Thursday, 23 October 2008

Travel in Mauritania - Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, Atar, Chinguetti and Choum

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News from a correspondent working in West Africa who visited Mauritania at the beginning of October. He writes: "If you feel any of this is helpful please feel free to post." I think it paints a very good picture of the current social environment:
"Mauritania was a great travel experience for me. The local people were genuinely hospitable and in many ways "the everyday" feels safer than most of the other West African countries I've visited or worked in. Everyone you speak to is deeply critical of the extremists. Clearly it is impossible to say if you were nonetheless "being watched" by other elements, or were in some sense "lucky", and the intense interest some people take in your movements can prompt some uneasiness (and rather evasive answers....). I tried to keep a low profile, spent time integrating with the locals and taking local advice, and emerged unscathed after ten days. At the risk of some fairly clumsy imagery, if you can mentally deal with the "elephants in the room" (coup/political instability; extremist threat), and the elephants stay in the corner, it is a great experience.
"There seemed to be hardly any other tourists around, and you may have seen that Point Afrique has now cancelled for this year. This is such a great shame for a people with so much hospitality ingrained in their "habitude". The only other tourists I saw were on the overland coastal route with cars or bikes - there were five 4x4s and five bikes at the Auberge Menata in Nouakchott and two 4x4s in Nouadhibou. In the interior I met two French guys who had a family connection in Chinguetti and that was it. Even the chameliers had gone into the brousse and were hard to find!
I was finding accommodation on the move and found that a lot of the auberges/campements were effectively closed. I say effectively because occassionally a person was hanging around who could open up a room or the terrace for you but that was about it. For example in Atar, would you believe, I found no lodgings open but was fortunately taken in by a large family who lived next to one of the out-of-town auberges. I bought them a whole chicken for dinner which we ate together outside on their rug, drank lots of tea, and then passed the night on a nearby terrace in the auberge complex. The person who sold me the chicken claimed I was the first European he'd seen all year (surely not true?).
"The iron ore train had recently had some problems (some robbers or a derailment or something) and the schedule was ramped down and all over the place. For example, the train was 11 hours late (3.30am arrival at Choum) and there were so many people that it was physically impossible to get inside the passenger cabins at Choum so I had to spend the trip outside which was pretty unforgettable in the Saharan heat and the dust, which does indeed work its way into your soul. As another example of people's hospitality, at Choum I fell in with a group of young Saharawis and Mauritanians who I met en route from Atar. We found a family in Choum to share dinner with - the father turned out to be the local gendarme - and then slept in their courtyard awaiting the train's delayed arrival, and then spent the next 13 hours sheltering-up and sharing tea on the train.
"The whole airport experience (I flew up to Casablanca) is an abomination of inefficiency, corruption and Mr Big syndrome, and Royal Air Maroc's monopoly-ticket pricing is outrageous. In short, I hope never ever again to have to be at the airport!"

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Good news from Africa

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Africa's economic growth seems relatively untouched by the credit crunch, according to this upbeat assessment on economist.com. But the same site recently covered a much more downbeat story on Africa's political scene presented by the World Bank's latest report on African politics, where the most resource-rich countries in Africa are fingered as the most corrupt and politically screwed up. Some of those emerging from disastrous conflicts, however – for example Liberia and Rwanda – are witnessing huge improvements in good governance.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Gashaka Gumpti in Nigeria

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Jeremy (Naijablog) Weate climbed Chapel Wadi in March, with friends from Abuja. His film is illuminating and adds considerably to the very limited info on p.1215 of the guide.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Cox & Kings in Mali

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Who'd have thought? The world's oldest tour operator is doing tours in Mali, including the 2009 Festival sur le Niger at Ségou. Pity about their decision not to include the Festival au Désert in Essakane, just because it's north of Timbuktu. Presumably insurance considerations have stuffed that option. And yet insurers take their lead from the British FCO, which doesn't even have an embassy in Mali (surely it's about time?).

