The terrible war over who rules Yemen drags on to its third year. Yemen was always one of those off-the-beaten-track places, totally untouched by tourism. When I first visited the country in the early eighties, there was no national newspaper, only one international hotel and not even a McDonald’s. The old city of Sana’a containing some 6,000 tower houses—many more than a thousand years old — was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1986. Since the outbreak of war in 2015, this jewel of the Arab world has been subject to ruthless bombing by the Saudi-led coalition. In fact not just Sana’a, but most of Yemen’s precious heritage has been largely destroyed. And an estimated 10,000 civilians, many innocent children, have been killed. I took the following pictures during peaceful times in 1981. Even then it was a difficult country to get around.
‘..Not a ray of optimism can be seen,’ concluded Amir.A.Moh’d writing painfully of Zanzibar twenty years on from the violent revolution in 1964 which killed an estimated 17,000 Arabs and Asians on the African ‘Spice Island.’
Summoned to help in the aftermath, Eastern Block countries threw up drab housing estates and encouraged drastic nationalization measures. Food rationing was introduced in 1970 and Zanzibar’s woes were further compounded in the 1980s by a dramatic drop in the price of cloves. By 1997 income per capita was around $200 making Zanzibar one of the poorest places in the world.
Massive political corruption initially dissuaded investors, but Italian investment during the 1990s turned Zanzibar into one of the Indian Ocean’s most fashionable holiday resorts. Visitor arrivals are currently expected to reach 500,000 by 2020.
Once only accessible by dhow, Ujunga (its local name) is now served by international airlines from Europe and the Gulf States while sleek hydrofoils skim across from Dar-es -Salaam in 60 minutes.
But while Zanzibar has become a tourist status symbol, at heart it remains an old world island struggling to reconcile its popularity with local poverty. With your hotel comes a whiff of drains and the odd rat scurrying through capital Stone Town is not uncommon.
Stone Town was designated a World Heritage site in 2000. Some 1,700 buildings are classified of architectural significance. Tall pink and umber coloured houses, three sometimes four storeys in height, line the narrow lanes. Some buildings have been restored. Without maintenance others are in an advanced state of disrepair. The first discotheque — in an old house near the Zanzibar National Bank —collapsed with the vibrations.
The most elegant houses were built by wealthy Arab and Indian traders in the 19th century. Grand mansions along the waterfront, they include the large white coralstone palace, former residence of the Omani sultan’s of Zanzibar, now the National Palace Museum.
Of further interest is the House of Wonders a curious tiered edifice topped with a Victorian clock tower, at one time the tallest building on the Swahili coast of Africa.
Stone Town’s must be explored on foot with a local guide to lead you to the best original doors for which Zanzibar has enjoyed a reputation since time immemorial. The size of the door, the number of brass studs and the intricacies of its decorated panels being a sign of the owner’s wealth.
Stone Town’s notorious slave market was closed in 1873 by Sultan Barghash who consented to missionaries building a cathedral on the site provided it did not exceed the House of Wonders, at the time East Africa’s tallest building.
The Church of Christ Cathedral which held its first service on Christmas Day 1877 has a window dedicated to the great explorer and missionary David Livingstone. Livingstone, Burton, Stanley and Speke all planned their expeditions into the Dark Continent from Zanzibar which Livingstone called ‘Stinkibar’.
Zanzibar is only 85kms long by 30 kms wide, but unless you drive a four-wheel vehicle as do local politicians, the lack of infra-structure may mean even the shortest trip can take all day. Planning a quick visit to the East Coast, I was obliged to stay the night as the public dala-dala (mini-bus) went straight back to Stone Town and didn’t return until the following afternoon.
With long sandy beaches, swaying palms and a turquoise sea, the classically beautiful East Coast has attracted many hotel developers to the chagrin of local seaweed farmers who complain their plots are damaged by tourists wading out to swim.
Some of the biggest hotels are at Ras Nungwi on the north coast where the water is too deep for seaweed cultivation. Secluded here, the mainly Italian tourists, can behave as they like, being only asked to dress with some approbum when they go out.
A shopping excursion in Stone Town and a tour of the legendary spice plantations are often the only time they leave the hotel complex. For the rest of their holiday they lie on the beach watched by Masai security guards from mainland Tanzania who find Zanzibar more lucrative than looking after cattle.
I first visited Qatar in 1975 when it was still a quiet backwater. This I understood was due to its old merchant families being unable to agree on who owned the prime real estate in capital Doha. In June 1995 when Crown Prince Hamid al-Khalifa deposed his father in a bloodless coup, Doha stirred, then sprang to life. Today the flat, desert state still has no natural water—not even a stream—but vast reserves of oil and gas makes native Qataris the richest people per capita in the world. Where the highest point on the peninsula was once the top of Bedouin tent, today Qatar challenges Dubai with a plethora of stunning skyscrapers overlooking the Gulf. The following photographs taken on several visits during the 1970s-80s, are a record of Qatar’s not so distant past. I have not been back since then. The final photo by Global Insight shows how Doha looks today.