Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hope you can Watch 'EndGame: AIDS in Black America'

As we commemorate World AIDS Day, something to help us see that as we continue to work towards Zero Infections, we still have some work to do in our backyards.

I watched this at the American Cultural Center recently and was glad to find it online.  
Its long, but worth watching.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fairy Rings – Enigmatic Features of Namibia


Fairy Rings – Enigmatic Features of Namibia


Prof Eugene Moll chatting with Polytechnic of Namibia 
lecturer and co-author of Trees and Shrubs of Namibia and 
Tree Atlas of Namibia Ms. Barbara Curtis during the talk at 
Namibia Botanical Research Institute last Monday. 
 Picture by Wanja Njuuguna
 FOR CLOSE to 30 years now since a study on them began in earnest, the enigmatic fairy circles or rings of Namibia are still just that – enigmatic.

The circles look like nothing out of the ordinary – just some round bare space in the middle of some dry area or grassland, often in the desert or even on a dune or just somewhere in the wild but to date, the reason behind them is still one of nature’s most guarded secrets.

Just as unique to Namibia as Welwitschia mirabilis an endemic to the Namib desert is, the circles are only know to be found in Idaho in the U.S.A.

MYSTERY ... A picture of the ‘unexplained’
The circles are barren land with no vegetation but with their perimeters more often than not marked by some taller [more robust] grass such as Stipagrostis giessii around them while between them is another other type of grass, Stipagrostis uniplumis commonly found in the Namib desert. These circles are more prolific in Namibia but they are also found in southern Angola and just into the northern part of South Africa.

The secret to their occurrence has brought renowned plant scientist, Prof Eugene Moll back to the country to see if this time around, he can dig up the secret behind why these unique features occur.

During a talk organised by the Botanical Society of Namibia last week Monday, Moll, currently in Namibia undertaking research in the south of Namibia on these 'circles' or 'rings' as he prefers to call them said that he hopes that this time around he will come close to the reason of their occurrence.

Describing them as sometimes concave (especially in the North) bares circles or ellipses generally occur in a monospecific grassland matrix only on sandy, calcrete and pebbly ground. “They can be small (2-4 metres in the south and west) or usually much bigger (up to 10 by 15 meters in the north),” he explained.

While their causes are just as intriguing, Moll said that though to date the causes of the rings are not known, there are however many theories about their origins. “Some of the fancy theories are such as that they are made by fairies, dragons and extra-terrestrials while the more scientific theories include underlying geological faults, plants or animals remains such as euphorbia damarana, fossorial animals, termites and seed-harvesting ants among others. They are also said to be geochemical in origin,” he explained.

But one fascinating aspect of the rings is that they are not found in the Kalahari. “The Kalahari is one of the most exciting places to find many kinds of species but these are not found there,” Moll said.

Researchers C.F Albrecht, J.J. Joubert and P.H de Rycke concur in a research they conducted about 10 years ago. They said that besides the research of K. L Tinley (1974) who described the rings as fossilize termitaria, other more trivial explanations have been given as impact points of broken-up meteorites, rolling spots for zebras, indications of locations of Ovahimba huts, localized radioactivity and even locations of ‘Flying Saucers”. Among the Ovahimba people, some of the oral myths include gods, spirits and natural divinities as causes of the rings.

Many studies by scientists in Namibia and Southern Africa area concur that the rings which grow to between two and 12 meters in diameter, are a continuous development, though close to 30 years later, their reason for existence is still a mystery.

Moll also discussed Tinley’s work saying that published suggestions that would be also reliable include G. K. Theron who in 1979 implicated that they were Euphorbia damarana 'graves' in their formation while in a study done and published by Theron and colleagues A. Eiker and N. Grobbelaar suggested microbial action inhibiting grass growth.

In a paper he wrote in 1994, Moll, just like Eiker, felt termites had something to do with the rings but unlike some of the writers, he feels that the rings are still alive. There are also researchers such as Walter Tschinkel (2011) who postulated that fairy rings 'appear quickly and fade away slowly' over a period of years, besides the fact that they are alive. 

It is believed that because the areas where the rings are found is said to be in some of the most remote and inhospitable areas on the planet, this might be a cause for the non-intensive research on these unique features. It is generally felt, however that there is some biological origin and/or toxic gas component involved in their formation, related perhaps to toxins left by poisonous plants but this too is not proven as yet, something that Prof Gretel van Rooyen, botanist from the University of Pretoria concurs with.

Moll said that the research he and his team are carrying out is bringing forth some interesting findings. “Our recent research using ground penetrating radar, shows a 'curtain' below the rim extending to as deep as 10 meters,” Moll explained. “This is present in all kinds of fairy rings with live grass roots at 1.2 meters and more, suggesting a biologically active lens underlain by a more moist deeper soil layer,” he added. 

