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Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

Written by editor


The new Chobi Safari Lodge, which is presently being rebuilt from the ground up, is making steady progress towards its completion. Once ready, the lodge, situated right on the banks of the river Nile, will offer a wide range of accommodation. The main building of the lodge will, as in the old days, offer 30 standard twin and double rooms, three suites, and a Honeymoon Suite, all with their own balcony offering spectacular views towards the river. In addition, as part of the new development and expansion, 21 self-contained luxurious tents located along the river bank will complement 6 deluxe rooms, a three-bedroom family house, and a presidential cottage within the lodge grounds. Further facilities are a conference room, also overlooking the river and able to seat up to 70 people, a cascading swimming pool, and, of course, the usual bar and restaurant facilities one comes to expect from a 5-star upmarket lodge. It was the extra work which delayed the completion from initially the middle of the year, towards the end of 2009.

Chobi is located above the main Murchison’s falls along the strip of river coming from the Karuma falls in the upper part of the national park. Since the old Chobi Lodge was destroyed at the end of the 1970s by troops withdrawing from the liberation forces, this more wooded part of the park was not very accessible, but the forthcoming opening of the lodge has also led to UWA opening up tracks and roads again, with a separate gate serving visitors for ease of access.

The new lodge will cost an estimated US$8 million and adds extra accommodation to a park, which is much in demand by visitors from abroad due to its unique flora and fauna, its landscapes, and, of course, the famous Nile waterfalls.

This most recent addition to the Wildplaces Africa stable, located at Nkuringo just outside Bwindi national park, has been put on the shortlist for the prestigious “The Good Safari Guide Award,” which recognizes every year the best safari lodges, safari camps, beach resorts, and related properties. This information was received during the week from the Mirada Travel Group. “Clouds” was nominated in the best new eco-lodge category, a testimony to the level of quality visitors can expect when coming for gorilla tracking to Uganda. Visit for more details.

No other Ugandan safari properties appear to have made it on the shortlist though, a challenge to change this for the 2010 edition.

The Metropole Hotel will be the meeting ground on April 29 for Skalleagues and guests, when the meeting schedule goes underway for the new financial year. Mr. Rahul Sood, the Metropole’s general manager and also the current club president, will be sponsoring gifts, welcome drinks, and the wine for the night, while WARID Telecom will be underwriting the evening meals from the hotel’s highly-rated Thai restaurant and providing a range of raffle prizes for Skal members to win. Talk about coming into office with the proverbial bang. Skal Kampala meets every last Wednesday of the month (except in December) and convenes at changing venues across the city and its environs.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority last week launched their “Year of the Gorilla,” releasing some interesting statistics at the time. Compared to the early 1990s when, of course, no gorilla tracking took place in an organized fashion, UWA took some US$3.3 million in receipts for tracking in 2008, making it the best year ever. The figure constitutes slightly over 50 percent of the revenue generated by UWA through gate receipts and other services available for visitors, as well as from concession fees and royalties. According to the UWA executive director Moses Mapesa, the wildlife management body aims to add more habituated gorilla groups for tracking with a projected income of over US$5 million in coming years, cementing tracking of gorillas and other primates as the most profitable and most sought-after tourism activity in the country.

The Ugandan chapter of the Hash House Harriers has organized a May Day weekend hash in Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe, for which a sizeable number of hashers from across eastern Africa and the rest of the continent are expected to assemble in Kampala. Main sponsor of the event is none other than MTN who has generously contributed to the organization of the Africa Hash event. Moonberg Breweries is the second major sponsor of the event, and it is expected that their beer will be flowing freely after the hashers have ended their run and worked up some serious thirst. More information about the event can be found at or mail your inquiry to the following address: [email protected] .

Kampala Hashers normally run every Monday evening at various venues across the city. Visiting hashers are, of course, always welcome.

