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Africa Captains Log

This webpage is my travels to Africa on a one year mission to the Horn of Africa and East Africa.

Diary Entries

Monday, 23 March 2015

Location: Nairobi, Kenya

Captains Log: 23 March 2015 1500 hours: Nairobi, Kenya

Greetings family and friends. Jambo and hello from Kenya and the land of the world's best marathon runners! Kenya is probably one of the more popular African countries to those in the U.S. with its national parks with lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, and rhinos. Kenya was once the African success story with tourism and magnificent beaches on the Indian Ocean.

Kenya also has rich history of Samburu warriors who dressed in red cloaks, with swords at their waists and clubs in their hands who can squat for an hours on end, but then suddenly stand straight and tall. Unfortunately, Kenya exploded in 2008 after an election and since then the country has been in mayhem. Most recently, was the attack by Al Shabbab on the Westgate Mall in September, 2013 which left about 150 dead.

What is different about Kenya than most African countries is that Kenya has an educated middle class of civil servants, lawyers, businessmen, and other professionals. But the political unrest in Kenya in places like Nairobi and Mombassa have led to carjacking and robbery to the extent that Nairobi is nicknamed Nairobbery.

On a recent trip to Nairobi, I was very surprised, almost shocked, to see all the gated communities, house, and business. Beyond the gated entrances, almost all had concertina wire....something normally seen to protect military bases and government installations....but these were homes and businesses.

The other significant aspect of what I saw in Nairobi that was unforgettable was the masses of people who walked miles and miles to jobs that paid only a few dollars per day. Even more amazing was that these people were neatly dressed, professionals, yet walking and picking their way through filth, rubbish, and trash. Almost half the population of Kenya lives in what the United Nations defines as poverty.... less than a dollar a day.

I also saw the economic turmoil in Nairobi with a lot of buildings that were started, yet never finished. It also looked like Nairobi was expanding at the expense of claiming the forest for more land.

Still, Kenya hosts the largest United Nations presence in Africa and many multinational corporations base their East Africa operations there. Kenya is also a close ally of the United States and the war against both Al Shabbab and Al-Qaeda. The Kenyan Defense Forces provide troops to the Africa Union Mission in Somalia along with a few other East African Countries.

Another interesting thing that I saw in Kenya was the references to christian religion. For example, I saw numerous buildings and signs in reference to Jesus such as "Jesus Saves Center" or "Jesus Redemption Center". In addition, there were lots of catholic schools and almost, if not all, Kenyans I met had a Christian name. The first name is Christian and the last name is traditional Kenyan. This was a striking difference from the East African countries above the Sahara where names are almost exclusively Muslim.

That's all for Kenya for now. In my next update, I will talk about my trips to Ethiopia, one of the only countries in Africa that was never colonized.

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

Captain Dan, United States Navy
Ubuntu - "I am what I am because of who we all are" - South African Proverb

Sunday, 08 March 2015

Location: Mogadishu, Somalia

Captains Log: 8 March 2015 1100 hours: Mogadishu, Somalia

Greetings family and friends. Hello from the world's most dangerous place: Mogadishu, Somalia! Since arriving in Africa, I have spent half of my time in Mogadishu, Somalia. The issue here is the terrorist group Al Shabaab. Interesting to know that the largest Somalia population outside of Somalia is in Minneapolis.

Mogadishu was made notorious in the movie "Blackhawk Down" in which an Army helicopter went down, special forces went into rescue, and the bodies of the U.S. service men killed were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu behind a pickup truck. Sadly, Somalia has been engaged in civil war and unrest since 1992 with no functioning government. Characters like Siad Barre and Aidid come to mind. There is belief that there are more guns than people in Somalia: 14 million guns and a population of 8 million people. Some belief there are more guns in Somalia then anywhere else in the world.

On my first trip to Mogadishu, we flew commercial air. Our flight was early in the morning from Djibouti and the hair on my neck stood up as we went into the airport and the dark corridors of security checks. Then, I landed in Mogadishu and the airport there made Djibouti look like Detroit Metro Airport.

