• Monday, May 27, 2024
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Board game for entrepreneurs?

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While in the middle of signing my Lagos book at La Scala back in March, I was kindly presented with a box of the recently launched Lagos version of the time-honoured board game Monopoly, which I played as a child back in the 1940s. I had the London edition, though it was originally launched in the USA at the height of the depression in 1935. It has now, we are told by the website of the originating company, sold 275 million boxes, and been reproduced in 27 countries, notably after it was opened up in 1998 with changes such as sponsored sites. Till then, although internationally marketed, players used either the US version, sited in Atlantic City, or the London one, with its familiar properties from Old Kent Road to Mayfair.

The first game, which resembled Monopoly, we are told, was devised by an American lady Elizabeth Magie, calling it ‘The Landlords Game’, with the highly moralistic and anti-capitalist motive of demonstrating “how rents enrich landlords and impoverish tenants”. Since its veritable launch in 1935 it has been seen and used as a game promoting the capitalist spirit, breeding generations of chance-taking entrepreneurs. It may appear surprising that a Lagos version has not been produced until now, even if played there for years. Perhaps we should take this new initiative as further evidence of the spread of globalisation, although some argue there is no need to encourage free enterprise among Nigerians.

Studying the Lagos board, one observes that the two most expensive sites are Banana Island (sponsored by First Bank) and Bourdillon Road which, I suppose, with its whizzy dual carriageway, is symbolic of the new multi-storey Ikoyi. The two cheapest sites are Makoko (complete with aerial picture of the celebrated stilt city) and Agege, although other iconic ghettoes like Mushin, Ajegunle or Somolu are not there. I suppose, as with other Monopoly cities, one has to be selective. I am glad to see both Terra Kulture and the Muson Centre there in the medium-price range, as is the Lagos Yacht Club (but not the Motor Boat Club). And, yes, there, alongside them, is the Falomo Shopping Centre, happily featuring Quintessence (still one of my old haunts). Indeed, one could go on and on looking for sociological interpretations of the board, and the relative status therein of different parts of the city.

The set comes with the same tokens as in the standard one, the same little green houses and red hotels and the same Monopoly ‘mascot’ (again probably introduced in 1998) of a little gentleman with top hat and white moustache. One might have idly hoped they could have adapted him slightly to look more like the late great Herbert Macaulay but that would have been disrespectful to that quintessentially Lagosian figure. What surely remains constant is that the game provokes mean and ruthless behaviour among its players, as well as the same violent arguments, as in the film in which angry players had to be hosed down, admittedly inmates of a mental institution.

City of Lagos Monopoly is one more illustration to me of the endless fascination of this indomitable city. Partisans of a new idea of Lagos will be happy to know that I have been holding forth on the subject once more, but this time in UK, about the special merits of the ‘city by the lagoon’ as expressed in my own Lagos book, which I perhaps pretentiously like to see as part of a campaign to revise the hitherto controversial international image of the place. It attracted a good fifty people to a joint Africa Centre/Commonwealth Journalists Association Meeting, to hear yours truly in conversation with the veteran Elizabeth Blunt, well known in the sub-region as having been for many years the BBC’s West Africa correspondent. She kindly described the book as a “love letter to the city”. This recalled the perceptive remarks in March by Governor Fashola (which took me a little by surprise) referring to my own love for Nigeria. I suppose that, if getting a place inside your head can be called love, he was spot on.

I also found myself speaking of Lagos to an academic audience in Oxford which included both Gavin Williams, in retirement still one of Oxford’s great Africanist gurus, and Kate Meagher, whose work on Africa’s informal economies, particularly Nigeria (a vibrant informal economy if ever there was one), I have long admired. In the chair was Jan-Georg Deutsch, a German academic whose original work was on cocoa marketing in western Nigeria but is now, he tells me, working on East Africa. Again a surprise – he asked me, as I concluded, to talk about my years at magazine, which, although this year will mark the tenth anniversary of its demise, is still, it seems, held in great regard by the academic community for its value as a research tool. Well, well.

 

KAYE WHITEMAN

From London

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