Allegations were made today in the Kenyan media that ransom money extorted by sea terrorists from hijacked vessels is now also making its way into the Somali community in Kenya and allegedly is the cause for fast-rising property prices, as those benefitting from the cash flow now appear to buy houses and residential properties as an investment for the future when their bloody handiwork will eventually be halted. One newspaper suggested that some property prices have gone up by some 500 percent as the buyers are ready to pay almost any price asked, while the sellers are making the best of such opportunities and do not ask many questions about where the cash comes from. Somali has been in a state of anarchy since the early 1990s and is now ruled in part by Islamist militant fundamentalist savages who, according to media reports earlier this week, stoned a young woman to death for adultery. Meanwhile the sea terrorists have claimed another victim when the captain of a vessel was mortally injured when the ship was stormed, prompting yet more calls on the naval coalition and the governments behind it to “become serious.” While US military sources were quoted earlier in the week proclaiming that drones stationed in the Seychelles would not be armed, this was seen as another step in the wrong direction. Until and unless the naval coalition can operate under substantially more robust rules of engagement, allowing them not just a more aggressive pursuit of the pirates at sea but also permitting action to deny the pirates land-based resources and safe havens, the pirates will continue to operate with impunity and, if and when caught, will hide behind a small but vocal chorus of human rights defenders who are more than willing to overlook the damage the sea terrorists have already caused to lives and property of others out of greed to make a quick buck. In the same tenor, the drones need to be armed to be effective and have to be used to engage pirate motherships and skiffs when detected, sending a clear and unambiguous message to the savages that it will from then on be a reverse hunt for them.

The Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre in Kajjansi are once again on the expansion trail, after completing its new offices behind the leisure area and swimming pool. The old offices, still partly used, have just been expanded towards the direction of the main gate and will provide lounge space for passengers and their escorts before and after flights. Cold drinks and hot beverages are available, including well-chilled beers and snacks that are prepared by the kitchen at a moment’s notice. The Aero Club has become a popular weekend destination for Kampaleans wanting to see light aircraft take off and land at the nearby strip, and the pool and bar have given this little outing added value as all the picnicking stuff can be bought at very reasonable prices on site instead of lugging cooling boxes around. Garden chairs and tables are also available in the leisure area. Visit www.flyuganda.com for more information and details of available flying lessons or the cost of sightseeing flights over the nearby Lake Victoria or to other parts of the country. During a recent visit to the Kajjansi field, it was also learned that the company’s first helicopter will finally arrive in early December, ready for operations before the festive season for business and leisure charters.

Probably related to information earlier in the week that Lufthansa, the parent company of Brussels Airlines, was considering a move towards the LCC model of other airlines on some routes, a reliable source within SN pointed out that its long-haul African network was to remain on a full service scale as demanded in the west and east African market places for intercontinental air services. Lufthansa’s other acquisition, SWISS, is also thought to remain a full service premium airline, while no information was received at this stage about the plans for LH’s latest addition to its family, namely Austrian Airlines. Lufthansa may well consider select routes, where LCC competitors have made gains in terms of passenger numbers, to offer reduced service levels and add more seats on aircraft deployed on these sectors, while Brussels Airlines’ European network already adopted a cost-saving model for the back of the cabin, but full-fare passengers and those with flexible fares on the same aircraft enjoy greater service and comfort levels in the front sections of the aircraft. SN is joining the Lufthansa-led Star Alliance in early December as a full member, and the event will be celebrated both in Brussels, as well as in the various Brussels Airlines destinations across Africa.

A single engine plane reportedly owned by the Uganda Wildlife Authority failed to take off on Tuesday afternoon from an apparently overgrown bush airstrip near Adjumani in northern Uganda. The pilot, who was injured in the failed attempt to take off, was quoted as saying that the overgrown grass and bushes reached up to the wings causing the plane to swerve and fail to reach take-off speed. The incident is now being investigated by the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority and the plane, which suffered damage to the undercarriage and the propeller, is likely to be transported back to Kampala by road for further assessment. Why the pilot decided to try and take off in such conditions without first clearing the obstacles will undoubtedly become public during the inquiry now underway. It will be determined at that stage why the flight used this dilapidated strip instead of the main Adjumani field, which while further away, would have been the safe option to take. The airstrip is owned by the Adjumani district but appeared ill maintained according to reports received, a pressing reminder that publicly-owned airstrips must be regularly inspected, licensed, and kept in operational order or else be closed for traffic to avoid future, and likely worse, incidents. The Civil Aviation Authority maintains a proper airfield in Adjumani, which includes a tarmacked airstrip, terminal building, and radio communications with Air Traffic Control in Entebbe. Notably, UWA executive director Moses Mapesa appears to have been on board the plane, having gone to Adjumani for a site meeting with a concessionaire intent to take over the management of the East Madi Wildlife Reserve under a public-private partnership arrangement. In a related development, the very next day after the incident, the CAA advertised an open position for a senior aerodromes inspector (civil engineering) probably to strengthen the oversight, inspection, and enforcement regime in line with existing air service regulations related to aerodromes.

