Saturday, January 30, 2010

Abuja: Nigeria Redux

After a few more days in Nigeria and upon further reflection, I've concluded that my comments on Lagos were unduly harsh.  They were frankly based more on a stop I had in Lagos 30 years ago than on my limited experiences this past week. While I haven't have much time for sightseeing, after firing off my premature missive I started noticing major improvements in the city's infrastructure and especially in the roads and the flow of traffic.  Colleagues living in Lagos also indicated that the municipal government has made great strides in improving the city's quality of life.  So you can forget about half of what I said in my first message, Lagos is still not a city I like much, but one can survive it if one has to.
In comparison to Lagos I have found Abuja quite pleasant.  The Nigerian government started building its new capital in the 1970s and officially moved it from Lagos to Abuja in1998.  The initial plans were for a city of about 1.5 Million.  The population is now about 5 Million and it is still growing but they seem to be keeping up with the infrastructure needs fairly well.

 Nigeria is Africa's largest and most populous country and in my opinion, Africa's future depends very much on Nigeria, primarily because it is the leading country  in terms of entrepreneurial spirit.  Of course this may also account for some of the notorious Nigerian scams and is also probably responsible for the view shared by many that Nigerians are aggressive and even obnoxious. (Personally I think this may stem from the fact that they have shed their colonial past better than most Africans and don't kowtow. They are more likely to look one in the eye and say what they think).  But business is booming in Nigeria and its leaders and entrepreneurs seem to want to show Africa the way out from under its many miseries. The US Government also seems committed to helping them in this effort now that they have apparently put several decades of dictatorships and military governments behind them.  Here is the Wikipedia link on Nigeria if you want to read more.

A final comment:  I understand that those of you at home in Salt Lake are suffering from another one of our winter inversions. In West Africa we are currently experiencing something comparable which is the annual Harmittan season during which strong winds blow massive dust clouds from the Sahara towards the Gulf of Guinea and into the Atlantic, often blocking out the sun for long periods. Gertrud and I experienced Harmattan when we lived in Cameroon and similar winds often swept dust up into Egypt when we lived there.  Harmattan can last several months and adversely affects people moods even more than our inversions affect us.  Or perhaps a better comparison is what we experienced last summer when winds blew smoke from the California wildfires into the Salt Lake area. Here is the Wikipedia link on Harmattan.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lagos, No Garden Spot This Time!

Greetings from hot, humid, dirty, crowded, crime ridden Lagos, Africa's second largest city and the scam capital of the world.  It's also probably my least favorite city.  The official population of Lagos is about 8 Million but experts estimate that Greater Lagos may have as many as 20 Million.  Africa's largest city, Cairo, is also hot, dirty and crowded but has lots of charm and fascinating history and we loved the three years we spent there.  If any of you are thinking about a vacation in Africa, please don't include Lagos as it has none of what Egypt, Kenya, South Africa or many other places in Africa offer. 

I arrived here on Sunday afternoon and will leave for Abuja, Nigeria's new capital, on Wednesday.  Everyone says that Abuja is much more pleasant than Lagos.  If so it may be the world's only new capital city that is more popular than the old one (think Brasilia vs. Rio or Canberra vs. Sydney).

I usually stay in comfortable hotels when I travel but here I'm in a basic room at the consulate guest house because it is safer and more convenient.  It is in a small compound on Victoria Island that includes the post's pool, gym, club, tennis courts and a restaurant.  It's quite ok for only three days with its saving grace(s) being that it has good air conditioning and is very convenient. To get to work I have a 10-minute commute to the Consulate General in a US Government-owned boat.

For more information on Lagos check out the following links: - The Lads from Lagos

I'll be happy to get out of Lagos.  I'm actually looking forward to the rest of my West Africa trip which should be very exotic and interesting.