Given that the longest I have stayed continuously in Africa was a 4 month stint in Senegal in 2002, this is a somewhat tough post to make. Nevertheless, I’d like to outline what I think are the advantages and disadvantages of living in Africa (focusing on the Ivory Coast), from the perspective of someone who has lived most of his/her life in Europe or North America:
High costs. If you want to have access to the same type of goods as in Europe, it’s possible but it gets expensive. With the exeption of stuff produced in the Ivory Coast, most things cost more here than in Europe. Consumer electronics for instance are so expensive that I’m bringing two laptops to the Ivory Coast that I’ve bought for ivorian friends (and the laptops could be sold at around 60% above what I paid)
Malaria. Every expat in Africa seem to have a malaria story. Living permanently in Africa it isnt feasible to take profylactics, so sooner or later one is likely to have a bout of malaria. What people seem to be doing is to always have anti-malarial drugs (which are cheap and accessible at every pharmacy in Abidjan) ready at home. Some say that a real danger is getting malaria while on a trip back to Europe, where doctors are less familiar with the disease and risk misdiagnosing it.
Slow internet connection. It’s a pain trying to watch youtube videos here.
Unreliable postal service. I didn’t think it was possible to order books from amazon to Abidjan, but apparently you can – you just don’t get them to your house but to a pick-up point. Anyway, with ebooks and kindle it’s not really an issue.
Traffic Jams. Abidjan is a 4 million city with a limited bus service as only public mass transport system. Even though there are much less cars than in a 4 million city in Europe, the traffic situation is pretty bad. And despite the Ouattara government’s progress in building and patching up paved roads, things are likely to get worse in the future as increased population and increased wealth means more cars. No road-building program can keep up, and Abidjan isn’t likely to afford a commuter train/subway/skytrain construction programme in the foreseeable future.
Death. Or well, increased risk of it. Looking at statistics of deaths by non-natural causes of US citizens in Africa, it seems that road accidents is by far the no. 1 cause, then we have crime at no. 2 and somewhat surprisingly drownings at no. 3. Not sure if its adventure tourists drowning or swimming pool accidents. For Ghana from 2002 to now the US State department reports 9 deaths by vehichle accidents, 2 homicides, 2 “drug-related” and 3 drownings.
According to Travmed.com “Motor vehicle accidents and drownings are the most important cause of deaths in travelers younger than age 55; there is an increased incidence of injury-related death and drownings in Africa (2.7x) and SE Asia (1.6x) compared to the U.S.”
The Weather. Growing up in Sweden one sometimes (typically when bicycling to university at -20C) wonders if our ancestors maybe would have been wise to reconsider their decision to settle in the sub-arctic parts of the world. Some say that the climate in West Africa is too hot and humid, and well I’m not one of them! I think it’s been shown that cold weather and darkness affects people’s mood negatively, and Abidjan’s +30C all year round feels pretty good (maybe Dakar has the perfect weather though).
Business opportunities. It’s a young and fast changing continent less set in its ways than the developed world, and opportunities abound. More on this in the The Macro case for the Ivory Coast and Bureaucracy posts.
Joie de Vivre. I find that there is something about the people in West Africa, that makes almost any activity involving human interaction enjoyable. Things that normally should be boring work/businessy affairs usually aren’t boring at all in West Africa.
Solidarity and the eradication of loneliness. People just care about each other on a whole different level than in the West. There are downsides to it, like the expectation that your belongings are to be shared, consequently making it difficult to save money, and lack of one’s own private space. As a foreigner it’s easy to kind of “cheat” by getting the upside (which is pretty darn great) and avoiding the downside by people accepting that you are a foreigner have your own strange rules, and by being able to afford your own place.
As for loneliness I have met many Ivorians in the diaspora who say that they truly didn’t know what loneliness was until they moved to the West. As Africa gets wealthier these things are likely to change, but hopefully and probably they’ll not completely disappear.
Support system. With low labour costs, the middle class can afford services (like maids) which they couldnt dream about in the West, making life less stressful. Also, Africa seems to be a great place to raise children. It’s a task everybody helps out with, thus creating a natural support system that seems to be superior to even the most child-friendly western welfare states.
Social gradient (one’s place on it) There is this British study of civil servants called the Whitehall Study that’s been going on for decades and shows that people’s hierarchical position affect their health. Nobody really knows why though. From wikipedia:
The first Whitehall Study compared mortality of people in the highly stratified environment of the British Civil Service. It showed that among British civil servants, mortality was higher among those in the lower grade when compared to the higher grade. The more senior one was in the employment hierarchy, the longer one might expect to live compared to people in lower employment grades.
The initial Whitehall study found lower grades, and thus status, were clearly associated with higher prevalence of significant risk factors. These risk factors include obesity, smoking, reduced leisure time, lower levels of physical activity, higher prevalence of underlying illness, higher blood pressure, and shorter height. Controlling for these risk factors accounted for no more than forty percent of differences between civil service grades in cardiovascular disease mortality. After controlling for these risk factors, the lowest grade still had a relative risk of for cardiovascular disease mortality compared to the highest grade.
Given how the Ivorian/African society is structured with a poor majority and a few super-rich, moving from a middle class life in the West (regardless of one’s ethnicity) to Africa means a jump upward on the social gradient. If the Whitehall Studies apply more generally outside the British public sector (which they seem to), this jump on the social gradient could have a lot of positive effects. I think health is just one side of it by the way, chosen because it’s easy to measure objectively. Getting to know interesting influential people or having a greater pool of high calibre potential life partners would be harder to measure for example.