Somalia takes up most of my time and I am working with the United Nations and the African Union as well as the European Union for peace keeping and stability operations in Somalia. My role is to lead a logistics working group made up of international partners but most importantly, members of the Somalia National Army. Through this working group, we help the Somalis to build logistics capability and capacity.

Its been a great opportunity for me and very exciting. It reminds me of my days back in Iraq when I focused on rehabilitation and commercialization of all Iraq's strategic transportation modes. The size of Somalia can be deceiving. In truth, compared to the United States it is a big country. To be sure, the coast line of Somalia alone if stretched end-to-end would reach from the tip of Boston to the tip of Miami. That's a lot of ground to cover and a lot of effort to help the Somalis fight against Al Shabaab.

Most of Somalia is a desert of rock, stone, and sand flat as the sea from horizon to horizon and then mountains. For most of the year, the sun is scorching and nothing grows except cactus and thorn shrub. But when it rains, everything turns green and all the livestock feast on the grass while it lasts.

The complexity of Africa is inherent in Somalia. To illustrate, Somalis do not think of themselves as Africans. In pre-colonial times, Somalis raided into parts of what is now Kenya and enslaved the local Africans bringing them back as slaves. Somalia is one of two countries in Africa that has only one race, one ethnic group, one language, one religion, and one culture.

Camels are reverend in Somalia and seemingly more valuable or important than women to Somali nomads. One of the most interesting things I learned is how the Somalis indicate distance. For instance, if you ask how far or close, they will say a few "gedis". A gedi is the distance a grazing sheep moves in a day!

Somalia is a war zone after 30 years of destruction and reminds me of the devastation in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, it feels and looks much the same. The only difference is the U.S. is not battling the war.... it is the United Nations and Africa Union. But it is a war zone. For all that, there is still some beauty in Somalia. The Indian Ocean is gorgeous and every time I visit I enjoy watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean despite all the chaos around me.

That's all for Somalia for now. In my next update, I will talk about my trips to Kenya, the land of lions, tigers, leopards, and simba!

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

Captain Dan, United States Navy
Ubuntu - "I am what I am because of who we all are" - South African Proverb

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Location: Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Captains Log: 22 February 2015 2000 hours: Djibouti, East Africa

Greetings family and friends. Hello from the country of Djibouti. You are probably wondering of all the countries in Africa, why am I stationed in the country of Djibouti? Well, the main reason is Djibouti is the only game in town, rather the whole Africa continent, for the U.S. Last May, the U.S. signed a 20-year lease on our military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Djibouti is significant because it is the only American installation on the African continent and a staging ground for counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia.

Djibouti is about the size of New Jersey and plays a very important role in seeking to stabilize regional crises. The agreement between the U.S. and Djibouti signifies the importance of Djibouti and its importance in helping the United States and other Western allies combat terrorists, pirates and smugglers in the region.

Djibouti is a very small country in the Horn of Africa in east Africa. It is bordered by Somalia to the southeast, Eritrea and the Red Sea to the northwest, Ethiopia to the west and south, and the Gulf of Aden and Yemen to the northeast. The capital of Djibouti is Djibouti City and it is home to around 600,000 people.

Djibouti is a multi-ethnic nation with a population of over 810,000 inhabitants. The Somali and Afar make up the two largest ethnic groups. Both speak Afroasiatic languages, which serve as recognized national languages. Arabic and French constitute the country's two official languages. About 94% of residents adhere to Islam, a religion that has been predominant in the region for more than 1,000 years.

In antiquity, the territory was part of the Land of Punt. The Djibouti area, along with other localities in the Horn of Africa region, was later the seat of the medieval Adal and Ifat Sultanates. In the late 19th century, the colony of French Somaliland was established following treaties signed by the ruling Issa Somali and Afar Sultans with the French. It was subsequently renamed to the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas in 1967. A decade later, the Djiboutian people voted for independence, officially marking the establishment of the Republic of Djibouti.

