Saturday, September 17, 2011

Employing a nation with useless security jobs.

Go to an airport in Africa, particularly Nigeria, and expect to have your passport checked at least five times. It’s not clear why. Sometimes there will just be a guard or airport employee standing in a hallway, inspecting passports, without it actually being a security checkpoint. Airline tickets are checked, double-checked, and triple-checked. Bags are searched at least twice by hand.

It’s particularly maddening that there is no “secure zone” as in the U.S. Each time you arrive at a new location, you must proceed through almost the same rigmarole of presenting your passport and having your bags searched and swiped for explosive power. Most searches are superficial at best, however – they have a lot of people to process – so I doubt they could find anything you were intent on sneaking something past them.

What bothers me about the whole scenario is seeing all the people standing around, doing nothing. Apart from mosquitoes and soul-crushing poverty, security/government officials seem to be the only other thing in abundance in Africa. I can see why those positions are so coveted; not only can you extort bribes, but also you get to stand around and do nothing. It’s entirely unnecessary and ineffectual.

Mali featured a new career path I had not yet seen: house security guards. Many places had them. Not like your average American security guard with proper training, cuffs, and the other tools of the trade. The only trait needed to qualify for a security guard in Mali is a pulse. And a chair. Now, I’m not commenting on whether they make a difference -- my guess is they do – but it’s intriguing to see how virally it has caught on in this city, but not others. (I’m also not knocking security guards; many of the ones I have met are quite nice.) It makes sense how people can afford it: manpower is extremely undervalued because of the surplus in supply. Still, it sets up an unfortunate scenario where people dream to become a security guard so they can sit around and do nothing. Not exactly a setup to drive economic activity and innovation.

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