It was always tense at the Libyan border.
It took a couple of hours to get through the melée at the best of times. All humanity was there. Migrant workers, goat herds, farmers, businessmen. And secret police, too.
Once, on the way in, we were questioned by a mysterious officer with Carlos the Jackal sunglasses and a pistol beneath his leather jacket.
It was hard to feel comfortable under interrogation with $5,000 in cash stashed secretly inside my socks — the only way to pay a Tripoli hotel bill back then, in those days of the UN embargo.
Another time across the frontier at Ras Ajdir, the driver went the wrong way around an oil drum and we had to go right back to the start of the queue and start our two hour wait all over again.
And getting into the country was just the beginnning. The five hour drive from Tunisia to Tripoli was easily the most dangerous trip I ever made.
The second anniversary of this site passed midway through a busy August. An office move and a new computer have diverted me since, but the milestone seems worth marking all the same.
There hasn’t been much time to write. This isn’t a site for daily updates – the past twelve months at Roads of Stone have seen just 28 posts.
Still, that adds up to around 20,000 words, squeezed into odd moments here and there, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve been busy.
Those words have extended to travel writing on Kenya (seven posts), Scotland, Texas, Bermuda and France.
Conversations have extended to cover geology, music, golf, UK and US politics, the history of horseracing and Shakespearean theatre, petroleum economics, global warming, the urban development of London and French cooking.
Posted in 2008, Africa, France, geology, global warming, history, London, politics, Scotland, Surrey and Sussex, travel
This poster called as I walked from the station, reminding me that it’s time to wrap up my series on Kenya.
My visit last summer left me with a whole lot to say about the country, about Africa, and our attitudes to the continent and her people. I sat down to write, and the project found life of its own. Today I’ll outline some highlights, final thoughts and reflections.
What can we do to help the people of Africa?
Should we visit, as tourists? Is it enlightenment, or voyeurism, when tour companies arrange sightseeing trips to the ghettoes of Nairobi?
The problems are so massive that it’s easy to admit defeat – to assume that if governments can’t sort the problems, then aid agencies and individuals don’t stand a chance.
I don’t share that view. There’s a lot we can do, and here are some suggestions.
‘Say No to Corruption,’ read the badge on the immigration officer’s sleeve at Mombasa airport. Drawing our attention to the issue, right from the moment when we entered the country.
Kenya’s president from 1978 to 2002, Daniel arap Moi, was widely detested for corruption and political oppression. During his term, Kenya slipped from the 133rd to the 155th country in the world in economic prosperity. There might not be that many more countries.
Moi’s successor, Mwai Kibaki, was elected on an anti-corruption ticket – hence the badge campaign in Mombasa. But when I asked Kenyans during our visit what they thought of Kibaki – they were unanimous. ‘He’s the same as all the others,’ they said. ‘Corrupt, just like the rest of them.’
Yesterday’s declaration of Kibaki as victor in the Kenyan elections, despite a string of exit polls indicating firmly that he had lost to Raila Odinga, serves only to confirm that view.
Corruption. It might be Africa’s biggest problem. Certainly it’s the one trotted out by people who don’t want to help the continent. ‘There’s no point giving money, or aid,’ they say. ‘It’s unlikely to end up with those who need it.’
But this trip, I began to understand corruption, just a little. Not the kind of barefaced electoral swindle which threatens the whole practice of democracy, but rather the day-to-day variety. The siphoning off the top of just a little, and then more and more goods and money, so that finally they don’t arrive at all.
Why do people do it, and how can they so mindlessly deprive the needy ? That’s something I’d never come close to comprehending before.
The loss of one parent is traumatic enough, for any child. The loss of both must be almost unbearable.
At home, it happens rarely. But in Kenya, it happens a whole lot more.
The reasons ? Simple enough. There isn’t enough food to go round. There’s little medical care to speak of. Just about everyone has to battle with malaria, and malnutrition. Sickness and diarrhoea from unclean water dispatch thousands more, every year.
But that’s only the surface of the problem. Because there’s a huge medical problem in Africa. AIDS. It’s killing millions here.
Cool grey skies hang their high curtain above the savannah this morning. Scarcely any flash of colour. Just pale grassland, reaching as far as the eye can see, the horizon broken only by the gentle rise of distant hills and the lonely spread of a guardian acacia tree.
We rumble on, the tyres of the Land Rover clawing restlessly at the gravel. A shroud of pink is forming slowly in the east, where an invisible sun is lightening the underbelly of rippled cloud like some low energy lightbulb down a lonely corridor – weak and inept at first, then adding detail with every second.
Dawn on the Masai Mara – daybreak over one of the last wildernesses on Earth.