In his earlier research, which is also quoted by Albrecht et al., Moll says that termites were the main agents in the ring formation and that the lack of vegetation in the rings was compatible with surface foraging by the termites. In support of this theory, he found termite casts and a few individual termites after digging a trench of 0.75m deep and 0.30m wide through a number of the rings (see picture). The termites were identified as Baucaliotermes hainsei (Fuller) and Psammotermes allocerus (Silverstri). His research showed that there were rings in different stages of colonization by plants, thereby concluding that the rings were dynamic. 

The plant ecologist who is also professor extraordinaire in the Department of Biodiversity & Conservation Biology at the University of the Western Cape, is author of, “What's that Tree? A Starter's Guide to Trees of Southern Africa”, the latest edition to the 'What's that' series that includes birds, snakes, butterflies and reptiles. The book, which is also available as an eBook dispels myths regarding African baobabs, rhino horns (as aphrodisiacs), tannin and phenol content of certain trees and shrubs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Also available in Deutsch
Over 600 journalism educators from 42 countries descended on the small South African university town of Gramhamstown, for discussions on the challenges facing the sector, and to map out ways of improving the quality of journalism education in a fast and constantly changing media landscape

Wanja Njuguna, Senior lecturer, Department of Media Studies, University of Botswana, presenting her work during the FAME research paper presentation meeting.

The second World Journalism Education Congress was launched simultaneously with the 14th Highway Africa Conference at Rhodes University. The organizers of both events said the timing was deliberate, because convening two journalism conferences at the same time created a unique global networking environment for both journalists and trainers.

“It's about building an international network where people know and trust each other”, said Professor Guy Berger, Head of Rhodes Journalism and Media Studies School, and the driving force behind the 2nd WJEC.

The theme of the congress, "Journalism Education in an Age of Radical Change", reflected the major social, political, economic and technological changes sweeping across the globe in general and Africa in particular.


The activities of the Forum of African Media Educators (FAME) were also included in the Conference programme. FAME, an initiative funded by the KAS media programme, and hosted by Wits University in Johannesburg, had with this a second gathering since 2009.

FAME began its sessions a day before the conference officially began, with a publishing workshop for its members. Professor Herman Wasserman from the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa) led the seminar, and there was great interest with the non-FAME delegates to participate in the meeting despite it being flagged as a closed “member only” session.

The publishing workshop was followed by another closed meeting, where Professors Siegfried Weischenberg and Steffen Burkhardt, from the University of Hamburg, outlined why and how their institution was internationalising their media programme whose character is very much based on the exchange programmes it offers. Regarding the African continent, Professor Weischenberg singled out the agreements with the University of Stellenbosch, and the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).

FAME members then presented their research papers on journalist education in Africa in an open session, as part of the official conference programme. The FAME-delegates came from Botswana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda, providing a continental overview. Cosequently, delegates, especially those from outside Africa, were able to get first hand information about the situation on the continent. The FAME-Session was, despite the competition through a whole range of other sessions, very well attended.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The forgotten five plus one endangered species of Nam



The forgotten five plus one endangered species of Nam


CARING FOR THE WILD ... Maria Diekmann (right) in conversation with a member of the public after her talk about endangered species in Namibia at a recent event in Windhoek organised by the Namibia Environment & Wildlife Society. Photo: Wanja Njuguna

EVER thought that vultures have enemies, other than the animals they fight over a carcass with – and those they can fly away from?

