by Hannes Wessels
A recent article in The Spectator about Alexander Lebedev makes interesting reading; almost as interesting as the man himself. Born to parents belonging to the Soviet nomenklatura, in Moscow 1n 1959, he studied economics and graduated in 1982 before joining the KGB. Posted to London in the late 80’s as an economics attaché to monitor political events, he maintained a close eye on the seismic political changes that were unfolding, left the intelligence services and went on to become a billionaire ‘oligarch’ in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union. He is now a part owner of the UK’s Independent and Evening Standard.
He recently wrote a book titled ‘Hunt the Banker’ in which he makes points seldom seen in print or heard on television. He is outraged by the sense of moral superiority assumed by the West in general and Western financial institutions in particular, which he says have become ‘machines for theft’. This resonates with what all of us who live in Africa know, but sometimes forget.
Africa certainly suffers as a result of delinquent governance which is prevalent at all levels and in all countries. But the pertinent point Lebedev makes is the looting of the continental wealth could not have happened without the complicity of Western banks and their political and bureaucratic supervisors who have turned a blind eye to this colossal malfeasance for over 60 years and continue to do so today. Add to this the amount of aid money that is sent to Africa only to be stolen and re-cycled through the same banks and the numbers run into trillions. Lebedev is right, puritanical politicians and bankers in Europe who speak so sanctimoniously about their concern for the poor in the Third World are the very people who have facilitated this tragedy.
In this context I am mindful of the fact that Cecil Rhodes, in the minds of the vast majority of people is currently one of the great historical villains of our colonial past; pilloried for his ruthless plunder of the diamond fields and of course – for being a capitalist, ‘racist’ and imperialist. But these modern-day bankers and their political masters would have had a big problem with Rhodes and maybe this is why people like him and European politicians and entrepreneurs that followed had to be eliminated.
Rhodes, had no interest in placing a solitary cent in any one of those banks – he wanted to put all his personal wealth back into Africa and build roads, railways, bridges, telegraphs and places of learning, which is what he was busy doing when he died in a small cottage by the seaside in St. James. His dream was to help construct a platform for wealth creation on the continent that would be independent of Europe and benefit Africans directly. Revenues earned would move in and out of African, not European banks.
His legacy certainly lived on where I grew up in Rhodesia. There were surely exceptions, but the majority of Europeans who settled in the country, from farmers to manufacturers to industrialists, wanted to build and improve their fortunes in the country they called home and not in Luxembourg or London. This triggered tremendous economic growth and the country was on course to being a continental, commercial and industrial powerhouse.
The crooked overseas bankers must have rubbed their hands in glee when the political sands shifted with the advent of a majority-rule government. The new ‘liberation’ rulers quickly set about stealing the country’s wealth and handing it to them for safe-keeping. Little, if anything, was used for nation-building and the poor became immeasurably poorer. Zimbabwe is now on the brink of being a failed state as a result of this theft and I dare say there is not a country in Africa that has not been similarly impacted to a lesser or greater degree.
Lebedev also questions Western conceit about freedom of speech, insisting his newspaper in Moscow, has more editorial freedom than the New York Times. Whether this is true or not I am unable to say; but I share his view that public speech in the democracies is increasingly controlled by media-moguls who dictate editorial direction and governments who regulate what is ‘offensive’ or ‘designed to cause harm’ under the all-embracing concept of ‘hate-speech’. Identity politics has stifled debate and emphasised what divides rather than unites humans. ‘Freedom of speech’ is now a double-speak concept of Orwellian proportions.
As a result, important discussions, designed to solve pressing problems cannot be had in public fora for fear that in the inevitable discourse, some victim group may be offended. And people, who feel they may have something useful to contribute, shy away in the face of the possibility that they will upset some super-sensitive activist group that will have the support of a powerful mass-media machine which will be galvanised into action to wreck the ‘offender’s’ career.
This intolerance of dissent has led to a cowed majority that, understandably, recognises the advantages that exist in maintaining a supine position on matters of consequence; better to shut up and live with the lie than speak out.
Reflecting on what Lebedev submits, one is left wondering what is left in the West if the rule of law is so brazenly bent by financiers and freedom of speech is a phantom of our past; two vital pillars in the upholding of real democracy are no more and the West may be on the same slippery slope we descended upon in southern Africa; we might soon welcome our distant European cousins to life in the Third World.