Although Lake Bunyoni lies alongside the Rwandan border, there are no roads through the region, so in order to continue Southwards we first had to catch a pickup truck North to Kabale, the major regional town which lies on the road to the border. On our way to the lake, a few days beforehand, we had passed through the town and I had visited a doctor in a medical clinic and needed to pick up some test results.

The great diversity and fecundity of life in the equatorial rainforest region applies at all scales, including the microscopic. After 9 months on the road in Africa, I was starting to accumulate parasitic passengers who were not helping my sense of health or well-being. Immediately before travelling to the Central African Republic, I had been diagnosed with malaria and started taking a daily course of chloroquine as a treatment as well as the weekly pill of mefloquine that I had been taking as a prophylactic.

I don’t know if it was a result of the infection or the mefloquine pills – I had been warned they sometimes induce vivid dreams and morbid thinking – but my nights in Bangui were filled with feverish sweats and semi-conscious visions of my own imminent morbidity. I had been reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species, which I had found at a bookshop in Nigeria, and my dreams were of cells replicating recursively, growing, changing and evolving new patterns, then fading and finally vanishing into the nothingness of non-existence. I had also lost my waking appetite, had many bouts of diarrhoea and felt drained of energy. Happily, by the time we got to Nairobi, my digestive ailments had settled down. I also stopped taking the mefloquine and started reading a different book and my night fevers abated. However, I was still feeling less than entirely healthy and was still slightly worried that I might be harbouring an infection which was about to kill me.

The cheerful, white-coated, doctor in the Kabare clinic had the paternalistic manner of a man who is used to the old-fashioned doctor-patient relationship where the doctor is considered the oracle of authority. None of the results were positive, but he suggested that typhoid remained a possibility worth considering. I considered this unhelpful advice. Much later, batteries of tests finally revealed that I had indeed picked up a small collection of parasites on my journey: mostly worms and amoebas. These were easy to treat once identified, but that took several months. In the interim I remained in a somewhat weakened state, with occasional bouts of digestive trouble. These sorts of parasitic infections are quite normal throughout Africa – they are endemic and very difficult to avoid given the lack of infrastructure like water, roads and electricity. They are background noise compared to the major infectious diseases like malaria, sleeping sickness, typhoid, typhus and HIV. The rainforest also hosts a wide range of weird and wonderful lesser known infections and every colour and shape imaginable of poisonous biting things. The Great Lakes region is also among the hardest hit by the HIV/AIDs epidemic – up to 10% of the population were reputed to be HIV positive while we were there. Truck drivers, travelling to and from Mombasa port and sleeping with prostitutes along the way, were reputed to be the most significant causative vector.

Modern medical services and drugs have undoubtedly made a huge difference in enabling reductions in mortality from infectious diseases in Africa. The first European expeditions into the region in the 1860s had shockingly high mortality rates – often greater than 50%, most of which was from disease. Anti-malarials such as quinine definitely made a difference, but significantly reducing the impact of disease required significant infrastructural investment – hospitals, clinics, medical supply chains, chemical treatment programs and so on. That infrastructure remains in seriously short supply and disease remains an ever present mortal threat for most people.

Kigali

We found a mutatu minibus quickly in the Kabare bus station departing for Kigali. The road into Rwanda is paved and in good condition, relatively heavily travelled by trucks and buses. The border formalities were smooth and efficient. The landscape changes little on either side of the border: intensely hilly, intensely fertile and intensively farmed, every patch of ground cultivated. Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills and terraced hills cover almost the entirety of the country. The road from Uganda snakes through the hills to the capital Kigali, which rises untidily up the hill sides around.

