Africa Special - Spear's Magazine

Africa Special

From funds to fun to philanthropy, Spear’s has Africa covered in our Africa Special

The problem, to put it baldly, is that for most people, Africa means starvation, Aids and coups. Not that this is at all fair, but it has long been the case. Now, with South Africa’s World Cup in the recent past, perceptions might be starting to change — the idea of Africa as a continent of vibrant cultures, young economies and developing democracies is taking hold.

Josh Spero examines the economic side of the equation. Smarter financiers already have their eyes on (and their money in) Africa funds, of which there has been a flurry lately, buying into telecommunications, banks, infrastructure, all sectors booming.

But far more people would be suspicious of any proposition involving Africa, perhaps with some perception of nationalisation or expropriation or spontaneous, ruinous civil war, whereas in fact they should be seizing it: think of the positive economic activity that a billion (mainly young) people can produce. Consider the trickle-down effect of the major building projects which are occurring up and down the land, and the middle class which is arising. No one denies that projects in Africa may be risky (though much less so than you might assume), but risk is not a problem — if you have the appetite for it.

Dr Patrick Meredith has the stomach — if not the appetite — for something most of us would not. He spends his year in Switzerland as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon dealing with, among others, the stable supply of Mitteleuropean ladies who need the tucks and trims high society demands. But for three weeks, as Penelope Bennett discovers, he travels to the Ivory Coast, where ten years ago he built a hospital with his own money, and operates on those with a particularly violent and disfiguring form of skin ulcer, at the same time teaching local doctors how to deal with it. We pair this with a dispatch from a young British doctor in Sierra Leone, reportage from a place which could use the philanthropy Dr Meredith embodies.

Just as Africa has largely been decoupled from the rest of the world financially, so has it been artistically: we have seen the rise of BRIC artists — indeed, Phillips de Pury gave over an entire sale to them this year — but African artists en masse have yet to make a similar mark. There are, however, a few who have a high international profile, and Anthony Haden-Guest interviews El Anatsui, the Ghanaian artist who was a hit at the Venice Biennale in 2008. El Anatsui, working in bottle-tops, combines the consumerist fizz of Pop Art and the atomisation of Pointillism to investigate his deep concern for African traditions and their erosion.

Luxury travel in Africa combines both the traditional and the radically modern, as Caroline Phillips finds. Hopping onto a Lady Lori helicopter, Caroline sweeps and swoops over Tanzania and Kenya, landing at thatched cottages and chandeliered lodges frequented by prime ministers and billionaires. Her journey is both an evocation of a world almost incomprehensible to us, where our ‘needs’ suddenly seem fatuous, and a reminder that the human capacity to appreciate natural beauty can be refreshed by venturing beyond our comfort zone.

It’s time we all took a new look at Africa, at the infinity of its possibilities. Spear’s hopes our Africa Special may be the start.

Cupronickel coin from Ghana, 1958, copyright the Trustees of the British Museum