First African President

Near Campo Ma'an National Park. Photo by Christiane Badgley

The town of Campo is located about 80 km (50 miles) south of Kribi, just north of the  border with Equatorial Guinea. On paper, the road from Kribi to Campo is paved — it is, after all, an international highway. Of course what’s printed on the map and the reality on the ground are often two very different things. The road, in fact, is unpaved and in terrible condition.  At the end of the rainy season the drive from Kribi to Campo took longer than three hours. Along the way we encountered several big trucks stuck in the mud, their drivers sitting on the roadside.  They were waiting for the sun to dry the mud enough for the trucks to move again. A wait that could last several days…

For me Campo was a stop on the road to the Campo Ma’an National Park.  To access the park by land, you have to travel another two and a half hours east along what used to be a logging road.  Now it’s more of a path, barely wide enough for a car to pass.  The forest ranger who accompanied us to the park said that on average the road gets used once every two months, just enough to keep the forest from completely reclaiming the land.

At the last settlement before the park entrance, we encountered a Bagyeli man in an Obama t-shirt. “The first African president,” he said.  Obama t-shirts weren’t unusual; I also saw a few cars, buses — even bars — named Obama.  But this t-shirt was special.  It was so worn and so far from any town or city; it really seemed to sum up the symbolic importance of Obama here.  The first African president.

Now with 2010 just around the corner, let’s remember Obama’s declaration:  “Africa doesn’t need strongmen. It needs strong institutions.” He pronounced those words in July while in Ghana. I hope that in this coming year Obama will be more than the symbolic first African president, that he will take actions to show his commitment to the continent and its peoples is real.

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