Tag Archives: twitter

The Mali model.

CNN, retreating from the imperiled-World-Cup hysteria I blogged about a few days ago, asks a more reasonable question in the wake of last week’s Cabinda attack: Was Angola ready to host the African Cup of Nations? The short answer: sort of. The long answer: I guess.

The tournament, says the report, traditionally acts as a catalyst for a developing nation’s growth.

“The African Cup of Nations does do a lot for its host country,” said journalist Ian Hawkey, an African football expert and author of “Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football.”

“In the last 15 years both Mali and Burkina Faso have hosted it, and now Angola. You would have said at one point, no way can these places organise a tournament. But they got stadiums out of it and Mali’s football has grown since 2002, Burkina Faso’s too.”

This affords one of those rare instances when you can say, “Look at Mali!” and mean it as a good thing.

In Angola, development ahead of the Cup of Nations had spurred an already frantic construction boom. According to CNN, “more than $1billion of the country’s vast oil wealth, according to the government, had been invested in stadiums, roads, hotels and hospitals.”

The construction boom in Luanda

A view of the port

As The Observer reported last month, Angola was looking at the tournament as “a vote of confidence in its stability and economic capabilities.”

It’s safe to say last week’s attack on the Togo bus won’t scare off the IMF or chase out any of the multi-nationals investing billions off Angola’s shores. (Except, maybe, the Chinese.) But what about the country’s image?

Angola has enjoyed a remarkable bit of rebranding since the end of the civil war. Gone was the image of Angola as a proxy battlefield for global superpowers during the Cold War. Instead of UNITA rebels using CIA-funded mortars to shell MPLA and Cuban troops in Soviet tanks (!), we have American oil execs, Russian telecom giants, Chinese manufacturers, and just about everyone else – even the French! – scrambling for a piece of the pie.

Angola then...

...and now. (Courtesy of Vanessa Vick, NYT.)

What a difference a few years can make.

With millions of barrels of oil pumping out of the country and billions of dollars pumping into it, Angola has begun to throw its weight around as a regional heavyweight.

“Angola sees itself as a regional superpower,” Alex Vines, of London-based Chatham House, told the AFP. “The expanding number of embassies opening in Luanda attest to its growing influence.”

Still, there are few illusions about just what sort of country Angola is becoming. Thanks to the growing strength of its ties with China – always a friend of human rights – Luanda hasn’t had to jump through the usual moral hoops to secure strings-attached financing from the international community.

Fear of China’s entry into Africa played directly into Angola’s hands after years of half-hearted reception from reform-pushing international lenders, said Nomfundo Ngwenya of the South African Institute of International Affairs.

“China’s stepping into the scene was undoubtedly a game-changer. Angola suddenly found a seemingly infinite source of finance, without the stringency of externally-imposed political, social and economic reform,” she told AFP.

An offshore gas flare, courtesy of Vanessa Vick at The New York Times

So long as the oil is pumping and Chinese demand is skyrocketing, there’s a willing client happy to sign those checks, no questions asked. As a result, dos Santos and his cabal aren’t fretting over the concerns of the global community on corruption and human rights. Muito obrigado, Beijing!

Workers on an offshore oil rig, courtesy of Vanessa Vick at The New York Times

So despite the added prestige of hosting the Cup of Nations, the view from Luanda was already looking just fine, thank you very much. Even if last week’s attack put a dint in Angola’s coming-out party – “an opportunity to showcase Angola to the rest of the world,” according to Antonio Mangueira, executive director of the tournament’s local organizing committee – the country has already secured itself a place at the grown-ups’ table.

Brave new world.

I’ve been stooped over my laptop like a Talmudic scholar these past few days, trying to beef up the blog you see before you. This is no coincidence. Hoping to give my biggest New Year’s resolution a head start leading into 2010, I’m slaving away in an effort to do something I’ve shied away from for the past few years: join the Digital Age.

Admittedly, me trying to establish a web presence is like a Luddite trying to work a zipper. But I’m deferring to the judgment of those who know better: my friend Graham Holliday, for example, a Kigali-based writer who, having more or less conquered the world of old media, has been ahead of the curve in getting a new media foothold in Africa, of all places. (Though if you’re going to do it anywhere in Africa, you might as well do it in Rwanda.) Having already taught me how to repackage and resell a single story in multiple countries, Graham is sort of becoming my go-to guy on all things writing-related. Lucky Graham.

