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
Third edition July 2011
East Africa News
POWER CRISIS COVERS ALL OF EASTERN AFRICA NOW
Drought conditions in parts of the East African region, poor maintenance and aged equipment and even non -payment of dues to independent power producers have taken their toll on the availability of electricity in the entire region, with ‘load shedding’ or power rationing the order of the day now in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
In Tanzania on Sunday evening the entire country was plunged into darkness, at the height of the country watching the football final of a regional cup competition, when disaster struck at one of the power plants, keeping the entire country in the dark until well after midnight. That, it must be mentioned, came on top of the 12 hours on and 12 hours off schedule most households in Tanzania are already restricted to.
In Kenya too power cuts have gotten more frequent again of late, and fellow Facebook friends write acid remarks on their walls about the power company being ‘powerless’, plus choice words not to be repeated here.
In Uganda, the shortage came about as a result of the independent power producers not being paid, and while parliament continues to ‘debate’, much of the country sits in regular darkness. At least the Ministry of Energy has prevailed upon fellow government institutions to increase the water outflow at the Jinja dam from the usual 800 CM per second to 1.000 CM per second, allowing a further 40 MW to be generated, lessening the daytime demand to a shortfall of only 10+ MW while in the evening the shortfall is now just over 100 MW, reducing the dreaded power cuts to less the previous frequency.
Long term weather forecasts in areas critical to feed water into the reservoirs of the hydro electric dams are also not encouraging for the time being, leaving the East African countries again to generate added demand through expensive thermal plants using heavy fuel oil and diesel, as a result of which power distributors are demanding yet higher tariffs from a population hit by food shortages and inflation like not seen for decades. For the future impact of these developments, watch this space,
GETTING US VISAS JUST GOT YET MORE DIFFICULT
‘Do you know what life in the USA is like’ may be the next question added to the already complex catalogue of ‘grilling’ applicants for a Visa to the United States have to answer, as yet more hurdles are placed in their way to travel to America.
Long gone are the days when college graduates, after completing their course in a US university, could invite their entire family over to witness their graduation, not only for the cost of it but more and more for the question of eligibility. How can a grandparent, who lives in the rural areas of any of our East African countries, show evidence of a bank account, when he or she have none, and yet their wealth is expressed in the number of cattle they have, or in the size of their farm which produce they sell for cash and habitually keep at home, hidden away somewhere.
President Obama, whose own relatives back home in Kenya live largely in a rural setting, may receive – upon due proof of course that they are indeed related – would a DNA sample suffice one wonders – might be able to have his African family members visit, although ‘influence peddling’ has to be ruled out here too considering the rabid obsession of sections of the US media with such, but ordinary folks will find it more and more difficult to actually make even a once in a lifetime visit to the United States a reality now.
In contrast, and inspite of filling a useless form at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, when the real purpose is to collect 50 US Dollars entry fee, at least here in Uganda it is only the immigration form one has to fill in before being allowed to pay an equal entry fee of 50 US Dollar here too, entry into East Africa is the proverbial walk in the park. Coming to East Africa is made easy for Americans, Europeans and other nationalities like Canada, Japan, China, Russia, Australia or New Zealand, as they face no significant restrictions in regard of entry, nor do they need to show bank statements, undergo a proficiency test of how to cope with life in Africa or knowing much about it nor show that they have family ties back home which will make them fly back and not abandon all caution and decide on the spur of the moment to live amongst us here.
All people are equal, yes, but some are clearly more equal than others … and while we here in East Africa continue to say ‘Karibuni Sana’ to our visitors, that welcome is clearly not entirely reciprocated just like that, as ‘Fortress West’ continues to add yet more layers of bricks to make the wall higher still. How I yearn for the good old days when the Independence generation was wooed by the West to come and study there, join the ranks of ‘friends’ and go home as ‘ambassadors of good will’ while the cold war was unfolding in earnest. That generation of Africans was still free to travel with much greater ease and when they look at the requirements of today’s Visa applications, on line mostly if not exclusively now, they just shake their heads, as recently seen when discussing the issue with some of my fellow ‘mzees’ and wonder where this world has gotten to. Travel for the rich and famous only – it almost seems so. Watch this space.
ENTEBBE INTERNATIONAL CLEARED AS AN A380 EMERGENCY LANDING AIRPORT
The Civil Aviation Authority over the weekend released information that the airport was cleared by an inspection panel of Emirates, Dubai’s award winning airline, to serve as an emergency landing airport, following successful ‘simulations’ being carried out. It is understood that the airline was seeking landing site options for emergency diversions which might occur in flight. A source at the CAA added that the airport was cleared however with the restriction that upon landing the two outer engines needed to be shut down for taxiing as the width of runway and taxiway was not yet expanded to the size an A 380 would under normal circumstances require to taxi under all four engines running.
Entebbe is due for another major expansion in coming years, which will include added apron spaces for aircrafts to be parked, the eventual relocation of the cargo centre to the ‘old airport’ side and the doubling in size of the passenger terminal to cater for the anticipated growth in air traffic. Watch this space.
ELECTRICITY PRODUCTION – GOVERNMENT’S BALANCING ACT ON THE HIGH WIRE
Uganda’s government has apparently made a principal decision to expire diesel propelled power generation plants, just as soon as the Bujagali hydro electric dam goes into operation in November this year. Starting with an initial production of 50 MW this relatively low cost electricity production unit will rev up to a full 250 MW by April or May 2012, at which time thermal plants using diesel will either need to be converted to the use of heavy fuel oil or else be decommissioned as a new production regime will take hold.
At least two diesel plants with a combined capacity of 100 MW are being targeted, noticeably from operators which shut down production two weeks ago over nonpayment of arrears from government, a connection however denied by sources close to the Ministry of Energy. One source in particular said: ‘…when hydro power comes on line, it will be much cheaper and there will be no need to subsidize that electricity for the consumers. We started thermal production in 2006 when in February water levels in Lake Victoria made it impossible to maintain full production at Owen Falls and Kiira in Jinja. Back then thermal production, when it got on line, was about a quarter of our electricity needs but today it has come to almost 50 percent. Those operators require subsidies or electricity would not be affordably for ordinary Ugandans and our industries would close because their products could not compete with imports. Therefore, subsidies now are over a trillion Uganda Shillings per year and this is almost three times as much compared to 2006. It cannot be sustained. The opposition keeps arguing about helping Ugandans to match inflation and devaluation but they are not saying that government is spending so much so that households can afford power. The president was clear when he said that Uganda will not listen to our partners when it comes to electricity production. If Bujagali was ready we would not have these problems. Back then we were told by World Bank and others we should not have too much electricity. Now they are saying the same about Karuma Falls which we want to promote directly from our own resources with a partner we shall select soon. A country can never have enough electricity, especially not us in Uganda. We need to connect our rural areas, new industries are waiting to set up here and we might even be able to export power to South Sudan, to Eastern Congo, to Rwanda and Tanzania. And we need a buffer to cushion against plant maintenance so that power shortages once and for all are a thing of the past. So when Bujagali comes online we shall first expire the diesel plants and then those other plants using heavy fuel oil will be receiving their supplies from our own oil wells when they start to produce.’
Meanwhile though, power rationing continues albeit on a much reduced scale, assisted by an increase in production of 40 MW at Owen Falls and Kiira, where a greater flow rate has been approved until Bujagali comes on line. Balancing on the high wire it seems with a small safety net. Watch this space.
NEW FARE WAR ON ENTEBBE – NAIROBI ROUTE?
Inspite of continuously high fuel prices and inflationary pressures on airlines have fares between Entebbe and Nairobi started to move again, downwards that is.
According to travel agents, keenly monitoring these developments to give their clients the best possible deal, return flights now sell from US Dollars 268, all inclusive on Fly 540, closely followed by Air Uganda from where tickets are available at US Dollars 270. Yet, market leader Kenya Airways is not far behind either with the lowest fare quoted at US Dollars 273, making it a tight race where only 5 US Dollars separate the three carriers flying daily on the route.
