Africa, The Curse of History, and Europe's
By Tom Kamara
There is now an appealing new school of thought spreading in Western Europe which, on the surface, would make any well-meaning African jump with joy to embrace the dawn of salvation. But it contains more ominous implications.
This new "edict" on Africa, coined by the English and their Dutch cousins, stipulates, among others, that the basis of aid, from now on, must be demonstrative good governance, freedom from corruption and the establishment of democratic credentials. This, in itself, is a laudable position in view of the current wave of mediocrity and mass theft instituted by individuals calling themselves leaders. The problem is the criteria Europe is adopting and some of the reasons given for Africa's sad state of affairs.
British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain summarized Britain's new African "edict" as one geared towards "rooting out corruption" and denying aid to countries whose leaders "siphon off profits into their pockets." He said other colonial powers such as the Dutch, France and Italy, have indicated they will dance the British African music.
In a White Paper on Africa filled with "benevolent" intentions, the Dutch are more specific:
"Good governance is absolutely vital not only in order to attract foreign capital, but also to ensure that ...funds are properly allocated and that there is higher ratio of domestic savings and investment. The key features(in their policy) are the integrity, efficiency and effectiveness of the civil service. Control of the government (including the armed forces), legal certainty for the population and participation administrative processes are all essential aspects..."
Among successful candidates for Dutch aid in the coming years , "Africa's success stories", are Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire,( no way knowing what will follow after this shinning star slipped off track with a recent coup) Burkina Faso, Mali, South Africa, etc. The Hague and London believe these deserve more money because they have shown seriousness towards economic reforms and democratization. If so, ( and one must use "economic reforms" and "democratization" guardedly when dealing with Africa) why should anyone complain? Why should victims of heightened corruption and terror in Africa complain when aid is denied thieves and killers masquerading as leaders around the world's poorest continent?
There should actually be no protest because people have the right to give money to whom they wish. As Africans, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for demanding help, help and help all the time from others. A Dutch journalist recently asked me to give reasons why The Netherlands should, for example, help Liberia? The truth is there is no reason, except, of course, we believe that historically, state to state help on this planet is abhorring, that no one should help anybody. But then we must also answer why did the US, during World War One and World War Two, send troops to Europe? Why was the Marshall Plan, (aimed at resurrecting Europe's disintegrated economies and infrastructure) necessary? Was America compelled to fly in tons of food for hungry Germans, Dutch, French emerging from the worst war the world has ever seen? Were Africans compelled to fight in a white man's war and die in the hundreds of thousands? Further back into the pages of history, were the French compelled to help Americans battling British colonialism? Were ordinary Europeans, idealistic men, compelled to fight and die against Spanish fascism? The answer, in short, is no! So, in essence, the Dutch and the British have a right to deny countries they detest aid, just as an individual has the right to help a person of his/her choice.
The problem comes when reasons for Africa's backwardness, for the horrors consuming the continent, are given and blames shared. Say the Dutch in their White Paper:
"Africa is a potentially rich continent with plenty of opportunities for trade and investment, particularly in agriculture products and commodities. This pan-African potential has yet to be exploited to its full extent.." Holland diagnosed Africa's poverty as resulting from, among others, " structural impediments affecting the global economy, underdeveloped administrative systems coupled with lack of effective control over executive deficient macroeconomic and social policies, low savings ratio, poor infrastructure, and conflicts and instability that have the effect of deterring investors and discouraging entrepreneurs " Can one really deny these reasons? Again, not really, except that the most important reasons for Africa's downward spiral in socioeconomic and therefore political development are left out. Intentional? I think so!
Many Europeans would simply want us to ignore history, but can we? Many of us born in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and not to mention Africans born today, are still carrying the burdens of Africa's cursed history, its ties to Europe and European interests. Should we argue, for instance, that slavery, that bestial economic system which plundered Africa's human and material resources to feed Europe, was a fundamental cause? "No", they would argue. "That was long ago. And in fact, slavery benefited you people. Do you need examples? Look at blacks in America or recently, look at South Africa". If you insist that Africans in these two countries, except for the newly rich ANC tycoons, are the worst in terms of economic standing, you're told incorrectly that perhaps, but they are still better off. I could not conceal my agony in Cape Town, South Africa, when two young European women disparagingly talked about Angolan women roaming the city as prostitutes. Did I have to remind them that their South Africa is heavily responsible for the unfortunate state of these Angolan refugees, the terror consuming Angola today? No, it wouldn't help. Africans are Africans and poverty is tied to them, forever.
