Archive for September, 2010

Tourism News from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region Fourth edition September 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Fourth edition September 2010

 

Uganda News

TELECOMS ‘WARS’ COME TO UGANDA TOO

Following the current fierce battle over market shares in Kenya, where the new owners of former Celtel / Zain have ‘hit the market’ with tariffs well under those of their main rivals Safaricom and Telecom here in Uganda it was Warid Telecom which triggered the latest round of movement on the price front. Last week they halved their per second call charges from 10 Uganda Shillings to 5 Uganda Shillings, across ALL networks, making it suddenly the cheapest voice operator in the market and pre-empting what many thought would be Bharti / Airtel going first.

The new owners of Celtel / Zain – now being rebranded Airtel across the region and every country Zain was present before selling to India’s market giant, have vowed to in particular target rural communities where phone penetration is still low, and intend to do this with not only low call tariffs but also subsidised, but network tied phones.

Yet, unlike in Kenya where the Communications Commission has dictated recently a set of substantially lower interconnection charges, here in Uganda the matter is pending as in particular current market leader MTN has threatened legal action against the UCC, but it is expected that the regulators’ view that they can set maximum interconnection charges will eventually prevail, as this would be the only way to have consumers and phone users benefit from the often prohibitive charges set by leading operators to prevent others offering cheaper tariffs for cross network calls.

While the struggle over voice traffic market share will undoubtedly continue to excite consumers, the next barrier would be the data cost, where a range of novelties too is said to be in the ‘pipeline’ via lower tariffs and network upgrades across the country to 3+ G systems before sometime next year the first 4G rollout, in Kenya set for the first quarter, is also to begin. Good news also for foreign visitors whose choices have grown and who can use a locally purchased Sim card to enjoy cheaper tariffs and avoid the monster charges often experienced when on roaming. Watch this space.

 

Kenya News

HOTELIERS REJECT CLAIMS THAT NAIROBI IS 8TH MOST EXPENSIVE CITY

Kenyan hoteliers have taken exception to a recent report published by Hotels.com in the UK, which claims that the Kenyan capital city has become the 8th most expensive city for hotel accommodation in the world. Reactions were swift and sharp, with some alleging that the results were flawed, an ulterior motive behind the claims aimed to de-campaign Kenya while others questioned the methods of sourcing the information.

Said one seasoned hotelier: ‘if you just look at rack rates, even then how can Nairobi be as expensive as they claim. The big global cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Rome and many others surely have more expensive rack rates than we display in Nairobi? And we deal a lot in contract rates, corporate rates, East African resident rates which are much discounted compared to rack rates. Have they even taken this into account? Have they talked to our hotel association or just had a bootlegger collect rack rates and then make such damaging claims?’

Other senior tourism gurus also pointed to the opening in recent months of several new top hotels in the city and more beds in the pipeline for opening in 2011, saying that the capacity of rooms on offer reflects the demand, and is in fact now slightly ahead of present annual demand, but also conceding that during periods of peak demand, especially when major conferences or continental meetings are ‘in town’ the rates tend to go up while for much of the year however the average rates charged were still making Nairobi an affordable destination for tourists and business travellers.

Another source pointed out that the survey by Hotels.com was distorted as they most likely last surveyed two years ago, when the hospitality sector suffered of the aftermath of the post election violence and had to use heavy discounting to attract business, while the rates have now gone back to the pre-2008 levels. Valid point but not sure Hotels.com will take heed and correct their negative story anytime soon.

 

WHEN 100 KENYA SHILLINGS FILLED A TANK

Last week saw the rise of the cost of one litre of petrol rise to 100 Kenya Shillings, prompting a broad increase of transportation fares for passengers and cargos across the country. Commuters using public transport are being charged more and motorists, if they can find fuel during the ongoing shortage, have to dig deep into their pockets to pay for the precious liquid, needed to keep their car engines running, getting to their places of work, dropping kids at school or taking a weekend trip to the beckoning game parks and reserves upcountry. The current high price of petrol is well nearly unprecedented in Kenya and belt tightening and fuel saving is now the order of the day, for private individuals as well as business.

Yet, this correspondent recalls his early days in Kenya when 100 Shillings back then literally filled a car tank, rising to 1.000 Shillings some 15 years later and now standing at anywhere from 4.000 to 6.000 Shillings depending on the capacity of the car’s fuel tank. For sure NOT a sign of progress…

 

MARA ROADS A MESS DURING RAINY SEASON

Tourism operators have voiced their anger and disappointment once again over the state of some key roads leading into the Masai Mara. In past years, at the onset of the rainy seasons, some of the roads had periodically become impassable, at one time compelling a major airlift to take visitors out of the game reserve back to Nairobi after being literally marooned at their respective lodges and tented camps due to flooded bridges and muddied roads and tracks.

However, the authorities, swift to profess their commitment to the quality of tourism were slow in making good of promises made back then, and some key roads have again turned into quagmires which even 4×4’s find difficult to negotiate and get through without sinking axle deep into the mud.

It is understood that the safari airlines like SafariLink, Fly540 and Air Kenya, amongst others, experienced a swift increase in demand to fly clients in and out of the Masai Mara, but as ‘air safari’ are more expensive and therefore out of reach of many visitors to Kenya, this solution will be limited to those who can afford it while others on the traditional ‘road safaris’ may have to put on their Wellingtons and help push their vehicle to get through flooded stretches.

Some tour operators blamed the Narok County Council for letting the roads deteriorate beyond repair, causing expensive maintenance for safari vehicles, but the council reportedly blamed central government claiming some roads were not falling under the council, believe it or not.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS GOES DAILY WITH B777 TO HONG KONG AND LAGOS

The Kenyan flag carrier has just announced that they will by the end of September go daily from Nairobi to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, using a B777 aircraft, a substantial boost for passenger and cargo capacity and a sign that demand from across the airline’s African network is sharply up, justifying the daily flights on the largest aircraft KQ has on the fleet.

It was also learned  last week that ‘the Pride of Africa’ will, effective early October, begin to use their B777 for the flights from Nairobi to Lagos, tapping into an undoubtedly growing market potential in the Nigerian market. KQ connects Nigerians, and other West African countries, via Nairobi mainly into their destinations in the Middle East but also to the Far and South East destinations like Bangkok, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, as well as through the Nairobi hub to the entire Eastern African destination range.

Improved cargo space on the B777 has also been long awaited on the route to Nigeria as travellers in particular from and to Dubai are known to ship their ‘shopping’ on the same flight, often exceeding the already generous baggage allowance for this destination and yet happily paying for the freight charges as long as all arrives with them when the fly back home.

On a different note though it is worth pointing out that this move has been long planned according to usually reliable sources from aviation experts close to the airline, but the delayed delivery of the B787’s has thrown the proverbial spanners into the airline’s plans to expand capacity on high density routes or in fact roll out new destinations at the pace it would have been possible, all courtesy of Boeing’s delays.

Meanwhile it was also learned that Ethiopian Airlines will follow KQ’s example and add larger aircraft, once they have taken delivery of their new B777-200LR on flights to such destinations like Lagos and other of their African high density routes.

 

AFRAA LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

The upcoming AFRAA annual general assembly, scheduled for November 21 to 23 in Addis Ababa, has added a broadly based strategy session to their agenda. Key decision makers, experts and aviation analysts have been invited to join hands and minds while discussing the challenges African airlines have to meet in the face of growing competition by non-African airlines, the economic climate, challenges to secure financing for state of the art aircraft, the brain drain – many international airlines are aggressively recruiting pilots, technicians and other personnel trained by African carriers – and the growing demands on aviation safety and security. Issues like crumbling infrastructure at airports across Africa, a thin navigational beacon network, ATC challenges and often poor communications, and ongoing non tariff barriers amongst African countries should feature too during the talks, as will undoubtedly the ongoing bans by the EU against several African countries over safety concerns.

Air traffic across Africa has according to IATA grown on a year by year basis by well over 13 percent, seemingly impressive but yet less than the traffic growth of Dubai International Airport alone which on a year on year comparison has once again gone up by nearly 15 percent.

The cost of air travel is often cited as a constraining factor preventing many potential travellers from flying and ‘relegating’ them to busses, or where available trains, and one reason given by airlines is often the cost of regulatory charges, airport taxes, navigational, landing and parking fees, the high cost of fuel and, due to long distances, the cost of maintenance and crew training. Watch this space when the AFRAA AGA goes underway.

 

KQ CONCLUDES AGM, ADDRESSES DELAYED AIRCRAFT DELIVERIES

The 34th Annual General Meeting of the company last week at the Bomas of Kenya brought once again together the company’s shareholders, directors and management, plus a large contingent from the media covering the event. Main topics of discussion were financial performance and market shares, but also was the delayed delivery of ordered aircraft high on the agenda. The airline’s management was swift in  re-assuring the shareholders that a decision about a viable alternative to the B787 would be made soon, so as to keep the momentum of growth going and not disrupting expansion plans and leaving market shares to KQ’s main competitors. It is noteworthy to mention here that the airline will add two more daylight flights from London to Nairobi effective end October, signalling revived demand and KQ’s intent not to leave the introduction of extra flights to other airlines flying directly between the UK and Nairobi.

It was also learned that flights to Malindi would resume as soon as an expanded runway was available, and would then likely be operated by Embraer jets. It was in the process also revealed that ongoing work at the airline’s home hub Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was expected to still last for several years, a fact which was not lost on many regular users of the airport in Nairobi where congestion continues to be the order of the day, hampering Kenya Airways’ performance on the ground due to limited facilities – something beyond their control but still a matter of great concern of course.

In a related development has Boeing resorted to getting sections of the regional media to report in a more positive light about their intention to target the African market more aggressively in the future, conveniently overlooking the fact in their PR ’advertorials’ that they are presently letting the continent’s leading airlines down by NOT delivering ordered aircraft on time and in the process also trying to evade and avoid compensation deals – a sure door opener for rival manufacturers like Airbus and Embraer. Watch this space.

 

KQ DISMISSES TALK ABOUT COMPETITION THREAT ON REGIONAL ROUTES

Recent suggestions in sections of the media, that other airlines plying domestic and regional routes were making inroads into Kenya Airways’ market shares, were swiftly dismissed by sources ‘in the know’. Said one regular aviation expert liaising with this correspondent: ‘Traffic volumes are generally up, tourism is booming again and business travel has completely revived. Kenya Airways’ results released last week at their annual general meeting are clear, they are increasing passenger numbers and keeping their market share, on some routes in fact doing better than before. Still, private airlines also are doing ok because of more people flying in East Africa, more visitors coming to holiday here. I think at times some in the media are submitting to wishful thinking or are influenced by other considerations when they talk about KQ this and KQ that.

Last month someone was suggesting to me that we were selling some of our shares in Precision Air because we were in urgent need of cash. But this is part of our strategic partnership and outlook, that we want the spread the shares into wider ownership and while we will re-invest the proceeds when the shares are sold, maybe some time next year when the flotation is underway, we are very liquid, even new aircraft purchases are solidly financed’.

The ‘revival’ of RwandAir, now operating 4 jets – 2 CRJ’s and 2 leased B737-500’s [to be substituted next year with brand new B737-800’s] – and Air Uganda turning the corner in Uganda and standing on a more solid foundation since reverting to their original start up strategy and bringing CRJ aircraft into their fleet while offloading their costly MD87’s, and the regional growth of Fly540 have indeed given travellers more options to fly point to point into the region and a once again expanding market makes it possible for more airlines to not just survive but actually make a success, as private Kenyan airlines like Jetlink and East African Safari Air Express prove.

Kenya Airways also has a near monopoly on premium passengers, as they are the only airline operating a business class cabin on all their aircraft, while most other airlines either operate ‘all economy’ flights or only offer a C-class on their larger aircraft as is the case with RwandAir’s B737, keeping this crucial revenue element firmly in the KQ camp too. In addition, a proactive frequent flier programme and incentive scheme for their faithful passengers also gives KQ some edge in the market, as does their range of destinations, effectively covering the region. The Juba route, where Jetlink enjoys about half of the market share as a result of flying twice a day between Nairobi and Juba, has already seen KQ’s share rise into the 30 percent margins, as in particular passengers connecting via Nairobi take advantage of through ticketing, through baggage tagging and earning valuable ‘miles’, now that the Southern Sudanese capital is at last on the KQ destination list.

Said another regular aviation source from Nairobi: ‘Kenya is a vibrant aviation market, in many respects way ahead of our neighbours. This applies to domestic operations, safari destinations and the international and regional traffic. The fact that KQ has recovered so well after two crisis years is a sign of their underlying strength and for having a good strategy. It also proves that a well managed airline business in Africa does have a future and the failures we still see are caused by political interference, grand standing, over ambition and lack of funds when the going gets tough.’ How truly spoken!

 

Tanzania News

DIVERSIFICATION A MUST

Ahead of the annual world tourism day has the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism given the ‘heads up’ to efforts preserving and promoting the Amboni caves, located near Tanga along the Indian Ocean shores.

The extensive caves, first ‘protected’ in the Twenties of the last century by the then colonial government have a recorded history back into at least the 16th century of human habitation, as a place of worship and a place of hiding during the struggle for independence. In the early 1960’s, soon after independence, the caves were officially handed to a government department responsible for monuments and antiquities but were never really promoted to tourists visiting this part of the Tanzanian coast line.

A tourist board source preferring anonymity also agreed that Tanzania needs to do more to promote the ‘lesser known attractions’ more aggressively, showcasing the entire country just as much as they are presently promoting Mt. Kilimanjaro and the ‘Northern’ safari circuit of Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. ‘I think our best known parks really need very little exposure now because they are so well known, but what we need is to promote other national parks, game reserves, museums and national monuments where visitors can see artefacts related to our different cultural heritages, rock paintings, to explore caves and see rare primates for instance at Gombe Stream. Mikumi and the Selous still have a lot of space for tented camps and lodges and can receive a lot more visitors whereas the better known parks are now reaching saturation point. So in future we shall promote those much better to tell the market that there is a lot more to see than Serengeti or Ngorongoro and have visitors come back time and again exploring a different part of our country’. Could not agree more adds this correspondent.

 

DONT WASTE TAXES TO REVIVE ATCL

The handover ceremony last week of the 7th brand new ATR aircraft to Precision Air was graced by a number of government functionaries and key business personalities in Dar es Salaam at the Julius Nyerere International Airport. Some governmental officials, expecting to hear nothing but niceties, were said to have been less than amused when one of the speakers candidly spoke about Air Tanzania and the recent announcement in parliament that almost half a billion US Dollars would be needed to get the airline back on its feet. Efforts by government, to find a strategic investor have failed for several years now and left ATCL in a financially precarious position, creditors snapping at their heels and operationally almost disabled considering the number of serviceable aircraft they are left with. With this situation prevailing for years now it allowed Precision Air to rev up their market share and becoming Tanzania’s predominant airline in recent years.

Mr. Regnard Mengi was quoted to have asked the Tanzanian government, if not in so many words but surely by meaning, to stop pouring money into ATCL and instead support Precision Air, recognize and turn it into a de facto national airline and help it grow from strength to strength and allow it to capture more travellers coming to the country for business, safaris and beach holidays.

Major shareholders, including Kenya Airways, have resolved already to ‘float’ about 30 percent of their shares on the local stock exchange next year to promote wider Tanzanian ownership and to make it a ‘truly Tanzanian owned airline’ – something ardent supports of ATCL have in the past often questioned and used to ‘de-campaign’ Precision in the public arena. The IPO (initial public offering) on the Dar stock exchange, due to start by end December, is expected to raise at least 25 million US Dollars, according to an airline source in Dar es Salaam.

Precision Air operates the largest fleet of ATR 42 and ATR 72 aircraft in Eastern Africa, besides which they fly a B737 and although the delivery of the last of the ordered ATR’s has now been concluded it is expected that fresh announcements about bringing more aircraft to the fleet, expanding frequencies and destinations are imminent. Watch this space.

OPPOSITION AGAINST SERENGETI HIGHWAY ‘DISCONCERTING’, PROMPTS APPOINTMENT OF NEW ADVISORY TASK FORCE

Information was received from Dar es Salaam last week, that the continued growing opposition around the globe against the planned routing of a highway across the Serengeti has ‘disconcerted if not unsettled’ the powers that be who slowly seem to understand the strength of the sentiments as well as the substance of counterproposals made.

Opponents, comprising the world’s top tourism experts, environmentalists, zoologists, conservationists, zoological societies, NGO’s and tens of thousands of individuals, have not just said ‘Njet, NO, Nein, Hapana’ to the proposed road, as often alleged by hothead sycophants within the Tanzanian establishment, but have offered a viable, shorter, cheaper and more effective route around the Southern tip of the Serengeti, which would reach 2 million more Tanzanians and still meet the objective to connect the very same remote part of the country to the major urban centres.

President Kikwete has reportedly last week appointed an advisory task force, and while little is known about its composition and members, or how they were sourced, it can only be hoped that they will look at all the facts at hand and base their recommendations on the strength of logical argument and not along political considerations or out of sycophancy.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism also declined to provide the names and background of members, apparently to shield them from any lobbying or influence peddling, while critics promptly used this omission to make more noise about the appointments not being transparent, possibly driven by a desired outcome and borderline legal, as such group appointments should have been ‘gazetted’ in the national papers of record.

That all said, it seems, as suggested last week here, that there is now finally some movement over the routing of the road, undoubtedly fuelled by the stiff opposition against Tanzania from abroad and the wider region, including strong representations by the Kenyan government and the East African Community head quarters. However, inside Tanzania, while the media have thankfully picked up the story and delved a little further into it, much opposition has been effectively muzzled ahead of the upcoming elections, and individuals have openly spoken of their fear to be identified as opponents of the routing – though not the road in general – and then branded anti government and anti president with potentially very serious consequences. Watch this space as the potentially migration killing project unfolds in coming weeks.

 

Rwanda News

RWANDA JOINS THE WORLD TO CELEBRATE WORLD TOURISM DAY

The Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, together with the country’ private tourism sector celebrated the World Tourism day on the 27th of September, focusing on this year’s theme ‘Tourism and biodiversity’.

Tourism has become Rwanda’s leading foreign exchange earner and concerted efforts by government and the private sector have successfully placed ‘the land of a thousand hills’ on the global tourism map, bringing ever growing visitors numbers to the country. With sustainability however a key policy element, greater efforts are now needed to preserve and protect the natural resources, keep the environment clean of ‘tourist waste’ and tread carefully when allowing visitors into fragile ecosystems.

Rwanda has in recent years embarked on deliberate measures to re-afforest sections of the country to restore a linked forest belt, not only as part of their commitment towards maintaining biodiversity but also to allow for diversification of the tourism products from initially almost ‘purely’ gorilla tracking to a range of other activities, all well taken up by safari operators and the foundation of Rwanda’s success, doing better than some of her more ‘established’ neighbours by avoiding fragmentation of the tourism sector and ‘leading from the front’.

The World Tourism Day celebrations were held in Kigali but other events also commemorated the day at the main tourism centres in the highlands. This however will not be the end of it, as RDB – Tourism & Conservation plans to hold a series of activities, culminating according to a usually well informed source with the formal launch of the ‘forest canopy walk’ at the Nyungwe National Park in mid October.

Tourism arrivals have grown, compared to last year, by nearly 10 percent for the first six months already and earnings are equally up. Well done indeed.

 

COMMENDABLE HONESTY EARNS LODGE GUARD REWARD

The recently opened Nyungwe Forest Lodge had reason to celebrate when their carefully selected and well trained staff, in particular an ‘askari’ or security guard, found and immediately turned in a wallet containing over 8.000 US Dollars (eight thousand).

The guard, according to a report from the lodge, found the wallet inside the sprawling grounds and promptly went to deliver it at the reception, where the owners were identified, called and their property returned to them. The Nyungwe Forest Lodge is owned by Dubai World and this ‘PR gift’ will undoubtedly help the company to not only promote location, sights and sounds but also press home the fact that their staff are trustworthy to that extent.

Management of the lodge, as well as the owner of the wallet, expressed their gratitude to the guard and rewarded his honesty, beyond which he will undoubtedly become ‘Employee of the Month’ if not the entire year, considering the fact that he voluntarily returned 8 ‘grand’ without hesitation. Honesty pays we were taught when growing up and it is hoped that the reward by the company for the guard reflects this. And the lesson for forgetful tourists, if you really have to lose something, do it at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge where you can be assured that what is lost WILL be returned.

 

RWANDAIR ON COURSE TO COMPLETE IOSA CERTIFICATION

It was learned earlier in the week that RwandAir was on course to attain the important IOSA certification by IATA, as the audit was continuing to assess the airline’s compliance with safety regulations and recommendations made by leading regulatory bodies and the International Air Transport Association.

When complete, the airline will according to a regular source then also seek full membership in the global aviation body, in the process benefitting from the opportunities member airlines have in regard of interlining, code sharing and a widened base for ticket sales.

The initial time frame could not be met as several management changes since mid last year also impacted on the airline’s top management’s ability to concentrate fully on these important issues, but since the appointment of Mr. Rene Janata, who joined RwandAir from Lufthansa German Airlines, all systems were ‘go’ and the new leadership is clearly paying off for the flag carrier of Rwanda.

Passenger numbers uplifted, since the arrival of two owned CRJ jets and two leased B737-500, have also sharply improved by nearly 90 percent from last year, as the airline can now operate more flights to more destinations in the region, while added flights are already planned to expand RwandAir’s reach.

 

RWANDA RAILWAY UPDATE

Rwandan media last week carried a story about the planned railway link to central Tanzania, where a ‘dry port’ was to be the main terminal for the new railroad from Isaka to Kigali, and eventually on to Bujumbura and the Eastern Congo.

It is understood that the feasibility and viability studies are nearing completion, and while the outcome is not in any doubt details on the anticipated cost of construction are now awaited to tie up outstanding financing issues.

Rwanda, Burundi and the Eastern Congo presently receive all their imports by road, mostly via Uganda, and the new rail link, which would connect the Tanzanian Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam with the hinterland, could both speed up importation of mass goods but also substantially lower the cost of transportation from the port to the consumer markets. At the same time exports too will benefit by bringing the cost of transport to the coast down making products and produce from Rwanda more competitive in overseas markets.

