Mayotte – “Paradis of France”

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On this majestic island, different people have settled leading to different religions and languages. Islam and Christianity are the major religions, and the people speak French, Swahili, Bushi and Maore. Ensure that you are conversant with at least two of these languages to have an easy time there. Which place or paradise are we referring to? We referring to Mayotte, the French overseas department and region located in the Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and Africa. Geographically, it belongs to the archipelago of Comoros, but politically, it is part of France. Mayotte became an official French colony in June 1843. In 1846, slavery was abolished there. The three other islands in the Comoros archipelago became French protectorates forty years later. And since then ties between France and Mayotte are older and closer than those between France and the other islands of the Comoros archipelago.

Mayotte, with an area of 144 square miles (374 square kilometres), is the easternmost island in Comoros off the coast. Mayotte is made up of several small islands, including Petite Terre, where the airport is located, and Grande Terre, the main island. More spectacularly the coral barrier reefs that surround it has created one of the largest lagoons in the world. When it comes to the population, Mayotte has increased vastly in less than thirty years. The population grew from 45,000 in 1975 to 131,000 in 1997, with half the people being under age 20. And based a 2007 census, the population of the island was estimated at 210,000 inhabitants in 2009. What is more unique from Mayotte’s is the use of space in urbanisation areas. The typical housing structures are built of cob (earth mixed with rice straw), coconut fronds, or raffia. A program of social housing put in place in 1975 encourages the construction of houses made of earthen bricks and cement painted in bright colours. The majority (65%) of the population lives in houses made from solid materials and 75% of houses have electricity. Due to the increasing population as well as climate changes Mayotte has been forced to impose severe water restrictions on tens of thousands of people due to the late arrival of seasonal rains. The droughts in Mayotte’s has exhilarated many water problems.

Mayotte’s economic activity is based primarily on the agricultural sector, including fishing and livestock raising. Mayotte is not self-sufficient and must import a large portion of its food requirements, mainly from France. The economy and future development of the island is heavily dependent on French financial assistance, an important supplement to GDP. Mayotte’s remote location is an obstacle to the development of tourism. In 2010, tourism accounted for around 7% of active companies in Mayotte and employed less than 2% of the workforce. Tourism remains limited, despite the island’s potential for natural and cultural tourism. This sector suffers from a low level of quality and quantity of reception facilities, combined with the lack of qualifications of the workforce. It is also limited by the fact that the destination has only recently been promoted and by the high cost of air travel. However, for Mayotte, tourism is a sector of activity with great potential to create added value and employment.

With its abundance of fauna and plant life, from tulip trees to wild orchids, a 100-kilometre hiking trail and a coral reef bordering one of the world’s largest enclosed lagoons, it ought to be a magnet for more adventurous tourists. But poor infrastructure and the insecurity of which residents complain set it years behind such other Indian Ocean destinations like Mauritius, Seychelles and – also French – Reunion. The direct link with France, with Mayotte essentially being as French as Paris or the Cote d’Azur, makes the difference and should in time make the island a good deal more attractive to visitors.

Niger – ‘The silent crisis’

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Most folks might not know where Niger is even if it is the largest country in Western Africa, and when it makes the news it rarely makes waves internationally for the wrong reasons.  To make matters worse, Niger recently the unpleasant position of 188th out of 188 countries in the Human development index (it is now 187th). The country struggles in the face of frequent droughts, insurgency, and wide-spread poverty. Therefore, it has a brutal combination of the lowest reading rates, health rates, income equality, gender equality and GDP. You name the stat it is a nation that’s at the bottom of it (or at the top of it when considering birth rates: Niger women have the highest in the world, a staggering 7 children per female). And this not taking away its history and Colonial rule under France and between various kingdoms and tribes a century before. Despite all the veracity it a place that has intrigued many blogger and travellers alike as they refer to Niger as a location right in the centre of Africa and Sahara that is shrouded in mystery, untold beauty and cultural riches as witnessed by the first Westerner, Mungo Park that travelled through the course of the Niger in 1976.

