Death on the lake

The stricken MV Nyerere in Lake Victoria, Tanzania, 20 September 2018 (AFP)

A ferry disaster exposes infrastructure woes in Tanzania

The country’s president John Magufuli came to power in 2015 with a bold list of promises and he has enacted wide-scale reforms to government spending, gone on an anti-corruption drive and brought in free secondary education for all children.

He has also spent a good deal of time and money on infrastructure which is an area of government where he has experience.

He was nicknamed ‘The Bulldozer’ during his time as the Minister of Works and Transport for his direct style and his zeal for building roads. (It is a moniker that is now also being used to describe his increasingly autocratic style of populist government.)

While in the top job he has focused on highway construction, oil pipeline projects and a new railway between the country’s huge Indian Ocean port at Dar es Salaam and the city of Morogoro, 200km inland.

However, the ferry sector has not been paid the same attention as the roads and the rails.

The disaster on Lake Victoria on 20 September is a terrible reminder of the safety problems with water transport in the country.

Rescue workers at the scene where a ferry overturned in Lake Victoria, Tanzania, 21 September 2018 (Reuters)

At the time of writing, at least 205 people had been confirmed dead after the MV Nyerere capsized. The overcrowded vessel, which was travelling between two of Tanzania’s islands on Lake Victoria, Bugorora and Ukara, was reported to have turned over when passengers raced to one side of the boat to get ready to disembark as it approached the dock.

The MV Nyerere lies upturned after capsizing on Lake Victoria, Tanzania, 20 September 2018 (Reuters)

President Magufuli has announced four days of mourning and said his government will cover the costs of the victims’ funerals.

He has also ordered the arrests of the management of Tanzania’s Electrical, Mechanical and Services Agency (TEMSA), which is responsible for ferry services. TEMSA admitted it did not know how many passengers were aboard.

However, the opposition are pointing the finger of blame for the disaster at Magufuli’s government, accusing it of “negligence”.

Two years ago the World Bank criticised the seaworthiness of the vessels plying the waters of Lake Victoria as a “poorly regulated private sector fleet”.

The problems are many: failures in the regulation of ferries – many of which are not maintained appropriately – and overcrowding while on board; then malfunctioning alarm systems, a lack of life-jackets and insufficient evacuation procedures when things do go wrong.

And even when a vessel is serviced regularly, (such as being fitted with new engines as the MV Nyerere was recently), if the ferry is subsequently burdened with dangerous overcrowding it makes the sleek new motors redundant.

Tanzania’s worst disaster was in May 1996, when an estimated 800 passengers drowned when a ferry capsized on its way from Buboka on the western coast of the lake to Mwanza in the south.

And it not just passengers on the inland ferries that have been at risk of sinking.

From 2009-2014 there were at least nine accidents on ocean-going boats operating out of Dar es Salaam port, with five of the incidents resulting in fatalities, according to the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association. The sinking of MV Skagi in 2012 and MV Spice Islander a year earlier saw more than 200 people lose their lives on vessels that were overcrowded.

Earlier in the summer, after a cabinet reshuffle, president Magufuli instructed the new minister of works, transport and communications Isack Kamwele to press on with new roads, railways and airports. It would be a gross oversight if a new focus was not also paid to the problematic (and, at times, fatally dangerous) ferry sector which is in urgent need of improvements – as demonstrated by the most recent tragedy on Lake Victoria.

CAPE VERDE: Volcano Video Report

Cape Verde’s Fogo island is one massive stratovolcano – and it’s still active

The island was in fact even bigger – what we’re standing on above is just one part that remained after a devastating partial collapse 73,000 years ago saw one side of the volcano slide in an vast avalanche of rocks down into the Atlantic. That seismic event caused a megatsunami more than 150m high that dredged boulders from the sea floor and deposited them up into the inland hills of next-door Santiago island, Cape Verde’s biggest and home to the current capital, Praia.

Pico do Fogo

Looking into Pico do Fogo’s crater

The climb from the crater, at 1800m, up a kilometre to the top of the island chain at 2829m, took us about three hours, tramping through ash and scrabbling up sharp rock. From the top, wide Atlantic views ranged out in every direction and Fogo island itself spread out below us, as you can see in the video above.

Casa Marisa is built on top of the most recent lava flows

From there we also noticed the new dwellings being built on the lava flows from 2014, as you can see in the photo. Ingeniously, this gives Casa Marisa (pictured above), a costless way of providing hot water and underfloor heating as it simply runs the pipes through the warm rocks the buildings stand on.

