Thursday, 12 July 2012

Saving Africa ...

I have to say that I read Uzodinma Iweala's article in The Washington Post with great interest. I agree with everything he says in it as well. Please will Western Politicians, Liberals, Pop Stars and other forms of celebrity stop 'Saving Africa!' Very early in the article he makes this point - 

"It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs."

I can't help feeling he's got this absolutely right. Especially the younger university generation at present seem to think they have to feel guilty about living in a country where they have the privilege of clean water, wealth, comfortable homes and education. This drives them to join any and every "crusade" from "save the planet" through to "stop the genocide in XYZ," zealously embracing the perceived 'cause' of whoever is behind it. Most have no idea what they are supporting except in the vaguest sense, most have no more knowledge than what they've read in posters or articles put out by the publicists who write these things with an eye on getting people to part with loads of money for the latest "aid" project.

Mr. Iweala touches on some of this in his article, but one thing I note he hasn't mentioned. This is that many of these "Aid" organisations are now multinational corporations operating under the banner of 'charities.' They enjoy the status of 'Non-Governmental Organisations' in receipt of large amounts of taxpayer money handed over by Governments to 'trusted' agencies supposedly not dealing with perceived 'corruption' in the target state. He does point to the fact that many Pop Stars and Celebrities derive huge publicity from their fronting campaigns, but he then goes on to say that they cannot and will not 'Save Africa.' In fact they are hindering its own efforts to do so.

As he rightly asks - 

Why do Angelina Jolie and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis? 

He is absolutely right to ask these questions. Africans are grateful for the help they receive, but let's give them some credit as well. Many of the problems they face today are the result of well intentioned efforts to impose governments and systems on Africans that are not native to them and have no roots there. Many of the economic problems arise from a lack of understanding of the way things operate in their cultures (Note the plural!). 

I can only endorse his closing statement - 

Last month the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save Africa. Before the next such summit, I hope people will realize Africa doesn't want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.  

We have to stop trying to 'save' Africa. We need to work with Africans, to provide them with the tools and the expertise - and then let them work out their own solutions. 


  1. I think one of the major problems with the Western psyche in this respect is an absolute and total ignorance of the true nature of Africa. The US in particular think of themselves as living in a large "country" consisting of widely diverse States, unless they live in one of the few centres of population where they are more likely to be entirely ignorant of the fact that Spanish is the language of choice in over a quarter of their land area. The US, discounting Alaska, is aproximately the size of the Sahara desert. China will cover a little more, perhpas from the Congo down to the Cape, India has the "Horn" sorted in area terms andthe components of mainland Europe can cover most of the Islamic states of the Nile valley and the Mediteranian coast.

    For conformation see;

    Let us then think of the cultural and religious questions embeded in the history of Africa: the Monk pointed out some days ago the desecration currently taking place in Timbuktu. As a seasonal settlement on one of the ancient trading routes it goes back to atleast the 12th Century, probably earlier, but history tends to be taken as what is recorded rather than what happened, and in addition to gold, silver and ivory, traded largely in human traffic, otherwise termed the slave trade. It almost certainly had Iron-Age origins, but it was the Arabian influence that brought it to prominence. Taking the Arab /Black interface to be important, would it be oversimplistic of me to suggest that the issues still not respoved in Sudan are issues of Arabs meeting Black populations? Islam has entered many sub-Saharan black states, most readily identified by the somewhat horrific imposition of female circumcision or infibulation. As the British Empire tried to penetrate the "Interior" in the Nineteenth Century, their missionaries created yet anothe racial and religious interface, that of white Christianity meeting black Islam: dare I suggest that Nigeria today is a fine examply of this interface becoming a battle-line, albeit of French rather than British creation. Speaking of the French (OK, and the Belgians) the Congo is not a happy place, whichever one of the various "congoes" one looks at, geographically or historically. The stories of the uprising in the sixties and the roadsides, in best Roman tradition, being lined with poles, each of which had a transfixed nun impaled upon it are blood-curdling to this day.

    The Germans in East Africa, the Dutch and the British in South Africa, all there to take advantage of wealth or maintain strategically important military presence. (Pity someone doesn't have a decent gunboat of Somalia currently!) Then, suddenly all the Imperial occupations come to an end, some more quickly than others, especially when the Empires themselves fell in the European wars of the Twentieth Century. The transition, well-handled or not, to indigenous rule was rapid and occasionally even sucessful, but let us revisit what I have metioned. (cont.)