With an area of 1,267,000 km², the country is more than twice the size of (Metropolitan) France or slightly less than twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas. The Sahara Desert covers about 65% of Niger. Most people of Niger are living in the southern part of the country. The Sahara, the Air mountains, the stunning desert city of Agadez and the culture of the local desert nomads, the Tureg makes for a compelling travel destination. The nation as the” Frying Pan of the World” is considered one of the hottest nations in the world as it sits in the Sahara and Sahelian climate zones. The country is also home to the largest protected area (Air and Tenere National Nature Reserve) in Africa. It covers an amazing 7.7 million hectares boasts an amazing mix of flora and fauna, amongst Cheetahs and Gazelles. But of the biggest wonder of Niger is the river called after the country “The Niger river” or known to the locals as ‘Zaire’. At 4,180 km long it stands as the third-longest river in Africa, the only rivers longer than it is the Nile and the Congo and unlike the Nile River it is clear over the whole course which is attributed to an absence of silt.

When it comes to the economy, it is not well diversified and depends primarily on agriculture, which accounts for 40% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Despite significant strides made by Niger over the past decade to reduce the country’s poverty rate, the extreme poverty rate remained very high at 41.4% in 2019, affecting more than 9.5 million people. Niger has, in recent years, also been grappling with a significant influx of refugees fleeing conflicts in the region, particularly in Nigeria and Mali. In April 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered 221,671 refugees and 196,717 displaced persons, mainly in Diffa and Maradi. Niger has made significant progress in some areas of its infrastructure, including water and telecommunications. But the country still faces several important infrastructure challenges. Niger also faces significant challenges in the power sector, as only 8 per cent of the population is electrified. Niger currently spends about $225 million per year on infrastructure, leaving an annual funding gap of $460 million even after savings from curing inefficiencies are considered. Niger can close that gap by tapping alternative sources of financing or by adopting lower-cost technologies. There is plenty of room for private-sector participation in Niger’s infrastructure sectors, and the adoption of lower-cost technologies could reduce the funding gap by almost half.

Niger is eager to attract foreign investment and has taken steps to improve its business climate, including making reforms to liberalize the economy, encourage privatization, and increase imports and exports.

 

Niger has been unchanged for thousands of years. However, one feels that Niger is simply doing what they have been doing for generations which are to be happy. There might be fighting, might be migrations, famine, disease but this is their life and their chosen fate. The Sahara did not just turn into a desert yesterday nor will it become a temperate climate tomorrow. The people of Niger seem to be accepting their journey and are content with just getting on with life. Now that is a destination for one to strive for which you will never find on a map.

Tunisia -‘The land of stories’

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As the most northern country in the continent of Africa. It calls both Algeria and Libya neighbours, along with the gorgeous coastline of the Mediterranean Sea where the city Hammamet embodies beautiful resorts that tourists have flocked to since the 1960s. Yip you guessed it, it is Tunisia. Officially known as the Tunisian Republic, Tunisia is home to an estimated population of over ten million with its capital as Tunis. The capital is known for its Roman archaeological sites as the great mosques in Kairouan the fourth most important Muslim city behind Mecca and the Carthage being the most popular among sites. In Tunisia, most of the population are Muslims with 99.1% being Sunni Muslims and 1% of Shia Muslims, Christians, Jewish and Baha’i. When you visit bear this in mind when packing for your vacation, modest clothing is necessary to respect their religion when in the towns and cities.

And as beautiful the past sentences might sound there are some challenges too. Tunisia has had 5 presidents since its independence from France in 1956 from Habib Bourguiba to Fouad Mebazaa in 2011. And from 2011 the revolution that introduced democracy to the country after decades of autocratic rule, the economy has stagnated, living standards have declined and public services decayed. The current president Kais Saied now needs to form a government from its deeply divided parliament. More than eight in 10 Tunisians (82%) in 2019 say corruption is widespread in their country’s business community, up from 69% last year and the highest level since 2013. Unemployment continues to hit Tunisia’s higher education graduates hard and women are also twice as likely to be affected by unemployment on average as men. The multi-diverse Tunisiation that consist of Arab-Berber with a small percentage being European, mostly from Italy and France with some Jewish residents do have some strength too. One is the geographical proximity to Europe, a skilled workforce and a diversified industrial network, significant agricultural and fishing potential, and large deposits of phosphate, oil and gas. Tunisia is a tourist country in essence (coastal tourism, business tourism, mountain tourism, ecotourism, oasis tourism, thalassotherapy) is an important engine of growth and employment. And besides the coastal tourism, there are some inland marvels too. One could go visit the town of Matmata, a small town which showcases the underground houses of the famous Jedi “Luke Skywalker”. These underground houses are created by digging a big open pit. Once the pit is dug, its walls are caved in to create houses (troglodyte houses) and rooms. One large pit can form a small underground village comprising of 5 to 9 families.