The Tanzania – Rwanda/Burundi/Eastern Congo railroad development is just one in a number of such infrastructural key projects in the region, as Kenya and Ethiopia too are eyeing new standard gauge lines aimed to shift cargo and passenger traffic from the road back to the rails and lower the cost of transportation which has been rising in leaps and bounds due to the high cost of fuels in the region.

 

Southern Sudan News

RAILROAD FROM JUBA GETS GREEN LIGHT, RAISES FINANCE

Information was received overnight from Berlin / Germany that a conference between the New Sudan Foundation, ThyssenKrupp GfT Gleistechnik, Ayr Logistics Ltd. and MosMetrostroy has concluded a comprehensive agreement to commence construction of the proposed railroad from Juba, which according to  impeccable sources will eventually connect the Southern Sudan with the Indian Ocean seaports of Mombasa and Lamu in Kenya.

The New Sudan Foundation, chaired by Dr. Costello Garang Ring Lual has since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the regime in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in January 2005 pursued this ambitious infrastructure project to link the Southern Sudan with her neighbours Uganda and Kenya. ThyssenKrupp GfT Gleistechnik, seeing the huge potential for rail traffic across Eastern Africa, backed the vision of Dr. Costello and Ayr Logistics Limited then came on board to raise the massive finance, thought to be the in the region of at least 3 billion US Dollars.

Sources from Berlin confirmed that with the required venture capital now fully underwritten and available, the parties came together for a formal meeting in the German capital to put pen to paper. Added information was also provided that Russia’s MosMetrostroy has been selected as major contractor, having extensive experience in building and rehabilitating railroads across the vast stretches of Russia, and they too will financially back the project.

Details of ground breaking will be available soon and be reported here again as breaking news, with eTN having been the first to tell the story of this planned railroad quite some time ago and now being able to bring this breaking news to its readers ahead of the world media.

In a related development it was also learned that the New Sudan Foundation, alongside the building of the railroad, will also develop complementary projects like access roads, depots, freight terminals, power stations and hotels, amongst others, along the railroad in Southern Sudan, bringing much needed extra infrastructure to the Southern Sudanese region. As previously reported the Southern Sudanese population will vote in a referendum in early January next year where they are expected to vote for independence from the North to become Africa’s youngest nation. Watch this space.

 

WORLD TOURISM DAY OBSERVED IN SOUTHERN SUDAN TOO

The government in Juba held a day long workshop coinciding with the World Tourism Day, aimed to discuss measures to protect and preserve forests and wildlife areas across the region and retain the rich biodiversity found in the South.

Local community leaders and administrators were targeted for participation and were given the fact and details of how their respective communities could benefit from keeping their environment clean and intact, being able to sustainably use their available resources. It was also learned that GoSS – short for Government of Southern Sudan – had adopted policies for forestry and wildlife, which were now guiding the implementation of measures for wildlife protection.

While discussing the topics, workshop participants and organizers also requested GoSS to improve communications between the centre and the ‘field’ and work on the road infrastructure across the South to be able to access protected areas by vehicle with greater ease.  

 

SOUTHERN SUDANESE WOMAN NOW FLIES FOR ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES

Information was received over the last weekend that a Southern Sudanese lady has been employed as a pilot by Ethiopian Airlines, now flying as a First Officer, aka co-pilot on B737 aircraft. It is thought that Ms. Aluel Bol Aluenge is the first Southern Sudanese woman to accomplish qualifying as a commercial pilot holding an ATPL and then being employed by one of Africa’s leading airlines.

Ms. Aluenge has turned into a role model for young Southern Sudanese girls but was probably having an advantage growing up in the United States, where her parents resettled after being forced to flee by the aggression and oppression of the Khartoum regime’s harsh treatment of the Southern population during the years of occupation and civil war. Traditional ways of life, especially in the rural areas of Southern Sudan, continue to see less girls advance in education, and while this is gradually changing, especially in urban areas, the development of the girl child and equal opportunities of education and in professions remains a challenge both parents and community leaders need to address. Meanwhile though it is congrats to Ms. Aluenge for her achievement and giving hope and inspiration to a whole generation of young girls and young women in the Southern Sudan.

 

 

Ethiopia News

ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES INTENDS TO ADD TORONTO

The delivery of three B777-200LR aircraft between now and January 2011 and a further two such aircraft on order in the first half of 2011 will allow the Ethiopian flag carrier to begin nonstop flights to such destinations like Toronto, a destination long eyed by ET but owing to limited aircraft on the fleet until now impossible to achieve. The airline issued a statement last week that the first three B777’s will be used to replace B767 aircraft on routes to Washington and Beijing, allowing the B767 to be redeployed before eventually being phased out when the airline takes delivery of the long awaited and much overdue B787’s and several Airbus wide bodies now also on order.

Ethiopian, for long THE pan African airline, had ceded ground in recent years to an aggressive Kenya Airways, now leading in terms of African destinations albeit by a very narrow margin, but considering where KQ came from quite an achievement in its own right. Both airlines have ambitious plans to cover Africa like no other airline on the continent and connect passengers via their own hubs in Addis Ababa and Nairobi to the rest of the world, here ET having the lead as they are, unlike Kenya Airways, able to fly to the US.

Delayed wide-body aircraft deliveries however have impacted both airlines in their capacity and destination expansion and both flag carriers are working hard to overcome the challenges this problem is posing to their strategic plans. ET, according to the information received, also expects a further three brand new B737-800 to join the fleet before the end of this year, and these aircraft will be used for flights across Africa to boost frequencies and allow the addition of more African destinations. Watch this space for the most up todate aviation information from the Eastern African region.

 

MAJOR NEW RAILWAY LINES IN OFFING

The Ethiopian government has last week released information about plans to construct a major new rail network across the country, in the process also preparing the ground for links to neighbouring countries sooner rather than later. The Ethiopian Railway Corporation will be tasked to develop the new infrastructure which will link remote parts of Ethiopia with the capital Addis Ababa but likely also with border posts to Kenya and the South of the Sudan.

Nearly 5.000 KM of new railway lines will now have be planned, and subject to securing the funding constructed over the next few years. Neighbours Kenya and Southern Sudan are reportedly both keen to see their own new railway networks expand to the Ethiopian border and create links to Addis, facilitating the easy and cost effective movement of cargo and people and promoting regional trade and travel.

 

Eritrea News

FORMER NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM MAKES IMPACT IN AUSTRALIA

A positive end is now in sight for the former Eritrean national soccer team, who defected en masse during a tournament in Nairobi at the end of last year, escaping the oppression and dictatorship of an increasingly paranoid Afwerki regime. Although denied by Eritrea’s diplomatic service the team eventually made their way, most of them anyway, to Southern Australia where they have been undergoing trials with leading clubs and playing training matches against Australian professional teams.

Latest news now indicate that the Eritreans got good reviews for their performances, inspite of some losses, and that several clubs have started making formal offers to the players after being permitted to do so by the Football Association of Southern Australia. Well done to the Eritrean boys, for seeking their freedom and for apparently being able to use their footballing skills to make a new career and life ‘down under’.

 

Seychelles News

CELEBRATING WORLD TOURISM DAY WITH A RELEVANCE

The coastal management unit of the Department of Environment has concluded a yearlong pilot study coinciding with the archipelago’s celebrations of the World Tourism Day, aimed to control and manage human impact on the beaches across the Seychelles. This year’s theme ‘tourism and biodiversity’ is especially befitting for the islands, where protection of the environment and maintaining the impressive biodiversity is a credo of government, for many reasons but mainly to protect its ‘assets’ for the crucially important tourism and fishing sectors.

Coastal erosion, evident at some of the popular beaches, have of course a number of reason, including rising sea levels, but human activity continues to be the biggest threat and therefore needs special attention in order to mitigate and reverse such impact.

The involvement over the past year of local communities in the environmental protection activities too had a positive impact as creating ‘ownership’ also creates a sense of responsibility for one’s immediate neighbourhood and for instance driving on to beaches has now largely decreased, albeit supported in some places by the insertion of bollards, aiding the re-growth of vegetation along the beaches in turn supporting the retention of sand and soil. The pilot case studies were centred around the Anse Royal beach.

The Seychelles Tourist Board of course also carried out the more ‘conventional’  observation and celebrations of World Tourism Day but this correspondent was looking for some of the ‘real action on the ground’ with relevance to this year’s theme to report about.

 

RAFFLES SEYCHELLES TO OPEN IN A FEW MONTHS

Kingdom Hotels ‘Raffles’ brand is nearing the completion of their first resort on the Seychelles, located on the island of Praslin.

The reportedly 86 one and two bedroom luxurious villas, all overlooking the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, will have their own private little pools and enjoy the ‘Raffles Butler service’ available to guests around the clock if so desired.

A range of restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges is ready to serve the resort’s guests when the property opens its doors to the public in early 2011. Google ‘Raffles’ for more information on this luxury brand owned by Kingdom Hotels and to follow regular updates by the group towards the opening of the new resort.

 

SEYCHELLES PHONE NUMBERS TO CHANGE

In line with international telecommunications requirements have the four major Seychelles’ telephone companies now engaged in preparations for the adding of another digit to their phone numbers, with the exercise starting in November this year.

Regular visitors to the archipelago, and those doing business with the islands’ hotels, resorts and DMC’s should take notice of the development to be able to stay in touch when the changes have been made fully operational at the end of the three months’ changeover period.. All of the Seychelles telecom companies will during these three months period progressibely introduce 7 digit numbers, including Cables and Wireless, Airtel, Kokonet and Intelvision and eventually stop the ‘old’ six digit numbers early in the new year.

Enquire with your business partners and friends about their new numbers to ‘stay connected’.

 

INTER ISLAND SURF COMPETITION ATTRACTS SPECTATORS

The annual ‘cross channel’ surfing and kite surfing races between Mahe and Praslin again attracted a number of contestants. Due to less than expected winds the 2002 surfing record of just under 58 minutes was not under any threat with the winner recording a time of just over 1 hour and two minutes while in the kite surfing competition a new record was established by one of the competitors, who took just over 1 hour 22 minutes to cross between the two islands.

The event was sponsored by such illustrious companies like Helicopter Seychelles and Air Zil, Mason’s Travel, SkyChefs, Cable and Wireless and the  Seychelles Yacht Club, amongst others and proved to be a great attraction for tourists holidaying on Mahe and Praslin, who cheered on the contestants.

 

 

And today once more a section of news from ‘further down South’, courtesy of The Livingstone Weekly compiled by Gill Staden:

 

 

THE ZAMBEZI REGATTA

 

It was a busy day for many last weekend at the Regatta.  Lots of fun for those of us who just sat and watched, but endless work over weeks for those companies and people who put such an effort into the occasion.  Well done to them all.  But we have to say special thanks to Peter Jones from The River Club and Daan Brink from Livingstone’s Adventures.

Peter Jones is the inspiration for the Regatta, a resurgence of past regattas from the early 1900s.  The modern version has been held for several years since 2004.  It is a huge undertaking to bring teams from South Africa and UK … along with their boats!  Peter was also the MC throughout the day. 

Daan Brink, being in charge of operations, mobilised the boats of Livingstone’s Adventures – two big boats, African Queen and Princess, and all the small boats for safety and logistics and, of course, the helicopter for the film crews. 

I arrived at around 10am and took a ride over to the African Queen to watch the show.  All the big boats were out on the water …  a cool way to watch the races – the river breeze is very refreshing.  The only problem about being on the boat is that you can’t hear the commentary.  So, apart from having a Programme of Events, I didn’t know who was racing or who won.  But that didn’t matter too much – it is not about the winning, it is about the participating.  I do hope, though, that I will be able to tell you the results next week.

Those taking part were the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Johannesburg and Cape Town – both ladies and men’s teams.  Interspersed between the Eights Races, we had makora, kayak, raft and sculling races.  The sculling race requires a special mention as it was the centenary of the World Professional Sculling Championships which took place in 1910. 

The main fun was taking place at the Boat Club.  It was here that the boats were all launched and the teams set off for their row to the starting line. 

The teams from South Africa and UK have been in Livingstone for the past week.  They have had time to acclimatise, practice their skills on the Zambezi, especially those required to avoid hippos, and to have some fun.  They have been rafting and seeing the sights.

Many of the Zambian companies, especially those in Livingstone, have sponsored events, accommodation, trophies and logistics.  I do hope the teams enjoyed their stay in Livingstone and had a safe journey home.

Elephant Orphanage, Kafue National Park

Update on Rufunsa 

 

A five-month-old elephant calf that swam to safety through crocodile infested waters after his mother was killed for her ivory, has joined the herd at the Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) in Zambia. Little Rufunsa, who sustained slash wounds as he fled, made the incredible swim across the Luangwa River and was rescued by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA). 

“We were informed immediately and headed to Luangwa to prepare Rufunsa for his long journey back to Kafue National Park,” explains EOP Project Manager, Rachael Murton.

With the help of ZAWA, Proflight Zambia and an amazing team of local Zambians Rufunsa eventually arrived at the orphanage on September 12th and was greeted with much curiosity and affection by the other elephants.

“It’s wonderful to see Rufunsa be accepted into his new elephant family but he is still very vulnerable and has a long way to go,” says Rachael. “Not until he’s two will we be certain that he’ll make it. He needs all the care that his new family (human and elephant) can give him and we urgently need your help to support the growing herd.”

From Robin Pope Safaris, Luangwa Valley

By one of their guests

We had stopped for coffee by a small lagoon when Kiki heard some elephants in the distance. We decided to wait quietly by the water to see if they would come down to drink. Well they were thirsty so the whole family came within metres of us to have their morning drink. We were particularly amused to watch a baby which had yet to learn to use its trunk. It had to bend down and sip using his mouth. Then as the family moved off, the large bull with the group decided to have a closer look at us. He came right to the side of the vehicle and it felt like he was trying to work out what we were. Warren was looking down at his camera and Kiki nudged him to look left and he just about dropped his camera as the elephant was so close you could smell its breath. I’m afraid I was busy trying to get under the seat and my hands were shaking so much that we don’t have any photos of that big bull, but we were thankful when Kiki started the car and backed up a bit, as it was then that the ellie had his curiosity satisfied and walked away. Well we all laughed about that encounter however we were very glad that we had a guide with lots of experience who knew what to do.

The number of crocs and hippos by the Luangwa River is amazing. Whilst we were with Daudi we counted the croc and hippos we could see on an approximately 800 metre stretch of the river. There were 50 crocs and 40 hippos!! 

Two Limpopo veterinarians have been arrested in connection with ‘hundreds’ of rhino poaching incidents.

Thanks to http://www.rhinoconservation.org/

The names of two veterinarians involved in the slaughter of hundreds of rhinos in South Africa have been released by the media: Dr. Karel Toet and his wife, Marisa, along with one of Toet’s partners, Dr. Manie du Plessis, were arrested along with seven others. According to South Africa’s News24, the doctors own the Nylstroom animal clinic, as well as Limpopo Wildlife, which is involved with catching and transporting game on farms.

National police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo stated that the nine suspects are believed to be the “masterminds” behind South Africa’s poaching scourge, which has claimed the lives of 210 rhinos already this year. These people were supposedly involved with killing rhinos, selling the horns and disposing of the carcasses. The investigation was reportedly carried out by the Hawks and the arrests were made by a team consisting of members from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), SANParks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and the department of nature conservation. Last week, Tom Fourie, a well-known figure in wildlife circles in Musina, was arrested, but is already out on R2,000 bail. The nine suspects, including the Toets and Dr. Du Plessis, are apparently being held in Musina. Charges will be announced at their court appearance on Wednesday.

Three more people have been named in the recent arrest of nine rhino poaching syndicate “masterminds” responsible for killing hundreds of rhinos.

The names of three more people believed to be responsible the killing of hundreds of rhinos in South Africa have been released by the media: Dawie Groenewald and his wife Sariette, of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris in Polokwane, and Tielman Erasmus, a professional hunter, are now behind bars and awaiting their Wednesday court appearance. Also among the nine people arrested are veterinarian Dr. Karel Toet and his wife, Marisa, along with one of Toet’s partners, Dr. Manie du Plessis. The doctors own Nylstroom animal clinic and Limpopo Wildlife, which is involved with catching and transporting game on farms.

Suspended from PHASA, banned from Zimbabwe – and arrested in the US

South Africa’s News24 noted that Groenewald is a former police official who was suspended four years ago from the Professional Hunters Association, and has apparently been banned since 2004 from hunting in Zimbabwe. It was also reported that Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris was working with Mugabe henchmen. During the height of political instability in Zimbabwe, the organisation apparently organised hunting safaris on farms and land invaded by Zanu-PF’s “war veterans”. In addition, Groenewald was arrested in the US earlier this year for his involvement with the illegal hunting of a leopard. His punishment amounted to slap on the wrist: A USD $30,000 (R228,000) fine, USD $7,500 (R57,000) in damages to the American hunter, eight days in an American jail, and two months of house arrest.

A helicopter connection

With helicopters being used in many rhino poaching cases in South Africa, it is not surprising that Groenewald is believed to be connected to a “closed corporation” which owns a Robinson R44 helicopter. The registration is ZS-HBH, according to the South African Aircraft register. The helicopter is said to be owned by Valinor Trading 142, of which his wife, Sariette, is listed as a director.

Court date set for ‘World Rhino Day’

Scheduled to appear in the Musina magistrate’s court on Wednesday, September 22, for their alleged involvement in killing hundreds of rhinos, sawing off their horns, and hiding the bodies:

  • Dr. Karel Toet – Nylstroom animal clinic and Limpopo Wildlife
  • Marisa Toet – Nylstroom animal clinic and Limpopo Wildlife
  • Dr. Manie du Plessis – Nylstroom animal clinic
  • Dawie Groenewald – Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris in Polokwane
  • Sariette Groenewald – Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris in Polokwane
  • Tielman Erasmus – professional hunter

 

Perhaps coincidentally, the September 22 court date happens to fall on World Rhino Day.

 

 

Tourism News from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region Third edition September 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Third edition September 2010

 

Uganda News

NEMA NAMES MORE POLLUTERS, IGNORES WETLAND ENCROACHMENT

The national environmental management authority last week again named and shamed leading corporate entities for their part in polluting the environment, and in particular for discharging untreated waste water and waste products into the environment without due care.

Pepsi Cola’s local franchise is amongst them, as is Ngege Fish, a regular exporter of chilled fish fillets to Europe and particularly prone to a backlash against their product from European consumers, should their deplorable practises become more widely known.

Only a few weeks ago did NEMA begin to publish names of ‘offenders’ and has now continued the practise through the media, to highlight the problem they have with big business besides well connected individuals. It was reported that some more enlightened companies have in the meantime signed ‘compliance agreements’ with NEMA, a step in the right direction but only a start of a long process, considering the number of defaulters and offenders mentioned in the latest press releases.

Meanwhile though must NEMA also take flack again for their failure to respond to public outcries over the ongoing encroachment of the Konge valley swamp and wetland, where in an accelerated fashion the wetland is being filled up to be used for buildings.

NEMA has habitually ignored past information on this development of an area of crucial importance to drain rain water from the surrounding hills. The swamp is draining the water towards Lake Victoria but as it is shrinking at an alarming rate the next el Nino rains will undoubtedly teach the encroachers some harsh lessons, as – when drainage is blocked – the water levels have in the past risen to the size of a small lake which has on previous occasions flooded and destroyed illegal structures erected inside the swamp. This correspondent will continue to observe what NEMA is going to do about these criminal developments, if at all they will wake up, leave their fancy offices and actually go into the field to see for themselves what has been going on right under their Pinocchio like long noses … pun intended.

 

UWA / CARE DIG TRENCHES TO PROTECT VILLAGES FROM MARAUDING ELEPHANT

The Uganda Wildlife Authority, in conjunction with Care International and local communities, has started a programme of ‘trench digging’ along the boundaries of the Murchisons Falls National Park’s critical boundary areas and around villages often subjected to the invasion of wildlife. A stakeholder meeting, part of UWA’s regular community relations activities, recently discussed an increase in the frequency of in particular elephant straying out of the park, disturbing and even attacking villagers in their farms and homesteads and feeding on crops, leaving the subsistence farmers often without a harvest nor seeds for the next season.

It is understood from a source within UWA that as much as 100 million Uganda Shillings have been set aside to support these protective measures, a move welcomed by local community leaders. A further nearly 600 million Uganda Shillings will be allocated to communities neighbouring the national park as part of UWA’s gate sharing commitment in coming months again, giving funding for the provision of crucial services to rural communities with otherwise little access to cash of such magnitude.

Technical sources however also blamed the growth of villages into the main wildlife migration corridors, used by elephant and other game to move from Murchisons as far as deep into Southern Sudan, where they follow the pastures and now often find fences or plantations across their age old routes.

Meanwhile did the public learn of another attempt to carve out land from Mt. Elgon National Park amounting to over 250 acres to develop unspecified ‘educational and recreational facilities’ …

Where were those now asking for land at the last boundary alignment and demarcation exercise, one wonders, or is pre-election time a period where one’s shopping cart gets filled with wonderland wishes …

 

THE SAD STORY OF THE SOROTI GOLF CLUB

Hot on the heels of another alleged scandal in Soroti, involving land and property owned by the East African Aviation Academy, aka Soroti Flying School, comes news that the golf course land was transferred into the name of a private limited liability company. This has raised another storm of outrage and made the news in Uganda, where land grabbing is not uncommon but rarely as daring and explicit as in these two recent cases from Eastern Uganda.

As a result did the Prime Minister’s office get involved in the two sagas and has in response to many complaints from the general public and affected residents of the area, including the aviation fraternity in Uganda, directed the Uganda Land Commission to immediately halt any sale or registration of sale of the land in question.

While the aviation school is a designated ‘Regional Centre of Excellence’ under the East African Community, and has a vital role to play in training aviation staff like pilots, technicians and administrators, the ongoing refurbishment, renovations and expansion would see a substantial setback if land would be hived off for personal gains by a few individuals.

As to the golf course, this is a matter of public concern too as the recreational and sporting value of such a facility is well near priceless, for the Soroti community as well as the country as a whole. Here too top governmental intervention is expected soon to stop and fully investigate the circumstances how a public golf course could be sold to individuals.