Kenya Airways seems to be making the most of it, courtesy of their frequent flyer programme, where even the lowest fares attract ‘miles’, which can eventually be turned into free tickets, while Air Uganda’s ‘Celestair’ frequent flyer programme remains restricted to lesser options at this time how to utilize miles credit, at least in comparison to KQ.
Trends also remain steady in Kenya Airways’ favour in regard of onward connections into the wider region and across the continent, where it captures the lion’s share of connecting traffic via Nairobi, while Air Uganda offers, at least on the key regional routes, nonstop flights for instance to Dar es Salaam.
Current inflation levels have hit the travel market too and those who can and do travel inevitably seek the best connections, best deals, best benefits via their frequent flyer memberships and departure times best suited to their needs. The ‘battle over the East African skies – reloaded’. Watch this space.
AGA KHAN ON WORKING VISIT TO UGANDA
His Highness the Aga Khan is in Uganda for a two day working visit, which will include an inspection of the Bujagali hydroelectric power station, which is being lead developed by Industrial Promotion Services from Kenya, itself part of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development. IPS stepped into the void left by previous ‘promoters’ of the Bujagali power station, and true to its overall form in East African development projects, put financing in place, reached broad consensus with affected stakeholders including the rafting and adventure tourism fraternity and then commenced construction. AKFED, through IPS Kenya, brought Sithe Global on board for technical expertise and the first 50 MW of relatively cheap hydropower will come on line by latest November this year but by mid 2012 the full 250 MW capacity will be feeding the national grid, bringing long lingering power shortages to an end.
Only days ago did BEL, or Bujagali Energy Limited as the company is known in Uganda, commission a shrine at the main Bujagali Falls – the power station is several kilometres downstream – where according to Busoga Kingdom lore the spirits present at the Bujagali Falls will now find a resting place.
The falls are likely to submerge when the water reservoir behind the new dam has finally filled up, prompting calls by the ‘Custodian’ of the culturally important site to ‘make arrangements for the spirits’, a demand now fully met and accepted by the Busoga community.
AKFED, across Eastern Africa, and hand in hand with the Aga Khan Education Service, is a leading source of development projects and has holdings in a range of leading companies such as the Nation Media Group, Jubilee Insurance, Diamond Trust Bank but for the purpose of this column more importantly Serena Hotels and Air Uganda. Watch this space.
POWER IS BACK, FOR NOW
The independent power generating companies, which a week ago turned off their plants following the non- payment of an alleged 200+ billion Uganda Shillings in subsidy arrears contractually agreed with government, have yesterday resumed production. The ‘loss of capacity’ as UMEME had put it in public newspaper adverts, had caused an immediate 12 hour on and 12 hour off rationing cycle, which greatly affected not just industries, hotels and other businesses but also households, where reportedly contents of deep-freezers went to waste, adding a huge financial cost to already stretched domestic budgets.
It was however learned from sources close to the two plant operators that should the arrears not be cleared, shut downs would return just as soon as the next batch of fuel deliveries was due for delivery. The source would not comment however on speculation that government may have ‘guaranteed’ payment to the fuel companies over the standoff to ensure the country receives sufficient electricity into the national grid, though other sources insist that some level of binding assurances were given to the fuel suppliers in this regard.
Be it as it may, power is back in Uganda while neighbours Kenya and Tanzania continue to struggle with the issue inspite of – especially in Kenya – efforts to fast track wind and geothermal energy production which would at once provide much needed electricity and at the same time enhance the ‘green profile’ of the country considerably.
SACK THEM, ALL OF THEM, AND DO IT NOW
A second major power failure hit Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport last night, again forcing airlines to divert flights to other airports in Kenya and the region, while awaiting power to be restored.
Only two days earlier did the same happen in the early morning hours, when national airline Kenya Airways is ordinarily processing thousands of connecting passengers from regional destinations flying via Nairobi. Over a dozen flights had to be diverted, at airlines’ expense to such places like Mombasa, Entebbe and even beyond, costing hundreds of thousands of US Dollars the Kenya Airport Authority is now expected to compensate for.
Comments from airline personnel on Sunday were acid, but nothing compared to the lastest tsumami of invectives coming the direction of this correspondent, when in touch late last night with personnel based at JKIA. The management of Kenya Airports Authority was predictably shtumm on this second major outage lasting several hours during the evening peak period, prompting calls for the authority’s ‘Damaging’ Director as one outspoken regular source said, to be sacked together with others responsible for these regular outages. ‘We are faced with a lot of cost and will probably go to court with KAA for compensation. This is gross misconduct and they are not taking their duties and us seriously. We are the reason, we airlines are the reason they exist, they feed off us with exorbitant fees, and what do we get? Boilers exploding, power interruptions time and again and NO BACK UP in place which comes on instantly. We are fed up with these people and demand their immediate resignation or sacking, whatever comes first’.
Sources from Kenya Power, another parastatal in the cross hairs of Kenyan consumers and the media, denied any responsibility for these outages claiming the substation at JKIA was ‘powered up’ and that internal wiring and short circuits were responsible for the JKIA electricity problems. Another aviation source in Nairobi conceded this saying ‘this is possible, the contractors may be doing shoddy work, cutting wires when digging and that goes to project supervision. If KAA has no capacity to do a good supervisions of the work done to expand JKIA, the must employ competent engineers to do that for them, and it also casts a very bad light on the contractors they are using to build our airport. If already now there are such big problems, what will those buildings look like in a few years, or will the apron spaces crack up and get potholes for shoddy workmanship? There is something seriously wrong at KAA and best key managers now leave and make space for new recruits from the private sector who can do the job’.
While no one at Kenya Airways, the biggest user of services at JKIA, would go on official record, it was nevertheless learned that the airline will seek immediate audience with the transport ministry in the morning to also demand instant improvements and changes at KAA. Two other airline executives from privately owned airlines using JKIA left open the question of compensatory damages, only saying that this will be discussed within the airlines’ own regular meetings to devise a strategy and way forward.
Watch this space as the JKIA saga and the drama at KAA continue.
ANOTHER POWER OUTAGE HITS JKIA – AIRLINES DEMAND ACTION / RESIGNATIONS
Earlier this morning was East Africa’s most important aviation gateway, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, again hit by a power outage, delaying incoming and outgoing flights.
Kenya Airways just moments ago tweeted their return to normal operations to their thousands of followers on Twitter, and also announced the same on their Facebook page, to reach as many as possible – notably with an apology while the Kenya Airport Authority, responsible for the repeated mess, remains shtumm as usual.
Said one regular source from JIKA to this correspondent when passing the information: ‘These people at KAA have no idea how to run an airport. Only recently a water boiler exploded. This is probably the fourth or fifth outage with major consequences for safety and huge cost for us air operators.
It is time someone responsible is getting fired now or some of these clowns resign because they simply cannot deliver. As long as politics are involved in aviation, like the past CEO Muhoho who is related to high up, there can never be professionalism. They should all be put on a one way flight to Antarctica or some place isolated and never come back to JKIA.’
The damage done to airlines this year alone through power failures without back up immediately coming on line has not been formally quantified but is thought to have run into the combined millions of dollars.
Time to wake up KAA and face reality and DEAL with such issues once and for all, before something major happens when the light go out at night as a plane is about to touch down!
MORE LODGES FOR MERU CONSERVATION AREA
Kenya Wildlife Service handed over two sites for development to investors, who are now tasked with putting up tourist facilities in the Kora National Park and the Meru National Park, both part of the greater Meru Conservation Area. The conservation area, comparably less visited than other better know national parks and reserves, is unique in many ways and holds both scenic and wildlife attractions few would expect who have not visited this part of Kenya. Meru has been lacking in sustained promotion and lacking enough tourism facilities to turn it into a greater success story.
‘Friends of Meru Conservation Area’ in fact have established a Facebook group, which can be accessed via this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/290052387659 where regular information and updates are posted, including from those actually working in the area, regular and occasional visitors, or where specially organized trips from Nairobi are advertised.
Meru is one of the parks KWS is planning to re-brand in order to make it more visible and to create demand and diversify the ‘classic’ safari itineraries to only the best known parks by highlighting just what often extraordinary safari experiences can be found in the other parks. GO VISIT.
