Wednesday 14 March 2007

Time to accept our share of responsibility.

This is something I feel so strongly about, that I don't much care who I offend here. Tonight you're getting the full works, ladled on with a spoon.

I have just seen Morgan Tsvangirai's battered face.

I have heard the usual muttered insinuations about Africans running their own affairs and I'm angry, really angry with the crap people talk about africa, the lack of understanding and the way we write off a whole f**king continent and blame it's problems on the inhabitants.

So let me tell you a story which will offend left and right alike.

Back in the 1880s European countries got into africa in a big way. Some of the reasons were laudable, some were not. Here a few;
1. Rising middle class living standards, demanding luxury foods and pianos in their drawing room, caused a demand for Ivory, Coconut oil and other products.
2. The spreading of the liberal vision of progress meant that there was a general wish to 'enlighten ' tribal peoples from disease, starvation, tribal massacres and all those things that look great when confined to the Andaman islanders, but are in fact not so much fun for people who actually live like that- Livinstone's 'Conmmerce, Christianity, Civilisation', in that order, but they did mean it.
3. A realisition that to really end slavery, you had to end it at the source- by ending slave economies like the Sultanates of Sokoto, Kano, Zanzibar and the trade empire of Tippu Tip.
4. The need to find fresh markets for trade goods as the european economy had reached saturation point and capitalism needs growth to provide the finance for material progress.

And so, in 1884, in Berlin, the European nations gathered round a map of Africa and drew some lines on a map. These lines wouldn't have meant much to the people who lived in Africa. They took no account of ethnic or religous divisions. They were drawn to suit Western economic interests. They even made up some names for their colonies- Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tanganyika- names of no historic significance to the people who lived therein. There are Hutus and Tutsis in every East African country. The peoples of Northern Nigeria are racially Akin to the peoples of Niger, Chad and North Cameron, the people of Southern Nigeria are akin to those of Benin.

There actually was a belief, a heady romantic belief, that we could all make a profit AND make Africa a great place to live. In this vision, after a hundred and fifty years or so of white education and benevolent despotism, the natives of Nyasaland would be black versions of the inhabitants of Surrey, living in semi detached houses, wearing suits and reading the Times as they commuted by rail to Dar-Es -Salaam.

Two world wars killed that vision. The pwers were bankrupt before the project got off the ground.
Oh, they had made a start.
They had destroyed the native cultures.
They had a transport system designed to take resources from the interior to the coast and then on to Europe.
They had educated a few sons of chiefs at British Universities.
They had trained up native thugs in how to use firearms.

In the 50's the handful of Western educated African's made the right noises about oppression, as did our own left. They pointed to India- hardly a parallel, Britain had done all the developing to be done in India and India was an ancient culture anyway. African colonisation, if there was to be any altruism there at all, had to be about making it as much a part of the civilised world as could be done. That hadn't happened. Where were the secondary schhols, the modern hospitals, the universities, the public transport systems, all the things the home counties offered.

But the West siezed the chance. These colonies were too expensive. And now they had an excuse to scarper- but not before playing a cynical blinder.

Any moron can see whast was happening- a great project abandoned half cock.

And so the African nations recieved a pretend independence. Pretend, because with such hugh illiteracy levels, such ingrained tribal loyalties and no real sense of loyalty to the colony (now a pretend nation) there could be no real commitment to democratic processes, or any way of making it work.
But for European economies, as long those trains still brought the Diamonds, the Bauxite, the Gold, the Oil rumbling to the coasts and then on to Western factories, all was OK. We'd even give them our decommissioned weapons so they could keep their people in check.
Who cares what these thugs do to their own people as long as those trains keep running on time? and the best thing was, since these places are now 'independent', the west doesn't have to pay for them any more and it's their hard shit if it goes tits up.

Put it this way- Zimbabweans don't vote here, but Companies who invest in Zimbabwe make lots of money. They can choose who to donate this to. They can even give it to Western political parties.
So if an African leader wants the support of Western governments, what does he have to do?
Simple. Leave western interests alone.

I saw there were riots in Zimbabwe two weeks ago- it's only just hid yhe headlines, because now business is getting worried, They think Mugabe can't run the show any more and he must go.

When are we in the west going to open our eyes? This continent is on our doorstep. You can moan all you want about asylum seekers, but have you ever stopped to think why it is that people would rather sneak in to a country and be a permanent part of it's underclass, hated, despised living on subsistence levels- by our standards- than stay in the land of their birth?

We can't keep our heads in the sand. Africa's problems will be ours if we let this go on.
At least, let's have some integrity and go hold out our hands to the peoples we forced to become our brothers over a century ago and show them we mean it this time.
And let us be wise enough to go, not in a Paternalistic, our way or the high way, give us your gold and we'll give you mission schools way; but in working out solutions together way. Let's help Africans make a land they are proud of and happy to live in, not a land of fake western parodies of nations.

Let's wake up and realise that we all live in a very close knit world now and we are not living up to the ideals we used to pretend we represented.


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post. How do you suggest we "accept our share of responsibility"?

You say, "At least, let's have some integrity and go hold out our hands to the peoples we forced to become our brothers over a century ago and show them we mean this time."

The problem is, we don't mean it! We may have meant it then... (or our ancestors - like my grandparents who spent 10 years as missionaries in Sudan - and had a sincerity and purity of heart I can barely comprehend). They meant 'it'.

But our society lacks the concensus Christian standard it once had. It may have been flawed with human naievity and many darker weaknesses, but there was a foundation which is now gone.

Maybe the USA (perhaps the world's last Christian country - and the most wealthy and powerful) has the moral fibre to act as a principled nation.

The humanist liberal European ethic is too reliant on self-loathing as a substitute for dignity and confident self-adequacy. Europe has insufficient moral strength to act in the service of others. So we send money.

Anonymous said...

One way we won't solve it is by going to a free concert in London for a day and pretending like we are actually doing something to help.

Anonymous said...

Onyx Stone- we send money in the general direction of Africa, to ease our consciences, as David ppoints out. But just as the Dole doesn't solve unemployent, Live Aid doesn't help the villagers of Darfur who are raped and pillaged by one side or the other in a daily basis.
You're right, we don't mean it, because we are lulled into believing that little bit of aid helps, when we need to start thinking outside the box to really generate African solutions to African problems.

Anonymous said...

Africa is the whole worlds shame.
Let them all migrate to England and then see how quickly solutions will be found to help them be self reliant and have a stable economy in their own country!
Loved your post btw

Anonymous said...

Morgan Tsvangirai is one of the world's greatest men right now: if and when he becomes president of a reformed Zimbabwe he'll deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.