Monday, February 3, 2014

New Year, New City

Abuja, Nigeria

Hello, everyone! Writing this time from the capital of the most populous country in Africa! That’s right, it’s Nigeria. And not only is Nigeria the most populous country in Africa, but it is currently the 7th most populous country in the world, and is even projected to be one of the top 5 most populous countries in the world by 2050! That’s a lot of people. 

View from the office window.
However, I have not gotten the full impact of this statistic because Abuja, the capital since the 70’s, is not the most populous city, and is actually quite calm compared to the other African capitals I have lived in. The streets are wide and well maintained, buildings are adequately spaced, and there are a lot of public parks and gardens that make the city feel more relaxed. 

And before I keep writing, for those of you, like my father, who is worrying about me every time Boko Haram gets reported on in the newspaper, I made this map to try and show how far away those attacks are happening. 

Without a scale, it might be difficult to really understand how far away Boko Haram is, but I did the math, and Nigeria is larger than Texas and Oklahoma combined, so there is a great deal of distance represented in this map.

Although, I admit, I do understand where all of the concerns come from. Nigeria does not have the greatest track record when it comes to violence, and tribalism is much more obvious here than it has been to me in other countries. So much that in cities like Abuja, where there is a large mix of ethnic groups, the only lingua-franca is English, because as far as I can tell, most people will only learn the language of their own people. There are exceptions to this, of course, but in Ghana, for example, many people speak several languages outside of their own ethnic group. This could also be because Ghana seems to have a lot more intermarriages, and arguably, a more dominant majority (the Akan people). Whereas in Nigeria, their political history has been a constant back and forth power grab between the different groups. It’s an interesting time to be here, as Nigeria is preparing for elections next year. It seems like tension is slowly building, and the current President is starting to make moves to ensure that he will win again in 2015. 

For example, the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill that the President signed into law early last month, is A) a distraction technique to keep people from noticing that the President has done a horrible job at combating corruption, which was part of his platform during the last election (transparency international estimates that $400 billion has been stolen by Nigerian leaders in the past 30 years), and to divert attention from his failure to adequately deal with Boko Haram, B) a cheap way to increase his popularity, as 98% of Nigerians claim to be anti-gay, and C) provide him a platform to arbitrarily arrest political foes. Now, while this last point may seem far-fetched, if you actually read the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, it does way more than make gay marriage punishable by up to 14 years in jail. It also bans, LGBT organizations, and individuals/organizations that support LGBT people, and most bizarrely, it bans “public shows of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly”, which is not defined in the law. So, it is quite possible that someone could be arrested for hugging someone of the same sex on the street, which is obviously ridiculous, but would be very easy to manipulate for political purposes. And the legislatures were very sneaky about it, because no one is going to publically oppose a bill called Anti-Same Sex Marriage, even if it is a ridiculously horrid law, because as soon as you do, you’ll be labeled a supporter of same-sex marriage. I’ll be interested to see how it all pans out...

National Mosque. The dome is made of real gold!

I’m even more interested to see how the 2015 elections are going to go. There are some cynical political scientists who are predicting Nigeria will fall back into civil war after this election, but I really hope it does not come to that. However, I am very glad I will not be here to see for myself in person. 

But anyway, enough with politics. I am enjoying my time here, and have been pretty surprised by Abuja. It’s very, very dry here, which I was not expecting. And I think it is the most blatantly wealthy African city I have been to. There are so many huge private houses, large supermarkets, and fancy cars, and like I mentioned earlier, the streets are wide, and well maintained. But the drivers here are absolutely insane. People do not stay inside traffic lines, drifting back and forth across the road. They speed around like crazy, and cut people off like their lives depend on it. There are no speed limits, and I’ve been told that the only things people ever get pulled over for are running traffic lights (see, Nate, you should just move here). 

Cruising down the highway...looking for adventure... 

These little rinky-dink things are used as taxis.
New houses under construction.

But it is also easy to tell that Nigeria is insecure. There are numerous police checkpoints, and of course all the police have huge scary guns. Security guards inspect every car, including looking in the trunk, before you can pull into a parking lot, at say, a supermarket or hotel. And the government has made huge investments to install cameras in the streets, supposedly to combat terrorism, but who knows… Guess I’m always going to have to be on my best behavior. 

As for things that I have done so far, there really is not so much to tell. I’ve been banned from going anywhere by myself, so I am at the mercy of my coworkers, if and when they decide to entertain me. Sigggghhh, woe’s me. (Being a little overdramatic here). 

But I did get to visit Millennium Park for an afternoon, which was really nice. It’s great to be in a city with a lot of open space, and some real vegetation. 

Strolling through Millennium Park

Pretty mountains(ish) in the distance.

Wonder what prompted this sign...
I also went to a coworker’s daughter’s baptism reception. A lot of my coworkers were there, and there was a really nice a capella choir. I took a video, but of course the internet will not upload it for me.

Other than that, just been hanging out, really. But this is a relatively short trip! I only have about three more weeks to go!

Entrance to the shopping mall!

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