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 …