Golf in Eastern Africa is a popular sport and while initially about a dozen quality courses were in place after independence, many have since been turned into grazing land or been built over. Unlike in Kenya therefore where golf tourism is popular and profitable, and where even private championship golfcourses were developed in recent years, here in Uganda the sport still has a long way to go to get the recognition it deserves and appreciate the value addition to the tourism sector it could provide, if only fully embraced.

FUEL PRICES UP AGAIN AS SHORTAGE BITES

No sooner had the price for a litre of petrol gone through the psychologically important 3.000 Uganda Shillings mark did the relentless march upwards continue, when within days, causes by severe fuel shortages and aided by panic buying, prices in the city reached the 3.500 UShs mark while upcountry, in some locations, a litre of petrol sold for as much as 5.000 and more Uganda Shillings.

As a result transportation charges for busses and the commonly used ‘taxis’ or ‘matatus’ went up too immediately, and the extra cost of fuel also reflected instantly on the prize of commodities in the local markets for vegetables and fruits brought from upcountry to the capital. Fuel companies have once again strenuously denied any profiteering or collusion and blamed the price rises on the weakness of the local currency and risen crude oil prices on the international market, an explanation rejected by consumer watch dogs. The shortages were blamed on the ongoing repairs, maintenance and upgrade at the main fuel landing facility at the Mombasa port, which has restricted fuel arrivals for Kenya and all the hinterland nations. Meanwhile Ugandans need to brace themselves for the next Bank of Uganda inflation figures, which surely point upwards again after a period of constantly lower percentages.

 

FERRY STILL OUT OF SERVICE

Hopes that MV Kalangala would soon be back on the waters of Lake Victoria, following statements to that effect two weeks ago by a spokesperson of the Ministry of Works and Transport, were dashed when news emerged last week that the engine of the ferry needed overhauling first, a process thought to take about two more weeks, with the delay caused by inadequate preparations for this eventuality and the bureaucracy involved when the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act comes into play.

Commuters, tourists and traders regularly going to the Lake Victoria islands however appear not amused, as the absence of the ferry has been resulting in not only higher transport cost but made lake travel less safe, considering that MV Kalangala is better equipped and their staff better trained in comparison with the ‘normal’ lake boats, some of which lack even life vests and are in the present stormy season at greater risk when running into foul weather.

 

ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL TRADE FAIR FOR OCTOBER 05 – 11

Visitors to Uganda during in early October will have the opportunity to visit the annual international Uganda Manufacturer’s Association trade show, for which according to latest reports over 900 local, regional and international exhibitors have registered, to present their goods and services to the business community and the public at large.

This is the 18th edition of the show and, inspite of the challenging economic climate, expected to break past records with both attendance and business transactions. Intending visitors however should secure hotel space as soon as possible to be certain of their accommodation, as in particular the business community from the East African region is expected to descend on Kampala in large numbers and hotels expected to put the ‘fully booked’ signs up over the period of the show.

 

THE EYE MOVES INTO ‘BUY AND SELL’

A classified section will now appear in The Eye’s new ‘trade on the web’ section with immediate effect, offering a free of charge little description of what readers wish to either sell off or intend to buy – giving for the first time ever an e-trade platform for the local market in Uganda. The new service can be accessed via www.theeyetrade.ug but a link has also been put on the main website of the bi-monthly ‘must read’ magazine’s site via www.theeye.co.ug, and hey presto, gone are the days of costly classified ads in local news papers and magazines or putting up, at a cost of course, A4 pages in the main shopping centres ‘meeting point community boards’ – up to now a magnet for anyone looking for puppies, selling or seeking to buy a pre-owned car, household goods or requiring specialised gardening services, amongst others.

The novel idea apparently is taking the local market by storm and is the brainchild of Sharron ‘Shaz’ Glencross and Charlie Case, who own and manage The Eye magazines in Uganda, Rwanda and Malawi. Well done indeed – if only our ISP’s could now lower their internet access charges on a broad basis and become more reliable in their service delivery…

 

‘RIVER CAMP’ NOW OPEN AT BUJAGALI

Hannah Small, wife of Frasier Small aka ‘Bingo’, has last week announced that her ‘River Camp’ is now open for business overlooking the Bujagali falls – the latter sadly soon to be partly submerged when in early 2011 the wall of the downstream new power plant is completed and river levels begin to rise.

Hannah provided information that the camp site offers 8 ‘dorm type’ rooms sleeping 6 each, with separate shower facilities, and a large area where campers with their own equipment can set up and enjoy the views and the gushing rush of the river below. This is of particular interest for families with several children wanting to get away from the city and spending a few days at the upper Nile, exploring or partaking in adventure activities, which are aplenty to be found.

A swimming pool is also available for the campers and guests, as is a fully stocked bar and restaurant where meals can be ordered at competitive prices. Hannah in particular heaped praise on her new chef Pamela for creating a new menu every day according to the availability of fresh produce from the nearby farms and markets. Traditional favourite ‘fish and chips’ is of course available throughout the day, every day.

This is a welcome new facility at Bujagali’s adventure hub, located right at the base of Nalubale Rafting, and recommended for those travelling on a budget or not wanting to spend too much money on fancier accommodation and rather spend it on rafting, river boarding, family boating, cross country cycling, riding or quad biking instead.

Write to Chill@camponthenile.com or visit www.camponthenile.com for more information.

That all said, for those however wishing to stay in some greater comfort, right next door is the well established ‘Nile Porch’ supplemented by the ‘Black Lantern’ restaurant – and this also being a ‘family business’ no competition but rather complementing the ‘River Camp’ and offering a complete package suitable for all pockets.

 

BRUSSELS AIRLINES TO MATCH COMPETITORS

It was learned from a regular source at the Kampala office of Brussels Airlines that SN will ‘match’ fares into the key European cities now on offer by ‘new comers’ to the market trying to carve out market share by aggressive pricing. Brussels Airlines, presently flying 4 times a week between Entebbe and the European capital city, has for long been a travellers’ favourite as a result of optimal departure times and easy connections into one of the most extensive European networks, considering the code shared flights with Lufthansa now also available to SN passengers.

In addition, the recent introduction of North American destinations via codeshared operations with United Airlines and Air Canada, have already made an impact on the sales, as will undoubtedly the ‘double miles’ offer for holders of the ‘Miles and More’ frequent travellers cards, which SN uses in conjunction with ‘parent’ company Lufthansa. Said one staff, who preferred anonymity: ‘We are not afraid of competition. We have an excellent and established product, code share to Entebbe with Lufthansa German Airlines and offer one of the quickest and best organised airports in Europe for transit – Brussels. It is here that our competitive advantages come to bear and other airlines, especially newcomers, are welcome, they will bring their own traffic into Uganda which is good for the country, more seats, more cargo spaces and more exposure for the country abroad through the airline’s own promotions, but as for us, our own share has been growing because of our quality, we retain passengers and still gain more’.

 

WORLD HERITAGE SITE ‘KASUBI TOMBS’ TO BE READY BY 2012

News was received earlier in the week that Kampala’s UNESCO World Heritage site the Kasubi Tombs, burned to the ground several months ago, will most likely be ready for a grand re-opening by some time in 2012, exceeding previous estimates for the reconstruction period.

The tombs, recognises by UNESCO, were the burial site for several of Buganda’s late kings and contained priceless artefacts and memorabilia from the olden days of the kingdom, much of which was destroyed by the raging fire at the time. Built initially around 1882 it was then turned into a burial ground around 1884 by then king Muteesa II.

A provisional completion date has been given by government as mid March 2012 by which time the site would be not only reconstructed but also equipped with state of the art fire detection and fighting equipment, a secure perimeter wall and additional visitor amenities, allowing greater numbers of tourists to come to the site and appreciate the great cultures and history of Uganda’s yesteryears.

It was also learned that while the kingdom’s subjects have collected in excess of 500 million Uganda Shillings UNESCO has pledged a million US Dollars or equivalent to 2.25 billion Uganda Shillings towards the reconstruction effort, with the Uganda government also having pledged a similar sum.

 

PRESIDENT TAKES NEXT STEP TOWARDS RE-ELECTION

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has now officially collected the forms required by the Electoral Commission to stand for re-election next year, when the country goes back to the polls. Reports from the EC’s offices also indicate, that this brings the total number of aspirants to 35. General consensus in political observer circles is that the incumbent president will be comfortably elected for another term of office, with few giving a real chance to any of the leading opposition candidates, who once more appear divided and have recently dropped an election alliance after failing to reach consensus over who should stand against the incumbent. This splintering of the opposition vote, combined with the fact that an accomplished and well known comedian from Kampala has also collected the presidential nomination forms, tells a story of its own and relegates many of the 35 aspirants into the category of day light dreamers. It is expected though that the now unfolding process will spring hurdles on many of those when they fail to meet the various logistical requirements the Electoral Commission must see fulfilled and certify before a candidate will eventually go on the ballots. From me it is once again all the best to ‘Mzee’ whose economic success story for Uganda since 1986 keep him firmly as the bookmakers’ – and this correspondent’s favourite to occupy State House in Entebbe for a further 5 years.

 

Kenya News

CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE SET FOR SUNDAY

The 40th anniversary edition of the annual ‘concours d’elegance, organised every year by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club, will be held on Sunday 26th September at the Ngong Race Course, bringing once again the ‘classic cars’ and motorcycles of a long gone era into the public spotlight.

The event this year also celebrates the 100th anniversary of Alfa Romeo, founded in Italy reportedly in 1910, and members of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club from all over East Africa will come to Nairobi to either participate in the event with their own, often superbly kept or restored ‘Alfas’ or else to celebrate the occasion, see the exhibition and mingle with long standing friends.

Tourists who are in Nairobi that Sunday with an afternoon to spare are very much welcome to the Ngong Race Course to witness the event and get a feel of ‘local life’.

For more information please write to nancy@accesskenya.com

 

FAIRMONT EMPLOYS KENYANS IN THEIR MIDDLE EAST OPERATIONS

Some 50 young Kenyans with the aspiration to make hospitality their life’s profession, have recently been flown to Saudi Arabia to join the Fairmont Hotels’ in their landmark Mecca hotel. A press release in Kenya spoke of several hundred more young Kenyans being offered the opportunity to work in the ‘holy city’, where they will receive further training on the job to work as waiters, cooks, room stewards, receptionists, security guards and in a range of other positions.

Fairmont some years ago bought out Lonrho Hotels’ properties in Kenya, best known for the Norfolk Hotel and the Mount Kenya Safari Club, and the Kenyan operation reportedly had a hand in this recruitment exercise for their sister hotel property in Saudi Arabia.

Kenya’s Utalii College, renowned in all of Africa and further abroad as the African continent’s leading hotel and tourism training college, has provided skills and a foundation to thousands of young Kenyans, Ugandans, Tanzanians and students from across Africa to find work in the hotel, resort, travel, aviation and general tourism sector since its inception in the early 1970’s and graduates of Utalii are much sought after, not just in Kenya and East Africa but also in the Gulf, where the hotel sector has undergone a massive boom in recent years. Well done and all the best in your future careers.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS SIGNS WITH TRAVEL PORT

 

(Kenya Airways CEO Dr. Titus Naikuni exchanging documents with Mr. Mark Meehan, Managing Director for TravelPort Africa)

Last week saw the signing in Nairobi at the Kenya Airways head office in Embakasi of a full service and content agreement between East Africa’s leading airline and TravelPort. All available flights operated by KQ and fares, including on line promotions, will now be accessible via the global distribution systems Galileo and Worldspan with immediate effect to any travel agencies and other user around the world, and according to information from the airline the agreement will initially run for 5 years.

Kenya Airways called the new agreement an ‘important part of their overall distribution strategy’ and expected of a full member of the Sky Team alliance to which they belong.

In a related development has KQ expanded their on line options for travellers when making the purchase of travel insurance possible through their website, making it yet again more attractive to book on line, check in on line and now even get insurance cover at the same time. The airline is using an Amadeus solution to process insurance applications from travellers.

KQ, unlike many American airlines, is not emptying travellers pockets by all sorts of hidden and half hidden surcharges which surprise travellers often at the last moment, but has maintained their policy of sticking to their ‘one fare’ but is of course also seeking to introduce new revenue streams through the sale of travel insurance directly to passengers, which – as travel agents well know – can be an important factor for the profitability of the business. Watch this space.

 

SHOWDOWN TALKS WITH BOEING SET FOR NEXT WEEK

As previously reported here, the ongoing delays of the delivery of the B787 to Kenya Airways has raised the blood pressure in KQ’s corporate headquarters. The new planes, ordered in 2006 and now several years behind schedule, were to be a key element in cost reductions, route and capacity expansion for ‘The Pride of Africa’ and recent news that delivery to the launch customer ANA may fall further behind has brought on fresh concerns for other customers. In fact it is understood that the initially agreed delivery date for the first two aircraft was to be before the end of 2010 and Boeing has according to a source in Nairobi been unable or unwilling to confirm new dates with any degree of certainty so far.

Kenya Airways presently operates a fleet of B767 and B777 wide bodied aircraft, but the B767 fleet, fully utilised of course, is aging and was due for replacement by the lighter, larger and much more economical B787. Media reports over the past weeks suggested that Boeing had not made any concessions to Kenya Airways, unlike with other customers where reportedly significant rebates and bags of ‘goodies’ were agreed, prompting KQ to start talks with Airbus for the potential purchase or lease of several A330-300, to bridge the gap between the eventual delivery of the B787 or else cover their strategic objectives should the airline be compelled to cancel the ‘Dreamliner’ orders.

A panel of key Kenya Airways personnel has been evaluating the A330 for a while now, and Boeing will be cautious when talks take place next week over the ongoing, and for KQ rather expensive delays, how they play their cards. Should they not concede ground to Kenya Airways, possibly by contributing to B767 retrofitting and upgrading and offering rebates for the B787 order, they might find their B787 orders cancelled – as several other customers have already done in the past as a result of the unacceptable delays – and Airbus may be the beneficiary of this development by selling or leasing some of their own wide bodies to KQ.

Kenya Airways in the past did operate several of the A310-300 types but sold them when they were coming up for replacement and switched to Boeing’s B767 while adding several B777 later on. At the time Kenya Airways was operating an all Boeing fleet before eventually buying a couple of Saab turboprops for some of their domestic routes. These types of aircraft have since also been expired from the fleet but purchases and leases of Embraer 170 and 190 aircraft have already moved the airline away from being a purely Boeing operator and made the airline the biggest Embraer operator on the African continent.

KLM / Air France, which hold nearly 25 percent of the shares in KQ, themselves operate a large number of Airbus aircraft and this may make a big difference in Kenya Airways’ upcoming decision which way to go. Watch this space for the most current aviation news updates from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region.

 

KAKAMEGA AIRFIELD SET FOR UPGRADE

Following the introduction of Fly 540’s scheduled flights to this Western Kenyan municipality has the Kenya Airports Authority at last acted and issued tenders for the expansion and resealing of the strip and the modernization of the terminal and other facilities expected of an aerodrome receiving scheduled air services and regular charters. It is understood that government would have to compensate the nearby community or resettle them in order to expand the length of the strip, so that larger turboprop aircraft can eventually be used for flying to Kakamega.

The airline commenced these flights in May and why it took KCAA so long to swing into action is, as often, a mystery, considering they must have known of Fly 540’s plans for quite some time before flights actually started. However, even if late the upgrades to the Kakamega field will be welcome news, not just for the airline but also for the travelling public, some of whom had in the past made their views known in public and private about the state of facilities. Watch this space.

 

KAKAMEGA FOREST CONSERVATION GROUP GETS UN RECOGNITION

Years of hard work, often with little appreciation and having to overcome opposition to their goals to conserve and re-afforest this unique tropical rain forest, have now paid off when a community based ‘self made’ conservation group, the Muliru Farmers, won global recognition for their work.

The group was taken unaware that their work has been noted and entered into a global competition by the UN by well wishers, and most surprised according to local sources when they learned of the honours and having beat several hundred other nominations to scoop the prize worth 5.000 US Dollars.

The prize also automatically enters the group for the ‘Equator Prize’ which would be worth another 15.000 US Dollars should Muliru emerge as overall winner – a fortune for the conservation group and according to a source in Nairobi ‘to be ploughed back into our work for the forest’ – a most applaudable reaction and a sign of the commitment of the group of farmers against all odds.

 

LEGAL TROUBLE FOR THE MANAGERS OF ‘PARADISE’

Information was received last week that the Kenya Wildlife Service was sued, jointly with the Kisumu Municipal Council, the Attorney General, the Ministry of Land and the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife under which KWS falls, to pay ‘compensation’ to a number of families from Ndere Island. It is understood that the land of the community was for the past 30 odd years held by the council in trust for the community but had entered into an agreement with government back in the late 1970’s at the time through the then Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.

The community, which gave up the land, now claims not to have received any benefits from the deal, which they say was done at their expense. KWS has acknowledged the upcoming case and reportedly asked for time to assess the claims and find a settlement, unlikely as it may seem at this late stage.

The expansion of Kisumu Airport too was for some time in doubt when surrounding communities claimed not to have been properly compensated for the land taken from them when the airport was initially built and would resist any efforts to acquire the added land needed, eventually compelling government to settle some of those claims.

 

RAILWAY MODERNIZATION PLANS HALTED, FOR NOW

Several objections to the way how the tenders were prepared and processed for the initial work of surveys and design outlays for the new standard gauge railway line between Mombasa to the Ugandan border, via Nairobi, led to the cancellation and withdrawal of the tender award to the chosen company last week.

The contract, reportedly worth over 10 million US Dollars, was initially awarded to ITALFERR but then challenged by another bidder, or bidders, for alleged infringements of the Kenyan procurement laws and regulations. The complainants cited nearly two dozen violations and succeeded to have the tender award overturned. However, the time frame for the production of design documents for the new railroad is now considerably delayed and the Kenya Railway Corporation will be hard pressed to issue new tender documents as soon as possible and this time comply with all relevant rules and regulations to avoid further costly embarrassments.

It could not be ascertained at the time of going to press if ITALFERR would lodge a financial counterclaim for the work done up to this stage after having reportedly already mobilised for the work.

 

Tanzania News

FLY 540 ANNOUNCES SCHEDULE CHANGES

Information was received last weekend that Fly 540 Tanzania has effected a number of schedule changes, affecting timings and the use of different aircraft on their routes between Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Arusha and beyond. More information, also about similar adjustments and changes in Kenya and Uganda can be sourced via www.fly540.com

 

MORE BEDS NEEDED SAYS TANZANIA TOURIST BOARD

The CEO of the Tanzania Tourist Board was quoted last week in the Tanzanian media that more top class accommodation was needed for the country if the ambitious targets set for increased tourist arrivals were to be met. Neighbouring countries have over the past years aggressively added hotels, resorts and safari accommodation in and outside their national parks, and countries like Rwanda and Uganda – the latter ahead of the 2007 Commonwealth Summit – have brought thousands of extra rooms ‘on line’, together with world class meeting facilities to also tap into the profitable MICE market.

Kenya too, inspite of the 2008 setback has added accommodation at the coast and upcountry in selected areas now opening up for domestic and international tourism and is subsequently looking at record arrivals this year, as does Rwanda, while some of the others in the region are struggling to keep the pace.

Recent information about park developments also indicate that new lodges and safari camps are planned for the sprawling Selous Game Reserve, the Ruaha and Mikumi national parks while others of the Northern circuit parks will see new developments along the park boundaries, after TANAPA  put their foot down and restricted additional permanent safari lodges from inside the parks like the Serengeti.

 

KEY GLOBAL CONSERVATION GROUPS OPPOSE SERENGETI HIGHWAY ROUTING

Information has emerged last week that three key global bodies concerned over the presently proposed routing of the so called Serengeti Highway have written to President Kikwete asking him to review his decision and support the ‘Southern Route’, not only to serve millions more people compared to the current plans but to save the Serengeti’s fragile ecosystem and allow the annual migration of wildebeest and zebras to actually survive and be preserved for future generations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature or in short IUCN, the head of UNESCO – which grants the hugely important ‘world heritage’ status and the World Wide Fund for Nature or WWF have all written directly to the president urging him to reconsider his stand on the highway routing, while such bodies as the Frankfurt Zoologial Society, and other globally renowned zoological societies, civil society, the tourism sector and diplomats accredited to Tanzania too have in various measures of candidness spoken out against the planned route.

Thankfully alternative have been presented to Tanzania in regard of reaching the target areas through a more southerly routing, in fact opening access to more than 2 million more people to the rest of the country for travel and trade, but no final decision has been made yet as consultants’ reports are still awaited as to the anticipated environmental and biodiversity impact of having a road cut across the age old migration routes of the wildebeest and zebras.

Tourism is expected to suffer substantially should this routing go ahead and a global campaign against the ‘killer of the Serengeti’ would undoubtedly unfold, which could try to discourage visitors from coming to Tanzania and opting for other, more environmentally friendly safari destinations in the region. With tourism being one of the top foreign exchange earners and job providers – said to be in the region of over 200.000 directly employed personnel in the sector – in Tanzania, this could have potentially disastrous consequences for the country’s economic development and leave it once again trailing in the wake of the neighbours, all of whom are eyeing the highway plans with differing degrees of suspicion and apprehension.

 

ARUSHA – NAMANGA ROAD WILL BE READY BY EARLY 2011

Officials of ‘Tanroads’ in Tanzania have reaffirmed that the new highway from Arusha to the border with Kenya at Namanga will be ready as per the revised handover dates by middle of next year, without however giving a specific date to the media as yet.

The 105 km highway from Arusha to the Namanga border with Kenya is a crucial link for cargo and passenger traffic between Kenya and Tanzania and has been under construction since 2008, suffering several delays and construction interruptions along the way. Those were caused by angry residents who at times woke up to find their water supply pipes disconnected, their land intruded on by construction workers and companies or even being chased off their property to make way for work camps, material dumps and the road itself and in turn evenly caused by thefts of construction material and acts of overnight sabotage on equipment and materials, delaying work by the contractors.

Travel between Kenya and Tanzania, under the emerging new rules of the East African Community, is hopefully also being streamlined when a common Visa has been put into place, making it unnecessary for ‘internal’ passport and customs controls, as the region progressively returns to the ‘open borders’ of the ‘old East African Community’ of pre 1977, when all internal controls had been shelved in favour of a stronger regime of entry point controls.

