Is Europe really a safe enough place for my African friend to visit?

Look at our continent and you could see a place cursed by corruption, scarred by communal struggles and riddled with racism

Share

The other day I was chatting to an African friend when he asked a question that took me by surprise. “Is it safe to come to Europe,” he queried. “And if I do come, can I leave my hotel and wander the streets without danger?” Puzzled by his question, I asked him what on earth he meant – so he started talking about the problems ripping apart our continent.

The more he talked, the more I understood his fears. Look at our continent and you could see a place cursed by corruption, scarred by communal struggles and riddled with racism. It might look a terrifying place from the headlines with gut-wrenching poverty, feuding drug gangs and growing hostility to visitors, alongside shattering youth unemployment and broken political systems.

Take corruption. The European Union admits its extent is “breathtaking”, costing £99bn annually according to a new report. It found bribery common in many countries; in Greece, where it was a key cause of the economic meltdown, almost everyone said it was rife. Even in our comparatively clean country, nearly two-thirds of Britons said “connections” helped people get the best out of public services.

The EU fails to devote much effort to tackling this corrosive problem. But last month Romania’s former prime minister was jailed for taking bribes, while in France the last president must testify over alleged kickbacks from arms sales and in Spain even the royal family is linked to a corruption scandal. Britain boasts of being the home of parliamentary democracy, yet scores of MPs fiddled expenses with several ending up behind bars.

Meanwhile, use of food banks is spreading for starving families while the rich get richer. Perhaps this is unsurprising when Europe seems so lax about tax-dodging, whether it is secretive states such as Switzerland that help the super-rich hide their assets or countries such as Britain that allow blatant tax havens to exist under their rule. These are the places where so much stolen money is stashed – much of it guided by smooth City operators.

Then there are the communal tensions, the tribalism, the religious bigotry. This is, after all, the continent that saw the world’s most systematic genocide, while people are still being imprisoned for atrocities that erupted during the more recent conflict in the Balkans. Nine members of a Serbian paramilitary gang who killed 120 Albanian civilians have just been jailed. Sectarian Irish paramilitary groups remain active, with bombs sent last week to British army career offices, while some Scots try to break free from the regime in London.

Far-right groups are on the rise across the continent, founded on hostility to foreigners and fostering a climate of race hate. In Eastern Europe, their leaders target the Roma “who shouldn’t be allowed to exist”, in the words of one. In the West, they spew out bile against migrants and Muslims. Even in Britain there has been a surge in Islamaphobic hate crime, while black people are picked on for police street searches and there are an average of five racist killings a year.

I was beginning to understand my friend’s concerns. Then he mentioned aid groups trying to help the hungry and homeless in Greece, where deadly infectious diseases are on the rise. The black Italian MP called an “orang-utan” by a colleague in Italy. The anti-gay laws in Russia. The crucifixion of a Ukrainian protester, the beheading of a British soldier, the children who can be euthanised in Belgium, the teenagers taking horse drugs for kicks, the towns devastated by dead-eyed gambling and drink-fuelled violence. Even disabled people are not safe, abused in homes and slaughtered on the streets for being different.

So many problems, some deep and profound. Yet Europe remains a largely peaceful place that is safe to visit. It was not an African who asked those questions, however – it was a British friend travelling to Africa, so often seen as one lethal cesspit of a continent. These are questions I hear often, for Africa’s image in the West has been trashed by an unholy trinity of aid groups, the media and politicians spewing stale clichés and self-serving narratives.

Like our own and other continents, Africa is home to conflict, corruption and communal tensions while scarred by poverty and poor governance. But we need to ditch destructive old stereotypes and wake up to the reality of a vast place – bigger than China, India, the United States and much of Europe combined – that is home to 55 very different countries, with diverse communities, rapid growth and rampant change.

I have travelled with many musicians making their first trip to Africa; within minutes of landing they say how different it is to perceptions. Just as it would be daft to tell an African not to come to Europe, so it is no less absurd for Westerners to worry about travelling to Africa whether for business or pleasure.

We need to forget the fear factor –  and fast.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent Uncapped Commission Structure: ...

Sales Executive, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Charter Selection: This exciting entertainment comp...

Retail Business Analyst

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Ecommerce/Retail/E...

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz