Archive for the ‘Guinea’ Category

The Corona Chronicles, Bamako

June 17, 2020

Part eight and end – open borders and dense crowds – 1


There was a great deal of grumbling almost three months ago. On March 20th, an Air France flight landed at the Bamako Senou Modibo Keita International Airport, released an unknown number of passengers into the night and took off again. This occurred after the Malian authorities had decided that because of the steady influx of COVID-19 problems from Europe the sensible thing to do was to close the airport. Were these new arrivals tested for the dreaded virus on arrival? Nobody knows.

And so teeth gnashed and fists clenched. Those dastardly arrogant French again! Grist to the mill of the army of (mostly online) conspiracy theorists, who see the hand of France behind every ill that befalls this nation, which conveniently provides them with an explanation for everything and absolves them of any and all responsibility for what transpires. No self-reflection is needed when everything is always someone elses’ fault. Like the mental toddlers who keep calling COVID-19 ‘The Wuhan Virus’ or keep blaming Obama for things that never happened on his watch. (Mind you: plenty happened on his watch, a lot of it very bad, but the catastrophic handling of a health crisis isn’t one of them…)

So what would these armchair warriors say when it emerged that a good number of the passengers on that Air France plane were actually members of the Malian elite, rushing to leave the seething Corona hotbed called France and seeking refuge in the safety of the extended family and having acquired the means to sustain themselves in what was, once again, becoming ‘their’ country? Again: nobody knows. We do know about elites, though…


So, where are we now and how safe is it all? Perspective is in order here. As things stand, you are still far more likely to die in a road accident or get a deadly bite from a mosquito. This is not to diminish the seriousness of the situation but Malians are aware of two things simultaneously (yes, this is possible. It is called mental multitasking and you should try it, too, especially when you’re used to wearing tin foil hats. But I digress…)

First, while not anywhere near the calamitous levels registered in the Ferocious Five, five countries that are are – how coincidentally – ruled by far-right leaning ultra-nationalist megalomaniacs (USA, Brasil, Russia, India and the UK), Malians do realise that there is a problem. We have 1,890 confirmed cases, half of them have recovered; there are 107 deaths, as of today. The death rate, from what I understand, is not higher than at the same period last year. That should tell us something but we are still not taking this lightly here.

However, and you knew this was coming, the second point is that the measures taken by the authorities, while initially accepted as necessary, are being regarded as disproportionate the longer they go on. Yes, this is serious but we also die of malaria, diarrhea if we can’t afford going to the clinic, pneumonia, meningitis and cholera when they break out. Even birth is deadly! For both mother and child. In fact, according to the statistics from the Centres for Disease Control, the most dangerous thing you can do in Mali – is to get pregnant.

Think about that.

In short: you die, or you die, a point I made earlier. Death is not something you put away in a well-locked safe somewhere until it somehow gets out and springs a horrible surprise. Death sits at your table, while you eat.

So once again: while initially the preventative measures were welcomed, especially with the memory of Ebola still fresh, the longer it went on the more it was seen as unnecessary. Because there is now another thing that no longer can be ignored – and that is the colossal amounts of economic damage these measures have caused. Unlike Europe, there is no safety net here. When you have nothing, you go hungry, you go begging, or you die.

However, very similar to Europe, COVID-19 related measures are wide open to abuse. France’s police, already out of control, seems to think nothing of manhandling a 50-years-old nurse who was demonstrating for her rights. The Dutch government wants to rush a bill through Parliament that will turn the country into a de facto Stasi Police State. Guinea’s budding autocrat Alpha Condé is using the virus as a pretext to throw everyone in jail who disagrees with him. And we don’t have to cast our minds back very far to recall the atrocious – and indeed frequently deadly – behaviour of the police in Nairobi, Abidjan, Johannesburg or any other major centre. Folks in uniform on a power trip are dangerous, it does not matter where you find them.


The conclusion of this – sort of – conclusion will follow tomorrow.


October 15, 2014

This happened about a month ago in Guinea: villagers killed eight people who came to tell them about the dangers of Ebola.

It has been the topic of conversation ever since. Words most frequently used include “brutal”, “savage” and “barbaric”. While these words may accurately describe the killings themselves, they bring us no closer to understanding why this happened. As usual, in the bulk of media reports on events in Africa, there is an essential element missing. History.

From the perspective of an inhabitant of Guinea Forestière, the past 125 years or so have been marked by a litany of highly disruptive events, almost all coming from the coast. The list looks like this, in no particular order:



Colonial conquest

Forced labour

Land occupation

Forced movement of people

Cultural vandalism on an industrial scale

More war

Masses of refugees from across the borders

Illegal rebel camps

Mass displacement

Environmental degradation…


…and, as the French say, j’en passe. By and large, pre and post-independence, men with arms have had a bad reputation here. Historically, they have been mostly seen to vandalise, to rob, to loot and take people away.

It may well be that we now have the first government in history, ever since the French established Conakry late 19th century, that at the very least has good intentions. But that does not negate the view from the forest, which is, based on painful experience, that pretty much everything that comes from the coast, the capital, the government, is disruptive and violent. A convoy of cars appearing out of nowhere usually spells trouble. People have memories. The village has a memory. The region has a memory. Most reporting ignores that.

Here is a thought, then. After all, there is one item missing from that list above and maybe the thinking of the people in that village, Womey, when they saw that convoy appear, was along these lines: well here’s one thing that we haven’t yet received from the coast, the capital, the government: pestilence. And sure enough, that’s what they’re here to give us.

It is critical to understand where these killings have come from. History be your guide so that true lessons may be learned – and, may I add, not in the ritual sense so beloved by the development establishment. An uplifting story from elsewhere in the region suggests that this is beginning to be the case.


Masters of the game

April 5, 2014

A review of AfricaFrance, quand les dirigeants africains deviennent les maîtres du jeu by Antoine Glaser

Between France and Africa, who calls the shots?

France, assert the conspiracy theorists, who see a concerted, coordinated, well-orchestrated and successful effort on the part of the French to keep their former colonies (and a few others) well in line and on board. Reality, as always, is rather less clear-cut and a lot murkier. Antoine Glaser is very well placed to shed a light on a few corners of this large French-African village; for thirty years he edited La Lettre du Continent, the confidential repository of the inner workings of this large and complex web.

But who calls the shots? In his new book, AfricaFrance, quand les dirigeants africains deviennent les maîtres du jeu, Glaser asserts that the balance of power has shifted. Moreover, this is not even something new. It has always been the case that France needs Africa more than the reverse. For diplomatic assistance, i.e. votes in the United Nations. For some of its enterprises, like France Télécom, Bouygues and Bolloré (all manner of transport, agribusiness, infrastructure). And for its famous force de frappe; uranium from Niger fuelled France’s status as one of the few nuclear powers in the world; it still fuels France’s power stations that bring light to millions of French homes. The French firm Areva runs one of the biggest uranium extraction operations in the world in Niger.

So what has changed? Two things spring to mind as Glaser takes you from Côte d’Ivoire to Gabon to Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea and five others. First, France is no longer the only game in the village; there is healthy competition from the likes of China, North America, Brasil, India and Turkey. All have their designs on the continent and especially in a business sense they are giving the former colonial power a run for her money. Second, France now has to deal with a generation of African leaders who do not hesitate to use their leverage to get what they want. If France does not comply, they go elsewhere.

Cover Glaser AfricaFrance

And third, if you like, the nature of their personal relations has changed. There used to be an axis that essentially consisted of two people. On the French side: Jacques Foccart, the spider who weaved his elaborate web of personal relations over a long period, from before independence in the 1950s until his death in March 1997. On the African side: Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the aristocrat from Yamoussoukro in the heart of Côte d’Ivoire, a former minister and member of parliament in Paris and at the helm of the richest territory in former French West Africa from 1960 until his death in December 1993. They were on the phone daily. Friendship apart, they had a joint interest in keeping French dominance in the region in place; after all, Houphouët-Boigny is credited with the term that symbolises this symbiosis: La Françafrique.

They stopped at nothing to maintain French dominance in the region and this included tearing West Africa’s nascent superpower, Nigeria, apart. Glaser is adamant that the idea to support the secession movement that triggered West Africa’s bloodiest war came from the Ivorian president. Houphouët-Boigny and Foccart, with the permission of General De Gaulle, the French president at the time, set up an elaborate secret operation that circumvented the Nigerian blockade of what the federal government there considered a renegade state and sent arms and humanitarian aid to the beleaguered people of Biafra. They certainly prolonged the war, which lasted from 1967 to 1970, cost one million lives and traumatised countless more.

Biafra. The story, so movingly recorded in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel Half of a Yellow Sun, needs much closer study because it is at the origin of a highly pernicious modern-day confluence of cynical geopolitical designs and interventions touted as humanitarianism, with modern media (press, radio and most of all television) as the vehicle to get the “correct” message to the masses. Media consumers were made to think of the people of Biafra as helpless victims of a merciless war machine. Volunteers were flown in to help heal the wounded; they may or may not have been aware of the larger designs of which they were a part (including secret arms deliveries) but they certainly were aware of the power of the media. It is no coincidence that Biafra launched the career of a man whose unauthorised biography I am currently reading, one Bernard Kouchner, a co-founder of what became Medicins sans frontières.

Bamako Airport, February 2013. The Antonov transport plane was shuttling between Dakar and Bamako at the height of the French operations in Mali.

Bamako Airport, February 2013. The Antonov transport plane was shuttling between Dakar and Bamako at the height of the French operations in Mali.

There is no chapter on Mali in Glaser’s book but twice he mentions current French president François Hollande’s exclamation on arrival in Bamako in February 2013, as his army is removing jihadists from the North of Mali: ‘Today is without any doubt the most important day of my political life.’ De Gaulle would not have dreamt of saying something like that. Times have indeed changed in some respects. The Gabonese president Ali Bongo, son of another departed pillar of La Françafrique, Omar Bongo Ondimba, prefers London as a place to do business, as does Alpha Condé, president of Guinea who spent most of life in exile – in Paris. And Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who re-conquered the presidency of Congo-Brazzaville after a vicious civil war that was fuelled on his side by French oil money, clearly is the Africa-French patron today. He calls the shots in Paris. A picture emerges of a French president who, when told by his African counterparts to jump, responds with: how high?

However, the clean break with the past that has often been promised by incoming French presidents, fails to happen. This would mean getting rid of the various webs of opaque, unaccountable, dodgy and at times downright criminal relationships between the movers and shakers in France and Africa. Reading the book you get the impression of watching a film with an endless cast of shady characters that appear, then disappear (sometimes for good) or re-appear in another guise. What to think of the richissime businessman Jean-Yves Ollivier, recently breathlessly lionised by the usual suspects (BBC, Guardian, Independent et al) for his untold part in the liberation of the late Nelson Mandela and the creation of post-apartheid South Africa. Well, he has his cameo in Glaser’s book too: as the best friend of Denis Sassou-Nguesso and an ally of Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of war crimes. Ollivier is also a friend of yet another one of those characters, Michel Roussin, formerly a big shot in the French secret service, then minister for development cooperation and a special advisor to big French businesses with interests in Africa. He has a handful of African presidents on speeddial.

It takes a bit of prior knowledge of the African/French village to appreciate the extent and the depth of these and other networks. They persist, unless countries just break off ties altogether, as post-genocide Rwanda did. But there is another constant here. While it is fascinating to read about all this intrigue, this real-life feuilleton, you must realise that this is a game of the 1%. The vast majority of Africans on whose life some of these games have impacted directly, have an idea of what is going on but no means to influence events. And that is the real travesty of La Françafrique, or Africa-France.

City Life

May 10, 2013

As I was looking for scenes from Guinea, I rummaged through my computer files and came across something I wrote in January. I am not sure whether it will find its way into another publication and so I have found the perfect place for it. Here. 

