EDIT From Swaziland, here’s a link to a story about a tithe contribution arrangement between MTN and two local church groups.
A guest post by @chiefnyamweya, an Artist, Web-enthusiast, and Comic Creator.
Getting there: You can use Ethiopian Airlines at a cost of Kshs 62,500 (~$735) (and Kenya Aiways too). You have to have a yellow fever certificate. On arrival, you face the risk of losing checked in baggage, and as there is a severe fuel crisis, a taxi into town could cost $50
Getting around: I didn’t pay much attention, as we had access to a private vehicle. But on the flip-side to the fuel crisis, there are no traffic jams!
Speak English, as Swahili is useless there, and you’ll endear yourself if you learned a little Chichewa. The one phrase I picked up (since it was said a lot to me) was “Musojela!!” or “You’ll get Lost!” Take any normal precautions as you’d take in Kenya, and I never once saw an AK-47 wielding cop here.
Hotels: You can get some very decent accommodation at Kshs .4,000 ($47) per night. Electricity is patchy, like Kenya, but a bit worse.
Dining: Excellent fish. They eat Ugali too, and their pineapples are sweet, but without the sting.
Communications: This was problematic. Roaming was expensive, and it was better to call Kenya, than have someone call from Kenya as you’d both be charged – and this was at about Kshs 25 per minute.
Shopping & Sight-Seeing: For shopping, there is Shoprite in both Blantyre and Lilongwe, while the two sights I got to see were Lake Malawi and Mount Mulanji. A local legend I heard about was about (people) disappearing on Mt. Mulanji.
Surprises: – Excellent roads here
– Women kneel in the presence of men when serving food or washing their hands (among other perceived gender inequalities)
EDIT (A second guest post from February 2012)
Getting there: Kenya Airways (KQ) has the most convenient direct flight from Nairobi – outbound in the morning and some days in the evening too. It cost $900+- and a yellow fever certificate is required on arrival, otherwise the immigration process not too much of a hustle.
Hotels: Finally, there is a new hotel in town that’s opened up operated by Chinese.. it’s called the Golden Peacock, with lots of signs in Chinese which I find funny. They still have teething problems and shockingly just serve a Chinese menu… but costs roughly $100 b&b. There is another plush hotel with conference facilities coming up next to the Parliament. This is all great for Lilongwe as before these new hotels, it was a choice between Crossroads which is Indian owned and smelt very Indian and Sun Bird which is a government owned hotel – with the same style, ambience and service as the Block hotels that were government owned in Kenya back in the day.
Dining: They love ‘sima’ which they eat with red kidney beans a lot.. an interesting combination. Also there’s a fish dish called Chambo is meant to be legendary and rice called Kilombero that has superb aroma. This particular rice swells about 3 times its original size so I guess depends on how one likes their rice.
Communications: Both Airtel and Vodacom are accessible though better choice is Airtel as there are no roaming charges. Vodacom via Safaricom too expensive to use in Malawi, and the cost of calls remains high for the country.
Shopping & Sight-Seeing: The Monkey bay area has the most beautiful lake.. very romantic with a number of excellent hotels in the vicinity.
Surprises: – It’s raining and the country is what can be called Maize country. Once you leave the airport, you see maize and you will traverse the country and see tons of maize along the road. These people are lucky to be food secure.
– The fuel crisis still persists thus hoarding of this commodity is rampant, but I still don’t understand it
– These people don’t build palatial homes in the countryside.. They all pretty much live in hut houses which is quite surprising….
A guest post by @digitalafrican
Getting There: The cost to travel to Zambia is extremely high, and each ticket is around $700-800. Kenya Airways pretty much has a monopoly on travel to Zambia, and the route takes you through Lilongwe, Malawi. Once there, you can get a visa right at the airport with no hassle e.g. $50 for American visitors.
Everything at the airport is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any unexpected taxes once you arrive although when you leave there can be a $25 tax that is levied. (though I didn’t experience this).
Getting Around: You can use matatu’s, private cars and of course walking. Lusaka is pretty small and easy to get around. The cost for a typical taxi is around 100,000 Zambian Kwacha (equivalent to around $20).
Zambia is an incredibly peaceful country. Many people enjoy long walks and jogs around the city. There are some very well built pedestrian walkways and Zambians usually follow the rules of the road so it’s is relatively safe.