Tunisians are hoping for the COVID-19 season to pass soon so that they can benefit from the tourism services. However, the government has yet to present a clear strategy to address Tunisia’s deep economic and financial challenges. Coupled with the COVID-19 crisis that has aggravated the situation, economic resilience had been drained by several years of indecisive public policies and a growing protectionist stance.

Despite having lived through cruel wars, radical confrontations, ups and downs and all manner of grief, has been able to keep its tendency to understand others and to the synthesis of ideas and civilisations; we must stress its deep feeling for peace, even if it is difficult to achieve and requires effort and even violence. Tunisia is not “only” Arabic but Carthaginian, Roman, German, Byzantine, Turkish, somewhat French and Spanish and Andalusian naturally and thereby known as the land of stories. Most Tunisians value their cultural heritage which had been shaped by a blend of civilizations over thousands of years. And by this Tunisians are eager to introduce it to visitors.

 

 

Western Sahara -‘The dessert walk to freedom’

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For the past forty years, tens of thousands of Moroccan soldiers have manned a wall of sand that curls for one and a half thousand miles through the howling Sahara. This wall is no natural phenomena, The Berm wall as it’s known for was originally built by the Kingdom of Morocco. It is the longest defensive fortification in use today and the second-longest ever, after China’s Great Wall. But the wall is famous for all the wrong reasons. The wall is surrounded by land mines, electric fences, barbed wire, and panels. Through them, on the other side, you can see a desert the size of Colorado known as Western Sahara. Formerly a Spanish colony, the territory was invaded by its northern neighbour, Morocco, in 1975. And since then the dispute between Western Sahara, Morocco and the Sahrawis, (The Polsario Front), is still going on with peace talks, never getting to “peace”, and today is known as the longest and most protracted dispute in the history of the United Nations.

Located on the Atlantic Ocean in northern Africa, Western Sahara is surrounded by Algeria to the east, Morocco to the north, and Mauritania to the south. About the size of Colorado, it is mostly low, flat desert, with some small mountains in the south and northeast, and is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. Its population is over 652,271, half of whom live in the largest city, El Asiun (World Factbook, 2020). The country or region lacks enough rainfall for sustainable agricultural production, and most of the food for the urban population must be imported. Incomes in Western Sahara are substantially below neighbouring countries. The Government of Morocco controls all trade, and heavy subsidies have created a state-dominated economy in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara, with the Moroccan government as the single biggest employer. Morocco has made significant strides in its development objectives over the last decade in Western Sahara, as it is a long-standing priority of King Mohammed VI to develop WS. Morocco has a history of successful investments in infrastructure, including the TangerMed port and ongoing rail and highway modernizations. Morocco has attracted major foreign investors.

Western Sahara’s economy centres on fishing, herding, and phosphate mining with richest deposits situated in Bou Craa, however, the land is some of the world’s most arid and inhospitable. Western Sahara is also believed to have untapped offshore oil deposits. The EU holds trade agreements with Morocco to allow European fisheries in the waters off the coast of Morocco, including in the disputed waters off the coast of Western Sahara. However, recently the European Court of Justice (EUJ), ruled that the EU fisheries deal, should not apply to the waters off the coast of the disputed Western Sahara territory, and agriculture agreements between the EU and Morocco do not cover Western Sahara. Sadly though, there is no government in Western Sahara, there is no political will that will allow for increases in social protection programmes. There is no data on the economy however, the country is closely tied to Morocco

When it comes to demographics, the Sahrawis are Western Sahara’s indigenous population. They are of mixed Arab-Berber heritage and Hassaniya-speaking. They are traditionally nomadic Bedouins. The Sahrawis are mostly Sunni Muslims. Pre-Islamic Berber and African practices influence their religious customs. Urban practices are very different. Unlike those in urban areas, Sahrawi Islam does not typically use mosques. The poet ‘Fatma Brahim’ beautiful summarised the issues Western Saharan’s face for it to be at peace, and it goes as follow: “The Sahara, my brothers and sisters, is not for sale. The green of my land makes me proud, as the beauty of its pastures, in the eyes of the good shepherd. The phosphates you desire, they will cause you harm, not even if they were for sale, will you be able to buy them.”