The Cape griffon or Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) is Namibia’s most endangered species and its greatest enemy is the human being.
When a population of only 12 was officially recorded in Namibia in 2000, the Rare & Endangered Species Trust (REST) based at Otjiwarongo had to do something.
During a recent public talk organised by the Namibian Environment & Wildlife Society (NEWS), Maria Diekmann from REST said that despite the Cape vulture being the most endangered species in Namibia, sadly, it is not the only one in danger of extinction.
Others are the rarely seen pangolin (Manis temminckii), African wild/painted dog (Lycaon pictus), the dwarf python (Python Anchietae), the spotted rubber frog (Phrynomantis affinis) and the Damara dik-dik, only found in Namibia and northern South Africa, with about 20 pairs believed to be alive today.
The problem between humans and vultures, said to have the best eyesight of all species in the world, is because though many breed in national parks, game reserves and protected areas, they often feed on farms and communal areas where they become victims of the struggle between farmers and predatory mammals attacking domestic livestock.
Through ignorance and a misunderstanding of their habits, vultures are sometimes shot or poisoned while well-meaning people may inadvertently disturb breeding birds by venturing too close to the nests. This leads to the parent birds deserting their eggs or nestlings. Electrocution through power line collisions when the birds roost on the poles is a problem too.
To monitor the bird, REST provides an uncontaminated food source to the birds they need to observe. “Our food is donated by our neighbours, Okonjima Lodge and the Africat Foundation. They need to feed cats that are in rehabilitation or non-releasable and the vultures will eat many animal parts that the cats do not eat,” Diekmann explained.
Diekmann said that another endangered species which when funding is available they are considering monitoring like the vultures is the African wild dog, considered the second most endangered carnivore in the world. These are seen in the eastern and northern regions of Namibia. When these dogs move into farmland, there is often conflict due to the effectiveness of the dogs’ killing prey, which can include goats, sheep, calves or even grown cattle.
An interesting and rarely seen species is the nocturnal pangolin, which although it has scales, is a mammal and not a reptile. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on its website says that there are three types of pangolins in Africa — the giant, the tree and the most widespread, the ground pangolin which is the one found in Namibia. Though they have no external ears, their hearing is good, their sense of scent well developed but their sight poor. All pangolins are able to roll themselves into a ball for defence and it takes considerable force to unroll them. They protect themselves through their cutting action of their armour-plated scales that can inflict serious wounds on anything inserted between them.
Pangolins also have anal scent glands that emit strong, foul smelling secretions. “Trade in their scales continues to be a huge problem in many Asian countries as ships were found recently with up to 10 000 tons of scales from different species in Africa and additional tons of whole carcasses,” Diekmann said.
“We had our second live pangolin in 10 years come in recently. Luckily, she had no major injuries and after a few hours of medical checks and observation, we were able to find out where she had been found and release her back into the wild as they do not generally do very well in captivity.”
AWF says the pangolin is believed to be a purveyor of magic and charms. When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralise witchcraft and evil spirits. If buried near a man’s door, they are said to give an interested woman power over him and sometimes the scales are burned to keep lions and other wild animals away. Pangolins are also sacrificed for rainmaking ceremonies or hunted for meat.
The spotted rubber frog, a beautiful brown frog with red spots, is believed to be found only in northern Namibia and southern Angola but there is little information on it and worldwide there has been a huge decline in many frog species.
“The exact causes of the decline have not yet been determined, but it is widely believed that it may be due to an introduced fungus killing up to an estimated 80% of the frogs worldwide,” Diekmann said.
Also facing extinction is the beautiful, rare, non-venomous dwarf python found in northern Namibia, southern Angola, Windhoek and the Etosha National Park. It feeds on birds and gerbils and up until about 10 years ago, its biggest threat was illegal capture and selling to the public, due to its beautifully patterned skin and non-venomousness. Not much is known of this species but it is the only python to have bead-like head scales.
The sixth one, thanks to its meat, is the Damara dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii), one of Africa’s smallest antelopes and a protected species in the country. Despite its name, it is not found in Damaraland but is common in the Waterberg area, at Okonjima, in the Etosha National Park, around the Brukkaros mountain in the South and in the Caprivi Region. Because they are so small, they need to eat the most nutritious part of a plant.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Namibia's Botanical Society Open Day a Major Success

Environmental News


Botanical Society Open Day a major success

GOOD TURNOUT ... Franziska Kangombe, a researcher at National Botanical Research Institute and Botanical Society Open Day coordinator showing off some of the endemic plants of Namibia during the event. Photo: Wanja Njuguna

“FANTASTIC, good turnout,” is how Franziska Kangombe, this year’s Botanical Society Open Day coordinator, summed up the day.

Speaking to The Namibian at the end of the event held last Saturday, Kangombe, an agricultural researcher at the Namibia National Botanical Research Institute, said that despite other major events that were going on in the city the same day such as the Windhoek Show and the Old Wheelers car show, they were happy that over 400 people attended the Open Day.

“We hold this event every 18 months to sensitise Namibians about the indigenous plants that this country has, besides educating them on how to preserve the country’s ecology,” Kangombe said. “We did not expect such a good turnout due to the other major events happening today.”

Namibia has over 4 300 plant species. Of these, about 17 percent are endemic (don’t occur anywhere else in the world) while 25 percent are also found across the borders and the rest are found mainly in Namibia.

Information provided by the Botanical Society says that areas which have high plant diversity include southern Namib, Kaokoveld, Otavi highland/Karstveld area, Okavango Basin and the Khomas Hochland, while 39 areas of Namibia are considered internationally important because of their unique plants.

Many species of plants in Namibia are used for food, constructing houses and medicine, among other uses. Several are already under commercial development, while the majority of Namibia’s people depend directly on plants for their day-to-day subsistence.

The institute boasts one of the best botanical gardens in Africa, where plants are left to grow in their natural environment.

“We celebrate the joy of seasonality here. You can come today and find half the plants have dried up and another half are green, because of the season they are in”, Kangombe said.

You can come tomorrow and find others are flowering, while others look dead but a few months later, the dead looking ones are alive and the alive ones look different,” she added.

Kangombe has been working at the institute for the past seven years, first as an intern while studying for her Bachelor in Science degree at the University of Namibia and later as a full-time researcher since graduating from the University of Pretoria with a Master’s degree in Plant Science.

Speaking to The Namibian during the Open Day, plant ecologist Dr Antje Burke said that Namibians need to increase their appreciation of the diversity of plants in the country and work towards sustaining them instead of destroying them – something she also emphasised recently during one of the Society’s monthly Thursday talks.

During the talk, Burke said many plant species are threatened by habitat loss and illegal collecting, with at least 23 of these species threatened with extinction.

At the Open Day, holding her favourite plant, Cephalophyllum Herrei, Burke said: “My special plants are these succulents you see here, because they can survive anywhere even in extreme weather. Namibians need to understand where plants occur and conserve them in their natural environments.”

