Archive for April, 2014

Emirates finally adds European capital Brussels come 05th September


(Posted 30th April 2014)

One of the very last major gaps in Emirates’ European destination network, the European and Belgian capital city of Brussels, will come September this year be finally connected with Dubai, and through Dubai with the rest of the world.

Information was confirmed overnight that Dubai’s national airline will commence flights on the 05th of September, using a Boeing B777 in three class configuration for their daily flights. This makes Emirates the first Gulf based carrier to actually offer a First Class option on their flights and no doubt will premium passengers jump on this opportunity to reach Brussels in their accustomed fashion.

Flying times will be convenient for passengers connecting in Dubai as the daily service leaves DXB at 07.50 hrs and reaches Brussels at 13.15 hrs while the return flights from BRU will head out at 14.45 hrs and land back in Dubai by 23.25 hrs.

Meanwhile will Emirates, the award winning airline of Dubai, scale back operations come tomorrow as work commences to resurface the two runways over the next 80 days. As already reported here periodically will the airline reduce capacity by taking 22 aircraft out of service which will affect several services to Africa and 41 destinations overall. Among key services to be reduced is Nairobi where the two flights on Airbus A340 equipment have been combined to one using the larger B777 for the route as are flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town affected. Work on the airport is due to be completed on 20th of July at which stage the full range of connections and departures will be restored. Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from the East African region.

Major power outage hits Kenya


(Posted 30th April 2014)

Most parts of Kenya with the exception of areas in the West of the country were by early evening still out of power after a major breakdown triggered a near nationwide outage yesterday early afternoon.

This however is not the first such large scale breakdown and local outages are said to be legion in Kenya now with the acronym KPLC for Kenya Power and Lighting Company habitually translated into Kenya Paraffin, Lamps and Candles, showing the deep disaffection of Kenyans with their main electricity utility company.

High tariffs in addition to such breakdowns have incensed the public and demonstrations are now taking the anger to the streets while the social media timelines are overflowing with acid comments about the low performance levels of Kenya Power. While hotels in the affected areas, as well as leading restaurants, were able to switch to back up power through inverters or generators, most Kenyan households were starting the evening in the dark or with candle light. ‘It is true we are running our generators right now. When we do that for longer periods of time it is very expensive because there is no concession on the fuel taxes for diesel consumed in such machines’ communicated a regular source. Other businesses had to shut down for lack of electricity and should the outage continue into the night will security concerns come to the forefront: ‘Thieves might use the situation to break into houses and other commercial premises and I can only hope our police is gearing up to put boots on the ground to patrol critical neighbourhoods and not let us get insult on top of injury’.

Electricity infrastructure across much of Eastern Africa is often suffering breakdowns as a result of aged networks, storm damages and slow repairs and maintenance gone AWOL costing the private sector a fortune in productivity losses. All member states of the East African Community have in principle agreed that the sector needs major investments but may be less agreeable when it comes to providing preferential funding which would be needed to encourage fresh investments and perhaps trigger a de-monopolization of the sector by allowing new concessioners take over section of the networks and return then into a state of the art power distribution system. Meanwhile though do incidents like yesterday continue to dent the reputation and image of the countries in the region and may result in investors seeking out other parts of the world where utilities work on a more reliable basis. Watch this space for regular and breaking news stories from across Eastern Africa.

Speculation grows on who will lead the Vanilla Islands into the next year


(Posted 20th April 2014)

Behind the scene discussions are ongoing to resolve the stalemate over the Indian Ocean Vanilla Island Organization presidency, which succession was to be announced at the recent ministerial meeting of the organization ahead of the Seychelles Carnival International de Victoria.

While Mauritius was once again glaringly absent from the event, did they add insult to injury by sending a low ranking official to represent their Minister and CEO of the MTPA, avoiding a presence at that level at the Carnvial but nevertheless throwing their hat in the ring to be considered for the next president’s term of one year.

Comments by Mauritius media people in Victoria were as candid as they were dripping with acid, describing their reluctant duo as fence sitters, spoilers and worse, and laughing off hastily offered explanations that ‘irregularities’ prevented their attendance.

One journalist in fact suggested that the duo needed to learn respect for others and swallow their disdain and dismissiveness towards the Vanilla Island Organization. It was also discussed that in particular the Mauritius tourism minister has yet to explain if he deliberately misled parliament a few weeks ago, when according to Hansard records he commented in what best can be described as a borderline fashion, conveniently ignoring facts he should have had at his fingertips or else suffering of selective memory losses.

