Do you have electricity in Africa?

Yes, there is electricity in Africa, but it is very expensive; this is the case for a number of reasons. Firstly, most of these countries are still using hydro-electricity as their main source of supply. With the recent trend in global warming, the water level in most of the dams has fallen below expectations. This has led to shortages in electrical power, to the point that some countries now have to ration electricity. Another reason for the very high cost of electricity is the fact that most of the power supplying corporations have been privatized, and so are managed by Westerners who pay themselves exorbitant salaries simply because they are Westerners. Their African colleagues, some with better qualifications, are still underpaid comparatively speaking. Such high salaries, coupled with the fact that these Westerners are out to get as much out of the host countries as possible, lead to frighteningly high prices for utilities. For any flimsy reason, which would be managed otherwise in Europe, these Westerners, who themselves receive utility services for next to nothing, the French, as was the case in Cameroon for a long time, can hike utility prices and transfer the costs onto the natives without thinking about how it affects the population; the profits they ship back home. There is electricity in Africa, but it is frighteningly expensive.

Do you use electricity in Africa?

Electricity is a basic utility in Africa as it is in virtually every household around the world, but one thing is obvious about utilities in Africa—they cost too much for the average person to afford. One cannot help wondering how it is that electricity is so cheap in other parts of the world to the point that even toothbrushes run on the mains, while in Africa most families can barely afford to light their homes at night. Even though most of Africa is still depending on hydroelectricity for power, a wonderful source, by the way, with hardly any harmful by-products, this is a utility that is incredibly expensive. The result is that in some African countries now, like Cameroon, electric power is rationed according to cities or neighborhoods, but the cadres in these power corporations have their homes lighted twenty-four hours a day for free, or next to nothing, compared to how much the ordinary person has to pay. The irony is that they do not seem to care that the rest of the people do not have this facility, as this is one more way of showing that they are "special human beings" on whom power and success are smiling—the "Ogre" or "big man" mentality in most African societies.

Do you bathe and drink from the same source?

Water is quite a problem in some parts of Africa where droughts are common, and yes some people do bathe and drink from the same source. But when that source is an open stream, people fetching drinking water know that they need to go further upstream to spots removed from where other human activities like laundry or swimming take place. Anybody bathing in a stream is seizing the opportunity to kill two birds with a single stone, since most people without the facilities would rather fetch water and use it for bathing at home. This is same for answering to other calls of nature; every compound has a toilet set aside for these things, even if they are outdoor facilities.

Men and Women

Are African men and women circumcised?

Generally speaking, rites, such as circumcision which marks the transition from adolescence into adulthood, are very common African practices and are of great importance. It is indeed rare to find uncircumcised African men. In the past, when rites of passage ushered boys into manhood, it was not uncommon to see boys as old as seven to about nine who were yet to be circumcised; other kids usually made fun of them.

The situation is different with women, as only some cultures encourage female circumcision. This notwithstanding, it is a practice that has gone on for hundreds of years and is still being practiced in some parts of Africa and the Arab world. Depending on one's roots, the motive behind the practice is presented differently. As Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf confirms, "Even within the same geographic locality, the nature of the practice, its justification, and the age at which it is performed differ vastly by ethnicity and class" (1). To some it is just tradition, a cultural, and arguably, a religious requirement, but opponents point out its life-threatening potentials, before highlighting it as a form of oppression of women, as it supposedly deprives them of the pleasures of sexual intercourse. Accordingly, female circumcision is a custom that has come under attack from adversaries who have called it all sorts of names before settling on "Female genital mutilation" (FGM), which, hopefully, echoes the monstrosity of this practice which, to these opponents, the word "circumcision" must have euphemized, mindful of this being a practice from Africa that, according to Western attitude and practice, is supposed to be presented as barbaric. This notwithstanding, where and when female circumcision was practiced, it was considered dignifying and it had a lot more cultural significance beyond just the pain inflicted and the sexual gratification detractors argue it tampered with.

Fadwa El Guindi's observation that in Europe and the United States female circumcision was practiced for medical and punitive reasons during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is indeed enlightening mindful of Westerner's (female) disposition towards the practice today (29). But then consider again, another revelation by El Guindi:

An Egyptian woman with whom I was having a conversation about female circumcision asked me pointedly: 'had this [referring to the female genitalia] been your face, would you leave it as is? This question was startling; I had not previously connected a woman's genitalia with her face. Her remark implies an analogy that raises a host of questions about the cultural meanings of female circumcision. It suggests that female circumcision is a cosmetic procedure for beautification, with the implication that it enhances female sexuality. The significance of the comment lies in the notion that the appearance of two distinct parts of the female body—in one cultural setting, a woman's genitals, and in another, her face— can be subject to surgical alteration for the same purpose: beauty enhancement and sexual appeal. This notion alone flies in the face of the wisely held Western assumption, which is made especially by activist feminists, that female circumcision is performed to reduce female sexuality. (27)

In the light of this argument and Westerner's attitude towards female circumcision, it seems one can conveniently talk of "breast hacking and implantation," "butt mutilation and facial lacerations" etc. How words can change everything. In keeping with how cultural practices carry different values to different people, especially those within and those without the culture, Neal Sobania reports that in Kenya, for example, the government's effort to eliminate female circumcision, thanks to Western demonization of the practice, is floundering:

The government has tried a number of responses including arresting the parents of girls who undergo the rite. The impact, however, has not been particularly effective yet because the passing of laws that change cultural practices must go hand in hand with a change from within the communities and from the people themselves. Such change, however, is typically slow. In part, this is because the peer pressure on girls is enormous, especially in rural areas. Those not initiated 'properly' find themselves shunned, taunted, and verbally abused. Some girls whose parents stopped them from participating are so afraid of being ostracized that they have gone so far as to threaten suicide. (151)

So, whereas male circumcision is almost the norm in Africa, female circumcision is kind of sporadic depending on where cultures which practice it are found. It must be remembered that in Africa, most practices have an elaborate historical context and are culture-bound instead of being just mere fads. Accordingly, when these practices are stripped of their historical and cultural values when being criticized and in some cases demonized, the whole exercise becomes misguided. "Female Genital Mutilation," for example, is determined to be thus by detractors, but as El Guindi found out, it is beyond the male gender; for some women and cultures, it is spiritually fulfilling and a thing of beauty even, just like breast implantation, liposuctioning, some plastic surgery on faces and peoples' back sides. The bottom line, after all is said and done, is that like anything else, there are people for and people against female circumcision, and not all African cultures oblige women to be circumcised.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >