Sunday 25 November 2018

BOTSWANA: Nearly 90 Elephants Murdered, Ivory Stolen

Nearly ninety elephants have been killed close to a famous park in the southern African country of Botswana, conservation group Elephants Without Borders have disclosed.

Almost all of the dead animals had their tusks removed stressing the view that the incident was directly connected to the activities of poachers.

Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population but according to Dr Mike Chase from Elephants Without Borders, the incident could have a devastating effect on its tourism industry. He is the scientist carrying out an extensive survey of the deaths.

I’m shocked, I’m completely astounded. The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I’ve seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date,Dr Mike Chase said

When I compare this to figures and data from the Great Elephant Census, which I conducted in 2015, we are recording double the number of fresh poached elephants than anywhere else in Africa, he added.

He also linked the incident to the disarming of Botswana’s anti-poaching unit since the coming into office of President Eric Masisi. The current deaths are said to have happened weeks back and further in the country close to the protected Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary.

The Okavango Delta is a vast inland river delta in northern Botswana. It’s known for its sprawling grassy plains, which flood seasonally, becoming a lush animal habitat. It is described as Africa’s last eden.

The government at the time of disarming the anti-poaching unit did not give a reason for the move and has also yet to respond to the latest report. The survey is still underway and it is feared that the final figure could be higher.

This requires urgent and immediate action by the Botswana government. Botswana has always been at the forefront of conservation and it will require political will.

Our new president must uphold Botswana’s legacy and tackle this problem quickly. Tourism is vitally important for our economy, jobs, as well as our international reputation, which is at stake here as being a safe stronghold for elephants. said Mr Chase.

ETHIOPIA: Ethiopian Airlines Expanding Routes In Africa

Ethiopian Airlines is accelerating its strategy of weaving a patchwork of new African routes to soak up traffic on the continent and fly customers towards its more lucrative flights to rapidly expanding Asian markets.

With a long-delayed African “open skies” revolution still mired in red tape, Ethiopian has been snapping up stakes in small carriers around the continent to pre-empt potential rivals and become the dominant pan-African airline.

The carrier is in talks with Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Republic and Djibouti about either launching airlines or securing landing spots, CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said.

He also said in May the airline was looking to set up carriers in Equatorial Guinea and Guinea through joint ventures.

The task of African integration is not easy, Tewolde said in an interview. The context is the need for air transport. There is huge demand. We are responding to it.

Ethiopian’s push comes as Middle Eastern rivals who expanded heavily in Africa are feeling some pain from overcapacity, while African carriers such as South African Airways and Kenya Airways are on the back foot after losing money for years.

The success or failure of Ethiopian’s plan is being watched by long-haul competitors such as Turkish Airlines and suppliers led by Boeing and, more recently, Airbus.

Ethiopian’s fortunes are also important for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, which has said it plans to sell a minority stake in the airline to domestic and foreign investors as part of broad economic reform pledges.

Ethiopian unveiled its 15-year expansion strategy in 2010, and started small. First it helped launch ASKY Airlines in the West African country of Togo and then acquired a 49 percent stake in Malawi’s flag carrier in southern Africa in 2013.

Since May, Ethiopian has announced plans to launch an airline in Mozambique, relaunched Zambia’s flag carrier, established a new airline in Chad to cover West and Central Africa and resumed flights to Somalia after a 41-year hiatus.

The prize is growing fast. Air traffic in Africa is forecast to grow 6 percent a year, twice as quickly as mature markets and faster than any other region over the next two decades.

Ethiopian is hoping to snare a greater share of capacity on flights between cities in Africa, which are already 90-percent controlled by African carriers.

In most cases so far, Ethiopian has taken minority stakes in start-up airlines and tried to implant its management culture, often in nations haunted by costly failures of state carriers.

Tewolde also wants to claw back market share on routes to and from the continent, dominated by Turkish and Gulf carrier Emirates. This year, 61 percent of capacity to or from Africa has been controlled by non-African carriers.

There are big risks.

Ethiopian is spending tens of millions of dollars in some of Africa’s toughest markets and the strategy of buying minority stakes to get a foothold abroad has failed spectacularly for some, such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad.

Analysts worry accelerated expansion may spread Ethiopian too thinly if traffic doesn’t pick up fast enough at its new hubs in Togo, Malawi and Chad.

The regional hubs are designed partly to channel customers to Ethiopian’s main hub in Addis Ababa and so fill its direct flights to the Middle East and Asia.

Open skies?

