Freetown, Baby!

The Hummer Index by jc2010sl
March 29, 2011, 8:06 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

African capitals are like buses it seems; you wait a year for one, and then 2 come along. Hot on the heels of my trip to Monrovia last weekend I’ve now hopped up the coast in the other direction, to Conakry, the capital of Guinea. While Liberia had an unmistakably American air, Guinea belies its status as a former French colony, not matter how prominent it was in asserting a proudly independent African identity. The first signs are the cars; instead of Nissans, a good number of the taxis are Renaults. And then there are the small details; the unmistakably French style of street signs, baguettes for sale on the road side, and people playing boules in the shade.

The other thing that struck me after travelling several countries so close together, has been how quick I and my travelling companions are to assess the level of “development” and the examples we cite to support our assertions. Of course, the development industry has a whole host of metrics, indicators and indicies devoted to the subject. Our reflections, it must be said, are a little less scientific!

The most obvious signs of wealth in the country are the state of infrastructure; roads, buildings and railways (if you’re so lucky). But these often reflect a benefits accruing to a rather narrow elite. I was struck for instance to see a train track by the side of the road on the way from the airport. “Do the trains run?” I asked the driver, “Yes,” he said, “delivering bauxite.” Sure enough, the next day I saw 10 or so huge containers rolling into the city, presumably loaded with ore. But there are other signs that give a hint of how much of this wealth has trickled down; public transport for example. Immediately striking on entering Liberia and Guinea was how many fewer motorbike taxis there are, and the better condition of car taxis compared to Sierra Leone. The other indicator is an even smaller detail: the cigarette. Maybe it’s the French cultural influence again, but I’m sure I’ve spotted far more Guineans (or Conakrians I should say) puffing away than I ever encounter in Salone.

But perhaps the most striking indicator proposed by my colleague was the “Hummer index”, which charts development against the length of vehicle. By this measure, Guinea wins hands down.


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