Still, good on Cox & Kings for running these tours. Feedback from customers would be welcome.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Food and fuel inflation: would you work for two days to buy a gallon of petrol?

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The impact of food and fuel price inflation in Africa is truly shocking, as this BBC Radio 4 "File on 4" report by Michael Robinson makes clear. Flour from $280 dollars to $800 a tonne in the last 12 months, petrol at $5.50 a gallon (1% of the average annual salary in Ghana). Everyone's talking about the possibility of oil reaching $200 a barrel. But imagine if petrol was already costing you a couple of days wages per gallon. . . Imagine if a loaf of bread was out of your reach and you spent an hour or two earning enough for a couple of slices. It may be down to speculators, and they may get badly burned (here's hoping. . .). But meanwhile, Africans are already paying.

Photo: Kaneshie market, Accra, where the market traders were recorded.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Les Amazones de Guinée

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Lovely, rolling sounds from Guinea - a BBC audio report from Network Africa, about the all-female, 12-piece, gendarmerie band, Les Amazones de Guinée, formed 47 years ago, and their first album in a quarter century, Wamato (Sterns). Though the idea of trying to "fall into line with global musical demands" is a bit ominous.

Photo from the The Rough Guide to World Music Vol 1 © Graeme Ewens/Retroafric

Mauritania - what the attacks mean

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An excellent and thoughtful recent piece by Armelle Choplin on Mauritanian "Islamism" and "terrorism" – required reading if you're about to go to Mauritania and really want to try to understand it. Mauritania is the only Maghreb country to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. Note: it's best to read it in the original French if possible.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

From Hay to Timbuktu

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A new documentary, "From Hay to Timbuktu", is launching in Hay-on-Wye this weekend. There's free wine and music on Friday 23rd May in the evening at Addyman Books, accompanying an exhibition of photos by Rosanna Westwood, documenting her first trip to Mali with Anne Brichto, to make the case for Hay to be twinned with Timbuktu. Both towns are closely associated with books and learning – Timbuktu through its ancient collections of Islamic manuscripts, Hay for its world-famous secondhand bookshops and annual literature festival –  and the twinning proposal was accepted. Rough Guides is giving away copies of the Rough Guide to West Africa.

Out now, The Rough Guide to West Africa 5th edition

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The new edition is out now, and should be in bookshops over the next few days. Here's a press release:

The Rough Guide to West Africa
5th edition, June 2008

First published in 1990, the Rough Guide to West Africa is the most detailed guide available to the region. Although relatively close to Europe, West Africa is less well-known than many more distant parts of the globe. Now accessible by a new tarred road linking Morocco with Senegal – as well as by air – West Africa’s diverse countries, ranging from the islands of the Cape Verde archipelago to Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, offer a vast array of sights and experiences and the chance to engage first-hand with one of the economically poorest, yet culturally richest, parts of the planet.

The Rough Guide to West Africa is the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to this rewarding region, covering the fifteen visitable countries from Mauritania to Cameroon in fifty percent more detail than its only competitor (1384 pages compared with 904 pages). The Rough Guide includes thoroughly researched hotel and restaurant listings for all budgets, as well as essential sections on everything from food and language to media and sport, and thoughtful background on the environment, culture, history, politics and music. 


The colour introduction highlights West Africa’s attractions, and touches on its great range of cultural and scenic impressions. Colour photo sections on Arts and Crafts and Food plants offer fascinating information and useful advice. More than 150 accessible and accurate maps guide you from the urban jungle to the beaches and mountains. And an extensive index references every place mentioned in the guide.

Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) Like the Rough Guide’s only competing title, we didn’t send researchers to Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire in 2007. However, rather than compile chapters on the basis of “desk updates” we decided once again to omit these two countries until conditions improve to the point where we can cover them properly and recommend a visit.

Expect the unexpected If Niger River boat trips, slave castles, Dogon hikes and palm-fringed beaches are the (relatively) well-known side of West African travel, there are thousands of other ways to experience the region, all covered in the Rough Guide.

