“The trains are running again. We have peace,” says Didier, the station master at Mindouli, in the Republic of Congo’s southern region of Pool.
But a glance at the weeds growing on the line connecting the capital Brazzaville and the port city of Pointe-Noire shows that traffic — to put it gently — is not huge.
Outside the station, a few plucky hawkers have set up stalls in the hope of snaring a little cash.
More than two years after a brutal civil conflict in Pool, the second in 20 years, was settled, Congo’s key agricultural region remains hanging on a thread of hope.
The so-called Pool War erupted in April 2016, pitting the forces of President Denis Sassou Nguesso against the troops of Frederic Bintsamou, a Protestant clergyman and leader of a rebel group called the Ninjas.
A ceasefire ended the conflict in December 2017 — but it took until November 2018 for traffic to resume on the Congo-Ocean Railway.
Even today, there are no passenger trains and a new Chinese-built highway siphons off much of the meagre trade.
“On average, we have five trains a day,” says Didier. “Before, we used to have three times as many.”
The track is old, the rolling stock decrepit and out of the first seven months of this year, workers went unpaid for four months, employees say.
The state’s coffers are empty. The government, run by Sassou Nguesso for 35 years, has debts of $9.5 billion, nearly a third of which is owed to state enterprises and private firms.
In July, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave Congo a three-year loan of nearly $450 million after revenues from oil, the country’s main currency earner, crashed.
Abandoned ‘Garden’ –
The name of the Pool department derives from Stanley Pool, which the 19th-century European colonialist Henry Stanley named after himself.
It comes from a lake-like broadening of the mighty Congo River in its lower reaches.
The region controls the corridor to the Atlantic coast from the capital Brazzaville, which sits on the opposite bank of the Congo from Kinshasa, the capital of the vast Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pool’s nickname is the “Garden of Congo” — for decades, its rich soil, plentiful rainfall and tropical warmth brought forth cheap and plentiful corn, manioc, millet, peanuts, pork and farmed fish.
Today, though, the region of plenty ironically bears the imprint of want.
A cement factory which opened on the outskirts of Mindouli in January 2018 and provides several hundred jobs, seems to be one of the rare causes for optimism.
But times are hard, says Diamond Cement manager Clement Mawuli Ahialey, a Togolese. The plant has a capacity of 700,000 tonnes a year, but produces just 4,000 tonnes a month.
The plant’s opening was delayed by several years as a result of the Pool War — by which time the price of cement had crashed.
“When I arrived in Congo in 2009, a tonne of cement sold for 200,000 CFA francs. Today, it’s 40,000. We’re selling at a loss,” he said.
Aid appeal –
The Congolese government, the UN and 16 humanitarian organisations last month put out the begging bowl for $23.7 million to help 138,000 distressed people in Pool for the next six months.
A June 2017 survey found that more than half of families in Pool were living in food insecurity — among children in displaced families, more than one in six is acutely malnourished.
In Mindouli, the World Food Programme is working with a Congolese partner to restore fish farms.
Three ponds, each measuring about 50 metres by 50 metres, are already filled with water and awaiting their fish.
At a fourth pond, dozens of workers, hired on a basis of 1,500 CFA francs per day, clear out weeds from the dried-up bed.
How “African” is our modern-day storytelling?
The tune of today’s African literature may still be dictated by the finances of the West
African literature in its earliest stages (of recognition) was mostly “protest writing” with a tinge of history. Most of the books published by African authors at the time were, at the very least, reactions to the socio-political reality that pervaded the continent at the time.
Between the 1940s and 1960s, it was rare to stumble on texts that did not attempt to address the subject of colonialism. Peter Abrahams’ “Mine Boy” dwelt on South Africa’s pre-apartheid days, Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and “Arrow of God” were centred on narratives that focused on British incursion into Eastern Nigeria, and “West African Verse” (a poetry anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga) comprised poems from all corners of the continent that were large cries for freedom and calls for unity in the struggle to rid the continent of (direct) European subjugation.
The final two decades of the 20th century and the turn of the millennium ushered in what seemed to be new African narratives. Focus appears to have shifted from the themes of old, and African storytellers as well as poets have ventured into new terrain, unafraid to tackle the issues of gender fluidity, identity, mental health, sexuality and even Afro-futurism.
One art form that has majorly benefited from this paradigm shift is the short story. No longer seen as wholly inferior to the novel, short stories have slowly but surely assumed a pivotal role in influencing the direction of new African storytelling. They are compact, they are intricately woven, and they come with a huge sense of perspective. Short story collections like Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck”, Igoni Barrett’s “Love Is Power Or Something Like That”, Chinelo Okparanta’s “Happiness Like Water”, and more recently, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky” provide insight on the new flavour of African stories being told.
However, there has been the question of what (and who) influences the kind of stories being told by African writers. There have been accusations levelled against authors of this continent bordering on “pandering to the West”. Writers have been chided for dwelling too much on themes like poverty, war and all the other topics that the West perceives as “uniquely African”.
The late Kenyan author and journalist, Binyavanga Wainaina, in his essay “How To Write About Africa”, satirised what Western observers usually expected from literary works authored by African. “Jumping Monkey Hill”, one of the stories in Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck”, is a fictional account of a writers’ conference wherein the protagonist’s manuscript submission is panned by a white facilitator for not being “African enough”.
There is also the matter of how African writing is being currently funded. It is telling that The Caine Prize for African Writing, one of the highest literary honours in the short story category, was created in the United Kingdom. The Prize has provided a springboard of sorts to many promising African writers, but it has also been criticised for subtly reinforcing Western stereotypes of what African literature should look like.
In the words of Nigerian literary critic Ikhide Ikheloa, “the creation of a prize for ‘African writing’ may have created the unintended effect of breeding writers willing to stereotype Africa for glory. The mostly lazy, predictable stories that make the shortlist celebrate orthodoxy and mediocrity. The problem now is that many writers are skewing their written perspectives to fit what they imagine will sell to the West and the judges of the Caine Prize….”
It has also been argued that most of the writers who earn critical acclaim are usually based abroad, and in discussions about African literature are rated a lot more highly when compared to their contemporaries who ply their trade indigenously.
It is hard to fault this argument, considering how modern-day literary darlings like Ayobami Adebayo, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Chika Unigwe and Akwaeke Emezi are all practising their craft in the diaspora. Again, this reawakens the debate as to whether African creatives have to go out of the country before they can earn some recognition.
These arguments go to show that African literature, to an extent, still draws some of its validation from the best. However, credit has to be given to platforms like Kwani, Chimurenga, Kalahari Review, Saraba Magazine, Brittlepaper and the Ake festival for promoting African writing as much as possible.
A lot of funding is needed to motivate and reward African storytellers, and while it is wished that there wasn’t so much Western financing, maybe the fact that stories are being told is some sort of consolation.
Related story: Nobel winner Mahfouz lives on in Cairo’s alleyways
10 Safety and Security Tips You Should Note as You Travel this Christmas
How to stay safe during your travels this festive period.
You can’t wait for Christmas to come. You’ve made or are currently making plans of how to make the best out of this Christmas season away from home in a vacation you’ve dreamt about all year long. December is finally here, you remember how you’ve googled the best destinations to travel to and how you finally made a choice. It’s a wonderful feeling.
There’s no doubt that travelling during the festive period can be a whole new level of excitement. However, it’s easy to lose your guard and get caught up in the thrill of Christmas adventures and/or shopping. While you get busy thinking about living your best life away from home, make sure that you don’t neglect travel security with these safety tips.
While you are preparing for your December vacations, like many, you may think you have it all sorted. Do you really have everything sorted out? Let’s look at a few things’ travellers like you should consider when travelling.
Here is a list of 10 safety and security tips that may come in handy as you make final preparations for your December getaway.