Front runner at present appears to be Reunion Island’s candidate who is a staunch supporter of the Vanilla Island concept but after Madagascar too nominated their tourism minister, it is anyone’s guess who will take the helm of the organization. One thing though is certain that the next president must have the same zeal and commitment and enthusiasm as Alain St. Ange displayed over the past two years and no spoiler from within should be permitted to assume the leadership at this critical junction.

May 15th to 17th will also see the next edition of another Vanilla Island Event unfold in the Madagascar capital of Antananarivo where the International Tourism Trade Fair will take place to showcase the island’s main tourism attractions but also bring the region together as one again. A symposium will run alongside the event offering hands on case studies, seminar input and knowledge from a range of high ranking speakers.

Watch this space for the upcoming announcement of the change of guard at the Vanilla Island Organization.

Kenya, Zambia and South Africa trump Angola and Ghana in Fastjet attention order


(Posted 29th April 2014)

Confirmation was just received about some significant changes made by Fastjet in regard of the legacy Fly540 operations in Angola and Ghana. From details at hand it seems that operations in Angola will be suspended for the time being, pending a re-evaluation of the market and preparations for the launch of the Fastjet low cost model as opposed to the traditional model of operation Fly540 had in place in Angola. The two aircraft owned by the group, ATR turboprops have therefore been taken out of service and will be sold.

In Ghana operations continue for now with a leased aircraft until that market too has been freshly evaluated by Fastjet, allowing the airline to concentrate on widening the network for their Tanzanian operation and getting operating permits in Kenya, Zambia and South Africa, the latter of which has been long in the making.

Fastjet’s Ed Winter in a media release had this to say: ‘Management has been carefully considering how best to restructure the Fly540 business which we inherited and this is a highly significant and very positive development in that process.We are currently focused on expanding the low cost Fastjet network in East and Southern Africa by establishing bases in Zambia, Kenya and South Africa and these plans are progressing well. However, our overall vision is to create a pan-African low-cost network and, as such, launching the low cost fastjet model in both Angola and Ghana remains firmly part of the Company’s long-term plans’.

Meanwhile has Fastjet also made an announcement on Friday last week in London, where the company is quoted on the London Stock Exchange, about their new cooperation with Expedia, which reads as follows:

Start quote:

Fastjet and Expedia sign strategic partnership agreement

First global online travel agency relationship for Fastjet

Fastjet Plc, Africa’s low-cost airline, is pleased to announce a global partnership agreement with the Expedia group, the world’s largest online travel company. Fastjet flights will now be available to the millions of leisure and business travellers that shop for and book travel via the Expedia group’s extensive brand portfolio which includes leading brands such as, Expedia, the world’s largest full service online travel agency, Hotwire, a leading discount travel site, and Egencia, the world’s fifth largest travel management company serving business travellers in more than 60 countries.

We are so pleased for the opportunity to expand our selection of flight offerings with the addition of fastjet content to our network of leading travel sites’said Greg Schulze, senior vice president of Global Tour and Transport, the Expedia group.‘Global travellers are increasingly exploring Africa and we can now provide fastjet flights amongst our broad selection of products and services’.

Commenting on the news, Ellis Cain-Jones, Head of Commercial at Fastjet, said: ‘Our exciting partnership with the Expedia group represents a giant leap in the implementation of our digital distribution strategy. Initially focused on increasing Internet usage to book fastjet flights within Africa, the second phase of the strategy is dedicated to increasing yields by accessing international markets. The global reach of the Expedia groups’ brands will make fastjet accessible in a vast number of international markets. We are really excited to be working with world-renowned and trusted brands such as these and are looking forward to growing our network with the Expedia group’.

End quote

Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from across Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

KWS exchanges gun fire with suspected poachers on Dawida Ranch


(Posted 29th April 2014)

Emerging news tell another story of the difficult task the KWS rangers are facing day in and day out, and the bravery of many of them, as they were fired upon by a gang of suspect poachers while in hot pursuit.

Only a few days ago were 6 elephants found butchered, including four tusk-less adolescents, on a ranch along the Kenya – Tanzania border, prompting a large scale deployment of KWS personnel in the area to flush out the culprits who were thought to hide in the sprawling estate.

After returning fire the KWS team eventually managed to arrest three suspects, and it is yet to be confirmed if they are of a group of 15 alleged poachers who were recently released on bail by court which prompted widespread outrage and stinging criticism on the magistrate in Voi, who set them loose with a laughable bail of just 100.000 Kenya Shillings.