For example:

Watch bands rehearse in Conakry (p.605), see chimps in Freetown (p.688), meet a Yoruba priestess in Nigeria (p.1144) or photograph crocodiles in the Sahara (p.139);

Stay at a German-run lakeside resort in Cameroon (p.1329) or an eco-lodge in southern Gambia (p.310);

Buy a replica coffin in the shape of a plane in Accra (p.825), climb a mid-Atlantic volcano (p.478), or visit Victorian explorers’ houses in Timbuktu (p.402);

See salt-water hippos in Guinea-Bissau (p.553) or Youssou N’Dour play live in his club in Dakar (p.211);

Time your visit to Burkina Faso for the pan-African film festival (p.717), pick up a fetish remedy in Lomé (p.916), explore the palaces of the Dahomey kings in Benin (p.993) or go giraffe-spotting in Niger (p.1047).

New features
The Rough Guide to West Africa includes a host of new and improved features. All capitals and major cities feature newly formatted “Surface arrivals and departures” public transport tinted boxes for overland travellers, summarizing the bus, taxi and – where relevant – train and ferry options. In addition, look out for:

Colour sections 24 pages of colour compared with 8 colour pages in the only competing guide.

Background tinted boxes Background and further information on more than 120 subjects. New boxes in the fifth edition include:
THE MALI EMPIRE: the empire’s founding and demise, and the lives of its inhabitants;
THE SLAVE TRADE: fresh insights on its impact on the interior, the traders involved, the destinations of transported slaves and the abolition of slavery;
SPAIN’S HELLISH ALLURE: the 21st century economic refugee crisis;
PROJECT ZACA: the redevelopment of central Ouagadougou.

New and improved maps The Rough Guide has more maps than any other travel guide to West Africa and 32 maps that don’t appear in the only competing guide. All maps have been refreshed, revised and updated with more details. New maps in the 5th edition include:

BENIN: new map of Abomey, showing royal palaces in detail for the first time;
CAMEROON: redrawn and expanded country map, and new maps of Douala;
CAPE VERDE: new map of Sal island’s booming resort of Santa Maria;
GUINEA: new maps of Greater Conakry and Nzérékoré;
GUINEA-BISSAU: new maps of Bubaque, Bafatá and Gabú;
MALI: new maps of Djenné, Sévaré and Gao;
NIGERIA: greatly expanded map of central Lagos and a detailed new double-page map of the capital, Abuja;
SENEGAL: new map of the holiday resort of Cap Skiring;
SIERRA LEONE: new maps of Makeni, Bo, Kenema and Tiwai Island National Park (last published in 1990, before the war);
TOGO: new maps of Atakpamé and Dapaong.

Readers’ quotes Readers’ letters and emails are invaluable in telling researchers about new places to visit and old descriptions to refresh. In this edition we wanted to give readers more of a voice, so quotations from their contributions, sometimes offering opinions different from our own, are now printed as tinted boxes in each chapter.

Books, Music, Cinema Reading, listening and viewing suggestions for each country, with concise reviews, write-ups and the local back stories on literature, music and film.

Up-to-date information Recent information, incorporated throughout the guide, includes the latest security and travel updates, fuel prices, current events updates and much more.

Languages The Basics chapter includes a detailed section on West African ethnicity and languages, with a West African language map. Each country includes a language chapter, incorporating practical phrases, word lists and glossaries, giving the basic tools of expression for one or more important languages, a total of 24 language kits, ranging from Bamana to Yoruba.

Index Revised and expanded, with themed sub-indexes of the guide’s tinted boxes.

