Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scrap the lunatic line - here's another of those visions

Now this is exciting, if it ever happens: Mombasa to Kampala in ten hours. It's part of Kenya Railways Vision 2050 (funny how the target year keeps receding). Wider track and bigger trains would be more likely to be useful in the 22nd century, never mind the 21st - and an average speed of 110kph (68mph) isn't exactly high-speed.

But it's the right idea, isn't it? Get people moving, working, trading, with low-carbon emissions, and bring tourists through one of the world's most fabled landscapes in comfort, maybe calling at a new Maneater's Hotel in Tsavo. I hope I'm still around to see it.

But first Kenya, Uganda and South Africa have to sort out this mess.

Restaurant prices in Kenya

Kenya is experiencing the same price rises in fuel and commodities that are hitting all the world's poorest economies hardest – Restaurant prices in Kenya are notably higher than in the current edition of the guide. Still good value – tourists won't find them unaffordable – but more than ever out of reach of 95% of Kenyans.

Photo: "Carnivore", Langata, Nairobi

Slum TV in Mathare, Nairobi

Interesting recent audio report from the BBC World Service about a new TV station in Nairobi's Mathare slum: SlumTV

Roots of the Rift Valley violence - Kalenjin and Kikuyu

Land and water rights in the Rift Valley lie at the heart of the post-election violence. But there's something deeper and less material going on as well, according to this detailed and thoroughly researched article by Horace Njuguna Gisemba. It implies that something in the "soul" (?) of some young Kalenjin men has made them bloodthirsty attackers of non-Kalenjin, and particularly of Kikuyu. Certainly, the Kalenjin were brutally treated by the British a century ago. Punitive expeditions massacred about 1000 Kalenjin warriors at the end of the nineteenth century, and the account by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen (who murdered the Nandi leader during a meeting) makes chilling reading (Kenya Diary). But Gisemba implies there was organization behind the anti-Kikuyu violence and says we'll have to wait for the findings of the proposed Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. That could take years: I'd like to hear from an alternative viewpoint.

Barack Obama slurred by link with Odinga slurred by link with Obama

It's dig-the-dirt time again in American politics and Barack Obama, part Luo like Raila Odinga (but not Odinga's cousin in the American sense of the term "cousin") is accused of very close ties with the ODM leader (they're part of some "socialist/Sharia law" conspiracy). Who in turn is accused of accepting an unfeasibly large donation from the Democratic contender. It's all some sort of desperate Republican smear.

And it seems to have backfired quite spectacularly on the Republicans with the disclosure that one of Republican nominee John McCain's senior advisors, Charles Black, was a lobbyist for the Daniel arap Moi government in the late 1980s and early 90s when the former Kenyan dictator was in power.

To draw the conspiracies out to their illogical conclusion, it's important to recall that Moi's greatest support came from the same powerbase in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya as Raila Odinga's.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sustainable Mara

It's all happening. . .

An excellent initiative in the Maasai Mara:

"The Mara Conservancy, a not-for-profit conservation management company based in the Masai Mara, has launched a new Responsible Wildlife Tourism Award, aimed at encouraging tourism best-practice in Kenya. Sponsored by international wildlife charity and long-time friend of Kenya, the Born Free Foundation, the award is aimed at protecting Kenya’s wildlife from the potential negative impacts of increasing visitor numbers in the region. . ."

Read the full story here, at

The award is being judged by Cheryl Mvula, who featured in the Observer recently, in a piece about the Maasai benefitting properly from tourism.

Photo: Mara Wildebeest © Irv Weissbart

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Return of tourism also benefits agricultural exporters

It's not just the tourist industry that will benefit from the return of charter flights. Lake Victoria's Luo fishing communities depend partly on tourist charter flights for their livelihood. Local food exporters have been hit very hard by the cancellation of the tourist flights in whose holds they normally ship fruit, vegetables and fish to Europe.

Mike Wooldridge on the future for Kenya

Mike Wooldridge's thoughtful, if disturbing two-part series for Radio 4
is being repeated on the BBC World Service. Or is it the other way round?

Anyway. Listen out for the crystal tones of Nairobi Kiss FM's Caroline Mutogo - breath of fresh air: "Every cabinet minister's on a million shillings. . .[but] I am optimistic, not about the politicians, but the Kenyans. . .What's slowly becoming clear to us as a people [is] don't ever put all your eggs in one basket and let that basket be Mister Member of Parliament. Ever."

Virgin kicks off the return to Kenya

Good to see Virgin Atlantic airlines helping to revive the Kenya tourist industry with a big UK press and underground poster campaign featuring the wildebeest migration. Richard Branson was in the Maasai Mara at Sekenani village near Sarova Mara camp at the weekend, where Virgin made a £60,000 donation to Sekenani village school.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has apparently invited Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga to talks in London. Is that good? Let's hope they meet David Miliband.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Behind the Smile: the Tsunami of Tourism"

Tourism Concern's brilliant photo essay, "Behind the Smile: the Tsunami of Tourism", is back on the Tourism Concern site once again, having been inaccessible for some time. The photos by John Wright, part of an exhibition originally shown at London's Oxo Gallery in early 2006 (which also included photos by Jenny Matthews from tsunami-affected areas of Thailand), are a stark indictment of the rotten end of Kenya's tourist industry: untenably low wages, callous disregard for human dignity and scant concern for maintaining a sustainable hospitality culture. John Wright's explanation of the "quote cards" held by the subject of each photo is eloquent. Kenya desperately needs its tourists back –  tourists who are happy to tip, leave the hotel, bargain for souvenirs, jump on local excursions as well as pre-booked safaris, and generally get stuck into the country. People returning from visits say the parks are incredible with so few visitors, and the welcome as warm as you could imagine.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

National Museum reopens in Nairobi

Nairobi's national museum, the city's most important tourist attraction, and a good museum in its own right, has recently re-opened after more than two years' closure for refurbishment. Thanks to Mark Fairweather for the news - the National Museums of Kenya site is still saying it's going to reopen at the end of 2007. . .