"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

"Keep your whites" - Africa

[Ed: This was supposed to be published at 2:47pm]

"It’s what really hit me about Africa, not the Somalias or the Rwandas or the Liberias, because in many ways, those are the exceptions, the basket cases, the places where somebody f‌lipped the switch. No, the real story occurs in the places you never really read much about, but where I spent a lot of time— Zaire and Kenya, Cameroon and Gabon, and the giant of them all, Nigeria. These are the places where every day, with each new interview, I found a new and disheartening tale of some brave and anonymous African, somebody like Kibassa Maliba. who was trying his best and paying the price. I saw their courage and their self-sacrif‌ice and it ripped my heart out, I mean it really touched my soul. But in the end it was just plain depressing, because deep down I knew that in Africa it’s all too rare for such struggles to end in victory. In Africa, the good guys don't win; they usually get tossed in prison, tortured, killed, beaten up, or sometimes just beaten down. They get beaten so hard they f‌inally give up. And the rest? They just stop trying because they're too busy simply trying to survive.

When I wasn’t depressed about it, I was in a rage. Angry at the monumental unfairness of it all, and angry that there's so little the outside world, anybody, really, can do to help. The world did try once to help, in Somalia, and I had been on hand to witness how that had turned into a multibillion-dollar fiasco. Now, for the most part, all the outside world would ever want to do would be to sit on the sidelines.

I tried to document the unfairness as best I could, tried to give some little voice to the voiceless. But in the end I know it won’t matter much. The Big Men will still be there, arrogant, extravagant, enjoying the benef‌its of foreign-aid dollars. They’ll still have their marble palaces carved out of the jungle and their bank accounts in Switzerland, their villas in the south of France, and their apartments on the Avenue Foch in Paris. They’ll have their f‌leets of Mercedes limousines and their private jets. They'll build basilicas with their own likeness in the murals with the apostles, and they‘ll open universities that bear their name but where students can't afford books and will have no jobs if they ever get out. They'll equip their armies with shiny boots and their security forces with the latest weapons, but the hospitals will run short of needles and bandages, and college students will be using cardboard cutouts to learn the keys on a computer keypad because they don’t have a real computer to use.

And I keeping asking myself Kibassa Maliba’s question: Why?

Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way, not when I f‌irst set out for Africa. The 19908 were to be Africa’s "decade of democracy," or so I had been told. The Western donor nations were f‌inally getting tough, demanding open elections, legal opposition parties, more monitoring of foreign dollars. Internally, too, an explosive new combination of forces was said to be eroding the decades-old acquiescence to authoritarianism: Urban populations had more access to information, and a younger generation of Africans carried no living memory of white colonialism, only black repression. Under such pressures, from the outside and within, the old African strongmen were starting to wobble, one by one. Or so it was said.

But sadly, as l survey the African landscape, little has really changed; like so much else—like my own heady optimism in Somalia before the disaster—the great promise of African democracy lies largely in ruins. It was stamped out by a military thug named Sani Abacha in Nigeria, who replaced Babangida and jailed the winner of the country’s free election and Nigeria's real president, Moshood Abiola. It was made a mockery of in Cameroon, where sinister strongman Paul Biya was able to manipulate the voting rolls and control the ballot boxes to have himself declared the winner of a presidential election that foreign observers concluded was too fraudulent to be fair. It never really had much of a chance in Zaire, where Mobutu, the most obdurate of the African strongmen, has reduced his country to a shambles rather than surrender his power and the chance to plunder whatever can still be scraped out of the nation’s resources. And the promise of democracy was set to the torch in Kenya, where Daniel arap Moi’s ruling party instigated tribal clashes that left tens of thousands displaced, all to provide the proof of the prophecy I heard from one of Moi‘s top State House aides, that “democracy cannot work here in Africa.”...

“Why,” he asked, “should a court in an independent Kenya be trying so hard to outperform colonial courts and courts of apartheid in perpetuating injustice? Such a court must surely be driven by that tribal hatred which has completely routed the rule of law in Rwanda, Somalia, and Liberia."

The truth is, Koigi concluded, “that though Kenya is independent and Africans in power today, you—a black African—will give us less justice because we are not your tribesmen than white colonialists gave Kenyatta, though Kenyatta was black and a colonial subject...

One of the dirty little secrets of Zimbabwe‘s success as an independent black nation is something that most blacks—Americans or Africans—probably would rather not hear. It has something to do with a piece of advice that Mozambican president Samora Machel gave to Robert Mugabe well before independence. Machel told him simply, “Keep your whites.”

