Let’s take the 3.2 million years since Lucy took us down from the trees and stepped away from our chimpanzee ancestors as one day, 24 hours. About nineteen and a half hours ago with Homo habilis, the Stone Age began. Homo sapiens evolved one and a half hours ago. And those that left Africa did so only 27 minutes ago. Considering that this is 60’000 years, it is still a very long time. To put it into perspective: In the same anthropological time measurement of one day since Lucy, my own lifetime is only the last 1.97 seconds of that day. That sounds frighteningly short. But on my smartphone, I have a digital stopwatch that measures the tenths and hundredths of a second. On it, with all the digits running, my lifetime somehow appears longer than when I just say ‘two seconds’. And in real time, I am happy with the 73 years of my life. It seems quite long to me. I still hope it will last a little bit longer. Alone the ten years that I now live in Nairobi and the three years for which I post texts like this one on my site, both actually feel like a very long time.

For over twenty-three and a half hours of the anthropological day, human nature – how humans went about managing their needs, their drives, and their desires – had evolved in the forests and plains of tropical Africa. And humans were living in the animal world. Survival was physical and driven by innate vital forces: Eat, drink, and sleep; fight or flee; and for the continuation of the species, reproduce. All this involved a large amount of violence, and only to some extent did the emerging mental senses of community and spirituality represent a more humane counterbalance. Full consciousness and abstract thinking still lay far ahead. The humans’ main competitors were animals. Although they had become the super predator among them, they still lived in a world full of dangers. Particularly, their main competitor with whom they had evolved in parallel since the Jurassic era, 200 million years ago, remained a constant threat: The world’s largest and most dangerous animal predator, the Nile crocodile.

To the time when Homo sapiens left Africa, they were still living in the Stone Age, they were still hunter-gatherers, and their lifestyle was still migratory. And by no means was migration a human invention. They had adopted it from the animals they were living among. Africa is known for the migration of the wildebeests through the Serengeti and the Masai Mara. The seasonal movement of millions of fruit bats flying from the Congo to Zambia is maybe less known, but it is the biggest mammal migration on Earth. Whereas the migration of the humpback whales swimming from the Antarctic through the Mozambique Channel into the tropical waters of the Swahili coast for calving, is known and, like the wildebeests, a popular tourist attraction. Having learnt from these animals, humans today migrate on the ground, by air, and by sea. But modern African migrants barely walk on foot anymore because for longer distances humans have invented the car. And for crossing the Sahara Desert, the mostly illegal migrants are loaded on trucks. To cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe, they use boats. Sometimes to cut everything short, they just take the aeroplane and fly directly into the European country they want.

From my own life, I know a few things about modern migration. Being born to a father who was a diplomat, I got used to the migrants’ way of life from birth on. I was born in Berlin, on my father’s migration to Germany. From there we went back to Bern, where I started school. Then we left the European continent and by boat we went to New York, in North America. Four years later, we flew back to Europe and again by boat, moved to Bangkok, in Southeast Asia. To get back to Switzerland we took the aeroplane. Leading for the first time my own diplomatic migration to Africa twenty years later, I was excited and a little bit nervous: I drove to Antwerp and there took a boat. Upon arriving in the port of Matadi in Zaïre, today the Democratic Republic of Congo, I unloaded my car and drove up along the Congo River to the capital, Kinshasa. – I loved it! That sense of adventure, being on the move and not knowing what lies ahead. And I wanted more of it.

Visiting Ouagadougou from Abidjan, I once added the train to my modes of migration. When I was accredited to Ethiopia and Djibouti, the Chinese were still building the new railway from Addis Ababa down to the Red Sea port of Djibouti. So instead of flying again, I once travelled by car. Only once! It was suicidal between all those heavy trucks, the ones creeping up into the Ethiopian highlands, overloaded and trying to overtake each other, and the oncoming ones, often empty, over speeding and rattling down to Djibouti. – But these last two terrestrial movements were business trips and, strictly speaking, do not qualify as migration. They fall under mobility. Migrants move to live permanently in new places, not just to stay there for a while. Sometimes, just to get that sensation of being on the move, I would pack my Toyota Land Cruiser and do round trips through one or several countries from where I was at the time. From Côte d’Ivoire to Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Ghana and back to Abidjan. Or from Abidjan to Mali and back. Or from Nairobi to Tanzania and Uganda around Lake Victoria. Or just around Mt Kenya. But tourism and my cruising through Africa are also just another form of modern mobility.

