TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Fourth edition November 2010
FLY 540 OFFERS NEW LOW FARE TO DAR ES SALAAM
Efforts by airlines to retain, regain or capture added market share got yet more intense last week when the regional low cost carrier offered an all inclusive fare between Entebbe and Dar es Salaam of 270 US Dollars, albeit with restrictions on changes of travel dates. This latest initiative to capture Ugandan traffic and routing it via the Fly 540 hub in Nairobi will rock the market again and most likely force an early response from Kenya Airways, also flying to Dar via Nairobi but most certainly from Air Uganda, which offers the only nonstop flights between the two airports. U7 flies 6 times a week to Dar on CRJ 200 aircraft, the same type used by Fly 540, while Kenya Airways ordinarily uses their B 737-300 or -700 aircraft, unless a rotation is scheduled for one of their Embraers.
The country manager of Fly 540 in Uganda, Ms. Jackie Arkle, confirmed that the fares will stay for the foreseeable future and might only be revised should taxes, regulatory fees or fuel prices suddenly rise.
No information was available about a similar deal to Zanzibar, again a route on which Fly 540 is in direct competition with Kenya Airways and Air Uganda but the airline is continuing to offer their return fare to Nairobi at USD 210, all inclusive, for select weekends, so bargain catchers watch out. Monitor this space for the latest aviation news updates from across Eastern Africa.
PRESIDENT OPENS CHOBE SAFARI LODGE
Northern Uganda was firmly put on the tourism map last week when none other then President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni formally opened he reconstructed Chobe Safari Lodge, located in the upper part of the Murchisons Falls National Park.
Emerging from his helicopter, after the dust swirls had settled, he walked the short distance to the lodge entrance in the company of tourism state minister Serapio Rukundo, where he was greeted by the Madhvani Group’ Directors and senior personnel, with Mayur Madhvani introducing the assembled guests.
The president had taken out time from his busy election campaign schedule to carry out this pleasant duty as head of state, and was not only warmly received by all present but visibly delighted, when he stepped out on the terrace beyond the reception to enjoy the grandiose views across the white waters of the River Nile and the extensive forests in the distance.
After unveiling the commemorative plaque next to the reception of the lodge he was then taken for a tour around the property, where he also jovially greeted the staff in the kitchen and back of house, before inspecting the ‘Presidential Villa’ for a one on one meeting with the owners.
In his address the president also blasted officials who were making life difficult for investors by not willingly and voluntarily implementing agreed investment incentives, which prompted applause from those in attendance including the Uganda Investment Authority’s CEO Prof. Dr. Maggie Kigozi and the UIA Chairperson Patrick Bitature.
Due to time pressure the president could not stay for the truly amazing lunch spread on offer but did promise to return at a later date to sample the hospitality of Chobe. It was learned from colleagues covering the election trail, that he did mention in afternoon campaign meetings that he had directed the tourism minister and tourism ministry permanent secretary to work with UWA to establish suitable park boundaries like trenches, deep ditches or even electric fences to protect the communities neighbouring the park from marauding elephant and other game habitually straying outside and ‘raiding’ the ‘shambas’, a local word for small scale farms, denying the people their food. He also announced the likely creation of as many as 13.000 new jobs by the Madhvani Group’s Kakira Sugar company, which was aiming at setting up a large scale sugar cane plantation and sugar factory on presently idle land, including working with several thousand independent outgrowers.
The lodge is the fourth operated by Marasa, the others being Mweya Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park and the sister lodge in Murchisons Falls National Park some 90 KM down river, Paraa Safari Lodge, with the fourth facility in the Kenyan Masai Mara. It is understood from impeccable sources though that Marasa is bound to expand their portfolio in Kenya in coming months, eying both safari properties as well as a beach location. Visit www.chobelodgeuganda.com for more information about the ‘Gem on the Nile’ as the owners have dubbed their ‘youngest addition’ to the safari circuit in Uganda or google the parks and the lodges.
PRESIDENT DENOUNCES GREED, ENVY AND BREACH OF CONTRACT
A controversial letter in mid August by the board of the Uganda Wildlife Authority to the Madhvani Group’s Marasa Limited – the hospitality arm of the diverse industrial, agricultural and service concern in Uganda – cancelling the exclusion zone around their lodges as per the current, and entirely valid 30 year concession document, was thrown out by none other than the President, when he publicly directed that the letter be trashed. ‘This is not the way we do business in Africa, this is not the way we do business in Uganda’ he said, responding to the group’s request to intervene and ‘reverse the illegal action taken by the UWA board’.
The president went on to say that investors who came to the aid of Uganda during the hard years after the liberation war must never be told that they have served their purpose and can now be replaced, while also encouraging new investors to come to the country and invest in all sectors of the economy.
It is understood, as previously intimated here, that a vocal group of ‘also want to have the cake they did not bake’ had influence peddled members of the UWA board to arrive at the tilted, and potentially very expensive decision, which could have cost the wildlife body multi-millions of US Dollars in compensation, had Marasa not patiently waited for this opportunity and taken the matter to court immediately. Notable was the dismissed chairperson of UWA – he was sacked by court order last week for not being eligible and suitably qualified to hold the position – absent from the official lodge opening, and the wildlife body was only represented by the present Acting Executive Director and several UWA staff based in Murchisons Falls National Park, including the park warden and his senior officers. At least the sacked chairman was spared blushes and further public humiliation, had he had to face his president who was clearly upset and angry over the reported shenanigans. Said the president to the Madhvani directors in a biblical quote: ‘you have to forgive them because they do not know what they do’ – a damning indictment towards those who tried to ‘grab’ the wildlife authority and showing just how disgusted the president was with these recent developments.
