The nemesis of nonsense

BY TREVOR GRUNDY Guy Arnold is the well-respected anti-apartheid campaigner who headed up the African Bureau between 1968-1972. His new book reminds us that African poverty wasn't discovered by Ton y Blair, Bob Geldof and Bono and that those three men might be doing a disservice to a continent w

hich the veteran human rights campaigner believes needs more than pop songs and good intentions.

Africa – A Modern History by Guy Arnold (Atlantic Books 1028 pp. £35)

Historians never stop telling us that when war is declared the first casualty is Truth, to which might be added – And the first recruit is God.

In this new and vast undertaking from the veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Guy Arnold, awkward questions are asked. Some of them will not win Guy Arnold any new friends at the Foreign Office in London.

One may be summed up as – Why on earth is this new war against global poverty being led, masterminded, structured and financed by the very people who most exploited, most damaged and most nearly destroyed the vast continent they now say they want to save?

Why, indeed, has the poacher turned gamekeeper, the burglar become a caretaker and the rapist become the new policeman on the African block?

“Africa,” he writes,” has little influence and less power, a fact that attracts the major powers like vultures to a carcass to be exploited. If there is to be an African Renaissance it will be achieved by the skilful deployment of what Africa itself controls. NEPAD (the South African scheme to regenerate Africa’s economies) funded by the West is not the answer.”

What’s really going on, asks Guy Arnold in this 1028 page book that provides first source material for students of international affairs and helps the uninitiated understand why Africa’s in the terrible state its in right now.

Wars and various kinds of “gods” appear throughout.

* In the 15th century, the Christian God was asked to bless Portuguese sailors who opened up the continent so they could spread Catholicism and commerce and be an effective part in a war against Islam’s expansion westwards.

* In the 19th century God was badgered to bless a new breed of missionaries -many of them Scots – in order to help Africans shed their heathen ways and earn to dress in cotton fabrics manufactured in Lancashire.

* In the 20th Century God was called upon to help de-colonise Africa and return the land to its rightful owners -blacks – and from 1948 until 1994 almost the whole world joined in a war against apartheid which finally cracked when the world’s best love secular saint, Nelson Mandela, became President of the “new” South Africa.

But the rainbow never came and the pot of gold was nowhere to be found and Guy Arnold wonders why and, more importantly, what Africans should do next.

A large part of this extraordinary book is devoted to the history of the pre-independence liberation movements that were little known about in Western Europe during the 1950s.

Africa was launched like a rocket in 1957 when the Gold Coast was turned into Ghana under its first and most dangerously charismatic leader, Kwame Nkrumah.

Then came a realization that European Empires could no longer remain on a continent where the winds of change were blowing fast and furious.

In 1945 there were only four free African countries -Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia and South Africa (thought the last was totally dominated by the minority white tribe). Eighteen years later, 30 African countries founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and vast swathes of the world’s least known continent were liberated from hundreds of years of foreign rule.

Arnold tells the stories of the fight for freedom well and at time movingly.

Some will wince as they take-in his anti-imperialist rhetoric and others will smirk at his admiration for Tanzania’s Dr Julius Nyerere and Zambia’s Dr Kenneth Kaunda.

Those who lived in Africa during the explosion of Dr Nyerere’s popularity – I was one of them – will cynically point out that Mwalimu (the teacher) managed to bankrupt his large and potentially very wealthy country in record time after 1961 and turn it into an internationally respected aid junky.

Dr Kaunda inherited a large reserve of foreign exchange at independence in 1964 and went on to turn Zambia into one of the world’s poorest countries in record time.

Yet, on the other hand, without the determination by these two men to rid Africa of white rule in Rhodesia and later in South Africa large parts of Southern Africa would still be under white rule.

Would they be better off today if the whites never left? Guy Arnold never believes that -not for a single second.

There’s little doubt where Guy Arnold’s heart lies and in spectacularly politically incorrect vein he says that he is pleased Robert Mugabe got rid of whites and returned the land to its rightful owners -the blacks. But he also points out that he detests Mugabe’s human rights abuses but told this writer: “Would we even have heard about them had Mugabe taken land from blacks instead of Europeans?”

Central to Guy Arnold’s beliefs is that Africa must develop itself and that missionary minded men like Tony Blair and the ubiquitous (this year) Sir Bob Geldof are doing Africa more harm than good by turning Africa in to a charity case.

In an interview at his London home, Guy Arnold told me:

“Bob Geldof has done a dis-service to Africa because he treats Africa as it’s an object of charity. And there is a real missionary streak in Tony Blair. When he says things about Africa – recall his famous remark about Africa being the sore on the conscience of the world – he really means it and makes out he’s going to do something. The trouble is, he hardly ever follows anything through.”

Arnold believes that Britain and the other former colonial powers have their own “agenda” in Africa and that the sooner Africans realize they’ll never be liberated by the men and women who once enslaved them, the better.

As we move towards the closing days of 2005 – a year designed to fire shots that would eventually make poverty history – most people in the UK are saddened by the fact that Africa is no better off now than it was on January 1.

Guy Arnold’s book is refreshingly different because it doesn’t have a happy ending.

He argues convincingly that Africa will never have a happy ending until it somehow miraculously gets up off its knees and frees itself from its new exploiters who are sometimes white, sometimes black.

It’s hard to say which as the sun sinks over a continent where ordinary people have almost lost hope in the future.

Post published in: Arts

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