Snapshot

FAST FACTS

Population: 910,571,130

Elephant population: 500,000 (approx) GDP:

US$2,092,300,800,000 Unemployment: 10.5% Inflation rate: 8.4% Economic growth: 4.6% Internet users: 32,765,700

Population over 15 years old who can't read: 40%

'Africa always brings something new.'

Pliny the Elder

Long consigned to the 'boring but important' section of newspapers and TV programmes, it seems that African issues have enjoyed something of a renaissance in the world media in recent years. Whatever you think about rock stars getting involved in world politics, there's no doubt that 2005's Live 8 concerts around the world in support of the Make Poverty History campaign (www.makepovertyhistory.org) brought issues such as AIDS, trade deficits and child poverty into the spotlight. The attentions of the various celebrities who've championed the cause of the continent brought the faces and voices of ordinary Africans into the living rooms of the West.

Despite this, trade with the EU and USA remains skewed against Africa, thanks largely to massive agricultural subsidies in Europe and the USA and the power of global multinationals. Many nations pay the equivalent of their annual health budgets to banks, governments, the IMF and other lenders each year. Lurking in the shadows of lofty ideals about an 'African renaissance' is the sad fact that inept governance and the outright theft of land, resources and money by corrupt regimes continues apace across the continent.

Pointless wars remain 'popular'; as one country manages to raise its game, so another becomes seemingly intent on flushing its immediate future down the toilet. Many more people have died in the recent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo than during the whole of WWII, but you'll struggle to get any details about this in the Western media. Natural resources (the cause of many protracted civil wars) continue to be exploited to the detriment of locals and the enrichment of foreign interests and African elites. Western governments and multinational companies may have buckets of blood on their hands, but Africa's people have also been repeatedly let down by their leaders.

It's hardly surprising that immigration is on the minds of many, with thousands committing their lives each year to people-traffickers for the promise of a new life in Europe. Some are 'lucky' enough to score a low-paid job in Paris or Madrid; others wash up dead on the beaches of southern Europe, the victims of unseaworthy vessels and unscrupulous immigration 'agents'.

There is such a thing as good news from Africa. The continent is home to five out of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. There are more female members of parliament in both Rwanda and Tanzania than in the UK. The governments of Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Botswana and South Africa are potential role models for democratic rule. The G8 summit of2005 pledged to double aid to the world's poorest countries by 2010, treat all AIDS patients, halve malaria deaths and get every child into school. As long as citizens of non-African countries continue to pressure their governments for real action on these issues there's no reason the good news stories shouldn't keep coming.

Since September 11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, many travellers in Africa have noticed an increase in local resentment towards US and European governments. These governments are widely perceived as self-serving hypocrites, and this is not just in the Muslim countries where you can still buy Osama bin Laden T-shirts at the market. There's probably no need to feel personally threatened, though - you're unlikely to receive anything but courtesy from most individual Africans you meet.

The Authors

GEMMA PITCHER Coordinating Author

Gemma Pitcher spent her childhood in Buckinghamshire with her nose buried in books with titles like Safari Adventure and Across the DarkContinent. These prompted her to disappear to Africa at 17, travelling from Nairobi through six countries to Harare. She returned to the UK for university, then moved back to East Africa to write books about luxury safari camps (it was hard, but someone's gotta do it). She has written for several Lonely Planet titles, including One People, Madagascar & Comoros and South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland. These days she lives in Sydney, but still dreams of falling asleep to the sound of lions roaring in the distance...

DAVID ANDREW Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Wildlife

David has been hooked on Africa since his first visit at age 10. Since then he has travelled extensively on the continent while researching Lonely Planet's Watching Wildlife series. His passion for wildlife has led him to study and write about the subject in all corners of the globe. As a biologist he has studied Giant Pandas in southwest China and seabirds in Antarctica, and as an author he has written or co-written all five of Lonely Planet's Watching Wildlife series. He was the founding editor of Birds Australia's Wingspan magazine and a former editor of Wildlife Australia, and has written about wildlife and ecotourism in places as diverse as Madagascar, the Galápagos Islands, Borneo and New Guinea.

