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Archive for February 2012

Exploring Zanzibar

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One of the sites in Zanzibar

Travel Experience: By Hassan Isilow

After resting for two weeks in Uganda, we decided it was time to return to the mother city. We loaded our bags into the car and were ready to hit the road this; time through the Island of Zanzibar and the popular Rio Azul Lodge in Mozambique. We all knew this would be a memorable journey and a fantastic holiday.
We drove to the shores of Lake Victoria, approximately 10 kilometers from the Kampala city centre. Here our vehicle was loaded on to a ship enroute to Mwanza in Tanzania. There were many people travelling on the ship which made it exciting. We went to the top deck and started taking pictures but out of the blue one of our friends begun vomiting. He claimed he didn’t like the smell of lake water, we calmed him down. I told myself he probably had a water phobia.
A few hours later, we started seeing multiple lights from a distance, an indication we had approach the port town of Mwanza. By 7pm, our ship docked at the shores of Lake Victoria and our passports were quickly stamped by a friendly Tanzanian immigration official. Sounds of blaring Swahili music blended with Congolese jingles welcomed us. We were excited since this was the first we were visiting Mwanza.
As we drove through the town looking for a guest house, some vendors were still trading at their stalls. Some of them used candles and other kerosene lamps to generate light so their merchandise could be seen. We stopped by the side of the road and asked a woman roasting maize, where could we find a guest house. She gladly gave us directions.
We booked in and wanted to have some rest when our friend, Patrick, insisted we should move around the town and feel its night life. We agreed and took to the streets on foot. Mwanza is somewhat lively and parts of the town are surrounded by Lake Victoria, which gives it a lovely ambience. We got back to the guest house by 1pm.
Dares Salam
The next day at noon, we started our journey to Dares Salam where we arrived the following day. Fondly known as Dar or Bongo by its local inhabitants, there was nothing fond about the weather conditions we walked into – way too hot for us. We went to the port and booked tickets to board the ferry to Zanzibar, which is one of Africa’s main tourist destinations.
The next morning we were on the overloaded ferry. With us were many ordinary people from Zanzibar who had either visited family in Dar and were returning back home and vice versa. As we approached Zanzibar hundreds of palm trees welcomed us. This prompted our friend, Dr Michael, to say: “The problem with us Africans is that we don’t explore paradise holiday destinations and natural tourism sites that our continent offers.” He could not be more right, because most well to do Africans – prefer to go on holiday overseas, ignoring our own.
I discovered that most foreign tourists travelling to Zanzibar either used air transport or hired special speed boats to transport them between Dar and Zanzibar. However, we were lucky to have mixed with the local people. Our ferry docked safely and we went to our booked accommodation. We moved on the streets drinking cheap Arabica –Swahili coffee that’s sold on the open street corners.
Unlike other tourists, we didn’t take guided tours. We knew the Swahili language and would ask locals for directions. This put us in another league. I remember us standing outside the House of Wonders museum in the centre of Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar. That night we danced to a local band playing Tarab and other songs. We only woke up the next day at noon and visited a few sites.
On the other hand, I noticed that Zanzibar is a Muslim country. One of the people I interacted with on the island told me that during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan most restaurants are closed. The source also told me, trade in spices was once the main foreign exchange earner on the island, but now tourism has became the biggest industry in Zanzibar.
After three days of having fun on the island, we boarded a ship and returned to Dar Salam. From there we drove to Napula border in Mozambique. After several hours of driving, finally we made it to the Inhambane Province where the Rio Azul Lodge is located. What makes Azul exceptional is that it is located on the banks of the Guvoru River’s Estuary near Vilanculos and the Bazaruto Islands.
The luxury lodge offers guests the best of a beach lodge, river lodge, fishing lodge and a family holiday lodge. Though it’s a bit costly, we enjoyed our holiday at Azul.We went for deep sea fishing and the next day hit the road to Johannesburg and finally Cape Town.

This travel piece is aimed at promoting tourism in Africa. It was first published on a Cape Town website:


Written by africawitness

February 26, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Driving through Africa

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By Hassan Isilow  -Last year, I followed a group of friends who were driving from Cape Town to Kampala in Uganda. There were two reasons for this long trip. First, we wanted to explore the continents beauty, which has always attracted tourists from across the globe. Secondly, the journey enabled us to visit some of our family and friends who live in Uganda.

