TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Fourth edition June 2010
UNITED COMMENCES ACCRA FLIGHTS – NO EAST AFRICA CONNECTION IN SIGHT
Last weekend saw the first ever United Airlines service commence between Washington’s Dulles Airport and Accra / Ghana, using B767 equipment. The announcement was met with interest in East African aviation circles too, where flights by Delta to Nairobi, via a West African waypoint, are also still expected but have not yet materialised, having been halted by US authorities on the eve of the inaugural flight last year due to security concerns.
Aviation sources in East Africa cite the continued absence of Cat 1 certification by the American FAA as one of the major reasons, as for instance in Nairobi the traffic flow of arriving and departing passengers still meets, while Cat 1 status requires a strict separation of the two groups.
No details could be obtained from the Uganda CAA as to why the international airport in Entebbe was not yet Cat 1 cleared, as the passenger separation has long been in place there and even though added security provisions were introduced in recent years, these approvals still seem as long off as ever before.
Until therefore the FAA and other US authorities eventually clear flights to Eastern Africa, the presently nearest direct US flight connections leave from Addis Ababa, Cairo and Johannesburg, remaining the envy of the Eastern African airports.
Meanwhile, in a related development, has the European Investment Bank EIB offered a grant towards the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport rehabilitation and expansion project of some 5 million Euros or nearly 500 million Kenya Shillings at present rates. The grant, which is not part of a major loan by the EIB for the project, appears aimed to assist in reducing operational disruptions during the upcoming works on the main Terminals 1, 2 and 3. A fourth terminal is also due to be added at JKIA, and once work is complete Cat 1 status will then more likely become a reality.
FIRST CELTEL, THEN ZAIN, NOW AIRTEL
The telecoms battle in Uganda – presently 7 mobile operators are licensed and competing for market share – is set to intensify yet again now that the takeover of Zain’s Africa operation by India’s Bharti has been completed. Already are the print and electronic media salivating over the upcoming advertising campaigns to introduce the company’s new name ‘Airtel’ to the market and in the process the local phone users will more than likely benefit through special offers and a range of ‘goodies’ normally spread out after a takeover and bringing a new corporate identity to Uganda. One of the major tasks ahead for the new owners will be the change from their present 2G network to a state of the art 3G or 3G+ network, which all their leading competitors have in recent months rolled out or even a brand new 4G network, which would be an industry first for Uganda. Data traffic, besides the traditional voice traffic, is expected to grow exponentionally in coming years, as the internet penetration in the country grows and subscribers purchase their own modems to stay ‘connected’ 24/7. Watch this space for upcoming announcements of interest in particular to visitors coming to ‘the pearl of Africa’ who want to make calls in country with affordable rates.
In reaction to this development has Uganda Telecom re-launched their solar powered handset, selling for 60.000 Uganda Shillings BUT with free call credit of 1.000 Uganda Shillings for a whole year, reducing the actual cost of the handset to a mere 8.000/- Shillings or less than 4 US Dollars. This set is of particular value to rural subscribers in areas where electricity is not easily available, as owners of such phones can use the daily dose of sunlight to keep their phone batteries charged.
Other mobile operators are presently still playing down the entry of Bharti into the Ugandan, and in fact African market – they did buy the entire Africa network of Zain – but their market strength, being the largest mobile operator in India, will permit them to spend added resources to carve out a greater market share, through promotional gimmicks and lower call rates, taking the battle to their main competitors MTN, UTL, Orange and Warid in particular in rural areas of the country, where phone services penetration is still very low compared with the city and urban centres.
Meanwhile though criticism is getting louder and more intense as plans emerged to sack a number of Kenyan and Ugandan managers in favour of ‘importing’ staff from India – a move described by the Bharti Airtel CEO as ‘introducing our DNA into the African operation’ while the affected East African nationals are calling it discrimination and smacking of racism, in particular as, according to regional media reports, the replacement ratio of senior and other management is said to be about 80 percent … Watch this space.
HERITAGE OIL TAKES UGANDAN GOVERNMENT TO ARBITRATION
Uganda’s first oil exploration company in over 60 years, and the one with presently the biggest finds of oil deposits in the Albertine Graben, has reportedly served notice to the Ugandan government to invoke an arbitration process under the terms of their Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) with Uganda, following a growing dispute with the Ugandan tax authority, which had laid a pre-emptive claim of over 400 million US Dollars against Heritage, when their proposed sale of assets in Uganda is going through. Heritage’s preferred buyer was Italian state oil corporation ENI, but partners Tullow Oil at the very last moment had invoked their first right of refusal and stated they would wish to buy Heritage’s Ugandan interests. However, in the absence of ready cash their deal was structured around finding potent and cash rich partners first, a situation which caused disquiet in Ugandan governmental and business circles, leading to a delay by the Ugandan government to give final approval for the deal.
