For Westerners today, “Africa” still sounds exotic and somehow “victimized” – it conjures past images of blacks being enslaved to the Americas (conveniently forgotten are those shipped to Oman, Arabia or the Gulf); and the present day visions of starving children, genocide and AIDS. For better or for worse, the combined impact of these perceptions has somehow given “Africa,” at least in naïve Western eyes, a moral credibility of victimhood it never deserved and, most importantly, it is now doing its collective best to destroy. After decades of manipulating, and extorting aid over Western guilt over colonialism, “Africa,” or at least its loudest voices, is now increasingly turning towards what could only be called a politically incorrect name: racialism in the name of a phony continental solidarity. Just as Western universities, academics, media and experts used to help African states along the self-destructive road to “socialism” during the 1960s and 1970s, they are now playing along the game of blaming non–black outsiders for the continent’s woes. A few recent examples are very enlightening.
An EU-African summit meeting scheduled for March 2003 in Lisbon was postponed indefinitely because of Africa’s insistence that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe be invited and Britain’s refusal to attend if he is. South Africa and Nigeria also insist that Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth be lifted, which Australia strongly opposes. The EU has renewed sanctions against Zimbabweans’ travel to the EU, but only after accepting as a fait accompli France’s decision to invite Mugabe and his high spending wife to Paris.
Meanwhile, on January 20, at the insistence of the African bloc at the UN, the UN Human Rights Commission—the same commission that in May 2001 voted to replace the U.S. on that commission (the U.S. only regained its seat beginning January 2003)—elected Libya to assume its chairmanship. Finally, among his more notable recent comments, Nelson Mandela has claimed that the United States is only pushing for war on Iraq because…UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is a black man. That, to put it politely, is racialist obsession.
The newly minted (at Libyan insistence) African Union includes some 52 countries. Some are “African” strictly by virtue of geography (Arab North Africa, Somalia, Mauritania, Mauritius) and a handful are democracies of sorts, but most are kleptocracies, and many—with Mugabe’s Zimbabwe as the poster boy—are murderous tribal dictatorships. “Democracies of sorts”? Indeed, since ultimately most AU decisions are taken by a handful of countries, most prominently (aside from Libya) Nigeria and South Africa, both of which have elected governments, albeit Nigeria’s cannot control the march of Islamic fundamentalism in its north and South Africa’s is increasingly collapsing into a crime ridden, race-defined one-party system.
Alas, most of Africa, at least subsaharan Africa, clearly is and for at least three decades has been the world’s sick continent. It is the only part of the world that is consistently behind, and falling further behind, on all economic, social, and political rankings. It is the most dependent on debt forgiveness for its very survival as a plausible collection of states, and often dependent on food and health care handouts for the survival of its people.
One would hope that “Africa” could understand and at the very least begin to seriously examine the causes of its condition. There was a fleeting moment at the beginning of the 1990s when such a self-examination seemed possible, mostly because the end of “existing socialism” discredited an ideology which had a major role in Africa’s pitiful state. Unfortunately, the moment passed, and now we see a return to the patterns of the past—racism elevated to the level of continental “solidarity,” blaming selectively chosen “others” (i.e. the “whites”), singing the song of anti-Western sirens from Tripoli, etc. Meanwhile, Nigeria is descending into confessional conflict, with Islamists persisting in cutting off the hands of thieves and in stoning women; South Africa continues on its suicidal course of “Affirmative Action,” resulting in an illiterate police and an increasingly politically correct media; while in Zimbabwe, Mugabe brings all these political and cultural diseases onto the front page—with “Africa” supporting him.
Why “Africa” when there are some countries on the continent that, in practice at home, does not share the AU’s values, as expressed by the “big men” in Lagos or Pretoria? Because too many people outside Africa—and not just in Tripoli or the UN’s New York headquarters, but also in the press rooms of major European and American newspapers and elite universities—long ago decided that “Africa” has to have one voice—implicitly a “black” one, a vicarious way of fighting against the despised capitalism and democracy of their own societies.
Do the relatively effective governments of Uganda, Mauritius, Senegal, and Botswana really represent the same “Africa” as the murderously corrupt Stalinist Mugabe does in Zimbabwe? Obviously not, and the question is why they implicitly accept the “leadership” of an impotent Obasanjo of Nigeria, incoherent Mbeki of South Africa, not to mention Qaddafi. The answer is because they believe to have no alternative to such specious and dangerous “solidarity.” Not all – fortunately, and this makes the point – Mozambique, itself ruined by decades of “socialism” has invited (yes, invited !) the very “white colonialist” farmers Mugabe has expelled and persecuted to set up farms on government provided land. But that example of common sense is more than obscured by the anti – white rantings of Sam Nujoma, the aging Marxist dictator of Namibia , and even by some voices in South Africa, all of whom think that today’s stealing of “white” property by their clique’s aces the inevitable starvation of blacks that will follow tomorrow.
When President Bush talks about spending billions of dollars in “Africa” to eradicate AIDS, he only promotes the illusion of a unified Africa that doesn’t exist now and never did, and which should not be treated as a fact. President Bush never speaks of “Asia” or “Latin America” in this way, and it does not make sense here either.
As long as Washington, Brussels, or especially the UN continue to speak of “the continent of Africa,” as Bush did in his recent State of the Union Address, they only encourage racist demagogues à la Mugabe and his enablers in Pretoria and Abuja, rather than treating the various countries of that continent as the separate and different countries they are. As for the French, who invited Mugabe to Paris last week, well…they are enablers, French and thus desperate to maintain what used to be an effective influence and is now badly sleeping away throughout the continent - the latest humiliation coming in what used to be France’s model ex – colony, Côte D’Ivoire. Uganda is not South Africa, certainly not when it comes to dealing with AIDS; Kenya is not, especially now that an elected government is in power, the racially obsessed, anti-Semitic place Sudan is; well-governed Botswana is certainly not anarchic Somalia, etc.
If African racism is to be contained, the idea of African “solidarity,” whether coming from within or encouraged from without, must be discarded as a bad and dangerous habit. Outsiders, on whose investments, aid and general help the future of all countries in Africa depend, have to treat each country as an individual case—and expect the government, if any, to behave according to its citizens’ interests, not according to some vague and irresponsible notions of African solidarity. And well intentioned Western NGOs have to accept that the declining support for aid to Africa is not just a matter of “donor fatigue” – although that is an understandable reality – it is also a reaction to the unending assaults of self-appointed “African” voices against those very donors.
Ultimately, the future of many countries in Africa depends on the deconstruction of this false and dangerously self-defeating concept of African unity among the region’s different peoples and governments. The future of “Africa” is dependent on the end of the very notion of “Africa” as some kind of ethnic, racial and historic unity which never did and does not deserve to exist.