Thanks for the link to the article by Kevin Myers on Africa, in the Independent. I agree with most of his comments though I take issue with a few. I have more than a passing interest in Africa, as I have spent about [redacted] years, total, of my life there. I am also moving there, and I expect to be there for a couple of years, at least, working [redacted].
Myers refers specifically to Ethiopia and Eritrea, so I suppose that he is quite familiar with those countries. I just returned from a 2-week trip to Eritrea, including a visit to the capital city and several days spent in the countryside. I had a chance to chat with some well educated Eritreans and to draw a few conclusions on that country and to enrich my view on the continent.
I don’t want to comment on the origins or justifications of the Eritrea-Ethiopia wars, as I don’t know enough to do so. From the Eritrean side, the wars were a matter of gaining and keeping independence and I think they had some valid historical reasons to want to do so. I am not sure that full-out war was the right way to go, but some marxists whipped it up and led it and they succeeded, and now they control the country with a tight grip. Surprise!
Now, about 18 years after independence, the Eritrean currency is worthless and the country suffers because of a lack of foreign currnency on hand to purchase imports. Eritrea is obliged to pay, I am told, up front for oil imports. During my stay, beer was hard to find because there was no money to import hops. Chicken was off the menus in restaurants for some reason that was probably related to the centralized economy. Accessing the internet is difficult there; there is one internet server for the country and it belongs to … the government. Opening a simple web page, like your own, takes about 20-30 minutes. It is likely that internet usage is monitored. I think the government is quite happy that information is not easily accessed by the rabble. Every young person who does not have very high grades in school, which are required for admission to the university, is obliged to do 5 years of service, usually in the military, which serves, of course, to restrict the number of unemployed young people on the streets. The other option is to escape across the border and claim refugee status in some richer, freer country like … oh, never mind. I could go on. Clearly, the revolution was a success.
So, who is to blame for that mess, according to the few post-revolutionary university-educated people with whom I had some political discussions? The West, of course. Whitey. This is in line with the attitudes I have encountered in most of my travels in Africa.
I was roundly chewed out by a young female government-employed lawyer because Canada signed some document condemning Eritrea for playing footsy with the “islamic courts” of Somalia. Apparently, we should be ashamed of saying tut-tut to a third-world country that is friendly with people who want to kill us and enslave our children. It’s our own fault, because we carry the burden of guilt for raping and pillaging Africa. *yawn*
I was reminded that Eritreans were using ploughs pulled by two oxen when my own ancestors were still painting themselves blue (I think that line was adapted from an old David Niven movie in which it was uttered by an Italian army officer). I declined to point out that Eritreans are still using ploughs pulled by camels and cows, whereas my own people are preparing for interstellar space travel.
In the Eritrean capital, the only buildings of any architectural note are the ones left from the Italian (pre-1941) colonial period. They still serve as functional buildings though they are dilapidated. The women are quite attractive, and the Christian ones have a nice fashion sense, in as much as they can afford nice clothes. That, too, is certainly inherited from the Italians. The local cuisine isn’t so bad, but the best stuff on the menu is pasta and other Italian dishes. The main roads and rail lines were built by the Italians (and the Brits, I think). The Italians established vineyards and some plantations which still operate, more or less. I could go on. Like so many third-world countries (India comes to mind) they bitch and moan about the rape of their country even though the main part of their infrastructure is inherited from the colonial period and they do a piss-poor job of maintaining the gifts they were left with.
The Europen Union of SSR (and probably others) are pouring hundreds of millions of their tax-payers’ money into the place to upgrade roads.
It might be redundant to ask: why are Westerners building roads in Eritrea when the ultra-rich saudis, who are part of the famous umma to which half of Eritrea’s population belongs, are only a hop, skip and a jumb across the water?
One only needs to drive about 50 km from the capital to find villages of primitive huts.
Eritrea is a powder keg with, thankfully I suppose, a fairly long fuse, because of the strict government control of most everything. The constitution that was ratified over a decade ago is still not implemented (it might require elections!). The country is roughly half-half Christian and muslim. The Christians live mostly in the richer, more hospitable highlands and the muslims live mostly in the poorer lowlands. The Christians are divided between Catholics (Italian influence I think), Copts (very old presence, probably pre-islam) and Protestants (I suspect this is inherited from the short British rule of the place, after 1941, but I may be wrong).
The country is dirt poor though for now, hunger is not a big problem. It is getting poorer. The main problems are 1) a marxist revolutionary elite that does not want to let go (shades of Cuba and so many other countries), 2) no exports to speak of.
Point 2 may be partly corrected soon, as there may be mineral wealth exported in the next few years (if all goes well), due to foreign investment and mostly due to foreign know-how. When that happens, look for the muzzies and the marxists to start agitating for a big share of the financial pie and more control over the economy. I worry mostly about the muzzies. They are going to see wealth being accumulated by others (some who will have earned it, others who will accumulate it by way of graft) and, in the mindset that is so well known in the muzzie world, they are going to be upset because they won’t be getting the lion’s share of it, even though it is they who are the slaves of the so-called prophet. And they won’t need to look far for help, just across the Red Sea, and north to the Sudan
When all hell breaks loose in Eritrea, expect that Ethiopia will get involved as they have never given up on their claims to Eritrea.
Then, during the ensuing slaughters and famines, we will be assailed with demands that 1) the West DO SOMETHING, and 2) that we “giv’em our f*cking money” again, as Bob Geldhof might put it. You will also see lots and lots of “refugees” streaming into Toronto.
Africa is one big place with an overwhelming number of people’s, tribes, languages, histories and geographies. Much of the sorry history of Africa can be chalked up to the huge arab-muslim slave trade of earlier centuries. But no matter, when things go wrong anywhere in that vast continent, you know who is expected to pay for it, and to express sorrow for their many sins, such as bringing education, medicine and infrastru
cture to the place.
Me, I intend to help out by doing the spade work that may lead to [redacted]. And then if Africans have any wits about them, they’ll get educated, get the jobs that will be created and spun off, learn to take pride in earning a living through hard work, and raise their kids to build a better country.