Accra to Zanzibar (2016)

Since my first trip to Tanzania in 1976 I’ve had numerous opportunities to explore the wonders of the African continent. I’ve travelled by train from Dakar to Bamako, toured some of the extraordinary sites of the Nile Valley in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, driven around Lake Malawi and across the inner delta of the river Niger in Mali. I celebrated both my 30th and 40th birthdays in Ouagadougou and was hospitalised in Lomé in 1996 during a West African holiday (as described in another blog entry…). I’ve taken part in conferences in Cape Town and Nairobi and in 2006 I spent two weeks at the University of Pretoria participating in a course on environmental economics. I’ve joined in the design of a new abattoir in Addis Ababa funded by the African Development Bank, planned for better environmental management in Benin and examined the scope and potential of rural development schemes in northern Nigeria, in Niassa province in Mozambique and around the Kafue and Lower Zambezi national parks in Zambia.

Although I’ve been responsible for drafting and editing a lot of reports and papers dealing with development issues in Africa, I haven’t written many notes on my travels, nor have I taken many photographs. But in 2016 I spent a few days in Ghana and then in Tanzania, during which I remembered to point my camera in the right direction from time to time. The following impressions are illustrated with some pictures I took during these two short trips.

In March I was assigned to review the progress of a ”pro-poor” forestry programme run by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). After a brief introduction in Accra, I travelled north to Tamale and the Mole National Park in the savanna region of the country. It was important to gather information about rural development and conservation practices, priorities and challenges in and around the park, so several meetings with villagers were organised.

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Not far from the park is the small settlement of Larabanga where the oldest mosque in Ghana can be seen. The construction in wood and adobe (mud) is similar to larger mosques found further north, in towns like Djenné and Timbuktu in Mali. The faithful enter the building through narrow doorways, bent double as they approach the prayer space in the middle courtyard.

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West Africa is well known for the colourful fabrics and beautiful golden jewellery worn by many inhabitants, for the music, the cultivation of cotton and for raising livestock (largely in the hands of semi-nomadic pastoralists). There are few notable national parks; most of the spectacular “big five” wildlife attractions are in eastern and southern Africa. However, there are some elephants in the Mole National Park as I discovered during an exciting “sun-downer” excursion.

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In May I was lucky enough to spend 24 hours on Zanzibar, reviewing progress of a collaborative programme aiming to build stronger universities. The state university is a relatively new institution, with a rapidly increasing student population, eager to learn. There are some big development challenges on the island, notably devising means to ensure that the revenue from tourism contributes to improved living standards for the inhabitants and to improved environmental management (i.e. less pollution). Beyond the luxury hotel enclaves, the island is awash in waste…

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An important source of income on Zanzibar is fishing. Awake at dawn I went for a walk around the old town and down to the harbour where boats of all shapes and sizes were moored. Back at the hotel I was enthralled eating breakfast and gazing out of the window at the maritime traffic in the early morning. Then I remembered to take pictures…

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Later after meetings at the university, lunch was served at a rooftop restaurant in Stone Town, the largest settlement on the island. The food was good as were the views. But it was a grey day and a tropical storm loomed on the horizon when we climbed aboard Precision Air’s 15 minute evening flight to Dar es Salaam.

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The island has been a trading hub for centuries, with many African, Arab and European merchants handling everything from spices to slaves. Although it is federated with mainland Tanganyika in the United Republic of Tanzania, there are powerful secessionist forces on Zanzibar and many political tensions not far below the surface. 24 hours was too brief for anything but superficial impressions. I’d like to return for a longer stay and increase my understanding of the dynamics of the island. Maybe there’ll be another opportunity…

2 thoughts on “Accra to Zanzibar (2016)

  1. Good read, and lovely photos. Hope you remember to point the camera in various directions during your return this week!

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  2. Thanks for your feedback! I did take a couple more shots of the Indian Ocean when I was in Dar es Salaam, including a beautiful rainbow after a thunderstorm. But the meetings I went to didn’t include many photo opportunities…

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