Matters then complicated further when tax demands were floated in public, and a press release available to this correspondent indicates that a London based arbitration panel will be convened to look into this situation and assess if there is any validity to such claims. This panel will be convened under UNCITRAL rules ( United Nations Commission for International Trade Law), and according to usually well informed sources the Ugandan government is not entirely keen to see this process unfold, as many international arbitration rulings in the past have gone against unsustainable government positions. Negotiations are ongoing therefore and a high level delegation from Heritage Oil in the UK was in Uganda very recently before then issuing their public notice of intent to seek an arbitration ruling.
Heritage cites a number of precedents, in Uganda and elsewhere, whereby no such tax was levied before and sources close to the company were swift in blaming the tax authority for trying to use this potential windfall to make up for shortfalls in their annual collections, caused by sliding shilling values on the international currency markets and the fallout of the global economic and financial crisis of the past few years.
Heritage came to Uganda in 1997, when few if any were interested in oil exploration, and took a considerable risk in drilling, as all initial wells were ‘dry’ before striking the black gold in their three Kingfisher wells near Lake Albert. Since then a multitude of new application was received by the Ugandan government for exploration and eventual production, but so far all early production timelines were missed by the various oil companies and talk has it that this may now be a further two or more years away, as the necessary infrastructure for production and processing first needs to be created.
It is here that the Ugandan government finds itself in a bind, as Italian oil giant ENI had put an offer on the table, when discussing the buyout of Heritage and presenting their long term proposals to the Ugandan government, to invest a staggering 14 billion US Dollars in Uganda, and the Italian government’s backing of the deal was at the time also assured. ENI has also let it be known that they would be willing to pay the taxes the Ugandan government demands – rightly or wrongly it should be added, arbitration will decide on this issue – should the government give them the ‘nod’ to purchase Heritage’s interests.
Hence I invoke the saying ‘it is not over until the fat lady sings’ – no pun intended towards the Italians’ love for opera – and it is worth watching this space for upcoming news in future editions.
ISO INTRODUCTING CARBON FOOTPRINT TEMPLATE
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards, in cooperation with the International Standards Organization, in short ISO, the Swedish Bureau of Standards and SIDA, the Swedish International Development Agency has last week launched information for interested parties, of how to establish a carbon footprint for industries, service providers and households.
The new initiative will undoubtedly assist the business community and civil society to retain a largely ‘green’ profile for Uganda, if followed by all concerned that is, and will be providing the required details on how best to reduce or counter green house gas emissions and mitigate the impact of economic and domestic activities on the environment.
The new standards will give guidance in regard of different types of activities contributing to emissions, and to what extent, and assist to quantify and measure performance against given targets.
Once fully implemented it will make the attributes ‘green’ and ‘ecofriendly’ a much more closely monitored declarations, and pretenders will be caught with greater ease, after hitherto often misleading consumers and clients with ‘green’ and ‘ecofriendly’ claims bare of reality.
SAFE WATER COMES TO LAKE SHORE POPULATION AT LAKE ALBERT
Travelling across the country, and the region as a whole, is one of this correspondent’s favourite pastimes and also of course an occupational necessity in order to capture events, see new developments and write about it (or not write about it when the experience is not up to scratch as is often the case). Last week opportunity arose to fly with a group of other journalists to the shores of Lake Albert to witness the inauguration of ‘safe water supplies’ to the nearly 6.000 residents in six fishing villages near the Heritage Kingfisher 3 well. In the past all the villages had to fetch water from the lake shores, as the springs from the escarpment were far away, leading to a range of health problems associated with bilharzia and other water borne diseases. When Heritage Oil first came to the area to do the test drilling of their now famous Kingfisher wells, the local communities discussed with them a range of options, how Heritage could assist them in improving their daily lives. It was just over three years ago when I visited the (then proposed) initial drilling site for the first time as Heritage started out to prepare the location, but the villages upon this repeat visit presented a much improved picture by any standards.
