Home > Uncategorized > Diamond Smuggling, Nigeria’s 419 Scam and South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Organized Crime Problem

Diamond Smuggling, Nigeria’s 419 Scam and South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Organized Crime Problem


The next time you check your spam folder and see a stack of emails promising you the “kind grace assistance fee of USD 10000000000000″ if you assist a helpless African widow with the transfer of funds from her late husband’s Swiss bank account, I hope you’ll put the irresistible Nigerian earworm “I Go Chop Your Dollar” on your playlist and sing along, just for LOLZ.

The video below is a truly weird “remix” of the song — a mash-up of pro-financial-crime and anti-financial-crime propaganda. It centers on the 419 scam, aka the “advance fee” scam, a variation on the classic con The Spanish Prisoner. The culture of 419 scamming has had at least as big an impact on Nigerian culture as bank robbery did in the depths of the U.S. Great Depression. While the scam did not originate in Nigeria, it was popularized there in the era of the fax machine; with the internet, the scheme proliferated to a staggering degree within the country. Since Nigeria is so populous that 1 in 6 Africans is Nigerian, that’s a hell of a lot of people running 419 scams — which still net billions of dollars every year.


 

“I Go Chop Your Dollar” may be the most famous Nigerian song of all time outside Nigeria, but it’s still (mostly) only really famous within Nigeria and among international financial cops. (And a small batch of hipsters.) “I Go Chop Your Dollar” celebrates the 419 scam as an anti-Colonialist act of liberation. In the above video, it’s been subtitled and mashed up by some (apparenty also Nigerian) anti-419 propagandist with a strange vignette about a young 419 scammer getting arrested and handcuffed with a “Wha-happen!?!?” look on his face. The video’s description on YouTube promises the song “With lyrics and a happy ending,” although I can’t believe the handcuffed guy’s all that happy about it.

According to British journalist Misha Glenny’s 2008 book on international organized crime, McMafia, until recently not a single Nigerian had been arrested within Nigeria for a 419 scam — though hundreds of them were in prison for it in other countries.

The money generated by the scams, combined with oil wealth distributed into the hands of the elite through a corrupt network of foreign investment in Nigeria’s kleptocratic infrastructure, suffused the country with bribes doled out by organized crime groups both small and large. For some years there was little chance that any amount of international pressure could make the Nigerian government arrest Nigerian 419 scammers, because it was much more profitable to take bribes to claim they couldn’t find them.

Since that time, according to Glenny, things have changed substantially, owing to Western pressure. However, the prodigious output of Nigeria’s petroleum industry and the willingness of oil-hungry China and India to invest in African development means that the U.S., also perpetually oil-desperate, only has so much leverage over Nigerian politics and crime. Basically, if the cost of courting U.S. companies for oil development gets too high, the Nigerian oil industry can tell the Americans to go fuck themselves, a fact that I’m sure does not elude the Nigerians who chortle over the power of the 419 scam.

The song is by Nkem Owoh, a television-film actor and winner of the African Movie Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Owoh is a member of the Igbo ethnic group, this grouping of primarily Christian peoples being one of the three major ethnicities among the Nigerian people — the other two being the northern-based, 95% Muslim Hausa, whose power lies in the business community, and the Yoruba, who dominate the military and are about 50% Muslim, 40% Christian, and 10% animist. Others, like the (also Muslim) Fulani, are still a substantial part of the population, but the big three tend to dominate Nigerian politics. Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, the most widely-read book within modern African literature, is Igbo. Interestingly, one of the cast members of the 1987 Nigerian TV adaptation of Achebe’s famous novel was none other than Nkem Owoh, who sings “I Go Chop Your Dollar.” Another person of Nigerian Igbo descent is the British actor Chiwetel Elijofor, who appeared in Serenity and Children of Men; he played a Nigerian immigrant physician in Dirty Pretty Things, which addresses both Nigerian political corruption and some migration issues that Glenny’s McMafia also covers, but within the context of a truly disturbing noir plot. Another brilliant and too-little-lauded British actor, London-born Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko on “LOST” and Simon Adebisi in the HBO series “Oz”) is of Nigerian Yoruba descent.

I call the Igbo a “super-group” because there are over 200 ethnic groups within Nigeria, and Nigeria is so populous and the Igbo language group so varied in dialects and cultures that suggesting the Igbo are a single group is a little nuts. The group is highly pluralistic in culture, but they mostly tend to be Christian (about 98%). Weirdly, though, there’s also a group of about 40,000 Igbo Jews who claim descent from ancient Israelite migrants.

