A political journey on Israel's transport system, cleaning up in Lagos and blocking African's "brain drain".
During its construction, every kilometre of Jerusalem’s tram track, from its foundations to its geopolitical ramifications, was scrutinised. Today, the light rail glides seamlessly across the divisions of the holy city.
Visit the tram’s first and last stops, and you can see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a cynical nutshell. Setting off at Mount Herzl, dedicated to the founder of the Zionist movement that led to the establishment of Israel, the red line winds up in Pisgat Ze’ev, a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, considered illegal according to international law.
But the reality is not so simple. In this city of disputes about everything from the geographical to the spiritual, the Jerusalem tram is the one mode of transport to transcend many invisible city barriers.
Elsewhere in the city, separate bus systems operate in the predominantly Palestinian East and the mostly Jewish West Jerusalem. In the old city, both communities, along with the Armenians and Christians, have their own quarters where they eat, pray, sleep and trade. Curling its way around the old city walls and the gates leading into the heart of Jerusalem, the tram crosses the controversial green line that separates East and West, marked by nothing other than a traffic jam. Nearby, the top of the Dome of the Rock mosque glistens in the sun.
Some say that it’s a miracle the tram exists at all. The Palestinians screamed injustice that the tram would solidify Israel’s grip on East Jerusalem, captured from Jordan in 1967. The Jewish Ultra Orthodox community threatened boycotts over the lack of gender segregation in the carriages, forcing the men to be in close proximity to women, particularly the scantily clad tourists. Archaeologists tore out their hair trying to save – successfully – entire Roman settlements discovered beneath.
Perhaps the starkest divide crossed by the tram is that of young and old. Dina, 19, is optimistic. “On the tram everyone keeps to themselves,” she says. “I’ve never had a bad experience.” Older Palestinian women, however, simply shoo you away.
Researchers have used call and text records from mobile phones to suggest improvements to bus routes in Côte d’Ivoire’s largest city. Phone operator Orange gave IBM the location data of 2.5 billion communications in central Abidjan over five months. The data crunchers came up with a map showing commuters’ journeys, then made suggestions for 65 possible improvements to public transport, including the creation of two new bus routes and the extension of one.
One vestige of military rule still has Lagos standing to attention. Nearly 30 years after the introduction of Sanitation Day, residents of Nigeria’s biggest city get their brooms out and clean their neighbourhoods between 07.00 and 10.00 on the last Saturday of every month.
During the three-hour sweep no traffic is allowed. Only rare calendar clashes – such as when Sanitation Day falls on Christmas – will state governor Babatunde Fashola cancel the clean-up.
“We all observe it,” says Moses Ohiomokhare, manager of Lagos design store Quintessence. “It’s a relief when this city falls silent for a few hours. But it is not enough. Lagos needs better services carried out by professionals.”
The problem of Africa’s “brain drain” is unlikely to be solved until the continent’s best and brightest believe they can find the same level of higher education at home as abroad. Ouagadougou’s International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering, also known as 2iE, is doing its best to make that a reality.
Partnered with Hokkaido University and Princeton University, 2iE attracts students from Mali to Madagascar and seeks out business-minded solutions for sanitation, infrastructure and green energy. “There are around 350 million people in the middle class of Africa and many want competency with a new economy,” says 2iE’s director general Paul Giniès.
China is funding the construction of a new train line linking two of the most important cities in Nigeria: Lagos in the south and Kano in the north.