Press "Enter" to skip to content

What is wrong with Africa?

January 3 2008
On January 1, as I sat in a Yeoville flat with Kenyan friends, the atmosphere was sombre. A Kenyan friend, was in tears. “They are lying. More people have died,” she said of figures the police were giving on the number of slain. She should have known; anyone who has police blood running in him can’t be trusted with numbers.

I just sat there, brooding, not quite knowing what to do. I thought of Ronan Bennett’s novel The Catastrophist, which I had finished only a few days before. Someone, somewhere in the book says an “African death has a habit of defying accurate quantification”.

One wonders why this is so. One reason that comes to mind is because death in Africa seems to come so easily, and in the unlikeliest of places. Mad taxi drivers — yes, you will find them everywhere you go on this continent. Power-crazed leaders — they just stash away money in foreign banks. At least if they invested the money home … but we are asking a lot from the Mobutus and Abachas.

If in 1996 someone had told you that Zimbabwe would go the way that other African states have gone, you would have dismissed it, out of hand, as a pernicious manifestation of Afro-pessimism, or, even worse, racism. Then Côte d’Ivoire happened. And now Kenya. I wouldn’t be surprised if Senegal, Ghana or even the supremely sane Botswana republic also goes up in flames.

I cringed as I saw television images of machete-wielding Kenyan militias hacking people to death. Rwanda again. Don’t we, as a people, ever learn?

Kenya’s importance in East Africa can never be over-emphasised. It is the biggest economy; its harbour serves Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC, as well as parts of Sudan. The East African community could never work if Kenya went up in flames.

And then Uganda congratulates Kibaki on being re-elected — when thousands of Kenyans were streaming into Uganda. Some people have no shame — days after Kibaki’s chums, the US (the first to congratulate Kibaki), was going back on its statement of congratulations …

January 31 2008
When I began writing this I didn’t think it would take so long. I thought I would vent, as they say, my spleen and forget about it. Each time I tried to write it would make me sad. Today, as we came back from Johannesburg’s CBD after covering a story in which police raided the Central Methodist Church that houses mostly Zimbabwean refugees, that same, sad feeling oppressed me yet again.

It’s not that the refugees themselves are despondent. In fact, whenever I talk to the refugees, I am always amazed by their shrug. It’s almost as if they are saying, “That is life, we should carry on.”

I spoke to Nicholas who wore a plaster cast on his ankle. He said a cop had pushed him down the stairs. He used to work at a construction site. He would have to be away from work for a month. “I won’t be able to work for the next four weeks. What will I eat?” he asked.

Mail & Guardian photographer Oupa Nkosi had spoken to another Zimbabwean at the church. He said on one sad day at the construction site where he worked, he fell from a scaffold. He is permanently disabled now. His former employers refuse to pay him compensation.

And Kenya continues to burn … Is there something wrong with this continent?

Diary will continue …