KATE ARMSTRONG Lesotho, Swaziland

Kate was bitten by the African bug when she lived and worked in Mozambique, and on her subsequent travels around East Africa. She jumped at the chance to explore new territory for this Lonely Planet edition. While she successfully avoided malarial mosquitoes, she was less able to escape an obsession with Zulu culture, giraffes and the overwhelming hospitality of the local people (not to mention several flat tyres along the way). When Kate's not eating, hiking and dancing her way around parts of Africa, Europe and South America, her itchy feet are grounded in Sydney where she works as a freelancer, writing travel articles and children's educational books.

LONELY PLANET AUTHORS

Why is our travel information the best in the world? It's simple: our authors are independent, dedicated travellers. They don't research using just the internet or phone, and they don't take freebies in exchange for positive coverage. They travel widely, to all the popular spots and off the beaten track. They personally visit thousands of hotels, restaurants, cafés, bars, galleries, palaces, museums and more - and they take pride in getting all the details right, and telling it how it is. For more, see the authors section on www.lonelyplanet.com.

^ JAMES BAINBRIDGE Benin,Togo

West Africa is James' patch. On the three visits he's paid to the region since he was 13, he's dug the dunes, dance floors and dysfunctional minibuses ^ ' in countries from Morocco to Ghana. Hailing from Shropshire in England, a county where inbreds and eccentrics roam the hedgerows, he's always had a keen eye for the memorable characters Africa throws up. When Lonely Planet dispatched him to Togo and Benin, he was pleased to find the usual stream of fishermen, farmers, hustlers, nomads, kamikaze taxi-moto drivers, and a gin-slugging hotelier who instructed him in the art of making a voodoo bomb. His other Lonely Planet credits include West Africa and The Africa Book.

TIM BEWER Chad, Cote d'lvoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Sudan

While growing up, Tim didn't travel much except for the obligatory pilgrimage to Disney World and an annual summer week at the lake. He's spent most of his adult life making up for this, and has since visited over 50 countries. After university he worked briefly as a legislative assistant before quitting Capitol life in 1994 to backpack around West Africa. It was during this trip that the idea of becoming a freelance travel writer and photographer was hatched, and he's been at it ever since, returning to Africa several times. He lives in Minneapolis.

JEAN-BERNARD CARILLET Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Mauritania

Say 'Africa' to Jean-Bernard and he will instantly have itchy feet. An Africa aficionado for more than 20 years, he has visited 15 nations in western, eastern and southern Africa. For this edition, he was all too happy to travel the breadth and length of eastern Africa, from agreeable Asmara to underrated Djibouti and to mysterious Somaliland, where he experienced the smug feeling of having the whole country for himself. He also swallowed his fair share of sand in the Mauritanian Sahara. He is currently based in ' Paris, where he works as a freelance journalist and photographer. He has i coauthored Lonely Planet's Ethiopia & Eritrea and West Africa.

PAUL CLAMMER Cameroon, Nigeria

Once a molecular biologist, Paul has long since traded his test tubes for a rucksack, and the vicarious life of a travel writer. Overlanding in Africa was his first significant travel experience, and he has returned to the continent many times since. He is fascinated by the interface between Muslim and black Africa (he's also written a book about Sudan), and so particularly relished the chance to explore Nigeria, that most maligned of West African countries.

matthew d firestone Botswana, Namibia

Matt is a trained biological anthropologist and epidemiologist who is particularly interested in the health and nutrition of indigenous populations. His first visit to Botswana and Namibia in 2001 brought him deep into the Kalahari, where he performed a field study on the traditional diet of the San. Unfortunately, Matt's promising academic career was postponed due to a severe case of wanderlust, though he has relentlessly travelled to over 50 different countries in search of a cure. Matt is hoping that this book will help ease the pain of other individuals bitten by the travel bug, though he fears that there is a growing epidemic on the horizon.

