The International Writers Magazine
: Comment

When Men and Women Do Nothing…
Bulldozing factories in Zimbabwe: Reuters Mugabe in Zimbabwe bulldozes the homes of his own people (but mostly people he doesn’t think voted for him) and leaves hundreds of thousands homeless and starving in winter. We do nothing. There are no soldiers massing on the borders, no UN mandates, no condemnation. Mugabe destroys a whole country systematically (as only someone trained by Marxists can) and nothing happens. Heaven sends no bolts to destroy him. His neighbours support him and the entire African organisation says nothing. Worse the UK government tries to deport refugees from Zimbabwe back there to a certain death. How does it make you feel?

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates her 60th birthday in Myanmar (Burma) still under house arrest since the day she was elected President of that country 16 years ago. The fascist government of Burma is ethnically cleansing the people of the east (source: Daily Telegraph UK June 24th 2005) up to 750,000 people may have already been killed, raped, women forced to breed with government soldiers. Your friendly local oil company may be trading there right now. We do nothing. Burma is not only economically moribund but it has also destroyed most of its forests for short term profit. It’s a country that has sold its birthright and will kill anyone who objects. What is your local MP or Congressmen doing about that? What are you doing? Do you care?

Last weekend Bob Geldorf is holding Live8 to raise money for Africa to ‘Make Poverty History’. They reckon a billion people watched concerts in London, Philidelphia, Barre, Canda, Eden, Cornwall, Jo'Burg, Tokyo, and more. We listen, we buy the wristbands, we are sending a message to the G8 summit. But why?

Where will the money go? How much poverty is there in Switzerland anyhow? You think I am being cynical, but without the rule of law, democracy, honesty in politics and the civil service, pouring money into Africa will do nothing but make Swiss bankers richer. It has always been thus. The G8 Summit will postulate but will it achieve anything. Forgive Africa’s debts perhaps, but how do you ensure that Africa invests in itself?

In South Africa the vice-president has just been dismissed for corruption. One would like to think South Africa isn’t going the way of the rest of Africa, but it might be. Already it isn’t safe to be a farmer in the Eastern Transvaal as ‘squatters’ assume land rights and in the former South –West the new government is already planning to remove white farmers taking their cue from Mugabe. It’s no use being a white liberal and stating that this is ‘just’ and Africa should only be for Africans. Without the rule of law, the Africa they inherit will turn to dust. Quite literally.

The Daily Telegraph June 25th published a report from the anti-corruption commission of Nigeria that stated that Nigeria rulers have looted that country of 220 billion pounds sterling in the last 40 years. (Squandered between 1960 and 1999 according to commission chairman Mallam Nuhu Ribadu). Coincidentally this amount exactly equalled the amount of aid given to Africa (as a whole) between 1960 and 1997. Gen San Abacha personally looted up to three billion pounds from Nigeria when he was ruler. The present ruler Olusegun Obasanjo has launched an anti-corruption crackdown and we wish him luck. But making sure everyone is honest in a country so used to corruption is a hard task. Ask President Lula de Silva in Brazil whose government has been rocked by accusations of bribing opposition members to vote with the government.

It’s not money these countries need it is integrity, honesty, trust and then the schools will be built, clean water provided, crime reduced, lifespan’s increased…in Africa, as in Brazil, everyone deserves the right to be able to sleep safe at night. (Not something possible in Zimbabwe).

July 3rd the Sunday Times in the Uk published a corruption league. Nigeria is worst quickly followed by Congo(DRC), Angola, Kenya, Cameroon, Sudan, Niger, Zimbabwe....the list goes on. Each Africa country owes billions to the west, money that has not been invested in schools or water projects or infrastructure but squandered on weapons, methods of extreme control to protect the rich tyrants who live it up at the expense of their people. Nigeria owes 19.2 billion, Liberia 1.41 billion (this is Sterling not dollars) South Africa 15.26 billion (though this is a country with the ability to repay at least). Forgive the debts of at least 55 billion of them, that's what people ask for and naturally sensible leaders reply, yes, but on condition the Africa leaders spend the money they don't have to pay back on their own people, not guns.

I recall a novel I read when I was just seven. I don’t remember who wrote it but it was set in Africa before I had ever lived there and fallen in love with it. It was about the last man who knew how to fix an elevator in Africa. It seemed fantastic then, the whole of Africa had run down to nothing, not a factory working, not a road without holes, whole nations starving and killing…

Probably now it would be deemed politically unacceptable, but it must have been written by someone who had been there, seen just how self-destructive Africa can be when given it’s head. See ‘Bend in the River’ by V S Naipaul for a portrait of a country in turmoil.

