Thursday, August 06, 2009

No no, you think again

'Think Again: Africa's Crisis
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Africa, the continent is in far better shape than most experts think

It's true that some countries in the region are as poor as England under William the Conqueror, but that doesn't mean Africa's on the verge of doomsday. How many serfs had a cellphone? More than 63 million Nigerians do. Millions travel on buses and trucks across the continent each year, even if the average African road is still fairly bumpy. The list of modern technologies now ubiquitous in the region also includes cement, corrugated iron, steel wire, piping, plastic sheeting and containers, synthetic and cheap cotton clothing, rubber-soled shoes, bicycles, butane, paraffin candles, pens, paper, books, radios, televisions, vaccines, antibiotics, and bed nets.',0

What is the motivation to write pieces like this? I mean, really, what? I remember getting to Rhodesia in 1975, and one of the most consistently touchy subjects among white Rhodesians was the state of technological development in Africa.

'Everybody in Europe thinks we all live in mud huts and drive donkey carts' they would moan. This despite the fact noone had suggested that either was true. I believe the underlying fear was that Africa is just so far behind the rest of the world that it might never catch up.

Forget about the technologies Africans use- what technology is made in Africa? What percentage of those 63 million cellphones were manufactured in Nigeria? Nought percent. And even more importantly, how many technologies used from Saskatchewan to Sarawak were invented, developed and marketed first by Africans? That would be another nought. Mosquito nets, quinine and DDT between them have save hundreds of millions of lives in Africa. Invented by Africans? No....

Silly pieces like this which try to gild the slops bucket avoid the extremely unpalatable truths abundantly evident to visitors to Africa. Greed, brutality, extremely macho culture, curruption, tribalism and a complete disrespect for the communal civil space ruin Africas prospects at every turn. Africa is in many places wrecked ecologicaly, not from the depredations of the constantly demonised white man, but by the catastrophic 'farming' practises of the black population. Goats, the most commonly kept animals, make deserts. I'm not kidding. Sheep and cows crop grass, goats tear plants out whole, destroying them and allowing the soil to blow away. Slash and burn farming is still practised in much of Africa- and fragile ecosystems often take decades, if not centuries to recover. 'Bush meat' has become huge in Africa. To you and me and the documentary makers, they might be scarily endagered species, but to the locals they are yummy dinner.

Africas tragedy to me is that it needed five hundred years of colonial rule, and most of it got less than a hundred. In that hundred years, bits and pieces of modernity were introduced to Africa, but only in a shallow and superficial way. Think of it this way- 63 million Nigerians own mobile phones and probably zero know how a mobile phone system works. Robert Mugabe knows the word Democracy but he has no emotional or cultural investment in the idea itself. Where would Africa be in the 21st century if it had not been colonised? Have you been to New Guinea?

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