|Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World by Carolyn Nordstrom (University of California Press, 2007), brings home the special agony of Africa. Early on, she introduces us to Okidi, a boy of about nine who sells cigarettes – Marlboros most often – one-up in the wartorn outback of Angola. Okidi shows Nordstom the convenience store that fronts him.|
“This is where I get my cigarettes.”
“Do you have to buy them?”
He shook his head no:
“The man gives me a packet, and when I have sold all of the cigarettes, I return to give him his share of the money, and get more.”
The store proffers a wide range of convenience goods. Even the owner’s Mercedes is for sale. The store faces an ad hoc open air market where an even wider variety of articles, including pharmaceuticals and art, can be had in a place where, paradoxically, no one has any money.
“I met Okidi, the young war orphan, when I was charting ‘robber barons’: those who trade for immense profits, most visible in international exchanges of resources (gold, diamonds, timber, humans, etc.) for arms. Military supplies are so expensive the few countries’ tax bases can provide sufficient funds to purchase them. National currencies in war zones are generally shunned by financial markets: they tend to be weak and unpredictable monies that few urban industrial centers can accept. Natural resources become the ‘hard currencies’ of choice to raise the capital to run wars and countries. Given the pressures of international laws, sanctions, and national industry regulations, much of this commerce crosses the line of the law in the journey from source to profit.”
“The illegal is also sustained by a human desire for beauty. In these places, people congregate to seek or sell pitifully small amounts of food or a handful of live-saving medicines, often carried over-mined fields and under gunfire. Amidst these critical necessities, there often something of beauty for sale, a delicate piece of cloth, a pair of counterfeit Nike shoes, or the recording of a beloved musician, carried across the trenches of hell and outside the law, one, it would seem, to remind us of our spark of humanity.” (Nordstrom, 9)
The convenience store was momentarily unattended and Nordstrom waited to meet and interview the owner. Inside was an open bucket for cash as people bought small items on the honor system – again a paradox, seemingly of deep sociological consequence, but which Nordstrom observed and reported without further comment.