Travelers on a budget can now book a KQ flight from Entebbe via Nairobi to London, leaving Uganda between December 23 and 26 and returning within a month, but only after January 4, for a mere US$349, plus taxes, fees, and other surcharges, which are said to be substantial, leaving the question hanging in the air – why not advertise the final ticket cost instead of an eye-catching and incomplete price. Nevertheless, this initiative is of importance when considering that BA, which floated a similar offer two weeks ago, may be hit with a Christmas strike and strand passengers.

It was confirmed earlier in the week, albeit through third parties and not the airline directly, that Air Uganda will commence direct flights to Mombasa at the beginning of December, to be operated three times a week. It is speculated that this is aimed at capturing a share of the festive season leisure traffic to the Kenyan coast from Uganda. However, there was no confirmation if the flights would remain on this schedule all year round or only operate during the peak holiday season. The airline presently flies from Entebbe to Juba, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar, with Mombasa to be its fifth destination. The airline only recently re-introduced its Zanzibar flights and a second flight to Nairobi, after shelving them for a period of time over losses incurred on these routes while using aged aircraft both too large and too expensive to fly to make profits for them. The acquisition of CRJ aircraft, however, changed these equations and now permits Air Uganda to re-engage in competing with other carriers on these routes like Precision Air and Kenya Airways, a fact also acknowledged by the company’s CEO in a statement related to the new destination.

The East African Community has announced that the Lake Victoria management program will prepare new maps for lake traffic, replacing the present set of navigational charts, which date back into the colonial days prior to independence. New charts for the main lake harbors of Port Bell, Kampala; Kisumu; and Mwanza have already been completed, and the remaining charts for lake traffic to other ports will be ready sometime in 2010. Meanwhile, it was also announced that the three lake countries of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania will implement joint measures from 2010 onwards to protect the fish stocks in Lake Victoria and impose common rules and supervision to eliminate the use of illegal, small-sized fishing nets in order to permit the Nile Perch a period of recovery after stocks have dwindled in recent years and exports of the prized commodity have shrunk substantially.

Predictably, lamentation set in over the funding of the tourism sector, when information was received from the World Travel Market tourism exhibition and trade show that Uganda’s stand was the smallest of the participating East African Community member states, and regrets and maybe a little envy ensued when Rwanda, once again, walked away from WTM with a winner’s trophy for best stand – the only African country to achieve this recognition. While admittedly the Ministry of Finance this financial year allocated about 2 billion Uganda Shillings or US$1 million in funding for tourism activities, compared to US$600 million in previous years, there is no guarantee that this money will in fact all be availed should budgetary cuts become necessary – since tourism is still not a priority sector whose budget is protected in spite of more than a decade of verbal assurances by government’s movers and shakers. Kenya, Tanzania – incidentally featuring the biggest stand in London – and Rwanda all spend comparably very much more money to promote tourism, and the most glaringly positive example in the wider region, the Seychelles, has not only partly privatized its tourism board but also initiated a meaningful and competent private -public partnership, which has permitted the country to effectively counter the fallout of the economic crisis and has drawn global attention to the archipelago and its innovative marketing campaigns. But then, as the saying goes, there is always hope. For comparison, this correspondent, while still holding the presidency of the Uganda Tourism Association, already pegged the required level of funds several years ago at a minimum annual allocation of US$1 million, in addition to which the proposed but never implemented tourism development trust fund levy was to yield extra funding, but alas, government never put its money where its mouth was even then nor made the levy operational, thus denying the sector urgently-needed funding for a range of activities aimed at promoting the country abroad in existing, new, and emerging markets.

