I saw a phenomenal documentary film the other night called Darwin's Nightmare
. It's about life around Lake Victoria
in East Africa, particularly Tanzania, for the fishermen, prostitutes, homeless children, as well as Russian and Ukrainian pilots and Indian-African businessmen who all in some way make their living through Nile perch that live in the lake. Nile perch
are not indigenous to the lake, but were dumped in it forty years ago for reasons unknown. Rapacious predators that they are, Nile perch are gobbling up all the indigenous cichlids
, who help keep the lake alive, to the extent that the very survival of the lake is in question. For the meantime, however, the enormous fish are providing bumper harvests for the fishermen and the industries that exist alongside the lake to fillet the fish and export them to Europe, while the poor Tanzanians get to smoke the heads and the spines that remain.
This is where the planes come in. Every day, planes fly into the ramshackle airport at Mwanza
and load up the fish and fly out again. Piloted by the aforementioned Russians and Ukrainians, these planes (it turns out by the end of the film) come in bearing weapons for the nearby warring African countries and leave carrying the fish. Thus is perpetuated the now stereotypical relationship between rapacious Europe and poor, conflict-ridden Africa.
The great achievement of this film, capturing as it does the debilitating and deleterious local effects of the phenomenon of the "survival of the fittest" that is globalization, is that it spends a lot of time with the Africans themselves, allowing their individual characters and stories to emerge. This makes a change from the typical presentation of Africans as faceless, nameless, and passive. True, there doesn't seem a whole lot to be done about this situation, since Africans are also working in or guarding the fish factories, and the African fishermen too are happy with their hauls of these truly humungous fish, and the politicians are concerned that the positive as well as negative sides of life around the lake are explained to tourists and businessmen alike. This is the bizarre ecosystem that global commerce produces, where everyone lives in a strange exploitative-codependent state of misery (the pilots are miserable spending so much time away from home), while the ones making the truly outrageous sums (the arms dealers and European bankers) never have to concern themselves with the effects that their money-making schemes have on the people who receive their guns or give them their fish.
Nevertheless, despite its lack of answers, the film does present the issue of trade and labor in all its depressing complexity by putting people rather than ideology or political correctness first: and that is its triumph.