Emphasising the importance of the botanical garden, Burke said: “Those who visit the garden are lucky to view most Namibian plants in one setting, as many of the plants have been transferred from their habitats across the country to the garden so that everyone can be able to see the varied Namibian vegetation without having to travel far afield.”

The Botanical Society’s chairperson, Diana Thompson, said that more Namibians should participate in events such as these “to learn more about the unique Namibian plants and how best to conserve them, as pressure on our plants is growing as population and development increases”.

Besides other activities of the day, which included a talk and video by the co-author of ‘Trees and Shrubs of Nambia’, Coleen Mannheimer, those who attended had 15 stalls to sample and buy varied goodies from.

The children were not left out. As their parents shopped around, they were kept busy in a tent where their artistic juices were kept flowing in an art competition on the environment. At a table nearby, Maretha Snyman, 18, a student at Windhoek Gymnasium, painted the children’s faces to resemble their favourite animals or plants.

Speaking to The Namibian, Pietre, who said he was visiting the country from Europe, said he had been told about the event at his guesthouse and decided to go and see what it was all about.

“We do not have anything like this back at home [he did not elaborate where] and I wish today was a day for the guided tour I have heard about so I could see more than what is on sale,” he said.

The National Botanical Research Institute’s core functions include, but are not limited to, planning, designing and conducting inventories of the botanical resources of Namibia, undertaking research on the vegetation, flora and plant genetic resources of the country, promoting the development of indigenous plants with economic potential, curate and maintain national plant collections, cultivate awareness and instil appreciation of Namibia’s floral heritage.

Other activities are to analyse, interpret and advise on international instruments and provide appropriate input when required as a national responsibility of ratification, undertake environmental monitoring through input into review of environmental impact assessments, and research and collecting permits and maintain a comprehensive botanical reference library as part of National Agriculture and Water Information Centre.

Among the many activities are guided tours of the botanical garden, the provision of an environmental education and recreational facility, creating awareness and instilling appreciation of Namibia’s flora through the walks and participation in national, regional and international initiatives pertaining to horticulture and botanical gardens.

During the week, guests can walk unguided around the garden while special arrangements are made for schools and other institutions.

For more information on the activities of the institute and the garden, visit


Friday, September 21, 2012

Kenya honours Namibian nurse


Kenya's High Commissioner to Namibia, Peter Gitau 
presents certificate and badge of Honor to 
Gloria N. Muballe while Julius Bargorett, Deputy Head of Mission watches on.

Kenya honours Namibian nurse

KENYAN President Mwai Kibaki has honoured Namibian nursing professional, Gloria Nomizano Muballe with the Head of State Commendation (H.S.C-Civilian Division) in recognition of her service to the Namibian and Kenyan societies through the Namibia-Kenya bilateral agreement.
Muballe was the only foreigner honoured in her category among hundreds of Kenyans, for her exemplary services to both Kenya and Namibia during her long service as the chief control nurse in the country.
The award, which was announced during Kenya’s 48th celebration as a republic on December 12 2011, was officially handed over Monday at a ceremony at Nyayo House, the official residence of the Kenyan High Commission in Windhoek.
Officially handing over the certificate and pinning the medal to Muballe’s jacket,  Kenyan High Commissioner Peter Gitau said it was an honour for the government of Kenya to celebrate the work of a civil servant who did her work with dedication, courage and without discrimination.
“One memorable thing that Mrs Muballe always did, while for example receiving the nurses from Kenya, was to stress that the nurses were in Namibia as colleagues to their fellow nurses here and to give services to the Namibian nation and not as Kenyan nurses, and this facilitated the smooth integration of the nurses into their work environment in the country,” Gitau said.
Gitau also emphasised that with the establishment of the new medical department at the University of Namibia, the country will soon have more medical professionals than it can accommodate and it will be time for the Namibian government to send  medical personnel to work in other countries.
Accepting the honour, Muballe expressed her gratitude to President Kibaki and to the nursing community in Namibia for recognising her contribution to the welfare of the sick in the country.
“These days, it is rare to see something positive being said about the nursing profession here and this comes as a good gesture towards this humble profession which requires hard work, selflessness and dedication 24/7,” Muballe said. Muballe, who has since retirement become an advisor to the registrar of the Health Professions Council, encouraged nurses to register with the council to strengthen the work of the nursing profession in the country.
“As nurses, it is important for us to remember our work is 28 hours, not the usual eight-to-five schedule. We are called upon by our customers, the sick, at all times and we must do our work from our hearts so that we fulfil the mission of Florence Nightingale who selflessly began our humble profession,” Muballe advised.
“When we do our work to the best of our ability, wherever we are, even in the most remote of places in this country, our clients stand to gain and our profession earns a good name,” she added. Speaking on behalf of the diplomatic corps, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Namibia, Chipo Zindoga, said: “It is always an honour to be appreciated in countries where we work in and for Muballe to be recognised in Kenya for her work in Namibia, in one of the most difficult professions in the world, is also a great honour for the women of the world and proves that if we do our work well and professionally, we will be honoured both in our countries and beyond.”
Speaking on behalf of the nurses, a nursing officer, Abdullahi Jughe, thanked Muballe for her selflessness. “She has not only been our boss, but our mentor, our friend and there is nothing you would not share with her any time – her office was open any time and her staff members emulated her in her work,” he said.[tt_news]=101713&no_cache=1

Bird Watching Experience at Avis Dam


Bird watching experience at Avis Dam

Southern Red Bishop

ONE of the most exciting things about bird watching in Namibia is the variety one gets to see during any of the regular bird watching events that The Namibia Bird Club has once or twice a month.

