TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Get daily breaking news updates via Twitter @whthome or on my blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com
First edition April 2011
NEW TRAVEL AFRICA MAGAZINE ‘SPRING EDITION’ IS OUT
A few days ago was the latest edition of the highly acclaimed ‘Travel Africa Magazine’ released and subscribers will be able to find one of Africa’s finest travel publications in their P.O. Box, or as is the case delivered by the post man. At the same time was the e-version of ‘Travel Zambia Extra’ posted on the web and is accessible via www.ta-emags.com/V1/Zambia/TZX3
The printed editions of Travel Africa, Travel Zambia, Travel Namibia and Travel Zimbabwe are now supplemented with added e-releases of the magazines, which provide the latest updates and information about the destination.
Nothing however, adds this correspondent, compares to holding the ‘real thing’ in one’s hands and leafing through the pages, absorbing the most amazing travel stories to be told from the continents’ leading safari destinations. Highly recommended!
PAN AFRICAN MOVEMENT SULLIED BY ‘PRO GADAFFI DEMONSTRATION’
Earlier in the week did the Kampala based Pan African Movement call for demonstrations in Kampala, denouncing the UN sanctioned ‘No Fly Zone’ over Libya and the intervention by Western countries.
Singing the predictable but misplaced tune of ‘colonialism’ the Pan African Movement lost much of its credibility when throwing its weight behind Gadaffi, who now stands accused of crimes against humanity over butchering his own population with impunity while trying to defend his shrinking fiefdom in and around Tripoli. Much of Libya has already been liberated by Libyan freedom fighters, and the aerial support by coalition air forces, including a large number of planes from Arab countries in the Gulf, has effectively denied Gadaffi the option he freely used before, to bombard his own people by ‘his’ airforce and helicopters.
Here in Kampala police in fact stopped the attempt to demonstrate at the Pan African Square near the ‘Clock Tower’ for lack of permit while a police spokesperson was quoted to have said that Embassies and High Commissions of coalition members had received ‘threatening phone calls’, allegedly from individuals incited by the statements of support for Gadaffi by the Pan African Movement.
It is felt that the time is ripe for Africa to boldly denounce dictators, murderers and butchers ‘leading’ their countries. The UN Security Council did in fact recognize that mass murder was being committed in Libya by Gadaffi’s henchmen and goons and no person in his or her right mind can surely condone such atrocities. It should also be recognised that it is Libyan’s on the ground carrying the freedom struggle to Tripoli and Gadaffi’s doorstep, and that in Egypt and Tunisia the people already succeeded to throw out corrupt regimes which stayed in place by use of force. Was that too the work of ‘Western colonialists’ or the result of sacrifice and struggle at a high price by citizens of those two countries?
The Pan African Movement, and in fact the African Union, need to do a reality check on just how long they are willing to protect murderous dictators and throw their weight behind them, or stand by idle and watch from the sidelines, leaving the ‘dirty work’ to the UN Security Council and countries willing to enforce UNSC resolutions. High time for Libya to become ‘free’ again – inspite of the misguided efforts by the Pan African Movement to keep the dictator in place.
RISING AVIATION FUEL PRICES ADD 10 DOLLARS TO ROUTE
Fly 540 yes overnight confirmed that they had to add a supplement of 10 US Dollars per person on the Entebbe – Nairobi route, each sector, due to the sharply risen cost of JetA1 aviation fuel, in particular in Entebbe, where the fuel companies, mainly Shell, charge the highest prices in the region, even more than the more distant Kigali. The airline has also pointed out that supplements for fuel are now also in place in Tanzania and Kenya, reflecting the general trend of the aviation industry.
A source from the airline said: ‘… and we of course regret this development but the recent rise in crude oil prices has now reached us and we cannot subsidize our fares which are already the lowest in the market’. Watch this space for regular updates on aviation issues from the entire Eastern African and Indian Ocean region. ‘Flash traffic’ via Twitter on @whthome and daily updates via this correspondent’s blog site at www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com
DOES ASSAULTING THE ENVIRONMENT CREATE POPULARITY AND POLITICAL CAPITAL
Mount Elgon National Park, already constantly in the bad news over encroachment, illegal logging and poaching, killing of park rangers and the increasing danger of yet more major landslides, has been given another back stab recently, when of all people president Museveni appears to have directed the Uganda Wildlife Authority to return part of the park land to ‘its owners’, suggesting that errors were made during the lengthy and consultative demarcation of the park boundaries a few years back and that ‘people’s land was made part of the park when it should have remained outside the boundaries’. The ‘displaced’, numbering reportedly hundreds of families, are said to be living in ‘deplorable conditions’ and have been part of the groups to whom politicians vying for votes had promised ‘resettlement’ before the elections.
The presidential directive of course opens the door to more such demands and there is a growing danger that this key national water tower in the East of the country will sooner than later be dissected notwithstanding that across the border with Kenya the mountain is and remains a national park with no indication of similar troubles and problems.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority seems to be fighting a losing battle here, considering that the organisation is weakened through the upheavals of the past several months, when leading conservation minded senior executives – regularly standing in the way of such attempts to ‘carve out’ settlement areas from park land – were sacked, and in subsequent court cases UWA was then left without a board and a management team on ‘acting’ appointments caught between a rock and a hard place of just how far to follow political directives, especially if outside the law or borderline cases, while hoping to secure permanent appointments from exactly those. Standing up to such directives takes backbone and personal integrity, and this correspondent, while mostly in strong support of the president, in this case has to disagree in the interest of conservation and the long term future of the environment, especially when there is a possibility that the president was not given the true facts about locations and ‘entitlements’ and his office is being used to ‘give back to the voters’.
The information leaked to the public over the weekend and made its way into the media and indicates that the president wrote to the prime minister a month ago, asking for the land in question to be degazetted, which however is a lengthy process and requires parliamentary approval, as it was parliament which sanctioned the boundaries of ALL protected areas in the country, including Mt. Elgon.
The very same section of the park however poses also a deadly threat to encroachers and ‘resettlees’ as a deep fissure has started to open further up the mountain, caused by suspected seismic activity, deforestation and massive rain last year, which softened the underground and led to an entire village, Bududa, being swept away and buried under tens of feet of mud and rock.
Only last month were attacks on rangers reported again from this ‘hotbed of a park’ as one regular source put it, hopefully not a harbinger of things to come, should the confrontation, now that the president’s demand has been made public, take a turn to the worse should emboldened agitators incite more violence to press for their case.
UWA had in past weeks repeatedly warned of the dangers of more rock and mudslides, but was promptly blamed for ‘negative publicity’ and using this as a ’pretext to evict people from the park’, yet according to a regular and reliable source from within UWA, the problem now is worse than before and allowing people into the area could court yet more disasters.
Across Eastern Africa have promises, made during elections campaigns, been taking aim at protected areas, a cheap and often defenceless target, especially when those in the know are cowed and at times threatened to shut up and look the other way while international conservation societies and groups – while most welcome when they raise crucially needed funds – are reduced to ‘foreigners wanting to deny us development’ after politicians had spoken out in favour of mining, roads and major other infrastructural projects, many of which, with just a little extra thought, could be relocated to less vulnerable parts of the country. Yet, as always it is votes which count, and wildlife and nature do only have advocates but cannot cast votes. It is noteworthy though to point out that Rwanda has an exemplary record amongst the five East African Community member states and conservation and upholding biodiversity enjoys the personal attention of none other than President Kagame.
The conservation fraternity, concerned with keeping the parks, game and forest reserves in Eastern Africa intact and preserved for future generations, better prepares for the onslaught to intensify and get worse in coming years, and no one should say the writing was not visible on the wall. Watch this space.