Then there was this excellent piece in the latest issue of Travel + Leisure, on how social media is changing the way we travel. Reporting from the frontlines of the 21st century, Peter Lindberg reflects on how

with minimal effort, in the comfort of a hotel lobby, I can plot a route to a restaurant I’m considering, download tonight’s menu, translate it instantly from the Catalan, read 47 detailed customer reviews, call up TwitPics of the razor clams, even take some guy’s virtual tour of the dining room. When I started covering travel 15 years ago, we hadn’t imagined search engines, let alone Skype. (Also? We walked to the airport, knee-deep in snow.) Last summer I listened to a Red Sox game live on my iPhone while on a layover in Hong Kong.

It should be observed, first of all, that Lindberg seems to present these developments as a good thing. (TwitPics of the razor clams?) The piece, however, is nuanced enough to recognize that for all we’ve gained through the crowd-sourcing wisdom of TripAdvisor, VirtualTourist and the like (let’s not forget my former employer, TravelGator!), we run the risk of losing the sense of mystery that is, really, the essence of why we travel. And the joy of exploring a place that is, ultimately, unknowable. (TwitPics be damned!)

This is no small thing. Lindberg describes a memorable encounter in the lobby of Barcelona’s slick Hotel Arts, where LL Cool J made an improbable cameo appearance to video Skype with a Chicago couple’s children. (“What’s up, kids? I’m here in Spain with your moms and pops!”) And he experienced

the weird sensation of being with a bunch of strangers who had all come to this spot to connect—yet not with each other. Here we were, a roomful of fellow travelers: tweeting, IM’ing, video chatting, sharing slide shows, and virtually bonding with people in other rooms, some halfway around the globe.

The points he makes – essentially an indictment of How We Travel Now – might not be the most obvious argument for why I’m suddenly blogging, social networking and tweeting my little heart out. (Which reminds me: follow me on Twitter! @postcardjunky). But the gap between the world he describes and the world I inhabit sent a little 20th-century shiver down my spine. Why shouldn’t I, too, have a place in the Twittosphere?

This coincides with the nomination by World Hum – a site to which I not infrequently contribute – of travel bloggers, collectively, as their Travelers of the Year.

Travel bloggers were in the spotlight at major new media conferences—both at BlogWorldExpo in Las Vegas, where they convened a panel, and at SXSW Interactive in Austin, where Sheila Scarborough and Pam Mandel drew a standing-room-only crowd. Travel bloggers also saw the rise of a conference devoted entirely to their work: TBEX, short for Travel Blog Exchange, held in Chicago in July. Kim Mance and Debbie Dubrow presided over a group of more than 120 bloggers, whose energy and passion for travel was hard to contain in one room.

With my own wayward travel blog having tapered off months ago, I felt an acute sense of longing. Was I missing the boat? Was I totally, irreparably irrelevant as a writer? I mean, even more than before?

Admittedly, the World Hum piece at times seemed to miss the point. Much is made of the fact that travel bloggers are suddenly reaping the benefits of the old media world.

Travel bloggers and Tweeters this year lounged on Hawaiian beaches, traipsed across the Lido deck of cruise ships and explored Mexican villages at others’ expense like never before—experiences they chronicled on blogs and in Tweets.

Press junkets are, in at least one reporter’s opinion, not exactly the best way to bestow legitimacy on the new travel media world. Some might argue the opposite. (The New York Times caused a stir earlier this year by canning a columnist who violated their notoriously stringent ethical guidelines. Matt Kepnes, on the other hand, of Nomadic Matt fame, has a very honest and admirably sane take on accepting freebies.)

Sifting through all the digital information overload, though, I came to the logical conclusion that a fresh year demanded a fresh start. And that if I ultimately want to succeed in my (at times half-hearted) mission to change – however briefly, however slightly – the way people look at this big, complicated, marvelous and misunderstood continent I currently call home, I needed to first join the conversation.

So here’s my New Year’s resolution in 2010: to have something worth saying, to have someone to say it to. So that we might, as Lindberg put it in his T+L piece, be “clustered around the virtual hearth of the [web]—together and apart, in our own huge worlds.”