The squabbles amongst shareholders, which recently caused the upstart airline to halt flight operations, have apparently not yet been resolved. The single B737 remains on the ground on a distant parking position at the old airport side, and the envisaged delivery of a second aircraft is now not likely until the quarreling parties have sorted themselves out first, if at all. Another reason emerging, may be the financial squeeze in southern Sudan, where the majority shareholder operates his other businesses, as presently there is a severe shortage of foreign exchange gripping the economy with little relief in sight.

The main beneficiary of this situation is, of course, Air Uganda, which now enjoys a free run on the route and operates with high average load factors both to and from Juba, although Eagle continues to operate their turboprops LET 410 and B1900 via the southern Sudanese town of Yei to Juba.

The Ugandan misadventure of Kingdom Hotels Sheikh Al Waleed, often reported in this column, has now taken a new twist when investigative Ugandan journalists unearthed their deal with Dubai-based Azure and Kensington Groups for the development of the Shimoni land. Kensington has been diddling in the Ugandan property development market for the past few years and now appears to have taken a sizeable number of shares in the joint venture, knowledge of which the Ugandan government has denied until very recently. A crane has now been erected at the site sporting a kingdom banner, but this has invited both acid, as well as humoured, comments across town. Reports in the Ugandan media speak of the project being stretched over at least three phases before the entire scope has been realized, although new plans are reportedly being drawn up, stretching the process even more. No information was available, however, as to the eventual management company selected to run the hotel when it is finally completed, hopefully “before kingdom comes,” as the street humor refers to the project. The projected cost of the project was also reduced to some US$80 million from a previously very different higher figure. Stay tuned to this space for updates.

Regular readers will be well acquainted with the scandal surrounding the former Shimoni Primary School and Teachers Training College, which was abruptly demolished to make way for a 5-star luxury hotel, which Prince Al Waleed of Saudi Arabia had proposed to put up for the Commonwealth Summit in 2007. Yet, today nothing of the sort has happened, and while the sheikh donated some US$2 million for the rebuilding of the school and college, he got the land nearly for free. Recent cost estimates suggest that the college alone will cost the government some US$4 million to be built elsewhere. The cost of the school is not included in this figure.

In a more recent column, it was reported that the sheikh, due to a lack of liquid cash and credit, had partnered with a new group to finally start construction, but here comes more breaking news triggered by the former Minister of State for investment and current Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates: Prof. Semakula Kiwanuka and his successor in office had apparently written to the UAE authorities to get clarification on the status and standing of the UAE group peddled as a serious co-investor, and the company in question apparently only exists on paper. The former Minister and current envoy is now quoted in the local media to have said: “Can you imagine a company that comes to do multibillion (sic: Uganda Shillings) investments, when they only have a trade name? That is bogus!” Continue watching this space to stay informed on this never ending story, which has caused huge embarrassment to the government over the years and has become a focal point for opponents of free land giveaways to bogus investors who trick their way into high governmental offices in order to appropriate themselves a piece of Uganda’s resources.

The usual lot opposed to the contract between the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Nkuringo community, and a private investor backed by the African Wildlife Foundation and USAID amongst others, have reared their proverbial heads again when recently meeting the new Minister for Tourism, Trade and Industry. There have been some isolated, but nevertheless ugly, racial undercurrents raised over the issue, as the company managing the “Clouds” safari lodge is owned by muzungus – or whites in Kiswahili. This is a disquieting development in an otherwise racially well-integrated society, free of the regular slurs and innuendo seen elsewhere against minorities. Uganda has generally a fabulous track record in warmly welcoming and integrating foreigners, and these attempts reveal the level of desperation for having failed to get the contract cancelled so far and condemning the Nkuringo community to bystander status, after they gave their land use rights to UWA to expand the habitat of this particular gorilla group. It also pays no attention to the increase in track-able gorilla groups habituated by UWA in the recent past, which has already increased the available daily permits considerably. It is also understood that more habituations are ongoing to further add more capacity into the tourism market, as long as it is sustainable and not harmful in any way to the social fabric of the groups or would impair their breeding patterns.