mary fitzpatrick Liberia, Mozambique

Originally from Washington, DC, Mary set off after graduate studies for several years in Europe. Her fascination with languages and cultures soon led her further south to sub-Saharan Africa, where she has spent much of the past decade living, working and travelling, including almost four years in Mozambique and two years in Liberia and a few of its neighbours. Mary has authored and coauthored numerous other guidebooks covering Mozambique, Liberia and many other destinations on the continent. She calls Cairo home at the moment and travels to points south (preferably those with beaches) whenever she gets the chance.

michael grosberg Ghana, South Africa

After a childhood spent stateside in the Washington, DC area and a valuable philosophy degree in hand, Michael took a job doing something with developing a resort on an island in the Pacific, after which he left for a long overland trip through Asia. He later found his way to South Africa where he did journalism and NGO work and found time to travel all over southern Africa. He returned to New York for graduate school in comparative literature and he has taught literature and writing in several NYC colleges in addition to Lonely Planet assignments that have taken him around the world.

anthony ham Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Morocco

Anthony's first trip for Lonely Planet was to Africa, where he ate rat, was held up at knifepoint and fell irretrievably in love with the region. In the six years since, he has returned often to the region (collecting a formidable array of illnesses en route) to indulge his passions for West African music, Libyan days of Saharan solitude and long, slow trips up the Niger, not to mention visiting old friends. When he's not in North or West Africa, Anthony lives in Madrid from where he writes and photographs for numerous newspapers around the world. For Lonely Planet, he has also written the 1st edition of Libya and coordinated the most recent editions of West Africa and Morocco.

ROBERT LANDON Guinea Bissau

Robert has degrees in literature from two different California universities, but his best education continues to be travel, especially year-long stints in Italy, Paris and Rio de Janeiro. His time in Brazil introduced him to the far-flung Portuguese-speaking world and was his gateway to West Africa's Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau - two of the most extraordinary places he's visited.

KATHARINA KANE Senegal, The Gambia

When Katharina heard the haunting sound of a Fula flute during a London concert, her fate was sealed. She headed straight to Guinea in West Africa, where she ended up studying the instrument for a year before writing a PhD on its origins. She then decamped to Senegal, a country that she'd fallen in love with during one of her many travels to West Africa in her role as a music journalist. Katharina has worked on other Lonely Planet titles, writes for various world music magazines and produces radio features on world music for stations including the BBC and WDR. She currently lives in Dakar, or on a plane to yet another new place.

NANALUCKHAM Malawi, Zambia

Born in Tanzania to a Ghanaian mother and an English father, Nana started life crisscrossing Africa by planes and bouncing along the roughest of roads. A rather less glamorous childhood on the south coast of England followed, albeit punctuated with periods living in Ghana and a then-thriving Zimbabwe. After a degree in history and French and a Masters in international relations she headed off, with an impressively small backpack, to explore southern and eastern Africa and beyond, supplementing her travels with periods of gainful employment at UN headquarters in New York. She now lives in the exotic wilds of southwest London but still spends most of her time on the road.

Katharina Kane Senegal

VESNA MARK Algeria,Tunisia

Vesna's love for North Africa was awoken in the Algerian Sahara years ago, when she celebrated New Year's Eve at a Touareg music festival. Researching Algeria and Tunisia for this book was a fantastic experience, and Vesna particularly enjoyed going back into the desert, visiting Star Wars sites, eating lovely Algerian and Tunisian food (and trying to make her own briq, a deep-fried, thin pastry pocket), and dipping her feet into the Mediterranean sea. Vesna writes articles and short stories, produces radio features and has worked on short films.

MATT PHILLIPS Ethiopia, Niger

Matt's shared campfires with hungry hyenas in Zimbabwe, crossed the Sahara in a couple of directions, dodged Mauritanian land mines in Mr Harry ('82 Land Rover), slept in more forms of transport than he can remember and wept in joy when an Ethiopian highlander gave birth in his 4WD. No, Matt's African experiences, which cover over 20 nations, never seem to be ordinary or boring. Perhaps that's why he was so enthused about taking on Ethiopia and Niger for this title! Matt's also co-authored Lonely Planet's Ethiopia & Eritrea, West Africa and Kenya guidebooks, as well as coordinated Lonely Planet's behemoth colourful bible on the continent, The Africa Book.

