I feel as though I have been observing a lot of “moments of silence” in the past few weeks. Certainly, more than what I ever had. I do not know if it is because people are not realizing that it is important to acknowledge what is happening in the world or the country they live in as it affects people or because more tragedies, at a large scale, are happening and we are finding out about them because of how information travels. Either way, I am glad we are recognizing what is happening around us.
I am in Douala this week and the nation is mourning the loss of over 60 people who perished in a train accident that occurred last week. What in fact happened is that the train, that shuttles between Yaounde and Douala, i.e. the two main cities of Cameroon, was overcrowded because the bridge/road that connected the two cities had for unknown reasons collapsed. Therefore the train was overcrowded and more wagons were added, which in turn caused a derailment killing over 60 people and injuring hundreds of passengers.
The interesting thing however is that the moments of silence observed are for events or loss of life in the countries themselves. I do not remember the last time, if any at all, where we observed a moment if silence in Ethiopia for events that occurred in other countries especially in other African countries. As I was contemplating on this matter while riding in a car in Douala, I saw an advertisement for a discounted ticket fare for travel between Douala and New York. Interestingly, the advertisement was for a flight offered by Ethiopian airlines. At that moment, it occurred to me that the immense work that this airline is doing in connecting the African continent.
In reality, we Africans do not know each other. It is futile to think that people who do not know each other well trade with each other. It also difficult to say that people who do not trade with each other or work together will be affected by what happens in each other’s countries. Our physical disconnect creates an emotional disconnect that is reflected in how we react to news of tragedies in different parts of the world. It explains why we are more saddened by the loss of certain lives more than others.
Connecting the people on the continent is a task that we should not take lightly. I often advocate for the free travel of Africans in Africa and the African Development Bank’s report rating how accessible African countries are to Africans is a very important tool that has made a lot of countries reconsider their visa requirements; and some have announced that they have dropped visa requirements for Africans.
But travel within our continent is very expensive. As big of a fan as I am of Ethiopian airlines, it is not cheap! What I find encouraging is the emergence of low cost airlines. In West Africa, Ethiopian Airlines has invested in ASKY, an airline that connects the West African countries. If we can’t get to see the entire continent, its better we start with at last getting to know our respective regions.
I hope that a few years from now, when tragedies happen in other African countries, Ethiopians will feel like it happened to them and vice versa. It looks like our continent is heading to that direction, but who knows what could happen.