GABON: Gabonese Radio and TV

A surfing hippo near Port-Gentil – Source: Olivier Stocchi, TrekNature

I poked around Radio Garden and a few other sites to find some live radio from Gabon – there’s not a lot available, but there were a few neat channels.

Urban FM 104.5 – This has definitely been my favourite station, it’s great to put on when I’m working. Reggae, rap, hip hop, dance, pop – most of it Gabonese or from other parts of Africa. It’s a big fun mix. It’s pretty much uninterrupted music too! Listen live here.

Gabonews – The online feed isn’t up all the time, but it’s a major private radio station in Gabon. There’s a lot of variety – some news and talk in French, some pop and rap, and some more traditional Gabonese instruments – or “tradmodèrne” mixes. Listen live here.

Africa Radio – Africa Radio is notable for being a longstanding Gabonese institution that is no longer Gabonese. It was launched in 1980 as Africa No. 1, broadcasting out of Libreville, with French and Gabonese state investment. Africa No. 1 expanded into additional radio stations in Paris and Libya (with involvement from both Gaddafi and the post-Gaddafi governments). However, after strikes and complaints of poor working conditions, Africa No. 1 had its licence pulled and ceased broadcasting in Gabon in 2018. It has since been reborn as Africa Radio, with stations in Côte D’Ivoire and the Republic of Congo. You can listen live to regional broadcasting with music and talk in French, or music streams with club, rumba, and African dance music.

Notre-Dame de Lourdes, Libreville – Source

There’s a few live TV channels streaming from Gabon as well:

Gabon 24 – Gabon’s national broadcaster – formerly part of state broadcasting, now they’ve been spun off into a standalone company. They livestream on Youtube, and post individual clips from news stories on their channel. They’re still very much the state broadcaster, so they don’t really rock the boat, but there’s news, weather, sports, talk shows – the whole deal.

Gabonews – This is a private broadcaster, also with livestreams and clips from their broadcasts on Youtube. Again, a similar mix of news, weather, sports and talk, but an very interesting little difference: they also carry addresses by Jean Ping, the opposition leader who narrowly lost the 2016 election due to vote rigging in Ali Bongo’s home province. He’s positioned himself as a statesman, and continues to address the nation as the “Elected Gabonese President”.

GABON: More podcasts

Boulevard Triomphal, Libreville – Source

Some more podcasts from and about Gabon – language as marked!

The Talking Point: African Perspectives – Gabon (En) – If you’re looking to get your head around just the basics of Gabon, this South African podcast has a good interview with the head of a Gabonese ex-pat organization in the country. The interviewee wants to get more into the meat of the political struggles, but also wants to show Gabon well and promote the lovely things about it.

France Culture: Gabon, comment sortir de l’impasse? (Fr) – French analysis from 2016 during the contested election between Ali Bongo and Jean Ping – it covers the vote rigging, the violence, and the media blackout, but also covers the political history that lead up this, including France’s involvement in Gabon’s politics – all in 7 minutes.

Sky News ClimateCast: How do you put a price on nature? (En) – Gabon is one of the most forested countries and has some of the lowest levels of deforestation, making it not just a home for incredible biodiversity, but as a vital carbon sink. This makes Gabon is one of the few carbon-negative countries, taking in through its forests more carbon than it emits – even with an oil industry. However the podcast looks into Gabon’s economic choice over its forests as its oil reserves begin to run low – it could log the forests, or it could solicit investments from other countries to keep its forests intact. The question is if other countries will pay to stop Gabon from logging, and would this model work elsewhere?

RFI Couleurs tropicales – Sémaine Speciale Gabon Ep 1 (Fr) – The first episode of a multi-part series on RFI’s African music show focusing exclusively on music from Gabon and its diaspora. It’s more of a DJ set with a bit of interview clips and artist details mixed in (all the artist names are listed in the description). Really high energy and fun, with a host with a lot of national pride about Gabon’s music scene.

Urban FM: Mystères Urbains (Fr) – This is so much fun if you like spooky campy stuff, this Gabonese podcast covers urban legends, occult, and monsters from across the country. I listened to one on an urban legend of the “Devil’s Cat” – a lesson in kindness to animals that builds off superstitions around black cats.

NEW ZEALAND: Christchurch Cathedral

Drone video still taken inside the cathedral – Source

When the 2011 earthquake devastated the city of Christchurch, killing 185, several iconic buildings were also severely damaged. The Anglican cathedral’s tower and front of the building collapsed. Amazingly, the church’s artist in residence, Sue Spigel, was inside and survived.

While other buildings in Christchurch were either repaired or replaced, the cathedral was caught up in legal battles over whether to demolish parts of the building, how to repair what still stood, and how to protect the historic integrity of what was left. Because of that, the church has sat empty, open to the elements, for a decade now. This drone footage was taken before new repair attempts started in 2019 – which now seem to be underway, despite the pandemic.

A temporary church was built shortly after the earthquake to serve as the “Transitional Cathedral”, but has taken on a more endearing name of “The Cardboard Cathedral“. Here’s some neat shots of the inside – those giant structural tubes are actually cardboard.

Unrelated to the earthquake, I’m surprised the original church’s name wasn’t the Christchurch Christ Church Cathedral. “Christ Church” is an excessively common name for Anglican churches around the world – just counting cathedrals, there’s one in Oxford, Dublin, the Falklands, Tanzania, New South Wales, the Bahamas, Episcopal cathedrals in the US, and in every corner of Canada from Vancouver to New Brunswick to the Yukon to down the street from my house in Ottawa! There’s no rule that they have to be named like that; the Anglican Church is just spectacularly unoriginal in naming churches.

The cathedral in 2019 with Camilla, Prince Charles, and PM Ardern – Source

What did I learn: SAN MARINO

Wrapping up this month with San Marino! I didn’t know too much when I started this month, apart from it being a microstate embedded inside Italy. So, what did I learn?

Well, I got a better sense of microstates as a whole, for one. As for San Marino itself, it was very interesting to look into why it’s an independent country, how the voting system works, the issues facing historical preservation, and its current-day politics, including the recent abortion referendum and high-level corruption prosecutions.

I also got a little look at some of San Marino’s history, including early medieval treasure, the history of its independence, how it got sucked into WWII (including having its railway destroyed), and the near-civil war of the Rovereta Affair.

For such a small country, I also got a taste of some good cuisine, including a big order of chocolates and baked goods mailed direct to Canada, plus being generally successful at making piada, and a bit less so at making pasta for nidi di rondine (but I did manage béchamel from scratch!)

There’s also a good variety of music coming out of San Marino, from big Eurovision hits, rock, rap, 60s pop, classical music, and a great international opera competition! It’s also a beautiful place, great historic buildings and stunning mountainous views.

One of the interesting things underlying this month was San Marino’s pride in its democracy and independence, even as Italy does impinge on San Marino’s sovereignty at times, including stopping San Marino from having both a casino and radio station, or how all of San Marino’s judges must be Italian (which may actually be a benefit, given the challenge of being objective in such a small population).

And someday, maybe someday, they’ll finally win a footie match.

What did I learn: UZBEKISTAN

A Tashkent subway station – Source

Another month is coming to a close! So, what have I learned about Uzbekistan?

Uzbekistan, and the five “Stan” countries as a whole, were a big blank spot in my mental map when I started this month. I knew a little bit about the Silk Road, the breakup of the USSR, and the loss of the Aral Sea, but not much more.

I found this month geopolitics were a big focus – Uzbekistan’s modern position is a tricky balancing act, situated between Russian, Chinese, and American interests. Notable is the change Uzbekistan is going through since the 2016 death of President Islam Karimov (and the high drama surrounding his daughter Gulnara Karimova). The new government under Mirziyoyev has made some crucial reforms like ending forced labour, letting foreign media in, and allowing religion back into everyday life.

