OnSafari: Zanzibar

OnSafari: Zanzibar

I can wallow under a giant rain shower or soak in a bathtub even larger than the 19th Century four-claw tub at my home.

Our hotel housekeeper constantly refills our 4 2-liter bottles with purified water for more than just basic drinking needs, and plenty for our massive tea or coffee consumption. This is the Zanzibar Park Hyatt where each guest on average uses 30 times more water than the average Zanzibari.

EWT and other foreign guests wouldn’t come here were it otherwise. But it isn’t sustainable and many progressive Zanzibaris are growing increasingly vocal about it.

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OnSafari: Tiny Places

OnSafari: Tiny Places

7.classic.mvAutonomy is the buzzword, now. The Navajo Nation, Catalonia, Maasai Ngorongoro, Yukon First Nations or Zanzibar, and they are all wrong. This is becoming clearer and clearer to me as I tour America’s southwest and listen to the same story lines and their dismal outcomes that I have heard in Tanzania for years.

Kathleen and I spent a half-day with T.J. in his pretty beat up jeep in Canyon de Chelly, a part of the greater Navajo nation. He showed us some amazing scenery and intrigued us with closeups of Anasazi, Hopi and other Pueblo indian pictograph and petroglyph. But I was belabored with his stilted view of history and saddened not just by his own personal story, but the story of his people.

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OnSafari: Zanzibar

OnSafari: Zanzibar

dhow.zanzibarI wish everyone I know could have been with us in Zanzibar. The troubles in the world are like flotsam in a still lake: just when you think you see an object it dissolves into murk. In Zanzibar we experienced one small puddle of clarity: the hatred between the Shia and Suni.

As we telescope in from our incomplete and unsatisfactory understanding of the world, today, we learn that refusal to compromise is the only position shared by all. Here’s how we saw that in Zanzibar:

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OnSafari: Reef Woes

OnSafari: Reef Woes

zanzibar reefIt was a splendid morning in Stone Town with calm winds and few clouds that might be suggesting the monsoon is changing and the farmers will soon have rain.

It couldn’t have been a better day for flying. I was scheduled on Zanair to Arusha, which cancelled and put me on TropicalAir to Arusha, which cancelled and put me on AirExcel to Arusha where I arrived 15 minutes early than originally scheduled! Oh, Africa how I love thee! Except…

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OnSafari: Matemwe

OnSafari: Matemwe

7.auctioneersFew vocations worldwide are as threatened as that of the fisherman. I’ve seen it with Lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia, cod fishermen in Boston, salmon fishermen in Alaska and today the fishermen of Matemwe, Zanzibar.

I followed the fishermen of Matemwe Village, today. A wonderful guide, Omari, took me in his pretty fancy boat with its 20 HP engine, a virtual yacht compared to the ngalawas working the reef.

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Pitiful Profits

Pitiful Profits

zanburndi and religioniZanzibar and Burundi, today, are both tinder boxes rooted in ethnicity ready to explode.

It’s time to stop pretending that both Christianity and Islam, Hutu and Tutsi, or Arab and African are mostly “good.” It’s time to denounce religious ideology and ethnicity as mostly “bad.”

Recent studies about religion reenforce this. “Religion doesn’t work,” a South African newspaper has concluded. “Children of non-religious people are nicer than their religiously raised brethren.” (More on this below.)

Zanzibar’s divide is two-fold: Africans who link their heritage to animism and Christianity versus Arabs dedicated to Islam; and a never successful federation between Zanzibar and Tanganyika nearly a half century ago, which poorly formed modern Tanzania.

Burundi’s divide is wholly tribal: Hutu versus Tutsi, the same divide that led to the Rwandan genocide.

Zanzibar has progressed far more than Burundi has in the modern era. From ancient times the island was the seat of Arab power on the Swahili African coast. Its royal families grew trade with parts of the world as far afield as China.

