Alohou Papa stands in the middle of the bustling market in Togoville and blows hard on a bright red whistle to catch everyone’s attention.
“It’s 9 o’clock. The village chief is sending me to announce that bartering can now start,” he cries. “No arguing and no provocation,” he tells traders and buyers.
Every Saturday on the northern shore of Lake Togo, some 65 kilometres (40 miles) east of the capital, Lome, Togoville runs a lively traditional barter market.
No money changes hands at the small public square, where traders, fisherfolk and farmers from surrounding villages flock to trade their produce.
At “Togossime” — “Togo market” in the local Ewe language — all sorts of goods are swapped but grains, chickens, fish and other seafood are the most popular.
“Togoville is a traditional village,” explains Simon Tovor, special advisor to local chief King Mlapa VI, who is head of the district and whose palace looks down on the dusty streets.
“In days gone by, our parents lived off the land and sea. They swapped produce and everyone got along well,” he told AFP.
“We thought it best to keep this practice so we didn’t lose this record of our grandparents and to show to our children how our parents lived.”
Stuck in time
In many respects, Togoville — Togo’s former capital which gave its name to the country — seems stuck in time, living according to the rhythm of the lake and the fishing season.
It was here in 1884 that king Mlapa III of Togoville signed a treaty to become a German protectorate, well before Togo became a French colony.
Even today, it’s easier to get to Togoville by wooden canoe across the lake than by using the potholed road from Lome that skirts the water’s edge.
The village, which is home to some 10,000 people, is well known as a centre for voodoo, attracting devotees to study and practise the religion.
Wooden statues and shrines are everywhere. The Virgin Mary is also said to have been seen walking on the lake in the 1970s, spurring pope John Paul II to visit in 1985.
At the market, most business is conducted in the open in the oppressive heat. A few dilapidated wooden structures with rusting corrugated roofs are used as shade.
Others spread out their wares on the parched brown earth. Women in colourful wrappers pick their way expertly through the crowds, balancing large bowls of produce on their heads.
Atsupi Fiodjio has been coming to the market from a nearby village for more than 25 years and sits on a brick selling smoked fish.
“I come every Saturday with two or three big baskets of smoked fish and I go home at the end of the day with at least three sacks of maize, beans and black-eyed peas,” she said.
“I resell them in our market where grains sell really quickly because our people mainly fish. We don’t grow anything,” she added, as a dozen customers looked on.
Sitting on the ground in front of her nearby stall, Jeannette Tenge lets everyone in earshot know about the quality of her fish.
“I only accept grains, especially corn and rice, and of course flour and cassava. Doing this gets me my stocks for the house for the whole week for my family,” she added.
“On other days I sell bread in the village school,” she added, complaining about the lack of shade from the harsh sun.
Poverty and necessity
Togoville’s barter market is one of only a few surviving in the country but it isn’t just about respecting traditions. It also endures out of necessity.
About half of Togo’s nearly eight million people live below the poverty line and often complain about increases in the price of foodstuffs. Some don’t always have enough to pay in cash.
“I left the house with some corn and garri (powdery or ground foodstuffs) to come and swap with some fish to prepare at home,” said Adole, a schoolgirl.
“I don’t often come to the market. I come when I’m a bit hungry.”
Enyoname said she barters poultry for corn and garri. “I have to do it because I find it difficult to sell,” she explains.
The king’s advisor, Simon Tovor, said bartering also has a practical application, allowing goods to be used more quickly than by selling.
“People in the countryside use this shortcut rather than try to sell their produce with all the risks… (involved in) keeping it fresh,” he added.
Old Moroccan City of Fez, lures tourists from across the globe
The imperial city, Morocco’s “spiritual” capital has been overlooked by tourists in favour of Marrakesh.
In recent times the imperial city of Fez has been overlooked by tourists in favour of Marrakesh, but now Morocco’s “spiritual” capital is bustling with visitors due to major renovations and low-cost flights. “It is an open-air museum, with the largest pedestrian zone in the world and its 10,000 alleyways,” said Yassir Jawra, vice president of the Fez tourism commission.
Fez “is the spiritual capital of Morocco, famed for its culture and its (age-old) handicraft work,” he added. Since 2013, more than one billion dirhams (92 million euros, $103 million) of investment have been poured into the city of Fez to restore the 9th-century walled medina and develop tourism.