It will be interesting to see if the trajectory of reforms continue, or if pandemic and power structures pull things back. Dissident authors like Hamid Ismailov are still banned from the country, and it isn’t clear yet if encouraging government-overseen moderate religion will stem issues of radicalization, especially with a land border with Afghanistan. There also seems to be a big rural/urban divide, with wealth from exports of cotton, gold, and natural gas concentrated in the cities. Attempts are being made to address the environmental catastrophe of the Aral Sea.

Uzbekistan’s larger history almost has too much to dig into – the history of the Silk Road and the many influences in the region over the decades, Prokudin-Gorsky’s colour photographs from 1911, the ever-changing Uzbek writing system, and stunning places like Registan Square only touch the surface. Adeeb Khalid’s Central Asia proved to be indispensable for getting a sense of the last few centuries and how they created the Uzbekistan of today.

I think I answered my question from the start of the month – why does Uzbekistan have such a huge population compared to its neighbours? There doesn’t seem to be a big trick to it – when the modern borders were drawn inside the USSR, major cities like Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent, as well as the densely-farmed Fergana Valley ended up in Uzbekistan. These places have been major settlements for centuries and the heart of empires – in contrast the more nomadic histories of places like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

I felt like there’s an interesting parallel between the migrations of Koryo Saram and Bukharan Jews. The Koryo Saram, Koreans forcibly resettled into Soviet Central Asia, have largely integrated into Uzbekistan, but some seek (or struggle with) a return to Korea under South Korea’s right of return laws. The Bukharan Jewish community had been in Uzbekistan for centuries, but due to the forced assimilation and prejudice of the Soviet era, almost the entire population has left for Israel, the US, and Canada – where they have rebuilt their communities and kept much of their identity.

I wanted to fight a bit against the easy narratives of “exotic and mythical Samarkand” or “grey Soviet misery” that I kept on coming across this month. There’s much more nuance from the voices of Uzbeks themselves. I got a taste of Uzbek literature and short stories, movies (both action and comedy), and popular music, including modern pop and dance, Soviet disco, classical music, interesting radio stations, and the most successful meme to come out of the country recently.

As for the food, this month I had my biggest culinary victory with Locally Foreign – baking non from scratch. My first successful handmade bread! I also had the biggest culinary fail – navat that just would not crystallize. I loved how the plov turned out, and the moshxo’rda and Korean carrot salad were tasty experiences. I also tried qurt and survived eating shur-donak! I’d also recommend the Uzbek restaurant I went to in Toronto – great manti!

There’s still a lot about Uzbekistan I’m sorry I didn’t get into – I still want to learn more about older history of the region, especially Timur the Great, or Persian connections (al-Khwarizmi was born in what is now Uzbekistan) and deep Sufi cultural and religious influences. I also would like to learn more about Karakalpakstan beyond just the Aral Sea disaster – the distinctive autonomous region covered in the far west of the country. There’s also modern geopolitics I’d like to have dug into more – Uzbekistan as a crucial hub for China’s Belt and Road initiative, or their tense relations with Tajikistan and the now (allegedly) removed minefields along the border.

UZBEKISTAN: Emirate of Bukhara in colour

The man in this picture is Sayyid Mir Muhammad Alim Khan, the last Emir of Bukhara, taken in the same year as his coronation … in 1911.

Yes, this picture is from 1911. And no, it hasn’t been digitally colourized after the fact, it’s a colour photograph taken in 1911. Russian chemist Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky developed a method that took three pictures at once with different coloured filters – red, blue, and green, and then could reconstitute the image by layering the the pictures. It was a tricky process with bulky equipment, and sadly never caught on, but Prokudin-Gorsky was given authority by the Tsar to travel around the Russian Empire between 1909-1915 and photograph people and places.

