The Edmond Sun

Opinion

May 29, 2013

AGAINST THE GRAIN: Travel writer details Africa’s changing social landscape

EDMOND — Paul Theroux burst upon the literary scene in 1975 with the publication of “The Great Railway Bazaar” that detailed his journey by rail from Victoria Station in London to what was then the British Colony of Hong Kong. In the ensuing decades, Theroux has written a series of books about his journeys by rail.

In “The Old Patagonia Express,” he described his  expedition from Boston, Mass., to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of the South American continent. That trip took him through Perry, Okla., and he would write about it approvingly as a pretty small town with interesting buildings.

Theroux’s most recent work “The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari” is his account of his journey from Cape Town, South Africa, to Luanda, Angola, in West Africa. He reports that he first went to Africa as an American Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1960s as a 22-year-old college graduate, and lived in Malawi. He later taught at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

Theroux is critical of much of the aid and assistance that has come from Western governments to Africa in recent decades and believes that much of it has been siphoned off by corrupt government officials. He is also dismissive of the celebrities who arrive in Africa with a media retinue and either adopt a child or get their pictures taken at a hospital or school. But the author is impressed with the good work to improve the lives of Africans mired in poverty done by some of the individuals he encounters in his travels through South Africa, Namibia and Angola.  

And while Theroux may not be aware of them, there are many small charities, such as the Vilakazi Foundation of Oklahoma City that gives poor children in Cape Town school supplies and sports equipment. Charities like this one provide direct assistance to Africans in need.

He travels through several parts of Cape Town, and reports that there have been improvements since his last visit 10 years ago. Namibia was a German colony until it was seized by South Africa during World War I, and it was ruled by South Africa until it gained its independence in 1990. Theroux is surprised to find a large German presence in Namibia when he arrived there, and is entranced by the beauty of the Namib Desert that is in close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. He is also impressed by the way people of different races live peacefully together in Namibia.

Much has been written in recent years about the increasing Chinese presence in Africa, and Theroux encounters Chinese people during his travels, and details how they are operating small stores and restaurants. But he hears from several of the Africans he meets that the Chinese are also building factories in their countries and that many of those structures are being constructed by laborers from China. The failure to use local workers is causing resentment against the Chinese, the author reports, and he predicts that the Chinese experience in Africa will end badly.

Theroux’s African journey ends in Angola, and he paints a grim picture of that nation. Angola is an oil rich nation, but its people are among the poorest in Africa, and the revenue from its oil resources enrich only its leaders. Its president, Jose dos Santos, is listed as one of the wealthiest men in Africa, and his daughter, Isabel dos Santos, was recently identified by Forbes Magazine as Africa’s first female billionaire. Luanda, which is often listed as the most expensive city in the world, is a place of incredible poverty, corruption and violence, Theroux reports. He believes that the people of Angola eventually will rise up against the corrupt regime that rules that nation. Theroux was 70 years old when he made his trip to Africa, and on several occasions he indicates that his age and health may require that he cease his travels. But he leaves behind a legacy of travel books that will allow readers to enjoy his travel adventures for decades to come.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is a retired Oklahoma City attorney.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • New Orleans features its own “Running of the Bulls”

    On July12, the streets of the Warehouse District of New Orleans were filled with thousands of young men who were seeking to avoid being hit with plastic bats wielded by women on roller skates as part of the annual “Running of the Bulls” that takes place in New Orleans.
    The event is based on the “Running of the Bulls” that occurs in Pamplona, Spain, that is  part of an annual occurrence in which a group of bulls rampage through the streets of Pamplona while men run from them to avoid being gored by their sharp horns. That event was introduced to the English-speaking world by Ernest Hemingway, who included scenes from it in his critically acclaimed 1926 novel “The Sun also Rises.”

    July 22, 2014

  • OTHER VIEW: Newsday: Lapses on deadly diseases demand explanation

    When we heard that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had created a potentially lethal safety risk by improperly sending deadly pathogens — like anthrax — to other laboratories around the country, our first reaction was disbelief.

    July 22, 2014

  • Holding government accountable for open meeting violations

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the recent success of three important government transparency proposals which will go into law this year.

    July 21, 2014

  • GUEST OPINION — Oklahoma GOP voters want educational choices

    A Braun Research survey released in January showed that Oklahoma voters — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — favor parental choice in education.

    July 21, 2014

  • HEY HINK: IRS interferes with citizens’ rights of free speech

    The patient is gravely ill. We have detected traces of a deadly venom in the bloodstream. We don’t know how widespread the poison is, but we know, if not counteracted, toxins of this kind can rot the patient’s vital organs and could ultimately prove fatal.

    July 19, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • RedBlueAmerica: What should the U.S. do about illegal immigrant children?

    The crisis along the southern U.S. border has politicians and immigration officials scrambling. More than 52,000 children, mostly from Central American nations, have arrived so far this year. The Department of Homeland Security is running out of space to hold them all.
    President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion in borrowed money from taxpayers to cover the growing “care, feeding and transportation costs of unaccompanied children and family groups” when our own veterans are not taken care of. Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized the president’s plan, saying more money should go toward securing the border.

    July 17, 2014

  • VA scandal highlights the need to change Pentagon spending priorities

    The ongoing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal raises an important question: When our veterans are being denied access to basic health care, why is the Pentagon squandering billions of dollars on programs that do not benefit our military forces? Is there a link in organization attitudes?

    July 16, 2014

  • For better politics, it’s time for some raging moderates

    Like more than 20 percent of my fellow Californians, I am now classified as a no-party-preference voter, registered to vote but with no affiliation to any of the state’s political parties.
    I am for lower taxes and for marriage equality. I am tough on crime and I am anti-abortion. I believe that a pathway to citizenship is a necessary part of immigration reform and that student test scores should be a critical component of teacher evaluations.

    July 15, 2014

  • Father on mission to stop gun violence

    Since his son died six weeks ago as collateral damage to a troubled young man’s wish for vengeance, Richard Martinez has been asked whom he holds responsible.
    “I’m responsible,” the California lawyer answers, referring to most Americans’ failure to push harder to change gun laws after earlier mass shootings. “All those kids died and none of us did anything.”

    July 14, 2014

Poll

If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
Undecided
     View Results