From information received there may still be several poachers in the area and Tanzanian authorities are reportedly cooperating should the gang attempt to cross the border in an attempt to flee.

The Dawida Ranch has in the past been in the news over poaching and other ranches too were targeted by poachers as security measures are not as elaborate as they are in Tsavo East and West National Parks.

The conservation fraternity and world at large owes such dedicated field staff a debt of gratitude for putting their lives on the line while receiving measly salaries and low allowances as they fight often better equipped poaching gangs using night goggles and other advanced gadgets KWS has yet to acquire.

Growing threats to the Virunga National Park largely attributed to one UK company

This is a shared / re-broadcast blog article which tells the story of what challenges the Virungas now face … while the Chief Park Warden is slowly recovering from his four gunshot wounds sustained in a targetted ambush as he returned from a meeting with the prosecutor / court in Goma.

New Troubles at the Gates of Virunga

Posted: 04/27/2014 2:13 pm EDT Updated: 04/27/2014 2:59 pm EDT
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VirungaOil ExplorationAfricaRichard BransonHoward G. BuffettDesmond TutuCongoSOCO International

Oil exploration could be devastating to Africa’s most iconic national park — and its people.

The British company SOCO International has recently begun surveying for oil in Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Africa’s eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga is home to a significant portion of the world’s roughly 880 remaining mountain gorillas. Although extracting oil from Virunga is prohibited by current DRC and international law, SOCO maintains its efforts are preliminary, exploratory, legal and designed to bring economic benefits and jobs to the people of DRC.

Our collective experiences in Africa and our direct knowledge of these specific circumstances compel us to another conclusion. This week the documentary Virungapremiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and offers a vivid and troubling account of SOCO’s activities in a country where natural resources, conflict and human suffering are too often intertwined.

It is difficult to exaggerate the ecological and symbolic value of Virunga National Park. Established in 1925, it is Africa’s oldest national park, and at nearly two million acres, it is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth — containing more mammal, bird and reptile species than any other protected area on the African continent. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1979 because 190 countries agreed it deserved the world’s special protection.

It is also impossible to exaggerate the abject poverty and suffering of the people of the DRC, and most especially the one million people who live within one mile of Virunga’s borders. DRC, particularly the east, is incredibly rich in mineral wealth yet it consistently ranks at the bottom on every global measure of human development. Conflict and instability are the norm, and have been for decades, thanks to scores of armed groups sparking periodic violence and unrest. An estimated five million or more people have perished from conflict and its consequences over the last 15 years. Lasting peace will only come when there is a better alternative: economic development that benefits the many, not the few.

The three of us have long histories of supporting the protection of Africa’s unique natural resources, wildlife, habitats and its people. We have enormous respect for the role private investment can play in development. We see an opportunity in Virunga and elsewhere to go beyond traditional aid to help local economies grow. Notably, there is a well-considered economic plan for the region called the Virunga Alliance that the park’s own chief warden, Emmanuel de Merode, has developed and the park’s director general has endorsed. It is already showing impressive progress.

So when we hear of an outside investor claiming that this time will be different and "the people" will benefit from their country’s riches, forgive us if we disagree, especially as these explorations are illegal according to DRC and international law. The more likely scenario is a handful of people will get rich from SOCO’s activities. The vast majority of Congolese will continue to suffer, and the world will be complicit in initiating the slippery slope of subjugating a World Heritage designation for profit.

While carefully planned development of natural resource extraction has the potential to transform the Congolese economy, successful implementation requires a new way of doing business in DRC. It requires transparency and adherence to the law.

The UK government, to its credit, has been unequivocal in its opposition to oil exploration in Virunga, urging SOCO to respect DRC’s laws and urging the DRC government "to fully respect the international conventions of which it is a signatory." The UK government is right to hold the actions of a UK company accountable when those actions will have a devastating impact on vulnerable populations and critically endangered species, regardless of where they live. We urge the global community to embrace this same basic premise. We are not just saying "no" to development; the Virunga Alliance plan includes development of renewable natural resources from the park to create thousands of jobs and invest profits back into park operations while supporting critical infrastructure development for local communities. In fact, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation has supported the construction of three clean, carbon-neutral hydropower facilities. The electricity will attract investments in agribusiness. Already one of these ventures has attracted a palm nut oil processing plant and a papaya enzyme extraction facility. The Alliance is also working to develop ecotourism, much as Rwanda successfully did after the genocide.

