Monday, February 28, 2011

A Weekend in the South African Bush

I just spend a wonderful weekend among the animals at South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve (, about a half-hour drive from Gaborone, Botswana where I'm working this week.  I had hoped to go to one of Botswana's outstanding national parks but they are too far from Gaborone when one only has a weekend.  This was my first safari in over 20 years and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

There is something about Africa that gets into the blood and makes one feel passionate about the continent. Perhaps it is our primeval senses calling us back to Olduvai Gorge ( where anthropologists believe our earliest ancestors lived. Life is basic among the animals with almost all activity driven by the search for food and water, reproduction of the species and survival of the fittest.  However, I never get tired of watching the large alpha males as they try to dominate the females and their competitors within the herd. And the mothering instinct of the females is equally interesting as they search for food and try to protect their young from predators.

And when the large male elephants are in musk (or musth)  (, or when the females have young, watch out and keep your distance.   Our vehicle was stalked by a large bull elephant, past his prime, who was in full musk and which the females were trying to avoid. (Sort of reminds me of a couple of old guys I know!) 

I stayed a great small lodge called Bush House ( which provided excellent service. And I was extremely fortunate to be the only guest for the weekend which meant that Jacques, a very knowledgeable spotter and driver, became my private guide.  He took me on two early morning and two evening game drives, each lasting about 3 hours. With Jacques' intimate knowledge of both the flora and fauna, he was able to get me close to all of Madikwe's major species except for leopard and cheetah, which are loners and always hard to find. Among the species we saw were elephant, lion, white rhino, zebra, giraffe, warthog, cape buffalo, wild dog, gazelle, kudu, wildebeest, hartebeest, gemsbok, impala, ostrich, kori bustard, lots of other birds, etc., etc. 
The Bush House watering hole was very popular with elephant during my stay. A herd of about 20 hung around it for several hours on Saturday afternoon and it was most amusing to watch the males maneuver for position and the baby elephants splashing in the water and periodically walking between their mother's legs for milk and security.  

I am not a good photographer but I'll share a few of my pictures anyway:

At the Bush House watering hole
Rhino at Madikwe

Fenale lion searching for "slow" food.

Our family has been very fortunate when it comes to seeing wildlife.  Our first safari was in Cameroon's Waza Game Park in 1983.  From 1984-87 we lived in Kenya where we visited several of the countries incredible animal reserves ( Following Kenya we were transferred to Australia where we were able to see all the marsupials ( as well as the fairy penguin parade on Phillip Island near Melbourne, a very special treat ( . And  at home in Utah's Wasatch Mountains, we have moose, bear, mountain lion, wolf and big horn sheep to name a few.  Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake is also home to a herd of American buffalo (bison).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Namibia and the Germans in Africa

Greetings from Namibia which the Germans once called Deutschsüdwestafrika. The Germans were latecomers to colonialism but they did establish four colonies* in Africa with the other three being Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Togoland (now Togo) and Kamerun (Cameroon).  The German colonial legacy is far more apparent in Namibia than in the other three countries, especially in Swapokmund, or Mouth of the Swapok River (  I spent a weekend in Swapokmund and must say that it is one of the most pleasant colonial cities anywhere in Africa. It has interesting German architecture from the early 20th Century, clean wide boulevards, a beautiful palm-lined beach front, and many descendants of German settlers to perpetuate the legacy.  And German tourists flock to Namibia in droves to get away from the frigid Northern European winters and still enjoy all of the trappings of German culture. These include a German daily newspaper ( a German radio station, German-style bed & breakfasts with ocean views, kaffee und kuchen in the afternoon, and a large selection of restaurants serving the full range of German cusine including Eisbein, Nürnberger Bratwürste and Schnitzel.  I had Kabeljaufilet with Meerrettichsosse and frisher Spargel at Restaurant Zur Küpferpfanne on the only evening I was in Swopokmund.  

Another major tourist attraction just outside of Swapokmund are the magnificent sand dunes in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. I found it especially fascinating to watch heavy volumes of sand drift across the coastal highway and drop right onto the beach.

