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Impressions of the countries

These are limited to travelling conditions for most, with a more detailed description of Ethiopia and Djibouti.

South Africa

In many respects, South Africa is very easy to travel through, with plenty of petrol stations and 24-hour fast food restaurants on the main roads.  The only problem is that it is not possible to buy petrol or diesel with a credit card.  South African banks issue special "petrol" credit cards, which can be used, but this facility is restricted to South African bank account holders.  Potholes are rare, unless a road is undergoing major resurfacing, and diversions exist.


All major roads are tarred and virtually pothole-free. Petrol is (was) freely available, and most large garages accept credit cards.  However, days after I left, Zimbabwe hit a fuel crisis, with virtually no petrol or diesel being available, and  some commentators expect this to remain for the remainder of 2000.

There are very rarely road-blocks, although radar speed-trapping is used.  If there is a road-block, they will require papers, and carry out some basic checks on lights, brakes, etc.


The main road from Zimbabwe to Tanzania is fully tarred, although with potholes - some serious - in places.  Petrol & diesel are freely available in the south, and a credit card can be used at some garages in Lusaka.  However, from Serenje northwards, no fuel is available on the main road itself.  It is available in Mpika and Isoka, but these towns are reached via unsign-posted side-roads.

Road-blocks are common at all major junctions, and papers may be requested.  However, at most road-blocks you will simply be asked where you have come from, and where you are going.


The main road from Zambia to Kenya is tarred, and generally in good condition.  Petrol is available, but there are few garages along the route.  None accept credit cards yet (although there are a few in Dar-es-Salaam, and they are likely to spread quickly).

There are road-blocks at major intersections, but most vehicles are waved through without requiring you to stop.  You must however slow down, and be prepared to stop if required.  Radar speed traps exist.


Kenyan roads are, in general, in an appalling state of repair.  Tanzania to the south and Ethiopia to the north are both poorer countries, but their roads are better maintained than Kenya's.  Petrol and diesel are freely available, and credit cards can be used in Nairobi.

A "convoy" system runs from Isiolo northwards, but while I was there it was on a very informal basis.  Occasionally they step up security, and may even close the road altogether.

The major surprise to me was the dramatic reduction in fees within the national parks.  They used to be the same as Tanzania, but are now far lower.


To someone from southern Africa, Ethiopia is not "African".  It has a large population of around 60m - at least 50% more than South Africa. The vast majority of its population is rural, and towns (other than Addis Ababa) appear to survive on markets and a few shops. I doubt that any town outside Addis Ababa has a population of over 50 000.  This is probably due to the lack of industrialization.  An curious example of this is the fact that virtually every branch of the Commercial bank uses computers, yet nowhere are credit cards usable - and international bank transfers take weeks.

While there is little sign of any real wealth - even in Addis Ababa - there are equally few signs of abject poverty (although I didn't visit the Ogaden).  It just appears that everyone lives on the land, and that self-sufficiency is the key to survival.  Only in the area to the north of the Bale mountains did I see any mechanical

An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000

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