The company had in the past been repeatedly accused by ‘those vocalists’ to ‘monopolise’ the park lodges if not the entire industry, a claim rubbished by facts alone considering the number of now available beds in and around the two parks where the group is actively involved (Queen Elizabeth and Murchisons Falls), leave alone the many other parks where they do not have a presence, and racial undertones were introduced with alarming regularity, considered by many to be an absolute disgrace for the country, but finally put to rest by a presidential directive. Overall result: A good day for the tourism industry in Uganda.
CONTROVERSY RELOADED, GOLF COURSE IN THE PARK 2.0
The grand opening last week of the Chobe Safari Lodge also brought about renewed controversy, when the Chief Executive of the Madhvani Group, Mr. Mayur Madhvani, again raised the issue of wanting to build a golf course in the park with President Museveni, this time in the neighbourhood of the just opened Chobe Lodge in the upper part of the Murchisons Falls National Park.
Several years ago a similar request, evenly brought to the President, was eventually defeated by a broad alliance of conservationists, then leading tourism stakeholders and the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s then chairman John Nagenda, who led a spirited fight, using candid language against the plans to turn the Mweya peninsula into a 18 hole golf course.
Although the group was later offered land outside the park near the Katwe village to construct a golf course of their own, and offers were extended to work hand in hand with the Kasese Golf Club and send their clients there by shuttle bus, nothing ever came of these counterproposals as it was ‘all or nothing’ for the developers, to either have a golf course on their door step or none at all. The Mweya peninsula’s narrow stretch of land connecting it to the main body of the park, is known for many animals moving in and migrating out from the peninsula, like elephant and buffalo, and a golf course, it was suggested then, would have impacted too heavily on these movement patterns, leave alone the impact of using imported alien grass species and the subsequent need to constantly fertilise and water the fairways and greens, with runoff water polluting the Kazinga Channel and Lake Edward.
The latest attempt to have a golf course carved out of this time Murchisons Falls National Park will most likely also meet with equal resistance and it is understood that John Nagenda is already ‘marshalling his troops’. It was pointed out to this correspondent by sources close to UWA that there is apparently a golf course at Pakwach, which again could be used for a partnership between the Madhvani Group and the club, and guest wishing to play a round or two could easily be transported there by shuttle bus, instead of cutting large swathes of forest in the immediate vicinity of the lodge to create an 18 or even 27 hole course in a pristine wilderness area second to none in Uganda.
The next few weeks will also tell if tourism stakeholders and industry leaders do have the proverbial ‘cojones’ to stand up for what it is right and speak out against ‘golf in the park’ as was the case several years ago or if a weakened and fragmented opposition to the proposals will hand ‘victory’ to the intending developers. Watch this space for updates in coming weeks. Meanwhile let it also be on record that the opinion of this correspondent about golf in the park has not changed since the days of the Mweya proposals.
CROSS LAKE KAYAK EVENT TO PROMOTE SPORTS TOURISM
Kayaking has long been on the menu of activities by renowned adventure company ‘Nile River Explorers’ and has over the years attracted many visitors from abroad, at times with special airline promotions uplifting their sports equipment for free. The upper Nile valley below Jinja has gained a reputation of an all year, but for competitors from the Northern hemisphere especially a winter training ground.
Last week saw a cross lake kayaking expedition launched from the Source of the Nile in Jinja to the Kenyan lakeside city of Kisumu, in which Italian and local kayakers participated and the Uganda Tourist Board and the Ministry of Tourism was swift to commend and support the venture as an added attraction for tourism businesses to promote abroad and in the region.
ANOTHER SHIMONI LOOMING?
Following the disastrous decision some years ago to throw out the Shimoni Primary School pupils and teachers and uproot the Shimoni Teachers Training College from their premises in record time, to make way for an ‘investor’ who promised the build a 5 star hotel for the then upcoming Commonwealth Summit – that site still lies idle – has reportedly changed hands at least once since then. The principal owner of Kingdom Hotels, was the one who schmoozed his way into the corridors of power at the time, making lots of promises and delivering on not a single one, before eventually declaring that he ‘had lost interest’, a diplomatic way of admitting that the financial crisis of 2007/8 saw his cash flow get thinner and thinner and wanting to invest his remaining bucks rather elsewhere than in Uganda.
A related and equally sad saga evolved when the notorious Aya brothers, better known for their milling business and regular appearances in the local dailies over a range of allegations, were granted the land of the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation on Nakasero Hill, ostensibly to build another ‘CHOGM’ hotel to be managed by Hilton. Again, the UBC offices, buildings thought to be protected under the national monuments regulations, were literally overnight emptied of equipment and staff and knocked down into rubble.
The brothers made headlines, since then, when making unsustainable promises such as to build a floor a week, that they were going to employ 2.000 people when the hotel was finished (and train them on the job – how Hilton must have cringed over this utterance) and then constantly shifting deadline after deadline for the completion of the hotel more than three years after CHOGM came and went. A full mouthed statement made early this year, that the hotel would be finished by September, was again far from reality, a clear sign that investors in the hotel and lodge sector in Uganda ought to be thoroughly scrutinized over their financial clout and management experience elsewhere, instead of being given the country’s ‘family silver’ as if there was an endless supply of such.
A similar story broke this week when it was learned that the country’s main ivory tower, Makerere University, appears to have been stripped of a valuable piece of land they own, when another ‘investor’ in record time – it reportedly took all but 5 minutes to make out a lease and register the name change – tried to get his hands on another prime piece of Kampala real estate. When found out he too made his way into the corridors of power, obtained a directive to give him the land and leave him alone, as he was to create a 5 star hotel at the cost of 17 million US Dollars.
If memory serves right, Serena Hotels spent over 30 million US Dollars to completely rebuild and refurbish the then Nile Hotel, before reopening as the Kampala Serena Hotel – a genuine investment by any standards, but proposing to build a 5 star hotels, several years down the line with the risen cost of construction, at 17 million US Dollars can only be a fluke.
