Posts Tagged ‘money’

Abidjan miniatures 5

December 28, 2020

Getting a Covid19 test.

Hey, never mind that you have to do an expensive Covid19 test before you board an aeroplane and that you have to fill in a bunch of forms online using a government website that (surprise, surprise!) has decided to declare permanent war on me…but still. You can have a bit of fun while you’re at it, right? And yes, for most Ivorians, getting a Covid19 test at €76 is eye-wateringly expensive. Incidentally, I parted with a vastly more eye-watering €202 for a similar test in a private London clinic, which was rejected as by the Ivorian health authorities on arrival at Abidjan airport. My passport was confiscated and I was made to take yet another test, at – you guessed it – €76. Add to this the test I did at Mali and that amounts to a cool 400 euros paid for tests in the past four months, whose results were checked precisely ONCE. Neither Bamako (departure), nor Paris (transit), nor Abidjan (departure) I can now report, nor Brussels (arrival and transit), nor Amsterdam (arrival, twice!) were interested in my test result, negative of course. This feels like scratch that: this bloody IS money down the drain.

However, the Covid19 test operation in one of Abidjan’s eight dedicated test centres allowed me another peek in the city’s positively gigantic, constantly innovative, highly flexible and therefore thriving parallel economy. How? When you can’t pay for your test online, for instance, because no credit card. Or when your phone cannot answer questions on a government website. So how do you these things? Follow me.

Or rather: follow the guard, across a busy road, across a terrain where there is a place that sells beer and food (of course, you’re in Abidjan), along an open space and then through a small gate towards a block of flats. Very loud local music called zouglou (much more about that in exactly three days’ time) is playing its upbeat, humorous and topical songs. The first Covid-related tunes emerged here and in Dakar.

‘This is the place,’ says the guard who I have been following. It’s not much more than a simple alcove under an apartment block and it’s run by a fast moving young chap. He sits at his desktop computer and rapid fires the questions that are on the form I cannot fill in.

“Hang on, this country of yours…what’s it called? Holland?”

No that’s only the Western part of it, in fact.

“So, Pays-Bas, then?”

We find the name of my country listed, inexplicably, as The Netherlands. The rest of the list is in French. Weird.

“How come such a tiny place has three names?” By this time we are laughing out loud.

Well, technically, it’s only two since Netherlands and Pays-Bas essentially mean the same. We also have two capitals…well, one official one of course – it’s where I’m from – but the government is in another city…

More laughter.

In short, we’re starting to have a good old time of it. We go through the rest of the form (you have to announce your planned itinerary, which in these Covid times is entirely hypothetical) and we part as best friends. I pay him and he processes my payment for the test; he prints out the receipt and the other forms and he gets 3000 CFA francs (€4,57) for his invaluable service. As I am walking back to the test centre, the guard brings in two others. Covid19 is not only good for government and clinic business…

Back at the testing site, the remarkably patient crowd that has been sitting in chairs for hours before being let into the temporary building is now bickering over whose turn it is. Clearly, the chair system has broken down somewhat.

Meanwhile, me and a fellow test victim are trying to work out how much the Health Ministry is raking in from this new effort. We arrive at yet another eye-watering moment… Let’s say 100 people go to these test sites per day. We have eight of those so that’s 800 people paying CFA50,000. That’s 40 million francs – 61 thousand euros. Every day. Niiiice… How many days are they open per week? Six. Only Sunday’s they’re closed. So that’s at the very least 24 days per month, 25 on average. That is a very cool one billion francs per month; one and a half million euros.

Before all this can truly sink in it is time to be led into the Waiting Room, which is a smallish place where there are notices, a television set and an aircon. I am forever trying to escape these monsters because they make me ill. So to the great amusement of the staff on duty, I move as far away from the cold air blasting thing as possible. “Ah, so you are running away from the cold air!” says a doctor. “Now you have become one of us…” Cue helpless laughter from his colleague and yours truly…

And there, in the corner, is the tiniest Christmas tree in the country. The shopping centres have already gone full tilt into Christmas mode but even when you are being tested so as to make sure you are not caught up in a global epidemic, here’s a tiny reminder of the festive season, before you have your papers being verified once again, you’re being told about the procedure and you’re subjected to the decidedly unpleasant but mercifully brief invasion of your nose by a swab and being sent on your way. Where was that beer again? Hey, you’re in Abidjan. Drinks are never more than a few steps away. But then the guard re-emerges. “Have you forgotten me?” he inquires, beaming innocently.

Course I haven’t.

The dark side of being generous

July 2, 2020

It’s boys. Aged between, say, six and twelve they approach you on the street or call you when you’re passing by. Bright smiles, while they take a break from playing football or just bright smiles beaming straight at you.

“Toubab!” That would be me.

“Hello!” I say back to them, or him.

And more often than not, the next word out is…: “Argent.”

Money.

Sometimes it comes specified: the amounts demanded have ranged from 100 CFA (a mere fifteen eurocents) to fully one hundred times more than that. “Ten thousand francs.”  Eyes unblinking, smile still in place. We are in Ségou.

I have spoken about this in a previous blog and explained this behavior as the result of the extremely pernicious effects of colonialism and its sequel, international development aid. But individual behavior (to be very specific: individual white behavior) makes things worse, especially in places like Ségou, where I am at the moment, a city that used to thrive on tourism before international fear of jihadism and then the Corona crisis put a stop to it.

