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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Impressions of Bangui
Bangui stadium
The national stadium is very run down
By Rachel Rawlins in Bangui

On the map I have of the Central African Republic capital, Bangui, the city appears to be only three times longer than the airport's single runway.

This might be because the map is a poor quality, lopsided black and white photocopy of something once drawn freehand and coloured in with what could have been felt pens. So maybe the scale (1 to 35,000 it says) is not entirely accurate.

But there is no escaping the fact that Bangui is small.

With just over 500,000 people, as capitals go it is definitely petite, even though one-fifth of the country's population live there.

It is also very, very run down.

The national stadium (marked on the map as a rather wobbly oval shape) is a disused rotting hulk standing in the middle of an expanse of unkempt waste ground.

My map - which cost more than an average civil servant earns in a day - bears witness to the decay.

Decay

"Textile factory" it announces next to a couple of splodgy rectangles out near the airport.


Eating out is not always luxurious
"Great," I think. "This must be where the cotton grown up country is turned into cloth."

I discover the factory closed down years ago. It is the only factory marked on the map.

It is not just the infrastructure - what little there ever was of it - that has fallen on hard times.

Out and about yesterday with our correspondent here, Joseph Benamse, he introduced me to a small, unassuming, elderly looking man who works as a reporter for the state news agency.

He shuffled his feet and excused his poor English - it had decayed through lack of use, he said.

Later Joseph told me the man had once been a government minister and head of national television.

He had been thrown off the political merry-go-round when it made one of its irregular and convulsive turns.

Satellite

There is, apparently, a cinema in Bangui - the only one in the country.

satellite television
People pay a small amount to watch satellite television
It is not marked on my map, but that doesn't matter because it's also seen better days. In fact it doesn't work at all.

But that doesn't mean I couldn't see a film if I wanted.

Or the latest music video from America, or perhaps the England - Albania football match on Wednesday night.

Satellite television is the new cinema, and probably much more accessible.

There are not huge numbers of dishes to be seen, but they are visible in every quarter of town and entrepreneurs charge the audience a small entrance fee.

Mobiles

And should a member of the audience want a friend to come along, they have only to fish out their mobile phone and give them a quick call.

mobile phones
Entering each others numbers is part of a normal meeting
Of course not everyone has a mobile by any means, but they're pretty thick on the ground.

There seems to be a new component to the ritual of greeting an acquaintance - after the handshakes and health enquiries there is the beeping of buttons as numbers are exchanged and entered in the electronic phone book.

I know it's a truism to talk about Africa leapfrogging a generation in technology but I've never been anywhere were the leap has been this great.

What does it all mean? Where will it all lead? I have no idea... but it's a rather spooky experience sitting in a city watching live pictures of bomb victims being pulled out of rubble on the other side of the world and knowing that news of one of the many attacks on the other side of the country could take a week to reach the authorities here.

And there definitely wouldn't be any pictures.

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20 Dec 00 | Africa
Uneasy calm on Bangui streets
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