One house swallowed by the 2014 eruption

This is what the people of Chã das Caldeiras had to contend with four years ago, as the eruption poured out rivers of lava that careered into the houses in the crater. The building in the photo above would have stood a storey-high before the eruption but now the road runs right past its roof. Some houses were crushed entirely; solidified bubbles of black rock ooze out of the windows of others. There were no deaths in 2014 as small earthquakes before the eruption gave warning of what was to come.

But the villagers have come back, and they are a special people who feel removed from the other Fogo islanders living in the main towns or on the outer slopes of the volcano. They live up in the astounding, dusty beauty of the caldeira, under some of the darkest skies in the world, their roof of a billion stars and the perfect, looming cone of Pico do Fogo.

Older lava flows on the southern sides of the volcano. The village is hidden deep behind the crater walls in the centre of the photo and Pico do Fogo  stands out on the right

Brightening up the Baia

A small village in Cape Verde benefits from Brazilian-inspired street art

Baia de Norte looks out quietly on the Atlantic waves washing into the bay below, with the brown gravel slopes of Monte Verde running away above.  Chickens hop along the walls and dogs jog around the corners and we are welcomed by the squealing of a couple of pigs in breeze-block pens.

Bright blues and reds, sharp lines of green and blasts of yellow shout across the dirt roads and bring to life the simple walls of the village.

A group of artists from fellow Portuguese-speaking Brazil have come to Baia de Norte over the last couple of years, using their artistic skills to bring the warmth and optimism of colour and light to the humble houses.

The co-operative have shown off their thoughtful designs throughout the small settlement, which overlooks Baia das Gatas on the northern coast of the island of Sao Vicente.

It is rich art with a range of work that often incorporates the existing windows and pipes on the village houses into the paintings.

On one house, pink boats and yellow anchors call to mind the surrounding open Atlantic, which laps the shores of both countries.

Large palm trees and quirky houses adorn one wall, with ravenous animals on another.

There are fishermen and different figures, there are bold blocks and intricate facial details. There are also less obvious spray-strokes such as someone’s polka-dot washing hanging on a line. It is brilliant art splashed against the grey walls.

There is also a fish portraying the international connections with its head of Brazilian green, yellow and blue as it drifts through the sky and sea blues of Cape Verde.

The islands’ villages are often brightly coloured, with big bands of orange, teal and crimson shining in the streets. Here in Baia de Norte the artists bring that brilliance to a less fortunate corner of what is a beautiful archipelago.

Islands in the sun

An Atlantic archipelago is making waves among small, African nations

Cape Verde calls holiday-makers to its pristine beaches, adventurers to its active volcano and scientists to study its unique ecosystems and endemic wildlife.


Maio (

Off the west coast of Africa, more than 500km out into the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Verde has a deep and speckled history and is hoping for a bright future.

The islands’ geographical isolation from the mainland means that they have not been tainted by the political thrills and spills in other West African countries.

It enjoys a relatively stable democracy, with peaceful transfers of power between different parties at free elections. There has not been one coup d’état since independence in 1975.

Its unique location in the Atlantic between Africa and South America first saw the Portuguese establish a slave-trading exchange between Brazil and Lisbon’s western African colonies.

Mindelo (

Then the American whaling ships swung by on their way to the hunting grounds to pick up supplies and young men looking for a life at sea away from the volcanic rocks. After that saw the construction of coal stations built by the British for cross-ocean steamers.

The islands have a population of 520,000 but thousands more claim Cape Verdean heritage in a well-established diaspora built upon the sea-faring traditions and international connections of the islanders.

To that end, remittances from overseas nationals provide a substantial boost to the economy, though tourism is easily the biggest source of income. Thousands of visitors come each year to while away hours on the white-sand beaches of the eastern islands, get lost in the canyons in the north, or take in the active volcanic island of Fogo.

And it is on that island that wine is famously produced on the lava of the islands’ highest point, Pico de Fogo. Aside from that though, the agriculture sector has been hard to develop on the windswept rocky islands. Some fruits are grown – but about 90% of food is imported.

Praia (

Life expectancy of approximately 73.5 years is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa and the literacy rate is around 87%.

The World Bank sees the next steps for the archipelago’s economy as being to diversify ‘within and beyond’ the tourism sector, building a more flexible labour market and refining the investment climate. Additionally, there are hopes of improvements to the infrastructure links between the islands (some are just a few kilometres on a ferry apart; others are an hour’s flight away).

Morna, the melancholic genre of lilting music whose most famous exponent was Cesaria Evora, has been a major cultural export success. Indeed, music is part of the national DNA from the gyrating passion of the batuko to the anti-imperialist beat-surge of the funana.

