Bourdain, the anchor of CNN’s “Explore Parts Unknown” travels to Lagos to meet the haves and have-nots of the deeply fragmented city that makes up Africa’s fourth-largest economy.
In what he calls a “Wild West free-for-all of enterprise,” he sees a free-market economy at its purest. In the neighborhood of Makoko, a shantytown partially situated on a lagoon, workers string together various hustles, literally to stay afloat.
Across town, on Victoria Island, are the city’s millionaires and billionaires—some of the richest people in Africa. The struggle is alive in Nigeria’s capital. Despite problems of infrastructure and government accountability, hope for a better country, continent, and world abounds.
On Nigeria’s freewheeling free market:
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“Buy, sell, trade, hustle, and claw. Make your own way, any way you can.”
“Lagos, Nigeria’s megacity: one of the most dynamic, unrestrained, and energetic expressions of free-market capitalism and do-it-yourself entrepreneurship on the planet.”
“They say you have to have three hustles.”
“Victoria Island, the garden of dreams. Where the winners work and play. There’s money in Nigeria—lots of it—mostly from oil, agriculture, and services like banking.”
“Lagos alone is the fourth-largest economy in Africa. Nine thousand millionaires and billionaires—many of Africa’s richest people—live here.”
“Public money is generated in Lagos, not so much by oil but by the free market: a Wild West free-for-all of private enterprise.”
“With a ridiculously overburdened infrastructure [and] a history of egregiously bent leadership, [Nigerians] long ago learned that ain’t nobody gonna help you in this world. Pick up a broom, a hammer, buy a taxi, a truck, build a bank, a billion-dollar company, and get to work.”
“Who really runs the streets? The de facto frontline of law and order are ‘area boys.’ An area boy’s crew levies street taxes on, well, everything, reporting to their regional boss, a king of boys. Taxis, buses—any target of opportunity pays.”
“This is a big, oil-rich country. Why doesn’t it look like Dubai?”
“Police, politicians, business leaders. Everybody gets their piece of the action. It’s a daily fact of life in Lagos.”
“This is a very IT-savvy country. Nigerian internet scammers are world renowned. It may not be a legitimate enterprise, but you’ve got some very smart, hard-working people.”
[To Femi Kuti, on the area boys’ hypothetical role in organizing elections in exchange for kickbacks]: “That’s not quite democracy, though, is it?”
“Where will Lagos be in 10 years? In 20? Change is inevitable. The problems, enormous. But the desire, the hope is there—to change not just Nigeria, but the world.”
“Why are Nigerians so optimistic?”
[On the Makoko squatter settlement]: “Self-made, self-run, self-policing, independent of everything. It exists because it has to.”
“They say that where there’s a will, there’s a way. And there is plenty of will in Nigeria. Find a niche, create a business, build a home, a school, a community, or look beyond to creating a new society.”