NEW FIBRE OPTIC BACKBONE GOING INTO OPERATION IN UGANDA
Years of waiting and billions of Uganda Shillings in expenditure are now coming to a successful conclusion as Chinas Huawei is handing over the finished product to the Ugandan government, which has paid for the installation of fibre optic cables across the country to connect The Pearl of Africa within and with the rest of the world at affordable cost. This second phase now connects Uganda to the borders with South Sudan but also to Kenya where it supplements existing fibreoptic networks by the three commercial cable operators. The present capacity of 2.5GB 24 core cable, with the option to upgrade to 10GB, will for the time being enable data traffic for outsourced business activities including e-learning and e-medicinal applications.
The new public fibre optic connection is thought to provide redundancy to the commercial cables, which in the past have been prone to vandalism or accidental down times, hugely affecting all internet based communications and business transactions. The final project phase will go underway soon aimed to connect Uganda with the Rwandan border, completing the rollout of fibre optic networks across the country, although that has been talk to also connect the borders with Tanzania on the Western side of Lake Victoria in anticipation of a link from Dar es Salaam, which would provide added redundancies, as the saying here goes just in case.
On a related note it could not be established if at all the new links will help to bring the cost of internet connections to make it more affordably, especially for schools and institutions of higher learning, in the capital, key urban centres and rural areas, and for business and domestic users many of whom have often complained about the high cost of using the internet, which puts it beyond what most Ugandans can afford. Watch this space.
Archive for October 14th, 2011
NEW FIBRE OPTIC BACKBONE GOING INTO OPERATION IN UGANDA
PRINCE OF WALES EXPECTED IN TANZANIA
Conservationists have taken heart when it was learned that the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will visit Tanzania in November on the occasion of the countrys 50th Independence Day celebrations. The Prince of Wales is embarking on a tour to the Middle East and Africa, which will also see the couple visit South Africa. Known for his outspoken and often candid criticism of architecture and other aspects of life in Britain, and as a promoter for all things natural, it is hoped that he will in his private and official meetings with President Kikwete and other government officials raise some of the large number of concerns expressed by conservationists and the green lobby in recent years over projects endangering the countrys national parks and game reserves, marine parks and forests. Prince Charles only recently become the President of the WWF in the UK, giving him the added status as a key representative of the World Wide Fund for Nature, which itself has been critical and at the forefront of opposition to many of the development projects the current government in Dar es Salaam has been promoting. Watch this space for updates.
UNWTO EXECUTIVE COUNCIL ELECTS KENYAS TOURISM MINISTER AS CHAIRMAN
Tourism Minister Najib Balala was elected chairman of the important executive committee of the UNs World Tourism Organization during the just concluded assembly of the UNWTO in South Korea. The 31 member committee runs the affairs of the UNWTO between general assemblies and for the first time ever met in Africa earlier this year at the Mombasa Serena Resort and Spa.
Balala has been vice chairman of the Executive Committee previously but his elevation to the chairmanship is as much a recognition of Kenya as a force in world tourism as of his own personal work and achievements on the committee.
The global tourism industry is faced with many challenges at present, from the slowing economies around the globe to the crisis in the Eurozone and an array of new and planned eco taxes on aviation, used as a convenient tool by government to create easy but misdirected tax revenues levied on air tickets through carbon taxes and eco duties. Sustainability and ethics too are high on the agenda of the UNWTO in coming months and years and the executive committee will have its work cut out if it is to keep tourism on a sustained growth path.
The UNWTO general assembly this year ran from 07th of October until yesterday 13th October and was held in Geongju / South Korea. Congrats to Hon. Balala for brining this honour back to Kenya and East Africa!
KENYAS AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS GO SLOW
Nairobi aviation sources confirmed a go slow by air traffic controllers overseeing operations at the countrys main gateway Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and also at Wilson Airport, where most of the tourism related safari flights originate.
Negotiations between the Civil Aviation Authority and the Aviation and Allied Workers Union apparently broke down earlier in the week prompting a warning strike which however appears concealed under a work by the book approach, which delayed flights in and out of Nairobi.
