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'The Gambia is not really Africa'

‘AFRICA AWAITS ITS CREATORS’: Victor Romero Evans ‘went home’ to Gambia

THE GREAT actor and lovers rock singer Victor Romero Evans passed by my yard this week to drop off some of his natural remedy for dealing with the persistent cold that my wife had been battling.

Believe me when I say, Victor and his wife, Janet Kay, live very, very ‘ital’, as the Rastas would say.

If it was just one of Victor’s world-renowned lectures on how to eat to live that I wanted to tell you about this week, that itself would be food for thought (so to speak). But Victor had literally just landed back from his first visit to Africa and, suffice to say, it blew his mind. And we got into a huge debate about it.

“Africa awaits its creators,” Victor remonstrated with me in that old-style ‘back to Africa’ rhetoric that we all fell for once upon a time before we realised how logistically impossible it was for us to do that – particularly when we had settled down and had children who didn’t necessarily want to follow us to the motherland on a wing and a prayer.

“Africa awaits its creators,” Victor continued, “and that is us – you and I and all of us living over here.

“We have let Africa down. All of us. We’ve left it in limbo, when we should be going back there and doing something positive to lift it up.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Once upon a time I woulda said it just like that. Once upon a time. Now, whether it is because of the cynicism that comes with age and experience or just the exhaustion of trying and trying and trying again when at first we never succeeded, or perhaps it is the disillusionment that has clouded our minds about Africa, all I could think of is ‘what about all those European ‘tourists’ – wrinkled men and women with pot bellies, who parade up and down the beaches with their extremely young ‘companions’ who would be arrested here in the UK if they could not prove that that companion was legally their grandchild.

You see, Victor went to The Gambia, which is not really Africa. It is just a holiday in the sun for people with more money than the locals – which is virtually every single person in Europe.

That, I posed to Victor, was the real ‘let down’ of Africa. That a government like The Gambia’s would allow such exploitation of its most vulnerable people in broad daylight. I personally could not stomach it, which is why I don’t go there. Many black Brits do, because it is a relatively safe way of experiencing Africa.

In The Gambia, you will not get eaten by lions and you probably won’t get held up by armed robbers, either. Because its entire economy depends on tourism. So, like a lot of the islands in the Caribbean, the population is told continually to be nice to tourists. Any member of the population who isn’t will be resoundly dealt with by his peer group who are desperate for those tourist dollars.

No one but no one is allowed to stand in the way of that cash cow – not even the president. The president’s hands are tied, as they were when he worked for Argos on the Holloway Road.

But so were the previous president’s hands. Autocratic ex-president Jammah was known to not ramp with human rights and dem whe’ deh. If any of his people were out of line he would ensure a swift and painful punishment. And yet, he sat back and allowed tourists to use his country as their sex playpen. Talk about a let down for Africa.

Now this is not to say that no good comes out of The Gambia, of course it does. My oldest bredrin is the Baby Father author Patrick Augustus who I have known since we were God-bless pickney. He has spent the last decade and more out in The Gambia building a school. And to give Janet and Victor their dues, they were out there on school inspection duty to see the positive works that they had both contributed to financially. And, I am reliably told, it reduced Victor to tears (though he didn’t mention nothing about crying like a born-again baby when he came round my house to talk “Africa unite” with me).

I get it though. It is an emotional trip to ‘go home’ to Africa for the first time in your life. And Gambians know how to milk it.

Hear Victor now: “When I arrived at the airport the customs guy took one look at my passport and said “Welcome home”. That’s the first time in my life that anybody at any passport control at any airport ever said that to me. I don’t even get that when I go “home” to St Lucia…”

You see what I mean about how smart those Gambians are about taking that tourist dollar? It’s a shame we Nigerians are not as smart in that respect because we could do with another revenue stream to replace the black gold that has been a curse on our nation ever since it gushed out of the ground from an oil well back in the early 1960s. When you land at Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos, the customs guys are more likely to take one look at your passport and ask, “What have you brought for me from overseas?” And the answer better be “I’ll open my bags and let you take your pick,” otherwise you might be staying at that airport until a plane arrives to take you back where you came from.

Having said that, though, Nigeria is Africa. If you really want to know about your culture, you’re better off dispensing with all those “small islands” like The Gambia and Ghana and coming straight to the source of blackness – the great Yoruba kingdom – to learn everything about who you are and what you are that has never been told and has been hidden from you for hundreds of years.

I told Victor that and he looked at me like he wasn’t ready for Nigeria. I get that. Like old age, Nigeria is not for the weak-hearted. Or for any wrinkled men and women with pot bellies, who feel like they can come and parade up and down the beaches with their extremely young ‘companions’. Try that in Nigeria and you may not live to tell the tale.

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