Anyway, insofar as they can be considered a single group, you could fairly say the Igbo either invented or popularized the 419 scam, with the other ethnic groups in the country following suit — until, basically, the scam is irrevocably considered part of the Nigerian national culture.

But the roots of 419 go far deeper than just sleazy Nigerians tryna scam gullible and greedy Cleveland widows out of their life savings. It has its roots in one of the most tragic and horrifying series of events in the late 1960s — the Biafran war. The predominantly Igbo Southeast seceded and declared itself the independent nation of Biafra. This was done partially because the the country’s vast oil wealth was situated in the region — and the region’s Igbo elite, with the potential for rapid development and a great improvement in quality of life, did not want to be burdened with the rest of the country, which had fewer resources (and, let’s face it, a whole damned lot of poor people.)

Unfortunately, the other two main ethnic groups (or linguistic and cultural groupings, if you prefer) in Nigeria were not keen on this idea.

Since the Yoruba predominated in the military and the Hausa the Nigerian financial community, it was a relatively small matter to bring the full power of Nigeria’s military to bear on Biafra, while the world community sat there scratching its ass. From 1967-1970, about one million Biafran civilians were killed by the war and its resulting famine, even though the Biafran military never numbered more than 30,000.

The grotesque and heartbreaking images of Biafran famine obviously had an impact on a budding International Relations nerd in Boulder, Colorado named Eric Reed Boucher, who was about ten when the images of war hit the American papers. He would later prove morbidly inspired enough by those images bo take as his nom de punk (…wait for it…) Jello Biafra.

JELLOL

Photo by Libertinus Yomango, JELLOL by the author. LOL!

According to Glenny, following the Biafran war, the Igbo region was cut out of the nation’s oil wealth by the victorious Hausa and Yoruba power structure. That encouraged the development in Igbo communities of widespread crime schemes like (among others) the 419 scam.

But where “I Go Chop Your Dollar” celebrates 419 as a “fuck you” to the west, it’s not a matter of independent Nigerians “getting theirs.” The widespread scam requires the participation of corrupt officials, and that takes the kind of weight carried by organized crime syndicates. In fact, the 419 scam’s success brought so much power into the world of Nigerian organized crime that its presence spilled over dramatically into South Africa, a place on the whole other side of the continent.

Nigeria was on one South Africa’s ANC’s main supporters, and one of the most reliable nations in opposing the Apartheid regime. By the time Apartheid finally crumbled, South Africa’s law enforcement and military infrastructure was packed with individual white commanders whose history clearly included an array of brutal actions against black communities and black individuals.

It’s said that Nelson Mandela offered a host of early-pension options to many such upper-level officers in both the law enforcement and military community, to get them the fuck out of the way and start the process of national reconciliation, for which he was lauded worldwide. The problem? White rank-and-file cops and soldiers were not offered the same deal, and they felt screwed. Indoctrinated into a racist system to begin with, they formed — anybody? Bueller? That’s right! Private Security Companies! There had long been a history of private military and security groups in South Africa, owing to the nation’s out-of-control crime rate (which stemmed from extreme poverty in black communities and some white ones). The new private security companies were hired by affluent white communities and white-owned corporations, including many foreign corporations, as Mandela was aggressively inviting foreign investment at the time). With police forces more or less demolished, urban black communities in South Africa were left to fend for themselves, and criminal gangs ran amok.

The crime was (and is) mostly black-on-black, but this was also the time during which the hysteria about carjacking among South Africa’s whites led to the nationwide marketing of side-firing flamethrowers for your Mercedes, Beamer or SUV (LOL!!!) I mean…try to tell me this is not some seriously crazy South African shit:

 



When it comes right down to it, there was some justification for South Africa’s Beamer-driving whites to be scared, because carjacking (run by independent “contractors” who then sold the vehicles to organied crime groups for something like $300 apiece) had indeed become a growth industry. It was sold in the media as a race-based crime, but it wasn’t, exactly. It’s just that organized crime groups would order up specific makes and models of cars, and the most desirable cars in South Africa just happened (happened!) to be driven by whites. See? Nothing to do with race at all. LOL!!

