Nigeria, September 3, 2008
Nigerian castles made of sand, slip into the sea eventually.
Back when I was eyeball deep in OLPC controversy, I had lunch with a writer from MIT 's Technology Review. In the midst of our conversation he raised a fear about developing world cities. He said, "They're not sustainable" and was concerned they will collapse soon.
At the time, I wondered what he meant, as the cities I've seen seem way more vibrant than many of our own here in the USA. Then I went to Lagos, Nigeria.
This is a city that was once prime. You can see it in the buildings now left to rot. You can feel it in the way the people talk about the past. And now, with decades of neglect, you can see that its on decline.
Running along the shore, you pass the many State Houses that are now empty, except for squatters, as the politicians have moved on to Abuja. You'll also meet the beach boys, unemployed boys and men who just hang out looking for something. While harmless in the day if you keep moving, I did not feel comfortable with their instant requests for my things.
When I slowed my jog to watch them play soccer, they all stopped, came over to me, and asked for everything from my cell phone to my Dr. Spock book. You could tell by the look in their eyes that these initial requests were innocent - I represented exotic wealth they'd like to understand - but I did not feel the requests would stay casual for long.
Down at what once was the beach bar hangout for Lagos, I found sadness and poverty along the seashore. The desperation of the men and women was a little shocking. I've not see such a thin veneer of accommodation over such raw emotions of both anger with foreigners and hunger for their wealth.
Back off the beach and in the business areas, the constant growl of generators and the myriad cell phone and satellite antennas reminded me of the state's dwindling ability to provide the basics for its city. In fact, the generators are a loud auditory signal that Lagos is dying.
Maybe not in a dramatic collapse that the Technology Review writer feared, but a decline none the less. Yes, cargo ships still line the port, and flights still crowd the airport, but don't confuse movement with progress. There may be more people crowding into Lagos every day, but that doesn't mean the city is going anywhere but down.
Pity that these are the last days of Lagos.