"Ya Nos Vamos Pareciendo a África": Ojalá Edition

Corn oil? Do you want the 1 l. bottle, or the 5 l. jug?

A little photo essay from the Shoprite supermarket on Entebbe Road in downtown Kampala, Uganda, this morning.

As a term of abuse, “africanización” is doubly noxious: at once luxuriating in its own casual racism and then, on top of that, just plain inaccurate. The facile lament that “vamos a terminar como Africa” serves only to signpost one’s ignorance and conceptual confusion, as though scarcity and macro-economic chaos were somehow things that result from poverty.

Either that, or it comes from lazily imagining Africa as one big undifferentiated stew of war and disaster.

In fact, most of Africa looks like Uganda: poor, certainly, but very far from mired in economic chaos. Inflation is 6.7% here – yes, per year, it’s pathetic that that even needs to be specified. The middle class is growing, as is the economy. Supermarkets like this one aren’t the norm, for sure, but they’re far from exceptional.

Even further down market, though, basic goods are easily available for sale to everyone all the time. The idea of spending 3 hours standing in line for anything strikes the Ugandans I’ve spoken to as utterly bizarre.

Poverty is one thing, macroeconomic chaos is quite another. Venezuelans have just lost sight of this distinction. It takes a nice stroll down a Kampala supermarket isle to remember…

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  1. “Maximum X per customer” is sometimes used not to limit purchases, but to make people think there’s a shortage, so they buy more. The number usually isn’t 2 though, more like 6-8 … and if you have more the cashier won’t pelt you with stones either.

  2. La inflación sin control o la delirante planificación soviética eran cosas de los libros hasta que llegó Mugabe y/o el gobierno venezolano. Gracias a internet, los interesados en la economía pueden ahora dejar esos libros a un lado y saber de un modo mucho más vívido lo que son ese tipo de cosas. Solo echo en falta en Venezuela una burbuja de los tulipanes o cualquier otra distorsión económica desquiciante para tener el conjunto completo. De momento me “conformo” con saber que nadan en petróleo pero no tienen aceite para carro (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM9xa7Z62FM&list=UUAjtgPVAV3rwlu0k5nm-Dcw), que si les visito como turista, ir al cine me saldrá tres o cuatro veces más caro que en España o que allí la gente hace cola sin saber lo que se vende (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVzw8OlTXPQ&list=UUAjtgPVAV3rwlu0k5nm-Dcw)

  3. The surreal aspect is that Uganda’s GDP per capita is US$ 589, while Venezuela’s GDP pc is US$ 11,527.

    Venezuela is being mismanaged to incalculable levels. In 100 years people would still be talking about the hell had happened after 1999 in what should have been one of the richest countries in the World, the UAE of Latin America.

    • Mismanaged is an understatement; these thugs are a case study of how bad things can be done and that it doesn’t matter if your are literally floating in a sea of money: you need to have capable people running the country, otherwise, you are in danger to become an almost failed state (with all the social, economic and political implications of that)

      I really hope these guys respond to the justice for all this. They have destroyed my country and in the process have destroyed millions of lives. Criminality, poverty, brain drain, corruption… All thanks for a bunch of wackos, truly representatives of the blind, ignorant, provincial but above all stupid and primitive Latin-American left. Even today, with all the mess we have in Venezuela, guys like Marea Socialista, Perez Marti and the Aporrea.org crew are advocating for a socialist/communist approach to resolve this crisis. This guys have lost the plot completely… the saddest part of this is that the “opposition” doesn’t think different to them, it is basically the same ideology but with less red. An absolute disgrace…

      • I totally agree with you. At some point this fanatical leftism starts resembling a cult not very different of that one Jim Jones leaded not very far from Venezuela.The followers are not 100% irrational, and at some point they do realise that things might be going the wrong way (i.e.: lack of food, their children’s and grandchildren’s future being compromised in a irreparable way, violence increasing), yet they keep moving forward toward the abyss like blind zombies. Why? Pride? Stupidity? Evilness? It’s hard to identify what would attract someone to its own ruin. it’s like a drug user that knows he will die if he keeps snorting cocaine, but he just can’t help himself.

        When a friend or acquaintance tells me that he or she supports a leftist party like PSUV, my typical reaction is to just ignore/discard his opinion and immediately mentally label the person as just “politically stupid” implying that he or she doesn’t know what they are saying, that they are not “bad people”, but when it’s a relative of mine like my grandmother or uncle it’s different, I can’t control myself and my reaction is to tell them something like: “You will vote on that person because you hate your family and wants to see chaos ensue in your country.” And then the quarrel starts and ruins what should have been a peaceful and familiar Sunday morning. God, I want so much to see this Bolivarianism thing being erradicated from South America. It’s like a nightmare that does not end.

        • “Why? Pride? Stupidity? Evilness? It’s hard to identify what would attract someone to its own ruin. it’s like a drug user that knows he will die if he keeps snorting cocaine, but he just can’t help himself.”

