Thursday 29 May 2008

Cox & Kings in Mali

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?

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

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

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

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

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,

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Barça ou barsax - Spain's hellish allure

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

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

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.