Archive for April, 2011

Rwanda tourism news update – New record first quarter for Rwanda tourism

RWANDA’S TOURISM INCOME SHARPLY UP COMPARED TO 2010

The first quarter results of tourism’s sectoral performance were released yesterday and the earnings confirmed by government sources are in the region of US Dollars 56 million, compared with a figure of only 43 million US Dollars last year, which ended as the best ever nevertheless.

Visitor arrivals too climbed by an astonishing 32 percent compared to the same period in 2010, underscoring the successful efforts by Rwanda to market the country abroad and portraying Rwanda as THE destination in Eastern Africa.

Sources contacted in the tourism industry attribute the success of the first three months of 2011 to a greater variety of tourism products and destinations, with one citing the Nyungwe National Park’s canopy walk, which since its commissioning last year has already entertained thousands of visitors. Further forests are being considered for conversion into national parks and lake based tourism activities too are now taking hold, offering yet more to see and to do when visiting Rwanda. New ‘birding routes’ too are set to be launched later this year, allowing visitors to see the wide variety of birdlife resident in ‘the land of a thousand hills’.

The generous Visa regime too has been cited as a key factor in attracting more and more visitors every year, with a number of important ‘source countries’ not needing Visa at all, which sets Rwanda apart from all her East African partners.

In a related development was the theme of this year’s ‘Kwita Izina’ gorilla naming festival revealed, which is ‘Community Development for Sustained Conservation’. 22 baby gorillas born since the festival last year will be formally named on 18th of June and hundreds of extra visitors will be coming to Rwanda to participate in this event, which will be accompanied by a series of guest lectures, workshops on conservation and community relations and sporting events designed towards the annual celebration.

Watch this space.

Aviation news update – AFRAA takes issue with EU ‘Blacklist’

AFRAA ATTACKS EU AIRLINE BLACK LISTING

The African Airline Association, based in Nairobi, has come out strongly against the ban on LAM Mozambique in the most recent blacklist edition published by the European aviation oversight body. Citing a ‘flawless record’ since 1989 AFRAA questioned which rationale was used to include LAM in the list of banned carriers. A source in Brussels though pointed to unanswered questions on maintenance which could affect the ongoing air worthiness of LAM aircraft, and the temporary measures taken earlier in the year when LAM opted to wet-lease a B767 from Air Seychelles. This arrangement however has since been discontinued by the new board and management at Air Seychelles, leaving LAM in a precarious position of having to fulfill EU maintenance requirements, a measure taken to avoid accidents rather than letting past record take precedence over fears for the future.

AFRAA however insists that the black list has become a tool for Europe to give unfair advantage to their own member state airlines, which readily absorb traffic previously uplifted by airlines subsequently banned. AFRAA had in the past taken issue with the large number of African airlines and countries being put on the EU black list but one source there had to quietly concede that continuous air worthiness of aircraft registered in certain parts of Africa and the supervision and enforcement of global regulation by certain African airlines remained an area of concern for the continental aviation body.

Watch this space for the most uptodate aviation news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

Kenya conservation news – Park communities denounce officials

PARK COMMUNITIES DENOUNCE OFFICIALS

Community leaders around the Masai Mara, one of Kenya’s best known game reserves, have minced no words recently when denouncing the Narok County Council and other officials for perpetuating poverty amongst the people living near the park boundaries.

While the Kenya Wildlife Service is in charge of most of the national parks and reserves around Kenya, the Masai Mara is managed by the county council, and probably hiding behind their greater obscurity – in comparison with the public image of KWS at least – that organ seems less concerned with development and percolating benefits from tourism down to ‘the people’ than would be the case with the national body.

Said one source in Nairobi, when discussing the issue: ‘there were always arguments pro and con to move the management of the Masai Mara to KWS but domestic politics and the powers of the Narok politicians always prevented such a streamlined solution. The people living around the reserve simply don’t see anything much coming back from the council to them, in form of schools, bore holes, clinics, roads and other services. They see the tourists go in and out of the Mara in bigger numbers every year and they get frustrated. A few lodges and hotels have established ties with neighbouring communities and support them directly, raise funds even from amongst their clients. They paint class rooms, add more buildings to schools, organize health clinics, donate essential items during drought periods, assist with water and so forth but most of those reaping big with their camps inside the park don’t do that.’

True enough this matches the experience of this correspondent, last to the reserve a year ago, when interviewing at the time a number of stakeholders. Notable exception was Porini Camps / Game Watcher Safaris, which invested in long term lease of former grazing grounds now converted to wildlife conservancies, and their success in sharing the proceeds equitably with their ‘land lords’, i.e. the Masai clans who own the land adjoining the reserve, has only recently seen yet more land being converted and brought into conservancy management, closing a crucial gap between two existing conservancies.