          1. As polarization exploded, they so identified with Chavez, it was a part of their identity. It was their pride, it gave them meaning. Turning back on that, even as it’s impossible to ignore the disaster no matter where you turn (food shortages, rationing crime, crumbling infrastructure, no medicines, no ability to travel, no cars to buy, corruption,etc), may be more than they are capable of.

          2. For others, I think pride and hatred play the biggest part of it. They would rather live in utter sh*t with “their” government in charge than give the other guys a chance. I’ve heard a few variants of this phrase in drunken conversations. These people love that ‘their’ government is sticking it to the Empire, even though in reality their country is being sold part and parcel to foreign powers and they are a laughing stock around the world for things like no toilet paper, etc.

          3. Still others are just stupid and uneducated beyond belief.

          4. Add to that the constant propaganda and the opposition’s own missteps in the past, and it starts to make some sense.

          All in all though, I find it extremely hard to understand some of those who should know better.

  4. Within the last 12 months I have been in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Togo and Benin and can report that the supermarkets I went into in all of those places were well stocked and similar to the photos of Uganda. I even brought toilet paper home from Nigeria to hand out at Christmas last year to my wife’s chavista friends and enjoyed seeing the looks on their faces when I told them to read the packaging to check where it came from and they understood.

  5. And don’t forget the “captahuella” (the fingerprint device to Identify (?) the buyer at supermarkets), I live in the Venezuelan most western state I proudly announce that I inaugurate my fingers yesterday …only for purchase a bag of cat food for my son’s pet..

  6. I get the point. But are stores in Somalia, South Sudan and CAR, and certainly West Africa as nice? I can imagine that stores serving the rich may be, particularly in West Africa, but for prosperity to take hold you need peace, and that is not the case in the countries I have mentioned.

    What about Zimbabwe, which seems to be the forerunner to the Venezuelan experience?

    • Still Nicer Than a War Ravaged African Hellhole: Vote Maduro!

      Winning slogan…

      The point really is about easy availability. The big Western supermarkets are not the norm, of course, but you find it hard to walk any 100 meter stretch in Kampala without finding at least 2 or 3 little stalls – ranchos, basically – with a lady selling you basic staples.

      So you get a range of options: middle class people and foreigners can go to pricier, spotlessly clean supermarkets like the ones pictured and buy everything at one go, more budget-minded people can shop in more affordable places closer to home, but one thing’s for sure: NOBODY stands in line 3 hours for anything.

  7. This is classic–Fully stocked supermarkets with no waiting in 3rd World Uganda. Toilet paper imports to Vzla from Nigeria!! Next will be Venezuelans emigrating to Uganda for a better life.

    Uganda is an impoverished country with largely untapped reserves of both crude oil and natural gas. Sounds like Venezuela.

  8. “africanización”, “trabaja como negro” commonly used in Venezuela are phrases that appeal to stereotypes which may have the unfortunate racial and historical connotation that would certainly offend the sensitive soul of the politically correct. Stereotypes may be unfair generalizations but can convey an idea efficiently as may cultural references do. Venezuelans are not known as having exquisite developed politically correct souls.

    Also macro-economic caos produces misery. War produces misery. I think when using these terms Venezuelans are focused in the converging outcome, and perhaps with different level of awareness of what brought them there.

    • I’m really tired of people using the term political correctness as a way to deflect a lack of basic human decency, a belief that we are all equal and deserve to be judged individually. Internalizing those concepts should not mean that you have a “sensitive soul.” There are other examples in our language that show our implicit and explicit prejudices: “Es moreno pero muy [insert positive adjective],” referring to people as monkey or apes, and a host of other things I’ve heard from my own family and Venezuelan friends that I’d rather not repeat.

      • It’s strange that a cultural reference to “failed state” and “exploited serf” makes me a “racist…shithead” and “why Venezuela is all fucked”.

        Politically correctness is a lame attempt to control the language with the illusion of addressing deep seated problems. If no one uses those words, the believer thinks, the problem will be at least improved. However the end result is a neutering of speech by self censorship.

        Woe to he who calls certain tenants of progressive liberalism for he shall be heaped with scorn. 🙂 Politically correctness being one such tenant.

        I would refer you to http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/09/liberalisms-parochialism

        “What I find remarkable is that liberals aren’t even willing to entertain the possibility that I’m right. I’m a heretic—a menace to society—not someone who cares about people, worries about the common good, reads surveys, observes society, and has a capacity to reason and analyze.”

        BTW, I also think the Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Braves should keep their names, and those aggrieved should get over it.