Correspondingly therefore has the road between Namanga via Kajiado and Athi River to Nairobi also been undergoing major upgrading, and that part of the Arusha to Nairobi highway will be ready as scheduled by early 2011. Watch this space.

 

JET A 1 AND AVGAS FUEL BEING STOLEN AT DAR ES SALAAM AIRPORT

A source close to the airport in Dar es Salaam and the TCAA has last week confirmed that their security at the airport is grappling with major fuel thefts of Jet A 1 and AVGAS. It appears that a racket is siphoning off fuel from aircraft already fuelled at night and ready for an early morning flight, and the crew carrying out the pre-flight checks then come to realise that the fuel quantity in their logs does not correspond with what is actually found in the tanks. The official could however neither confirm how much fuel has gone missing in the recent pasts nor was able to shed any light on the method used by the thieves and if they were in league with those operating the pumping trucks or other equipment. Considering the general demands on state of the art security at and near international airports, the report left many wondering how such would be possible without authorities being able through closed circuit TV to spot and identify the culprits. Hmmm …

 

UNESCO FIRES WARNING SHOT OVER SERENGETI HIGHWAY

Information was received last week from participants of the UNESCO World Heritage Status meeting in Brazil, that the world body has made it clear that they were seriously concerned over plans by the Tanzania government to construct a highway across the migration routes. It appears that UNESCO officials have notified the Tanzanian government that they would be compelled to add ‘endangered’ to the Serengeti status, should the plans not be revised and the alternative more Southerly route taken into active consideration.

Conservation groups, NGO’s and individual, globally renowned conservationists from all corners of the world have written to the Tanzanian government against the planned routing, which as it stands cuts right across the age old migration routes of the great migration and may lead to a massive loss of animals should the construction go ahead and some 20.000 Facebook sympathisers have signed up to a dedicated site and signed various petitions against the plans.

Politically inspired and incited hot heads in Tanzania have subsequently vented their anger and uttered thinly concealed racist sentiments against their neighbours Kenya and ‘muzungus’, alleging that conservationists were attempting to deny Tanzanians a much needed road, while the facts speak against such false notions since the alternative road routing along the Southern edge of the Serengeti ecosystem asked for is by general consent not only shorter and cheaper to build but also reaching about two million more rural Tanzanians and yet ending in the same target area as the routing through the most critical part of the Serengeti.

UNESCO also let it be known that should construction of the highway indeed reach the park area, that the wording ‘endangered world heritage status’ would be removed with the original status altogether, stripping the Serengeti, and Tanzania tourism of one of the most sought after attributes given to an attraction and more than likely keeping visitors away, as the ‘anti this road routing’ alliance would then likely start to actively discourage visitors from coming to Tanzania less the plans would be changed at the last moment.

In an interesting development has a very senior source from Dar es Salaam also given the first faint indication that the routing could be revisited but only after the upcoming elections, explaining that the government in Dar was ‘disconcerted’ and ‘surprised by the strength of the sentiments expressed to them and by the many eminent persons who have opposed the road routing’. However, this remains to be seen and not only has the source demanded total anonymity but no other such source has since been secured offering a similar read of the present going on’s in Dar es Salaam over the ‘killer’ highway plans. Watch this space.

 

Rwanda News

AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK GETS 10 MILLION USD BOOST

The new park management company ‘African Parks Network’ together with the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, have now reportedly injected about 10 million US Dollars into the infrastructure development of the Akagera National Park. The funds are intended to construct an electric fence, cut ‘fire barriers’ along the periphery of the park to prevent bush fires from outside spreading into the park itself and other programme components like tracks, roads and trenches.

APN reportedly contributed 80 percent of the funds as required under their existing MoU and joint venture with the Rwandan government while RDB will foot the bill for the remaining 2 million US Dollars.

The first phase of the management agreement is to run for 20 years but can be extended if mutually desired by the two partners and is a ‘first’ for Rwanda in divesting from the management of a key national park. ANP has experience in several African countries and is a not for profit organization dedicated to wildlife conservation and management.

 

CUSTOMER CARE TRAINING CONTINUES

The programme of training young Rwandans in the hospitality field in regard of customer care has continued with a further 50 graduating last week from their course at the Rwanda Institute of Management and Administration in Kigali.

Lack of customer care has been identified by the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation as one of the constraining factors in making yet a better impression on visitors from abroad and subsequently a series of courses was planned which are now taking place at regular intervals across the country. Rwanda has recorded exceptional tourism growth in recent years and many more young Rwandans have found employment in the hospitality and safari sectors but require additional training in order provide the best possible service levels to tourists and business visitors. General work place related training courses are also being offered for those starting out in the industry and intent to making a lifelong career in the sector.

 

NEW CABINET REMAINS THE SAME

President Paul Kagame last week re-appointed his entire pre-election cabinet following the swearing in of the country’s Prime Minister Bernard Makuza on Monday last week in parliament in Kigali. President Kagame used the opportunity to thank members of parliament, and his cabinet, for the work done during his first 7 year term of office, achieving much of the initial agenda, and promised an unchanged commitment to bring economic prosperity to Rwanda, securing borders and ensuring peace and safety for all Rwandans, while continuing to work for reconciliation and harmonious relations amongst all citizens.

Rwanda has in recent years become a model for economic development and risen like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of the 1994 genocide, as a result of determined leadership and a vision to transform the country to a modern, democratic state. Visit www.rwandatourism.com for more information on the country’s national parks and tourism attractions, which today go well beyond the ‘just gorillas’ tag often attributed to Rwanda by envious onlookers within the region, who remain befuddled why Rwanda has made such great strides while others have seemingly stood still.

 

Seychelles News

VICTORIA CARNIVAL ‘WILL BE A SUCCESS’ TO REMEMBER

The planned carnival festival in the Seychelles capital of Victoria, planned for the time of March 04 – 06, is receiving growing attention from around the world, since the Seychelles Tourist Board had sent out invitations to key carnival destinations to come to Mahe for next year’s planned inaugural festival.

The annual carnival season traditionally kicks off at 11.11 hrs a.m. on the 11th of November, at which time the major ‘carnival nations’ like Brazil or Germany start the formal countdown to the big week, celebrated just ahead of the annual Christian Lent season.

Special ‘floats’ are expected to also showcase the islands of Praslin and Denis, as well as others, to provide ‘local’ flavour besides the international floats coming from across the world.

The islands are expected to be rather fully booked over that period of time and it is highly recommended to secure flights and accommodation well in advance to avoid disappointment. In fact, carnival fans from across the world will probably head to the Seychelles to witness the first ever such event and write it in their own record books. Seychelles, ‘another world’ but will all the trimmings from around the globe.

 

Ethiopia News

ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES AND SAA EXPAND THEIR CODE SHARES

Information was received last weekend that Ethiopian and South African have expanded their present code shared flights between Addis Ababa and Johannesburg, adding more ‘shared’ destinations. In South Africa this will be Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth within South Africa and Windhoek and Gabarone in the region, with the connecting flights operated by SAA.

In turn, the daily codeshared flights between SAA and ET on the Johannesburg to Addis route, presently operated exclusively by Ethiopian, will see new destinations added like Bahrain and Kuwait in the Gulf region but also Douala and Bamako in West Africa.

SAA is a member of the leading global Star Alliance and it is understood that an announcement about ET becoming an ‘applicant member’ is now not far off – giving some explanation as to the close cooperation between the two airlines.  

 

 

And in closing today ‘a double dose’ with some quite remarkable material from ‘further down South’, courtesy of Gill Staden and her ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ – missing last week due to internet reception and transmission problems at her end,  now thankfully overcome, putting her ‘back into business’ at last …

Elephant Orphan Swims to Safety!

News update from the Elephant Orphanage Project – 10th Sept 2010

To Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release Zambia’s orphaned elephants back into the wild

Another elephant orphan is about to join the surrogate herd at the Elephant Orphanage Project…

Little ‘Rufunsa’ (named after the area he was rescued) is now safe in the care of the EOP Elephant Keepers thanks to the residents of Rufunsa GMA.

Four days ago he swam across the Luangwa River with his mother from Zambia into Mozambique. Tragically his mother became stuck in the muddy banks when villagers found her and shot her dead! They attempted to also attack Rufunsa, but he managed to escape, sustaining slash wounds to his body. Zambian fishermen witnessed the event in astonishment as little Rufunsa managed to swim all the way back across the great river to Zambia, avoiding the many hippos and crocodiles – at only five months old this is an incredible feat! As he reached Zambian shores, exhausted, he was captured and brought to the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) at Luangwa Boma who contacted EOP.

On Tuesday Sport and Rachael headed to the scene (5 hours drive from Lusaka) with two EOP Keepers.

Rufunsa was re-hydrated and loaded into the Toyota Land Cruiser inside a large purpose made crate to make the journey to Lusaka, by road, where he is currently in quarantine. Once he is given the all clear by the ZAWA Head Vet he will make the next leg of his journey, by air, to Kafue National Park to join the other orphans at EOP – We will keep you posted on his progress…

At this young age Rufunsa is very vulnerable, so every precaution is being made to secure his health,

although only time will tell if he can recover physically, socially and emotionally from such a terrible ordeal!

Wild Dogs

I was contacted by Lin Barrie during the week.  Lin is an artist in the Save valley (where the Blue Cross Rally started).  It is a long way from us here in Livingstone, but Lin sent me a photo of some wild dog pups and they are so cute … that I had to add them in the Weekly.  It is also good to know that wild dog are in that area and are breeding. 

Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park

 

The Gonarezhou National Park, in the Save Valley, is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.  The agreement was signed in 2000 between the governments of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique for its formation.  Peace Parks has been working on the implementation since then.  It has been, from what I can read, a grindingly-slow process.  Here is a quote from one website:

While the opening of the Giriyondo Access Facility between Limpopo and Kruger national parks in August 2006 has greatly facilitated movement, the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is yet to be officially opened. This will include the removal of further sections of the fence between the three countries. The transfrontier park can only be said to have been fully established once there is free movement of animals and people along the length of the international borders within the boundaries of the park. This is a process that could take a number of years to implement.

On the border with Mozambique, and part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, there is an exceptionally beautiful reserve known for its birdlife and home to rhino.  Here is a quote from a recent article:

More than two years after a rhino-proof boundary fence was hacked down, one of South Africa’s last protected fragments of the natural world is being torn apart as politicians dither.

Daily the river forest diminishes as local communities transform chunks of Ndumo Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal into cabbage patches and maize fields.

Poaching is also rampant.  This week, rangers came across the corpse of another white rhino next to the Phongola River, 3 km from the main tourist camp.  Steel cable was wound around the animal’s head and flies buzzed around the spot on its face from where both its horns had been hacked. 

Elsewhere, fishermen in boats poled along the river to inspect nets suspended below the water line of the last protected stretch of the old floodplain.

The story goes on and makes sad reading.

As Peace Parks continues to push for the development of the Transfrontier parks and the protection of Africa’s natural heritage, the human population continues to grow.  All these people need to eat and there are no jobs for them.  While ‘politicians dither’ and live the life of luxury the poor get poorer and our natural heritage suffers as a result.

Our natural heritage, though, has the largest potential for job creation.  But land has become a political tool.  We have seen the decline of Zimbabwe.  Part of the Ndumo Game Reserve was given ‘back’ to the people as they claimed an ancestral right to part of it.  This, of course, allowed access to the reserve and its potential to illegal gains. 

Until we start to understand that the poor are very poor in Africa and that they need our help to live decent lives, our natural heritage will always be under threat and continue to decline.  Peace Parks shows the people how the environment can be used to create employment and an income for the people, but, from my perspective, the population is outstripping the ability of our fragile environment to cope. 

The people who live on this planet have a right to a good life, and that does not mean just giving them free food.  Until the poor have a quality life they will continue to destroy the future for their children … because they have no choice …

Project Update August 2010:

 

A dog’s life.

We often marvel at the sociality of life as a painted dog and their caring nature. Greg describes it as “a kind of three musketeers’ approach of all for one and one for all.” On the whole, this is indeed a good representation of life within the pack. The old, sick and injured are often cared for and fed, while pups take priority when it comes to feeding. However it’s not all nirvana. In their daily life the dogs exist on a knife-edge, expending huge

amounts of energy in the search for food, avoiding conflict with larger, more powerful predators.

Life in the wild for painted dogs is extremely tough and can be brutal. A fact we were recently reminded of as we stood over the body of Blaze, one of the males in our embattled Kutanga pack.  He had been with the pack at 7 PM as they hunted, the new moon providing them with enough light and extra cool hours for foraging. At 9 PM he was missing. The alarm bells were only sounded when Jealous caught up with the pack at 7AM the following morning and Blaze was still missing.

We immediately started searching in the area where he had been seen last and quickly picked up the signal from his VHF radio collar. He was not moving. I called Jealous on the radio and he joined me to walk into the bush. We had done this many times before but the presence of a pride of seven lions in the area added to the nervous tension. The signal from Blaze’s collar told us that he was not far away. As we approached, the signal did not change to a moving signal but remained at the familiar slow pulse of 30 beats per minute, a resting beat, but not something we

wanted to hear in this case. We soon found his body.

Bite marks on his head and back right leg gave some indication as to his cause of death but as we turned his body over we were shocked to see that he had been castrated.

We carried his body back to my Land Rover and drove to our Rehab where Greg was waiting. We

speculated over the injuries and concluded that a honey badger was probably the likeliest assailant.  However there were clearly other injuries and a post mortem revealed that he had also been kicked in the chest, suffering two broken ribs. We concluded that Blaze, in his weakened state after being kicked, had perhaps been attacked by the honey badger, but we will never know

for sure.

What we do know is that the Kutanga pack was left in turmoil again. The injury and ultimately the loss of Alpha male Squirrel had caused some unusual in-fighting in the pack earlier in the year. No sooner had that dust settled than we were dealing with the loss of the new born pups and now this.

The remaining members of the Kutanga pack appeared at our Rehab Facility the next day. Certainly no coincidence, a lot of haunting hoo calling indicated that they were looking for their lost pack mate.  We feared that this incident may have been one too many for them to suffer and that the pack may dissolve. Squirrel had been the alpha male and after his death, Blaze had been seen mating with the alpha female. Thus we took advantage of them lingering near the rehab and managed to fit a GPS collar to the alpha female, Ester, and also a VHF collar to one of the other females. This quickly proved to have been worthwhile as the males started to hunt further afield, leaving the females outside our Rehab.

Several days would pass before they returned to briefly interact with the females before heading away again. Occasionally the females would join them on the hunt but soon returned to the Rehab and this pattern of behaviour continues today. Collectively they are spending much more time outside of Hwange National Park. On two occasions it was necessary to deploy our antipoaching

units into the area through which the dogs were moving. Areas notorious for poaching and

poorly protected by other stakeholders. On one such occasion our APU found the seven lions feeding on a buffalo that had died in a line of 30 snares. Nearby was the carcass of another

lion that had also died in a snare. The dogs were 500m from this!

As an organisation we are geared up to deal with issues such as the above and we receive tremendous support from Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management, especially on the antipoaching side of things, however others could and should do more. Our Bush Camp

programme for the children is well documented and we intend to take this out into the community in a more proactive manner, as encouraged by the Minister of Environment himself and we are stepping up the working relationship with other NGOs in the region who focus more on development. Our Rehab facility is currently home to ten dogs, six of whom are being prepared for release back into the wild where they belong.

There is no such thing as a normal day at PDC and we never stop. Jealous, Wilton, Dought

and Foggie ensure the programmes run as smoothly as possible, while the rehab staff under Xmas

and the APU under Zulu continue, committed to their work.

And something to remember or put in your diary:

Zambezi International Rowing Regatta

25 September

IMPORTANT:  CHANGE OF ZIMBABWE MOBILE NUMBERS: 091 becomes 077

Please note that Econet Wireless is changing all Zimbabwean mobile phone prefix numbers which start with 091 to 077 with effect from 2 October 2010. We are told that this change is in line with global regulations on numbering set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Only the first three digits of the current number will change from 091 to 077.  The other seven digits remain the same. To allow a smooth changeover to the new 077 number, it will still be possible to make calls to Econet numbers using both the current 091and new 077 codes until 2 November. After this period a call to an Econet number will only be possible by using the new 077 prefix.   


SOLENTA NOW FLYING HARARE-KARIBA-ZAMBEZI   (LUSAKA LINK DUE SOON)

Solenta Aviation, which this year introduced flights between Victoria Falls and Bumi Hills on Lake Kariba, have taken delivery of their second 12-seater aircraft which is plying the Harare-Kariba route.  Flights are available every day of the week except Thursdays and include an optional Lake shuttle service across the lake to Fothergill, Tiger Bay & Bumi airstrips on Tuesday, Fridays and Sundays, or a  River shuttle service to safari destinations in Mana, Chikwenya & Chewore in the Zambezi Valley on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.  A third aircraft, a 19-seater, will be introduced in October to connect Lusaka in Zambia, with Kariba and Bumi Hills.  The schedule for this will be carefully timed to coincide with the British Airways flight into Lusaka from London.  For more information, see this link:  Solenta Aviation  


ABUSE OF WILD AREAS MUST STOP!    VISITORS PLEASE HELP!

Visitors numbers are steadily increasing into Zimbabwe.  Especially popular are our precious National Parks, wildlife and wilderness areas.
But nobody wants to visit Kariba or the Zambezi valley and find scenes as depicted in these photographs and sent to WILD ZAMBEZI by concerned lovers of wild areas.

The rubbish at left was dumped on the Lake Kariba shoreline at Elephant Point in the Matusadona National Park (by a houseboat crew?). 

The remains of a fire and burned rubbish (pictured at right) was found above Chitake Spring in the Mana Pools National Park (left by a group of self-drivers camping illegally in a non-designated spot?). 

It gets worse:….

Walkers in both Mana Pools and Matusadona are finding piles of soiled toilet paper and human wastes at popular visitor stopping points everywhere – no apparent thought, by the perpetrators, it seems, to carry a small trowel and a box of matches with which to remove all evidence of their ….. passing. 

Reports from Mana Pools tell of massive evidence of ‘off-track driving’, with tyre treads leading far into the bush – the trails sometimes marked by deposits of beercans and other litter.  Tour operator vehicles are seen towing canoe trailers at high speed along the game viewing tracks, and insensitive drivers tear through Nyamepi campsite raising huge clouds of dust, with no consideration at all for other visitors.

There are reports of people ‘paintballing’ wild elephants in Nyamepi Camp.  One group reportedly launched an unsilenced powered paraglider/microlight from one of the exclusive campsites, and proceeded to blast up and down the Mana river frontage in complete oblivion of the peace and enjoyment of other Park visitors. Happily, the National Park authorities confiscated the equipment.

The Matusadona shoreline is covered with plastic flotsam and jetsam – probably emanating mostly from kapenta fishing rigs – but that’s no reason for houseboats and fishing boats to add to it.  Here, too, are the remains of illicit fires on the banks, the ashes – and beercans – left in situ. Also reported are houseboats running generators until late at night (the rules insist on a 6.00pm turnoff), and music audible at a distance of 3-4km (prohibited at any time.)

This appalling abuse of valuable wild areas is totally unacceptable – regardless of who is responsible for it.  As readers of this newsletter, we need your help to fight it.

The Zimbabwe Parks Authority does not have the manpower to police visitors properly, and will welcome your assistance.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Download a copy of the Respect the Wild Code of Conduct for Vistors in Wild Areas at this link:  Respect the Wild Code
  • Share it with all your clients, colleagues or friends who are visiting Zimbabwe
  • Insist on ALL litter being removed from a National Park or other wild area and disposed of responsibly i.e. via urban disposal or recycling systems. 
  • If you come across other people’s litter, please collect it for responsible disposal. 
  • Bury all human waste and BURN toilet paper carefully so as to remove all evidence.
  • Question your houseboat crew and/or tour operator on their waste disposal policy and insist that they LEAVE NO TRACE.
  • Insist that houseboat crews and/or tour operators are sensitive to the environment and to other visitors in wild areas (cautious driving, no loud noise/music, no generators after 6.00pm.)
  • Report all instances of unacceptable behaviour and breaches of Park rules to the nearest Parks Authority Office and/or to the Harbour Management, with details of time, place, and registration numbers of the vehicles or boats involved.  Don’t have any qualms or conscience about doing it.  If this behaviour is allowed to go unchecked, the wilderness quality we cherish will be destroyed.
  • Please spread the word. Make your own disapproval of such behaviour clear to others you may know or meet. It’s important, because this small minority of offenders reflects badly on everyone.

 

ZAMBEZI RIVER  


“ZIMBABWE IS BEST:  KEEP IT WILD” SAY ZAMBEZI SOURCE TO SEA  KAYAK DUO

In August 2009, Zimbabwean-born Warren Willis and South African, Francois Kruger, set out to kayak the Zambezi River from its source near Mwini Lunga in Northern Zambia to its delta at the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. The two men completed their epic 3186km-long journey in May 2010, having split it into two parts. 

They set out from Mwini Lunga in August 2009 (picture left) and by the end of September had passed
through some very wild country in Angola, paddled through Zambia and Caprivi, reached the lip of the Victoria Falls and rafted the Batoka Gorge before finally reaching Deka.  Here they decided to conclude the first phase of their journey in time for Warren to return to the UK to attend the birth of his first child – a son, Benjamin, who was born in October.
 
In March 2010, the men returned to Deka to complete the gruelling second part of their trip, with the Zambezi in full flood.  They traversed Lake Kariba, the middle Zambezi Valley, Lake Cahora Bassa (with its terrifyingly dangerous gorge), passed the confluence of the Mazoe and Shire Rivers and paddled through crocodile-infested waters on the Lower Zambezi, finally arriving at the Indian Ocean at Chinde, Mozambique, in May this year.  They celebrated on the beach with champagne and cigars which they had carried all the way with them! (picture at right).  
 

 Their trip down Africa’s fourth-longest river was an amazing feat and made them acutely aware of the vital importance of the Zambezi’s wild areas.   The pair plan to use their experience to help generate funds for conserving these areas.  Warren’s comments on the overall trip are revealing: 
 
“The approximate 750km that touches Zimbabwean soil is by far the wildest and least spoilt section of the river, and we have to do everything possible to keep it this way. The rest of the river has its moments and some stunning sections but there is an almost complete lack of wildlife especially noticeable in the heavily populated areas”.
 
