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Africa and Politics18 Nov 2013 at 11:25 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Stumbling upon Thorvaldur Gylfason’s Democracy in Africa at VoxEU, I found the two following graphs interesting…

First, the impact of the end of the Cold War on governance worldwide:

Global trends in governance, 1800-2012

Global trends in governance, 1800-2012. Source: Polity IV Project.

Then the same, but for Africa only and focused on the 1960-2012 span:

African Trends in Governance, 1960-2012

African Trends in Governance, 1960-2012. Source: Polity IV Project.

No longer propped up by the major powers, autocracies everywhere have fallen with the end of the Cold War. But whereas they have globally mostly given way to democracies, in Africa they have not : anocracy is the dominant form.

So that is the word of the day for me: anocracy – it feels good to have a word to label the sort of mafia cartels that seem to rule most of Africa.

Africa and Military11 Jan 2013 at 17:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Koaci.com (usually not a bad source in Côte d’Ivoire) reports having learned from Malian military sources that two French helicopters formerly based in Burkina Faso have struck Islamist positions in Konna and Douentza during the night of Thursday to Friday, letting the Malian forces take back some of the lost ground.

An Eurocopter Tigre illustrates the article, but there is no reason to believe that Tigres are currently deployed around Mali.

I have attempted to find out the type of the two helicopters mentioned by Koaci.com, but I found no current information. That said, Algérie1.com mentioned last September that two Gazelles, arrived in a military base near Ouagadougou last September, to be assembled on site after shipping disassembled for more discretion. In October, Le Parisien confirmed the presence of two French Gazelles in Burkina. So odds are that those are the two that struck last night.

If they were Gazelle, which variant ? In Libya, even with NVG, Gazelles with a 20mm gun have soon been sidelined in reserve aboard Tonnerre and Mistral : most of the Gazelle missions have been performed by the HOT variant with the Viviane infrared sights – 425 HOT missiles have been shot in Libya. I would guess that given a similar environment, the same mode of operation has been adopted in Mali – so let’s say that at least one of the two is a Gazelle Viviane.

Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Mali… The old Gazelles still follow an impressive tempo ! ALAT does not seem in a hurry to retire them.

In Mali anyway, rugged and mature platforms such as the Gazelle are much better suited to the light expeditionary logistical support available locally – the precious Tiger might be able to sleep rough, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Update 20130111 18:48 – @AbouDjaffar guesses the mystery helos are Tigre. I stand by my Gazelle bet… We’ll know sooner or later !

Update 20130112 12:13 – Opex360 confirms that strikes have occured yesterday at 16:00, performed by 4ème Régiment d’Hélicoptères des Forces spéciales (RHFS) with Gazelles (HOT and 20mm)… So I guessed right !

Africa and Economy21 Sep 2010 at 18:48 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Misguided aid efforts are a favorite gripe of African entrepreneurs, and the ever virulent Magatte Wade never misses an opportunity to hit on self important aid advocates. She declares that “Africans are tired of the charity brand” and she leads by example.

Today, she noticed a recent Wall Street Journal reporting that Edun, the company started by Bono and his wife, is now producing most of its products in China. Edun’s mission is to “encourage trade with Africa” and “celebrate the possibilities and the people of the continent”. I’ll let you appreciate her take on this monumental feat of hypocrisy.

The contrast with a recent New York Times article about IBM betting on growth in 16 sub-Saharan Africa by entering a ten years agreement to supply hardware, software and services to Bharti Airtel. For IBM, Africa is a growth market, not an aid destination.

Now it remains to be seen whether IBM invests in Africa or merely enjoys the open market to sell goods and services produced elsewhere. My experience of European telecommunications consultancies in Africa is that this sort of deal does not involve actual local development beyond token liaison personnel. But countries such as Morocco now feature maturing markets that nurture local suppliers – so it could happen in sub-Saharan Africa too. There is a long way from call center sweat shops to a fully developed information technology industry, but anchor investors such as IBM may trigger the start down that path. We shall see…

Africa and Travels11 Oct 2009 at 20:51 by Jean-Marc Liotier

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Up at quarter past five and off twenty minutes later to the lagoon behind the beach to watch the sea monkeys. I’m amazed that Pauline was unusually easy to rouse from her sleep – we had a delicious night in the wind and maybe the lure of a few biscuits helped her make up her mind and exit her sleeping bag.

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One of the boys is leading us to the lagoon. He rented a dugout from a fisherman for five Cedis and asked for five more for his services. The lagoon is surrounded by mangrove. A corridor among the roots opens on the lake and the rising sun.
I find mangrove fascinating, especially with the dugout gliding silently on the still mirror-smooth water.
It does not take a hundred meters before we spot a first group of monkeys. At first I can’t distinguish them from the mangrove mesh of branches and roots – and I don’t even know what a seamonkey is supposed to look like.
But their movments give away their position and we face them for a while until they decide they have had enough of watching the wild tourists in their natural environment.
Going round the lagoon takes more than an hour. We spot crocodiles from afar, a few couples of kingfishers, big fishes just under the surface and more monkeys albeit in more evasive appearances. Among the mangrove clutter, those monkeys move very fast.
Yesterday I bought a loaf of bread, and some more has been served to Pauline this morning. The Ghanaian bread is an horrible fluffy textureless tasteless piece of British heritage. It can be rendered edible by toasting, but eating it straight out of the bag is self-inflicted gastronomical torture. Lucky the countries colonized by the French and the Italians – we may not have been much better overall, but at least they have good bread.
We decide to spend a day in Prince’s Town – the place is really that nice and on top of that it is cheap. Time to go for a good long walk along the beach and the lagoon.

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During the rainy season and high tides every year, local fishermen have a tradition of reconnecting the lagoon to the ocean. They pour libations and then begin to dig so that a channel is created between them. This reunion ritual is supposed to enhance their mutual fertility. The channel seals itself again after a few weeks. Digging must be a considerable community effort – I walked as far as Prusi Akatakyi, the harbour village four kilometers away at the other extremity of the lagoon, and at its narrowest the strip of earth between lagoon and sea is a good twenty meters wide.

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I have had confirmation that the path between Axim and Prince’s Town is a bad idea, and also that the one between Dixcove and Prince’s Town is doable. About that last one I gained an additional bit of information : the road ends at Cape Three Points, and there is only a sandy path between from Cape Three Points and Prince’s Town. From Prince’s Town, the road is found somewhere east of Prusi Akatakyi. But Google Map imagery for that area is dreadful and I have therefore been unable to confirm that visually. Also, it looks like I did indeed reach the village of Achenim – the one after the footbridge – it is there that I missed my turn and followed the crowd’s advice against all reason.

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More playing in the waves today, and Pauline plays with the local kids at the fort. We take is easy today. Tomorrow we’ll start early – I can’t wait to see our friends in Takoradi. Siesta on the beach under the shade – but with a strange tickling on my left leg… A violinist crab repeatedly checking if I’m a rotting carcass fit for crab consumption. He beats a hasty retreat to its burrow every time I sit up, and then starts nibbling anew a few minutes later.

The view from the fort dominating the bay on two sides never ceases to fascinate me. I always appreciate high viewpoints, but the comfort of living on the fort’s walls with the ocean’s wind certainly makes it the best accommodation I’ve encountered in Ghana so far – and at 20 Cedis a night including evening meal for Pauline and me it is the best value too.

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One of the multipurpose artists introduces himself to me as a traditional musician. When I ask him which region or which people of Ghana his music is inspired from, he claims it is Ghanian’s – which contradicts any claim of tradition : Ghana is a synthetic identity whose tradition as a whole is still dwarfed by what its different people bring to the table.

Pauline likes the multipurpose artists . They are harmless to children, but I sense a teenage catastrophe looming.

The multipurpose artist tells me he usually stays in Krokrobite. I was wondering about that place, but now I know why I’ll avoid it : it sounds like a Ghanaian equivalent of other places I won’t name but whose hashish smoking population I have striven to avoid too. Not that I have any hate toward hashish smokers in general – but in Africa, a significant concentration of them is usually a bad sign, especially if they are equipped with djembe.

On the way back from the beach, we spot a colony of ants forming a living tunnel accross the single track path, covering the moving of the whole complement of larvaes from the colony. The stream of workers carrying larvaes was easily ten per second, and all traffic was one way. Soldiers were patrolling the whole thing, and the stream was using galleries under the humus on both sides of the path. This was impressive. I wonder what pushes ants to move their entire colony in a hurry like that.

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Yesterday night we ate sauteed eel with fried rice – very nice. Today we are having calamar in a tomato sauce with white rice and way too much salt – not nice… Its only redeeming value is that the excess salt reminds me of Veronique, my current world record holder for excess salt in food. But generally, you can count on great seafood all along the Ghanaian coast.

Tonight is much quieter than yesterday : no beer swilling Germans and no hanger-on girls… What a coincidence ! We have announced our departure for early next morning, so no one is trying to sell us services anymore. Even the multipurpose artists are absent – only the caretaker and his skeleton staff are with us. There is also a couple of Schwaben farmers camping in the courtyard, a German-Nigerian couple who lives in Ghana on a plantation, and Olly – a citizen of Switzerland. I  have a good chat with an Italian girl who is writing a thesis about the divergences between African cultures and how African Americans perceive them.

Ghana Telecom is building a twenty eight meters high cell tower in the high point nearest to an electricity source in the area : right in front of the fort. Considering the value of tourism for the local economy, I have my doubts about how wise that choice of location is. But the unbeatable unobstructed view to the sea which drew the German founders of the fort to this location four hundred years ago may also be the reason for planting a BTS there. Correlation with the announced offshore oil boom may not be fortuitous either. But then, wouldn’t cell sites aboard drilling rigs3 0 km out at sea be a viable option ? The cell tower emplacement is a 18k USD rent every year and it is part of the money flowing directly or indirectly from the oil extraction, feeding the insatiable demand from the local chiefs.

