Sunday, November 09, 2008

Geography blogging: Western Central Africa

Since the plight of Congo is finally making it into the news, it might be a good time to take a look at that region.

When you hit Mimi's pages, you must be important, right? Thanks to Mimi for upholding the plight of Congo (here and here and here and here). Mimi's new Boswell, Georgianne Nienaber, has been there and here is her article at HuffPo.

Georgianne also gives us some visuals:

So, where are we talking about anyway? It's that part of Africa around the shaded oval above.

The Republic of Cameroon is a picture of diversity.
Natural features include beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests, and savannas. The highest point is Mount Cameroon in the southwest, and the largest cities are Douala, Yaoundé, and Garoua. Cameroon is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups. The country is well known for its native styles of music, particularly makossa and bikutsi, and for its successful national football team. English and French are the official languages. (Wikipedia)
The capital is Yaoundé. Wikipedia adds the following:
Compared with other African countries, Cameroon enjoys political and social stability. This has permitted the development of agriculture, roads, railways, and large petroleum and timber industries. Nevertheless, large numbers of Cameroonians live in poverty as subsistence farmers. Power lies firmly in the hands of the president, Paul Biya, and his Cameroon People's Democratic Movement party, and corruption is widespread. The Anglophone community has grown increasingly alienated from the government, and Anglophone politicians have called for greater decentralisation and even the secession of the former British-governed territories.

Equatorial Guinea is a Spanish- and French-speaking nation with its own share of challenges:
Diplomats and even ministers have been caught smuggling drugs, sometimes using diplomatic bags and even the president's baggage on state trips. The incumbent president has never equalled the bloodthirsty reputation of former dictator Francisco Macías Nguema, whom he overthrew. On Christmas of 1975, Macías had 150 alleged coup plotters executed to the sound of a band playing Mary Hopkin's tune Those Were the Days in a national stadium.
A huge proportion of the £370 million revenue is confiscated by the president while most of the 500,000 subjects subsist on less than a dollar a day, sewage runs through the streets of the capital Malabo, and there is no public transport and little drinking water or electricity.[Wikipedia]
The capital is Malabo. Here is a drive through Malabo with local music:

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest nations on the planet. The capital is Bangui. A new president was elected in 2008. From Wikipedia:
The CAR is heavily dependent upon multilateral foreign aid and the presence of numerous NGOs which provide services which the government fails to provide. As one UNDP official put it, the CAR is a country "sous serum," or a country metaphorically hooked up to an IV. (Mehler 2005:150). The very presence of numerous foreign personnel and organizations in the country, including peacekeepers and even refugee camps, provides an important source of revenue for many Central Africans.
The country is self-sufficient in food crops, but much of the population lives at a subsistence level. Livestock development is hindered by the presence of the tsetse fly.
All photos by Spencer Platt/Getty Images Spencer Platt, a staff photographer with Getty Images, spent two weeks in December 2007 with MSF in the Central African Republic.

Gabon is one of the most prosperous countries in the region. It is a francophone nation and the capital is Libreville (which sounds like a street in the Vieux Carré here in New Orleans - Iberville, Bienville... Libreville. See?).

Simon Reeve travels to one of Africa's most expensive cities, Libreville, to learn more about the reality of the Gabon oil industry. Free video clip from BBC worldwide.

In Gabon traditional music is still very popular, and indeed it should be. It's great. Here you can see and hear an instrument invented by the original inhabitants of Gabon, the m'congo, played by a master in the village of Tchibanga, in southern Gabon. It is frequently played in iboga initiation ceremonies.You can find more about Gabon on my home page,

Brazzaville is the capital of the Republic of the Congo, not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo. French is the official language while Kongo/Kituba and Lingala are also recognized. Wikipedia includes the following:
However, Congo's democratic progress was derailed in 1997. As presidential elections scheduled for July 1997 approached, tensions between the Lissouba and Sassou camps mounted. On June 5, President Lissouba's government forces surrounded Sassou's compound in Brazzaville and Sassou ordered members of his private militia (known as "Cobras") to resist. Thus began a four-month conflict that destroyed or damaged much of Brazzaville and caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths. In early October, Angolan troops invaded Congo on the side of Sassou and, in mid-October, the Lissouba government fell. Soon thereafter, Sassou declared himself President. The Congo Civil War continued for another year and a half until a peace deal was struck between the various factions in December 1999. The National Expansionary Growth Regional Operation was signed with representatives of Democratic and Patriotic Forces to end the conflict and work on rebuilding the heavily damaged infrastructure.
Sham elections in 2002 saw Sassou win with almost 10% of the vote cast. His two main rivals Lissouba and Bernard Kolelas were prevented from competing and the only remaining credible rival, Andre Milongo, advised his supporters to boycott the elections and then withdrew from the race. A new constitution, agreed upon by referendum in January 2002, granted the president new powers and also extended his term to seven years as well as introducing a new bicameral assembly. International observers took issue with the organization of the presidential election as well as the constitutional referendum, both of which were reminiscent in their organization of Congo's era of the single-party state.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a former Belgian colony that has gone through various name changes since independence, including Zaire. The capital is Kinshasa. Wikipedia has the following:
Following the First Congo War which led to the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997, the country was renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Second Congo War, beginning in 1998, devastated the country greatly and involved seven foreign armies and is sometimes referred to as the "African World War". Despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, fighting continues in the east of the country. In eastern Congo, the prevalence and intensity of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world. The war is the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people.
[Emphasis mine]

I just had to re-do the graphic because a new flag was adopted in 2006 and in my collection of saved flag graphics I had the older version.

Clashes in Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province continues to force people to flee. The violence in the eastern province has also hampered efforts to bring aid to the most needy, with some roads and entire villages cut off by fighting. The displaced are in need of shelter and UNHCR is now constructing new camps.

You all know that I like to add some bits to reinforce what we have explored. There are no grades or punishment or humiliation, just teasers.

Holy One, the earth and all its peoples belong to you and you hear the cry of spilled blood, the anguish of the oppressed, the brutalized, the hungry, the injured and diseased. Pry open our closed hearts and unstop our ears that we may not be blind or deaf to the plight of our sisters and brothers. Show us what we may do to stand with the people of Central Africa and work with them for a better tomorrow, and grant us strength and courage to do it. Have mercy upon us all.

--the BB


Grandmère Mimi said...

Paul, thank you for the links. And thanks for getting us back into the geography business.

Is the prayer yours? It's beautiful.

Paul said...

Thank you for carrying the torch, Mimi.

Yes, it is. Merci.

David said...

you've done a pretty outstanding job of carrying the torch yourself.

comme notre chere mimi bien-aimee, you've set and maintained a high standard for the ministry of an on-line presence.

and as to those tears of yours, they're only the proof of a 'well-loved life' as we say in French.

hugs Paul


Paul said...

Merci, David. T'es très aimable. I like the term "well-loved life." Very much.

I also realize that here I am basically just preaching to the choir, but even the choir needs encouragement.