Thursday, November 29, 2007

Black Africans in Africa

Ewan McGregor and his mate Charley Boorman rode by motorbike from the top of Scotland to Cape Town - the series is just finishing on BBC2. That means it will be shown on BBC World here in Nigeria in about 3-4 years time (so many of the programmes are from years ago for some reason or other). I enjoyed watching bits and bobs of their trip East (an earlier series) from the UK to the US, mainly because of McGregor's infectiously optimistic attitude. Even when stuck in a bog in the vastness of the Mongolian tundra, he would be stoic, if not his usual chirpy and philosophical self.

In this piece in today's Guardian, we find this quote from McGregor:
"The further south we travelled, we found that black Africans became less accessible somehow. In places like Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia, they had been everywhere, but in the south they were cleaning tables at restaurants, which seemed odd. We both preferred being in the middle, in the backwoods. So, after we finished the trip in Cape Town, we met up with our families and went straight back to Kenya."

Its quite an intriguing snippet. On the one hand, there is a cosy familiarity and sense of authenticity, expressed in the desire to be back in Kenya, amongst black Africans. On the other hand, there is a strange distancing - 'black Africans' becoming 'less accessible' whereas before 'they had been everywhere'. Its almost as if McGregor is making a comment on the prevalence of wildebeest.

Its also interesting that whenever someone wants to construct a journey from the UK down through Africa, either figuratively or literally, they always bypass West Africa. Perhaps its because then there would just be far too many black Africans to deal with.


Confessions of a moody crab 1:13 pm  

"Its also interesting that whenever someone wants to construct a journey from the UK down through Africa, either figuratively or literally, they always bypass West Africa. Perhaps its because then there would just be far too many black Africans to deal with."

Well said, Jeremy. I've noticed that myself. It is kinda like a jigsaw puzzle but the piece with W. Africa is missing. Its like they want to visit/see Africa but not the WHOLE of it. I wonder why...

Anonymous,  2:02 pm  

Interesting. By 'everywhere' presumably they mean employed in all roles throughout society, whereas in southern Africa there was more evidence of a socio-economic divide in the type of work blacks vs white did? Likewise I guess 'less accessible' refers to more reserve shown towards them as whites travelling through the region? I've never been to South Africa, and rarely to southern Africa, so I don't know, but it would seem to me to be feasible that issues related to race relations might be more apparent in a region which has experienced a long history of apartheid, than in somewhere like eg West Africa which didn't have such a large settler population.

It has always seemed odd to me that people bypass West Africa. This might be for a number of reasons. East and Southern Africa are portrayed much more in books and films, so people have mentally imagined being there long before they decide to travel (while most of the information on West Africa is from news coverage, so tends to be negative portrayals); they have a strong tourism sector based on big game; they are much cheaper to get to despite being further away; and fashion is part of it too - groups of gapyearers go, everyone knows someone who has been, etc. They're missing out! West Africa has so much to offer, it just needs better marketing!

ijebuman 2:07 pm  

From discussions the reason many avoid the West African route is to avoid the 'extremely unstable' region of central Africa (comprising CAR, Congo Brazzaville and Dem Rep of Congo). You'll have to go through one of these countries to get to the southern part of the continent, if you pass through West Africa.
You also have fewer borders to deal with if you go the North/East Africa route.
Most travellers also prefer to avoid Nigeria (it seems we get more bad press than Sudan)

Sandrine,  3:17 pm  

Hi Jeremy,

Two things come to mind.First I agree with anonymous that by everywhere he meant "in every kind of job" .Also I think he meant that in South Africa the discrimination was very obvious and uncomfortable for him.
Secondly, I don't know if this comes as a surprise for you, and I do not know about the other countries, but just google "travel to Nigeria" and the first entry is the one from the US department of State warning you about traveling there and telling you about all the violent crimes happening.It may not be accurate but it certainly is not inviting.


Random African 4:23 pm  

it's not instability they're trying to avoid in central africa, it's the lack
of roads.

Gabon is as stable as an african country gets and Congo-Brazzaville really has pockets of instability.

it's not only to avoid central africa that they rather to the Cairo-Cape road. Crossing mostly anglophone countries is appealing to anglophone travellers and on that road you go through places that mean something to their audience.. Egypt, Nubia, Kenya, South Africa, various national parks and game reserves..while western africa would lack "scenery".