The walks, most of which happen on the first Sunday of the month from 07h30 to about midday, take place in various spots in Windhoek, from Avis Dam to the Gammams Sewage Works and to farms near Windhoek such as Monte Christo and others. Sometimes the members go out of town for weekend-long bird watching activities in places such as Walvis Bay. One of the forthcoming trips will be to Farm Omandumba in the Erongo Region among others.
In Namibia, chances of seeing a bird that you have not seen before are quite high but the joy of it all is that there is always an explanation as to why that bird is in that place at that particular time or should not be in that place at that particular time.
During a short three hour walk at Avis Dam last Sunday, slightly over 50 different species were sighted. These included what this writer calls some of the most beautiful little birds one can spot – for example the longish tailed Pearl-spotted Owlet, scientifically known as Glaucidium Perlatum, it is one of the smallest owls that only grows to 19 cm. Though it is common in the woodlands and the savannah, it was the first time this writer had seen it at the dam. This owl is a species that is part of the Strigidae owls known as typical that contain most of the owl species. The other grouping is the Tytonidae, also known as the barn owls.

Owls and Omens
Owls are generally believed to be a sign of bad omen in many African cultures but as Neil Thompson, editor of the club’s newsletter, Lanioturdus told The Namibian, owls have an important role to play in getting rid of rodents such as rats and mice that actually cause plague, something that was originally blamed on the owl but was later discovered to be actually from the rats and mice that they caught.
A common resident in Namibia, unlike other owls, the owlet does not have ‘ears’. It has two dark spots at the back of its head which look like false eyes. It has an interesting call, which is often heard during the day, ‘tee....tee....tee or tu...tu....tu...’ after which there is a pause then a series of descending notes.

Multi-coloured Swallow
An always favourite spotting for this writer due to its bright multi-colours that reminds one of some colourful beach outfits of Hawaii, Copacabana or Fortalezza is the Swallow Tailed Bee Eater (Merops Hirundineus). The little bird which is a common resident in the country, especially in woodlands and the Kalahari sands, has a bright blue collar while its under parts have pale blue, apple green and a tint of black on its tail. Its colour however depends on the age as the younger ones lack some of the vibrant colours the older ones have. Its call sounds like kwit-kwit-kwit. It is known to be very nomadic when it is not breeding. According to the Sasol Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey and Warwick Tarboton, it’s the only bee-eater in the region that has a fork tail. The book also gives a good view of the bird during flight.

Southern Red Bishop
Another first for this writer was the beautiful 14 cm big Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix) which is also a common resident. One of its unique characteristics is the male calling sign which is different in summer. The late Kenneth Newman in his book, Birds of Southern Africa describes it best: male calls a wheezy, spluttering ‘zik-zik-zik....zayzayzayzayzay. During summer, the male displays by puffing out its plumage while perched or flying over its territory.
The little Black Chested Prinia never ceases to amaze, with its ball like body and a bird you are almost always bound to see at the dam. Newman says that when disturbed, it makes a noise that sounds like, sbeeeee.....sbeeee but its normal calling sounds like ptzzt-ptzzt-ptzzt or trit-trit-trit-trit.
And there was finally a name to a bird that this writer has always confused with another – the Ashy Tit, which is a common, near-endemic resident identified by its blue, blackish greyish coat and a white outer tail.
Some of the 50 birds seen during this outing were the Rockrunner, Mountain Wheatear, Black faced waxbill, Marico Flycatcher, Golden Brested Bunting, the very common White backed mouse bird, some Egyptian Geese that a Western Great Egret perched on a tree near the northern side of the dam kept moving from and chasing the geese in the water.

Summer Visitor
There was also the common resident and summer visitor Alpine Swift and many more. And with the use of binoculars, the group could see the helmeted guinea fowls in the neighbouring farm sampling some corn with some ‘Christmas’ geese, that will possibly become a delicious meal in several homes in about three months time.
Namibia has close to 700 of the 950 plus bird species found in the southern Africa region. Of this 161 are entirely or largely confined to southern Africa. 