Machel had learned this lesson the hard way, because when his country gained independence from Portugal in 1975, the whites packed up and left. Out of a population of some two hundred thousand Portuguese settlers, just twenty thousand stayed behind. And the whites that left took with them pretty much everything of value, leaving behind a ravaged country with virtually no infrastructure and only a handful of skilled or educated blacks. And it’s not that Machel didn’t try to convince the Portuguese settlers to stay. Los Angeles Times correspondent David Lamb, in his book TheAfricans, quotes Machel telling the Europeans after independence: “We want harmony among the races. For the sake of national construction, we must have the support of all people on every continent and of every race.” But his plea fell on deaf ears. The Portuguese didn’t believe there was any future for the white man in independent black Africa. 80 they left, and Mozambique was decimated.

And Mugabe, a protege of Machel’s who had kept sanctuary in Mozambique during his guerrilla war, learned the lesson well. When Zimbabwe became independent, Mugabe made sure to keep his whites—many of them, anyway— and the country managed to avoid that most common of the continent's ritualistic dances, the African Downhill Slide.

In the mid-1990s, there were still about a hundred thousand whites living in Zimbabwe, out of a population of some 11.2 million—less than half the pre- independence population, but still substantial. At the same time, some 60 percent of the country’s most productive farmland was still in the hands of about 4,500 white farmers. The Lancaster House agreements had imposed a ten-year constitutional constraint on redistributing land, so that emotive issue was conveniently avoided for a decade. But in the early 19903, with the expiration of that constitutional prohibition, black Zimbabweans became impatient. Land, after all, was one of the key issues that had fueled the f‌ifteen- year guerrilla war, and the victors some fourteen years after independence were still waiting for their spoils. The government did make some early, tentative steps toward conf‌iscating white land for redistribution, but most of those attempts were successfully bottled up in court challenges. A land tenure commission was set up to hash out the problem. But all the while, Mugabe remained ambivalent, recognizing, apparently, that despite the popular appeal of land conf‌iscation, the white commercial farmers still constituted the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy."

--- Out Of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa / Keith B. Richburg


In other words, post-colonialist obsession doesn't work.


Other extracts:

""You see, I was seeing all of this horror a bit differently because of the color of my skin. I am an American, but a black man, a descendant of slaves brought from Africa. When I see these nameless, faceless, anonymous bodies washing over a waterfall or piled up on the back of trucks, what I see most is that they look like me."...

But it was not just the savage butchery that shocked Richburg. He tells of a murder he covered in America where the victim's arm had been severed. He called it in to his newspaper. The night editor demanded to know which arm had been severed. "That," he said, "was Washington, D.C., where every murder victim had a name, an identity, and it mattered how they died and which limb was severed. This is Africa. These are just bodies dumped into a river. Hundreds. Thousands. No one will ever count. No one will ever try to check an identity, contact a family, find out which limb was severed. Because this is Africa, and they don't count the bodies in Africa. This is what I found the most difficult to accept and comprehend. It's not the death itself, though that is bad enough. It is the anonymity of death in Africa, the anonymity of mass death." Richburg writes, "If there was one thing I learned traveling around Africa, it was that the tribe remains the defining feature of almost every African society. Old tribal mistrusts and stereotypes linger, and the potential for a violent implosion is never very far from the surface. Even in the supposedly more sophisticated or developed countries like Kenya, thirty years of independence and 'nation building' had still failed to create any real sense of national identity that could transcend the tribe...

Richburg clearly feels lucky that his ancestors came to America, even though they came as slaves. He asks, "Would I be better off if this great tragedy, this crime of slavery, had not occurred? What would my life be like now? His answer infuriated a lot of people. When he did the TV talk show circuit around publication day, nervous producers paired him with blacks who would argue "the other side of the story."...

Blacks who revere what Richburg calls "the mythical Africa" have reason to feel disappointed at the sorry plight of their ancestors' homeland. M any of those who applauded the dark continent's emergence from colonialism felt that freedom would mean a better life for most. Take the prediction of Jack O'Dell, the Communist adviser of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. O'Dell said it was "quite conceivable that within little more than a generation the African continent could become a garden - spot of human civilization and culture in the modern world." That has not happened. Tyrants hold sway over most of the continent. The Freedom House map shows nearly all Africa as "non - free." Since the heady days of the birth of self - government throughout Africa, the continent has spawned rapacious dictatorships that have brought increased oppression, corruption and economic hardship. It is hard to conceal this unpleasant fact, but journalists keep trying...

"I want to hate the dictators and believe in the brave Africans struggling for freedom. But with those rare exceptions, most Africans are not struggling; they have been too violently suppressed for too long, so many now see no other way except waiting for a big white marine in combat gear to come and rescue them from repression. I want to find heroes here among the ordinary decent Africans, but they infuriate me with their endless acquiescence to repression, their limitless tolerance, their excuses." He deplores "this maddening propensity of Africans to wallow in their own suffering, to simply roll over when kicked, and to express unswerving faith that some outside force, some divine intervention, will bring deliverance from their misery."

