Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is Africa Scary?

"Is Africa scary?" my niece asked me recently.

I was visiting my home country, the United States, for a few weeks, and had been trying to persuade her to visit me in Accra.

Given the bad-news reputation of the continent - wars, pirates, dictators, famine, mosquitoes and disease - it was a fair question.  I was quaking in my boots myself, I'll admit, the first time I boarded an airplane bound for that large land mass across the Atlantic.

But this week I've been thinking about a different question: Are the US and the UK scary?  And I've had to answer: Um, yes.

With the US still recovering from a greed-driven recession, narrowly enduring a debt crisis seemingly created by self-interested politicians, and now watching its financial markets in a fearful free-fall, it does seem like a scary place.  And with disparity of wealth in the States on the rise, how long until resentment over the riches of others helps drive a major societal uprising?  Frightful stuff.

Ghana, by contrast - where poverty can be much more in-your-face and yet the fear of violence and crime is much lower than in some US neighborhoods, where the economy appears to be booming - seems a positively refreshing and stable place.

Riotous looting in the streets of Accra?  Nope.  Just a regular day
in the always-busy downtown market district.
Then there are, of course, the nights-on-end of hooliganism that have plagued the UK this week.  The photos and footage of burning buildings, looted stores, and rampaging rioters has been shocking.  Especially given the high standards of 'civilisation' that we expect from one of the leading countries of 'the West.'

In an ironic twist, an international friendly football (that's soccer for you who have your head under a US sports pillow) match between Ghana and Nigeria on Wednesday night had to be canceled because of the riots.  Why, you ask?  Because it was slated to be played at a stadium in London.  Duh.

Barring comment on why a sports event between two African nations was scheduled to be played in England (I'm sure there are good reasons…), isn't it sweetly and satirically wry - for anyone who is a fan of the African continent - that a stadium in Accra or Lagos would have been a safer place for this match to take place?

Who's the scary now, huh?  (Poke in the English-man's ribs.)  Huh?

The colonized don't often get to outshine the colonizer, but as a former subject nation of England, all of Ghana should be reveling (in a humble and sorrowful-for-the-violence way, of course) in this turn-around.  Ghanaians who have lived abroad often come back home and complain about the relative disorganization of traffic, government bureaucracy, and other parts of public life here.  But what are they thinking now?  "Hey, thank God I'm back on the safe and sane continent."

There's not much scarier than mobs of internet-coordinated hooligans converging to do violence wherever they please, apparently motivated by little more than a thirst for destruction and theft.  Africa has had its share of child soldiers in the battlefield bush, but at least they were coerced into the hard life.  In the UK, this latest life-of-crime drama seems to be a free and personal choice by the criminals, a lark.  Mob violence as adrenaline.  (See this Daily Telegraph writer's article on how a good-sized segment of the looters appear to be white-and-well-to-do, not stereotypically minority-and-poor.)

"Is Africa scary?" my niece asked me, voicing a sort of primal American fear of the 'dark' continent.

"No," I said.  And then, with a wink:  "Not unless you're afraid of black people."

My niece, who has an African-American father, glanced down at her own brown skin.

"Oh," I could see her thinking.  "Right."

Suddenly, Africa seems the place to be.


Anonymous said...

Love it, Joe!

Anonymous said...

Is Africa scary? "Africa" isn't any specific place. Some parts of Africa are terrifying and imminently life-threatening depending on who you are. Some places aren't. Some places are downright awesome. Some are scary and awesome at the same time.

-Mike D