Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The broken legacy of African post-colonialism

The 93-year-old Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is pleading with his country’s four million skilled workers living overseas to return home to help revive the country's floundering economy. I can almost hear Niall Ferguson laughing.

Of course, I'm not saying Rhodesia was some kind of lost utopia. It was a just a country. Its system of government was effectively a degraded, second-rate copy of Edwardian Britain, and the demographic behind the Rhodesian Front was the petty-bourgeois. Ian Smith was not an aristocrat, either by birth or by training, and neither were his people.

Saying there are similarities between Rhodesia and Zimbabwe is like complaining that the Allies, after occupying Germany, used the old Nazi concentration camps. Of course they did. They needed the buildings to hold all the German POWs. But it does not make the Allies responsible for Nazi crimes, or vice versa.

Many people who died in the various postcolonialist conflicts were not white. But if you think the wars were over anything but white supremacy versus black supremacy, or that the former did not lose and the latter did not win, you are simply not accurately reading history. But this reading leaves out a crucial fact. Colonialism ended not because the natives overcame the colonialists, but because the postcolonialists overcame the colonialists – with native assistance. Always willing to lend a hand, those natives.

And while he probably doesn’t know it, it’s not Ian Smith’s legacy that bothers Mugabe. He should really be blaming “Exeter Hall.” That name might not ring a bell, but for a long time it was a building on The Strand in London used for religious and philanthropic meetings including the Anti-Slavery Society, the Protestant Reformation Society and once served as the headquarters of the YMCA.

Richard Francis Burton dedicated his Wanderings in West Africa to “the real friends of Africa” and castigated “the philanthropists of Exeter Hall.” The “real friends” were the explorers, merchants, traders, soldiers, settlers and administrators – the exploiters. The “philanthropists” were Protestant missionaries. They don’t call themselves missionaries any longer, but this is only a name change.

In the 1940s, Exeter Hall’s main criticism of colonialism was that it retarded the economic development of Africa by preserving agrarian cultures and failing to create a modern, socialist, industrial state. With public-policy experts like these, who needs liars?

Liberal do-goodism might be their stated sentiment, but that’s not what drew so many to the flag of “a man, and a brother.” Humans will always want to exercise influence over events in the world. To wield power. And the philanthropic movement wields quite a bit of power today.

To get an idea about what these guys did read Burton’s description of Sierra Leone and ponder what he would make of Africa today. All of Africa was given to Exeter Hall, and Exeter Hall turned it all into Sierra Leone. And Exeter Hall’s modern successor is the notorious aid-ocracy. If good intentions guaranteed good results, Africa would be a paradise under their loving care. It quite simply is not, and it isn’t obvious it would continue to be a disaster zone if they left.

Mugabe inherited the Rhodesian state because Exeter Hall gave it to him. South Africa forced Rhodesia to surrender in a misguided attempt to appease the “international community,” which would have preferred if Rhodesia had surrendered earlier. The French have a saying for this: cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il ce defend. “This animal is very wicked; when you attack it, it defends itself.”

But the do-goodism didn’t turn out so well. Africa at its best is ruled by wa-Benzi (Big Men). At its worst, Mugabe and the Zuma decide they don’t want to take orders from Harvard anymore. They would prefer to interpret the word “independence” according to its literal meaning, because Harvard’s interpretation proved to be a bit more, well, Orwellian.

There is only one independent country in Africa. Its name is Somaliland. You won’t find it on a map. It is independent in the sense that “in” means “not,” and “dependent” means “dependent.” If Zimbabwe had truly achieved its “independence” in 1981 it would have returned to the traditional patterns and structures of government in that area of the world.

Instead, “independence” in sub-Saharan Africa meant the destruction of every remnant of traditional African society and aggressive Westernisation. In an independent Africa, rulers would have titles like “Sultan” and “Sheikh” and “Chief.” Instead, we see presidents and prime ministers. Ah, independence.

When it is finally written by honest and disinterested historians, the story of “decolonialisation” will be more properly written as a second Scramble for Africa. After WWII, the more or less responsible Tory administrators, merchants, settlers and soldiers to whom Britain and France assigned colonial government were stripped of their conquests, in favour of American and Whig missionaries, diplomats, journalists and academics. As always, the strong take from the weak.

Those winners devastated Africa. King Leopold looks like an amateur by comparison. They did this in exchange for a rich and permanent supply of jobs in aid, diplomacy, public policy and now “replacement” voters…sorry, immigrants. Today, Africa employs more white men than ever, although they don’t live there. To everyone involved, Zimbabwe is “progress.”

I feel sorry for the Africans because one of the great post-colonial taboos is the old practice of appointing European or international executives to manage a civil service or military staffed by natives. Even in the UN occupation of Kosovo, this taboo was faithfully preserved. But the French have retained a lot more of the mechanics of golden-age colonialism than most people think. I don’t think Paris entirely goes in for this whole “do-goodism” thing.

Noam Chomsky was right in one sense: the US is and always has been the world’s leading exporter of terrorism. Revolutionary terrorism. Support from the most prestigious institutions in America fuelled Bolivar, Mazzini, the Fenians, Juarez, Chiang, Castro, Mao, Ho, Mugabe, Mandela and Zuma.

The various “liberation struggles” had many American supporters outside Washington – including the World Council of Churches. It’s hard to see how any American activity in Africa, left-wing or right-wing, did the US much good. But if Ian Smith had supported the ANC, and used it as a pro-government militia which burned its enemies alive, these would be called crimes. But this principle only operates in one direction. It works against the Tories, but not against the Whigs.

Watch Africa Addio. The film contains probably the only live colour footage of genocide shot in 35mm: several helicopter shots of the murder of the Arabs in Zanzibar. The documentary doesn’t get a lot of press for some reason. It is known about but downplayed. The State Department was a little too busy at the time courting the winners.

Exeter Hall is now gone. Perhaps one day, the State Department, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Times and Harvard will quit supporting any murderous bandit warlord who can dupe them into thinking he’s an 18th-century Renaissance man, a 19th-century statesman or even a 21th-century technocrat. But I am not optimistic. The aid-ocracy delusion is too profitable for everyone involved.

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