The following links contain a collection of pictures of Swapokmund,  a 360 degree virtual tour of the city, and a Wikipedia introduction to the national park:

Namibian's German heritage is also still evident in the capital city of Windhoek.  With the exception of the city's main thoroughfares which now carry the names of Namibian heroes and leaders of African independence movements, many of the streets throughout the city are still "strassen" and named after well known German places and personalities. 
( )  One street is also named after Namibia's greatest sports hero, Frankie Fredericks, who has ties to my home state of Utah.  He attended BYU on a track scholarship and won a total of four silver medals in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games. He still holds the world record for the fastest time at 200 meters indoors. (

With regards to Germany's other African colonies: our first Foreign Service posting was Yaounde, Cameroon from 1982-84.  The colonial headquarters was in Buea, at the base of Mt. Cameroon, probably so that the Germans could escape the heat of the coast, the jungle and the deserts of the interior. On our only visit to Buea, we were greeted by a large sign stating "Man Spricht Deutsch." When we knocked on the door of a nearby home, an elderly African man answered speaking perfect German. He had grown up during the period of German colonization and the sign was a ploy to get business guiding German tours of the area.  Highlights of his tour were a monument to Bismark, the palatial residence of the former German governor,  a German restaurant, a few other German  buildings and a German cemetery.  He also told us that for many years after the Germans left, a band of African musicians played German Volksmusic in the bars and restaurants of Douala wearing lederhosen.
During three visits to Tanzania I didn't see any reminders of German colonial days. During my only visit to Togo in the 1970s, the only evidence I saw of a prior German presence was the restaurant "Alt München" where I had lunch.

I'm getting ready to depart Namibia and am anxious to get this post published.  I've focused almost exclusively on the German colonization and really need to say more about the native populations such as the San people, often referred to as the Kalahari Bushmen.  They and the clicking sounds they make when speaking  were made famous through the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy."   Following are links on the San and on the "Gods Must Be Crazy."

Kalahari Bushmen talking
 The Gods Must be crazy trailer

I leave for Botswana tomorrow and since the Kalahari runs through both Namibia and Botswana, I will try to include a little more on the San people in my Botswana post.

*Addendum, 08 Mar 2011
I'm currently in Kigali  and was surprised to learn that the German Colonial Administration in Tanganyika also extended to Rwanda and Burundi.  See today's post on the Hutus and Tutsis for more information on this. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lesotho: Africa's Mountain Kingdom

I'm working for a couple of days in Maseru, the capital of the small mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.  No matter which direction one drives from Maseru one will be in South Africa within a short period of time. It is approximately the same size as Maryland and has about 2 million inhabitants. It's a pretty little kingdom with mountains and valley all around.  It is quite warm this time of the year, but gets cold in the winter and even snows.  It is the only country in the world which is entirely above 1400 meters and may be the only country in all of Africa with a ski resort.

The first King was Moshoeshoe I and the current King is Letsie III.
Being King  is largely a ceremonial job with political power invested in the elected government. But the Lesothoians seem to enjoy the status of being called a kingdom. My principal local contact in the embassy is a Moshoeshoe and a member of the royal family.  He told me that he and the family don't carry royal titles like the British but that he is simply called chief as a courtesy. 

Although the country is verdant green and seems very peaceful, 40 percent of the population fall under the UNESCO poverty line with per capita income less than $1.50 per day. Property crime is common and there are other problems, not the least of which is the "Chinese invasion."  It's not a military action, but an economic and cultural one that is affecting many other African countries as well. Apparently with the blessing of the Lesotho Government (under the table payments are alleged), the Chinese have been buying up small businesses and then emigrating to Lesotho to run them. Apparently they can even get Lesotho citizenship after a short time. (And I would be surprised if the Chinese Government didn't encourage many of its citizens to move to Africa, not only to support its foreign policy goals but to relieve population pressures in the homeland).
Here are a few related links:

To expand on this issue as an Africa-wide phenomenon: the US and European press has published many recent articles about growing Chinese influence in, and emigration to Africa and China's success in gaining access to markets and key minerals ( During our years in Africa, we observed growing Chinese and Asian influence in culture and the arts. While they provide some development aid, they may get more "bang for their buck" with the local population by funding and constructing prominent cultural and public buildings and through touring cultural groups from home.  In Lesotho a new Chinese-funded parliament house ( is nearing completion. When we lived in Yaounde, Cameroon we attended a free public performance by impressive Chinese acrobats which was was positively reported on by the press and very popular with the locals at all levels. In competing with the Chinese, the Japanese built a beautiful Opera House in Cairo which we visited many time during our 3 years there ( and which Cairenes are now very proud of.  In those days the US worked hard to compete on the cultural front with the US Information Service sending many American artists and musicians abroad. However USIS was subsequently merged into the State Department as a cost-cutting measure and funding for touring groups seems to have dried up. Perhaps the feeling today is that American culture is so prevalent in the media that there is no need for a people-to-people approach to culture.