Djibouti is strategically located near the world's busiest shipping lanes, controlling access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. It serves as a key refueling and transshipment center, and is the principal maritime port for imports to and exports from neighboring Ethiopia. Djibouti has eight mountain ranges with peaks of over 3,281 ft. The Grand Bara desert covers parts of southern Djibouti. The majority of it sits at a relatively low elevation, below 1,700 feet.

This past December, there was a 15K run in the Desert called the Great Bara Run. There were about 3,000 people running in the race including French, Djiboutian, U.S. Italians, and other nationalities. The race was straight thru the Grand Bara Desert and started at 6:00am. Instead of a starter's gun, four French Mirage fighter jets flew overhead at low altitude. It was quite an exhilrating start. The race was flat and numerous times I saw my own mirages of what I thought was the finish line only to be tricked!

There is not much seasonal variation in Djibouti's climate. Hot conditions prevail year-round along with winter rainfalls. Since I arrived in December, the weather had gradually cooled down to about a high of 90 °F during the day and very comfortable 60-70 °F at night. Starting in March, the temperatures will begin climbing and reach upwards of 130 °F by July. I am dreading the hot temps.

Khat dominates male life in the tiny Muslim nation of Djibouti. Alcohol is frowned upon and hard drugs are exceedingly rare. But one stimulant dominates the lives of Djibouti's people and that is Khat: a green leaf that when chewed gives the chewer an amphetamine-like high. Khat users usually pluck an entire stem from the bunch of green leaves and stick it in their mouths, chewing slowly. The leaves are soft, but the initial taste is sharp and bitter, making the mouth suddenly feel completely dry as khat's active chemicals are released.

It takes about an hour of continuous chewing before experienced users say they start to feel light-headed. Then the drug really starts to kick in. The Khat leaves need to be chewed within 24 hours after the plant is cut. Most of the Khat comes from Kenya and Ethiopia and it very fascinating to see the daily Khat flights arrive, unloaded, and then distributed to the Khat stands around Djibouti.

That's all for Djibouti for now. In my next update, I will talk about my trips to Mogadishu, Somalia. Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

Captain Dan, United States Navy
Ubuntu - "I am what I am because of who we all are" - South African Proverb

Friday, 13 February 2015

Location: Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Captains Log: 13 February 2015, 2300 hours: The Horn of Africa

Greetings family and friends. Hello from the great and magnificent continent of Africa. After almost five months on the ground in Africa, I finally have found some uninterrupted time to start my blog and send an update on what I am doing in Africa.

I always dreamed about going to Africa as a young boy and remember vividly watching on TV Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and Marlin Perkins as he ventured into the wilderness of the great continent seeking out Lions, Zebras, Elephants, and other animals. The show captivated my imagination and longing for travel to far away lands.

Fast forward 40 years later and here I am in Africa. Africa is a vast continent and about three and a half times larger than the United States. We call Africa the tyranny of distance. To get anywhere requires vast resources and times. Traveling end to end from top to bottom by air would take well over 12 hours. The coast line of Somalia alone if stretched end-to-end would reach from the tip of Boston to the tip of Miami. West Africa, where the Ebola crisis was located, to East Africa, the Horn of Africa, is the same distance as New York to Hawaii.

My job in Africa is the Director of Logistics for the Combined and Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. I am part of joint and coalition team located in the country of Djibouti that has a mission to promote security cooperation in East Africa. Our role here is to support the United States Department of State and regional actors in seven countries located in East Africa. In my job, I travel frequently in and around Africa. I spend about 25% of my time in Somalia in the City of Mogadishu. Here I am working with Somalia National Army and the United Nations as well as international partners to build logistics capability and capacity into the Somali National Army.

As part of this role, we enable regional actors, the countries in East Africa, to neutralize violent extremist organizations such as Al Shabah. We also work to ensure regional access and freedom of maneuver throughout East Africa to protect U.S. interest. Finally, we support crisis response to plan and prepare for crisis that happened in Benghazi, Libya a few years ago.

