It was just confirmed by the sanctuary’s executive director Angie Genade that the recently-born rhino baby is, as has been speculated, a little “boy” and that his given name will be “Obama.” The reason for this was the similarity in both cases, whereby the father of little Obama was from Kenya, brought to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary from Kenya’s Solio Game Reserve, while the American mother was donated by Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the United States and sent to Uganda a few years ago.

This correspondent welcomes the little “fellow” and expresses his joy in having our own Obama in Uganda, who undoubtedly will become a visitor magnet in the coming years in his own right. It is in fact, hoped that the real Obama might, during his term of office, visit Uganda, as the previous two American presidents have done, and then make time to also see his namesake on the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary – what a PR coup that would be for rhino conservation in the country. Maybe someone can tip off the White House staff?

In their efforts to establish the Sheraton Kampala Hotel as a premier meeting place, the F&B team of Eric Wendel and James Rattos come up with a once-a-week meeting platform for corporate ladies. Being able to meet a cross-section of other senior ladies working in management, combined with free and secure parking, free nibbles, reduced prices for drinks and an appealing a la carte menu, will undoubtedly attract the up-and-coming female executives from Kampala.

Meanwhile, as the main holiday season for the expatriate community is in full swing, corporate meetings at the Sheraton will attract a substantial rebate until the end of August, when “business as usual” is expected to resume. Finally, in view of recent reports about the latest developments at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, it is worth mentioning that the Sheraton Kampala Hotel has long been a staunch corporate sponsor of the rhino sanctuary, the rhino enclosure at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe, and conservation efforts in general.

The Arua airfield is being upgraded under a CAA work program for upcountry aviation facilities. The runway is due to be extended by 150 meters to facilitate landing and takeoff by larger aircraft and will be tarmacked for a length of 2.5 kilometers. A new passenger terminal is also under construction. Figures available from the CAA give annual passenger numbers of around 10,000, with just under 1,800 aircraft movements for 2008. Once the new facilities are completed, the aerodrome will be able to handle up to 70,000 passengers per year. Other aerodromes selected for upgrade are located in Kasese and in Soroti, where the national aviation training facility is located.

According to international maritime rules, which are now more strictly enforced in Uganda, the MV Kalangala is due for its annual inspection for the rest of July, during which time the ferry services will be irregular and only possible when alternate ships are available. Visitors intending to travel to the Ssese Islands should seek early advice regarding their travel plans and, if necessary, make other arrangements for their lake journey, such as traveling by road to Masaka and taking the shorter ferry trip from there to the main island. Full services are expected to resume by early August from the Entebbe pier.

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Reports are trickling in that dozens of elephants have died in recent weeks, most of them suspected to be victims of the severe drought presently experienced in parts of eastern Africa. In several regions, the long rains have again failed this year, already causing a hydro-electric power plant in Kenya to be taken off the grid due to a lack of water, and the populations, of course, are also suffering from failed harvests.

However, it is the death of the wildlife which is capturing the headlines, rather than the growing woes of the human populations. Veterinarians from UWA have apparently ruled out anthrax as a cause of death but are reportedly looking into other possible causes, too, as the number of mostly young elephant deaths within a short period of time may have other reasons than the shortage of water in rivers and water holes. Poaching has also seen an upward trend in Kenya, attributed to the relaxing of the ban on the trade of ivory and related products by Southern African states, following the last CITES meeting, a change, incidentally, heavily criticized and opposed by the Eastern African Elephant Coalition.

Meanwhile, ivory worth nearly a US$1 million was confiscated while in transit from Mozambique to south Asia earlier in the week, courtesy of vigilant security personnel from both Kenya Airways and other agencies routinely patrolling the international airport. The cargo, hidden in crates, also contained rhino horns, thought to have originated from other parts of Southern Africa, where poaching in some countries is an ongoing serious problem. In particular Zimbabwe is suffering from wide spread poaching of wildlife, including the endangered rhinos, with security forces suspected to be part of the poaching and smuggling rings. From usually well-informed sources, it was learned that while the official destination of the cargo was Laos, the likely end destination was more likely to be China (see related column item in the Tanzania section), which has been at the forefront of criticism by animal rights and conservation proponents for their endless hunger for “blood ivory.”

