As anyone who's been reading this blog going far back enough should know, I believe "Nigeria" to be an abomination of a country, nothing but a hodge-podge of numerous mutually antagonistic peoples brought together by nothing more than the historical whims of British colonial administrators, and kept in bondage to each other only by the shared desire of a corrupt elite to loot the spoils of unearned oil bounty. One needs no deep theories to understand why a state in which loyalty to the "nation" means nothing and loyalty to one's ethnic group everything should be synonymous with corruption, but the number of Westerners who really grasp the crux of the problem is, from my experience at least, vanishingly small, which is precisely why this Slate article by June Thomas comes as such a pleasant surprise: once you understand the sources of Nigeria's problems, you're unlikely to be seduced by the all-too popular delusion that feasible solutions are only a successful election or two around the corner. If states like Nigeria, the Congo and Iraq had been put out of their misery when their European creators departed, the world would know a lot less strife than it does today.
When I wrote my little epitaph for P.W. Botha, I suspected at the time that some cockroach would show up sooner or later to peddle the usual nonsense about how good things were in "those days", before those evil blacks began to run the country into the ground (all statistics to the contrary be damned). Rather than waste energy on a lengthy rebuttal which will have no effect on such idiots anyway, I offer here instead a link to this excerpt from the New York Times (use this link if you have a login) which gives a little flavor of what life was like in those halcyon days which certain malignant little worms look back on with fondness.
REVEREND FRANK CHIKANE, a twenty-six-year-old pastor, was standing naked on the fourth floor of the Krugersdorp police station. His head hung down limply; dried blood was caked in dark brown clumps in his hair and on his face. He had been standing continuously for over forty hours in a room furnished only with steel chairs and a table, his hands chained to a heating pipe behind him.
ANC bigwigs may be obliged to mouth empty words of condolence at this racist criminal's passing, but I'm not; I'm glad P.W. Botha's dead, and the only thing I regret about his passing is that it came so late and so peacefully. Botha was a murdering butcher who presided over a system directly modelled on the foulest regime of the 20th century - Nazi Germany - and to humor such an animal for merely making a few tactical concessions to preserve the privileges of his caste is something no decent person should do. Good riddance to foul rubbish, I say.
An argument which is routinely brought up whenever one asks why Europeans are to be left off the hook for failing to show remorse or offer compensation for crimes just as bad as those they condemn Japan for, is that their particular misdeeds happened further back in time, and therefore some sort of statute of limitations ought to be applied setting British, French, Dutch and Belgian savagery apart from what the Japanese did in China and Singapore. The problem with this argument, however, is that apart from the choice of cutoff date being suspiciously convenient - we are supposed to look just far back enough to be able to condemn the Japanese while leaving Europe out of it, but no further - the reality of European imperialism is that it and the brutalities which were intrinsic to it actually outlasted Japan's empire, and many of the perpetrators of the most outrageous crimes are alive and prospering today in cities like London, Paris and Brussels, and with the full protection and active collusion of the governments on whose behalf they carried out their deeds.
As an illustration of the sheer extent of European selective amnesia and hypocrisy, the extremely poorly known history of Britain's suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya serves as well as any, and as such I've chosen to provide below a few excerpts from this LRB review of two recent histories of the topic. If your image of the British Empire derives from watching "Gunga Din", "Lawrence of Arabia", "Zulu Dawn" and other self-congratulatory whitewashed nonsense, what you're about to read will seem like alternate-history fiction to you, but the fact is that it really did all happen.
Although I'd heard about the show 「ここが変だよ日本人」 ("This is Strange, Japanese People") a long time ago, I'd never seen a moment of it until now, so as introductions to new shows go this clip has to count as among the best I've seen.
I've never doubted that AIDS is a problem very much in need of tackling in the developing world, including in Africa, but for nearly two decades now we've been bombarded with reports suggesting that virtually 1 in every 3 men, women and children living south of the Sahara desert was an HIV carrier, giving rise to all sorts of daft theories by so-called "race realists" and even supposedly sober economists about the wayward sexual proclivities of black Africans; now comes evidence from a credible source that the statistics which gave birth to all this armchair theorizing have been drastically inflated.
KIGALI, Rwanda -- Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.
But AIDS deaths on the predicted scale never arrived here, government health officials say. A new national study illustrates why: The rate of HIV infection among Rwandans ages 15 to 49 is 3 percent, according to the study, enough to qualify as a major health problem but not nearly the national catastrophe once predicted.
The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.
Quite incredible to go from 30 percent to 13 percent to arrive at 3 percent, isn't it? But wait, there's more!
Tim Harford has produced an excellent article on his impressions on Cameroon and why that country remains so desperately poor; what he has to say should prove a real eye-opener to do-gooders who think yet more grants, loan write-offs and aid appeals are the answer to ending poverty in the Third World. Those of us who know that part of the world well and refuse to subscribe to rosy visions of aid-bought uplift aren't the way we are out of hatred for the poor, but due to a cynicism inculcated by a lifetime of experiences of the sort Harford lays out in his article. When you know a society is rotten from top to bottom, no promise of jumbo loan writeoffs or messianism driven by the likes of Jeffrey Sachs will ever convince you that it'll make a damn bit of difference.
If I have one criticism to make of Tim Harford's essay, it is that while he manages to do a marvellous job of describing the systematic nature of Cameroonian corruption and the powerful incentives self-interested political elites have in perpetuating such thievery and misrule, he fails to touch upon the crucial issue which separates such kleptocracies from those countries which manage to make it out of the hole: what is it that the likes of Botswana and Korea have that Cameroon doesn't? Why is it that some countries are able to get leaders who transcend their rational self-interest in stealing and running in order to achieve something for the greater good?
Harford asks, "why can’t the Cameroonian people seem to do anything about it?", but in this very question is the answer to the puzzle: because there is no such thing as "the Cameroonian people", only a wide array of disparate peoples who happen to share a common border. Indeed, Harford hints at this obliquely in describing the "Bakut Mafia" which is supposedly responsible for the despoliation of Cameroon's education system - in countries in which ethnic ties outweigh all other considerations, and in which there are several ethnicities, none absolutely large enough in numbers to dominate the rest, constant fighting for the power of ethnocentric patronage can be taken as a given, and the result is the very instability and short-termism of which individuals like Tim Harford and Mancur Olson write. The sheer extent of Korean group-think and the intensity of the country's nationalism can make for an extremely ugly, intolerant, racist and xenophobic society (see my previous post for an illustration), but the upside to this same thinking is that at least a conception of the public good does exist, and rulers like Park Chung Hee can emerge whose tenures accomplish more for those they lord it over than the mass looting of the Mobutu Sese Sekos, Sani Abachas and Ferdinand Marcoses of this world.