Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Population

DEVELOPMENT-EAST AFRICA: Rafters Aim to Create History, Highlight Poverty

By Evelyn Kiapi Matsamura

JINJA, Uganda, Jan 20 2004 (IPS) - Courage, patience and determination will be the order of the day during the next eight months for seven rafters who are tackling Africa’s fabled Nile River.

Team leader Henry Coetzee has joined forces with John Dahl, Thomas Madsen, Pete Meredith, Bingo Small, Ian Clarke and Natalie McComb to navigate the whole length of the river – something that has not been tried for 30 years.

The “Settle the Nile” expedition will take the rafters from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean, through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt: a journey of 6,690 kilometres. The Nile is the world’s longest river.

“Originally, the idea came about as we were sitting at the Nile Resort Camp site,” said McComb.

“One evening, we were sitting there saying, ‘Why has nobody…gone down the Nile yet, (when) we are on this river every day? Let’s do it! Let’s do it!’.”

While several companies have provided support for the trip, the main sponsor is CARE – an international humanitarian organisation which has programmes in over 60 countries.

Phil Vernon, CARE’s Country Director in Uganda, says the expedition will aim to highlight some of the issues that entrench poverty in countries which the Nile flows through.

“Number one among these is the persistent conflicts, which prevent stability and growth of the economy – and the realisation of human potential,” Vernon said.

En route, the rafters will meet the representatives of several communities that are receiving assistance from CARE and other aid groups. These include fishermen and women at Lake Kyoga in Uganda, Dinka farmers in southern Sudan, and people in the Sudanese capital – Khartoum – who were forced to flee their homes by decades of fighting in the East African country.

“As the rafters are making a film documentary, and will be generating a lot of publicity for their adventure, we wanted to highlight the problems faced by these poor people – as well as some of the solutions which poor communities are finding for their problems,” said Vernon.

The expedition, which took about nine months to organise, received a jolly send-off over the weekend – with friends and family gathering at the “Source of the Nile Gardens” in Uganda’s eastern town of Jinja to bid farewell to the team.

South Africa’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Bavumile Vilakazi, was on hand to see his countryman Henry Coetzee off, and also gave the rafters a South African flag to take along with them.

Between them, the team members have over 50 years experience in white water rafting. But, Pete Meredith says this doesn’t mean that they’ll be tackling every rapid they encounter in their two boats.

“Some that are “runnable”, we shall run them. Some of them are going to be too big and too difficult – there is a big risk of being killed – so we shall just walk round those ones,” he told IPS.

“It’s going to take anywhere between six to nine months, as there are several factors that could change the timing, ” he said, adding “I hope to have a lot of fun. That is what it’s all about.”

Ian Clarke, who works at Kampala’s International Hospital, will be serving as the team doctor. For him, the trip is also providing an opportunity to carry out research on tropical diseases along the Nile.

Natalie McComb, the only woman on the expedition, has been in charge of organising logistics for the journey. As she is also an engineer, she will be taking care of electronic equipment like cameras and satellite phones for the duration of the trip.

“I hope in some small way we can impart a message of peace to the people that we see,” she said.

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