9/11 TEN YEARS ON
It was a just past 4 in the afternoon when I got a call, being on the outskirts of Kampala enroute back from the airport in Entebbe, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York, prompting me to abort my drive to where I was heading to and instead went to the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, certain I would see live coverage on the news. Han de Windt, then the General Manager, and Jennifer Zizinga, then the Director of Sales and Marketing, stood together, eyes glued on the TV screen, as the second plane struck and it was then clear that a major terror attack was underway against the United States.
Breaking news followed on the strike against the Pentagon in Washington and soon afterwards, amongst all the confusion of reports, retractions and new reports, confirmation came in that a plane had crashed while presumed hijacked too and flying towards Washington also.
We saw the Twin Towers come down in a cloud of dust resembling a volcanic eruption and no eye stayed dry that moment. Strangers hugged and cried together and the Americans amongst the gathering crowed were commiserated and had drinks bought for them.
Soon afterwards it became clear that Osama Bin Ladens Al Qaida terror network was behind the coordinated attack, which had left the American security agencies reeling, completing what an earlier attempt to bomb the World Trade Centre had not achieved.
The world stood by America in their hour of grief and the Americans were the good guys. A global coalition formed swiftly to support America in any which way necessary and NATO declared the attack on America and attack on the alliance, an unprecedented act.
Within weeks the Taliban regime faced their ultimatum to hand over Bin Laden and his goons or else and the or else it was as bombs and cruise missiles started to rain on Al Qaida bases and Taliban positions, driving them out of Kabul and into the Bora Bora mountains where some of the most intense bombing runs by B52s ever seen were unleashed on the caves suspected to hold Bin Laden and his merry men of terror.
The world stood united behind America for the invasion in Afghanistan as the hunt for extremists and terrorist continued, from the air and from the ground.
And then came Iraq and the global goodwill America generated after 9/11 evaporated as the US and Britain moved towards a war which many then suspected and now know for certain was for all sorts of reasons but not the ones given in the UN. The war mongering of the Bush administration, echoed in Number 10 Downing Street, tore the erstwhile alliance apart and caused lasting rifts amongst allies and with friends of America for counseling caution and restraint.
My own articles, speaking out against the growing trend of going to war with Iraq, published in eTN at the time, created all sorts of hate mail, but I suppose with all the world now knows, about the intent and purpose of the Bush administration to go to war and the disastrous results in Iraq with collateral damage running into allegedly tens of thousands of innocent women, children and elderly, many of those zealots and patriots may well have changed their mind in the meantime and agree with what I said back then.
The Iraq war turned out to be a monstrous mistake and money needed to build American infrastructure and improve their social systems went up in the proverbial smoke of bombs and missiles exploding. The eyes went off the ball in Afghanistan too and todays resurgence of the Taliban is a direct result of not finishing the job when it was possible to do so with much greater ease, while Bush was proudly announcing on a carrier he had flown on to in an act of the best Wild West tradition mission accomplished far from it as we now also know.
I have stayed with eTN as their East Africa and Indian Ocean correspondent since then and as a frequent traveler witnessed the fallout of the post 9/11 security frenzy at airports around the world, the no fly lists when wannabe passengers were told they could not be checked in, the container loads of pocket knives and nail scissors, lighters and leatherman taken off passengers at various security check points, which made our lives as frequent travelers hell, yet purporting to make flying safer.
Is the world safer since or because of the Iraq war not anywhere near it as the many terror attacks since then remind us of. In fact it bred a new generation of war hardened and more sophisticated terrorists and suicide bombers who struck targets across the world with almost impunity, picking their moment with care and inflicting maximum pain and suffering and loss on the innocent.
To this day I have cold anger boil up in me when I see old movies, where the Twin Towers still stand as the Big Apples main landmark. I remember my first visit to the World Trade Centre in 1974 and many times since until that tragic day in September 2001. To this day I mourn the thousands who died in the planes, in the Twin Towers as they came down, those in the Pentagon and the countless brave men and women who have given their lives since then defending ourselves from terror, but also the many victims of terror since that September day around the world.
When the bell tolls in New York on the 09th of September this year, when America falls silent in remembrance 10 years down the line, I will observe my own personal minute of silence and remember what unfolded in front of my eyes a decade ago on the TV screens of the Sheraton Kampala. I will also celebrate the bringing to justice of Bin Laden and many of his henchmen over those 10 years. And I will mourn the innocent lives lost in Iraq too, and those of service men and women from around the world, who were sent to that war to do the bidding of their masters without knowing the true agenda those masters had.
9/11 this year is a special day, reminding us of our hard fought for freedoms and liberties, being able to stand up and oppose what is wrong even if the powers that be spit fire at us democracy is not supposed to be easy for those whom we chose to govern us, something they often forget when they get into office and enjoy their splendid isolation from the electorate for four or five years.
9/11 is also a symbolic day now, a constant reminder of the ongoing fight between good and evil, not between Islam and Christianity, not between East and West but plain and simple between good and evil. When you read this take a moment, say a prayer or if you dont pray, simply remember and honour that day in September 10 years ago and what happened in New York, Washington and in the skies over America.