France abolished chieftaincy as an administrative level, replacing it with the Fench direct rule. But the British indirect rule system used it as a leverage. As a result, village chiefs are still important in Ghana. Olly tells me that two chiefs compete in Prince’s Town. Last year, it came to combat and dynamite sticks – and some people fled to the bush.

Former fort caretaker had to abandon his commission under pressure from the chief’s war. Olly says he used to run a tight ship whereas things went downhill with the new one. Not only maintainance, but lack of discipline in the guests behavior, such as the beach rastas patronizing underage girls. Over ten years, Olly was the initiator of the fort’s improvement : repainting, refurbishment, more beds.

Olly claims that the dynamite was obtained through NGOs. NGOs are full of young overenthusiastic people with strange ideas about Africa and a crying lack of management. They often don’t understand local politics and become the unwilling tools of the political forces.

Prince’s Town has changed a lot in the last years. TV antennas have sprung on top of bamboo poles, now the cell towers. The next years are probably going to accelerate : with oil offshore, the town earns back its former strategic importance as Ghana’s southernmost tip. The navy has plans for a patrol base at Prusi Akatakyi. Some day the unsuspecting investors who are getting suckered by the chiefs, thinking they are the first to think about building an hotel will eventually succeed. Some day the dirt road may be tarred. The money, the beach rastas and everything else will come to Prince’s Town too.

The beach rastas are suborning minors and generally behaving like colonials toward the villagers. They piss in the communal showers at night when the toilets are ten meters away. They are so bad that Olly cut his own rastas for fear of being associated with those guys who they lack respect for people in spite of their tourist friendly message.

Meanwhile mosquito repellent does what is says on the tin, but I learn to my dismay that it does not repel blood sucking flies… Time to retreat under the mosquito net !

Africa and Cycling and Ghana and Travels30 Aug 2009 at 21:31 by Jean-Marc Liotier

We start at nine after Pauline had the full English breakfast she insisted on – it is horribly late and the sun is already way up, but at least she won’t complain too much about the usual lack of lunch. While she was eating I had a chat with the gardener about cycling in Africa, and he ensured me that there is a new village and a new bridge on the way to Prince’s Town. As if I needed more contradictory information about today’s trip !

We head downtown along the old coastal road. That way there are less than five kilometres between Ankrobra Beach and the Axim fort. We stock up on water and juice, seven liters in total. I find a tailor’s roadside shop and asks him if he can fix my ripped pants, but he looks offended. Apparently some tailors feel above mending my disintegrating clothes.

To sum up the information gathered so far, consensus is that there is a river crossing mid-way, best case is that there is a bridge, worst case is that we have to ford bilharzia infested waters with not even a dugout in sight, median estimate is that a canoe crossing is possible. Anyway since the unknown obstacle is half way, even with no account of underway replenishment I will be able to return using onboard reserves alone provided I start with enough for the whole crossing.

On the way out of Axim, we ask for Prince’s Town. The people along the road advise us to ride up to Abora, but I soon understand that they are once again talking about the tro-tro way, not the direct one I’m looking for. In Africa, most people’s mental map is set by public transportation and forms a network of bus stops with no regard for physical geography. After some thoughts I realize that the same could be said for most people in Paris – they know metro stations but they have no idea about which way is less hilly of shorter by bicycle.

About one kilometer out of town is the turn-off to the Axim Beach hotel, and it is also the start of the road to Ajemra and Prince’s Town. A nice seamstress tries to dissuade us from this folly, but a local fellow cyclist mentions that it is perfectly doable including the canoe crossing. On that optimistic note, we set out toward the terra incognita.

The uphill parts of this backcountry road are almost the raw terrain profile. On one of them I have to resort to having Pauline dismount and push the rig along. But I was not the only one : a tro-tro going the same way as us had to let its passengers dismount and push uphill too !

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By now you know my song about the heat, my 100 ml/km drinking habit and so on. On this stretch, I believe I regularly hit my cardiac ceiling – a sign that I should not be pushing that hard in that heat. Normally on long haul efforts I’m always limited by muscle exhaustion or lactic acid accumulation long before any sign of cardiac fatigue.

All that experience underlines how big the difference can be between dust piste and tarred road. Depending on their respective states, I believe there is an effort ratio of three to four between them. And with Pauline now exceeding 23 kilograms not including luggage and water, going uphill is no longer a trivial matter. In general, weight and hills are central consideration in bicycle tour planning – but this sort of experience is great incentive to give them even more consideration. Meanwhile, out efforts along that deserted stretch are rewarded with plenty of hornbills and other colourful birds that I did not recognize.

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We talk to the guard of the Lou Moon lodge. He is much more precise than other people we spoke to. He explains to us that after a while before Ajeemra (halfway to Prince’s Town and therefore a handful of kilometres from where we were) the road ends. There are only footpaths beyond that, and a few stretches follow the sandy beach. I conclude that going further is not reasonable – at least not with what I am dragging along. So I head back six kilometres to the Axim-Agona road… We are going to push toward Agona, and at Abora wel’l make up our mind about whether we go down to Prince’s or push all the way to Takoradi to have more time in Elmina and Cape Coast.

Back on the tarred road, we take a leisurly pace – the going is easier but the heat is still there. We stop a couple of times to observe grasshoppers and butterflies. We also see a small green snake flee at our sight.

Riding on roads is easy and before we know it we arrive in Abora, at the fork to Prince’s Town. Takoradi is more than 40 kilometres away and Prince’s Town only 18. The dirt road is not all weather, but it looks freshly graded and this is not the rainy season. It is too inviting, especially after two failed attempts across other ways. I want to know what this now near-mythical place looks like, so I engage into the branching road.

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Whereas the rest of the whole region looks like it is owned by Ghana Rubber Estates, the vegetation along the Prince’s Town road looks more interesting. We see a huge, maybe 150 cm long dark lizard with a white and red ringed tail cross the road twice before us. A sign notifies that we enter a globally significant biodiversity area, and we can believe it. I would love to come back there and walk around the landscape for more encounters with those interesting fauna and flora.

We see a couple of workers waiting on the roadside with a pile of isolator plates. They tell us that the thunderstorm two days ago damaged the only power line to Prince’s Town, but we might have electricity tonight as they ensure us that they are working hard to restore service.

Obviously it was all running too smoothly and some adventure was required. I had checked my rear tire pressure before entering the Prince’s Town road. I had added a few pumpfulls of air into it, but obviously not enough. So 160 kilograms of people, bikes and luggage hurtling downhill at 50 kilometres per hour on a rough patch of stones produced a perfectly formed classic snakebite like the ones that shredded my tubes back when as a kid I was enthusiastically brutalizing my mountain bikes with uses far in excess of their specifications. I broke open the carton of a replacement tube and discovered that the thick stem of the Presta valves mounted on my bike are slightly smaller than the Shrader valve of the new tube – yet another story that shows why going touring with hardware that you don’t yet know well enough is a bad idea. I’ll drill the rims wider when I’ll be back home : I like the big fat valve and its compatibility with the car infrastructure. But for now I carry three useless tubes. Good thing I also embarked a large load of puncture repair materials. So I take that opportunity to teach Pauline about the fine art of puncture repair, under the watchful eyes of locals eager to see how the obroni does it. Whatever you do in Africa, you always have an audience.

I like the road’s rural setting – low population density and lack of other tourists makes the world so much nicer. Arriving in Prince’s Town, someone hails us on the side of the road in a way different to the usual “obroni” calls. He reminds us about seeing him at Axim’s fort… He is none other than the fort’s caretaker and Prince’s Town is his hometown. He is happy that we visit his town too and confirms that there is accommodation available at the fort.

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We end our 62 km ride as we enter a German fortified farm very far from Germany. The grey stones are much less colonial looking than the whitewash of other coastal forts. The inner yard is a well kept grass, with banana and papaya trees that betray the exotic location. Climbing the stairs to the perimeter walls reveals a stunning view over the whole bay, including the laguna and Cape Three Points, Ghana’s southernmost tip.

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The fort’s population is a whole other lot of surprises. The fort’s caretaker has apparently made arrangements with a whole retinue of village touts, some of them cooking, washing or running errands for an overlander Land Rover full of Germans that arrived before us. Others were apparently friends of the Germans, others were the caretaker and his staff, and yet others had wholly unguessable roles – but the hanger-on are standard in an African setting, especially when tourists are around.

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The line may be under repair, but the repair crew’s estimate was a bit on the optimistic side : power it is still cut tonight. Night has fallen and the only lights downtown are a few petrol lamps. We fill ourselves to the gills with a huge plate of rice and fish – a necessary thing, even though Pauline does no notice that is has been days since the last time we had lunch. We sit under even more stars than yesterday and only the faint halo of Axim of the horizon. For a tiny town like Axim to produce a halo, you can imagine how dark the surroundings are. On the ramparts, a dozen of us remain, European and Ghanaian. For washing myself, I lifted a bucket from the fort’s cistern, probably like the original occupants of the fort did four hundred years ago. Tonight we’ll sleep on a mattress on the ramparts, under our mosquito nets – the ocean wind is the best air conditioning. Apart from the plastic plates and the odd flashlight, we could as well be seventeenth century German soldiers right after the construction of the fort.

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Some guy gives me a small tour of the fort. He insists that the prison could contain up to 7000 people… I roughly measure length and width, get an approximate surface of 72 square meters, posit that each of them can hold ten people as a theoretical maximum and come up with an estimate of 720 people as the most anyone could imagine stuffing in this place. Was his gross overshoot an honest mistake, or is someone having too much fun making the hapless black Americans cry ? For now, the only guests of the prison are a few tiny bats.

Artist-friend-musician-touts of all trades of course end the evening in a drumming session with the beer swilling German guys in the courtyard. Screw them ! I had escaped their ilk up to now, but in tourist spots all over Africa it is only a question of time before you have to confront them. I must confess having once shopped for jembe materials around Ouagadougou and gotten them assembled for me by local artists, and that was a fun experience. But generic pseudo-traditional cultural activities served in tourist locations are too much for me.

Meanwhile, Pauline is very happy : she has fun with whoever she can grab – usually the first African girl available, but anyone else will do. She is disturbed that I set up the lent mattress (a rather clean one for once), the sheet sacks and the mosquito nets outside – but she’ll get used to it. Waking up at night under the starry dome with fully adapted vision more than makes up for the rough setup !

Africa and Ghana and Travels23 Aug 2009 at 18:43 by Jean-Marc Liotier

We start the morning lazily and I’m sitting on a bench in front of the bungalow, writing our diary while Pauline wanders around. Twelve hours of sleep did wonders except that the last stages of my digestive process are still very disruptive to say the least. So it is a good thing that we have this day in this benign home to give my body time to mend itself, with a good helping of loperamides…

We set out to walk to Axim along the beach. There is also a very derelict coastal road connecting Axim to Ankrobra Beach – this one would have saved us many kilometers yesterday, but neither guide nor map mentions it. Walking this road from Ankrobra Beach to Axim took us one hours and forty minutes. A broken bridge in the middle, with only a single file span remaining makes it impassable to vehicles with more than two wheels.

We have the entire beach for ourselves. Pauline collects sea shells, and since I will carry only one for her she ends up with an armful of them, waiting for me to buy something so that she gets a plastic bag.

As we near Axim there are a few fishermen and women gathering wood. Nearer to the town we exit the beach to follow a crumbling road – a good idea since the whole section of beach up to the town is a big latrine that stinks the whole way. In general, beaches near towns are far removed from being anything like postcard tropical paradises.

Once more I have to force Pauline to drink. On top of not noticing she dehydrates, she avoids drinking for fear of having to go without a European toilet seat. Pauline likes Ghana, but she has a few topics of regular complaint. By reverse order of importance :

  • Squat toilets with newspaper. Actually she ended up liking the squat toilets, but newspapers remain a beyond her tolerance.
  • Languages she does not understand. Pauline is dissappointed that speaking French very loud does not help non-French speaking people understand French any better.
  • Red pepper in food, even in the bolognaise sauce.
  • Having to wash her clothes herself – though this summer I noticed that she has taken my habit of showering with my clothes on to wash them while I’m under she shower.
  • People littering, which she sermons every time… Good thing they don’t understand what she is saying.

Mzungu, oyinbo, farenji, foté, toubab… I have one more name to add to my collection : obroni. This is how the kids in this region call me. This calls for another variation of the “my name is not Mzungu” t-shirt.

Like all other coastal towns in Ghana, Axim is geared toward fishing and agriculture, with a sprinkle of tourism. But there is not much tourism : according to its guestbook, the Axim fort had in average one visitor a day during fall season, one in January, and three in February – including us. The visit costs one Cedi per person and one Cedi for the camera. So this month, the guide and his apprentice worked for less than five Cedis. Good thing they have a commanding view of the local soccer pitch for distraction.

The fort is a well preserved piece of 15th century architecture, apparently undergoing some inner renovation – new floors and mounds of wood chips attest of that ongoing effort. The views over the bay is nice.

The apprentice tells us about an undersea tunnel leading to the lighthouse island a kilometer offshore, where he says the slaves were loaded abord the ships – but that seems too incredible to me and I believe that this tunnel is only fantasy. Sixteenth century quality of life for the troops manning the fort looks quite rough – only the commander has decent living quarters, but not that much better than aboard a large ship.

The tiny slaves cells are of course impressive and you can imagine the horribly squalid living conditions there. But most impressive is the location of the dining room right above the cells :dinners and prisonner slaves could hear each other easily. The vultures circling above the fort are a perfect addition to the theme.

After resting in the shade at the fort away from the crowds, we go downtown to gather intelligence about the road to Prince’s Town. A policeman dissuades us, explaining about the danger of criminals on a very isolated road – the danger exists, but officialdom always give the worst case out of precaution. A group of young men playing cards explain that the road is cut by several rivers and that for lack of bridge they must be forded. I’m not geared for fording, especially not in bilharzia contaminated areas.

Crossing a hamlet on the outskirts of Axim, we stumble upon one of the hotel’s employees. He explains us that the road is quite doable, but that there is one large river that can be crossed using a pirogue ferry service. At the hotel in the evening, the manager’s husband tells us that the dirt roads are impassable in times of rain – but that is not a probelm in this season. So all in all I’m beginning to think that I’ll give Prince’s town a second try, this time from the west.

Along the beach I notice that the sand is peppered with crab holes – I saw a few crabs in the open them, but most of them seem to remain hidden. There are no marine birds in the places we visited – absolutely none of them, which is very surprising in fishing towns. The big birds are nothing to write home about : a few egrets in the wetlands and vultures wherever there is human trash. The mangrove nearby may have more diversity, but we’ll probably not have time for it this year – too bad because I like the mangroves very much.

Halfway between Axim and the Ankrobra Beach hotel lies the empty shell of a building half eaten by vegetation. On a wall I recognize the logos of scuba diving gear brands. The husband of the Ankrobra Beach hotel manager tells me that between 1995 and 2002 a French and an Australian operated a diving center there. There is a shipwreck west of the bay and also a few interesting cliffs. But their main business was lobster farming : they pulled 800 to 1000 kilograms of lobsters out of the sea every day. They had cages at different spots along the coast and their truck collected them. This was a great business, but the owners spoiled it : they dodged taxes and the French guy spent way too much money on local girls. So in 2002 they tanked and the French guy ended down in prison. The coastal ecology still provides great business opportunities though – in the estuary mangrove west of Axim, a spanish guy makes a tidy profit breeding baby eels and shipping them to Scandinavia where they are farmed.

Near the coast, most plots of land have headless palm trees. They were a complete mystery to me until I got my answer from the German managers : it is caused by a virus and all the palm trees will die. This will completely change the face of this place. The same thing happened in Mexico and Guatemala in 1989 .

We have the same dinner as yesterday as the kitchen’s has apparently not restocked since then. The cook may make excellent red-red and nice pancakes, but unripe bananas don’t go very well with the pancakes, especially with no topping. We go to bed after washing clothes and other general camping chores. Tonight we’ll sleep early again – tomorrow is a big and challenging day.

I end up discussing investment opportunities in Africa with the husband of the manager. He explains that Ghana has low levels of corruption and a serious administration that seriously enforces fiscal laws. He believes that Ghana provides a firm ground for any serious venture. From the mouth of an upright German, this is no faint praise.

Evening in a safe place with reliable electricity is the occasion for sorting notes and photographs. All my pictures are left on the Compact Flash cards and backed up on the notebook – and the whole thing is backed up to a large flash USB dongle which I keep under my clothes to prevent theft. Though non-zero, the likelyhood of losing it all is as low as possible.

I went back out during the night for a stroll in darkness among the dying palm trees. I enjoy the starry skies of locations unencumbered by light pollution. But what I came out for was on the beach : the hidden crabs were out in force. Dozens of them reflected in my grazing light. Some zipped straight to the water, others froze dazzled by the light. One more mystery had been solved : those crabs are a nocturnal specie.

Africa and Cycling and Ghana and Travels17 Jun 2009 at 21:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Busua, Dixcove… Axim, 26 February 2009.

Roosters calling from three in the morning onwards are not something I’m used to. But who does not enjoy some background music when nature calls repeatedly ? Nana’s food was obviously not the freshest thing and my lower digestive tract is paying the price – for the immense benefit of the local flora !

Nana had a rough night too, but not for the same reasons. He comes to confide in me about his problems with his wife : he is investing whatever he can into adding a couple of rooms and toilets next to his house for his tourism business, but she wants the money right now. In the morning I notice him on the doorstep pouring a libation of schnapps and murmuring prayers – looks like the spectrum of religions in Ghana is even wider than what I saw so far. Let’s hope that the spirit will do something about his wife – if they do I might buy some schnapps too !

Pauline adapts well to the lack of amenities – the presence of kittens soon makes her forget those logistical matters completely. We share our breakfast biscuits with Nana’s children. My packs are made, I put the bike outside, it is quarter past seven and we are ready to roll. I think I am, going to try to make it to Prince’s Town today in spite of the warnings about the road. But I’ll try to gather more intelligence on the way out of Busua before I take any decision.

Many locals do not know of any direct road to Prince’s Town : their mental map is the tro-tro line all the way to the main road. But we are in luck : Nana says he once rode the stretch with a couple of Germans. He says it is a bad earthen road, but with none of the sand or corrugations that I have learnt to loathe. So I’m going for it.

At small shop at the entrance of Busua, we load six litres of water : enough for the day with a security margin. Nana guides us to the west end of the village, where a metal bridge marks the beginning of our track. With encouragements from the ubiquitous pack of kids, we set out on our way. The track is packed lateritic earth, and it rolls reasonably well. The sun is fast dissipating the morning mist and we are heating up.

We pass Dixcove, a big fishing village with a cute white fort. It is less touristy than Busua so the people are nicer and we salute everyone in sight. The whole place is very colourful – with the yellow clad schoolchildren adding to the decorated boats moored in the harbour. The small fort, the excellent natural harbour and the buildings suggest a colonial past, but any hint of historical turmoil has long since yielded to the quiet life of rural Ghana.

