"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Eaten By Lions - As If Life In The Sinkholes Of Africa Isn't Bad Enough

A development economist was travelling in Zimbabwe and had just spent two nights in a safari-themed hotel in the south - thatched-roof cabanas, views of the veldt, open-fire grilled ostrich and antelope, and drinks on the verandah. It was more than enough for him, anxious to get back to his Harare hotel, his Danish travelling companion who had other responsibilities in the capital and demurred when it came to a long trek to Great Zimbabwe. 

Late in the afternoon of the third day, after long, tedious meetings with village chiefs and government collectors, he told the driver that he wanted to return to Harare. Not a good idea.  Lions prowl at night, block the roads, gather in prides, waiting.  'The Ghost in the Darkness', the driver said, 'The Lioness of Ra, the unkillable.'  The villagers never venture out after dark for fear of her. 

The driver pointed to the mountains rimming the valley, The Mountains of the Moon, and said that her pride came down every night and took a young child back with them - to devour them in a human feast or to raise them as lion-children, feral and more ferocious than their adopted parents, one never knew, except that sightings of these wild children were common, especially on moonlit night like this one. 

'No, sir', he said, we cannot return to Harare today', so the economist spent one more malarial night in the theme park, wondering about the driver's tale. Despite years of colonial rule and many more of independence, Africa was still a totemic, tribal place where people lived in fear of the lightning god, the thunder god, and the unkillable Ghost of the Darkness. 

This, the economist thought might be the only saving grace of the place - a world filled with immanent, fearful, and intimidating gods gave some commonality, some universality to the miserable lives most Africans led.  A divine ethos, a cosmology which gave context to the political venality, the corruption, the indifference, the thievery, and the brutality of the regimes which ruled everywhere.  It would not be so bad to be taken by the Ghost of the Darkness and taken to her divine lair. 

The economist, a seasoned traveler to Africa, was still standing after three decades.  He had escaped malaria, AIDS, hepatitis, rabies, kidnapping, political vendettas, incarceration, armed robberies, and the horrific road accidents that bloodied every potholed, unmarked, dark, and rubble-strewn highway from Nouakchott to Cape Town, Dakar to Nairobi.  


Africa was a misruled, violent, primitive place.  Autocrats and bloody dictators ruled throughout, civil wars persisted, crime was endemic, currencies devalued until they were worth nothing, but of little interest to the Big Men who had pillaged and stolen emeralds, diamonds, oil, and rare earths, sold them for dollars and lived like emperors in the south of France, leaving behind the coteries of lieutenants who in the political vacuum, swept up the remains, bundled them in sacks and bushel baskets and sent them off to Russia and China.  

Africa was a perennial, daily fire sale.  Everything was up for grabs.  Everything had a price, and only the third and fourth wives of these sub-Saharan pashas survived but only until they looked the wrong way or did not service them as it should be.  Africa was a brutal, lawless, undisciplined place, a continent alone among all the others which prospered. 

Eaten by the pride of the Ghost of the Darkness, the Lioness of Ra, the economist thought would be a reprieve - the maw of this horrible beast would be far better than the slow death of poverty, disease, hunger, rape, and murder. 

The politicians of America had looked desperately for success stories in Africa, needed to appease the African American voting population who demanded recognition, restitution, and reparations for their long years in slavery and white subjugation.   Yet these politicians found nothing, were snookered time and time again by canny dictators who promised free and fair elections, banked the millions in good faith money offered by Washington, and rigged the voting to assure victory. 

The politicians looked to those countries with 'promising democracies', like Ghana which did indeed had a semblance of political order, but given the low bar set for them, were still poor and only marginally free from the miseries of the countries surrounding them. Ghana was no South Korea or  Malaysia, let alone China which in only a few decades after Mao had become a world economic and political power. Ghana had made scanty, irregular progress in the same time. 

African Americans and their progressive political supporters have touted Africa as the mother of all civilizations, the heart and soul of humanity, and the black man, as descendant of this innately superior culture needed to be raised to the pinnacle of society, the only place where he belonged.  Yet such limns were fantasy. The entire continent had barely progressed from its Paleolithic origins.  By what possible measure could it be used as the beacon of world civilization?  

If anything, start from zero, the cherished point of departure for all American immigrants. Once they stepped on American shores, whether in chains, on the Mayflower, or on steamships from Naples, the Old World ceased to exist.  America!! was all that existed.  Leave the old, primitive, tribal Africa; and the new, terrible, poverty-ridden, miserably-ruled Africa behind.  

But no, the politics of race and ethnicity, inclusion, and identity were all that seemed to matter.  One simply had to admire, embrace, and cherish the black man because he was black and African; and in so doing consigned him to a permanent tie to an unremarkable continent and chained him permanently to his slave past. 

The economist left for Harare at dawn the next morning and was home in time for a swim in the hotel pool, a civilized lunch on the hotel terrace, a siesta, and a few desultory hours at his desk.  This expatriate life was good, the real reason why he kept coming to Africa despite the absolute impossibility of 'making a difference'.  A safe, quiet cool redoubt amidst chaos had its appeal. 

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