NICK RAY Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda

A Londoner of sorts, Nick comes from Watford, the sort of town that makes you want to travel. Nick has travelled through many countries in Africa over the years, including the southern stunner that is Mozambique and the northern mystique of Morocco, but it is Uganda and Rwanda that he finds to be small but perfectly formed. He relished the chance to return for another round of towering volcanoes, plentiful primates and blessed beers from Kampala to Kigali. He also managed a hit and run on Burundi, a fascinating country emerging from its tortured past. Nick currently lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and has worked on more than 20 titles for Lonely Planet.

BRENDAN SAINSBURY Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo

Brendan is an expat Brit and one-time travel guide who woke up one morning to find himself living in Vancouver married to one of his former clients. He first discovered Africa in the 1990s, when he embarked upon a cross-continental hitchhiking odyssey that began in Cape Town and ended in Dar es Salaam. Inspired by tales of derring-do on Africa's last frontier, he returned to the 'dark continent' in 2001 to work at a teacher's training college in rural Angola. Extracurricular tasks included building latrines, refurbishing a library ransacked by Unita guerrillas, and staging a Portuguese version of Shakespeare's 'Comedy of Errors' in the middle of the bush.

JENNY WALKER Egypt

Jenny Walker's first involvement with Egypt was as a teenager trying to fend off the advances of balcony-climbing locals. Certain there must be more to Egypt than testosterone, she studied the country (and wider region) in a dissertation on Doughty and Lawrence (BA, University of Stirling) and in a thesis entitled The Perception of the Arabic Orient, 1780-1820 (MPhil, University of Oxford). She has written extensively on the Middle East for Lonely Planet and, with her husband, coauthored Off-Road in the Sultanate of Oman, where she lives. Although deeply attached to the Arab world, she has travelled extensively in 86 countries from Morocco to Tanzania, and from Panama to Mongolia, engaged in diverse assignments.

TONY WHEELER Central African Republic

Tony and Maureen Wheeler's Asia overland trip in 1972 led to Across Asia on the Cheap, the very first Lonely Planet guidebook. Their Africa travels have ranged from camping safaris in East Africa with their young children to a recent aerial trek up the western side of the continent that included a visit to the Central African Republic. Their latest African adventure was the Plymouth-Banjul Challenge, where they nursed an old car from England to Gambia.

VAN ESSA WRUBLE Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sâo Tomé & Principe

Currently pursuing an advanced degree in psychology, for most of her adult life Vanessa has been a freelance writer, humanitarian aid worker, TV correspondent/producer, documentary filmmaker, interactive artist, renegade street event organiser, and, of course, a traveller. She is currently at work on a book based on her blog from Sierra Leone (www .vanessawithoutborders.com), tentatively entitled A Hipster's Guide to Freetown. If she ever finishes, Vanessa intends to embark on an album, write and direct a movie, and learn the 30 languages she's been dying to become fluent in, but only after traveling to every country in the universe.

CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS

Harriet Martin wrote the Zimbabwe chapter. Born in Tanzania to Australian parents, Harriet lived in southern Africa until she was 12. She then studied in Sydney, but the travel bug was never far from the surface. She backpacked and worked in South and Central America, the Middle East, India and West Africa, before returning 'home' to sub-Saharan Africa.

Jane Cornwell is an Australian-born, UK-based journalist, author and broadcaster, who wrote the Music in West Africa chapter. After graduating with a Masters degree in anthropology, she left for London where she worked, variously, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and for Peter Gabriel's Real World company. She currently writes about arts, books and music - most notably world music - for a range of UK and antipodean publications, including the Times, Evening Standard and Telegraph newspapers, Songlines magazine and the Australian newspaper. She travels about the planet regularly, interviewing world musicians.

Dr Caroline Evans wrote the Health chapter. Caroline studied medicine at the University of London, and completed General Practice training in Cambridge. She is the medical adviser to Nomad Travel Clinic, a private travel health clinic in London, and is also a GP specialising in travel medicine. She has been an expedition doctor for Raleigh International and Coral Cay expeditions.

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