This latest saga, as was the Shimoni charade, will again be closely monitored to ascertain what if anything is going to happen on this site and what, if anything will be built there and to what standards. One thing for sure, the language of ‘luxury’ and ‘5star’ are some of the most misused or otherwise most misunderstood denominations for a hospitality business in these parts and for sure more stories will follow here in due course.
FLY 540 ADDS MERU NATIONAL PARK TO SAFARI CIRCUIT
An often overlooked but nevertheless true gem amongst Kenya’s national parks has now been put on ‘prime time’ with the opening of a new air route by Fly 540 last week.
The airline announced that effective 19th of November a flight will extend, three times a week, from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport via Nanyuki to Meru, operated on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday on the reliable and comfortable Cessna 208 Caravan equipment. The flights will leave Wilson at 3 p.m. and reach Meru at 4.15 p.m., before scheduled to land back at Wilson at 5.45 p.m.
Safari operators have already expressed their delight over the announcement, as they can now send tourists to the lodges and tented camps in the wider Meru Conservation Area by air, with airstrip transfers and game drives then provided by knowledgeable guides based in the respective safari properties.
Tourism sources have also commended the new route as ‘opening up of our lesser known but still very attractive parks to a wider group of travellers’ a sentiment full shared by this correspondent, who personally considers the wider Meru park and conservation area as a ‘prime piece of African wilderness real estate’. Visit www.fly540.com for more information on fares or to make bookings for their safari flights as well as their regional operations across the East African Community.
JETLINK TAKES KENYA AIRWAYS TO COURT
The battle for the skies over Kenya and Eastern Africa has taken another twist, following a sharp increase of the number of flights by Kenya Airways to Mombasa and sharply lowered fares across their domestic network, all ostensibly aimed at carving out a greater market share once again, much of which was lost in recent years to competitors on the domestic and partly even regional markets. Other private airlines had taken exception already some weeks ago, as reported here, when KQ had advertised to fill open positions, aimed directly at qualified staff working for other airlines, but could do little about it but gnash their teeth and fork out higher pay to retain their staff.
Now however it seems that Jetlink has obtained ‘evidence’ over allegations made against them by KQ and filed suit in the High Court in Nairobi, in which both the airline but also their Country Manager for Kenya were cited as respondents. It is understood that Jetlink will use both a recent email allegedly sent by the KQ manager as well as an internal memorandum from earlier in the year, claimed to originate from within Kenya Airways, to boost their case, which development will be closely monitored and reported about.
MORE DELAYS FOR B787 CUSTOMERS QUITE LIKELY NOW
The recent electrical fire on a B 787 ‘Dreamliner’ test aircraft has again thrown ‘spanners in the work’ at
Boeing, as testing has been broadly suspended for the time being until the source of the fire has been established and ruled out for the future. An announcement as to the likely further delays in delivering the aircraft to the launch customers is expected soon and will keep the East African airlines Kenya Airways and Ethiopian wondering, when exactly they will finally see this aircraft take to the skies in their own livery. Present consensus amongst aviation observers is a possible 6 – 12 months further delay before the first delivery to a commercial customer would be made, if true crashing indictment for the Boeing management which tried to make the world believe otherwise, as done on many previous occasions too, when one time line after the other fell like domino stones.
Kenya Airways’ board of directors is reported to be in the final evaluation stage considering an order for Airbus A330 aircraft, to fill the gap the continuous delays in the B787 production is causing them, which to a degree has already impacted on their plans for new long haul and inter-African routes and increased frequencies on their high density destinations in Europe and the Far East.
Retrofitting their present ageing fleet of B767 aircraft would be another option for Kenya Airways, but unless Boeing comes forward and commits to pick up a major part of those bills, is not deemed the most likely of scenarios, as in any case the heavy use of these aircraft in recent years will also require extra costly added maintenance measures when the ageing aircraft directive deadlines begin to creep up on the fleet. KQ, as reported here, has discussed these issues with Boeing representatives but no conclusion was reached, or else none communicated to the media.
Ethiopian in the meantime is receiving yet more of their ordered B777 aircraft, keeping the impact of the B787 delays somewhat in check but aviation observers in the region are certain, that the problems at Boeing, for very long downplayed and belittled by the company, will beyond a doubt affect medium term expansion plans for the two leading airlines in the Eastern Africa region unless they can secure aircraft able to bridge the gap for a couple of years.
SAFARICOMS’ 4G PLANS PUT ON HOLD
The Kenyan government, in a surprise move last week, halted the individual development of a 4G network, otherwise known as Long Term Evolution Technology or in layman’s terms fourth generation network. Safaricom were the first out of the blocks to introduce a 3G network in Kenya and are presently already operating trials with 4G using the same bandwidth and getting ready to meet their own deadline for a general rollout of the hitherto fastest wireless broadband system in Kenya.
However, the Kenyan government has now apparently decided that the 4G network should become ‘universal and commonly owned’ to allow greater access to the service across the country, a decision which may not be in every operator’s own interest, especially not the market leaders, while the ‘lesser’ players will see a chance to muscle into a market without having to invest beyond their means. It was learned that the new network development would be free of the initial license fees which for the early introduction of the present 3G networks cost communications companies as much as 15 million and more US Dollars and raised a huge storm of disagreement when latecomers were asked to pay much less.
How the change of policy will affect the time frame of having 4G available in Kenya on a nationwide basis is now a matter of much speculation, while across the border in Uganda 4G, at least in select parts of Kampala, is now a reality already.
POACHING PERSISTS INSPITE OF LIPSERVICE TO THE CONTRARY
The arrest last week of a game warden and almost a dozen poachers around the Lukwati Forest Reserve once again underscored the need of not just greater vigilance but also the need to commit sufficient resources to permit law enforcement an even chance to prevent poaching and through show of force and numbers deter what seems to be commercial gangs plundering the Tanzanian natural resources.