“It is time that people such as myself who have grown up on the river start to put a little something back, otherwise in all likelihood we will lose it to the pressures of unscrupulous hunters/over hunting, rumours of oil exploration by the Chinese and general abuse……  In the future, when my son asks me “Where are all the buffalo/lion etc?”, I don’t want to have to tell him that we sat back and did nothing and/or shot them all.”

Read the story and see pictures of the duo’s amazing experience in more detail at this link:  Source to Sea Kayak trip 

 


 

 

MANA POOLS – GETTING HECTIC…IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE  

Reports coming out of Mana Pools indicate that it has been an extremely busy August and September for tourism in the Park.   For details on the wildlife front, read Goliath Safaris’ August newsletter at this link: Lions’ Eyes and Butterflies    

There are now two packs of wild dogs in the area and a healthy population of lions on the floodplain as well as the usual elephant bulls and cow herds now moving in to feed on their favourite feast: the apple-ring pods of the Acacia Albida trees which grow so prolifically on the sandy river terraces of the Zambezi and give Mana that special look of a parkland.

Apart from worrying reports about visitors to this special wilderness ruining it for others with their insensitive behaviour (see “Abuse of Wild Areas Must Stop” above), WILD ZAMBEZI is also disturbed to hear that Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlfe Authority are discussing new lodge development sites along the Zambezi River in Mana Pools with several tourism operators.  This is in contradiction of the Mana Pools Park Management Plan carefully put together last year by the Authority itself, with the help of a leading biologist, and international conservation NGO and a team of relevant stakeholders. 

It seems that in Zimbabwe these days, the lure of short-term gain at the expense of long-term sense is becoming the norm.  The authorities and operators concerned would do well to heed the cautionary advice of Warren and Francois, whose courageous adventure down the whole of the Zambezi River (see story above) has given them the benefit of insights about the future of our precious wild areas here in Zimbabwe that most decision-makers do not have.  

They would also be well to heed the advice of their own draft Management Plan (an illustrated summary copy of which is posted in the Mana Pools Park tourism office – relevant section shown above). 

The plan has specific guiding principles regarding future tourism development in the Park.  Note that “WILDERNESS QUALITIES WILL BE MAINTAINED” is top of the list and that “TOURISM AWAY FROM THE RIVER WILL BE ENCOURAGED” is second.  

Furthermore, the Purpose of Mana Pools National Park is defined as follows:  

Mana Pools National Park as a World Heritage Site will maintain wilderness values and will protect and conserve the Biological diversity and Ecological processes in and around the park; and in particular the Zambezi River, the flood plain and the “Mana” pools. The park will also play its role in the Mana/Lower Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area and will contribute to the socio-economic development of the local communities and the region

As a major stakeholder in tourism to the wild areas of the Zambezi, WILD ZAMBEZI will be monitoring this worrying situation closely and will report back to its readers (and to the world at large) through our newsletters and website.  In the absence of our own WILD ZAMBEZI blogspot (plans are in the pipeline),  we encourage concerned readers to post informed and reasoned comments on the Facebook site: SAVE MANA POOLS.


KARIBA…don’t miss the 49thINVITATION TIGER FISH TOURNAMENT   6th, 7th & 8th OCTOBER 2010!  www.kitft.co.zw


GEARING UP FOR THE TIGER TOURNEY.  

The 49th Kariba Invitation Tiger Fishing Tournament is to take place on the 6th, 7th, and 8th of October 2010.  This annual event attracts sponsored teams of fishermen from far and wide who come to  enjoy some of the best sport fishing in Africa while baking in the hot summer sun. 

Last year, 131 teams took part, including 10 from beyond Zimbabwe’s borders:  Zambia, South Africa, the UK and even New Zealand!  The event was won by Team Toyota Zimbabwe / Ram Petroleum.  A total of 2951 fish were caught.  The average weight per fish was 2.039Kgs and the average catch per angler was 5.346 fish.  The winner of Biggest Fish prize (a Nissan vehicle) was Martinhus Van Rensburg. His Tiger weighed in at a massive 12.735kgs – a new tournament record!     This year promises even better sport and prizes.  Major sponsors are Mainstay, Nashua, Nissan and Zambezi Lager.

For more information, see www.kitft.co.zw


 

LUXURY ACCOMMODATION AND CRUISING FOR TIGER TOURNAMENT 

The Zambezi Trader, Kariba’s largest passenger cruise ship is offering special cruise and accommodation rates during the Tiger Tournament for participants, sponsors, spectators, families and friends. 

The ship has the capacity to accommodate 44 clients in 22 en suite cabins.

Daily cruises: $20 per person ($10 under 12yrs ) for non-resident passengers
Accommodation rates: 
Twin Cabins – $115 per day per person sharing.
Luxury Double Cabins – $150 per day per person sharing.
Presidential Suites –  $175 per day per person sharing.
These rates are inclusive of 3 meals, National Parks, V.A.T, Z.T.A levy, use of tender boats for taxi to Charara harbour, game viewing or sundowner cruises but NOT drinks
Cabins can be booked individually.  Group discounts available. 

For more details see this link: Zambezi Trader

Also, don’t forget the Zambezi Trader’s monthly cruises up the lake to Bumi Hills/Musango/Tiger Bay and back: 

30th September – 3rd October

28th – 31st October

25th – 28th November 


MATUSADONA: EXCITING WILDLIFE NEWS 

Jenny Nobes reports from Rhino Safari Camp in the Matusadona National Park on the southern shores of Lake Kariba: 

“I just wanted to let you know that we’ve had sight of about 350 buffalo with lots of calves in the Mukadzapela area.  I also saw Mvura our resident black rhino Mum mid August and if you look closely you can see the new calf wriggling around inside her!  Dumisani Moyo (the Zambezi Society’s Rhino Conservation Field Co-ordinator) and I have promised to share as soon as we see a small rhinoceros in tow!  Very very exciting!  The lions are still breaking up into smaller groups to hunt and then regrouping – there seem to be 13 of them now with two males in the distance so a total of 15 altogether in our area.”

Now that the water level of the lake is finally dropping, there is at last some shoreline grass for the poor impala, waterbuck and other grazers whose food source had been completely inundated.


KARIBA:  SCARY WILDLIFE NEWS

Visitors to the little town of Kariba which sprawls haphazardly over the hills surrounding the dam wall and the mopane flatlands at the edge of the lake, should be wary:  this may look like any other little town, but it is in fact situated right in the middle of a wildlife corridor.  Wild animals, including hippos and herds of buffalo and elephant can be found in the inhabited sections of the town at any time during the day or at night, lumbering along the roads or grazing quietly at the kerb.  Do not be fooled.  They may appear to be habituated to humans, but they are still wild.  Give way to them at all times, never get too close and always remain alert to danger.

Two recent incidents involving bush-savvy Kariba residents with a great deal of wildife experience have prompted this warning.  One was tragic and the other miraculously not.  In August, Steve Kok a passionate Kariba wildlife conservationist from Charara left home on a mercy mission to find a buffalo which had been wounded in a snare.  The buffalo found him first.  His family found his battered body the next day.  Not two weeks later, another dedicated Kariba bushman and conservationist, Geoff Blyth, was gored by an angry cow elephant while riding his bicycle along the “powerlines” road.  He was rushed to hospital and was lucky to survive with very painful wounds, but no serious damage.

Even if you are experienced in the wild, it is advisable to stay well clear of wild animals, no matter that they look “tame” in an urban setting.  If you are inexperienced, walk in the wild only with someone professionally qualified to guide you.   Be especially careful when fishing or walking near the shoreline, and never swim in the lake. Kariba has a very large population of extremely large crocodiles.


 

 

Tourism News from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region Second edition September 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Second edition September 2010

 

TULLOW OIL’S 3.1 BILLION US DOLLAR INVESTMENT IN BALANCE

 

(One of the ‘ready’ oil wells in Murchisons Falls National Park, previously owned by Heritage Oil & Gas PLC and recently sold on to Tullow Oil)

 

As reported via a tweet shortly after it actually happened, the Ugandan government has withdrawn the licence of exploration block 3A, one of if not the richest oil basin found so far in the country. Only recently was I able to give a complete timeline overview of the events leading up to this – for Tullow Oil at least – catastrophic development. The company spent big bucks in Uganda, an estimated half a billion US Dollars for exploration and related activities, an estimated 1.1 billion US Dollars for the acquisition sometime ago of Hardman Oil’s Ugandan interests and only recently nearly 1.5 billion US Dollars when they paid for the interests of Heritage Oil, after invoking their pre-emptive rights at the last possible moment, after ENI of Italy had made Heritage an offer they simply could not refuse, while offering under the same deal a 14 billion US Dollar investment package in Uganda’s oil industry to government.

Heritage, now harshly critizised for their ‘cut and run’ however are by nature an exploration firm, and having done their job and discovered the biggest fields up to now in Uganda, they did rightly feel that their work was done and they should leave production to others more qualified to engage in this stage and move on. While the Hardman transaction did not attract taxes when Tullow bought their assets, Heritage was faced with a tax claim, and citing precedents to the contrary opted to refer the dispute to arbitration as provided for in the PSA (production sharing agreement). Once Heritage had formally objected to the tax claims, they went for the contractually provided arbitration, located in London / UK, deposited 30 percent of the tax claim as required under Ugandan law with the Uganda Revenue Authority and are keeping the balance of about 280 million US Dollars in an escrow account in the UK, to which Tullow had paid the ‘disputed’ amount following a probably misunderstood communication to them that this was or would be in order and acceptable to government.

Yet, this was clearly not so, as they – Tullow – found out the hard way when they incurred the wrath of the powers that be in Uganda who wanted the tax paid, in full, full stop. In order to make Tullow see ‘the light’ and technically entitled to do so, government has now started to withdraw their licenses and permits for Tullow, with the richest oil finds taken from them only yesterday, when Block 3A was recalled.

Government has now the option to re-advertise these blocks and hand them to the highest bidder, but could permit Tullow to be amongst the bidders putting proposals forward, and there is no indication how government is going to proceed at this stage. They might even return them to Tullow, but for sure only after the tax claims have been satisfied in full. Should the fields be re-advertised, with the knowledge of proven reserves, Uganda would in any case stand to gain a lot more as potential bidders now know what rich finds are underground, giving further rise to speculation what Uganda might in the end do. This could in fact bring Italy’s ENI back into the picture, as they had received much sympathy from key government officials when initially tabling their bid for Heritage but were then sidelined when Tullow exercised their pre-emptive rights, a move they may now well wish to have thought harder about at the time. ENI had in fact gone that far as to indicate their willingness to meet the Ugandan tax claims over and above the negotiated sales price, leaving government also to ponder right now if it was the right thing to do to give initial approval to Tullow’s demands to respect their first right of refusal – which technically the Ugandan government could have overruled and opted directly for ENI, which incidentally presented at the time a fully fledged oil development and production proposal, which puts them head above shoulders over all their potential rival bidders already.

For Tullow Oil though their entire investment in Uganda is now at risk, as more deadlines for their remaining assets also loom, and it is not clear if they are willing, or financially capable to sweeten government’s mood by paying the tax claim a second time in order to retain their ‘fields’ and move towards production, but this option may rapidly run out of time too for them.

That notwithstanding though, Heritage is sitting comfy, having first sold their Uganda interests, then been paid in full and then – as one newspaper put it last week with ‘military precision’ – withdrawn all their expatriate staff from Uganda. The company’s office in the UK has only stated that they will fully submit to the arbitration ruling by the panel in London and would release the tax money now in escrow to the URA, should the decision go against them, but equally would expect URA to return the 30 percent deposit to them, should the decision be in Heritage’s favour. They also say that ‘the deal is done, we sold, we were paid and are now no longer party to anything to do with our former fields and operations, which now belong entirely to Tullow Oil, to which all  enquiries should be directed’.

Tullow’s management, and in particular their legal advisors and key figures in Uganda, will be facing harsh questions from shareholders how they could have permitted such a situation to develop and put over 3 billion US Dollars capital outlay at risk – a story which surely will make a text book reading in the future for economics students, of how NOT to do things.

Production in Uganda, initially envisaged to start in 2011 and aimed to produce enough gas and heavy fuel oil to run a 50 MW power station and the first component of a refinery, will now undoubtedly be pushed back for some more time until these issues are resolved and the oil fields can be prepared for production, while at present the Tullow oil story will surely see some more twists and turns before the saga comes to a conclusion.

 

Uganda News

KAMPALA AERO CLUB TEST FLIES ‘CLASSIC’

The Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre has recently taken delivery of a ‘classic’ Stinson and an equally ‘classic’ Jungmeister and the first test flight with the Stinson took place last week from the Kajjansi airfield, to the fullest satisfaction of Captain Howard and his colleagues.

It appears though that both aircraft, which arrived in Uganda in a container properly dismantled and stowed, had sustained a little damage in transit, probably along the notorious potholed roads from the coastal port to Kampala, but were put into ship shape again at the KAFTC’s own maintenance base, with the Stinson coming out first from the hangar and taking to the skies over Kampala.

The classic planes will in the future be used for exhibition flights, leisure flights and in air shows in Uganda and probably the wider region and should substantially raise interest levels amongst the younger generation to take an interest and learn how to fly.

KAFTC is licensed to operate commercial flights, but also holds an MRO licence to maintain aircraft and a licence as training organization, approved by the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority, to teach young aspiring individuals how to fly. Their Kajjansi base, in particular the leisure area around the swimming pool, is at weekends often a meeting place for club members and the general public interested to see light aircraft take off and land ‘close up’.

It is understood that in this year’s edition of the ‘Royal Ascot Goat Races’, set for this weekend, Saturday 18th, the Stinson will perform in the skies above the crowd, undoubtedly a much expected spectacle for the thousands of visitors coming to Munyonyo, weather permitting of course. Last year’s event was ‘skipped’ in favour of doing a bigger and better show this year, but going by past weather records one can only hope that the spectators and participants will this year be spared a soaking from above and can enjoy a sunny day out at the lake shores.

 

CITY CONTRACTORS DOWN TOOLS

Alleged non payment of bills and advances has reportedly let a number of road contractors in Kampala to stop work, leaving city residents bewildered as to why potholes are not just NOT fixed but getting worse in the present period of heavy rains. Garbage collection companies contracted by the city council too have joined the ‘strike’, prompting renewed calls for central government to finally take over the management of the capital city and bring relief to the long suffering residents of Kampala at the hands of inept city fathers, who are – to make it worse – constant targets of corruption and incompetence allegations. A very public disagreement and intense animosity between the mayor and the town clerk, the city’s top bureaucrat, has also not helped amidst accusations and counter accusations. The KCC is dominated by politicians largely belonging to the main political opposition groups to government but have failed to make an impact, to the contrary let the city slide more and more into a less than presentable state impacting on the otherwise good impression visitors to the country take home with them after visiting upcountry areas and national parks. Truly, elections cannot come soon enough now to get rid of this breed of ‘city fathers’ and install more competent managers who can bring the shine back to Kampala.

 

BRUSSELS AIRLINES EXPANDS REACH BY CODESHARES

Passengers booking their flights on Brussels Airlines recently received good news from their Kampala sales team, when they were told of the new code shared flights between Brussels and Montreal – via their partner Air Canada out of Brussels, and of course with United/Continental to Washington. The added ‘reach’ is starting to pay off for SN, out of all their Eastern African destinations, and the market seems keener to try this option compared to the previous arrangements SN had with American Airlines, which never really made much of an impact – no wonder considering AA’s inclination to do business with BA, but ultimately to their detriment as Star Alliance members have started to capture the lion’s share of global traffic to Africa via their respective hubs in Europe, but also through their African alliance members via Cairo and Johannesburg.

Lufthansa’s codeshares to Entebbe are also reportedly bearing fruits as transit passengers from LH’s German and international destinations have indeed taken up the offer to fly via Brussels to Eastern Africa, where Lufthansa continues to be absent with their own flights, except for Addis Ababa, leaving Entebbe, Nairobi, Kigali, Bujumbura and Dar es Salaam to their ‘family members’ SN and SR.

SN flies presently 4 times between Entebbe and Brussels and 6 times into the region, where all flights route to two destinations in a triangular operation, and more flights, though much hoped for, can according to usually reliable sources only come on line when the airline acquires another A330 aircraft, said to be in the final stages of a board decision. Watch this space for the most up todate aviation news from the region.

 

TURKISH TO OFFER ‘ONE STOP’ SAO PAULO FOR EAST AFRICAN TRAVELLERS

It was learned from aviation sources in Kampala that Turkish Airlines, a member of the global Star Alliance, will from December onwards offer three weekly flights, using B777 aircraft, to connect travellers originating from Entebbe, Nairobi or Dar es Salaam to Brazil’s industrial capital of Sao Paulo. The flights are due to commence over Christmas and are due to be expanded to four flights, or so it is understood, by the end of the first quarter of 2011.

Turkish has made quite an impact in Africa when they started to expand their network to the continent and as one of the fastest growing airlines – and being a Star member – it is offering a growing number of global destinations for passengers connecting with them through their hub in Istanbul. Growing choices, growing options are here at last for travellers from Uganda and the wider region.

 

UGANDA STUDIES NEW METROPOLITAN ROAD NETWORK FOR NAIROBI

A group of city and road planners from Uganda recently went to Nairobi to inspect the ongoing road works, reported here several times in the past already, which are aimed to link the wider metropolitan area of Nairobi with Thika on one side and Athi River on the other side. Some of the exit and entry highways which are now being constructed include flyover or underpasses to decongest major intersections, and long stretches of the road will be giving motorists 6 lanes to keep traffic flowing in, out and through the city.

The construction will reach well into the city, where residential homes had to make way for the new highway, leading to confrontations and even violence in the past and while those affected will likely harbour eternal ill will most others cannot wait to see the project, undertaken by Chinese companies, to a conclusion.

Kampala too is due to be ‘enlarged’ by law to create a metropolitan area which according to the planners will connect the capital with Entebbe on one side and Mukono on the other side, where the planning of roads, highways, public transport, utilities and social services like schools, health centres, hospitals and administrative access are now all being integrated in order to make the future ‘mega’ Kampala more liveable and attractive to its citizens, unlike now where an incompetent city council incurs the daily wrath of Kampaleans. Watch this space for future updates on major infrastructural work across the region aimed to improve the flow of traffic, the lives of residents and the impression for visitors from abroad.

 

FUEL PRICES ON THE UP AGAIN

The continued weakness of the Uganda Shilling versus the US Dollar and rising crude oil prices on the international market were blamed for yet another increase in the local cost of petrol, diesel and kerosene. A litre of petrol, especially upcountry, has now gone well beyond the 3.000 UShs mark while diesel now costs in the range of 2.500 UShs and kerosene has jumped above the 2.000 mark. Fuel stations, both in Kenya as well as in Uganda, also ran dry once again, causing panic buying which makes the problem worse.

The major fuel companies have rejected suggestions of once more profiteering from the situation and blamed, as predictable, external factors for price increases and the arrival of fuels in Uganda via Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, while quietly blaming a mountain of red tape introduced by the Kenya Revenue Authority over the shipment of fuels from Mombasa to Uganda for the repeated shortages experienced in the country. They also blamed the Kenyan energy regulator for playing politics with the sector after the KERC withdrew licences and permits from market giant Kenol / Kobil last week, which seems to have prompted a run on the reserves in anticipation of this fallout.

Meanwhile has a regular source from the aviation sector also confirmed that AVGAS shortages also persist while the cost of the JET A1, which ‘drives’ the commercial aviation sector here in Uganda and across Eastern Africa, has now reached about 80 US Cents per litre … and one wonders why flying in these parts is so expensive …

 

AIR UGANDA LAMENTS HANDLING CHARGES AT ENTEBBE

Information reached the media over the weekend that the airline’s CEO Hugh Fraser last week lamented the fact of high handling charged at Uganda’s main international airport, when he was reported in local media to have said that charges in Entebbe were almost twice compared to Nairobi.

Seemingly the airline is keen to commence ‘self handling’ at the expense of the two licensed airport handling companies ENHAS and Das Handling or else may use this ‘declaration’ to get a better deal from their present handling company.

Comparisons with Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport are also a little stretched, as JKIA handles a great multiple of traffic and has more licensed handling companies from which airlines can get quotations, while Entebbe with considerably less traffic movements presently, according to a senior CAA source, ‘is well catered for as far as handling is concerned’. Said the source on condition of anonymity: ‘when we have more traffic we can consider inviting bids for a third handling company, but right now we have two and there is capacity between them for doing more work’. The source then went on to suggest that ‘have they compared the rates from the two companies? We know that one is according to our sources quite a bit cheaper and also look after big clients like Kenya Airways. In any case, our apron in front of the main arrival building is already congested and if more equipment is brought in we may have a problem there where to store it, park vehicles etc when not in use. Until the present cargo area next to the passenger terminal is eventually moved to the projected new cargo terminal, we have constraints and this has been explained, yet some people have other ideas and ignored these factors’.

The Air Uganda CEO apparently also claimed to have obtained a presidential directive to be allowed ‘self handling’ but as the various processes at the CAA are subject to current regulations and rules, this may require, if found correct after all, a technical evaluation report first before any decision can be made based on facts rather than on the interests of one company.

 

KARUMA HYDRO POWER STATION TAKES FIRST STEP

Government has now taken the first concrete steps towards building a 700 MW ‘tunnel version’ hydro electric power plant near the Karuma Falls, when surveying of the area commenced last week. An estimated area of nearly 500 acres, extending into three villages along the river Nile, will be set aside for the power plant and installations needed and those affected will be compensated and resettled by the authorities. It was also learned over the weekend that final preparations are underway to advertise for tenders for the construction very soon, so as to commence work on site just as soon as a contractor has been selected and mobilised resources. Once the Karuma plant goes on line in a few years time Uganda will for the first time in decades have some power to spare, allowing for expansion of electricity infrastructure to rural areas and providing a buffer for future industrial growth, presently somewhat hampered by electricity production shortfalls. Watch this space.