(aerial view across the escarpment towards the plains along the Lake Albert shores a few minutes before landing)
Our flight from Kajjansi to the Masika airfield in the Cessna Caravan took just about one hour, ably piloted (again) by Capt. Russell Barnes, and although mostly at a relatively low flight level of 8.500 ft was smooth with a good view inspite of the rising haze in the distance.
(‘final’ approach into the Masika airfield – on the right corner of the picture is the Heritage ‘Buhuka Camp’)
Landing on the grass strip was in Capt. Russell’s best tradition and within minutes we were driven the short distance to the Heritage camp near the lake shores, which is managed for them by MSL Logistics, a locally incorporated company contracted to run a number of such camps for the Heritage drilling and well sites. The senior staff mess, which also doubles as a meeting room, provided us with beverages and snacks – and satellite news broadcasts of course – but the rest of the facilities for ‘ordinary’ workers too presented itself in a clean and functional state and the landscaping rounded up the impression very favourably – Ugandan hospitality, even if not aimed at the tourist market, from its best side.
(aerial and ground view of the Heritage ‘Buhuka’ camp on the shores of Lake Albert)
After the inevitable briefing of do’s and don’ts, and the day’s programme, it was back in the vehicles to first visit the nearby Kingfisher 3 well. I was particularly keen to see the level of site restoration since the drilling was carried out in 2008, and how the site now looked. Under the EIA terms agreed with NEMA and government Heritage restored this, and other test drilling sites to their initial state, and again I was impressed that the vegetation appeared even richer around the well house than further away and outside the fenced area, which marked the initial drilling site. In an earlier article I had commended the efforts of Heritage when restoring their test well sites in Murchisons Falls National Park, recently seen again after the rainy season, and no longer distinguishable from the surrounding area, so well has the replanted vegetation taken root – also to the delight of game which seems to congregate around such sites slightly more than further away. With this latest visual experience of site restoration I can now soundly agree that this commitment and obligation was fully discharged by Heritage, leaving nothing to be desired at this stage as the pictures well document.
(the restored site of the Kingfisher 3 well, lush, green and no sign – other than the well house – of any previous activity)
From there a visit to a Heritage built school was on the programme, named after the late Carl Nefdt, who was killed by marauding Congolese soldiers who at the time made it their day’s business to harass, arrest and even shoot at Ugandan fishermen and oil company personnel collecting data, while clearly in the Ugandan waters of Lake Albert (the Congolese regime still has to own up to this murder, leave alone pay compensation or bring the culprits to justice). This school now features 8 teachers’ houses and 7 new class rooms, while the original buildings are due for renovation according to a Heritage source in coming months. This school has since it was inaugurated by Heritage doubled the number of pupils to over 700, and instead of offering only primary 1 to 4 education now takes the pupils all the way to primary 7 and the primary leaving exams, which determine if a child can move on to secondary school level. Rainwater is harvested from the school roofs in big tanks to be used for sanitation, making it a safer and more hygienic environment for the kids to study.
(the Heritage built ‘Carl Nefdt Memorial School)
The penultimate item for the day’s visit was to not just see, but climb up to the water catchment and the 63.000 litres tank, from where gravity then feeds piped fresh and clean water, originating from a waterfall on the escarpment, to the six villages below. Several people remained below but this correspondent could not resist the steep climb and then enjoyed the resulting stunning views across the plains below and the lake beyond, as the pictures amply demonstrate.
(a view from the water tank across the plains towards the lake, and the vehicles waiting far below)
Heritage has spent, without any production in sight as yet, about a billion Uganda Shillings on the various projects in this area alone, for boreholes, the school construction, related expenses for school equipment, hundreds of mosquito nets, construction of proper latrines, anti HIV/AIDS campaigns and finally the gravity fed fresh water scheme, and the wish list by the communities has not yet been exhausted, as they – in a very friendly manner – asked for a small bridge over what must be a rushing river during the rains and support for a better community health centre.
(the waterfall and the high elevation water tank)
The inauguration ceremony was attended by a very large crowd from the surrounding villages and graced by the presence of the Minister of State for Mineral Development in the Ministry of Energy, and other local leaders, all of whom were overjoyed by the prospect of having piped, fresh and clean water which can be drank from any of the 24 available taps without having to boil it first – as the water quality certificate obtained confirmed. The pipes from the tank down to the plains extend over 14 kilometres to the 5 villages now benefitting from the project, and more taps are likely to be added in due course to make water collection for the residents of the area even easier.
