Towards the end of last month, I found myself in Lagos, Nigeria, a guest of Google to cover the graduation ceremony for the Google Start-up Week.
This was my first trip to Nigeria and I felt a mix of excitement and slight apprehension; I suppose these are the feelings before one takes any trip. My apprehension was caused in large part by the SAA strike, which was resolved days before my departure, along with how I would be received in Nigeria considering months earlier xenophobic violence in Johannesburg had caused a lot of anger in that country.
Sitting next to me on the SAA flight to Lagos was a young Nigerian man whose plans for a holiday in Mauritius had just been dashed by security agents at the Air Mauritius check-in gate. According to my fellow passenger, the agents did not buy his story he wanted to enjoy the island’s beaches, and he was bumped off the flight to Port Louis.
Our flight to Lagos was uneventful apart from some turbulence as we crossed the equator. As I approached the megacity of 20 million souls well after the sun had set, my window seat could barely give a hint of what I could expect.
Murtala Muhammed International Airport is underwhelming and it’s quite evident that since the international terminal was opened 40 years ago there had been few, if any upgrades.
The road from the airport to my hotel 27kmm away was bumpy, made worse by some hair-raising driving. Along the way there were massive video billboards advertising everything from soap to mobile networks. On my second day in Lagos, I asked a colleague from Google to direct me to a market where I could hopefully pick up some trinkets for my family back in Cape Town.
I got into an Uber, and off we went to the Lekki Arts and Crafts Market. Having snaked through traffic, we ended up on a dirt road dotted with pools of stagnant water from the heavy downpour the previous evening. The surrounding buildings resembled an informal settlement, with young men standing on almost every corner.
I eventually got out of the Uber, and walked to the market, which unfortunately was still closed.
Seeing a group of older men, I struck up a conversation and at first I was mistaken for a Ghanaian until I confessed that was actually South African. One of the men warned me: “Don’t go around saying you’re a South African, there’s still a lot of anger here.”
What he meant was that barely a stone’s throw from the market the shopping mall hosting many South African franchises, including the Shoprite supermarket, had come under attack from young men in retaliation for the xenophobic violence in Johannesburg.
At the mall the contrasts between it and the market were evident.
While the market sold everything under the sun and was a bit chaotic, the mall resembled its South African model down to the products being sold at Shoprite.