Its gigantic misstep in history was to become dependent upon the slave trade. That gave the British colonizers a moral platform on which to justify their empire building. (It is, of course, illustrative that British industry – ships in particular – were indispensable in the development of the slave trade.)

Burundi is struggling through the ethnic chasm between Hutu and Tutsi that Rwanda solved by becoming an autocratic if communist state. Smaller than already small Rwanda, it’s nearly lockstep historically.

A “civil” (read “ethnic”) war was ended almost a decade ago with a peace agreement that led to free enough elections and a period of relatively stability. But the democratic mechanisms riveting the government were inevitably seen as threats by one side to the other, and the current man power is so unconstitutionally – nondemocratically.

As everywhere in the world, from Syria to Myanmar to Obama/Netanyahu, ethnic divides easily reenforce themselves with religious ideology.

Obviously I don’t want to give up St. Patty’s Day or Christmas, for that matter. But it’s time to grow up. Black Lives Matter. Intelligent Lives Matter.

A study published last week in Current Biology of 1170 children from a variety of religious backgrounds around the world concluded that children from religious families were less generous and more intolerant and sanctioned physical punishment more than children from non-religious families.

Christian and Muslims scored identically with regards to generosity, both groups are 28% less likely to share than nonreligious children.

The children were tested in seven different cities: Chicago, Cape Town, Toronto, Amman, Izmir, Istanbul and Guangzhou.

Researchers asked the parents to identify their child’s religious orientation: 23.9% were Christian, 43% Muslim, 27.6% not religious, 2.5% Jewish, 1.6% Buddhist, 0.4% Hindu, 0.2% agnostic, and 0.5% something else.

The research funded by the religious John Templeton Foundation used animation, physical games and structured social intercourse with other children in the study to reach these conclusions.

“Consistent with previous studies, in general the children were more likely to share as they got older. But …the negative relation between religiosity and altruism grew stronger with age; children with a longer experience of religion in the household were the least likely to share.”

According to Science Daily the studies “challenge the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior, and call into question whether religion is vital for moral development — suggesting the secularization of moral discourse does not reduce human kindness. In fact, it does just the opposite.”

In a world of diminishing resources, increasing human demand and aggressive global warming, some very tough decisions are going to have to be made.

The Bible and the Koran, like Mao’s Little Red Book or Gaddafi’s slightly larger Green Book, should not be used as references for a solution.

Life Goes On

Life Goes On

cleaningupfromtheelectionTanzania’s president-elect John Magufuli is the best outcome from an election that was free-and-fair enough. The disgruntled country seems to agree.

The exception is Zanzibar, where tensions are rising. Travelers should avoid Zanzibar now. The rest of the country went back to work, today. There were few celebrations even in the strongholds of the ruling party. Winners seem to know how seriously disappointed the opposition is.

Losers seem to be accepting the outcome.

Zanzibar is different and always has been. The “marriage” of the independent countries of Zanzibar and Tanganyika in 1964 has never been fully accomplished. The island has a very autonomous government, but in the last several cycles the mainland’s ruling CCM party has held power even there.

This year the island opposition claimed the election count was fraudulent, violence erupted and was quickly contained by what seemed to have been a premeditated arrangement between mainland authorities and those supporting the CCM candidates.

Shortly thereafter the Election Commission annulled the election. Today the island is very tense. Almost exclusively Muslim, Friday is normally a rest day. The island, though, is so heavily invested in tourism a normal Friday would have had far more activity than reported today in Stone Town, the island’s only city.

International observers give the election a passing grade without too much enthusiasm because of the Zanzibar annulment. Foreign observers generally concluded several days ago that that was a mistake.

It was an election of surprising switches and previously unimagined allegiances. Tanzania’s Shakespearean politics twisted onto itself creating a contest between two men who had been close friends and colleagues for years, loyal leaders of the CCM with ideologies and policies that were essentially identical.

Since neither had any substantive difference with the other, both let the electorate fashion their difference: the supporters of each claimed only their standard bearer would reduce the enormous corruption of the country which denies so many millions the basic services they need.