Six years had passed since the genocide of 1994, but Rwanda’s capital still had hinted at a state of martial law. Soldiers and military checkpoints were prominent on the city streets. The normal hustle and bustle of an African city was absent, even when we arrived at noon. Hotel rooms were also hard to come by – the first five places we tried were full and the available room that we finally located had all the charm of a cement cell. Only a few brave souls circulated on the city streets, scuttling along the roadside margins. Notably, most posters and street signs were in English – French clung on in some old dusty signs but had evidently been officially usurped. Branded UN and NGO land cruisers constituted a significant fraction of city traffic. The eerie lack of chaos and the ordered flow of army and institutional vehicles gave the city an atmosphere of wartime mobilisation. Since coming to power after the genocide, the RPF government have been in a state of permanent war with forces both inside and outside the country. Large numbers of Rwandan troops and several of their proxy forces were deployed across the border occupying much of Eastern DRC. Just to the South, the civil war continued to rage in Burundi and remained on the verge of flaring up into another genocide.

After dark the city was effectively locked down. We were told that there were late night bars and restaurants catering for NGO workers, but the streets around our charmless hotel were dark, foreboding and devoid of life and we did not feel like investigating too far afield.

The forests of Eastern Rwanda are one of the only places in the world where there are significant numbers of gorillas in the wild in a reasonably accessible location. This was the mainstay of Rwanda’s tourist industry before it was disrupted by the civil war in the 1990s. The exclusivity of the experience and the remoteness of the location proved attractive to a particular breed of well-heeled tourist. Our guide-book noted that there was a $700 park entry fee per head levied by the state, to ensure that it gets a cut of the upmarket tourist lucre. This was far too expensive for our budget, but the guide-book was written before the genocide – perhaps entry taxes had been removed due to lack of demand? We visited Kigali’s tourist office to investigate but were, however, quickly convinced that a trip into the forest to see gorillas was not going to happen. In addition to the license fee, we would be required to hire and provision a full expeditionary party, consisting of guides, cooks and porters. Due to the security situation and the potential for rebel attacks, we would also be required to hire a group of armed guards to protect our party. The oppressive atmosphere of the capital, in which we were effectively confined to our rooms after dark, encouraged us to continue on our way as soon as our gorilla aspirations had been decisively dashed.

Outside the city, the scars of the genocide were everywhere on the landscape – camps for displaced people with thousands of homes constructed from bright yellow and blue branded UNHCR tarpaulins covered the hillsides. Compounds staffed by various aid agencies, surrounded by chain link fences adorned with the logos of their sponsoring organisations were numerous. Clay brick-kilns were also a common sight on the sides of the road – huge piles of bricks built up in irregular piles around the kilns as the bricks were baked from the clary rich earth around– a metaphor to a country under root and branch reconstruction. The population density in rural areas continued to be noticeably high – terracing rose up steep hills and over the tops of mountains everywhere. Homes, many of them impermanent, clung to the sloped landscape. Every crevice housed a family.

The scenery in the West of the country is spectacular – rainforests, volcanoes and lakes mark the border with the DRC. However, wandering around sightseeing seemed a little wrong in the circumstances – like staring at the aftermath of a gory car crash. People we met were generally slow to talk about politics and current affairs, particularly about the president, despite my best efforts at prodding them. Their body language indicated that they felt uncomfortable and wary about expressing themselves – Kagame is treated as a man with dark powers of unknown provenance. This is not unusual in Africa – most people seem to believe that their president is either in league with the devil or at least with shadowy international forces beyond public perception. It is unusual, however, for people to be shy about expressing such theories. The reticence made sense in this case though: the unusually orderly, regimented traffic, with large numbers of foreign specialists from international agencies running a variety of programs suggests an administration that might actually be capable of running an effective intelligence gathering program. In most African countries, it is evident that the government does everything in its power to spy on their populations. However, it is also evident that their bureaucracies are so weak and rife with corruption that their capabilities fall far short of their ambitions. In Rwanda, this is not so – Paul Kagame first came to prominence as Museveni’s military intelligence expert in the military takeover of Uganda in the 1980s, and has received extensive training and support by both the UK and US security services. A large number of credible accounts of his regime using mass surveillance as a means of suppressing dissent have come forth, including as a user of the Pegasus spyware tool.

