Friday, May 9, 2014

Safari so good

Urban Warrior collection from Sanabora Design House, Nairobi.
David Brooks starts out at a respectable pace with complaints (extracted from a famous 2005 Granta essay by Binyavanga Wainaina) about exoticism in writing on Africa from a hodgepodge of sources which appears to include the National Geographic vintage around 1965, Ethiopian famine porn, and appreciations of Disney's The Lion King, but quickly bogs down into the misapprehension that bare breasts and distended bellies are not OK only because Africa has changed since the 1990s and is no longer the exotic place it once was. (They were never OK.)

Hence Brooks's interest in the #BringBackOurGirls agitation against Boko Haram in the social media, to which he seems to take some kind of exception because [jump]
it distracts people's (New York Times readers') attention from the "real story" of Ethiopia's fabulous development*.

What he's really up to, I'm afraid, is the pushing of the old "liberals are the real racists" line, hiding the nastiness beneath a pleasant-voiced, quizzical-Brooksy veneer, blaming feminist elephants, Nelson Mandela, and government regulation as the chief impediments to growth:
In reality, Africa faces in acute forms the same problems that afflict pretty much every region these days. Most important: Individual and social creativity is zooming ahead. Governing institutions are failing to perform the basic, elementary tasks.
*An overall growth rate of 93% from 2007 to 2013, more than doubling the number of millionaires in the country from 1300 to 2700, while the number of Ethiopians living in extreme poverty, consuming under 60 cents per day, has been reduced by about a quarter, from over 38% of the population to a tiny bit less than 30%. That's some real trickling down, and I mean trickling. And Solomon Gebre-Selassie citing a report from the Institute for Development Studies writes:
According to the IDS, between 2007 and 2009, annual inflation in Ethiopia averaged 26%, the third highest in Africa, and was 20% in July 2012. Rene Lefort, in a recent article (Oct. 2012), states that inflation hit in September a peak of 40% overall, and 50% for food. According to him, in a 2-year period, civil servants lost around half of their purchasing power, and peasants, half of whom are net buyers of food often claim that “inflation is worse than prison”. On top of this, citizens are ordered to contribute 12% of their monthly income for the building of an expensive dam that needs about 4 billion dollars in capital investment, all of it to be raised from domestic sources.
The IDS report adds that rapid economic growth and improving prospects for some has come with rising urban income inequality and surging inflation. Inequality continues to be high in urban areas (the coefficient of 0.47) where unemployment is higher compared to rural areas (0.27 percent). Between 2000 and 2005, the share of people living below the urban poverty line remained almost unchanged, but numbers increased in real terms. According to Prof. Asayehgne Desta (Oct. 2012), the poverty ratio of people living on less than $1.25 a day in Ethiopia is very close to about 30 million people.
The population of Ethiopia being just upwards of 90 million, you can see that nearly everybody in poverty (under $1.25) seems to be in extreme poverty (under $0.60). Unless I'm just looking at incommensurate numbers here.


Here are the Brookses in Kenya in 2011 with Philip Leakey of the Leakey Collection ("Natural Elegance") but without any of the "local Maasai" (but there's an adorable video I bet Binyavanga would just love right here):

Brooks wrote about it in totally noncolonial terms in the Times:
I met him at the remote mountain camp where he now lives, a bumpy 4-hour ride south of Nairobi near the Rift Valley. Leakey and his wife Katy — an artist who baby-sat for Jane Goodall and led a cultural expedition up the Amazon — have created an enterprise called the Leakey Collection, which employs up to 1,200 of the local Maasai, and sells designer jewelry and household items around the world.

The Leakeys live in a mountaintop tent. Their kitchen and dining room is a lean-to with endless views across the valley. The workers sit out under the trees gossiping and making jewelry. Getting a tour of the facilities is like walking through “Swiss Family Robinson” or “Dr. Dolittle.”
The Dr. Dolittle reference is priceless, considering.

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