Inflation and opportunities to work abroad have made many technical experts currently employed in air traffic control and other key areas of the CAA demand higher packages, to fairly compensate our work and value as one source put it overnight to this correspondent, at least for those who wish to stay at home and not succumb to the overtures of foreign employers, with the Gulf region in particular working like a hoover to siphon out qualified aviation staff as another source had put it a while ago when discussing the pilots situation in Kenya.
There has been no indication at the time of going to press if the work by the book approach will extend into Friday and the weekend or if negotiations between union and employer will resume to seek a negotiated outcome rather than having to face a walk out and strike, which could hugely damage Kenyas economy and have a substantial impact on tourism arrivals, business travel and air cargo shipments of often perishable goods, which would not survive extended storage. Watch this space for updates as and when available.
PRECISION GEARS UP PR DURING IPO PERIOD
Tanzanias Precision Air, currently in the process of an IPO on Dar es Salaams Stock Exchange, has notably geared up its PR activities in support of the share sale, and probably also to counter a disputed assessment by a Nairobi investment firm about the valuation of the shares at TShs 475 each.
The company yesterday presented a group of stakeholders with an insight into their vision and strategic plan to expand operations to a range of new destination as new aircraft on order are to be delivered to the airline. Precision presently flies to Mombasa, Nairobi, Entebbe and of late the Comoros Islands in the East African region and to Johannesburg in South Africa, but is said to eye a number of additional routes including the Seychelles and Dubai. The absence from the market of Air Tanzania has also led to an unprecedented number of domestic destinations to be served out of Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Mwanza, covering a total of 10 present airports including Zanzibar.
A spokesperson of the company defended the pricing of the shares, which was set by a leading international business audit and consultancy company, reflecting the value of the company and its future prospects as market leader in Tanzania. The IPO is due to run until 28th of October and applicants for shares will then learn if they have been successful or not, should as expected the offer be oversubscribed. Watch this space.
Kenya news – Abductions of MSF doctors from refugee camp casts fresh doubts on Kenya’s ability to stop cross border raids
ABDUCTION OF AID WORKERS FROM REFUGEE CAMP CASTS FRESH DOUBTS
News broke yesterday of several aid workers in the main refugee camp at the border with Somalia getting abducted including two foreigners working with MSF Medicines Sans Frontiers in another daring raid by suspected Al Shabab militants into Kenya.
It prompted immediate doubts on Kenyas preparedness to counter such cross border raids, more so in the light of the abductions of two foreigners from the Kiwayu Safari Village, which has since been closed due to lack of business, and from Lamus Manda Island, which caused tourism to that destination to collapse too when embassies put an embargo on all but the most essential travel to that part of Kenya.
It was only after the second abduction of a wheelchair bound French woman that the government in Nairobi really got into gear, but according to local sources the exercise at the coast is already showing signs of complacency creeping in while statements about defending our borders have come to all but naught with the latest attack yesterday.
Usually well informed sources with up close experience in the Somalia situation have indicated to this correspondent that Al Shabab, under intense military pressure in Mogadishu already, may have changed tactics and expand its operations into neighbouring Kenya to draw the country into an open confrontation and to open up a new front. There is also speculation that the abducted doctors could also be used, not just as human shields but to treat wounded Al Shabab militants and at least one source questioned if the abduction of doctors was not spurred by the need of the other two hostages taken from the Kenyan coast for treatment to keep them alive as bargaining chips.
Diplomatic activity has reportedly also flared up since these latest abductions and a flurry of activities has been unfolding to hold urgent meetings, not just in Kenya but on AU level and UN level to discuss the Somalia crisis which is now, something this correspondent has long said, openly threatening the peace and prosperity in the wider region. Somalias Islamic militants and Al Qaida affiliates operating from or hiding in Somalia, allegedly backed by the regime in Eritrea and godfathers from further abroad are pitted against a coalition of African Union sanctioned troops, presently from Uganda and Burundi, which however is short of numbers and short of crucial UN decisions on a full air and sea embargo, while off shore a naval coalition is dealing with the menace of piracy originating from Somalia.
It is high time, especially in the light of the successful Special Forces operation to free captives from a highjacked vessel held in a Somali pirates safe haven earlier in the week, the first openly admitted on land deployment, to bring the two sides together and map out a common strategy and approach using land based and sea based forces, plus the capabilities of UAVs now based in the region, to comprehensively tackle the Somalia conflict and robustly engage militants, pirates and Al Qaida affiliates. Otherwise, leaving the burden to Kenya to defend her long and porous border with Somali from cross border raids, will only produce more such problems until a forward defense strategy is employed and action taken inside Somali to deal with the menace. Watch this space.