 

UWA CASE ‘BOUNCES’

The scheduled hearing of a case filed by the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and several of his colleagues, to reverse what they termed ‘illegal’ suspensions and dismissal by a ‘board gone wild’ has literally bounced yesterday, when it emerged that a required affidavit by the tourism minister Kahinda Otafiire had not been obtained and submitted to the court, a legal requirement as he had to file a formal defence against the allegations made by the applicants. Failure to submit a defence normally leads to the applicants being awarded the case without much further ado and the minister now has only a couple of days left to comply with court’s requirements or else risk lose the case.

The same court two weeks ago granted the applicants, Mapesa and co-applicants, a full injunction against the board, returning them effectively to office, and preventing the board from interfering with amongst other issues the bank accounts of the organisation. Yet, it is the latter which seems to have been ignored according to some media reports and this will undoubtedly be raised by the applicant’s legal teams when the case does eventually go ahead.

At the time when the injunction was granted by court both the minister and the chairman of UWA had also ignored parliamentary summons to appear before a committee and answer a range of questions over their recent actions, and parliament was then adjourned to allow members to return to their constituencies and campaign for party primary elections and prepare for the NRM’s national conference.

The absence of the affidavit by the minister does not come as a surprise, as Mr. Otafiire was reportedly busy over the past weeks to campaign for the office of NRM party secretary general, where he had vowed to unseat the incumbent, fellow cabinet minister for security Hon. Amana Mbabazi. This attempt however ended in miserable failure over the weekend, when the minister was soundly beaten, as was in fact the vice president too who had to the surprise of many his eyes on the office of secretary general. Hon Mbabazi trounced his opponents by a very wide margin of votes, and time will now tell how the other candidates, especially the tourism minister, will be able to shape their political future after being so rejected by their own party. It was learned that as soon as the sworn affidavit was obtained the case’ hearing would resume.

Meanwhile all eyes will be on parliament which is expected to resume sittings this week, and the parliamentary committee on tourism, which is expected to renew summons to the minister and chairman to appear before them and face questions over their actions on UWA and their leading staff members. Watch this space.

 

Kenya News

KENYA UPSET OVER DELTA MOVE

Liberia last week welcomed the inaugural flight by Delta to Monrovia from Atlanta / Georgia, which while celebrated with great fanfare there left aviation observers in Eastern Africa befuddled and in some cases angry and disappointed.

Last year Delta’s inaugural flight to Nairobi, previously postponed several times already when the economic circumstances were not favourable, was cancelled just hours before the aircraft was to the leave the United States for East Africa, throwing the welcoming party at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport into total confusion, until finally confirmation was given that the flight was ‘off’, while causing consternation amongst those invited to fly from the US to Kenya to witness the occasion.

At the time, or so the story was told, security concerns had ‘suddenly’ emerged leading to the airline’s permits being withdrawn by US government agencies, upsetting the Kenyan establishment which saw this as a politically motivated action aimed to ‘clobber us into submission on so many issues’ as one official in Nairobi put it to this correspondent at the time.

The latest snub for Kenya came last week when Delta launched their Monrovia flights, again leaving out Nairobi, reportedly on advice from the same US government agencies over ongoing security concerns – something which however fallen on deaf ears by a multitude of other airlines and their own home governments who consider flying to Kenya as ‘normal’.

Sources from Nairobi were swift in condemning the move, which some said are in line with the laughable anti travel advisories the State Department habitually peddled against Kenya, and in line with recent public statements made by President Obama, when he strongly condemned the visit by Khartoum’s regime leader Bashir to the promulgation of Kenya’s new constitution.

‘This is just another attempt by the American government to make us give in to so many demands from them but we are a sovereign country and they should not dictate to us or use such methods to force us’ said one regular aviation source while another in a rather sarcastic fashion said ‘did Obama’s father not come from here? What issues does he have with us, we even gave him a special paternal home attraction near Kisumu and for what, that we can be pushed around by them’? Strong words and sentiments but not completely without foundation of course, considering the history of Liberia – which undoubtedly under their new government has made great progress – while singling out Kenya for what really smacks of ‘sanctions’. Watch this space.

 

KWS ORGANISES BIODIVERSITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE MEETING

The Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi was chosen as the venue for the KWS inspired meeting on climate change and biodiversity, due to be held between September 15th and 17th. Participation is free, and encouraged, as Kenya will amongst other things also discuss the preparation of a biodiversity inventory to be able to keep better track on the disappearance of species, especially those not immediately in the ‘public eye’ like big game. Sadly the information received here is rather too sketchy and it is therefore recommended that interested parties write to the email address given below for details of the agenda on each day, participants and key speakers so as to better understand the objectives of the meeting.

Write to biodiversityconf@kws.go.ke

 

LAMU PORT PROJECT GETS UNDERWAY WITH PUBLIC TENDERS

The proposed, and in some quarters opposed plan to create a second deep water port near the ancient town of Lamu, seems to finally gather momentum with the first public tenders now advertised by the government in Kenya.

Once the project goes underway added infrastructure, like a proposed railway line from Lamu to the landlocked countries of Ethiopia and Southern Sudan is due to be constructed which could open up parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and the Southern Sudan now literally cut off from the rest of the world due to lack of all weather roads or rail connections.

Considering the status of Lamu as an ancient cultural site, protests are expected to come in thick and fast and the project planners must undoubtedly be able to meet the challenges to bring modern times and infrastructure together with the historical and cultural elements without destroying Kenya’s heritage and natural beauty found along the shores near Lamu. Watch this space.

 

Tanzania News

NOW KENYA WADES INTO SERENGETI HIGHWAYS CONTROVERSY

The Kenyan government, with the referendum and promulgation of the country’s new constitution now behind them, is seemingly now once again focusing on ‘matters arising’ as information filtered out of Nairobi last week over imminent talks with their Tanzanian counterparts over the controversial highway routing presently preferred across the Serengeti, almost parallel to the common border which separates the Serengeti from the Masai Mara in Kenya.

The prospect of the routing ruining the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras, and potentially decimating the big herds from their present number of an estimated 1.5+ million animals to as few as 200.000, according to case studies by leading global conservation bodies, has raised serious concerns amongst tourism operators on both sides of the border. Yet, while the Kenyan were more outspoken in the past, as witnessed across a spectrum of social networking sites, their Tanzanian counterparts are rather more subdued, most likely because the country is going to the polls on the 31st of October, the president has in an ill considered speech thrown his weight behind this, instead of the available alternative Southern route and in the best tradition of African politics, no one now wants to be seen to tell the president that he erred in his judgement, lest seen and then branded as anti government – something which can have serious consequences in this part of the world.

Kenya has reportedly made early approaches through their High Commission in Dar es Salaam, but also involved the good offices of the East African Community based in Arusha while ministerial contacts and in fact top level discussions are also said to be lined up in order to resolve the problem, but talks are considered ‘spicy’ as many other pending and unresolved issues are on the agenda between the two neighbours. Relations are at times hampered by ‘being stuck in the past’ when antagonistic feelings over economical superiority by Kenya have often led to sharp public spats in the best tradition of the breakup of the ‘first’ East African Community in 1977, which was followed by a more than 7 years closure of the common borders for all traffic. Hence, it will be wait and see what talks, as and when they take place, can achieve, while not much is expected to happen before Tanzania’s general election is concluded.

Meanwhile have reports emerged that Facebook has tampered with the global efforts to move the road to the available Southern route, when reports emerged that the ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway’ page administrators were unable to post items or make changes, and that clicking on ‘links’ posted by third parties was for a while impossible too. This led to prompt allegations that FB had been ‘gotten to’ and was party to muzzling discontent and restricting the freedom of speech, available to the FB management in the US but allegedly now denied to the global community by their actions. Watch this space.

 

MORE BLOOD IVORY FROM TANZANIA FOUND IN FAR EAST

Information was received late last week that a shipment of over 1.5 tons of ‘anchovies’ sent from Dar es Salaam / Tanzania to Hong Kong was upon inspection found to really be blood ivory, containing dozens of tusks smuggled out of Tanzania without the authorities there catching on to it in the absence of stricter inspection standards – or through corrupt practices. Yet customs officers attached to the container port of Hong Kong did spot the illicit cargo and according to reports at least two suspects were arrested on the spot, now faced with stiff fines and jail time. Lax enforcement has been Tanzania’s Achilles heel in recent times as they came under scrutiny and ‘fire’ ahead of the global Cites meeting in Doha earlier in the year over exactly such allegations, strongly refuted then but obviously true enough, as many cases since then have made their way into the global media to the embarrassment of the full mouthed ‘parrots’ trying to deny the obvious.

It is however also thought that China’s reluctance to strengthen the laws and to impose even greater fines and longer jail terms for trade in prohibited game items like ivory and skins, is largely responsible for the impunity with which such shipments continue to find their way into the South and Far Eastern countries, where the greed and hunger for rhino horns, elephant tusks and rare skins have been fuelled by the renewed economic prosperity and an unchanged mindset amongst the rich and prosperous that they need to have such ‘stuff’ in order to be respected. Well, see if you are still respected after serving jail time?!? Our message from here in Africa is ‘hands off our wildlife’.

 

Zanzibar News

DIVING CENTRE AND BEACH BANDAS DESTROYED BY FIRE ON ZANZIBAR

An internationally recognised diving school and several neighbouring banda type beach resorts, but also private beach side residences burned down last Thursday when the strong winds from the ocean blew burning debris from the original fire on to the makuti roofs of neighbouring compounds. While the fire brigade was promptly alerted, it incurred the anger and felt the ire of affected residents and owners, when the single fire truck dispatched to the scene ran out of water soon after its arrival and then got stuck when trying to replenish water from the nearby ocean.

Only a few weeks earlier had a similar fire on the other side of the island also destroyed beach residences and small accommodation units, but the fire last Thursday seems to have been rather more extensive as it destroyed several such small banda type hotels and the diving centre’s meetings rooms and bedrooms, stores, offices and back of house facilities.

No feedback was given on the value of the properties burned down, or if they were insured against fire damages and loss and there continues to be speculation, over the cause of the recent fires as much as about this one, leaving one to wonder if a technical electrical fault, careless handling of open fire in a kitchen or arson were to blame.

Several guests staying in the affected properties also claimed to local media representatives that they lost their entire belongings in the fire as their rooms burned down. No indication has been given how long the repairs or rebuilding of the affected properties might take.

 

Rwanda News

RWANDAIR GOES ‘MOBILE’ FOR PASSENGERS

Information was received last week that the national airline of Rwanda has now embraced modern technology in communicating schedules, departures and arrivals to their passengers, when they activated a SMS facility via MTN and TIGO in Rwanda, through which information can be ascertained about flight times. It is understood that plans are advanced already to introduce the same services in Uganda and Burundi, the followed by Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa where final touches are being put in place to offer this facility to all passengers flying with  RwandAir or else wishing to obtain this type of information on their phone handsets.

WAP or browser enabled phones are required to access the flight details. The airline also announced that the introduction of the internet booking mechanism via their website is now only a short time away, which will give passengers not using the services of a travel agent the facility to pay securely by using a credit card. Well done, small airline yet big services.

Meanwhile, in a related development, it was learned that the Rwanda government expects the airline to break even over the next three years before starting to turn profitable, at which stage the presently ‘shelved’ privatisation plans will be re-activated. Financial suitors or strategic investors are of course more likely to buy into a financially healthy RwandAir. Information from Kigali in fact speaks of plans by government to invest, until the airline will be partially sold off, nearly 100 million US Dollars, some expenditure of which has already taken place when the airline bought two CRJ200 jets, including a maintenance support package, from Germany’s Lufthansa, while more funds will be injected when the two ordered B737-800 will be delivered in a year’s time.

The time frame for privatisation will also very likely correspond with the projected opening of the newly planned international airport, which is due to be constructed under a public – private partnership and may open as early as 2014. Watch this space.

 

COMMONWEALTH MEMBERSHIP PAYS OFF

Not long after Rwanda joined the Commonwealth has ‘pay off’ started to filter down to the country. Besides a range of cooperation agreements has now the Commonwealth Youth Conference taken place in the ‘land of a thousand hills’ when last week youths selected by member countries assembled in Kigali for a two week training programme focused on peace building, human rights and international cooperation.

This ‘Nkabom’ programme is one of the long standing youth education and training programmes and having selected Rwanda as the venue and host country speaks volumes for the support and esteem other Commonwealth members have for the country.

 

RWANDA RAILWAY ‘ON COURSE’

Information received last week from Kigali and Dar es Salaam confirmed that the ambitious joint project to construct a standard gauge railway line from the proposed inland port of Isaka in Tanzania to initially Kigali, before extending it to Bujumbura and into the Eastern Congo, was on course as the final touches were being made on the feasibility and route studies now nearing completion.

The new line is due to cost a staggering 3 to 4 billion US Dollars but this will be money well spent as Rwanda, Burundi and the Eastern Congo and of course Tanzania can all benefit from faster train connections, greater reliability of the trains and improved capacities to carry imports, exports and people to and from the Indian Ocean port city of Dar es Salaam, instead of having to rely on the very much more expensive road transport from the coast into the hinterland.

The same source also confirmed that the section of the railway line between Dar es Salaam and Isaka will be upgraded from its present narrow gauge to the internationally preferred standard gauge, while work on the section to Rwanda and beyond will in part at least be undertaken in parallel.

A final preparatory review meeting is due to be held in Dar es Salaam in October at which time the financial commitments already given by friendly countries and development partners will be assessed to ensure enough capital has been raised to go into the tender stage of the project and then, after selecting the main contractors, go ahead with the construction.

 

Ethiopia News

ET TO GIVE ASKY AIRLINES ADDED ‘OMPF’

The West African airline ASKY, in which Ethiopian Airlines presently holds a 25 percent stake and is involved in the management and maintenance but also systems controls, will receive a boost as more flights are to be introduced between Addis Ababa and Monrovia. It was also learned that ET will transfer their own operations in Monrovia to ASKY in order to strengthen the start up airline, give it wider reach and scope and more progressively expand into the Western African region, feeding and de-feeding from ET arrivals and departures.

This underscores the importance of the West African market to East Africa’s two leading airlines, Ethiopian and Kenya Airways, both of which pursue a very similar strategy to ‘collect’ traffic from across Africa and route it via their respective hubs in Nairobi and Addis to final destinations, often in the Middle East, the Far and South East but also to other African destinations which are comprehensively covered by the two regional African airline giants. However, a major difference continues to be the absence of US bound flights by Kenya Airways, while Ethiopian is for many years now already cleared to fly to Washington DC, a clear advantage in terms of connectivity for American visitors to Eastern Africa and the rest of the continent. Well done ET and great news for quality aviation in Africa.

 

ETHIOPIAN DUE TO TAKE DELIVERY OF THEIR FIRST B777-200LR

Ethiopian Airlines is expected to take delivery either late next month or in early November of the first of several B777-200LR, Boeing’s current state of the art long distance wide body aircraft. This enhanced version, first flown commercially in 2006, will allow ET to fly from their Addis Ababa base nonstop to literally any destination across the globe without having to stop for fuel, making it an ideal aircraft for the airline’s flights to the United States but also to the Far East. This ‘first’ delivery of several of these aircraft on order to ET will also be a ‘first’ for the African continent, since the other B777 models used for instance by Kenya Airways are the ‘older’ type. A second craft is according to the same source due for delivery then before the end of 2010 and more are scheduled for 2011 and beyond.

The aircraft will operate with a two class configuration of 287 seats in economy and 34 in business, besides which cargo capacity will also benefit from the improved inflight economics of a lighter aircraft structure and a reduced fuel burn.

In a related development it was also learned that the airline had planted over 7 million trees over the past two years as part of their environmental policies and a pledge is in place that for every passenger carried a tree would be planted by Ethiopian.

 

Seychelles News

DHEVATARA BEACH RESORT SET FOR OCTOBER OPENING

The island of Praslin will see another all suite ‘boutique’ resort open its doors to the public next month when the 10 suite ‘Dhevatara’ opens its doors to the public and visitors from abroad. The room size of at least 50 square metres will ensure that all creature comforts are packed into the luxurious rooms but the entire resort, public areas, pool et al have been designed to give maximum comfort and privacy to guests.

State of the art technology can be found in the bedrooms, such as Satellite TV using the latest flat screens, DVD player and I-Pod station, wireless internet access but also the ‘usual’ amenities such as a coffee maker, a small fridge stocked with the favourite brands of the guests while at the resort and an exquisite line of beauty products in the bathroom. An adjoining dressing room gives added space to spread out luggage without cluttering up the main bed / sitting room, a very thoughtful addition and surely much appreciated by female guests. Put on my personal list of ‘must visit’ locations when next coming to the archipelago. All the best to owners, management and staff for the grand opening and ‘full house’ as often as possible. Visit their website via www.dhevatara.com and find, besides more information on the Praslin resort, also details on the sister properties in the UAE and Thailand.

 

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS TAKES A GIANT STEP

The Global Environment Facility’s programmes dealing with the Indian Ocean Marine Highway Development and the Coastal and Marine Contamination Prevention Project have funded a series of major training sessions in the Seychelles, aimed to equip workshop participants with the latest techniques and skills to combat chemical and oil spills in the archipelago.

The Seychelles are world renowned for their commitment to keeping their environment intact, on which their two mainstream economic activities rest, tourism and fishing. Hence, the island government has in the past invested heavily in creating skills and technical capabilities to dealing with pollution, as and where detected, and the latest GEF funded exercise too is aimed to keeping the skills honed and the capabilities up to date in accordance with the latest global trends.

The workshops are going to strengthen, according to information availed, both the command and control structures in emergencies but also focus on the ‘front line’ responses. Participants are drawn from coast guard, police, environmental agencies and NGO’s, fire and rescue services and local administration, besides a few individuals from civil society volunteers.

The project will eventually expand to Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar, Reunion and Mauritius, involving all key Indian Ocean island and shoreline states, with the exception of war torn Somali, where conditions are not yet thought conducive to conduct such training.

Theoretical ‘class room’ training will be supplemented by practical’s to show the participants how best to use state of the art equipment and turn their newly found skills into real action. Considering the number of ships passing across the archipelago’s waters and the impact spills, deliberate or accidental, would have on the country’s environment, tourism and fishing, the costly efforts is highly commendable. Congrats to the Seychelles for taking the lead in this important area.

 

SEYCHELLES CRAFTS A HIT AT NAMIBIA TRADE SHOW

A group of three Seychellois craftswomen cum traders, has used the recent opportunity of a SADC meeting in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, to display and promote craft unique to the archipelago and reflecting the culture, art and history of the islands. In turn the participants also learned and absorbed lessons from what they saw brought to the exhibition by some 50 other participants from the African mainland while at the same time creating networking opportunities for giving greater global exposure to their unique wares.

The participation was supported by the Seychelles government and other institutions as part of the country’s present drive to make a greater impact on the continent of Africa, through presence in bilateral and multilateral fora, trade shows, exhibitions, meetings and conventions.

It is thought that in particular visitors to the Seychelles, the main target group at present for the sale of such crafts and curios, will benefit in the future from new and more ingenious new products reflecting culture and heritage of the islands.

 

Madagascar News

MAIN AIRPORT FAILS TO MEET ICAO STANDARDS

The International Civil Aviation Organization has sharply critizised the Madagascar authorities over their failure to heed a final deadline given to them to improve aviation security at the main international airport in Antananarivo, but also other airports across this large Indian Ocean island.

Inspite of extending the deadline previously, by July the final deadline for improvement had once more passed without any significant improvements or action by the present regime.

This comes as a surprise to aviation observers, as the island could technically be ‘banned’ through relevant information given to airlines still operating to Madagascar, a prospect the regime is clearly not too bothered about, considering that they are already under sanctions from the African Union and others over the coup d’état  which brought the former mayor of the capital into power – however not recognized by anyone by his own cronies. The struggle of the island has seriously impacted on tourism, a major foreign exchange earner and employer for Madagascans’ and the possibility of free and fair elections continues to be under serious doubt too inspite of many personal efforts by former Mozambique President Chissano.

It is not clear how the ICAO will react or how foreign airlines will in the future operate into the island with much of the state of the art security, surveillance and safety equipment not in place and if the airports of Madagascar may be blacklisted as a result, which would make trade and travel even more difficult than it already is. Watch this space.

 

Southern Sudan News

ALLEGATIONS INTENSIFY OVER ‘DIRTY TRICKS CAMPAIGN’

Last week saw a sudden increase in allegations mounting over the use of the Ugandan rebel group LRA by the regime in Khartoum to disrupt the preparations of the independence referendum scheduled for the 09th of January 2011.

While government circles in Nairobi continue to downplay the embarrassment caused by the presence of Khartoum’s regime leader Bashir for the promulgation of the new Kenyan constitution and the onset of the ‘second republic’, it was conveniently overlooked that Bashir’s hands are literally dripping with blood, after the latest Janjaweed and Khartoum backed militia raids in Darfur, which claimed dozens of innocent lives once more.

The LRA was long suspected by our government in Kampala that they received logistical support during their bloody campaign from Khartoum and arms caches captured from them pointed clearly into that direction in the past. Having been driven out of Uganda, then further chased from the Southern Sudan into the Congo and finally into the Central African Republic, recent events in the North Eastern Congo and the Southern Sudan however lend credence to the allegations that the numbers of the LRA were strengthened by not only abductees pressed into service, including allegedly a large number of children, but that their fighting capacity was also boosted by ‘attachments’ from Janjaweed and other regime supported militias. Word from reliable sources in Juba has it that across the border from the Yambio area of Southern Sudan the LRA has become more active and aggressive, and while the UN – deployed in Eastern Congo to prevent such renewed outbreak of hostilities – continues to downplay those reports, facts on the ground speak a different language.

Well placed senior sources in Juba claim that Khartoum, seeing the overwhelming mood amongst the Southern population, and having substantially failed to further delay or disrupt the upcoming referendum with their political dirty tricks campaigns, is now resorting to sponsored ‘proxy’ violence once again to prevent the Southern population from voting after sufficiently intimidating them first through violence and attacks. It was also pointed out that the referendum would be held, while alert levels for the SPLA would be maintained at a very high level and strategic deployments undertaken to prevent any direct military or related threat from trampling the aspirations of the Southern people for independence into the dust.

It is also understood that Uganda and the Southern Sudan may once more directly cooperate through joint intelligence and search and destroy missions, should the LRA indeed pose a substantive threat again, as the security of Uganda too would in such a case be threatened.