As you begin to book your travel, research the destinations you will be visiting beforehand. Take note of risky areas and places you would need to seek out assistance for. Familiarise yourself with emergency numbers and take note of specific country restrictions such as electrical outlet wattage, local customs, traditions and holiday schedules.
The idea here is that while you’d be a stranger visiting the place, probably for the first time, you don’t want to end up being embarrassed or be robbed of a valuable possession. So, research and get a deep insight into the area, the people and be sure of the places you must avoid while vacationing there.
Pack smartly as you travel this Christmas
Only take what you need for the trip and where possible, leave valuable jewellery, clothing and other items at home. According to worldaware.com, “While you should leave unnecessary valuables at home while travelling, it’s important to know how to keep important items as protected as possible”.
Do not leave your valuable items like jewellery in checked bags. They should be in your possession either within your hand luggage or better still, in a waist belt or neck bag. It is equally ideal to have a change of clothes in your hand luggage. This will come in handy if your checked bag(s) gets missing or stolen.
Communicate with family during your trip
As you plan to make that trip, it is also important you tell family and friends about your travel plans and share your itinerary with them beforehand. Make plans for how family, friends and acquaintances can contact you while you’re away. Check-in periodically with family/friends as a basic precaution.
During your vacation, you may change hotels, get on a cab or use other means of transport. You can always share your location with family and friends using the share location feature of Google Maps. If you’re using any cab/ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft, you should also share your trip with a few family members or friends.
Arrive early at the airport on your travel date
Allocate plenty of time to pass through security checkpoints as high travel volume during the holidays is likely to increase delays. Ensure you have obtained all necessary documents prior to departure including country-specific visas. Where you’re not clear, ensure to get clearance before the day of your trip. Call the airline you’re using or call the agent that helped with your flight/hotel booking.
Prearrange transportation throughout your trip
Typically, this is best done through your hotel or host. App-based rideshare services are also often an acceptable method of travel, though this can vary by location and local restrictions. If using taxis, make sure they are officially licensed. Remember to always share your transport routes and destinations with family and friends.
Don’t stick out or draw unnecessary attention while on vacation
People who look like they’re from out of town are especially vulnerable to crime, so try to blend in as much as you can. Be discreet when looking at maps and approach people carefully if you need to ask for directions. Maintain a low profile to prevent drawing attention to yourself and avoid obvious displays of wealth.
Travel in groups this Christmas
It’s pretty much easier to rob one person than a group of people. So, where possible, plan your trips and vacations in a group. Asides being safer, travelling in a group could be much more fun than you could have travelling solo especially if visiting a foreign language country. So, before finalising your travel plans, find out if there are any organised group packages to your chosen destination.
Know your surroundings and stay current
When on vacation, you should be extra sensitive. If something or someone seems out of place, listen to your gut instinct and remove yourself from the situation or seek help. Stay informed of what’s happening in the area you’re travelling to.
Never carry a lot of cash on you as you travel
Avoid carrying and using too much cash while travelling. As you make plans for your Christmas vacation, consider obtaining a pre-loaded debit card not tied to any of your bank accounts back home. Always keep a small separate amount hidden somewhere on your person in case of emergency. Avoid carrying valuables including tablets, laptops or expensive cameras when out for the day.
Be wary of public Wi-Fi while on your vacation
When you use public Wi-Fi, hackers looking to steal valuable information can access your data including credit card information. If you do need wireless internet service, set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that will allow you to access the internet securely while travelling. You can learn how to stay safe or set up a VPN while using public Wi-Fi here.
6 of the best travel destinations in Africa
Africa is beautiful. Discover places you wouldn’t believe are in Africa.
There is no gainsaying that Africa is mother nature’s favourite as the continent is blessed with immense natural and mineral resources. From deserts to savannahs, rainforests to mountains and waterfalls, name it, the mother continent has it all. No wonder the continent caught the attention of European navigators and explorers who could not resist the diverse richness of Africa.
