By Tolu Ogunlesi
There’s no escaping Africa, no matter how far from it you are. From England’s supermarket shelves bottled water leaps at you, chanting “Buy me and save a continent!”
You blink, once, twice, to be sure you’re not hallucinating. You’re not. The voices are as real as they are earnest: by buying a bottle of water you can help build a borehole in the remotest jungles of Africa. And so you hearken to the plea; a black person taking on guilt once monopolised by whites.
There’s even more fascinating stuff in print. I’ve been coming across a call-for-donations insert in UK magazines, in which a circular hole sits in the middle of the page, accompanied by the chilling line: “The upper arm of a child who has severe acute malnutrition would fit through this hole.”
Talk about shock therapy.
But let it not sound as if I’m complaining, I‘m not. Hey world, Africa is indeed grateful for the aid, and even more so for the headlines and media mentions. (Father of ’em all: the May 13 – 19, 2000 issue of The Economist which paid tribute, on its cover, to “The Hopeless Continent”).
Bono and Bob Geldof also have a place in my Hall of Fame; celebrities who could have busied themselves checking in and out of rehab, but have instead chosen to work tirelessly saving Africa and its citizens. Unlike fad-hunters Madonna and Angelina Jolie who simply want to parachute in for a quickie adoption (“Err, jus’ gimme the baby and keep the change darling…”) – with a photo-shoot to boot – Bono and Bob Gee are commendable long-distance ‘activists’.
If like me you are worried about who will take the baton from them, worry no more. We have Britain’s Prince William to thank for making plans to order the over-sized shoes of the Irishmen.
Late last year Sky1 aired a documentary titled ‘Prince William’s Africa.’ In it TV presenter Ben Fogle followed the Prince to ‘Africa’, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tusk Trust (a UK charity devoted to the protection and conservation of wildlife in Africa), of which the Prince is Patron Saint.
Prince William’s Africa… never mind that Botswana is the only African ‘province’ they visit.
I recently realised that of my many foolish (random) assumptions, the biggest has been this – thinking that Africa is what the atlas says it is. No, Africa is what Tourists say it is: the jungle and its gorillas/guerrillas (same difference!); the game park and its sunsets, elephants, lions and zebras. Kabisa!
Lagos’s concrete jungles are not “Africa”, they are “Nigeria”. Ibadan’s “running splash of rust and gold” is not Africa, it belongs to the “predominantly Christian South” (as opposed to a “largely Muslim North”) of “oil-rich Nigeria”.
Unless we can convince Prince William that ‘observing’ our politicians – especially caged in their convoys – will provide as much entertainment as a Southern Africa safari; unless we can convince him that what we lack in real pachyderms we more than make up for in (cashnivorous) ‘White Elephant’ projects; we should give up any hopes of seeing his Royal Highness’ Africa extend in the direction of Nigeria.
The Prince’s interest in Africa is clearly not a mere Tweenage fad. He’s been into this continent since like forever. His 21st birthday party, held seven years ago at WindsorCastle, was, according to the BBC, “African-themed.”
“As the party started, outfits spotted arriving at the castle included a furry lion, Tarzan and a banana. The castle’s ancient rooms were transformed into scenes from the African bush, which include a life-sized elephant made out of papier mache,” the BBC tells us. “Other outfits seen on arriving guests included a lion suit topped with a gold crown, a full foreign legion uniform, a Biggles-esque pilot, a banana and a top-hatted witch-doctor.”
I’m hoping the future King will choose to have his Coronation staged in his beloved Africa. Dignitaries – faces painted of course – will arrive at Africa’s International Airport (named after none other than the most famous living citizen of Africa, Nelson Mandela), waving ‘iSpears’ (trust Steve Jobs to cash in on this) and singing ‘God Save The King’ in ‘African’.
It’ll be like the 2010 World Cup all over again! All we’d need to do in terms of security would be to prevent the Swazi king Mswati III from coming near the new King – we don’t want anyone extolling the virtues of Royal polygamy to the head of the Church of England do we?
The Africa that the Prince will be ‘inheriting’ when he becomes King will of course be vastly different from the one his grandmother inherited when she became Queen almost sixty years ago. But who cares? Prince William’s Africa – full as it will be of elephants, witch-doctors, Tarzans, vast farms and BBC and SkyTV cameras – will be, for most of Europe and America, a vastly recognisable Africa.
I’m betting The Economist will want to atone for past sins. Atop an image of frenzied crowds lining the streets of Africa to hail the brand new King William V, our beloved newsmagazine will plaster these words (a marked improvement on a decade ago): “Africa: The Hopeless BUT Happy Continent!”
This first appeared in NEXT on Wednesday 27th October, 2010