SKAL KAMPALA GETS NEW ‘OLD’ PRESIDENT
Ms. Kainembabazi Sabiti, in her professional life General Manager of Amadeus Uganda, was elected to another term of office as president of the Skal Club of Kampala yesterday evening, bringing an uneventful year to a close and giving renewed hope to the Skalleagues for better times ahead. Club vice president for the new Skal year is former president Mohit Advani, himself a proven ‘performer’ when he was leading the club for several years in the past and the committee members and other office bearers too bring with them maturity, experience and the right attitude to get the job done, starting with programme director Marinka Sanc George.
Congratulations to the new ‘old’ team who have my assurance, as well as assurances from many other club members, to make a lot more appearances this year again.
EAST AFRICAN LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY INSISTS ON ‘SINGLE TOURISM DESTINATION’
Inspite of misgivings in one or the other of the East African Community member states over the introduction of marketing the region as a single tourism destination, has the EALA yesterday in Kigali insisted that it is the right way forward. A report tabled by a committee of EALA, after touring the member states and interacting with the respective tourism sector stakeholders, in fact reiterated that cooperation and added integration to sell the region as a single destination abroad would benefit the national economies beyond what individual efforts could achieve.
Continuing squabbles over the introduction of a single tourist Visa for the region were cited as a major setback for such plans however as was the fact that not all member states had yet ratified the regional tourism protocol, giving them a ‘reason to hide behind’ as one source from Kigali put it, where EALA is currently meeting.
The aviation sector, amongst others, continues to be advocating for full regional integration and the scrapping of repetitive and multiple licensing for air operations in the region, and to finally accept that airlines licensed under CASSOA’s regulatory regime in one of the member states should be allowed to fly anywhere in the region without hindrance of being treated as a ‘foreign airline’ or having to wait for flight clearances for at times several days, which one regular aviation source called a ‘punitive measure by a certain regulatory body against airlines from other member states’. Watch this space.
INFLATION MOVING TOWARDS DOUBLE DIGIT TERRITORY
The recent slide of the Uganda Shilling and subsequent rise in fuel prices and prices of imported goods in general, combined with lesser supplies of food to the main consumer markets due to drought effects, has driven inflation to a decade long high, as across the region the ‘magic threshold’ of a double digit figure is coming ever nearer. Regional Central Banks are reportedly in constant contact with each other to devise ways and means to stabilise the respective currencies and introduce measures to combat inflation trends but to little avail so far. A source from Bank of Uganda pointed to the UK however, saying they are expecting a 5 percent inflation trend this year and claiming that ‘7 or 8 percent is not unusual in our region’ while claiming that ‘we shall not reach the 10 percent’. Reassuring or not, the next round of data releases of inflationary figures in the region will tell.
GORILLAS NOT IMMUNE TO SEXUAL VIOLENCE
News have emerged that a female gorilla of the Nkuringo group has recently died, after her body was found a considerable distance away from the ‘normal’ habitat of the group. It was reported that she has been subject to ‘beatings’ and attacks by two male gorillas, vying for her ‘favours’ and responding violently after being rejected time and again.
A veterinary surgeon from the Uganda Wildlife Authority administered first aid, when the situation became known and was reported back by trackers and rangers, but as the group kept moving around their ‘territory’ the situation grew worse for the female, who eventually succumbed to her wounds sustained in several attacks, inspite of additional treatment by vets as and when possible.
Sadly, in the animal world there is no legal punishment for attempted rape and gorillacide although such cases of real violence against females rejecting advances by males other than the dominant silverback are rare. Chimpanzee males killing each other is however a much more common situation, but again, even amongst chimps violence against females is reported to be rare.
A sad loss for the gorilla community in Bwindi and a loss of a valued individual in the Nkuringo group.
AIR UGANDA’S MOMBASA / ZANZIBAR FLIGHTS TO BE ‘SEASONAL’
Information from Uganda’s quasi national airline indicates that the airline will be exploring new ways to maintain their route from Entebbe to Zanzibar via Mombasa.
Effective 01st of May there will be NO FLIGHTS until the 30th June, before resuming again for the period of 01st July until 30th August only. There will again be NO FLIGHTS between 01st September and 30th November, before once more resuming for the ‘high season’ travel period.
The shift in policy is attributed to the lack of sufficient passenger loads, as the airline a while ago already had reduced from three to two flights per week. It appears that the expatriate passenger potential would not fully take to the route over the need to get Visa to Kenya and Zanzibar, something several expats known to this correspondents with ‘healthy travel appetite’ confirmed. Already duly registered in Uganda, for many it is a constant bone of contention and they are asking to streamline the Visa regime for Eastern Africa and finally recognise registered expatriates in one of the member countries and not asking them to pay for Visa when travelling in the region to visit another member state on holiday.
The airline recently also adopted the new slogan ‘The Wings of East Africa’ and Air Uganda flies daily between Entebbe and Juba, 6 times a week between Entebbe and Dar es Salaam, 3 times daily between Entebbe and Nairobi and in code share with RwandAir twice a day to Kigali, one flight operated each by U7 and RwandAir.
ANOTHER UWA RANGER KILLED
The remote Kidepo National Park was the scene of the latest victim of poachers violence against rangers and warden, when over the weekend yet another UWA staff was shot dead. According to information at hand aerial surveillance had established an intrusion into the park, allegedly from across the border in Southern Sudan, by poachers and when a ground patrol was dispatched to the location they were ambushed and shot at. The body of the only recently married Lt. Leopold Kyalisiima was in the meantime taken to his home in Kabale, South Western Uganda and buried with full honours.
Poaching has been on the upswing across much of sub Saharan Africa due to a strong demand for ivory and wildlife products from in particular China but also other Far Eastern countries, where legislation is poor and rarely enforce about the trading in blood ivory, skins and bones and the increased presence of Chinese workers on major projects financed by China too has been cited as a major reason for the increase in poaching, now also evident in East Africa.
Condolences are expressed to the family and friends of the late Kyalisiima, who gave his life for wildlife conservation – and it is hoped that his sacrifice will provoke yet greater resolve by UWA and the country’s security agencies to respond robustly, if not harshly, towards any future attempt to poach inside and outside our national parks.
BREAKING NEWS – LAKE VICTORIA HOTEL ‘SEIZED’ TOO
The Laico owned and operated Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe, once the grand old dame of the hospitality industry in Entebbe, was according to breaking news just received also seized yesterday late in the day, when the Libyan appointed managers were told to hand over to a Ugandan senior manager who was made Acting General Manager until further notice.
In related developments board seats too appear to have been ‘frozen’ while the Ugandan government has taken ‘custody’ of the Libyan owned shares in the company, expanding the UN sanctions and asset freeze orders into the hospitality sector too.
Contrary to a flurry of rumours the hotel has NOT closed down nor have operations been affected, although creditors will undoubtedly be very anxious to be paid their outstanding bills in time and are not likely to extend further credit until the situation is fully ‘clarified’.
The management of the hotel then declined to answer phone queries but one staff did mention under condition of strict anonymity that the relieved general manager was overheard to refer callers to the Libyan Embassy for information before vacating the premises.
Find the latest updates on this developing and very fluid situation here, where breaking news updates are posted.
LIBYA SANCTIONS AND ASSET FREEZE NOW EXTENDS TO UTL
Uganda Telecom, in which Libya holds 69 percent shares, was next on the list of the Ugandan government to ‘seize’ in line with the UN resolution on an asset freeze, when news emerged late yesterday that the shareholding and control by Libya over the communications company has been frozen.