It is unrealistic to imagine that the Rwandan government or state have any autonomy or agency in any of this. Rwanda is a land-locked mountainous territory of subsistence farmers with no industry or natural resources. It has been, since its creation, one of the poorest countries on earth. There is only one way of realistically getting things in or out in bulk. All transport and communications must travel 1,500km through British East Africa to connect to the world economy and this has always been the case. This puts the country at a permanent disadvantage from an economic point of view compared to competitors who are closer to a commercial port. Geography dictates that it has no leverage and thus no capacity for exercising sovereignty over its affairs. It can only ever serve as a pawn of greater powers.

The ancient art of humanitarian intervention

The 1994 genocide and subsequent wars which led to the destruction of the DRC were not particularly unusual in the recent history of the region in terms of their violence and destructiveness. There is a solid 200 years of tradition of European powers in Central Africa using the human catastrophes that they have created in order to justify military invasion, conquest and resource extraction. The playbook has been recycled so many times at this stage that it has become a highly refined art.

In the 18th and 19th century, while the European powers were engaged in a naked and brutal struggle with one another for imperial dominance in far flung corners of the world, attitudes in Europe were becoming increasingly enlightened, liberal and pious. Imperial conquest and exploitation of natives had to be presented in such a way so as to safeguard the progressive and god-fearing reputation of the relevant statesmen. Being too closely associated with crimes against humanity was bad for the reputation. Although Clive of India was generally hailed as a hero of the British empire, his responsibility for the death of millions in Bengal left an unpleasant stain on his reputation.

The rise of the slavery abolitionist movement in Britain in the 18th century was to play a key role in Britain’s ultimate rise to global imperial hegemony. Parliament banned slavery in Britain in 1803 and extended the ban to the empire in 1833. This did come at significant cost to British slave plantations in the Caribbean, but directly-operated slave plantations were a much smaller part of the British imperial system than was the case with their major European rivals. Unilaterally banning slave trading internationally provided the British with the moral justification to use their naval might to impose their rule of the sea and gave British privateers carte blanche to plunder rival shipping on the trans-Atlantic route. The disruption to supply of labour in the slave-empires of the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch was far more significant, relatively speaking.

Abolitionist Movement: Definition and Leaders | HISTORY.com - HISTORY

The first wave of colonisation of central Africa was mostly spear-headed by missionaries. Benevolent societies associated with a variety of church’s would raise money to fund outposts in the interior, beyond the coastal forts where the slave trading stations had been based. The missionaries themselves would invariably also act as paid agents of the state, conveying geographical, demographic and anthropological reports back to Europe and keeping an eye out for missions of rival powers in the area. Alongside their covert roles, they would also regularly write letters to the Times and other European papers, decrying the continued depredations of slave traders in the interior, demanding that the state take the poor native child-like victims under its benevolent protection. In order to maintain European diplomatic fictions, colonial possessions were considered improper if they did not come with a treaty from a local chieftain asking for imperial protection (and providing unlimited power in return). In practice, of course, this was a nicety which could be overlooked in a pinch – what really mattered was whether a power had the ability to project military force into the area – but an improper treaty always made a good stick to beat the opposition with. David Livingstone, the famous Scottish missionary and explorer was the most famous proponent of this art of humanitarian imperialism. British occupation of the great lakes region owes a lot to his pioneering efforts.

By the middle of the 19th century, European anti-slavery societies were funding large military expeditions to the region in order to free the natives. The genuine benevolence of the funders and many of the participants is not in question – most people who travelled to Africa were genuinely appalled by the brutality of the slavery that they witnessed and many were profoundly religious and were willing to take significant sacrifices to spread their beliefs. However, the overwhelming majority of the organisers of these expeditions into the interior were entirely cynical – motivated purely by a mix of greed and adventure-lust.