A special operation was mounted by wardens and rangers from other parts of the country to prevent the leaking of the information to the culprits in advance, and subsequently many of them were nabbed with trophies, skins and firearms confiscated in the process, both inside the reserve and outside.
Tanzania had earlier in the year attempted to get special permission from the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka to put several tons of ivory on the international market as a one off sale, but was denied a permit when it became clear that not enough was being done to fight poaching across the country, amongst other reasons advanced by the opponents of the deal. Officials then were swift to decry the decision taken, vowed to lodge another application and generally denied accusations of doing little about the illegal trade of birds and animal products from or via Tanzania, yet available records of seizures of ivory abroad were trailed back to Tanzania as the exit point from Africa.
Considering the present upswing in Southern Africa of poaching operations, in near war like circumstances using helicopters, aircraft, communications systems and organised transportation, Eastern Africa better get ready to face this menace head on, should the temptation to such commercial poaching spread into our region and mobilise not just rangers and wardens but also enlist other law enforcement and security organs like special army units to be able to withstand the onslaught seen in Southern Africa this year.
Much of the illicit ivory and rhino horns, besides skins and trophies, are thought to find their way into the black and grey market in the Far and South East, where demand – following the economic recovery – appears to have rocketed and where the hunger and greed for ivory carvings seems to go on unhindered by authorities in the ‘consumer’ countries.
In a related development it was also learned over the weekend that the illegal cutting of tropical hardwood, with special reference to existing teak plantation, seems to be on the rise too, as allegedly corrupt officials appear to conspire with timber traders and exporters to clear wide areas of these diminishing forests are increased pace, again shipping the logs to the Far and South East, while Europe and North America have largely put a ban of these precious woods in place. Watch this space.
CLIMATE CHANGE ON EAC SUMMIT IN DECEMBER
Arusha will welcome the 12th ordinary summit of the heads of state of the East African Community in early December, at which time climate change will be on the agenda. The participants will discuss counter measures and mitigation mainly to achieve food security for the growing populations of the five member countries, which is closely linked to not just regular and sufficient rains but to a growing degree also to irrigation, yet with the icecaps of Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains shrinking this resource may over the space of the next 20 years almost completely vanish. Observers from international organizations concerned about the impact of climate change on the African continent in particular will be pleased to see this crucial issue raised at the head of state summit, giving some hope at least that the gravity of the problem has at last been recognised and is gradually being tackled.
PRESIDENT KIKWETE TO OPEN MT. MERU HOTEL ON 17TH DECEMBER
Fresh out of his re-election campaign and at the start of his second and final term of office under the Tanzanian constitution, will President Kikwete formally re-open the Mt. Meru Hotel in Arusha, which has undergone a full rehabilitation and refurbishment over the past several years.
The Mt. Meru was initially opened by the late President ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere as part of then Tanzania Lodges and Hotels, but has since changed hands and management repeatedly before the new owners spent about 35 billion Tanzania Shillings to return Arusha’s formerly leading hotel to the top of their class. Located next to Arusha’s main golf course and near to the International Conference Centre the hotel will undoubtedly once again play a major role to promote visits to Tanzania’s northern safari circuit as the by-line ‘safari capital of Eastern Africa’ springs from the reality that Arusha indeed is the springboard to see the national parks of Manyara, Tarangire, Ngorongoro and Serengeti, or else spend time in the Arusha National Park or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
It is expected that President Kikwete will comment on the highly controversial plans of constructing a highway across the migration paths of the Serengeti, especially as his recent fact-finding mission only got as far as Manyara and Ngorongoro before abruptly moving on to Dodoma for state duties.
The opposition against the controversial project has been growing in recent months, after the news of the plans were broken here and it is understood that intense consultations are ongoing to avoid a potential mega blunder by the Tanzanian government which could not just heavily impact on the migration but in a worst case scenario wipe it out altogether. Watch this space.
‘LOBBYISTS’ AGAINST SERENGETI HIGHWAY CHANGE TUNES
It could in the short time available since obtaining the information overnight not be ascertained, if or how several organisations previously totally opposed to the planned highway across the Serengeti migration routes arrived at their sudden change of heart, but several organisations were quoted yesterday as having given qualified support to the project.
While insisting that a full Environmental and Social Impact Assessment must be carried out by qualified consultants before a single grader moves, the undercurrent of their position has fundamentally changed when they did offer a different viewpoint, expressed on behalf of other organisation by a representative of SEPDA, or in long Serengeti Environmental Protection and Development Association.
Some sections of conservationists opposed to the highway immediately threw doubt on the research done by SEPDA, or their mandate, and raised questions – without present answers – as to who the backers, funders and Godfathers of SEPDA were and what, if any links, they had with government.
This is another twist in the tail of this story which has captivated NGO’s, conservation groups, organisations and individuals from across the world, all demanding in unison to spare the Serengeti the fate of destruction and obey the teachings of Tanzania’s founding father the late ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere, who was during his time throwing all the support behind conservation efforts spearheaded by the Frankfurt Zoological Society and many others. Watch this space.
SAFARI PLUS TO FLY KEMPINSKI CLIENTS TO KEMPINSKI RESORTS
News broke last weekend that Safari Plus, a locally registered ‘safari’ or charter airline, will start air operations in early 2011 with a Beechcraft 1900 and a King Air 350B. The associate company of Kempinski Hotels appears set to fly on a daily basis from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar, where the global hotel group operates the Zamani Kempinski Resort before routing on to the Serengeti where the Bilila Kempinski Lodge is located. It was not made clear if existing airlines were initially considered for a partnership to operate on behalf of the group or if Kempinski wanted to have an ‘in house operation’ it could control 100 percent and where quality assurance was also under their control.