Publishing information
The Rough Guide to West Africa, 5th edition
Authors: Richard Trillo & Jim Hudgens
ISBN: 978-1-84353-850-9
Pages: 1360 pages in two colour, 24 pages in full colour
Format: paperback, 198mm x 129mm
Maps: 154 maps and plans
Price: £21.99, US$34.99
Date of publication: 2nd June 2008

Review copies and sales enquiries
Anna Paynton, Rough Guides: +44 (20) 7010 3701, anna.paynton@uk.roughguides.com

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Barça ou barsax - Spain's hellish allure

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Thanks to Roger Norum for the following piece in the new edition of the Rough Guide:

One of the biggest issues in Senegal today is not taking place at home: Barça ou barsax (“To Barcelona or to hell”) is a common Wolof expression that has become emblematic of the record numbers of Senegalese fleeing to Europe. Many of these attempts take place in rickety wooden fishing boats that regularly capsize or sink – drowning dozens of migrants – before they reach the Canary Islands. Despite the bodies washing up regularly on Spanish shores, the numbers attempting the passage have surged. In 2006, more than 30,000 illegal migrants set off, an estimated 6,000 of whom died or went missing – a six-fold increase on 2005. In 2007 the numbers doubled again to 60,000 migrants and more than 10,000 lost.

For many Senegalese families, shipping a son off to Europe by sea is seen as an opportunity to obtain foreign currency for the family back home, as often for economic advancement as from salvation from abject poverty. Senegal receives EU support to buy equipment to monitor vessels that might be trafficking migrants. In 2006, a pan-European maritime surveillance force, Frontex, was created to help reduce the number of migrant boats making it into international waters. But the organization has so far only been able to stage small-scale patrols off the coast of West Africa. Moreover, human rights groups fear that such measures will only result in more deaths, as desperate migrants leave under more dire conditions and attempt to avoid surveillance by making longer, more perilous journeys.

Most recently, Spanish businesses have launched government-approved programmes engaging directly with Senegal to hire workers for European jobs in the fishing, construction and hospitality industries. With more than €25million in development aid, Spain has created job centres in several African countries to filter potential emigrants, ultimately providing a path toward legal immigration in Europe. The initiative is also intended to rid West Africa of people traffickers.

In an era of conservative immigration policies, in which European countries such as France have adopted less integrationist measures such as offering money to migrant families to return home, Spain’s efforts have had some very positive benefits. It remains to be seen whether the model will encourage other European countries to think more liberally about accepting migrants – ultimately necessary if any marked dent is to be made on illegal immigration.

Somewhat irrelevant photo shows Gaudí's sculptures on the top of his Casa Milá in Barcelona - they've always reminded me of the Osun grove in Osogbo, Nigeria. Much more relevant, however, is a stunning collection of photos by Charlie Mahoney, that popped up on the BBC's African page today, illustrating the miserable plight of African immigrants in Barcelona. Charlie Mahoney's site is here.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The food crisis is deepening

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What's particularly moving about this sequence of photos by the BBC's Andrew Walker is the connection between the 15-year old boy in Kano and his mother out in the village. The photo of the man chopping down a lovely shade tree is truly depressing. Thanks to Jeremy at the brilliant Naijablog for the heads up.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Thomas Kohnstamm and Lonely Planet

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Recent revelations that Thomas Kohnstamm, a Lonely Planet author (who also worked as a desk editor at Rough Guides' New York office for a while) took freebies while researching their guide to Brazil, have positively rocked our little travel-publishing world. It's not so much that Kohnstamm did it, but that he, or rather his new publishers, have made such a meal of it, in publicizing his book of revelations, Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? His book is an enjoyable, fast-moving shagadrugathon, full of self-doubt and bare flesh, in which cheating on Lonely Planet's rule – "we don't take freebies in exchange for positive coverage"– is the last thing that's going to register in most readers' minds after they've taken in the sheer disorganised, fumbling, narcotic mess of Thomas Kohnstamm's efforts to put together his corner of the Brazil guide (112 pages, we learn). So it's amazing that the folks at Lonely Planet have been getting their underwear so contorted trying to convince their readers that LP authors taking freebies is unheard of. Not everyone at LP seems so sure of that, and according to Peter Munro, writing in The Age (Australia), some of those who've left the publisher, now owned by the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, say it happens a fair bit.

