The representative at Addis Ababa Bole International stared at me with those glazed eyes, and that familiar look of vapidity commonly worn amongst customer service personnel. He lightly tugged at his hipster lens, and coldly retorted, “This is Africa, what do you want me to do?”
Motherfucker Good gentleman, I want you to do your job, that’s what. After cancelling my flight in error, insulting me in his native Amharic tongue, all whilst browsing Facebook; he still had the audacity to blame his ineptitude, and incompetence on Africa. I stood there with a feeling of bewilderment, and my mind was overwhelmed with many questions. I was left in a state of perpetual trepidation. Questions like how does this man manage to breathe on his own without the help of machines and cue card prompts, and more importantly, how on earth did he obtain his job. Where did he get those funky glasses?. Lastly, why was this Charlie Brown/Teddy Ruxpin looking gentlemen blaming Africa?
As I traveled throughout Ethiopia and the Somaliland (Northern Somali for you die hard nationalists) region, anytime I encountered corruption, bribery attempts, sexual harassment, discrimination, incompetence, abuse, I was simply told ‘This is Africa.” Dare I ask, “Is that a Hyena in this restaurant?”, and someone within a few feet will retort ‘This is Africa’. This defeatist phrase reeks of internalized racism and self-loathing. It connotes that ingenuity, efficiency, transparency, and competence are foreign to Africa and Africans, and one ought to leave these particular expectations at the door when one enters the continent. Common sense is for the white man, they say. For efficiency, go to America. And Human Rights, now that’s crazy talk, This is Africa. Surely we can do better, and demanding better is only holding our nations up to the standards we know it can achieve, and has achieved without colonial distractions.
In expressing some of my frustration with local friends and family in East Africa, I was advised to remove my first world gaze, and take this region as is. There’s wisdom in that advice, as one shouldn’t come to Africa with expectations that the materialism and privilege of life in the west will be replicated for us here. Our continent is rich, and alive with innovation, creativity, and beauty. We do not need to appropriate the assembly line mentality prevalent in western nations, and there is something uniquely African about our laissez faire approach to living.However, no African ought to tolerate violence, infringement of civil rights, sexism, absence of customer service, and endure complacency at the hands of everyone from government officials to shop keepers. As an African woman, why should I reply on western nations to bestow me with civil liberties? Why should anyone spend a dollar of their hard earned money feeding corrupt politicians and sub-par business establishments, simply because of this defeatist ‘This is Africa’ narrative. We need to demand better of our continent and nations.
Damn you Edward Zwick of the ‘Blood Diamonds’ fame and making ‘This is Africa’ the go to excuse for every act of incompetence and injustice committed across our beloved continent. For those of you living in the continent, how do you deal with some of the frustrations and the nonchalant borderline insensible approach to getting things? Are we demanding too much? Or can my rant be filed under ‘first world problems?’.