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Road Trip! Tales from the road in Ghana and DRC

Emmanuel Bensah somehow manages to make me nostalgic for tro-tros, the overcrowded, sweaty, unsafe minivans that serve as transport for most urban Ghanaians. His photo series of a trip from East Legon (near where I used to go to school) to downtown (passing the National Theatre of Ghana, where I spent countless hours studying with Bernard Woma) is hugely nostalgic for me. It reminded me that those motorized sardine cans were the best possible introduction to Ghanaian color, culture, humor, patience, grace and goodwill.

Transportation provides a good percentage of my travel stories, I find, and this seems to be true for many seasoned travellers. Abraham McLaughlin blogs about the motorcycle taxis he finds himself taking to navigate the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as he covers election registration in Bunia, including some great video shot from the back of a motorbike.

I predict that Abe’s most recent article from Bunia is likely to generate some controversy. Titled “To more Africans, English is hip – and can even save lives“, he visits with Congolese from all walks of life who are learning English in the hopes of engaging with the global economy, finding work as translators, seeking jobs in English-speaking Uganda… and talking to the UN peacekeepers who are patrolling Eastern Congo. The last time I even suggested that English was a more popular language than French – quoting a Francophone who made the observation – I felt the wrath of my French-speaking readers, and I can only hope that Abe is braced for impact… :-)

Abe observes that francophone Africans in several nations are making concerted efforts to adopt English as an official or defacto language. In Rwanda, the government that chased out the genoicidaires in 1994 and took power was composed primarily of English-speaking Rwandans who had grown up in Uganda. Shortly after taking power, the government declared the formerly francophone nation would have two official languages, French and English.

In Cote d’Ivoire, fighters in the ongoing civil war, are adopting English, as well as aspects of US hiphop culture, in a stance opposed to ongoing French influence. George Packer’s brilliant New Yorker article, “Gangsta War” documents how American cultural imagery, including English, has been adopted by young Ivoirian men, as a stance against the former Colonial power. The essay is not available online, unfortunately, but an interview with Packer is.