(jubilant scenes as the water started to gush out of the tap)
After the ceremony it was a rush against time as threatening rain clouds came moving in over the escarpment, but we beat the rain by quite some distance and took off back to Kajjansi again as below us the rain then swept into the airstrip.
(very final approach back into the Kajjansi field outside Kampala and some of the facilities at the Kampala Aero Club, i.e. the pool side, available for members and passengers, and the new lounge)
Corporate social responsibility, and transparent interaction with the media are exemplary here and should Heritage indeed leave Uganda, the other oil companies will have a mammoth task ahead of them to emulate such examples and copy such behaviour especially considering the pending questions to them about their state of preparedness for oil spills in the light of the ongoing crisis in the Gulf of Mexico and the absolutely appalling experience in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, where extensive areas have been made uninhabitable and destroyed the swamp and wetland ecosystems probably for generations to come. Here comprehensive answers are clearly needed and the ongoing deafening silence experienced from some of the other oil companies, including Tullow, are mindboggling and only lend credibility to outspoken critics that these firms have really something to hide. Best international practise and technology must be employed from here on, irrespective of the cost, to avoid similar disasters here in Uganda when oil production eventually starts. In the meantime, blessed are those with Heritage Oil near their communities.
SOUTH AFRICAN SPECIALITY OPERATOR TEAMS UP WITH KENYAN COUNTERPART
Peace of Eden Self Discovery Wildlife Eco Tours and Team Building has in their latest newsletter announced a planned cooperation with Kenya based Bush Adventures (www.bush-adventures.com) when for the first time they will take a self discovery and team building exercise beyond the Southern African region and head for Eastern Africa where participants will learn bush craft from their Masai guides.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to get their regular newsletter with exciting and very different safari itineraries and activities or visit www.peace-of-eden.co.za for the full range of details of this and other safaris they arrange, including to the bushmen of the Kalahari.
MORE GREEN ENERGY FOR KENYA
The Kenya power generating company KENGEN has last week announced their own plans to add more ‘green’ power into the national grid, when plans for an additional 280 MW geothermal production facility were made public. Geothermal capacity for Kenya alone is estimated to be near 2.000 MW when fully tapped into, but presently only just over 200 MW are being produced.
This announcement comes shortly after earlier information was confirmed that two wind power plants in the Marsabit and Turkana areas of Kenya were given the green light by financiers, which – when complete – will produce over 600 MW of green electricity, generated from renewable resources.
The latest announcement by KENGEN, which is already now in the pre-qualification stage for contractors, brings the total amount of ‘new green’ energy to nearly 900 MW, which Kenya can expect to generate in coming years over and above their present hydro and thermal production. Financing partners were confirmed to be the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, besides a range of private equity firms lined up to put a loan package together.
The added ‘green’ capacities are also thought by some observers to reduce Kenya’s urgent need to participate in or then purchase much power from the controversial GIBE 4 project in Ethiopia, which according to environmental and conservation sources in Nairobi may have a severe impact on the water inflow to Lake Turkana, something the Kenyans are said to rather avoid than having to deal with the environmental and social impact and fallout, this new project across the border may pose to their own communities in the North of the country.
That said, interest in the entire East African region has increased in the technology of wind power, solar and geothermal electricity production, which of course not only reduces a country’s carbon footprint but also preserves other resources which can be dedicated to other uses.
KAA BLAMES CITY DUMP SITE FOR BIRD THREAT TO AIRCRAFT
An increased threat level for landing and departing aircraft by birds, and complaints by the affected airlines, has prompted the Kenya Airport Authority to resort to added activities in scaring birds away from the main runway of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Groups of workers have also been deployed further afield to the breeding grounds of Marabou storks and other bird species considered of particular threat to air traffic in and out of the airport. Meanwhile though the KAA has blamed the location of the main city rubbish dump between the Nairobi National Park and the airport for an increase in bird flocks, as they ‘commute’ to scavenge for food sources.
Departing and arriving aircraft do face a major threat to their safety by birds and several bird strikes were recorded in past years, not only in Nairobi but also the world famous incident when the pilots landed their disabled plan on the Hudson River in New York after colliding with a flock of geese which were sucked into the engines. Luckily, in the New York incident as well as in Nairobi no passengers came to harm but the risk is considered high and constant vigilance is required to keep birds away from the flight paths.