Magufuli was a dark horse from the ruling party. His opponent, Edward Lowassa, was expected to be the ruling party’s candidate virtually until Magufuli was chosen instead.

Lowassa comes from the better developed and more rebellious north, so the north was ecstatic when he defected from the ruling party to join Chadema, the main opposition based in the north. Then within days of realigning his allegiances he brought four other opposition parties into a giant opposition to become the first real challenge to CCM’s near 60 years of ruling Tanzania.

Just the simple idea that the ruling party might be undone sent young and educated Tanzanians into the stratospheres of extreme hope. There was no debate over the complicated new constitution, no question about taxes or budget or even schools – which is normally a very important issue, no scrutiny of the fact that Lowassa and Magufuli dropped from the same tree.

No one charged Lowassa with sour grapes for having been dumped by his life-long party. His own scandalous past in that party, his confession to playing a major role in a hundred-million dollar aid scam that resulted in his being fired as prime minister, was hardly mentioned.

Instead, the entire point of the election devolved into nothing more than the possibility that the ruling elite might be defeated, albeit by … one of its own.

Well, it wasn’t. And despite unusually numerous election irregularities, all the outside observers are coming to the conclusion that after serious qualifications to the notion of “free and fair,” the election really does represent the will of the people.

John Magufuli is a good guy. I would have voted for him over Lowassa, simply because to this moment Magufuli remains uncorrupt if complicit with the corruption that suffuses his colleagues. Lowassa is a confessed crook.

Magufuli has worked his way up the ladder of political succession step-by-step over many years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry. He’s known for his corruption-busting antics, including hiding in situations to bust unsuspecting corrupt policemen that wander near him unawares.

He comes into office with all the credentials that hopeful Tanzanians actually say they want. But then again so have past presidents like the current one, Jakaya Kikwete. A few years into the role and the glitter is shed, and a poor elected official suddenly has Swiss bank accounts and shares in world hotel chains.

All Tanzania can hope is that this pattern of good guys turning bad might be less easy to do in today’s growing internet world, especially with Tanzania’s youth so currently fired up.

So skeptical but satisfied. Like the country, resigned to what hope remains.

Zanzibar Darkens

Zanzibar Darkens

znzconflictYesterday’s coordinated and mostly ineffectual home-made bomb attacks on tourist sites in Zanzibar’s Stone Town is a certain indication that trouble is on the rise in paradise.

Two to four small, home-made bombs were thrown at tourist targets around 1 p.m. Only two relatively small explosions caused any damage, resulting in minor injuries to three or four Tanzanians.

No tourists were hurt.

Notably, I couldn’t find the news reported anywhere in the main stream Tanzanian media, and it was buried deep in Kenyan media. The story was first reported nine hours after it happened by Reuters, then by AFP, then published throughout the European and Chinese media.

A huge hunk of Tanzanian tourism revenue is generated by beautiful Zanzibar beach resorts. The largest single growing market is Chinese.

Initial reports by Reuters were that there were four attacks of small, home-made bombs, all around the same time at 1 p.m. Reuters identified the targets as the Anglican Church/Slave Museum, the Mercury restaurant and bar, and two at “the beach” but that the beach bombs didn’t detonate.

Reports this morning have completely dropped the references to any beach attacks. Reuters reports one person was injured; local reports carried into AFP by a reporter from Tanzania’s often shut-down Guardian newspaper claimed there were four injured and gave the names of three who were hospitalized, none seriously.

The local report suggested that at least one of those injured had picked up an undetonated home-made bomb and only then did it go off.

So I think the important facts are known, and while the character of the home-made bombs seems just a small step above errant teenagers fiddling with giant firecrackers or little rockets, the coordination of the attacks is troublesome.

The Anglican Church is an UNESCO heritage site and Stone Town’s main tourist attraction. One p.m. when the attack occurred usually represents a lull in the day’s constant stream of tourists, since it’s the hottest time of the day on this hot and humid equatorial island, and the primary attraction at the location is the underground and poorly ventilated old holding area for the slave market.