It was also established that a contract cancellation would inevitably lead to a legal case over breach of contract, which could reach multimillion dollar figures, besides the subsequent negative fallout with AWF and USAID who had designed the project and partly financed it. Hence, the Minister was rather guarded in his response but did promise he would consult with his predecessor in office, who had not yielded to the demands during her time at the helm of the Tourism Ministry.

The “greed and envy” lobby also had another go at such established companies like the Madvhani Group, which owns and operates some of the country’s most impressive safari lodges in Queen Elizabeth and Murchison’s Falls national parks, accusing them, too, of monopolizing the market, a ludicrous suggestion when considering that in each park other accommodation exists both inside, as well as outside, the park boundaries, covering several varied market segments in terms of pricing. The early investors, who came on board in the early and mid 1990s, received a contractual exclusion zone of varying diameters around their lodges, to not only allow them to reach financial sustainability, but to also avoid developmental overcrowding in ecologically-sensitive areas according to approved park management plans. In any case, the previously dominant school of thought to build inside protected areas is now progressively shifting towards building new lodges outside the park boundaries. Those, therefore, now seeking a slice of the cake, i.e., trying to reap where they did not sow, are also conveniently overlooking the fact that companies like the Madvhanis have, for many years, born substantial losses from their lodges when anti-travel advisories and poor market conditions drove the lodges to the brink of financial ruin. Finally, attacking the Madvhani family, as was reported from that meeting, because they are rich, is a dead giveaway for the real motives of that disgruntled lot, aimed at redistributing wealth, almost by force, but certainly at their terms and preferably into their own pockets.

The Uganda Electoral Commission announced last week the proposed dates for the political nominations and subsequent elections in 2011, when civic, parliamentary, and presidential elections will have to take place under the constitution. Mark the following dates in your long-term diary: February 12 until March 13, during which all elections will be conducted across the country.

Visitors planning to come to Uganda over that period of time can be assured, from experience, that the process is generally peaceful and no tourist visitors have ever come to harm in Uganda as a result of campaigning, so no need to change holiday plans.

Former UCAA director for air transport and regulatory services, Mr. Kabbs Twijuke, has moved to ICAO in Montreal as Uganda’s representative and will be serving at least a three-year term, it was learned recently. His successor in office is the former manager air transport, Mr. Sam Muneeza, who is now heading the new and revised directorate overseeing security, safety, and economic regulations. The substantial staffing and organizational changes at the top of the UCAA during the course of the last year have, however, raised concerns amongst the aviation fraternity, as much of the skills base, experience, and personal relations have now gone into retirement or else moved on to greener pastures. It was noted by one usually-more-outspoken member of the fraternity, that no licensing hearing has taken place for over a year, unlike in Kenya where at least four such meetings are held annually, making him raise the question of whether or not the new bosses are up to speed and up to scratch yet in their new assignments – harsh words, but understandable sentiments, so watch this space for updates.

And in a directly-related development, the next segment is an excerpt from the latest newsletter of the Kenya Aero Club in Nairobi, courtesy of the venerable Harro Trempenau.

The “Dream of Human Flight,” so highly touted by the Wright brothers, has turned into a nightmare for Kenyan aviators as hapless KCAA staff are overwhelmed trying to enforce the overly-detailed and disorganized KCARS. Formerly routine paperwork is now being subjected to in-depth scrutiny and unnecessary red tape as overburdened inspectors and employees are trying to adhere to performance contracts and make no mistakes. As feared by the stakeholders, micro-control mechanisms have been imposed on Kenyan aviation in 1,400 pages of rules and penalties. Originally intended to appease the ICAO with airtight control of international civil aviation, the drafters of the KCARS made liberal use of the little word “all.” Hundreds of rules begin with “All aircraft shall” or “All aerodromes must,” without any distinction as to size, function, or use. The Boeing 777 is lumped together with the Piper Cub. Small, bush airstrips, used by charter flights, seem to be expected to have the same level of staffing, security, and bureaucracy as the large international airports – manuals, managers, x-ray machines, you name it. To top it off, all aspects of aviation in Kenya have been criminalized, from failure to renew a license, to forgetting to advise a change of address, to not fencing even the smallest bush airstrip, to having a torn windsock. Smoking a cigarette on the apron can land you in jail. And unlike other countries, here the prosecutors are the police and the judges – persons who may have never flown in an aircraft. Frightening thought.

