Life in Sub-Saharan Africa – Interview Simon


MADRID -Last Sunday Simon Vanden Broeke was interviewed to explain how it was to live in Sub-Saharan countries. As he lived there for 10 years and worked with the government of African countries, he is the right person to tell us more about this Sub-Saharan region.

Simon works for the European Commission and was in charge for everything related to government management and economy. First he lived in Niger, than in Rwanda, Mozambique and Nigeria and in the end in Djibouti. It was Simon task to analyse the economic stability, the management of the government financials, the transparency of the government financials and in some cases the progress of the national plan of this countries. If they could prove to Simon and his team that they made progress, the European Commission gave financial support direct to the government. Simon said that as these are developing countries you cannot expect that they evolved from nothing to everything. Even if these African countries improve their system just a little bit is this enough to give them financial help.

Simon is still working for the European commission, but now from Belgium.This is why he is able to compare how it is to work in Europe and in Sub-Saharan countries. In Africa he worked for an European delegation. They were only 30 employees. A mixture of expats and local staff. It is really expensive to send people to these countries, that’s why they had a lot of work to do for just a few people.  Simon declared that rhythm of the job was way heavier than in Belgium. After work you have many receptions with the government, what makes that your personally life is consumed by your work.

At the other hand in African countries is it normal to have personal in your house. This means that you don’t have to do anything at home. What is a good compensation with the heavy job. You have someone for the garden, cleaning, kids, cooking,… Simon’s opinion about this subject was very clear : “In the beginning it is strange to have personal in your house, but after a while you get used to it. This is a win-win situation. The personal is happy, because they earn some money and I am happy, because I don’t have to worry about anything in my household”.

The kind of house you live in, depends on the safety of the country. In Nigeria and Djibouti he lived in a compound. This is a gated community where a lot of expats and people with money live. It is nice to live in a compound, because it safe. But at the other hand Simon mentioned two disadvantages : “ You feel a bit as upper class and very often your neighbours are your colleagues. This means that you lose a big part of your privacy”. In the other countries he lived in the street. He mentioned that his preference definitely goes to living in the street, as a normal person.

In general a big part of the population think that Sub-Saharan countries are quite  dangerous. Simon explained that this is not totally true. Of course it depends where and on what time you go, but he lived there during 10 years and he only faced crime once. This was in Mozambique, the country is located at the border with South-Africa and there is more crime. His wife, Haoua, went to the supermarket with their 5-day-old car. When she came out  the shop, she couldn’t find her car. Unfortunately it was stolen. Laughingly he declared that the police founded his car back after two years, at the border with South-Africa.

Simon is a guy from Belgium, what means that he has a withe skin. This didn’t make any problems to live in Africa. “ I have never been confronted with racism”, he said. The only problem is that African people think you have a lot of money when you are white. You get a lot of attention and you always doubt if people really like you or they just like you because you are white. Simon married Hoaou, who is from Niger. There were no problems to marry her. The only thing that he had to do, was converting to Muslim. But this was more as a tradition/show.

Simon in The new Dian Fossey, Rwanda

Simon in The new Dian Fossey, Rwanda

It was really hard for him to say which of the 5 countries he preferred. He could easily say that he didn’t like  Djibouti. It was way too warm there and it was not simple to work with the government.Than he realized that he liked three countries most, but for a different reason. Mozambique is an interesting and beautiful country to live. You have a bit of everything: beaches, a very lively capital city, many parks and South-Africa is nearby. He stressed that Rwanda was the nicest and most interesting place to live. Simon explained : “ The government of Rwanda is very motivated and agreeable to work with”. The people he liked the most were the inhabitants of West-Africa as Niger and Nigeria. In his opinion these people are the most open and charming , “ With this people you can make great parties” , he said.

To conclude he admitted that he missed the adventure of Africa. In Belgium everything is planned and calculated. In these Sub-Saharan countries things that you don’t expect could happen, you see things you never saw before,…  He definitely wants to go back when his children are older.

Writer : Olivia Becu

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