Monday, September 17, 2012


By Florian Kaijage,

Lupita Island, located in Lake Tanganyika, and home to one of the most expensive hotels in the East African region was given under dubious circumstances to local and foreign investors, The Guardian on Sunday can reveal today.

According to investigations conducted by The Guardian on Sunday, there are no records showing how the island, located in Lake Tanganyika, was sold to foreign and local investors, who have since turned it into a posh hotel.

The island, which is heavily, guarded hosts one of the most expensive hotels in the East and Central African region—and bars nearby fishermen from any fishing activities.

Though the investors claimed during their acquisition that any human being didn’t inhabit the island, reports from the regional authorities in Rukwa and Mbeya show that the Ministry of Lands and Human Settlements Development didn’t approve the deal as required by the law.

The Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) confirmed this week that it approved the construction of the posh lodge in the island, but when the Guardian on Sunday contacted the Ministry of Lands, it turned out that no such records existed -- showing that the Island was acquired legally.

But as the foreign and local investors acquired the Tanzania’s island dubiously, Greecewhich is currently under serious financial problems, yesterday announced that it had identified 40 uninhabited islands and islets that could be leased for as long as 50 years to reduce debt as pressure grows on the country to revive an asset-sales plan key to receiving international aid.

The Greece’s shortlist includes islands ranging in size from 500,000 square meters (5.4 million square feet) to 3 million square meters, and which can be developed into high-end integrated tourist resorts under leases lasting 30 years to 50 years, Bloomberg news reported yesterday.

But, in Tanzania, a posh island was sold dubiously.

The ministry’s acting commissioner for lands, Anna Mdemu told The Guardian on Sunday that she could not find any document on the 130-acre island located in Nkasi district, Rukwa region.

“The is no record here at the headquarters in regard to the island’s acquisition … I have instructed the Mbeya deputy commissioner for Southern highlands to deal with the matter … to establish whether there is any such document … I am told nothing has been found so far,” she affirmed

Mdemu conceded that she had not heard of the place, namely,Lupita Island before this paper’s query over the land issue, but said if the land acquisition had followed governing laws and laid down procedures his office would have official records.

When reached over the mobile phone, Mbeya deputy commissioner for lands F. Luvanda said there were no records in his office,not even at the regional and district levels in Rukwa and Nkasi respectively.

“I have looked for information over how the island was acquired … there is nothing,” Luvandanoted on Wednesday.

And the most intricate point is that Mdemu revealed to this paper that even if the relevant local authorities entered into any form of agreement for land acquisitions by the private firm, there were specific procedures to be followed for island lands – different from those which apply to mainlands.

“Acquisition of islands have special procedures … they involve various laws, state departments and ministries; they include the ministries of Lands, Natural Resources and Tourism, as well as the Intelligence and Security (TISS) and town planning at the national level,”she said.

She added: “There might be agreement at the local level … but if the procedures were not followed at the national level, any decision at the lower level is wrong.”

When reached for comment on Monday (August 27), Nkasi District CommissionerIddKimanta said he was busy with the population census exercise, and advised that he should be contacted within a week.

On Tuesday, September 4, DC Kimanta told this paper he was yet to receive information and urged this reporter to be patient:

“I am working on the matter … please wait … I don’t want to rush and give you half-cooked information … I will give you a call when I am ready,” he pledged. But by press time the DC was yet to make the promised call.

On the other hand, Nkasi North Member of ParliamentAlly Keissy Mohamed said he knew the existence of the Fire Light tourist lodge but was not aware of the controversy over the land acquisition.

“I will meet the relevant authorities and give you the information as soon as I get hold of the officials,” the legislator noted, adding that from September 7 he planned to visit Kipili village where the lodge is located.

Keissy hinted that he was aware that the lodge owners entered into an agreement with Kipili villagers -- to whom he pays money in the region of 2.5 million a year.

The Land Act 1999 and the Investment Act No 7, 1997 as well as Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) guidelines stipulate that application for farmland should be submitted and be dealt by district authorities but the eventual certificate of occupancy should be registered and a copy served to the land occupier.