So we started our journey at midnight in Cape Town, driving in a BMW X 5 which belonged to a friend in the group. We were five in number and kept conversing on the way as we exchanged the wheels. The next day at noon we arrived in Johannesburg, where we had lunch at a friend’s home in Mayfair. After the heavy lunch we fell asleep in his living room.

We continued our journey at midnight, this time driving northwards through Mafikeng heading for Botswana. At 5am in the morning, we were queuing at the Botswana  border post near Mafikeng, our passports were quickly stamped. One hour later, we arrived in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital city. My friends hadn’t been here before, so they were excited.

There wasn’t much traffic in this city compared to Johannesburg or Cape Town. Most people were just driving into the city probably heading for work, since it was early morning. Gaborone is a rather smaller city compared to Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria or Johannesburg. One of the main differences I noticed is that most people in the city were dressed formally, compared to our jeans, and tackies culture.

Since my friends hadn’t been here before, we decided to spend a night in Gaborone. We booked accommodation at the stylish Gaborone hotel close to the city centre. Later we took a walk through the streets of Gaborone, but it didn’t feel any different from South Africa. It seemed just like another province of the rainbow nation, except for the many immigration officers who were in the streets asking people for identifications.

By 9pm Gaborone had become a ghost city; most people had retired to their homes, street hawkers were packing their merchandise in bags ready to retire for the day. The taxi rank and Bus stations were also deserted. You could clearly see someone coming hundred meters away. We decided to return to our hotel, where a local band was playing.

The next day, we set off our journey at 10am and arrived at Kazungula border post late in the night. We slept in the car, and waited for the borders to open. It was a little bit cold in Kasungula and we kept hearing sounds of wild animals since we were parked close to the river and as you may be aware Botswana also has many wild animals. We were afraid that an elephant could possibly come and attack us.

But one of our friends in the group, a medical doctor, said he wanted to go out of the car and count the shooting stars that were zooming across the pale blue sky. He opened the door and got out. Another friend Christopher a sangoma followed and lit a cigarette. Now we were no longer afraid. I also got out and eased myself.

It was already 5am and we spotted a yellow bus coming from the Botswana direction, so my friends suggested we should run and be the first in the queue at the Botswana –Zambia border post where our passports would be stamped so we could exit. It was a wise decision, because 15 minutes later several passengers from the bus joined us in the line. After queuing for close to an hour, we were cleared and we loaded our vehicle onto the ferry and crossed the river from Botswana into Zambia.


An hour later, we saw a sign post of the famous Victoria Falls, but we didn’t branch off. We just continued driving and in the afternoon we arrived in the Zambian capital. Lusaka is an exciting city, for one to visit; the local people are hospitable compared too many countries. We booked in at a backpackers in an area called madras – a predominantly Muslim area. We drove through the friendly city and made a couple of friends.

One thing I discovered about Zambians – they drink like a fish. Every restaurant we went to we found people with beer bottles. I also discovered Zambians live their life to the fullest. Most Zambians I met told me they enjoy what they have today, because nobody knows what tomorrow holds. The following day, we departed from Lusaka heading to Tanzania and arrived at Tunduma boarder post in Tanzania 40 hour later.

Hawkers dealing in foreign exchange swarmed our car at the border post, enticing us to change our currency with them at favourable rates despite the fact that there was a bank close by. Luckily a customs official working at the Tanzanian border warned us not trust the money changers. He said some of them cheat their clients.

We ignored the money changers and proceed to a small Asian owned restaurant located on the main street of Tunduma. Here we had breakfast and later drove off. At 2am we arrived in Arusha, a historic town in Tanzania, where we spent our night and the following morning drove off to Namanga, a border town between Tanzania and Kenya. This was another exciting moment of our journey.

Masai women

As we disembarked from the car to proceed to the immigration office, several Masai women selling different types of handmade arts and crafts swarmed around us like wild bees; pusing their wares. One of them was quick to dress my hand with beads made out of colours similar to those of the Kenyan national flag. I was impressed by their entrepreneurial skills. Of course only a hard hearted person would not buy from such people.

After moments of deliberation I decided to buy from each of the five Masai women who had surrounded me. The women were so happy and my friends insisted I take a picture with them for remembrance, which I did. We later left Namanga and in a couple of hours were in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. We drove through and the next afternoon we had arrived in our lovely city Kampala, the pearl of Africa, a country gifted by nature whose vegetation is ever green.

