We Owe It to Africa!

John Dillon

           What is to be done about Africa? This question has, perhaps, an unpleasantly patronising ring to it, but such is certainly not intended. I write as one who has spent some years in Africa, back in the (somewhat) pleasanter era of the early 1960’s, and who developed a considerable affection for the part of it in which I lived, which was Ethiopia, but also an appreciation of Kenya and Tanganyika, which I was able to visit during the summer of 1962. I am also mindful of some shrewd remarks of my uncle, John La Touche, who had spent some years back in the late 1920’s in Angola, with some travels in the rest of Southern Africa, prospecting for oil, in a conversation about Africa after my return. “Mark my words,” he said, “that part of the world (viz. South Africa, South-West Africa [now  Namibia], Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe], Angola and Mozambique) possesses all the resources you could want to become one of the economic power-houses of the world, both in terms of minerals and farmland. All that can hold it back is human incompetence and criminality.”

          And this goes, I think, for much of the rest of the continent – except, perhaps for the Sahara, and some immediately sub-Saharan regions (though even there a reasonable level of subsistence could be attained with the help of well-structured irrigation projects). Instead of which, what do we have? Political chaos, civil wars, destruction of natural resources, the systematic ripping-off of national economies by sleazy dictators, backed up by even sleazier European and American ‘entrepreneurs’, not to mention Russian and Central Asian oligarchs, to the great advantage of Swiss and Caribbean banks, while an endless stream of desperate people trudge across the Sahara to holding camps in North Africa, run by ruthless crooks, in the hope of finding a place (at the cost, so often, of their life’s savings) on a leaky, overloaded boat to take them to the promised land of Europe.

         Now it is all very well for good-hearted persons to emote about our duty to offer unlimited hospitality to the world’s refugees, without expending a thought on why there should be such an enormous volume of them, and what might be done about that – what I would term the ‘Mother Teresa’ attitude to misery – but I do not see that we can any longer shirk the more troublesome question: what is it incumbent on us to do about it, other than welcoming the tattered victims?

         It is relatively easy, I think, to provide an answer, though I have no illusion as to the fact that words in this area are much easier than actions. As to one vast problem currently afflicting the whole sub-Saharan region, as well as such areas as Somalia and Northern Kenya, persistent drought, I am already on record as proposing two vast projects, (a) flooding large stretches of the Sahara with water brought in by pipeline from the Atlantic, in order to provoke rainfall from the prevailing winds which blow north-south across the desert; and (b) running another large pipeline west-east across the continent from the great rivers of the Congo-Niger area to Kenya and Somalia, with appropriate subsidiary pipelines running off this at intervals.

           Both these projects would of course be enormously expensive — but, then again, far less expensive than such a project as the Iraq war, or indeed the 20-year-long invasion of Afghanistan – but my contention is that we in the West owe this much, and more, to a continent which we have exploited and oppressed for centuries, since the time of the first organised slave-traders, and through the whole colonial era. And this would not be a gesture of noble altruism: it is the merest common sense in the interest of ourselves, and of the human race in general. The continent of Africa, properly developed and administered, could serve as the bread-basket of the world, rather than being a basket-case.

         These major projects would not, of course, be the sum total of the developed world’s aid to Africa. There would have to be a substantial network of smaller, more localised projects, designed to improve communications, develop industries, and improve educational and health facilities – a certain amount of which is already being undertaken by China, in various parts of the continent, in furtherance of its own interests, of course, but not without some advantage to the locals. It very much behoves the various ex-colonial powers, and the United States, to get in on the act, to a far greater extent than at present.

         The real problem, though, is not so much pledging adequate funding for such major and minor projects as I am proposing; the problem is to find, somewhere in the corridors of power of the various African states, an honest man (or woman!). I regret to say that there are not many of these to be found in the corridors of power of the great majority of African states. The tradition of (even relatively) selfless public service is just not there, any more than it is in the great majority of the ‘developing’ world. As things stand, funds provided to the various African regimes for economic and social development would very largely be shamelessly embezzled, and shipped off back to compliant western banks.

         I am afraid that someone – whether the U.N. or the I.M.F. or the E.U.– would have to put their foot down, and make it entirely clear that, at any sign of such chicanery, all funding would stop. There would have also to be a certain degree of military back-up, against such forces as Boko Haram in Nigeria, and various Islamist fundamentalist groups in the sub-Saharan region. If such a policy was followed with due firmness, I think that the message would get across. If that is deemed to be neo-colonialist bullying, then that is just too bad. The threats facing the human race are just too serious to pussy-foot around on such an issue.

          But all that said, there is hope. The African continent, and the world as a whole, can be set to rights, for rather less expenditure than has been squandered over the last twenty years or so on (mainly American) adventures in the Middle East, and now, most recently, in the Ukraine. A moral debt accumulated over many centuries would be repaid to the African continent,  the GNP of the world as a whole would be augmented by a remarkable percentage, and the phenomenon of desperate people packed into leaky boats striving to cross the Mediterranean would be a thing of the past.  Is this not all worth a little effort?