While learning about this development it was also ascertained that the visiting Vice President for Africa of Kempinski Hotels announced during his visit to Dar es Salaam that the group had plans to build another hotel in Arusha and a second resort in Zanzibar to cater for growing demand, although they did not mention plans to invest in other national parks or game reserves, where previously they were connected with the Selous for a potential new top of the range safari lodge. Watch this space.
TCAA DECRIES LOSS OF AIR TRAFFIC
The annual report by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority showed a worrying trend for the year 2009, when a nearly 15 percent drop of aircraft movements was recorded from domestic, regional and international airlines flying into and around the country. Passenger numbers too had reduced by nearly 4 percent and cargo shipments by air too suffered substantially in the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis.
However, a source in Dar es Salaam has assured this correspondent that for the subsequent year 2010 the TCAA expects a recovery of the lost ‘ground’ and in fact hopes to achieve if not exceed pre-crisis levels, as interest by international and regional airlines has grown again.
That said, Ugandan aviators continue to demand equitable and fair treatment when flying to Tanzania, as far as access to ALL airfields is concerned but also for immediate issuance of clearances, if not to be given the so called ‘block clearances’ when ferrying passengers from Uganda to Tanzania on chartered flights.
The TCAA has long been accused to be the slowest to react to the political advances of the East African Community and to have erected substantial non tariff barriers aimed at keeping airlines registered in the other four member states of the EAC out of their skies.
RWANDAIR SET FOR BRAZZAVILLE FLIGHTS
Following a recent state visit by President Kagame to the Republic of Congo’s capital Brazzaville, agreement has also been reached to commence air operations between the two capital cities. It is understood that the planned flights between Kigali and Kinshasa may in fact be extended ‘across the river Congo’ into Brazzaville, when these flights are eventually launched, in order to combine the two destinations, as non stop ‘stand alone’ flights would arguably not be financially viable.
RwandAir also confirmed these developments late last week but was not able to give an anticipated date when the flights would be launched.
SWITCHING TRAFFIC TO THE ‘LEFT’ NOT ANY TIME SOON
It was learned over the weekend that efforts towards bringing Rwanda in line with the traffic ‘mode’ in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – i.e. move it to the left, were not moving forward any time soon. A study undertaken by government consultants did apparently not give enough ‘benefits’ to the country out of the move inspite of apparently more pro’s than con’s were established when sourcing opinions and feedback from across Rwanda. Until such time therefore, that this question is resolved one way or another, it will be ‘careful careful’ for drivers from the other EAC countries when driving to Rwanda and they have to ‘switch sides’ at the border.
GORILLA RELOCATION TO CONGO UNDERWAY
Information was received from Kigali that a planned and long committed relocation of initially two, and later on several more mountain gorillas was being carried out on Tuesday, 23rd of November from Kiningi / Western Rwanda to the Eastern Congo, where according to a usually well informed source a sanctuary has been established. The gorillas came to Rwanda from the Eastern Congo several years ago after being injured and orphaned in poachers raids, as protection of the prized animals was ultimately better – and some say it still is – compared to the Congo, where the national park is beset with problems of militias roaming the parks, refugees periodically retreating into the forests to seek shelter when fighting breaks out and more rampant poaching in general as a result of many years to insecurity and warfare.
The relocation of a 9 year old female and a 6 year old partially disabled male will mark the start of the process of returning the animals to their ‘home country’, under the cooperation between the Rwanda Development Board, park management authorities from DRC and Uganda, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration and partner NGOs like Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, International Gorilla Conservation Program, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund/Karisoke Research Center.
Six more such animals will be returned to the Congo in due course, after establishing that this initial relocation has been successful and did not harm or disturb the social behaviour of the first two in any way.
FRESH TROUBLES HALT TOURISM RECOVER
The outbreak of more violence and persistent rumours over a ‘coup d’ etat’ last week by sections of the armed forces have caused outright dismay in the country’s tourism fraternity, as ‘bad news’ were once again filling the TV screens across the globe.
While sources close to the current regime, also in power courtesy of a coup since March 2009, denied the reports and spoke of a limited mutiny, this is nevertheless another spanner in the works of the tourism promoters for Madagascar, who have seen tourist arrivals reduce to trickles when in fact the island’s natural attractions should drawn in a steady stream of visitors to see the national parks with the unique Lemurs or else enjoy the tropical beaches. A referendum was being held on the day to decide on the regime leader’s proposed change of the present age barrier for those running for the presidency, but with all opposition parties boycotting the vote, and three former presidents also denouncing the referendum, any outcome will have no legitimacy at all for the already widely discredited and shunned Rajoelina and his backers.
AFFORDABLE INTERNET FOR VISITORS BY KOKONET
Tourists coming to the archipelago can now finally enjoy affordable internet connections, since ‘Kokonet’ has introduced prepaid access cards to their network, which is available across the key ‘inner’ islands of the Seychelles, namely Mahe, Praslin and La Digue.
50 Rupees a day, less than 5 US Dollars, or 250 Rupees a week will give tourists the option to connect just for a day or a week, depending on the length of their stay, while being able to access the web through designated hotspots and in participating locations like Eden Island. Downloads according to a source from Victoria are unlimited, giving in particular business and tourist visitors who do not need monthly connections, excellent value for their money. Many hotels and resorts to also offer internet access to their guests, some via a chargeable service while others offer the connection for free. Global research has put free internet access in hotels and resorts into the top three demands by guests but this has yet to reach more hoteliers and hotel owners and operators, many of whom still consider the provision of these essential services an item to be billed for profit.
SPAT OVER TRAFFIC RIGHTS DOMINATES INTER ISLAND MEETING
A recent meeting of the Indian Ocean Economic Forum in Victoria produced some remarkable ‘spats’ between Air Austral and Air Seychelles, instead of making headway over the many pressing economic issues which beset small island states and Indian Ocean rim countries.