Essentially, east African aviation is now being regulated with a one-size-fits-al’ system. It’s simple to apply, but it’s grinding aviation to a halt. For example, all Kenyan holders of Air Operators Certificates must now be re-certified. That means new manuals, new training methods, and very strict application of all sorts of rules that make sense with airlines like Kenya Airways, but not with operators of small Cessnas or Pipers. The passenger of a Cessna 182 can now relish in the thought that he is now much safer, as the door though which he entered the aircraft is now clearly labeled in English and Swahili: “Emergency Exit,” just like in that Airbus.

KCAA staff has resorted to the “CYA” principle and are interpreting every rule and definition to the letter, avoiding any semblance of lateral thinking. As a result, even the most routine applications for any sort of license, permit, or unusual aviation activity are being shunted around from department to department because now several sections of KCAA must give their OK before a piece of paper is granted. Operators and pilots are unanimous that the bureaucracy created by KCAA is not only unnecessary, but fundamentally fallacious and counter-productive, especially in a day and age where organizations like the FAA and the EASA are offering rewards to those who point out simpler ways of regulating aviation. Unfortunately, the Kenyans fell into the same trap that slowed down economic growth of countries like India and Egypt for a hundred years, before leaders from those countries realized that micro-control of all human activities is counter-productive and hinders development. India, China, Egypt, Russia, and many other countries in which centralized control was practiced before, have all relaxed their systems and are now experiencing above-average economic growth. Kenya is on the other bus.

Kenyan aviation stakeholders have gone to the High Court over the KCARS, pointing out that operators and pilots are not against regulations per se, but that the regulations must be reasonable and not damage their livelihood and injure the economy. The Kenya Association of Air Operators, that lodged the suit, contends that in meetings with the Ministry of Transport in 2008, it was agreed that certain regulations that were injurious to air operations would be given blanket exemptions and extracted from the KCARS. This agreement was simply ignored by KCAA, and the authority steamrolled ahead without regard to the warnings of the stakeholders. The KCARS were gazetted into law in 2008. KCAA, in its defense, keeps pointing to the ICAO as a culprit, saying that Kenya must adhere to international regulations. Stakeholders have retorted many times that ICAO regulations are intended to guide primarily international commercial aviation and also domestic operations for commercial aircraft weighing more than 5,700 kg AUW. Yet, KCAA applies the stringent regulations intended for airliners to even the smallest airplane or airfield.

Meanwhile, the ICAO conducted an audit of the KCAA in late 2008 and concluded that the KCARS, as written, are injurious to general aviation and threaten to suffocate the sector. ICAO recommended relief. KCAA recently approached the stakeholders, and a committee was established to review the KCARS and come up with a set of parallel regulations for domestic operation of aircraft under the AUW of 5,700 kg. The committee, consisting of KCAA, the Kenya Association of Air Operators, and Aero Club delegates, will deliver its report to the AG Director-General Nicholas Bodo in three months. Issues to be included are the operation of gliders, home-built aircraft, microlights, balloons, domestic operations of charter flights, bush airstrips, etc. It is hoped that this will lead to a more reasonable approach toward regulating light aviation in east Africa and bring some hope into the industry.