In fact it happens with all travel publishers, because the economics of researching and publishing travel guides are so tough. What makes the good guides good – and all publishers have good and bad ones – is the authors behind them. Although it's now only the policy of one or two publishers, including Rough Guides, to pay royalties rather than a flat fee, royalty payments are the way to ensure that authors care about the success and reputation of the book, not trying to impose unenforceable rules about how authors conduct themselves while gathering information as the money leaks away. A good author will slam or ignore a place, or simply give it a jaundiced write-up if it's not up to scratch, even if they have eaten or stayed there for free. And a good publisher cares about the finished product and the response of readers, not what a renegade contributor spouts in order to sell his own book.

Now, who's going to be the first Rough rebel? Too late, LP's rebel got there first.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

"Sliding Liberia" and Robertsport

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Thanks to Rich Folsom (see comment in in the Surf Africans post) for news about this wonderful-looking film about surfing and survival in Liberia, which somehow grabs the imagination in a way that a lot of worthy, important works don't. The marketing site takes a while to open, but it's worth the wait, beautifully constructed by Joyce Yu, and fabulous music too.

I was obviously quite wrong about the lack of big waves in West Africa. . . and in fact Rich's comment sent me back to the first edition of the Rough Guide to West Africa (1990), in which we had a complete Liberia chapter, researched just before Charles Taylor's murderous army invaded the country. Here, in all its yellowing glory, is the page about Robertsport, which was clearly about to become a little resort. Judging from Google Earth (which is pretty hi-res over the town), our map might not have been the most accurate thing ever created. . .But you can see those big old waves out at Sembuhun beach on the west side of the peninsula.

Nearly twenty years on, let's hope the town can make something of "Sliding Liberia" – not yet screened in the UK and still not on general release anywhere as far as I know.

Friday, 11 April 2008

A nice break for Surf Africans

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Good (if temptingly punning) news from the BBC for surfers, from three South Africans who reckon the coast of West Africa offers really good waves. That's never been my impression – plenty of nasty rip-tides, yes; big rollers, no – but I'm no surfer, and Senegal certainly gets some waves. I'm not so sure about Ghana (some surf west of Dixcove, perhaps?), but the idea that Ghana's beaches have "particularly large numbers of African surfers" doesn't quite ring true. . .

On the other hand, I hope they do, it would be tremendous for the coastal regions to get a boost from this kind of tourism. Sierra Leone, which the boys missed out because the road network doesn't reallly hit the coast, might turn out to be excellent.

I'd like to hear more from anyone who can fill in details. Meanwhile, a bit more background about the BBC's James Copnall's interview at here, at AfricanSurfer.com with some nice footage of the Senegal Surf Champs competition near Dakar and a rocky-looking break in Côte d'Ivoire.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Great travel news from Nigeria

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Jeremy Weate, of Naijablog fame, who never seems to do anything by halves, has recently visited Gashaka Gumpti (or Gumpti) National Park in the remote eastern mountains of Nigeria, hard up against the Cameroonian border, specifically to climb the highest mountain in Nigeria, the 2418m Gangirwal, also known as Chappel Waddi (which means “Mountain of Death”). His account is a compelling read and adds greatly to the minimal coverage we have in the Rough Guide – even the new edition which will be out shortly. Highly recommended.

Photo/screenshot © Google Earth (taken from what I assume is the top of Gangirwal, looking NNW into Nigeria). 

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

A sad, true warning

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A beautifully told tale of trying to do something, and just not being able to, has been scattered across Sophie Sarin's always readable "Djenne Djenno" blog in recent days.  In a small, light way it's completely heartbreaking that 14-year old, illiterate "guide", Fatumata is going to carry on getting nowhere. The tale, which seems to have ended with Fatumata's recent decision to ditch her links with Sophie and the hotel, and go off on another tourist-guiding-begging spree, is a sad, true warning that fly-in-fly-out aid and assistance is just a waste of time, ultimately (in fact rather quickly) doing more harm than good.

