Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Prague: Workers' Paradise?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Prague: Workers' Paradise?

Article excerpt

Omojefe--or "Jefe", as he prefers to be called--is one of Prague's expanding community of African expat labourers. In his very own words, he is one of the Czech capital's new "men in black". Jefe says it to make me giggle, and I can't help myself when I do. Part of a steadily growing population of West African emigres, including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ivorians and Cameroonians, Jefe calls Prague home.

While the Africans' precise numbers are largely unaccounted for, lately it seems that fewer and fewer Czech public institutions have the inclination, or the will, to monitor their whereabouts. Almost every second Czech I asked seemed to know how the Africans earned their daily bread. Still no one seemed to care.

Over preso s mlikem (espresso with milk) at a cafe in Wenceslaus Square, Jefe tells me about his community's tentacular reach. Africans have their own self-contained community--running their own shops, administering their own places of Christian or Muslim worship. When he gets to the part about the Africans having access to "the very best in Nigerian doctors", he is positively beaming. I suddenly realise something huge is afoot in the Golden City: this is an undercurrent on the edge of becoming a full-on subculture.

There is, Jefe informs me, a vast network of employment agencies run by the Africans in cahoots with the Czech "mob". When I probe him about police interest in such a phenomenon, he waves me off, adding that the authorities for the most part leave them be. I probe further, but Jefe won't tell me why the police are unconcerned. Later I discover from a racist local traffic cop that "this black 'trash' supplies an essential service to Praha". …

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