The African Nettle
Africa: From Independence to Tomorrow
The African revolution, having rolled with a steadily gathering momentum southwards to the Zambezi, has there encountered what is at the very least a serious check. If it is to go further, it will need not merely encouragement but positive help from outside Africa—from the West, or the East, or from both together. Grave decisions will soon have to be taken, perhaps at very short notice. The World Court judgment on South-West Africa may provoke some of them. A unilateral declaration of independence by Ian Smith in Southern Rhodesia would provoke others. At any time a serious rising in South Africa, especially if followed by a brutal repression, might force the issue of intervention by the big powers. In facing such decisions, nations outside Africa will be greatly influenced—probably too greatly—by their varying estimates of the achievements and failures of the new states of northern and tropical Africa. Americans, having done so much to hasten the African revolution in the past, may now be the most liable to a change of heart.
The African Nettle is clearly intended to aid such a change, on the one hand by calling into question the performance of the new states, on the other hand by delineating the white-dominated south as an area of stability, friendly to the West, which, given time, is capable of solving its own internal problems. The book is a collection of essays by twelve different hands—four American, three English, two French, two white African, one black African. The black African is Dr. Busia, the former leader of the opposition party in Ghana, and his main concern is to argue that aid should be denied to those states likely to use it in stifling free institutions. The other contributors develop their attacks upon a wider front. The editor claims of his team that “because they are all deeply concerned for the well-being of Africa, they use reason, not emotion, to assess the situation.” In fact, however, they display a good deal of hysteria, much plain ignorance, and in one case at least an apparent lack of any concern with African except in relation to the Cold War.
As an example of the hysteria, one might quote the French journalist, Gilbert Comte. “With the centralizer gone,” he writes, “—be he French, Belgian, English, Portuguese—the tribes at once fling themselves at each other’s throats…We saw this happen in Léopoldville, Elizabethville, Luluabourg…and these are not the exceptions.” But surely these are in fact the exceptions. The Congo apart, the most staggering achievement of independent Africa has so far been the holding together of embryonic national states in the face of ancient tribal loyalties and animosities. “As soon as Guinea achieved its independence,” continues M. Comte, “it opened wide its doors…Hundreds of Czechs, Poles, Chinese and Russians fanned out through the continent, using Conakry as their entry point.” Well did they? M. Comte supplies no evidence, and I certainly know of none to suggest that Conakry has been used as a point of entry into other countries than Guinea. And it is well known that even in Guinea an over-large and over-active Chinese embassy was closed down by President Sekou Touré within a few months of its establishment. M. Comte concludes rather lamely that the disorders in Africa can be “mastered” only by a common policy to be worked out between Washington, Paris, and London. He does not suggest what this policy would be, but the implication is that the two main ex-colonial powers, supported by the United States, should now lay down the law to the newly independent nations. I suggest that nothing could be better calculated to drive Africa into the arms of the Communist world.
Independent Africa having been stigmatized in this way, Sir Roy Welensky appears, offering a jumbo-sized carrot specially designed for the right-wing American donkey. “The existence of powerful, western-aligned regimes in southern Africa is clearly an obstacle to international Communist expansion.” But are they? Does not this too lightly assume that Africa north of the Zambezi is lost to Communism already, and that its spread into southern Africa can be prevented only by allowing the European minorities there to continue ruling, by police state methods, the African majorities among whom they live? The truth is surely the opposite: that the black African states are as wary of international Communism as of Western interference, and that only where unemancipated African populations are ruled by white minorities will Communism find a sure feeding-ground.
For the Union of South Africa we have Professor Hutt of Cape Town, who seems to think that political concessions to the black population might be on the cards if the right of the whites could be recognized to “entrenched protection as a minority”—whatever that could mean. We have also the persuasive M. Giniewski, the author of a well-known book on the Bantustans, whose thesis is that we must distinguish between Apartheid on the one side and territorial separation on the other. We can continue to salve our consciences by protesting against Apartheid in the mixed areas, though the South African Government will certainly continue to enforce it. But we should positively support Dr. Verwoerd in his Bantustan policy, because “it is the political impotence of the Negro in southern Africa that demands a solution,” and the Bantustans will solve that impotence. If there were any sign at all that Dr. Verwoerd would be prepared to abandon, say, Natal on the one side and South-West Africa on the other, one might well be inclined to agree. But so long as the Bantustans provide economic support for little more than a million of the eleven-and-a-half million Negroes of South Africa, it is hard to see that the political impotence of the Negro will be solved by their existence.
The major fulminations of The African Nettle are reserved, however, for the United Nations, and their nature is best indicated in the concluding article by James Burnham, which says, “If the United Nations is to serve the ends of United States policy—and if it cannot, then there is no justification for the United States to remain in the United Nations, except perhaps to sabotage it—then the United Stages government ought to regard the United Nations as a potentially useful instrument, not as a sacrosanct principle.” What splendid ammunition there is here for those who denounce “American imperialism”!
