I started paying serious attention to Africa and writing about it in The Rag about 1970.
If anything, it has become clearer over the years that colonialism is not responsible for all of Africa’s ills, or even most of them.
True, the “countries” are bounded by colonial interests rather than tribal realities, but that is so in the Americas as well and the consequences are not nearly so dire.
Of course, there are few settler societies in Africa — South Africa and Israel for sure, Zimbabwe sort of. Liberia.
Much of the problem is a geographic curse that is not going away.
To the extent that there are political solutions, the neo-colonial model seems to work the best in terms of the living standards (not to mention living at all) of real people. That is, government by locals with security and some degree of democracy guaranteed by the former colonial power.
Those states where the liberation movements armed by China and the USSR and romanticized by the US left have prevailed are in general disasters for both human rights and democracy. OF COURSE, they got no help from us. So what? They did get big bread from the World Bank, which is us by proxy, and beaucoups of other aid that never reached the people for whom it was intended. UN aid agencies and former colonial powers did the most. They were not cut adrift with no outside support. Mostly, they ran the capitalist exploiters off without regard for what would replace them. I suppose indigenous thieves are superior to colonial thieves in a moral sense, but at least the colonial thieves had enough sense not to take the seed grain.
Africa has always generated hot air
By Niall Ferguson, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 03/06/2007
“The man who risked everything…
To speak for those who could not…
To make the blind see…
And to lead a movement that would change the world.”
Anyone who has seen the film Amazing Grace will appreciate the parallels between the career of William Wilberforce, as romanticised by Hollywood, and that of Tony Blair, as romanticised by Tony Blair.
Like Mr Blair, Wilberforce had his roots in the north of England. Like Mr Blair, he did not distinguish himself at Oxbridge. Like Mr Blair, he lost no time in entering politics, where his affability ensured rapid advancement. And, like Mr Blair, Wilberforce was strongly influenced by the Evangelical movement.
The revelation of “the infinite love, that Christ should die to save such a sinner” came to Wilberforce like a thunderbolt after he had entered Parliament.
But he was persuaded by (among others) the repentant slave trader and composer of Amazing Grace John Newton, that he could “do both”: politics and God’s work. It took a few false starts before, alerted to the atrocious conditions aboard slave ships making the transatlantic “Middle Passage”, he found his cause célèbre.
The moral transformation of England achieved by the Evangelical movement, without which the law abolishing the slave trade would never have been passed, has its echoes in our own time.
Today, of course, most English people are faintly embarrassed by religion and regard Americans as rather absurd for reading the Bible. Nevertheless, the English retain an authentically 19th-century enthusiasm for moral crusades. Part of Mr Blair’s original appeal as a politician was precisely the impression he gave of being able to lead one.
In our time, as in the 1800s, Africa has an especially strong appeal to the Evangelical sensibility. There is something irresistible about being able to feel simultaneously guilty about the continent’s problems (“I once was blind…”) and capable of solving them (“… but now I see”).
The problem is, of course, that generation after generation thinks it has found the solution, and generation after generation is disappointed. Wilberforce and his friends were convinced that abolishing the slave trade, and then slavery itself, would do the trick.
To give them their due, they knew that actions always speak louder than mere legislation. It should never be forgotten that, after the passage of the abolition legislation in 1807, the Royal Navy waged a sustained campaign against those who defied the British ban. Indeed, the campaign against slavery was a classic example of unilateral humanitarian intervention, in which the rights of other nations were repeatedly violated.
Yet doing away with the slave trade had less impressive consequences than the reformers had hoped. The same was true of abolishing slavery itself. Most of Africa remained not much better off in 1907 than it had been in 1807.
So something else had to be tried, and that something was state-led economic development. Throughout the Fifties, well-meaning administrators in the Colonial Office toiled to enrich Africa with groundnut schemes and the like. With minimal success.
So we tried again. This time the solution was political independence. British self-doubt was a much more important cause than indigenous nationalism of the “winds of change” that began to blow through Africa in the Fifties and Sixties. With astonishing speed, all British colonies in Africa were granted their freedom. Again, disappointment. Economically, the majority of the countries in question did even worse under self-government than they had under British rule.
We tried lending them money. That didn’t work. Then we gave them aid. That, too, had relatively meagre results. Many well-meaning people – led by that most Evangelical of economists, Jeffrey Sachs – continue to have faith in aid as a policy, arguing that it simply needs to be better targeted, for example on the provision of free malaria nets. But economists who know Africa better than Sachs are sceptical.
Oxford’s Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, persuasively argues that Africa’s biggest problems (apart from incurable ones such as its location) are political. Corrupt tyrannies and civil wars between them account for a huge proportion of Africa’s economic under-performance since the end of colonial rule.
For evidence of the persistence of the problem, just take a look at the excellent new Global Peace Index, produced at the instigation of the businessman and philanthropist Steve Killelea and published last week. The index ranks 121 nations according to a wide variety of indicators ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its human rights record. Eight out of the bottom 20 countries are – you guessed it – African.
Read the rest here.