16 September 2012

Africa: Across Africa By Road


In continuation of the annual ritual of reconstructing Africa and building a trans-African relation, nine Africans embarked on a road trip to Congo. Another trip by the Invisible Borders team adds to a list of notable road trips, writes Adewole Ajao

Six Nigerians and three non-Nigerians were part of another expedition troupe that left the country for Lubumbashi, Congo some weeks ago in a 14-seater Ford Van, fitted with a library. In an age where air travel is still the best means of transportation and is generally preferable, going 13,000 kilometres by road sounded like a hare-brained idea, at least going by the consensus of opinion at a media briefing which heralded the August 23 trip. But after similar trips to other countries, the plan, which is also bent on highlighting the road travel experience, seems to be gaining currency. Nigerian Ray Daniels Okeugo, Noro Isioro, Emeka Okereke, Jide Odukoya, Emma Iduma and Falade Adebayo Rayo were joined by Rwandan Christain Nyampeta, Mario Macilau from Mozambique, and Lesedi Mogoatlhe from South Africa for the road trip. "Since 2009 we have always started from Lagos. We come together and travel in a van to other African countries by road. In the process of that, we network, meet people on our way and create artistic works according to each discipline," explained photographer Emeka Okereke. Reconstructing Africa with stop-overs of five to seven days in Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Congo is the hub of the journey that will involve collaborations portraying the richness of African culture and the travel experience. Sights that have been a primary perk of road travellers like Inyang Offiong who rode from Lagos to Austria earlier this month on a power bike.

Even though the trip was largely hush-hush, it is not surprising to find Africans opting for the road experience due to the visual menu at their disposal.

"It will be a 50-day journey constantly on the road. In our van, good a thing it is ours. Last year we had to rent one. We will drive it ourselves and will take turns. Three people will drive and that is what the project is about," Okereke said before the party eventually hit the road.

The Long route to Lumumbashi

At the time of filing this story, the group had managed to conquer the sinking mud of Duola-an ambivalent experience they depicted on their blog. It was followed by some sour episodes and cultural clashes after they left Aba and Calabar enroute Cameroon. But it seems things are going according to schedule in their agenda for opening border trends oblivious to them. This lofty aim will inspire stop-overs and a body of work from a bunch of youngsters that Okereke tagged special due to their boldness in soaking up subtle weather and environmental changes across the vast continent. "We are the forerunners of the 21st century, so it has to be those with an open mind that are not so stuck in tradition. That is why we have young ones. Also, in terms of the various disciplines, we have photographers who are very professional and have been doing it for a long time."

Peculiar challenges

In 2009, the trip was self-funded until some organisations decided to kick in with support. Surprisingly, the line up revealed the law firm of Akin Oyebode. Others were the Prince Klaus Fund, Canon Europe and more who had bought into an idea that would make many cringe. In similar circumstances, the first trip by Chief Newton Jibunoh across the desert took time to catch on until subsequent excursions across the Sahara attracted a handful of notable companies to come in with support. So far, it has been a case of the idea now getting more converts. This was the trend in the case of Inyang Effiong who rode from Lagos to Austria some months ago.

"We rely mostly on art institutions," Okereke said before the trip. "It is more about the concept than finances. If you associate yourself with something good, it will come back to you. We got a lot of money from Holland last year."

Culture clashes

Such a trip would sound bland without notable tales. Only last year, the Invisible Borders team comprising Okereke and Iduma went all the way to Ethiopia. Stop overs in Jos and Maiduguri made it all seem like a suicide mission due to the volatile nature of the cities. Sudan and Chad were also a different kettle of fish according to Okereke. "When we got to Chad, we thought it was a bit laid back but I have never seen a city so photophobic.

A ten-year old kid would warn you not to snap his picture. They were scared because of the tension. Khartoum was a different matter. When we got there, there was a billboard saying 'Welcome, hope you have your cameras?' There was no day we did not get images. They are calm and you'd never think they are the ones fighting. That was a twist. When we got to Ethiopia, we knew what to expect." With the perceivable tension gripping most African countries, road trips are usually frowned upon due to the risk involved. Opinions differ on what the road traveller should be wary of though. After his bike trip to Austria, Inyang Effiong felt feuds were the last thing to think off when you are on breakneck speed.

"The beauty of this is that if you are travelling alone, most of those things are not really a problem. For instance, if you hear about Nigeria from the outside, you would never come here because people ask me outside the country how we cope with the killings and bombings. So it is the same thing for me with those countries. Although I would never go into a country where there is a major war. If it is just insecurity, you are not a threat riding on a bike."

Ifelanwa Osundolire was one of those who accompanied Newton Jibunoh on the last trip to the desert after it assumed the complexion of a reality show. With the party getting close to the Agadez border in Niger Republic, the architect said road trips still unearthed the usual problems of smooth transit. His other premise was based on a similar situation he had faced at the Benin Republic border during a 2000 trip with a body of polytechnic students.

"I suddenly felt a superiority complex due to the length of time it took the Nigeriens to handle our passports issue that took hours to clear," he hinted about the trip. This was one in a trail of comments bristling with agreements on a serious need to harmonise border procedures. With Inyang having to find an alternative route from Mauritania after a visa issue earlier this year, writer Emma Iduma who accompanied last year's Invisible Borders party said the removal of borders remains a pipe dream. However, with the right legislation they could be made to seem invisible instead of the current mess which Okereke also flayed.

"Challenges are the border things. There was a lot we got to write on the relationship between the people and the state. Governments are trying to make Africa. There are lots of laws but before one works, they throw in another," Okereke said.

Fruits of the excursion

Workshops, exhibitions, blog updates and images will oil the aim of greater proximity. With around 3,000 Facebook followers, their fan base is set to increase this year when the trip closes next month. Okereke also disclosed plans for a bilingual book launch.

Next year, a book will be published. A compilation of the four editions from 2009 till date, this detailed summary of notes and images will reflect the road experience that ends on October 9 in Lagos. With the trans-African network of nine highways of 56,683 km getting closer to completion, much of these headaches will reduce. But the question is whether the trips will witness a spike.

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