It had already happened when I walked past. A little girl in a dirty light blue dress was standing between two carelessly parked cars and weeping. A boy who had been pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair was standing next to the girl. He was wiping her tears and cleaning her face with water; then he went back to pushing the chair. The traffic on the Corniche raged on right next to that little scene. Anarchic, stop-start movement, angry car horns, shouts, exhaust fumes. Just like yesterday and exactly like tomorrow. He kept pushing the wheelchair, passing the cars, begging for money.

The girl stayed where she was, dabbing her eyes with the hem of her dress. But the tears kept coming. She pulled herself together in the end and started walking, cheap plastic slippers on her feet, spindly legs, on her way…home I was hoping. Would be difficult to imagine this little bundle of fragility sleeping rough. But this is Conakry, a city that has been allowed to fall to abnormal levels of dysfunctionality.

But then I saw her walking past the boy who had been wiping her tears and realized that in a place where pretty much nothing works for you a tiny sign of human kindness is in fact the only thing that will probably keep you going. Repeat a hundred times all over town, every day, and you get something approaching a bearable life.

Well, no. You need other things. Light in your house, light on your street, bureaucrats who respect your rights as a citizen, police officers who catch criminals and don’t steal your money, water in your home, a judiciary where you get justice even when you don’t have friends there, a boss who regards his workers as people. This city has very little of any of those.

So here’s a tribute to the more than two million Conakryka who have to live with the consequences of half a century of catastrophic governance…and still find it possible to offer consolation to a sad little girl in a dirty blue dress.


(Another example of non-protection: manual boat dismantling next to the port. The men working here will not geld old.)

Happy New Year…

January 3, 2013

…to all readers of this blog. There will be lots more this year. For now, I’ll just leave you with this fond pictorial from the country I will be flying to – tomorrow…


Transportation, Guinea Forestière between Macenta and Nzérékoré

Transportation, Guinea Forestière between Macenta and Nzérékoré

Dakar – Dalaba (Monday evening)

December 30, 2011

The sun is setting for the third time and I’m clocking up my 58th hour on the road when we leave the mountains behind and drive into a green valley. In the distance I can see houses and mosques and buildings. Life! People! Civilization! Shops! Food! Drinks! Restaurants and bars! Nice things!!!!

It’s a glorified crossroads, a kind of Manda in the Mountains, with the charming name of Popodara. So how far to Labé, then, first stop on the way to Dalaba? ‘Oh, that’s further up the hill. I’m going to eat first,’ announces the driver. That’s fine, my good friend, but first you are going to get my luggage off the roof because you and I are parting company.

He tells one of the boys to get the mesh off, untie the ropes, find my bag and give it to me. With that, he saunters unceremoniously off. To dinner. I’m not having dinner here.

Some hawk-eyed touts have been keenly watching the scene and waste no time descending on me.

‘Labé?’ How did you guess?

The Gate have guessed right. Pic by Foutapedia.

There is a car leaving now. How many places? Nine. How many are already in? Three. OK, so that means six more, right? How much for one? Fifteen thousand. I’m beyond caring. Nine – or twelve or fifteen – euros later me, three booked passengers plus another one I am paying for (he’s a schoolboy from the taxi we’re leaving behind) and my luggage are on our way for the last stretch to Labé, which I imagine on a mountain. It is on a mountain. We clang and clunk and clatter our way up. This is another carcass. Who cares? It’s getting me there.

The road climbs through a gorgeously lush landscape, onwards and upwards. Speaking of which, I turn my gaze to the sky and see that a menacing posse of thick anthracite clouds has gathered over our heads. I thank the stars for my – for once – sound judgement. We would have been stuck with our grinning driver until…I don’t want to know.

Yes, this is a typical scene in this spectacular land. Pic: me.

The rain pours down, enters the car. I couldn’t care less until someone ever so politely asks me if I could please close the window because he is getting awfully wet. I curse myself for my un-Guinean selfishness and apologize. He gracefully accepts and we begin a conversation about where I’m from and what I am looking for here. I mention something about wanting to see the Fouta Djalon…

‘You do realise that Cellou (Dalein Diallo, the opposition politician who is from here) won the presidential elections last year?’ For some strange reason I am not quite ready for a profound discussion on Guinean politics, so the conversation ambles along somewhat aimlessly. But as I will find out later this week, resentment about the victory of ruling president Alpha Condé runs deep in these parts.

