Adventure & Development
In the more than a decade TDA has been running expeditions across Africa, the countries we cross have created thousands of kilometres of new roads and paved thousands more. Whereas the Tour D’Afrique expeditions of the last decade had thousands of kilometres of gruelling dirt and sand, each successive year brings with it more paved roads, improved infrastructure and less of the punishing dirt for which we have become known. Northern Sudan and Northern Kenya have seen massive dirt sections replaced with new, well engineered roads and massively decreased travel time. This is a pretty frequent topic of discussion in the camp, as the comments of the old timer staff pique the curiosity of the riders. (back in MY day…) While single trip riders may only have one point of reference to judge from, the road building frenzy in Africa is evident to anyone who shares the way with the cement trucks and thrashes through the dirt detours and bypasses.
A comment we hear from time to time is that the trip has become “easier”, or that people are no longer seeing the “real” Africa. It is very true that Africa, as seen in the minds of the western world, is disappearing. The wars, genocides, famines, and corrupt tyrannies that have characterized how the world sees this continent have been largely replaced by peace deals, more effective internal and external aid and fledgling responsible governments. The mud shacks and bone thin children that have haunted Christmastime TV commercials are slowly giving way to peaceful villages with increased access to food, water, education, and medical aid. People are using the new roads and telecommunications infrastructure to connect to each other in ways that were impossible twenty years ago; farmers bring their produce to markets that their parents could never reach, and transfer funds on their phones to send their children to schools that they never had. The Africa of today is not the Africa of fifty, twenty, or ten years ago. It is not even the Africa of six months ago. The Africa of today is a continent creating a future while still learning of its past; where tomorrow becomes yesterday before the newspapers come off the presses today.
Has the tour become physically easier over the past ten years? One could say that. But to say that paved roads and well built houses keeps one from seeing the “real” Africa is to fall prey to the basest of expectation biases; the real Africa is not the Africa of twenty year old television specials. The real Africa is one of the most dynamic and quickly changing regions on the planet. The Africa you see in ten years will be just as “real” as the one you see today, but it will not be the same one.