News from ‘Uganda – Gifted by Nature’, the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
First edition April 2010
AVIATION FUEL SHORTAGE NOW SPREADS TO PETROL
The shortages experienced with AVGAS in recent weeks have now spread to ordinary petrol, diesel and even kerosene used in many households, all commodities needed to keep the country running. Enquiries about the national fuel reserves in Jinja, or a release of these reserves into the market to cushion off the effects of absent deliveries for the time being, have been met with stony silence by those asked, while one fuel company executive dismissed the question by saying: ‘why don’t you go to Jinja and check what government has in stock there’ before hanging up the phone, without answering even the question why his own market leader company once again let the country down by failing to bring in enough supplies. Government has meanwhile also confirmed that the national fuel reserves were ‘dry’ as the facility ‘was being refurbished’, leaving the entire nation reeling from the fallout of yet another fuel crisis.
The cost of petrol continued to rise, in stations which still had supplies as this report was being filed, and a litre of petrol was then going for an equivalent of 1.65 US Dollars per litre, on occasions up to 2 US Dollars while upcountry the prices were reported to be rising even higher.
Two of the leading safari companies confirmed to this correspondent that they were keeping enough diesel and petrol in stock, to run the generators in their camps and keep the ‘wheels’ of their safari vehicles turning, while others were reportedly frantic to secure fuel supplies, being unprepared as usual for such eventualities.
The development is thought to have its root causes in Kenya’s recent decision to outsource the ‘inspection’ of fuels released from bond into the market or for export, with a private company now in charge and raising the fees by reportedly 28.000 percent (twenty eight thousand), leading to a storm of outrage in Kenya which has since seen the contract being suspended, while fuels however remain slow in coming to the market and in particular reaching the hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan and Eastern Congo. The planned pipeline extension between Eldoret in Western Kenya and Uganda is also far from ready and presently subject to heated arguments between the Libyan company Tamoil and the Ugandan government, and therefore only trucks are presently ferrying the precious liquids into the country, some of which reportedly now fetch the commodity in Mombasa directly due to insufficient supplies at the pipeline head and depot in Eldoret, adding however further transportation costs to the already burdened consumers.
This situation is particularly worrying for many Ugandans planning to travel to their rural homes for the long Easter holiday weekend, and the many Kampaleans simply wanting to get out of the city to the national parks or the islands in Lake Victoria, as there is absolutely no indication at all, as is the case with AVGAS for the aviation sector, if and when fuels will become easily available again, at affordable prices.
Meanwhile strong indications have emerged that Shell may sell many of their African distribution businesses as ‘going concerns’, which would include their East African operations too. Industry observers are speculating over the reasons but claim that shrinking margins were the major cause for this development, leaving the question open if, after ‘sucking the pockets of consumers dry’ the company is now discarding the ‘empty fruit’. Shell has in particular in Uganda been under fire over their handling of the aviation fuel AVGAS crisis, one of many in recent years, from which the company does not seem to have learned to institute lasting logistics to ensure constant supplies for the aviation industry.
‘Suitors’ are said to be already lining up, including local bidders, but this will be more than likely a drawn out process while Shell will try to make ‘one last killing’ by getting maximum proceeds.
Meanwhile has the Ugandan government also expressed their concerns over the lack of free flow of fuels from neighbouring Kenya and has served notice of kinds, that within 5 years a refinery will be operational in Uganda, processing crude oil pumped in-country from oil wells now being developed, at which stage the importation of fuels, unless specialised ‘stuff’ would be coming to an end. Fuel ‘exports’, much of which of course is rather fuel ‘transit’ constitutes a major portion of Kenya’s export revenues and questions now are being asked there already what indeed will happen once Uganda becomes self sufficient through internal production of petrol, diesel, heavy fuel oil, jet fuel and lubricants.
A Happy Easter it was therefore only for those with sufficient fuel supplies while many others were marooned in the city due to lack of enough petrol to commence their upcountry journeys, reach their planned destinations and in fact then get back to the city to resume work after the long holiday weekend. The situation is expected to continue for another few days before fresh supplies reach Uganda from Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.
WORK ADVANCES TOWARDS NEW NILE BRIDGE
The preparation for the construction work for the new, second bridge over the rive Nile in Jinja is now advancing with the national road authority organizing meetings in early April for affected property owners to discuss compensation and relocation with those affected by the new ramps and road accesses to the proposed bridge. Law requires government to pay fair compensation in case land is required for roads, bridges or other infrastructure but those affected often complain that the money they get is a far cry from the true market value and that in case of resettlements the locations of plots are inferior to what they used to own. Meanwhile, the public notice by UNRA has raised some eyebrows as they appear to restrict attendance of the April 08th and 09th meetings to affected individuals only, leaving open questions if not the general public and the media too have a right to attend a public meeting, or else why they should be shut out.
EMIRATES TO ADD MANCHESTER TO THEIR A380 DESTINATIONS
A regular source from the Emirates Kampala office has now confirmed, that the airline is intent to use their giant A380 aircraft on the route between Dubai and Manchester from late this year onwards, replacing one of the two present daily B777 operations. This will give passengers travelling from Uganda, and the rest of Eastern Africa, the opportunity to sample the aircraft in flight and enjoy the many features Emirates has installed on the A380. When raising the question of ground facilities at Manchester’s airport the source promptly added that all required installations would be ready by the end of August, when the A380 is expected to make its maiden commercial flight to MAN on 01st of September.
