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Return to Paradise


June 03, 2013

“Peace and stability are the platforms on which we can build truly inclusive growth for Africa, and we salute the efforts of Japan which complement those of our African Union,” said Seychelles President James Michel.

President Michel made these remarks during the 5th Tokyo International Conference for African Development in Yokohama, during a plenary session on peace and stability.

Mr. Michel said that political instability and conflict nurtures terrorism and other illicit activities such as trade of arms and narcotics, human trafficking, and maritime piracy, which are by their nature transnational threats.

The President noted that Seychelles is continuing to contribute to the process of establishing stability in the region. He informed the conference that Seychelles recently launched the Regional Anti-Piracy and Prosecution Intelligence Coordination Centre (RAPPICC) – which is aimed at “ensnaring not only the ‘foot soldiers’ but the financiers of transnational crimes that use the ocean as their conduit for illicit activities.”

He called for the strengthening of cross-border maritime law enforcement as well as the improvement of judicial systems in the region. 

Furthermore, President Michel applauded Japan for convening the special conference on Somalia as part of TICAD V, as it provided additional momentum to the progress achieved at the London Conference on Somalia earlier this month.

Mr. Michel also commended the Somalia government for the progress it has made to establish law and order in the country.

“We salute the efforts of the government in Somalia to take ownership in the task of rebuilding from the ground up. A legitimate government has been implemented; Al Shabab is losing ground, pirates are being prosecuted and incarcerated, and piracy attacks are on the decline. We must also continue to highlight the positive role which can be played by Somalia’s immediate neighborhood, of which Seychelles is part.”

Mr. Michel reiterated his previous call for TICAD V to give particular focus to the concept of the “blue economy,” for African nations to secure their oceans and harness their valuable resources in a sustainable way.

“We want to keep maritime routes open and safe at all times for trade, fisheries, tourism, research, and natural resources development. If secured and used sustainably, Africa’s oceans offer vast opportunities for growth, and feed into Africa’s greater peace and stability,” the Seychelles President said.

During his attendance of TICAD V, President James Michel also visited the Seychelles booths in the JETRO African trade fair concurrently taking place in Yokohama. Seychelles’ Beijing Embassy prepared and coordinated Seychelles’ participation in the fair, which showcases Seychelles products including rum, tuna, and vanilla/lemon grass tea. Beijing’s Seychelles Tourism Board representatives were also present. The booths seek to highlight some of Seychelles' trade and investment opportunities.

Peace Dividend: Tours and Pilgrimages
salute African Culture

by Jerry W. Bird

"To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least
recognized need of the human soul." Simone Weil.

African American author Alex Haley lit the spark with his epic novel and TV series "Roots," as millions now look to Africa as their new Mecca. How big is this new-found tourism bonanza? According to President Clinton, 30 million Americans, more than one in ten, proudly trace their heritage to Africa. Since Caribbean and South American ties are equally strong, today's cultural tours and pilgrimages to Africa involve people from the entire hemisphere and various religious faiths. As African Cultural and Genealogical web sites spring up like lilies of the field, Black History Month has become today's hot item, causing several African airlines to offer low February fares. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has led the way towards a program that will link the "Slave Route" to regional programs of cultural tourism development - restoration monuments and historic sites, promoting museums, festivals and events.

The Slave Route: Slave Route tours include Benin's historic villages, Senegal's Goree Island, Ghana's Elmina Castle, a slave forts built by the Portuguese in 1482, Juffereh in The Gambia, the prison cells of Zanzibar and many other sites, including South Africa's Cape. A key idea at a recent focus group I attended was the dedication of Peace Parks on Africa's Slave Route. Blacky Komani, Manager North America, South Africa Tourist Board welcomed the idea as follows:. "The Worst enemies of any major tourism growth are the local people who do not perceive tourism as beneficial to themselves. The concept of a Peace Park in South Africa is a major step towards realization that tourism knows no boundaries, and that it creates harmony amongst all people."

Voodoo Culture: Travel Agent and writer Muguette Goufrani spent a full day at Togo's Akodessewas, the world's largest fetish market. Its array of sorcerers' potions included roots, bark, monkey skulls, wart hog teeth, porcupine skins, leopard hides, antelope horns, bones of crocodiles, horses, pigs and monkeys, plus various parts of human anatomy. Just like western style pharmacies dispense syrups, powders and pills, West African concoctions are used to cure everything from diarrhea and flu, to cuts, impotence and rheumatism.

Muguette tried on a gris gris (necklace), which is said to work its magic when blessed by a fetish priest. Part doctor, part psychic, the priest relies on herbal medicines, charms and a healthy dose of positive thinking. As Muguette says, "They believe that the spirits are everywhere -- in the air, the trees, the water - even buildings. A priest calls on his favorite god to predict future events, and keep evil forces at bay. He sits on a stool in his colorful robe, holding a regal staff, receiving gifts of gin, which he sips as a troupe performs ritual chanting and dancing. A sacrificial offering is made as a show of loyalty and respect to the spirits, and to gain special favors, such as the birth of twins. "

When we visited Benin, Muguette had just returned from Haiti and saw close similarities in beliefs between Caribbeans and villagers we met in Abomey, Ganvie and Ouidah. There we walked reverently through a sacred forest, saw the thrones and regalia of a long succession of Dahomey royalty, and dined with village leaders.

What was the common denominator in the various African countries we visited in the last 5 years? All were sharing tourism dividends brought by a decade or more of peace and political stability. May this be a lesson for other African countries that Peace Through Tourism is truly achievable.

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Peace in Ethiopia: Queen of Sheba's
historic footsteps

by Jerry W. Bird

This spring in Ethiopia, the desire for 'peace through tourism' was in the air, written on the faces, and evident in the words of everyone we met. Arriving via Ethiopian Airlines from New York, we flew the country's Holy Route, with overnight stops at Lalibela, Gondar, Bahir Dar, Dire Dawa and Harar. Here on a journey into history, we visited stone churches carved out of the mountain-face, and strolled amongst the castles and moats of Africa's Camelot. Cruising Lake Tana, we discovered a hidden monastery and followed a fleet of papyrus canoes carrying firewood to market. Later, we gazed down upon the legendary Blue Nile, toured Emperor Haile Selassie's Palace, and boarded his royal railway coaches. Others in our group visited Dire Dawa and the walled city of Harar, a site right out of Arabian Nights. Captured in our cameras were hundreds of faces and dozens of places we will never forget.

In Addis Ababa, the capital, we took part in a live media interview. I gave them my feelings that Ethiopia is a safe and friendly destination, with an abundance of attractions, a rich history, natural beauty and a superb climate. My most unforgettable moment was at Holy Trinity Church in Addis Ababa, with its spiritual presence, rich pageantry and 500 voices united in prayer and celebration. The magnificent setting, exotic musical renditions and blaze of colorful costumes were a marvelous salute to peace and goodwill. This event was a sample of the many festivals and celebrations that occur year round in a country where religious tolerance is a way of life.

Further proof that Ethiopia is prepared to welcome visitors in a big way, is the number and quality of tour operators and guides we met during our 3-week visit. In addition to staying at a range of hotels, from tourist to luxury class, interviews with several developers revealed plans for many new hotels, resorts and safari lodges. Things are definitely on an upswing thanks to the rewards of tourism in a new era of peace.

Coffee Plantation Tours: Knowing what a rage farm weekends and wine country tours have become, why not consider tours of East African coffee plantations? Considering the almost religious significance of this valuable crop in much of East Africa it seems as natural a tourism option as dude ranches in Texas.

How did it all begin? According to an old Ethiopian legend , when a young herdsman noticed his goats became quite frisky after dining on a clump of bright red berries, he sampled a handful and found that they caused a similar effect. Anxious to share the secret, he told a local monk, who found that the berries kept him and his fellow monks more alert during evening prayers. Thus a popular custom was born and a vast industry created. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, coffee has long been considered a medicine, a food and a beverage. The coffee ceremony has special significance, as we first learned at a trade show in Tanzania, in travel throughout Ethiopia and working with Kenya Tourism on its latest North American tour.
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Peaceful Traveler's Affirmation
At the Hilton Addis Ababa this spring, we joined Mr. Louis D'Amore's focus group to explore various concepts, including the dedication of "Peace Parks " around the World. Here in Harmony with Nature, individuals can truly call themselves Peaceful Travelers. In each of these parks, I would suggest there be a bronze plaque on which would be engraved, the Institute's Credo of the Peaceful Traveler. It is expressed in the following affirmation :

"Grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the world and because peace begins with the individual, I affirm my personal responsibility and commitment to:
(1) Journey with an open mind and gentle heart.
(2) Accept with grace and gratitude the diversity I encounter.
(3) Revere and protect the natural environment which sustains all life.
(4) Appreciate all cultures I discover.
(5) Respect and thank my hosts for their welcome.
(6) Offer my hand in friendship to everyone I meet.
(7) Support travel services that share these views and act upon them and, by my spirit, words and actions.
(8) Encourage others to travel the world in peace."

With those thoughtful words as your guide, you are better prepared to face the world.

Tanzania: Protecting Africa's Serengeti Superstars
by Jerry W. Bird

To see that Tanzania is enjoying the fruits of peace, look no further than its booming Safari trade. Having lived in the sub arctic wilderness, I've seen my share of wild animals up close. But until we flew into Kilimanjaro International Airport, and took a side trip to the Serengeti Plain, did II witness anything like the endless stretch of wildebeest and zebra we saw on our first safari.

Like a cinemascope movie, Africa's Animal Empire filled the scene, then fanned out in all directions on the far horizon; to the Tanzania - Kenya border, or to Lake Victoria and beyond. And what performers these four legged actors were; prancing about like TV wrestlers, snorting and butting heads, as if they knew they were the stars of our show. On a rocky knoll nearby, a pride of lions lolled lazily, like cruise passengers on deck chairs, surveying the situation, as they stood by for the evening dinner gong. Staring at us curiously, this shaggy crew was perfectly cast for the scene to follow, as were the two cheetahs lying couched in the tall grass near the Serengeti airport. In a few hours, traversing the countryside by Land Rover, courtesy of Serena's Serengeti Lodge, we were able to spot at least a dozen recognizable species, including several from the Big Five category. As a matter of fact, as seen from the air, every water hole from Arusha, to the Ngorongo Crater and Rift Valley, was surrounded by animals of every size and stripe. Before she could land Regional Airlines' Twin Otter, pilot Iris McCallum had to buzz the airstrip several times to scare away the critters.
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Return to Paradise
by Jerry W. Bird

Mozambique, East Africa: Educator and humanitarian, Dr. Jose Lopes of 'Africahouse' in Maputo, has witnessed the vital role tourism plays in bringing people together. Despite long-standing conflicts with this former East African colony, the Portuguese are returning. On a larger scale and of more recent note, white South Africans, sworn for decades during apartheid, are once again flocking to Mozambique's balmy beaches and 1500 miles of Indian Ocean coastline. "Today, via tourism," says Dr. Lopes "peace is gaining at a very fast pace, and as Nelson Mandela says, let bygones be bygones."

Mario Melloni of Wonz Dar Expeditions of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia echoes these sentiments. "Mozambique is a wonderful country, " he says. An expert river guide, Mario has explored its challenging rivers, and has just returned from a similar adventure in Madagascar. To him, rivers are Africa's historic highways, which transcend all man made borders. He welcomes the end of hostilities, from the horn of Africa to its southernmost regions.

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Ghana's Voice for Peace
by Jerry W. Bird

"Prejudices about a country or its people can best be removed by visiting the place. The stone walls of prejudice and indifference are crumbling fast, as vast areas of the world, including much of Africa, open their doors to tourism. Today's need for solid partnerships and workable action plans has become front and center."

To me the concept of "Peace Through Tourism" goes back ten years, when I was asked to help launch a magazine on this fascinating topic. I was inspired by the example of founder Louis D'Amore and how he had recruited persons of influence worldwide. However these lofty plans were shelved by our employer. But fate stepped in, and 7 years later in Accra, Ghana, when I met Mr. D' Amore, we became friends on sight. Thus I volunteered to work with Ghana's Tourism Minister, Hon. Mike Gizo, on the keynote address for a Peace Summit in Scotland.

We called it "Building Bridges Between Developed and Undeveloped Countries., " using the analogy of six swinging bridges at Ghana's Kakum National Forest. The various bridges represented Awareness, Understanding, Opportunity, Enterprise, Prosperity and the bridging of Time and Space. By connecting all six bridges, Peace through Tourism will be achieved. I tried crossing the actual bridges, and can vouch for the fact that it's not always an easy task. Kakum National Forest and the magnificent Gold Coast nearby, with its beaches and historic castles, are two of the many reasons to put Ghana on your travel agenda.

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