Skip to comments.Rhetoric of blame is now a white lie (AFRICA, HEAL THYSELF)
Posted on 09/02/2002 10:07:01 PM PDT by MadIvan
Africa is refusing to accept responsibility for its problems, writes Tim Butcher in Johannesburg
The anti-colonialist card has been played repeatedly by African leaders for decades now but President Robert Mugabe demonstrated yesterday that even in 2002 it has lost none of its potency.
Warm applause and cheers greeted Mr Mugabe's latest rant against Britain and the "Blair Government" which he targets very personally in almost every speech he makes on his policy of seizing land from white farmers in Zimbabwe.
The cheers reached beyond the debating chamber in the convention centre in the smart Johannesburg suburb of Sandton and its few hundred environmentalists and delegates.
They were echoed by millions of poor and disenfranchised across Africa, who remain highly receptive to any speech that deals with their sovereignty and the exploitation of interlopers.
"Viva Robert Mugabe, viva land reform," shouted members of the anti-globalisation lobby gathered in Johannesburg for the summit.
The language used by Mr Mugabe and President Sam Nujoma of Namibia yesterday was not dissimilar to the 1950s oratory of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's independence penseur, or Julius Nyerere, the leader of the liberation of Tanzania in the 1960s.
Then it was the jubilant language of liberation. But as the dream has faded it has become the rhetoric of blame, accusing outsiders of all of Africa's problems, and refusing to accept any African responsibility for the continent's problems.
In southern African countries, the emotions over colonialism are more easily whipped up because white rule in the region ended comparatively recently - and, in much of the region, whites continue to dominate economic life.
More than two decades after Zimbabwe achieved independence, Mr Mugabe made no mention yesterday of his regime's own economic mismanagement and political repression which have caused so much pain to the country's poor, the very people he claims to champion.
While Mr Mugabe spoke of the laudable principle of land reform - distributing to blacks some of the prime lands that have in the last century been overwhelmingly controlled by whites - he made no mention of the fact that in many cases white farm owners are simply being replaced by Mr Mugabe's cronies.
"What makes me so angry is that I can see no difference between the wrongs of slavery from the whites and the wrongs of the current system where an unelected black elite exploit just as much," said a Zimbabwean student from Bulawayo.
"A government like Mugabe's has all the bad features of white rule without any of the good."
Mr Mugabe maintains that, as the old colonial power, Britain has a responsibility to redress the wrongs of the past. Ironically, one factor that helped to precipitate the Zimbabwean land crisis was the election of Tony Blair's Labour Government, which proclaimed to be free of the guilt of the colonialism.
Mr Mugabe's language was very dated, highly reminiscent of redbrick university common rooms in the 1960s.
Intellectually and ideologically, his rhetoric has moved on not one iota since Zimbabwe won its independence in 1980 but he and Mr Nujoma are not the only modern African leaders to rely on such emotive language to deflect criticism for their own faults by pointing at injustices of the past.
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the host of the summit, has been the brainchild behind the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad), an economic plan for the continent's regeneration.
He has been criticised for failing to condemn Mr Mugabe's repression and accused of sympathising with his fellow African leader.
In recent months his position has moved marginally towards that of Britain, largely because international backing for Nepad has been made conditional on a tougher position towards Zimbabwe.
But speeches like Mr Mugabe's and Mr Nujoma's send out the signal that there is little "new" about the current African leaders and their willingness to make progress for the continent.
Or, alas, their concrete counterparts on U.S. campuses right up to today. It's a consequence of following that neat little Marxian theory that nonsocialist government is merely the tool of an entrenched oppressive elite, used to grind the People's faces into the dirt, and hence the latter will be somehow liberated when it's themselves who do the grinding. That's theory. What happens in the real world was sung to us in the Who's Won't Get Fooled Again, "meet the new boss - same as the old boss." Or when Orwell's pigs started looking like humans and the latter like pigs in the last paragraph of Animal Farm.
Of course, it is never the oppressed who end up coming out on top in this way, nor has it been since Lenin decided his "proletariat" revolution could use a little jumpstart from a "cadre" in charge, and that it would be a really neat thing to be part of that cadre. The State that was supposed to wither away instead turned into a monster of corruption, coercion, and confiscation, and a permanent fixture consisting of a vampire kleptomaniac elite. That's a fair working description of Mugabe's boys, and like all kleptocracies, the real trouble will start when there's nothing left to steal.
And now it's all gone.