Another British visiting student was diagnosed last week in Dar es Salaam as infected with the H1N1 virus (swine flu), making Tanzania the third country in east Africa to receive the unwelcome “gift” from British visitors to the region. The student was admitted to hospital, subjected to more tests, and then given treatment, to which reportedly he was responding well. Like in Kenya and Uganda, this flu type is not thought to pose a major problem to the country and in particular, the tourism industry is not expected to suffer because of it.

Medication, mainly Tami Flu, has been received across eastern Africa by the health authorities to allow prompt treatment of any further cases. No reports of H1N1 were received from Zanzibar, Rwanda, and Burundi, nor has the southern Sudan found any cases within their territories at the time of going to press.

It was also learned that Britain is the country with the third-highest number of infections – a clear indication that the initial containment measures across the UK by the health authorities have miserably failed, making Britain one of the key sources of spreading the disease further around the world. The latest information from the UK is that the NHS intends to vaccinate EVERYONE across the country to arrest the spread of the disease.

While opening the new Bilila Serengeti Safari Lodge last weekend, owned and managed by Kempinski Hotels, the president spoke out strongly against the immediate addition of new and more properties, not just in the Serengeti but the other national parks, too. While apparently a study commissioned by government a few years ago indicates that the Serengeti could, with ease, absorb more accommodation, it was the president’s counsel to TANAPA to wait and study the impact of new lodges first, and if at all, only add more accommodation very gradually to avoid overcrowding and a negative impact on the environment and the prized wildlife found in the park. He also warned of dubious investors wanting to put up second-rate facilities, which were not in the interest of the government and wildlife conservation.

Confirmation was received earlier in the week that the Hilton Corporation is apparently set to open a new hotel in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam, adding over 250 rooms in the 5-star bracket into the marketplace. A second property is due to open in Zanzibar, which has over the years positioned itself as a very posh upmarket destination with the addition of a number of luxury properties along its white, sandy beaches. The hotels are due to open under the Doubletree by Hilton brand. Watch this space for updates.

The long-serving TANAPA CEO Gerald Bigurube reportedly resigned earlier in the week, according to reports from reliable sources in Tanzania. While no specific reasons for the sudden resignation could be obtained, the same sources spoke of a series of recent investigations and allegations over financial issues within TANAPA. The matter was even raised in parliament recently, when the opposition in the Tanzania demanded answers over allegedly unauthorized payments and contracts for advertising, while the report of the controller and auditor general also highlighted a range of financial irregularities. The development could not have come at a worse time as Tanzania is struggling with a downturn of tourism arrivals and all hands should be on deck to turn the trend around. Mr. Edward Kishe was immediately installed as the acting director general until the position will be filled again with a substantive CEO in the coming weeks.

In a surprise move, customs at Dar es Salaam’s international airport thwarted the efforts of a Chinese man trying to take illegal ivory out of the country. His baggage was searched after an apparent tip off. Three accomplices were also arrested at the same time for allegedly trying to prevent a thorough screening of the bags. “Blood ivory” has in recent months made headlines across eastern Africa and is often attributed to the softening of CITES’ stand on the trading of legal ivory from Southern Africa, which has in the past, time and again, led to a prompt increase of poaching in eastern Africa and an upsurge in smuggling attempts. It is hoped that the full force of the law will come down on the four accused in order to give them many years of thought about their crimes and hopefully some rehabilitation behind prison bars.

Effective August of this year, a 5th flight will be added on the Kigali-Johannesburg route, following rising demand for more seats from both markets. The airline’s head of marketing and corporate communications Michael Otieno has also confirmed that RwandAir is planning to eventually go daily on this key continental route, probably as early as the end of 2009 or early 2010. The airline will offer attractive tour packages prior, during, and after the FIFA World Cup 2010, which is, of course, hosted by South Africa. Visit www.rwandair.com for more information on destinations, schedules, and other points of interest.

