Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Nov 30 09:30:28 MST 1999

I am by no means an expert on Africa, but I put together a modest
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.)

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.

When I was in Zambia meeting with Thabo Mbeki and other ANC officials in
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.

Louis Proyect

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