[Loving Africa 12] All that glitters is not gold

In my last week in West Africa, I had the opportunity to visit the city of Abidjan, Côte d’lvoire, one of the most modern and liveable cities in the region for wealthy French expatriates.Ivory Coast is among the world’s largest producers and exporters of coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil with outstanding infrastructure. Since the civil war, recent years of stability has made Ivory Coast one of the most prosperous countries in West Africa. Sometimes referred to as the “Paris of West-Africa”, France remains as the most important foreign investor amongst Ivorian enterprises. Whilst I had enjoyed the incredible feelings of returning back to “civilisation” shopping in the malls of Abidjan and relaxing on the colonial beachside charm Grand-Bassam, I left this city with heavy mixed feelings.

The airport of Abidjan can undoubtedly be described to be modern, clean and tidy within the developing country standard. For my flight home, I had arrived promptly at the airport and checked-in almost effortlessly with one of the world’s best airlines. Yet, it is almost implausible for a West African trip if the story ended there. I was repeatedly stopped for routine checks by border patrols and airport securities asking to check my passport and a “cadeau” (“present” in French)– a nice euphemism for a bribe.As always, I kindly described myself as a poor student with no spare change and continued onto the custom gates. As the custom officer was just about to have my passport stamped, I heard a disturbing announcement repeated through the PA system: “Miss Queenie Chow of Airline X, please return to the airline counter”.

I had no other choice but to return back to the counter. To my astonishment, not only must undergo a thorough body scan, I was subsequently “escorted” to the luggage room filled with the smell of jet fuel for further baggage checks. The security officer continued to pester me for “papers for my luggage”which of course was a synonym in demanding for a ludicrous fee. He further highlighted that my “Chinese compatriots” had previously paid and received the necessary papers for essentially nothing that they could name to have found in my luggage. With the knowledge that I am putting my luggage’s journey home at risk, I obstinately told the officer time after time that it was necessary to provide me with a receipt for such fee collection. Finally, the officer backed off and we broke out of the impasse.

Surprisingly, my luggage arrived in one piece at my next destination. Yet this experience was no doubt left me with tears of sadness, anger and grief for this beautiful land of West Africa. Corruption creates and increases poverty and exclusion. Indeed, as the Chair of Transparency International José Ugaz comments“ while corrupt individuals with political power enjoy a lavish life, millions of Africans are deprived of their basic needs like food, health, education, housing, access to clean water and sanitation”.In 2015, research done through the Corruption Perceptions Index (which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide) indicates that 40 out of the Sub-Sahara African region’s 46 countries show a serious corruption problem with little improvement.The police and courts – institutions which exist to safeguard citizen’s rights – are seen to be the most corrupt. Whilst one may argue that corruption or the custom of “present giving” is a cultural practise in developing countries, corruption is certainly one factor perpetuating poverty.

Why does one have to undergo tremendous stress by standing up to authorities in their everyday life in order to get treated in the clinic or to pass through a border?

“The worst disease in the world today is corruption. And there is a cure: transparency.” Bono #Ted2013

While I do not hold the right to judge and I may not be able to handle half of what people in these countries have dealt with, I look forward with great hope that my next visit to Ivory Coast will demonstrate progress made towards a nation of great transparency and honesty. I further extend deep condolences to the loved ones of the victims injured in the recent Grand-Bassam shooting. May the bravery of the Ivorian security personnel who responded to the situation continue in a nation progressing towards peace and equality!