The hotel which started operations in 2008 charges between $585 (Sh936,000) and $975 (Sh1,560,000) a night per person during high the season between December- February and June- October. It is owned by Tom Lithgow, the Arusha-based Tanzanian of British origin who has been running tourist business in the country since 1989.

His father was a Briton and his grandfather was an Australian.

For a tourist who wants to take over the whole island, in low, or “green” season, it costs about $16,700(Sh26.72 million) a night, while in high season, it is closer to $27,250(Sh43.6 million).

Lithgow who has few Tanzanians on board as shareholders has conducts the business under a private company, Tanzania by Firelight, which was renamed from the first one, Fire Light Safaris Ltd that was incorporated in Tanzania on January 1, 2001 with its incorporation number 030459.

Information on various website describe the Lupita Island as a ‘privately owned Island’

Investors’ statement

Speaking to this reporter over the phone from Arusha,Tom Lithgow, the lodge owner claimed to have all relevant documents legalizing his business presence at the Lupita Island.

“We followed all required procedures in acquiring the land we have been there for more seven years and we have been living in harmony with the surrounding communities, the local authorities at district level are aware of this” noted Tom.

However, he declined further details, saying: “We need to meet and talk physically in Arusha … it is not easy to give details to a person I have never met so you have to come to Arusha, please let me know when your are coming so that we can talk.”

He added that he was in possession of a TIC certificate since 2005.

The Guardian on Sunday has ascertained from TIC that a Certificate of Incentive, Number 200877 was issued to Fire Light Safaris Ltd on February 21, 2005 for a specific project -- to expand and modernise tour operation business by establishing a tour lodge categorized in the Natural Resources sector and Tourism sub-sector.

Tanzania by Fire light’s tourists operations are branded as Fire light expeditions and apart from Lupita Island lodge the firm runs two tourists sites; the Parahala camp in the newly established Katavi region and Mwangamoto camp in Serengeti National Park.

The Island and lodge

Several websites on the globe describe the place as the pristine waters of Tanzania’s Lake Tanganyika, where it is found a tiny jewel of Lupita Island, and a lodge run by Firelight Expeditions as part of its safari packages.

Planes, Boats and Helicopters

Guests arrive by flights that land at an airstrip at Kipili in southwestern Tanzania. They then take a speed boat or helicopter to Lupita, about 2.5 miles offshore from the village before alighting on the small 130-acre privately owned island.

Lupita has 11 open-air cottages, and two family cottages, each of which has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. All are perched high on the island’s hillside for the best views of the lake and surrounding countryside.

Feel the Breeze

Even the smallest rooms measure up at an impressive 1,800 square feet, and the two-bedroom family suites are 2,400 square feet. All have undulating thatched roofs made from local grass, and the private lake-view side of each has a private open-air terrace or deck with a plunge pool or bathtub. The bathrooms are also exposed to the elements, but are quite private and have waterfall showers.

The d├ęcor, though rustic, is still sumptuous. The beautiful wooden beds are simply dressed with white linens, and the cottages have living-room areas with a variety of chairs and coffee tables, woven rugs, cute lamps, and little vanities and desks.

Lay of the Landand possible activities

Lake Tanganyika is the world’s longest lake, at over 400 miles, has depths of over a mile, and holds 8 percent of the world’s freshwater. It’s also home to over 400 species of fish, so naturally there are tons of things to do on the lake during your stay at Lupita.

For the aquatically inclined, the lodge can arrange kayaking, canoeing, fishing, sailing, water skiing, scuba diving or snorkeling and sunset cruises. But if you prefer dry land, there are walking trails on the island, as well as bicycle visits to local villages and schools. Guests can take a strenuous one-hour hike to an adjoining island to visit a living replica of a traditional African fishing village, while a half-hour boat ride away is another village that holds a weekly market where the Lupita chefs purchase their fish and produce. This isn’t a tourist trap, though. Few, if any, outsiders other than Lupita’s guests visit.


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