How the Democratic Republic of Congo got an airport back and Tunisia's road to the truth.
Route: Goma to Addis Ababa
Airline: Ethiopian Airlines
Plane: Boeing 737-800
Frequency: Three times a week
When Goma International Airport lost a kilometre of its runway to a volcanic lava flow in 2002 it also lost its meaning: large aircraft could no longer safely land causing international flights to cease for the most part. The airport became an allegory for the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (drc). Flights were operated by domestic airlines with terrifying safety records, crashed aeroplanes lined the damaged runway and a nerve-wracking gauntlet of corrupt officials greeted visitors.
The volcano, Mount Nyiragongo, is a constant threat to the regional capital that, like its airport, was inundated by the 2002 eruption. Poor but resourceful, Goma’s residents responded by moving up a level: proprietors of ground-floor shops filled with hardened volcanic rock moved upstairs; shacks and homes steamrolled by lava were rebuilt at a higher altitude.
The airport was trickier and it wasn’t until 2009 that German aid agency Welthungerhilfe kickstarted a €14m plan to remove the lava, reconstruct the runway and reconnect it to the terminal. The government, 1,500km away in Kinshasa, lacked the money – and will – to rebuild the airport, which had become a hub for aid agencies and the UN peacekeeping mission. It has taken longer than the anticipated three years. In late 2012 work had to be suspended when a rebel group seized control of the city. Almost €1m worth of machinery was looted and the rest redirected to dig latrines in the refugee camps that quickly grew around the city.
In February Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier officially reopened the runway. Ethiopian Airlines hopes to begin flying to Goma three times a week from its hub in Addis Ababa, via Entebbe in Uganda, in April, once safety has reached international standards. A commercial Boeing 737-800 will be a rare sight at an airport more used to seeing ageing Antonovs and dc-9s (be it landing, taking off or lying abandoned next to the runway).
A Tunisian justice commission is set to examine human rights and economic violations during the country’s dictatorship. We meet a member of the team to talk us through a procedure that is proving unpopular among some parts of the governing coalition.
Why does the country need a transitional justice process at this point in time?
We are moving from a despotic regime towards a democratic regime; the bridge between this is transitional justice. If people don’t look at the past and deal with the atrocities of dictatorship we will not be able to establish the rule of law and a democratic system. There is still tension. Many people don’t trust the state any more; some even consider it their enemy. The new democracy needs to be protected and supported by all its citizens; we can’t just build it with strong policemen and soldiers.
Do you expect a successful investigation, given that members of the previous regime are now in power?
It’s not easy but it’s our duty. Our brief is to propose and suggest institutional reform, to vet people from the administration who don’t deserve to be there because they are corrupt and to investigate people who might have used their power to gain money in an illegal way.
The international community likes to hold up Tunisia as an Arab role model. How do you see it?
It’s nice but it’s a bit of a challenge when people look at us and tell us we could be a model. Because when we look at it ourselves we are never happy with what we are doing. We have ambitions. We are not that happy because we know we can do better. And we will do better.
“When you walk around in Egypt, 1,000 smiles welcome you,” promises Egypt is Close, a new state-funded “operetta” aimed at boosting tourism from the Gulf. The video stars middle-aged Egyptian actors as chauffeurs, flower-sellers and tea-makers as Saudis and Emiratis wander through Cairo’s softly lit bazaars. educated young Egyptians baulk at the portrayal of a nation of servants. “It’s embarrassing; it’s not a vision of Egypt as a modern country,” says software engineer Amr Omar. But, with Egypt dependent on support from Saudi Arabia and the uae, the smiles – even through gritted teeth – are expedient.