Some travel agents, when contacted over this development, as after all the UK is a prime destination for travellers from Uganda, and vice versa of course, vowed to book more passengers on EK, while using the opportunity to again condemn British Airways’ over the recent strikes, all of them incidentally expressing sympathy for the striking crew and in strong terms denouncing the leadership of BA’s CEO Walsh. It was clear from the comments that in this case one airlines’ misery is another’s opportunity.
UWA FACED WITH FRESH ENCROACHMENT AT MT. ELGON
Information was received last week that while people are still being evacuated from inside the national park, where they are presently threatened by landslides in the wake of torrential rains sweeping the region, others continue to attempt enter park land. Unscrupulous political aspirants – Uganda is due for elections in less than a year’s time – continue apparently to incite villagers to uproot park demarcations and grow crops in the park, alongside which the felling of trees has been witnessed too, one of the major causes for the recent landslides, which have claimed hundreds of lives in the Bududa area of the mountain. UWA has in the immediate aftermath of the massive landslide there again advocated the removal of illegal squatters for their own safety, but this latest development seems to be pouring cold water on common sense to stay away from parts of the park where fresh landslides could occur once trees are felled and the top soil exposed for cultivation on steep terrain. Government at large has also committed to removing illegal squatters following the tragedy and it now remains to be seen how strong that commitment is when UWA calls in support to enforce boundaries and evacuate more of the illegal settlements threatened by new landslides as a result of the ongoing torrential rainstorms lashing the mountain side.
EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY PASSPORTS TO BE UPGRADED
The issue of new passports for citizens of the East African Community has been temporarily suspended to allow new state of the art features to be incorporated in the next edition. Presently the passports are not machine readable nor carry biometric data in inserted computer chips, and in order to make them more widely acceptable these new additions must first be sorted out.
The passports were popular in Uganda and Kenya, where travellers only needed to have their passports stamped once in every six months if moving across the national borders to one of the EAC member states, but allegations have also emerged that immigration officials at land borders and airports just ignored these rules and kept stamping them anyway like national passports. Burundi and Rwanda had, after joining the EAC last year, not yet implemented the issue of these travel documents.
The EAC passports were also not commonly accepted beyond the region, having many regular travellers carry both national and EAC passports, as situation the secretariat of the East African Community in Arusha also promised to address in time for the start of issuing the next generation EAC passports. Meanwhile will citizens of the five member states use their own national passports for travel across the region
KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE DUE FOR RESTRUCTURING
The new proposed wildlife bill, presently pending before parliament in Nairobi, seems to suggest a split of the organization into at least three main functions: policy, regulatory and management.
It is understood, that if the new bill is passed into law, that the Ministry of Wildlife would become home of the policy unit, while a separate body is due to be created which will regulate both the revamped and restructured KWS but also oversee and most likely license conservancies and private game reserves. The ‘new’ KWS would then be responsible for the management of parks and reserves under their jurisdiction, engage in monitoring, research and enforcement.
The new bill will also update a range of details like fines and prison terms for poachers and other offenders, some of which are still pegged to the 1970’s values of the Kenya Shilling then, making current fines ‘a joke’ as one source from Nairobi put it.
KWS is also set to launch a permanent fund later in the year, which aims to secure over 100 million US Dollars in core funding, due to be invested long term to benefit KWS from the annual proceeds while leaving the principal sums untouched. Such an added source of income would boost KWS’ capacity to carry out their mandate even in years when tourism declines, for whatever reason, being global or local.
In a related development has the returning delegation from the CITES conference in Doha expressed quiet satisfaction for their successful fight against ivory trading, and without being boastful or triumphant it was said by a source in Nairobi, that this matter must now be discussed amongst the East African member states to find a long term solution to poaching prevention and joint policies for all member states to adhere to. While a 9 year moratorium is now confirmed in regard of trade in ivory and other elephant products, reflecting Kenya’s position, this period in the greater perspective of things is short and must be used to forge a wider coalition between all elephant range countries to see eye to eye on conservation issues, and hopefully bring the Eastern African and Southern African positions closer together.
LEWA DOWNS ‘SAFARICOM MARATHON’ DETAILS
June 26th will see the Safaricom sponsored Lewa Marathon being run on the conservancy in Northern Kenya, and he deadline for registration is the 14th of May. The event is restricted to 1.000 runners only, and as it leads over a 21 KM circuit on ‘dirt roads’, to be run twice, it is in fact almost a cross country over the 42+ KM distance. Should the number of 1.000 registered participants be reached before the deadline in May, the entries will be closed earlier, just as soon as that mark has been reached. Participants should be fit runners, as much of the run is at a 5.500+ feet elevation. First aid points are available at every ‘watering hole’, which are about 2.5 KM apart and a major first aid centre will be set up at the start / finish line. AMREF, better known as the Flying Doctors, will provide emergency response and a helicopter will be on standby, just in case. This is a promising sporting event and participation, even from further abroad, is welcome, BUT, the registrations are on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, so interested parties should promptly sign up to avoid disappointment.