Photo: © Sophie Sarin, Djenné-Djenno Hotel, Djenné

Railways in Nigeria

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I'd heard that Nigeria's railways were possibly up for a refurb. And surely the Chinese can do it. It would be a huge example for the rest of Africa if the Nigerians could pull it off, but the story here from "This Day" doesn't sound promising.


Here's what we say in the new edition of the Rough Guide:

Food price rises

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Expect some stress and tension in many capitals, as people react to huge price rises in basic commodities, especially rice. There have been major outbursts in Cameroon, Senegal, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso in recent weeks. This excellent piece of reportage from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs focuses on how you support a family in Dakar when you have only a couple of pounds a day. Life goes on, but it doesn't get any better.

Photo: Dakar

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Overland to West Africa through Morocco: Tangiers warning

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Just a heads-up that if you're planning on stopping over in Tangiers on the way south from Europe to West Africa, there's been a spate of muggings in the city in recent weeks. The slightly over-the-top UK FCO general travel advisory for Morocco notes:

"The overall level of the advice has not changed [but] since March 2008 there have been a number of robberies, at knifepoint, of Europeans, including British citizens, near the centre of Tangier".

Let's hope the people involved are quickly caught – it's usually just a small gang who think they can stay lucky – as the city has really become a pleasant place to stay in recent years.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Ghana environment chief ticked off for harassing loggers for the wrong reason

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Ghana has precious little tropical rainforest left: by some accounts, barely 20 percent of the rainforest that was standing at the time of independence, 51 years ago (80,000 square kilometres), is still there. Which makes a moratorium on logging of what's left even more urgent. When I visited in February this year, the big forest giants – often standing like lonely old sentinels in a wilderness of patchy agriculture – were still being chopped down along the road up from Akosombo to Wli, as this photo shows, and the trucks full of logs were coming down the road in the other direction. So this story from the Ghanaian Chronicle, confusing even though it is, is depressing: even in a country as relatively well-managed and on the up as Ghana, where an Environmental Monitoring Foundation exists, is screwed by corruption and short-term gain. There's more background from 2006, including discussion of Kakum National Park here (paragraph about Ghana near the bottom of the doc). To find out more, and get involved in halting the decimation of Ghana's remaining forests, contact ForestWatch Ghana, who act as an umbrella group for NGOs involved in the issue.

Guinea - trouble on the horizon again

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Petrol and diesel prices have just gone up in Guinea-Conakry, not by a few pennies, but by the equivalent of several days average wages per gallon. A litre – that cost around $1 or 50p until the end of March – went up to $1.62 (more than 80p) on 1st April. The reason? The government has cut fuel subsidies. President Conté's clique obviously need the money, and figure the latest sabre-rattling by the unions may signal their last chance to make some before it's curtains for their government. With over-dependence on imported (and increasingly expensive) rice also making it almost impossible for people relying on wages to keep going, the next few months are looking really shaky. If you go, keep your ear to the ground the whole time. You'll be welcomed, and it's a beautiful country, but take care.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Bob Geldof on George Bush on Africa

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Time magazine gave Bob Geldof space recently to describe his trip following some of George Bush's African tour – and time in the company of the leader of the free world. It's a fascinating piece, though hard to know how much freedom Geldof – or Dubya – had to approve all the copy. You've got to marvel at the president when he says "US solutions should not be imposed on African leaders" So just on certain other leaders, huh. . .?