The climbs on the piste are taking me to the limit – the weight of the extra water is clearly felt. The lack of speed robs me of the advantage of relative wind for cooling by evaporation. And to top it all, yesterday’s beers, pepper and the food whose hygiene I did not trust are combining to produce effects that surpass what I experienced during the night. I could feel better…

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The track is very quiet – two taxis passed in the first couple of hours. There is the odd peasant and a few tiny villages. But we don’t get the full story : the track is a corridor in the bush and our view is bounded by the roadsides. Among all the bird cries, we sometimes hear faint voices or hacking sounds : we are not really alone. Flight of hornbills pass us – hornbills are among my favorite birds. We see plenty of other tiny birds I can’t identify, butterflies and colorful insects.

Some peasants are slashing and burning fields for planting cassava – primitive agriculture at it finest whose result can be seen on a few hills where the soil is gone entirely. Primitive as an agricultural practice it may be, but as a full-body workout it is a different matter entirely : tight sculptured muscles to make any body builder jealous – maybe there is a nascent fitness fad being born there… But don’t be too jealous : their working conditions in the sun are probably not worth the ribbed abs.

After the hills the track plunges down to the sea and runs along the magnificent beach. After one hour and a half and 13 kilometres, I am beginning to feel slightly exhausted and decide to stop more often.

At 15 kilometres the road ends in a small fishing village on the mouth of a mangrove estuary.

That village is near Achenim. Villagers tell us about a foot bridge on the other side of the village, so we cross it through a maze of tiny alleys among pisé houses, surprising the villagers who mill about to their daily occupations. After the foot bridge we follow the river upstream for a couple hundred meter and push the bike up the very steep path up the other side. Out of breath we finished the mercifully short climb in the middle of a school yard with a hundred kids swarming us instantly – yeah, we are minor celebrities !

On the road out of the village, I finally understand the purpose of all the torii on the side of the road, under which bunches of palm nuts are laid. They are support for the scales used for weighting the fruits before loading them. One more mystery solved !

We don’t see the ocean anymore, but I will never notice that seemingly obvious problem. The damn Selle Italia seat is savaging my ass and Nana’s food is not helping either – the two combine to compound the fatigue of the ride. At that point of the journey, my judgement was probably already seriously affected.

We cross the huge hevea plantation of Ghana Rubber. Is seems that some of the plots are rotated with leguminous plants. In that area, we gain the company of Gillian, a 14 years old boy on a BMX. He keeps up with us, but that is not saying much considering our sorry physical state. As you may notice, there are no photo of this part of the journey – a clue that we are not quite comfortable with our going.

Gillian lost both his parents and works for food at the plantation. Gillian and passing villagers insist that we passed Cape Three Points long ago. I’m amazed that we saw nothing – having passed Cape Three Point would mean that it lies between the, 20th and the 25th kilometre of the ride – which makes no sense on the map. The explanations are confused, but the only thing I understand plainly is that we are on the road to Axim. This sounds crazy and makes the map look grossly out of scale, but I decide to take the local’s opinion for granted. So I begin to believe I may even end up in Axim at the end of a very long day.

Clouds gather increasingly thick, shielding us from the sun and promising a nice shower before the evening. On top of that the road improves progressively, sand has long disappeared and corrugations are less frequent. Morale improves accordingly. And then reality strikes, in the form of a tarred road – there is not supposed to be any tarred road anywhere between Dixcove and Axim. Worse, there is a partially legible road sign indicating Dixcove. A couple of people waiting for a tro-tro explain to us that this is the road between Dixcove and Agona Junction. I’m dumbstruck. I flip open my compass and immediately realize that we have been going east for at least fifteen kilometres out of thirty two. How can I have been so daft ?

Listen to the locals, but then trust your compass. From what I understood from our conversations, I was somewhere between Cape Three Points and Axim. But that was not the case. We came back straight where we came from, finishing a nice 32 kilometers loop. I had been driving back east for a while – the peasants telling me I passed Cape Three Point which I did not see should have been a hint. But meanwhile, the clouds had blocked the sun, robbing me of that obvious reference. I had the compass in the handlebar pouch, but the pains broke my concentration and I stupidly went with the flow. The direct consequence of that story is that I’ll soon mount a handlebar compass so that it is always under my eyes to keep me from doing such gross mistakes. For now you can see our GPS track log graphically depicting my mistake – see how I headed north from Achenim instead of following along the coast.

With morale low, fatigue and more digestive problems forcing me to contribute generously to more roadside fertility improvement projects, the road to Agona was not particularly enjoyable. I was especially disappointed as I realized that I had already visited that place the day before – which explains the twenty kilometres difference between my actual distance and the Lonely Planet’s estimate. So that is two grievous navigation errors in two days – I have room for improvement.

Pauline had enough, and going anywhere would have meant at least 35 extra km, which would be extreme for both of us. So we negociated the transportation of our tandem, disassembled the trailer and the luggage, and jumped in the waiting bus to Axim, just in time while the big thunderstorm to broke out – perfect timing !

The bus dropped us in Axim. As I was rigging the panniers on the debused bike, I realized that to reach my chosen dwelling for the night I still had a sizeable ride ahead of me. Five kilometres back to the fork between the Axim and the Elubo road, and then five more on the Elubo road. Five kilometres before arriving, a new thunderstorm broke out, drenching us in a shower so intense that I had to switch on my lights in fear of not being visible to the cars. I was not sure if I was on the right track, but at that stage I was on so sick and tired that I was not going to stop for anything. I was relieved to spot a big signpost marking the entrance of the dirt road to Ankrobra Beach and I found the entrance checkpoint is a few hundred meters down. That is the end of a day of only 53 kilometres – but the number does not tell the whole story…

After checking in quickly, I started by having the shower I had dreamt about since yesterday morning. We then went playing in the waves, but salt on my private parts irritated by the bad saddle spoiled my fun.

At the hotel as in any self respecting African restaurant, there is what is written on the menu, and then there is what is actually available – the best method is to forget that the menu ever existed and start directly by asking what is available. I discovered red-red, a dish of fried plantain served with a tomatoes, beans and chicken sauce. Everything about it was perfect. I’ll make some in Paris !

We met the German lady who recently took over the management of the Ankrobra. She seems to have things firmly in hand, and this marvellous place will probably get even better.

On the way to our room we meet the camp’s security guard, a cheerfully middle-aged chap in khakis who sneaked up on us among the palm trees to have a chat, claiming to be a former Ghanaian UN peacekeeper with experience in Liberia, Cambodia, and the DRC. It is good to see a motivated guy like him patrolling the area – but to be frank I’m so tired that I would sleep with or without it !

Africa and Cycling and Ghana and Travels17 Jun 2009 at 2:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Takoradi and Busua, 25 February 2009.

First mission of the day is to ride downtown to replenish my provisions of cash. The withdrawal limits displayed on the screen are grossly inferior to what I can actually withdraw – 200 GHC seems to be the limit. While taking back my card from the ATM, I fumbled with two thick 200 Cedis worth wad of notes freshly spat out and I broke the card in two pieces. Ooops – not good. Mission creep hits us – we have barely started our day, and now on top of our program we have to find a way to withdraw cash for the rest of the trip. I already have enough for a week so I’m not overly stressed, and in an emergency you can always count on the expensive money transfer operators.

My first thought is to get in touch with my credit card company through a local bank. Staff at various banks bounce us from branch to branch and it increasingly looks like this is not the way to get in touch with my credit card company – the normal way seems to be to call them directly or go though the issuer bank. We ride eight kilometres around Takoradi and through the harbour until I find the main Barclays branch there. Barclays employees reassure me that cash can be issued given just my credit card number and my personal identification. That informative and efficient branch was just one kilometre away from the hotel, but of course it was probably the very last one in the whole town that we visited. At least I had a nice tour of Takoradi and its harbour, with highly exotic moments of being stuck in the trading chaos of Market Circle. We also caught a glimpse of a school marching band with a couple hundred pupils in uniform following suit – but I was too focused on my cash problem to take a picture. Next time I’ll redund my credit card – extra cash would be nice too, but I don’t want to risk carrying too much.

I was planning to start at seven thirty, but with the slight logistical complications it is ten thirty when we actually head out of town. Telling the story of such boring matters may appear mundane, but this sort of situation is what travelling is mostly made of, especially outside of the most developped countries. After paying the hotel bill and loading the pedal mule, we head due east to Busua and Dixcove. I miss my Takoradi friends already, but travelling is always like that too : meeting wonderful people in wonderful places, and then having to move on to discover the rest of the world. This is a story that I keep repeating, and the urge to move on always win over enjoying where I am. Anyway, the smiles and compliments of Lauricia at the Standard hotel nicely helped us get underway.

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It is getting hot and a succession of small hills is sapping my energy. I can pedal fast forever on level ground, but the hills are considerably more tiring, especially with the sort of load I’m pulling. I have to make a good figure though because some people along the road have an even harder job : they are sitting in the sun next to heaps of rocks, using rudimentary hammers to break the rocks into coarse gravel. Is a rock breaking machine that expensive or are these people that cheap ? This is the sort of occasion when I want to take a picture, but then decide to leave the camera idle in the handlebard bag : I am not (yet ?) shameless enough to photograph distressed people so easily.

With the sun hitting us hard, I have to constantly remind Pauline to drink – she does no yet have the drinking reflex. Ten kilometres out, on top of Dixcove hill road we stop to pick drinks and biscuits. Because it is on a main road, the petrol station has a nice assortment of quality products. What passes for an orange juice in the dinky village shops would make the lyophilized drink in mountain rations taste like luxurious fresh nectar, and the nutritional value of the biscuits is usually close to zero, except as a source of glucose. At the petrol station, we turn left to take the road to Dixcove.

Along with stone breakers, the roadside has its usual assortment of biscuit and drinks micro shops, mechanical workshops, schools, brick makers and and incredible number of churches of all denominations : it seems that 20% of the GNP of Ghana is generated by religious activities. We also spot a yard with a line of large pots full of roasting unidentified beans with mounds of those beans all around the yard. I’ll later understand that these are palm nuts.