Following the arrival of two more CRJ aircraft earlier in the year, this privately-owned Kenyan airline started twice daily flights from Nairobi to Juba. It is understood that Jetlink is the only airline flying both early morning and late afternoon, in theory allowing a business traveler to reach Juba, transact business or hold an urgent meeting, and get back home to Nairobi on the same day. The 50-seat, all-economy CRJ is an ideal aircraft for such relatively short flights and permits a quick turnaround on the ground too, as it is self sufficient and does not require much in terms of ground handling and equipment.

It was also learned that Jetlink may, in fact, acquire more of the modern jets in due course, a sure sign that they are satisfied with the operational and financial performance of the Bombardier jets.

Delta Airlines just announced a massive near US$800 million first-quarter loss back home in the US in a press release earlier in the week. At the same time, announcements were made that every second checked bag on international routes will now attract a US$50 surcharge aimed at making more money from their passengers, a move which will not go down well, however, in the Kenyan market where such exploitative fees have not taken root yet.

The airline will also ground their entire Boeing 747-200 freighter fleet to consolidate, or rather remove, their dedicated cargo operation to save money, while later in the year, nearly 40 more of their aircraft fleet will be retired to cut costs even further. Some 2,500 staff are also reported to have left the airline in recent weeks under a voluntary retirement scheme.

Yet, the office of Delta Airlines in Nairobi continues to make all the right noises that their flights will indeed commence on June 3 of this year, dismissing rumors that their financial situation may lead to the new route being deferred for some time. Watch this space for updates.

The Good Safari Guide, published annually by the Mirada Travel Group, has put Porini Camps Kenya on their shortlist for two awards this year – a remarkable achievement. Several other Kenyan safari properties have also made their way into the final selection, as have some from Tanzania, too. The final decision is due soon and will be reported in this column, always eager to promote top quality on the east African safari circuits.

The annual filming location exhibition in Santa Monica will be attended by Kenya once again in order to attract major location business to the country. The Kenya Film Commission has repeatedly attended the trade show, but this year the tourism aspect will be added to the promotional efforts. Kenya has, in the past, had qualified success in attracting location business, but bureaucratic red tape has presented a real breakthrough, while other African destinations, like South Africa, were more proactive, eased restrictions, and granted generous incentives to film makers. Making a major Hollywood movie is thought to bring, at times, millions of dollars into the local economy, a juicy proposition in these days of economic hardships.

As has happened on several occasions last year, when opponents of President Kibaki uprooted the main railway line from Nairobi to the eastern part of the country and the border with Uganda, the line last week was again disrupted. The same lot of hooligans are suspected to have carried out the act of sabotage, once again, and RVR claims to have lost up to 100 million Kenya Shillings in revenues since then, plus incurring the substantial repair cost. Rail traffic from Nairobi to Kisumu and into Uganda, as well as from upcountry to the coast, has been suspended since then, causing a pile-up of trains and containers further down the line to Mombasa and in the Rift Valley. RVR only recently got a reprieve from having their contract canceled, probably with the government being cognizant of the fact that the rail management company was suffering from unbudgeted repair losses and the economic fall-out after election results were declared in January 2008. Watch this space for updates.

A group of tourism stakeholders operating in the Tsavo East National Park area have voiced their concern over a recent invasion of livestock and herders into the park, which they say spoils the expectation of their tourist clients when they see more cattle than wildlife. The Kenya Wildlife Service has acknowledged the problem and deployed extra manpower to the park area to round up and expel the herders and their animals.

Meanwhile, the Director of Tourism at the Ministry head office in Nairobi, Mrs. Wanjiru Munene, has retired from her position, and details of her successor are awaited. Mrs. Munene was reportedly awarded a Presidential recognition, handed over to her by the Minister for Tourism at her farewell party in Nairobi.

The Kenya Anti Corruption Commission has recommended that the former CEO of the Kenya Tourist Board and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism both be charged in court over the – reported in this column at the time – loss of multi-million Kenya Shillings in a clouded deal with a private-sector stakeholder, who was at the time also a member of the KTB board of directors. The deal was made at a time when no board of directors was in office and apparently sanctioned by the Permanent Secretary, but when the new board, under well-known tourism personality Jake Grieves Cook was appointed, it acted swiftly on rumors, investigated the matter, and first suspended and then fired the CEO.