During this time, South Africa’s borders opened wide after decades of very tight border controls, which meant that for the most part only indigenous drugs that could be produced inside the country (like the local brand of bush-grown marijuana) were common. Since Nigeria had been an important political ally in ending Apartheid, a large number of Nigerian immigrants were allowed to settle in South Africa, and they were initially embraced by the South Africans. Yeah…that didn’t last. With 419 wealth, Nigerian organized crime was able to finance its entry into the global drug market, using the business-friendly South Africa as a transshipment point for cocaine going East and heroin going West.

Nowadays, there is a widespread perception within South Africa that most Nigerians are criminals and most criminals in South Africa are Nigerian, a fact that’s on agonizingly obvious display, with just as obvious (to me) racism, in the grotesquely pleased-with-itself ostensibly anti-racist post-Apartheid South African science fiction film District 9. In that film, the white hero guffaws about commiting mass abortion on the eggs of the alien stand-in for South Africa’s blacks, but by the end of the film has had enough of a spiritual transformation to completely screw over his new BFF, alien Christopher Johnson, then think better of it and decide to be a pseudo-hero after he doesn’t have a fucking choice. What better metaphor could be found for many of South Africa’s whites, who — much like racist Americans who don’t think they’re racist — shroud their racism with a (sometimes justifiable) fear for their own safety.

The Nigerian gangs in District 9, as you may recall if you’ve seen the film, are portrayed as subscribing to morbid pseudo-cannibalistic practices based on some flavor of supposed Nigerian mysticism that seems right out of a Victorian penny dreadful or an Indiana Jones flick.

Since the majority of the Nigerian immigrants to South Africa have been Igbo, it’s reasonable to think this idea within the fictional context of the film probably stems from the idea that the Igbo still subscribe to barbaric animist beliefs. But in fact, it has far more to do with the stories coming out of the Second Congo War, in which (reportedly) abducted child soldiers were made to do things like kill and eat their parents in order to give them mystical strength. Similar stories came out of the Second Sudanese Civil War. But even in Congo and Sudan I’ve seen little indication that such practices, if they existed, derive from any indigenous mystical tradition as is implied of the Nigerians in District 9. While Nigerian gangs within South Africa are a terrifying and powerful force for chaos, their portrayal in District 9 seems to have as much to do with the real crime situation in South Africa as David Caruso’s Irish street gang “The Shamrocks” in the first season of Hill Street Blues has to do with The Westies.

During the period that Nigerian organized crime was helping establish South Africa’s post-Apartheid drug trade, all organized crime groups in South Africa were making inroads into the businesses of smuggling and laundering such conflict commodities as diamonds, tanzanite and colton (a rare compound essential in the manufacture of cell phones and personal computers). Most of the non-petrochemical minerals trafficked by organized crime groups originate in war zones. South Africa, is, of course, the place of origin of the international diamond giant De Beers, which was founded by none other than Victorian adventurer Cecil Rhodes. South Africa is also home to many major sources of (essentially legitimate, non-conflict) diamonds. With the rise in organized crime in South Africa, it became one of the critical players in smuggling and laundering these minerals from other production sites like Angola and Sierra Leone, which are banned from the international diamond trade because of the use of alluvial diamonds and forced labor to fund their civil wars. The vast majority of conflict diamonds are generated from alluvial sources, in which diamonds are more or less free-range in river beds or ground close to the surface. Rebel groups like Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola, or the arm-chopping Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, can’t afford to invest in digging into buried diamond pipes.

Neither could, for instance, the (…wait for it…) South Africans alleged to have assisted both government-afiliated and RUF smugglers in using forced labor to extract alluvial diamonds first from the Earth and then from the country. That was during the ten-year Sierra Leone Civil War, from 1991-2002. During that time, the RUF in particular instilled terror in their abducted forced laborers by chopping off their hands if they failed to make their diamond-gathering quota. After a while, they got in the habit of chopping limbs off just to do it; according to journalist Greg Campbell’s book Blood Diamonds, there were whole villages in Sierra Leone where the RUF blew in and chopped off everybody‘s arms, both of them, and sometimes their legs, too, leaving a nation littered with multiple amputees.