The medina, home to the world’s oldest working library, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 for its “outstanding universal value”. Guardian of priceless treatises in Islamic studies, astronomy and medicine, the library is nestled in the maze of narrow and dark alleyways which tourists and donkey-drawn carts can struggle to navigate.
Like many monuments it has been renovated after the authorities in the late 1980s sounded the alarm in a report saying that more than half of the buildings in the medina were crumbling and 10 percent were threatened with ruin following years of neglect and a lack of public funds.
Behind the high crenellated walls that surround the medina lie 9,000 historical houses, 11 madrassas, 83 mausoleums, 176 mosques and 1,200 handicraft workshops. Patrician palaces with their secret gardens and terraces, elegant fountains and ancient caravansary, or inns, are among the jewels lying there to be discovered.
According to Fouad Serrhini, head of the Agency of Development and Restoration tasked with rehabilitating the medina, “thousands” of buildings and monuments have been saved from ruin since 2013. “They were chosen according to their state of degradation and how urgently the work was needed,” he said.
In all, 4,000 buildings were saved between 2013 and 2018, while 27 monuments were restored. In mid-April, King Mohammed VI visited Fez to inaugurate some buildings that had been renovated and launch the second phase of the rehabilitation programme.
Following his visit, authorities issued a report insisting that the rehabilitation work respect the medina’s “authenticity” and “original architecture”.
“The ancient medina is a live treasure, hidden and secret, which cannot be taken lightly,” said Salim Belghazi, a 33-year-old who has transformed his 14th-century riad, or traditional family home, into a private museum. Belghazi, who hails from a wealthy background, said he hopes that despite the transformation, Fez will maintain its soul.
Ancient tanneries in Fez
Meanwhile, tourists are flocking to Fez, where the regional Fes-Saiss airport has undergone an expansion to accommodate the growing number of visitors and low-cost flights mainly from across Europe.
The number of passengers has jumped from 108,000 in 2004 to more than a million in 2018, according to official figures. But Marrakesh remains the country’s top tourist destination, with more than two million arrivals in 2017.
Tourism is a major source of revenue for Morocco, which received more than 12 million visitors in 2018, according to official figures. Abderahim Belkhayat, head of a regional body of artisans, said the influx of visitors to City of Fez “benefits” craftsmen, noting that three-quarters of the medina’s residents earn a living directly or indirectly from the sector.
Local authorities have mapped out a “vision” to revamp the sector by giving it a “new look” in order to produce “high quality” crafts, he said.
A 2005 official report indicated that in the long term, authorities hope to transform the medina into a “showcase” of handicrafts while the workshops themselves would be relocated outside the walls. So far, 6,000 potters and brass and copper workers have been moved into zones with modern infrastructure and tanners are expected to follow suit in a separate location.
The idea is to rid the medina of the cacophony of noise emanating from brassware and potter workshops as well as the pungent odours that rise from the ancient tanneries – the later a “must” stop on the tourist circuit.
Tourists, their noses covered with mint leaves to ward off the stench, congregate on terraces overlooking the tanneries to snap pictures of the men working below, using the same methods as their ancestors did.
The tanners stand almost knee-deep in large vats containing quicklime, cow urine, salt and water to clean the hides, which they will later soak in pigeon poop and water before the dying process can begin.
But the sight seems to delight the visitors and the end result, such as leather belts and bags sold in the boutiques, proves popular with buyers.
Nigerian musician, Alex Boyé drops two new singles
Alex Boye is fast becoming a popular figure for his uplifting and elevating musical sound
Alex Boyé is a Nigerian musician who has been in the music industry for 25 years. He became popular for his uplifting and elevating musical sound. Since then, Boyé has gone on to become an important voice in the Nigerian music scene.
And now, his support for mental health campaigns -by adding his voice to suicide prevention efforts -has earned him due commendations and honour.
Alex Boyé appeared on one of America’s best-known talent shows, America’s Got Talent. With his signature white mark under his right eye, a boisterous spirit and great charisma, he took to the stage and impressed the judges with his energy and music.
In 2017, he was named the “2017 Rising Artist of the Year” in a contest sponsored by Pepsi and Hard Rock Cafe.
His rendition of the “Lord’s Prayer” in Kiswahili three years ago has over 11 million views on YouTube, while his Africanized cover version of “Let It Go” has more than 102 million views.
In all, Boyé, an independent artist, has 1 billion YouTube views.
Keeping to his promise, Boye released two songs, “Still Breathing” and “Bend, Not Break”.