According to a forward by Graca Machel, wife to South African icon, Nelson Mandela in the 1296 page Roberts Birds of South Africa VII edition, the region has almost 10 per cent of the world’s bird species and half of Africa’s birds. “Many of the region’s 900 plus species migrate to the subcontinent from breeding grounds as far away as the high Arctic tundra’s of the Old and New Worlds, the deserts of central Asia and the fringes of Antarctica. “Africa as a whole can proudly claim to be the only inhabited continent that has not lost a single bird species in the last 400 years,” Machel says.
It is not surprising that even on a laid back walk at Avis, these kinds of birds are easily seen. “This is the Common Sandpiper and it is only here because it breeds in Europe and Asia and migrates to Africa in winter – it is not surprising if as summer begins now it will most probably fly off to some other place such as far away as Russia ,” Thompson explained during last Sunday’s walk.

The lonely Hammerkop
And just when you think you have seen them all in the three-hour walk, Gudrun Middendorff, chairperson of the Namibia Bird Club points out the Hamerkop, a 56cm common resident to this area of southern Africa but one that, unlike many other birds, has no close relatives. Known for its on flight nasal singing that Newman says sounds like ‘wek...wek...wek’ while it restful singing sounds like, ‘wek-wek-warrrk’, the Hamerkop is more often than not seen alone.
Besides the insecurity at the dam that might keep many residents away due to muggers, another disheartening thing that one gets to see is the dog poo (that the club members call land mines) which is scattered everywhere, something that many visitor to the dam feel dog owners should deal with. In the US for example, dog owners have to walk with paper bags to collect their dog poo as a rule, so as to ensure hygienic atmosphere for their neighbours. However, it was a sigh of relief to see two police women from City Police arrive as the group left, and hopefully, their increased presence and that of the G4S security guards will keep those who do not want to enjoy the beautiful scenery and tasty fish from the Dam at bay.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Air Namibia to holds talks with Kenyan counterparts



Air Namibia to holds talks with Kenyan counterparts


Titus Naikuni

KENYA Airways (KQ) chief executive officer Titus Naikuni is expected in Namibia this week to hold talks with Air Namibia and government officials on a possible partnership between the two airlines.

Speaking to The Namibian from Nairobi, Naikuni confirmed that KQ was interested in a partnership to benefit both airlines.

“Kenya has a long history with Namibia since pre-independence days and our airline has been very keen to continue this collaboration which will benefit both countries, especially in the tourism and trade sectors,” he said.

Naikuni is a member of a ‘dream team’ that the Kenyan government created in the late ‘90s to turn around a number of non-performing entities. He has been credited with rescuing Kenya Airways when he joined the carrier 10 years ago.

Elaborating on the potential partnership, Naikuni said: “We believe that a relationship with Air Namibia will not only benefit Kenyans and Namibians who are keen to visit each other’s country in the most direct way possible to sample what the countries have to offer each other in tourism, business opportunities, education and general infrastructure among others, but Kenya will be a transit route to more than 926 destinations in 173 countries through KQ’s membership of SkyTeam.

“We will discuss many issues appertaining to what such a partnership entails but among them will be code sharing, which many airlines internationally use. In the case of KQ and other airlines that we have code-sharing relationships with such as Air Mozambique, Air Botswana, Air Malawi and others across Africa and beyond, code sharing opens the whole Skyteam market to airlines via KQ.”

Giving an example of the benefits of code sharing, Nakuini said if someone in China wants to fly to Windhoek, he or she would then fly with China’s Southern Airline which is a SkyTeam member, Tourists would be given an option to book with the airline of their choice – in this case, Air Namibia or KQ.

“Without the code share, the ticket fee would be diverted to other airlines as code sharing is selling by partners on behalf of each other,” he explained.

Air Namibia would also benefit from training at the state-of-the-art KQ Learning Centre in Nairobi.

Kenya’s High Commissioner to Namibia, Peter Gitau, said a partnership between the two airlines would help to improve trade and other partnerships between Kenya and Namibia.

