AN ASIAN LOOKS AT AFRICA

AFRICA poses a challenge largely because of its unpredictability. The Dark Continent, to some extent the Unknown Continent, it has come up politically with a rush; the postwar fever for independence catapulted some 30 states into freedom within a decade. Culturally, vast tracts of Africa have leaped from the Stone Age to the twentieth century in a matter of three generations. Growing industrialization in the cities and towns between the two wars and after has led to a migration from the bush to the developing urban centers which has affected not only the economic but the social and political values of the African; uprooted from his tribal moorings and exposed to a new way of life, thought and civilization, he finds himself embarked on a voyage of rediscovery which concerns not only his individual self but his people and country.

If the African's voice on attaining freedom and equality has seemed to some unnecessarily shrill and strident, who can blame him? Men who climb out of a dark void are dazzled by the light. The speed of Africa's lightning advance and arrival took the rest of the world by surprise. It also surprised Africa. In their attitude to that continent and its people both Europe and Asia are afflicted by a guilt complex-Europe as the main exploiter and Asia as its abettor; and both of them, recovering from the first rude shock, do not know quite where to fit in the new arrival who until yesterday was an outsider. They wonder whether all the rules of the game are applicable to him. And Africa, uncertain of its own place, tends to draw attention to itself by alternately bawling like a neglected infant or, in its adult moments, treading deliberately on other people's toes or, more aggressively, punching the nearest nose within reach. While Africa regards the West as being unduly complacent, the West accuses Africa of being unnecessarily truculent. Asia's heart is with Africa though her head is often more inclined to the West.

Not all the norms common to Europe and Asia apply to Africa, which, purposeful in mind, is often willful and wayward in method. Hence the developing image of an unpredictable Africa. Like the Jews, the Africans have found their Zion, and the question arises-pertinent to the African but not to the Jew-whether the race-consciousness which now understandably permeates him may not some day explode into aggressive racialism. Vis-à-vis the rest of the world, Africa today seems to present a front which is more competitive than coöperative-again an understandable trend because of the tremendous lag the African feels he has to make up.

Pan-Africanism is an expression of race consciousness, but négritude veers dangerously close to the concept of racialism. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that while Pan-Africanism poses the political face, négritude presents the emotional face of the same coin which is African- ness. The feeling engendered in the African by years of oppressive brutality, exploitation and subjection to the notion that he represents "just the tail-end of the human race" has naturally created in him an obsession to lord it over others. He is both dual and ambivalent. The duality is seen in the strangeness felt and expressed by many sensitive American Negroes when transplanted to the Africa of their forefathers; the ambivalence surfaces in the educated African's love for and questioning of his own culture along with his simultaneous rejection and acceptance of Western culture. This duality and ambivalence, induced partly by environment and partly by history, account for much of the African's unpredictability. A prominent Nigerian has expressed the average African feeling: "Blackism is the answer to our problems."

Thus Africa presents a challenge to the rest of the world with a sort of inverted Herrenvolk cult. It stresses the importance of being black in its most exuberant and uninhibited form. Yet the attitude bristles with contradictions, for whereas négritude owes much to the French-speaking African who also admires French culture and lays great store by the French association, it is looked at askance by most English-speaking Africans who are often aggressively assertive in denouncing British political institutions and ideas. To the South African writer, Ezekiel Mphahlele, négritude is "just so much airy intellectual talk. . . . Imagine a Chinaman waking up one morning and shouting in the streets that he has discovered something Chinese in his sculpture or painting or music."

Chauvinism, in its many manifestations, is common to the human race. But in the emancipated Africa of today it takes shapes which often puzzle and sometimes repel the European and Asian, stressing as it does color as the dividing line, and adding the minatory promise that the oppressed will soon inherit the earth. Over 60 years ago, at the first Pan-African Congress in London in 1900, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, who died in Ghana in August 1963 aged 95, prophetically proclaimed the nature of the battle. "The problem of the twentieth century," he declared, "is the problem of the color line-the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea." Whether Du Bois is proved right depends as much on the darker as on the lighter races of men today.