But that’s for another story. For now, I am content to pay the young and fast driver another 5000 Guinea Francs for the privilege of not being dumped at Labé bus station but being delivered right on the doorstep of the Hotel Provincial, where the rooms, I am told, are 8 euros a night, where there is tepid beer “because of electricity problems”, which nevertheless tastes like the gods have personally brewed it for me, where there is heavenly steak and angelic frites served by candlelight in a room where there is a television that (thank the stars) does not work. “Electricity problems”.

And I can finally show you this!

I go back to the terrace beer in hand. Next to me at another table an elderly man in a leather jacket sits opposite a much younger man who, it turns out, is being accused of having an affair with a married woman. ‘For once, try not to lie,’ the older man says. He looks like a Russian secret agent from an old James Bond movie. ‘The lady in question is of no interest to me. But you – it’s you I am after,’ he adds menacingly. And then the interrogation begins. I switch off. This is not exactly what one need, over a second tepid beer in three days.

It’s eight in the evening and after precisely sixty hours on the road I get into my dimly-lit room (“electricity problems”) and crash in the general direction of bed. Not even the pots and pans in the kitchen outside my window disturb my peace. They can do so, tomorrow.

[Dalaba was indeed my next stop, just an hour’s drive down the road. I covered that wonderful place here. And will certainly be going back there…]

Dakar – Dalaba (Monday)

December 30, 2011

The music has been off for a long time now. We’re on a mountain road. A bad mountain road. With deep holes, as if the taxi with all those in it is prepared to sink into the bowels of the earth. I can make out trees and shrubs flitting past to my right. Behind them… a gaping black void. Fortunately, we can’t go very fast.

Headlights come towards us. They are attached to a massive tanker. How the heck do these guys do that? Much later, in a bar in another part of the country with equally devilish roads, a driver explains that they do, in fact, receive special training to negotiate these and other hazards. But how can two vehicles pass on a road barely wide enough for one of them? That’s easy. The taxi backs up into a place where the road widens out. Just a little. One mistake and it’s….

Except a lot less gracious.

So no-one thinks about that.

Least of all our unflappable driver.

Who remains unperturbed when I ask him whether it’s just me or is the car having difficulties going uphill…?

‘Yes, he’s got a little tired. So when we get to Labé, I’ll drive it straight to Conakry (the capital, 400 kilometres down the road) and sort it out.’ You have to admire his casual if somewhat reckless courage. Here’s a man who has been at the wheel pretty much non-stop for – what, 10 hours? – passed a border, negotiated bad roads, clouds of mist, bribed a soldier, more bad roads, found his way around oncoming mastodonts on a dangerous mountain road (we can thank the stars it isn’t raining) and has his eyes on…


We pull up in a small market town in a symphony of cockcrows. I have literally not the faintest idea of where I am. Well, roughly: Guinea, Fouta Djalon, somewhere between Koundara and Labé. On a very nice terrace, with tables and chairs and bowls to wash your hands in.

We eat in early morning silence. And boy – do we need that extra energy! Because as we depart in the earliest morning lights, there seems to be nothing amiss when we hurtle downhill but then we round a corner and look at the top of the next hill looming above us. And we get the first of an endless series of this:

driver changes gears

car slows down

driver changes gears again

car slows down some more

car stalls

we get out (at least, the men do; the women stay nicely parked inside)

car backs down the hill

we follow

car turns around and attempts to get up the slope

if needed we help push it further up

we all arrive at the top

get back in

and hurtle down until

elsewhere in Guinea but you get the idea (pic by Wollersheimtime).

This is fine and even fun one time, especially when it isn’t too hot. But after number seventeen in the blistering heat (and by the way: where’s Labé?) and being absolutely eaten alive by clouds of insects that have decided to zoom buzz whizz towards us and settle on heads, arms, faces, feet, legs…yes, we are all truly and thoroughly fed up. I shoot a glace at the driver who grins his wide and innocent grin back at me. I’m sorry my friend but this has now officially ceased to be funny.