As the slave trading factories on Africa’s West coast were progressively shut down in the course of the 19th century and the price of slaves in the Americas increased, the trade through ports on the African East coast expanded. In order to meet the demand, slaving raids were launched ever further inland. Eventually, slave trading depots were established on the great lakes. The Eastern African ports had been connected to the Indian Ocean trading network since long before European contact and were predominantly Muslim with a Swahili culture. In the modern period, the area fell under the control of a kingdom based in Oman. This allowed the Victorian imperialist propagandists to double down on their cultural and racist stereotypes – it was an Arab slave trade. The innocent primitive tribes clearly needed to be liberated from the evil grip of the oriental despot.

The Belgian Farce

The colonisation of the Congo river basin in the late 19th century introduced a whole new level of indirection, disguise and cynicism into the great game in Central Africa. Both the Portuguese and the French were starting to expand into the Congo basin from their existing bases on the West coast and were competing with one another to gobble up all the remaining coastline before tackling the interior. The famous French explorer, Pierre De Brazza, was funded on an expedition in the 1870s to claim the interior. This saw the territory that would become Congo-Brazzaville being acquired as a colony of France. Yet at the Berlin conference in 1884, the vast majority of the river basin was assigned to the Congo Free State, a benevolent society for the emancipation and civilization of natives presided over by Leopold, the King of Belgium. Under the hood it was simply a profit driven private company with unlimited power to use force against the natives and it ruthlessly exploited this power to extract labour through terror and torture. They did not enslave the natives formally, of course. They simply charged a tax for their administration and protection, payable in rubber or ivory with the death penalty for non-payment. Within a couple of decades the whole territory was transformed into a hellish forced labour camp – with the severed hands of executed tax defaulters becoming a currency of trade. As many as 10 million died and the population was decimated.

Henry Morton Stanley's first trans-Africa expedition - Wikipedia
Henry Morton Stanley, Explorer
Léopold II (roi des Belges) — Wikipédia
Leopold, Belgian King of the Congo

However, still deeper under the hood, Leopold and the empire of the Belgians was itself an obvious fiction. He was merely a useful idiot with grandiose fantasies and unquenchable greed. His company was largely funded by British capital and mining concerns. His explorations were led by Stanley and supported by British logistics and staff with the explicit goal of cutting off the French – Britain was developing the infrastructure to supply armed forces to the Eastern and Southern borders and was therefore in a position to enforce the sovereignty of Belgium over the area which no other power could match. From the point of view of the great game and the scramble for Africa in the last quarter of the 19th century, this was a master-stroke – it thoroughly insulated the British Cape to Cairo axis from French forces in the West.

Once the cost of administering the Congo was inherited by the Belgian state in 1908, after an international outcry against Leopold’s crimes against humanity, the focus of competition between Britain and France moved to the control of the Belgian state itself. This competition continued to generate regular humanitarian catastrophes in the region through the course of the 20th century.

Belgium was created as a country in 1830, with an English king, catholic population, French language and ethnically Dutch majority population. By design, it is at the mercy of the more powerful states that surround it. It has never had any capacity to be an independent power. It has little choice but to immediately surrender and acquiesce to any dominant power that threatens it, as the world wars of the 20th century made clear. It barely exists as a functioning state in the 21st century and is divided into autonomous political blocks representing the divided population’s loyalties. This division played out in the Congo with the French using language and religion as their focus of influence within the administration, while Britain focused on leveraging their commercial, financial and military power to dominate decision making.

The unloved mountain kingdoms

scène montagne, sur, vieux, cachet, de, ruanda-urundi 817538 Banque de  photos

The twin mountain kingdoms, Rwanda and Burundi are remarkably similar to one another in population, geography, culture and ethnicity. Both have two major groups – the minority Tutsi, making up 15% of the population and the Hutu, making up the remainder. The Tutsi are the traditional elite and trace their roots back to a pastoralist ancestral population, while the Hutu are agriculturalists. However these categories are historical and they have evolved significantly over time losing any strong connection to ethnicity, genetics or distinct cultures. Everybody speaks the same languages. The societies evolved, over the last 400 years, from complex chieftaincies into simple agrarian kingdoms. This is a typical path of social evolution that has occurred in Europe frequently. Violent class conflict between the groups was not a major factor historically, succession wars were more typical, exactly as one would expect.