At a large crossroads with lights, we ask locals for directions and then turn right past the barracks of the 2nd infantry bataillon – we had inadvertantly taken quite a detour out of town. The road runs straight on undulating terrain for at least ten kilometres. What we did not know at the time is that it led us to Agona Junction – which is probably not the shortest way. Another road seems to exist, but Agona Junction is the tro-tro hub of the region, so as we’ll learn later, all roads lead there – or at least all driving directions ! Asking the locals for directions may sometimes help, but checking the compass is always necessary as a reality check. Sadly, it is only after forgetting that a second time the following day and suffering worse consequences that we understood the wisdom of that reflex.

I’m drinking like a crazed camel and I’m still pissing yellow and not often… Need I mention that it is hot and that I’m drenched in sweat ? Luckily, a rainstorm soon provides us with welcome refreshment – a mild one tough because the water is lukewarm.

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On the way down to Busua, we ride along big lush palm plantations. But ever since we started, roadside plastic littering is just as prosperous as the vegetation. We keep gathering our own trash for disposal in trashcans. But from what I see, the collected trash is at best burned, and most of the time dumped in an apparently quite unregulated way.

The lush vegetation is everything but wild. There are plantations for bananas, plantain, cassava, palm, bamboo – the whole leafy landscape is in fact cultivated, leaving very few wild areas. But all these agricultural riches do not seem to lift the area economically – the high proportion of pisé mud houses does not indicate well distributed wealth. But whatever the economic success of the villages we cross, our minor celebrity status is intact – the superstar is Pauline on her trailer and I’m in a mere supportive role as Pauline’s father.

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A fork in the road gives us a choice between Busua and Dixcove – we choose Busua based on the opinion of our friends in Takoradi. By the time we reach Busia, all semblance of humidity is a long forgotten memory and we are getting parched again, but the day’s pedalling comes to an end. The Lonely Planet gave Busua at 30 kilometers from Takoradi, but the distance measured by my bike’s computer today is 50 kilometers. That is more than a slight difference – I wonder which turn I missed. We rode the distance in 2H45 thanks to the excellent (if hilly) roads.

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Busua is a small fishing village backed by a long beach. The touts that immediately chase us are proof that Busua is a tourist destination. We meet Nana, the manager of Zweite Heimat and drink fresh smoothies in front of the restaurant. The fruits are fresh pineapple and banana, but as usual in Ghana, the milk is the canned concentrated stuff which I’m not yet used to. But after such a ride I can swallow anything liquid that contains a source of glucose.

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Nana offers us a room for six GHC. That sounds more like my prices. It is a bare room with a mattress, in his own two rooms house. Squat toilets are outside and there is no water nor electricity. But after days of splurging, this is a welcome change. We spent the evening and night for twenty GHC, food included ! The house lies on the flank of the small hill behind Busua. Pushing the loaded tandem uphill across the steep tilled fields was mercifully not too long, but the view from the top is worth it.

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We then head towards the beach for a dip in the ocean. Pauline attempts to get local boys to play in the waves with her, not understanding that being unable to swim they won’t get far from the shore. She gets her sinuses whashed clean while being tossed about by the rip curls. Meanwhile I catch the big waves for body surfing runs. The beach is huge and very sparsely populated, sand and water are clean (not a given in Africa near a village), temperature is ideal, and the surrounding vegetation completes the picture. After the effort of the day, fun and refreshment in the waves feel great.

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I walk around with the camera, but fishermen loudly refuse to be photographed unless money is paid – I pass. Later I manage to sneakily take a couple pictures – bad quality, but I enjoyed the transgression !

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Nana’s restaurant is covered in graffiti from satisfied travellers – in several languages so it is difficult to fake and that is what finally convinced me of using his services. Nana cooked fufu and groudnut soup for us – not bad. While we eat, a guy walks by with a loudspeaker, broadcasting political propaganda in the streets. We meet Anne, a French woman quite experienced with Africa. We chat away the evening while downing beers, the way it ought to be in a real maquis. By the way, the local name for a maquis is a “spot”.

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As in many small villages, toilets are a series of closets laid over a large septic tank were the users relieve themselves through a hole in the ground – with no lighting at night and paper only available if you bring your own. Pauline has a slight case of culture shock, but a few laughs with the local children makes help her see the place in a better light.

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A few street lamps light some corners, but the village is mostly unlit. While we walk away from the village to Nana’s home, Nana hears one guy saying “this is the one who came with a bike” – and this somehow worries Nana who wont let us be alone at his home. I get the capsaïcine can out of the backpack I carry – if only to reassure Nana. Locked inside his house we should do fine come what may. Against an ambush or a sudden attack, reaction time make the spray wholly useless especially if the spray is in the bag – but out of the bag, with the edge of readiness, and in a locked house we have a credible defence against the most willy opportunistic thieve.

We climb back on the hill under the stars with my headlamp. The insects and frogs sing all around us. This sort of environment is a first for Pauline. The bed is unequivocally dirty – the only unknown is the number of generations who have slept on it with no washing; so we use the linen sacks we brought along for such gruby occasions. We still have salt and sand on our bodies, the room is stuffy, the linen sack is too short for me… I’ve slept in more comfortable places. I’ll put that on account of the cultural experience !

Africa10 Jun 2009 at 18:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

For quite a few years, Lagos has intrigued me even though I have not set foot there yet. I probably share some of Rem Koolhaas‘ fascination with the apparently unplanned nature of this growth, and the ability of the city to cope with the influx of people without visible mechanisms to deal with the outcomes of growth.

Matthew Gandy’s paper says it all in its title : “Planning, Anti-planning and the Infrastructure Crisis Facing Metropolitan Lagos“. This paper is especially interesting in the way it provides a counterpoint to Rem Koolhaas’ somewhat condescending views by linking the challenges in urbanism with the city’s political, economical and social dimensions, thereby disproving an African exceptionalist perspective.

For a traveler’s first impression of the city, you can begin with “Lagos: city of more” – a correspondent diary by The Economist. Then you can take a step back and read James Meek’s “Everyone’s sleeping with one eye open, an article that try to understand what it is like to live in the middle of a population explosion, in a megalopolis bursting at the seams that will soon overtake Cairo as Africa’s biggest. The Wikipedia article about Lagos provides some background too.

But the complacent clichés and the epic challenges do not seem to deter some people from thinking big. I stumbled upon West Africa’s biggest development project, named Eko Atlantic :

The project is located in Lagos, Nigeria and will be built on land currently being reclaimed from the sea. [..] The development area will cover over nine million square metres and will be sectioned into seven districts which will be home to over 3000 buildings many of which particularly in the financial district will be skyscrapers. [..]

The development is planned to have a population of 400,000 upon completion with a further 250,000 commuters. To help them get about there will be an eight-lane coastal highway running along the northern boundary of the project while an internal network of roads will connect all districts, along with a tramway system which will also circulate through the city allowing access to all areas including public transport on Victoria Island. [..]

The artist’s views of the Eko Atlantic suggest something almost Singaporean and the sheer scale of the project will give anyone pause. I wonder how this new quasi-autonomous district will integrate with the rest of the city without widening the socio-economic fault lines – but even given this risk, you have to give credit to ambition on such a scale in such an environment.

If you have any experience of the developing world’s politicians, you will be quick to dismiss this sort of bombast as utter vaporware. But think again : this CNN about the vision of Governor Fashola for Lagos hints that this is a serious project of its way to implementation – and the videos show that some dredging and backfill works have already begun.

The project may be late, or even fall victim to the chaos altogether. But then again it may become a symbol of the return of planning and ambition in urban development in Lagos. Such feat would have significance far beyond Edo State, for all the sprawling megalopolis of the developing world.

Africa and Ghana and Travels05 Jun 2009 at 21:25 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Takoradi, 24 February 2009.

While we wait for Arama who is one hour late to our meeting, I set our plans for the rest of the trip : considering the large distances involved and the constraints of human powered mobility, we’ll give the national parks a miss after all and focus on the coastal region between Takoradi and Axim. Back in Takoradi, we’ll then ride to Elmina and Cape Coast, before taking a bus back to Accra. I’ll definitely have to come back to Ghana !

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In the morning from the hotel room’s windows I see hordes of school children in uniform walk up the street while packs of military-looking men run by, chanting and stepping at the exact same cadence. About a thousand children gather around a soccer field nearby, cheering their comrades on the field. So far, soccer seems to be the undisputedly dominant sport in Ghana – wherever you go there is always a game going on somewhere, either kids on the streets, adults in a courtyard, a big team in the stadium or Manchester United on TV. It is school holidays in Ghana, and Arama tells me that the kids on the soccer field are part of a week-long sporting event. All the little girls have their hair cut short – if a girl has her hair cut very short, it most likely is because she is still attending school.

As usual in Ghana, it never takes long before religion emerges in the conversation. Arama and her family are Mormon, a minority religion in Ghana – but with a power quite beyond its size. I ask Arama if she has completed her mission, but she says that it will have to wait until she has completed her studies and civil service in Ghana. By the way, Ghanean missionaries only travel to Africa as too many of them have taken advantage of missions in Europe and North America to never return – and some even joined the church for precisely that purpose.

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We walk to Arama’s home in central Accra – her family owns a four level building and occupies one of the apartments on the lower level, on a little courtyard away from the street. Doors are open during the day and there is a Mediterranean feel about that quiet place. Arama comments her family pictures, and we soon meet her father – a former banker who has also been the voluntary manager of the Mormon employment resources centre in Takoradi for three years.