Next: our return journey through some of the famous tourist destinations such as Zanzibar in Tanzania and the Rio Azul in Mozambique( originally published on Voice of the Cape:

Written by africawitness

February 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Britain gives Somalis hope

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British foreign secretary William Hague, centre, poses for a picture with Somali Journalist Mohammed Muse and Businessman Abdullahi Ali Hassan, (Photo by Hassan Isilow)

By Hassan Isilow

CAPETOWN: British foreign secretary, William Hague, visited South Africa- this week, amongst others, to engage with the Somali community in Cape Town, regarding the upcoming London Conference which will discuss the crisis in Somalia. Hague told the gathering he had come with a message of hope from the British government and wanted their input on the London conference due to take place on 23 February.
“Sir, the international community should not allow a political vacuum to happen in Somalia, since the mandate of the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia would expire this year in August,” a member of the gathering, Abdullah Ali Hassan, said in his address to the diplomat. Another Somali asked that the international community legitimatise the current transitional government by giving it full authority and international recognition.
Somali’s further requested the international community to lift the 1991 embargo imposed on the Somali national army. “We want the Somali army to be re-established and become internationally recognised,” a third Somali urged. Several Somalis at the meeting expressed gratitude to the British government for hosting the conference. Many Somalis believe the conference might put the Horn of Africa country on the road map to peace, stability and democracy.
Meanwhile Last week, the Somali Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, said he hoped the conference would produce a “Marshall Plan” to end the two decades of instability in the country. “Somalia expects a lot from this conference,” he said in a televised speech. British Prime Minister David Cameron will chair the February 23 conference, which is expected to attract a number of influential world leaders.
Somalia has been unstable since the over throw President Mohammed Siyad Barre in 1991. The long term instability has had a massive impact on the country’s social-economic fabric. (This article appeared in a number of Publications).

Written by africawitness

February 17, 2012 at 9:37 am

Posted in Xenophobia

My view on AMISOM is changing

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Uganda’s Chief of Defense Forces General Aronda Nyakairima inspecting AMISOM forces in Mogadishu©

By Hassan Isilow
I had never been a fan of the African Union Peace keeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), not until recently when they over powered Al-Shabbab and took full control of Mogadishu. When Uganda first contributed her troops to the peace keeping mission in Somalia in 2007, I was among those who complained over the country’s involvement in a risky endeavour.
I remember writing a number of commentaries in different news publications, questioning Uganda’s intentions in Somalia. I was also invited to contribute my thoughts on a number of radio and television discussions regarding the Somali crisis. The most recent discussion was in November on Afro Beat radio in New York, where I stated that recent history had shown that military interventions in Somalia had not had much success.
Off course this is true, the United States mission failed in Mogadishu, while Ethiopian troops met great resistance from Somali militia when they invaded the country in 2006. At the same time, AMISOM was only controlling just a few blocks in the capital Mogadishu, despite being there since 2007. So I expected AMISOM to also fail, but I was surprised when they recently took full control of Mogadishu.
This victory has since changed my perception of AMISOM. Ever since AMISOM and the TFG forces pushed out ruminants of Al-Shabbab from the capital, residents are starting to enjoy some peace. This is the first time AMISOM has been able to secure an area outside the parameters of the city, which will allow them to defend greater Mogadishu from the exterior.
However, while it may be too early to celebrate, this is still good news to residents of Mogadishu who have been living in fear. It is also good news to both Uganda and Burundi, the two countries that contributed troops to the mission. The rating of their armies will be high in the continent. If Mogadishu remains peaceful then Somalis in the Diaspora could also start returning to contribute to development.
Having said all the above, I am certain critics of AMISOM are already asking how long the peacekeepers will manage to retain control of Mogadishu before Al-Shabbab takes it over again. I think AMISOM should observe the following so as to preserve their recently achieved victory. Firstly, they should use their command to order Ethiopian troops currently operating inside Somali territory to withdraw. The presence of Ethiopian forces inside Somalia brings bad memories and this could make Somali youth start up another resistance movement like they did previously.
In 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia with the aim of toppling the Islamic courts union. In the course of their invasion they committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Ethiopian invasion and mayhem in Somalia gave birth to Al-Shabaab, a youth resistance movement which was primarily formed to fight the invading Ethiopian troops.
Secondly, AMISOM troops should try their best not to hit civilian targets, like they were previously accused of bombing Bakara market and surrounding residential areas. Indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets will only radicalise Somalis into joining the extremist Al-Shabbab movement which might destabilise the gains made by AMISOM in Mogadishu

Written by africawitness

February 9, 2012 at 11:09 am

Posted in Xenophobia

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