At this time, the RUF sometimes made its newly-abducted child soldiers them do the chopping, often to people they knew, sometimes including friends their own age who were not selected to fight for whatever reason. This bonded the desperate soldiers to their captors because the atrocities meant they could never just go back to their villages or their families, and so they had little incentive to escape. Similar techniques are often used in rebel groups in Africa drafting child soldiers. According to A Long Way Gone by former RUF child soldier Ismael Beah, the RUF also got its child soldiers hooked on amphetamine pills, and kept them as stoned as possible by feeding them marijuana-laced candies and making them smoke joints.

In that period, the official government of Sierra Leone — which actually controlled virtually none of the country outside the capital, and not all of that — hired South Africa’s Executive Outcomes, a private military company that had begun following the conclusion of the South African Border War. Utilizing both blacks and whites, some of whom originated not in South Africa but in Angola and Namibia, the company’s management had its roots in pre-Apartheid South Africa’s racially mixed 32 Batallion. In the (extremely loose) 2006 film adaptation of Campbell’s book, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a former employee of a company based loosely on Executive Outcomes.

The sad thing, according to Campbell, is that by most accounts Executive Outcomes actually brought a measure of calm back to Sierra Leone, after a period of violence as horrifying as any in Sudan, Congo, or Rwanda. Unfortunately, a white-run South African military company felt sort of, well, you know, kind of icky to the world diplomatic community. And believe me, the world diplomatic community should know all about things that feel icky. International pressure convinced Sierra Leone’s government to kick Executive Outcomes out of the country and bring in a UN peacekeeping force.

Just for the record, if you’re ever a third-world President and the world diplomatic community’s all, like, “Hey, fire the mercenaries and let us bring in UN peacekeepers…pretty please?” you should punch them right in the teeth.

As in the Rwandan Genocide and many other war zones, the UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone was about as useful as a professional long-term financial planning advisor at a crack-smoking convention. The “peacekeepers” spent most of their time alternately abusing and ignoring Sierra Leone’s citizens while figuring out how to turn their duty into as profitable an enterprise as possible. With Executive Outcomes gone, the fighting, slaughter, forced labor and child-soldier abduction began anew. LOL!!!

And you know what country provided the primary troops for the UN’s useless “peacekeeping” operation in Sierra Leone? I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t the United States; no, this was during the Clinton years, and let me tell you, if there was one thing Bill Clinton didn’t need, it was for those naughty amputees in Sierra Leone to go all Black Hawk Down on his cracker ass. I mean…he also had this Sudan shit to worry about, right? That Tony Blair prick was really fucking with him over that goddamn Sudanese genocide shit. He’s all, like, “WTF!??!?? I’m s’posed to stop another genocide? As if! Fuck this shit, I need a blowjob.” Clinton (somewhat reasonably, I’ll admit) saw nightmares in his future if he tried to Bubba it up on both sides of a politically disintegrating continent.

Lucky for Clinton and the rest of Team America, another nation volunteered to step in with some gun-toting bad-asses.

Which country? Anyone? Bueller? Bookmark that shit, let’s get back to it.

Anyway, during the period when Executive Outcomes was employed by the Sierra Leone government, it actually managed to stop the RUF’s advances. It returned a measure of power to the officially elected government, and regained control of the diamond fields. That last thing is probably the most important strategically, because diamonds smuggled into Charles Taylor’s Liberia were the chief way the RUF was funding its activities.

And did someone mention diamonds? Yeah, well, y’know, it’s a funny story…Executive Outcomes’ management worked for the Sierra Leone government — which was kinda cash-poor — at a remarkable bargain price.

Why? They did it in return for post-war mineral rights to Sierra Leone’s diamonds — which were impossible to legally sell, owing to their status as conflict diamonds. The Sierra Leone War had become a battle between two nongovernmental groups seeking control of diamonds that absolutely could not be legally marketed.

Then again…why would South African mercenaries want a holy fuckton of Sierra Leone diamonds — if they couldn’t sell them without violating the living shit out of international law?

The thing is, it’s impossible to determine the source of a diamond once it’s been sold, all diamonds sold to the international market must have their country of origin certified by that country’s officials.

Since the security situation made Sierra Leone’s border with Liberia utterly porous, and since Liberia sported one of the most corrupt governments in the world, well…I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Liberia, which always produced a very, very small number of diamonds compared to neighboring Sierra Leone, saw its diamond exports skyrocket to something like ten times their pre-war level during this period. Almost like magic!

But here’s the thing — Liberia’s Charles Taylor had enemies in high places. His fall from international grace came not long after the fall of Apartheid and the resultant ingress of Nigerian gangs into South Africa. Is there a connection? Nah, I’m sure there isn’t, and if there was, who would care? After all, what could diamonds possibly have to do with U.S. security or financial interests?

Thing is, in recent years, according to Glenny’s McMafia, there sure do seem to be a lot of diamonds moving through South Africa. South Africa, for the record, produces a hell of a lot of diamonds, as does neighboring Angola and to some extent Namibia. The Angola-South Africa border is another highly porous one. That was not true in the Apartheid era, when South Africa, as a nation, amounted to a police state. Though the black townships were still largely left to fend for themselves, the borders were rigidly controlled. Of course, with the officer corps of the military and police force having hightailed it into private security companies in the employ of white communities and private military companies like Executive Outcomes, who could stop a little thing like diamond smuggling?

Private companies like DeBeers, which universally employ private security, had and have strong motivation to visibly prevent the ingress of diamond smuggling and control the flow from their sources within South Africa, because if the world community keeps busting their balls over conflict diamonds, it eats up valuable executive time and requires their PR department to play catch-up — and do you have any fucking idea what those pricks bill at?

On the other hand, DeBeers has just as powerful motivation to deal in conflict diamonds under the table. In case you don’t know, DeBeers controls almost absolutely the global price of diamonds by obtaining all they can and hoarding them in places like Amsterdam. The more diamonds they don’t control, the less they can stabilize the price. DeBeers estimates that conflict diamonds are a tiny fraction of the world trade. Greg Campbell and others say they’re something like eight to twelve percent of the circulating global diamond supply. But ten-ish percent seems like more than enough to destabilize the entire diamond market. You do the math.

I see it as kinda like Facebook buying Instagram.

See…it’s not that they want it or need it.

They just don’t want Google to buy it.

And, oh, I guess I should get back to which nation, when the U.N. started busting balls and forcing Sierra Leone to fire Executive Outcomes and admit its completely ineffectual peacekeeping force, took the heat off the U.S. by stepping in with troops?

Anyone? Bueller?

Right! It was Nigeria. LOL!!

As to whether the Nigerian gangs that proliferated in post-Apartheid South Africa were helping smuggle Sierra Leone diamonds as well as South African and Angolan ones, and Afghan-grown heroin bound for Europe and South American cocaine…hell, I don’t know, and I doubt anyone else does, either.

I mean, we’ve all got bigger fish to fry, right? Within post-Apartheid South Africa, organized crime appears to still depend on keeping the races separate. And according to the Wall Street Journal’s former West Africa correspondent Douglas Farah in his 2004 book Blood From Stones, even the United States government was at best schizophrenic in its opinion as to whether it gave a damn that members of the largely Lebanese Shiite diamond-selling community in Liberia had been trading, in the months prior to September 11, 2001, with what local Africans called the “bad Lebanese” — or, to put it only a little more diplomatically, weird-twitchy persons of apparently Arab descent. These turned out to be members of Al Qaeda, including, it seems, direct representatives of Osama Bin Laden and other top members of affiliated terrorist groups. High-level members were anticipating poking the American tiger in the eye, and they thought it might, you know, freak out and start invading countries or something. (More on that in a moment.) Therefore, top Al Qaeda folks wanted to convert their money into assets that couldn’t be frozen by international law enforcement — and the primary on-site merchants in West Africa’s diamond trade were at the time almost entirely expats from Lebanon’s minority Shiite community.

And we all know that a diamond is the gift that keeps on giving.

Farah’s Blood From Stones describes the author’s absolutely bewildering experience with U.S. investigators both immediately before and after September 11, 2001. It was somewhat like getting a series of unannounced proctological exams. U.S. officials showed randomly-alternating disinterest and hostility for Farah’s findings, and even outed one of his informants at one point, almost getting him killed.

At times, American officials seemed impatient and confused about why the hell Farah would want to bug them with this shit about diamonds and “bad Lebanese.”

Diamonds? What could African diamond smuggling possibly have to do with American political interests? What could they have to do with the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen? What could diamonds have to do with the Taliban?

It’s a good damned question. What could they have to do with Nigerian pop music, Nelson Mandela, bad science fiction or ’80s punk rock?

This is some James Burke shit right here. Did anybody else just get chills?