The continent plays host to the widest variety of natural wonders, fauna and flora as well as peoples and cultures. Among the many endowments are the natural and historic destinations spread all over the continent. Here is a list of 6 natural destinations you just cannot afford to miss.
The Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga, South Africa
The canyon which could easily be adjudged the most beautiful canyon in the world stretches a distance of 25 km to the north of the Drakensberg. This beauty of mother nature is located in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. The canyon, which consists mostly of red sandstone is located in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. According to Wikipedia encyclopedia, the highest point of the canyon, Mariespskop is 1,944 metres above sea level. This is about 6,378 ft. The lowest point where the river leaves the canyon is slightly less than 561 metres (1,841 ft) above sea level. Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world and the second-largest in Africa. It is also presumed to be the largest green canyon on earth because of its lush subtropical foliage.
Now, you may wonder, why it made the list as one of the best travel destinations in Africa. Well, here are a few of the reasons:
- Bourkes Luck Pothole: the impressive rocks of the Bourkes Luck Potholes offer tourists an exciting view as it is close to tourists’ viewpoint.
- Hippo Trail: this magnificent trail into the Blyde River Canyon is worth every second of your time spent on hiking on it. So, lace up your hiking boots and hit the Hippo Trail.
- God’s Window: need just the perfect photo souvenir to take home from the Canyon? Then think no more! Get your phone or camera and walk down to God’s Window for your beautiful pictures. You’ll get the opportunity of capturing panoramic views that spread all the way down to the Kruger National Park. You can even see Mozambique from this point!
Ensure you wrap up your stay in South Africa with a tour of the Blyde River Canyon next time you visit.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
You have denied yourself a great deal of adventure and pleasure if you are a safari lover but have not visited the beauty that lies in the East African country of Tanzania. Tanzania’s oldest and largest national park, Serengeti National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It hosts the world’s most spectacular annual wildlife migration, which comprises of about two million wildebeest as well as thousands of Zebras.
It is also credited for hosting Africa’s largest lion population, with an estimate of 3000 lions. Other wildlife in the Serengeti includes buffalos, elephants and giraffes. The Serengeti National Park will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Located in Namibia, in southern Africa, is the Etosha National Park. The country’s flagship reserve is best known for the vast dry pan for which it is named. It’s prominent for its role in preserving black rhinos, leopards, elephants and lions. The best time to visit Etosha is during the dry season. Any time from April to October is perfect. But tourists can also visit during any other time. There are both government-run camps and exclusive camps for accommodations.
Siemens National Park, Ethiopia
Formed by the massive erosion that affected the Ethiopian plateau for many years, the Siemens National Park has transitioned from erosion rubble to one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. Adorned with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp cliffs, Siemens National Park is home to a number of rare animals such as the Gelada baboon, the Simien fox and the Walia ibex, a goat found nowhere else in the world.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating they say. So for you to fully capture the idea and appreciate all that Siemens National Park has in stock then you should start rescheduling to include Ethiopia on your travel to-do list
Yankari National Park, Nigeria
The large wildlife park which is located in the south-central part of Bauchi State, in Northern Nigeria covers an area of about 2,244 square kilometres. It is home to several natural springs. It is also famous for the many varieties of flowers found there.
For decades, Yankari National Park formerly a reserve, has played host to thousands of tourists. The park has been ranked as the most popular tourist destination in Nigeria. Because of this, the park plays a significant role in the development and promotion of tourism and ecotourism in Nigeria. It is one of the most popular eco-destinations in Africa.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Located in the Northeastern region of South Africa lies the Kruger National Park. This park which is widely adjudged as one of the largest game reserves in Africa is famous for its high density of wild animals. These animals, referred to as the big 5, are lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos. But the park is not the exclusive reserve of the big 5 as hundreds of other animals also inhabit the plains of the park. It covers an area of 19,485 km. Kruger National Park is the right destination for your getaway trips if you really want to walk on the wide side.
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