Oh my African Tsegai
ghebremichael at SPAMhotmail.com
Wed Dec 1 16:16:45 MST 1999
Louis Proyect: I am by no means an expert on Africa, but I put together a
collection of Marxist literature on the topic shortly after the end of
Mobutu's rule in Zaire. There are a number of citizens of South Africa on
this mailing list who have occasionally written about their country, but
there are no other Sub-Saharans as far as I know. (I wonder, by the way, if
Gheb is sending mail directly from Ethiopia or whether he is in another
country. It would be interesting to discover whether the Internet has sunk
roots in this oldest of civilizations.)
Group: You can connect, but it is difficult. Routing is complex, and we
must be careful - hence Hotmail. Now we find copying and writing off-line
is quick and cheap. Thank you for calling Etiopia a civilization. Sadly it
was the last fully feudal one on the planet until 1994. We got sick of the
on-line forums on Eth.net and Newsgroups - many racists, who we are ashamed
to say were from the Horn, but that is where Ras Tefari, as some of you may
know Haile Selassie, got us 'proud Abyssinians'. He and the Axumites of the
north! We both suffered and benefitted from the Italians, and our Eritrean
brothers and sisters from the British - you will find that odd. The first
African (black) trades unions were formed in Asmara in the early part of the
century, and we had our first taste of capitalism from the colonists. As if
three hundred years of European history crammed into a few decades. But
many people are deeply ignorant and dominated by the Church and the 'tabot'
(Moses tablets from the Ark of the Covenant in Axum! I think some of our
new frinds will be interested by that). The big influence over politics is
the little farmer and the thousands of villages falling under that great
weight, that makes Etiopia not a nation but a collection of tiny regions,
each with their difficulties, prides and cultures as well as language.
There are Oromo, Afar, Somali, Beni Amer, Tigrigna, nationalists,
villageists and the Amhara once-ruling caste - all here in Etiopia. But all
have the same basic problems. Farmers are shackeled to their lands, and
deeply conservative. Only war gives them a view outside their village
lands, if they are lucky(!) eough to be caught
Louis Proyect: The only book I have read recently on the general topic of
Africa is Basil
Davidson's "Black Man's Burden," one that I recommend highly. Basically,
Davidson argues that the modern-day nation-state bequeathed to
"modernizing" African elites is highly unstable because the geographical
boundaries do not correspond to pre-colonial social and ethnic structures.
"Nigeria" is one example. Great Britain cobbled together a number of
smaller ethnic groups into a vast colonial state ruled over by British
viceroys. When independence came, rivalries broke out over who would
inherit the spoils. Poverty tends to exacerbate ethnic conflict. Davidson,
who served in Yugoslavia as a British aide to Tito during WWII, equates
modern-day African problems to those in Yugoslavia following the death of
Tito. This seems like an astute observation.
Group: Mr Basil has travelled the length and breadth of Africa and
supported many national liberation movements, for which we honour him. But
we think this is romanticism - to have a collection of T-shirts from
Guinea-Bissau, Mocambique, Eritrea and Western Sahara is nice, but he may
record our history but does not help make it
Louis Proyect: When I was in Zambia meeting with Thabo Mbeki and other ANC
early 1990 over a technical aid project, I came away with high hopes that
the ANC and the SACP would provide the vanguard for a social and political
renewal in South Africa in particular and Africa in general. I believed
that technical volunteers from the industrialized nations would devote
themselves to humanitarian projects in Africa the way that they had done in
Nicaragua. For three or so years, we did send volunteers to work in
Mozambique, Namibia, post-apartheid South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
However, the global counter-revolution had an impact in Africa as well.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ANC and the SACP grew timid.
Nowadays, Mbeki seems content to function in the same manner as an any
other "modernizing" elite politician.
So what can be done?
I honestly feel pessimistic. Unless there is a new upsurge in the world
revolution, the impetus for renewal on the African continent seems limited.
The only use for this modest little mailing list in coming to grips with
the African crisis is the same as it is elsewhere. It is a place where the
political vanguard can exchange information and ideas. Hopefully I will be
able to carve out some time over the next few months to tackle some of
these books and report on them. In the meantime, I do sympathize with
Gheb's frustration but urge him to stick around.
Group: This is a problem. Who these volunteers and those who arrange them
to come? Why do they do it? How long they stay? Peace Corps, VSO, even
Rastafaran dread-lock men with I an' I an' Jah maaan! Maybe sometime you
fix for Africans to study and work in USA or London, eh? Also meet the
people not Clinton's pets! Its not so frightening to leave the hotel lobby.
And, hey, are you our vanguard!!!? Welcome! Hey again, what
'counter-revolution'? With Soviet downfall came downfall of Mengistu. How
come his only home and place to drink was with Mugabe and Ian Smith (he
lived on Smith's farm in Zimbabwe for some time). Lose some, win some
OK we'll stick around, but it can only be now and then. Please do not
mistake some distrust for frustration.
Gheb, Tsegai, Berhan, Tsehaie, Lem Lem, Lola and Tarekegn. (Sorry, noms de
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