Of all the modern means of movement for migration, Homo sapiens in the Stone Age had only one: They were on foot. And no matrix of countries and borders, roads and railway lines, and harbours and airports. No governments and capitals, cities or even villages. Just the natural environment of bush, forest, savannah, and desert. Mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, the coastline and beyond it, the sea. Over generations and millennia, in groups of a suitable size, humans were migrating through the lands. By spreading over the vast continent of Africa, Homo sapiens had already adapted to various environments and evolved into four main population groups: The Khoisan, the Pygmies, and the Niger-Congo and the Nilo-Saharan peoples. And now going beyond Africa, Homo sapiens ventured into new and ever-changing environments outside their home continent. And in doing so, they would once again prove that humans are not like any other animal: While most other species are prevented from evolving, adapting, and dispersing beyond certain geographic boundaries, humans faced no environmental constraints to their global expansion. They became the only species that is truly universal.

There are, of course, also expansive and invasive animals that are global. The cockroach for instance. It also originates from tropical Africa and on the continent alone, there are some 500 different species of the insect. Three of them have gone global, the American, the German and the Oriental cockroach. But they cannot interbreed and thus remain stuck in their respective genetic variations – and habitats. For the German Cockroach this are warm, humid places close to food and moisture sources, preferably the kitchen of a home or restaurant. The American Cockroach is stuck in its dark, moist habitat of a basement or a sewer system. With rats – all the same a mammal – it’s similar: The two most common global rats, the Black Rat and the Brown Rat are two different species and cannot interbreed. They both live in urban areas. The Black Rat is an agile climber and prefers to live in roofs, cavity walls, or a tree. Brown Rats shelter under bushes, in sewers and in coastal urban sites. Both are genetically stuck in their environments. In North Africa, the Alexandrine or Egyptian Rat is a sub-species of the Black Rat and gnaws around the Mediterranean Sea. But being restricted in its genetic variations, it will barely ever go beyond that habitat. The crocodile on the other hand, is one of those animals that are restrained from expanding globally because most areas outside of the tropics are too cold for the cold-blooded reptile. Let’s not forget that we are still living in an Ice Age.

With us humans, this is different. Biologically, any two of us – a Pygmy and an Arab, a Chinese and an Aboriginal, a Hawaiian and a Hispanic – are 99.9 percent identical. And if they are a man and a woman, they can interbreed and create genetic variants in their offspring that adapt even better to their current environment. Or a new one. Human reproduction creates variety and fitness for survival like no other. Over time and as they expanded throughout the world, new variations of the species Homo sapiens emerged. They display an astonishing multitude of differences in human skin colour, head form, hair texture, facial features, eyes, nose, lips, but also stature, size, and body structure. First classifications of the different biotypes of the new population groups were simple. They followed Homo sapiens’ migration into the continents and the resulting skin colour: The peoples of Africa who stayed, were considered Black, the ones who went to Asia Yellow, and the ones who moved into and down the Americas, Red. And Homo sapiens in Europe became the White Man.

When they left Africa those twenty-seven minutes ago, the overall physical appearance of Homo sapiens will have been close to us ‘modern’ modern humans. The different skin colours were not yet there and maybe they were a bit smaller and sturdier. In their lifestyle and behaviours, however, they were certainly less modern. They were progressing to the Late Stone Age and their tools were more sophisticated and composite with other materials, but the hand axe remained the centre piece. It was still used to butcher and skin game, dig in the soil, and cut plants or wood. They had dedicated hammerstones. And the stone flakes of their spears and arrows were now sharper. They used bone and ivory needles, and with chisel-like stone flakes they carved patterns into wood or bone. Statuettes and figurines of wood and bone appeared, and the first bone flutes.

The Stone Age would last another twenty-four minutes and only end in the third to last minute of the anthropological day, around 3’000 BC. That’s when humans started smelting metals to make their tools, copper, bronze, and iron, and civilisations came about. Up to that point in time, we can consider Homo sapiens as a uniform species, not only biologically and in overall physical appearance but also in their behaviour.

Homo sapiens going global is certainly a pivotal moment in human evolution. And it makes my exploration of human nature more complicated. And more interesting. To grasp the many distinctions in life, culture, and values between Africa and the West that I want to write about, I will have to leave out the Yellow and the Red. And I will now have to do more than follow the happenings in Africa. I will also have to keep an eye on the behaviours of the White Man. In my use of the term, the White Man stands for the white race and includes the women. – Already I see the impeachments coming in: This is all going to be Black and White. Simplifications and stereotypes; binary thinking; good and bad; right and wrong. And: What can you expect from an old white man to say about Africa and the White Man? Every gender feminist and social justice activist knows that the old white man is the oppressor who wants to control and exploit the marginalised and vulnerable; patriarchal, sexist, racist, and colonial; the cause of all human evil!

The verdict will, of course, belong to the reader. So, let me give you a sneak preview: The White Man evolved in the crocodile-free ecosystems of Europe. Hence, they lacked some checks and balances that nature had imposed on humans in Africa. Without the exposure to the hazards and dangers that the expansive, invasive, and predatory crocodiles kept on presenting to humans in Africa, the White Man became more expansive, invasive, and predatory themselves. And over time, they took over for the crocodile within the species of Homo sapiens.

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