The public accounts committee of parliament, investigating the various allegations over the expenditure of the Commonwealth Summit in 2007, has directed the Criminal Investigations Department to delve into the claims made and findings presented so far, in particular over an alleged payment of more than US$1 million to a hotel along Entebbe road, not on the list of approved and graded CHOGM hotels, not earmarked for any activities or meetings, and allegedly not accommodating a single CHOGM delegate, with the money given to them only days before the summit kicked off. Advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi Uganda was also in the cross hairs of the investigators, as allegations were made that sponsorship funds solicited by the firm were not remitted to government. Meanwhile, the Mercedes Benz franchise in Uganda has served notice to sue the government over the car contract initially awarded to them, but subsequently cancelled and handed to a company which, according to the suit, had no valid trade license at the time. The BMW vehicles supplied to government have been subject to hot arguments and wide-ranging allegations and the upcoming court case may well reveal yet more unsavory details of how the deals were struck and who participated and profiteered. Read details on the parliamentary committee proceedings and debate on an almost daily basis via www.newvision.co.ug or www.monitor.co.ug. In fact, the latest report links from both newspapers are shown here for ease of access: http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/13/701613 http://www.monitor.co.ug/artman/publish/news/Shs9b_spent_on_absentee_Chogm_delegates_94789.shtml

As a result of the ongoing delay of the delivery of the airline’s B787 order, KQ has decided to lease another B767-300ER to keep abreast with network expansion plans in place. An older B767 had been returned to the lessor earlier in the year and the fresh arrival is expected to help close the gap left since then in the overall fleet size. The aircraft arrived late last week in Nairobi from a nonstop ferry flight originating in Miami and is configured with 20 seats in business class, offering a 55-inch pitch and 215 in economy class with a 32-inch seat pitch. KQ’s fleet now comprises 4 B777-200ER, 6 B767-300ER, 5 B737-800, 4 B737-700, 4 B737-300, and 3 Embraer 170LR, totalling 26 aircraft overall. The Embraers operate in a single class, all-economy version and are used on domestic and short regional routes. The new aircraft will be used for the longer routes on the African continent, in particular where palletized cargo needs to be transported, but may also appear on flights to the Middle East or even Europe once in a while.

An ad was placed in the East African by the KICC indicating they are seeking to employ a new managing director, some months after the previous CEO Philip Kisia has moved to the Nairobi City Council as town clerk. Applications from suitable candidates are invited by post [no option for email applications have been mentioned in the ad nor was any email contact given] to: The Chairperson; Kenyatta International Conference Centre; P.O. Box 30746-00100; Nairobi, Kenya and must be received no later than the November 27, 2009, giving the reference: KICC/MD/2/2009. Good luck to all intending applicants.

The ferry operation linking the Mombasa island with the southern mainland has again suffered a blow earlier this week, when at the start of the morning rush hour traffic, one of them stalled in mid-channel and drifted off towards the ocean with hundreds of commuters and vehicles on board. Eventually another ferry managed to secure the ferry and tow it back to port where it managed to discharge passengers and vehicles before being taken in for repairs. This column has, in the past, reported on several ferry mishaps and allegations of financial improprieties over the purchase of new ferries from a German shipyard. The new ferries are now expected in Kenya by sometime early next year, but in the meantime, efforts continue to have government commit to building a new road to the south coast, linking Mombasa’s international airport and the main road from Nairobi via a land route and making traffic and commutes less reliant on the ferries. Increased traffic has driven passenger numbers to reportedly as many as 200,000 per day, while some 3,000 cars, buses, and lorries cross the channel every day. Whenever one of the ferries breaks down, tourists run the imminent risk of missing their flights, while workers and students often arrive hours late at work or in school or college, causing further economic fallout for those affected.

Zanzibar’s best-known festival, Sauti za Busara, taking place between February 11-16 next year, gave a further update earlier in the week on the preparations and participation in the event. It was also stressed by the organizers that east Africans entering the festival venues before 5:00 pm every day can do so for free in order to stimulate attendance and attract east African citizens to share in the many activities and presentations available each day. Visit www.busaramusic.org or write to busara@zanlink.com to get the full list of artists and musical performers already signed up and learn about the range of peripheral activities also planned for next year’s festival. Intending visitors are strongly urged to book flights and hotels as quickly as possible, as over the past few years, accommodation on the island was literally sold out in the run up to and during the festival – and Zanzibar is worth visiting any time anyway, but even more so during the Sauti za Busara period.