Unlike in the case of the Bank of Uganda taking over control of the Libyan owned Tropical Africa Bank, no details were given by government on the fate of Libyan appointed management, which by conventional wisdom can expect to be ‘frozen’ too when care taker managers are put into place by government. In fact the company spokesperson attempted to calm the stormy waters by sending out a feeble statement that operations were continuing as ‘normal’ but few paid much attention to this. Uganda had much hope some years ago when deep pocketed Libya came on board to acquire majority shares in UTL, but as time went on it became apparent that the purse strings were not opened to inject the much needed added capital to expand and further modernize UTL, which was the first to introduce 3G in Uganda but failed to keep the pace with competitors who are now on the more recent 3.5+G systems, eyeing 4G to stay ahead of the pack. Instead, the Libyan holding company went ahead to acquire Zambia’s state owned telecoms company, leaving the Uganda operation to either seek out commercial loans from banks or else raise money through cash flow – or what was left of it after the Libyan installed management had taken out their ‘share’.
With Libyan regime leader Gadaffi’s fate now hanging in the balance, here in Uganda and across Africa his assets held by companies controlled directly by him, his family and selected cronies, are bound to be taken over sooner than later and industry observers in East Africa are counting the hours before the governments in Kenya and Rwanda – where Gadaffi’s Libya owns and manages two major hotels – will be taken over in compliance with UN resolutions. In Nairobi in particular all eyes are on the Grand Regency Hotel, which was ‘gifted’ to Gadaffi’s Libya for a fraction of its perceived true value, without competitive bidding, in what industry analysts called at the time ‘one of the most corrupt transactions of recent years’ while speculating who in fact benefitted from the ‘deal’ at the time. Investigations predictably led to not much more than hot air but in view of the latest developments the same sources claim that now is the opportunity to reverse the giveaway and under a new sale get as much as three times more for it. Watch this space.
KENYA AIRWAYS ZOOMING IN ON B737 FREIGHTER
Information is gradually emerging from Nairobi on the plans of Kenya Airways to acquire a cargo aircraft by late Q3 or early Q4 of 2011. It is understood that a team of the airline is presently sourcing for a B737 converted freighter, which can take palletised cargo on board and feed / de-feed shipments across the Eastern African region and the continental network.
With an anticipated payload of between 15 to 20 tons the distribution of air freight beyond the Nairobi cargo hub will then be made possible, as KQ can deliver urgent shipments by air to the nearest airport capable of taking a B737 and having the equipment to load / offload pallets, instead of the present cumbersome way of road deliveries, which are costly, risky – considering the state of many of East Africa’s main highways – and time consuming.
Kenya Airways already operates an extensive fleet of B 737 passenger aircraft of the -300, -700 and -800 makes, and should they indeed settle for a narrow body freighter 737 it would also permit them to maintain the freighter in their own maintenance facility at the ‘old airport’ in Embakasi, where the airline headquarters are also located. Watch this space for upcoming confirmation of aircraft type and delivery date.
GAME RESERVE DEMARCATION PROMPTS LOCAL PROTESTS / LAND CLAIMS
When surveyors tasked by the Kenya Wildlife Service began demarcating the boundaries of the Lake Kamnarok game reserve in Baringo county, they spurred a series of meetings amongst area residents. Demands were formulated by as many as 1.000 families laying down claims to land KWS considers as part of the game reserve while the residents claim it for their own.
Demanding compensation, in case they have to move, the residents also demanded suitable other land to be allocated to them, should KWS go ahead with the reclamation of the lake, which in recent years had become silted up as more and more soil is being swept down the surrounding hills into the lake as a result of deforestation. This has caused the silting and drying up of parts of the lake, now only really visible after extensive rains, before the evaporating water once more exposes the mud below.
The arguments, according to a source in Nairobi, have been going on for decades but became more acute and urgent due to the sharp rise in populations living in the immediate area of the lake, and the lack of solutions has also prevented any work to be carried out to remove silt or else keep it from entering the lake area. The challenges of conservation in the face of population pressures, not an enviable task for KWS to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction.
NAIROBI TENTED CAMP TURNS VISITOR FAVOURITE
The ‘cat is out of the bag’ finally and the ‘best kept secret’ it is no longer – the Nairobi Tented Camp, located inside the Nairobi National Park has made such an impact on the market that it has turned crowd favourite only months after commencing operations.
TripAdvisor reviews are raving about the camp, game viewing is described as superb – the ‘Friends of Nairobi National Park’ will be delighted about this added good publicity – and the safari trade has taken the ‘hints’ and is now booking NTC as a first and / or last night stop more and more frequently.
New manageress Kim Pierce has now also settled in after moving from the coast to Nairobi, where she has taken over the day to day running of NTC.
The new camp is – almost needless to say – on Facebook where over 1.000 ‘fans’ have already ‘liked’ it, and on Twitter to make it easy for guests and friends of NTC to follow events, share experiences and see records of game seen in the vicinity of the camp and further in the park.
Hence, when coming to Kenya for a safari, do ask your safari operator to include the Nairobi Tented Camp for the first / last night stay rather than ending up in a faceless city hotel which could be located anywhere. See more about the camp www.nairobitentedcamp.com and for still more information, find them on Facebook via www.facebook.com/nairobitentedcamp or follow them on Twitter @NBITentedCamp
NEMA KENYA STEPS IN TO SAVE MANGROVE FOREST
Developers of a planned top end residential estate along the shores of the Kilifi creek north of Mombasa were told in no uncertain terms that there will be NO development approved if it involves – as presently planned – to clear an extensive swathe of mangrove forest.
Inspectors of NEMA Kenya, alerted to the developers’ plans to cut down mangroves, swooped in on to the project site and halted all work, before serving the developers with a formal stop notice. Beach conservation groups had joined hands with the local fisheries department staff and the beach management unit to petition NEMA for immediate action to prevent any damage being inflicted on the mangrove forest. Information received from Mombasa talks of up to 3 acres of mangroves the developers wanted to cut, which is in violation of laws and regulations and could have ended up the promoters of the project in court, where however fines and sentences are far too lenient to deter offenders. The same source also claimed that the removal of the mangroves and ‘insertion of sand’ would have added tremendous value to the up market estate project, where a ‘sandy beach would make all the difference to sell it at a premium and reap huge profits’. The same source also attributed the assistance from the fisheries department on their fear that their own access to the beach would be tampered with by the developers with a long legal struggle ahead and felt that a unified appeal at this stage would have greater chance of success than having to reclaim their rights at a later stage.
Well done here, bouquets to NEMA Kenya for their initiative and action – and maybe NEMA Uganda can learn a thing or two, as they more often than not stand idle by while the wanton destruction of wetlands in and around the city continues unabated.
THAI CUSTOMS SEIZE OVER 2 TONS OF BLOOD IVORY
Information just in confirms that customs officials in Thailand confiscated over 2 tons of blood ivory, shipped to Thailand from Eastern Africa and concealed in boxes of mackerel. Intriguingly the raid took place on a river and not one of the main ports or airports, suggesting that the shipment was already repacked and enroute to a neighbouring country in transit to its final destination. The illicit cargo, which by conservative estimate represents the lives of over 120 African elephant, was suspected to be enroute to Chinese buyers who apparently have used the Thai smuggling routes with impunity but may have to change tactics and routes now that the Thai authorities are determined to bring the blood ivory trade to an end. The catch represents the largest seizure of 2011 so far and is indicative that poaching on the African continent continues unabated and has in fact gathered speed in recent months, to satisfy the greed and hunger for ivory in China and other Far Eastern countries and where the kick started economy has left many ‘liquid’ enough to ‘buy prestige’, albeit at the expense of African wildlife.
In late 2010 a cooperation agreement was signed between several East African countries and Thailand to jointly ‘hunt’ for blood ivory consignments and other animal products and sent via Bangkok or Thai harbours to the buyers. Since the agreement was put into effect over 4 tons of ivory was detected and confiscated, but the lastest consignment only goes to show that once that happens, fresh orders for yet more ivory and elephant slaughter are being placed without delay.
China has so far not responded to requests from global conservation bodies to tighten existing laws or ban the possession of ivory and the processing of it and introduce harsh fines and long sentences, and by standing idle therefore aid and abet the cancer of poaching on the African continent.