I chat about the local economy with Arama’s father. Takoradi used to be a major timber export harbour, but there are no trees left outside of the national parks – so the timber exportation infrastructure has long been idle. Nowadays the local resources are essentially manganese and bauxite, with a few factories for the transformation of agricultural products such as cocoa. Manufactured goods are mostly imported from Dubai and China – that explain the Chinese furniture and bathroom equipment at the Akroma Plaza hotel. Takoradi is about as close to Abidjan as it is to Accra. According to Arama, people go to Accra for foodstuffs, but Abidjan is a popular destination for consumer goods.

The major change in Takoradi for the coming years is the discovery of oil near Axim and Cape Three Points. Takoradi’s harbour is going to be the logistical base for the offshore operations. Extraction has not yet begun, but significant reserves have been confirmed. The locals expect a small oil boom and everybody wonders if the Government will ensure equitable allocation of the new resources.

Tithes are still a practical reality of the Mormon church. Funds are sent back to Salt Lake City where they are centrally managed and allocated to local churches who make their demands at the beginning of every year for specific projects and operating expenses. This concentration of financial resources under central command makes the church quite powerful.

While I was chatting with her father, Arama disappeared with Pauline, and later came back with a takeaway dish of chicken and rice. But as everyday in Ghana, spices are a problem for Pauline who is not yet pepper hardened. It seems that every sauce here contains some… I really like this place !

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We head down to the beach with Arama. She warns me not to go swimming. Because of the waves and strong currents ? No, because it is Tuesday, and swimming on Tuesday is bad luck. Even the fishermen don’t go out to sea on Tuesday.

While Arama goes in town for an errand, I walk with Pauline along the beaches and observe marine life. Among the small animals in the tidal ponds we even find coral. The wind is no match for the scorching sun and we are close to overheating. Tomorrow we’ll start at dawn to avoid that heat.

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Arama rejoined us, and on the way back we enjoyed a stroll among the quiet and leafy villas in the most expensive parts of Takoradi – mostly inhabited by foreigners. Ghanaians who build nice villas seldom live in them : they prefer to rent them and stay in a more modest dwelling.

We switched hotels and found the Standard hotel, an almost as nice and secure hotel as the Akroma for 50 GHC instead of 70 GHC. While Arama goes in town with Pauline, I displace the bikes and bags from one hotel to the other and the join them at Arama’s family home. I come across Arama’s father on the way, instantly recognizable in his Mormon attire. At my destination I am introduced to Arama’s mother, her elder sisters Akua and Yaa Serwaah, and their young brother. Like innumerable Ghanaians, Akua spent a few years in London – but she is tired of it and says she is back home for good and hopeful of landing a decent education job in Takoradi to avoid busy Accra.

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On top of english, the girls speak both fanti and twi. Twi is their mother’s language, and fanti is the regional language. And they can utter a few words in French. As often in Africa, impressive multilingualism is considered normal.

A South African channel is playing on TV and we chat cheerfully while their one and a hald years old nephew violently defends his territory against the nonplussed five years old Pauline. While Pauline has a plate of fried plantains just for her, I am served boiled yam with palava sauce. Palava is a leave sauce with white beans taking the place of the ndolé’s fresh groundnut. I am very fond of leave sauces and I feel in heaven while I enjoy such great cooking with such a great family around. To top it we then have pineapple – picked ripe, not artificially matured like what passes for fresh fruit in Europe.

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I have confirmation from the girls that the Ghanaian chocolate sold on the streets does not melt, even under the Ghanaian sun. Looking at the package it contains milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa butter, lecithin, vanilin – with 35% cocoa minimum and 15% milk minimum. Does that leave almost 50% sugar ? Anyway it tastes better than many industrial chocolate I know, and the texture is very nice compared to anything other chocolate-like material in the African heat.

After we salute everyone and leave the poor nephew crying for Pauline who is now his best friend, Arama and Yaa Serwaah walk us back to our hotel under a canopy of stars to the beat of birds and insects in the ideal temperature of a slightly breezy African night. I am really really going to miss Takoradi.

Africa and Networking & telecommunications04 Jun 2009 at 23:44 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Accra, 23 February 2009.

Mobile telephony prices varying with network load – yield management made transparent

The mobile telephony marketing idea of the day is the MTN price zoning concept I witnessed in Ghana. According to which cell you are attached to, a message on the handset displays a discount rate. On lightly loaded cells the discount can go up to 100% (although I never saw it at more than 50%) and on the heavily loaded ones there is none. Making network loads transparent to the users through a price signal a great way to both shape traffic, take advantage of available infrastructure to provide cheap traffic and charge premium prices to the most demanding users. I have never before seen yield management made so transparent – so refreshing compared to the elaborate pricing schemes designed to play that role in more subtle and more annoying ways.

Here is an extract of the press release from MTN Ghana on MTN Zone service launch in June 2008 :

MTN Ghana has announced the launch of a new Innovative service named MTN Zone. The service gives its Pay As You Go subscribers the opportunity to enjoy up to 100% discount day and night on calls they make to other MTN Ghana subscribers and runs on the per second billing plan. MTN Zone subscribers have a flat tariff on all MTN to MTN calls when they register and subsequently receive messages that display dynamic discounts they will enjoy at any point in time.

In order to enjoy the benefits of MTN Zone, existing and new MTN prepaid customers simply need to register for the service by entering *135*1# and pressing the send or ok button on their handset. Alternatively, they could send 1 to SMS short code 135. Registration onto MTN Zone service is currently free of charge. To activate the cell broadcast functionality on their handsets, customers must enter enter * 135*4# and follow the instructions, this process is unique for each handset module. The cell broadcast feature when enabled, gives MTN customers the opportunity to see the dynamic percentage discount they will enjoy when they initiate a call at that time and the discount will be applicable throughout the duration of the call.

“We are excited at what the team here at MTN Ghana has been able to provide after thorough research and development. Discerning Ghanaians want the most cost effective and exciting means of communicating with their family and friends and we are proud that as a team we have been able to crack this motivation and demonstrate our leadership in innovation and superior customer understanding. This new service empowers our customers with more, choice and control over their cost of making calls. The excitement this service has generated within one week is unparalleled in the industry in Ghana. As usual we will lead the market in innovation and others can follow”, says George Kojo Andah, Chief Marketing Officer.

I believe that they have good reason to be proud of this innovative service. It probably requires some custom billing system but I believe it is a great idea – maybe I should write a proposal for our marketing department. The billing people might be horrified though…

Africa and Cycling and Ghana04 Jun 2009 at 23:28 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Accra, 23 February 2009.

While I had breakfast, the manager was struggling to set up 802.11 Internet access, but I carefully omitted to mention I could probably fix that. Sometimes I manage to suppress my benevolent urges for voluntary technical support.

For me, the first order of the day is to go fetch a seat seat post for the bike. The trip starts at the auspicious 777 km mark on the odometer, but I take no account of that : superstition is bad luck.

The hotel boys believe that I might find spare parts in the Madina market, but having them explain how to get there is another matter. If you ask someone how far a place is, the first answer you’ll get is not a distance but the price of the tro-tro ride. So with the barest instructions I head out of East Legon toward the Madina market on my seatless bike while Pauline remains at the hotel using the staff as her playthings. The suburban roads are a mix of tarred and partially corrugated surfaces leading to a minaret dominating a market town on top of a small hill. With such a name, the place is of course Muslim. Interviewing locals about that, I learn that it is the largest coranic school in Ghana – quite a surprise considering that the south is mostly Christian.

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Making my way haphazardly across the market, I find a car mechanic which, as I suspected, knows where his pedal tightening colleague is hiding. I cross the town in the other direction, turn near the post office and find Moses’ Cheap Shop. Moses has quite literally a heap of bikes and parts, and it does not take him long to unearth a properly sized seat post for me. And I even get to chose among dozen of seats to top it. And it cost me a grand total of ten Cedis ! I’m ecstatic to find my bike in complete working order again. I thank everyone, take a picture and head back toward East Legon at full blast, maybe a bit too fast considering how I slid ten meters a the bottom of a corrugated downhill, narrowly missing a turning tro-tro.

After that sobering moment I stop at a store for water and a tube of super glue to fix the on-board calculator’s support that got smashed during the flight in. The two girls sold that to me with smiles and giggles, plus while I was living one of then was singing a song about love descending unexpectedly. Along with smiles while underway, this is not the first time I get that sort of response – but the experienced traveller knows not to take the flattery too seriously. But more important, my bike is now is 100 % operational ! With the calculator now online, I can tell after riding home that Madina is 8 kilometers north-west of East Legon.

Back at the hotel I paid 150 Euros for two nights, drinks, dinners, breakfasts and airport pick-up for Pauline and me. I have never paid that much for two nights in my entire life, but the place was so nice that I would have done it again, if only because Pauline enjoyed herself so much there and I got excellent advice for what I had to get done.

It is one PM and we are now invited for lunch by the owner so it is two PM when we hit the road. On the way we ride past the presidential palace again. Snatching a few bad pictures under pressure from the guards who seemed slightly unhappy enough about it that we did not overstay our welcome.

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On the way to the STC bus station downtown Accra, Pauline attracted huge interest from tro-tro drivers and street peddlers sometimes barely a few years older than her, who sell plantain chips to sunglasses, water, sweets and even chocolate tablets that miraculously resist the sweltering heat.

14 kilometers later we buy tickets at the STC state owned long distance bus station. This company is very well organized, with fixed price, booths with well kept books, uniformed personnel and due process for everything in sight – a relaxing experience compared to many means of transportation around the continent. 6.5 Cedis for me, 3 Cedis for the bikes, 2 Cedis tip for the bike handlers and Pauline travels for free. What a great deal ! That, the bike parts and today’s food make the the hotel price ludicrous in comparison. But in Africa, anything remotely related with tourism has nothing to do with local purchasing power.

