Eastern Africa as a Playground
ONE of the most important results of the war will undoubtedly be the development of Eastern Africa. This will be due mainly to the fact that, with the conquest of the German territory, the British Empire now extends in an unbroken line from the Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope. The crying need, therefore, is for through north-tosouth communication — the realization of the dream of Cecil Rhodes: the Capeto-Cairo railway. Few, perhaps, realize that, even now, a traveler may go all the way from Cairo to the Cape, about 4200 miles, by rail, steamer, and motorcar, with the exception of a hundred miles in northern Uganda. When this vast territory is brought, by the completed railway, into close touch with the civilized world, not only the resources of the Empire, but the world’s wealth, will be greatly increased. For, with a great expanse of tropic and temperate lands, it will yield every kind of product, as tea, sugar, coffee, corn, and wheat. Very recently the British Parliament has been asked to appropriate over sixteen million dollars for the development of cotton-growing land in the Sudan. Extensive undeveloped mineral wealth exists in some regions. The need of the world for all these products is now so great, that these almost uninhabited regions will soon be filled with European and Asiatic cultivators of the soil and workers in the forests and mines.
But it will be a surprise to many to learn that the first need of the new railway will be, not the transportation of the products of Eastern Africa, but the carrying of passengers. This was emphasized by leading British authorities at a recent meeting of the Royal Geographical Society. Dwelling on the fact that ‘a rapidly growing demand has sprung up in recent years for winter resorts, where people of sufficient means and leisure can be certain of finding warmth, health, recreation, and interest, without having to face a long and inclement journey by sea,’ it was shown that, if improved facilities for traveling can be provided, ‘all these requirements can be met to the full in Africa.’
If the seeker after rest reaches the head-waters of the Nile, where are what Ptolemy called the Mountains of the Moon, he will find himself in the most beautiful and mysterious region in all the world. Its inaccessibility has been so great that comparatively few have visited it; but from the accounts of those who have succeeded in reaching it, together with the pictures accompanying them, one gets a vivid impression of its entrancing beauty and interest.
The culminating place is Lake Kivu, some sixty miles long by thirty broad, five thousand feet above sea-level, with shores reaching up to ten thousand feet. There are numerous islands, of one of which it is said, ‘Wau would make a simply idyllic haven of retreat for dwellers in great cities who were in need of rest.’ In full view from it are the skytowering mountains; and of one, 18,000 feet high, it is said, ‘Her glorious crown flashed back the ruby and the diamond to the sun; and in her diadem of snow were the purple of the jacinth, the blue of the amethystine fire, the brilliance of the crystal, and the soft shining of the opal.’
To the north of the lake is a cluster of active volcanoes, the eruption of one being described thus: ‘Fireworks of glowing rock and stone flashed up high in the air. A column of smoke, illuminated brightly by the fiery reflection of the outbreak, rose slowly up to dizzy heights, and then expanded mushroom-like for many miles around.’ The light of the eruptions was so great at that time, that, at night, though many miles distant, one could read by it. Apparently there is no danger from them, as at the time they were observed the overflow was confined to the craters. An especial attraction for those seeking restoration of health and strength is the hot springs, with valuable medicinal qualities, which are to be found here.
The wonderful vegetable growth of this region in trees and plants, it would be impossible to describe in a few words. The whole space in the forests, from the ground to the tops of the trees, is filled with an overwhelming mass of green. No wood is to be seen, but only soft, luxuriant foliage. The valleys are buried for miles under the blooms of millions of violets and immortelles. Red and white daisies, large white dahlias, and the numerous orchids make them look like great gardens. Lobelias rise up like immense candles, often to the height of a man. The most beautiful and surprising of all the vegetation are, possibly, the tree ferns, with their slender stems, thirty feet or more in height, more like palms than ferns. The trees, many of them with great red blossoms, are full of sunbirds, parrots, and numberless other species. A most entrancing sight is the wealth of butterflies, ‘with their glorious, delicate, metallic-gleaming colors, or their creamy, velvety black wings decked with striking green or bronze golden hues.’
Of the intensely interesting animal life, unsurpassed in numbers and variety in any part of the world, it is impossible to give an adequate impression. One may get some idea of its variety and interest and uniqueness, however, from the experience of a traveler on the Uganda railway who saw, on the trip up from the coast, gazelles, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, lions, and a rhinoceros. According to the latest available accounts, this mountain region is practically uninhabited. Rut the land directly adjoining Lake Kivu on the south is well cultivated by industrious and peaceful natives, who, from the descriptions of them, would seem to rank highest among the Africans untouched by white civilization. Not far away will be found some of the most primitive of human races, the pygmies.
There can be little doubt, then, of the truth of the assertion that the first use of the completed Cape-to-Cairo railway will be the transportation of travelers. Many of them will unquestionably go to this, the least known and, in some respects, the most interesting part of the world, ‘where natural spectacles of wonderful beauty and impressiveness are to be found in constant succession.’ Every variety of climate exists here except that of the frozen seas of the Poles. The wearied seeker after rest may sit quietly in his shelter and watch the changing color of the distant scenery. Or he may study the wonderful variety of flowers and plants in the grass close by him, and constantly find some new and beautiful blossom. Or he may climb to some nearby and easily accessible height, and get an unexpected view of snow-clad mountains with vivid colors. But especially may he go and sit quietly on the edge of the forest, and wait patiently for an elephant, or a lion, or a giraffe to come out and go down to the lake shore.
All this is true of the region of the Mountains of the Moon, but it does not exhaust the special interest of the East Africa soon to be opened to the world. One of those most familiar with the whole of this interesting part of the British Empire says of it: ‘Geographers, archæologists, ethnologists, botanists, and scientific men generally can find the widest fields for study, while persons of more commercial tastes cannot fail to be both interested and impressed by the mining and other resources of the Dark Continent, and by the methods which are being employed to develop them.’