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The African Travels of Frits Eisenloeffel

This section of the web exhibition of photos by Frits Eisenloeffel tracks the journeys of the Dutch journalist Frits Eisenloeffel (1944-2001) in Africa.  In his student days, Frits Eisenloeffel came into contact with representatives from the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements in Portugal, Latin America and Africa. He visited London, Paris, Morocco and Portugal, where he met representatives of the Mozambican liberation movement FRELIMO.


As a result from his contacts with the community of Portuguese deserters in Paris he made his first travels to the Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau, Cabo Verde and Mozambique. On assignment for the Dutch broadcaster VPRO Eisenloeffel  reported on the transfer of power from the Portuguese to the new rulers,  FRELIMO (1974). He reported on massacres in the time of the colonial wars, the troubled economic situation and the insecure political situation with the threat of civil war because of internal rivalry in the independence movement and an uprising of white settlers.

On his third trip to Mozambique in 1975 he followed, also on assignment for the VPRO, the future president Samora Machel on his tour through the country to prepare for the official transfer of power. He visited the gigantic building project of the Cabora Bassa dam, which FRELIMO had threatened to blow up during the days of the colonial struggle, but which now was to contribute to the economic development of the new nation. The documentary he made was shown on Dutch television on Mozambican Independence Day, 25 June 1976.

Angola and Namibia

On his first visit in 1976 to Angola Eisenloeffel reported on the festivities in Luanda which accompanied the first anniversary of the transfer to power to the MPLA . He photographed the toppling of statutes of former colonial figureheads and the first skirmishes with the MPLA-rivals FNLA and UNITA: the start of a lengthy civil war.

In 1977 Eisenloeffel interviewed the SWAPO-leader Sam Nujoma on a visit to the Netherlands. In 1978 Eisenloeffel visited Namibia to report on the elections, organized by South Africa to favor a new government dominated by the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) instead of the SWAPO.  SWAPO and the UN boycotted the elections, but South Africa hoped to get the elections recognized by organizing an extensive press campaign. 


In 1977 he reported on the reclaiming of agricultural land by the expropriated former owners who lost their land with the Carnation Revolution of  1975. In 1979 he worked on two TV documentaries on the same subject.

Senegal, Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau

In 1978 Eisenloeffel visited Zaïre, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and  Cabo Verde. 
In Senegal he reported on the campaign for the presidential election of the ruling president Leopold Senghor, who’s regime tended to became more and more authoritarian by the day. 

The ruling party PAIGC of Cabo Verde had optimistically taken up the task to develop the country: Eisenloeffel photographed the agricultural cooperatives, a reforestation project and the construction of water reservoirs on the drought-plagued islands.
In Guinea-Bissau Eisenloeffel reported on the transfer of power from the Portuguese troops to the new rulers.

Eritrea and Sudan

Early 1980 Eisenloeffel was contacted by representatives of the Eritrean Liberation Movement EPLF, which was entangled in a bitter war of independence with the Ethiopian army.  The EPLF had retreated to the Sahel province after an Ethiopian offensive earlier and Eisenloeffel was asked to report on “a new society in construction” with their own well hidden and camouflaged  infra-structure of schools, workshops and clinics.

Eisenloeffel was very much captivated by the spirit of their struggle and tried to convince Dutch NGO’s to take an interest in the struggle of the EPLF.  In 1981/1982 he reported on the liberation struggle and of life in liberated area’s: he was the first journalist to report on the use of nerve gas by the Ethiopian army.

From 1983 to 1985 he worked extensively in Eritrea and the border area with Sudan, partly as a reporter and partly on a fact-finding mission in assignment of Dutch aid organizations.  His reports on the distribution of aid by the Eritrean aid organization ERD convinced the European aid organizations to accept the EDR as a trustworthy receiver of food aid by way of Sudan.

 The area was plagued by drought and famines. The flood of refugees from the Ethiopian offensives  added to the crises: his report on the famine in Eritrea got the attention of the world media. On his last fact-finding mission Eisenloeffel  visited the refugee camps in Sudan. Weakened by dehydration and exhaustion, he suffered from an apoplexy which rendered him half paralyzed at the age of 41.

The last years of his life Eisenloeffel spent taking stock of his materials: photo’s, film material, notes, correspondence and magazine/newspaper articles.