Meanwhile has the presentation of the report of the parliamentary committee on transport raised arguments in the house as several MP’s critizised the committee for their findings while others defended the impartiality of the report and supported the recommendation of a fresh recruitment exercise for the position of the KAA CEO, claiming the entire exercise was skewed in favour of the ‘wish list candidate’ propped up by the former post holder, the now retired George Muhoho. Watch this space.
KEMPINSKI DAR ES SALAAM MAKES FIVE STAR RATING
The recently concluded rating exercise in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam has now reached the stage of releasing the initial results to the tourism trade and general public, and it appears from information received from regular sources in Dar es Salaam, that the Kempinski Kilimanjaro Hotel has made it – as was expected – into the very top bracket of the city’s business hotels. Others which were awarded the coveted 5 star status, which allows them to put up a plaque at the hotel entrance and feature it in brochures and advertising, were the Moevenpick Royal Palm and the Sea Cliff Hotel.
Others however were reportedly putting on a brave face when they only attained four stars, amongst them the Southern Sun Dar es Salaam, the Protea Hotel and the Golden Tulip Hotel amongst many others and there has been some talk about appeals to be launched to have the ratings reviewed as permitted under the relevant regulations and laws.
Added information provided speaks of a total of 66 hotels being rated by the technical expert team and were awarded between 5 and 1 stars, while a further 33 missed the ‘cut’ altogether and will have to meet further criteria and improve upon their facilities to be reconsidered for a star rating. Those affected however are allowed to continue operations albeit without any rating attached to them at this time. Congrats to the top performers and good luck next time for those who missed out or ‘underperformed’ – here is your challenge to strive towards better standards and service.
SAUTI ZA BUSARA FESTIVAL GETS READY FOR 2011
Performers from across the African continent, and beyond, are invited by the organizers of East Africa’s premier music, art and culture festival, Sauti Za Busara, to send in their applications for consideration as soon as possible, to be assured of a place in next year’s edition in Zanzibar.
Interested parties should visit the festival website and download the application form and then return it at the very latest by 31st July this year. (www.busaramusic.org/callforartists/index.php)
The vetting committee will then sit in August to decide who will get one of the much desired spots to present a live performance during the five days and nights the festival is running. Applicants should note that selected performers will received financial assistance for Visa, travel, accommodation and subsistence while in Zanzibar and that the key performers can also expect support for sponsoring deals, in addition to the general support granted to all performers. Successful applications will be notified by end of September at the latest to allow enough time to prepare for their presence in Zanzibar between 09th and 13th of February next year.
Notably has also Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete stepped forward this year in offering his support and throwing his weight behind the festival, which he pronounced: ‘a very important initiative’, a true statement as this festival has grown from a small ‘local’ festival to a continental cultural ‘must participate’ event known across the globe. He then went on to say that Sauti Za Busara ‘provides a great opportunity for both locals and visitors of different walks of life to meet and exchange ideas and appreciate the uniqueness, the wealth and diversity of the music from our region. In so doing the festival contributes to us building intercultural understanding and friendship’.
Make note in your travel diary for next year’s event, book your flights and accommodation early as, going by the experience of recent years, hotels and resorts tend to be sold out over that period of time and several last minute wannabe visitors ended up disappointed when they failed to either secure flights or accommodation at the very last moment. For those who do manage to come it is however ‘welcome to Zanzibar and welcome to the United Republic of Tanzania’.
Sponsors, donors and organizations or companies wishing to be associated with the festival are encouraged to write to them via email@example.com to obtain all the various options of how to get involved and what exposure they can expect in return.
ZANZIBARI TOURISM MINISTER DEFENDS NEW ‘JETTIES’
The growing number of newly constructed jetties, aimed to promote water sports from various locations across the island, has now received ministerial support, when the Zanzibar tourism minister Samia Hassan came out in open support of such ventures. Other members of the Zanzibari assembly had critizised such projects as unproductive and alleged violation of environmental requirements but the minister rejected both notions firmly, leaving those raising the questions with egg all over their faces.
Jetties, especially those near beach resorts, are regularly used to moor sailing and fishing boats and attract tourist visitors to participate in such activities, benefiting local staff with employment. The minister also assured the assembly that all environmental norms were met and no project of this nature started without all approvals in place.