Watch this space.
QATAR AIRWAYS CELEBRATES 100TH DESTINATION WITH ‘SPECIALS’
Information was received from Nairobi overnight that the addition of Aleppo in Syria has brought the number of destinations offered by Qatar Airways to overall 100, cause for a special celebration.
Added flights by the airline into East Africa, i.e. Nairobi and Dar es Salaam but sadly not Entebbe yet, give travellers from Kenya and Tanzania a wide range of connections to their final destination, and the airline is planning to put special fares into the market to give passengers flying with them the ‘best possible deals’.
Alongside the promotion the airline is also pushing their frequent flyer programme and is offering co-branded credit cards for their loyal customers.
Want to try the ‘5 Star Airline’ – here is your chance and for a bargain. GO FLY!
MORE FENCES PLANNED FOR LAIKIPIA ELEPHANTS
It was learned, courtesy of Melissa Groo of Save the Elephant News, that another fence is being planned to keep elephant out of farms and ‘shambas’ and to protect the ever growing population around forests, parks, reserves and conservancies. The Marmanet forest has been targeted for this exercise but it was not certain if provisions have been made or will be made to ensure ongoing migration of elephant along the Northern migration corridor, of key importance to keep the gene pool varied and allow an ‘escape’ when drought and other natural calamities strike, denying the jumbos their regular food sources. It is understood that some of the elephant under observation had already been moved to this location by KWS in the past, demonstration the fast shrinking habitat for free roaming elephant.
In a related development it was also learned that as a result of the ongoing drought in parts of Kenya the wildlife service was forced to purchase hundreds of thousands of litres of water to sustain a herd of elephant in coast province, where water holes were said to have dried up or been turned into mud wallows. Here the contradiction comes to light to the earlier part of the story as the forest in question has also been fenced off to protect neighbouring farms but also denying the elephant to move to a nearby river in their search of water, as they have been ‘cut off’ from their age long migration patterns.
No easy answers here sadly, but do watch this space for future updates.
KENYA AIRWAYS IN SUPPORT OF SPECIAL NEEDS SCHOOL
The Ikuu Special School in Eastern Kenya had a new dining hall constructed by the Pride of Africa recently as part of the airline’s annual social responsibility programme. The school, which educates special needs children, including many suffering of autism, for which purpose the facility was initially built some 15 years ago. However, the growing demand for such a special school has outstripped the available facilities and with about 120 pupils now on site – the school does provide full boarding facilities – a generous sponsor was sought and found in Kenya Airways.
Commercial Director Mohan Chandra handed over the new dining hall earlier this week in the presence of school governors and parents, before enjoying a performance by the children, who included the Gold Medal winner of the 2008 Beijing Paralympics Arnold Mugendi, showing ample evidence that being disabled does not prevent children from performing to the best of their individual abilities, given the right educational and social environment.
Well done Pride of Africa and now for some more!
THE MIGRATION COMMENCES – WILL IT BE ONE OF THE LAST
The great herds of wildebeest are stirring again after the calving season in the low grass plains between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro is coming to an end. The young wildebeest are now strong enough on their four feet to follow their mothers, as the age old trek in search of pastures once again begins, as it has been in times of plenty and times of little for generations upon generations.
The great herds are starting their move en masse, final destination being the rich pastures of the Masai Mara in neighbouring Kenya, which is part of the greater Serengeti transboundary ecosystem.
Between end March / beginning of April and late June / early July, when they are expected to cross the Mara river, the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra have to run a gauntlet of predators, lions, cheetah, leopard, hyenas, foxes and hunting dogs as they migrate through hostile territory.
Covering distances of hundreds of miles in the process, feeding only occasionally as their instincts drive the herds on, they fill parts of the Serengeti with ‘life’ which for much of the rest of the year lack this spectacle with often few animals seen on gamedrives, before the wildebeest ‘return’ in their constant cycle of searching for food and reproduction.
Conservation experts are watching the migration this year with bated breath, since the government of Tanzania has declared their intention to go ahead with a new highway across the migration route, claiming publicly it is ‘to serve the people’ but in reality serving powerful mining interests, which in the process also threaten the flamingo breeding grounds at Lake Natron and where in particular gold mining brings with it a host of pollution problems, many say Tanzania is ill equipped to deal with, risking the poisoning of large swathes of land around the mines and processing plants.
Water, already a limited resource, which will be used in mining operations for gold and other minerals in areas just outside the present boundaries of the Serengeti, will become even scarcer, in the process affecting people, livestock and wildlife.
Once construction of the highway goes underway – although there is still some hope left that un-corruptible individuals tasked with the Environmental Impact Studies may put a halt to the plans – the path for the great migration will be irrevocably disturbed and the future of the migration in its present age old cycle of North to South to North to South may become a thing of the past.
Estimates presented by studies of globally respected and renowned institutions with experience in monitoring the Serengeti / Masai Mara migration, speaks of a reduction of the herds to a fraction of their present size, causing likely yet greater damages to the ecosystem when the ‘natural lawn mowers’ will no longer consume the grass, thus posing much greater fire risks, and removing much of the ‘natural fertilizer’ left behind by the herds as they move on.
Estimates of traffic development on the planned highway, in fact presented by government itself, show an alarming rise in traffic over the coming years and decades, making it all but clear that the highway will sooner or later be paved, then probably fenced off to prevent animals from crossing it and causing accidents and then condemning the great herds to the loss of their annual feeding grounds in the Masai Mara. This will be the death knell for the great migration as we know it, and as this year’s trek from the low grass plains back to the Masai Mara goes underway, it may well be the last one as we have known it.
The advice of this correspondent: Visit now as is may not be there for much longer in the future.
KIKWETE’S MOTIVES FOR SERENGETI HIGHWAY BECOMING ALL BUT CLEAR
President Kikwete was overnight reported to have demanded the fast tracking of a proposed soda ash extraction plant at Lake Natron, when visiting the Ministry of Industry and Trade. This confirms a long harboured and long suggested suspicion that the construction of the equally controversial highway through the Serengeti is primarily motivated and driven by industrial and mining considerations, and not as conveniently floated ‘in the interest of the people’, unless the financial interest of and financial considerations for a ‘few people’ can meet that standard.
Kikwete tried to lessen the blow when mentioning the plant should be constructed a few kilometres away from the lake to avoid disturbing the large flamingo populations, which use the shores of Lake Natron as the only viable breeding place across the entire East Africa. However, conservationists consulted overnight – the story broke yesterday (Friday) – to ascertain the impact of such plans and the viability of moving the plant machinery a few kilometres away all said in unison that as the deposits of soda ash are ‘in the lake’ the extraction has to take place there. The placement of any machinery, use of large lorries and presence of workers would inevitably drive the birds off their breeding grounds, and even the construction of pipelines and a pumping station to extract the soda ash would create major disturbances, in particular as the intake position needs to be constantly moved to ‘suck up’ the minerals from the shallow lake floor.
Said one specialist in flamingo behavioural patterns: ‘the birds are spread over the alkaline Rift Valley lakes in Kenya and Tanzania for much of the year, providing a big spectacle for tourists. They however do not breed there and return to Lake Natron for breeding and rearing their young ones before they can fly back to their feeding locations. The lake shores at Natron provide an ideal environment for the birds. They make nests using mud and the heat of the day assists the eggs to mature. Natron is the only known place where the East African flamingos go to breed and us ornithologists are not aware of any other place where the annual mass breeding takes place. When NEMC made their investigation some people from the developers went to the lake shores and pointed out there were no or few birds only, but they conveniently chose times when the flamingos were not there for breeding, which is only happening at intervals. Then they claimed we were trying to protect ‘empty mud flats’ but everyone with at least a bit of an interest knows that the birds return there regularly, lay eggs and when the young ones have hatched and matured fly off again. We cannot make that any clearer and my Tanzanian colleagues concur. It is not true that because I am Kenyan I have been ‘bought to deny Tanzania development’, my and my colleagues interest is to see we ensure the long term survival of the flamingos because they are a natural asset worth protecting and they by the way are also found in Tanzania, not just Kenya.’
