Archive for March, 2014

More green electricity for Kenya


(Posted 31st March 2014)

Kenya will progressively get another 280 MW to feed the electricity starved country, as the latest of the geo thermal plants at Olkaria, located at the foot of Mt. Longonot in the Great African Rift Valley, started coming on line over the weekend. An initial 70 MW will be followed by a further 70 MW in April, when all the connections to the national power grid have been completed before the full production capacity can then enter the national power distribution network. For long has Kenya depended on hydroelectric power plants but the constant cycle of drought and excess rains has made power production less reliable and when the water levels in the dams dropped during drought cycles, the country suffered rolling blackouts.

Geothermal energy production is one of the focal points to increase power generation output in Kenya and with additional sites already identified, more such plants will be commissioned over the coming years, giving Kenyans not just more electricity – power rationing has been notorious in the past – but will also reduce the cost of electricity as geothermal production is among the cheapest ways to generate.

The plant is located inside the Mt. Longonot National Park but as it has been there before the park itself was created enjoys a special status and does not collide in its present format with tourism activities. Longonot is renown as an adventure destination for both Kenyans as well as foreign tourists who come to climb the mountain, use the bike trails or else hike through the rugged terrain. The Kenya Wildlife Service has established an annual event there, the Mt. Longonot Wheelbarrow Race, from which charitable contributions are raised besides promoting the park as a key weekend getaway location for Nairobians.

Qatar Airways ups Melbourne capacity by 30 percent


(Posted 31st March 2014)

Qatar Airways has over the weekend announced plans to boost their capacity on the route from Doha to Melbourne, largely as a result of the rapidly growing demand for seats.

The airline will switch to their presently largest aircraft type, a B777-300ER, which offers up to 42 seats in their award winning business class and up to 293 seats in their equally award winning economy class. The change will come into effect tomorrow, 01st of April.

Flying from across Eastern Africa, namely Entebbe, Kigali, Nairobi, Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam to Doha, the added capacity will make it easier for travelers from our region to connect on to Australia, where besides Melbourne the airline also serves Perth on a daily basis.

In two days’ time, on April 02nd, will Qatar Airways then launch their latest destination in the United States, when Philadelphia comes on line before on July 01st Dallas / Fort Worth is added to the list.

While the airline is now looking forward to also receiving their first Airbus A380, which will feature a three class configuration of First, Business and Economy, Qatar Airways is also preparing to move into their new hub airport in a few months’ time, Hamad International Airport.

Uganda Civil Aviation Authority after 9 months lapse finally gets new board


(Posted 31st March 2014)

Following the expiry of the official term of office of the Board of Directors of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority in June last year has a vacuum existed on board level of Uganda’s aviation regulatory body, which had drawn critique from air operators and left key supervisory functions of the board as well as licensing meetings unattended and the management of UCAA working without the mandatory board guidance.

While in such cases normally the minister overseeing a sector assumes the role of the board, this situation was found rather unsatisfactory by the aviation industry which kept pushing to have a substantive board, and chairman, appointed.

This appointment happened according to information provided by a regular source close to the UCAA last Friday, when four new board members were appointed, including a new chairman, while four of the members of the previous board saw their mandate renewed for another term of office of three years.

Taking over from long serving and highly respected Engineer Baliddawa as chairman of the board is Engineer Edward Mike Ndawula and alongside him were Ms. Olive Birungi, John Satya Cheptoek and Mackenzie Ogweng appointed for a three year terms of office. Retained from the previous board were, among others, well known lawyer Enoch Rukidi.

The announcement was made by information minister Rose Namayanja following the approval of the appointments by the Ugandan cabinet during their meeting last Thursday. The Uganda CAA, which besides being the country’s aviation regulator, is also at the same time airport manager for the main international airport in Entebbe and a number of other civilian airports and aerodromes across the country, including such tourist airfields like Pakuba in Murchisons Falls National Park or the main airstrip in Kidepo Valley National Park. It is this division of the CAA which is under pressure to improve and expand facilities in particular at Entebbe International Airport where the ranking and rating has fallen sharply in comparison to other airports in the region, after being for long recognized as an airport of short ways and good functionality. Departure lounges are at peak traffic times overcrowded, check in facilities jam packed and the security arrangements in place, an issue which constantly attracts some stinging criticism, compels passengers to walk long distances from the car park, often exposed to the elements and having to schlepp their baggage for as long as half a kilometer from the most distant part of the parking lot. When it rains, which considering the near equator position and the vicinity of Lake Victoria, passengers often reach the terminal soaked to the skin, wrecking the positive image visitors could take home with them as security has blocked off vehicle access to the departure terminal apart from diplomatic registered cars and top government officials. None of the other airports in the region, all with similar threat levels, have put such prohibitive measures into place but for years have the pleas of airlines fallen on deaf ears, leading to Entebbe being now perceived as one of the least user friendly airports in Eastern Africa. All the best to the new CAA Board of Directors, who will no doubt have their work cut out for them.