It’s also likely the time that the very poor security is even poorer or altogether absent and asleep.

On the other hand, one p.m. is the main lunch hour at the Mercury restaurant and bar, and there were undoubtedly tourists there yet to come forward.

Zanzibar has had a long and troubled history, and since the federation with then mainland Tanganyika in 1964, there has always been some political turmoil. The mainland is considered Christian and Zanzibar is completely Muslim.

Ever since 9/11 places like Zanzibar around the world have heated up. And particularly since the western world’s last few years of successfully combating world jihadism, youthful movements in these trouble spots have reemerged.

Zanzibar and the Kenyan coast are further aggravated by being near Somalia, where so much of the War Against Terror has played out in the last few years, advantage West. Click on “Somalia” and “Terrorism” to the right to read the many posts I’ve written about this.

My advice to clients to stay away from Zanzibar came in October, 2012, but that didn’t last long. Negotiations with the mainland and much increased police action quieted the island considerably during most of 2013.

There were two serious attacks in 2013, unrelated and at different times, and neither targeted tourists per se. Both were acid attacks, one thrown at a priest, and the other thrown at two teenage girls who were volunteering on the island.

The priest attack was similar to other attacks throughout the world where visible Christian clerics have publicly placed themselves in Muslim areas. I felt that the attacks on the two British teenagers in Stone Town was likely provoked by their not heeding advice to not dress scantily.

Note that yesterday the British Government’s new advice to its many travelers to Zanzibar was NOT not to go, but just increase vigilance.

At this point I think the best thing for tourists to do is avoid Stone Town. Stone Town is on the west side of the island where the bulk of the Zanzibar population is concentrated. This is where the incidents have occurred.

The better beach resorts on the east side of the island have good security. There has not been a reported incident in these eastern areas ever.

But it is a certain blow to tourism in the region, and it’s a continuing reminder that the global ideological wars between Right & Left, Christian & Muslim, Rich & Poor, are long from over.

Zap Zanzibar

Zap Zanzibar

Last night Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney argued whether al-Qaeda was on the run. It is, and it’s central to why Zanzibar is exploding, now.

Yesterday tear gas filled Stone Town as mostly young radicals protested the indictment of a popular extremist sheik who was then held without bail.

The unrest in Zanzibar began last week. There was also significant violence in mainland Tanzania’s largest city, Dar-es-Salaam. Many media reports claimed this was Zanzibar’s “Arab Spring.”

It’s not. Unlike in northern Africa these demonstrations will not succeed in toppling the Tanzanian government. Also unlike in northern Africa, the vast majority of Tanzanians are critical of the Islamic violence.

Mainland Tanzania has shackled Zanzibar ever since the federation in 1964 and most Tanzanians look down on Zanzibaris. This has not been a helpful attitude, in the past and especially now as unrest grows on the island. Be that as it may, the significant point is that mainland Tanzanians are in the vast majority.

But there could be a period now measured in months of unrest not significant enough to stop tourists coming to see lions but enough to seriously effect the beach business. This is because the trouble that’s brewing is on the coast.

And that’s because the coast is where East Africa’s Muslim population is, and much of it has been highly radicalized over just the last few years.

Americans who think of East Africa as big game country don’t understand that more than half of the tourists to East Africa never see an animal larger than a monkey. The extraordinarily beautiful coral coast which extends virtually all the way south of Somalia through Mozambique is East Africa’s real tourist treasure, not wild animals.

Europeans especially use East Africa the same way Americans use the Caribbean, for sun ‘n sand vacations, usually of a week long, and usually transported by charter aircraft that practically land next to your beach view hotel room. There you stay, vegging out on margaritas and reggae bands.

Trouble on the coast is not new. In November, 2002, the Israeli Paradise Beach Hotel was mostly destroyed by a terrorist bomb and a ground-to-air missile narrowly missed an El Al jumbo jet taking off from Mombasa, Kenya.