All this reaches its climax in the run-up to Lent (this year just around the corner from 10-14 February) with the Cape Verde Carnival, when the islands will sway and stomp to a riot of kaleidoscopic dancers, floats and bands with a party to rival any that their Brazilian friends across the ocean could offer.

This blog will report from Cape Verde next month

A arte dos africanos lusófonos

Uma vista e uma perspectiva de alguns dos artistas africanos lusófonos                      

Todos estes artistas tiveram as suas obras exibidas no 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair em Londres. Foram 133 artistas diferentes na exibição, e dez dos artistas são dos dois nações maiores lusófonos do continente: Angola e Moçambique.

Edson Chagas – Angola – Fotografia (desconstruída, tempos atuais)

'Found Not Taken (London)' - 2014 - APALAZZOGALLERY

‘Found Not Taken (London)’ – 2014 – APALAZZOGALLERY

Adalberto Ferreira – Angola – Pintura e fotografia (urbanismo, costumes culturais)

'Pregnant Woman' - 2014 - Tamar Golan Gallery

‘Pregnant Woman’ – 2014 – Tamar Golan Gallery

Délio Jasse – Angola – Fotografia (imagens latentes)

'Pontus' - 2012 - Artist/Tiwani Contemporary

‘Pontus’ – 2012 – Artist/Tiwani Contemporary

Paulo Kapela – Angola – Pintura (‘o pai espiritual’)

'Untitled' - 2015 - Tamar Golan Gallery

‘Untitled’ – 2015 – Tamar Golan Gallery

Gonçalo Mabunda  Moçambique – Escultura (memória coletiva, a guerra civil)

'Untitled (Mask)' - 2013 - Jack Bell Gallery

‘Untitled (Mask)’ – 2013 – Jack Bell Gallery

Mário Macilau  Moçambique – Fotografia e pintura (grupos marginalizados)

Kamana Silva - 2014 - Ed Cross Fine Art

‘Kamana Silva’ – 2014 – Ed Cross Fine Art

Mauro Pinto – Moçambique – Fotografia (internacional, as cidades)

'ultimo testamente' - 2012 - Afronova

‘ultimo testamente’ – 2012 – Afronova

Joana Taya – Angola – Desenho gráfico e ilustração (identidade feminina)

'Endangered Beauty 02' - 2015 - Tamar Golan Gallery

‘Endangered Beauty 02’ – 2015 – Tamar Golan Gallery

Francisco Van-Dúnem  Angola – Pintura (meio ambiente, a vida cotidiana)

'Departure for the Contract' - 2015 - Tamar Golan Gallery

‘Departure for the Contract’ – 2015 – Tamar Golan Gallery

Francisco Vidal – Angola/Cabo Verde – Pintura (labor, dissidência política)

'Atlantis' - 2015 - Artist/Tiwani Contemporary

‘Atlantis’ – 2015 – Artist/Tiwani Contemporary

A woman’s work

All three female presidents in Africa have different problems to deal with

The Central African Republic (CAR), Liberia and Malawi are thousands of miles apart, separated by huge tranches of desert, jungle and mountain range. But of the 56 or so African countries, they are the three nations where a woman rules the roost right now. The Liberian president kick-started the trend – in 2005 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first elected head of state on the continent. She won a second six-year term in 2011. A year later, the first woman in the hot-seat in sub-Saharan Africa, Joyce Banda, took over in Malawi and this blog covered the transition of power in Lilongwe at the time. The most recent of the three into her job is Catherine Samba-Panza, who was sworn in as interim leader of the CAR in January.

Her job is the most pressing and the most dangerous. Since Muslim rebels ousted François Bozizé from the presidency in March last year, there has been ongoing unrest, which has been characterised by gruesome tit-for-tat killings by the Muslim Séléka rebels and the Christian ‘anti-balaka’ vigilantes. France has tried to organise a move back to stability for the poor, landlocked country by providing more than 1,500 soldiers to support the African Union force in the CAR but the situation that Ms Samba-Panza has to deal with is chaotic. Thousands of people have been killed and a million others have fled their homes. The president has been dubbed ‘Mother Courage’ and there are hopes that she can use her non-partisan, maternal touch in trying to broker some sort of deal between the rivals and bring an element of calm to the mayhem.