Both mountain kingdoms were originally allocated to German East Africa in 1885. The territory that they occupied was useful to the Germans as it gave them access to the great lakes, but they had no particular use for the people who lived there. The existing social structures, with an equestrian nobility ruling an agrarian peasantry, were perfectly aligned with German prejudices and they saw no reason to interfere with them. A large population of subsistence farmers 1000km from the coast wasn’t a resource that they could do anything with anyway. It was not until 1914 that the Germans completed their railway connection from the coast to Lake Tanganyika and by then they war had started and it was already far too late. The British had steam-powered gunboats on all the great lakes and had an elaborate rail and telegraph network connecting up the whole region to their port at Mombasa and their international empire. In 1916, they were able to assemble and supply a Belgian led armed force which invaded and occupied both kingdoms without meaningful opposition before continuing towards the coast into present day Tanzania. It too was subdued after a doomed campaign of resistance by the outnumbered German garrison forces.

In the carve up of Germany’s African holdings after the war, Britain was awarded all of German East and South West Africa – present day Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Namibia. This completed the Cape to Cairo jigsaw puzzle and left them with no challengers to their strategic dominance of the Southern and Eastern portions of the continent. This upset the French, who had not received similar considerations in their West African stronghold – the British had taken a piece of Kamerun and Togoland. The British defused the tension by presenting both Rwanda and Burundi to Belgium, purportedly as a reward for the noble performance of the Belgians in driving the Germans out. This was another smart and pragmatic move. Belgium was not a military power and its presence in the region did not change the undisputed British hegemony over the lakes. Presenting the kingdoms to the Belgians simply passed on the cost of administering large populations of subsistence farmers with little prospect of ever seeing a return.

Belgian administration of Rwanda and Burundi in the post-war period was notable by its thinness on the ground. Catholic missionaries made up the bulk of the numbers and they went on to form the basis for the meagre public education system that was put in place. The Victorian conception of races passing through stages of civilization was gradually being displaced in Europe by the pseudoscience of immutably hierarchical races. The loosely-defined existing class system morphed into a more rigid racial structure of administration in which the Tutsi were given further privileges including dominance in the local military forces, which was increasingly resented by the Hutu. Apart from the missionaries, however, the region continued to be run as a minor and forgotten outpost from the Belgians’ administrative headquarters in Leopoldville (later Kinshasa) in the far West.

Leveraging a strategic infrastructural monopoly

The long term wisdom of Britain’s early investment in mechanized transportation infrastructure became increasingly clear over time. Access to mineral and energy resources played decisive roles in deciding the outcomes of both world wars. The Manhattan project was built with Uranium from the Congo and Eastern Congo turned out to be literally a gold-mine. The intense tectonic and volcanic activity on the Western edge of the great rift valley created a situation where a large number of rare and valuable minerals – gold, diamonds, coltan, cobalt, copper – are accessible near the surface all along the Eastern border of DRC. The commodity in short supply is not labour or mineral reserves but the infrastructure for transporting the minerals to foreign markets and turning them into money. If there is a monopoly provider of transportation and marketing services, it doesn’t matter who owns the mines or does the extraction work, all the value will end up with the monopoly provider.

The copper mines of South Eastern DRC were already integrated into Britain’s Southern African rail transportation network by the start of the 20th century. The rest of the country remained only accessible by river. Between the wars, the Belgian public administration gradually built out rail infrastructure, linking more of the country to the river backbone and opening more areas up for exploitation.