KWS FINALLY ACTS ON RHINO KILLING SPREE
China, thought to be the main driver for demand in rhino horn, over its alleged but sadly mistaken ‘properties’ to revive ‘ageing men’, is coming under renewed scrutiny and attack by wildlife conservationists, as poaching of rhinos in Kenya is reaching a new level again.
Last year over 330 rhinos were poached in South Africa, and government there is doing little apparently as the trend has shot up to over 200 in the first half of this year, threatening the entire species with extinction.
In Eastern Africa, rhinos are now also being poached, and Ol Pejeta has been hit twice, as was the Solio Game Reserve and the Mt. Kenya Game Ranch.
Earlier this week has KWS finally acted to dispatch a task force into the wider Laikipia area, where the three affected conservancies are located, attempting to gather intelligence allowing them to catch the gangs, which according to lastest news from the area is now using highly sophisticated rifles which are also threatening rangers and wardens who have either shotguns or old style repeat rifles only to defend the wildlife and themselves. Outgunned comes to mind, making the need for greater anti poaching efforts by government all the more important.
Shootouts are becoming more regular, across Kenya, as organized gangs of poachers are let loose by their financial backers, who reap huge profits from the blood ivory and rhino horn, but also from lion bones and skins, for which demand is said to continue rising too.
Ol Pejeta is the one and only place in Africa where the rarest of rhinos, the Northern White, are being kept after four of a total of eight were sent to Kenya by the Czech government – the remaining four are thought to be too old to breed already – and efforts are underway to preserve the species by having the animals reproduce, either outright or via their Southern White ‘cousins’. All wild populations of the Northern White, the last thought to have been resident at the Garamba National Park in Eastern Congo, have been poached to extinction as no evidence of sightings from the air or on the ground have been found for several years now. There are presently about 100 Eastern Black, Southern White and the four Northern White rhinos on Ol Pejeta besides plenty of other game, including elephant, buffalo, giraffes, plains game, the rare hybrid zebras ‘made’ between the much rarer Grevy’s Zebras and the more commonly found ‘Burchell’s Zebra’ only found in this ‘boundary’ area between Northern and Central Kenya. A dedicated chimpanzee sanctuary is located on Ol Pejeta too, offering sightings of these predators in the wild, which however are not generally found in Kenya making this again a unique place to watch them. Predators like lions, leopard, cheetah, hyenas, foxes and others too are found in plenty, and the cattle are protected overnight by traditional ‘boma’ methods.
The Ol Pejeta rangers have been and continue to be on high alert and the four Northern White rhinos are protected like Fort Knox, but owing to the very large size of the conservancy, sprawling over tens of thousands of acres, it is possible, as the recent poaching cases show, that well organized intruders with vehicle and communications back up, can get it, do their bloody work and get away again.
Ol Pejeta, visible via www.olpejetaconservancy.org has only yesterday sent out a series of tweets highlighting the loss of one of the conservancy’s most favourite rhinos, and they can be followed on Twitter too of course via @OlPejeta – meanwhile though, Ol Pejeta remains one of the ‘must see’ conservancies within easy reach of Nairobi. Ol Pejeta can be accessed by road within a few hours from the capital city, and is connected by air through the Nanyuki airfield but also their own airstrip on the conservancy, which is being used by some of the airlines flying tourists from Wilson Airport. With the backdrop of Mt. Kenya making for the scenic side of things, the presence of self catering accommodation, camp sites and safari lodge / camps Ol Pejeta offers an all round appeal to tourists from overseas and from Kenya and the wider East Africa overall. And with the big five all found on the conservancy, this IS the place to go if time is short and but the interest for a safari is keen. Ol Pejeta comes highly recommended, from personal experience by this correspondent and is worth not just a visit but ought to be given consideration too for conservation donations to maintain the level of work they are doing.
KISUMU INTERNATIONAL – FINALLY
Construction on the expanded runway, taxiway and apron is gradually nearing completion at the Kisumu airport, after the terminal building and other facilities had been upgraded and expanded before already.
The ‘new’ Kisumu airport, which on the occasion of ‘inaugurating’ it by the end of July is expected to be named a new international airport, will then have runway of 3.3 kilometres length, capable for the landing and takeoff by all wide bodied aircraft presently in use. Passenger throughput capacity has been raised to as many as 700 per hour, although that is not expected to be fully utilized until a much later stage.
Presently the airport is served by daily jet and turboprop flights from Nairobi and airlines like Kenya Airways, Fly 540 and Jetlink, amongst others, offer a choice of connections spread across the day to suit business and leisure travelers.
After Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport in Nairobi, Moi International Airport in Mombasa, Malindi and Eldoret, Kisumu’s importance as an aviation gateway has significantly increased in recent years, taking the airport to number three amongst the ‘main’ airports, i.e. after Nairobi and Mombasa, with Wilson Airport, due to its special status for general aviation as well as ‘safari flights’ being in a different league altogether. Watch this space for the announcement later in July, that the ‘tape’ was officially cut, making ‘Kisumu International’ finally a reality.
JUMBOS BREAK FENCES, ESCAPE PARKS IN SEARCH OF WATER AND FOOD
News emerged overnight from Kenya that several ‘jumbo hotspots’ were giving the Kenya Wildlife Service headaches, of how to contain elephants which in search of food and water are leaving reserves and parks, causing havoc for nearby villages.
Reports from Kwale, near the Shimba Hills National Park, speak of broken fences, brought down by elephant groups driven by instincts developed over time immemorial, seeking other food and water sources when they cannot find sustenance within the reserve itself, while near Voi, Tsavo East National Park, homesteads were destroyed by marauding elephant also seeking food as drought once again strikes.
Only weeks ago did several hundred elephant break out of Tsavo West and had to be driven back into the park by a combined ground force of KWS and the use of helicopters overhead, while in other reserves under KWS management the animals required water and food to keep them ‘inside’ and avoid yet greater human – wildlife conflict.
Growing human populations combine with shrinking wildlife habitat, and when the traditional migration routes are then cut off by fenced farms and residential developments like between the Nairobi National Park and the Athi plains, or between Northern Kenya’s wildlife areas, the Laikipia plains, Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares’, the problems become all too real and all too pressing.
Under current law KWS must compensate, as must incidentally other wildlife management bodies across the entire East African region, farmers for loss of crops, other damages to homesteads and for injuries and loss of life, but unless solutions are found to preserve the region’s rich wildlife heritage, a cornerstone for the tourism industry, and address the human population explosion, these problems are only bound to escalate.
KENYA ASKS FOR PAN AFRICAN SUPPORT IN ANTI POACHING EFFORTS
Only days before several tons of ivory will be burned in a symbolic gesture by the Kenyan government, seen as an act of defiance but also a signal to other African countries to intensify their own campaign against poaching, did the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force invite accredited diplomats from fellow African nations. The diplomats were given an overview of the challenges the Lusaka Agreement Task Force was faced with to reduce poaching, on an Africa wide scale, or bring it to a halt, when having to deal with multiple jurisdictions as is the case in cross border poaching and ivory smuggling.
In East Africa, measures to combat poaching and smuggling showed encouraging results with dozens of arrests at airports, seaports and following often transboundary anti poaching operations by security organs. Yet, the legal system appears ill equipped to deal with culprits netted, when often they are out on bail or pay the fines current laws provide for only to resume their activities.
Travelers netted for instance at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, often found carrying blood ivory from third countries in their baggage when transiting in Nairobi, are habitually fined, the ivory is confiscated and then they are on their way home as if nothing happened, leaving however dead elephant and rhinos behind in Africa, where tourism gets increasingly impacted upon by poaching.
There is broadening agreement amongst conservationists, tourism stakeholders and others that African governments need to increase the deterrent against poaching by introducing fines which would financially cripple those involved in poaching and the illegal trade but also add appropriate sentences of not less than 10 years in prison, and where possible with hard labour and strokes of the cane, putting poaching at par with other economic crimes like money laundering and economic sabotage.
