Editorial: Colonial minds

Jean Chretien’s imbecilic remarks last month about how poverty causes terrorism — and his woolly-minded connection of Arab terror to African underdevelopment — show that when uninformed people start banging on about Africa it can be wisest just to pretend you can’t hear. But indulge us for a few editorial minutes.

The newest piece of silliness from southern Africa is the decision by Namibia’s president, Sam Nujoma, to ban Western-made television programs from the national network.

Or maybe it’s not; the Namibian government insists Nujoma was simply suggesting the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) should institute family viewing hours, and save the provocative foreign stuff (sci-fi and reruns of a U.S. daytime soaps) for later at night. Wire service reports to the contrary were “a malicious attempt to discredit both the NBC and the Namibian Head of State.”

While we have to credit President Nujoma’s taste in programming — Oprah Winfrey, for one, is being phased out — it is hard not to see this as being of one piece with previous comments he has made about African self-sufficiency and about the West’s desire to “impose European culture” on Africa. Nujoma, after all, said last month that there was no need for Western investment in Africa, and southern African states would “develop our Africa without your money.”

Much of southern Africa has tried this. Much of southern Africa has failed at it. The once-productive mines of the Copper Belt stand in testimony to that. Fairly mute testimony, in fact, and it gets muter by the day.

And one step lower than investment is aid. Through the past four decades, much of sub-Saharan Africa turned to foreign countries for it. Southern African countries still have no problem accepting it, Namibia included. (A sophist might say that once you’ve given it away, it’s no longer “your” money, which would save President Nujoma from hypocrisy.)

The history of aid in post-colonial Africa is illuminating. Leaders such as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, feeling more political kinship with the collectivist world than the capitalist one, got their aid from mainland China. The Soviet Union bankrolled Marxist governments across the continent.

That aid always came with political strings attached, unlike aid from the West, which most often was passed through the United Nations or non-governmental organizations. Consider: now that there is no political payoff, how much aid makes its way to Africa from what is left of the Eastern Bloc?

Xenophobia does more harm to the xenophobe than to the, er, xeno. The present situation in Zimbabwe has frightened almost all foreign investment from that country. Zambia has effectively re-nationalized large parts of the copper industry, because Anglo American (an African company, mark you) has up and left. This is much worse for Zambia than for Anglo, as the recent salary riots in Luanshya show.

It is worth noting that the only southern African country with a high enough credit rating to think about self-sufficiency in capital — Botswana — is having no part of Nujoma’s fantasy. It welcomes foreign investment as a matter of policy.

The problem is not the imperialistic West that haunts President Nujoma’s nights. The problem is that Africa is the continent that progress forgot: the past two decades have seen the Asian and Latin American Third World grow and industrialize while Africa and the Middle East have stagnated. In 1970, Africans made up just over a tenth of those living in extreme poverty; by 1998, they made up two-thirds.

And it was investment, not aid, that brought the Chinas, Indias and Indonesias out of poverty. The globaphobes may say what they like about Nike factories, but manufacturing has improved peoples’ lot across much of the old undeveloped world. There was a reason it did not go to a great part of Africa.

The irony is that southern Africans can develop “their” Africa quite well, given openness to foreign investment, fairness in business dealings, and uprightness in government. What stands in their way is an old attitude about colonialism, an old insecurity that excuses failure by pretending the outside world made it so.



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