Kikwete in his directive spoke of over 300 million tons of soda ash deposits, claiming the untapped riches must be exploited and citing the Magadi Soda Ash operation on the Kenyan side of the Rift Valley floor as an excuse to wreck the last breeding refuge of the East African flamingo population.
Calling opponents of the plans unpatriotic he laid down the gauntlet to the conservation fraternity and opened the doors for ruthless pursuit of anyone speaking out against such plans, which according to past practises in Tanzania may well include trumped up charges against individuals, sackings from government positions, hounding by sycophantic supporters and worse. He also accused critics to be ‘agents of someone’ adding further fuel to the now all but inevitable drive to crush any opposition to his plans, muzzle the media and denounce conservationists as ‘traitors to progress’.
Most notable will the refusal last year of the National Environmental Management Council, which had denied approvals for the project’s clearance over environmental concerns and lack of mitigative measures available to safeguard the breeding grounds of the Flamingos, be tossed aside, as the minister hastily promised to have the final preparations ready by the end of April, unless he wished to incur the wrath of ‘his boss’.
NEMC had proposed to use a pipeline – in itself also problem ridden with no clear mitigation assurance – to extract the soda ash and locate the plant some distance away in Loliondo, but this was rejected by the Indian based developers as too costly. Subsequently rumours emerged that a ‘deal’ was struck ahead of last year’s elections in Tanzania when the ruling party suddenly started to splash out money to ensure – some said buy – elections success, with in particular opposition camps immediately pointing to the funding coming from industrial groups around the world lined up for mining concessions to be granted to them in return.
The controversial Serengeti highway is clearly the main transportation link for those interests and as with the flamingo breeding grounds, so the migration of the great herds of wildebeest and zebras will have to make way for powerful industrial and financial interest groups in the good books of President Kikwete.
Expect more revelations in coming weeks and months as the pace to give mining right concessions to developers and break founding father Nyerere’s commitment to protect the priceless natural resources and national parks gathers more speed.
STUNG BY CRITICISM KIKWETE NOW LAYS INTO TOURISM MINISTRY
During the customary post election visit to all the government ministries, President Kikwete on Wednesday visited the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. According to reports the ministry was then promptly subjected to several broad sides by the president, as he accused them of not doing enough to stop poaching and safeguard the country’s wildlife. The president went on to say if the ministry and subordinate organs are no capable of carrying out such duties, other security bodies including the army may have to be drafted in to ‘support’ TANAPA’s ranger force. He was quoted as saying: ‘Gangsters are killing wild animals’ before continuing ‘the gravity of criminal acts in our game reserves is quite alarming’. He went on to say ‘we have to stop the massive poaching, otherwise we will spoil out reputation in wildlife conservation.
A source in Dar es Salaam reported that the president appeared quite unsettled over the issue and rejected explanations given by the tourism minister, under whose responsibility anti poaching and conservation ultimately falls, demanding the use of latest technology in combating poachers and stiffer laws with higher fines and longer prison terms for offenders.
Notably, no mention was made over the presidents directive to cancel an application made by the ministry to UNESCO for recognition of a new World Heritage Site, nor was mention made – or probably allowed – over the hugely controversial plans to build a highway across the Serengeti’s migration routes or ‘tap into hydro power’ at Stiegler’s Gorge in the Selous Game Reserve. The third WHS controversy over the planned development of a major hotel in the protected ‘Stone Town’ in Zanzibar too was apparently ‘off limits’ for public discussions.
The contradictions are becoming clearer still, when it was learned that Tanzania is reportedly preparing another application to the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka to be tabled at the next CITES General Assembly to allow the country to sell stored ivory stocks including confiscated ‘blood ivory’ from within and outside Tanzania.
It is clear that conservation cannot succeed or take place in isolation but this type of piecemeal and ‘when it suits us’ approach is clearly not helpful in the medium and long term to protect Tanzania’s biodiversity and natural resources, and the country’s reputation abroad, while it seems for pet projects conservation is pushed aside as a nuisance only to be revisited when funding is at stake, the pressure from conservation groups becomes too strong or when politically convenient while addressing a specific audience. So while the president’s sentiments are appreciated and should be fully supported, the circumstances and wider context under which his comments were made, does make one more than a little suspicious about the timing, location and background prompting the comments in the first place.
Watch this space.
TANZANIAN PRESIDENT CANCELS APPLICATION FOR ANOTHER UNESCO SITE
True to his form of putting reckless exploitation before careful conservation has Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete reportedly cancelled an application filed by his own ministry of natural resources and tourism, to have the area comprising two more recently established forest national parks – Mkomazi and Udzungwa – recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Clearly stung by the growing opposition around the world over Kikwete’s plans to have a highway constructed across the main migration route of the wildebeest and zebra in the Serengeti, and more recent developments in the Zanzibar Stone Town and the Stiegler’s Gorge / Selous, it seems clear that the Tanzanian president is loath to have more UNESCO World Heritage Sites to deal with when they threaten his plans for floating valuable concessions and exploration rights to the highest bidders.
Only recently did a GEF – Global Environmental Facility – sponsored project conclude which according to reports from usually reliable conservation sources helped to safeguard thousands of hectares of prime tropical mountain forests, a prospect which obviously did not please the president and prompted him to cancel the UNESCO application before kindling another raging conservation firestorm, yet by doing so achieving exactly this.
Kikwete has been accused by his political opponents to having formed close alliances with mining groups where promises of mining concessions for gold and other valuable minerals, including a hugely controversial soda ash plant at Lake Natron, were to be awarded and roads to be build to the areas ‘in consideration’ – a phrase normally used to describe less than kosher practice in politics.
His obstinate refusal to entertain an alternative route for the Serengeti highway has earned him the title ‘Serengeti Killer’ from amongst lobbyists and the conservation fraternity and his latest slap in the face of more conservation measures by directing the cancellation of the application for World Heritage Status reveals a frame of mind hell bent to make the most out of his final five year term as president, even if it means to trample the principles and ideals of Tanzania’s founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere into the dust.
Sources close to UNESCO expressed their surprise over the move, calling it ‘most unusual’ that a pending application from a government ministry would be cancelled by presidential decree, suggesting the media should delve into the background of this action and unearth the true reasons behind Kikwete’s change of mind.
Tanzania is getting increasingly into the bad books of global conservation efforts, considering their official stand a year ago at the CITES meeting, when the country broke rank with her East African neighbours by applying for permission to sell ivory stocks, and when being denied attempting a blatant scheme to ‘auction’ confiscated ‘processed and semiprocessed’ ivory by the customs department, claiming such was not subject to a CITES ban on sale of ivory. Increased poaching and trafficking of birds and blood ivory through Tanzania too have cast doubts on the government’s true intent to promote wildlife based tourism, where nature and biodiversity could be sustained for generations instead of advocating the reckless exploitation in the short term of resources, which when gone will arguably have left not much behind for the people of Tanzania.
Only re-elected last year for a final 5 year term of office, this term already reeks of wanton destruction and one can only wait and see what else Kikwete will do to further discredit himself and expose his machinations against conservation.