Is one of Africa’s Oldest Conflicts Finally Nearing Its End? Well, the people of Western Sahara certainly hope so, as it has been a long violent walk to freedom.

Eritrea – ‘Patriotism versus Hope’

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Bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti, it occupies a strategically important area in the Horn of Africa and this country is known as Eritrea. Eritrea was previously known as the city and the kingdom of Aksum which was a major naval and trading power from the 1st to the 7th centuries C.E. As a civilization it had a profound impact upon the people of Egypt, southern Arabia, Europe, and Asia, as some visitors to its shores, and in some cases, some were residents. The Aksumites developed Africa’s only indigenous written script, Ge’ez. They traded with Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean and Arabia. Despite its power and reputation, it was described by a Persian writer as one of the four greatest powers in the world at the time. But in the last 20 years the region of the Aksumites or where present-day Eritrea is located is in the news for all the wrong reasons: for its repressive, one-party state; for its forced conscription and “slave labour” and the government’s exploitation of the diaspora through coercion and tax levies and its two-decade feud with neighbouring Ethiopia, a conflict that killed about 70,000 and led to years of no-war, no-peace stalemate even after the signing of a 2000 peace deal.

Due to the struggle from the Italian colonial rule and independence after 32 years from Ethiopia’s imperialism. By UN estimates, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled the country in recent years, making the perilous journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to Europe with about up to 5,000 people leave the country every month according to the data. However, the multi-ethnic nation today is still growing and hosts a population of about 5 million. But not everyone is willing or able to seek an alternative to their homeland, and those Eritreans who remain are focused on the positives. There are some jewels in Eritrea like the capital Amara. Albeit relatively little known compared to many African capitals, Asmara is celebrated for its unique Modernist architecture, which won the city a UNESCO World Heritage status in 2017. An exciting day trip from Asmara is a ride onboard an old steam locomotive to Nefasit the track was considered a masterpiece of Italian engineering when initiated in 1912. But keep in mind that Eritrea is certainly not a cheap country to visit on an organised tour a paid tour can cost you around $285 per person per day.

Eritreans also have a weird way of using family names. Eritreans are given an individual first name at birth and will normally be addressed by that name through their lives. To differentiate among many people with the same first name, a patronymic – father’s name – is used as a second name, also followed by the grandfather’s name in the official documentation. And if you do not believe me go google the facts, oh wait you cannot, Eritrea is one of the least connected countries in the world: reportedly, only around 1% of the population are internet users. For the lack of the necessary roaming agreements, foreign SIM cards do not work in Eritrea and there is no 3G network in Eritrea, and even locals are not able to access mobile data. Funny enough though globally, there are over a dozen streets named after the country Eritrea.

Reliable data on Eritrea’s economy are scarce, due to the government’s refusal to release even the most basic statistics such as population and GDP figures. The country also lacks interaction with the international economy whether through investment, trade, or cooperative arrangements. Foreign investment could be used to bring new technology and expertise into the country regarding financial services, manufacturing, and world markets. The mining sector is a promising example of what is possible and the beautiful coastline and historical sites as niche tourism. And through this lack of interaction, the country has major deficiencies in energy supply, roads, telecommunications, and ports. Eritrea ranked forty-seven out of fifty-three countries across the continent in the 2013 Africa Infrastructure Development Index due to poor road networks, water and sanitation, energy, and ICT deficiencies.

However, there Is some hope of change in Eritrea as in 2018 the peace agreement with Ethiopia was signed to open the doors for regular flights between the two countries. This facilitates cross-border travel in the broader region and connecting Eritrea more conveniently with the rest of the world. And with its visa policies more relaxed compared to only a few years ago, Eritrea is unlikely to remain a travellers’ secret for much longer. Eritrea’s complex situation calls for, above all else, pragmatism. Eritrea can and should pursue economic growth on its own terms, but it should be more like China and Rwanda, and less like Cuba. Eritrea has great economic potential.

