The Africans

The Africans by David Lamb Read Free Book Online

Book: The Africans by David Lamb Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Lamb
threatened, the first thing Africa does is call for help from non-African countries because few countries are capable of defending themselves. Only Angola and Ethiopia—two Marxist states armed by the Soviet Union—can assemble five hundred or more pieces of heavy artillery, tanks and rocket launchers.
    Although black Africa has 750,000 men under arms, most armies are badly trained and poorly disciplined and serve little function other than internal security. As a guerrilla, the African is an effective fighter because his unit is small and loosely structured and his cause—liberation—is one he can understand. But as a member of a large organized army, his military capabilities are greatly reduced: now he is fighting for a nation that he does not really feel part of; he may be taking orders from an officer of a tribe hostile to his own; he is expected to operate sophisticated weapons even though he may never have driven a car or seen a pocket calculator. Even when elite units go into battle, they often end up putting down their guns and fleeing. More often the army has been the main instrument for terrorizing and exploiting the population.
    The end of colonialism has not brought genuine freedom to Africa. With an external debt exceeding $35 billion, black Africa has become a cluster of welfare states, surviving at the whim of foreign donors and aid agencies. As President Moi of Kenya put it on a begging trip to West Germany, apparently without realizing the irony of his words: “No country can remain economically independent without outside assistance.”
    Some of Africa’s problems—especially those caused by forces other than man—are so enormous, so constant, that a people of lesser spirit long since would have succumbed. The inescapable heat numbs the mind and drains vitality. Tsetse flies and a score of other insects carry terrible diseases that incapacitate entire villages. Simpledisorders like diarrhea are fatal to tens of thousands of African children each year. Swarms of locusts—twenty or thirty million slim, shiny creatures that weigh an ounce each and eat their own weight daily—can cut through a nation’s entire grain harvest in a matter of days, leaving not a living plant in their wake. The droughts stay too long and the rains fall too heavily. Nature, like man, is a cabal, disenfranchising a people from its own land.
    Maybe sub-Sahara Africa can continue to stumble through the 1980s and into the 1990s, hoping, dreaming, talking, ignoring the life-death issues it must confront, accepting adversity and misadventure as the work of forces beyond its control. Or maybe there will be an awakening, a realization that with good fortune and sensible planning Africa can control its own destiny—or, at the very least, can maneuver its way through some of the storms.
    But whatever, two decades of African independence has provided one invaluable lesson: progress is not inevitable.
    * Cabral was overthrown in November 1980 by his prime minister and accused, among other crimes, of murder and torture. He was later allowed to take up exile residence in Cape Verde.
    * Micombero died in 1983, at the age of 42, in Somalia, where he had lived in exile as a non-person.
    * Throughout, I have been using the terms “West” and “East” politically rather than geographically, i.e., “the West” is Western, industrialized countries and the United States; “the East” pro-Russian countries and the Soviet Union.
    * Large companies and governmental agencies in many African countries are required to provide housing for their city employees. The housing usually consists only of bachelor quarters because it is too expensive to build accommodations for families with fifteen or sixteen members. This practice also encourages the division of households and accounts for the fact that 60 percent of Nairobi’s population is male.
    † The colonialists had no problem with African urbanization, because “natives” needed special

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