Africa has a historic and storied past. Africa has had many struggles most significant the slave trade in 1700s and 1800s. What is interesting is the slave trade was not only driven by Europe and America during this time but within Africa itself and the Arab world. Africa is complex in that it has over 2,000 languages and cultures.

Africa has also had a horrific past. In the mid 1990s, 31 out of 33 countries in Africa were involved in civil wars. Hundreds of thousands of people died not from bullets but from diseases, hunger, and lack of water. Not all Africans are fighting or starving. Millions have never known war or or hunger and lead very peaceful lives. Still, there is a lot of chaos here and sometimes madness here underscoring the complexity of Africa. Only a small number of these wars have been between countries. Most have been internal battles for power and wealth with countries normally between different ethnic countries.

The challenge in Africa is that they are still suffering the scars of Colonization and Imperialism. As a result, Africa struggles with the concept of nations states like the U.S., Canada, and other countries. The main reason for this is that most of Africa's current nation states were formed by foreigners (British, Dutch, French, Germans). Lines were drawn on maps by people who had often never been to Africa. They carved out terrorities, cut up kingdoms, and upset societies that they had little idea or knowledge of. Granted, one positive comment about the U.S. is that we have never colonized any part of Africa and the Africans know this and it reflects positively on the U.S.. Africa is also divided spiritually with Muslim north of the Sahara Desert and south of the Sahara Desert Christian.

I will write more later and hope to provide a good education and information on Africa as I travel around. My next blog will cover Djibouti which is the country where my military headquarters are located. Djibouti is a very tiny country at the tip of the Horn of Africa but has immense strategic importance for the United States. More on Djibouti in my next blog.

I will leave you with an old African proverb for thought: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle - when the sun comes up in Africa, you'd better be running.”

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

Captain Dan, United States Navy
Ubuntu - "I am what I am because of who we all are" - South African Proverb

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Recent Messages

From Pops
Great update, can't believe all the places you are traveling to. You are going to have a very full passport when your navy career is over. I like the stay thirsty quote, from the mist interesting man in Africa!
Response: Pop"s, thanks. If its Tuesday, I must be in Tanzania!
From Brendan
Thanks for the update and narrative. Very informative so far and I look forward to more insights. Who knows, I may end up there myself before long!
Brendan - You would love it and do awesome here.
From Debbie
Dan You are so eloquent. Love reading your posts. Love you.
From Joyce
Great to have the Captain's Log again - you definitely top Marlin Perkins ... more charm and sophistication... I love the way you embrace the culture. You look good in the pics-- especially the one in Kenya -- will look forward to future posts! Sending lots of love and prayers.
From Clarke
Quite an adventure. Thanks for sharing. Stay safe and know you are in our prayers.

From Patrick
Keep up the great work Dan! -8, windy, but sunny here this morning. It was perfect for a few hours in the woods. I doubt you'll see that kind of weather this winter!
From Renee
Hi Dan,

Great to hear from you and fascinating stuff. So much that our military is doing. We just went to Emma's ROTC military ball last night (Christine, Susie, Jenny Nelson, Raquel, Swan and myself). Neat to see all the cadets and ROTC alumni (some from the 1950s!). Very cold here in MI today (-11 degrees F). But I guess one step closer to Spring.

Great job helping us learn more about Africa (didn't realize the Djibouti is quite close to Yemen). Take care and lots of love - Renee
From Pops
Snowman, great blog! I remember Mutual of Omaha that is great, glad you got to Africa as a grown man. Thanks for all you do, and remember be safe, look out for the lions while you are running!
Response: Pops, thanks. Lots of stories to tell when I get back...."There I was, in the Congo......
From Stanley
Nice blog. Brings back some fond memories of my own travels through Africa.
From Livingston
Awesome website my friend. Thanks for getting your blog back online. I look forward to hearing and learning more about your travles in Africa