Thomas Molnar, one of the contributors to The African Nettle, is also the author of Africa—a Political Travelogue, in the Introduction to which he acknowledges his debt to the Relm Foundation of Ann Arbor, Michigan, “whose great merit is to aid scholars not conforming to orthodox liberal ideology.” Mr. Molnar made a counterclockwise journey round Africa from Tunis, through Morocco and the Senegel to Angola, and thence to South Africa and Ethiopia. His book is remarkable for its superficiality, its racism, and its naive credulity. He has gone through Africa, keeping mainly to the hotels and the air-routes, collecting clichés about “the African” from non-Africans. These tell us, for example, that the African, though not ambitious, is “envious to an extent unusual in the white world” (p.39); that he is “inordinately greedy, lacks convictions, and in the scramble for the flesh-pots is willing to step on anyone’s feet” (p.61); that Dahomeyans are the most intelligent West Africans “allegedly because they have quite a bit of Portuguese blood” (p.74). In the Transvaal someone took him (both literally and metaphorically) for a ride through the rural areas. He asked his host why it was that European farms looked so different from the land in a native reserve, and was told in reply that
the Bantu’s conception of the land and its cultivation was quite different from the white man’s: the Bantu, that is, generally speaking the East African black man, but also the West Africans, were until recently nomadic people, using the land for surface [as opposed to subterranean?] cultivation and cattle-grazing…When the white men arrived in large numbers in Africa, the black men were obliged slowly to put an end to their migratory habits and settle down.
This, needless to say, is nonsense. The settled life has been practiced in West Africa for some four thousand years and in Bantu Africa for some two thousand. The white men of South Africa have been no less given to migration than the black; otherwise they would not be there at all. And had Mr. Molnar given a few moments to reflection, he might have realized that there are no racial conclusions to be drawn from the fact that the fields of the conquerors look more prosperous than those of the conquered. Finally, we have the solemn account of a dinner-table conversation with a doctor in the Transkei about a nursing nun who was eaten by her patients, probably, so Mr. Molnar was assured, “to assimilate through oral absorption the victim’s qualities and virtues” (p.176). We are here in a world of medieval travelers’ tales: one expects at any moment to turn a page and read of “men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders.” It would be interesting to know whether the Relm Foundation considers its money well spent.
Though in its own way highly critical of independent Africa, Mr. Hapgood’s Africa: From Independence to Tomorrow is very different from Mr. Molnar’s book. Mr. Hapgood is a journalist who has made several trips to Africa, and has lived for a year in the Senegal. He writes with real point and verve, and it is obvious that he has got to know at least one African state from the inside. He has also worked as an evaluator for the Peace Corps, and his special interest is in rural life. His argument is that the one-party, socialistic, post-independence state is a direct legacy of the European colonial system, and that, while it is politically unobjectionable, it is economically hopeless. “Even the more authoritarian one-party states—Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Guinea are examples—are far from totalitarian. The single party attempts in general to include all factions; it does not aim to exclude and punish like Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union.” But the politically capable and tolerant elites who hold power in these states have no corresponding competence in the economic field. They have development plans, but fail to implement them. They spend their foreign aid on prestige building and high living in the capital cities, and squander their meager revenues on national airlines, and on maintaining diplomats in Peru and North Korea. And the most elephantine of all the prestige projects on which independent Africa wastes its substance is education. Because, says Mr. Hapgood, education in Africa is nothing but a means of weaning people from a productive to an unproductive way of life. The message of colonial education was “the superiority of all that is European-urban over what is African-rural. Contempt for village culture and its values, and above all contempt for manual labor, is the lesson instilled in the students.” Mr. Hapgood, one gathers, would like to see less financial aid—particularly from France and Russia, who are the worst at promoting prestige projects—and more young Americans working with their hands in the back country. Agriculture is the key to progress, and it must be improved by small, unspectacular stages—donkey power, hand-tools, grain storage, windmills. Mr. Hapgood is an enthusiast for his own special interest, and what he says about it is real and important, though unfortunately he has no more idea than anyone else how his scale of economic priorities could be made politically acceptable to the governing elites whose eyes are set on universities and nuclear reactors and hydro-electric schemes.
By far the best book on this list is the last, Emergent Africa by Scipio. The pen-name conceals a professional diplomat, and the author describes it as “an attempt to sift the available evidence about the forces which determine political and economic life in the new states of tropical Africa…to understand more clearly what the nature of their relations with the outside world are likely to be.” This man knows his Africa, and he has also read the books. He has wisdom and tolerance, a capacity for accurate generalization, and a precision and a dignity of expression which made me think of Henry Adams. Like Mr. Hapgood, but with more sympathy and understanding, he examines the ancestry of the one-party state in the colonial system and the nationalist struggle, and his conclusion is unreservedly in its favor.
For all the invaluable help provided from without, the real basis of stability is the new African political system, the dominant and all-embracing national party…It is an African system: displeasing many Westerners and owing less to their precepts and practices than they had hoped; but answering Africa’s first need, the need that was used to justify the colonial occupation in the first place, the need for order.
Unlike Mr. Hapgood, Scipio can contemplate even the African elites with some serenity. Its members, he finds, have mostly made their way by ability and education; their wide family connections keep them in touch with the masses and will always prevent them from ossifying into a ruling class; radical young men become safely bourgeois once in office; and as education supplies more recruits, competition will lead to increasing competence. Looking ahead, Scipio thinks that the interests of the western nations in Africa will probably decline. Tropical produce is already a buyer’s market, and will become so more and more as new synthetic substances are developed. He throws out the very interesting suggestion that the long-term economic future for Africa may be to grow food for the overpopulated countries of Asia. Technical aid will have to go on for a long, long time; but it will become scarcer, and African countries will have to pay more attention to maintaining the good-will of the givers. But the most positive requirement of the West in Africa will be capable self-government, the maintenance of law and order, security for trade and industry and for the foreigners who work in the new countries, and reasonable respect for international obligations. “This,” says Scipio, “is what Europeans wanted, and did not always find, in pre-colonial Africa. It is fortunately something that most African governments today seem able to provide…And it is encouraging that, to most observers, the prospect seems better today than it did, say, five years ago.”