October 20, 2003

Tacitus Is Not Talking About Africa

Tacitus is not talking about Africa:

t a c i t u s: Unfortunately, after a perilous, terrifying flight on a corroding, ill-maintained 727 from Livingstone to Johannesburg; and after various thuggish customs officials at multiple airports threatened to confiscate (alternately) my baby wipes, my AA batteries, and my laptop; and after our Kenya Airways pilot on the Nairobi-Entebbe run decided to just take the day off; and after the umpteenth shocking exposition of wholly preventable raw human misery, I'm not in a mood to talk much about Africa. So I won't.

Posted by DeLong at October 20, 2003 09:22 AM | TrackBack


But he will. Tac is in the middle of a grand adventure and his readers are benefitting. I gather that some of the sites he's visited are gut-wrenching. I wonder if it's going to have an impact on his politics, though, likely not, as he has already blamed some of the misery on socialism. People should, nonetheless, check in occasionally for his Travelogues.

Posted by: LowLife on October 20, 2003 10:18 AM


But a lot, though far from all, of Africa's ills DO hail from socialism. Witness Nyerere's Tanzania, Mugabe's Zimbabwe, Mengistu's Ethiopia, and even Nigeria, with our Ajaokuta white elephant, and worthless parastatals like the Nigerian Electric Power Authority ("Never Expect Power At-all") and the Nigerian Telecommunications Corporation.

The legacy of colonialism is a substantial, ongoing burden to African development, but I think the continent would have been a lot better off without the Frantz Fanon-style "anti-imperialism" and it's stablemate, "anti-capitalism."

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on October 20, 2003 02:38 PM


Let me modify my former statements by adding that although the impulse to nationalization imparted by the notion of capitalism-as-exploitation did a tremendous amount of damage to Africa's growth prospects, the number one problem still remains, to my mind, the sheer artificiality of the states left behind by colonialism.

The adverse consequences of ethnic tension for nation-building cannot be over-estimated. We may remember the Rwandan massacre, but few people seem to realize, for instance, that over 2 million people died in the Biafran War that raged during the 1967-1970 period, a conflict that was sparked entirely by ethnic distrust between the Hausa/muslim north, and the mostly Catholic/Igbo southeast. Oil did play a role in the conflict, but it did so mainly in soliciting aid from various Western powers for one side or the other, rather than in initiating the war itself.

Wars of this sort are currently raging, have raged, or are on the verge of raging, all over the continent, and it is silly to expect much in the way of positive developments in any state that is burdened with the sorts of tensions that are commonplace throughout the continent. With this in mind, Tacitus' focus on "socialism"(1) does indeed seem to be a case of missing the wood for the trees: even if most African states were libertarian paradises, they *still* would have had tremendous problems of the sort they live with today.

(1)As an aside, I think it's worth pointing out that the Angolan war did NOT begin as an "anti-marxist" struggle; Jonas Savimbi was as much a marxist as any member of FRELIMO, and he only took up arms to secure by force the proper share of the spoils of power he felt he and his fellow Ovimbundu deserved. In almost every conflict in Africa in which ideology has played a cameo role, the true motivating force has been *ethnicity*, and this is true of Zimbabwe as well (Mugabe and the Shona vs everyone else).

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on October 20, 2003 03:29 PM


Dear Mr. Lapite,
I was wondering if you've written any papers or extended essays on this subject. I would be interested in reading anything if you have.


Posted by: James R MacLean on October 21, 2003 12:21 AM


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