Africa: Ten years on since eTN debut

This week, eTurboNews is looking back at a decade of success, having grown from strength to strength and established itself as a friend of those destinations which 10 years ago were not exactly in the constant spotlight of the media or if at all often being negatively reported about. Fair and balanced reporting, and the opportunity to “talk back” and post comments including a direct line to the editors, has resulted in eTN become a focal point for many seeking news and information about Africa and the tourism destinations on the continent. Ten years ago, social networks were literally unheard of and the internet, now doubling in size in rapid succession, was still the domain of the developed world, with Africa only gradually waking up to its potential and its enormous power to level the playing field and outsmart established destinations with creative e-marketing and novel approaches.

Websites from Africa, for Africa and about Africa have exponentially grown and state of the art search engines are helping to increase visibility. But it was the onset of the social media, the coming of age of Facebook, the relentless march of Twitter and the impact of YouTube, which I personally consider as the great equalizer, where my continent of Africa finally broke loose of colonial constraints and pushed into the new millennium as the first decade made way for the second one.

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The onset of the social media, with people from all corners of the world travelling to our safari parks, combined with BlackBerries, smart phones and tablets, has made sure that we are suddenly seen as we were never seen before.

“The Battle of the Kruger” became an instant hit, went “viral” as the language goes, taken by an amateur on his first attempt to shoot a video, before then uploading it on YouTube. Others send pictures via Twitter, literally instantly, while others yet instantly post their new wildlife photos, scenes from their balloon ride or their romantic beach dinner scenes on their Facebook pages. The world suddenly has access to Africa like never before, but in turn Africa too has gained access to the world like never before. Arrogant customs or security officials go into the global bad books the moment they turn their foul mood on passengers, by Tweet and by Facebook postings, often with pictures of the perpetrators attached, but more important, aggressions and assaults against the environment in Africa, especially where protected areas are concerned, are now going global in an instant too, galvanizing and energizing the conservation fraternities from around the world, united in a common cause.

When eTN broke the news in May 2010, of a principal decision having been taken by the government of Tanzania, to build a highway across the Serengeti’s migration routes, that knowledge spread like wildfire and now has over 45,000 Facebook activists supporting the “Stop the Serengeti Highway” coalition, including the world’s top names in conservation and from the environmental lobby. Attempts to conceal such plans are nowadays almost certain to fail, as it takes just one careless word uttered at a cocktail party, overheard by someone with a smart phone, and off goes the Tweet which triggers the first little stone, eventually turning into an avalanche. This brings on board pressure groups and lobbyists from all corners of the globe to lend a hand, expose such projects some more and name and shame the culprits in government and in the private sector. The stories are many, the Mabira saga in Uganda, the sad story of the Mau forest in Kenya, the now infamous “Corridor of Destruction” in Tanzania and the most worrying aspect of them all, the wildfire spread of poaching across Africa.

A decade ago, when eTN first launched in its current format, poaching was almost absent from out parks, apart from what one calls subsistence poaching where villagers go to hunt for food, so as to ensure the survival of their families. CITES, in an ill fated move, granted special dispensation to some countries in Southern Africa to sell their ivory stocks and later in the ‘naught decade of the 21st century’ granted permission to China to trade in ivory. The flood gates were opened back then, to many unbeknown still until in 2009, then 2010 and finally in 2011 the full onslaught on the elephant and rhinos of Africa became apparent. Prestige and the misconception of healing powers of rhino horn powder, in particular in China, has fuelled a massive criminal, yet well commercialized underground pipeline, from the safari parks of Africa, over the sea ports, airports and trading routes into Asia, where the nouvelle riche are trying to gain face by displaying intricate ivory carvings, at the expense of the last great herds in Africa. Only weeks ago over 500 elephant were butchered for their tusks in Cameroon, while in Kenya the CEO of Eco- Tourism Kenya got arrested for publicly challenging the head of Kenya Wildlife Services over published poaching figures he disputed. That made for a wildfire story too. The social media, Twitter, Facebook and in often gruesome pictures YouTube send all of it out to the world today, and sharing translates often into caring, when support is rallied, suspects named and shamed and governments pressured to finally do something to protect Africa’s wildlife assets for future generations. After all, tourism is big business and is expected to become an even bigger business in the future, as infrastructure grows, making travel to and across Africa easier.

So a decade on, eTN has maintained its place as a forum where news are often broken ahead of the mainstream media and has become a reference point for many who seek information on African tourism destination. It has also become a focal point for those seeking to expose crimes against the environment and the animal kingdoms, with the difference to 10 years ago that exposing such has become exponentially easier.

I extend to my colleagues in eTN, especially the staff in Hawaii but also my colleagues, in the region and around the world, my congratulations for having made a difference and continuing to make a difference. And as my saying goes, watch this space because here the news are told about aviation, hospitality, travel, tourism, conservation and much more, like in few other places. We are not market leader for nothing. And now, cake and champagne please, let the corks fly and celebrate with us this special anniversary edition.