By Bumpy Walker
It took more than a decade to return. The offer when it came was surprising. There was another option to head to the far and frozen north for a year’s work or a one-off 28 day stint in West Africa. For a person who was inoculated, inculcated, indoctrinated by the idealism of Burning Spear, Peter Tosh and other singers who shared a Rastafarian diasporic exodus dream to an African Zion, there was no other choice, despite the financial risk.
Arrival was slightly more efficient than at Orlando’s “Disney” gate way, except in Africa the air conditioners worked! The continued internal flight was smooth, till the “meet and greet” by the customs official at the destination which was reminiscent of the US Customs.
Working a short contract means a twelve-hour day. Project ownership means a self-imposed a monk- like lifestyle to ensure success. The upside is transport, accommodation and food are provided. Such an existence is analogous to that great Jamaican business innovation; the Issa inspired all inclusive resort! One's impressions are at best anecdotal.
Africa has changed. The much vaunted universal mobile penetration is in evidence. Despite two or three global economic downturns, the provincial town has an ambiance reminiscent of Santa Cruz, with slightly more garbage. The “Santa” impression is reinforced by the impossibly uncomfortable, humid heat as well as the fact that a local secondary girls’ school uniform appears identical to that of STETHS.
In the business media, there have been recent reports, in which the national carrier of Ethiopia, Air Ethiopia has been presented as a success. It was refreshing to witness practical evidence of these reports, as engineers from the East Africa, the Middle East and Asia were using it for their transport; delightful change to see Addis Ababa as an air transport hub, rather than Dubai or Paris. This no doubt means that the tragedy of the past, when air travel intra-Africa could mean an ex- Africa overlay, can now be averted.
In the west, Halliburton is demonized as the evil, manipulative, transnational that profited from the Iraq tragedy and worse. In parts of Africa, Halliburton and other service companies are seen, not in this paradigm but as pretty good employers. Better payers than local companies, better safety records, providing training, working opportunities internationally, using best-in-class technologies as well as advanced management systems makes them attractive. It is strikingly similar to the 60s and early seventies in Jamaica when Alcan, ALPART, Reynolds, and Kaiser were the companies seen to give the best reward for labour. That was before the blanket demonising of the multinationals.
Since my last visit, it is noteworthy that there has been a significant shift in employee demographics, with more technical roles that were filled by Yankees or Europeans now being taken by Africans. This is a possible effect of the fall in commodity prices following the economic crisis of 2008.
Conversations and resume reviews brought up an interesting perspective that would make Garvey smile. The African engineers were working internationally, but more significantly, their career paths have taken then all over the “Motherland”. The work force included expert expats from Egypt Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Namibia, Angola, Liberia, who were traveling and working intra Africa.
Two of my technical go-to engineers were Francophone Africans ladies. These engineers have proven their competence on some of the most technically challenging roles anywhere in the world. Indeed, at my last consultancy on a geothermal project in Northern Europe, one of the four geological experts was a Francophone lady. It is good to know that in a decade I will be made obsolete not only by Chinese or Indians but by Africans.
Though things change, some things remain the same. The greatest killer of humans still stalks Africa. The female Anopheles mosquitoes generate paranoia. Thus a daily dose of a Proguanil / Atovaquone as preventative is recommended.
Previous personal experience with this drug proved that, combined with a lack of sleep, it evokes hallucinations. On this go-round it thankfully only induced pleasant vivid dreams, although its long term effects on my liver may add to the self-induced single malt whiskey damage.
On the way south at 30000 feet above the Sahara, the view inspired these lines:
Golden like a yellow dog lost
Then trees like tears follow a forgotten river bed
Then grey no green forgotten dead
Dunes glorious dunes isolated as a dead moon
Who crossed first? Did you die alone?
The how not the when is the question
Did you leave a daughter?
Or a son pleased at your demise?
ABOUT THE WRITER: Bumpy Walker is a Jamaican domiciled in Scotland