        • I think you’re just trolling based on your baiting attempts (I’m a Republican! Yay Offending Native Americans!). The owner of the Atlanta Braves was found to have said: “that the crowd is ’70 percent black,’ ‘the cheerleaders are black,” and the “music is hip hop.’ He also added … ‘I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.’ Levenson speculated that the team’s ticket sales were lagging… due to the fact that “the black crowd scared away the whites.” This is in the majority Black city of Atlanta. The owner of the Washington team created a foundation to “help” Native Americans with the very name they’re upset about, hush money if you will. I’ll let you do your own research into social stigma, the power of words to change your thoughts, relationships and society. If you think words meant to offend people based on their social identities and not their actions are ok then you have some thinking to do.

        • “What I find remarkable is that liberals aren’t even willing to entertain the possibility that I’m right. I’m a heretic—a menace to society—not someone who cares about people, worries about the common good, reads surveys, observes society, and has a capacity to reason and analyze.”

          Um, right about what? All you did was downplay racists statements in your comment. Basically ‘yeah they’re unfortunate but everyone says them so its ok and also they’re efficient because we all know what they mean. Let’s not stop and think about how it isn’t just about the history of the words but how there are Black members of Venezuelan society that may be consciously and subconsciously hurt by these sayings while people of lighter skin tones are placed on an undeserved pedestal” – Did I miss something?

  9. The present state of affairs is so insane that even if Venezuela managed to enter NAFTA or the EU today, the scarcity issue would still not improve because although you would have fixed the supply issue, the “distribution” part of the problem can’t be fixed overnight, specially when it’s completely destroyed after so many expropriations, bankrupticies and brain drain. The few players still competing in the market would not be able to efficiently process the new shippings of goods throughout all the country, and the only thing that would change at a first moment would be the larger amount of goods rotting in the ports and Mercal depots. As someone once said here: Venezuela will need a Marshall Plan to restore normalcy. Probably involving the UN and the US.

  10. When you fall behind Africa economically you’re in real trouble! Jonestown was another disastrous attempt at Marxist utopia that many never knew or have forgotten. Jim Jones was importing everything like the Maduro government and claiming that the revolution produced all the bounty of nature. Venezuela is committing “revolutionary” economic suicide due to the blindness of imposed ideology. One wonders what the pseudo-communist imperialists of China will do the first time Venezuela defaults on its obligations. They will probably reach in and grab more.

  11. Venezuelan Worldview
    current version: 1990

    *check for updates*

    Update Available! Version 2014

    – African countries has less resources than you but get to manage them better.
    – The United States is no longer meddling in Latin American affairs.
    – The Chinese are not here anymore to just greet you at restaurants or sell groceries.
    – You got creative with the colors of your flag to resemble the Chinese flag.
    – Your long-standing neutrality towards Middle Eastern conflicts has been broken.
    – You are now a haven for worldwide anti-imperialist zealots.
    – The Colombian peso is worth more than your currency.
    – Brazilian exports are no longer soap operas only.
    – Argentina has partnered with you in fostering corruption.
    – A bunch of Colombians, Ecuadorians, Peruvians have returned to their homeland.
    – Petro-diplomacy is quite sucking your annual oil production.
    – Every Venezuelan embassy and consulate is a hub for state propaganda.
    – US-loving sifrinos have met their unlikely counterparts: russophiles.
    – Haitian refugees are steadily leaving your country.
    – Trinidad has stopped sailing to your eastern coast.
    – For the first time, you need a visa to enter the UK.
    – Europe ends up sticking to US policy towards you despite its own rhetoric.
    – You gave the International Air Transport Association its first record of default.
    Note: updates on Cuban affairs require additional downloading

    Download and Install? (Y/N)

  12. I don’t know about its use in Venezuela, but “africanizatIon” is a virtually unknown word in U.S.A. and Britain. The only use I can remember is of “africanized bees”. Is somebody bringing in a straw man so as to preen as “progressive” or “politically correct”? The straw man is unnecessary to the principal theme of the article, though I would have wanted to include a photo. of Zimbabwean stores after price controls to make the point that the similarities of outcomes of vicious and stupid policies are proof that bad regimes are not the monopoly of any racial group.

    • It’s a farily common expression in Venezuela, maybe in other parts of Latin America.

      “Turning like Africa” is based on the assumption that no geographic area is more backwards than Africa, and that if one’s own country continues going backards (development-wise, in political stability, corruption, economic growth) it will reach (the presumed dismal) African standards.

  13. Look, I think we fell way lower than we expected AND we keep going down, pero tenemos patria!

    I think that the best nonsolution to this problem is to serve myself a good old Cuba Libre and enjoy this sunny friday in PTY.


    • “I think we fell way lower than we expected…”

      I think that Venezuelans are going to be in for a shock when they discover what “el fundo” looks like. We are heading for a complete collapse of central authority and order: No national electrical grid. No municipal water service. No telecommunications. Barter economy. Roving gangs of armed looters terrorizing the population.

      We are staring into the abyss and most people cannot see it because it is outside of the realm of their imagination.

  14. “The idea of spending 3 hours standing in line for anything strikes the Ugandans I’ve spoken to as utterly bizarre.”

    I need a bottle of scotch…


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