Meanwhile has the US administration also conceded that independence for the Southern Sudan is all but inevitable now and committed resources to prevent any outbreak of hostilities while encouraging a negotiated settlement over the many pending issues between the regime in Khartoum and the presently semi autonomous government in Juba, such as border demarcation, the referenda in Abyei and other parts claimed by the North, water rights, oil rights, mining rights, distribution of assets and debts in case of separation and much more. Watch this space.

 

Eastern Congo News

CONGO OH CONGO, WHEN WILL THE SUFFERING STOP

Alarming reports have once again emerged from the Eastern Congo, where in recent weeks mass rapes are alleged to have taken place, perpetrated by allegedly the erstwhile killer militias from the ‘old’ Rwanda, which ran off after being defeated in 1994 and have since then been a festering sore in the side of the Congo DR, Rwanda and Uganda.

In theory peacekeepers from the UN – the Congo is the UN’s largest deployment anywhere – were to have prevented such incursions and renewed activities by rebel groups and militias, but have time and again failed to do so, as have the periodic appearances of the Congolese army. The only time of relief for the long suffering populations in the area came when Rwanda attached her forces to fight jointly with the Congolese army for a while, but they were told to leave before completing their mission.

Both the UN and the Congo regime in Kinshasa have in the past come under sustained criticism over the level of inactivity, collaboration and engaging in illegal trade with precious stones, gold and other valuable minerals like coltan, but little appears to have changed since the last big row took place which put the UN’s operation and staff under the microscope and intense scrutiny. 

Verbal commitments from the UN and from Kinshasa are therefore to be taken with a grain of salt. Conservation and tourism into the Eastern Congo therefore remains a challenge, in particular as in theory the three countries are to cooperate (Congo, Rwanda and Uganda) in all matters concerning the endangered mountain gorillas, but with growing insecurity on the Congolese side of the border even adventure tourists are now opting to rather track for the animals in Uganda or Rwanda than risking a visit to the Congolese side. Meanwhile has the BBC once again uncovered the human tragedies as done in the past when they had undercover teams in the area to ascertain allegations against ‘peace keepers’ by locals affected by violence, murders and rapes, habitually used by the militias and rebels to impose themselves on an area they can then control and exploit for financial gains. Only last week did news break from Kinshasa that the so called ‘conflict mining’ was to be banned but information from Goma, given by usually reliable source, claims there is little evidence to the ban being enforced, as government troops too are alleged to share in the illicit loot, making a quick buck while stationed in the East of the country.

Calls have been getting louder once again to effectively name, shame and sanction the militia’s overseas contacts and backers through which funds and supplies are being routed, designate them as supporters of terrorists and afford them the same treatment as if they were in league with Al Qaida – and high time it is to see this happen. Congo oh Congo, when will the suffering of thy people end?

Breaking News – Tullow Oil’s 3.1 billion US Dollar capital outlay at risk

TULLOW OIL’S 3.1 BILLION US DOLLAR INVESTMENT IN BALANCE

As reported via a tweet shortly after it actually happened, the Ugandan government has withdrawn the licence of exploration block 3A, one of if not the richest oil basin found so far in the country. Only recently was I able to give a complete timeline overview of the events leading up to this – for Tullow Oil at least – catastrophic development. The company spent big bucks in Uganda, an estimated half a billion US Dollars for exploration and related activities, an estimated 1.1 billion US Dollars for the acquisition sometime ago of Hardman Oil’s Ugandan interests and only recently nearly 1.5 billion US Dollars when they paid for the interests of Heritage Oil, after invoking their pre-emptive rights at the last possible moment, after ENI of Italy had made Heritage an offer they simply could not refuse, while offering under the same deal a 14 billion US Dollar investment package in Uganda’s oil industry to government.

Heritage, now harshly critizised for their ‘cut and run’ however are by nature an exploration firm, and having done their job and discovered the biggest fields up to now in Uganda, they did rightly feel that their work was done and they should leave production to others more qualified to engage in this stage and move on. While the Hardman transaction did not attract taxes when Tullow bought their assets, Heritage was faced with a tax claim, and citing precedents to the contrary opted to refer the dispute to arbitration as provided for in the PSA (production sharing agreement). Once Heritage had formally objected to the tax claims, they went for the contractually provided arbitration, located in London / UK, deposited 30 percent of the tax claim as required under Ugandan law with the Uganda Revenue Authority and are keeping the balance of about 280 million US Dollars in an escrow account in the UK, to which Tullow had paid the ‘disputed’ amount following a probably misunderstood communication to them that this was or would be in order and acceptable to government.

Yet, this was clearly not so, as they – Tullow – found out the hard way when they incurred the wrath of the powers that be in Uganda who wanted the tax paid, in full, full stop. In order to make Tullow see ‘the light’ and technically entitled to do so, government has now started to withdraw their licenses and permits for Tullow, with the richest oil finds taken from them only yesterday, when Block 3A was recalled.

Government has now the option to re-advertise these blocks and hand them to the highest bidder, but could permit Tullow to be amongst the bidders putting proposals forward, and there is no indication how government is going to proceed at this stage. They might even return them to Tullow, but for sure only after the tax claims have been satisfied in full. Should the fields be re-advertised, with the knowledge of proven reserves, Uganda would in any case stand to gain a lot more as potential bidders now know what rich finds are underground, giving further rise to speculation what Uganda might in the end do.

For Tullow Oil now their entire investment in Uganda is at risk, as more deadlines for their remaining assets also loom, and it is not clear if they are willing, or financially capable to sweeten government’s mood by paying the tax claim a second time in order to retain their ‘fields’ and move towards production, but this option may rapidly run out of time too for them.

That notwithstanding though, Heritage is sitting comfy, having first sold their Uganda interests, then been paid in full and then – as one newspaper put it last week with ‘military precision’ – withdrawn all their expatriate staff from Uganda. The company’s office in the UK has only stated that they will fully submit to the arbitration ruling by the panel in London and would release the tax money now in escrow to the URA, should the decision go against them, but equally would expect URA to return the 30 percent deposit to them, should the decision be in Heritage’s favour. They also say that ‘the deal is done, we sold, we were paid and are now no longer party to anything to do with our former fields and operations, which now belong entirely to Tullow Oil, to which all  enquiries should be directed’.

Tullow’s management, and in particular their legal advisors and key figures in Uganda, will be facing harsh questions from shareholders how they could have permitted such a situation to develop and put over 3 billion US Dollars capital outlay at risk – a story which surely will make a text book reading in the future for economics students, of how NOT to do things.

Production in Uganda, initially envisaged to start in 2011, will now undoubtedly be pushed back for some more time until these issues are resolved and the oil fields can be prepared for production, while at present the Tullow oil story will surely see some more twists and turns before the saga comes to a conclusion.

 

A visit to the ‘Gem on the Nile’ – the new Chobe Safari Lodge in the upper part of Murchisons Falls National Park

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

Sadly less pictures … still no clue how to transfer my word document, INCLUDING pictures, to my blog …

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Travel Report to Chobe Safari Lodge / Murchisons Falls National Park

 

A VISIT TO THE CHOBE SAFARI LODGE – THE UPCOMING ‘GEM ON THE NILE’

For those who remember the ‘old’ Chobe lodge and who came for fishing in the ‘old days’ to this beautiful spot on the Nile, there is news … the lodge is now in its soft opening phase, and while still a couple of months away from the official opening – due to pending exterior works caused by past bad weather – is now available for bookings by visitors.

Coined by the owners as ‘the Gem on the Nile’ it surely will be a very unique ‘precious stone in the Marasa crown’ when ‘polished’ a little more while some of the anticipated ‘sparkles’ already show during the soft opening phase … and for sure the setting cannot be beaten … a gem in the making indeed and undoubtedly worth the by-line when finally opened officially.

 

 

(Sunset as seen from the lodge’s terrace)

 

Like the Amazon in South America is the Nile THE river in Africa, lifeline for tens of millions of people living along its banks, from Lake Victoria through lakes Kyoga, Albert and the Sudd to the eventual meeting with the Blue Nile branch coming from Ethiopia, combining in Khartoum and then running along the ancient temples and monuments of the Upper Kingdom, down the famous cataracts, along Abu Simbel, Luxor and through today’s modern Egypt, past the pyramids to the Mediterranean Sea.

The mystique of the river is legend of course and anyone standing on the banks of it, anywhere along its course, can only be in awe, considering it is the longest river on the planet. This is particularly so along the ‘young’ and often ‘stormy’ Victoria Nile as it makes its way across rapids and falls, with much ‘white water’ from Lake Victoria into and through the Murchisons Falls National Park.

The river Nile in Uganda was in the early days of independence as much a source of water and fish for nearby communities as it was a source for leisure activities, and in Murchisons Falls National Park three lodges were built back then to tap into the tourism market, making Uganda in the 1960’s the leading East African safari destination, well ahead of Kenya and Tanzania at the time.

The Paraa Safari Lodge (www.paraalodge.com), located near the ferry crossing point in the heart of the park, was already reconstructed in 1995 from the ruin wreaked upon it by the disintegrating army of the former dictatorships, while the Pakuba Lodge – overlooking the river delta and Lake Albert – still lies as a wreck, waiting for an investor to restore it. Meanwhile though the Chobe Safari Lodge is now on course for a fully fledged reopening towards the end of the year, adding much needed extra accommodation to the park which has become increasingly popular with locals and foreign tourists in recent years again.

The concession was acquired by the Madhvani hospitality brand ‘Marasa’ already way back in the 1990’s but the prevailing insecurity in the North of Uganda, which extended into part of the national park, made it all but impossible to start the rebuilding of the lodge at the time [while having a massive impact on the financial performance of the Paraa Safari Lodge further down the river]. Hence it was only in late 2007 that intentions first became known to me of a planned reconstruction, but until all permits had been secured it took a further year before the company was able to think of breaking ground. Now, nearly two years later, the fruit of this long, hard and expensive labour is about to pay off.

Built initially as a fishing lodge along a stretch of river renowned for its huge Nile Perch and combative Tiger fish, the ‘new’ Chobe Safari Lodge is aiming to reclaim its glory of old and in fact do even better – only days before my arrival last weekend an 84 kilograms heavy Nile Perch was landed by a guest – and also become a conference venue, corporate retreat, getaway for Kampaleans and ‘must see place’ for overseas birders and connoisseurs of forest plants, medicinal plants, orchids, trees and shrubs, a rich variety of which can be found along the walking tracks management is establishing in the immediate neighbourhood of the lodge.

The largest Nile Perch on record was reportedly caught in 2002 not far from the bottom of the falls, weighing in at a massive 108 kilograms.

 

 

(The river’s bank is never far from any part of the lodge)

 

62 rooms, tents and suites await the visitor and the choices are indeed impressive. The 8 standard tents, both twin and double, are already very well appointed and overlook the river from the bank high above, with tent number 8 admittedly providing the best ‘sound bites’ of the river’s currents and the water gushing over the rocks below. At the opposite end of the lodge a total of 13 tents are available on elevated platforms, all overlooking the river, with 7 very large deluxe tents at the ‘upper level’, while 6 absolutely supersized extra special deluxe tents are providing the ‘grand stand’ towards the river just metres away from the water. These particular tents are suites in their very own right and provide all creature comforts, including air-conditioning for those who cannot do without or an added ceiling fan for those who can. Pillows, mattresses and duvets are first class – I should be a good judge for this, being a frequent traveller and ‘sufferer’ of ‘cheap beds’ – and the bathrooms almost make one think that the location surely must be a top city hotel rather than a ‘tent’ in the wilderness of Murchisons Falls National Park.

 

 

(Stylish, Stylish … a fully fledged suite with ‘canvas walls’)

 

Such a ‘misconception’ however is swiftly corrected by the constant snorting and grunting of several hippo families ‘living’ in the river outside, or the buffalos which casually stroll through the grass, or the elephant coming from the forest to the river to still their thirst. From experience I can add to beware of strange looking ‘logs’ on the river banks with gaping wide mouths … yes, those would be Nile crocodiles, amongst the largest crocs on the planet and it is definitely advisable not to get too close or try to be friendly with them … sleepy as they may look they can accelerate quite quickly when they spot ‘food’ … and it is a national park after all, wilderness and wildlife of all sorts are ever present and in fact especially tricky when NOT easily seen. Walks must therefore be conducted with guides and guards, just to make sure the visitors get back to tell their tale and show the pictures and sport that newly bought T-shirt of the Chobe Safari Lodge. Yours truly of course as usual ‘buggered off’ on his own to explore but an eventual chance encounter with some buffalos on the airstrip did bring my common sense back real fast and prompted a hasty retreat towards the lodge’s bar to ‘celebrate’ my escape.

 

 

(Careful now … those buffalos are wild, REAL wild … time to retreat when you are that close)

 

In the main building 30 double and twin rooms are available on three levels, as are three ‘ordinary’ suites, a very special top floor honeymoon suite and a presidential villa set well apart from the main lodge which offers two bedrooms, sitting and dining and all other amenities expected by the type of top VIP’s staying in such exclusive surroundings.

On top of the newly added conference centre, set a little apart from the ‘main building’, a further 6 rooms are available, dedicated towards participants in corporate retreats so that such guests have only a short way to cover from their bedrooms to the meeting rooms. Not far away is the three tier swimming pool, where the second tier is connected through a water slide to the bottom pool, and a fully equipped Spa offers all the essential body treatments and yoga classes for the mind, a perfect combination for those really wanting to get away from it all AND enjoy some first rate body and soul ‘refurbishments’.

 

 

(The ‘poolscape’ is a major feature of the newly re-constructed Chobe Safari Lodge)

 

Impressive to me was the quality of the food served already at this early stage of soft opening, and my on the spot order of ‘eggs Benedictine’ was delivered without questions or fuss at my first breakfast, when I decided that the buffet was probably too extensive and I needed to restrict myself to something ‘simple’ … buffets are set up for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a variety of different main courses are available every day, including freshly cooked pasta tossed in one’s favourite gravy or condiments from a separate cooking station – ‘al dente’ of course and with fresh herbs. The vegetables in particular were absolutely fresh, as were the salads, and while much of the supplies come from Kampala, farmers from outside the park are already being encouraged to deliver their produce on a daily basis to the lodge, where the organic food grown by them makes all the difference when it reaches one’s palate. The bar is extensively stocked, needless to mention, and will undoubtedly be a magnet for visitors, considering the attractive setting indoors and the spectacular views outdoors across and along the river far below. Champers is chilled at all times in case guests wish to toast to a special occasion, or simply enjoy a treat while looking down at the gushing waters of the Nile.

 

 

(Bubbly anyone, or a brandy, whisky, G&T, B&B, anything … it is yours’ for the asking)

 

Going to sleep at night and waking up in the morning is quite a spectacle of its own and frankly best experienced and heard from any of the tents, although I am told that the sounds from outside can be heard in the main building rooms too although they are considerable higher up from the river … brace yourself for the snorting and grunting of hippos, their occasional fights over territory and the crescendo of humming and buzzing by a myriad of frogs, crickets and other insects which provides a sound level best described as ‘nature’s disco’ … add to this the mighty birdsong at dawn and nature’s symphony is well near complete, performed by all those little and big things, which are so sought after by the visitors coming to our part of the world, who are living in their cities and towns now almost bare of nature of this kind.

 

 

(A view of the thick forest across the river with a huge thunderstorm moving in from the distance)

 

The forested part of Murchisons, incidentally the largest national park in Uganda and grown larger still when the Budongo Forest, the Bugungu and the Karuma Wildlife Reserves were made part of the Murchisons Falls Conservation Area, is almost totally undiscovered yet, with few motorable tracks expanding from the lodge into the surrounding forest, other than the 14 KM link to the main Kampala to Gulu highway. No high clearance 4×4 vehicles are needed unless one wants to go exploring into the lower section of the park, below the Nile falls. UWA sadly is still due to deliver on their commitment to open up this section of the park with new tracks and game viewing circuits and clear the main ‘road’ between the Chobe and Paraa lodges, and it can only be hoped that this is achieved sooner rather than later so that visitors can even more fully enjoy their visit this relatively unexplored section of Murchisons Falls NP and see the many endemic birds at home deep inside the forest, plus of course spot the game otherwise well hidden behind thickets and trees and otherwise hard to find

In fact, it is often their scent which precedes an encounter with buffalo or the sounds of breaking foliage by feeding elephant which gives the first indication that wildlife is close by.

 

 

(A big lone elephant bull demands the right of way – and get’s it)

 

It is thought by wildlife experts and the few well informed people and researchers in ‘the know’ of how to read the ‘signs’, that the upper part of Murchisons is in fact now one of the richest areas in terms of game numbers as over 3 decades of hardly any human intrusion into the forest have allowed wildlife to thrive and multiply. Suggestions heard therefore that Murchisons’ has ‘less game’ than other parks in Uganda, or in the region, are therefore only fit for the realm of phantasy but not reflected by the reality on the ground. During our visit over a long weekend we saw plenty of hippos in and out of the water, elephant and buffalo, but also bucks and antelopes near the lodge. During our drive to the lower section of the park and the launch ride to the falls we managed to see several hundred buffalo in separate groups, plenty of elephant, alone and in at times sizeable groups, lots of the endangered Rothschild giraffes and on one spot at least 1.500 if not more Uganda kobs, besides which plenty of hartebeest, bushbucks, oribis, waterbuck and warthogs were also spotted regularly. Some of the Patas monkeys found in the park also crossed our path as did baboons, vervet monkeys, mongoose and squirrels and birdlife was equally rich, especially along the river banks while on the ‘African Queen’ as the double decker launch operated by Paraa Safari Lodge is named.

 

Reaching Chobe is easy, by any standards. The 280 km distance from the Ugandan capital Kampala can be covered by 3 ½ hours of gentle driving along a recently re-carpeted highway, with only the last 14 km on an excellent murram track off the main road just before reaching the main T-junction where the road to Pakwach and the West Nile region branches off, and for those in a real hurry to get to Chobe a flight by light aircraft is the fastest option. A mile long airstrip where planes can taxi right up to the parking area of the lodge makes this possible and flying time – depending on the aircraft used from either Kajjansi or Entebbe – is between only 45 to 60 minutes and allowing for the bird’s eye view from high above across the park, the river and the falls, should the pilot agree to a little sightseeing detour.

 

The lodge uses modern golf carts to transport clients to their tents, due to the greater distance from the main building and probably for the safety of visitors too, and while presently two are available already, a further 4 will join the ‘fleet’ in a couple of weeks to guarantee swift ‘delivery and pick up’ of guests from their river side tents.

 

Having seen the lodge in the days it was a ruined wreck, and then followed its progress of reclamation and re-building, I was suitably impressed by what I saw and sampled during my three day visit. The new lodge is holding great promise for Uganda’s tourism sector, when finally fully operational – and surely then the by- line ‘Gem on the Nile’ will be as justified as the sister lodge Paraa is already called the ‘Jewel of the Nile’.

 

For more information visit www.chobelodgeuganda.com or write to their booking office for current tariffs, room availability or bookings via mweyaparaa@africaonline.co.ug

 

Safari vehicles are available for hire at Chobe for visitors wishing to do a day trip to the lower part of the park and or partake in a launch ride, which is operated from the sister lodge Paraa. Both can be booked through the Chobe guest relations desk or the reception.

 

 

Tourism News from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region First Edition September 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

First edition September 2010

 

Uganda News

AIR UGANDA ADDS THIRD DAILY FLIGHT TO NAIROBI

It was learned last week that following the low key delivery of another CRJ200 aircraft Air Uganda, in local aviation circles also known as U7, has added a third daily flight between Entebbe to Nairobi, laying down the challenge to Kenya Airways, the still predominant carrier on the route with 4 daily flights – including the first out of Entebbe and the last out of Nairobi – but more so to Fly 540, which also operates the CRJ200 on the route but is as a point to point operator more of a threat to U7 than Kenya Airways, which has graduated into a network airline through their Nairobi hub.

The third flight, scheduled to leave Entebbe at 14.30 hrs daily for Nairobi and taking off from NBO for the return flight to EBB at 16.15, will give Air Uganda however a competitive edge over Fly540 which remains on two flights a day, but considering the package of goodies KQ offers their passengers via bonus miles, a far superior frequent flyer programme and the availability of a premium business class cabin on all their aircraft used on the route, the challenge for U7 still remains tall and large.

In a related development it was also learned that the airline’s Director of Finance, Mr. Michael Rugadya, who was with U7 since before their start-up, has left the airline after 3 years for greener pastures. Rugadya, a former senior banker at Nile Bank during their acquisition by Barclays Uganda, is likely to return to the banking sector which has in recent years expanded in leaps and bounds across the country and is offering rapid promotions and advancement for professional Ugandans of his calibre.

 

IATA PUBLISHED AFRICA AVIATION DATA

The International Air Transport Association last week released data on the growth of air traffic across Africa, where the continent is recording an impressive performance during the first half of 2010 with over 13 percent growth in passengers, indicating that the effects of the global economic and financial crisis are finally over for Africa, benefitting air transport in the process in general and leading airlines, with excellent networks and young fleets in particular. However, passengers also prefer nowadays such airlines with a reputation of safety and a firm commitment to constantly training their staff in order to keep service standards in the air and on the ground high. Ethiopian Airlines for instance was releasing information last week that they were to spend nearly 4 million Euros to upgrade their training academy and its available equipment, which according to a source in Addis will include the additional introduction of as many as 10 trainer aircraft for their pilot school and the installation of a new simulator in Addis.

This development follows in the footsteps of Kenya Airways, which over the past years aggressively built up their own training facilities at their Embakasi base – the ‘old’ airport across the runway at JKIA – which included the introduction of several flight ‘simulators’ and a new dedicated academy building nearby, where KQ now trains their own staff but also conducts courses for aspirants keen to join the aviation sector. Way to go for the leading East African airlines!

 

CULTURAL SITES HOLD TOURISM POTENTIAL

The West Nile region of Uganda, often overlooked by travellers and certainly not on the map for main stream tourism as yet, has been advised by staff of development and peace partners to identify and rehabilitate the known existing monuments and cultural sites in the area, before marketing them to the tourism industry and generating job opportunities for local residents as custodians, caretakers and guides.

