Ade Adepitan goes on an epic journey around Africa.
Part 1: West
Ade Adepitan embarks on the first leg of his epic journey around Africa. Starting in west Africa, this episode sees Ade traveling from Cape Verde to Senegal and the Ivory Coast, before finishing in Nigeria – the country of his birth.
In Cape Verde – a group of tiny volcanic islands in the Atlantic – Ade visits a community living in the shadow of an active volcano. He also witnesses how solar power is transforming lives by bringing electricity to isolated communities.
Ade’s next stop is Senegal. Here he visits Goree Island – a former staging post in the transatlantic slave trade. He then travels down the coast to a fishing village, where he hears that much of Senegal’s catch is being taken by foreign companies and turned into fishmeal to feed western livestock. Making a last stop on his journey through Senegal, Ade visits Lake Retba where he joins the workers who wade through the lake gathering salt which they sell for less than half a penny a kilogram. Ade’s host has tried to escape poverty by migrating to Europe, but – like so many others – he never got further than the horrors of the camps in Libya.
In the Ivory Coast, Ade meets more people who share the dream of getting to Europe. This time, however, they are footballers training to become professionals in Europe’s big leagues. But it does not always work out, as many are scammed into giving their cash to dodgy football agents.
The final stop is Nigeria, the country Ade was born in. In Lagos he meets some old friends who play para soccer, and he also visits the largest church building on the planet. Traveling out of Lagos, he discovers a country in chaos. Under armed escort, he hears about a conflict that has created hundreds of thousands refugees, but barely been reported on in the west. He finishes his journey at Nigeria’s equivalent to Silicon Valley – a company that believes tech can transform the continent.
Part 2: Central
This leg takes Ade across central Africa, from the coast of Gabon, through the giant Democratic Republic of Congo, and on to Uganda.
He starts off the coast of Gabon looking for humpback whales. It is one of Africa’s best spots for seeing them, thanks to Gabon’s vast marine sanctuaries. The country is an eco-paradise, not just in the water, but on land as well where 80% of it is forested. But the country has recently introduced one of the most destructive agri-businesses in the tropics – palm oil farming. Ade discovers how Gabon hopes to do it sustainably. The country has impressive environmental credentials, but on a tour of its divided capital Ade hears that some people are skeptical. One critic suggests it is a way for the country’s autocratic ruler Ali Bongo Ondimba to curry favour with the international community.
Next up is perhaps the most chaotic and corrupt country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ade discovers first-hand how everyone from the traffic police to the country’s top politicians are on the take. He also spends time with some of Kinshasa’s musicians and ‘sapeurs’ – people who get kitted out in the finest haute couture in one of the poorest countries on the planet.
In DRC’s far east, he finds out what lies at the heart of the country’s problems: a never-ending conflict amongst local militia, fuelled by foreign countries who want to get their hands on the DRC’s vast resources. After going on a tank patrol with the UN, he meets Kibomango, a champion boxer who is helping to rehabilitate some of the country’s 30,000 child soldiers.
Travelling into one of the most famous national parks in the world, Virunga, Ade discovers that few areas of the country have been left unscarred by the violence. And the impact on the wildlife has been extreme, as Ade encounters some of the world’s few remaining mountain gorillas.
His final stop on this trip is Uganda where he meets Bobi Wine, one of Africa’s most outspoken political campaigners. Bobi was recently arrested and beaten, and his driver killed, after his protests drew the attention of long-serving autocratic ruler Yoweri Museveni. Ade meets a defiant man who will not give up, no matter what threats are made on his life. He is part of a new generation of Africans who are fighting to take back control from the post-colonial leaders who have done so much to wreck the continent.
Part 3: East
This leg takes Ade to the east of the continent, from Tanzania, through Ethiopia and on to war-torn Somalia.
Ade begins in Tanzania, in Selous Game Reserve – a game park the size of Switzerland. He is on the lookout for elephants. But the numbers in this park have fallen by 90 per cent over the last few decades. As well as poaching, one of the big problems is that elephants trample and eat crops – so the locals don’t like them. But a new collaring programme is helping numbers to recover.
Ade’s next stop is Ethiopia’s far north. He travels to the hottest place on the planet where he spends a night with some of the toughest people on earth – the Afar. He joins them doing what their ancestors have done for centuries – hacking blocks of salt from a dried-up salt lake and loading them onto camels. But change is finally coming to this place – thanks to another of its resources, the fertilizer potash. It is a sign of Ethiopia’s development, which Ade sees more of in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Having grown up with images of starving children in the famine-plagued 80s, Addis is nothing like Ade expected. The city is booming. And it is driving Ethiopia’s economy – now one of the fastest-growing in the world. Ade gets a guided tour from perhaps the world’s greatest-ever long distance runner, Haile Gebrselassie. Haile is now a businessman, with investments in coffee and construction.