Amb. Karitanyi takes over from Rica Rwigamba as new head of Tourism & Conservation at RDB


(Posted 31st March 2014)

After four years at the helm of the Rwanda Development Board’s Tourism and Conservation Department has Ms. Rica Rwigamba left the organization as Ambassador Karitanyi was appointed last Friday by the Rwandan cabinet to take over this critical position.

Ms. Yamina Karitanyi has previously served as Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the Republic of Kenya.

This latest change follows in the footsteps of similar changes in Uganda, where an orderly transition took place a few weeks ago when former UTB CEO Cuthbert Baguma retired, in Burundi where an entirely new team was installed earlier this month as reported here in both cases and in Tanzania where the CEO of TTB was unceremoniously sacked last week, also reported here as breaking news at the time.

While Ms. Karitanyi is new to tourism and conservation, she has a strong team to support her integration into the RDB Tourism and Conservation Department with her first major public benchmark event being this year’s 10th edition of Kwita Izina on the 21st of June. Welcome to Yamina and all the best for the challenges ahead.

Also, cognizant of the fact of excellent cooperation over the past four years by Ms. Rwigamba it is only appropriate to thank Rica at this stage and wish her well in her future endeavours.

Mwambani port plans would spell the end of the Coelacanth habitat


(Posted 30th March 2014)

He is just another wolf in sheepskin and our environment and conservation of natural, wildlife and marine resources is his prey’ blasted a regular conservation source from Arusha, understandably on condition of strictest anonymity, following news that Tanzania’s President Kikwete continued to promote the Mwambani port project instead of opting for the more viable expansion of the existing Tanga port. ‘Like with the Serengeti highway he got it completely wrong again. The global conservation community should not be fooled at all about his soothing words uttered at the London conference a few weeks ago. I can only say that we in Tanzania measure him by his actions and not his words and the actions are completely the other way from what he says. Mwambani is a marine park where the prehistoric Coelacanth fish is found. Mwambani bay is very shallow and totally unsuitable for a deep sea port unless the entire bay is dredged up and that will destroy the Coelacanth habitat.

Like with his pet project at Lake Natron where he wants a soda ash factory, he conveniently ignores that it will destroy the breeding grounds for the entire East African flamingo population. Does he care, no he does not. Many of Tanzania’s prime resources like the Selous’ Stiegler’s Gorge are under threat and make no mistake, all of that originates from State House in Dar es Salaam.

Since his big words in London not a single poaching ringleader was arrested and charged. He got the list and he is sitting on it. Mwambani is just another very sad example how our environment is raped. Local people have been literally thrown off their land and where can they go if at all they got peanuts for compensation. He talks of the railway to connect Mwambani to Musoma and to Uganda. He is daydreaming. The Ugandans are in bed with Rwanda and Kenya to build a new fast railway from Mombasa. Over 90 percent of Ugandan imports and exports transact through Mombasa. There is no port worth speaking of in Musoma and there is no port on the Ugandan side other than Port Bell or the pier in Jinja. And yet he wants to build a railway to run along the highway across the Serengeti because if he cannot allow the road to use the southern route why would he not also run the railway from Arusha via Lake Natron to Musoma. Soda ash can only be viably exported by train from the mining site to the port. Believe me, it is a very evil scheme and when you wrote two years ago about the corridor of destruction you apparently saw way ahead of what was happening here. Those opposed to such schemes, those who point out that Mwambani is worth more as a tourism site in the long run, are easily criminalized and our media are not allowed to report on our concerns. I am almost shedding tears for my country’s future because the environment is now a football and no longer has equal priority’ communicated the source further.

Tanzania has several key railway projects under consideration, which include the central line which is due for upgrade to standard gauge, and a joint extension from Isaka to Kigali. The latter though has, inspite of major advances in the past towards raising the finance, gone rather quiet since Tanzania’s president rocked the boat in relations with Rwanda, after telling the government in Kigali to negotiate with the killer militias of the FDLR for a political settlement, something entirely unthinkable of course.

Additionally did the imposition of higher fees on transit trucks from Rwanda ruffle feathers in Kigali and prompted a tit for tat while the expulsion, under inhuman circumstances of thousands of people from Western Tanzania to Rwanda damaged bilateral relations some more.

Hence are two key rail projects already in doubt, the link to Uganda across the lake and the link to Kigali. Yet there are other rail projects under consideration, including a major refurbishment of the TAZARA line to Zambia, which all need financing. Considering that Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and of late South Sudan also need to tap into the same pool of financiers for their ambitious rail projects, the Mombasa to Nairobi to Kampala to Kigali railway and the LAPSSET project which is to connect the new port of Lamu to South Sudan and to Ethiopia, those financiers will be very carefully examining where they can get a payback from vis a vis expected tonnages carried on those railways. Such financiers are now also open to pressure from global conservation groups which will no doubt mobilize the same way against a port in Mwambani as they did against the Serengeti highway and rather than having their global image painted as environmental pariahs they might just silently walk away as did TATA some years ago when it became apparent that the Lake Natron project would earn them more barbs and give them more headaches in the international arena than any potential profits would make it worth their while.