Strangely, this article differs from the version supposedly reproduced in The Sunday Times. Not just minor subbing changes, but in somewhat different quotes from Bush in each piece, and reflections from Geldof that don't appear in both articles, as if both were sourced from a longer one. Go figure – as the "curious and quick" (Geldof's words) George W might say.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Anger in the Niger Delta © Current.com

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This excellent documentary feature (wait for the naff studio intro to finish) by Mariana van Zeller is broadcast on UK Channel 4 TV on 30 March 2008, or you can watch the whole thing on the Current.Com website. Although it was shot in March/April 2007, it shows graphically the conditions for oilfield communities, which have not improved over the last year. The clip below is the first of four parts in a 24-minute film.

As Mariana notes: "Despite the tens of billions of dollars worth of oil produced here every year, the delta remains desperately poor."

Watch the guy who says "I'm telling you out of anger, because God knows, I'm angry". . .


Clip © Current.com

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Corruption in Mali

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More news from the incredibly energetic and generous Tan Wee Cheng, from Singapore, who notes in his recent post from Timbuktu:

"Upon arrival, a half-Turaeg-Songhai guy named “Alibaba”, obviously a member of the local tourist syndicate aka mafia with a name that sounded probably less trustworthy than he had intended, picked me up and sent me to Hotel Colomb on a motorcycle ride through desert wastes into town. Alibaba tried hard to sell his guide services. After I dumped my luggage, we walked next door to the tourist office where Alibaba showed me his photo on the tourist office’s register of travel guides. In my presence, the official at the tourist office also concurred with Alibaba’s assertion that new rules require tourists to walk around town with a guide, as too many tourists had upset locals by taking photos indiscriminately. With a guide, permission to take photos would be more readily granted. No choice but to agree to a half day guided tour for an outrageous sum of FCFA 10,000 (about US23), in a country where GDP per capita is less than US$1 a day."

Can anyone confirm this new state of affairs?

Later, in Djenné:

"The Mosque of Djenne was once opened to tourists. Some years ago, it was closed to non-Muslims when a European director was found filming a skimpily dressed model in the mosque. We were approached by an acquaintance who is a mosque official. He said I could go into the mosque if I pay him FCFA 20,000. I declined the offer. Why should I pay FCFA 20,000 (30 euros) to see a mosque? Simply too expensive. World Heritage Sites elsewhere don’t charge that much. This also once again marked the problem of corruption in Africa. They should allow tourists to enter but charge a high but more reasonable entrance fee of, say, FCFA 5000, which is probably okay for a WHS. This would get quite a number of visitors and generate income for the community. (Rules on modesty should be enforced with fines). Instead, individual officials benefit from the very small group of visitors willing to pay ridiculous sums of money."

CFA5000 is plenty – in fact, frankly it's a crazy amount of money if you simply want to gurantee maximum revenue, as you'll put off probably 30% to 50% of potential visitors (Peace Corps, VSOs, low-budget travellers, etc) who wouldn't pay more than CFA1000–2000 ($2–$4) for the privilege.

You can read the rest of Wee Cheng's post here.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Guinea Bissau – carnival and hotel news

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Most of the little news coming out of Guinea-Bissau is about the country's steady decline into West Africa's first narco state (what a delightfully horrible term), with elements in the army and navy apparently colluding in the trans-shipment of cocaine from South America. So Rose Skelton's piece in last Friday's Guardian on the Bissau carnival was excellent good news. It must be one of the least-known, most rarely acknowleged carnavals in the world. If people can hop on charter flights and party away in Olinda, Brazil, then why not in Bissau, half the distance? Not that the world needs any more charter flights. But if you are going to fly to a carnival. . .

You can read the story here. And Rose's HowdiBohdi? blog is well worth following (link on the left).

Photo © Rose Skelton

Bissau has a good new hotel, writes Tan Wee Cheng (thanks Wee Cheng), whose blog is also linked on the left):

"Hotel Kalliste, centrally located at Praca Che Guevara. The exterior looks horrible but the rooms are immaculately clean, new and modern and the hotel has strong bank vault-like exterior doors, probably as a safeguard against major political disturbances. CFA 30,000 to 40,000 per night. Has a good café-restaurant and a room with jackpot machines."