That however is not enough, experts have claimed, and as advocated regularly here, ‘consumer nations’ like China – first and foremost – and other South and Far Eastern countries, need to join the band wagon to make importation, possession and processing of blood ivory, rhino horns and other wildlife products like bones and skins a serious criminal offense, carrying hugely deterrent sentences. Only a concerted global effort, where CITES member countries also finally drop their demands for ‘exemptions’ to sell ivory stocks and follow Kenya’s example to burn ivory to take it off the market for good, will ultimately determine if the fight against poaching in Africa can be won, and the tourism sectors in Eastern and Southern Africa be sustained in the long run by preserving their most precious resource – wildlife, on its feet in the wild. Watch this space as the countdown continues to Kenya’s second historic ivory burning ceremony.
DUAL CARRIAGE ROADS TO DE-CONGEST NAIROBI
As the ‘Eastern and Northern’ by passes around the city of Nairobi are showing signs of advanced construction, with sections of the new highways already completed by the contractors, the ‘Southern By Pass’ has received fresh impetus according to Nairobi based sources, after China offered to provide the bulk of the funds for the planning and construction of what will then effectively become a ‘ring highway’ around the city. Heavy traffic destined for towns beyond Nairobi or even the African hinterland nations of Uganda, Rwanda, Congo and South Sudan congests the main Uhuru Highway considerably, making commutes into the city during rush hour a nervy affair, and the business community has welcomed the news of available finance with some degree of enthusiasm. Construction along the main highway from the city to Athi River and Mombasa is also making progress while the highway to Thika too has advanced considerably.
In the process of discussing the road network in Kenya it was also learned that another suburbian dual carriage road is to be constructed between the suburb of Karen towards the Ngong Road leading out of the city centre while the other direction between Wilson Airport, the national park main entrance and the Bomas of Kenya too will be upgraded to dual carriage specs. Traffic along these roads, which connect the city centre with the outer suburbs and then leads on to other areas in the periphery of the capital, is also eternally congested and in urgent need of roads and modern intersections which can facilitate the growing traffic in and out of Kenya’s and East Africa’s main city.
Conservation sources however have already signaled objections to running the Southern By Pass in too close a proximity to the Nairobi National Park, fearing it might cut off the last remaining migration routes for animals in and out of the park from the Athi Plains, an issue which will require consultations and mitigative measures to avoid ‘starving’ the park of new DNA input.
Meanwhile it was also pointed out the public transportation in Nairobi needs revamping and that in particular rail options need to be explored further, as are regular affordably bus services, to reduce the use of private vehicles during the daily commutes. Watch this space.
ELEMENTAITA SERENA OFFICIALLY OPENED, NAIROBI SERENA TO GET EXPANDED
Serena’s latest addition to their growing collection in East Africa, the Soysambu based Elementaita Serena on the shores of Lake Elementaita, was yesterday officially opened by the Minister of Tourism Hon. Najib Balala in the presence of His Highness Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Serena’s Group Managing Director Mahmud Jan Mohamed and other officials.
The 24 tent development closes a gap for Serena in their safari circuit, connecting the Mara Serena Lodge with their Samburu Serena Lodge, or for that matter Sweetwaters Camp or the Mountain Lodge. Safari itineraries prefer a stopover along the Rift Valley lakes when either heading to or coming from the Masai Mara Game Reserve and the absence of a Serena property along the lakes had left that market to the competition, until now that is.
Since the property was already reviewed a few weeks ago here, the topic can move to the Nairobi Serena flagship hotel of the group in Kenya, which is due for a major upgrade and expansion.
Starting later this year the hotel will see another 60 room wing added in one section of the present ‘upper’ car park, while the present hotel is due to get another floor added on top, before eventually, on a ‘wing by wing’ basis, turning three present rooms into two, similar to the ‘Garden Suites’, giving the faithful Serena guests a truly luxury environment to stay in.
It was also revealed during the opening of the Elementaita Serena that the car park opposite the hotel will in another phase of expansion be turned into a dedicated 300 seat conference centre with an underground car park, adding another much in demand facility to the Nairobi Serena to cement its leading market position.
In a related development it was also learned that construction on a new lodge in Rwanda, on a site near the Parc de Volcanoes, is also due to commence soon, adding a third Serena property after the Kigali Serena Hotel and the Lake Kivu Serena Resort. Watch this space for upcoming further announcements.
REVENGE KILLINGS OF ELEPHANT SHOCK KENYA
News emerged just now from conservation sources in Nairobi that members of a gang of poachers, allegedly led by one Adan Kanjur, inflicted cruel death on a family of 5 elephant south of Kora National Park in the wider Meru Conservation Area recently, although details were only now becoming public knowledge. Kanjur and other accomplices, who were arrested by Kenyan security, were held on charges of poaching when his alleged gang members still at large went on an elephant killing spree in apparent revenge over their ‘leader’s’ arrest to put pressure on the authorities to release him on bond.
Kenyans were further shocked when it emerged that subsequently, for a bond of only Kenya Shillings 150.000 Kanjur was released, pending trial, causing outrage against not just the alleged culprits – alleged until proven guilty in a competent court of law – but also against the judiciary which according to one truly angry individual ‘are in cahoots with the poachers whom they should keep in custody instead of releasing them back to do more poaching as has often been witnessed of late’.
Conservationists in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the wider region have repeatedly demanded that parliaments stiffen he laws and inflict very heavy fines on those found poaching or those found financing the crimes and then facilitating the exportation of blood ivory and rhino horns, while making sentences of at least 10 years in prison with hard labour the rule, magistrates and judges must apply when sentencing those found guilty. The local Kenyan media will most likely begin to report on the issue in Thursday’s editions, causing yet more outrage amongst conservationists and the tourism fraternity who are expected to then exert maximum pressure on their respective members of parliament to bring amendments to the house for the respective laws on poaching, ivory smuggling and related offenses. Watch this space as this latest poaching saga evolves in Kenya.
SOUTH COAST ‘BY PASS’ ON TRACK
Sources from Mombasa have dismissed suggestions that the latest round of consultations between Japanese experts – Japan, inspite of her problems at home following a devastating series of earthquakes and a hugely destructive tsunami, is financing the project with grants and loans – and local counterparts were not a factor for delays of the project but in fact needed to fast track the construction of the 10+ mile long stretch of bridges and causeways. The new road development will link the Moi International Airport in Mombasa, and the main Nairobi to Mombasa highway to the coastline south of Mombasa by road, avoiding the current drive through the city of Mombasa and having to use the unreliable ferries at Likoni, often the cause of major delays for commuters, business people and tourists alike.
The ‘by pass’ has been under debate for decades but was never seriously tackled by previous governments until the increased clout of the private sector and the recognition that tourism at the coast line south of Mombasa would boom as a result of the new road and bridge link, finally brought government on board. Alongside the road it is expected that new residential estates will spring up as will a planned Free Trade Zone, adding yet more value to the expected benefits the project will bring to the Kenyan economy. Watch this space for the announcements on tenders and construction start.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE COMMITTEE ‘AN INSIGNIFICANT ENTITY’
The utterances of politicians in East Africa are legendary and legion, but the Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Ezekiel Maige outdid himself when calling the UNESCO World Heritage Committee an ‘insignificant entity from which we (meaning the megalomaniac us as in I) cannot take orders’.
Maige was quoted in Tanzanian media following calls to his office making enquiries over a range of issues related to Tanzania’s clouded relationship with UNESCO, over a range of World Heritage Sites like the Serengeti, the Selous Game Reserve and the abrupt withdrawal of an application for recognition for the Eastern Arc Mountains and their forests, now thought to be the target for economic rape and plunder.
Other countries, like the Seychelles, are keen to see more sites recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites to promote greater global visibility, while Kenya recently celebrated the inclusion of Fort Jesus in Mombasa and of the alkaline Rift Valley Lakes of Elementaita, Nakuru and Bogoria as a major event, helping them in the promotion of tourism. Not so in Tanzania it seems. While bemoaning the lack of equal success in having tourists come to Tanzania as compared to say South Africa or even neighbouring Kenya, in regard of the latter often rooted in sheer envy and long inbred sentiments continuously promoted by self seeking politicians aiming to detract from their own abysmal performance records, such slaps in the face of globally recognized institutions tasked by the UN to promote the recognition of culture and history, are only bound to raise yet more questions of competence and commitment to the promotion of tourism, which indeed could be an engine of economic growth in Tanzania.