In a region where huge numbers of people have little hope for a brighter economic future, these are the kinds of development plans that trigger a virtuous cycle. Legal wages diminish the appeal of activities such as illegal poaching of endangered species or destruction of forests for fuel. When people have a shared interest in an asset, they will protect it. Virunga National Park is a unique asset that could, if utilized correctly, be an economic development engine. We believe it is important for the Congolese to chart a development path that benefits the majority, not a privileged few, and above all else, enforce its own laws.

The government of DRC bears ultimate responsibility for promoting its people’s best interests, and we welcome every opportunity to support such efforts. It is, however, difficult to understand how oil exploration in a fragile region like Virunga is a plan that is in the Congolese people’s best interests.

The 190 countries — including the DRC — that have pledged to adhere to the World Heritage Conventions have an obligation to speak up now and enforce the commitment made 35 years ago to protect Virunga, an "irreplaceable source of life and inspiration… that belongs to all the peoples of the world."

Tourism crisis committee gets legal status after gazette notice published


(29th April 2014)

The recently announced tourism recovery committee is now a legal reality after the Kenya government gazetted its functions, life span and membership. Chaired by Principal Secretary Tourism Ibrahim Mohamed will the committee serve for 2 years, effective 17th of April and will have a mandate to deal broadly with the crisis the tourism sector finds itself in, largely as a result of absent, failed and misdirected actions by the past and present government.

Representatives of Kenya’s leading private sector associations are members of the committee, among them the CEO’s of the Kenya Tourism Federation, the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, the Kenya Associaton of Tour Operators.

Regular tourism sources have welcomed the move but at the same time expressed caution about having too high expectations on the ability of the committee to accomplish a turnaround of the tourism sector’s fortunes, which have in 2013 declined for a second year. ‘This committee is not very likely to invent a miracle cure. Sad fact is that the Kibaki government was told point blank what needed to be done at the time to offset the negative publicity over the abductions in Lamu and Kiwayu. They did not listen and Mwazo [the then Minister responsible for
Tourism] proved to be utterly ineffective and in fact disruptive of industry efforts when he picked his fight with Muriithi [Muriithi Ndegwa, CEO
of  the Kenya Tourism Board who was
suspended and sacked by Mwazo and triumphantlyh reinstated by court]. The watershed for us was to lose Balala as our minister because no one fought for the sector as he did. The present government was also told what needs to be done but they were also deaf. Now that the situation has deteriorated to this low level, they come rushing and cry wolf. It is patently obvious that the ministry structure has failed the sector. We need our own ministry back. Then we have to reverse those silly creations of a half dozen parastatals under the tourism act which was nothing but a job creation machinery for the Kibaki coalition government. Form a tourism authority under which all those bodies are united. Most important, scrap the killer taxes on our sector which have outpriced us compared to our neighbours and other African destination. Then give KTB money instead of a pat on the back. They have plans, like they did in 2008, to engage in a major recovery campaign but without money that is not going to happen. 200 million is a start but if Kandie thinks we are impressed, let that figure go to 2 billion and we can talk. For now most of us just wait and see and hope that things happen fast and we are not wasting another year. Let them put the budget forecasts on the table now how much money tourism is getting. And finally, hands off our tourist board, we say categorically no to any attempt to merge KTB away’ contributed a senior figure on condition of anonymity, claiming that the incumbents simply cannot take criticism no matter how constructive it is meant.

Assertions that the downturn is largely caused by insecurity have also been taken with a grain of salt by the industry and while security and the perception about Kenya’s state of affairs does play a role, it is a range of other underlying factors which have sent the country’s tourism sector and in particular the Kenya coast into a dive. Proposals have been made of late about a reduction of Visa fees, as was done in 2008 following the post-election violence, permitting foreign airlines to fly into Mombasa, enticing charter companies from Europe to resume their flights by offering them incentives vis a vis navigation fees, landing and parking charges and a repeat of the so called mega fam-trip which was a huge success in 2008 and aided the recovery back then, propelling Kenya’s tourism arrivals and revenues in 2011 to an all-time high before government complacency then saw the successes evaporate again. Government targets for economic growth driven by the tourism industry have been missed by a wide margin for the first year since taking office and considering the run-up period needed to see a potential recovery take root there may be another year of sectoral contraction ahead before things can get better again. That however will require a fundamental change of heart and attitude by the powers that be with industry observers and pundits now looking on and reading the tea leaves and staring at crystal balls to somehow predict the near and medium term future of the sector. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from across the Eastern African region.

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