Southern Sudan News
WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY SUPPORTS PROTECTED AREA DEVELOPMENT
The Boma – Jonglei area of the Southern Sudan, which includes the Boma National Park and the Badingilo National Park and forms one of the largest, if not the largest savannah ecosystem across the entire East Africa, has been ‘targeted’ by the Wildlife Conservation Society for a holistic approach in regard of protection, in conjunction with their partners USAID and the Government of Southern Sudan – GOSS. A cross section of governmental and NGO representatives met two weeks ago in Juba to discuss the way forward in safeguarding the future of the two parks and the area in between, which is crucial to the continued existence of the large herds of white eared kobs and other gazelles, which according to latest reports – following aerial and ground surveys – is now pegged rather above the one million mark that previously thought in the region of 800.000 animals. Other species, besides the white eared kobs, found within the area are the Tiang, the Mongalla gazelles and reedbuck, but also include elephant, giraffe, eland, oryx, buffalo and the endemic but endangered antelope species Nile Lechwe. Wildlife found also includes a number of predators, including the relatively rare ‘hunting’ or ‘painted dogs’, hyenas and lions, in addition to which many bird species both resident and migratory are making the two parks and connecting savannah one of the last to be discovered natural wildlife spectacles on earth, yet hitherto only known to ‘those in the know’ like this correspondent.
In view of growing threats to the wildlife populations through poaching, but also converting the land to agricultural use, the workshop debated options for a new zoning approach, which would grant the wildlife the best chances to survival and the sustainable non consumptive use through tourism without denying the local communities the use of their land either, for both farming as well as ranching, one of the major community activities in the Southern Sudan by pastoralists.
Wildlife based tourism is thought to be one of the major upcoming economic activities for the Southern Sudan, and while many components still need to be put into place, and then operationalised, the political will was clearly expressed in the workshop when the Undersecretary – elsewhere known to be Permanent Secretary – in the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism. Professor Frazer Tong stated: “Wildlife conservation and protected area management can contribute directly and indirectly to improving security, creating economic opportunities, and conservation of the great natural savannah and wetland ecosystem and cultural heritage of our region. The Boma-Jonglei land-use planning process now can reconcile and balance competing needs to optimize development opportunities and ensure conservation of our tremendous wildlife and habitat areas forming the basis for wise natural resource use and development of the ecotourism sector.”
Participants from other ministries echoed these sentiments and made equally strong statements, giving hope that the work of Wildlife Conservation Society and USAID will bear fruits in coming years, when – following the referendum for independence due in January 2011 – they hopefully have paved the way for many more tourist visitors to come and see the very last unexplored and unexploited parks and game reserves in East Africa, not yet overrun and overdeveloped and offering the ‘real thing’ in safari experience.
PRESIDENT KIIR ANNOUNCES NEW CABINET FOR SOUTHERN SUDAN
The long awaited new cabinet list for the Government of Southern Sudan, in short GoSS, is now available after the President of the semi-autonomous region, Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit has on Monday announced his new line up of ministers. The cabinet will commence work immediately and is expected the be a major force as the region moves towards the independence referendum due in January 2011.
Notably, the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism was given to the National Congress Party, which is in power in the North of the country, but they were slow to react in nominating their choice for the post, which was in the last cabinet held by Hon. Mrs. Agnes Lukudu, also of the NCP. No information was available if she would be returned to the position by her party, so watch this space in the next edition.
NATIVE BIRD EXTINCT
Birdlife International, a leading global organisation, has last week confirmed, according to a source in Antananarivo, that one of the native ‘grebe’ species, the Alaotra grebe, has been officially declared extinct, as no sightings have taken place or other evidence of the species’ survival have been found in many years. It was also mentioned in the information that the disappearance of this particular bird is largely due to human activities as the bird, when diving for fish, often got entangled in the ever increasing nets used by fishermen in Lake Alaotra, one of the largest lakes on this Indian Ocean island.
The islands regime, in place after a coup, has also been strongly critizised over the large scale felling of tropical hardwood and exotic trees which are being exported, often illegally to South and Far Eastern countries which readily ‘absorb’ such illicit cargo at the expense of the environment in Madagascar, where this activity is starting to threaten fragile ecosystems and constantly encroaches on the habitat of their best known wildlife, the lemurs.
Periodic outbreaks of political violence however, and sanctions by the African Union and other countries, have brought the flow of tourists however to a low level, hitting the economy of the island hard.