Other sources literally accused the Tanzanian government of lying in regard of the planned uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve, pointing at the nonchalant comments made by the same minister in regard of dangers of uranium mining and the remaining deposits of mining aggregates left on site, which in other countries continue to dog administrations for decades now of how to deal with the fallout and clean up he environment. The same sources pointed out that no environmental impact assessment was in place by any internationally recognized institution or organization about the dangers of mining for this hugely radioactive material inside the game reserve, nor for the need of an access road network to the mining site, the establishment of workers camps and installation of machinery and plants nor its social impact on communities living near the site, or vis a vis increased poaching of game.
Finally, contradicting the minister earlier statement that UNESCO had ‘agreed’, has UNESCO issued a statement at the end of June following the latest committee session, that Tanzania’s World Heritage Sites may yet be declared as ‘in danger’ should any developments go ahead without observing all required regulations first.
And it is the designation of ‘in danger’ or the loss of the UNESCO World Heritage Site stamp of approval Tanzania’s tourism industry should be concerned about, as it would indeed throw the spanners into the proverbial works when it comes to successfully promoting the country as a safari destination with an environmental consciences. Watch this space.
WILD DOG PROJECT GETS VODACOM SUPPORT
Vodacom, one of Tanzania’s leading mobile telecom companies, has pledged to support a wild dog, aka hunting or painted dog conservation project in the Serengeti National Park, following reports that an increasing number of these increasingly rare animals have been poisoned by cattle herders.
It is the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute which is responsible for the rollout of the project, aimed to restore hunting dog population numbers and ensure that these animals are receiving veterinary care when needed, as besides poaching disease has been another factor for the rapid disappearance of the species.
Vodacom has pledged as much as 450.000 US Dollars in support of the project over the next three years and this level of funding has been hailed as a major breakthrough in the country’s leading private sector companies getting involved in wildlife conservation through reputable organizations.
The project was launched over the weekend, in the presence of the Vodacom Tanzania Chief Executive Mr. D. Mare, by the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Hon. Ezekiel Maige.
VILLAGE RANGERS TO BOOST ANTI POACHING
64 ‘village rangers’ were passed out over the weekend in Northern Tanzania’s Longido district after undergoing training in various subject, including anti poaching patrols.
Paid for in full by the Honey Guide Foundation, details about which can be accessed via www.honeyguide.org the rangers will be deployed immediately to cut down on what has been described as wide spread poaching in the area, which borders Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park and Arusha National Park on the Tanzanian side of the border with Kenya and Amboseli National Park on the other side of the border. Kenyan observers of the event however dismissed blanket accusations that ‘illegal aliens’ – often a term used for citizens of the neighbouring country by Tanzanian officials – were to blame entirely for this trend, as poaching was ‘not limited to Kenyans alleged to cross illegally into Tanzania but is carried out by citizens of that country too’.
The Honey Guide Foundation has donated two vehicles to the group to enhance mobility but in addition also gave other equipment including tracker dogs, rifles and ammunition to allow the 64 newly graduated rangers to immediately tackle these problems. Thanks to the Honey Guide Foundation for their remarkable efforts and engagement with local communities.
RWANDA EYES GEOTHERMAL ‘CLEAN AND GREEN’ ENERGY SOURCES
Rising energy costs through the use of thermal electricity plants using heavy fuel oil or diesel have brought plans back to tap into geo-thermal sources in Rwanda to produce affordable power.
Details published in Kigali yesterday speak of up to 30 MW of initial geo-thermal electricity potential, arguably expandable in the future, which the country intends to tap into.
Interesting enough the site selected is Mt. Karisimbi, one of the 5 major volcanic mountains in the West of the country bordering the Congo DR, which is also part of the Parc de Volcanoes where the rare mountain gorillas are located. Three ‘wells’ are to be drilled at a cost of over 6 million US Dollars each although it is not yet clear to what extent environmental impact studies have been carried out at this stage and if power lines and other installations will impact on the tourism activities at that particular site, something to be established in coming days and weeks.
Another new plant, due to use methan gas from the depth of Mt. Kivu, and due to generate up to 100 MW when in full production, has reportedly been delayed, leaving Rwanda with a critical electricity production shortfall at peak times, something seen across the entire East African region at present. Watch this space for updates on these developments, as and when available.
RWANDA’S RE-FORESTATION GATHERS MOMENTUM
Efforts to increase forest cover to 30 percent of Rwanda by 2020 have gathered momentum with a broad based forestry workshop taking place in Kigali from today. 2011 is the United Nation’s ‘Year of the Forests’ and Rwanda has taken the lead in the region to commit to major forest restoration where necessary and forest protection of existing forests. The Global Environment Facility has added a further 6 million US Dollars to the various Rwandan programmes already underway or about to start, creating community awareness and participation in the setting up of tree nurseries and planting of indigenous species. As many as six areas across Rwanda have been designated for re-forestation over the next several years according to a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Rwanda government, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in short IUCN, and the UN’s Forum on Forests.
Rwanda, again leading in conservation where others ponder and fail.
BUGESERA AIRPORT DESIGN AND CONSULTANTS REPORT DUE OUT NEXT MONTH
Information was received overnight from Kigali confirming that the long awaited consultants’ report about the design proposals for the new international airport ‘Bugesera’ will be published next month, allowing stakeholders and the public at large to study it in detail.
Rwanda is presently connected to the world via Kanombe International Airport in Kigali but it was felt that a second, state of the art international airport would be crucial to the country’s future economic and social development.
The time frame for the development of the new aviation hub is still unclear although government has let it be known that once the various reports on detailed designs for the new airport have been broadly agreed upon, it would invite private sector developers to come on board and help achieve this project.
Kanombe International Airport is also the home base for RwandAir, one of the fastest growing ‘smaller’ airlines in the region. RwandAir is due to receive a brand new Boeing 737-800 in a few weeks time and a second one later in the year, allowing it further expansion and more flights into the nearer and wider East African region. Visit www.rwandair.com for more information.
NYUNGWE FOREST, VIEWS FROM ABOVE AND FROM BELOW
If ever I have entered an enchanted forest, where I expected to momentarily see elves and hobbits emerge from behind these huge moss covered trees, or where I would run into these legendary shepards of the trees, it would be Nyungwe. I have of course no idea if Prof. J.R.R. Tolkien ever was in Nyungwe or even heard of it, but his narratives in the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, of the Great Forest and others our heroes had to troop through, this comes the closest, including seeing giant spider webs.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see this magnificent forest, courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism & Conservation and of Nyungwe Forest Lodge, and while I had read up, extensively as I do when I prepare for travel on assignment, nothing had truly prepared me for the reality of it.
Steady driving from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, takes one about 3 ½ hours, though it is advisable to make stops enroute, for instance to visit the main national museum in Huye, formerly Butare, which contains a wide variety of cultural, historical and other important collections and artifacts from present day as well as the days of the Rwanda Kingdom. Butare used to be the administrative capital during the colonial days but has until now retained its charm and attraction as the ‘cultural capital’ of Rwanda, underscored through the presence of the National University which is based and headquartered here.
The road from Kigali to Butare is scenic and in first class shape, allowing for good progress to be made. Leaving Kigali in the early morning will allow for sufficient time to stop at the museum and take a guided tour, and thereafter having a late lunch in Butare before driving on towards Nyungwe Forest National Park.
On this stretch the road is gradually getting worse, probably as most visitors would expect, but it is due to be completely re-carpeted as of next year, which then makes the drive to this magical park the proverbial walk in the park.
The best time to arrive at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, in my humble opinion, is in the late afternoon, right in time for tea, which allows for a gradual settling in, getting to the cottage without a rush, unpacking the cases, sitting on the balcony and listening to the bird song or else get acquainted with the location by taking a walk across the extensive tea plantation into which Nyungwe Forest Lodge was ‘embedded’.
With 24 rooms and one very posh VIP cottage, the lodge is small enough to be ‘private’ and yet large enough to travel with a couple of friends just as keen as seeing this gem of a forest national park.