Fred 4:26 pm  

One of your better posts, doc.

mytalkingbeginnings,  5:49 pm  

well done jeremy!

Naapali 6:29 pm  

Jeremy, I could not help tub smile at your line (quoted by moody crab above). Do I detect a Nigerian defensiveness in you?

anengiyefa,  6:47 pm  

With the exception of Gambia, West Africa is not on the tourist trail whatsoever. The countries of eastern and southern Africa have a long history and tradition of catering for foreign visitors, so it is not surprising that when Western visitors do come to West Africa, its usually for something other than seeing the sights...

They don't even do the usual wildlife documenatary films about animals in West Africa. Seems to me that the impression that is created in Europe about West Africa, is of a place full of people desperate to emigrate to Europe by whatever means..

The reality is that in southern Africa, the races have for generations had a more or less separate existence. So it shoun't surprise anyone that in the south, the black africans seemed to become "less accessible", and were "cleaning tables"...

Uche,  7:36 pm  

"Its also interesting that whenever someone wants to construct a journey from the UK down through Africa, either figuratively or literally, they always bypass West Africa. Perhaps its because then there would just be far too many black Africans to deal with."
You could not have said it any better. Here in the states, African American celebs travel to South Africa and they rave about being in Africa....errrr...yeah, what happened to the rest of Africa? These folks over here needs to be educated that Africa does not start and end in the South.

The only time i get questions about the West and East of Africa is in relation to the War torn areas or the fraud in Naija.

History Channel needs to add another section to their plate - History Africa

Sandrine,  10:07 pm  


I agree with you that South Africa is not representative of Africa.The same can be said about France not representative of Europe but most people going to Europe don't go to Poland or Norway which are great countries too.
To start, a lot of people here do not travel outside the States.The reason being that most people do not have a lot of vacation time and the time they have, they use to visit family that leave in another state.Also most people (I am not talking about celebs) do not have the mean to travel across the ocean.If they actually come, I am not surprised that they choose Kenya over Nigeria and I don't think it has anything to do with the people living in either countries.It may just be for economic reason (cheaper even though the distance is greater) or because Kenya is better at promoting its tourism.I traveled to Algeria and Tunisia from France years ago. The ticket for Tunisia was a lot cheaper and Tunisia was more enticing in promoting its tourism and a lot of people I knew had been there and not in Algeria.The last thing is that most people get their cue about a country from main stream TV and a lot of times when Africa is mentioned on TV here in the States, there is no mention of a country.All this not to excuse but to explain.


Talatu-Carmen 7:11 am  

great post. very true. if you want to find the random (and very few) tourists trying to do the drive to Capetown through Nigeria, hang out at Yankari for a while. The last time I was there we ran into this whole Caravan of bikers--from various points in Europe, Australia, and South America. They had these sleek black motorcycles and sleek black tents. They looked like something out of a reality show.

anengiyefa 1:25 pm  

"great post. very true. if you want to find the random (and very few) tourists trying to do the drive to Capetown through Nigeria, hang out at Yankari for a while."

talatu-carmen, youre correct. I used to live in Jos/Bauchi many years ago, and I too recall having have come accross several bikers, and on several occasions on the Jos-Bauchi highway. It looked surreal.

Even when I was at St Gregorys College, Obalende, Lagos many more years previously, it was usual to find dust and mud coated vans and land rovers parked in front of the Rev father's house in the school compound. It was obvious that this was a rest stop for those on trans-Africa land journeys.

And not very long ago, I even met some guy in Lagos, who stopped me and asked for directions. Out of curiosity , and because of his appearance, I asked to know more about him...and he explained that he was English, lived in Bristol, a banker, and that while he was on holiday in Australia, he'd heard of a planned road journey from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to London. He asked to join the group and was accepted, so he flew to Tanzania via South Africa and joined them. He was in Lagos trying to sort out a visa for Libya, having already driven accross Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, Central African Republic, and Cameroon.

Anonymous,  1:57 am  

haha,far too many black africans to deal with, you say.i say far too much culture to deal with!

Mike,  9:25 am  

"Its also interesting that whenever someone wants to construct a journey from Land's End to John O'Groats up through the UK, either figuratively or literally, they always bypass Wales. Perhaps its because then there would just be far too many Welsh people to deal with"

Leo Africanus,  2:23 pm  

good post. but his insights about southern africa are also telling. a consequence of white settler regimes (South African apartheid, Rhodesian UDI, -- both in collusion with the UK government -- Namibia under South Africa's control - with the collusion of the UN -- and the nasty style with which the Portuguese ruled Mozambique and Angola).
But I take your point about how Kenya is viewed and how whites/Europeans live out their fantasies there, particularly on film (all the British and Hollywood films set in Kenya, and more recently even Constant Gardener, and now apparently Julia Roberts i set to star in another film about settlers in Kenya, btw)

Anonymous,  4:38 pm  

Mike: funny comment, and pertinent point - going directly from any point in the north of africa to the south you wouldn't pass west africa. But I think what many people are reacting to in Jeremy's comment is more the sentiment that travellers in general neglect west africa in favour of east or south, despite all the west has to offer.

A dwi'n teimlo'r un fath amdan Cymru - mae hi'n gwlad bendigedig ond bron neb yn fynd yna. Dwi 'di golli fy ngymraeg gwbwl!

Jeremy 5:06 pm  


What was that noise?

Oops - it was the sound of Mike missing the point again.

nneoma 2:57 am  

lol regarding last paragraph. yeah, Although the overwhelming majority of Africans transported to the West as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade are from West Africa there is this association of Kenya and other east African countries as being the "homeland". Maybe they were just able to get to the African American tourist market sooner. And in regards to Nigeria and crime - yeah, the US State Department warning is annoying. It has prevented many college groups from travelling to the country creating an even greater interest in travel to countries such as Kenya. Apparently, Nigeria is safe enough for the likes of Cheney's pals from Halliburton but not student and volunteer groups.

anengiyefa 4:15 pm  

Exactly my point Nneoma. Cheney's pals and others like them come to Nigeria only for the fiscal goodies on offer, and not for the country's touristic appeal, (or rather, the lack of...)

Idemili 9:07 pm  

"Its also interesting that whenever someone wants to construct a journey from the UK down through Africa, either figuratively or literally, they always bypass West Africa. Perhaps its because then there would just be far too many black Africans to deal with."

True. Too true. Great post Jeremy!

Anonymous,  2:37 pm  

1) What is all the fuss over, can he not make a comment on what he has observed? If people don't like it, then don't read it.

2) Believe it or not, Nigeria is NOT to Africa, as what the USA is to North and Central America, or Australia is to Oceania. The country doesn't have that dominance. If you look on the map, it occupies a relatively small area of the continent. The real giant, like or not is South Africa. So people shouldn't get so upset when visitors to Africa bypass Nigeria.

3) Africa can exist quiet happily without Nigeria, even though the government there would have you believe otherwise.

4) All this talk of tourists avoiding West Africa, even if they did visit West Africa, people would still be complaining that they didn't visit Nigeria. So why don't people be honest and say why are people avoiding Nigeria?

5) The fact is that Nigeria doesn't do tourism. The place is not amenable to tourists.
a) Dirty
b) Unsafe
c) Corruption is rampant
d) Utilities are in short supply or erratic ie water and electricity.
f) It's politically unstable
g) Foreigners aren't safe, they are now being kidnapped in some parts of the country.
h) Prices for outsiders, jump by a factor of 10 - should you want to purchase anything
i) One is always bothered by intrusive hawkers, who never take no for an answer.
j) The urban centres are dilapidated, beshevelled and crime-ridden

6) Even you Jeremy, said that Nigeria is not serious about tourism, I remember you visiting some falls in Niger state, and how you commented that the it was poorly sign-posted. The falls didn't look particularly spectacular either.

7) When it comes to natural wonders, what is found in Nigeria is really nothing special. When it comes to game reserves be it forest or savannah, more extensive ones can be found elsewhere in Africa. Waterfalls there don't compare to the Livingstone falls in Zambia/ Zimbabwe, or the Iguacu falls of Brazil, or the Angel falls of Venezuela.