AIR SEYCHELLES INTRODUCES SERVICE IMPROVEMENTS
It was learned over the weekend that the Seychellois national airline has embarked on a service improvement programme, which also includes on board announcements in Creole, they key national language besides English and French. Additionally the airline has changed their amenity bag for business class passengers, offering more ‘local’ content to promote Seychelles’ own products. Catering too has been ‘upped’ with added snacks available on the flights sectors between Rome and Milan in Italy and the final destination London Heathrow and Gatwick.
Entertainment on board too was targeted with film viewing devices now available for hire in economy class, from which a range of additional films can be accessed, over and above the inflight entertainment programme available in the cabin.
The airline also announced at the same time the creation of special year round Seychellois citizen fares aimed to make travel for ordinary Seychellois more affordable. On the domestic network the airline launched ‘off peak’ fares for periods of the day with lesser demand, promoting increased use of air travel between the islands on the Air Seychelles network. ‘The Creole Spirit’ is definitely flying high!
ANNUAL FRENCH ROADSHOW A SOUND SUCCESS
Last week saw the annual Seychelles Tourist Board ‘road show’ underway, criss crossing French cities in search of more clients visiting the archipelago’s islands for a vacation of a lifetime. About a dozen leading hoteliers, representing such outstanding properties as Banyan Tree, Le Meridien, the Hilton Northolme and others were joined by DMC staff and members of the French STB office and tourism ambassadors to make the most out of the week long promotion in one of Seychelles main European markets.
Also ‘on board’ were Air Seychelles and Air France, whose code shared flights are operated by Air Seychelles on their behalf, but reportedly the inter island ferry company too came along to actively promote island hopping. The road show covered Paris, Marseilles, Nice, the Principality of Monaco and Bordeaux, amongst other cities. According to information sent by participants, interest levels were high and the team was confident to increase arrival numbers from France during the current year, also supported by upcoming fam trips for travel agents and the travel media.
And in closing once more some interesting material taken from Gill Staden’s ‘The Livingstone Weekly’:
The Parrotfish Run – a family affair
At this time of year, millions of fish from the floodplains get caught up in the main stream of the Zambezi and swim downstream for miles. When they pass through the rapids, the fishing baskets wait throughout the night. In the mornings the jubilant fishermen go out in their makoras to empty the baskets and prepare for the next night’s catch.
Royal Chundu offered to take me out onto the river to see what happens so I took a ride out there early one cold morning. Taking a motorised ‘rubber duck’ we set off into the rapids near Royal Chundu to check the fishermen and their catch for that day. Our first section of river was upstream through a channel. The water was running so fast that we hardly made headway. To understand the strength of the fishermen in the makoras, you have to believe that they were overtaking us!
Getting into the main channel the river was extremely choppy, waves splashing over the sides of the boat. The mist lay thick on the river; the birds were watching the water from above in the treetops. It was very cold … and now I had wet feet. Holding on the sides of the dinghy I felt quite relaxed but knew that I could not have been in a makora – those things are made for experts, even sitting in them is a skill.
We made our way over to a channel to see the baskets being taken out of the river. The fishermen tie a strong rope between two poles and, on this, they secure their baskets. One by one the baskets are removed and put into the makora. When they boat is full of baskets, they are taken to an island and emptied.
We followed them onto the island to have a look. The baskets were emptied into the bottom of the makora, some fish still wriggling. The fish were all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the parrotfish was clearly seen from its bright red and yellow patches.
We found tigerfish, barbel, yellow fish, minnows, churchills, bottlefish, bulldogs and robbers, as well as the parrotfish. What strange names these fish have. I am not a fisherman so it was all new to me. I just looked on in awe that there are so many different kinds of fish in the river. According to the books there are over 60 species along this stretch of the Zambezi.
Having watched them load up their boats and leave for the mainland we headed home too, getting wet again but looking forward to a hot cup of coffee … and to dry out the socks and shoes …
Over coffee we discussed the habits of the parrotfish, which still leaves me confused. But this is what we decided with some logical reasoning. I am quite happy to be told that I am wrong so please let me know.
Millions of parrotfish come down the river at this time of year – between June and August. They are bottom-feeders and not strong swimmers like the tigerfish. They do not return upstream later in the year – as the salmon does, for example. So, the fish go downstream and stay there. Many parrotfish remain in the papyrus beds upstream and it is these that breed the following year. The ones that go downstream either find new breeding grounds or don’t breed.
I decided that the fish must get caught up in the whirl of water as it leaves the floodplains and rushes downstream. What did confuse us is that the fish only seem to come downstream on dark nights, when there is no moon. They also like it when it is cold. I can’t work out why this could be. Has anyone got any ideas?