A source in the Ministry of Tourism’s department for museums, monuments and antiquities was in the same connection also quoted as having said that West Nile alone had over 40 such identified sites already, including ‘Fort Dufile’ of the legendary Emin Pasha, erected by him when he was on his expedition to this part of Uganda as he travelled up the river Nile.

Cultural and heritage tourism is as yet not much exploited in Uganda but could become a mainstream activity for visitors keen to learn more about the kingdoms, chiefdoms and their ancient customs and ways of life, still often practised like decades and centuries ago in the remote rural areas of the country.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PRESSURE GROUPS TARGETS CHEMICAL USE

The national association of professional environmentalists in Kampala has last week released information that they will now also target the production and use of chemical substances with their work, after successfully leading the advocacy in the past against destruction of forests, water catchment areas and the encroachment of wetlands and swamps, all considered crucial to maintain environmental balances and ensure a sustainable future in the country.

The group, much maligned in the past over their opposition to the Bujagali hydro electric plant and their determined struggle to retain the integrity of the Mabira Forest, which an unscrupulous ‘investor’ wanted to turn into a sugar cane plantation, has maintained their work inspite of being often branded anti government, while in fact they were anti destruction, anti exploitation and anti over exploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources in order to protect the country’s forest cover, river banks, lake shores just as much as the cultural impact of unplanned developments on neighbouring communities.

Their latest target, chemicals and chemical industries, will undoubtedly bring about renewed opposition to their work but alas, who ever said that working for the environment is going to be easy. It is understood that they will keep special attention on the use of expired products and such products imported into the country but already banned overseas, to avoid ‘dumping’ of toxic substances which are harmful to people and livestock.

 

NOMINATIONS FOR PRESIDENT IN LATE OCTOBER

The independent electoral commission, which is overseeing the process towards the 2011 general election, has now announced October 25th and 26th as the two days when presidential candidates are to be formally nominated by their respective political organizations.

Incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, already endorsed by two key party organs, is expected to received the final backing later in September from the NRM’s national delegates conference, and there is little doubt that he will be the party’s candidate and then also win next year’s general elections with a sound majority in both the presidential vote but also in parliament.

Other candidates, already smelling their defeat, not entirely unexpected considering the bickering amongst opposition parties and their failure to agree on a single joint candidate, have voiced complaints that the president will be allowed his usual security convoy while they are restricted to 2 ‘official’ vehicles each, which however is the norm around the world where an incumbent, standing for re-election, is granted state security for all his movements, including roaming the country in search of votes. Hence, as can also be expected from yours truly – all the best Mzee and go win that thing.

 

FREAK STORMS CAUSE FLOODING IN CITY – AGAIN

The Kampala City Council, generally considered inept and facing constant allegations over corrupt practices and shoddy work in the local media, was once again under the spotlight last week, when on subsequent days freak storms unleashed not just the proverbial tons of rain but also hail over the city.

Clogged drainages swiftly started to overflow and within minutes of the skies opening up were sections of roads, roundabouts and even market places and office buildings beginning to flood. Traffic ground to a halt and pedestrians sought shelter wherever possible.

Many organisations have in the past blamed NEMA and the political opposition dominated KCC for their selective approach and largely absence over the constant encroachment of wetlands and swamps, which used to help to drain the city of excessive rains, but with those drainage areas towards Lake Victoria increasingly being filled in, built over or blocked off, nature now takes revenge on the city time and again when it pours from the heavens, as poor drainage maintenance too contributes to the problem.

The rains have also aggravated the already worsening problem of potholes across the city, some of which have developed into mini lakes threatening to swallow up small cars and otherwise causing damage to car suspensions and shock absorbers. Kampaleans cannot wait until the central government takes over the management of the city and shows the present breed of city fathers and bureaucrats the door, in order to bring better services to the long suffering residents. But who knows, maybe one of these days a rainstorm will drown city hall and sweep it clean …

 

CONGO POACHERS TARGET UGANDAN ELEPHANTS

Disturbing reports have reached that a group of Congolese poachers have in recent days crossed into Uganda along the common border’s Semliki river and have killed several elephants, cutting out their tusks before attempting to return with their bloody loot back to their forest hideouts in the Congolese jungle. It was then that at least one of the poachers was apprehended by a UPDF contingent patrolling the border, during which the culprit was caught red handed with fresh tusks and a firearm. The UPDF then handed him over to the Uganda Police where charges are presently prepared, ranging from poaching to illegal entry to illegal possession of a firearm, while more charges may follow once the culprit if produced in court later in the week. This is reportedly the first such incident at the Semliki Game Reserve and security along the border and inside the reserve will undoubtedly have been stepped up already in order to prevent further incursions, which – knowing the nature of such rogues camped in the Congo jungle – could well have ulterior motives too and only been ‘testing the waters’ and probing the strength of Uganda’s border security. Watch this space.

 

Kenya News

TOURISM E-CONFERENCE SEES ELECTRONIC PAYMENT LAUNCH

During the tourism e-commerce conference in Nairobi last week did East Africa’s biggest bank, the Kenya Commercial Bank, also launch their electronic payment platform, which will now allow hospitality companies to promote safeguarded online payments for their customers booking rooms and services on line via their websites or major booking engines.

The global aviation and hospitality industry is already the largest single user of e-commerce transactions and the introduction of such services in Kenya, expected to be expanded by KCB into their regional branch network, will undoubtedly support a greater penetration of ‘e’ into the way how business is from now on transacted.

In the past on line payments were possible only for the pioneers in East Africa using such services but via rather more expensive and difficult to regulate off shore payment platforms, not via a domestic transaction platform using a local / regional bank. It is this latest change which will undoubtedly help to promote the method to a larger audience in Eastern Africa, starting with Kenya, in order to capture the growing number of travellers making independent bookings on line and wanting to pay their deposits to secure the bookings there and then. The new e-payment platform will also comply with all local banking regulations, giving participating companies an added element of confidence as they could use local jurisdiction or arbitration in case of any emerging disputes instead of seeking redress far abroad at great expense. Well done indeed.

 

FIRST MAJOR 4G NETWORK BY SAFARICOM IN JANUARY

The ongoing ‘battle for the data waves’ is set to take a major leap in Kenya when by January 2011 Safaricom will roll out its fourth generation network, said to be going into the test phase within weeks from now. 4G will allow streaming videos and news broadcasts to play on a computer without much if any buffering required, a step further and faster compared to the present top of the range 3+G networks in use by some operators in the region. Safaricom has already indicated that speeds of up to 1.5 Gigabyte per second for large corporate customers will by the norm, once the new technology has been installed.

These technological upgrades are eventually thought to reach the entire region, now that a fibre optic back bone has been rolled out across Eastern Africa, already reaching the major cities and urban centres and eventually connecting even remote areas. Three fibre optic cables, linking East Africa to the rest of the world, are now in place, offering huge capacities and all seeking customers to pay for the massive investments made over the past years, but this will only be possible when, besides the burgeoning corporate market individual subscribers by the millions ‘connect’ via mobile devices or built in modems in their computers. The leading operators in the region, MTN, Orange, Vodacom are expected to roll out major new investments in coming months and years to bring East Africa into the ‘cyber age’ and bridge the gap between the developed and the developing world, while at the same time offering full connectivity to all the visitors coming for holidays or for business at affordable rates.

 

ATTEMPTS TO JUSTIFY BASHIR VISIT TO KENYA DISMISSED

Some feeble attempts last week by sections of the Kenyan political establishment and later on by President Kibaki to justify somehow their invitation to Khartoum’s regime leader were dismissed by many Western nations and international bodies like the UN, heaping criticism on Kenya for having brought Bashir for the promulgation of the new Kenyan Constitution to Nairobi. Information from the COMESA meeting in Swaziland, held last week, also has the following quote from the Kenyan president, raising yet more eyebrows: ‘It is my wish that the international community would appreciate the delicate situation of Sudan and act proactively. We should not isolate the people of Sudan. Let us encourage them to play their rightful role in the community of nations’.

This statement in particular drew the ire of many as no one was isolating the people of the Sudan, to the contrary in fact and especially not the people of the Southern Sudan who enjoy global support in their march to independence. However, the alleged war criminal and genocidaire Bashir, who brought countless suffering with his policies of oppression, enslavement and occupation first to the African South, until his regime as a result of a military stalemate was forced to sign a peace treaty, and then subsequently to African Darfur, where atrocities still persist against innocent people, is with his regime of course being isolated by all people and nations with a grain of conscience and compassion in their bodies.

Meanwhile has a team from the ICC arrived in Kenya too last week continuing their own case against alleged perpetrators and masterminds of the post election violence which swept Kenya in early 2008, aimed to bring a number of individuals to justice at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Watch this space.

 

AIR BERLIN FLIGHTS TO MOMBASA NO LONGER UNDER STRIKE THREAT

Following a resolution of the imminent strike threat made by the German pilots union ‘Vereinigung Cockpit’ are flights of the airline to the Kenyan resort city of Mombasa now ‘safe’ and will continue without interruption. Disagreements between union and company had led to a ballot which overwhelmingly endorsed a potential walkout by the pilots but as a compromise was reportedly reached last week in negotiations the union has lifted the strike threat and all flights will proceed as normal.

Air Berlin is also considering, besides the present all inclusive tour charters, to offer scheduled flights from Berlin to Mombasa, alongside with similar operations to Dubai and Miami, but no final decision on this move has been made, or at the very least not been published.

 

LATEST ‘TRAVEL NEWS’ HITS THE CYBER WAVES

And just released, as I am going to ‘print’ myself is also the latest edition, the second in the ‘new age of TN’ in fact, of Travel News, published by Tony Clegg Butt in Nairobi – find out everything they wrote about in their latest publication via www.travelnewskenya.realviewtechnologies.com

Now if that does not encourage your appetite to visit Kenya, and maybe the rest of Eastern Africa, then I really don’t know what else to do to entice you …

 

Tanzania News

CESSNA 206 COMES DOWN HARD

A reported engine failure during takeoff from Sumbawanga brought a Cessna 206 with two passengers and a pilot down hard beyond the airfield last week. Thankfully no injuries were reported from the scene, although the aircraft sustained damage to the undercarriage owing to the force of impact when returning to ground. The plane was reportedly enroute to Dar es Salaam and was operated by an Arusha based domestic charter airline ‘Flight Link’. Investigations into the cause are underway by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority to establish the reasons why the engine failed while in the meantime the pilot was applauded for saving the lives of his passengers.

 

TRANSLOCATED RHINOS DOING WELL

The recent translocation of rhinos from South Africa into the Serengeti has now reached the stage where the animals, fitted with electronic transmitters to establish their whereabouts at all times, are to be released into the ‘wild’ proper, from their ‘holding boma’ where they had to stay to undergo veterinary inspections and supervision and getting acclimatised to their new home.

Information was sent last week that three females and two males will be allowed to enter into a electric-fenced 40+ square kilometres area, where they can enjoy round the clock protection while allowing visitors to track them by car.

A second group of rhinos will be relocated from South Africa towards the end of the year, and as reported here previously the total number will eventually reach 32 of the Eastern Black species, all aimed to provide a core herd for breeding and restoring healthier numbers of the rhinos to the Serengeti ecosystem.

Involved in the exercise was ever faithful supporter Frankfurt Zoological Society which partnered with TANAPA and others to make this ambitious project a reality.

Questions however are also being raised by international rhino conservation and support groups about the present plans by government to build a highway across the Northern part of the national park instead of using a Southern route which would leave the park untouched and could not just reach a greater population but still connect the communities to both lake as well as central Tanzania. These disturbing issues are also impacting on the willingness of donors and development partners to presently commit more funding for conservation work in the Serengeti, and information is emerging, should this highway routing go ahead, that some major funding sources may sooner rather than later possibly dry, up should the controversial road routing not be shifted to the Southern route.

Meanwhile though will the five rhinos be able to enjoy their new home and roam the Serengeti plains – and hopefully heed the command to ‘go forth and multiply’ before the next batch of ‘immigrants’ will be delivered to the Serengeti later in the year.

 

LAKE CHALA TO GET ‘PROPER’ SAFARI CAMP

The present campsite at Lake Chala will soon be expanded to offer a fully fledged safari camp with self contained large tents, in addition to the present facilities already available for visitors to this yet to be more widely discovered part of Tanzania, located on the border with neighbouring Kenya.

As of now, only the chosen few ‘in the know’ are aware of the unique attraction the Lake Chala area holds for visitors, the green caldera lake and the surrounding wilderness area just waiting to be discovered.

Presently a campsite is available for visitors, including a bar, restaurant and wash room facilities, and for those without their own tents equipment can be hired from the owners.

The new development is expected to be ready by the end of the year and can be reached with both 4×4 but also saloon cars, although the latter are not recommended during the rainy season or for those wanting to drive into the nearby wilderness in search of wildlife, as otherwise a different type of adventure could happen, i.e. getting stuck in the bush.

Contact them by email via lakechala@gmail.com or find out more about Lake Chala through their public Facebook pages:

http://www.facebook.com/search/?post_form_id=4cfaf2ce68227deba6139eebdddd82fa&q=Lake%20Chala&init=quick&sid=0.781438769467359#!/profile.php?id=100001144777627&ref=search

 

SERENGETI ROAD ISSUE ENTERS POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS

A candidate for parliament standing at one of the Arusha constituencies was dragged into the controversy over the planned routing of the Serengeti highway, when opponents and conservationists accused her of being one of the ‘people behind’ the ill conceived project. Dr. Burian of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi or CCM party in turn threatened those making the allegations to bring evidence or else she might sue them, denying any involvement with the highway. Her main opponent from the Chadema party nevertheless continued to raise the issue in, claiming that the highway would kill wildlife and scare the animals away from their ‘home’.  Efforts continue to have government revise their stand on the routing of the road, and the core of the argument is that the Southern route offered as an alternative would serve more than 2 million more people, open up productive agricultural areas, was a little shorter and still reach the communities the Northern route would target, all the more reasons for moving the proposed highway from the Serengeti beyond the park. By doing so government would appease the international conservation and tourism communities, restore some confidence on their commitment to conservation and more than likely garner all the votes along the alternate route in the process, making it both a political as well as a conservation success.  CCM party sources have meanwhile denied that the issue of the road was divisive and had led to a lack of support for some of their candidates and a shift to opposition candidates in the affected areas.

However, politicians are notorious around the world for sticking to what they once said, irrespective of facts to the contrary presented to them at a later stage, as ‘eating’ their words seems to give them political indigestion. Yet, there is still hope that the growing pressure of world opinion may after the elections change government’s approach, and for the better it would be.

Again, it is pointed out that the opposition to the road routing now on the drawing board is NOT antidevelopment nor Anti Africa as has been suggested by diehard sycophants, but is simply suggesting that the road is moved to a more viable route around the Southern end of the Serengeti National Park, a fact conveniently overlooked or even denied by the minute minority of opinions voiced on ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway’s present planned routing’ Facebook site.

In a related development Dr. Burian was also accused by her opponents of misleading Arusha voters over her promise to establish a national tourism institute in the municipality, and considering that the national institute in Dar es Salaam, only a short while ago established with the help of the French government, already has an affiliated college in Arusha where the courses taught are progressively expanded, this is not a far- fetched allegation. Trust know whom …

 

Rwanda News

SECOND DUBAI WORLD PROPERTY TO BE READY BY YEAR’S END

The ‘Gorilla Nest’ safari lodge near Ruhengeri/Western Rwanda, and not far from the entrance point to the Volcano National Park, is seeing the last work phase of the refurbishment and rebuilding being undertaken now and is according to a source at the Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, going to be ready before the end of the year. Dubai World had taken over the lodge about two and a half years ago, when the company was still on course to roll out a multi hundred million US Dollars investment plan including a major new city luxury hotel, but when the global economic and financial crisis struck, these projects were scaled back to the point of only completing, at least for the time being, those properties already acquired or started, like the Nyungwe Forest Lodge. Other planned projects in Rwanda but also other planned projects on the African continent, including a major one on the Comoros Islands, were also scrapped as Dubai World fought for financial survival, now seemingly assured according to reports from the UAE.

However, the announcement by the company that the work on the ‘Gorilla Nest’ lodge is advancing is reassuring as quality accommodation in the Ruhengeri area still needs boosting to cater for the growing number of tourist visitors coming to not only see the gorillas but also take hikes and walks to spot birds, see orchids, butterflies and game beyond ‘just the gorillas’. Expect more information about this top of the range safari lodge as and when it is getting completed.

 

RWANDAIR ASKED TO RENEW CODESHARE WITH SOUTH AFRICAN

The national airline of Rwanda, now operating B737-500 aircraft with a dual configuration of C and Y cabins on the route to Johannesburg, has reportedly been requested by SAA to restore a code share arrangement under which the two airlines operated in the past.

It was learned from sources in Kigali that South African Express, a partner of SAA, has apparently applied for traffic rights between South Africa and Rwanda, a matter presently before the relevant aviation body in Kigali for consideration, but sources were swift in pointing out that a code shared operation was still possible even if both airlines were flying on the route.

It is RwandAir’s intent to eventually fly daily between the two cities but the question on everyone’s mind is if there is sufficient traffic for two airlines and for even more flights without impacting on the load factors and financial feasibility of such operations then.

 

Seychelles News

SUBIOS COMES OF AGE

The 21st edition of the ‘Sub Indian Ocean Seychelles’ festival is once again around the corner, and this latest contest – held annually since 1989 – has it truly come of age. SUBIOS is one of the most renowned underwater film and photography festivals around the world by now and brings together the crème de la crème of film makers, under water photographers, joined by a growing number of ‘amateurs’ trying their hand and competing with the professionals for honours and recognition. Focus this year, as always, is on promoting the phantastic underwater world around the archipelago and strengthening the understanding of the great need to preserve this pristine sea-biosphere for future generations.

This year’s festival will be held between October 1 – 3 and final registration of intending participants ought to reach the Seychelles Tourist Board by 17th September, i.e. not very long from now.

Price categories once again include ‘best video’ and ‘best picture’ besides the ‘local’ category of ‘best unedited video’ to be submitted by Seychellois participants.

Visit www.subios.com for more information, to download registration forms for the various categories of prized or write to marymonde.m@seychelles.com or juliette.a@seychelles.com for assistance.

Visitors to the Seychelles over this period of time can attend the various venues which will be published in the local media or are available from the STB offices in Mahe, on Praslin and their representative franchise offices across the other main islands.

 

Southern Sudan News

RAILWAY LINK FROM JUBA MAY GO DIRECTLY TO KENYA

Information is circulating in Kampala that following the recent re-signing of the Rift Valley Railways concession, which reportedly granted the dormant routes from Kampala to Kasese and more important to Gulu in Northern Uganda to the company too, that promoters of the Southern Sudan railway link may now opt for a direct rail link with Kenya via Lokichoggio.

The South of the Sudan will hold an independence referendum on the 09th of January next year, and if, as widely expected, the population votes of separation from the North, the new country would be in urgent need to create infrastructure links to their Southern neighbours, through which’ territory most if not all of their imports and exports would then be routed.

A direct rail link between the Southern Sudan and Kenya would also give Kenya a competitive edge over Uganda, as goods from the region’s main Indian Ocean port in Mombasa, and from the planned new harbour in Lamu, could then be transported directly to the South Sudan without having to go via Uganda.

There were in the past indications that the rail link would route from Juba via Nimule and Gulu to Tororo, the border station between Uganda and Kenya, but if the latest information proves to be correct, not only would RVR have a substantially greater, and much more expensive task ahead of them to revive the presently dormant Gulu line but then also to secure the consent of the Southern Sudanese government to expand their line to Juba. This is even more of a factor considering that RVR seems to favour the narrow gauge for this particular route, while the Southern Sudan is committed to build a ‘standard’ gauge railway line to the Kenyan coast allowing for substantially higher speeds and carrying capacity, all crucial in this day and age to attract cargo and passenger traffic away from the roads. Watch this space.

 

And in closing today once again some material, courtesy of the indefatigable Gill Staden, from her publication ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ … thanks Gill for all your hard work …

 

 

ELEPHANT ARE BACK

The eles are back.  The road to the Falls is now busy with crossing elephants, much to the delight of many people except some truck drivers.  The header shows a lot of people happily watching the elephants as they were feeding by the road near the Maramba River.  No-one was complaining.  And then along comes a big red truck, hurtling along at about 80 kph – it just went headlong for one elephant who was forced to rush off the road to avoid being hit. 

I understand that Livingstone is a commercial centre as well as a tourist centre, but surely something can be done about the reckless attitude of some of our truckers. 

Toll Gates

 

I buzzed down to Bulawayo during the week and it reminded me that I hadn’t shown you a photo of the Toll Gates.  ZIMRA is obviously making a lot of money as the toll gates are now becoming permanent structures.  The fact that, by normal standards, these toll gates are illegal does not seem to matter.  Toll gates should only be found on major highways when there is an alternative route.  Of course, this is not the case in Zim. 

Between Bulawayo and Livingstone I passed through 8 road blocks, 2 toll gates and about 6 speed traps.  I got caught in one speed trap doing 131 kph in a 120 kph limit.  The police pulled me over and started with their gruff attitude, being all pompous.  Of course, I am quite used to being caught in speed traps so I was not terribly impressed.  I waited while they filled out an Admission of Guilt form (I have quite a collection now) and watched as they swatted mopane flies from around their heads.  The police lady had tissue stuffed in her ears because she was so bothered by them – I really wanted to take a photograph but I don’t think they would have approved …

The other week, near Harare, as I was forced to travel in the dark, something I hate to do, and I could hardly see where I was going.  I think that at least 25% of the oncoming vehicles had faulty headlights.  The road markings too were so faint that keeping on the road was a mission. 

If the Zimbabwe police want to make the roads safer, they should get out on the road at night and do something about all those headlights.  Maybe, too, the Roads Department can get on with their job of painting the road markings.  But that is wishful thinking …

Historical Guide

I have some copies of the Historical Guide to Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town.  It was originally printed in 1996 and I have worked with Kristin Ese, the author, to update it and to include some stories from Victoria Falls Town.   If you would like a copy, let me know.  The prices are:

Wholesale (20+ copies) at US$7 (K35,000)

Retail at US$10 (K50,000)

Write to gill@livingstonian.com for a purchase

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