A few years ago I started to read "Dark Star Safari" by Paul Theroux. I put the book down right about when he got to Nairobi because I was bored by how unfairly negative I thought he was being about Africa. My ignorance formed my unrealistic opinion. I stand corrected and look forward to re-reading his book.
So the tricky question is: is Africa really in dire straits? Are African people living unhappy lives?
From my point of view, Africa is an amazingly beautiful place, but the lives of its people look grim as does the future of its beautiful land. But am I making that assesment based probably on the sense of civility, order and hygiene expected in the West? Maybe it's not fair to make judgement based on my experience as a fleeting bike-through tourist.
One Kenyan travel book I read recently suggested not giving anything to the people I meet along the way. This prompted a discussion on whether hand-outs by past travellers may be the reason why some people along the road, especially in Ethiopia, have been so aggressive. It certainly makes sense. If someone receives some money, or a pen, or a book, or some food or anything from a random tourist, I would imagine that their expectations would be set accordingly. If this might be true on this scale, is it the case on a much bigger scale such as international aid in all its different forms and sizes?
Yesterday I met someone who had flown in to visit a TDAer for a couple of days. He had a black eye around which were set of teeth marks, compliments of one of 4 people who mugged him soon after his arrival in Nairobbery.
An hour later another TDAer told me how earlier that day he and a few others were in a taxi van when the driver stopped, ushered out all of the locals, and aggressively demanded more money from the TDAers, while holding the to door to the taxi closed. They managed to get out, with a bit of force and not getting back the fare they had already paid.
These 2 stories left a bitter taste in my mouth yesterday and added to my negativity, and also reminded me to keep up my guard, which I think I had begun to let down as I have become more comfortable in Africa.
I suspect that my blog has refected my negativity towards the people of Africa, but in the same way that one good shot in my usual poor golf game keeps me coming back, I have met a few people along the way who remind me that life might be good in Africa, and that the future may be bright after all. Africa is a very beautiful place; it emits a mysterious magnetism that is hard to resist even after being stoned - that's with rocks not drugs.
Since I suggest that aid may not be helpful for Africa, you may question the money I am raising for SELF. SELF is an organization that doesnt simply give solar energy to those in need. SELF requires that those who receive their help play a part in the design and installation. In some cases SELF may even ask that the recipients pay for the solar panels through micro-financing. I still beleive as I did before I started this tour that aid is more constructive when it is earned, or the recipient is accepts it with good intention and a sense of accountability. I believe that SELF offers that kind of aid, and is model of how others should help.
The rest of the world should help by letting the Africans define their own lives and shape their own future's. Aid is good, but countries that give should be careful the reason for giving is not primarily self-interest. Ubuntu is global.