The Devil’s Footpath

I couldn’t find anything on the tiny country of Andorra, which is nestled inbetween France and Spain, so I decided to move on to the next country on the list: Angola.  Unfortunately, this didn’t have much either.  I did manage to find a good documentary from 2004 called The Devil’s Footpath, in which a 22 year old Kenyan law student travels through six countries in Africa, Angola being one of them.  The student, named June, is trying to decide whether to become one of the many educated Africans who leave their continent for better opportunities abroad, or whether to stay and see what she can do at home.

Her first stop is Cairo, Egypt.  Here, she goes to a travel agent to book her flights for the rest of her trip, only to discover that there are very few commercial flights between African countries, and none to the dangerous regions she’s interested in.  She’ll have to travel by hitching a ride with aid agencies.  While out and about in Cairo, she is assigned a government ‘minder,’ who follows her around everywhere, telling her where she can and can’t go, and who she can and can’t talk to.  She wanted to speak to some students at the University of Cairo, to get their take on life in Egypt, but is told that she can only speak to the wealthy students at the American University.  Yet even these rich, well-connected kids are afraid to speak their minds or show any opposition to the government, for fear of being jailed or killed.  June managed to ditch her minder to meet up with a young woman who attended a peaceful anti-government demonstration and was arrested.  The woman was beaten by the soldiers, and threatened with rape and torture.  All because she attended a peaceful protest.

June’s next stop is southern Sudan, which she reaches by flying in with UNICEF.  Sudan has been ravaged by a 30+ year war between the Islamic government in the north and the Christian tribes of the south.  However, locals say that it’s oil, not religion, which is fueling the conflict.  All the oil fields are in the south, you see, but it’s the north which receives all the revenue.  The government doesn’t differentiate between rebels and civilians; if you live in the south, you’re considered a rebel and will be killed at the first opportunity.  The only medical aid received in the south comes from UNICEF, and only when the area is deemed “stable.”  These people have no schools, unsurprisingly.  The children meet under a tree, learning how to read from small booklets and using a crude blackboard.  All of them want to be either pilots, doctors, or teachers, because these are the only people outside of their community who they interact with.  However, the future doesn’t look very bright for them, because as intelligent as they are, their government will do all it can to suppress them.

Her third stop is the Congo, which she reaches with the aid of UN peacekeepers.  The peacekeepers arrived in June 2003, officially stopping the violence which had killed over 4.5 million civilians in the previous 5 years.  However, conflict still exists in some parts of the country.  June goes to the Internally Displaced People’s camp, where over 13,000 war refugees live.  Within the first five minutes, a man threatens to slit her throat and eat her flesh, but then she finds more friendly people.  They live like animals, with dirty water, an inconsistent food supply, and ragged tents which barely pass for shelter and provide no protection from the cold night air.  All while the government officials who caused this ride about in limousines and are treated like celebrities when they visit other countries.  June then goes to see a gold mine.  She has to wear a helmet and bullet proof vest during the drive because of the lawless gangs roaming the countryside.  While at the mine, she meets a young boy who saw his parents killed by the militia and survived a machete attack himself.  The scars are clearly visible and the trauma has rendered him mute.  The only thing that makes him smile is seeing birds fly.

June’s fourth stop is Angola.  Angola is the 2nd largest oil exporter in Africa, with much of the oil coming from the region of Cabinda.  Cabinda–which is geographically separated from the rest of Angola–was a “gift” from the Portuguese when Angola won it’s independence in 1975.  June flies in to Cabinda with Chevron-Texaco and visits one of their oil rigs.  She learns that the Cabindans want independence, and the Angolan government responded by inundating the area with soldiers, many of whom are enlisted by force.  June meets a woman who was captured by a group of these soldiers as she was walking home one night.  Her companion refused to cooperate and was killed, while she was gang-raped repeatedly.  Yet should she have reported it to the police, they would have taken the soldiers’ side.

Her fifth stop is Namibia, specifically the Caprivi strip.  In 1999 in a bid for independence, the Caprivi Liberation Army attacked government soldiers.  300 leaders and members were arrested.  All were tortured. At the time of this documentary, 100 were still languishing in jail, awaiting trial.  Caprivi has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the entire world.  50% of the population is infected, yet for mostly superstitious reasons, the people don’t use condoms.  A Red Cross volunteer tells June that 83% of people go to a witch doctor before they go to the hospital.  Imelda, the head witch doctor, admits to lying and cheating her patients.  Even if she knows that they’re infected with HIV, she’ll lie and say that they are “sick with demons,” and will charge a month’s wages to perform an exorcism.

June’s sixth, and last, stop is South Africa.  She arrives in Johannesburg.  Although Apartheid had ended 10 years before she came, the transition to democracy was still struggling and there was a strong divide between rich and poor.  Still, aside from Cairo, it was the most developed place she had seen in Africa.  They even had a shopping mall which looked like it could have been American or European.  She visits a gold mine–mining is the main reason that South Africa has managed to become one of the most developed countries in Africa.  Though natural resources are rich everywhere, not every country has the ability to take advantage of them.  June meets Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, who tells her that bright minds should go abroad.  They should learn and experience the world, but then come back and help Africa.  This is the only way Africa can continue to develop, he says.

June travels from Johannesburg to Capetown, where she decides that she, like many educated Africans, is going to leave the continent, to complete her education, if nothing else.  It is up to the governments, she says, to stop the brain drain and make Africa into a blooming economy that will afford its best and brightest the opportunities they deserve.

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One Response to “The Devil’s Footpath”

  1. kive87 Says:

    I like this exerpt ps Sudan?! Was June suicidal??


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