Does Labé actually exist? And what about Dalaba?

Dakar – Dalaba (very early Monday morning)

December 29, 2011

Past the neatly organised but otherwise non-exceptional town of Koundara, we are standing still, in the middle of the same endless forest. We have been driving through some kind of gigantic road-building project. Spaces have been opened up among the trees for lorries, cranes, piles of steel tubes…There they are, shimmering in the stadium-style lights that have been set up around them.

But now: stagnation. Deep silence. No other traffic. What’s the problem?

The driver has left the vehicle but I can see him standing a little away, still in his car’s headlights. With him – a soldier. Ah, so this is a reminder of how things were. President Alpha Condé has ordered this plague of armed roadblocks (similar to this one from another country) off the highways and byways of his land. But here, in the dead of night, with no-one else in sight and who knows how many hiding in the undergrowth (I spot an occasional moving torchlight), you are on your own.

And sure enough, from somewhere the driver produces green banknotes. We’re in Guinea, so these are 10,000 Guinea franc notes that come in bundles of tens. What’s 100,000 Guinea francs? About €10. I try to follow the number of bundles that leave the driver’s hands and glide into those of the soldier. Four? Seven? More? That would seem an unlikely hefty price for passage. After all, total value of tickets sitting in this taxi: less than €200. But I haven’t slept for almost two days and vision is a bit blurred. One thing is unreassuringly clear, though, and that is that the old ways have yet to be fully stamped out.

A bit further down the same (and surprisingly long) tarred two-lane road, another reminder of the old ways. We stop at a hamlet, where a rope has been spanned across the road. We are summarily ordered into a dimly-lit room that is part of a slightly larger shack.

Gendarmerie. Passport check. And it’s the usual plethora of scraps of paper, laissez-passers, ID cards, regional passports and one from the European Union. I’m the first one in and out (prerogative of being alone in the front). I’m also very thirsty. ‘Just wake up the owner of this shop here – she’s got water for sale,’ says a passenger. I hesitatingly walk into an unlit room next to the Gendarmerie and find an already awake young mother with a baby. No – it’s no trouble at all she assures me.

Bottle in hand, I walk up this asphalt miracle called “Dadis’ Road” and watch the contours of what must be a truly stunning mountainscape. Calm, serene, beautiful.

Until the engine starts up again. It’s beginning to sound a bit rough around the edges but the driver assures me it’s all perfectly fine. Until…


Iron bridge. Followed by…


End of tar.

I turn to the driver and ask him if the road will stay bad like this.

‘Yep. All the way.’

I don’t have the heart to ask him how long that will be.

Dakar – Dalaba (Sunday night, Monday morning)

December 28, 2011

[I know – two tin cans short of genius………]

‘Driving at night is better. You can see the other traffic better.’ Impeccable logic from le taxi maitre as he steers his smooth 505 along the dirt road to the border. However, his assertion is based on one important assumption: everyone’s lights are working. Case in point: for some reason we are continuously driving on the wrong side of the road, only swerving to the other side (perfectly driveable as far as I can see) when there is oncoming traffic.

A motorbike.

No: another taxi with only one headlight working. We get out of his way just in time and luckily for all of us the road is so bad that nobody can go really fast. The passengers behind me have gone quiet as we negotiate our way through a beautiful, slightly eerie, dreamscape.

A forest. An endless forest, lit up by our headlights and the other occupants of this stretch of dirt road. We could be skirting the Niokolo Koba National Park, which reportedly is in a bad shape: neglect, infested with poachers, not making any money. The Park is located in a corner of the country that absolutely nobody in Dakar cares about.

The forest opens up a little and lo and behold: a village. With restaurants and drinking spots and I even spot a terrace… Should have dumped me here for a day instead of that Dive called Manda! Anyway – it’s the border, announced by a bunch of young men wanting to change CFA francs for the Guinean currency. One to ten, the rate is good but I have a brick of banknotes with me from the last time.