The entry forms are available via: http://www.lewa.org/support-lewa/safaricom-marathon/
MORE GREEN ELECTRICITY FOR KENYA
The Kenya Forest Service has last week advertised for expression of interest to put up more wind powered turbines in a designated area of the Ngong Hills under a concession agreement with the dual aim to raise revenue for the organization and to feed ‘green’ electricity into the national grid. The 26th of April has been set as a deadline for the submissions and high levels of mitigation proposals may be the key to be successful with the bids. Other similar plans exist for the Turkana area, where two proposed wind powered plants would generate 300 MW each, if and when the project materialises. ‘Green’ electricity from renewable energy sources is crucial to reduce Kenya’s carbon footprint, as presently emission heavy thermal power plants are used to generate much of the country’s electricity by burning diesel or heavy fuel oil.
KENYA TO WAIVE WORKPERMITS FOR UGANDANS
Following the agreement last year between Rwanda and Kenya, to remove the requirements for work permits for the citizens of each country to work and reside in the other, Kenya is now also moving towards the same agreement with Uganda, which will the movement of labour an early reality, even before the respective East African Community protocol is fully implemented. Until now, many Kenyans lived and worked in Uganda, and vice versa Ugandans lived and worked in Kenya, most of them going through the process of first obtaining the cumbersome work permits but many also just ignoring the bureaucratic requirements of residence and work. The development will come as a relief therefore to the citizens of each country and also of many employers who had to pay for the fees and were burdened with the paperwork.
Many hotels in Uganda are run by Kenyan general and senior managers and generally the tourism industry can benefit in Uganda from these waivers as the employment of well trained, competent and experienced staff is now possible without any restrictions over nationality.
There has been no confirmation if Burundians too will be included, and when Tanzania is entering into a similar agreement with the sister states in the EAC.
KENYA COAST FULLY BOOKED OVER EASTER
The resorts and hotels along the Kenyan coast were laughing all the way to the bank after the Easter weekend turned out to be another ‘fully booked’ affair, with remaining spaces being taken up by travellers from upcountry or further inland seeking to take a break at the ocean for the long weekend.
Visitors arrived by road in their own cars, came by busses from upcountry or flew into the Moi International Airport in Mombasa or directly to Malindi or the Ukunda airfield at the South Coast, also filling up the available seats airlines had put on the market to be ready for the travel boom.
In Uganda it was a bit of a mixed picture, as the biting fuel shortages reportedly had booked visitors to lodges in the parks and upcountry hotels cancel at the last minute due to lack of sufficient fuel to reach their destinations, leading to last ditch efforts by the affected properties to re-sell the sudden vacancies, at times however without success.
One caller, who reads eTN and occasionally comments about articles to this correspondent said: ‘we had booked and prepaid our rooms for some time. Now we could not find enough fuel to take us there and back again, and because we were not sure if we find enough fuel on the way we decided to stay at home. At least the lodge was understanding when we told them. They permitted us to come at a later date and keep our prepayment until then and did not charge us in full for not coming. Others I hear were not so lucky and lost their deposit money because of no fuel. Now we hear Shell is pulling out of Uganda, maybe that is why they are no longer bothered to keep reserves for holiday weekends’. Oooops…
MORE FINANCIAL TROUBLES FOR AIR TANZANIA
Complaints were received from travel agents in South Africa about the apparent nonchalant way how Air Tanzania’s top management is dealing with their claims for refunds. These claims originate from the time the airline was still flying to Johannesburg, then a ‘bread and butter’ route for the Tanzanian national airline. When ATCL had to suspend their flights to South Africa in late 2008, agents and clients who had already paid for their tickets to fly for a holiday, or on business to Dar es Salaam, were expecting a swift refund, as would be expected of a national airline, being a member of IATA at the time and under the usual BSP rules, but alas, several years later the claimants are still owed at least 3 million South African Rand while the airline is using one excuse after the other to evade payment if not weasel out of it altogether, given half a chance. This deplorable situation also brought the Association of South African Travel Agents, in short ASATA, into the picture as many of their members have complained to them and asked them to support their claims and use their influence to make ATCL pay up at last, in particular where payments via credit or debit cards were concerned. ASATA in turn did not make any friends amongst their membership when in a mid February communication to members they basically washed their hands of the matter and recommended that claimants be directed to the Head of Revenue Accounting of Air Tanzania in Dar es Salaam, a near hopeless effort as it is in evidence for the past one and a half years and perceived by those affected as a transparent effort to ‘fob them off’ as one source put it.
This matter is now going public following some detailed investigations by this correspondent, and is expected to become a matter of national shame for Tanzania and more than likely another nail in the coffin of both airline and management responsible for this inexcusable situation, which threatens the very core of some agents in South Africa who depend financially to have these debts settled.
The Government of Tanzania has in the past been bailing out ATCL from time to time, mostly with funding for pending salaries, aviation fuel and ground handling charges, but only a week ago did this correspondent report that the Tanzania CAA is owed about a year’s worth of landing, navigation and parking fees by the airline, impeding the work of the TCAA severely due to the lack of payment by ATCL. With their B737 recently involved in an accident in Mwanza (and to be written off), also reported immediately by this correspondent, another income earner is now missing for the airline and their financial situation is expected to deteriorate even further from here on. Unless that is, that either government once more bails them out with a major cash injection or directly pays creditors their long overdue funds, or a possible suitor, i.e. an strategic investor puts in major money, as has long been floated by the government in Tanzania to an increasingly doubtful public.