So what are Nyungwe’s main features you may ask. Well, let’s start with the fauna found in the park and adjoining buffer areas: records kept by RDB from the ‘old’ ORTPN days show that there are 13 species of primates including as many as 500 documented chimpanzees, 75 different mammal species, over 270 species of birds including at about 25 endemics, complemented by what experts say hundreds of different butterflies. Moving on to the flora of the park, the records are equally impressive: over 250 types of different trees, countless shrubs and flowering plants including yet to be fully explored medicinal plants, and standing out from them are the giant lobelias found deep in the forest, as if sprung from prehistoric times. Most of the giant tropical trees are ‘home’ to symbiotic plants, ferns, mosses and most notably orchids in all shapes, sizes and colours, making ever stop to gaze at this giants of the forest different, as the guide from the park office continues his expert explanations. And not to forget the smallest ‘things’, insects, never fully catalogued so no detailed numbers were available from the park head quarters, which add to the variety of life forms found in the forest.
Elevations reach from a ‘low’ level of around 1.600 metres to as high as Mt. Bigugu’s peaks which stands 2.925 metres above sea level and constitutes the highest point anywhere in the national park. The regular rainfall, just short of 2.000 mm per annum, contributes to the unique and varied biodiversity across the 1.000 square kilometres of forest which researchers from around the world travel to see and explore.
That does not mean though that ‘ordinary’ tourists are less welcome, to the contrary in fact. RDB – Tourism and Conservation has established a series of activities, guided walks and day long hikes which are available to those very fit, moderately fit and rather not fit at all.
The guided walk for instance to the Colobus monkey colony nearest to the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, while taking off from the visitor reception centre at the edge of the park in the direction of Cyangugu, often ends within sight of the lodge and can be done, with great ease apart from some steepish climbs down and up, by just about anyone. Some of the walks to the chimpanzees and the ‘midsized’ hikes through the forest, maybe a little more challenging but guides are happy to slow the pace down to suit the clientele. While some of the walks and hikes are dedicated to see either birds or primates or orchids or butterflies, the guides at both starting points are able to discuss which one of the walks or hikes suits a visitor best, and her or his fitness levels, while other hikes can cover a wider range of sightings over a more extended period of time, up to 8 hours for the longest of the day trips.
MORE DELAYS ON B787 DELIVERY
The ‘Dreamliner turned Nightmare’ scenario seems to continue unabated, as Boeing had to admit to yet another delay, this one caused by the need to re-engineer sections of the aircraft already under assembly as a result of findings from a series of test flights carried out until now.
Ethiopian Airlines, which expected the first of their long overdue B787’s before the end of 2011, may now have to wait a further three months into early 2012 before the first aircraft will be delivered to them, and other airlines too are bracing themselves for added waiting periods. It is understood that the aircraft already out of the assembly line are all being worked on one after the other but at a slower pace than foreseen, wrecking yet another timeline Boeing had given to impatient operators, many of which can’t wait to retire or sell off their existing Boeing long haul aircraft like the B 767, which have become simply too expensive to maintain and operate in comparison with competing Airbus models and in particular the B 787.
It is not clear entirely what happened in regard of additional work now required to get the assembled planes to delivery status, but Boeing seems to have notified, according to a US based aviation source, their suppliers for the B 787 parts, to halt delivery for the time being while these re-engineering issues are being resolved.
A source from Addis Ababa expressed regret over the additional delay but was confident that ‘this is surely the last postponement we are now told about’ and that all ordered aircraft of this type would be delivered from 2012 onwards as planned. Watch this space for the most uptodate aviation news from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region.
South Sudan News
SOUTH SUDAN LIAISON OFFICES UPGRADE TO EMBASSIES
The former liaison offices of the South Sudan have been turned into fully fledged embassies only days after the South attained the long awaited independence from the regime in Khartoum, and several ambassadors were already appointed across East Africa.
Now that the United Nations have formally admitted the Republic of South Sudan as its 193rd member country, the government in Juba is stepping up efforts to have its own foreign diplomatic missions put into place while the world is rushing to Juba to open their own embassies, to promote bilateral relations and in particular trade.
Sources close to the tourism ministry in Juba have also confirmed that the entire Visa and arrival / post arrival protocol is being reviewed in coming weeks and months, to establish mechanisms to eventually grant Visa on arrival, instead of having to pre-obtain Visa in advance, which is seen as a deterrent to promoting the flow of visitors.
Also under review is the old archaic regulation of having to register with internal security after being cleared at the airport, a rule imposed by the former regime in Khartoum which was paranoid about controlling the movement of visitors, not just in the North but also in the South. ‘We know this is a bit of a problem for tourists’ the source on condition of anonymity said before adding ‘when tourists fly to Juba and want to fly immediately to our parks, like to Boma, then there is no time to go to the city and follow such old fashioned rules. They need to be able to fly to the parks, have a good safari and then fly back to Juba airport for their departure. This we must facilitate if we want more tourists to come here. We are soon going to start work on streamlining such issues’.
Potential visitors should consult the nearest embassy of the Republic of South Sudan to ascertain what exactly will be required at this moment in time or else consult with their respective safari operators to avoid disappointment.
ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES NAMED ‘OFFICIAL INDEPENDENCE CARRIER’
The government of the Republic of South Sudan has recognized Ethiopian Airlines as the ‘Official Carrier for South Sudan’s Independence Celebrations’ in a statement released yesterday. ET, now operating flights not just to Juba but also to the city of Malakal, brought well over 1.000 VIP’s and other passengers to Juba in a series of charter flights, besides the regular daily scheduled flight to South Sudan’s capital city. It is understood that it was also Ethiopian which assisted with ground support at Juba’s international airport, allowing them to cater for the extraordinary level of flights coming to and leaving Juba over the Independence weekend on 09th of July, a measure of cooperation clearly valued by the South Sudanese authorities and now suitably rewarded. Well done Ethiopian for that very special effort!
NEXT TO BE FREE: ABYEI, SOUTH KORDOFAN, BLUE NILE AND DARFUR
Khartoum’s regime leader, fresh from the humiliation of losing a major chunk of his country following his failed policies of war, oppression and disenfranchising the Southern African people, is busy to divert attention back home by beating the war drums again.
No sooner had ICC wanted alleged war criminal Bashir set foot back home in his lair, did he set out to warn the new Republic of South Sudan to stay clear of the disputed states of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile unless they wanted to risk a resumption of war with his regime.
As is often the case with weakened dictators, Idi Amin being a prime example, they then lash out to create foreign adventures to keep those snapping at their heels at bay, and Bashir now stands accused as accursed by his own hardline followers of leading the united Sudan into a break up, losing their most prized possession, the oil, an accusation only second to having lost the liberation war and being forced into the CPA of 2006 against his will.
The past years, leading up to independence, were marked by Khartoum cheating on oil receipts, denying the South any meaningful investment in infrastructure when sharing out the national cake but rather engaged in overt and covert support for proxy militias, based in the Southern territories but notably also allegedly continuing their support for fellow ICC fugitive Joseph Kony, now based in either the Central African Republic or the Congo DR.
It was clear that within a year of the CPA being signed Khartoum had no interest in making any meaningful overtures to the semi autonomous region of Southern Sudan then, which could have convinced the people that indeed the proverbial leopard had changed spots, but here as otherwise, it did not and education, health and infrastructure projects were concentrated in the North, leaving the Southern region out in the development cold. Hence, when the referendum came, nearly 99 percent of those who voted opted for independence, certain in their knowledge that continuing unity would relegate them forever into the third class of citizens, condemned into lasting oppression and all for being true Africans.
Last Saturday therefore Bashir, in front of the world’s cameras and shunned by Western delegations, had to eat his final piece of Southern humblepie, when he stood next to the newly installed and now fellow president Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit, and had to listen with a stony face to ‘we shall forgive but we shall not forget’.
