Western Sahara (S3.10)

S03E10 – Western Sahara Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Western Sahara, a disputed territory in North-West Africa. Home to roughly 550,000 people and bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the east, Mauritania to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara is partially controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and partially Moroccan-occupied, and is often called ‘Africa’s last colony.’

Map of Western Sahara's position on the west coast of Africa, between Morocco and Mauritania

Map of Western Sahara’s position on the west coast of Africa, between Morocco and Mauritania

First colonised by Spain in 1885, the territory’s sovereignty has been fiercely disputed for decades, particularly since 1975, when Spain officially relinquished its claim over the region. Today it is alternately known as Morocco’s Southern Provinces or the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, however, we’ll be referring to the region as Western Sahara throughout most of this episode. At roughly 260,000 square kilometers or 100,000 square miles, Western Sahara is about the size of the US state of Colorado or just slightly larger than the UK. The territory consists mostly of uninhabitable desert, and nearly 40% of its inhabitants live in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara, while up to 100,000 people from the region are currently living in refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria.

This episode, the Finale of Season 3, is our first Patreon-nominated and voted-on episode. Thanks to Erik Tastepe, in particular, for suggesting this interesting location and to all of you who voted. Join us over on www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast to have a say in the direction of future seasons or get access to various awards.

Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Switzerland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella)


In this episode, we carried out an extensive interview with Nick Brooks (@WSaharaProject), a climate scientist, who has worked over many years in Western Sahara, co-directing a project with archaeologist Jo Clarke. This “Western Sahara Project” has led to a recently-published book on the topic (see here). Nick also has a very interesting blog about his time spent there, the politics of the situation and related topics called “Sand and Dust”. Beautiful photo galleries of all the archaeological discoveries from the research project in the desert have been shared on Flickr.

Here are a few things you may want to read/watch more about:

The Gambia (S2.07)

S02E07 The Gambia Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast we’ll be talking about the Gambia, the smallest country on the African mainland. Cutting a small sliver out of the Western coastline of Senegal, the Gambia is one of just a handful of nations on earth to share a border with just one country. The entirety of the country surrounds its namesake the Gambia River, with the border running parallel to both banks of the river inland for about 250 km. Gambia’s population of around 2 million is largely impoverished. It’s GDP is ranked at 167th out of 188 countries around the world, and like much of West Africa, it’s history has been impacted heavily by the slave trade. Having gained its independence in 1965 from the British empire, the Gambia has come to rely on its growing reputation as a tourist destination, and recently made headlines following a political power struggle between presidential candidates.

Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Switzerland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

Table of Contents:

[02:01]  Early exploration and the Stone Circles
[05:52] Influence of Islam and trade
[07:14] Mali and Songhai Empires
[09:43] Mandinka culture and scary masks
[18:07] Arrival of Europeans
[21:35] Start of trans-Atlantic slave trade
[26:15] First permanent European settlement
[26:55] Royal African Company founded in London
[30:26] Niall visits Nemban (clip)
[31:24] English and French vie for control
[35:01]The English liberalise the slave trade
[37:49] Pirate taking everything not nailed down
[39:20] Francis Moore’s reports
[42:32] The man who returned from slavery
[46:52] “Roots”
[49:59] Interview with tourguide
[53:24] Decline of the Royal African Company and searching for Timbuktoo
[55:38] Abolition of the slave trade and colony formation
[58:50] A colony for free slaves
[1:02:00] The kora and storytelling
[1:03:50] Setting the boundaries
[1:06:05] 20th Century, evolving colony and the world wars
[1:14:02] After the war… voting for all!
[1:16:45] Green Revolution and the PPP
[1:20:00] An awful flag
[1:22:32] An attempted coup and Senegambia
[1:29:32] A new character enters the stage: Jammeh
[1:39:42] Jammeh’s home town
[1:44:32] The Magic Presidential Powers – “hard on AIDS, hard on witches”
[1:47:56] 2016 Election kerfuffle
[1:50:25] A new president elected
[1:55:43] Food, wildlife, tourism and sport

Here are a few things you may want to read/watch more about:

Photographs of Kenyaleng women in various roles, exhibiting distinctive dress

The Kankurang mask – associated with circumcision rituals

Map showing the fort on James Island/Kunta Kinteh Island from Juffreh, the Gambia

The West African Frontier Force fought in the First World War

The original flag of the Gambia, which we all think is pretty terrible

Music you heard was largely from field recordings by our friend Niall Ó Laoighaire (who is also responsible for most of the photos above, you may also want to listen to music from the following sources:

A massive thanks to John Keating and Lorraine Mounsey, two of the backers of our recent Kickstarter Campaign – thank you for making Season 2 possible. And special thanks this week to Niall Ó Laoighaire for his research in the Gambia, providing the photos above and some audio that you heard. Thanks too to our sponsor Hairy Baby, who in addition to making the funniest Irish-themed t-shirts, have also produced the official 80 Days shirt for our supporters. Find it by clicking here. You can get 10% off anything on www.hairybaby.com by using our promo code “80DAYS”.

Liberia (S1.06)

Audio: S1E06 Liberia

This week in 80 Days, we looked at Liberia, a small country on the west coast of Africa. Founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Liberia is Africa’s oldest republic and takes its name from the the Latin phrase meaning “Land of the Free.” Unfortunately, the country is best known for a long and bloody civil war that look place in the 1990s and 2000s, and more recently for the Ebola epidemic of 2014. The lush, rainforested country is just 700 kilometres or 430 miles north of the equator, and is bordered by Sierra Leone to its west, Guinea to its north and Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) to its east. Today, the country is home to around 4.5 million inhabitants, although most are native Africans rather than the descendants of freed slaves. It maintains strong ties to America, and even has a flag that strongly resembles the flag of the US, although it has only one star and 11 stripes. Discussing Liberia are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Hong Kong, the UK and Switzerland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

We thought when we researched Nauru previously that it was the most depressing place we would ever encounter. But we were wrong! Liberia is at the bottom end of most tables you want to be near the top in (GDP, communications infrastructure, life expectancy, infant mortality) and has suffered from all the plights you can expect in the region and more, all as a result of inequality, corruption, disease and civil war, but nonetheless, it has a unique story worth telling. Some sources which we found particularly useful in researching the episode were:

I would recommend you read, watch and listen to some of these sources if you want to learn more about the country than we could cram into the podcast.