Britain’s model of imperialism increasingly focused on controlling the strategic infrastructure surrounding its colonies – physical, financial, economic and institutional – and encouraging self-management within those boundaries rather than governing directly. In the aftermath of the second world war, Anglo-American interests were so dominant economically, culturally and in the international institutions that any newly independent states would invariably be drawn into their broad web of influence and control. The French, on the other hand, were keen to reassert their position as an imperial power but needed to apply their rule more directly to ensure that the correct decisions were made with respect to France’s interests.

The vast majority of the early national independence movements that started to flourish after the second world war had a progressive and optimistic ideology of liberalism, multi-tribalism and national development. The French countered this by encouraging ethno-centric identities and supporting movements for regionalism and traditional tribal relationships. In the Belgian Congo, which was home to at least 200 different ethnic groups, interacting in a bewildering array of diverse social connections, this meant supporting all manner of tribalist and traditionalist forces. In Rwanda and Burundi, it meant completely switching sides, using catholic control of education to build up a religious movement of Hutus who were dedicated to overthrowing the oppressive rule of the godless progressive Tutsi elite. In both cases, the French gameplan was to whip tensions up to a boiling point and then grant independence suddenly and unilaterally, without any institutional preparation or assistance from the colonial administration. They would then help precipitate violent outbreaks and rebellions, leading to coups by French agents implanted in the military, who would be compelled to intervene to preserve order, thus returning governance to reliable, French-controlled hands and demonstrating how unprepared the natives were for self-rule.

Patrice Lumumba : le pic du Covid retarde le retour de la dent du héros de  l'indépendance de la RD Congo - BBC News Afrique

This playbook worked perfectly in the “Congo crisis” period which started in 1960 with a period of civil disorder provoked by the regime through a disorderly hand-over of power, including a fantastical communist threat to tie in US support. It culminated in the notorious Mobutu taking power in a coup shortly after independence and the popular independence hero Patrice Lumumba being executed in a shady plot in which both the French and the CIA were implicated. Meanwhile, In Rwanda and Burundi, French efforts were equally effective in inciting violence and independence was followed by a grim series of assassinations, massacres and military interventions. However, the French victory was to be short-lived. The transportation infrastructure of the Congo went into terminal decline as all aspirations for national development vanished under the kleptocratic puppet Mobutu regime. In the mountain kingdoms, French-backed Hutu regimes also came to dominate political power but they faced constant armed resistance from Tutsi groups, many of whom set up base in exile camps in British controlled neighbouring territory. By the end of the 1980s, the British had regained full control over Uganda under Museveni after the Idi Amin years and turned their focus to the West. The RPF leadership was armed, trained, supplied, and supported by the British armed forces and they were physically based in Uganda throughout the early years of their existence. As they increased the intensity of their armed raids into Rwanda in the early 1990s, the French-backed regime increased the intensity of their race baiting – using the state-controlled mass media to propagate calls for popular genocide. Both sides were effectively trying to provoke the same cataclysm – the French because a genocide would remove the threat of a Tutsi based regime change, the British because it would give them the opportunity to topple Mobutu’s regime and seize effective control of Eastern Congo’s mineral wealth. They knew that whichever side they picked was going to win because they were in control of everybody’s logistics, communications and supply chains.

It is as true today as it as ever been, that it takes a lot of logistical support in order to maintain a military force in the field. Arms, ammunition, food, fuel, training and medical care need to be supplied regularly and in large quantities. An unsupplied army in the Central African forests disintegrates quickly from disease, loss of discipline and equipment failure. All African governments struggle to maintain their minimal standing armies and to keep their more remote garrisons supplied. Mutinies over lack of pay or missing rations have been common historically. At the peak of its infrastructural development in 1960, transferring any equipment from the Atlantic coast of the DRC to the Eastern border often required a journey with a dozen transfers from steamboat to rail and back again, in order to get around rapids and obstacles, followed by a long road journey to the border. The trip could easily take a month or two. Food could be sourced locally but everything else had to be shipped all the way from the coast. By contrast, a two day drive on a paved road takes one from the port in Mombasa to Goma in Eastern DRC from where the whole border region is accessible by lake ferry.