The writing is now on the wall for Bashir, hampered by an ICC arrest warrant in his global movements and ability to represent his country abroad, that sooner or later he will be pushed out of office, the circumstances to be determined by his level of resistance, and the only question then will be if the new guys will be even greater warmongers or else in a departure from hostility truly try to reach cordial if not friendly relations with South Sudan, and let go of those wanting to go like the people in Abyei, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. Time will tell, so keep watching this space.
MAURITIUS RESORT INSTALLS OWN DESALINATION PLANT
The Trou aux Biches Resort and Spa on Mauritius is in the process of installing its own desalination plant, as renovations and expansion of the resort is ongoing. The new plant is due to produce some 450 CM per day, against an estimated use of about 600 CM per day, but according to sources this will still reduce by half the water coming from the ‘pipes’ from the island’s main water company, reducing pressure on the supply of the precious liquid, made difficult by prevailing drought conditions.
Tourist however, lured to the island by glossy brochures and inventive marketing, are not happy about water shortages, a reason why the resort’s owners decided to invest in their own desalination installation. Websites like TripAdvisor and others are giving tourists an instant outlet to voice complaints in the global arena, and hotels and resorts are loath to read about their shortcomings, even when true, as it can cause substantial damage to their reputation and lead to falling demand, when the ‘grade averages’ shown on TripAdvisor and other sites are trending downwards. Not it appears at the Trou aux Biches though, where their need for fresh water is taken care of from later this year onwards ‘in house’.
HELICOPTER SEYCHELLES SPLITS WITH ZIL, BRINGS BACK AUGUSTA 109
While all parties concerned are keeping their own counsel and are at this stage not going on record over the reasons for the failed merger between Helicopter Seychelles and Zil Air, the fact remains that the merger attempt, reported here when it went underway, had not taken roots and the owners and shareholders of both companies in the end thought the better of it and went their own ways again.
Helicopter Seychelles promptly brought back their flagship heli, an Augusta 109, able to carry up to 7 passengers with one pilot of 6 passengers where two pilots are demanded for. The night-vision enabled helicopter is the only civilian rotor craft presently available in the Seychelles for flying after dark. A second Augusta is according to company sources expected later in the year while two other smaller helicopters are already available for flying.
It is understood though that Helicopter Seychelles is still waiting for approval of their AOC application pending before the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority to be able to resume commercial operations, since the air operators certification normally lapses when operations cease for longer than 90 days or the certification has been returned, as was the case following the merger attempt with Zil Air.
Unlike Zil, which just imported a Partenavia fixed wing aircraft, Helicopter Seychelles is reportedly ‘sticking’ to rotor craft operations to serve the entire archipelago with scenic flights, sightseeing flights, transfers to such resorts and islands with a helipad and medical evacuations. Happy Landings.
SOMALIS SENTENCED TO 24 YEARS IN PRISON
6 Somali ocean terrorists were yesterday ‘sent down’ for 24 years for their participation in seajacking a Seychelles fishing vessel, taking Seychellois citizens hostage and attempting to sail the ship to Somalia.
The verdict was extra heavy as they then attempted to attack a Seychelles Coast Guard vessel which was in hot pursuit, but when the determined navy personnel returned fire the pirates gave up and surrendered.
The incident happened in April this year and while the rescued Seychellois received a hero’s welcome alongside the crew of the coastguard ship, the Somalis were taken to court, charged and sentenced.
It is likely that under a current agreement between the Seychelles and Somali authorities they will serve much of their sentence in Somali prisons, as they are expected to be extradited soon to their homeland.
The Seychelles have shown a hardline against ocean terror, as it is a clear and present danger to their national security and impacts on tourism and trade, and have on several past occasions used appropriate force to rescue ships abducted in their national waters. International cooperation has strengthened the archipelago’s ability to hunt down ocean terrorists, as surveillance by additional aircraft – gifted to the Seychelles by India and China – has given the authorities added information as to the locations of pirate ‘motherships’ and skiffs. Navy vessels too were donated to the country by the United Arab Emirates and India while the UAE has also built a brand new naval base and equipped the islands with radar and satellite monitoring, which will spot and prevent any likely approach by ocean terrorists. Well done once again Seychelles, keep it up.
ZIL AIR TAKES DELIVERY OF FIRST EVER FIXED WING AIRCRAFT
Yesterday Zil Air of Seychelles, previously a company known for helicopter operations, broke new ground when taking delivery at Mahe International Airport of their first fixed wing aircraft, an Italian built P68C Vulcanair. The twin engined Partenavia will offer 5 passenger seats and increased comfort for those on board through reclining chairs, while the pilot will have state of the art avionics at his or her disposal, allowing for ‘domestic’ charters to islands even with short airstrips, as landing and takeoff only require between 400 and 600 metres respectively, considering maximum takeoff and landing weights.
A superior range also permits the aircraft to be used for flights to the outer islands without the need to refuel en route. The aircraft is expected to go into full commercial service within the next few weeks.
Congratulations to Zil Air and happy landings to the new bird, its crews and passengers.
PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS COMING UP IN 90 DAYS
President Michel’s party LEPEP gained a crucial victory in parliament yesterday, when they managed to attain a two third majority in two important rounds of voting. Each time a senior member of the SNP opposition crossed the floor and voted with the ruling party, providing the all important 23rd vote required.
First on the floor was the vote for a constitutional amendment, amongst other issues seeking to establish the office of an electoral commission comprising 5 members, which will now replace the position of a sole Electoral Commissioner. The opposition, needless to say opposed to this move inspite of demanding changes in the set up of election supervisions themselves, but lost their bid to halt the amendment when one of their members voted against party lines. This reportedly prompted an immediate letter from the outgoing leader of the opposition to the Speaker to replace her, only to be denied on procedural grounds.
With this vital amendment then passed, which incidentally was also a pending request from development partners and a recommendation of the election monitoring mission during the last Presidential Election held in May, parliament then moved on to vote on its own dissolution. This proposal, also requiring a 2/3 majority, passed when the same SNP member then crossed party lines again, defying her SNP leadership a second time in a day and giving the party LEPEP victory.
Parliament in Victoria, actually called the National Assembly, now stands dismissed as of today and elections will be held within 90 days of 14th July 2011, i.e. within three months. It is expected that the ruling party will campaign on their economic success story and the law and order agenda of President Michel, amongst other key issues, which he announced only recently after his resounding win in the end May presidential elections.
As was the case with the Presidential campaign however, the run up to voting and the campaigning is expected to have NIL impact on the archipelago’s tourism industry as the process is largely considered a peaceful affair, where the once sharp political divisions of the past have long since been overcome by the inclusive and conciliatory leadership style of President Michel. This has become all the more so since commencing his economic reforms and empowerment programmes for Seychellois citizens which is reaching across the old traditional party lines. Expect the announcement of the actual campaign period and election days here as and when respective announcements are made in Victoria by competent authorities.
AND in closing today, last week I dispatched early and missed Gill’s The Livingstone Weekly’ by a couple of hours, some more interesting material from ‘further down South’ …
Elections have to be announced soon
Many discussions during the week were about the forthcoming elections. We still do not have a date yet and time is running short as we are, I am told, required to have elections before the end of September. In Zambia we have what are called tripartite elections – we do them all at once – President, members of Parliament and Local Councillors. It is a major undertaking but it is cost-effective. Zambia has vast rural areas where access is difficult and expensive. To collect all the ballot papers is a mammoth task.
I am not a political person. I have stopped listening to the Zambian news because it is all about the ruling party and what they have achieved. I have stopped buying the newspapers too. The government-owned papers tend to sing the praises of the government and the independent paper, The Post, mostly writes about politics and is in favour of the opposition.
It would be so nice to have a newspaper which discusses development. I know as a nation we love to talk politics but it achieves very little and, for me, it is a little boring.
Our elections in Zambia have always been peaceful. We talk incessantly about them, we go to the polls and wait anxiously for the results, but we rarely get violent … except, maybe, after a few too many beers …
Here is a comment from one tour operator:
We wish to advise that Zambian Authorities at LVI have introduced new security features that are impacting on the processing time for international arrivals and departures. These new features include finger print and passport scanning plus photographing of every passenger that comes through. We have been informed that on average it will take +/- 4 minutes to process each passenger. However we have already seen the impact of these new measures which are leading to congestion at the Arrivals & Departures halls and delayed transfers from LVI. There is a good probability that guests on scheduled transfers may be delayed waiting for others booked on the same vehicle that are delayed in the process. We will obviously take whatever measures we can to alleviate any delays however I strongly recommend that guests on scheduled transfer be advised that they may encounter delays on arrival and transferring to respective hotels.
