Africa/Middle East - Issue 74 - Magazine | Monocle

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Me and my motorcade no.47

Mercedes man


In the 27 years that president Blaise Compaoré has been in power he has tried the full range of statesmanlike rides. His favourite is Mercedes and his most recent order was for five of them in 2012, at a cost of 245m cfa francs (€373,500).

Cars – especially Mercedes – are a thorny issue in Burkina Faso. Compaoré has ruled the west African desert state since 1987 when he overthrew his bicycling predecessor, captain Thomas Sankara. No sooner does Compaoré say, “I want to run for a fifth term in 2015,’’ than someone will pipe up with an anecdote about the late Sankara’s frugal lifestyle and the Renault 5s he ordered his ministers to drive.

Sankara’s former political adviser Fidèle Kientega recalls: “When Thomas came to power in 1983 he found an order for Mercedes cars for all ministers. He tried to cancel it but the West German ambassador said we would end up in court. So Sankara asked for bulldozers, cement mixers and trucks instead. The Germans were so impressed that they doubled the value of the order at their own expense. It marked the start of a great diplomatic relationship with West Germany.’’

Compaoré campaigned for the 2005 elections in a white Hummer, widely believed to have been brought into the country by his kitsch-loving wife Chantal. He won the election with a characteristic 80 per cent of the vote but the media said the vehicle was too ostentatious for Burkinabé tastes.

The rugged Hummer was swiftly retired but, with Compaoré’s recent move to extend his tenure prompting demonstrations by tens of thousands of people, he could probably use the protection. The need for crowd control means the presidential motorcade – with its smart outriders in white helmets, powder blue uniforms and gold epaulets – is now preceded by a surveillance flight of Tetra light aircraft. The gendarmerie also deploys its South African-built Gila-armoured personnel carriers. They are a souped-up version of the Casspir that became infamous in townships during apartheid’s dying days.

Paying the price

Cape Town [LEISURE]

On a recent Tuesday morning, the graceful €310m show stadium of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup made a grand total of 135 rand (€9.2): the takings from a stadium tour for two Dutch tourists and a monocle correspondent. The 50-metre tall stadium is everything we have come to expect of a World Cup splurge: iconic, expensive and, after the event, largely useless.

Cape Town stadium was one of 10 built or refurbished for the month-long tournament and consumed more than a third of the total construction budget. Today it continues to cost the owner, the City of Cape Town, around €2.4m a year to maintain.

Football team Ajax Cape Town plays here, filling around a tenth of the 55,000 seats. Major events are few and far between and only a few dozen have been held since the World Cup semi-final four years ago, prompting some to call for it to be demolished.

Fruit flies


The majority of Brazil’s fruit exports head to Europe but last year there was a 41 per cent increase to the Middle East and North Africa – most of it to the United Arab Emirates.

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