And try telling a European that colonialism, the step child of slavery, did much to destroy Africa politically, institutionally and economically, all prime factors for Africa's sorry state and its lack of resilient political and economic institutions. "No, again that was long ago". Any point contending that it was not that long, that many of us were born before the end of colonial era in the 60s, that since then, we have become floating refugees unable to live in our own countries because of the colonial policies which are now bearing fruits? No, that won't help. That, too, was long ago. How soon do we forget the virtues of European colonialism, virtues such as Portugal's gift to a country like Mozambique, two engineers and 12 medical doctors on the eve of independence just in the 1970s.
Okay, so we got independence. Should we contend that what followed, neo-colonialism or the Cold War in which Africa was caught in the middle, unable to breathe, to walk, to talk, took us centuries back? Why is Angola burning today as the world looked away? Unita amassed about $3.7b. in diamond sales alone while its sponsors ensured that Angolan's, poor peasants, die in the hundreds of thousands to defeat communism. Somalia, driven into the orbit of East-West rivalry, would remain a disintegrated state. Zaire, the darling of the West until the Berlin Wall fell, would be a living hell since the West turned its back on one of "Africa's success stories", the kleptocratic reign of Mobutu. Liberia would be left to wither because its facilities were no longer needed in the fight against evil communism.
With the withering away of the Cold War, a new sort of war, Hot War, behind it criminal syndicates from Europe, the former Soviet Union, South Africa, South America, has replaced it. For example, Sierra Leone, ranked the poorest country in the world by the UN, is now begging around for $45m. to disarm 45,000 fighters when its is losing between $300m to $450m per year in smuggled diamonds which pass through Liberia annually. A total of $850m in laundered money left sub Saharan Africa for Europe in 1992 alone, according to the London Observer. Our forests are disappearing, taken over by con men in collaboration with criminals accepted as "democratically elected" leaders in the new world political lexicon. For the presence of one of these criminals, including many Dutch, English and American men in a fragile African state, thousands of refugees must leave. These are some of the real reasons for Africa's horrors. Others are simply symptoms. For every dollar of Dutch or English taxpayer's money given to men like Campaori, The Netherlands or Britain will likely receive 10 unwanted African refugees, since then , money is used to finance destabilization within the region.
This fluid yardstick in selecting "success stories" is something else. Does building an independent judiciary entail executing judges gang-style (Ghana's Rawlings)? Can the foundations of democracy be erected in cold-blooded killings (Burkina Faso' Campaori's cold-blooded murder of Sankara)? Is democracy merely having a president and a parliament run by a one party, same clique, since independence(Ivory Coast before the recent coup)? Should a man who forbids competitive thinking around opposition parties and erect the foundations of one man rule soon to disintegrate be taken seriously (Uganda's Musevini?)
The fact of the matter is that slavery, colonialism, the Cold War and Europe's gift to Africa well-trained criminals, all contribute to the fragility of what we call the state in Africa and the attendant poverty on the continent.
In the late 70s and 80s, another "edict" from the West ordained that the army, because of its organizational and command structure, its "discipline", was the best institution for Africa's political stability and economic progress. Democracy simply did not suit the "dark continent." Thus, Generals were backed, coups were planned, and the continent was condemned to fat-belly army officers who would supervise its near irredeemable decay. Africa's best sons, amongst them, Nkrumah, Lumumba, Monibo Keita, etc., were all condemned to foreign ordered assassinations in the name of fighting communism With the communists gone, Africa was left to itself. No tradition for political tolerance, no institutions for smooth transfer of power, damaged economies born to fulfil Europe's needs and wants. These are the main reasons for our woes, and not to recognize them is to miss the point. What such a cursed history has produced is abysmally evil men prepared to do anything for wealth and political power. Hence, some of the candidates, for Europe's new "benevolence", "Africa's success stories" are the very ones responsible for some of the worst horrors around the continent. Should anyone tell Europe that Burkina Faso's Blaise Campaori, along with Cote D'Ivoire, are significantly responsible for the disintegration of West Africa, the mass killings in Sierra Leone and before that in Liberia? Is there a moral argument against giving aid to such countries who supervise the destruction of others? Perhaps not. You help who you wish, and no one, as the Dutch journalist implied, is expected to help another. But Africa has suffered too much insults, too much degradation to add insults to injury. We know our history just too well. We know the causalities of our poverty and damnation, and we seem to lack the power to fight back. That is our curse!
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