While older historians, anthropologists and sociologists like Charles Seligman and Reginald Coupland pooh-pooh the African as a savage whose history begins only with his exposure to European civilization, more modern and sympathetic observers of the African scene, notably Basil Davidson and Harold Isaacs, recognize that his cultural roots are longer and deeper and not necessarily as derivative as the "Hamite hypothesis" suggests. The seaboard cities of Kilwa and Malindi cannot be written off as Arab contributions in which Africans had no share and which they merely appropriated as part of a civilized veneer. Else, how explain the mysteries of the pillared splendors of Husuni Kubwa, that medieval palace poised on the edge of the Indian Ocean, or the scattered ruins of the city of Engaruka in the recesses of Tanganyika? Like Hinduism, Africanism has a strong assimilative pull evidenced by its adaptation of Arab cultural influences in the Swahili tongue and civilization. Granted that Africans are often juvenile to the point of being infantile in their reactions and manifestations; but is this surprising, against their background of slavery, ostracism and oppression which has intensified their inferiority complex, leading them to regard as naturally inherent what has in fact been artificially imposed?

The brand of slavery survives like the mark of Cain. Because of his appearance and color, which he has been taught to regard as attributes of the helot, the African's race-consciousness has its roots in color- consciousness, once furtive and ashamed, but now often proudly arrogant. Even a light-skinned Negro like the poet Langston Hughes, who is of mixed descent, flaunts "blackism" like a banner:

I am a Negro Black like the night is black, Black like the depths of my Africa.

The sense of differentness assails a European and, frankly, even an Asian in the presence of an African. As Africans become more and more part of the social and political landscape, this sense of differentness will dim and must in time disappear. But to deny its presence is to be deviously evasive. An English observer writing in The Times (London) of June 25, 1962, remarks on the sudden turnabout in African attitudes which bewilder, confuse and exasperate the stranger. "Mr. Mboya," he notes, "can within the space of a few weeks deliver a challenge to Europeans in Nairobi, a revolutionary call in Cairo, a reasoned analysis of Kenya's constitutional difficulties in London and a human appeal for help in New York. . . . President Nkrumah attacked the United Kingdom last year for sending a warship to Angola, yet the British Government received private assurances from Ghana which seemed to render the attack harmless. . . . One is left holding the broken pieces which somehow have to be fitted into an intelligible pattern."

The same observer suggests that the explanation for this pattern of peculiar behavior is that, while all utterances in all parts of the world are conditioned by the circumstances in which they are made, in Africa the conditioning is not controlled. It stems from a habit of mental indiscipline born of the colonial hangover, of uncontrolled personal ambition and of the triple continental curse-poverty, ignorance and disease. Africa is afflicted by its own special type of behavior common to all cloistered communities, such as Communist China and Russia, which have their own yardsticks of behavior applicable to an insulated society. As The Times correspondent comments: "The conference table in Lancaster House and the African political scene are as far removed from each other as Bernard Shaw and a No play."

The African's exuberance fortifies the foreign belief that a certain untamed wildness characterizes him. Yet among themselves African politicians differ as sharply as their counterparts elsewhere, nourishing their own moderates and militants. Thus the Nigerian Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, has little or nothing in common with Kenya's Oginga Odinga and differs even from a moderate like President Senghor in not sharing a belief in the African Personality. In his modes of thinking Balewa intrinsically is no different from any European politician of similar stature save that his emphasis is naturally on his African-ness though not on négritude, whereas the European's interests are primarily European. The vital question, however, is: Does Africa possess enough Balewas to hold her together within a sober framework? A South African has sourly observed: "The layer of cream at the top of the bottle is too thin." The remark unfortunately has some justification.

II

Political systems, like individuals, are conditioned by circumstances. A question often posed by the constitutional pundits is whether democracy as practiced in the West has a future in Africa, or for that matter in Asia. Most of the postwar independent governments in both continents, while protesting their allegiance to democratic principles, have veered far from democratic practice as expressed constitutionally in elected legislatures, the two-party system, a cabinet and an independent judiciary.

Both in Asia and Africa the trend toward a one-party, single-leader state is developing, the second following consequentially from the first; for with the emergence of a one-party state the legislature is at a discount and, with the weakening of the legislature, power tends to pass not necessarily to the executive but to the individual who dominates the executive. Hence a single-leader state seems a natural corollary to a one- party state. This is happening conspicuously in Africa, but also in Asia.