On the bus ride out of Accra we went past the huge Kanechie market. Heavy traffic jams follow all the way after Dansoman, hinting the overgrown village that Accra is often said to be might outgrowing the local infrastructure. While I’m stuck in traffic dreaming about how fast I would overtake it all on my bike, here is how I write my travel diary. I take notes whenever I can, mostly on the E71. In the evening, I transfer my notes by Bluetooth to the NC10 where I rewrite them in a text editor. It is also in the evening that I usually perform the first elimination of unacceptable pictures on the 50D to lessen the burden of sorting when I get home.

Keyboard input lag on the E71 is mightily annoying. This problem has been solved twenty years ago in PC word processors that ran on CPU less powerful than this mighty PDA. Nokia may build fine phones, but the general purpose computing aspects of their products is a big disappointment.

With 7k Euros worth of equipment and a budget of 60 Euros a day for two, this is not shoestring travel. But most of the equipment is photography and IT, with the bikes being a distant third. And the budget is that high because with a kid around I have to ensure a level of comfort that I would certainly would not care for had I been alone or with weathered adults.

The STC bus is impressive : only four people in a row and it even features air conditioning that works – although it is used with way too much enthusiasm. The bus was scheduled for 4:40 and started ten minutes later, on time and not when it is full. This is nothing like the stereotypical African bus stuffed with sweaty people, assorted bags and bundles including smoked fish and live poultry with goats and extra people on the roof. I’m surprised that people travel with few luggage, but maybe those upmarket lines are too expensive for the small traders who are often encountered with heavy bundles. The STC matches any long distance coach service in Europe – this is a great surprise that I had never had in Africa before.

But what still African about this bus are the encounters. When I’m riding my bike, meeting people in buses is something I often miss, even though the bike is a great conversation starter for when I stop in villages. Today we met Arama, a 20 years old first year banking student in Accra who goes visiting her family in Takoradi for the holidays. She offered to help us find a quiet hotel, advising against the ones near the market whose idle boys might be hassling.

Arama took a taxi with Pauline and I pedaled like a madman behind to follow them to our destination. We ended up at Akroma Plaza, a clean and secure big anonymous hotel with Chinese furniture and Chinese toilet paper – Chinese ownership would not surprise me. The rooms look like they could be anywhere in the world, and they are quite comfortable. At 50 Cedis a night I’m still grossly over-budget, but arriving at ten PM in an unknown African city, I won’t complain too much about not finding the optimum. After we entered our room, Arama left to join her family. Tomorrow she’ll be our guide around Takoradi. And for tonight, Pauline and I still have our clothes to wash !

Africa and Cycling and Travels17 May 2009 at 18:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Accra, 22 February 2009.

We wake up to the sounds of religious chants from the Christian center next door. In Ghana, there are churches all over the place and they are packed every week… You can’t miss them ! Churches often feature live music, and while passing by I have several times seen people take the microphone to add their testimonies of spiritual enlightenment. Atheists such as me better swerve when religion comes as a discussion topic : every Ghanaian is a true believer and will lecture you given the opportunity.

We wake up lazily and enjoy an English breakfast on the hotel’s roof. The staff is very nice and we are the only guests in the six rooms hotel. By the way, I recommend this hotel heartily even though it exceeds any typical backpacking budget. Its official name is Golden Oyster Executive Hotel – In Ghanaian English, “executive” means anything that is sophisticated and commands premium pricing.

The sky is a gray ceiling with light rain falling, but it is already so hot that you don’t notice the rain drops falling among your own perspiration. I scan the 802.11 frequency bands but no networks are detected. Data roaming does not seem to be functional in Ghana – at least I won’t be tempted to spend my money !

“Papa, please close your eyes and open your mouth” – and next thing I know I’m chewing on fresh garlic… Pauline probably got that from the hotel’s kitchen and somehow decided I would be the guinea pig for that mystery food.

Next up, assembling the bikes minus one seat and stowing away the flight bags. I use one bike bag for each bike, and a big duffel bag to keep three of the panniers together for the flight. I keep the fourth pannier as a carry-on to protect the most fragile stuff. To pack the bikes, I only disassemble the handlebars, the seats, the trailer’s beam and the big bike’s front wheel – so that assembly is a quickly expedited affair. In theory I should have bothered with disassembling the pedals, but their width is actually not a problem. Removing the pannier racks would have hugely reduced the package’s length and facilitated transportation, but then disassembly and assembly would have been much a more involved business and I prefer to have the bike arrive in a configuration whose solidity I trust. As usual, the tandem bike is a sure-fire conversation starter with any passerby.

Before leaving the hotel I noted its address : East Legon, opposite the Christian center, near the A&C shopping mall. Yes, that is an actual address, as good as you’ll get in most African locations. We are then free to descend downtown Accra for some sightseeing. The hotel lies in a quiet leafy suburb near the airport. A very nice neighborhood even, as measured by how the villas are built and decorated, how vegetation is kept and the amount of security that surrounds them – though the street in the neighborhood are still beaten earth strips sided by ditches with partly broken covers. But there is construction going on in many streets so that might change.

A short walk away from the hotel we catch a tro-tro apparently heading in the general direction of the city center, but it drops us at Nkrumah Circle, a stinking muddy African minibus yard cum marketplace where finding our next tro-tro took some searching among the chaos and language difficulties – the quintessential African experience.

Badly covered drainage ditches, stagnant water with decomposing matter, dust and traffic produce the patented smell of Africa, although the Ghanaian version is very tame and only appears in the worse neighborhoods – in other places the public utilities seems to work rather well. Part of the reason for the relative cleanliness might be the omnipresence of public urinals which make rogue excretive exercises less frequent, although the drainage ditch does seem to double as a toilet – one more reason to watch your step for missing covers. But with dirt and filth often around them, many Africans make a point of being spotlessly clean – in Accra I even saw a several occurrences of a guy hand-washing the wheels of his vehicle with a sponge. And those were apparently not vehicles for sale.

Private schools advertise their results on billboards. With unreliable public services, Africans have no choice but to be entrepreneurs, and education is a market like any other. In Ghana there are establishments named “remedial schools” that are focused on supplementary teaching. It is the same as evening classes in Europe, but the advertising is surprising : instead of being focused on success, the unique selling proposition is invariably based on “not failing”.

It is Sunday so most of the shops in what on the map appeared as the historical center are closed. On the way to Jamestown, I start recording our positions so that I can geotag the pictures. the lack of activity, the derelict buildings and the odd abandoned one produce a strangely quiet atmosphere. Accra’s urban landscape is rather low and extensive, like an overgrown small town.


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We came across a card playing competition with a big scoreboard and a couple dozen of animated tables – I snatched a couple pictures and nobody paid attention to us. Most people in Accra don’t care about photography anyway, and they sometimes even show off a bit.


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Jamestown is supposed to be next to the historical center, but it is very derelict with obvious signs of poverty. But even in this sort of environment, there is not a sign of hassle, aside from a timid half hearted demand from time to time. One girl tried a pass at me – which earned me stern looks from the guys, and a boy tried to sell me fish – yeah I obviously need fresh fish. I felt very secure here, apart from the ship construction yard workers who don’t seem to like tourist intrusion. In any case, this is not cadeau country – this makes me feels much more relaxed.


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The harbour, which is actually a beach protected by a breakwater, is a very interesting place with fishermen mending nets, boats coming and going, children playing in the water, equipment strewn all over the place, habitat in the middle of it all and as usual in Africa heaps of people milling around with mysterious purposes.


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Behind the harbour, people live in narrow alleys where a few goats munch on plantain skins. The presence of goats is a clue that this is a poor neighborhood. Goats eat anything and no vegetation is left.

From what I gather from my feelings and talking with locals, apart from the odd petty thief the place is safe. In crowded neighborhood, the odd opportunistic petty thief is all you have to worry about – but I’m warned that deserted estates at night are a different story.


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We pass by the childhood shack of a famous Ghanaian football player with a life-size portrait painted on the front. Not far, a flock of kids dances in front of a wall of loudspeakers – I did not want to intrude with the camera, but the scene looked like a ragga music video. The best pictures are the one you did not take…

The advertising plastered on walls mostly falls in the following categories :
- Politics
- Mobile telephony
- Religion
- Music
- Obituaries…

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The obituaries are A4 or A3 posters, often in color and containing a picture of the recently departed along with biographical information. I had never noticed them before in other African countries.

A mobile telephony operator advertises free airtime in exchange for receiving inbound calls. I had never seen this marketing scheme anywhere else, but it makes a lot of sense to cash in on termination fees by encouraging prepaid users to ask for calls. The effect could be compounded by having network preferential rates for the postpaid users.

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Kwame Nkrumah memorial park is a tidy place, apparently a favorite of wedding photographers with no less than four couples and their suite posing in the park. According to Wisdom <ameyedowo@yahoo.com>, the only Ghanaian in the park who is not part of a wedding, few Ghanaians come here for any purpose other than the photo opportunity – although Nkrumah remains a big figure with no less than three political parties claiming to be their heir.

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I don’t know what earned me all the smiles from the bridesmaids, and chatting chatting one up definitely crossed my mind but I tried to remain focused on purely touristic endeavours. I learned from the small exhibition near the mausoleum that after having been ousted in 1966, Nkrumah had been named co-president of the Republic of Guinea. A picture as early as 1960 shows them together. After all I’m not surprised, but it is the first time I see it mentioned.

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A couple of roller skaters glide by, one quad and one inline. I had seen a couple in Dakar too, but roller skaters on the African streets are uncommon enough to be noticed. Accra even has enough properly tarred roads for fun skating rides, although the wild traffic might be too much for most riders to handle.