I will be leaving Lesotho this afternoon to spend the three-day American holiday weekend in Namibia, prior to working in the capital of Windhoek next week.

Addendum - 18 Feb 10:30 p.m.
There is something about small country government officials wearing uniforms that makes them feel really important.  As I departed the Lesotho Airport this afternoon, the middle-aged woman who carried out the security searches really felt very important: she carefully handled every item in my carry-on and when she came to my prescription medications, she asked to see the doctor's letter giving me permission to have them.  I was completely flabbergasted and told her that in all my years of traveling no one had ever asked for such a letter.  She said it was required by Lesotho law.  When I showed her that my prescriptions were affixed to the outside of the containers with my name on them, she thought long and hard and then decided to let me through, but only because I had an official US Government passport. The customs official on arrival was just as "thorough."  Although he was the only one on duty with a line of at least 80 arriving passengers, he took his good time to carefully inspect every passport detail, including stamps from other countries.  I'm glad I was near the front because the guy at the end stood in line for at least an hour. 

And you might find this editorial from today's Lesotho Times interesting entitled "What Happened to Patriotism?"  It highlights a current debate in Lesotho as to whether the citizens are better off in an independent small country with a very limited economic base or whether their lives would be better if they were absorbed by South Africa.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mozambique and its Indian Ocean Neighbors

I love the name Mo-zam-bique: it holds out promise of mystery and intrigue and I've always imagined it to be extremely exotic.  It's not quite as exotic as I had expected but it has no doubt seen its share of intrigue over the years as a Portuguese colony, a neighbor of previously apartheid South Africa, a member of the socialist camp,  and through it's pivotal location on the Indian Ocean near the tip of Africa.  For explorers, traders and fleet captains, it was probably the first place they dropped anchor after rounding the Cape of Good Hope. It is also one of the closest African countries to such islands as Madagascar, Mauritius, the Comoros and the Seychelles. I visited all of these island nations on business in the mid-1980s when posted to Nairobi but this is my first time in Mozambique. 

In the 1980s Mozambique was deeply entrenched in communism and had close ties to the USSR, Cuba and other countries on the far left. The US had a presence here but little influence. However people I know who were posted in Maputo at that time, liked it anyway because of the balmy weather, good beaches, great boating, the nearness of  the South African border for shopping, and some of the world's best seafood.  The country is especially famous for its large prawns: last evening I enjoyed some of the best prawns and lobster I have ever eaten. Mozambique doesn't have the mineral resources of South Africa or Angola, but it now has a stable government in a market economy and is becoming a hot tourist destination, especially for South Africans and Portuguese.  I'm currently enjoying a very short Sunday vacation around my hotel -- the very comfortable Polana Serena  -- which fortunately has a good rate for US embassy visitors.  Most of the hotels I stay in are ok, but not nearly as nice as this one. I really do wish Gertrud were with me on this trip! (

The country's capital is Maputo, a pleasant city of 1 Million, which was called Lourenço Marques in colonial days.  I knew that name when I first became interested in Africa but had no idea where it came from until today when I googled it. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that Marques was a Portuguese Explorer who explored the Maputo Channel in 1544. 

Here are a few links on Mozambique's history, geography, etc.  The last one contains many images from around the country.

And now a few comments on Mozambique's Indian Ocean neighbors:  

The Seychelles include some of the world's most beautiful islands.   I combined business with pleasure and took the family with me to Mahe and Praslin in 1986 and I have also been on La Digue.  In those days. the US still had an embassy in the Seychellois capital of Victoria and our family and another embassy family from Nairobi were invited to stay in the home of a colleague who was in the US on leave.  We had a marvelous time on Mahe but especially on Praslin where we could walk hundreds of meters out into the crystal clear ocean and where the beautiful Valle de Mai National Park is famous for it unique tropical vegetation and especially its coconuts. There are interesting legends about these coco de mer which you can read about below:

In those days, the principal US Government interest in the Seychelles was a NASA tracking station. With improvements in technology, the tracking station was later shut down and the embassy closed not long thereafter.  At that time there were only 4 Western embassies and the Soviet embassy in the Seychelles.  The Western ambassadors met regularly at the yacht club for lunch to compare stories, probably about the Russians.  During one of my visits, the Ambassador told me that the James Bond movie "Dr. No" had been released on the island, but that it closed a day later.  Apparently the Russian villain in the movie bore a strong resemblance to the Russian Ambassador and he forced the Government to shut it down.