There are also concerns that none is in a major African city. Lome is far smaller than west African cities such as Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos, or Abidjan in Ivory Coast, while Chad’s dusty desert capital is even smaller.

You want to build (a hub) in a place where you are going to get local traffic and connecting traffic, said Craig Jenks, president of consultancy Airline/Aircraft Projects Inc

Tewolde said the new airline in Chad would draw in passengers from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Niger, northern Nigeria and Sudan.

Yamlaksira Getachew, a management professor at Loyola Marymount University, warned Zambia’s relaunched flag carrier could steal traffic from Ethiopian’s existing southern African hub in neighbouring Malawi.

Ethiopian has been forced to adopt the piecemeal approach to expansion because full air transport liberalisation has failed to materialise, despite several attempts.

In 1999, 44 African countries signed the Yamoussoukro Decision in Ivory Coast’s capital giving airlines freedom to ferry passengers between two foreign countries.

But the agreement was barely implemented as governments moved to protect domestic carriers.

To try to revive the stalled process, 23 African governments signed another deal this year to forge a single aviation market.

So far, Ethiopian’s plan appears to be working. It says it has clocked average growth of 25 percent a year since 2010 and expects to carry nearly 10.6 million passengers this year, up from 3.7 million eight years ago.

Unlike many African rivals, it is also making money. Net profit rose 2 percent to $233 million in its 2017-18 fiscal year.

It says Western banks are helping to fund plans to boost its fleet of 108 planes, with 66 more on order.

Highlighting the potential riches at stake, Chinese banks are involved too, partly reflecting Beijing’s drive to build a new trade corridor to the Middle East and Africa, bankers said.

Tourism Observer

BOTSWANA: Tourist Visa On Arrival Introduced In Botswana

In an effort to improve the ease of doing business in Botswana,Botswana will offer TOURIST VISA at point of entry effective 24th November 2018. This announcement was made by HE, The President of Botswana, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi at the HLCC meeting held today( 15-Nov-2018)

Botswana has become the latest African nation to relax visa requirements in a bid to improve tourism and the ease of doing business in the country.

The Southern African nation will offer tourist visas on arrival effective November 24, the president announced.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who is expected to attend this weekend’s extraordinary African Union summit in Ethiopia, announced the new visa development on Thursday.

While the African Union (AU) set a 2018 deadline for the removal of visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries, a recent AU report found that Africans can travel without a visa to just 22% of other African countries.

Rwanda, Benin and recently Ethiopia, are some of the African nations that relaxed visa requirements for all African citizens this year.

It is exactly 53 days before the year comes to an end and we usher in 2019. Many of us made resolutions in the beginning of the year, well we have a few days left to accomplish our goals. With this in mind I would like to go back to a major goal that encompasses our continent.

The African Union set a 2018 deadline for the removal of visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries.

The Free Movement of Persons and the African Passport policy was adopted by the African Union at the 27th ordinary session held in Kigali, Rwanda in July 2016.

African states were expected to adopt the African passport and work closely with the AU Commission to facilitate its issuance at the national level based on international, continental and national policy provisions and continental design and specifications.

How far along have we come one may ask? A recent AU report found that Africans can travel without a visa to just 22% of other African countries.

What is Visa?

A visa is the authority given to foreign nationals to enter Botswana.

Who is eligible to apply for this service?

All Citizens of Commonwealth countries do not require visa except those from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Foreign nationals whose countries have signed a Visa Abolition Agreement with Botswana are also not required to apply for a visa.

N.B. Those who have permits but decide to stay outside the country for more than six months are required to apply for a visa when they come back to Botswana.

What is required for application of this service?

- Covering letter from the host.

- Certified copies of permits (work and residence) from the host or the National Identity Card (Omang).

- Application form filled by the applicant.

- Itinerary or flight schedule

- Copies of business documents (if the host is running a business).

- Copies of marriage certificate, birth certificate, and ordination certificate (pastors)

- Bank statements and hotel bookings.

Where can I apply for a visa?

There are 20 diplomatic missions in 17 countries around the world where visa applications can also be made: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa (Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town), Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United Nations(New York), Zambia and Zimbabwe.

List of countries whose nationals/citizens do not require a visa for entry into Botswana.

- All Commonwealth countries (except for Bangaldesh,Cameroon,Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).