Porini, as do other responsible conservancy management companies, employ almost all their staff from the clans in conjunction with the clan elders, train them in house and in special training institutions and pay not just ground rent but a substantial royalty for each paid bednight tourists spend in their camps. Additionally tourists also contribute to special projects directly benefitting Masai villages and homesteads, in the process creating the goodwill and support those operating inside the reserve have failed to generate.

The income from tourism into the Mara is estimated at over 3.5 billion Kenya Shillings, of which according to available data just under 20 percent go back to the communities, but this is disputed on the grounds of in-equitable distribution, favouritism and generally thought to be too little, while according to a Nairobi based source ‘council bosses get fat and rich while their people suffer’.

How far this round of protests will go is not yet clear but sustained opposition against the council over the distribution of tourism wealth could potentially flare up and affect operations, something all tourism stakeholders are aware and afraid of. Said another source from Kenya: ‘the council in Narok needs reforming, they have for the past decades blamed everything on everybody except accepting responsibility for the things they do and failed to do, mainly to serve those who elected them’.

True enough, concludes this correspondent.  

Uganda news update – My heart cries for my country

MY HEART CRIES FOR THE PEARL OF AFRICA

Rent-a-mobs, assembled and allegedly paid for overnight, descended into the streets of Kampala on Friday morning, and in fact some other towns upcountry too, to do the bidding of their political master, cause chaos, loot and steal and make Uganda look bad in the international media.

Alongside they spread false rumours that government had ‘killed’ three times election loser Besigye, further inciting the riotous mobs. Security organs responded robustly, more so when it became known that at least two policemen were shot and wounded and within hours the mobs were dispersed and order restored to the city.

Besigye, President Museveni’s personal physician during the 1981 – 1986 liberation war, and the one who arguably saved the life of Museveni’s brother Akandwanaho Caleb, aka Salim Saleh when treating him for a series of bullet wounds, was for long an ally and close comrade of Museveni, Saleh and other NRA/M ‘historicals’. After the war was won, and the various attempts by former regime troops to return defeated, Besigye continued to serve on active duty in the army, ranked a Colonel and held key positions as Chief Political Commissar, then as Chief of Engineering and Logistics and finally as Military Advisor, before seeking his discharge from active duty and was eventually permitted to leave the army, officially allowing him to enter elective politics.

Uganda in the meantime had written and enacted  a new constitution in the mid 90’s and embarked on a democratic course, which saw regular elections being held for local and central government organs.

Few, even in the inner circle understood fully, what REALLY prompted Besigye to turn against Museveni and stand against him in the 2001 election, although there were sources who ought to know who claimed it was a number of reasons, both prompted on a very personal level as well as by frustrations of remaining at Colonel rank while Besigye’s erstwhile colleagues had meanwhile been promoted to senior general ranks. Whatever the case, Museveni soundly defeated his opponents in 2001, again in 2006 albeit by a reduced margin and there was to be no third time lucky for Besigye, who again lost in the recent 2011 elections, and in fact by a wider margin than 5 years ago.

Frustration and anger must have gripped him and his camp, when the first opinion polls belied their public posturing of imminent victory, and even those opinion polls commissioned by the opposition, and then those arguably commissioned by ‘diplomatic and aid community friends’ all alarmingly showed Museveni holding a commanding lead with margins in the high 60 percent. The elections only confirmed this and the lackluster and angry campaign by Besigye, with little to offer but the objective to unseat Museveni, did not help their cause. Failing to unite the opposition, with many other candidates not trusting his true intentions and motives to run for the highest office in the land, was another reason why the opposition was once again trounced and the NRM swept into a two third majority in parliament and across much of the country in local elections.

With events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt however, the opposition, still reeling from the sound defeat at the polls, saw an opportunity arising and belligerent as ever Besigye is thought to have been at the forefront to plan a similar strategy, to still claim the presidency through unconstitutional and criminal crowd violence and riots a la Tunis and Cairo. In fact, in an act of self aggrandizement Besigye was reportedly planning to swear himself in on 12th of May, the day the official swearing in of President Museveni had been set.

Aided by the global rise in crude oil prices, which doubled inflation in Uganda from the low 6 into the low 11 percent range from February to March, and the resulting hardship for many Ugandans, Besigye and Co devised a plan to pervert the need of many to walk to work into an altogether more sinister political issue. Ugandans in their tens of thousands are walking daily to work, unhindered and unimpeded by police, because they have to in the absence of enough money available to pay for bus fares. Yet, they honestly walk to work every day, use their resources sparingly to feed their families and still found themselves mocked upon by the ‘Walk to Work’ politicians, who care not the least to improve the lives of those they pretend to care for but blatantly subverted the daily challenge life poses to the majority of fellow Ugandans towards their own reject politics. Besigye and a few, though notably not all recent candidates for the presidency, made a mockery of those who MUST walk by scripting and staging walks from their residences, with their media friends already in tow, in the process being joined by ‘rent-a-crowds’ which promptly blocked roads, became threatening as if rehearsed and of course soon brought the security forces on to the scene. Besigye was repeatedly arrested over the past two weeks for creating public disturbances, blocking roads and other public order offences, but was given bail to be released from remand and with alarming regularity broke bail conditions, a fact conveniently overlooked by the magistrates he appeared before who again set him loose only to continue breaking the law.