There are many reasons for this, some of them applicable to both continents. In Africa as in Asia colonial governments have generally yielded power under the pressure of a single nationalist party which on the attainment of freedom carries with it the aura of national fervor, sacrifice and suffering. Contrariwise, those parties which oppose it are labeled ingrates, anti-nationalists and reactionaries. In a small minority of independent states in Africa multi-party systems exist, but with the possible exception of Nigeria the opposition is nowhere evident in any strength; and even in Nigeria the strength of the coalition government tends to coalesce and grow at the cost of the parties or groups ranged against it. The presence of more than one party in Nigeria derives largely from its federal structure which is demonstrated in the highly regional character of the various parties.

The same state of affairs prevails to a considerable extent in Asia where virtual dictatorships masquerade as "guided" or "controlled democracies." Indonesia and Pakistan fall in this category, while Burma and Thailand are for all practical purposes military dictatorships. In Ceylon, the parliamentary system exists on paper with the island really under the control of an oligarchy of the Left. India enjoys democracy poised on a razor's edge, dependent as it has been for many years on one party and a single leader faced by only a nominal and divided opposition. But the force of institutional democracy is stronger in India than in other Asian countries, as evidenced by the loosening grip of the party in power and the growing militancy of the opposition.

A striking parallel which suggests itself to an Indian is that between the old village panchayat and the old African tribal council, both of which have subconsciously molded constitutional concepts. Common to these two systems is the idea that decisions should be arrived at by discussion and not through force, by a consensus of opinion rather than by the numerical measuring of strength as between majority opinion and the minority. In this context, a formal opposition becomes unnecessary. A feature of the tribal council, as of the village panchayat in India, is (to adapt the words of the late Prime Minister Sylvanus Olympio of Togoland) that minority opinion should be allowed to express itself within the party without intimidation; in other words, opinion may be freely expressed within the party, group or council, the ultimate decision representing a consensus of opinion. Like the Indian village headman, the African tribal chief rarely enjoyed or exercised the sanction of force behind him. In both cases, what counted was the moral voice of the community as a whole as expressed collectively by the panchayat or tribal council.

In my journeyings through Africa I was often faced with this challenge by African acquaintances who defended the one-party system. The parallel between the panchayat and the tribal council then struck me forcefully. Was it possible, I wondered, that the way of political thinking of many Asians and Africans was conditioned by their separate but in some ways similar backgrounds? Why should they slavishly copy and adopt Western institutions when the rule of law which is the core of democracy could be equally respected and safeguarded in other forms? As the Africans also argued, the West had itself given different shapes to democratic institutions, and they pointed to the familiar example of the difference in the division of powers between the judiciary, legislature and executive in the United States and in Britain. Women have not the right to vote in certain democratic countries and the right is often circumscribed in various ways by property and educational qualifications in others. Some elections to legislatures were direct, others indirect. "Why," they demanded, "should Africans be expected to accept Western institutional forms of democracy? We believe in democracy, but in a democracy which suits our conditions and background. So long as we lay store by the values of democracy, how do the forms matter?"

Judging from the utterances and writings of various African intellectuals, these values theoretically conform to Western norms for they postulate: firstly, respect for the rule of law; secondly, respect for fundamental freedoms; and thirdly, the presence of a representative body. "An organized opposition is not an essential element," writes President Nyerere of Tanganyika in defending one-party democracy, and his opinion is supported by an Asian, no less a man than U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations. "The notion that democracy requires the existence of an organized Opposition to the government of the day is not valid," he affirms. "Democracy requires only freedom for opposition, not necessarily its organized existence."

Happily, not all Africans or Asians subscribe to these views which are based on a series of assumptions collectively expressed by Nyerere in the omnibus phrase: "Democracy is a declaration of faith in human nature." This is a large assumption which begs the question: "Faith in whose human nature- that of an omnipotent individual or that of a responsible, responsive, representative body?" The Africans who are opposed to the one-party system come significantly from the more forward-looking southern regions of Nigeria and include the former Governor-General and present President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and his political opponent, now languishing in jail, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once leader of the opposition Action Group.

