Africa Unlocked by International Man
Doug Casey’s Note: It was good to hear from my old friend Francois. He sent along this stream-of-consciousness piece touching on a few African countries. I promise it gives a lot more of the flavor of backward parts of the Dark Continent than reading some report put out by the IMF.
by Francois Houdain
For the first time in my life, I am asked the question, “Would you like to come with us to the jungle and see the gorillas?” The assistant minister isn’t joking. With a proud smile on his face, he leans back against his chair behind his desk, expecting my affirmative answer. I stare back at him for a concerned moment. I’m not really a dog person, nor am I a gorilla one. He adds, “It’s not really that dangerous.” Really now? I want to make a friend, and I don’t want to be impolite. I know that in Rwanda, they love their gorillas, so I begin quantum-calculating the danger percentage this proposition entails. With a disturbed 300-pound gorilla chasing me in the jungle, my life expectancy is zero minutes. “Yes,” I nod, “I’ve seen that in a Hollywood movie many years ago. Looked like fun.” Suddenly, the office door swings open, and a secretary appears. “The minister is now ready to see you,” she tells me. I leap up from my chair. I walk toward her and smile. She’s dark and lovely, clad in a tight yellow dress. She reciprocates with a professional smirk and does a graceful about-turn, offering her beautiful, partially bare back. After a second of motionless admiration, I march behind her straight out of the office, scot-free of the gorilla meet-up.
I’m flying to West Africa again to see a gold-mining area, and I’m glad because Rwanda was mostly just talk. First, I need to make sure I get out of Gabon. I have a seven-hour layover here before catching a connecting flight to the west of the continent. “What do you mean, you are keeping my passport?” I stare down at the airport official behind a large windowpane as he puts my passport aside. “We don’t want you to go anywhere,” he answers. I look all around myself for a beat — I’m in Libreville, inside its crackerbox airport — “Where can I go—I’m in Gabon!” Before I walk off, he tells me, “Go to the lounge upstairs—before your plane leaves, we’ll find you and give you your passport.” The windowpane looks bulletproof and definitely fist-proof. All I can do is glare at the man a long beat in disbelief as I suffer the unexpected indignity of being separated from an important personal belonging.
I make for the stairs. I enter a large lounge with benches and several white men sitting around. A couple are wearing cowboy hats. They look spent and dejected. White cowboys in Gabon, that doesn’t make any sense, I tell myself. The departure/arrival screen shows the very next flight is for Houston, non-stop from Libreville. I look back at the guys — and now, I get it. Oil men. Going home after months on foreign-owned oil rigs.
As it’s the fifth-largest oil nation in Africa, a good portion of Gabon’s oil goes to the United States. Once a French colony, now officially called the Gabonese Republic, its economy mostly relies on oil, gas, and timber. Notwithstanding the fact that only two presidents have been elected in more than fifty years, the country has been doing remarkably well with its 2019 GDP per person at 8,300 USD. The media is entirely owned by the government as well as its principal oil company, so I assume the Gabon deep state doesn’t have any worries.
West Africa has a familiar topography. It’s good to be back. I am sitting inside this seven-seater Toyota Landcruiser, right behind the driver, with four other guys. We have left the city and are heading north for the artisanal mining site, located halfway up to the border of Burkina Faso. I got picked up at the hotel at 4 am; it’s 6 am now, and everyone has fallen asleep except me and the driver. I check behind me. The bodyguard is deep asleep on the very back seat. The geologist, shotgun to the driver, is out. The mine owner is next to me, slouched and snoring. I don’t want the driver to doze off, too, and end up in a ditch. I inch forward towards his seat, almost breathing on his neck. I make him feel my wakeful presence. I stay there, in that position, for two hours until we finally reach our destination.