Richburg makes it clear that they cannot look for help to American black leaders who fought so long and hard t o achieve full civil rights for blacks in America and in South Africa. "Weird things seem to happen to a lot of American black leaders when they venture into Africa," he says. "They go through a bizarre kind of metamorphosis when they set foot on the continent of their ancestors. Some of the most prominent veterans of America's civil rights wars -- articulate advocates for human rights and basic freedoms for black people in America -- seem to enter a kind of moral and intellectual black box when they get to Africa. Dictators are hailed as statesmen, unrepresentative governments are deemed democratic, corrupt regimes are praised for having fought off colonialism and brought about 'development.' Black Americans were most vocally at the forefront of calls for immediate democratic reform in South Africa, but when the subject turns to the lack of democracy and human rights elsewhere in Africa, those same black Americans become defensive, nervous and inarticulate."...

Richburg, who covered Southeast Asia before going to Africa for the Washington Post, does not buy the notion that Africa can blame its present predicament on its colonial past. "Talk to me about Africa's legacy of European colonialism," he writes, "and I'll give you Malaysia and Singapore, ruled by the British and occupied b y Japan during World War II. Or Indonesia, exploited by the Dutch for over 300 years. And let's toss in Vietnam, a French colony later divided between North and South, with famously tragic consequences. Like Africa, most Asian countries only achieved true independence in the postwar years; unlike the Africans, the Asians knew what to do with it."...

What has hurt Ghana and nearly every other black African country is a succession of corrupt rulers who were more interested in amassing personal fortunes than in advancing the welfare of their people. All too often, their policies were guided by socialist mythology and racism...

The point that Richburg makes that grates on blacks is that Africans brought many of these woes on themselves, through market - destructive economic policies and dictatorial governments more intent on booty than the public weal. According to the 1997 Index of Economic Freedom, a joint study by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, "As a whole, sub - Saharan Africa remains the most economically unfree, and by far the poorest, area in the world. Of the 38 sub - Saharan African countries graded, none received a grade of free...Of the 19 countries [world - wide] categorized as repressed, the majority are in sub - Saharan Africa." The 1997 study "demonstrates quite clearly that sub - Saharan Africa's policy is not the result of insufficient levels of foreign aid, weather patterns, or internal strife; on a per - capita basis, many sub - Saharan African countries are among those receiving the highest levels of economic assistance in the world. Rather, the main cause of poverty in sub - Saharan Africa is a lack of economic freedom, embodied in the policies these nations have imposed on themselves."...

Richburg says "the reluctance to talk straight about Africa" is a great disservice. "If I sound tired of all the old excuses," he writes, "it may be because I've heard so many of them before.. .And I'm not just talking about Africa here -- I'm talking about America too. Ever try to have a meaningful conversation in America about the problems of the black underclass? About drug abuse and teenage pregnancy n black neighborhoods? About the breakdown of the black family, the school dropout rates, the spiraling black - on - black crime? Daniel Patrick Moynihan tried, a long time ago, before he was a senator, when he warned about the disintegration of black families. And did he get trounced -- branded a racist and worse. But go back and look at what he said; sounds to me like Pat had that one just about right, and way before such talk was fashionable."

Blacks don't like to talk about these things among themselves, Richburg tells us. He says he tries to discuss them when he returns to Detroit for family holiday gatherings. "I hear all about Jim Crow and legal segregation and unfair housing practices and all the rest. I hear a lot of excuses, but not much more -- and what I hear is mostly backward - looking, not inward looking." He tells of one such family discussion in which he mentioned a friend of his, a Vietnamese girl who arrived in this country in 1975 at age nine, with no English and little money and who now has a master's degree from a good university and a good job with a big company. Why, he asked his relatives, can an immigrant kid with such handicaps do so well "when so many blacks are still struggling on the streets, hustling, just trying to make ends meet?" After a long silence, his straight - talking father provided an answer: "Because those folks you see out there on the streets think the white man owes them something. They're still waiting for that twenty acres and a mule."

Richburg comments, "Black African leaders talk about foreign aid as if they're en titled to it -- it's something that is due to Africa, with no strings attached -- the same way many American blacks see government assistance programs as a kind of entitlement of birth. In both cases, you're left with black people wallowing in a safety net of dependency."

He says that there may be a conspiracy that keeps black people down. "Only it's not the conspiracy they're probably thinking of.... What I'm talking about is the grand conspiracy of silence, a collective willingness of white people in the West to bury their heads when the talk turns to Africa. It's so pervasive that even the word 'tribe' gives some white people the jitters because they think it's racially laden, condescending.... But then, how can Americans talk straight about Africa when we still can't talk straight about race among ourselves."...

"But while I know that 'Afrocentrism' has become fashionable for many black Americans search for identity, I know it cannot work for me. I have been here, I have lived her e and seen Africa in all its horror. I know now that I am a stranger here. I am an American, a black American, and I feel no connection to this strange and violent place. You see? I just wrote 'black American.' I couldn't even bring myself to write 'Africa n - American'.... Is that what we really are? Is there anything really 'African' left in the descendants of those original slaves who made that torturous journey across the Atlantic?""
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