TANZANIA TOURISM RANKING DROP ATTRIBUTED TO HIGHWAY/POACHING CONTROVERY
Several stakeholders in the tourism sector have, following a consultative meeting of the industry in Dar es Salaam in early March, spoken out on the issue. Some regular sources claimed that some of the reasons were being played down by officials, such as the impact of poaching and the country’s ill fated attempt a year ago to persuade CITES to allow Tanzania to sell ivory stocks. ‘They do not want to own up to such failures and the impact of very big negative publicity. When the black rhino was killed in the Serengeti, then they talk and act but generally our enforcement is very weak. A lot of birds are smuggled via Tanzania, a lot of ivory comes from abroad and is shipped via our port or airport. The media pick on it and when it circulates people abroad think we do not care enough about our wildlife and they judge us poorly’ said one source from Arusha in response to a question by this correspondent. Another regular source in Dar es Salaam pointed to the controversy over the Serengeti highway plans which he termed ‘very bad for our country. This is getting a lot of publicity and has influenced those judging where we rank. Our politicians do not think it is a factor but really it is. There is a combination of things all coming at once and when we meet such issues are down played or not openly addressed because you are then considered ‘anti government’, but really all we are saying is be frank when talking of reasons why we did badly last year. Elections are now over so we should be able to sit down and bring all concerns to the table. It is in everyone’s interest to be candid because unless we solve these problems it will not be good for us’.
Little Rwanda in the global rankings has outfoxed the rest of East Africa and even beaten Kenya by one rank, a testimony for sound governmental policies towards biodiversity, conservation and a deliberate effort to fund tourism marketing to a point where it can make an impact abroad, a lesson maybe still to be learned by other East African Community member states.
Adds his correspondent in closing: Tanzania is richly endowed with natural attractions but all parks need special protective details by rangers and security organs, to make sure protected areas are not encroached and poaching is halted. Some of the protected areas, like the Serengeti and the Selous, are due for major intrusive projects like a highway and a hydro electric dam, and added consultations are needed here to ensure that best practice is employed and ALL alternatives thoroughly examined to avoid lasting damage to these ecosystems and maintain their attraction for visiting tourist, now and in the future.
LIBYAN TELECOM INVESTMENT IN RWANDA FACES AXE
The Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, in short RURA, has cancelled the Libyan owned RwandaTel mobile license, following a series of prior warnings over alleged non performance and infringements of license terms and conditions, effective this Friday, 08th April midnight.
Nearly 600.000 subscribers will be affected, should last minute appeals fail to change the regulators’ mind, but it appears that the clock is now ticking down for this Libyan majority owned company, an elegant way in fact to at the same time ‘impose UN sanctions’ but a move equally set to create panic amongst the hundreds of thousands of subscribers who may be forced to change networks to join either TIGO or MTN Rwanda. Subscribers have in increasing numbers complained about ‘dropped calls’ and the lack of service quality of locally sold modems for internet connections, but the 80 percent stake of the Libyan investment company has, considering recent events in Libya, been unable to inject the capital required to upgrade and further modernize RwandaTel’s network. The other ‘branch’ of operations of RwandaTel, the fixed lines network, which of course is even more cost intensive to maintain and less profitable than the mobile network, is according to information from Kigali for the time being continuing operations.
The two main competitors, MTN and TIGO, are reportedly gearing up towards a mass ‘migration’ by injecting into the market the extra SIM cards for potentially new subscribers, although it is thought that many subscribers to any one network have also second or even third phones with other networks.
Anyone out there in the world, using phone contacts for Rwandan friends and business associates on the RwandaTel network are urgently advised to check with their counterparts and establish alternative phone contacts to stay in touch with them.
In a related development it was also confirmed that the Libyan owned telecom investments in Uganda and Zambia are eying the situation in Rwanda with growing concern, while their own fate too hangs in the balance due to the absence of any capacity by the Libyan holding company to make any further capital investment cash injections available. Watch this space.
FOREST ENCROACHERS TO BE EVICTED AGAIN
A year after many illegal squatters were evicted from the Gishwati forest and resettled by the Rwanda government, have a number of them sneaked back into the protected area and resumed illegal logging and cultivations. The news broke yesterday prompting a reassurance by government that this trend would not be tolerated as re-forestation was an official government policy, carried out at substantial expense, and the forests were a source of water and an asset for forest tourism.
The Rwandan government last year launched a 25 million US Dollar project towards re-forestation, the protection of ‘water towers’ and the long term sustainable use of forests through tourism and limited, carefully considered resource exploitation. Said a regular source from Kigali overnight in response to a question posed: ‘Our government will take strict measures and if necessary prosecute the encroachers. We are spending a lot of money on conservation and re-forestation and a few individuals cannot think they are above the law. They will be evicted again, taken to their initial resettlement site and watched closely from now on to prevent any one of them going back into the forests. We have a duty to protect our water sources’.
The Rwandan government is arguably the most proactive in the East African region when it comes to the protection of the environment and maintaining biodiversity, all done with an eye on generating more jobs, investment and income from tourism.
MEETING ON GORILLAS HELD IN KIGALI
The Rwandan capital Kigali hosted the latest round of consultative meetings aimed to improve gorilla conservation and the protection of their habitat across national borders.
It was learned though from a participant in the meetings that apparently Uganda still had not ratified the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species which came into effect in 2008 and was promptly signed by Rwanda, again providing visible leadership in regard of regional efforts towards conservation.
Other signatories are the countries where the ‘low land gorillas’ live, i.e. Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo DR and the Central African Republic, amongst others. Uganda did though attend the meeting and was to pursue ratification at home through the ministry of tourism, which however was rather pre-occupied in recent months with controversies chasing controversies.
The 10 participating delegations provided updates from their own countries on conservation efforts and location specific challenges like conflicts, population pressures and the resulting potential for negative impact on the habitats but also the need to find greater resources dedicated towards conservation.
Said Rwanda’s key participant in the meetings, RDB’s head of tourism and conservation Ms. Rica Rwigamba: ‘Through research, census, medical care to the Gorillas, and awareness campaigns among surrounding communities, we have managed to convert former poachers who now participate in the conservation programmes’ while adding that Rwanda had indeed succeeded to establish close trans-boundary cooperation with neighbouring countries which helped to uplift the conservation spirit across the East and Central African region.
By the time of going ‘to press’ this correspondent was unable to establish when and where the next round of consultative meetings was to take place and neither was a comment forthcoming from the Ugandan side what the specific hold ups were which prevented the ratification of the convention for the past three years.
Watch this space for regular conservation updates from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.
17TH GENOCIDE COMMEMORATION IN RWANDA
The ‘land of a thousand hills’ will shortly remember the 1994 genocide, inflicted by murderous gangs of hardline militias and individuals on members of the Tutsi tribe and moderate Hutus seeking peaceful co-existence between the tribes.
The genocide triggered the eventual fall of the hardline government and saw the militias flee to neighbouring Congo, where up to date they continue to pose a serious threat to peace, stability and reconciliation in the region.
A series of events are planned across Rwanda to remember the 800.000+ people slaughtered 17 years ago, and new memorial sites have been completed in the run up to the commemoration.
Rwanda has since risen like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes of the genocide and the policies of reconciliation and forging a new sense of nationhood went alongside a determined effort to bring those responsible for the massacres to justice. The International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda in Arusha has been prosecuting cases as was Rwanda at home, and while some accuse the government in Kigali of harsh measures, the effort to prevent historical lies from being told or a return of the radicals from neighbouring Congo must be supported, even if such measures are ‘robust’.
This correspondent joins all his many friends in Rwanda to pay tribute to those fallen heroes of 1994 and everyone else who fell victim to aggression based on tribalism since them.
NOW UN CHARTERED PLANE CRASHES IN KINSHASA
News overnight put the death toll of the latest air crash in Congo to now 32 out of a reported 33 on board, with several survivors initially pulled from wreckage of the UN chartered plane the later passing away in hospital due to severe injuries sustained. The jet crashed on landing in the Congolese capital Kinshasa yesterday in the early afternoon, broke into pieces and then caught fire. The CRJ 100 jet’s flight had come from the Eastern Congolese city of Goma and had according to reports from there flown via Kisangani to Kinshasa, carrying UN personnel. Foreign and Congolese passengers are also said to be amongst those who perished in this latest crash in the Congo DR, albeit this time with a more modern jet aircraft operated on behalf of the United Nation’s MONUC peace keeping mission.
