I have a friend who roams Africa, recording its pains, photographing its bright spots, and listening to us talk about its woes and hopes. Some months ago he was in Central Africa in the Other Congo, the Republic of Congo (not DR Congo).
He sent me a text message from Pointe-Noire when, he joked, he could finally climb a tree that was tall enough for his roaming phone to get a signal.
In more recent weeks, he traversed the Central African Republic (CAR). Again, he found a tall tree and sent me a text.
POINTE-NOIRE: “Three years ago”, he wrote, “Pointe-Noire was shining. Now, it is not even a shadow of its old self. The roads are dangerously potholed and jammed with cheap 10th hand Toyota taxis from Europe and Dubai.
“Power and water cuts are business as usual. At the last visit, the airport was sweet to see and experience. Now, the conveyor belt is creaking (many said we were lucky it was moving at all. Virtually all trolleys have lost their front wheels. Paint peeled off the walls ages ago and pungent smell hangs in the air.”
So what happened happened to Pointe-Noire? It is Congo’s oil capital. Oil drove up prices, corruption came to town, and the place became too expensive for people who were earning petty wages.
OBO, Central African Republic: Obo is the capital of Haut-Mbomou, one of the 14 prefectures of the CAR. It is becoming a popular destination, as a few weeks ago NEWSWEEK was there to write a story about the US-Uganda hunt for Joseph Kony, the leader of that terrible Ugandan rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
He wrote: “If you want to to feel optimistic about countries in Africa that you think fallen down the pike, come to the Central African Republic.
“I will be returning home in five days tomorrow wondering whether I was awake during the days I was in Obo.
“Central Africans think most other countries in East and Central Africa - Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Gabon – are heaven on Earth. Because they are still far below zero, their praises are understandable. Obo depressed me more than almost any other “capital” I have been to in Africa.
“The governor of Bamingui-Bongoran province in Ndele has on his office wall a CAR map last updated before independence [in 1960].
“The few civil servants who accept to take up their post in Obo (more than 1,000 km from Bangui) spend half the month travelling to collect their pay; i.e. one week or a minimum of four days during the dry season each way.
“The nearest bank is …. yes, more than 700 kilometres away.
“For the first time in my life I ate meat at virtually every meal for five days! Meat is very cheap…and there was nothing else that I could eat, really”.
© email@example.com / twitter@cobbo3