Paying a high price for falling in love with Africa
For first worlders looking for cheap exile spots, there are many better and safer places than Africa
Kuki Gallmann is an exotic thin-wristed Italian aristocrat, bangled and spun in beautiful jewellery. She is the type of woman who travels the world with an ice crusher, a Persian rug and a volume of Rimbaud’s poems.
She arrived in Kenya with her new husband in 1972 after a tragedy, looking perhaps for solace and adventure. They bought a 40,00ha cattle ranch (now part of a conservancy project) in Laikipia, edging the Great Rift Valley and overlooking vast open plains and Lake Baringo.
It is a paradise bursting with equatorial palms and lushness; a land of beauty and safari lodges and a bargain compared with the same acreage in Italy.
"I fell in love with Africa," she told me when I interviewed her in Cape Town years ago at the house of another expat aristocrat, Patricia Cavendish.
Gallman had written a book, I Dreamed of Africa, a memoir with teetering prose depicting wild animals, savage tribes and game lodges plus a touch of tragedy; a cross between Out of Africa and A Year in Provence.
Africa was crack for the soul but Gallman paid a price for her beautiful life. Her husband was killed in a car accident and her son died of a snake bite
It was one of many memoirs by Afrophiles relishing the continent, starting with Isak Dinesen, whose Out of Africa with its elegant prose and startling life captured longing and desire.
Africa was crack for the soul but Gallman paid a price for her beautiful life. Her husband was killed in a car accident and her son died of a snake bite.
The African bug had bitten deep and she turned more to conservancy. "I live like they do and I am bringing my daughter up as an African," she said.
Few Africans get to go to top private school, St Paul’s in London, to do their A levels or have a stint at an expensive Swiss boarding school before going up to Oxford.
But on April 24 Gallman was shot in the stomach by raiders. She has devastating stomach wounds and now lies in a Nairobi hospital.
Recently, friends and patrons of her conservancy work received a letter asking for financial help to keep her conservancy project going and promising to formulate more lasting plans when "Kenya’s elections are over".
She has many friends and her hard work in biodiversity over the years will bring her the money she needs.
But the letter flags another matter. Are the first worlders of Africa selfishly delusional in carrying on a life that only the very rich will one day be able to afford? Many fled Zimbabwe after losing homes and farms.
In SA, life has become particularly expensive as inflation bites and a small tax pool has to stretch to fund millions of unemployed people. SA has slipped to second on Bloomberg’s Misery List, a few points behind Venezuela.
The news is that all people with houses valued at more than R1m will have to pay a daily fee of R8.22 independent of how much electricity they use. Water, now in short supply in the Western Cape, is due to rise 20% and the 25l free allowance is being cut. There are no benefits for middle-class pensioners. Most people who come to SA to retire leave their money in England and as the rand yo-yos, they occasionally hit pay dirt.
There is no doubt that Africa has an enchanting quality that gives rise to delusion. The phrase "I fell in love with Africa" has become a mantra. Do people fall in love with Belgium? Yet, the scummiest parts of Africa attract lovers, mostly from the first world, with the same ardency as locked-up serial killers receive marriage proposals.
Perhaps it is in Cape Town — once the Don Juan of Africa — with its rising prices, no water and throat-slit night life, where the last hurrah will finally be heard from people with first world standards struggling to keep them up in a third world country. It is now common to hear of someone crowd-funding medical treatment.
If wealthy socialites like Gallman can’t make it, can anyone? Unless you are really able to live like "they" do (shack, state hospital and KFC) for first worlders looking for cheap exile spots, there are many better and safer places than Africa, although few warrant as meaty a memoir.