It is understood that tourism cooperation under the theme ‘Iles Vanille’ was to be discussed and endorsed but it was over air access to the Comoros islands that the waves really went high. Under disagreement were apparently traffic rights from Mahe to Mayotte, a French territory neighbouring the main Comoros islands, and it was a delegate from there lighting the fire when claiming that the French aviation authorities were denying Air Seychelles ‘fair access’ to the island, in the process permitting Air Austral to keep their fare levels high, while the introduction of the planned three flights per week from Paris via Mahe to Mayotte would make air travel considerably more affordable.
Air Seychelles reacted to the claims by confirming that they were up to now not granted certain traffic rights to Mayotte, suggesting in the process that this amounted to unfair protection by the French aviation licensing body. Air Austral then fired back claiming that they were happy with the current arrangements and anything else would eat into their profit margins – a thinly concealed admission that a back room arrangement must have been reached between the airline and the French aviation authority to keep competition off the route. Said one regular source in Mahe to this correspondent: ‘We are all talking about liberalisation of air traffic, and here in Seychelles the concessions made to foreign airlines have been massive, to the point of having to cut routes by Air Seychelles like to Frankfurt / Germany earlier this year. Gulf airlines have been uplifting traffic from there at way below the fares charged by our own airline, all in the interest of bringing more flights to Mahe and more visitors to our shores. BUT, as this example of protection by the French shows, we must never lose sight of the national interest overall, and having our own airline is very very important especially in times of crisis, when foreign airlines cut back immediately. I think our government has to find a balance between wanting more tourists to come and maintaining a profitable Air Seychelles, because they are the only real guarantee we have to stay connected to the world’. True words and fodder for thought.
FIDELIO TO SPONSOR SEYCHELLES TOURISM ACADEMY
It was learned over the last weekend that the STA has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with hotel software and solutions provider Fidelio. Students will benefit from the newly announced cooperation as Fidelio is reportedly for the next 24 months sponsoring hardware and software for Seychelles’ premier hotel and tourism training institution to allow students to learn already at the STA what awaits them at the workplace. Fidelio is a widely used system and many hotels, even if not using Fidelio outright, will use other providers’ software which operates along similar lines, permitting the graduates from STA to be quite conversant with the work tools they find when they enter employment.
STA also confirmed that a trainer will come to the institution next year to review the programme absorption and assist lecturers to make best use of the available support. Well done STA for continuing to explore all avenues available to improve the facilities and courses for the students.
SEYCHELLES SHOWS DETERMINATION IN FIGHT AGAINST OCEAN TERROR
The Seychelles navy and coastguard, supported by aerial assets provided to them by the naval coalition against piracy and operating out of Mahe, last week showed the proverbial ‘flag’ again and in a robust and determined action re-captured a hijacked vessel, rescued the hostages without harming any of them and arrested the Somali ocean terrorists. The latter were already produced in court where they are charged with a variety of offences in regard to ocean piracy and terrorism while all the abductees were safely returned to their families on the archipelago.
Seychelles is one of the few countries showing real determination to rid their waters of the Somali menace, not only because the country depends on fishing and tourism but from a deep commitment that the sea lanes across the extensive territorial waters of the Seychelles must be kept free for all ocean traffic and permit tourists to sail the islands while the fishermen go after their daily business in peace.
Both the country’s president James Michel and the responsible minister Joel Morgan were present to greet their fellow countrymen and express their delight and appreciation to the navy and coast guard personnel who once again stood up against the menace and defied it by a determined show of force. The ‘Topaz’ used for the operation was incidentally donated by India to the Seychelles and the United Arab Emirates have pledged 5 more ocean going vessels to secure the Seychellois waters against intruders and threats.
The message from the Seychelles is clear now: do not come into our waters as we are ready for you, will challenge you and capture you before putting you on trial. Anyone in Somalia listening yet ???
South Sudan News
SUDANESE POUND EFFECTIVELY DEVALUED
The Central Bank in Khartoum came to face the inevitable when owning up to the chronical shortages of foreign exchange which beset the country in recent months, after according to sources from Juba / Southern Sudan much of the hard currency earned through oil exports was squandered by the Northern regime through the alleged purchase of armaments to boost their war in Darfur and ‘get ready’ for ‘maybe another round in the South’.
Foreign exchange bureaus were reportedly authorised to purchase and sell hard currency at a ‘premium’ effectively reflecting on the fallen value of the Sudanese Pound over the past year or so. However, banking industry observers called the margin of about 17 percent as ‘way below the current black market rates’ and immediately called – at least the Southern sources this correspondent was in touch with – for a total freeing of the dealings in hard currencies or else the introduction of a ‘realistic’ premium.
At the same time traders were hit with yet more regulations, as the Central Bank also instructed the commercial banks to ensure 100 percent financial cover for any letters of credit to be opened to guarantee import bills, which is a potentially dangerous development as import of goods could grind to a halt, should the Central Bank in Khartoum not yield to demands from the business community.
Meanwhile is the South counting down towards the January 09th referendum when the population will decide on their independence, something all sources in the South Sudan confirm as ‘inevitable and totally justified, considering the reactionary treatment accorded to us by the regime in Khartoum’. Watch this space.
And courtesy of Gill Staden’s ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ here are some very interesting articles about the migration of wild animals from Angola into Zambia, blissfully unaware that the two governments are still negotiating of how best to ‘permit’ this and another about the imminent launch of the ‘Southern Belle’ by Protea Hotels on Lake Kariba. Also included are details about the recent upswing in poaching along the Caprivi Strip in Namibia and the government of Botswana finally regulating the use of ‘green and eco…’ but prescribing guidelines – something we could well do with here in Uganda where owners habitually describe their properties as ‘green, ecofriendly’ and even luxurious, none of them arguably ever having seen true luxury …
Tourism Minister Signs Agreement
From the Times of Zambia
Minister of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources Catherine Namungala has said her ministry has formulated a unique policy of partnering with the Angolan government in facilitating the migration of 40,000 wild animals from that country to Zambia.
