White Mischief

Africa and The Communist World

by Zbigniew K. Brzezinski et al.
Stanford, 272 pp., $5.00

How far the Communists may be winning friends and influencing people in Africa is obviously a matter of importance for all of us in the West as well as for themselves. Here we have the evidence and conclusions of eight highly-qualified Western experts on Communist strategy and tactics. So far as I can tell—and a mere Africanist will not be expected, in these recondite questions, to be able to tell very far—they provide between them a most able description of Communist aims and endeavors in Africa and some other parts of the “less-developed world.” They quote widely from Marxist sources in several languages, notably in Russian. They are at home with the jargon and jousting, open and private, of Communist parties and pressure groups in many lands. They write for the most part—especially Brzezinski and Alexander Dallin—with a quiet detachment that is attractively removed from the more brassy tones of the Cold War. They provide a painstaking and, I believe, unique survey. The question none the less surprisingly remains: is it a useful survey?

The answer, alas, is not so obvious as the expertise of these authors might suggest. If they are experts in Sovietology and its atmosphere of thought, they are anything but experts on Africa. Instead of starting their inquiry from the firm ground of African reality, they start from a quiet different place—from the endeavors and intentions of the Communists outside Africa. If it were not for their carefully moderate language, one could only suspect them of the most outrageous intellectual arrogance. For how can one sensibly discuss the impact of this or that ideology or political approach to Africa unless one first of all describes, delimits, and defines the nature of the African reality on which that impact will be felt? They deal with part of the story, in short; but it is precisely the part which is not going to be decisive.

It would be churlish and unfair to throw this in the face of these learned authors were it not for their implicit claim, made and re-made throughout the book, that they have taken this African reality into account. It is not their fault that although they are experts on the Communist half of the world they do not know Africa; it is their fault that they assume so casually so much of Africa’s reaction to their subject. It is useless for the disarming Mr. Brzezinski to say that this “is not a book about Africa as such”—what does as such ever mean in this context?—and that “no effort has been made to assess the degree of Communist penetration within Africa as such”: the whole book most flagrantly belies him. Far-reaching assumptions about what Africans think or are likely to think are scattered through these pages. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be based on any serious degree of observation.

The fact, in any case, remains that this lop-sided expertise, which the uncharitable might quickly interpret as an attitude of condescension towards Africans, who…

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