- Agentina

- Angola

- Austria

- Bahrain

- Belgium

- Brazil

- Bulgaria

- Chile

- Czech Republic

- Costa Rica

- Croatia

- Cuba

- Denmark

- Dominican Republic

- Estonia

- Federal Republic of Germany

- Finland

- France

- Greece

- Holy See

- Iceland

- Israel

- Italy

- Japan

- Kuwait

- Latvia

- Liechtenstin

- Luxembourg

- Mexico

- Monaco

- Netherlands

- Norway and Colonies

- Oman

- Paraguay

- Peru

- Poland

- Portugal

- Qatar

- Republic of Ireland

- Romania

- Russian Federation

- San Marino

- Slovak Republic

- Slovania

- South Arabia

- South Korea

- South Sudan

- Spain

- Sweden

- Switzerland

- Turkey

- United Arab Emirates

- United States of America

- Uruguay

- Venezuela

- Zambia

- Zimbabwe

NB: All countries that are not listed require visa for entry into Botswana.

Applicants can also submit applications at Regional and District Offices around the country.

How long does it take to get a visa?

7 - 14 days

NB: Customers are expected to collect their passports within seven days and if they don’t they are phoned to come and collect them. Those who applied at the Regional and District Offices are posted back to the responses at their respective offices.

Downloadable Form

Visas for Botswana


Passport Requirements
A passport is required by all travellers except the following:
1. Travellers with a 'Laissez Passer' that is issued by the United Nations.

2. Travellers with a document issued to people without nationality or citizenship and refugees according to the UN Convention.

Document Validity

Passports and alternative papers, or either of them, must be valid on arrival.

Visa Issuance

Before arrival: A visa may be issued, if necessary, by the Immigration and Passport Control Office (Post Office Box no. 942, Gaborone); or by representations of Botswana abroad; or by British embassies or consulates in countries where Botswana hasn't representation. However, applicants from South Africa may apply directly to the Immigration and Passport Control Office (Post Office Box no. 942, Gaborone, Botswana).

Visa Exemptions

All travellers must hold a visa except the following:
1. Citizens of Botswana.

2. Travellers staying for no more than 90 days for the following travellers:

2.1. Travellers with British passports regardless of endorsement in passport concerning their citizenship.

2.2. Travellers with passports issued by Hong Kong (A Special Administrative Region of China).

2.3. Citizens of Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Lesotho, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Samoa San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Uruguay, United States of America, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

2.4. Travellers with United Nations travel documents so long as such documents are issued by the Botswana Government and endorsed with a return clause; other travellers with United Nations travel documents need an entry visa.

2.5. Travellers with documents issued to refugees and people without nationality or citizenship according to the UN Convention. However, a visa before arrival is required if those travellers are not visa-exempted according to their nationality.

3. Travellers with a residence permit that is issued by Botswana.

TWOV (Transit Without Visa)

TWOV is permissible for travellers continuing their trip via the same or first connecting plane without leaving the airport.

Additional information

1. Travellers must have enough money for their stay in Botswana and return or onward tickets.

2. Any traveller, whether requiring a visa or not, who wants to stay in Botswana for more than 90 days should apply for a prior permission for an extended period. This permission should be applied to the Immigration and Passport Control Office (Post Office Box no. 942, Gaborone). No visitor is allowed to work or to look for work.


Import regulations

Travellers are allowed free import of:
- 50 millilitres of perfume and 250 millilitres of toilet water.
- One litre of alcoholic drinks and two litres of wine.
- Gift articles up to a total value of BWP 500.
- 250 grammes of tobacco, 50 cigars and 400 cigarettes.

Export regulations

Free export of souvenirs and presents up to a value of BWP 500.


Pets are allowed to enter. As for cats and dogs, they must be accompanied by an import permit from the Director of Veterinary Services (located at Private Bag 0032, Gaborone, Botswana). Furthermore, a health certificate is required indicating that the animal was immunized with the Flury or Kelev vaccine against rabies not less than 30 days and not more than 3 years before importation for dogs; and not less than one month and not more than one year before importation for cat.

Baggage Clearance regulations

A traveller's luggage should be cleared at the airport of final destination in Botswana.
* Exemptions:
Luggage of transit travellers whose destination is outside Botswana.

Airport tax

Travellers are not required to pay any airport tax upon their departure from the airport.

Currency Import regulations

There are no restrictions on importing local currency (Botswana Pula-BWP) and foreign currencies provided imported sums are declared.

Currency Export regulations

Travellers are allowed to export local currency (Botswana Pula-BWP) up to BWP 50.

Travellers are allowed to export foreign currencies up to the amount that is imported and declared.

