Archive for February, 2011


February 16, 2011

Out the door, down the stairs, onto the street, turning around to close the front door behind me…


Three steps out, shop’s across the street…


…emerging from shop with baguette…


…four steps along the street in the direction of the fruit stall on the corner…


…six steps later on the way to same fruit stall…


…returning from fruit stall with a few Clementines, just crossing the street to another shop to get some mineral water (which is…


…I said: which is for my coffee machine).

Swinging by the newspaper stand and there is temporary relief…

…home stretch with the groceries but just before getting into the door…


This is not a car alarm constantly going off, nor is it an irritating kid playing with some obnoxious electronic device whilst keeping up with me.



…. the sound of Dakar’s taxis. And if there is one thing I could change about this place…


…I would BAN these incessant short sharp hits on the claxon button.


When it is


blatantly clear that I have no


intention to use a taxi because I did not wave my arm or nod my head, I did not look in the direction of the driver or made any gesture at all to suggest that I was going to need a ride.

BEEP! “Taxi?”

This is quickly (and unhealthily I admit!) becoming my Dakar pet hate. Taximen: I will let you know when I intend to make use of your services, thank you. No need to BEEP!, slow down when I am trying to cross the effin’ road, flash lights, BEEP! some more. I – WILL – LET – YOU – KNOW!!!

Bloody hell.

And there is no real solace in the realisation that they do it to absolutely everyone who looks well-dressed, briefcased, or foreign.

Last night, as I was taking out a pizza, sure enough: the inevitable BEEP! “Taxi?” right in front of the take away store. ‘Man, you’re joking – it’s 300 metres, tops, to my home.’ The reply: ‘Well, I’ll take you.’ It somehow never occurs to the dear drivers that someone who is walking fast in a straight line with a take away pizza in his hand it highly unlikely to be wanting a taxi. Nooooo – it’s…

BEEP! “Taxi?”

Told you it was becoming a pet hate, right?

Taking a break from the beep. Photo: Martin Waalboer

But there are times you do need a taxi, though, which is another minor headache.

‘Salaam aleikoum.’

‘Aleikoum salaam.’

‘Bëggue dem VDN – Cimetière’ (Trying out my rudimentary Wolof for ‘I’d like to go to VDN, which is a thoroughfare, Cimetière being near the office where I pay my rent. I walk it at times but not when I’m busy or can’t be bothered.)


‘Fii ba Cimetière ñaata?’ (Never get into a taxi without knowing the price)

=some ridiculous amount is mentioned=

‘Mon frère, seer na lool’ (probably won’t need translation.)

=slightly less ridiculous amount=

‘OK, mille francs.”

‘Deux mille.’

‘My good friend, it’s round the corner, you can take me to town for that amount.’

‘Mille cinq cents.’

By then, I want to be on my way. And again, no solace in the realisation that this happens to absolutely everyone who takes a taxi. It’s a ritual but one that wears out pretty quickly, especially when you have to do this often.

My street. Fruit stall roof on the top left. Very low taxi density on this pic.

But the real BEEP! problem is of course that there are BEEP! entirely too many of them. Way too BEEP! many taxis chasing way too little BEEP! money. At the Forum last week, someone offered me a ride from one building to the next building – for a thousand francs, €1,50. I’ll give you a hundred, I said and he was genuinely prepared to take the offer…

These are desperate times. Crisis in nearby Côte d’Ivoire lingers on with great impact on the whole region (still, bless Abidjan taxis – they have metres!); oil hits $100/barrel again (import bill goes through the roof here); economy stubbornly refuses to take off, as the government stifles any entrepreneurial spirit that isn’t tied to the Royal Family in one way or another. So, what’s a humble taxi driver to do? BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! for attention in the hope that someone will take him up on his offer. After negotiation.

But good grief – it’s annoying. Even more so when I know that once inside, you can have great conversation, crack jokes, take instant Wolof tutorials…just stop that bloody incessant…


Oh well.

The talk at the Forum

February 14, 2011

France! No country in the world does vague, pompous, obfuscating rhetoric better.