According to aviation sources the airport at the time of the crash experienced heavy winds and strong gusts, which may have been a factor in the crash as the plane was about to touch down, but specific details on the crash causes will have to wait until the air accident investigation is complete.
It is understood that the UN may call upon the NTSB to assist in the enquiry now going underway and experts from Bombardier, the manufacturers of the stricken craft, are also expected to fly to Kinshasa to assist in the evaluation of data from the two on board recorders, which have been recovered from the wreckage.
Condolences are expressed to the families, friends and colleagues from the UN on this sad occasion.
SEYCHELLES VIGILANCE PAYS DIVIDENDS
The archipelago’s undeterred drive to safeguard the island country’s extensive national waters of the Indian Ocean paid more dividends earlier in the week, when more Somali pirates were nabbed red handed, trying to hijack a Seychellois fishing vessel. Aerial surveillance and coordination with the international naval coalition led to the capture of 11 more pirates, who will be surrendered by a Spanish warship to Seychellois law enforcement personnel at the port of Victoria.
Somali ocean terrorists are beginning to fear encounters with the Seychellois coast guard, which has proved decisive and robust in their response towards them and who – once fired upon – in fact fire back and have in the past sunk pirate ‘motherships’ and rescued captives from the yoke of the terrorists.
Seychelles depends on fishing and tourism as the two main sources of income and both sectors will appreciate government’s robust handling of securing the national waters. The Minister for Home Affairs and chairman of the ‘high level committee on piracy’ Hon. Joel Morgan said in Victoria in regard to the latest capture of Somalis: ‘We will continue to deal with the pirates in the area surrounding our islands and we continue to send a strong message to these pirates that their acts of terrorism on our seas will not be tolerated’.
Adds this correspondent that using the term ‘acts of terrorism’ is spot on, as that is what the Somali pirates indeed are, ocean terrorists, posing a clear and present danger to lives and property, and hence they need to be dealt with harshly and decisively, on land and on sea, as and when and where they are spotted. On land to deny them their bases and on sea, just as soon as they leave Somali territorial waters, as terrorists worldwide deserve. Those still held in captivity by them, and those meanwhile released against huge ransom payments, will agree that any sentimental opinions on this issue are totally misplaced and only encourage the menace to continue. It is time to expand the rules of engagement for the naval coalition members and end this problem from hell once and for all. Well done Seychelles once again.
THE MAIA GETS ANOTHER JEWEL IN THEIR CROWN
Information was received during the week that Conde Nast has once again put this unique luxury resort in their ‘hot list’ for 2011, after already last year honouring them in 2010 as ‘best hotel for food’.
Three renowned chefs are on call to create the most amazing and personalised menus for the MAIA’s clientele, specialised in Asian cuisine, ‘Fish and Seafood’ – of course fresh from the ocean – and also in Creole creations to pay homage to the spices and ingredients of the archipelago’s own line of dishes.
The chefs are available to serve the resort’s guests in their private villas or else arrange beach barbeques for them, besides the ‘regular’ setting at the main restaurant, indoors and outdoors.
Guests are often seen travelling to the main market with the chefs to see how meticulously the fresh ingredients are being selected by them every morning, probably salivating on the way back to the resort in expectation of another gourmet meal.
The food at the MAIA is of course complemented by a selection of nearly 300 wines and champagnes, all stored carefully in the ‘cellar’ to ensure the right temperature and attention for some of the world’s best vintages.
Look up The MAIA on TripAdvisor to see guest’s comments and reactions to their extraordinary hospitality and take advantage of a 25 percent rebate for certain times of the year, upon pre-booking and pre-payment or visit them directly via www.maia.com.sc but best in person – says someone who knows!
SEYCHELLES MEETS WITH OTHER ‘VANILLA ISLANDS’ TO MAP OUT COOPERATION
The Seychelles Tourist Board, represented by CEO Alain St. Ange, Deputy CEO Elsia Grandcourt and the CEO of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association Jennifer Sinon, met their counterparts from the other Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and the Comoros in Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo. The European Union had arranged, through ProInvest, for the four ACP countries to meet and strategize how best to exploit commonalities as well as unique selling points, in order to attract more tourists to these Indian Ocean islands.
Industry analysts have promptly commented on the choice of the first meeting place, Madagascar, which while in great need for more tourists to return to the island, is in a political mess and has been shunned by the African Union and put under embargo by other blocks since the coup which brought the current regime leader into power. This has led to a predictable fall in tourist arrivals to a country where in addition to the political issues the government is also under sustained criticism for not doing enough to stop illegal logging and exportation of tropical hardwood, which has reportedly eaten deeply into the island’s forests, depriving wild- and bird life of their habitat.
However, it was learned that Mauritius will be the venue for a follow up meeting, generally felt more appropriate and certainly less controversial than Madagascar. In fact, the EU’s and ProInvest’s choice of Madagascar, considering the travel advisories in place and the political circumstances in Madagascar, might be raised by members of the European Parliament in the future with one source from Strasbourg / Brussels claiming it sends the wrong message to dictators and the European Commission and their chosen partners should know better than boosting shunned regimes with any level of support.
It is beyond doubt thought that the Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles of course are bound to benefit from the two tier meetings as they are free from such problems as cited for Madagascar, with in particular the Seychelles excelling in environmental protection and best practises.
South Sudan News
EGYPT AIR ‘SUSPENDS’ JUBA FLIGHTS
Information was received overnight that Egypt Air’s service between Cairo via Khartoum to Juba, previously operated twice a week, has been suspended indefinitely.
While talking of a ‘resumption of flights sometime in the future’ this has been dismissed as ‘hogwash’ by an aviation figure in Juba who added: ‘they have failed to attract market share. Their routing from Cairo first to Khartoum has condemned this operation to failure. We in the South are now moving towards independence and being forced to travel via Khartoum is not what many of us prefer. The timing of the flight is also bad. If there is a delay, and there have been many, the flight from Khartoum to Juba cannot operate easily because Juba is open for daylight operations only. So at a certain time they would just from Khartoum fly back to Cairo and offload passengers to Juba and strand them in a hostile environment. At least until 09th July we have the same passports still but what after independence, our people will probably need Visa and may be treated like spies or badly’.
Only recently was a report filed here over massive allegations of mistreatment and racist comments being made towards Southern Sudanese travellers on this flight by Cairo airport staff, when they were told the delay would result in them not travelling at all as the flight would only go as far as Khartoum. When these news spread this was almost the death knell for the operation, besides the recent political upheavals in Egypt when no one wanted to travel via Cairo with curfews in place and flight cancellations galore.
It is not sure if and in fact when Egypt Air may resume flights to Juba, but not likely before independence – due on 09th July – and then only as a non-stop service leaving out Khartoum, as otherwise the route would again be subject to all the same issues which now led to the ‘suspension’ of operations.
Watch this space for breaking aviation news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.
INDEPENDENT SOUTH SUDAN TO RESPECT NILE WATER AGREEMENTS
The soon to be independent South Sudan – expected to be on 09th July this year – has recently met with an Egyptian delegation seeking to establish ties with the Southern leadership. Key issue on the agenda was the River Nile and its waters, with the ‘White Nile’ or Bahr el Jebel flowing through the South’s territory.