Precision Air, Tanzania’s leading private airline – having stepped into the void created by the lack of sufficient flights by Air Tanzania – has cried foul over what has been described an “arbitrary decision aimed to preserve monopolistic tendencies” by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority, when considering its license application for handling services. Precision was keen to attain handling status to be able to offer handling contracts to other airlines but was denied this opportunity when the TCAA only granted them a license for the lesser airports and excluded, against all rational consideration, the main international airports of Dar es Salaam; Kilimanjaro International, Arusha; Mwanza; and Zanzibar. Many airport users have decried the near monopoly situation enjoyed by Swissport and accused the company of charging extortionate rates when comparing its prices with, for instance, Nairobi, where the competitive environment has brought handling charges down and kept them low. Another company, African Ground Handling, was given a similar license also confining them to the lesser airports, but they would not be drawn into the debate at this stage, likely considering an appeal as also intimated by Precision. The TCAA will undoubtedly come under scrutiny to establish the motives for its decision, while affected companies may even take matters to court should their appeals fail. There is speculation that this decision may have been influenced by the fact that Kenya Airways holds 49 percent of the Precision Air shares, the maximum allowed under national legislation to remain a Tanzanian airline, so as to avoid Precision becoming even more powerful and able to support its own and Kenya Airways’ operations with its own handling unit. Efforts to get feedback from TCAA were futile.

The Rwandan cabinet approved plans last week to re-demarcate and fence sections of the Akagera National Park. Neighboring communities have for a while now suffered from wildlife incursions into its farms, causing loss of crops, loss of property, and in worst cases, injuries and deaths to people living in these parts. The park presently occupies just under 1,100 square kilometers, but it could not be established if or which sections will be de-gazetted, which other areas may be added, or if wildlife migration corridors will simply be fenced off. What is clear though is that government is presently conducting a sourcing exercise to identify suitable companies able to erect a strong electrified fence to separate the park from the human population in critical areas.

It was reported from Kigali that the International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank, is supporting small and medium enterprises in the tourism industry with dedicated training sessions on business management and the drafting of sound business plans and feasibility studies. A week-long workshop and training session ended last weekend with participants drawn from the sector complimenting the efforts and applauding the IFC and other participating partners for their generosity.

The three stakeholder countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania will hold a series of meetings in Kigali in early December to review the present plans and proposals drawn up by a panel of experts for the intended expansion of the rail link from Dar es Salaam via Isaka to Kigali and Bujumbura. Ministers, railway experts, and other stakeholders will discuss budgets, time frames, and related issues, including the financing of the mega project. Once completed, the railway will serve western Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Congo and bring relief to these countries from the crowded alternate route from Mombasa via Uganda, where Rift Valley Railways continues to struggle to offer speedy and competitively-priced rail services for cargo destined to the African hinterland nations.

While the use of the Jetlink leased CRJs remains suspended until the cause of the sudden acceleration of the stricken plane on the apron is resolved through the ongoing air accident investigation, the airline presently operates a rump schedule using its Bombardier built Dash 8 aircraft. Passengers are presently being rebooked on to other airlines to reach their regional destinations like Nairobi and Johannesburg. Entebbe will be served twice a day by Rwandair from Kigali, Kilimanjaro three times a week, Bujumbura daily, and Kamembe also daily. Rwandair also confirmed that the delivery of its two recently-purchased CRJs from Germany’s flag carrier Lufthansa will, as far as possible, be accelerated to resume full operations again as expeditiously as possible. There is also unconfirmed information that Rwandair will get an additional and slightly larger jet early next week, likely to be a B737, to be used for further network and frequency expansion. It was also ascertained that the Jetlink leases will be retired once the airline takes possession of its own aircraft. For passengers booked on Rwandair flights or intent on booking Rwandair flights, it is recommended that they either check with the airline directly or consult their travel agents as to departure and arrival times and options, should changes be necessary in the short term.