And since the language on much of the just-ended 11th World Social Forum in Dakar was French we were regaled to vociferous choruses of Y en a marre!!! Contestation!!  Restistances!!!

As a matter of fact, the long-winded speeches of France’s much-maligned (and he richly deserves that) president Nicholas Sarkozy and the massive wheezing chainsaw buzz of slogans here at the Forum have a lot in common apart from their Frenchness: they’re pretty meaningless.

Slogans also happen to be replete with extraordinarily lazy thinking. The exploitation of the poor countries by the rich, white, neo imperialists, neo liberalists, did I mention rich? Rich! Damn the lot of them. All this as China and India are rising and Brasil is getting its act together thanks to a decade of seriously smart social democratic government.

How did they pull this off, warts and all? That would be an intelligent question to ask. After all, they are the future. Africa should be part of that future. Europe is the past. So is the US of A.

Are Social Forums like these really necessary in the age of the internet and shouldn’t there be more effective ways? Ousmane Diba, a Senegalese Forum participant had a few interesting things to say about that. He managed to get his letter into at least three Senegalese newspapers and remarked that the Dakar version of the Forum had become more of a bazaar, a consumer fest. True that. There are more intelligent ways to organise alternatives, rather than meeting up with your fellow feel-good right-on folks so you can tell them that you’re ‘hanging out with the voiceless in Mali’, the same way someone in another Forum could say he’d be knocking down G&Ts in Malibu…

Unfortunately, Diba loses the plot towards the end when he writes that we need Leaders (Great ones? Big ones? Dear ones?) to forge the alternative, otherwise “the big international firms (World Bank-IMF-World Trade Organisation) will continue to march triumphantly through the pauperisation of the masses in our underdeveloped countries”. Ah! French rhetoric! Vague, pompous, uninformative chainsaw buzzing!

Anyway, just for the heck of it. The above trio are not firms, they are institutions. They are probably past their sell-by date and both the IMF and the World Bank are suffering from serious mission creep (go back to the original Bretton Woods conference that established the Bank and the Fund and you will ask yourself what the bleedin heck the IMF is doing in any “developing” country).

Equally true, Bank and Fund have been peddling unfettered free market economics in the 1980s to disastrous effect…which is why I believe that the aid establishment, of which these two are an integral part, should be subjected to international tort legislation.

‘It would focus minds wonderfully,’ as I remember one Indian expert say at a conference in the Netherlands, some 15 (!) years ago. And only 9 years back, another development expert made a similar plea in this book. Developing countries are not laboratories for someone else’s social experiments, however allegedly well-intentioned.

But! There is one thing these unwieldy, hubris-challenged and red-tape riddled organisations don’t do. They don’t “march triumphantly” on a pile of poor paupers. Great, Big, Dear Leaders do that. It’s this kind of sloppy, lazy, unhelpful cliché-mongering that a Social Forum could well do without.


At the Forum

February 13, 2011

‘Yeah man, you know, I’m hanging out with the voiceless in Mali…’

He talks according to type and is almost dressed the part as well. Bermuda trousers, tousled hair, know-all look in his eyes. Just add flip-flops and he’d be picture perfect. Of course, the minute he walks off this terrain he’d be identified as one of those underdressed tourists unfit to walk the streets of this unforgivingly elegant city. Women will raise one pencilled eyebrow before dismissing him as unworthy of their attention. But right now, he’s in the thick of it, colonizing my pen as he takes forever writing contact details on a scrap of paper and passing the pen around. While I wait, I look at a lovely crowd of young Africans gyrating to the beat of last year’s FIFA World Cup anthem, Waka Waka.

Wait. A. Minute.

Waka Waka… Yes, that ditty. It was the lame cover version of a great Cameroonian classic that was brazenly stolen by one of the biggest entertainment multinational corporations in the world until the Cameroonian press found out about it and raised a stink. (Listen to my radio story on that thievery here.) Surely that must be entirely out of place at an event that pillories everything that reeks of capitalism.

