There can be no telling of the stories of Africa without reference to the long train of brutal wars that have afflicted her, for centuries.
For over 400 years Africa’s western coasts and southern regions were plundered of its human and material capital by the naval powers of Europe. Millions of the youngest, most vital people were bundled up and sent into foreign captivity for hundreds of years.
For over 1,000 years Arab states to the north wreaked havoc upon Africa’s eastern coasts, and southcentral regions. They walked millions of women and children for hundreds of miles north, to provide labor and pleasure for their wealthy elites.
Those thoughts came to mind as I discussed African history with a recent acquaintance who is an African historian (let’s call him Professor Mike).
Professor Mike, who has spent decades teaching history to Americans, lamented the economic devastation now experienced in his native country, Zimbabwe. A nation of some 12 million people, Zimbabwe just gained it’s political independence in 1980. The terms of the peace agreement, called the Lancaster House accords, promised political independence to the African majority, but not surprisingly, it left economic relationships untouched. Thus, Zimbabweans gained ‘independence’ in a nation where some 2% of the population (whites) owned about 70% of the land! This was a recipe for eventual disaster.
“Zimbabwe is an economic basket case!,” Professor Mike exclaimed, and, as if to illustrate his point, he cited the recent receipt of a letter from the capital city of Harare. In the mid-1980s, the letter cost between 50 cents and $1.00 (in Zimbabwe dollars). The 1986-era letter bore one stamp.
A 2003 letter received from the same city was ablaze with stamps. A simple letter, in order to survive deposit and mailing to the United States bore over $5,000 (!) worth of stamps! *Five Thousand*!
The most recent letter’s cost reflects the deep hyper-inflation ravaging the economy as it starves for foreign exchange. Because Zimbabwe dared to try to return some of the vast, stolen land-holdings to Zimbabweans, the U.S. and the former colonial power, Britain, have waged a relentless economic war against the country, using the IMF and the World Bank.
When the Mugabe government was letting the white minority live on stolen African land like princes of the Delta Queen, neither the British nor the Americans had much criticism, for their people were profiting from this new kind of colonialism.
But things have changed. While Mugabe’s cronies have indeed received land, millions of the majority Shona and Ndebele, many whom have worked the land from antiquity, are not given the security of ownership of the land of their fathers. Victims, years ago, of the wealthy white elites, who exploited their labor and resources, they now fall victim to a new African elite, who want to grow rich under the new dispensation.
Sadly, Professor Mike explains, “People are starving today in Zimbabwe.” It troubles him deeply that, in a country with so much potential wealth in natural minerals and resources, people are in such a bad way. Zimbabwe is rich in gold, chromium, nickel and other minerals. It’s colonial agriculture was devoted to serving external needs, and it became a major exporter of tobacco, sugar and cotton. These features survived into the ‘independence’ era, and survives today. The late Ghanaian leader, Kwame Nkrumah once warned, “Political independence, without economic independence, is but an illusion.” The plight of Zimbabwe (as well as many other African countries) demonstrates the truth of that adage.
Hours after our meeting, Professor Mike’s words kept ringing in my ear: ‘… people are starving!…’; ‘Zimbabwe is an economic basket-case…’ It was saddening.
I thought of recent works I’d read by African scholars and artists, which, in their own ways, spoke of similar conditions in other parts of Africa.
It seemed that Africa was still at war, still under attack by foreigners; still exploited and raped. Sad, but true.