The real fuel in Ethiopia’s boom is manufacturing. Asia is still the workshop of the world, but with wages there on the rise, Chinese companies are increasingly looking to countries like Ethiopia to set up factories – as Ade discovers on a visit to a shoe factory.
Leaving Addis, Ade travels on Ethiopia’s new high-speed Chinese built train, which whisks him all the way to neighbouring Djibouti, a vital port for Ethiopia’s export-led economy.
The final stop on this leg of Ade’s trip is war-torn Somalia. He joins the African Union troops on a mission out of Mogadishu and discovers a country in ruins, thanks to decades of conflict with Islamist group al-Shabab. Even in areas ruled by the government conservative Islam dominates and women face restriction on their freedom. Back in Mogadishu, Ade shoots some hoops with a group of women defying the odds by playing basketball. His final encounter is with a female doctor who worked for the NHS for 30 years, and has now returned to Somalia to rebuild her country. She is prepared to give her life, if necessary, in her efforts to provide quality maternity care for new mothers.
Part 4: South
The final leg of Ade’s tour of Africa sees him travelling from the beaches of Mozambique, through South Africa, before ending his entire trip in Zimbabwe.
He begins on the golden sand beaches of Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago, one of Africa’s highlights. At Paradise Island, he finds an abandoned hotel, a visual reminder of Mozambique’s recent history – this place was once a high-end tourist destination, but 25 years of colonial and then civil war put a stop to development. But the local wildlife has benefited from the fact that so few tourists now come here, and Ade is able to snorkel with one of the world’s most elusive sea creatures – a dugong.
Since the wars, Mozambique has struggled to develop, and Ade meets someone for whom life is especially hard – a wheelchair user like himself. In a country where disability is viewed with fear and superstition – and believed by many to be contagious – even catching a bus proves impossible for Castigo. The best thing in his life is exactly the same thing that turned Ade’s life around – wheelchair basketball – and Ade can’t help getting carried away in a game. Along the coast, at one of Mozambique’s largest ports, Ade finds out that China is investing a huge amount in Mozambique – and elsewhere across Africa. The money often comes with strings attached, but a poor country like Mozambique needs financial help, which has to come from somewhere.
Ade’s next stop is South Africa. The country is famous for its wildlife but Ade hears how Chinese influence is having a dramatic impact here – the country’s rhino population has been decimated by poachers, driven by a demand for rhino horn in Chinese medicine. Ade follows rangers with a surprising way of tackling the problem – by cutting off the rhino horn themselves, they hope to deter poachers.
Ade travels to Johannesburg to see how the country is faring 25 years after apartheid ended. On a tour of the city, he is upset to discover that although the black population now have voting rights, they are living in an economic form of apartheid, with 25% unemployed and many squatting on whatever land they can find. In an emotional scene, Ade visits a squatted piece of land, moments after the police have destroyed people’s houses, to hear claims that Mandela’s legacy has been forgotten. Land reform is the big political issue here today, with many calling for a redistribution of land from rich white farmers to the black population.
The final stop on Ade’s African adventure is Zimbabwe – where land reform has already happened, with disastrous results. Ade finds a country still struggling economically. His first stop is the Kariba dam, and a hair-raising boat ride on the vast and stunning Lake Kariba. Ade finds that locals are worried about the stability of the Kariba dam and work has begun to stabilize undermined foundations. The worrying decay of this crucial dam is a sign of how much this country suffered under the rule of Robert Mugabe.
As Ade has seen so often on his trip around Africa, Zimbabwe is a country that should be rich. It has huge quantities of gold – enough, in theory, for the entire population to be a millionaire. But there isn’t the infrastructure of investment to get at it – in a country dogged by poverty and corruption. But the departure of dictator Robert Mugabe brought a new optimism, and Ade meets gold miners who are willing to risk daily exposure to toxic mercury for every scrap of gold they can get and an entrepreneur who believes the industry can be transformed. Despite the return of violence and repression in Zimbabwe, Ade ends his journey on a high, visiting a remote hut that has been turned into the set of a music video. He joins UK indie musician Shingai Shoniwa as she shoots the video for her forthcoming debut single, Coming Home, in a country that she believes is on the up, and deserves a fresh chance.