The fishermen all use locally-made baskets. The main structure is made out of reeds which are tied together with rope made from the palm tree leaves. The basket is given strength around the top rim by using branches from the mopane tree. It is all very ingenious. Of course, too, their method of catching the fish using baskets is totally sustainable as they catch only a small proportion of those that pass through the channels. Let us hope that the future does not bode ill for the fish and big commercial netting operations do not take over.
Each channel is owned by a separate family – this is decided between themselves and it never creates any infighting. The bounty is good for them all. On the mainland, during the next few months, the villages set up their stalls – they sell everything from the fish to sweet potatoes, from toothpaste to second-hand clothes. For two months everyone has fun – we saw the drum of chibuku being carried to the river’s edge as we left.
Most of the fish is dried, but the parrotfish is special in that it is a source of cooking fat which can last the year through, if it is processed properly. The fish is cut open and in the belly is a lump of fat. A pot is put on the fire with reeds across the rim and the fat is laid on the reeds. As the pot gets hot, the fat melts and drips into the pot below. SK, our guide, said that his father collects about 20 litres of oil this way and he uses it all year for his cooking.
As soon as the parrotfish run starts the news spreads to Livingstone. The taxis start to arrive to buy the dried fish and take it back to the market. We met one taxi, a complete wreck of a car, being pushed along the rocky road – it did eventually get started but one wonders for how long.
This to me is what Africa is about. It is a completely sustainable harvest – the people have been doing it for generations. It is fun for all and of great economic value to the villagers there. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Booking Campsites in Botswana’s National Parks
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Botswana have handed over the booking of the campsites in National Parks to private companies. According to the information I have received, no-one will be allowed to pay at the entrance to any park or enter without a prior booking.
This is very sad news for many of us in the region who, on a whim, think that they would like to take a few days off and visit one of the parks in Botswana.
Mapula Lodge and Kwalate Safaris are now responsible for handling the bookings for campsites. I cannot find a website for Kwalate Safaris which is handling Ihaha, South Gate and Xakanaxa campsites in Moremi. On the Mapula Lodge website, there is no mention of how to book Linyanti Campsite in Chobe.
If you want help in unravelling this problem, it is best to contact Maun 4×4 Self Drive, via http://maunselfdrive4x4.webs.com/dwnpreservations.htm
They will help where they can.
From Zimbabwe Situation
Zimbabwe: Government Ditches Wildlife Trade Deal
Zimbabwe Independent. Bernard Mpofu. 17 June 2010
GOVERNMENT has aborted a wildlife trade deal with the secretive Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) amid widespread condemnation from pressure groups, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
Sources close to the development said the planned shipment of US$23 000 worth of wildlife to the DPRK in a deal conservationists termed President Robert Mugabe’s “Noah’s Ark”. It has been blocked after local and international natural resources campaigners criticised the destined living conditions of the animals at Pyongyang Zoo.
Pressure groups had protested against the deal saying the Asian country did not have a secure habitat for the game after the Parks and Wildlife Authority made public its intention to export the animals to Pyongyang.
North Korea had ordered several species, including elephant, giraffe, jackal, zebra, catfish, civet, blue monkey and spotted hyena.
Parks and Wildlife Authority spokesperson, Caroline Washaya-Moyo, yesterday could not confirm or deny the cancellation of the deal.
“We are not in a position to issue a statement as of now,” she said.
But sources said the deal fell through after scientists sent to Hwange National Park concluded that the animals would not be able to adjust to new conditions.
The sources said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has now been tasked with formally informing the DPRK of Zimbabwe’s decision to cancel the deal.
Apart from the DPRK deal, the wildlife authority said it was considering applications from five other countries willing to buy Zimbabwe’s wildlife.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce, a local natural resources watchdog, said the animals would have succumbed to DPRK conditions had the deal gone ahead.
“These animals belong to Zimbabweans. North Korea has a low track record of looking after animals and we can’t have our animals living in cages,” Rodrigues said. “We should be working on a plan to improve our tourism and we have such a plan. We cannot export the beauty of our country to other countries. What will future generations have if we export our heritage?”
Conservationists also say Zimbabwe cannot export game at a time when poaching is rampant.
A report released in February by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species claimed the involvement of Zimbabwean security forces in the killing of 200 rhinos in the past two years.