I am pondering this contradiction as the FIFA tune makes way for some equally ultra-commercial Ivorian couper-decaler and I finally get my pen back without so much as a nod from the French (of course) altermondialiste. I hope he treats the voiceless in Mali with a little more courtesy, if only for their generosity of spirit in allowing this bratty metropolitan into their midst.

Meanwhile, Senegal has taken full possession of the 11th World Social Forum. Mbalax, the trademark dance music here, thunders from the speakers. And the entire space between the various buildings where conferences are happening and statements discussed – has been taken up by vendors. Airport art, mostly, and some of the visitors think it jars a little.

Well, it doesn’t. Vendors say business is very good indeed, they say and I’d be surprised if not at least half of all the attendees will come home with a painting, a sculpted animal, a small talking drum, some jewellery. As far as they’re concerned, the Forum is over much too soon.

Students are less fortunate: the Forum uses their classrooms. I get talking to Ibrahim. We stand on the first floor of one of the faculty buildings strewn with papers, overlooking the busy market below.

‘I’m learning English,’ he says. Sounds like a good move, I tell him. That, or Mandarin Chinese. But he does not want to go to China. At least, not yet.

‘Can you recommend a university where I can further my English?’ he wants to know. Mind spins around sub-region and hits Ghana. By far his best bet I would say.

‘What about the UK?’ Ah, forget it, closed, increasingly xenophobic and losing relevance on the world stage rather fast. Bit like the rest of Europe really.

America – now that would be an opportunity. ‘That’s where I really want to go when I’m finished here.’

The USA!? Ibrahim – would you mind keeping your voice down…don’t you know what this crowd thinks of the USA? Phew – good thing no-one was listening in. I wish him the best of luck and hit the stalls below.


February 2, 2011

I just found this in my inbox. And I’m not going to tell you where it is from. . Just read it, slowly. I have taken out the bits that add no info. See if you can still get to the end of it…

Alright, here we go.

“Over the last twenty years, increasing numbers of women from the African island of Madagascar have begun to use marriage as a strategy for migrating to France. (…) In many cases, the men they marry are disadvantaged on the marriage market because of their rural occupations and have thus chosen to find a bride in Madagascar. (…) this seminar investigates the dynamics of race and gender that play out within these marriages (…) women who come from Madagascar use a strategic form of gendered essentialism that plays on, but also domesticates, the racially hierarchical colonial past. Precisely because they have some of the forms of sociality and gendered skills that these metropolitan men lack and they are often seen as being ‘sweet’ and ‘hard workers’, these women are ‘incorporable’. Yet such strategies do not always work, as some French families also seek to extract women’s labour without fully incorporating them in ways that give women social benefits. (…)


So in short: rural French men have a problem on the marriage market because French women consider them worthless scum. The men find brides abroad who mainly use them as a ticket to get into France and/or a meal ticket. Smart. Sometimes that works, sometime it doesn’t.

True to form, the researcher (like the French women before her) considers the rural men irrelevant to the world, although they manage to get magically promoted from “rural” to “metropolitan” in the space of half a paragraph…

But seriously……..

It used to be said that every African family has the following members: mother, father, children, other relatives and a French anthropologist. There was a time when anthropology was used as a moderately scientific prop for colonialism. In the past half century, colonial attitudes morphed into “development aid”. What the two have in common is the argument that the natives must first be studied and then improved.

But I am seriously……..

………seriously! puzzled by this. This is clearly something produced by (and I quote a memorable quote) the Department of Duh, University of the Bleeding Obvious in Noshitsherlocksville. So, who, apart from the academic who will no doubt further her career on the back of this groundbreaking research, will have any use for this?

French metropolitan women will continue to regard rural men as useless and not fit for a relationship with their infinitely superior selves.

Marginalised French rural/”metropolitan” men will continue to look for brides outside of France. Makes sense. If no-one around you wants you, you look elsewhere, right?

Foreign women will welcome the advances of French rural/”metropolitan” men because it serves their interests. There might even be luuurrrrvvve involved. Stranger things have happened…

See? That’s why you need journos. They’ll sort this sh!t out for you double quick and no-one wastes any time. Happy reading! I’m off to the bookstore.