Going Home to Africa
The Good and the Bad
I’m regularly asked which country was the worst, the best, the most beautiful, the most friendly, etc. I’m not a person who does best, bestest, I believe that everything has good and bad, but as people are curious here is a headline of my thoughts, notably these are my opinions based on what I saw and experienced …
First to clarify that the countries I drove through were, in order of travel, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea (Conakry), Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Cabinda (Angola), Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe.
Culturally interesting – based on what I experienced, certainly not an exclusive list … Morocco is a must for culture where, unlike sub-Saharan Africa, they have retained much of their culture, traditions and crafts. In Nigeria I visited the Benin Kingdom and in Cameroon the Bamoun Kingdom and these gave an insight into great history of the continent. I firmly believe that revitalising the pre-colonial history of Africa would be of immense benefit and interest.
Poverty – notably the poorest country was Mauritania, with no agriculture to speak of it looked like a hard place to live. Guinea and The Gambia were the next countries that I felt belonged in this category.
Landscape – The Atlas Mountains was an exciting visit for me, never, when I was sitting learning about them in geography in high school did I imagine that I would one day actually see them. Guinea had stunning mountains in the East and the rain forest intensified, the mangroves of The Gambia was entirely new to me, the Plateau in Nigeria en route to Cameroon was one of the most pristine landscapes I have ever seen, the rain forests of Gabon were incredible to see.
People – top of my list are the Nigerians, most people think I’m joking but they were friendly, helpful, humourous, generous and kind, I loved my time there. I also very much enjoyed the people of Guinea who were always very excited to hear I was from Zimbabwe there seemed to have been some link with Mugabe and most weren’t aware that he had been ousted. In fairness I enjoyed the people of all the countries, perhaps less so in Senegal, Cameroon and Gabon where the Anglophobia was annoying.
Best infrastructure – regrettably several West African countries were struggling to maintain or improve their infrastructure, a scary thing when one considers that the African population will double in the next 30 years. Almost all countries had issues with maintaining delivery of electricity, enerators were widely used, which is odd as solar would be a much cleaner source in the long term. Namibia had good infrastructure as did the small amount of Botswana that I traversed. Morocco too has to be admired for the improvements it is making.
Roads - are a part of the infrastructure but I gained intimate knowledge of these during my time, of course my view is biased and I can really only comment on the roads that I drove. The worst country was Mauritania, there was only a section entering Nouakchott which I could judge to be in good condition, the rest was mostly shockingly bad diversions on sections of shockingly bad road. The worst section was no-mans-land from Morocco where there was no road just a sand track that ran over rough sections of rock and one couldn’t divert too far from the track or you stood the chance of being blown up in what remained of a landmine field. Guinea and Nigeria probably draw for second worst. In Guinea my view was affected by 2 days on red dirt road which was in the worst condition with deep ruts with every imaginable surface type and condition. The capital Conakry was an introduction to how bad city roads can get if they haven’t been resurfaced for decades. My introduction to Nigeria was on the road from Benin into Lagos where I encountered conditions that are difficult to describe, suffice to say that the dual carriageway was frequently reduced to one lane in each direction (on the same side) as the conditions on the opposite direction were impassable. When I hear people complaining about potholes I am frequently reduced to laughter as I recall the potholes that looked more like pools, with no knowledge of how deep these were only knowing that it wasn’t worth disappearing into, never to be seen again, much like a SciFi movie.
Weather – I would say that on my route Morocco was the only place that the weather was different, traversing from the North where winter was setting in and it was cooler with more rain which became less prevalent as I drove South. In the region of sub-Saharan Africa which lies in the northern hemisphere it was winter (dry season) but practically there was only one climate until I got to Angola and that was hot and humid. Apparently in summer it remains so with the addition of rain. However, when it did rain I found that it considerably cooled things down with the exception of the build up to the rain which made it even more intensely stifling and humid.
There are truly so many observations and stories to tell, I tried to explain more of these in my book, so if you are interested be sure to sign up or buy a copy.