We have seen the future, and it sucks.


1st July 2017

Theodore Dalrymple talks to Parisian taxi drivers.

Most revealing, however, were two Parisian taxi drivers of African origin who said they were planning to return to Africa for the sake of their freedom. To return from Europe to Africa in search of freedom might seem at first a quixotic thing to do, completely counterintuitive, for is not Africa associated in our minds with tyranny, oppression, corruption, and poverty? It is true that the immediate inheritors of colonial power, the bizarre dictators who were the principals in what Byron called (and said that he longed to see) “Africa’s first dance of freedom,” are now of the past, having gone the way of all flesh; but even if tyranny has become a little less evident than it was formerly, arbitrary rule, official exactions, and so forth are still prevalent on the continent, and only a few countries have what we think of as proper elections.

In Africa, by contrast, they could start a business straight away, the only requirement being a little capital. They had already started: shops, hotels, cinemas, bars. They had needed no one’s permission; they simply bought premises or land upon which to build them and started their businesses as they saw fit. It was easy to square any interfering official, much easier than dealing with an “honest” bureaucracy. They hired whom they chose and paid them what the market would bear. They themselves could work as much or as little as they liked; the risk was entirely theirs, and if their enterprises failed, there was no one to rescue them and no one upon whom they could fall back other than their families (but they had chosen countries other than those of their descent). Paperwork was almost nonexistent and the government a long way off. In Africa, they felt they were free men in a way that they never would be free men in France.

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