Tales from West Africa: Lagos, Lome and lessons to learn from Dakar


I have been traveling though West Africa. I have not seen a lot but I have seen enough to make some early judgments. You cannot take an aerial view of a select part of a country and proclaim it beautiful so for this reason I cannot tell you Senegal is beautiful but I can assure you Dakar is. It was inspiring to see women run the security and protocols at the Aeroport Gnassingbe Eyadema in Togo but one’s spirit was dampened by the sight of queues for the rest room and the fact that tissues were rationed to users. We cannot say this is a problem of resources because one of the cheapest things an airport will ever need is tissue supply.


For most people, their first point of contact with a country is the airport. That first impression lingers beyond the first visit. As a Nigerian, I plan my travels in such a way that I never return to Nigeria on international journeys through the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. Passengers who have been through the ordeal of this airport will tell you it is one of the most disgusting realities about Nigeria. You are either welcomed with an oven like tube without power or a tattered looking arrival hall. Anytime I arrive Nigeria through Lagos the question always gets at me; will I ever want to return to this country if I was not its citizen? My answer has never been in doubt. I had that same feeling at the airport in Togo.


Contrast this with Senegal. I had seen pictures of Dakar in books but nothing prepared me for the beauty I saw right from the skies. I saw a lot of while buildings and a skyline that looked very metropolitan. That was enough to get me loving Dakar but Dakar was not done enchanting me. I had by far my shortest passport control process ever. It did not last more than a minute. Trust me, this one area most travelers would rather not want to be bothered about. Senegal got me here. You could see this was a country that cared about visitors. No wonder about 1 million tourists visit Senegal every year. Would I want to return to Dakar? Without a doubt, yes!


There is a seamy side to every beautiful city. Cape Town has got its, Cairo has got its, Abuja, Sau Paulo, New York et al have their non-camera friendly sides. This is not about that side of the coin, it is about the fact that at least a part of the coin is attractive enough to make you want you want to explore the country. It does not cost any government too much to create processes in place that’d help make the traveling experience of passengers worth the while. Travelers are the keys to every country’s brand. People will believe what I tell them about a place I have been than they’d believe what a government puts on its website or promotional material.


Togo can do better than ration tissue paper and the Lagos airport can take a cue from the efficient and effective way the city is being run by replicating such at its airport. We can make noise about how much we are transforming our economies and how we really need investors to come in. Our presidents and ministers can travel all they like for bilateral and multilateral talks. Nothing, not one of these has the believability of a visitor to your country. This should not be too much a reality for our governments to grasp. By all means governments must pay attention to these ports of entry, economies depend on them. 

There is more to development beyond grand projects