There has been nothing as dramatic until this year. There had been numerous incidents of small grenade bombs in local bars and several incidents of tourist harassment in the last decade. But none of these critically dissuaded tourists from flooding to Kenya’s beaches almost exclusively from Europe.

But all that changed with the successful Kenyan invasion of Somali just to the north of Kenya. As Kenyan soldiers routed Somali terrorists, the coast began to heat up in much more generic ways that has seriously effected tourism. Tourists were kidnaped and publicly ransomed by terrorists, and virtually all the main beach hotels began to institute extremely strict security procedures.

Then last month, just as the Kenyan forces were about to oust al-Shabaab (al-Qaeda in Somali) from its last great stronghold of Kismayo, all sorts of political turbulence erupted in both Mombasa in Kenya and Zanzibar in Tanzania.

It struck me as an obvious consequence of the successful military action in Somalia. Rebels were running for cover, and the East Africa coast with its radical Muslims provides that, and what assets and hardware they could run with began funneling through East Africa.

Kenya is in the thralls of the last legislation implementing its new constitution before March elections. Suddenly there was a newly reborn political movement in Mombasa that called itself the Mombasa Republican Congress. Its agenda was nothing less than independence from Kenya.

The independent movement in Zanzibar which has been a perennial cause every since federation with the mainland in 1964, suddenly blossomed with new and fancy leaflets, new cars for its leaders and new megaphones for its Friday prayers.

While ostensibly completely separate political movements, the timing of both the emergence of the MRC and the makeover of the Zanzibar autonomy movement struck me as anything but coincidental. Money, methods and Islamic madness was coming from the north.

And then the tinderbox exploded in both Kenya and Zanzibar. Last month the principal radical cleric was killed in a car drive-by gangster-like shooting. And last week, Tanzanian police started rounding up radical clerics. Each incident, though separated by nearly a month, resulted in violent protests.

As I write this blog today Mombasa is calm following the Kenyan government’s very tough actions which involved dozens of arrests and the closing of theoretically unregistered Muslim organizations. The Kenyan President charged Mombasa radicals to “surrender or face arrest.”

But Zanzibar is not calm, today, and depending very much upon what the Tanzanian government now does with its radical Muslims, it may not be calm for a long while. And now what happens in one place is likely to effect the other.

As far as I can see, which is all along the exquisitely beautiful coral coast from Somali to the Mozambique border, this outstanding Indian Ocean venue won’t be a place to vegge out for some time.

When and will all of this calm down?

It depends upon how quickly the Somali mop-up occurs, how peacefully and completely the March Kenyan elections go, and how placated Zanzibari successionists will feel as Tanzania flirts with the idea of a new constitution.

March is the key date. After the March 4 Kenyan elections we’ll have a much clearer picture on which to predict what the coast will look like over the next year.

Until then. Leave your flippers at home. Concentrate on the binocs.

Live For Your Trip

Live For Your Trip

Here’s a sure fire way to kill yourself: plan your own trip to East Africa.

This is going to sound like the most self-serving blog ever, but I find little solace reporting about the 73 people killed last week when – once again – the ferry between Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar capsized.

The ferry is featured in Lonely Planet, in dozens of plan-yourself travel forums, and even in WikiTravel.

It’s pointless to write about the ferry, today, because I would simply be repeating what I wrote about a year ago when the same thing happened.

Do-it-yourself, plan-it-yourself travel to Africa has not quite developed to a safe enough point yet in most of East Africa, and the ferry is the best example. Forums like Lonely Planet are getting better to be sure, but they are also among those that sail right past the news of the day.

On July 8 jpinab entered the Thorn Tree Forum of Lonely Planet and asked for advice about traveling from Zanzibar to Arusha.

After several replies and backpostings, including two which I suspect were actually small local tour company stealthers from Dar, jpinab fortunately decided not to take the Zanzibar ferry.

But was there any discussion about how dangerous they are? About how unreliable they are? How of five ferries scheduled daily rarely 3 actually operate?

