More African wings to the US

RwandAir Airbus A330
RwandAir Airbus A330

Rwanda’s national airline is due to begin flights to the United States by the end  of 2017. That’s good news for Americans wanting to visit East — and West Africa.  If it happens.

At present, seven African nations have airlines making direct flights between the Mother Continent and the United States:

An eighth set of African wings is now moving to join the party.

RwandAir, the national flag carrier of Rwanda, expects to begin direct flights between New York JFK and Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, at the end of this year.

Whether that will actually happen, however, depends on whether — and wqhen —  RwandAir can acquire the plane they want for this route. More on that in a moment.

If they can pull it off, it would mean more options for American travelers flying to the Mother Continent — not just to East Africa, which Rwanda is located, but to West Africa, as well.

That’s because this direct flight* between the US and Rwanda will be making a stop in Accra, Ghana’s capital city on the West African coast.

(*NOTE: A direct flight is not a non-stop flight. A direct flight is any flight between two points that uses the same airline and the same flight number — no matter how many stops are made en route.)

For Ghana-bound travelers, the flight between JFK and Accra’s Kotoka International Airport (ACC) will be a non-stop, right around ten hours. The second leg to Kigali (KGL) tacks on another six and half hours.

The JFK-ACC portion of the flight is about the same length of time it takes to fly from San Diego to London. The full JFK-KGL run is about two hours longer than the 15-hour flight from LAX to Beijing.

This is the youngest airline in Africa, founded in 2002 as “Rwandair Express.” Seven years later, they dropped “Express” from their name.  Why? Because Rwandair Express sounded too much like a little regional airline.

And their ambitions are definitely global.

RwandAir has two jumbo jets with the range to comfortably make this hop — an Airbus A330-200 and an A330-300. But like the airline itself, the airplane they have in mind for this route is much newer.

They’re casting covetous eyes on the A350 AWB, Airbus’ answer to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Word is that RwandAir is in talks to pick up a couple of A350s for their US service, but have yet to take delivery.

Like the Dreamliner, the A350 represents the current state of the art in air travel, and very few African airlines have either of them.  So in more ways than one, this is a big move for RwandAir and for Africa in general.

IBIT will be keeping an eye on this.

(NOTE: If you prefer to fly a US-based airline to Africa, your options are even fewer — Delta and United.  That’s it That’s all.  But that’s another conversation.)


Africa: The Brazilian Connection

The flow of culture between The Mother Continent and South America’s largest country runs both ways.

Wherever you set foot there and for as long as you live, Africa will always find ways to amaze and surprise you.

The latest surprise to me came as I was preparing information on a nine-day tour next year to the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau.

Adventure? The country boasts pristine forests, wild rivers, unspoiled beaches, the world’s largest continuous line of mangrove forest.

Culture? Try the Bijagos Islands, an archipelago of 88 islands, of which only  20 are inhabited. Because of their isolation, the tribal culture there has survived into the 21st century intact.

But this was what stopped me in my proverbial tracks: “Carnival is the main festivity in Guinea Bissau.”

We’re actually talking here about Carnaval. As in the Carnaval of Brazil.

Say what?

The African roots of Brazil’s biggest cultural festival are a well-established fact. But those roots have reached back across the Atlantic all the way rto Africa — some by choice, some not.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade took more captive Africans  to Brazil than anywhere else, upwards of 4 million over three centuries, many of whom were Muslims of the Yoruba and Hausa peoples.

It must have a been a bizarre relationship — West Africans, often Muslims literate in Arabic, being worked and brutalized by slaveholders who often couldn’t read or write in their native Portuguese.

Some fled into the jungles to form Maroon communities called quilombos. Others rebelled, most notably the Malê Revolt of 1835.

The revolt was crushed, and the open practice of Islam eradicated. Many of the surviving rebels were deported to West Africa.

Over time,  many Brazilian slaveowners — for commercial more than moral reasons — opted to free their slaves. Slavery in Brazil ended altogether in 1888 — partly in fear of another Malê Revolt.

Many of the newly freed remained in Brazil and develop today’s rich heritage of Afro-Brazilian culture. Others returned to their ancestral homelands.

Some returned to Nigeria, where they remain as both Africans and Brazilians to this day.  Others went to countries like Guinea-Bissau.

(At the same time, there are significant numbers of native-born Angolans, whose ancestors were a major source of enslaved Africans from Brazil to Louisiana, who today are opting to migrate to Brazil.  )

So around the time that Carnaval is being celebrated on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador, Bahia, you’ll find similar celebrations going on in Afro-Brazilian communities up and down the coast of West Africa…including in Guinea-Bissau.

For more information on that, and other cultural tours in Africa, visit  Trips by Greg.