Friday, July 20, 2012

‘Wind Electricity’ Generation Project for Luderitz

‘Wind Electricity’ Generation Project for Luderitz


By: Wanja Njuguna
AS the cost of living rises, the recent increase in electricity tariffs might be nipped in the bud when the long awaited wind electricity energy generation development at Luderitz starts its operations in 2013.
The project, which is approximately15,99 square km, is situated about 12km south of Lüderitz and about eight km south of the coastal town’s airport, between the Sperrgebiet diamond protection area and Sperrgebiet National Park. The project, set to construct 18 to 22 wind turbines at a cost of $150 million is capable of producing 44 megawatts of electricity which it hopes to sell to NamPower. Currently, 50 per cent of Namibian electricity is imported and the project hopes to fill part of that void.
The wind project is the brain child of Diaz Wind Park company, which consists of  United Africa Group (Namibia), Sojitz Corporation (Japan), and Korea Midland Power Co., Ltd. (South Korea). The Namibian company owns 60 per cent of the project, while the foreign partners own 20 per cent each.
 The Environ Dynamics has since the previous report on the same project, been appointed to up-date the original Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) due to significant changes in the nature and size of the project as well as change in ownership scope, so as to be in line with Namibian environmental regulations.  
Of importance to the project is that fresh public participation in accordance with National Expert Advisory Panel (NEAP) was sought. The authority focal meetings and the public consultation meetings were held during the week of 15 September last year in Windhoek and Lüderitz. The public had been informed through adverts in the media to respond.
 During the WindTalks workshop held in Windhoek in November last year, the alternative to using a free resource such as wind, to fill Namibia’s energy deficit was discussed. The workshop, spearheaded by Vestas, a Danish wind company and Polytechnic of Namibia’s Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Institute (REEEI), emphasised the need for a different source of domestic energy all of which is currently produced from one of Namibia’s scarcest and therefore, insecure source, water, while the rest of the energy is imported from South Africa and elsewhere. 
The workshop attendants were informed that currently, all of the imported energy is produced by burning non-renewable fossil fuels such as coal, oil or gas. In contrast, wind energy production requires almost nil use of water whereas producing one Mw per hour with coal requires 2 000 litres of water. 
Vestas said that research had shown that “future power outages could be as high as 10 per cent of the total demand”, based on Namibia’s growth which, if it resulted in a “one 24 hour black out” every month, this would translate into a reduction the country’s GDP by four per cent. 
Besides job creation and energy costs stability that the use of wind energy would create, Namibia’s energy burden could benefit as wind energy is a “free resource” that does not produce green house gases. This will create a self-sufficiency in energy production, as there would not be a shortfall of wind due to availability of numerous wind hotspots that have already been identified. Many of these are situated along the windy Atlantic coast which provides “strong and consistent winds”.
 The project which will take 18 months to complete is expected to have a lifespan of 22 years.
 As with most of these kinds of projects, effects on the environment as well as animals and other living organisms is important. For example, a current concern is the influence on birds and the Brown Hyena as well as waste disposal. 
On waste disposal, the project intends to install storm water and oily water drains at all new installations. 
Drains will discharge into the oily water separator. A waste disposal company will collect all waste water and/or sludge and clean the pits and dispose the waste at the Walvis Bay Municipality hazardous disposal site.
 According to the report, the total area cleared at each Wind Turbine Generator (WTG) will therefore be 2 650 square metres. For the internal roads, a minimum area of 3,5ha will have to be cleared. For the substation and support facility will require an area of about 100m by 100m. This will require an area of 1ha must be cleared. In total an estimated 10ha must be cleared for the project activities.
 The report further says that the project facilitators are aware that just like any development of this magnitude, the environment will be vulnerable and measures to reduce the risks involved will be dealt with. For example, geologically, the soils are susceptible to erosion and very shallow and therefore, alternative foundation techniques will be required to avoid blasting. 
The impact expected will be physical disturbance of soil during transport and construction activities. It is also expected that there will be proliferation of trucks and erosion of  structures. 
On hydrology, it is expected that the sandy inlays will act as very effective traps for any surface transport of contaminants such as service fluids.
 On vegetation, the Lüderitz Peninsula dwarf shrubland is known to be extremely sensitive and limited. The consultants therefore recommend that any form of development in this habitat should be avoided and any site activities must therefore be managed through a Vegetation Management Plan, which forms an integral part of the Environmental Management Plan (EMP).  Another concern is that the new north western boundaries of the site interfere significantly with the coastal flight paths.
 Another impact expected from this will be noise disturbance, movement and temporary occupation of an otherwise undisturbed habitat. 
There will also be loss of habitat, including foraging, roosting and breeding habitat of the area occupied by the completed structure. 
Collision of priority species, including globally threatened birds and/or migrating birds with wind turbine blades might occur. The impact on the near threatened brown hyena is a major concern. The effect of WTG noise and increased traffic on the movement and territoriality of the brown hyena is not clear. 
On archaeology, the study area is considered to have both historic and prehistoric archaeological significance as a landscape, not individual sites.
 However, it is important to note that the Diaz Wind Park company is keen to ensure that the EMP is streamlined on all issues of concern as they work towards the start of the project next year. EMP aims to provide a high level management tool for the overall environmental management of the project in principle as well as direct mitigation measures related to the impacts expected.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Book Review I did for Equid Novi Journal: The Aljazeera Effect by Phillip Seib

The “Al Jazeera Effect”: How the New Global Media Are Reshaping World Politics, Philip Seib, Dulles: Potamac Books, Inc. 2008. Pp. 227. ISBN: 978–159–79720–00 (hardback)

Book Review
Like it or not, satellite television and new media are now shaping the world we live in, making the term “the world is a global village” a reality. Though titled The “Al Jazeera Effect,” the book is not only about the Qatar-based satellite TV 
station but the writer also discusses other satellite television platforms and new media. In regions like China and the Middle East where it was previously diffi- cult to access new media, the Internet and other social networking sites have put an end to that “anomaly.” In many countries, we now receive news as we choose depending on which platform is quickest and most attractive. According to the writer, “The media are no longer just the media but they have a larger popular base than ever before and as a result, have unprecedented impact on international politics” (p. xii). But just as satellite television is creating an impact all over the world, the Internet is doing much more than that by reaching a wider audience.

