For Europeans, there seems to be two different Africas: one that is dangerous and another that is safe. How do you distinguish between the two? Well, after following the Dutch internet discussions about the events in Mali, I came up with a litmus test to divide Africa into these two categories.
The litmus test is one simple question: "Would you send your daughter there?"
You see, the tiny but existing Dutch internet discussions about the events in Mali were entirely dominated by very nice Dutch women, who had found themselves living in a country that had suddenly and incomprehensibly changed - from safe to dangerous.
Armed groups in the north were always a bit of a nuisance but only fools went there to find themselves kidnapped or murdered. The rest of Mali was quite safe. There were always guns but now they're actually being used. This was something that was not supposed to happen.
Yes, Mali was a country you could send you daughter to, for instance on a development mission. You see, when an African country is deemed safe it starts doing "development". This means that large fleets of 4-wheel drives appear from nowhere, with all manner of acronyms painted on their doors. The drivers are local; the passengers' earnest white people whose main purpose in life is to have meetings. Mali was full of them and they were so busy holding meetings that they did not notice that the country was moving from safe to dangerous. There was a rebellion, a coup and the country split up. What on earth happened?
There have been other African countries that were like Mali: Zimbabwe in the 1980s before it started to self-destruct and Rwanda before the genocide. There are other countries that became Mali, such as post-war Mozambique. Mozambique is doing loads of "development" - there are acronyms galore over there. And a few other countries have always been like Mali, such as Burkina Faso and Zambia. Sure there is always a bit of edginess here and there - this is, after all, Africa - but in essence your daughter is safe in these places to do development, sample the local culture (especially dancing to their glorious local music) and even start a relationship with a local man (a non-threatening one, of course).
The absence of acronym-bedecked cars is a sure sign that a country or a region is dangerous. In the west of Ivory Coast, where I have just been, I only saw Medecins sans Frontière (they don't do "safe") and of course the local branch of the Red Cross, staffed by people who, you know, live there. In the 1990s Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone were similar - until they became sort of safe again.
The departure of "development", like its arrival, has no impact on a country and even less on its movement from safe to dangerous and back again. Malians will see the acronyms disappear and remain none the wiser - or the richer.
But there is a business that will really suffer: tourism. It collapsed in Zimbabwe. It is suffering dreadfully in Mali, which was just putting itself on the travel map. Fortunately, Africa has 54 (or maybe even 55) countries and there is always one that is just becoming safe again, or has always been safe.
Zambia profited massively from the Zimbabwean meltdown and I predict a golden future for Senegal since it's just held an impeccable presidential election, has glorious music and is populated with lots of non-threatening local men. Ladies, welcome to Senegal!
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