Friday 22 May 2009

The Call of Africa

My friend Stephen is off to Africa today. He is taking his teenage son to Senegal and Gambia. I am very jealous, a bit of African heat and chaos would go down well just now. I hope that he keeps us posted on his blog. Stephen is, by the way, a member of one of the world's most exclusive clubs -- he represents 50% of this blog's followers!

Stephen also does proper writing and has an interesting assignment for a newspaper while he's in Africa. His work will start on the premise that the movement of people out of Senegal today is greater than at any time during the Atlantic slave trade. It shocked me. Historians, economists and African nationalists have used slavery's mass forced migration as an explanation of many of the continent's ills. If that left a wound that still festers two or three centuries later, what can the current migration be doing, econmically, socially, culturally? Worst of all perhaps, because this is an illegal traffic we know next to nothing about it. Today's Atlantic "cargoes" are truly the most invisible of people -- in Africa, in transit and at destination. There are not, yet, the equivalent of slave narratives. In the communication explosion of our time where are the Twitter feeds from these people?

Stephen will investigate. I look forward to seeing the results. But ultimately it is here in the destination countries where we must really work to understand and document. These are the people that clean our offices, buses and trains. They are the nocturnals, the cogs so deep in our economic machine that we never see them. I would love to hear their stories but I suspect it is easier for me to heed my own call to Africa than listen here in the West.

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