KWAME TAPIWA MUZAWAZI'S series of extraordinary adventures perhaps started with His decision to study for his Masters in International Law neither in Africa nor the usual institutions in the US or Western Europe. He opted for the Jagiellonian in Krakow, the oldest university in Poland.
(He was actually born Errol Edgar Tapiwa Muzawazi in Zimbabwe. He changed his first name to Kwame in 2010 while in Ghana during his epic car journey.)
Although it is said that there is no corner of the world where you will not find an African, quite often studying for something or other, Poland is still a stretch for most.
Perhaps more to the point, very few Poles know anything about Africa beyond the customary wildlife and Tarzan movies. But Kwame converted this drawback into opportunity. He was free to fashion out his own identity and he did so with such panache that he became an unlikely celebrity. It also opened up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drive across the continent and record his impressions.
But he first set his mark by doing something totally out of the box: he sought, in 2003 at the age of 19, to enter the Guinness Book of Records by delivering what was then the longest lecture in history--a marathon monologue on democracy that lasted 62 hours 30 minutes.
He had broken the record set by an Indian and this sparked into motion a series of attacks and counter-attacks culminating in 2009. (See box opposite)
Kwame's feats not only made him a celebrity in Poland, they aroused considerable interest in Africa (the "unknown continent" for most Eastern Europeans).
Three months before the record-breaking event, Kwame had undertaken a gruesome educational trip in September 2009, driving across four African countries Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia--to gather information for his university in Poland.
No wonder, in the same year, the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education gave him the "2009 Best Foreign Student in Poland" award, out of 17,000 international students in Polish universities, for "work that helped the people of Europe better understand Africa .
His university, Jagiellonian, also gave him what amounted to a "Student Noble Peace Prize" for his work in cultural diplomacy and counteracting stereotypes of Africa.
The epic journey begins
But all that was in preparation for the big adventure to come. In 2010, at the age of 26, Kwame set out from Poland on his biggest adventure yet, a marathon educational tour across 21 African countries.
He was forced to skip four on the planned route but eventually visited 17 countries over six months: Morocco, Western Sahara, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, DRC, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, anaZimbabwe--bringing his educational trips to a grand total of 21 countries (including the earlier four) in 7 months.
No black African had ever done anything like this before him. The theme was: "In search of an authentic African voice". The intention was to collect the opinions of Africans about their own continent--views, which, Kwame hoped, would begin positive changes that would transform the image of Africa in the world, and particularly in the Polish media.
The expedition had three broad objectives: Getting to know the African cultures along the route, particularly the living conditions of the people and the level of education; gathering opinions on the level of development in Africa; and preparing a scientific publication using the material gathered on the trip to be distributed globally to all interested in African matters.
A team from the Jagiellonian University was prepared to accompany Kwame on the trip. Unfortunately, bar one member of the team, photographer Andrzej Staron, they got cold feet one week before the trip, frightened by scary stories about Africa they were told at a send-off party!
They had fitted out a Nissan Patrol 4x4 for the trip. Kwame christened it Africanus II in honour of one of the earliest pan-Africanists, James Africanus Horton, whose path-breaking book, Vindication of the African Race, captured the imagination of the young Zimbabwean, who think the issues raised by the book are still relevant today.
Thus, on 29 March 2010, after a raucous official departure ceremony in front of Jagiellonian University's Collegium Novum building, Kwame and Andrzej, drove from Krakow in the south of Poland near the border with...