His latest arrest, under the spotlight of the media, was playing into the hands of the opposition as it was a bungled mess, where instead of towing his car which blocked a key intersection into the city, security operatives broke a window with the barrel of a handgun and then laced the inside with pepper spray and teargas, prompting calls for their own arrest and prosecution for using excessive force, however much Besigye might have invited that scenario and hoped for it to happen.

That night, under cover of darkness, Besigye’s lieutenants are now alleged to have used contacts into the criminal underground of Kampala, to get mobs organized and paid for, to disrupt morning rush hour traffic into the city at select locations, and then spread propaganda that Besigye was killed overnight by government. The combination of both triggered some sharp but in the end short interventions by security forces, using teargas, batons and rubber bullets, before at least two policemen were reportedly shot, triggering life fire in response. Unconfirmed reports speak of several dead, and this loss of life is deeply regretted and was also totally avoidable, but accepted as ‘collateral damage’ by those behind the riot plans.

Realizing that this latest plot to ‘burn the city’ had also failed, and that his designs and strategies had been revealed to security organs by informers, Besigye decided to call it a day and opted to fly to Nairobi for medical treatment, reportedly for conditions developed when being tear gassed and pepper sprayed during his last arrest. It is not known if this departure from Uganda to initially Kenya for treatment – which the Kampala International Hospital could have provided just as well – is the prelude of another self imposed exile, as witnessed before when Besigye had gone to South Africa a couple of years ago, but the robust response of police and other security services has surely dampened any taste by hooligans, professional looters and common thieves to return to the streets of Kampala, having been deceived and deserted by their political master.

The fall out though for the country has been negative, and inspite of the Royal Wedding in the UK taking up all the TV time and media attention, Uganda’s picture abroad has been soiled. Overzealous police and security operatives have shamed our country’s name abroad, and the propaganda pictures of foreign media specialists, avoiding the stone throwing crowds and the injured police and security personnel in their coverage but focusing on flames, tear gas clouds and sadly injured innocent bystanders, has done our reputation no good at all.

Those responsible for the use of excessive and at times grotesque force will face trial themselves, as it should be, but equally, those responsible for the breach of the peace, the looting and thefts too will face the music. It is their inciting political godfathers and equally political failures though who bear the greatest responsibility for the scenes in past days. Notably this comes at a time, when Somalia based Al Qaida associate Al Shabab has renewed threats against Uganda and when all eyes of our security services ought to be focused on preventing a repeat of the event of the World Cup final night last July, but here again, this seems of no importance to those who publicly profess to have the welfare of Ugandans in mind but privately only make use of them a ‘tools and fools’.

Word from the tourism fraternity has it that travelers missed their flights trying to leave for Entebbe on Friday morning while others arriving from the airport were considerably delayed in reaching their hotels, rendering the already limited marketing of Uganda abroad almost null and void. Trips planned to the main city markets for shopping and to mix with our friendly Ugandans in the streets had to be abruptly abandoned, leaving tourists stuck in their hotels and wondering what on earth was going on in the city. Already in the low season now, the sector has to brace itself for a possible market reaction to these pictures and reports making their way around the globe, wrongly portraying Uganda as a country in trouble, which in all fairness it is not.

Two passing thoughts in closing, aimed at the powers that be:

Let the next cabinet be an energetic and committed one, pruning old deadwood out so that the people who voted for President Museveni can actually see a change for the better and detect some credible seriousness in the fight against corruption – it can be done and it should be done, said by a faithful supporter.

Secondly, shift priority to tourism promotion and finally allocate the money needed, to allow the Uganda Tourist Board and the tourism private sector to go out and tell the world what Uganda is really all about – across the border this worked very well in Kenya after their post election violence in early 2008 and can surely be replicated here too. Tourism promotion is also generating good will for the country in many other areas of trade, investment and finance and it is time our president’s advisors put that fact of life to him, so that the forthcoming new term can deliver progress, stability and most important ‘Prosperity for all’. Tourism, as I often said before, can be the engine of economic growth for Uganda and even when oil production starts provide a lot more jobs and investment opportunities for many years to come, probably well beyond the country’s oil production days.

For God and My Country – for which my heart cries out in pain after the events of recent days.