Namugala told journalists at a press briefing that the wild animals were expected to enter Zambia by March next year.
She said the initiative was a key product in the ministry because it was aimed at promoting the tourism industry in the country and abroad.
She said government had placed much emphasis on the tourism sector as one of the key driver in the economic prosperity of the country.
The Minister said her ministry would also document the migration of the animals to show case to the Zambian people and the world at large of Zambia’s tourism attractions.
I must say that I was rather confused about this strange article … so I read some of the comments below the article on the website:
While the two governments have been negotiating, the Gnu’s and Zebra’s have been happily migrating between the two countries for years unaware that there’s no deal yet. We know this because we have seen it on National Geographic. The minister should have put this differently.
Sloppy journalism…These 40,000 animals are patiently waiting on the Angolan border until they see this agreement?
As both these comments note, the wild animals in this article obviously refer to the wildebeest migration which occurs annually between Liuwa Plain and the surrounding areas – some of which is in Angola. The last information which I was given said that the wildebeest now number around 50,000. Many do migrate to Angola but some move within Zambia to the north; some are now preferring to stay within the sanctuary of the park.
The park is run by African Parks and they are doing a phenomenal job in such a remote area. More animals are being re-introduced. As you may have seen on the TV, Lady Liuwa was the single lioness in the park. African Parks has brought in two male lions from Kafue in the hopes that it can be the start of a new pride. They have also brought in eland which are happily settling down to their new home.
Liuwa Plain is one of my favourite parks. It is so remote and there is enough sky for anyone. Love it.
The wildebeest migration is on now. The wildebeest have moved from their dry season grounds to the vast Liuwa Plain to have their young and to feed on the new grass. They will move away again in March/April as the land starts to dry up.
Robin Pope runs fly-in safaris at various times of the year, otherwise it is left to self-drive enthusiasts. It is a two-day drive from Livingstone or from Lusaka. 4×4 is absolutely necessary and the park is only accessible in the dry season.
To reach Liuwa it is necessary to cross the Barotse Floodplain. Once upon a time the Government did try to construct a causeway across this vast area but it now lies in ruins and vehicles have to struggle through deep sand. Also, to reach Liuwa from Livingstone it is essential to use three ferries – two across the Zambezi and one across the Luanginga.
Personally, I don’t think that the park can take thousands of visitors. I do think, though, that if the government can reduce the cost of licensing and aviation fuel, fly-in safaris would become more affordable. If we want to increase tourism in Zambia, flying from one destination to another has to be more realistically priced. Only then will Zambia capitalise on its stunning tourist attractions.
Full steam ahead for the Southern Belle
The US$1 million-plus refurbishment of Protea Hotel’s latest project, the Southern Belle, has been completed. Bookings have now opened for the maiden Zambian voyage of the old steam-style boat, which was an institution in the waters of Lake Kariba on the Zimbabwe side for more than a decade.
Since the completion of her refurbishment, the Southern Belle, operated by Protea Hotels, has undergone lake trials, all of which have proven incredibly successful. The vessel’s first official voyage takes place on 1 December, and bookings have already begun to pour in, says the group.
“The renovation of the Southern Belle has been a lengthy process, and we’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve managed to execute it timeously and immaculately. Our first series of lake trials have been a great success, and we simply can’t wait to welcome visitors aboard in December,” said Mark O’Donnell, Chairman of Protea Hotels Zambia.
Renovations to the vessel have been extensive, but all 22 refurbished en-suite cabins have remained sympathetic to the design elements that make up a classic steam boat. Massive interior refurbishments have also taken place. All the original décor and furnishings have been stripped, and the old generators have been replaced with more energy-efficient alternatives, as well as solar energy water heating systems.
The newly completed Southern Belle also features a conference room for up to 40 people, a shop, restaurant and bar, and a top deck with bar and a swimming pool. All guests will be welcomed aboard the vessel at the newly completed base station, which features a thatched verandah as well as a secure parking facility.
The Southern Belle will operate from the base station in Manchinchi Bay near Siavonga on Lake Kariba. International guests can fly in to Lusaka International Airport.
O’Donnell said guests could charter the vessel for one to five nights, depending on group requirements. The Southern Belle would depart from the base station at noon and return at 10h00 on the final day.
|FRIENDS OF HWANGE TRUST|
|Saving Zimbabwe’s largest National Park
In partnership with Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe and The National Parks & Wildlife Management Authority
Newsletter November 2010
Dear Friends of Hwange
Once again we are at the height of the dry season and water is at a premium in Hwange National Park. Four weeks ago the water levels in our pans were reasonably good, but the oppressive heat and rapid evaporation combined with the animals’ heightened thirst for water has lowered water levels in the pans. Towering thunderclouds threaten daily but to date only a few raindrops have fallen in the park. We await the forthcoming rains with much anticipation.
The past year has been a good one for FOH. We have been able to realise a number of goals since the beginning of the year and for this we extend grateful thanks to many donors and people who have contributed in cash and kind. The vehicle purchased for Gary earlier in the year is performing well. Funds from WEZ Matabeleland Branch, Zimbabwe Wildlife Fund (ZWF) Australia in addition to money raised at our March dinner/dance were used to purchase a near new Nissan Patrol. The vehicle’s reliability has made a huge difference to Gary being able to do his job efficiently.
We are at an advanced stage of achieving the installation of a solar unit to pump water at Kennedy 2 Pan. This is hugely exciting for FOH as it is our sincere hope that this project will mark the beginning of being able to provide sustainable and “green” water pumping systems at more pans in the future. For this first project we are hugely indebted to the British Embassy in Harare in addition to the ZWF who generously stepped in to assist us at the last minute.