Meanwhile, back in Nigeria, “I Go Chop Your Dollar” remains a classic. Depending on how your Nigerian English is, you may appreciate these lyrics. Mine’s pretty rusty, but I’ve attempted a translation below. The subtitles on the video appear to have gotten some of them slightly wrong. However, I know fuck-all of Nigerian English, which is a pidgin of colonial English and various ethnic languages — of which, again, there are something like 200 within Nigeria, most of them in the three main linguistic groups.

 

I Go Chop Your Dollar

I don suffer no be small

Upon say I get sense

Poverty no good at all, no

Na im make I join this business

419 no be thief, its just a game

Everybody dey play am

If anybody fall mugu, ha! my brother I go chop ‘em.

Chorus

National Airport na me get am

National Stadium na me build am

President na my sister brother

You be the mugu, I be the master

Oyinbo I go chop your dollar, I go take your money dissapear

Video Clip from: Osuofia – I Go Chop Your Dollar – A clip from the video. 419 is just a game, you are the loser I am the winner

The refinery na me get am,

The contract, na you I go give am

But you go pay me small money make I bring am

you be the mugu, I be the master… na me be the master ooo!!!!

When Oyinbo play wayo, them go say na new style

When country man do im own, them go de shout bring am, kill am, die!

Oyinbo people greedy, I say them greedy

I don see them tire thats why when them fall enter my trap o!

I dey show them fire

In other words (as best I can cobble together a translation, knowing, again, fuck-all of Nigerian English):

I don suffer no be small (I won’t suffer and be made to feel small)

Upon say I get sense (When I got smart I realized)

Poverty no good at all, no (Poverty sucks)

Na im make I join this business (I decided I’m going into business)

419 no be thief, its just a game (The 419 scam is not stealing, it’s a game)

Everybody dey play am (Everybody in Nigeria plays it)

If anybody fall mugu, ha! my brother I go chop ‘em. (If anybdoy’s stupid enough to fall for it, my friend, I’ll steal from them)

National Airport na me get am (The 419 scam built the National Airport)

National Stadium na me build am (The 419 scam built the National Stadium)

President na my sister brother (The President, my sister, my brother, they all do it)

You be the mugu, I be the master (If you’re enough of a dipshit, I’ll be your master)

Oyinbo I go chop your dollar, I go take your money dissapear (White man, I’ll steel your dollar…I’ll take your money and disappear)

419 is just a game, you are the loser I am the winner (419 is just a game, you are the loser, I am the winner, duh)

The refinery na me get am, (The 419 scam built the refineries)

The contract, na you I go give am (Now I, am the businessman, Westerner, not you)

But you go pay me small money make I bring am (But you try to exploit me, and I screw you)

You be the mugu, I be the master… na me be the master ooo!!!! (You’re the dumbshit, I’m the master! Yah, I’m the master, ooo!!!!!)

When Oyinbo play wayo, them go say na new style (When white people try to trick us, they’re going to learn)

When country man do im own, them go de shout bring am, kill am, die! (When a hick like me screws them, the white people get pissed off and shout “I’m gonna kill him!”)

Oyinbo people greedy, I say them greedy (White people are greedy, I’m telling you, they’re greedy)

I don see them tire thats why when them fall enter my trap o! (White people are never going to change, and that’s why when they walk into my trap)

I dey show them fire. (I give them what-for.)

Nigerian English is — for all its incomprehensibility to Americans — English. Clearly, a certain population in Nigeria is internet-savvy (hence the popularity of the 419 scam). Therefore, it’s relatively easy to find pages in Nigerian through Google, but it takes some work to understand it. It’s the grammar that always really throws me, but the terms in the song, generally, are common ones. They also fascinatingly illuminate Nigerian culture. “Oyinbo,” for instance, really just means “man,” but it’s a term for white man, not generally considered derogatory. Otherwise I would have translated it (with great relish) as the American term “honkey.”

Wayo is an interesting word in its usage here. In Nigerian English it means “trickery.” But it also means “footprint” in Swahili, and I have no idea if that’s it’s original etymology. Swahili is spoken in East Africa, not West Africa, but African Swahili proponents tried to make it a trans-African lingua franca in the ’60s and ’70s, and East-West migration in sub-Saharan Africa is pretty common.

How did the term “wayo” go from “footprint” to “trickery,” and from Swahili to Nigerian English? Or does it have another point of origin entirely? I haven’t the foggiest.

But then, words are the least of Africa’s commodities that have bewilderingly complex and untraceable provenance.

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