Communications: Coming from Kenya, Safaricom doesn’t seem to work here. However the two most popular services are Airtel and MTN, and it is pretty easy to get a SIM card and the rates are affordable. There are very few Wi-Fi hotspots, while decent cybercafés are rare.
Language: English is the primary language, and most locals speak it fluently.
Business & Infrastructure: – It may be hard to get accustomed to the currency, as you are dealing with thousands of Kwacha. One (US) dollar is around 5,000 Kwacha, so you can imagine trying to buy a soda.
– Hotels : Cost from $100+. Excluding, this you might spend about $40.00 per day out & about.
– Electricity: There is plenty of electricity, and no power cuts in Zambia due to plenty of water flowing through the Kariba Dam and Victoria Falls. The streets are also well lit.
– Opportunities: Zambia is also known for its natural resources such as copper and hydroelectricity so there are huge opportunities there as well. Also, I would say anything within tech and the digital space would be a great investment in the country.
Food & Bars: – One thing to get accustomed to, is the drinking culture, which is a prevalent part of the social culture, and may take some adjusting to depending on where you are from.
– Arcardes and Manda Hill are two popular spots in Zambia. The food is incredible but the service is incredibly slow. Make sure you pack a lot of patience when you come to Zambia.
– Some Local foods to try are Shima (a version of Ugali), fish and green vegetables, while the local Beer is Mosi.
– Football and politics are popular topics of conversation. I would say the biggest legend in Zambia would have to be Kenneth Kaunda (KK), the first president of Zambia. After serving as president for 27 years, KK has left an impression on the country.
Shopping & Sight-Seeing: – In Zambia, the two most popular sightseeing destinations are the Kariba Dam, one of the largest dams in the world and Victoria Falls, which is a beautiful spectacle of natural life. A trip to either is one that you can’t miss. Zambia has incredible nature and wildlife areas that are unbelievable; it is not rare to see wildlife while driving through the main highways. We were able to spot many elephants and deer during my time there.
– Wooden crafts and Fabric are very popular gift items. Compared to all the countries I have traveled to in Africa, wooden crafts are Zambia’s strong point.
Biggest surprise about the country: I would say that the country seems empty and spacious. There is not a large population and they have preserved a lot of their natural resources
Adapted as a guest post with input from Coldtusker
(Pic via airliners.net)
Getting There: Accra’s Kotoka airport is small & dated [but efficient] airport but the corridors can be a challenge o navigate if you have lots of luggage. An interesting feature of the NBO-ACC flights are the traders [mostly women] with HUGE bags/packages [from shopping trips in Dubai or China] who you can’t even see while they push their carts. It’s like a moving wall of goods! These ‘packages’ are held together by well-sewn polypropylene [plastic gunias] material. Emirates flies A340, with larger cargo bays while Kenya Airways (KQ) lies much smaller 737-300s. Other planes on the tarmac include Delta & British Airways both which have daily flights.
No visa is needed for Kenyans, but the flights are costly such as Kenya Airways (KQ) which is $1,000 – Ouch!
Getting Around: A taxi trip from Kotoka to town costs about $5-7 but some hotels will provide transport if you let them know in time. The traffic from Kotoka to town even at the worst of times is much better than Peak hours in Nairobi. Taxis are the most common (for visitors) way to get around; they are easy to catch in most places, and unlike Nairobi, these guys drive around ‘looking’ for customers. The are ‘painted’ with AMA (Accra Metropolitan Area) zones & numbers and are easy to spot. Plus they honk at you if they think you need a ride. Fares are not fixed but negotiable. So negotiate! The ‘quality’ of these taxis varies from ramshackle taxis to new ones. Some have windows that don’t open while others have AC. Always ask since Accra can get hot & humid. Think Mombasa. Boda bodas are available, as are matatus or buses. It is quite safe to walk around in many areas during the day, but at night, always use taxis.
Money: Cedis [GHc] & Pesewas. US$ = GHc1.5 but some still quote the ‘old’ Cedi which is 10,000x the ‘new’ Cedi. You can change money in many places with few restrictions. Always confirm what you will get NET after all fees. There are several forex bureaus all over the place especially Osu.
Hotels: Tend to be pricier than Nairobi. A nice 3-star hotel costs $120-170 for a single room! The pricier ones have WiFi, swimming pool, etc. and include a good breakfast. There are others at cheaper rates of ~$60 in ‘busier & noisier’ neighbourhoods which look/feel better than our River Road ones.
Communications: Local calls are reasonable now that Airtel [lower per minute calls about US$ 0.06 per minute] is in Ghana, slightly more compared to Kenya. MTN is king, and while there are other options including Tigo, Airtel adverts are everywhere. You can use Airtel Kenya to receive calls at no charge, while SMS to Kenya were cost ~Kshs 5-10, which is very convenient. Local SIM cards used to be easy to get (from street vendors) but are now a hassle, as you have to be registered. Some hotels have WiFi, and there are many cybercafés.
Food & Bars: – The local food varies with region but expect Yams, Cassava, Peanut sauce to be part of any ‘local’ meal & much more enjoyable compared to eating Italian, Indian, Continental [available anywhere in the world]. There are also lots of Lebanese restaurants as there are a significant number of Lebanese live in Accra.
– Instead of bottled water, water is commonly sold by many vendors & firms in plastic pouches (costing Kshs 5/=). You ask for it as ‘pure water,’ which is useful for washing hands, or face in the heat.
– Beers: depends on where you go but costs between $1-5, and is widely available – though there is a significant Muslim population there so watch out for Ramadan month. Guinness Breweries (Diageo) is #1 followed by Accra Breweries (SABMiller). Multiple brands of beer.
– In bars, politics & business are common topics. Smoking is allowed indoors so you may prefer to sit outside. There are lots of small or regional political parties similar to Kenya, but since Ghana came out of a civil war less than 2 decades ago, they want ‘peaceful’ elections [but never say never]. Two-term limits apply but old presidents never fade away! Jerry Rawlings remains popular.
– Football: is HUGE, and as in Kenya, Arsenal & Manchester United fans are everywhere, but Arsenal seem to be the overwhelming favorite. Of course, everyone looks up to the Ghanaian footballers in Europe.
Business & Infrastructure: – There are problems with reliable electricity supply but projects are underway [by the Chinese] including thermal production. Just like Kenya, the hydropower plants face challenges with low water [Akasombo Dam]. Major hotels have diesel generators to alleviate this [good – as the weather is like Mombasa].
– Tema Oil Refinery has same (or worse) problems as Kenya’s KPRL. Ghana Oil is listed on GSE, but majority owned by the Government. Total has a strong position in Ghana.
– Nigerian banks seem to dominate the skyline but the largest bank is Ghana Commercial Bank [GCB] (similar to Kenya Commercial Bank). The bank is listed, with the Government as a major shareholder, and GCB is now going through a massive transformation.
– They have had flyover roads for many years, and there is a wonderful cement/concrete road from Accra to Tema that was built during Nkrumah’s days. It’s a cheap toll road (about Kshs. 20/=) for a distance equivalent to Nairobi-Thika. The drainage systems are much better than Nairobi or Mombasa. Tema is their Thika – an industrial town, but it has a port too.
– Newspapers: There are very many [English] papers but they are poorly written & seem rather sensationalist. Not as good as the Kenyan papers in terms of analysis, etc.
– Business Opportunities? For everyone & everything… if they can compete with China, India, France, UK, etc!
Sight-seeing & Shopping: Oxford St, in Osu, is very popular and has a vibrant nightlife. Seems relatively safe vs Nairobi’s CBD. There are other shopping areas but not much to buy that you can’t get in Kenya. Shopping in Accra tends to be very pricey since almost everything is imported but buy real [unsweetened] Cocoa as it is grown in Ghana. Daily spend is about $50 per day without hotel.
For sightseeing, there is the Nkrumah Circle/Gardens & such. The Presidential Palace is shaped like an Ashanti Stool of the Asantahene [built/donated by the Chinese?] It is visible from the Road & is an imposing structure which includes many government offices.
Shocker: Ghana imports milk! There is no ‘fresh’ milk but plenty of Italian & French UHT milk. Milo is also very popular, and is sold in small kiosks as well. Other imports include eggs.
Summary: In some ways Ghana is the Kenya of West Africa but the ‘socialism’ attitude is still strong so businesses need to beware.
One of the unintended effects of Airtel’s price wars with Safaricom in Kenya is that it has made Safaricom more responsive to Kenyan developers in terms of collaboration on products, services, platforms etc.
This has long been a peeve of local developers that’s Safaricom has not been, leading to the company coming up with a mooted innovation board as a forum to improve the interaction process with local developers.
And if you do get the chance remember it’s a two year money-making cycle of boom and bust with Safaricom.