8) It has a reputation for spawning cheats, and fraudsters. The bad press the country gets on account of the activities of it's citizens has well and truly given tourism the kiss of death (at least for now).

9) If they want visitors, they have to raise their game, so that word of mouth will circulate that the place is indeed worth a visit. The few people that do visit, compare it other African countries, and by many measures, Nigeria just doesn't compare.

So people no need to be upset because Nigeria falls short in the tourism field.

Anengiyefa 10:34 pm  

"a) Dirty
b) Unsafe
c) Corruption is rampant
d) Utilities are in short supply or erratic ie water and electricity.
f) It's politically unstable
g) Foreigners aren't safe, they are now being kidnapped in some parts of the country.
h) Prices for outsiders, jump by a factor of 10 - should you want to purchase anything
i) One is always bothered by intrusive hawkers, who never take no for an answer.
j) The urban centres are dilapidated, beshevelled and crime-ridden"

Anonymous, lets be fair here...All of the above apply to every single sub-saharan African country. Lagos, Kano or PortHarcourt are no more unsafe than Nairobi or Johannesburg. In Johannesburg, there is more violent crime than in any other major city in Africa. In fact the city is regarded as the murder capital of the world.

Tourists pay higher prices for everything, everywhere in the world. In Rio de Janeiro, I was sold a small rucksack for $50, and only because I didnt know where else to go and get one. And I'm certain that the thousands of Brazilians I saw carrying their own rucksacks, didnt have to pay even a tenth of that sum for theirs.

Hawking is prevalent in every major African city. Foreigners are targeted for robbery frequently in Nairobi. And our country is actually one of the more politically stable countries on the continent.

Anengiyefa 10:50 pm  

Furthermore, Mr Anonymous, Africa's largest slum is a place called Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya, the country thats supposed to be so big on tourism...Look here

Anonymous,  11:53 pm  

1) Thank you for your response
2) The characteristics I pointed out that are prevalent in Nigeria, are not unique to that country - that is very true. But other African countries, have compensating factors. Like I read that the Benin Republic, has more of a sense of order and calm, unlike the chaos that is pervasive in Nigeria (an observation by Dan Hoyle, who travelled from Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria)

3) I've yet to hear of tourists to East Africa, being constantly plagued by power-cuts. I've not been to Kenya, but I would presume that the authorities there would work hard to ensure that tourist resorts are provided with power, water and security. This is not the case in Nigeria.

4) Because you're an outsider or tourist, that doesn't mean prices should jump 10 fold. When foreigners visit London and go to the shops, the price of a loaf of bread doesn't jump from £2 to £20. When I go to the shops in Australia, the prices don't change, because I'm a foreigner. That is wrong to my mind, if prices jump because you are deemed to be an outsider. Tourist shops charge more, but with Nigeria, it doesn't end at tourist shops it extends to everything! Which is wrong.
5) True there can be no getting away from hawkers, but they should be instructed to be less persistent and aggressive, such behaviour is not likely to encourage people to want to return or even stay around, they are more likely to do the opposite.

6) You may site the fact that Kenya has Africa's largest slum, or the crime rate in South Africa is very high. The thing you forgot to mention is that they have key compensating factors, Kenya and South Africa are known for the natural beauty, which they have in abundance and endeavour assidiously to maintain them (Nigeria doens't have it in abundance when compared to other African countires). South Africa even more because of the very varied scenery, and also the development of its urban centres. The infrastructure there is many times better than that of Nigeria's.

I've not been to Kano, but Lagos and Port Harcourt are pretty awful places in my book, there can no denial of that. The whole joint needs a major over-haul.

7) To say Nigeria is one of the more stable countries in Africa, with it's un-ending ethnic/ religious riots, is a sad reflection on the rest of Africa. There are many more stable countries in Africa, look at Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, these are just a few all with better scenery.

Anengiyefa 12:55 am  

Anonymous, I did not read Dan Hoyle say that Benin has "more of a sense of order and calm", in comparison to the "chaos that is pervasive in Nigeria". But even if that is the case, I have not heard that tourists are flocking to Benin..