Now I have previously complained about being seen as a stupid loaded European but very seriously: being regarded as an ATM on two legs is a) annoying but insignificant and b) a symptom of something deeper.

This ‘deeper’ manifests itself in the domestic sphere in ways you only become aware of when you listen to stories like this, told by a friend here in Ségou. It goes like this.

“When Ségou was not yet overrun with tourists, I used to make a little extra money as a schoolboy shining shoes. This still happens today: you go to a place where clients are seated, you ask if they need their shoes polished and when you have done the work you return them and they give you 50 or 100 francs.

One day, one French tourist called me. Remember, there weren’t loads of them at the time so this was special. He was seated on the terrace of one of those posh hotels they have in Ségou. When I returned his shoes to him he gave me two thousand five hundred francs. I was over the moon! I ran home at high speed to tell my parents what had happened.

I showed my dad the money and what did he do? He hit me, saying that I had stolen it. Nobody gives such an idiotic amount to a shoe shine boy. We never managed to return the money since the man had disappeared and it’s stayed an issue for a long time. And I learned a lesson.”

I want you to reflect on this story, as I discussed it with my friend after he had finished his tale. First off, the amount given was indeed completely ridiculous and it did, rightly so, arouse suspicion. Second, while it most probably made the ‘generous’ tourist feel good about himself, it put life at my friend’s home on edge. Not just because the insane amount of money the young boy suddenly carried in his pocket, no. This works on another level, too.

Giving cash to people who are perceived ‘poor’ in places like Ségou or in many other parts of the continent where Africans come into contact with white lifeforms is principally not about the receiver. When you give money to a boy you perceive as poor, and especially when it is a large sum, it becomes all about you, the White Saviour.

And what’s more, as my friend stressed a few times while we discussed his story, it undermines parental authority at home, something that is taken very seriously here. Giving ten thousands francs to a kid, which has obviously happened because how on earth could that boy have come up with such an amount to ask of me…? Giving ten thousand francs instills in this young boy the idea that Mum and Dad don’t provide as well for me as this White Man or Woman could. The White Person is capable; my own parents are not, even though they put food on the table. Look, money! In my pocket.

In short, it reinforces once again the idea that Whites are superior and Africans should be grateful for whatever gets sent their way. In reinforces the racist mindset present through slavery and colonialism and perpetuated through the aid industry. We give – we feel good. They receive – we feel good.

All this is learned behavior and therefore it can be unlearned, on both sides. Whites with their Superiority Syndrome, Africans with their forced-upon-them Dependency Syndrome, especially egregious in tourist places like Ségou, which does indeed tend to get infested with mindless loaded do-gooders. Visitor, this is not about you. In fact, while you are here, nothing is.

OK. Here is how I ended one particular Ségou episode. I looked at the spokesman of the football team who had asked me for money, for some time. He looked back. Something dawned. He said: “Pardon.” We made our peace. Walking away, the realization came that he may have been apologizing to me in person. But far more importantly, he was, in fact, saying “sorry” to his parents.

If you work for the State…you won’t get paid!

March 22, 2011

Time for a bit of rant.

An old friend used to run a public space embellishment agency. Was in deep trouble because he had done his work and was now waiting for payment: from the local authorities.

Senegal is replete with these stories. It’s what the president, sorry His Majesty, sorry The All-Seeing and All-Knowing One, has famously called “the informalisation” of everything. You see, this government does not like contracts and such like very much. Backroom arrangements are much more convenient.

This is, of course, the stuff of politics. Take, for instance, the case of Bara Tall, a celebrated local entrepreneur who has been building roads and other infrastructure for the State – and is still waiting for his money. But instead of being pad for his troubles…he was put on trial for fraud.

Did he over-invoice? We don’t know. But his real crime was having a political partner who, over time, became the mortal enemy of the president (Google “chantiers de Thiès” for background). That’s why his life and business had to be destroyed; first by non-payment, then by a politically motivated court case. Like all ruling families past and present, the Borgias, the Blairs, the Mugabes and the Clintons – the Wades are ruthlessly efficient in that respect.

Unfortunately for them, Bara Tall is fighting back – and so far, he’s winning. Last week, a court ordered the state to pay him some of the money he is due.

And while on the topic – remember this one?

No, you don’t. Like most Senegalese, who have happily forgotten about it. But on March 9th this year I read a story about a young gifted kora player Noumoucounda Cissoko, who stunned the audience with his virtuosity on the opening night. Three months later, he’s still waiting for his money. He should have gone over to the Trade Fair Grounds, picked up one of those Apple G5 Desktop Computers doing sweet bugger all there – and hey presto!

You know, sometimes, just sometimes, one would wish that the usual “We have turned the page, let’s forget it” – or “Well, I am sure my money will come insh’allah” would make way for a little bit more, er, bite. I’m no fan of predatory lawyers US-style but Christ, in instances such as these, the only right response is of course: “Sue the ß@$+@Â∆$ till they bleed”.

It is all very well to say that this is not according to cultural mores. I prefer to live in a polite society and Senegal is a very polite society. But here is a fact: the shysters who organise this theft fest no longer live in this society. They orbit out there, in a gangland of their own making. They have forfeited the right to protection under Senegal’s politeness rules.