This logistical advantage was used to devastating effect in the conflict that erupted after the Rwandan genocide was triggered by British proxies using a missile to shoot down the plane carrying the Hutu presidents of Burundi and Rwanda back to Kigali from a peace conference. The subsequent offensive routed the Rwandan regime so effectively that the French were forced to intervene directly to protect the perpetrators, revealing their active role in support of the genocide. Within a couple of years the British proxies had established total military control over both Rwanda and their Eastern hinterlands and had eliminated the remnants of the Rwandan regime and were able to launch an offensive into the DRC that caused the Kinshasa regime to collapse with virtually no resistance. When the new regime in Kinshasa then tried to reassert control over the East of the country, British-backed forces simply invaded again from both Rwanda and Uganda. It took the combined armies of half of Africa to resist their 1999 offensive. In the course of these invasions, not only has the regime in Kinshasa been changed, the transportation infrastructure of the whole country has completely collapsed, leaving virtually no navigable roads and no connection between the East and the rest of the country. Even Kisangani, the major city connecting the Congo river to the East of the country was destroyed in the fighting. The state is in an insoluble bind – it lacks the resources and infrastructure to effectively provide security in the East and without reasserting control, it cannot even begin to rebuild the transportation infrastructure.

From the point of view of the powerful Anglo-American mining cartels, all of the resources of Eastern Congo are now entirely reliant on their transportation and marketing infrastructure for access to the markets and they can thus exert their control anywhere along the supply chain. It doesn’t matter who owns or controls the mines, who transports the minerals or takes a cut along the way, they have monopoly control of the delivery infrastructure and can always apply their fees further downstream. If presidents Kagame and Museveni blatantly run illegal mineral re-export operations with fleets of light aircraft travelling from Uganda and Rwanda to makeshift air-strips around unlicensed mines run by mercenary armies in the DRC, this is their prerogative as sovereign rulers. As a bonus, it makes them look like autonomous actors, the real villains of the play. From the point of view of the tireless servants of empire within the British state, the fact that they managed to flip a country from the French language to English language, out of the French sphere of influence and decisively into the Anglo-American camp, must surely be considered a singular triumph, unique in the history of African great-gamesmanship. Although public foibles and modern wokeness prevent them from taking credit for their deeds publicly, we can trust that their efforts have been suitably acknowledged in the traditional way, with peerages, honours, orders of the garter and directorships on multinational mining conglomerates.

Leaving the Central African Rainforest

The post-apocalyptic sight of vast UNHCR camps for displaced people, sprawling over the hills West of Kigali was our last picture before we turned our backs on the Central African rainforest and headed towards the South and West for the last stretch of our journey to the Cape.

As we approached the border with Tanzania, the infrastructure and population density both declined markedly. The fertile lush hills started to give way to the great plain of the Eastern African savanna. As we were in the middle of the dry season, the green hills soon faded into dusty, sandy-coloured grasslands punctuated by gnarled baobab trees. By 3pm, 3 hours and 3 changes of transport after setting out from Kigali, we had covered the 140km that separated the Rwandan capital from Rusoma, the village that marks the border. At this stage the road was unpaved and in poor condition and completely void of traffic. The village itself consisted of nothing more than a few ramshackle houses. Some broken and faded signs advertised coca cola outside a building which hinted at a distant past where some commercial life existed. Those days had long passed – there was precious little evidence of any activity as we waited by the roadside in the sun. An hour passed before a vehicle appeared. Conscious of the fading daylight and keen not to end up stranded in a place with no food or accommodation, we hailed the driver and gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse to ferry us to Benaco – the first town on the Tanzanian side of the border. We crammed into the back of his ancient car, held together with string and sticky tape, and rolled slowly onwards along the undulating track into the dusty Savanah, leaving Rwanda and the Central African rainforest behind us.

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