Additional Information on regulations

Travellers have to declare all articles with serial numbers by means of form no. DA65. On their departure day, travellers have to endorse that form by the Customs Officer on duty. On the other hand, all valuable commodities without serial numbers have to be declared via an NEP-form, which travellers can acquire, fill in and stamp at any commercial bank. On their departure day, travellers have to endorse that form by the Customs Officer on duty.

Arms and Ammunition regulations

Ammunition and firearms have to be declared upon arrival. If goods are re-imported, the traveller must show the DA65 form or the NEP form that was issued on his/her departure.

a href="">Tourism Observer

Saturday 24 November 2018

ESWATINI: Prime Minister Bans Lavish Travel For Officials

The newly-appointed prime minister of the tiny kingdom of eSwatini on Friday banned first-class air travel for top government officials as part of a slew of measures to control spending.

Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who took office a month ago, also announced that he will not buy a new car for himself but inherit the old one used by his predecessor as the economy battles slowing growth.

Following the current economic challenges facing the kingdom, the cabinet has decided to implement major interim fiscal decisions to enhance financial prudence and controls so as to spend as little money as possible, he said in a statement.

Dlamini said all senior officials including himself and ministers will no longer travel first class but in business class when flying on national duties.

All other public servants will fly in economy class.

All foreign trips by government officials would be vetted to ensure they were of national importance.

A former banker and national executive of Africa’s leading mobile operator MTN, Dlamini was last month named prime minister by King Mswati III, to replace Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini who died in September.

Dlamini said he was preparing an economic recovery plan for the country which suffers dire poverty and has struggled to lift its economy.

The World bank says that eSwatini’s GDP is projected to contract by -0.6 per cent this year mainly as a result of worsening fiscal challenges and the government’s fiscal consolidation efforts.

Declining government revenue and high expenditure have resulted in high fiscal deficit and cash flow problems.

The king, Mswati, one of the world’s last absolute rulers, who has 14 wives and more than 25 children, has a reputation for lavish spending on private planes and royal palaces while 63 per cent of his subjects live in poverty.

Without warning in April, Mswati III marked 50 years since his country’s independence from British colonial rule by announcing that it would now be known as eSwatini meaning land of the Swazis.

The landlocked kingdom, which has close economic ties with South Africa, faces international criticism that the government stifles dissent, jails its opponents and denies workers’ rights.

Tourism Observer

Sunday 18 November 2018

UAE: Dubai Safari Park Welcomes New Animals

Dubai Safari will soon open its doors to public with scores of new animals, an Adventure Village and many more attractions.

Spanning 12.8 million square feet of landscaped land, Dubai Safari was home to more than 2,500 animals when it welcomed visitors on December 12, 2017.

The wildlife park that closed on May 15 to undergo an upgrade has welcomed several new animals over the summer months, a top executive said.

Spanning 12.8 million sqft of landscaped land, Dubai Safari was home to more than 2,500 animals when it opened last year. Dubai Safari

These include a group of moon bears, African elephants, chimpanzees, otters, a young Komodo dragon, and a range of new birds for our aviary and new bird show, said Frank Rietkerk, general manager.

Four African elephants, three females and one male, were flown in from Zimbabwe in late April.

Komodo dragons are the largest and heaviest lizards in the world.

The animals are in the process of adapting to their new environment and cohabitants, said Rietkerk.

He said the park has been undergoing a programme of upgrades to expand and improve visitor experience, education, animal diversity and welfare since May, and considerable progress has been achieved.

The park was scheduled to reopen on October 1. While there has been a delay, the park announced on October 10 that it had decided to do a little more upgrade to create the best experience for everyone.

Whilst the new opening date will be revealed in due course, Rietkerk said members of the public can keep up-to-date on Dubai Safari Park’s enhancements and opening via its website and social media channels.

Visitors can also look forward to an enhanced attraction with new additions such as a streamlined hop on-hop off bus service that will take them to each area of the park, as well as an upgraded Adventure Village and a range of new restaurants and kiosks, he added.

Earlier this year, Meraas signed an agreement with Dubai Municipality to manage Dubai Safari.

The company then appointed Parques Reunidos, a world-renowned operator of animal parks, to oversee the day-to-day running of the destination in line with international best practices.

Visit Dubai Safari Park

Tourism Observer

UAE: American Tourist Raped In A Dubai Marina Hotel

An employee has been jailed for six months for engaging in sexual intercourse with a tourist, who claimed that she was raped in her hotel room after inviting him over for a drink.

The 24-year-old American tourist was in town for a three-day holiday when she met the 29-year-old Moroccan employee on board a Dubai-bound flight in December.