I also took the family on a business trip to Mauritius and Madagascar.  Mauritius is an ethnically diverse island with large Hindu, African and European communities.  The timing for this trip was unfortunate as the island was hit by a severe tropical storm resulting in massive flooding.  We were advised to leave the embassy apartment we were staying in a day before our departure because it was on the opposite side of the island from the airport.  Our driver negotiated heavily flooded roads and we were able to find a hotel near the airport and to depart on schedule.  
Madagascar is definitely worth a trip for those who love exotic flora and fauna.  I've been to Antananarivo, the capital several times but have never made it to the coast or to the jungle where the lemurs and other fabulous animals are.  It's something that is still on my bucket list.

 For those of you who are familiar with Utah and the Mormons: the name Comoros may remind you of the Hill Comorah which is where Joseph Smith is said to have received the Book of Mormon plates from the Angel Moroni.  Well guess what the capital of the Comoros is?  Check out the following link to find out. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Luanda - The World's Most Expensive City

I'm currently in Luanda, Angola, the first Portuguese-speaking country I've visited in Africa.   This hot and humid capital, with a population of 5 Million isn't one of the world's garden spots, but is nevertheless interesting.  After many years of civil war and poverty Angola is booming economically with oil and diamond exports being major factors. Wealth is very evident in the port which is filled with oil tankers and supply ships.  Luanda is also in the midst of a construction boom with many future hotels, condo complexes and office buildings reaching upwards from the dusty, crowded streets.  Near the embassy is a British car dealership that sells all of the top English brands.  An embassy colleague told me that they had recently brought in a shipload of new cars and sold them all within a few days. Unfortunately the wealth isn't trickling down and Angola continues to rank among world's poorest countries.

Currently there are very few decent hotels in Luanda and I'm probably staying in the best one, the Tropico, which costs about $400 a night. I'd consider it a 3-star in the US, Europe or Asia. It is probably the hotel mentioned this week in Baobab, a blog published in the online version of the Economist Magazine which confirms Luanda's reputation as the world's most expensive city. See the following links for Baobab's explanation as to why it is so expensive.

 I will only briefly mention Angola's violent 20th Century history: the country became independent in 1975 following a coup d'etat in Portugal.  At independence a coalition of three separatist movements tried to run the county. Having irreconcilable differences, the coalition quickly broke apart, resulting in a very bloody civil war that continued into the 1990s.  For more details on the roles of the Cubans, the Americans and such well know personalities as Jonas Savimbi in the civil war, see the following links:

On Friday I will be flying to Maputo in Mozambique, my second Portuguese-speaking African country, and I will write a report from there.  There are two other former Portuguese colonies in Africa which are the Cape Verde Islands, off of Senegal in West Africa and Sao Tome and Principe, near Gabon in Equatorial Africa.  The US has an embassy in Cape Verde so I may audit there someday.  I'm very sure I'll never get to Sao Tome and Principe, one of the word's most isolated countries. Here are links for these two countries:

In ending this post, I recommend clicking on the following Youtube link to hear a haunting melody from Cape Verde's famous singer, Cesaria Evora. She is one of my favorites and I have several of her CDs. I believe her music captures the soul of Portuguese Africa.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Latest Frequent Flyer Saga

On Saturday evening February 5, I arrived at Oliver R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg (JNB) after flying about 20 hours from Washington via Atlanta.  I was originally scheduled to leave DC on a Saturday morning Delta flight to connect to a direct flight from Atlanta to Luanda, Angola. On Thursday evening I discovered while checking the Delta website that Delta had recently dropped the Atlanta-Luanda route, and without notifying me, had re-booked me onto a Monday flight which would have gotten me to Luanda on Tuesday.   I needed to be there on Sunday to start work on Monday. I was obviously angry and send a nastygram to Delta chastising them for not advising me of this change even though I had a valid eticket and have been a platinum Skymiles member for the past 7 years. Delta's computer-generated response was that they were sorry about this oversight and would credit my account for 10,000 extra skymiles for my troubles - whoopee!

Early Friday morning I went to State Department's travel office to change my flight so as arrive in Luanda in time to start work on Monday.   The agent was able to rebook me Washington Dulles-Jo'burg-Luanda leaving that afternoon. After a layover in Jo'burg, I arrived in Luanda on Sunday morning, but without my luggage.  The reason was that the DC-Atlanta flight had departed late and my luggage missed the tight connection to Jo'burg. My suitcase finally arrived in Luanda Monday evening (after I had worn the same jeans and shirt for three days which included a Monday morning meeting with the Ambassador). He simply smiled and welcomed me to Luanda where he indicated that such happenings are not unusual.