During the past dry season we have managed to continuously pump all the pans we are responsible for. This has been done using our faithful Lister engines and we extend heartfelt thanks to Baker’s Inn, National Foods, Redan Petroleum, the ZWF as well as a Zimbabwe donor who wishes to remain anonymous for their most generous donations of money for the purchase of diesel. It must be said that without the commitment of Wayne Monks and his hard working ZWF committee in Australia, Friends of Hwange would have had a different story to tell. We cannot express enough how much we appreciate their contributions not only to our cause, but to numerous other wildlife organisations in Zimbabwe.
Our windmills have played a part in helping to keep our pans supplied with water, although we had to effect some repairs to the systems in July. Dave St Quintin held a successful Golf Day in Cape Town recently which raised a good sum of money, and we have also held several raffles to help boost our coffers. Locally, Johan Smit held a fun golf day at Sherwood Golf Course and raised some well appreciated funds. Dave Dell managed to raise a substantial sum at this year’s annual Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament with the sale of his Wildlife CDs and some colourful FOH T-shirts kindly sponsored by Fuchs Lubricants and printed at a reasonable price by Texcolour. We thank the KITFT committee at Kariba for affording us the opportunity of using their event to raise funds. We also extend thanks to Guy Patrikios of Lewisam Butchery in Avondale Harare, Glen Bruk-Jackson of Supreme Butchery in Chisipite Harare, Greg McDonald of Big Five Wines and John Gillon of the Hwange Conservation Society UK for their willingness to contribute to our cause. A huge thank you also to the Wildlife Environment Zimbabwe (WEZ) for their constant and unwavering support and in particular Colin Gillies, John Brebner and Pam Birch. We’d also like to express our sincere appreciation to Gary Cantle, FOH’s man in the park for his ongoing and tireless hard work under very difficult working conditions.
And lastly, as always, thanks to the many individuals who have given donations, big or small, over the last few months. Every bit helps.
That’s it from us for now. Have a wonderful festive season and try to make it to one of our many fantastic National Parks. Let’s hope the rains are kind to us so that next time you hear from us, Hwange is awash with green and with water resources to see us through well into next year.
Elephant Poaching in the Caprivi Strip
Miraculously, Namibia has escaped the alarming rise in rhino poaching seen in neighboring South Africa and Zimbabwe, but it seems the nation’s elephants are now being targeted for their ivory. Cedric Mundia, Game Warden for Caprivi Regional Service in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), spoke recently about an upsurge in organized elephant poaching in the Caprivi Area. His claim is backed by ten reported cases of the pachyderms being slaughtered for their ivory outside several game parks, as well as several other “commercial ivory poaching” incidents that have taken place in Mamili National Park, Mudumu Game Park, and Bwabwata National Park.
In the most recent of these events, an extremely large bull elephant was shot and killed just three kilometers from the village of Lizauli. It happened during a time when police and security presence was high, due to a visit to the area from the country’s president. According to the New Era, a junior induna, Simasiku Vincent Simasiku, reported hearing gunfire from the bush, and the large male was discovered dead on his knees the following day by a villager who was out collecting wood.
When rangers arrived at the scene they found only the tusk-less carcass and some spent rifle cartridges meters away. No meat had been cut from the animal, signifying that his killers were only after the ivory. Simasiku says there have been at least three other elephants poached in that area in recent times. Two were shot in a single incident, while a third was slaughtered alone.
In September, villagers found three gunned down elephant carcasses on the southern banks of the Zambezi River, all of them stripped of their ivory. AK-47 cartridges were found at the scene, and investigators believe it was the work of a poaching gang that crossed into Namibia from Zambia. Tragically, several calves were left orphaned as a result. The area where these three were slaughtered is located along an elephant migratory corridor that links to Botswana’s Chobe National Park, which holds one of the largest elephant populations in all of Africa.
In the wake of the blazing rhino poaching crisis in South Africa, the Namibian government issued a powerful statement in September, warning all poachers that their crimes would not be met lightly. The southwest African nation has some of the stiffest penalties in the continent for poaching protected species, with a strong history of arresting, prosecuting, and convicting offenders. Indeed, strict law enforcement and community action is key to curbing poaching and illegal wildlife trade. …
Botswana Introduces Ecotourism Certification
The Ecotourism Certification System is based on such standards as the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and Green Key. The voluntary program is open to all hotels, lodges, and tour operators regardless of their size and the 5 guiding principles of the Ecotourism Certification System are:
- 1. Minimizing negative social, cultural and environmental impacts
- 2. Maximizing the involvement in and the equitable distribution of economic benefits to host communities
- 3. Maximizing revenues for reinvestment in conservation
- 4. Educating visitors and locals as to the importance of conserving natural and cultural resources
- 5. Delivering a quality experience for tourists
The 3 certification levels are:
- Green: a basic entry level certification that reflects the mandatory environmental management systems criteria necessary for a tour operator to be considered for certification
- Green+: awarded to those tour operators who have met the mandatory criteria and have scored at least 22 more points toward other criteria
- Ecotourism: reflects the tour operator’s commitment to local communities in tourism development, nature conservation, environmental management and interpretation of the surrounding environment to guests
In the first round of eco-certification, nationwide (till end of 2009), 11 Lodges and Camps completed the self assessment forms and were audited by the Ecotourism Assessors. Out of the 11 lodges and camps that applied for eco-certification, 7 were certified whilst 4 did not qualify for eco-certification.
The seven camps certified at the different levels include
i) Ecotourism level: Little Vumbura Camp; Savuti Bush Camp, Zarafa Camp,
ii) Green+ level: Jao Camp; Kwetsani Camp,
iii) Green level: Nxai Pan Camp; Vumbura Plains Camp. Five (Little Vumbra Camp, Jao Camp, Vumbra Plains Camp, Kwetsanai Camp and Zarafa Camp) out of the seven lodges and camps that were eco-certified are located within the Okavango Delta, and constitutes about 8% of all tourism establishments in the Delta proper.