Monday, April 4, 2011

The Fate of Africa - A History of Fifty Years of Independence

I've just finished the above titled brick-of-a-book by Martrin Meridith, who provides a dispassionate, and well-documented, account of Africa's recent history. I am driven to know more about Africa first of all because of my son-in-law's backgroound, and also to get a sense of our world-wide humanity. To understand Africa, it's heroes and faliures, is to understand ourselves. To turn a blind eye to failure is to guarantee repeat.

I'll first quote another reviewer, to get a sense of the breadth and depth of this book, "So many bad books receive extravagant praise that it's hard to do justice to a msterpiece when one finally appears. And the Fate of Africa is a masterpiece...This is living, breathing history that matters." - Ralph Peters, New York Post. In case after case, country after country, the author describes how the Big Men of Africa squandered the wealth and potential of their countries for personal gain. First-world countries bungled and amplified the problems by failing to grasp the depth of Africa's issues and rather imposing their own agendas and fears. As I descended through despair as so graphically outlined in this book, I wondered, when would hope arrive?

I live by hope. I must believe that goodness prevails. Yet over and over again I witness in this book persons of integrity, intelligent and brave - harassed and destroyed.  The bullies won. They succeeded in raping their countries to the brink of ruin, and recovery is out of sight. How can the common person in such an environment dare to hope for a better day, that they will enjoy the fruits of their labour?

There can be no other way than hope and reconciliation. Yet it will take tremendous effort and insight - not by individuals - but by a collective world - to turn things around. It means being persons of integrity, altruistic, ready to spurn personal gain and power for the greater good. It means laying down treasured ideologies, trusting all that is good, and banishing the crooked.

For the rest of my blog, I'm preserving the quotes from this book that moved me, lest I forget.

[On the reckless speed that independence was granted to the Gold Coast] "A new governor, Sir Charles Arden-larke, was despatched to the Gold Coast in 1949, with the warning that 'the country is on the edge of revolution' and with instructions to implement a new order to avert it. The new system of government was regarded as being in the nature of 'an experiment', one that could be carefully controlled and monitored...The reality, however, was different. One senior British official involved in the Gold Coast experiment later described the process as 'like laying down a track in front of an oncoming express.'" [Revolution's explosive power came from years of repression by the colonizers, who treated its citizens as inferior. Independence was granted late and poorly, not allowing for a steady transition of power] (p. 13)

[The error of divine certainty] "The architect of grand apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, a Dutch-born ideological fanatic, cast himself in the role of a leader chosen by God. 'I do not have the nagging doubt of ever wondering whether perhaps I am wrong.'" (p. 178)

"...a Methodist bishop, Abel Muzorewa, warned of the deep undercurrents of bitterness rising among the African population, 'the repressed fear, restless silence, forced tolerance and hidden hatred'." [The ruling leader, Smith, respondid with further repression] (p. 321)

"In sum, what the [World] Bank advocated was political liberalisation. Economic success, it maintained, depended to a large degree on effictive and honest government, the rule of law, open economies and policital democracy....."People need freedom to realise individual and collective potential...I fear that many of Africa's political leaders have been more concerned about retaining power than about the long-term development interests of their people. The cost to milions of Africans...has been unforgivably high.[Barber Conable]" (p. 376-377)

[Pastoral letter, eight Catholic bishops of Malawi on Banda's dictatorship  in Malawi ] "...This is most regrettable. It creates an atmosphere of resentment among the citizens. It breeds a climate of mistrust and fear. This fear of harassment and mutual suspicion generates a society in which the talents of many lie unused and in which there is little room for initiative.[Banda responded by declaring the letter to be a seditious document. Riots and violence followed] (p. 407-408)

[Frederick Chiluba at his inauguration] "The Zambia we inherit is destitute - ravaged by the excesses, ineptitutde and straight corruption of a party and a people who have been in power for too long. When our first president stood up to address you twenty-seven years ago, he was addressing a country full of hope and glory. A country fresh with the power of youth , and a full and rich dowry. Now the coffers are empty. The people are poor. The misery is endless." (p. 411)

[Angola in 1992] "Overall there was widespread relief at the respite from war, but scepticism about wheter it would last. 'Will it be like 1975?' a market trader asked. 'It is not the people who make war, but the leaders.'" (p. 605)

[Mandela at the opening of the secont session of parliament, South Africa, 1995] "The government literally does not have the money to meet the demands that are being advanced. Mass action of any kind will not create resources the government does not have. All of us must rid ourselves of the wrong notion that the government has a big bag full of money. The government does not have such riches. We must rid ourselves of the culture of entitelement which leads to the expectation that the government must promptly deliver whatever it is we demand." (p. 651)

[The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on the African National Congress (ANC's) claims of self-exoneration as a 'just war' on aparteid] "A gross violation is a gross violation, whoever commits it and for whatever reason. There is thus legal equavalence between all perpetrators. Their political affiliation is irrelevant." (p. 657)

[Archbishop Tutu on the dangers of a new tyranny in South Africa] "We can't assume that yesterday's oppressed will not become tomorrow's oppressors. We have seen it happen all over the world, and we shouldn't be surprised if it happens here." (p. 659)

[Mandela nearing retirement] "I am nearing my end", he told Afrikaner students. "I want to be able to sleep till eternity with a broad smile on my face, knowing that youth, opinion-makers and everybody is stretching the divide, trying to unite the nation. HIs legacy was a country which had experienced greater harmony than at any previous time in its history. (p. 664)