Archive for September 10th, 2011
9/11 TEN YEARS ON
ZANZIBAR STRUCK BY FERRY DISASTER
New broke earlier today but took a while to confirm and fully ascertain, that a ferry with reportedly over 600 people on board between Unguja, commonly referred to as Zanzibar and Pemba sunk after capsizing, leaving scores of passengers dead in the water and others struggling to survive by clinging on to debris until they could be pulled out of the water by rescuers. Foreign tourists were reportedly on board the ferry but the nationalities of the bodies recovered could not at this stage be confirmed until autopsies have gone underway and identities could be formally confirmed. When going to press over 160 bodies had been recovered by fishing boats and other vessels which rushed to the aid of the stricken ferry, but many more passengers are missing and must be presumed dead by now. About 250 passengers out of the 600 on board were rescued and are either undergoing medical treatment or have been treated and discharged.
The ferry was reportedly often overloaded with passengers and cargo but authorities, though aware of the practice, did apparently little to step in and enforce loading limits as it was one of the few links between the two islands. New ferries, promised time and again by the Tanzanian government have for long been awaited and according to a source in Dar es Salaam this was an accident waiting to happen. Backpackers and budget tourists often use the ferry to get to Pemba in the absence of other affordable transport and the wananchi of course must use it, they have no choice at all to get from one island to the other. There has always been talk of mechanical problems but nothing ever came of it. The sinking of the ferry exposes a great weakness in our system of supervision and regulating marine transport and who really knows what went on behind the scenes to have this ship continue to operate and officials looking the other way.
In January this year and in May last year two overloaded boats sank in the vicinity too, with dozens of passengers drowned in both instances, indicating that regulations were either lax or not enforced, laying blame squarely on the ferry operators and the authorities charged with supervising ocean transport.
The eTN team expresses their sorrow and extends condolences to the families and friends of those lost in this terrible tragedy.
TOURISM MINSTERS ALLEGED DEROGATORY REMARKS ABOUT KENYA TRUE AFTER ALL?
When Kenya burnt a cargo of seized ivory a few weeks ago at the KWS training school in Tsavo, dignitaries from across the region had been invited to witness this act of defiance and declared opposition to poaching and the growing trade in blood ivory, which is threatening the very survival of the African elephant in the safari countries of Eastern and Southern Africa.
Tanzanias representative the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Ezekiel Maige, an increasingly controversial figure over his outbursts and let rip remarks, i.e. calling UNESCOs World Heritage Committee an insignificant entity, was soon afterwards reported by a reliable source from Dar es Salaam to have made remarks about the Kenyan stupidity to burn ivory instead of joining us to sell it.
Such suggestions were at the time vehemently denied yet today media reports emerge from Tanzania that the very same minister has now publicly spoken against burning ivory as it never stops poachers and causes loss to the government. Political circles in Kenya will now give fresh attention to what has been reported here before, that indeed Maige may have made rather undiplomatic references over an event which none other than President Kibaki performed in Kenya, and may demand through diplomatic channels that he face the music and be reprimanded, if for nothing else but being careless and overheard when making his utterances.
Maige is increasingly seen as a liability and been accused by the conservation fraternity of misleading UNESCO in a letter he signed about NOT proceeding with a controversial highway across the Serengeti, itself a World Heritage Site, only to soon afterwards denounce the letter he signed and continued to talk about the highway would go ahead by hook or crook. Maige is also on public record downplaying the substantial risk for environmental pollution by a planned Uranium mine in the Selous, which could poison water sources and the wider environment for decades to come.
2011 is the 50th year of independence for Tanzania and was meant to be a hallmark year for tourism and conservation but the conservation reputation of Tanzania appears more and more in tatters over a large number of hugely controversial industrial projects, leaving the tourist board struggling to overcome sentiments and growing resentment against the country. Maige and other officials are on record lamenting that they are sitting on a treasure of ivory they are not permitted to sell, as CITES last year turned down their request for an extraordinary sale of supposedly legal ivory stocks, denouncing the decision and blaming amongst others Kenya for the rejection, which denies the poor health care and roads. This line of thought makes it clear that the proceeds of an ivory sale would contrary to soothing statements made at the time not go towards conservation and anti poaching but be absorbed by the countrys treasury. Maige and others also made it clear that they would apply once again at the 2013 CITES meeting, showing that no lessons have been learned and that the concept of conservation instituted by the founding father of Tanzania, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere has been largely discarded for profits and short term gains. Watch this space.
MAJOR INVESTMENT CONFERENCE PLANNED
Juba will host the first post independence South Sudan Investment Conference and Trade Fair in October, according to a regular source in Juba. We will be showing potential investors what great range of projects they can apply for, can make a sales pitch for. We need foreign investments in the entire infrastructure, in manufacturing and services, because our government cannot do this alone, we South Sudanese cannot do it alone. We are offering opportunities in housing developments, telecommunications, the health sector, education, power generation and distribution, airport development, railway development, mining, agriculture and agro processing and tourism. We need all those things to make our economy take off and when we are part of East African Community we can offer an even bigger market for those manufacturing or producing agricultural products. Tourism needs hotels in all the state capitals, in the new federal capital, in the safari parks or along the rivers. South Sudan is now open for business and we will facilitate good investors and good projects as much as we can.