The 29-year-old defendant and the American woman became friends and she invited him over for a drink at her hotel room in Dubai Marina.

Having obtained prior permission to bring over his cousin, the two Moroccans visited the tourist at her luxurious hotel room where they drank liquor all night.

When the 24-year-old woman woke up in the morning, she claimed to have realised that she had been raped.

Once she went out of her bed and walked into the main hall, the two men left the hotel immediately.

The American woman complained to the police and alleged that the accused had asked her for a phone charger and, when she took him to her room, he punched her and forced himself on her.

The Dubai Court of First Instance convicted the accused of having sex with the 24-year-old American.

Presiding judge Fahd Al Shamsi said the accused, who contended that he had consensual sex with the victim, will be deported.

The 24-year-old tourist testified that she invited the accused over to her room after they became friends on the aircraft.

He took permission to accompany his cousin and we drank liquor all night. When he asked me for a phone charger, I accompanied him to the bedroom to give him the charger … he punched me and I lost consciousness. As I woke up in the morning, I noticed that I had been undressed and raped.

There were traces of semen on my thigh … once I walked out to the room, they both left instantly. I went out of the room and alerted the hotel’s security about what had happened. I also told them that my Dh5,500, earrings and passport were stolen, she testified.

A policeman said the hotel’s front desk manager notified them that a problem happened between the tourist and her Moroccan visitors after they got drunk.

The ruling remains subject to appeal.

Tourism Observer

UAE: Emirati Off-duty Pilot Threatens To Blow Plane

An air hostess waived her assault and cursing complaint against an off-duty pilot, who will be sentenced next month in his case of drinking and threatening to have an aircraft shot down.

The Emirati off-duty pilot had pleaded not guilty before the Dubai Court of First Instance where he was being tried for drinking, threatening to blow up an Emirates aircraft, assaulting a stewardess, wrecking parts of the plane, gesturing indecently in front of passengers and behaving disruptively.

The suspect’s lawyer argued before the court that prosecution witnesses’ statements were full of inconsistencies and asked the presiding judge to acquit his client and dismiss the charges.

In his defence argument, the lawyer contended that the witnesses’ statements before the court contradicted their original testimonies before prosecutors.

He further provided the court with a written waiver that his client had obtained from the Romanian air hostess, whom he was accused of assaulting and insulting.

In an earlier hearing, the Romanian hostess testified in court that the suspect joked when he was first brought on to the aircraft in June.

Four staff from the UAE embassy in Spain escorted him to the plane. I was told that he could not stay anymore in Madrid because of residency issues. When he first walked into the plane, he addressed me jokingly by saying - I haven’t smoked in 15 minutes. I replied that smoking was not permitted on the plane.

He acted rowdily and ran towards the aircraft’s kitchen, took two beers without permission. He disturbed the passengers, shouting at them and cursing. He also threatened to kill me and claimed that he would blow up the plane because he was carrying explosives, the hostess testified in court.

Her Uzbek co-worker testified: The suspect had been behaving in an unruly manner. He took four beers without permission. When we were cruising above Iraq, he said that he had called his friend in Baghdad and asked him to shoot down the plane with a missile. He shouted that we were all going to die.

During her statement before the three-judge bench, the Romanian witness requested permission to imitate how the suspect committed an indecent gesture — that had a sexual connotation — on-board the aircraft.

She also told the court the exact curse words he used.

The defence lawyer asked the court to acquit his client or treat him with leniency when it hands out a judgement.

Tourism Observer

Thursday 15 November 2018

UAE: Abu Dhabi Food Festival Coming, December 6 To 22

Abu Dhabi Food Festival (ADFF) will return this year from December 6 to 22.

The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi initiative will see visitors entertained with food trucks, markets, movies, photography workshops and celebrity chef appearances.

Events include World of Food Abu Dhabi at the Corniche, Big Grill on Yas Island, the Abu Dhabi Food Festival Scavenger Hunt, Festember and Abu Dhabi Restaurant week.

This year there will be a Vegan Market that will feature plant-based cuisines from the UAE’s hotspots, along with activities promoting a holistic and healthy lifestyle, such as yoga and reiki sessions, as well as food photography sessions.

Art studio workshops will also be on offer to this year’s attendees with activities where Art Studio will adapt its drop-in workshops on these dates for adults, juniors and children.

Abu Dhabi Food Festival is undoubtedly one of the premier culinary events in the region, said Sultan Al Mutawa Al Dhaheri, executive director of the tourism sector at DCT Abu Dhabi.

