.
KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE HONOURS FALLEN HEROS
(For all visitors to the Nairobi National Park and the Nairobi Safari Walk to see at the new monument dedicated to the fallen heroes of KWS)
Kenyas Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga has last week formally opened the memorial site erected at the KWS head quarters at the entrance of the Nairobi National Park, where all the names of those who gave their lives in defense of conservation and anti poaching operations are now publicly shown. The move by KWS was widely hailed as a major step towards not just recognizing their own departed colleagues but has been perceived as a gauntlet thrown to the poachers, that the organization will do whatever necessary to continue the good fight.
While speaking at the event Dr. Mutunga also reiterated the need to strengthen wildlife enforcement laws and regulations, something which has been pending for too long before the Kenyan parliament, and when that law is finally passed with stiffer sentences and crippling fines, the new Kenyan judiciary, which is now emerging under the new constitution, will under his leadership undoubtedly slap poachers, traders and smugglers with the full range of sentencing options then available to magistrates and judges.
The event was celebrated with a ranger parade and march past in front of hundreds of conservationists, KWS staff and onlookers.
(Honouring their fallen comrades, KWS ranger troops)
PORINI CAMPS ECOFRIENDLY OPERATIONS REWARDED
The Ol Kinyei Conservancy, adjoining the Masai Mara Game Reserve, has received recognition from the Eco Tourism Society of Kenya when recently awarded the rating as best community conservancy in Kenya. Established in 2005 the conservancy has now grown to over 16.000 acres and is home to the Porini Mara Camp, itself holding many accolades for quality.
Alongside the award for the Ol Kinyei Conservancy also came the announcement that the Porini Amboseli Camp was named at Kenyas top eco rated facility, an affirmation of the hard work of past years to reduce the carbon footprint of their camps and make them of minimal impact on the neighbouring ecosystems.
Said Jake Grieves Cook, former chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation and past chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board, who is the main shareholder in Porini Camps and Gamewatcher Safaris: The Porini Camps strive to be as eco-friendly as possible, and we are proud of the team at Porini Amboseli Camp. Our conservancies in the Masai Mara are making strides as wildlife numbers are increasing and local communities are benefiting significantly. He then went on to point out that the Ol Kinyei Conservancy was established by Gamewatchers Safaris six years ago and is comprised of many small plots of land leased from individual private landowners. These landowners, most of which are Maasai, have voluntarily vacated their plots to help form the conservancy. Today, Ol Kinyei is 16,000 acres and is exclusive to guests staying at Porini Mara Camp ( www.porini.com/kenya.html?sub=mara-porini-camp) and at a handful of mobile camps. There are no more than 5 vehicles within the entire conservancy at any time.
Congratulations to the entire team at Porini and Gamewatchers and even greater success in the New Year.
ABERDARE COUNTRY CLUB REFURBISHMENT ON COURSE
While in Kenya on a fact finding mission to ascertain the state of the tourism industry at the end of what will become the best ever performing year for Kenya Tourism, information was also obtained on the ongoing progress of renovations and the upgrading of one of this correspondents all time favourites, the Aberdare Country Club. First reported here some months ago, when Marasa Kenya launched their modernization and upgrade programme for their three Kenyan properties, the work is ongoing now and expected to be finalized by Easter 2012.
The Aberdare Country Clubs 9 hole golf course too is undergoing work to improve the standards of playing and the introduction of golf carts will make it easier to cover the at times significant elevation differences from one hole to the next. Horse riding too is being re-introduced with new stables under construction, giving clients wider options of what to do during an extended stay at the Aberdare Country Club.
The owners did mention that it was their absolute desire to enhance the flair of the former colonial country side residence while retaining the distinct feel visitors immediately have when driving up to the main building, something which helped make the club a success with visitors from overseas and from within Kenya and the wider region.
An advance peep into what the new rooms are likely to be transformed to was also obtained while in Kenya, promising comfort and style for the new look Aberdare Country Club when work has been completed.
Sister properties The Ark and the Mara Leisure Camp too are undergoing a similar transformation and as and when nearing completion, expect updates and more pictures from on site right here. Watch this space.
PRECISION STAYS EXPANSION COURSE WITH NEW ATR ORDER
(Picture courtesy of ATR)
Information was confirmed overnight that Tanzanias leading airline, Precision Air, has put aside their disappointing IPO performance and are set to stay the course of expansion as announced earlier in the year with an order for a further 5 ATR aircraft.
A usually reliable source has confirmed to this correspondent last night that the airline has ordered ATRs latest models, four ATR 42-600 and one ATR 72-600. Delivery of the ATR 42s is due to start in late 2012 while the 68 seater ATR 72 is expected to be delivered by early 2014.
The airline is flying already a mix of 9 ATR aircraft, mostly on their domestic schedules but also into nearer regional destinations like Entebbe, and when the new order is delivered Precision will have become Africas leading customer for the French manufacturer.
The move is also seen as a direct response by the airline to the Tanzanian governments declared intention to revive Air Tanzania, which currently flies a single Bombardier Q300 and with the main battleground being the domestic routes across this sprawling East African country, Precision will be well prepared to offer more flights to more destinations, in Tanzania and the region, than any of their competitors. More happy landings it is then for Precision come 2012.
AIR MAURITIUS LAUNCHES NEW ONLINE PAYMENT PLATFORM
It was learned from a regular source that Air Mauritius has now launched a brand new e-payment facility for bookings made through their website, when they very recently commissioned their new Wirecard payment platform. The new payment system also expands payment options which were previously only possible by using Visa or Mastercard, now also allowing American Express, Diners Club, Visa Electron, Discover JCB and Carte Bleue, besides permitting multiple currency options.
The new platform is in compliance with global industry guidelines in regard of payment and data security as agreed worldwide by the data security standards developed within the credit and debit card industry. Wirecard presently works with over 12.000 customers worldwide providing secure payment options for their businesses and Air Mauritius, seeing a significant increase in e-commerce activities in the recent past, is the latest major client the company has signed up with.
MEDIA INTEREST IN SEYCHELLES CARNIVAL FESTIVAL SHARPLY UP
Following the phenomenal media success which accompanied the inaugural carnival festival earlier this year in Victoria on the main island of Mahe, has the Seychelles Tourism Board now confirmed that requests from the international media to be accredited and cover the event in 2012 are pouring in.
The festival is now jointly hosted by the Seychelles and the French island of La Reunion, following the high profile signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, adding yet more interest in the already well publicized event. Radio stations from both South Africa and from the United Arab Emirates are set to report with live broadcasts from the archipelago.
Emirates, which has once more been confirmed as a official sponsor of the event, will time special features on the Carnaval International de Victoria in their inflight magazine during the run up to the festival, giving the second edition of what has become an instant carnival success story yet greater exposure.
The co-hosting of the carnival by both La Reunion and the Seychelles is also expected to rub off on the French island and result in more tourists visiting that vanilla island too, sharing the media focus equally to bring maximum benefits to the two partners. Expect announcements soon on the complete list of participants from the worlds leading carnival nations as well those now aspiring to become carnivalists in their own rights, when Seychelles Tourism and La Reunion Tourism will announce the planned highlights of the 3 day festival. Watch this space.
And in view of the current holiday season, Gill Staden seems to have taken a well deserved rest too with no current edition available of The Livingstone Weekly.
A very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year 2012 to you all!