 

Reunion – “The French Narnia of Africa”

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Somewhere off the coast of Madagascar, 9000km from Paris, there is a little piece of France floating in the Indian Ocean. Despite being very, very far away from the homeland, Reunion Island is part of France whether you can wrap your head around it or not. The 51km wide island forms part of the African coast and is home to almost 900,000 people and is the largest of the Mascarene Islands. Known to the French as La Réunion, the island found its first settlers back in the 16th century when migrants from both France and Madagascar made their way to its shores. This African and non-African island is the birthplace of Roland Garros, the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Mediterranean Sea and whom the French Open tennis stadium is named after. Today, La Réunion is an extension of France and both the currency and language are the same between the two. The island is tropical and vaunts white, sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters around the entirety of its borders.

And after reading the introduction and you are still confused why is there a piece of France floating around the Indian Ocean, let us divulge further. Firstly, a flight from Paris to Reunion Island will set you back just a few hundred euros and a negative COVID-19 test of course. When you land you can visit the most expensive road in France, which is situated on the island in Saint-Denis. Saint-Denis is the capital of the island and happens to be the 21st largest French city, and officially the largest French city but not physically attached to the land of France. When it comes to Reunions’ culture it varies in a mix of other cultures, influenced by Africa, Europe, China, and India. The local food and drink showcase a similar influence from each culture with most of the population being Catholic followed closely by Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists.

Unlike the situation in the Comoros Islands, where Mayotte remains an overseas French region (department), but where their sovereignty has been an issue in Comoros that has led to past conflict, there is no large political movement for independence or other confrontational issues of the sort in Reunion. As Reunion’s economy and economic structure are highly dependent on France with its main industries being tourism, agriculture, and fishery. Tourism consists mainly of beach resorts and with the spending by tourists amounting to $300 million in 2015 or about 1.7% of Reunion’s nominal GDP ($18.1 billion). In terms of agriculture, in addition to vegetables for domestic consumption, Reunion also produces fruit (lychees, mangoes, pineapples), vanilla and sugar. Sugar has been a major industry in Reunion since the 17th century and is its main export item. However, the island is affected by a high unemployment rate, which is three times the EU average for young people. Low levels of qualification and early school leaving remain a challenge. The economy remains fragile due to lack of basic infrastructures, and high transport costs.

The Island that was first called by the Arabs “Dina Morghabine” and then “Bourbon Island” holds the most significant landscapes of natural habitats and of the most active volcanoes on the planet and the greatest treasure of Reunion Island. Le Piton de la Fournaise volcano is the most visited place on the island and the most thrilling attraction. This volcano can be visited by helicopter or microlight planes, but the best way to discover the volcano is the hard way, on foot. These natural wonders of Reunion Island were recognised in 2010 by UNESCO that listed the Reunion National Park in the list of natural resources classed as World Heritage, because of their outstanding universal value. The Island of Reunion is more than a little French but rather an exotic corner of France. In the middle of the Indian Ocean.

 

Mauritania – ‘“land of a thousand poets’

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If you ever looked for a country that fits the picture of the Arabian fictional movie, Aladin, one would not rule out Mauritania. The Northwest African country has a rich repertoire of oral literature including epics, riddles, folk tales and legends, Islamic poetry and prose with storytelling fitting the Mauritanian tradition for centuries. And what further infatuates this fantasy thinking is, about a third of the topography is desert with flat parts, covered with arid plains and occasional oasis. Though, Mauritania is in fact located in Africa at the intersection of North Africa (the Maghrib) and West Africa. In size, the country is roughly one and a half times of Texas. Its area is 398,069 square miles (1,031,000 square kilometres), and its divided into 4 geographical sections, the Saharan, the Sahelian, the Senegal River Valley, and the coastal zones. The country has various indigenous groups that is blended seamlessly with the French and Moorish cultures helping to shape the art of storytelling in the country, a reminder of the country’s colonial past. As romantic this may sound, the country sadly though, is one of the last countries in the world where people are still born into slavery, and literally owned by other people, facing a lifetime of abuse, and forced labour.