Over a hundred tourism operators, planners, and policy advisors are expected in Dar es Salaam next week to participate in a dedicated conference dealing with the promotion of eco-friendly business practices in the tourism industry. Participants are expected from across the wider eastern and southern African region, as well as from Norway and Holland. Also on the agenda are issues like sourcing finance and building sustainable businesses in the tourism industry. The meeting is financed and organized by a Norwegian NGO.

An ILO report, made public in Tanzania last week, is very critical of working conditions of staff employed in the sector, claiming more than 60 percent do not get annual leave and over half of those working in the hospitality industry work more than 50 hours a week. The report also highlights that nearly 20 percent of the workers experience physical violence in their workplace, while some 17 percent complain about abuse and harassment. The report was launched by the regional director of the ILO for Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Somalia at the beginning of a workshop in Dar es Salaam last week, which was designed to find ways and means to improve working conditions in this and other sectors. The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism welcomed the findings and stated that government would look into the complaints raised and highlighted in the report, with the objective to improve the circumstances under which hospitality staff have to work.

It is understood, however, after seeking some selected comments, that international hotel management companies are generally acknowledged to be ranked in the top 10 percent of employers giving not only benefits to their staff, but also offering career prospects in the industry through regular training opportunities both in Tanzania and also abroad.

In a development praised by both airlines, the Belgian and Rwandese flag carriers last week implemented an extensive codeshare and cooperation agreement. SN is already flying three times a week between Brussels and Kigali, and the Rwandan airline can now sell tickets on Brussels Airlines to Belgium, tapping into their own market potential. Rwanda’s airline presently only flies into the nearby region and to Johannesburg, and the codeshare will, for the first time, open routes to Europe for them. Later in the year, a fourth flight will be added between the two cities, adding yet greater value to the agreement. For Brussels Airlines, it is a coup of sorts, as during the bidding process for the privatization of Rwandair, the Rwandese suspended the decision at the time when SN was the only remaining party and front runner and then seemingly negotiated with other parties but without much success. The codeshare and cooperation agreement, however, will allow SN greater access to not only the Rwandan market, but will also allow them to tap into the regional air traffic pool extending into eastern Congo, a big market once peace has been restored in the volatile area.

Adds this correspondent, code share and cooperation agreements with Brussels Airlines have become even more attractive and sought after since SN has joined the Lufthansa family, which is about the highest seal of quality approval one can wish for in a partner airline.

It was also learned, at the same time, that Rwandair is apparently in discussion with Bombardier for the acquisition of a CRJ regional jet, an aircraft they already operates under a lease arrangement from Kenya’s Jetlink. Should the deal go through, it would add an aircraft to the Rwandair fleet, which presently consists of three leased aircraft.

Information also released by the airline indicates that they plan from the summer schedule onwards to fly to Johannesburg via Lusaka, while still eyeing flights to other new destinations.

The Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) has offered language courses for Rwandans wishing to learn the Chinese language, a development supported by both the Chinese and Rwandan governments. A partnership MOU was signed a while ago between Panda University and KIE, and the Chinese government supported the venture by sponsoring the building of classrooms, offices, and a library at KIE. The initial class is comprised of 30 students, and keen interest was reported by the institute for more courses.

The Dutch government has offered financial and technical assistance to re-grow a bamboo forest encroached on by neighboring communities of the Parc de Volcanos, which is home to Rwanda’s greatest tourism attraction, the mountain gorillas. The border-transcending ecosystem, which also extends into Uganda and the eastern Congo, is said to benefit from the project immensely as it aims to restore important buffer zones around the core area of the national park.

