I have just finished a book by the American author Paul Theroux, “Black Star Safari – Overland from Cairo to Capetown”. Theroux does the only right thing when it comes to travel, he goes solo, the best way to make contact, the best way to absorb with all your senses (and to get in trouble!) and the best way to contemplate – and in his case to put it all in a book. If you like Africa and you like a bit of adventure but don’t have the means – or the guts: Buy it! It’s unputdownable. The first line in the book goes: “All news out of Africa is bad.” And later in the same paragraph: “Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it – hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt, and you can’t tell the politicians from the witch-doctors.”
Theroux knows Africa. As a teacher he worked for years in Malawi and Uganda in the sixties when he joined the Peace Corps. Now he’s back, or rather he went back 12 years ago (the book was published in 2002), but that’s the interesting part: He hasn’t witnessed the recent and impressive development over the last ten years and is somewhat pessimistic and disillusioned despite his efforts to look on the bright side of life. His conclusion is that the bare-assed (his word) are the best, the people with nothing to lose. The rest, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the aid-workers (Oh, he loathes them, they never gave him a lift in their fancy Land Cruisers), the business men, the cops etc. are all corrupt and only concerned about themselves. To a point it’s still the picture, but my point is, if Theroux made the same trip today, he would have to write a different book.
Though being far from the African connoisseur Theroux is I have visited the dark star quite a few times, and I do have eyes – also to read with. And many of the reports from Africa are encouraging. Not long ago there was a report from the African Development Bank: Every third African is now middle class, good for them, but it also appears that as people gain middle class status they are likely to use their greater economic clout to demand more accountable governments.
Recently the think tank McKinsey Global Institute published a report about the impressive growth in Africa, the second highest in the world over the last ten years, better political stability and financial reforms. Important stuff, but it never makes it to the 7 o’clock news. In the same report: The biggest challenge for Africa is to create jobs. In 2020 there will be 300 million Africans without a job/income. The work force will keep growing and will need some kind of governmental support. But it’s seen before, other growth markets (Asia) have turned the situation around and created both employment and growth.
Maybe Africa was a dark star when Theroux made his safari. But today the star is a whole lot brighter, and the bare-assed are not the only good ones.
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