Monday, February 11, 2008

Out of Africa: A Summary

My itinerary from October to February (having previously visited Morocco and Egypt): South Africa – Botswana – Zimbabwe – Mozambique – Tanzania – Kenya – Ethiopia.

After four months in Africa, I’m sad to be leaving. It’s such an incredible and varied continent, and has surpassed my expectations in so many ways. It’s been a learning experience – I’ve gone from knowing most of the countries across the top and South Africa at the bottom, to being able to draw a reasonably accurate map of the whole continent. I’ve learnt about countries I’d never even heard of before, like the Central African Republic, Togo, Burundi and Sao Tome and Principe, and learnt that Africa is not just about expensive packaged safari tours to the Serengeti.

As I’ve had nothing else to read for the past couple of weeks, I’ve ploughed through the LP history of every country (quite literally), and it seems like a tragic template repeated time and time again – colonialism followed by independence in the 50s or 60s, descending into chaos, often with some dabbling in communism in the 70s, then as valuable resources have appeared, with some exceptions (Botswana for example), everywhere has descended into coups, civil war and bloodshed up to today – switch on the news today and watch Chad, Ivory Coast, Darfur, Somalia, Kenya even. It has been suggested that this is all the fault of European colonialism, but I reject this entirely, there have been wars and brutality in Africa since our ancestors, including Lucy, walked around the “cradle of civilisation”. Why the brutality, when it’s African brother pitted against brother, neighbour against neighbour? And today, a colonialism of a different kind is occurring, as China, Japan and India all buy up Africa for the mineral resources which they are so hungry for – will this be positive, or will the money and power this lends to local governments lead to more bloodshed and corruption? The African Union needs to be given teeth, as only by helping each other will the African nations progress to lasting peace and stability.

So, what positive aspects set Africa apart? First and foremost, people are friendly, open, and hospitable no matter what their situation, no matter how poor. Before judging, it’s important for outsiders to understand that African people living out in rural areas, that from a Western standpoint we would consider to be in need of help, are often fine the way they are – they have different lifestyles here, and often NGOs, trying to do the right thing, undermine the traditional or tribal ways of living that have supported people for thousands of years. Next… rhythm! Africa is the home of the drum, and music here takes on additional importance when it’s all people have – I love people just dancing any time they hear a beat, swaying in time with the music, and being happy for it. Africans are curious about the outside world, often being well-informed about what’s happening in Europe or the US, and certainly they know all the ins and outs of the UK Premiership, with Arsenal, “Manchester” and Liverpool being the clubs of choice.

Clearly there’s also so much I haven’t seen in Africa. I’ve only had limited experience of safaris and nature, feeling that this is something you do with friends or family rather than on your own, so despite passing close by to the Serengeti, Masai Mara and Okavango, I moved straight on. I’ve heard nothing but good about Uganda, and Namibia. However the next time I return (unless it’s for Malebogo and Thabiso’s wedding in Botswana) it will probably be to West Africa – a whole different world. Based on my reading, the first two destinations that draw me are Mali (Timbuktu and Dogon Country) and Senegal (Dakar, Saint-Louis, Casamance etc). Nigeria would be great to visit Ademola and find Tosin (who is now married apparently), but I don’t like the sound of Lagos much – Africa’s biggest city, chaotic, crime ridden and not even that cheap! The other big draw is the Red Sea – a diving trip with Hedge tempts – either to Egypt, or perhaps Eritrea or Somalia if things improve, as they surely will..

Kwa heri Africa…

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