Yesterday my son, Muftau, was flying out from the airport. When we arrived the line of passengers was to the door. National Airports officials were checking all the names on a list for each flight before passing them on to the next step to have their bags go through the scanner. At this point I left Muftau to go through to the flight check-in. One and a half hours later he phoned me to say that he had just finished all for formalities. After checking in with the airline he was then required to join the queue for Immigration. There was only one officer working. Muftau waited patiently. On reaching the desk he had his photo taken, but not fingerprints – Muftau thinks that the machine was not working.
I must say I am rather confused. Security is one thing, but this seems to be pushing our patience to the limit. If we have to have all this high-tech equipment, surely we have to make it a bit more efficient …
I am not even sure why we need it. We have children with no parents; we have people waiting for hours to see doctors at the hospital; we have roads full of potholes … the list goes on … why have we spent money on irritating tourists???
From the Lusaka Times
THE World Bank has said the launch of Zambia’s new tourism brand name and slogan ‘Let’s Explore’, will increase foreign currency earnings and make the country a preferred tourism destination.
My [headline story today] is of the Victoria Falls Bridge with some daft soul doing a bungee jump. I was asked to go and do the Bridge Tour so this is the story …
The Victoria Falls Bridge was alive with ‘youngsters’ who had come to bungee jump; to slide across the gorge or to swing on a cable. For the more sedate people, like myself, there is also something to do – a Bridge Story and Tour.
We were taken into the storytellers room covered with pictures of the construction of the bridge in 1904. There we found a man sitting at a desk drawing. The man was George Imbault, the engineer of the bridge … that was what he told us, anyway … the fact that he would have been about 150 years old, didn’t seem to matter.
George Imbault got up from his desk and told us the story of the bridge. It was most entertaining. He was quite an actor. And he got all his facts right and told us things I didn’t know.
After our story we were togged up in harnesses to go for a walk under the bridge. The harnesses are attached to straps and carabiner (metal clasp). These we were to use to attach ourselves to a rope as we walked along the pathway.
Crossing the railway line and road we took the steps down the side of the bridge, attaching our harnesses as we went. The footpath under the bridge is a metal grill and looking down between my feet I could see the water below. I felt a bit woozy, but I think the harness gave me a sense of security and it really wasn’t that bad.
Mr Imbault came with us on the walk too and continued his fascinating stories of the bridge. The most interesting bit was the explanation of the vibrations of the bridge as a truck or train passes along it. The four pillars which hold the bridge in position have bearings under them to allow for movement of the bridge. If they weren’t there, the bridge would soon crack and break.
Mr Imbault told us that the very last rivet to be used in the construction was made of gold. I looked for it amongst the thousands … but I didn’t see it.
We walked right across the bridge underneath and climbed up the ladder the other end. Wandering back across the bridge, this time on the road, we stopped to watch the ‘jumpers’ and ‘sliders’.
Back at the reception we took off our harnesses and then retired for a cool drink on the deck. The deck overlooks the gorge and the bridge and it a great spot for a couple of hours viewing. I watched a few bungees, swings and slides. A good afternoon’s entertainment.
Sun, Steel and Spray, by Peter Roberts
Sun, Steel and Spray is an excellent book on the Victoria Falls Bridge. It gives all the stories of its construction and tells the reader about the people who made it happen.
The photographs are amazing for those among us who love the old pictures. It is a must-have for any library.
From the Painted Dog Foundation
Project Update May /June 2011: Hopes and Expectations
May and June are possibly the two months of the year we look forward to the most. It’s denning season, and with that come the hopes and expectations of new life. Last year we were saddened by and disappointed for the Kutanga pack when the alpha female lost her pups. We had been following the pack daily throughout her pregnancy when she disappeared.
The rest of the pack hunted without her and demonstrated typical denning season behavior by heading straight back to the den after a successful hunt. We located the den site by tracking her collar with the help of the Hwange Lion Project plane. A few days later she was hunting with the pack and showed no signs of suckling pups or any interest in getting back to the den site. We were utterly dismayed. Greg, Jealous and Ester walked into the den site and confirmed that the dogs had indeed denned there but there was no sign of life.
That was 2010. We did not expect a repeat of this in 2011, however, exactly the same scenario played out. The alpha female, named Ester, was clearly pregnant and we were anticipating a new litter. However we were soon alarmed when she disappeared from the pack again, With the help of the Lion Project plane, we located her, some 15km west of our office, on the outskirts of the small town of Dete.
Not a great place to den! Our APU were mobilized into the area to sweep for snares and maintain a protective presence. We watched with great concern. I had seen her myself a few days earlier and though she was pregnant, I didn’t think she was close to giving birth. It was too early. Surely she had another two if not three weeks before she reached full term?
A couple of days later she was back with the rest of her pack and again showed no sign of suckling or interest in the den site. Greg walked in and confirmed that a den did exist but there was no sign of life.
It took us a while to internalize this devastating news. We had never experienced anything like this before and speculated over the possible reasons. Greg has established a “body index scoring” protocol, which allows him to measure the physical condition of any individual dog from photographs. We have our well-fed Ukusutha pack as the model of what a dog should look like.
The photographs of Ester showed that she was not in great physical shape and we speculated that she was not in good enough condition to carry the pregnancy through to full term. We have also consulted with veterinarians who have suggested that Ester may have a bacterial infection in her uterus. If this is the case then we have a plan for next year, if she manages to become pregnant again, which will entail treating her with specific antibiotics.
The news on the other four packs in the area is encouraging, and while we don’t know the exact location of their dens, sightings have provided us with enough information to be sure of the approximate location of the dens. So all in all it is an encouraging sign and we are eagerly awaiting sight of the pups themselves.
Mana Pools, our new study region in the north of Zimbabwe, is providing equal excitement and with the help of Professional Guide, Nick Murray, we have the location of two dens. One belongs to alpha female Tait, of the Vundu Pack. Happily her GPS collar, which was fitted in November 2010, is still providing excellent information about her movements and made locating her den quite straightforward. Nick confirmed this on the ground. The second pack, now named the Long Pool Pack, are also denned. This is a smaller pack of nine dogs and yet to be collared. I will however be traveling up to Mana Pools at the beginning of July with the intention of collaring this pack as well.
Beehive Fences Keep African Elephants Away From Crops
Source:Wired Science BY:Danielle Venton
The comeback of Kenya’s elephant population is a huge conservation success story, as well as a huge problem for the country’s farmers. But scientists have found a new ally in the struggle to keep elephants from trampling crops: honeybees. Like many animals, elephants are afraid of bees. So scientists recruited farmers in northern Kenya to test different types of barriers and found that fences made of beehives were far more effective than traditional thorn-bush fences at thwarting night-time elephant raids. “The farmers in the area are desperate for a solution,” said zoologist Lucy King of the University of Oxford, lead author of a study on beehive fences in the July 5 African Journal of Ecology. “They haven’t had much help from anyone else. They were very open-minded about this crazy idea.”
“[The elephants] are coming back into a world where there are so many more people,” King said. “They are finding buildings, roads, schools and farms across their normal migration routes.” And when elephants encounter farmland, crops get eaten and trampled, and the situation can turn deadly. Elephants often leave farms with spear and gunshot wounds. Each year a few dozen people and few dozen elephants die during nighttime raids. And so far, barriers built to protect farms have not been successful. The scientists and farmers built beehive fences to protect the cropland and found that the buzzing, stinging insects were very effective guards.
The beehive fences brought the farmers an added perk, extra income from honey sales. An average farmer in the area lives essentially hand-to-mouth on the equivalent of $20-30 a month. An extra $15-20 from honey every few months lets farmers make investment purchases, such as new clothes, or a large bag of maize or sugar. With a strong financial motivation, the farmers keep the fences well-maintained…