“In Mauritania, there are flagrant breaches of the conventions that the country has ratified: slavery in all its forms, whether traditional or modern; racism and discrimination, especially against people of African descent; torture; enforced disappearances; secret imprisonment; and restrictions to freedom of opinion, expression, association and conscience”, these were the words of anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeidin 2014out of a cell in Aleg prison. And even though Mauritania’s population is around 4.6 million (Worldmeter, 2020), and is known as the fourth least densely populated country in world it still has some lagging issues in other social inequalities. Since independence, successive Governments have struggled to improve poverty in the capital city Nouakchott, probably because of migration to urban areas and because the capital tends to attract the poorest of the poor. The employment rate has not improved, and groups that have not benefited from social progress, such as youth, women, and low-income workers, that are increasingly marginalized. Only 55% of children aged 6 to 11 are enrolled in primary school, one-third of households live in precarious housing, and 38% of the population has access to electric lighting. Based on all these social indicators Mauritania is classified by the United Nations as a Least Developed Country (LDC).

On the Neil economic scale, a can of coke cost IS MRU 45,00 Mauritania Ouguiya (R 2, 11) and the price of litre petrol is MRU 43,00 Mauritania Ouguiya (R 2, 03). Mauritania inflation rate for 2019 was 2.30%, a 0.75% decline from 2018. The inflation rate in Mauritania was recorded at 2.90% in June of 2020.

Despite all these challenging issues faced by Mauritanians, there are some opportunities too, namely in the Oil and Gas sector. In 2018, BP invested in the Mauritania-Senegal FLNG plan. The Greater Tortue Ahmeyim LNG project will produce around 2.5 million tonnes per year, with first gas expected in 2022. There are expansion plans for a hub on Yakaar-Teranga and one on Birallah in Senegal that will benefit Mauritania as the partner in the plan. The Mauritania-Senegal region has now evolved from a frontier to an emerging hydrocarbon opportunity attracting the attention of the global industry. Mining also continues to offer great potential. Among the many unexplored natural resources are gold, diamonds, copper, gypsum, and hydrocarbons. But one of the most remarkable assets is the countries geographical location which is at the crossroads of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Mauritania is also the nearest tropical destination to Europe, an asset that some foreign investors have already used to their advantage, in the fruit and vegetable sector. There are also plans to build a bridge over the Senegal River, linking Rosso to Saint-Louis, Senegal. Having these communication links in place will make trade between Mauritania and its neighbours easier, and will help to integrate Mauritania more fully into the Maghreb and West Africa. Many Mauritanians have faith in the supernatural powers of holy men called marabouts, or murabitun. It is believed that their baraka, or divine grace, allows them to perform miracles. The people of Mauritania now hope the new government can deliver to their needs, and combat the decades of issues facing them by bringing opportunity to the country, and hope as Aladin did for Agrabah.

Cape Verde – “The way forward”

As a very small island economy in the Atlantic Ocean situated in the Sahelian belt off the coast of Senegal in Western Africa, Cape Verde has managed to defy the odds and transform itself from an extremely poor country into one of the better performing economies in Africa in just over three decades. The history of Cape Verde is very much one of the connections to other places. Human and natural resources circulated between the African coast and the islands and from there to Europe, the Americas, Brazil, and the Caribbean Islands. There are only nine significant islands in this West African and Atlantic archipelago, and their joint population is around half a million. In the 21st century or present-day Cape Verde is known as a popular tourist destination for its glorious powder-white beaches and turquoise shores.

The success of the transformation of Cape Verde is rather owed to the last 35 years and the three phases which it was divided into, the period from independence in 1975 to 1990 when the nation’s foundations were laid, a second from 1991 to 2000, and the current decade. Through these three phases, the policies of successive governments have supported the common characteristics of prudent public resource management and sound public institutions, combined with strategies that were adapted to the changing global economy. All these positive changes were noticed then by former African Development Bank Group (AfDB) Donald Kaberuka which said that “the country is poised to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals”. However, nothing in the world can be quintessential or pristine so there are some challenges too. Poverty, unemployment, lack of diversification affects a large part of the population and infrastructure is still poorly developed. The country also struggles with drug traffickers, and income inequality and social exclusion remains critical. To add further distresses Cape Verde finds itself in the Sahel climate system which is subjected to periodic droughts and very low annual precipitation. With global climate change, drier and hotter weather patterns are forecasted, and this can be detrimental for the environmental degradation that is caused by soil erosion, low fertility, and deforestation. The unique characteristics, especially its geography and miniature size, makes it difficult for agriculture labour because of the lack of rain but also due to the nature of the geography of the islands with it causing famine in 1975. It led to the migration of people out of the country and now there are many more people of Cape Verdean descent living outside than inside the country due to the sporadic famine.