It is 1am and the folks on duty at this awful morning hour seem to be more concerned with rushing everybody through. My passport is stamped and I’m summarily sent on my way.

‘You have to walk through customs and then we’ll be there on the other side,’ the driver says helpfully and so I wander past the lively terraces on my way to the customs people.

‘Hey! Bram!’

Now who the hell could know my name in the middle of absolutely bloody nowhere in the middle of a forest while I am walking on a sand road to a border post? Moussa sits beaming behind a glass of Coke at a table.

‘All is going well. We’ll get to Labé before you!’ Bold claim, I say, as I wish him luck.

We drive through the same densely forested no man’s land. Time aplenty to ready myself for reminders of one of the former Guinean regimes. There have been four: the tyranny of Ahmed Sékou Touré (1958 to 1984), the inept military dictatorship of Lansana Conté (1984 to 2008), the chaos of captain Moussa Dadis Camara (2008-2009) and a transitional government until the election of professor Alpha Condé in November 2010. Yes, the country has been dealt a dreadful crop of leaders over the years. Among the vestiges of these former regimes were: violence, corruption, harassment – especially of travellers.

Well here’s the first surprise: the border crossing into Guinea is entirely uneventful. Closely followed by a second: we are still driving through that neverending forest, but now add swirling fogbanks and…a perfect two-lane tar road! ‘Dadis’ road,’ remarks one passenger, after the erratic captain who manhandled his country during the year he was in power. Interesting, because like all the leaders before him he has been taking very good care of himself. Here’s the house he had built in N’zérékoré, the capital of the region where he was born.

(photo by yours truly)

Occasionally we divert onto a sandy side-road. That’s where they are still building the bridges but other than that I cannot believe how smooth the ride has suddenly become.

Can this last?

Dakar – Dalaba (same Sunday)

December 27, 2011

[Naaa. Still not bothering with another map…]

Moussa has finally located his nephew. ‘He’s on his way here now. Says he  was in a hotel,’ Moussa says, ‘after drinking. He says his phone was out and he had to recharge it. You know what we call a mobile phone, right? La boîte à mentir (the lying box)…’

The young fellow turns out exactly how I imagined him to be. Smartly dressed, sunglasses perched in hair above forehead (yes, that incomprehensible fashion statement has made its way here too), mobile phone with music plugged in. He swaggers towards the petrol station, which has become one of my five ports of call – eatery across the street, market, toilet and of course the taxi (How many to go? ‘Four.’). And he really, honestly, truly does not understand why his uncle is making such a fuss about a night out and a switched off phone. ‘I was enjoying myself!’ And to me: ‘Next time, you should come too.’

Moussa’s double mission is complete. He has found his wayward nephew and is busy reporting this to a few key members (all female, naturally) of his extended family. He then bids farewell; he’ll take his precious lorries across the border now.

Ah, yes, the border. We were going to Guinea, after all.

‘How many to go, my dear friends?’

‘Only one.’

Well, progress has certainly been made and so has the day. The heat has subsided somewhat but that last passenger takes his time to somehow emerge from among the Sept Places and buses that have been pouring into Manda from all directions in the course of this long, long Sunday.

Late afternoon and all the right signs are there. That is, a two storey high pile of luggage on the roof of the Neuf Places (well, eight this time – I bought two seats, remember…), the driver and his helpers are securing ropes around the bags, trolleys, sacks and boxes and then adding that great Guinean innovation: a large and stubborn net. Mesh meets possessions.

And leaves said possessions. Something needs to be re-arranged. But by the time the sun is setting we all pile into the Peugeot. Music on, and with a flourish the driver takes his leave of the parking space. Round the roundabout and it’s bye bye Manda!

Two hundred metres down the road – we haven’t even reached the toilet yet – and we stop. Then I notice we have a missing passenger. ‘He’s left something in the house,’ someone says. And he takes his sweet time coming back with whatever it is he’s forgotten. Let’s hope it is not a big bag – otherwise the net will come off and the whole re-arranging ballet will begin again.

It is big.

It is pitch dark when we leave this particular end of the arse of the end of the world behind. Next stop…Labé??