True enough adds this correspondent in closing, that a huge potential exists across the South Sudan for all the sectors mentioned, plus aviation which the source inexplicably left out from the extensive list quoted. Watch this space.
WIKILEAKS DOCUMENTS PROMPT ANGRY RESPONSES IN DAR ES SALAAM
A leaked cable from the then US Ambassador to Tanzania Michael Retzer to the State Department has produced angry reactions in Tanzania with denial chasing denial. The cables alleged a bribery scandal involving none other than President Kikwete and the owners of what used to be the Kempinski in Dar es Salaam, now under Hyatt management since the beginning of August. The company under the spotlight is the Albwardy Group, which also owns the Zawani Zanzibar Resort, the Bilila Serengeti Lodge and also reportedly the Saadani lodges, besides the Four Seasons in the Seychelles and the Desert Palm properties in Dubai. The cables allege the group gave inappropriate gifts, in other words bribes to top Tanzanian officials prompting Albwardys CEO to issue a statement denying any such gifts. The alleged source quoted by the former Ambassador in his secret cables has upon the publication of these hugely damaging documents also denied ever having given such information, calling it a load of rubbish and defamation of her personal character what else to say now that the stuff is out in the open.
State House sources in Dar es Salaam called for substantiation of the claims made while otherwise dismissing them as lazy gossip, falsehoods and innuendo, especially the claims that the ruling party CCM had received major campaign contributions again, what else to say now the Wikileaks has blown the lid off murky deals, not just in Tanzania but around the world.
Rumours have long existed over in particular the true ownership of the Bilila Serengeti Lodge, and unguarded remarks by a staff member at the launch of Safari Plus a few weeks ago, that Bilila Serengeti was the unofficial Camp David of Tanzania only fueled suspicions once more.
Conservationists however are putting their own two plus two together now and are launching additional investigations over just why President Kikwete seems so hellbent to have a highway, graveled or not, built across the Serengeti to earmarked gold mining areas between the Serengeti and Lake Victoria. Other inexplicable projects of the same controversial nature by the Kikwete government are a soda ash plant on the shores of Lake Natron, which would irreversibly destroy the sole breeding grounds for East Africas flamingo population, the withdrawal of the application to UNESCO for WHS recognition of the Eastern Arc Mountains, the plans for uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve or the building of a new mega port inside the marine national park at Mwambani where the Coelacanth prehistoric fish is found. Many questions yet few answer, for now that is. Considering that Wikileaks managed to obtain top secret cables between American embassies abroad and the State Department, is may only be a matter of time before more leaks from other sources within Tanzania may shed more light on the allegations and confirm either truth of falsehoods. Watch this space.
RWANDA AWARDS VACANT TELECOMS LICENSE TO AIRTEL
The third license to operate mobile telecom services, withdrawn from a Libyan owned company a few months ago over regulatory offenses, was finally awarded to Airtel Africa earlier this week, bringing the number of mobile operators back to three. Airtel of India had taken over the Zain network across Africa, making it one of the worlds leading mobile operators and their arrival in Rwanda closes a gap in their coverage of East Africa, as they expand their presence on the continent to vie with South Africas MTN for continental leadership. The company, on receiving their license, committed to invest at least 100 million US Dollars in a GSM / 3G network across Rwanda over the next year. It is not clear if they are considering taking over network assets from the former Libyan owned company, which is now under winding up proceedings, such as transmission towers and other installations or will roll out an entirely new network infrastructure. Rwanda is understood to encourage mast sharing amongst operators to prevent the proliferation of telecom towers which, though initially a sign of progress and development are now often perceived as an eyesore, especially when littered over several hills in close proximity.
The arrival of Airtel is good news for business and tourist visitors as it widens the choice of operators and keeps the cost of communications competitive. After the closure of the Libyan owned company about 600.000 subscribers had to move to MTN and Tigo and the new choice will undoubtedly lead to a major migration of phone users to Airtel in coming weeks as their marketing campaign is rolled out.
POLICE POST IN MASAI MARA TO IMPROVE SECURITY AND STEM POACHING
News were confirmed today that the Kenya Police will establish a new police outpost in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, from where officers will work hand in hand with game rangers and wardens to improve overall security in Kenya key park.
Attacks or robberies on tourists are relatively rare, but high profile events when something happens but poachers crossing the common border between Tanzanias Serengeti and Kenyas Masai Mara are equally a target of the new police outpost.
Tourism stakeholders have broadly welcomed the initiative but also said that from announcing the new facility to actually putting it up and operating it are two different things in Kenya, so time will tell here just how long it will take to turn promise into reality. Meanwhile though it should be said that the initiative is most welcome and certainly much awaited.