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Short African minibus tutorial – lines exist but all minibuses are alike, with no sign displaying where they are going and the bus stops show no distinctive indication either. So you have to have to listen to the minibus monkey boy calling the destination as the minibus pulls by, and quickly decide if the line ending there passes by where you want to go. The locals have a general idea of what line goes where, but few people can read a map, notions of geography are ofter limited to uni-dimensional concepts and in some places people are not comfortable with reading, so communicating with a map is not going to get you anywhere. Just talk to whoever you find and you will end up finding someone you can communicate with effectively, who knows where you are going and who will point you to the right bus. So “East Legon, opposite the Christian centre, near the A&C shopping mall” might see like a strange address to Europeans, but it is really the best one for finding your way home.

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On the way we passed by the brand new presidential palace, a shiny piece of modern architecture whose cost overruns are currently a matter of much debate in Ghanaian politics. Some government buildings such as the national theater are definitely worth a sight – interesting architectural trends express themselves there. The rest is the usual utilitarian lot of post-independence administrative buildings. In Takoradi I learned from Arama’s father that the National Theater was built by the Chinese, as a few other buildings in Accra and other places – such as Takoradi’s stadium for example. The presidential palace on the other hand was built by Indians.

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Legon and Legon East are farther than they sound. Following the the Legon line we became temporarily unaware of our whereabouts. While Pauline was drinking and eating a coconut, darkness fell. At this latitudes, darkness falls very fast. We tried another direction and then ended up getting a taxi for the last leg. On the way we drove past a drugstore where I found Malarone for Pauline for 90 Cedis, slightly less expensive than in Paris. Street peddlers use a tin can and a wick as a makeshift oil lamp. I spotted a girl frying coconut – I have to try that !


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The night is quiet as there are barely any mosquitoes in Accra, a nice break from the usual tropical fare. But in the bush out of the city I have been told to expect having to use lots of repellent. After fooling around in the hotel’s pool, we showered and washed our clothes while showering – the most efficient way to do it, trust my experience. We then headed out to grab dinner. As we chatted with Sharon, the nice lady who built and owns the hotel, I showed her the pictures we took today. She recognized Jamestown and told us that although she spent a few years in Europe, she is the queen of Jamestown. Named Sharon, she goes by the name of Queen Sha. She showed me pictures of events where she is carried on a ceremonial chair. She is the heir of a centuries old title previously held by her mother. We are hosted by royalty – nice !

Africa and Cycling and Travels11 May 2009 at 23:20 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Accra, 21 February 2009.

As usual, packing was deferred to the last minute. Some attempts at anticipation are notable, but biking and outdoors are now so deeply embedded in my lifestyle that a sizable chunk of what I bring on tour is a part of my daily life that I cannot pack aside in advance. But I have the drill down pat – I made everything modular and activity based, so that I am confident that even in a hurry I am not forgetting anything I may want to have at hand underway. Apart from a couple of UK electricity mains adapters, I fetched what I needed from my cupboards and I did not have to buy anything – an amazing first. A few seasons of relentless acquisition quenched my requirements for hot and moderate weather touring equipment requirements, so I can nowadays be ready for an exotic deployment in less than an evening.

On top of disassembling the bikes, sorting and packing everything, I left the configuration of the sub-notebook for the last moment and took time on top to configure an USB flash memory as a backup – so I had just one hour of sleep, but the excitement kept me going nicely.

We had an uneventful flight, with breathtaking Saharan landscapes of dark rock and bright sand. Further south the clouds drowned all but the sunset largely compensated that with stunning colors. Claiming our luggage at Kotaka’s we had the disappointment to find the bike’s bag’s zip ripped apart. The bag was open and the seat which was traveling disassembled in a smaller bag had escaped from it. After inquiring to a few useless luggage claim employees, I concluded that prosecuting the case in Accra was hopeless. Filing a complaint to Air France – KLM on the way back in Paris is far more efficient. The smashed rear light on my bike and the abrasion marks on the trailer’s bike tell a story of gross mishandling, but all we have is another lesson in bike shipment hardening. I’m increasingly thinking about shipping the bike in a crate – I’ll think about that unless I find a bag more sturdy than that weak Go Sports bag that was not even cheap and lasted intact for a grand total of three flights.

So, as usual, the tour is therefore going to start with a wild spare part hunt – always a fun way to discover an African city. With a cycling culture supposedly well implanted in Ghana and plenty of riders, I’m guessing that we should have that problem solved in 24 to 48 hours. And what would a bicycle tour be without some exotic spare part problem ?

After almost 40 hours up with one hour of real sleep without Pauline interrupting, I was beginning to feel a bit winded. The Lonely Planet’s selection of places to sleep in Accra was depressing, and I foresaw that I was going to spend more than usual. For my first night in a country, I always spend more than average though : more than comfort, hotel prices are about service – and being disorientated and wary in an African country is not the time to skimp on service.

After lengthy pleas about my lost and broken pieces of luggage, I had lost so much time that the terminal was almost deserted. I managed to change a hundred Euros at the still open forex office and went on. A guy I chatted with on the plane had tried to wait for me to help me find a taxi – but I lost him because of my luggage issue keeping me behind. A security guard told me he had been waiting for me at the arrivals lounge, and he disappeared to search for him. While I waited and minded his recharging phone I noticed the still open albeit empty hotel reservation booth. With nothing to lose I decided to explore its offerings. Coming back empty handed, the security guy fetched the hotel reservations guy for me. I told him I was ready to spend about 90 Cedis (a slightly above low range rate for Accra), did not care about the location and wanted a friendly quiet place. He sent me to the Golden Oyster hotel, which I don’t regret. He called Ernest, the manager of the hotel, who came pick us up at the airport and helped me load the bikes on his pick-up truck, and we were off. By African standards, this is an incredible airport experience : I perceived no threat, no chaos, not even a hint of hassle, the officials were friendly – even with my problems it was all very relaxed. An airport is often the first experience about a country, and this one tells good things about Ghana.

So, in the span of an hour I had met half a dozen very nice people who helped me find my way around my problems. They were all very warm. It was a great surprised, but it is actually a typical Ghanaian experience : you meet an amazing number of friendly people and they are always up for a chat.

The hotel was hosting a wedding reception – actually a mass wedding with ten couples tying the knot at once. The party was taking place on the rooftop and we mingled among the guests, enjoying a meal and an African-sized beer (750 ml is the standard). Ghanaian hiplife dance music was rocking the place – I definitely have to listen to more of that at home (first keyword for Last.fm surfing : “Praye”).

Pauline was excited to find plenty of fun guys and nice girls to play and dance with – as crazy as it might be, this is exactly what she had told me she expected from Africa. Meanwhile I ended up having a chat with the splendid lady who owns the place – an Anglo-Norwego-Ghanaian with an Austrian ex-husband.

Most unexpectedly, the party drew down around midnight – Ghanaian go to sleep at the time when the Congolese begin to go out. That is quite a surprise, but it fits my holiday rhythm perfectly and after two full days with a sleepless night in the middle I was probably not going to dance until morning anyway. So we shut ourselves in our comfortable room – the Golden Oyster hotel is lavishly furnished and not the sort of place where you normally find backpackers : it even has air conditioning in the rooms. To me, this is luxury and the place might even be fit to receive my parents, the golden standards of people you will never find hanging out in a backpacker’s joint. But for a good night of sleep, it will do very nicely !

Africa and Cycling and Ghana06 May 2009 at 14:50 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In the second half of February this year, I rode with Pauline in Ghana : in Accra, in the western coastal region and in the Cape Coast hinterland. As a prelude to the trip reports that shall soon be published here, we’ll start with the GPS track logs collected with my trusty Sony GPS-CS1, sliced and diced by GPSBabel and mashed up on Google Maps by GPSVisualizer.

Most of it is of no particular interest to people other than me, but if you are planning a trip there you might like some parts of our western coastal region track logs : the abandoned road between the Axim and the Axim Beach Hotel on the other side of the bay is nowhere to be found on any map I know, and our forays halfway to Prince’s Town, especially from Busua are bush rides that you probably won’t read much about anywhere else.

So here are our tracks :

  • Accra – back and forth between our hotel, the STC station, Madina market and a walk along the waterfront.
  • Western region – Takoradi, Busua, Dixcove, Axim, Prince’s Town, Agona Junction and quite a few dirt tracks in between.
  • Cape Coast hinterland – Elmina, Hans Cottage, Kakum National Park and Cape Coast itself.

These maps will soon come handy as support material for the trip reports.

Africa and Books and Military14 Oct 2008 at 1:55 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I just finished reading The Chopper Boys: Helicopter Warfare in Africa” by Al J. Venter, Neal Ellis and Richard Wood. The contextual introductions will feel like fluff if you are already familiar with Cold War era conflicts in Africa, but it does not matter as the core of this book’s value more than makes up for it : the chapters covering operations in Rhodesia’s and South-Western Africa are gems. First hand testimonies paint captivating tactical vignettes with a substantial level of technical detail. This book provides unique insight in those pivotal development of heliborne operational doctrine in the countrer-insurgency role.

From my French perspective the Chadian and Algerian conflicts seem skimmed over, but I don’t mind as enough French sources have them well explored. On the contrary, I had seldom found such impacting accounts of the airmobile units that operated alongside such legendary troops as the Koevoet or the Selous Scouts – so the Southern African bias is more than welcome. After a read, jargon such as G-car, K-Car, dakadaka, paradak, fire force, Golf bomb and reaction force will feel familiar, along with impressive pieces of hardware such the Puma, the Alouette or the 20 mm Matra MG151 among others whose specific scope of employement is unveiled.

The use of helicopters to emplace small units as blocking forces (“stop groups” in South African parlance) reminded me of Bear Went over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan” edited by Lester Grau. The contrast between the swiftness of Southern African operations and the blunt Soviet air assaults that most often occured in Afghanistan is not without interest.

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