Kenya conservation breaking news – Another Chinese nabbed with 100 KG of blood ivory

ANOTHER CHINESE NATIONAL NABBED WITH 100 KG OF BLOOD IVORY

Airline security in conjunction with customs and police deployed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi have last night arrested yet another Chinese national, transiting in Nairobi with blood ivory in his baggage. This latest find is again attributed to the increasingly alert officers at the airport who now routinely screen even bags loaded from one flight to the next, often using sniffer dogs to discover the loot.

It appears that he was coming into Nairobi on a connecting flight from the Congo DR, where he must have bought the ivory, hoping he would get it home undetected and make a fortune with the contraband.

He was produced in court today, Friday, where charges of illegal possession of ivory were read to him before he was remanded in jail awaiting a full hearing of his case. Other charges may be added but several suspects have previously pleaded guilty, forfeited their loot and given lenient sentences before being deported.

Eastern African airport and sea ports have over the past few months recorded increased attempts to smuggle rhino horn, game trophies and in particular ivory out of the region to the Far East, where the revived economy is thought to be largely responsible in fueling demand for ivory and rhino horn and has driven poaching to a never before seen scale across Southern, Eastern and Western Africa.

The officials in Nairobi must be congratulated for their latest seizure and arrest and hopefully this will be a warning for all future wannabe smugglers, not to use Nairobi as a transit point.

Sudan news update – Bashir threatens renewed war

KHARTOUM’S REGIME THREATENS RENEWED WAR

Stung by an internal revolt last week leading to the sacking of his national security advisor, Khartoum’s regime leader Bashir, true to his colours finally shown in public again, threatened to go back to war to keep the disputed oil state of Abyei under Northern domination. This was learned overnight from a source in Juba responding to an enquiry by this correspondent. Offering more insight into the workings of the regime in Khartoum the same source then added that that Bashir’s own position in the regime was weakening following the nearly 100 percent vote for independence in the South and that he was being blamed by hardliners for the ‘defeat’. It was suggested that both Darfur, where open conflict still rages on, and the remaining Southern states of Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan will be the most likely areas in the coming months where the regime will try to make a stand. While cautious of a direct military intervention, considering for instance the international involvement in Libya at present, they might once again use proxy militias, like the Janjaweed in Darfur, to wage terror on the population and keep hold of the oil reserves found in Abyei.

Meanwhile is the leadership in the South pursuing diplomatic options in enlisting the support of regional countries in Eastern Africa but also of the international community with one senior source openly saying: ‘we are seeing how the situation in Libya has brought NATO into play. Their no fly zone has helped the liberation movement to face a more level situation on the battlefield. Should Khartoum really try to go back to war, we expect something similar to happen here. We trust the international community to do the right thing this time, not like in Darfur where it took too long or here in the South were we had to fight our own battles and Khartoum bombed our villages. If Khartoum does not respect the rights of the people of Abyei in the referendum, if they deny freedom from slavery for our brothers and sisters from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, they are miscalculating very badly.’

In recent weeks a wave of Khartoum sponsored attacks by their proxy militias were taking place in some parts of South Sudan, ably defeated though by the SPLA and her allies, ahead of Independence Day which will take place on the 09th of July with the main celebrations to be held in Juba.

Watch this space for more updates on the march to independence by Africa’s youngest emerging country.

Tanzania conservation news – MP blames ‘foreigners only’ for anti highway opposition

IT IS ONLY THE FOREIGNERS WHO ARE AGAINST THE HIGHWAY – OH REALLY

The member of parliament for Ngorongoro, one Ole Telele, raised a storm of heated arguments yesterday in Dar es Salaam during a WWF – World Wide Fund for Nature – sponsored dialogue over the pro’s and con’s of the proposed highway across the Serengeti. Clearly stung by growing criticism about the road, the MP ‘let fly’ in a series of utterances heaping blame on what he called ‘foreigners’ being opposed to the highway project. This however did not go down well with representatives of the Tanzanian tourism industry, several of whom took the member of parliament to task with facts and figures, promptly belying his argument that no locals were against the road project and the entire campaign was foreign sponsored.

Serious concern about the impact of the road on the migration of the great herds and the breeding grounds of recently re-introduced Eastern Black rhinos was raised by top tourism stakeholder representatives from TATO – the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators and also the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania, the sectoral apex body for the entire industry. They all repeated what has often been said before, that the road was likely to damage the long term future of the safari sector and called upon government to agree to an alternative route around the southern end of the Serengeti to avoid cutting off the main migration route and risking the great herds of wildebeest and zebras to dwindle into insignificance.

When closing the one day workshop the organizers acknowledged that emotions were running high over the plans and called for more dialogue between government, conservationists and the tourism private sector in order to reach a consensus and solution.

Watch this space.

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