On the Neil economic scale, a can of coke cost 140$00 Cape Verdean Escudo (R 25, 45) and the price of litre petrol is 101$60 Cape Verdean Escudo (R 18, 42). The inflation rate for consumer prices in Cape Verde moved over the past 35 years between -2.5% and 11.2%. For 2019, an inflation rate of 1.1% was calculated. According to the updated IMF forecasts from 14th April 2020, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19, GDP growth is expected to fall to -4% in 2020 and pick up to 5.5% in 2021, subject to the post-pandemic global economic recovery.

Despite the problems, the country has had many remarkable achievements in its economic and social development. In 2004 Cape Verde’s was elevated from the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to Middle-Income Country (MICs) and became the first country in the world whose upgrade is an outcome of efficient and well developed economic and social policies and strategic partnerships with a variety of countries and institutions. The country is fast becoming a development showcase and a source of hope for the continent and boasts West Africa’s highest standard of living. This makes it a very safe, welcoming, and friendly country to visit, just one of the reasons the archipelago is so popular with holidaymakers.

Burundi – Hope in the abyss

Unlike the borders of most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the boundaries of Burundi were not drawn by European powers. Rather, they reflect a state that was developed by the Burundian monarchy. The country was originally populated by the Twa, a Pygmy hunter-gatherer population. But from the beginning of the Common Era, the vast majority of Burundi’s Hutu population appeared and sometime later in the 16th century the Tutsi entered the country and developed a monarchy which was founded, by Ntare Rushatsi. And ever since there has been political unrest between the Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority ethnic groups. Few real cultural differences are distinguishable between the two peoples, and both speak Rundi (Kirundi). Such linguistic homogeneity is rare in sub-Saharan Africa and emphasizes the historically close cultural and ethnic ties among the peoples in Burundi.

Geographically, Burundi is a country found in the Great Lakes region of Central and East Africa. It is a landlocked country that is small but densely populated. It is slightly smaller than the state of Hawaii, but with eight times the population with around 9.8 million people living in the country. To date, it is the 20th most densely populated country in the world, but sadly this has serious effects on the environment. With the country’s lands largely consisting of agricultural and pasture, overpopulation has led to deforestation, soil erosion and habitat loss with the three parks Kibira, Rusuzu, and Ruvubu National Parks filling the most detrimental effects from the growing population. Fundamentally Burundi is a developing country with poverty, weak infrastructure, corruption, poor access to education and healthcare, malnutrition, political instability, and unemployment that are the major problems facing Burundians. Most Burundians have no access to a mobile network while internet cafes are limited to towns and cities, in a country where 80% of the population lives in a rural setting. However, in January 2019, the Parliament of Burundi voted to move the capital city from Bujumbura to Gitega to promote urbanization and infrastructural development. So, in the current day if a Burundian sends you a WhatsApp it is due to internet access ability of 4.5% relative to 1.2% a decade ago. There is no wonder in the fact that in 2018, the World Happiness Report ranked the citizens of the country as the least happy in the world.

Burundi has one of the lowest per capita GDP of any nation in the world. Burundi has a low gross domestic product largely due to civil wars, corruption, poor access to education, and the effects of HIV/AIDS. Cobalt and copper are among Burundi’s natural resources. Some of Burundi’s main exports include coffee and sugar. Burundians love their cows, not only for the meat and milk but because cows are traditionally a show of wealth. Regardless of your economic status, if you have a cow, then you are a rich person in Burundi. The more cows you have, the better your social status.

On the Neil Economic scale, a can of coke costs 1,520 Burundian Franc (R 13,24) and the price of litre petrol is 2,300 Burundian Franc (R 20,03). The inflation rate for consumer prices in Burundi moved over the past 40 years between -2.8% and 36.5%. For 2019, an inflation rate of -0.7% was calculated. The inflation rate in Burundi was recorded at 7.70% in July of 2020.