Maybe this is because, like Nigeria, Benin does not have much to offer in terms of natural beauty, and like Nigeria, Benin does not sell herself as a potential tourist destination. Natural beauty is exactly what it says. It is natural, and there is not much that we can do about the landscape that has been bestowed upon us by nature. I would agree though that we have participated in the almost total annihilation of the country's natural fauna. But there is the fact that our country has such a large population that a lot of the land is required for human use.

As for power cuts, the story in Nigeria is the same in Uganda and Kenya. What is different about Kenya is that because the economy is heavily dependent on tourism, and has been so for many years, they have found ways to insulate foreign visitors from the realities of life for the ordinary Kenyan. There are myriad package holidays to the country, to resorts on the Indian Ocean coast, organised safari tours. In short, foreign visitors, save the more adventouous types, are spared exposure to the harsh reality. Foreigners who venture from the "safe" tourist areas, will be charged more for goods and services than the locals, just like anywhere else, and they will suffer power outages too.

What we have perhaps failed to do in Nigeria is to consider tourism as a serious revenue earner. At

is to be found an extensive list of potential tourist attractions in the country. As dangerous as South African cities are said to be, foreign visitors flock to the country, because tourism is actively marketed. Rather than bemoaning the poor condition of our country's infrastructure, and complaining about the things that we do not have, perhaps we should be concentrating on making an effort to sell to the world the tourist attractions that we do have.

Coonsider this, The Gambia is a favorite tourist destination for many Europeans, but in The Gambia is not to be found magnificent scenery or big game wildlife that is comparable to South Africa's or Kenya's...

anonymaus,  3:18 pm  


1) I have to hand it to you, you really make your point well.

2) "In short, foreign visitors, save the more adventurous types, are spared exposure to the harsh reality..."
This is the point I'm making about Kenya, they work to maintain their tourist resorts. In Nigeria, maintenance of anything is simply non-existent.

3) The idea, that foreigners should be charged more for goods and services than the locals, is very common in Nigeria (maybe Kenya and other African states), but I can't agree that, this is the right policy. Would you not object if you went to buy a loaf of bread, and were charged more because you were black (assuming you were living somewhere in Britain), and your white counterpart paid less - because he was a local? Naturally you would. If you go to up-market shops pay up market prices, but every day stores should charge uniform prices, regardless of what the customer looks like.

Because you are not a local, doesn't mean you should be charged more, that is discrimination and is unjust in my opinion.

4) The link you published about tourist attractions in Nigeria, I've seen it before. The concept is good but basics have to addressed first
a) Security of persons in the country (especially foreigners). The government appears irresponsible inviting expatriates to the Niger Delta (to work) assuring them of their saftey, they then get kidnapped. This has be addressed, if this is what happens to people who are invited and assured of their safety, think what would happen to innocent tourists, who are adventurous and unsuspecting?
b) The lack of decent and reliable public amenities, and the removal of general filth (from litter to broken down vehicles etc) that is ubiquitous. What could be more ugly than looking at a landscape strewn with rubbish? Which tourist would want to pay for that?
c) Cultivating a decent and relatively safe transport system.

Failure to address these basic things, is like trying to take a short-cut to success,that others have had to go through. To ignore these things, would be to ignore the basic requirements. Get these things right and the rest will follow.

This page contains a link of popular destinations, for Africa you'll see that Gambia isn't listed.
For arguments sake, lets say Gambia is tops for tourists. You can't compare Gambia with Nigeria, even though they lack infra-structure, it is a quiet, safe, peaceful and orderley country - all the things Nigeria isn't!!! I wouldn't be surprised if it was cleaner too. Nigerians always overlook these humble but crucial achievements, and start jabbering on about their numbers and oil wealth. Neither of which they should be proud of, the population is predominantly under-employed, and the oil is exploited in a highly in-efficient and wasteful manner. So if Gambia rates better than Nigeria for tourist, good for them.

anonymaus,  3:40 pm  

1) Look at this page, look the images.

2) If such decay, filth and disorder is not removed, all the talk of tourism, is simply fantasy. This is why I say basic amenities, and an ordered society need to be in place first, to ignore the basics is pure folly!

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