In an article by RW Johnson in ‘Politicsweb,’ titled ‘Amidst the ruins of ANC rule,’ the author paints a grim picture of the man-made disaster that has befallen South Africa, but then goes on to refer somewhat critically, to ‘embittered whites’ who have a ‘tendency…to say these failures are true everywhere in Africa.’
In rebuttal of this sentiment he explains that ‘most African cities have survived OK, and many have grown. Few have been destroyed or collapsed.’ He cites economic growth in Kenya, the fact that ‘Nairobi is a budding tech-hub,’ the success of Ethiopian Airlines, the port of Maputo and rising literacy rates in Botswana, as proof that the South African example is an extreme one and not a fair reflection on Africa as a whole.
How I wish this were so, but unless I have been looking in all the wrong places, I see the ANC as fairly typical of the type of government most countries on the continent have endured since the end of the colonial era; in fact, not the worst at all. Examples of the gross incompetence and corrupt misrule that has swept the length and breadth of sub-Saharan Africa since ‘independence’ require a book, not a quick blog but it is obvious to all with their eyes open that the last six decades constitute one of the greatest politically motivated, socio-economic disasters in recorded history.
He mentions the port at Maputo, but he does not mention that the economy of Mozambique, which had been built up over hundreds of years, in a multi-racial society, through arduous work and considerable capital outlay, was wilfully destroyed in a matter of months by a zealot and his militant cohorts. Fixated on Stalinism, following a racial agenda that put to flight most of the Portuguese, who performed vital roles in both the public and private sector, the ’liberators’ wrecked their beautiful country. Etched in my memory is the sight of destitute Portuguese families crossing the border into my hometown with only what they could carry, having lost everything.
In the blink of an eye, millions were impoverished, subjected to totalitarian rule and their misery continues to this day. Mr’ Johnson, asks us to understand that the ANC is worse than most of them; ‘our particular lot of African nationalists seem to be particularly hopeless,’ he writes, well I suggest he have another look at what Frelimo managed to do and rethink that. To give him his due, Mr. Johnson, can rely on former British Foreign Secretary, Lord David Owen for support; he considers Samora Machel one of Africa’s greatest leaders and laments the fact more were not cut from the same cloth.
Bolstering his argument Mr. Johnson refers to the relative success of a national airline as another example of an African success. This is an underwhelming suggestion when one looks at the history and current state of Ethiopia. It is a miserable legacy of famine, war and awful misrule that included the ‘Red Terror’ under the murderous Mengistu regime, which has visited misery on millions of people. Conflict continues to consume the country to this day. In a recent article for The Spectator, Aidan Hartley points out, so lawless is the country, an estimated 500,000 people have died over the last 16 months in Tigray because relief cannot reach them. And one should bear in mind, while this country was briefly occupied by the Italians in WWII (later liberated by South African troops), it was never colonised, so difficult to blame the ‘usual suspects’ in this case.
While Nairobi might be a promising tech-hub, it is also a gigantic slum where millions of wretched people live in terrible poverty, condemned to live lives bereft of any chance of a living wage and a decent home. If population ‘growth’ alone, as the writer asserts, is an indicator of success, then I must beg to differ. Surely quality of life, not numbers of people, is the yardstick by which governance should be judged?
It certainly gives me no pleasure to report that in all my time working and travelling in southern and eastern Africa, I have seen an abundance of instances of state sponsored or supervised destruction and dereliction and little to indicate constructive intent aimed at improving the lot of the poor. An obsession with destroying all vestiges of the colonial era, no matter how well intentioned, those developments were, has retarded, if not wrecked, the chances of a progression towards a more prosperous future for the majority of Africans.
Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, a lady with whom Mr. Johnson, often disagrees, landed herself in trouble for asking why African countries could not have followed the Singapore model and embraced what suited them from the colonial structures and systems, while discarding that which did not. Singapore today, boasting paltry natural resources, is one of the most prosperous polities on the planet.
I can only dream what Africa would look like today had the leaderships conducted themselves with the same prudence and selflessness after having acquired power. Sadly, African leaders chose another course, and the results are there for all to see. Mr. Johnson might not be ‘embittered’ but I certainly am.