In a press release, Boyé says, “‘Bend Not Break’ is a song that encourages people considering suicide to look beyond their current circumstances and make a different choice; to bend and not break, while “Still Breathing” shares the thoughts of someone who attempted suicide but survived.
After some time, they recognize the gift of life again and are grateful that they’re still breathing.”
Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, requested permission to use Boyé’s song as their main theme song for Suicide Prevention Week and its message during Mental Health Awareness Month.
On 25th April 2019, Boyé will be honored with the 2019 Erase The Stigma Leadership Award presented by the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services Agency.
Equatorial Guinea struggles to diversify economy with tourism
For almost a decade, Sipopo has been the crown jewel in a strategy to lure high-end visitors to Equatorial Guinea
Gleaming but eerily empty, the luxurious Sipopo resort with its five-star hotel and exclusive facilities rises from a tropical beach, symbolising the dilemma of Equatorial Guinea — a notoriously closed country that has turned to tourism to help fill its coffers.
The purpose-built town was carved out of an ancient forest in 2011 at a cost of 600 million euros, initially to host a week-long African Union summit and showcase the rise of the oil-rich state.
A 16-kilometre drive from Equatorial Guinea’s capital Malabo, the resort boasts a vast conference centre, the Sofitel Malabo Sipopo Le Golf hotel, as well as 52 luxury villas — one for every head of state to attend the summit — each with its own swimming pool.
There is also an 18-hole golf course, several restaurants and exclusive beaches guarded by police.
For almost a decade, Sipopo has been the crown jewel in a strategy to lure high-end visitors to Equatorial Guinea to diversify an economy badly hit by a slump in oil revenue.
But the town, seemed quite empty — an impression strengthened by conversations with people who live or who work there.
“It’s depressing, there’s no-one,” said a visiting Gabonese consultant.
A worker, who asked not to be named, said the complex was quiet year-round: “You can hear the sound of your own footsteps.”
The occasional visitors tend to be well connected, rich and in search of privacy, the sources said.
Many are guests of a government described by Human Rights Watch as corrupt and repressive.
One of the villas, according to the sources, was occupied by former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh after he fled his country in 2017.
At Easter, the 200-room hotel’s guests included a Spanish couple on honeymoon, a few families and some businessmen, who were all foreigners.
In the echoing lobby, a huge black and white portrait of the country’s 76-year-old authoritarian president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema — Africa’s longest-serving ruler — hung on the wall, watching over the vacant reception area.
A 1.5-kilometre beach — an artificial shore secluded from curious eyes — was virtually deserted, in contrast to a public beach near the capital. The three-lane highway leading from Malabo to Sipopo was mostly empty of traffic.
A hospital was added after the villas were built, but is unused, the sources said.
In 2014, a mall was built at the resort to house 50 shops, a bowling alley, two cinemas and a children’s play area.
But a hotel receptionist said the complex was not open yet, adding: “If you want to buy a souvenir, you will have to go to Malabo.” At night-time, shiny limousines arrived at a luxury restaurant to drop off diners.
Located on the mid-Atlantic coast of central Africa, Equatorial Guinea has flooded social media with messages of its allure as a holiday destination.
Plans to build a new passenger terminal at the airport in Bata city have also just received a 120-million-euro injection from the Development Bank of Central African States.
Figures for visitors are unavailable, and the tourism ministry in Malabo did not respond to requests for information. In the latest global compilation of figures posted by the World Bank, the number of tourists for Equatorial Guinea has been left blank.
But much of the tourism in evidence are business people, such as oil company workers, relaxing for a few days, or attending energy or economic conferences.
A few travel firms offer trips tailor-made for both luxury and adventure, but they also allude to the difficulties, notably of being allowed to enter the country.
“The country has been a mystery to outsiders, who were discouraged from entering by a difficult visa process and a lack of tourism infrastructure,” says the website of British tour operator Undiscovered Destinations.
The firm claimed, however, that “things are changing fast… with an excellent road network and numerous hotels springing up seemingly overnight.”
Few Equatoguineans have the chance of staying in such places. At Sipopo’s hotel, a basic room costs the equivalent of more than 200 euros ($224) a night, while exclusive accommodation tops 850 euros.
The discovery of vast oil reserves off the coast in the mid-1990s has boosted the country’s gross national income to a theoretical annual $19,500 per person per year, according to the UN Development Programme.
But that wealth benefits a small elite among the country’s 1.2 million inhabitants. More than two-thirds of Equatoguineans live below the poverty line, and 55 percent of the population aged over 15 are unemployed.
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