Events such as Abu Dhabi Food Festival position the emirate as a culinary attractive destination for tourists to visit and have a positive impact on our industry growth in terms of the number of visitors arriving.

Tourism Observer

IRAQ: Iraq Rail Service Is Back

At Baghdad’s grand but half-empty railway station, a single train is sputtering to life. It is the newly revived daily service to Falluja, a dusty town to the west once infamous as a Sunni insurgent stronghold.

The driver and conductor assure that the tracks running through Anbar province are now clear of mines planted by Daesh and of collapsed bridges the group blew up when it marauded through western and northern Iraq in 2014.

The rapid advance of the militants shut down the line, before US-backed Iraqi forces drove them out of Falluja in 2016 and defeated them in Iraq in late 2017.

After a four-year hiatus, hundreds of rail passengers now travel the 50km between Baghdad and Falluja in just over an hour. By car, the journey can take several.

The train saves time. The Baghdad-bound leg arrives at 8am, which suits my schedule. It’s also cheaper than by car at 3,000 Iraqi dinars ($2.50) for a ticket.

The revival in July of the daily service, once a feature of an extensive rail network dating back to the Ottoman Empire, is a vivid example of Iraq’s attempts to recover from decades of unrest.

Passengers see it as a metaphor for the country’s state: security has improved enough to allow unhindered passage through countryside dominated for years by Daesh and Al Qaida militants. But the train is dilapidated and shudders as it gathers speed.

The state of the tracks allow a steady pace of up to around 100km/h, but no more. Dozens of windows have been smashed by children who play in the dirt in poor Baghdad districts and pelt carriages with stones as they cruise by.

I hope the service will keep running, but in the last few days there have been delays. Sometimes it runs out of fuel on the journey, or has technical failures, Mohammad said.

Abdul Sittar Mohsin, a media official for the national operator Iraqi Republic Railways, said the company was in dire need of funding to keep the service running.

We did this with the company’s money and we’re operating at a loss, he says.

Regular passengers include unemployed youth looking for work, a perennial problem in Iraq where demonstrations over lack of jobs, water and power turned violent in the southern city of Basra in September.

I had a job interview with an NGO today in Baghdad, but I’m not holding out much hope, said Yassin Jasem, a recent graduate with a degree in medicine. I try to get casual work in Falluja, but there’s little and it’s low pay.

Jasem and his family moved to the relative security of Erbil in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq while Daesh held Falluja.

The city and fertile countryside along the Euphrates river suffered a series of bruising battles after the US invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussain. Falluja became infamous in 2004 when four American security contractors were killed and their bodies hung from a bridge in the city.

Everywhere are reminders of a delicate security situation.

Armed police patrol the train, which runs past a scrapyard of cars destroyed during fighting and the remains of a road bridge blown up by militants.

Railway officials hope to restore services all the way to the Syrian border. Iraq’s rail network, developed during the British mandate period and under Baath Party rule in the 1960s, used to stretch to Istanbul and Aleppo in Syria via Mosul in northern Iraq.

Conflict with Iran in the 1980s, UN sanctions in the 1990s and violence since then have wrecked most of the old network, apart from regular services to Basra and now Falluja.

Plans to extend beyond Falluja might be ambitious — tracks are buried in sand and Iraqi forces have been reinforced at the border after recent Daesh counter-attacks in Syria.

For now, the Falluja line is a big step forward.

It’s great, I can regularly see my daughter now who is marrying a man from Falluja, one woman said. At the moment, things are very okay.

Tourism Observer

Sunday 11 November 2018

BOTSWANA: Over 400 Stampeding Buffaloes Drown

More than 400 buffaloes believed to have been chased by lions drowned in a river in northern Botswana this week, the government said.

The mass drowning occurred on Tuesday night in Chobe River on the border with Namibia.

Investigations by authorities in both countries suggest that an exceptionally large buffalo herd was grazing in Namibia when they stampeded into the Chobe River, Botswana's Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said in a statement late Wednesday.

Initial indications are that they were being chased by a pride of lions, it said.

It is estimated that more than 400 animals drowned due to the massive movement of buffalo trampling, and falling from steep river banks.

Buffalo river drownings are not uncommon in the region, but the numbers are usually small.

Namibia's Environment Minister Pohamba Shifeta said that the incident was unfortunate but due to natural causes.

About 1,000 buffalo had struggled to get over a river bank when the stampede started, he said. Three lions were seen in the area.

Namibia said the buffalo meat would be donated to the local community and carcasses were being collected.

Tourism Observer