However, in the course of the investigation it was also learned that the Chinese ‘Sonagol’ consortium, which has for several years now ‘considered’ acquiring a major stake in ATCL, is growing more and more distant and is apparently getting the proverbial ‘cold feet’, as they did not see an immediate and substantial return on their proposed investment vis a vis other deals they tried to secure from the Tanzanian government, such as mining rights, oil exploration rights and other ‘sweeteners’.
To compound matters, a car deal struck by the management of ATCL soon after the ‘divorce’ from South African Airways, is now also coming home to roost. A whole lot of 4×4 vehicles were purchased at the time from Dubai, some of them for senior staff under a favourable car purchase arrangement funded by the airline, while many of the other cars were meant for senior management as ‘official’ cars, a perk common for state corporations and other big companies. A number of those cars ended up remaining in ‘customs bond’ as the airline failed to raise the money to pay for duties and taxes, and it now appears according to a source in Dar es Salaam, that these vehicles will be swapped over to Galileo Tanzania, which will clear the duties, pay the taxes and then use the vehicles under their ownership while reimbursing ATCL, less any other pending claims there may be between Galileo and ATCL.
Overall, the future of ATCL, once considered bright even in the face of growing competition, is now more doubtful than ever before and as done in other African countries the government will have to answer the key question soon: is there enough money available to turn the airline financially around and install sound and competent management, or if not, is it not better the pull the plug and end the misery once and for all. Should this happen, Precision Air will undoubtedly step up fast, bring forward aircraft deliveries and add frequencies, capacity and routes, while other privately owned airlines too may then finally step into the breach and begin offer services on domestic and regional routes. Fly 540 (Tanzania) certainly is a key contender for such an opening, and like Precision Air they too would be swift to take advantage of the demise of the erstwhile national airline, now a mere shadow of its former self.
IVORY DECISION TURNS TO SOUR GRAPES
The squabbling in Tanzanian government and wildlife management circles over the CITES decision to turn down their application for the sale of ivory has turned sour grapes, as culprits are being sought for the failed effort. The Environmental Investigation Agency’s report of March 2010, delivered on the bidding of the CITES Secretariat, painted a damning picture of Tanzania’s capabilities and efforts to stop poaching and bring to an end the organized smuggling of ivory to the most notorious consumer states in the Far East. The report claims that Tanzania’s ‘portion’ of ivory in worldwide seizures, determined by state of the art DNA analysis, is now reaching as much as 50 percent. Most of the ivory seized in transit shipment points appeared destined for China, Hong Kong, Taiwan but also to Japan and Vietnam. The hunger for the ‘white gold’ in these countries seems to grow year after year, fuelling in turn increased poaching and trafficking. The report also highlighted that between 1989 and 2010 over a third of all global seizures were traced back to Tanzania, but the figure has risen to half in more recent years. In addition, the country has been marked as a major conduit for trafficking, which includes smuggled ivory from neighbouring countries.
Government in Dar es Salaam has already announced that they will re-submit their application at the next CITES meeting and prepare a counter report, while rubbishing the EIA’s findings and conclusions. The minister responsible in the Tanzanian government has also added to the confusion, when on one hand admitting that poaching has assumed alarming proportions and that sophisticated gangs were involved in the illicit trade, while on other occasions claiming that government was doing enough to bring the situation under control. The minister could also not dispel allegations that – had the sale gone ahead – only a fraction would have been given to TANAPA for anti poaching measures and would neither answer where the balance of the funds would have been allocated to.
There is now much lamentation in Tanzania, over the cost of having to store the ivory and the ‘loss’ of funds for added anti poaching measures, while other officials are busy analysing who supported the opponents of the sale proposal which was led by Kenya, in order to seek to change their stands before the next CITES conference.
It was however almost certainly ruled out that Tanzania’s ivory would be burned too, similar to a landmark case of defiance some time ago, when Kenya – instead of selling their stocks – actually destroyed them. No comments or feedback could be received as yet from Zambia but as and when information from there is available it will be published here.
NEW UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE FOR TANZANIA?
It is understood from sources in Dar es Salaam, that an application has been made to UNESCO to declare the Udzungwa Mountain National Park a world heritage site, as the biodiversity of the park made it a prime site for such recognition. The park is reportedly a ‘gem’ waiting to be discovered, featuring the red colobus monkeys and other species of primates, a range of other mammals as well as over 400 species of birds, many species of butterflies and insects not easily found elsewhere. The park is also home to one of the highest waterfalls in Tanzania, the 170 metres high Sanjes Falls. Inspite of all these attractions however visitor numbers have remained well below those of the better known parks on the Northern circuit like Manyara, Tarangire, Ngorongoro and Serengeti, a situation the recognition, if granted, would surely remedy. Unlike those parks however the Udzungwa park is less for driving about but more for extended walks and hikes through the primeval rain forest, which covers much of the park.
Visitors either use a mobile camp of their safari operator or bring their own camping equipment and food. Water and firewood are being provided by staff allocated to the available camp sites by the park.
UNESCO’s ‘stamp of approval’, when declaring new sites, always leads to added interest from tourists, besides the recognition (and often extra funding) for the conservation work done by local NGO’s and wildlife managers and is therefore an invaluable marketing aid when promoting the country in key tourist source markets. Visit the TANAPA website via www.tanzaniaparks.com, where links can be found to all the national parks and major game reserves in Tanzania.
MKOMA BAY RESORT SET FOR YOGA MEET
The Indian Ocean beach resort of Mkoma Bay / Pangani has just announced that they will host a Yoga meeting between April 16th and 20th under the theme ‘unite the mind, body and soul’.