News media are dynamic and growing and offer much more than a collection of high-tech curiosities, and they are also contributing to changes in how the world works, altering the shape of traditional political structures on which the international system is based (p. 63).
Seib emphasizes that news media are changing the relationship between the pub- lic and news providers. Platforms like CNN allow audiences to access news when- ever they want it, a phenomenon that has been taken to a new level by Web-based news content that provides a nearly infinite variety of news products available at all times. He gives examples of the Global Voices Web site, which goes beyond stan- dard blogging, and OhmyNews, a model for other news services such as iTalkNews born in response to “the need for an interactive community where people can read breaking news, discuss it, and post their own articles as well as many others” (p. 55). However, not all countries are benefiting from the ubiquitous reach of the news media. Burma is ranked with Cuba, Libya, Turkmenistan, and North Korea as some of the world’s worst countries in terms of press freedom. Information from cyber- space via satellite and the Internet scarcely penetrates these countries.
The book combines media theory, experience, and information, which the writer seems to have gathered over several years. Seib is able to walk readers through the Arab, Middle East, and Asian television and news media worlds all in a single book. He takes us through the various stages of the media world from the terrestrial television of the 1950s to the current interactive, accessible satel- lite platforms, which give sleepless nights to many governments. Seib empha- sizes the strength of the news media in helping to sustain the virtual state:
The battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East is being fought not on the streets of Baghdad, but on the newscasts and talk shows of Al Jazeera. The future of China is being shaped not by Communist Party bureau- crats, but by bloggers working quietly in cyber cafes. The next attacks by al Qaeda will emerge not from Osama bin Laden’s cave, but from cells around the world connected by the Internet. (p. xi)
For those who watched Al Jazeera from the start, it was initially viewed as a “Muslim” television network, especially at a time when terrorism was associated
with Islam and negative implications. That is no longer the case. The writer emphasizes Al Jazeera’s competition with the likes of CNN and BBC, transmit- ting to and influencing millions of watchers/listeners. Consequently, Al Jazeera is “the most visible player in a huge universe of new communications and infor- mation providers that are changing the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed” (p. 175).
According to Seib, Al Jazeera is a paradigm of news media’s influence, just like the CNN effect did 10 years ago with gripping, visual storytelling that influ- enced foreign policy throughout the world (p. ix). Satellite television—along with blogs, tweets, and other Internet platforms—have become popular sources of information that create challenges for those who govern. While China, for example, tried to monitor Internet traffic within its borders, this intention was overwhelmed by the number of Internet users: “220 million by late 2007, more than 47 blog writers, and in December 2007, 66 million search engine queries” (p. xi). It has been difficult for Chinese government intelligence agents to keep up with this pace.
The writer criticizes what he sees as the “Western” world’s way of viewing Islam and calls it simplistic policy making that could lead to tragic results:
From simmering tensions to full-blown war, Islam and the West seem to have irreconcilable differences that can be ascribed to incompatible cul- tures with an attitude of, “best to fight it out, get it over with, and move on to the next test.” (p. 1)
Seib also criticizes the United States’ and other Western nations’ foreign pol- icy. He argues that they ignore the sophisticated political culture and staying power of virtual states such as al Qaeda. He feels that in developing strategies of dealing with Islamic states and its peoples, it is important to recognize the cru- cial concept of ummah—which emanates from the Quran (49:10) and is roughly equivalent to “the believers are a band of brothers.”
The writer affirms what many have come to see as the folly of dismissing emerging media, especially Al Jazeera, which has a following of over 35 million worldwide, on the grounds that they are not “objective” providers of informa- tion and therefore presumably have little clout with their audiences. They miss the point that they are credible, which is what matters to their audiences (p. xi). Seib calls upon the news media to go beyond proving information to which the developed world is accustomed. He stops just short of saying it should be used for the good of the people, for example, the amount of air time devoted to the Martha Stewart scandal compared to genocide issues in Darfur.
Governments hostile to al Qaeda also need to wake up to the fact that “limited real estate” in Pakistan and Afghanistan does not deter the network from doing its work, since they have realized the power of the virtual state and therefore
rely heavily upon media technologies to constitute their “global homeland.” It is important to note that the media are no longer just the media as technological players, and that at many levels they are intervening in world affairs. Therefore, “understanding the Al Jazeera effect will help anyone who is concerned about the future to better comprehend the change that swirls about us” (p. 191).
Though the book has an attractive title and is very informative, in his next edition, Seib might want to make it more reader friendly. Some of the sections were hard to follow. The author might also want to cut down information that is not very relevant to the topic. The book concentrates too much on television in the Middle East and has little on other parts of the world, considering the fact, for example, that Al Jazeera is now watched in many countries across continents, including Africa, and not by Muslims alone but by Christians and people from all walks of life. Chapter 4 on the “Virtual State” and Chapter 5 on “Global Connec- tions, Global Terrorism” could do with information that is more current.
More on the impact of new media could endear the book to a wider audience, while a review of the online impact of religious and evangelical broadcasting sta- tions such as Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), other than Islam only, might contribute to a broader perspective on the “Al Jazeera Effect.”

Wanja Njuguna