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Posted: March 26th, 2008, by Stan Tontas

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency on TV the other night was so charming that it would be churlish to criticise it. But as a non-servile peasant, when I see the words “Written by Richard Curtis” I get angry so as to avoid diabetic coma.

I freely admit I know nothing about Botswana. Maybe it really is a sunny, idyllic place where problems can be solved with goodwill and 2 typewriters. However that’s not where No.1 is set. This looks more like Comicreliefland to me.

Comicreliefland is where Africa’s problems are related to us by wealthy Londoners. It’s populated by wide-eyed, tragically cute children. Without shoes. A land whose poverty is unrelated to Western exploitation. Not a result of the deliberate policy of “our” governments, but a fact of nature, cruel fate to be borne in stoic silence until a rich man gives you charity, for which you thank him respectfully in over-annunciated English (so charming!). Most insidiously, all the continent’s problems are waiting to be solved by honest businessmen, if only they weren’t hamstrung by corrupt African politicians.

Let’s look at the problems here and how they’re solved. We have an insurance scam perpetrated on a businessman so saintly he offers to pay the money to charity and the same charity as that favoured by the fraudster. Moral: don’t try and improve your lot, your boss is your friend, he has your best interest at heart.

There’s sinister human sacrifice hinted at. Moral: muti and by extension other traditional ways are dark, sinister and evil. Only corrupt politicians and backward peasants practice it.

There’s a powerful and corrupt political figure. But where does he get the money for his Merc from? The muti? Not from any Western agency or corporation (nowhere to be seen). Moral: Corruption is a property of Africans, not a result of Western economics.

The problem’s not that No.1 isn’t a reflection of Africa’s real problems. It’s escapism, that’s not what it’s there for. But it would be nice to see Africa through the eyes of Africans just once. Make a change from Edinburgh doctors or Notting Hill writers

Stan Tontas

Stan lives in Glasgow.

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