Said to be the first of its kind along Tanzania’s coast the seminar will be led by a qualified Yoga instructor. Packages are available from / to Dar es Salaam (collection and drop off) but participants can also individually fly to the Pangani airfield with one of the scheduled flights, or else fly to the Tanga airfield. For more information contact email@example.com or visit www.mkomabay.com or else befriend them on Facebook for regular updates under: Mkoma Bay.
NYUNGWE POACHERS TURN ‘GAME KEEPERS’
A group of former poachers from the Nyungwe National Park have now formed a ‘Flora and Fauna Association’ under which they intend to pursue revenue generating projects and make a sustainable living from, it was learned last week. The group was assured by the staff of the national park that they can qualify for a portion of the projected revenue sharing programme set up by the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism & Conservation (formerly ORTPN) and encouraged others to equally join hands to benefit from wildlife and nature based tourism.
It is thought that several of the former poachers will now aim to become local tour guides to take visitors into the park and show them the bird and wildlife, they so intimately know from their ‘former’ profession.
KWITA IZINA PROGRAMME SHAPING UP
The Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, has last week given more public information about the planned activities and programmes for the annual Kwita Izina festival, when the young gorillas born during the past year will be named.
The festival this year will coincide with the World Environment Day, for which Rwanda was selected by the UN as the venue to launch and hold the global celebrations on the 05th of June.
The activities for the week will go underway by 28th of May this year with a joint press conference in Kigali and will eventually span the entire country, from Kigali where workshops will focus on conservation and related issues to the various venue site on the foot of the volcanic mountains, where the gorillas have their habitat.
The combination of the two events will add to the attraction for many conservationists and friends of Rwanda to come to the country over that period of time and anyone considering travelling to the ‘land of a thousand hills’ is best advised to secure airline bookings right away and book hotel space as soon as possible.
MORE TOUR GUIDES GRADUATE IN KIGALI
Following an intensive training course, lasting three weeks, have 46 newly qualified guides graduated, amongst them 6 ladies. The Rwanda Development Board – Tourism & Conservation, have supported this session and will continue to help with funding in order to equip more guides with skills which are expected by tourist visitors in regard of competence and conduct of their guides. Improved customer care is a key objective for the Rwandan tourism industry and both private and public sector are committed to play their part in achieving these goals.
Manzi Kayihura, former CEO of RwandAir and now in the safari operations sector and current Chairman of the Rwanda Association of Tour and Travel Agents, has hailed the achievement and will undoubtedly play his role in the tourism industry towards increased skills transfer and training opportunities for Rwandan staff.
RWANDA DEVELOPMENT BOARD RESTRUCTURES
Only weeks after ‘old hand’ Rosette Rugamba – jubilant with bringing one last trophy as ‘best African stand’ home from the annual ITB in Berlin – had announced her retirement after 7 years at the helm of first ORTPN and then as Deputy CEO of RDB in charge of tourism and conservation, were the expected organizational changes being announced in Kigali early this week. The new CEO John Gara, who took over last year from Mr. Ritchie, will have two new positions reporting to him, that of a Chief Operations Officer and of a Chief Financial Officer, whose appointments were approved by cabinet in Kigali last week. They are Ms. Clare Akamanzi, who is the new COO and Mr. James Kamanzi, the new CFO. It is understood that under the now set up, the legal, communications and PR and a new strategy and competitiveness unit will report directly to the CEO, as will the COO and CFO.
All other heads of departments, including tourism and conservation, will report through the newly created position of the COO. No immediate comments were received from RDB as to who will head the tourism and conservation department, or if the management of national parks would be ‘privatised’ as recently already done with the Akagera National Park, in order to ‘outsource’ such functions and move park staff to the payrolls of private concessionaires.
ETHIOPIAN GETTING READY TO JOIN STAR ALLIANCE?
The Ethiopian national airline is seemingly getting ready to finish discussions and negotiations with Star Alliance later this year, likely to coincide with the upswing in traffic carried via Addis Ababa to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup. These suggestions and rumours are now rekindled that the airline has confirmed added aircraft orders and is aggressively renewing its fleet in preparation of things obviously to come yet.
The airline’s Fokker 50 fleet is being replaced with more modern and larger Bombardier Q400’s, with delivery of the first such aircraft reported here last week, and an extra B737-800’s are due to join the fleet from middle of 2011 onwards.
More wide bodies too are on order, such as the Airbus A350 – 12 on order – the B 777-200LR 5 on order – and the long delayed but now back on track B787 ‘Dreamliner’ – 10 on order. The new aircraft, when delivered, will allow ET to retire their ageing fleet of B767, which have been a workhorse on the long distance network.
Star Alliance will be getting a ‘shot in the arm’ for their global traffic into Africa, and the geographical position of ET’s home hub of Addis Ababa will further strengthen Star’s competitive efforts to grab the lion’s share of traffic in, out and across Africa, considering that they already have Egypt Air and South African Airways flying under their banner and covering the different regions of the continent. In fact, ET will be bringing an added component into play, considering that they manage an airline in Togo (also reported here at the time) in which they hold a 25 percent stake and which could be very useful in capturing yet more traffic from West Africa into the Star Alliance network. Since the collapse of Air Afrique, in which almost a dozen countries from West Africa were involved, there has been a vacuum in that part of Africa and the absence of a dominant and strong carrier will only aid ET’s efforts to give their new West African ‘baby’ added wings.
