My Stealing from Africa
It’s one thing to read, watch, or hear about the ransacking of a continent. It’s another to witness it first-hand.
Of course, I can always tell myself that I am there for research, but let’s be honest for one moment here: I am taking from the country, just like others before me. In reporting on the effect of colonialism, I am acting as the Colonist. I take from the country and turn its sufferings into research outputs. The only thing that keeps me from feeling sick about it is that it might change something. It might be helpful to those over there who strive and toil to build something better.
Some day. Maybe… I need to keep writing that report!
I often wonder why we play games rigged against us. Countries listen to Big Organization in setting up a ‘successful system’ that will ‘put them on the map’ of international rankings. Companies pay big money to be recognized as meeting strict quality control principles, even though nothing shows that these measures make a difference, except for the accreditation agencies. I play similar games. I invest in the stock market, because that is where the most ruthless are and make money.
Perhaps rigged games don’t feel rigged from the inside? Certainly, the best ones don’t. When all you’re told is to stay on the board, and when all you see is the board, then the game is the game. it’s the only game. And if you don’t play, you still lose. Or so they would have us believe.
Cote d’Ivoire is independent. On paper. Yet the country is constrained by rules that were put in place by their former masters. France ‘granted’ independence, but in a terrible straight jacket. Money is controlled, exports are controlled, and French companies can take their money and run, once they’ve sucked the land dry. Chocolate, coffee, and many other important crops, are not transformed, they are extracted and transformed elsewhere. Their added-value has no added-value to the country.
It’s the same story in so many places, where nothing forces those who take from the land and from the people to at least reinvest a fair share of their gains. We are told that, otherwise, companies would go and steal from other countries instead of us. We should be thankful. And we are, even though it makes no sense… But what if it was all a lie? What if we did not need the privilege of getting robbed? What if we could do it ourselves and keep the money? This is the classic policy conundrum: should we do it ourselves?
Success according to others’ metrics, others’ rules, only truly serves others. This is true for countries, for organizations, for individuals… Ask yourself, how much of what you do follows rules that do not empower, but enslave rationally?
Can you tell the trip made me angry? The worse is probably that I am expected to come up with recommendations. The White man will grant his wisdom… I am the Colonist. That’s the game for me. No way out.
A note on the images. They are stolen; resources taken, leaving little behind. Taking pictures on the street was described to me by my friends and caretakers as mostly ill-advised, or much worse. So I stole those images from the safety of cars. I sniped them through the window, drive-by shootings of life around the streets in and around Abidjan. Car shooting means high speed motion, weird angles, little time to think, and little time to shoot, yet I hope these portraits serve to convey more than trials, but regular life. Nobility in spite of it all. These images, I hope, will give back to the country more than they have taken away.