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September 10, 2003

Ingenuity knows no boundaries

We perhaps aren't used to thinking of Africa as a place populated by creative businessmen. After all, stories like this one, about a custom coffin business in Ghana, don't exactly make the evening news. And it probably wouldn't have made the Africa section at MSNBC if it hadn't been about such a delightfully quirky topic:

These days, Accra's taxi drivers are buried in scaled-down cars and trucks, cattle herders in startlingly realistic cows, snail vendors in huge, antennaed escargots, Christian preachers in Bibles.

A pilot may be interred in a model of a Ghana Airways plane, its wings collapsible to fit in the grave. A soldier can choose a camouflaged howitzer, its barrel trained on the heavens. Shoe sellers go off in oversized white 1980s-era Nike sneakers.

We are used to seeing news from Africa of war and famine and disaster and disease. And the article takes care to point out that this is, of course, the sort of product that is available only to the very rich, and that even the rich are being driven away from such things as the price of wood rises from "relentless" logging, threatening the business.

What I see in it, though, is hope.

I see in that business the creativity and the spirit that can eventually lift Africa out of her troubles.

We see on the nightly news stories about this or that sort of aid being given to African nations, and sometimes I think we forget the way that the people in those nations can be partners in their own progress. The way is obstructed in many places by brutal dictators and old hatreds, true. But have you ever seen anything more wonderfully capitalist than selling coffins in the form of fish to those who can afford them?

Think about it.

Posted by at September 10, 2003 05:59 AM
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