Meanwhile will the KLM / Air France led ‘Skyteam’ undoubtedly hold more strategy sessions with Kenya Airways of how to counter these developments, for ET and Star, and develop their own ballgame via Kenya Airways, which presently is an Associate Member of Skyteam and playing a vital role in that alliance’s expansion plans and future standing in Africa. Already ‘patch invasions’ are notable, as Ethiopian is now flying a daily scheduled service from Addis to Mombasa, giving convenient connections to their network passengers to the Kenyan beaches, while operating twice daily between Addis and Nairobi already, compared with Kenya Airways single daily service, indicating a disparity in demand for seats on one airline over the other. [Addis Ababa is also the seat of the African Union headquarters, besides being the capital of Ethiopia]
Unlike Kenya Airways, ET is also already on the lucrative route to Juba, something KQ is expected to remedy soon however, especially in view of several private airlines from Kenya already operating to the Southern Sudan, who have privately dismissed the concerns KQ has so far put forward to explain their absence from this important regional destination. In fact the rest of the region too has seen an expansion of flight frequencies to daily and more by ET, offering convenient connections in both directions for passengers originating in Eastern Africa and overseas travellers on business or holiday transiting in Addis.
‘The battle for the African skies’ as dubbed by this correspondent a while ago, is set to intensify, with the two main protagonists being driven by their own strategies but also as proxies of the alliances one already belongs to and the other one is soon to join. Interesting times ahead for African aviation, especially for the couple of quality airlines holding their own against global competitions we have on the continent, so watch this space.
South Sudan News
FEEDER AIRLINE TO START FLIGHTS TO ENTEBBE
One of the locally incorporated airlines based at the Juba airport, Feeder Airlines, has now started flights from the capital of the Southern Sudan to Entebbe, making it the first Southern Sudanese airline to begin scheduled flights. In the past Sudan Airways operated flights between Khartoum, Juba and Entebbe, but faced with aging equipment and regulatory bans have seen them withdraw from the route.
Feeder Airline is presently operating a network of scheduled flights from Juba to other centres in the Southern Sudan and the addition of Entebbe will further enhance their standing as one of Southern Sudan’s leading private airlines.
According to information from the airline’s office in Juba the flights will initially take place three times a week, but move to daily flights in due course, using a 50 seater turboprop aircraft.
CURRENCY WILL DEPEND ON HOW WE SEPARATE
As national elections are now looming across the Northern and Southern Sudan, others are already looking to the future and the time after the January 2011 Independence Referendum.
In banking circles there is now a discussion going on, what to do about the use of the present currency, the Sudan Pound, in case the referendum, as overwhelmingly expected, opts for independence of the Southern Sudan, and there are suggestions, that if the ‘parting’ is peaceful and well managed the ‘common’ currency may be in place for some more time, even beyond a year, before active steps are being taken to introduce an own currency in the then newly independent country.
However, a scenario is also being discussed should the separation be marred by violence, in which case the US Dollar could be brought in as a formal currency until such time that a yet to be created central bank in Juba can introduce their own notes. This would be a swift and largely welcomed move, as inflation too would stay in the low single digit figures, in line with the value of the ‘greenback’ on the international financial markets, thus allowing a better managed economic transformation too.
ELECTIONS TO GO AHEAD
Usually well informed sources in Juba have confirmed to this correspondent that except for some unexpected and major unforeseen reasons the elections next weekend will go ahead. The Southern leadership of the SPLM had last week withdrawn from the election process in Darfur, citing that the warlike conditions made free and fair elections impossible and pulled their candidate for the national presidency from the ballot too, aimed at embarrassing the Khartoum regime leader, whose very likely election would then be overshadowed by the absence of any credible candidate and opposition.
The same sources also expressed their confidence that the Southern leadership will be overwhelmingly re-elected in the Southern Sudan and can then with a full mandate of the population begin the preparations for the January 2011 independence referendum. Once the election results are known there will be a period of immediate political and economic activity in the build up to the referendum campaign to get infrastructural and other projects off the ground and to prepare for the post referendum transition into what will most likely be Eastern Africa’s youngest new nation. Watch this space.
SUDANESE AIRLINES BANNED BY EU
The latest ‘black list’ issued by the European Union now also includes ALL airlines registered in the Republic of the Sudan, following a damning report by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, Canada and added independent findings by the EU. The ban came into effect last Thursday, i.e. April 01, as safety standards in the country were described as ‘not up to international standards’, nor was enforcement and compliance with the acceptable range of regulations governing the global aviation industry.
There were several air accidents in the Sudan in recent months and years, all of them undermining the confidence in the regulator’s ability to effectively govern the industry. The ban reportedly applies to the following airlines: Sudan Airways, Sun Air, Marsland Aviation, Attico, 48 Aviation, Azza Air Transport while others not named here were reportedly also on the list, including the Sudanese State Aviation Company.
Predictably howls of outrage and cries of foul play came swiftly from Khartoum, where the SCAA called the EU’s ban ‘unprofessional’, an interesting perspective of course of a regulatory body which ‘presided’ over a series of air accidents under their ’professional care’, while also, and equally predictably, blaming standing sanctions against the regime for the state of the aviation industry.
This development will undoubtedly further enhance the business of airlines in good standing, which from neighbouring countries now fly to Juba and Khartoum and uplift passengers and cargo from there, such as Jetlink, East African Safari Air or Fly540 from Nairobi and Air Uganda from Entebbe. It could not immediately be established if regional aviation regulators would react to the news from Brussels and also ban these Sudanese registered airlines from flying to their airports and subject them on landing to special ‘ramp checks’ to ascertain that not only all mandatory documents are on board of their aircrafts but also that proper maintenance has been carried out and the crews are duly licensed.
The Sudan as well as the Congo DR both have a horrendous safety record and arguably lead the air accident statistics for Africa by far. Other African countries which suffer a total ban of all their registered airlines are Djibouti, Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Swaziland and Zambia while Angola and Gabon have several of their airlines banned with a handful of others permitted to fly to the EU under strict supervision and conditionalities. Watch this space for the most up to date aviation developments in the Eastern African region.
ANTI LOGGING CAMPAIGN BEARS FRUITS
In a rare show of yielding to international pressure has the regime in Madagascar now reversed its policy in regard of logging and exportation of rare tropical hardwood. The ban, which had been lifted by the regime last year, has been restored on the cutting, trade and export of rosewood and will last for reportedly 5 years, although it is not immediately clear what it going to be done with the thousands of logs of trees already cut and which were waiting for exportation. International campaigners, while appreciating the intermediate success, have however already vowed to continue their campaign until a permanent ban is introduced. Indiscriminate logging – last year tens of thousands of hectares of pristine rainforest were cut – and lukewarm enforcement by government agencies of rules and regulations is a major threat to the forests and national parks on Madagascar where several species of Lemur cats are found, which do not exist anywhere else in the world. Tourism to Madagascar was once a major income earner and shot in the arm of the local economy but has suffered severely in the recent past as a result of strongly worded anti travel advisories and the isolation the regime is now subjected to from a wide range of countries, keeping wannabe tourists away until the situation has been resolved and a stable, freely elected government installed again.
COAST GUARD INTERCEPTS PIRATES, RESCUES CREW
As previously reported, the Seychelles have taken full advantage of training and new equipment provided by friendly members of the naval coalition, in boosting their coast guard’s capabilities. This came back to pay when last night the ‘Topaz’ was dispatched following a distress call by a local fishing vessel, which was attacked by ocean terrorists using a previously hijacked Iranian dhow.
The intelligence provided by unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones, and other surveillance by the naval coalition fleet, proved important as the coast guard vessel then managed to catch up with the hijacked ships. Once it became clear that the ocean terrorists were not complying with orders to stop and be boarded, the Seychelles president James Michel then gave orders to prevent the ships reaching Somali waters at all cost. Although being fired upon first with rocket propelled grenades by the terrorists, the ‘Topaz’ evaded the incoming fire and then engaged the pirate dhow in turn. Subsequently the dhow was fired upon, the engine disabled and the crew and terrorists captured after they had jumped overboard from the burning vessel.
The Iranian captives and the Seychellois crew were all rescued, with one of the Iranians reportedly injured by a gunshot allegedly fired by a Somali ocean terrorist.
All the Somalis were captured and will be brought to court in Victoria upon returning to Mahe tomorrow, where they will then face charges of terrorism and piracy.
The determined action by the Seychelles coast guard was hailed as a success by the naval coalition and the Seychellois government, but more important served clear notice to the ocean terrorists that from now on, when trying to approach or enter Seychellois waters, they will be decisively engaged according to this new more robust rule of engagement and should be aware that force may be used to capture them.
It was later also learned that enroute back to Mahe the ’Topaz’ was approached by another pirate ‘mother ship’ and two skiffs and again came under fire. The ‘Topaz’ responded in kind, apparently sunk the ‘mother ship’ and one skiff and then decided to return directly to port to first safely return the rescued crew from the earlier incident and hand over the captured ocean terrorists into the legal system of the Seychelles.
Another Seychelles coast guard vessel, it is understood, is en route to the area where the ‘Topaz’ was being shot at to ascertain if there were any survivors following the engagement at sea.
Undoubtedly the pirates are finally meeting their match at sea and this robust response is also serving added notice to other wannabe pirates to stay away from Seychellois waters or else face the same fate.
NEW FUEL DEPOT MEETS ENVIRONMENTAL BEST PRACTISE
Praslin, La Digue and other nearby inhabited islands will benefit from shorter access to fuels and gas, now that a new depot was opened mid last week by President Michel. The facility will store petrol, diesel but also LPG gas, and transportation of products from the new facility to consumers will cut down on transport time and cost, no longer having to go all the way to the main island of Mahe. As the storage incorporates the latest technologies, environmental and health and safety issues have also now been comprehensively addressed, which will be good news for those promoting an intact environment as a key prerequisite for tourism and fishing, the two mainstream economic activities in the Seychelles.
AND in closing today, some material taken from Gill Staden’s newsletter ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ as always gratefully acknowledged:
Beyond the Victoria Falls
Some of you may remember … a long time ago … that I had embarked on a book called Beyond the Victoria Falls. The book is a travel book for the region around the Victoria Falls. I had just about completed the book when the publishing company Struik said that they may be interested. I waited until they had gone through their procedures to do decide whether they would take it on or not … finally they said yes but with major changes …
So I am now back at the drawing board. I am going into ‘recluse-mode’ for the next few months to complete the book. Much of what I had written before is now a bit out-of-date, so I will need to update/recheck much of it. I will probably be bothering a lot of you with emails asking questions … please be patient if I ask you the same stuff again.
In the meantime, I will give you a bit of information about the book and if you have anything that you feel should be included, you can send me details.
The book covers:
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Kafue National Park, Lochinvar National Park, Sioma Ngwezi National Park
Liuwa Plain National Park, Lower Zambezi National Park and Lake Kariba
Victoria Falls Town
Zambezi National Park, Hwange National Park, Kazuma Pan National Park, Chizarira National Park, Matusadonha National Park, Mana Pools National Park and Lake Kariba
Kasane and Kazungula
Chobe National Park, Nxai Pan National Park, Moremi Game Reserve, Nata Bird Sanctuary
Mudumu National Park, Mamili National Park, Bwabwato National Park, Mahango National Park
Apart from a description of each park; what is to be found there; how to get there, etc, I also want to write about wildlife projects which happen – things like the Painted Dog Foundation in Hwange, the Elephant Orphanage in Kafue.
I had considered adding cultural information about traditional ceremonies, etc, but have decided not to. I don’t want to offend anyone and I know I would forget something important and be in trouble later. Maybe this is something that I can research for a future date.
From a Choma-ite
…, far more damaging to the Environment is the Zambian’s Government’s issue of land along the Muchinga Escarpment for “agriculture”. Most of this land is unsuitable for agriculture as it is on remote, steep hillsides.
Furthermore it is being issued to people who have neither the knowledge nor the capital to use this land sustainably, so it is being stripped for charcoal.
There are stories that Zambia is exporting charcoal by air to the Middle East; there are rumours that some trucks come as far as the southern province to buy charcoal for export to Tanzania, and certainly the numerous Tanzanian trucks on the Mpika/Serenje/Kapiri run would find it easy to export charcoal from the Muchinga area.
A South African book on Climate Change (called Bending the Curve) discusses Carbon Emissions, not just on a per country basis, but on a per Capita basis and on a per dollar of GDP basis. Valid arguments. China’s Carbon emission is huge, but is low when divided by their population and the size of their economy. Zambia, because of its massive deforestation and low GDP is one of the worst in Africa…if not THE worst.
There is no need to make this land over to agriculture. The adoption of the Conservation Farming techniques being promoted by the Conservation Farming Unit will probably more than double the average yield per hectare of small scale agriculture in the next few years. Their method is far more sustainable than the charcoal burning destruction already started on these strips of land.
(Gill: I sent a few emails around to try and find out more about this issue. Obviously the northern section of Zambia is hardly my stomping ground. If anyone knows anything, please email)
A Response to the above from Lusaka
It is one of the places that we would all love to go to, but it is so far away. Maybe we should do a ZOS exploratory trip. If we can find the funding we may consider a trip later in the year so that we can see if the blue swallows nest there.
At the moment we are fighting a battle much closer to home – A Chinese company has been given the concession to cut the mopane trees in Mutulanganga forest which is an IBA.
Another Response from Lusaka
I agree with her/him that there’s far too much agric ‘development’ in unsuitable areas of N. Prov, not only on the Muchingas. If you look at Google Earth you can see where incursions have occurred (and photographer Stephen Robinson has documented it in a photo documentary [commissioned by CF Farmers Bureau] during last year’s fly-overs), despoiling our beautiful miombo woodland. Of course, what are people to do? There are more and more every year and they have to eat and earn monies for their many children.
Equally worrying: Recently the Merretts who run Mutinondo had a visit by some GRZ types who wanted to look at the Mutinondo Falls for possible hydro development. Remember the 2009 GRZ announcement that the Chinese were to build 400 hydro schemes? I don’t know how far they got with that, but the one at the Lumangwe Falls is definitely being built (for electricity export to Congo!).
Needless to say, the Muchingas are a HUGE area, a good 300km in length, with lots of villages in some areas and empty of folk in others (except for poachers and fishers). Actually there are 2 Muchingas: there’s a split in the mountain range just south of Lusiwasi Power Station, with one scarp going inland towards Serenje, the other following the Luangwa up to the bridge …
Another Response … well part of it, anyway … the rest was unprintable!
I am sure this is a huge problem and I have heard of trucks taking charcoal to Dar and then it being shipped to Dubai where it is sold for $5 a kilo or something ridiculous.
Kalizo Lodge, Katima Mulilo
Time races by so quickly. Here we are already at the end March 2010 and the floods are again with us. I might add it is a wonderful experience, and not many people get the thrill of seeing the Zambezi in flood.
The Zambezi reached a height of 7.37m. The water was the 2nd highest since 1969. Unfortunately Kalizo was flooded with a number of chalets in the water and the road closed. The good news is that the water is dropping and after a good flood the fishing is always very good and already the Tiger are running. Now it’s time for drifting and spinning and if you want to experience the Tiger frenzies’ now is the time!
The water is still high so we only have a limited number of chalets available and you have to walk through the water to get to the bar and restaurant. Ones it starts dropping it usually drops quickly. You cannot drive in at the moment, but your car will be left with ours at a safe protected area.
December 2009/January and February 2010 saw some really good Tiger Fishing with many between 5 – 8.5kg! From April onwards the Tiger frenzies will start again with May and June the start of the Bream fishing. Christmas holidays this last year was really good Tiger fishing, with wonderful sunny weather and very little rain – a camper’s holiday!