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SPECTATORS FOR AFRICA

Spectators for Africa: No change in Africa will be lasting unless it is accompanied by intellectual conviction

14 December 2002

12:00 AM

14 December 2002

12:00 AM

Most of the human catastrophes that have overtaken Africa since decolonisation have been the result of bad policy rather than of geographical disadvantages; and bad policy is the inevitable consequence of bad ideas. If there is one commodity in which Africa has not, alas, been lacking in the past 40 years, it is bad ideas. It follows that he who wishes Africa to free itself of the catastrophes that have plagued it ever since its First Dance of Freedom (to quote Lord Byron) might consider how to bring better ideas to the continent.

To that general purpose, we make a humble appeal to our readers. In the spirit of Sir Bob Geldof, we urge them to think of Africa this Christmas. But we do not ask them to send cash, to be squandered by government and NGOs. We do not ask for food aid, or milk-bottle tops. Help us, instead, to send The Spectator to Africa, as 15 years ago readers helped to send it to eastern Europe.

We know there is an amazingly strong demand, from the many touching letters we have received over the years from African teachers and students who have come across the magazine, are impressed by its pungency, but cannot afford a subscription. With the enthusiastic help of the British Council, we have identified the institutions where we believe a subscription will achieve the widest readership. We do not pretend, to put it mildly, that every article in this magazine represents a solution to the problems of the continent; and it may be that the writings of, say, Taki will be a puzzle to, say, the Bushmen of the Kalahari, though many primitive people will identify with Jeremy Clarke. The intention is not to provide the answer; it is simply to provide a choice. It is also, of course, our modest hope to provide entertainment to those whose lives may sometimes be bleak. For those accustomed to Aids, violence and lawlessness, there may be some consolation in the dispatches from British prisons of Dr Theodore Dalrymple.


We cannot rule out the possibility that The Spectator might open the minds of intelligent African readers to a whole way of thinking that has been diligently suppressed on the continent, and which they will not find in the politically correct pap distributed by the UN and the NGOs. For instance, those who for a long time have been unthinkingly accepted as heroes – figures such as Nkrumah, Lumumba, Nyerere – might appear to new readers in their true light, which is as prime movers in the current African apocalypse, rather than as founder-saviours of their countries.

For far too long, Africans have been schooled by European and American intellectuals in the art of excusing themselves for their own plight. This is demeaning to them: it implies that Africans are so lowly and incompetent that they are incapable of making their own mess, which someone else – in effect, the white man – must make for them. Thus Western intellectuals and African elites came to live in symbiosis: the first flattered themselves that, decolonisation notwithstanding, the white man was still all-powerful in Africa, even if all-powerful only in his capacity to do evil; and the second were provided with an unfailing excuse for their own greed, corruption and improvidence. A member of the African elite who used his ill-gotten gains and his country’s scarce foreign exchange to buy a flat in Belgravia or the 16th arrondissement could persuade himself that his own conduct was really the fault of Europe or America. Whether in nominally capitalist or formerly socialist countries, it was long impossible to find any intellectual challenge to an outlook that in effect absolved Africans from blame for their own situation, and therefore also denied them the ability to do anything about it. Needless to say, such an outlook led directly to a balefully self-fulfilling prophecy; for those who believe that their fate lies essentially in the hands of others take no action to better themselves. Thus Africa has been waiting for Godot.

The mere existence of another point of view has potential to exert a beneficial effect where a single opinion has long held sway. For example, the universal poisonous hatred of middlemen (Indian in east Africa and Lebanese in west Africa), regarded as exploiters and bloodsuckers, might come to appear absurd, dishonest and reactionary. The market women of west Africa, who are so remarkable in their trustworthiness, reliability and business capacity, might come to seem more truly heroic, more worthy of emulation, than all the political panjandrums who did so much to bring about a decline in African living standards to below those of the 1960s.

At a time when so much of Africa is – yet again – in the grip of near famine, offering a free subscription of The Spectator might seem a trivial response. We do not claim to be able to do more than lift a pebble from the mountain of suffering that oppresses that part of the world. But – at the risk of being pompous – no change in Africa will be lasting unless it is accompanied by intellectual conviction.

There is also the possibility that many African readers will simply enjoy the magazine. Donations to ‘Spectators for Africa’ may be sent to the above address, and we will publish a list of recipients. Please give generously this Christmas.


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