It is understood from Juba, that the Egyptian delegation’s interpretation that the new country would respect the agreements, was seen as an endorsement of the 1929 and 1959 treaties the British colonial governments forced upon the newly independent countries of Eastern Africa was not accurate. Only recently did Burundi sign on to the new Nile Basin Initiative’s new treaty framework, and the South Sudan will respect THAT agreement, as the majority of the countries involved in the long negotiations had now affirmed the new treaty as binding. Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia had already signed the treaty ahead of everyone else but with Burundi coming on board, it is only Congo Dr, Egypt and the regime in Khartoum to remain ‘outside’. After the South Sudan becomes independent, the new country too is expected to ratify the ‘new’ treaty’ which is removing the veto powers of Egypt and sets new percentages for the use of the waters of the River Nile. Termed by this correspondents as the ‘water producers’ the East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia Congo are all generating what flows into the Nile via their water towers, rivers and lakes contributing to Lake Victoria and Lake Albert, while the ‘Blue Nile’ makes its way from Ethiopia to Khartoum, joining with the ‘White Nile’ to make ‘The Nile’.
Said a usually reliable source from Juba to this correspondent: ‘we will stand with our brothers and sister in East Africa on this. We will join EAC as soon as we can and we will not pursue a different line from what they have agreed about the Nile waters. What Khartoum then does is their business, but we look South from here on, not North.’
Considering the tourism potential already tapped into in Uganda, where a variety of adventure activities on the River Nile are in place, the South Sudan too has the opportunity to replicate such developments and will be able to ‘sell’ water based tourism activities to the international tourist markets alongside the wildlife national parks and game reserves, their culture and history.
In a related development has the cabinet of the government of South Sudan approved the recommendations of the special commission formed to determine a range of independence related issues, sanctioning the name ‘Republic of South Sudan’, the new national flag derived from the SPLM/A’s own flag, the national anthem and issues related to the new currency, to be named the South Sudan Pound – the latter dashing hopes from parts of East Africa that the new currency would be names the South Sudan Shilling. However, with a common currency for members of the East African Community advancing at a good pace, this will in a few years anyway become a distant memory, when the internal borders of the EAC come down and free movement of people and goods will be matched by ONE currency. Way to go, upcoming Republic of South Sudan.
And in closing, as most times, here is some pertinent material taken from Gill Staden’s ‘The Livingstone Weekly’, allowing you to get a glimpse of what is going on ‘further down South’ and being able to see that our problems in Eastern Africa are mirrored by events there too:
Adds W: This remarkable journey reminds me of the first ever Nile River Explorer’s trip down the River Nile from the river source in Jinja to Alexandria in Egypt where the Nile enters the Mediterranean Sea. Hopefully we can get regular updates on progress from the expedition, as was the case many years ago from the ‘Nile Explorers’.
From Best of Zambia
Row the Zambezi
In August 2011 a team of men and women are going to row 1,000 kilometres along the upper Zambezi River in Zambia, from the border with Angola to Victoria Falls in Zambia in three sculling boats. Note the Zambezi River has hippos, crocodiles and rapids, to name but a few challenges! This has never been done before and thebestofzambia.com is proud to be supporting this voyage which is raising money for Village Water.
The Row Zambezi team aim to raise £50,000 for Village Water and they also need £30,000 for the expedition equipment which will be donated to create a new rowing facility on Lake Kariba on completion of the expedition. The Row Zambezi team can’t do this on their own. You can support the team financially by:
Sponsoring the rowing equipment
Paying for a logo on the boat or trailer
Donating to Village Water through JustGiving
Downloading their charity single ‘The Smoke that Thunders’ by Polaris Condition
Follow and promote them on Facebook and Twitter.
Contact them on: firstname.lastname@example.org
And here a few new bombshells from Zimbabwe which make intriguing reading – Quo Vadis Zimbabwe?
SADC Mini Summit in Livingstone
During the week Livingstone was entertained by sirens and cavalcades going through the town. Planes arrived and left at all times of day and night. I think, though, that Robert Mugabe was not happy that he came. Here is part of an article from The Zimbabwean:
A beleagured President Mugabe has lashed out at the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security after it delivered its strongest rebuke at a mini summit held in Livingstone Thursday night, calling for an end to intimidation and proscription of MDC meetings.
The SADC Organ, also called the Troika said in a communique there must be an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of the GPA; all issues raised by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai during his whirlwind diplomatic offensive.
An impatient Troika said all stakeholders to the GPA (Global Political Agreement) should implement all the provisions of the GPA and create a conducive environment for peace, security, and free political activity and the GNU (Government of National Unity) should complete all the steps necessary for the holding of the election including the finalization of the constitutional amendment and the referendum.
An embattled Mugabe, licking his wounds after his party’s crushing defeat in the Speaker vote, told his 84th Ordinary Session of the Zanu-PF Central Committee in Harare on Friday that the SADC organ can go hang.
“Any organisation, body or group of persons that is established by the Troika or Sadc should not prescribe to us what to do,” Mugabe said to a muted reaction from his allies. “There is a line of thinking in Sadc that a body should be created to point certain things to us, but Zimbabwe will not tolerate any group to prescribe to us what to do.”
“A facilitator is a facilitator and should facilitate dialogue between Zimbabweans by way of persuasion. “That is the best he can do. He cannot prescribe that we do A, B, C, D. We prescribe to ourselves to do A, B, C, D in accordance with our own laws.
“MDC-T think that Sadc or AU can tell us how we can do our business or how to implement what we have agreed.
“We are a sovereign State and as a sovereign State we don’t accept any interference and even our neighbours should not tell us what to do.” …
Mugabe, who counted SADC among his few remaining friends, is now standing alone after the regional body strenuously rejected his abuse of the political opposition. Sources said the SADC Troika chair Rupia Banda, who made a stunning warning to SADC dictators to learn from the protests in North Africa that have toppled two dictators, was reported to be strident in his criticism of Mugabe, and warned that the country risks sliding back to 2008.
A furious Mugabe lashed out at the Troika yesterday.
“We will not brook interference from any source. We will resist interference from any source, even from our neighbours,” President Mugabe said. …
From the Independent, Zimbabwe
New mining BEE law a bombshell
WHEN government gazetted empowerment regulations compelling foreigners to “cede” controlling stakes in companies valued at US$500 000 to indigenous Zimbabweans in March last year, foreign investors on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) retreated, triggering a share plunge on the exchange until the last quarter of the year.
After the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the Chamber of Mines raised concerns over some of the terms in the regulations such as “cede”, government went back to the drawing board and replaced the word “cede” with “dispose” and promised to look at indigenisation on a sector by sector basis. The market waited and the recommendations of the sectoral committees never came.
Meanwhile the empowerment clamour continued, with President Robert Mugabe ordering Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere to indigenise Nestlé for not buying milk from his (Mugabe’s) Gushungo Dairy Estate.
But investors eventually came back to the ZSE and all seemed to be going well again. And just when investors thought they would have a breather from the empowerment and indigenisation threats, Kasukuwere was at it again. He threatened last week to go after nominee shareholders on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, with a view to unraveling their identities and compelling them to dispose of their shareholding to indigenous Zimbabweans.
Kasukuwere’s biggest and latest and bombshell however, has been his gazetting last Friday of General Notice 114 of 2011, which outlined changes to the law originally passed last year. Under this altered law, Government now says all foreign owned companies with a net asset value of US$1 would have to comply with the new regulations by September 25 this year. This is a change from the net asset value of US$500 000 gazetted last year.
Essentially, every company in the hands of foreigners shall be sold to “designated” entities. But that is not the catch.
The instrument says the value of the shares or other interest required to be disposed of shall be calculated on the basis of valuation agreed to between the minister and the non-indigenous mining business concerned “ which shall take into account the state’s sovereign ownership of the mineral or minerals exploited or proposed to be exploited” by the foreign investors.
Legal experts say the clause is meant to effectively lower the values of mining companies. …
This comes after Mugabe early this month empowered Kasukuwere to indigenise Zimplats, Barclays and Nestle first and come up with measures to deal with the named companies.
Any one still interested to invest in Zimbabwe ???
Didn’t think so, not unless there is a change of government !!!