No, the discussion was governed by cost. And that’s the same that happens time and again if you move through these travel forums. The preponderance of activity is how to get a good price, and the presumption is that everything is possible at a good price.

That’s crazy. It’s also deadly.

South Africa and Europe are superb places to explore on your own, with forums of helpful individuals that I’ve only rarely found to be completely wrong.

If you’re savvy about forums, if you realize that most of the information from travelers who have been only once or twice to a destination is very limited and usually not true in any general way, then you’ll be careful enough to survey large numbers of remarks panning through a variety of seasons and types of people.

If you take the time to do all that, then I wager you have a pretty good chance of determining something good and safe by yourself.

But not yet in East Africa and the ferry is a good example.

The information I see from independent travelers in East Africa on these forums is saturated with inaccuracies. The most inaccurate of all is the discussion of the “great migration.” It amazes me how travelers who visit a place once in their lives suddenly are experts.

But the inaccuracies about the Zanzibar ferry defy my patience and understanding. I hope the four foreigners killed on the Zanzibar ferry last week didn’t use a travel forum to get there.

Traveling to the Mara in January to see the “migration” is a mistake that you’ll be able well to live with. That’s the point: Live.

On Safari in Zanzibar

On Safari in Zanzibar

It’s still too early to return to Kenya, so my migration safari began not in Nairobi but in Zanzibar. We had three wonderful, very hot and fascinating days!

It rather breaks my heart to substitute anything for Kenya, which as a society is so incredibly hopeful and promising. But the tourist incidents recently in the north, the kidnaping of NGOs near the Somali border, and the bombs in Nairobi city — however ineptly undertaken – all prove that the Kenyan invasion last October of Somalia has spawned revenge attacks that in my opinion make a safari in Kenya ill-advised.

And Zanzibar is one of the most fascinating places in Africa, for it was here that literally “it all began” in East Africa. Colonized in the early 16th century by Portugal, then conquered by the Omani Arabs almost two hundred years later, East Africa’s culture, language and much of its difficult politics was fashioned here in the ‘Spice Island.’

Our first excursion was to see a spice plantation cooperative outside Stone Town. Every spice imaginable is grown here, and it was so remarkable to learn how mace is harvested from the outside of nutmeg, how chilies grow wild, and how almost interminable stripping of the cinnamon tree for its bark does nothing more than promote more bark to grow and more cinnamon to be harvested!

The crown crop is cloves. First planted by the early Omani sultans who realized a business game changer if spices could be harvested less than half the distance from Europe to Indonesia, cloves production continues to be among Zanzibar’s chief sources of foreign reserves.

Rich Knapp photographing red colobus.

We then visited the Jozani Forest, Zanzibar’s 20 sq. mile protected wilderness that contains almost 100 species of trees and thousands of unusual plants, flowers, and the main attraction for animal lovers, the Zanzibar red colobus monkey.

The monkey is the last large wild mammal on the island, and its protection is secured principally by the revenue earned by tourists like us coming to see them. And over the years they’ve become remarkably habituated. Multiple times they ran around our feet, swung by our faces, and sat for long minutes giving poses for perfect pictures!

Jozani is also where visitors can learn how important the mangrove forests are to protecting the island. They create a natural barrier to rising tides, tsunamis and typhoons. We were fortunate to go at low tide, when many crabs and fishes could be seen as well, and my compliments to the Zanzibari authorities who constructed the walkway out into the sea through the forest.

Phil & Pam Lopes in mangroves.

The last guided tour we took was a historic walk through Stone Town, its bustling food and fish markets, several of its narrow stone streets and ultimately to the former slave market which became the site of the first Anglican church and is now a museum.

And we ended with a cruise in a dhow at sunset! The “live music” aboard wasn’t exactly Zanzibari or African (Beatles is particularly popular, here), but other than that the opportunity to experience traveling as the early explorers and traders did was a real treat!

On to the great northern circuit! Stay tuned!