For now though has President Kikwete expressed his desire to see this controversial project to go ahead and only time will tell if the funds can be raised to make this a reality or if the absence of international support will have the plans stall and go back into the bottom drawers.

Added another conservation source from Dar es Salaam in closing: ‘The plans for Bagamoyo port are more advanced than those for Mwambani. Fact is that it would be easier to expand Tanga because it has deep sea berths. But when Bagamoyo goes underway, there may just no longer be the demand for another port towards the border with Kenya and perhaps our government should consider what can be financed and gainfully employed when complete. Too many ports and too many railways just make no sense at all’.

True that is and as future developments will no doubt be watched with hawk eyes by the conservation community, in Tanzania, in the region and across the world.

And the lights did go out as Earth Hour struck at Kampala’s leading hotels


(Posted 30th March 2014)

Feedback received from Kampala’s leading hotels, the Kampala Serena Hotel and the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, confirm that both establishments observed this year’s Earth Hour by switching off their main lights – safety and security lights did remain on in line with regulatory requirements – in public areas and their restaurants between 20.30 hrs and 21.30 hrs last evening. Patrons dined to candle light and bars and public areas were lit by candles and in part solar charged lanterns, showing solidarity with this WWF sponsored event which is now unfolding across the world.

From the Ugandan lodges it was only GeoLodges which was swift enough to confirm their compliance while others left the opportunity go to waste to make hay out of their participation and get a positive mention here.

Across the region have Serena Hotels signaled participation in all their hotels, resorts and lodges and from Kenya did Sarova Hotels and Sun Africa Hotels confirm that they too had their main lights out as ‘Earth Hour’ arrived in the East African time zone. From Nairobi did the InterContinental Nairobi and the Boma Hotel confirm that their lights went out too, all deserving a pat on the back on behalf of the environment. Well done to those who participated and shared the information promptly.

Terminal 4 will be ready by 04th of July – or so says Kenya’s Transport Secretary Michael Kamau


(Posted 30th March 2014)

Kenya’s Transport Secretary Michael Kamau came out swinging earlier this week, when at the launch of the Jambojet livery at the Kenya Airways / Jambojet base in Embakasi he announced that the new Terminal 4 will open its doors to the travelling public on 04th of July.

Earlier this month did issues emerge over the tender award for duty free shops in the new terminal when the Kenyan Public Procurement Oversight Authority compelled the Kenya Airport Authority to re-tender for new bids, citing a violation of procurement rules. That alone may set back the full functionality of the new terminal by weeks, as the bids need evaluation, under the hawk eyes of the PPOA, selecting a winning bidder and then, considering an expected investment of at least 5 million US Dollars time to mobilise resources, create duty free shops in the designated spaces in Terminal 4 and stock them, while at the same time recruit staff and train them.

Kamau sounded buoyant when he made his announcement but reality on the ground is that the opening of the new terminal has been postponed before over procurement issues of technical equipment and over other logistical issues, from first late last year to early this year and now to mid this year.

Construction was repeatedly cited as slow and only the fire which destroyed the arrivals section of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport then brought about enough pressure on KAA and the contractors to accelerate work to accomplish an early completion.

As reported here before however it then emerged that crucially important components could not be sourced ‘off the shelves’ as some tasked with the procurements may have thought, but needed to be tailor made for Terminal 4 at a time when airport equipment manufacturers were already working flat out to deal with the demand upsurge in their sector.

Linked to the opening and full functionality of the new terminal is then the next phase of major construction when the present departure Units 1 and 2 will undergo rebuilding, refurbishment and bringing the existing buildings in line with modern building standards including state of the art fire detection and fire fighting equipment, which absence led to the catastrophic fire in August last year.

Said a regular source in response: ‘The tents have gone but travelers arriving in Nairobi still go through makeshift facilities and those are stretched to the limit of safe and orderly operations. It will only be when T 4 opens that this feeling of ‘under construction’ will be lifted. Us airline operators look forward to say two years down the line when perhaps Units 1 and 2 are shining in new colours and there is finally the space we need and which our passengers expect. The lounges for our premium passengers are not up to standards, the waiting areas for passengers are frankly pathetic and you can see people sitting on the floor because of lack of seating facilities. On the airside it is lack of parking and when all is said and done we hope there will be enough air bridges to reduce the need to use buses from aircraft to arrivals and from departure to the plane’.

It is clear that there is some skepticism about Kamau’s announcement and the main users of the airport, the airlines, will be keenly watching progress on Terminal 4 and other ongoing work, like the planned but not yet started demolition of the burned out shell of the arrivals complex and the assembly of the planned ‘temporary terminal’ which should bring further relief when finally open.

In closing quipped another regular source, who was present at the event at which Kamau spoke, in a clear mood of doubt: ‘I know all of America will see celebration fireworks on the 04th of July but if we will see them over Terminal 4 is another issue altogether. We at the airport have learned to watch and wait and I suggest you do too’. There you have it, watch this space to stay updated on future progress of the completion of the new terminal and the eventual opening date later this year.

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