The third edition of 2009 is now available both in print, across the usual Rwandan outlets, and more importantly, on the web via www.theeye.co.rw for the overseas community of east Africa fans.

Like the Ugandan sister publication found at www.theeye.co.ug, The Eye Rwanda offers topical articles on Rwanda’s tourism attractions and is the most diverse guide for restaurants, hotels, inns, and safari lodges while also offering airlines, embassies, doctors, and related contacts along with phone numbers. Any intending visitor to Rwanda should seek out a copy on the web before then obtaining a printed copy on arrival in Kigali.

July 1 saw both Rwanda and Burundi formally join into the EAC customs union, further aligning the two countries to the economic integration so far experienced by the initial three member states of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The customs union will allow trade of regionally-manufactured goods at reduced duty tariffs, which in fact should, after a 5 year timeframe of gradual tariff reduction, come to zero at the beginning of next year. The customs union has driven regional trade volumes up by an estimated 40 percent over the past 5 years, and a full integration of the 120+ million citizens into a single domestic market is likely to further boost economic development across eastern Africa.

Tourism integration, however, is still some way off, as the financially most sought-after domestic target group – the expatriates working in the region – are still required to pay for a visa to cross the borders, arguably denying neighboring countries tourism revenues, as often this group rather travels to other countries like South Africa or the UAE, where most of them need no visa and can spend the saved funds on personal expenditure. Only when a regional tourist visa is in place for visitors from overseas and expatriates registered in one country can freely travel in the region, will the full benefit of the East African Community be thought of as producing the best possible results. Non-tariff barriers, as continuously seen in cross-border tourist traffic by road and air, is also considered an impediment to the free movement of tourists across the region to make the most out of their visit to east Africa. Hence, while there is hope, there is also still a long way to go to make the east African dream come true.

Listen up Africa, “YOU CAN, too” … President Obama’s speech last Saturday afternoon in Ghana to the African continent had scores of the Ugandan and arguably much of the continental population glued to the television screens to hear about America’s new policy towards the African countries under his administration. A significant shift was observed, geared to assist capacity building on the continent, help restore crumbling primary health systems, and make it possible for farmers to grow enough food to eliminate hunger and famine. This column also appreciated the candid words about dictatorships, genocide, and strife in Africa and the need to root out corruption from the day-to-day life while building democratic institutions. President Obama’s words, “We do not need strong men, we need strong institutions,” will undoubtedly echo across Africa, and it is hoped the bell will toll sooner rather than later for those well-known despots who continue to smear Africa’s image around the world on a daily basis. President Obama offered the friendship of America, as well as assistance, while demanding accountability and transparency from the current breed of African leaders.

Meanwhile, the ICC’s chief prosecutor visited Uganda recently from The Hague to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern with the government, ahead of a planned visit to Kampala by Khartoum’s regime leader Bashir, to attend the Smart Partnership Dialogue set for late July at the lakeside resort and conference center in Munyonyo. Uganda presently holds the presidency of the United Nations Security Council, and the Ugandan action will undoubtedly be keenly watched across Africa and the world as it sends out signals to other African nations reluctant to cooperate with the ICC. It is understood that the ICC arrest warrant is now in the possession of the Ugandan government, and information from reliable sources confirmed that the arrest warrant will be served and executed by the Ugandan police should Bashir indeed come to Uganda.

The prosecutor’s visit also prompted immediate threats from Khartoum to the government in Uganda not to cooperate with the ICC and respect the AU’s recent non-binding resolution to desist from arresting the alleged war criminal. These threats, previously considered empty, may now carry more substance as reports also emerged earlier in the week that China had sold the regime medium to long-range rocket systems, probably in violation of UN sanctions in place against the regime. The new weapons cannot reach Ugandan territory outright from the regime’s military positions but, of course, constitute a serious military threat against the southern Sudan, which will vote on independence in early 2011 and has long complained about intimidation and threats from Khartoum.

The latest information available at the time of going to press, speaks of intense diplomatic efforts to avoid an incident – with speculation pointing in the direction that Bashir may be persuaded NOT to come to Uganda any time soon. Watch this space for updates.