The German authorities have at last reacted to constant media reports and demands by the Rwandan government to curb the presence and activities of suspected Rwandan supporters of the FDLR, a militia notorious for the 1994 genocide inflicted upon sections of the Rwandan people over their tribal and political backgrounds and since then turned their attention in equally lethal measures to the eastern Congolese population. In spite of frequent representations by the Rwandan diplomatic mission and warrants by the UN Tribunal on the Rwandan Genocide in Arusha, no action was taken until earlier in the week when German police finally caught up with them and arrested Ignace Murwanahshyaka and Straton Musoni. Both were arrested in this correspondent’s home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, one in Karlsruhe – a stone’s throw away from my own home town – and the other one in the state capital of Stuttgart. Other suspects are still thought to be hiding in a number of western countries and in eastern Africa where their huge assets grabbed prior and during the genocide allow them to buy off security forces and live a life of comfort. Interestingly enough, on a different whim, Germany arrested the Head of Protocol of Rwanda, Mrs. Rose Kabuye, when she landed there last year in an official capacity to prepare for a visit by President Kagame to Germany a few days later, before handing her over to the French authorities where a magistrate with a mission had issued an arrest warrant for her. This, however, has since been resolved but not before denting the German-Rwandan relations for a while, which included recalls of the respective ambassadors. Rose was, of course, since then cleared of all allegations, but the belated arrest of the two alleged masterminds of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes will cast doubts again over Germany’s policy of permitting these alleged criminals to live there undisturbed and free for years to continue their terrorist activities from afar. It is understood from usually well-informed sources in Kigali, that Rwanda will very soon seek the extradition of the two wanted men to hold a trial at home, nearer to where their alleged crimes were committed, and Germany will be hard pressed to resist this demand, considering its behavior over the Rose Kabuye affair last year.

The Seychelles Tourism Academy received a financial boost last week when the gala dinner and related competition managed to raise some 400,000 Rupees. The benefit auction yielded wide participation and exceeded expectations, while the event was supported by a large cross section of the tourism and hospitality industry and its suppliers. The dual purpose of the function was to raise the standards of cuisine by Seychellois staff and, at the same time, raise funding for the academy to boost better facilities. It was also learned that 15 students of hospitality courses from the academy have been placed in an industrial attachment program with hotels in Mauritius and Dubai, where they will spend up to two months to absorb skills and practical know how, after previously already spending several months on similar attachment with hotels across the Seychelles. The students are now in their third year and several of them are expected to move into the degree-level course, which is available as an add-on in the fourth year.

The International Civil Aviation Organization recently held a four-day training course on aviation safety for staff of the Seychelles CAA in Victoria. Air operators also participated in the sessions along with the government-appointed aircraft incident and accident investigator. All participants passed the end-of-course exams and were presented with certificates.

Information was received from Victoria that Air Seychelles management has denied that the airline was near broke in a move to reassure suppliers and its over 800 staff working in the Seychelles and across the network. It was, however, also said that the airline incurred a loss amounting to about US$6.5 million last year, the first such loss over the past 10 years. The airline also confirmed that, in view of the situation last year, when fuel prices skyrocketed, they renegotiated the aircraft leases, saving some US$4 million for the 2008/9 financial year and across the entire lease period, almost US$16 million, while at the same time operating 2 more aircraft compared to last year. A brand new De Havilland Twin Otter was also purchased at a cost of over US$4 million, while a second such purchase is planned to boost the cross archipelago’s domestic network. It was for this purchase that government had to provide a loan guarantee, which needed sanctioning by parliament and was not a bailout as earlier information suggested. The airline, according to information availed, presently flies with an average load factor of around 67 percent, but flight occupancies have begun to improve again since a low last year, largely as a result of joint marketing and sales activities with the Seychelles Tourist Board. A recent comprehensive account and operational audit report is presently being discussed and may result in far-reaching decisions over ownership of the company, but this process is still said to be ongoing.

Information from southern Sudan’s capital city of Juba indicates that a solution to agree on a final boundary line for the oil rich state of Abyei continues to remain on the distant horizon. Abyei, presently under Presidential Rule, has been excluded from belonging to the south outright under the 2005 CPA between the regime in Khartoum and the southern leadership, but has the right to decide in a referendum in January 2011 to either remain with the north or join the south, which at the same time will vote on its own independence. However, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague made a ruling a few weeks ago, which Juba now accuses the regime in Khartoum to subvert and renege on. Only four out of a supposed 26 border points have been agreed upon so far, and technical experts from the US have been kept away by Khartoum with the December 10 deadline drawing ever nearer. The south also rejects attempts by Khartoum to have members of a nomad trip, the Misseriya, vote in the referendum and insists that only the population indigenous to the region must be allowed to participate in the decision. With much else under the CPA still stalled and obstructed by the north, it is expected that the southern population will follow the lead of SPLA leader Salva Kiir Mayardit and vote for independence in 2011, rather than remaining second-class citizens in their own country, as the regime has shown little or no effort to win the hearts and minds of the south.