The world has been mourning the tragedy at Westgate mall Kenya. Terrorists killed dozens of innocent people, in a country seen as one of the engines driving African renaissance.
Westgate got tons of local and global media attention. Its victims may have had something to do with it. They came from all works of life and several countries.
Not long ago my twitter timeline was buzzing with outrage at the Kenyan slayings. Now when an even greater number of African migrants die at sea off the coast of Italy, not much of a murmur this side of the Sahara. Imagine my surprise.
Maybe it has to do with geography. The Kenyan tragedy was next door. The victims were people we recognized. Many of us had been to Westgate. But perhaps not. Italy too is a place we recognize. The two tragedies show the tension between what is the real dream for the ordinary African and what conditions are leading to the extremes that Africans are facing as victims of terrorism, as people terrorized by poverty and corruption at home, as terrorists themselves.
Why didn’t the images of brave Italians risking all to save African migrants dying at sea tug at our heart strings like the heroism of ordinary folks at Westgate which have blanketed our newspaper pages?
Despite the Africa rising stuff the dream of living abroad because local conditions are worse is more available. There was a joke in bad taste when Westgate first happened. Something about how poor people were lucky because they could not afford to go to that mall.
Kenya is one of Africa’s most unequal societies and many Kenyans and other Africans may see in Lampedusa not a senseless tragedy but a dream tragically deferred. It has a logic. This is a far worse tragedy than terrorism.
This morning too I was sharing with some colleagues the place of China in the changing African dream in light of Lampedusa.
Tomorrow Saturday, Ugandan officials and the Ugandan president are heading for a ground breaking for another hydropower dam funded by China’s Exim Bank. The second in a few months.
I am writing separately about China’s influence on Uganda’s corrupt government but that aside last week the Exim bank agreed to a package of 2.2 billion dollars for 3 projects including Karuma Hydropower dam, Isimba whose ground breaking is tomorrow and an industrial park. The deal negotiated in very agreeable concessionary terms is pretty good. An energy expert said if the dams in particular are constructed with the usual speed of Chinese projects- electricity shortages may be truly a thing of the past.
Uganda may turn a corner…
Despite its ethical issues Chinese projects that now constitute over 70% of new construction, extractives and energy projects in Uganda have a quicker turnaround. It’s a dream that hits the road running. Hundreds of Ugandans including government officials are heading to China but mostly not to stay.
The class of people going to China want to start projects at home. In Kampala they actually complain that poor Chinese have an African dream; that of starting a business in Africa not simply going to visit its beaches, hotels and fancy malls.
There is something problematic about all of this that I feel is not getting the usual attention from us. A couple of weeks ago I was miffed at the idea that the Ugandan government had agreed to take back some 50,000 African migrants who had been “marooned” in Israel in exchange for contracts of one kind or the other. The official Ugandan government denied any such deal which my sources confirmed was done unofficially. This is not unusual nowadays ( the agreement included direct value in military assistance and Israeli investments in agriculture and mining from what I can glean).
I have mostly overcome my anger at this “government” decision even if it gives effect to a racist policy in Israel that may of my Jewish friends also find reprehensible. One of them, a professor, said to me every country has a right to choose who is welcome and that Israel was conceived as a land for Jews. I quickly dropped my plan to interview Uganda’s Jewish tribe in Mbale. Am sure they are not welcome there. But I wonder if they would not be better off as Confucians or some other society that cooperates with China.
This African dream has become a medley of many forces.