Despite being one of the poorest countries in the World, Burundi can boast with some champions on the world stage. Gustave The Gigantic Man-eating Crocodile Is from Burundi. Gustave reigns terror along the banks of the Ruzizi River and the northern shores of Lake Tanganyika where he is believed to have killed more than 300 people. He is believed to be the biggest crocodile in the world at over 18 feet and 2,000 pounds. Another being, 5000m runner Venuste Niyongabo who won a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Ironically though, it has never won a regional title at the African Games.

“Ubumwe, Ibikorwa, Iterambere” means “Unity, Work, Progress” in Kirundi however, unity and progress have been elusive since independence in 1692. Burundi’s people are seeking hope in the abyss that will bring political change to the system that will protect their livelihood.

Benin – The diminutive opportunist

If you look geographically at Benin, it seems to be a country that has been squeezed in on the African continent on the last minute. Even more strange the country is known as the cradle of ‘voodoo’. The locals call it ‘Vodun’ which means ‘spirits’. And before you start imaging voodoo dolls and all the black magic stuff, I would like to stop you here. Coming back to the reality, Benin or officially the Republic of Benin and formerly Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, by y the Bight of Benin to the south, by Nigeria to the east and by Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. In terms of area, Benin is slightly smaller than Pennsylvania and two-third the size of Portugal. The capital Porto Novo was developed as a port for the slave trade with the area nearby referred to as ‘Slave Coast’ from as early as the 17th century. During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a large number of slaves were shipped to the New World. The last ship of slaves departed from Dahomey for Brazil in 1885. However, there is a lot to learn from this small country that still retains much of its authentic culture and tradition.

Benin is also one of the most politically stable countries in West Africa. However, compared to most other West African nations, Benin has enjoyed relative peace and stability with even its colours on the National flag representing courage, wealth and hope. The most characteristic sights of Benin are the petrol stations. The price of the original petrol is above the financial reach for the majority of people in this country. So, the people found new ways to sell petrol and one crazy but sufficient way was selling petrol in containers with even public transport like buses and taxis. If that was not unique enough for you to read, they refer to white people visiting the country as  “yovo”. Do not be surprised to find people and kids shouting this word behind you if you happen to visit the country. Most of the population is agrarian and lacks the basic requirements of modernity such as quality education, affordable quality healthcare with AIDS straining the health care system and modern economic means of livelihood. However, if you would like to see all these unusual events, you can visit the country by arriving at its only international airport which is located in Cotonou.

When it comes to the economy of Benin, it has grown consecutively for several years, but slowed down in 2017, as its closed trade links to Nigeria expose Benin to risks from volatile commodity prices. Benin’s economy is heavily reliant on the informal re-export and transit trade with Nigeria (estimated at approximately 20% of GDP), and on agriculture. Despite a recent downward trend, the poverty rate remains high, at 46.4% in 2018, with a poverty line of $1.90 a day in purchasing power parity. Like the eight countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Benin’s monetary policy is managed by the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), which keeps the CFA franc pegged to the euro. In recent years, the government has tried to attract foreign investment by continuing its efforts to improve the business environment, ongoing civil unrest, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and infrastructure gaps have deterred most investors (Economic Freedom Index, 2020).

On the Neil economic scale, a can of coke cost 487.50 CFA franc (R 14, 64) and the price of a litre of petrol is 505.50 CFA franc (R 15, 18). Though Nigeria inflation rate fluctuated substantially in recent years it tended to increase through 1999 – 2018 period ending at 12.1 % in 2018 with a 4.43% decline from 2017.

There are however a lot of positives to take out of a country like Benin. First, the country can build its future by taking greater advantage of its geographic proximity to Nigeria and its access to the ocean through the port of Cotonou. Secondly, it can create productive cities by starting to process its abundant agriculture resources. It can help enhance its infrastructure and human capital by addressing the issues of coastal erosion and tropical diseases. And lastly, the country can draw strength from the Marvel comic and 2018 film ‘The Black Panther’ that inspired the ‘Dora Milaje’ female warriors in the movie. The combination of these priorities allows us to visualize how Benin could transform itself in the future. If the government can improve the business environment and increase port efficiency, there is no reason that domestic, as well as Chinese or Indian investors, would not be attracted to Benin.