Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Obama and Africa

James Myburgh on the difficult truths the US president failed to confront in Ghana.


There are certain difficult truths that Obama failed to acknowledge, let alone confront, in his speech. The first is how the maltreatment of Africa's productive racial minorities crippled the continent's development after the end of colonial or white rule. The second is how the failures of Africa were a product of a collaborative effort between African nationalists and their Western supporters and apologists.


In his speech in Ghana last week U.S. President Barack Obama dismissed the idea that the West could be blamed for all of Africa's current problems. The West, he said, "is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the past decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father's life it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many."

The speech was widely welcomed as one that told Africans some very necessary home truths. His message, Libby Purves wrote in The Times of London, "no pink faced Western leader could have delivered without arousing resentment in Africa and politically correct abuse from hand-wringers at home. But Mr Obama? Yes, he could."

Obama was right up to a point. It is obviously absurd to blame Africa's current problems on the enduring effects of colonial rule. If anything, it is surprising that this assertion still needs to be raised up, if only to be knocked down. It would, however, be wrong to absolve the West of any kind of blame for the catastrophic failure of so many post-colonial African states.

There are certain difficult truths that Obama failed to acknowledge, let alone confront, in his speech. The first is how the maltreatment of Africa's productive racial minorities crippled the continent's development after the end of colonial or white rule. The second is how the failures of Africa were a product of a collaborative effort between African nationalists and their Western supporters and apologists.

Back in 1967 Paul Theroux noted that the precarious position of Indians in East Africa was "the result of a collaboration, most likely unthought-out and maybe even unconscious, between outsiders and insiders; almost a conspiracy of Africans and their European apologists, who would very much like to see Africa succeed, even at the expense of a pogrom, a thorough purge of these immigrant peoples."

The corruption, tribalism, patronage and nepotism that Obama so bemoans in Kenya, is the direct result of the racially discriminatory ‘Africanisation' policies pursued by his father's generation of African nationalists in the 1960s. And yet he makes no mention of the way in which so many Kenyan Indians were driven out of that country - after being deprived of their jobs, livelihoods and futures.

The West too, contrary to what Obama claims, does bear a measure of responsibility for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy. The two leaders most responsible for the ruination of that country - Robert Mugabe and Thabo Mbeki - were Western educated racial nationalists. Their defining attitudes - the contempt for ordinary black Africans, hatred of white Africans, and disregard for the real interests of ‘their people' - were at one with those of many Western ‘hand wringers'.

In the early years of their rule the British liberal left was eager to claim them as their own. In a 2001 profile Anthony Sampson wrote of Mbeki: "... seeing him at work I have often been reminded less of other African presidents than of British intellectual politicians, seeking the votes of the masses. His Englishness is superficially apparent in his quiet style, his sports jackets, his curved pipe, precise speech and English friendships."

F.A. Hayek observed many years ago that it is the judgment of the intelligentsia "which mainly determines the views on which society will act in the not too distant future." The Western intelligentsia - to which African leaders looked for intellectual guidance and moral affirmation - had long defined the main ‘problem' facing Zimbabwe as the continued possession, by white farmers, of a share of the land disproportionate to their percentage of the population. If Mugabe was criticised for anything, it was for prioritising ‘economic rationality' over redressing this ‘historical injustice.'

From 2000 onwards as Zanu-PF acted to annihilate the white farming class, that green light turned (at best) to amber. As the BBC's Fergal Keane noted back in 2002 the persecution of white Zimbabweans was regarded with indifference by most ‘Western liberals.'

He wrote: "People who will happily campaign for human rights in East Timor or the Middle East start to behave like the most rabid social Darwinists when you mention Zimbabwe's whites. 'Africa is a tough place and they were on top for a long time. It's their turn to be dominated now,' a friend I'd previously regarded as a liberal told me."

The terrible consequences of those land seizures for Zimbabwe and its people are now horribly apparent. And yet, even today there is a reluctance to acknowledge that a racist crime was committed. The attitude still is that what Mugabe did to the white farmers may not have been particularly nice, but it wasn't criminal.

The best that can be said for the Zanu-PF culprits is that they have had to live, in a very small way, with the consequences of their actions.

There has, however, been no accounting by their former apologists and supporters in Britain and America. For such individuals moral responsibility is a kind of taxi cab, which can be stopped and exited from at will. Obama's speech suggests that, once again, they will be allowed to get away with it.

5 Opinion(s):

Ranger Tom said...

"is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the past decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father's life it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many."

Could you just imagine the outcry if George Bush, or any other white leader said those same words?

Doberman said...

@ RT, precisely. And hence why we all as part of the citizen media network will chip away at this double standard one hammer hit at a time. The day will come when people of all races will enjoy the same freedom to speak openly about all race related issues without fear or favour.

Ranger Tom said...

To true Doberman. I'm trying to do my part too...

Dachshund said...

"'Africa is a tough place and they were on top for a long time. It's their turn to be dominated now,' a friend I'd previously regarded as a liberal told me."

Reverse racism condoned.

And how long will it carry on?

For at least as long as long as apartheid lasted i.e. 46 years.

A life sentence of 15 years has already been served, but expect another 30 years of reverse racism.

If you are a 25 year old white, imagine putting up with it all your "working" life until 55? You can't afford to do it. Your only answer is to emigrate.

Viking said...

Very well written article.