On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek

Zaire

The Footloose Forester had many a stopover in transit countries that hardly count as experiences that deserve to be included in memoirs. A few stopovers, however, are linked to other events that are burned into the memory of the Footloose Forester, thus he is wont to jot down those thoughts that are part of a larger picture. In the case of Zaire, the links are sad episodes in the recent history of despotic dictatorships of Mobutu Sese Seko and his successors who contested the leadership of one of the largest and potentially richest countries in Africa.  The visage of the infamous Mobutu is depicted on the souvenir banknote shown below.

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One stopover at Kinshasa, a capital of Zaire, was at a time when the stability of the country was very much in question.  The customs authorities had previously approved the list of participants, including the Footloose Forester, who planned to attend a Land Management in Africa Conference in Brazzaville, on the other side of the Congo River, and the other once-recognized co-capital of Zaire. Upon landing, those same authorities refused to allow passengers to deplane because of the potential for violence in the city itself, so sent us on our way to Gabon, where the American Ambassador to Gabon hastily and graciously arranged to have the Conference transferred.  He engaged with the Gabonese authorities to allow three dozen participants from various countries in Africa to enter on short notice. The transfer of the Conference and its structured agenda also meant a modified travel agenda into the Gabonese countryside, which normally included selected field projects, to validate the land-based emphasis on real-world circumstances that the participants were involved with on a professional basis.

The other stopover was in Brazzaville, maybe on the way back from Gabon, and maybe not.  The stopover was nothing to write home about.  But the memories of Zaire have another aspect. 

As a final reminder of the unbelievable instability in Zaire at the time, Footloose Forester brought home some Zaire banknotes. The 5,000,000 Zaire denomination note was worth about 15 US cents and it took many millions of Zaires to buy a cup of coffee.  Of course, a million doesn't go as far as it used to.