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  • Writer's pictureJared Cotta

Incredible Destinations that Have Changed Their Name Part 1: Africa

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

What’s in a name? Why are names important? When you try to think about it on an individual level you realize that a name represents an identity. Names can signify our values and ambitions. Many feel that their name is a brand or an aura. Your family name is an entity you strive to bring honor to and with that honor the goal is that the name will live on to the next generation.

This is the first in a series of essays that looks at some notable destinations in the world that have changed their names. It is important that we appreciate why a city or country decides to change its name. It is often to shed colonialist chains or to distance itself from oppression. Even when it has nothing to do with imperialism, renaming is almost always a means to capture identity and empower people. Keep that in mind as you read ahead and learn why places change their name and why we want to visit them now.

Part 1: AFRICA

When we sit down with our friends and guests of African and Afro-Caribbean ancestry, we learn about the complex identity of Africa. We have heard that the story of Africa does not start with slavery, but with kings, queens, chiefs, and a deep connection with nature. Africa’s abundant resources brought its people prosperity, until Europe and the Middle East recognized the potential for exploitation across the continent. Soon colonizers and missionaries invaded the land, captured its people, and reorganized territories with no regard for the indigenous tribes. The colonists were eventually removed from Africa, leaving the continent wounded but with an opportunity to self-govern. The region has taken a long time to build enough infrastructure to become a truly desirable destination, but it never stopped being a land of incredible beauty and strength. We are now watching the great heartaches transform into great successes. Here’s why you should visit some of these inspiring destinations with complex histories.

Southern and Northern Rhodesia became Zambia and Zimbabwe:

Rhodesia was a fluid region of Southeast Africa that was under the rule of the British South Africa Company. Beginning in 1889 until long after WWII, British colonists oppressed the native people. Finally, national independence movements forced Europeans out in the 1960s. It has been a lengthy road to recovery for these nations, but there are now a lot of reasons to visit Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Right off the bat there’s no way to talk about these countries without mentioning the marvelous Victoria Falls. This iconic natural wonder is a spiritual destination that is absolutely awe-inspiring. While the falls are unmissable, there are also incredible wildlife parks across the region. Luangwa and Kafue National Parks in Zambia offer epic animal encounters, including fence-less safari camps for the more daring among us. Also, Zambia’s gorgeous Zambezi river allows visitors to explore an entirely different array of biodiversity.

The Mana Pools in Zimbabwe attracts all “Big 5” animals and guided tours around the park are extremely affordable. You are almost guaranteed to encounter elephants and big cats in any preserves in this area. Zimbabwe is only now overcoming some of its most devastating years of political unrest so like with any emerging country, be careful and consult local guides to have the best experience possible.

Sultanate of Zanzibar became Tanzania:

To be fair the islands of Zanzibar still exist, and it is a semi-autonomous state in Tanzania. For a time however, “Zanzibar” included the whole coastline of modern Tanzania and was under the control of Arab colonizers from Oman. The Arabian slave trade abducted over 700,000 human beings until finally, in 1963, the colonists were pushed out and Zanzibar unified with mainland Tanzania.

Today Tanzania is one of the most incredible destination in the world for adventurers. The country boasts so many notable attractions, including Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and of course the Zanzibar Archipelago. This is one of the best countries in the world to interact with wild elephants. Tanzania is also well known for awesome cultural experiences with the vibrant tribes in the region that have outlasted challenges and atrocities.

Tanzania’s beach scene sometimes goes under the radar because of all the safari options, but that should not stop travelers from discovering it. Head to the Zanzibar Archipelago for amazing scuba diving and snorkeling. Historic Stone Town features traces of the Muslim influence, while simultaneously embracing its Swahili roots in both music and cuisine. Tanzania and Zanzibar are dream destinations. This country has some of the best experiences Africa has to offer, from its highest peak, to its most pristine parks and beaches.

Leopoldville became Kinshasa the capital of Zaire which became the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Here’s a two for one. Leopoldville was founded as a trading outpost in 1881 and named for King Leopold II of Belgium. The area was then referred to as the Belgian Congo and the indigenous inhabitants suffered under the King's depraved style of rule. The Europeanization and consequentially the segregation of the city lasted until 1960 when the country became independent, and changed its name to Zaire. Unfortunately, the age of immoral leadership was not over.

The same year that the capital was dubbed Kinshasa, a dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, came to power and oppressed Zaire for decades. When the new ruler fell, Zaire’s liberators renamed the nation the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It has been over 20 years since the corrupt Mobutu was removed, but DRC still struggles with unrest. Even so, adventurers seek out DRC for the Congo River and the stimulating history of African liberation. Kinshasa is one of Africa’s biggest metropolitan areas. It offers high end accommodations, food, and nightlife in the Zone de Matonge and Gomba district.

The mighty Congo river is an impressive natural highway that can lead you right into some of the densest jungle in central Africa. Proceed with caution because there are less comforts and security once you venture outside of the commercial center. DRC is still unstable and remains the site of the UN’s biggest contemporary peace-keeping mission. We wanted to include it on this list to bring attention to the struggles still facing the Congolese people in the aftermath of colonialism and tyranny. If you find yourself drawn to Central Africa you might consider a visit to Brazzaville, which sits directly across the river from Kinshasa in the quieter Republic of Congo.

Africa is at the top of the Cotta Brother’s list for 2021 travel, particularly Tanzania and its impeccable preserves. The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially detrimental to the delicate progress in Africa. Not only is it a public health crisis as a disease, but also because of its impact on tourism economies. Due to fewer tourist dollars we are seeing fewer resources to control poachers in the safari parks. Africa is an incredible place and a constant demonstration of resiliency and resourcefulness. The continent has grown out of the shadow of former oppressors and should not be missed by any history buffs, activists, environmentalist, or true adventure seekers

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