Sure there are glimmers of hope. The war shattered economy of Angola can easily be rebuilt with oil money, they have enough to do that. Nigeria could do the same, they have one of the largest reserves in the world, 35 Billion barrels of proven oil reserves, but I suspect that the wealth will be squandered on armies and weapons and suppression rather than shopping malls and highways. That’s been an African tradition for hundreds of years. I sincerely hope I am wrong.

It’s not PC to write about Africa as a place without hope. It’s not fair to think of a whole continent being written off- but from the killing fields of Darfur in the Sudan to the bulldozers in Zimbabwe, the seeds of destruction are daily sown. Give your money, help people from starving yes, but make poverty history? I don’t think it is so easy
Africa can help itself and there are millions of talented, underused experienced and educated Africans who would love to be given the chance to do just that. At the same time, we in the west are 'stealing' their nurses and Doctors away with promises of good salaries and a stable life. Hard to deny these people the right to work and fill skills gaps, but this is creating enormous health problems in Africa for those who live there and have no Doctors or nurses to help. Perhaps we should let anyone come to us, but not until we also establish and pay for more training schools for nurses and Doctors over there first? That would be a useful investment that would benefit everyone.

Twenty years ago I was in Mozambique, part of a delegation to see what could be salvaged from the Marxist regime that took over from the Portuguese. I am not saying that the Portuguese left them much in the way of infrastructure, but what was left was thoroughly broken. Roads with holes so deep they were canyons, there was no glass in the windows of most buildings, (save the five star foreign currency hotel). Twenty years on from the Portuguese leaving there were still billboards announcing that supermarkets were coming soon. Happy looking housewives with shopping trolleys laden with food. A nice irony. The shops that were there had nothing to sell but were fully staffed with bored sales people. Men gathered in coffee bars but there was no coffee, the railway had rusted to hell, the economy was trashed by civil war and mismanagement. It was quite a shock.

Some brave souls are now touting Mozambique and Maputo, in particular, as a great place to invest in that ‘holiday home’. But I still recall being forced to walk along a yellow line under the watchful eyes of men with machine guns who could legally shoot me if I stumbled off it. I still recall a visit to the hospital that had no blood supplies, no needles, no plasters, no drugs, but the Russian doctor knew where there was plentiful supplies, in a locked safe house for use of government ministers only. (Next door to the restaurant for politically acceptable and foreigners where steaks and wine was flown in from Jo’burg for their pleasure.)

The great irony of Africa is that it is full of the happiest, friendliest and talented people in the world, people, who deserve all the efforts that Sir Bob Geldorf is making on their behalf, but will it help those in Zimbabwe, absolutely not. Not whilst Mugabe lives. Will it cure one African of Aids, no, will it stop the spread of Aids, doubtful, will it help educate and promote honest African politicians? Not a chance. Will it help Africans feed themselves? Let’s hope so. How can we cure Africa of Aids when the Pope won't let any Catholics use condoms over there - in fact the Church tells people that condoms are 'evil' and thus the disease spreads fast and faster.
It's never just money, politics and religion kill people as much as starvation.

At Christmas the world donated almost a billion to help those who had been swamped by the Tsunami in Sri Lanka and Thailand and other places. In Sri Lanka they need to build 10,000 homes urgently. People are desperate. As of June 2005 just 200 had been built (Source BBC Radio 4 News). Indian bureaucracy is to blame they say. It might take a generation to fix the problems there. In Africa, you can throw all the money in the world at it, but it might not result in one life getting better except that Swiss Banker. How do you safeguard against it? How do we make a difference without also taking control of how it is spent on the ground? How do you stop corruption when quite often without it there would be no money changing hands at all and nothing would get done – ever?

Will Suu Kyi die in her home and all hope of Burma finding freedom with it? Why don’t the countries around Burma act? What is Thailand and other border countries afraid of? The enemy of freedom is for the great and the good to do nothing. Yes?

Mugabe is old and might die, but might the next dictator be worse? 80 percent of the people of Zimbabwe are unemployed and now he is destroying their very means of production and distribution. He is a President who has declared war on his own people. Uganda is a great example of terror following terror. (Although calm now and taking effective action on the spread of HIV with good health advice programmes.).

In Africa all this could be so easily solved. South Africa could finally act and become the policemen southern africa so sorely needs. It could depose Mugabe in an hour, drive out Zanu-PF in two and restore Morgan Tsvangirai to his rightful legally elected place as President of Zimbabwe in the third. It would take a decade or more to restore the economy however. Once South Africa acted, other African countries would know that the day of the dictator is over.

Until it acts and demonstrates a willingness for Africa to solve it’s own problems, it might be better to keep your money in your pocket and let Sir Bob spend his cash on the Swiss banker.

You can find out how to make poverty history here

© Sam North - July '05

author of Diamonds - The Rush of '72
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