BRITISH AIRWAYS RAINS ON KENYA AIRWAYSS PARADE
As Kenya Airways is putting final touches on the preparations for todays annual general meeting, where shareholders are expected to sign off on plans for a new shares issue as proposed by the Board of Directors, and only days after the airline announced the acquisition on a long term lease of two more B777-300ER, has British Airways sneaked in a nasty on them, according to industry observers timed to rain on KQs parade. Some weeks ago it was announced here and widely broadcast that Kenya Airways had acquired a B747-400F to commence cargo operations, supplemented by as many as three B737F planes used to feed and de-feed cargo from the wider region. British Airways has now announced in Nairobi that they too would introduce a B747F which was due to fly from London via Nairobi to Johannesburg and back and commencing services ahead of the planned launch by Kenya Airways.
This is a sneaky move said a regular commentator from Nairobis aviation fraternity before adding and the announcement well timed to coincide with KQs AGM and acquisition announcement. This is not a coincidence but was meant to rain on Kenya Airways parade.
Rivalries between the BA led One World alliance and SkyTeam, to which Kenya Airways and major shareholder KLM / Air France belong, are thought to be responsible for this latest competitive push by British Airways on not only the East African but the broader African market, where One World is ranking a distant third behind market leaders Star Alliance and Sky Team in terms of volume share.
They had to come up with something but this is not a problem for us. JKIA is the biggest air cargo market in Africa now and it is our home base. We work hand in hand with our partner KLM / Air France in shipping cargo from Nairobi to Europe already on our daily wide body flights and when our freighter comes on line we will absorb demand already in place. I am not speculating on the timing of the announcement by British Airways, they do their thing and we do ours said a source close to the action from Nairobi, showing confidence that KQs strategy would be a winning one and that there would be no rain on the parade.
Watch this space for aviation updates from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region, fresh off the press.
BUJAGALI ENTERES TEST PHASE
The Bujagali hydroelectric power plant has reportedly commenced the testing phase with the first installed 50 MW turbine, due to go into production in November, according to reliable sources.
The plant, worth over 860 million US Dollars, was initiated by the IPS Kenya, itself part of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, in short AKFED.
Long suffering electricity users, hotels, manufacturers, the business community at large and of course households across the country have been waiting for this moment with bated breath, and often in darkness at night, as the Ugandan government failed to pay up contractually agreed subsidies to independent thermal power plant operators, causing several of them to reduce production or shut down altogether. The has in recent months caused widespread electricity rationing, not helped by another much critizised decision to phase out diesel propelled plants over cost considerations, instead of awaiting the coming on line of Bujagali. Once in production the new hydro electric power plant will progressively add the remaining turbines, with the second on in place by December and the fifth unit by about April 2012. When in full production Bujagali is expected to feed 250 MW into the national grid at which time power rationing should be a thing of the past. In yet another twist however was it learned that tariffs might not be reduced when the cheaper electricity becomes available, as statements have been attributed to government sources that the savings would be used to recover the substantial subsidies paid out already, or still due to be paid out, which if true would amount to a broken promise though not unexpected considering that the coffers of government are quite empty.
The opening of Bujagali has also brought changes to the adventure tourism activities along the upper Nile valley. Rafting has shifted to a starting point below the power plant, as much of the upstream rapids, including the Bujagali Falls proper are now fully or partly submerged, creating a mini lake between the dam of the power station all the way to below the Nile Porch and the Nile River Explorers base camp. However, with these rather inevitable developments new opportunities have arisen and additional tourism activities like house boating or even waterskiing can now be introduced, though the rafting fraternity will still remember some of the biggies they have now lost as they take their adrenalin junkies down the river.
Meanwhile have sections of the business community started to demand that government make public the progress on the newly planned Karuma Falls power plant, which in a few years time should bring another 600 MW on line, but for which information of late has become too little for comfort, causing fears of delays which in a few years time could result in more electricity rationing, should Karuma not be ready when the gains made through the commissioning of Bujagali have been absorbed by increased use of electricity in the country. Watch this space.