  2. Part 2;

    The continent is vast, unimaginable vast.

    For 2,000 years, trade routes plied valuable cargoes across loose borders, much of it human traffic.

    There are fundamental racial issues from the Arab/Black/White at the top to the inter-tribal vendettas that ensure the Bantu will continue to take their revenge on the Matebeli for years to come.

    The nations that pillaged for riches and formed the boundaries of today's social geography pulled out in the 20th century and left a power vacuum.

    That vacuum, as is often the case in history, is filled by the violent and corrupt, because the timid and peaceful rarely win wars.

    So, we come to the NGOs, the Princess in the anti explosive mask, the Royal Princes carrying on her work. Bob Geldorf for over 25 years raising much money, but to what ends? The current fasionable set bringing a little of Hollywood to the interior; personally I prefer to remember Katherine Hepburn in that role!

    Africa still has much to offer the world, but which "Africa" do people talk about? If we can study that question, then we might possibly, one day, be able to understand a tiny proportion of the problems faced in that huge and diverse continent, as for solving them, I suggest that is for the Africans.

  3. It is not often I get a chance to correct something Josephus has written, but this is one of them! The term 'Bantu' refers to a fairly large group of tribes originally from East and Central Africa. It includes the amaXhosa, amaZulu, Sotho, QwaQwa, Herrero, Tswana, Barolong, Barotse, Shona, Matabele, Pondo, Swazi and quite a few more 'tribes,' among them the Masai. All Sub-Sharan and from an area roughly from Ethiopia down the East coast and thence Central and Southern Africa.

    They share a number of genes, but differ on others. Interestingly, the recent Genographic Survey conducted by the National Geographic Society of the USA, turned up that while all the peoples outside of Africa share a single "Ethiopian Adam" marker, they fall into broadly seven main groups genetically, suggesting they are descended from roughly seven common ancestors. In Africa itself there are forty-five distinct genetic groups.

    According to archeologists, the Bantu peoples started arriving in the northern parts of South Africa in the area around what is now Maputo and Northern Natal, around the same time the Dutch were pushing into the Southern tip of the continent. The original inhabitants, the Qoi peoples, made up of the groups known as Hottentots, Strandlopers and Bushmen got pushed out or exterminated. The Bushmen and Hottentots survive in the Northern Cape and Kalahari areas, with some presence in the Namib desert and Botswana. They built no permanent dwellings, and still don't. The Strandlopers died out completely as their only diet was shell fish and fish and their 'homes' very primitive shelters on the dunes or in caves.

    The builders of Great Zimbabwe remain unknown, as the site had been abandoned by 1500 and was not reoccupied until the Shona peoples began resettling the area around 1750. One of the more interesting things about these peoples is their distinctive facial features. Each tribe has some distinct feature in their facial make-up and this becomes even more noticeable when they are seen beside people from West Africa and from the Congo West coast areas.

    As Josephus says, the colonial imposition across tribal boundaries, the conflicts between tribes, between religious beliefs and over land and water rights are likely to keep Africa bubbling away for generations, but I firmly believe that only Africans can solve the problems and sort themselves out. Here's a small thought to finish. Africa, south of the Tropic of Cancer, has not, so far, produced a lasting civilisation or Empire. Could this be the future?

  4. The word I should have used, especially knowing the Monk's deeper understanding of African peoples, was Shona, however, the cheat in me asked Dr Google who suggested that the most generic name would be Bantu. It appears, however, that it was just a tad too generic! The specific image I had in my mind was the satchel faced visage of Mugabe(would it originally be Mgabi?)so different from the cleaner lines of the great warrior tribes.

    I first became aware of the ruins of ancient Zimbabwe through the writings of Wilbur Smith, coincidentaly, read in my uncle's house. He spent a rather exciting part of the second World War traveling from Durban to Cairo, mostly without the intended army transport following an ambush. After a spell of some months working in a diamond mine to get free board and lodgings, he regained what he thought of as 'civilisation', in the shape of a colonial army camp, only to be clapped in irons as AWOL. The rest of the war was spent in Cairo, where he met my father (different sides of the family) and was on a lot of punishment postings carrying out tank recovery, which mostly meant cleaning the rotting and burnt remains out of the interior. He always wanted to return to Southern Africa, but circumstances prevented him from doing so.