There are wonderful collections of his work on several sites, including on History Colored, Wikipedia, and the Library of Congress. He spent a lot of time photographing the Emirate of Bukhara, which then roughly covered most of modern day Uzbekistan. It was part of the larger Russian Empire, and in 1920, Bolshevik revolution deposed Emir Alim Khan, who fled into exile in Afghanistan. The Emirate became the Bukharan People’s Socialist Republic, and in 1924 the borders were redrawn into the Uzbek and Turkmen SSRs. (I really recommend Adeeb Khalid’s Central Asia if you’re interested in this history.)

These pictures astound me, both for the historical value and the scientific achievement, but also that the high quality and colour make them so real in a way that black and white pictures don’t. Here’s more from what is now Uzbekistan around the 1910s, all from this gallery on Wikipedia.

A civil servant on a winter’s day
The Bukharan Minister of the Interior
A jail in Bukhara
Jewish children studying in Samarkand
A nomadic Kyrgyz family on the Hungry Steppe
A dilapidated madrassa in Samarkand, with storks nesting in a tower.

UZBEKISTAN: More podcasts / Googoosha

Amir Timur Museum, Tashkent – Source

CSIS: Of Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan – A recent podcast from an American think tank, looking at Mirziyoyev’s reforms since he came to power in 2016. They focus that while the reforms have not transformed the country overnight, they have been significant – especially economic and politically. They look at how Mirziyoyev’s reforms are being balanced with the need to keep the country and existing power structure stable, how these reforms are seen in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing, and how Uzbekistan fits in the current situation with neighbouring countries, especially Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Al Jazeera – Uzbekistan reforms: Activists demand more changes – A bit more colour on reforms in Uzbekistan, reporting by Al Jazeera on both the recent progress (foreign journalists were rarely allowed in before 2016) and on places where reform has stalled or has only been incremental – especially for dissidents. Recent elections have not had genuine opposition parties, and the pandemic has set back much economic growth – so it will be seen in future years if the reforms continue.

Deep Fried: Uzbek Kimchi – A Dubai-based food podcast that goes into the culinary connections between Uzbek and Korean cuisine. They go to local restaurants and compare the Korean and Uzbek versions of kimchi and kuksi (a summertime noodle soup served chilled), and also touch a bit on why there is so much Korean influence on Uzbek cuisine. There is a surprisingly large Korean population in Uzbekistan – many Koreans who fled the Japanese occupation into Russia were resettled by the government to Uzbekistan.

A rare snowy day in Tashkent – Source

BBC – Uzbekistan: Searching for Googoosha – A slightly breathless BBC investigation from 2014 about Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of then-President Islam Karimov. Karimova has been a fascinating figure – immensely powerful, she controlled huge assets and state companies during her father’s life, was very public on the international NGO scene, but also acquired great wealth through graft and was connected to violent repression of critics. She also had a career as a pop star in Uzbekistan, under the stage name Googoosha. Her star began to dim as international corruption investigations started circling, and as of 2014, she was falling from grace as part of an internal power struggle within her own family and others positioning themselves to succeed the ailing Karimov.

BBC – Unravelling an Uzbek Mystery – If you listen to the above podcast, you’ll want this as a part 2. This episode is from 2016, shortly after Karimov’s death and Mirziyoyev coming into power. Karimova made global headlines at that time – she had disappeared, and rumours circled that she had been killed. The BBC’s Uzbek journalists had made contact with her son, and got the scoop that she was alive, but being held under house arrest. It’s clear that she had lost the succession struggle and the new government needed her out of the public eye.

This was all only five years ago – so where is Gulnara Karimova now? In 2017, Uzbek courts convicted her of corruption, extortion, and money laundering – both due to genuine crimes but also likely as a convenient scapegoat for corruption in the Karimov era. She was sentenced to jail, commuted to house arrest, but in 2019 she was returned to jail – where is where she currently is.

Much was made over her pop career – I’m reasonably sure that this was the music video mentioned in the 2014 podcast.