In what can only be referred to as institutional madness, the mayor of Gasabo District ordered the demolition of a new hotel, which started on Wednesday with the destruction of the newly-constructed spa and pool area. It appears that all appeals to common sense and good reason by officials from Kigali, including the Rwanda Development Board and ORTPN, fell on deaf ears, as contractors of the district wrecked the efforts of attracting new investments to Rwanda.

Allegations were made by sources close to the owners that it was because of a personal feud and grudge between the mayor and the wife of the investor, but a district spokesperson cited lack of permits for the construction as the main reason for the demolition. It is, however, understood that some permits for the building had been granted, making the mayor’s action even more dubious. Meetings at a high political level went on at the time of going to press, but no immediate results were available, although it is understood that the demolition was eventually halted when instructions from above reached the mayor. Watch this space for the fall-out of this lunatic action, which can only be described as an out-of-control village chief.

A delegation led by the southern Sudanese Vice President Dr. Riek Machar is now at The Hague to argue the southern case over the state of Abyei before the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It was eventually agreed in 2008, after several outbreaks of violence thought to have been initiated by the northern regime in Khartoum, that the matter was to be handed over to international arbitration and both sides would abide by the outcome. Abyei is an oil-rich state and was, at the time of signing the CPA (comprehensive peace agreements) in early 2005, immediately claimed by the south, together with two other disputed states where the north had tried to change the demographics during the time of their occupation by importing populations from the north to change the equation. This, however, was countered by historical maps, records, and recollections from the tribes living in those areas, and, like Abyei, a solution is still pending. Stay tuned to this space for ongoing news from the southern Sudan.

The privately-owned Sudanese airline, which operates daily in and out of Juba from Khartoum, has now added Abu Dhabi to their international destinations. Travelers from Juba can connect in Khartoum for their onward flight to the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.

Sun Air operates a fleet of Boeing 737s and an Airbus A310-300, which it uses on its domestic, regional, and international flights. Initially, there will be three flights a week with the option to eventually go daily, to cater to VFR and business traffic between the UAE and the Sudan.

Sudan’s regime leader Bashir, in defiance of an ICC warrant, traveled to Ethiopia earlier in the week and was received by the country’s leadership, but not as usual and required by diplomatic protocol by many of the accredited ambassadors. In a telling manner, however, the ambassadors of Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and China were reported in the Addis Ababa media as present. In a further snub, it was also reported that the state dinner hosted for Bashir was again boycotted by diplomats from countries in agreement with the ICC warrant, a slap in the face also for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for having hosted the alleged war criminal. Bashir, in a pre-departure press conference, was reported to have scoffed at the warrant, giving a litany of countries he had since visited, all of them, however, known to be in cahoots with opponents of the ICC’s action.

A delegation led by the southern Sudanese Vice President Dr. Riek Machar is now at The Hague to argue the southern case over the state of Abyei before the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It was eventually agreed in 2008, after several outbreaks of violence thought to have been initiated by the northern regime in Khartoum, that the matter was to be handed over to international arbitration and both sides would abide by the outcome. Abyei is an oil-rich state and was, at the time of signing the CPA (comprehensive peace agreements) in early 2005, immediately claimed by the south, together with two other disputed states where the north had tried to change the demographics during the time of their occupation by importing populations from the north to change the equation. This, however, was countered by historical maps, records, and recollections from the tribes living in those areas, and, like Abyei, a solution is still pending. Stay tuned to this space for ongoing news from the southern Sudan.

For those still determined to visit Madagascar after a series of violent political events in recent months, some good news emerged last week. The previous visa fee of nearly US$80 was apparently waived, at least until the end of the year, for tourists staying not longer than a month. However, these otherwise commendable efforts need to be supplemented with a calming of the political situation in the country, a sustained marketing campaign in producer markets, and the creation of a new image of Madagascar to reshape public opinion around the world. Tourism has been a major foreign exchange earner for the island state, but income has dropped bottomless in recent weeks as tourists stayed away, warned off by real events and strong anti-travel advisories by their own foreign offices.