2,600 miles to the south-east, Joyce Banda is at the opposite end of the scale, where she has been subjected to calls for her resignation over what has been known as the ‘Cashgate’ scandal. She has been Malawi’s leader for a year but faces a tough time ahead of national elections in May, when voters may punish her People’s Party for the disreputable practices – an apparent siphoning off of taxpayers’ money into civil servants’ accounts. She has vowed to clean up the coffers and root out the looters, saying that dealing with the cash issue (and not the impending elections) is the only thing occupying her mind right now. This is an admirable claim but one that must stand up to the test: the trappings of power can be a strong lure for politicians who want to extend their time in office just that little bit longer. Banda asserts that she did not know about ‘Cashgate’ and she has not been implicated. But as international donors saying they will withhold aid until the scandal is sorted out, this is an urgent and debilitating problem for the president.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, or ‘Ma Ellen’, was the first female leader elected in Africa and the Nobel Peace Prize-winner has such a standing that the CAR’s new president Catherine Samba-Panza has mentioned the Liberian as a model upon which to base herself. Johnson Sirleaf is halfway through her second term in office and will have to stand down in 2017. The country is rich in resources and there has been healthy GDP growth over the last few years. However, this output is only now recovering to 1988 levels (pre-civil war), and there are still many other issues to look at, for example Liberia ranks only 174 (out of 187) in the UN’s Human Development Index.

Another irritance for Ms Johnson Sirleaf are the ongoing attacks carried out from inside Liberia on towns along the western border with Ivory Coast. In the latest deadly incident, on Sunday 23 February, four Ivorian soldiers (and several attackers) were killed in a raid inside Ivory Coast on the town of Grabo. The gunmen suspected of making the assaults are believed to be allies of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court over crimes committed during the 2011 post-election civil war. Johnson Sirleaf had called for a non-military solution to that crisis and backed Alassane Ouattara, who had come out top in the vote.

These three women are leading the charge for female presidents in Africa and while that is a grand point for the continent, the different problems they face demonstrate the dissimilarities in the politics throughout the continent from the religious conflict in the CAR, through to the misuse of public monies in Malawi, through to a post-war structural recovery in Liberia.

Jungle jitters

Tensions flare in Mozambique as the rebel opposition tears up the civil war peace treaty

The Monday morning news in Mozambique made for grim reading. The Renamo former rebel group declared it was terminating a peace accord that ended the country’s 1975-1992 civil war. The rebel opposition blamed the governing Frelimo party and soldiers for surrounding one of its headquarters in Sofala province, in the centre of the country, and then staging a raid on the base. By today, Friday 25th, Renamo had announced that one of its MPs, Armino Milaco, had died as a result of the assault on its military base. This is a serious culmination of a problem that has been getting worse throughout the year. Renamo staged raids in April and June in central Mozambique in which at least 11 soldiers and six civilians died.

In response, the president, Armando Guebuza, has sent military reinforcements to the area to try to contain the threat to peace and stability that Renamo and their angry leader, Afonso Dhlakama, could pose. Dhlakama wants electoral reforms to shake up a system that has seen Guebuza’s Frelimo in government since the end of the conflict in 1992. During that war he oversaw an effective guerilla campaign by his men, based out of the central jungles. The raids carried out so far this year by the hiding rebels have disrupted road and rail traffic and the government is determined to see off the deadly and unpredictable tactics of Dhlakama and his band.

Political stability is important in Mozambique because it is both a nation leading the way in some sectors and also one that is having to learn from neighbours’ examples in other areas. The oil and gas industry serves both these factors well: the country has huge fields of both commodities but is having to balance the excited foreign investors and the manner in which profits are shared between the companies working on the fields and the under-developed population. The economy grew 7.4% last year and is expected to hit 7% again in 2013. GDP per capita is still low, with 2012 data from the World Bank showing the country well down the Africa list, with a total of only $579. But although Equatorial Guinea is strides ahead in the numbers ($24,036), the tiny oil-rich nation is hardly a continental leader when it comes to equality and wealth distribution. Mozambique will have to be careful how it manages its oil and gas find. It is a fast-growing economy in a volatile part of the continent (Zimbabwe’s regression, Madagascar’s military coup).

Maputo needs also to be wary of the country’s dominance by just one party, Frelimo. Stability is no longer beneficial when it turns to stagnation. South Africa’s ANC (in power since 1994) is being criticised for alleged abuse of power, abuse of position and internal corruption. This worry over one-partyism is not to say that Frelimo should immediately resign power but just that it needs to be alert to the problems and resentment that can be caused in such situations. Both world powers (United States) and neighbours (Zimbabwe) have called for calm this week and the Mozambican people certainly do not have any appetite to return to civil war. But this remains a delicate situation of peace accords, one-party government, oil bonanzas and national development that needs a steady and carefully mediated path to be defined by the country’s bickering leaders.