Africans and Asians who insist that democracy can exist without a party system forget that without the existence of an opposition or of alternative parties the average citizen is left to the perpetual rule of one party, which in practice usually spells one dominating leader. In a comparatively orderly community, his disappearance from the scene usually leads to group rule, or in a disorganized community to disorder which may culminate in chaos ending in the emergence again of a dominating figure. The French Revolution produced Napoleon, industrial strife gave Mussolini his opportunity, the futilities of the Weimar Republic brought Hitler to power. If the rule of law has a purpose, it is the avoidance of personal power, and the canalizing of power through institutions which provide curbs or limits on the executive.

To a country fighting for its freedom, multiple parties are a luxury since they divide and dissipate nationalist strength. Apologists for the one- party, one-leader state carry the argument further by contending that this system is necessary for a decade or so after independence if a united nation is to be welded out of freedom. Africans often argue that a multiplicity of parties intensifies and consolidates tribal divisions. Similarly, many Asians affirm that a single party makes for national cohesiveness. The argument is plausible and would be justifiable if within a single-party state the values of democracy, quite apart from its institutional forms, were able to thrive. But Asian and African experience proves the contrary. Democracy under such a system tends to wither and wilt. Despotisms are built and survive only through one sanction-force. And force, visible or invisible, is the negation of democracy.

The rule of law, emanating from a single person, can, despite the veneer of a consensus of general opinion, make nonsense of fundamental freedoms and representative assemblies. While the latter in such circumstances represent no more than the will of an individual, the former depend for their scope and magnitude on his whims. Respect for the human personality, which is the essence of democracy, is thereby transmogrified into reverence for an individual. The difference between the Indian village panchayat and the African tribal council on the one hand and a modern legislature or senate on the other is more than a difference in form, for it affects the substance and spirit of democracy as that term is commonly understood. The African argument that separate parties tend to intensify tribal divisions is based on the assumption that a party must necessarily be organized on strictly tribal lines. The argument loses its validity in the context of the tribal council which, if anything, offers greater encouragement to fissiparous divisions than the party system. Nor is it easy to reconcile this attitude with the cry for one-man one-vote which most Africans identify with democracy. The tribal council like the village panchayat has its place and use in an essentially rural society. It is incongruous and anomalous in the developing urban social structure of today.

III

Is authoritarian government essential for rapid economic growth in a society with precarious political moorings? If one applies Walt Rostow's formula which envisages economic growth in five stages, a large part of backward Africa is still in the first stage-that of a traditional rural society. There are, however, some African territories such as Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast which are in the second formative stage preparatory to the "take-off." The take-off stage is generally reached by the modernization of industry, which calls for considerable capital formation, and Africa is in no position to achieve this without drastically stepping up her agricultural output. In a backward, developing society such as exists in most parts of the continent, this cannot be done on a basis of private enterprise but needs government support and intervention supplemented by foreign aid, investment and technical know-how. It does not, however, demand detailed, centralized planning on the Soviet model but can be achieved as effectively, if not better, on the Japanese model. Japan is a sound guide for Africa since, like Africa, it lacked at one time the necessary capital formation for the take-off and set about creating it with intensified agricultural output and increased returns from business enterprise. During the Meiji era, which lasted from 1868 to 1912, Japan built herself into a modern state by adopting the industrial and commercial techniques of the West and adjusting them to suit her particular needs and resources. Production per person in agriculture doubled. This was done largely by piecemeal planning with improvisations as one progressed, and not by wholesale collectivization. It is wrong to believe that collectivization on the Soviet or Chinese models accelerates agricultural output. Both provide dismal examples of failure, for if there is one field where the two countries have displayed their inadequacy and inefficiency it is that of agricultural production.

India, by laying too great stress on governmental intervention and planning (though theoretically her economy is mixed), has retarded the pace of her economic growth and progress. Africa can benefit from Japan's example and India's mistakes, chief among which is over-nationalization.

Africa must evolve an economic and political pattern suited to her environment and enriched by the example and experience of other civilizations. Being the latest arrival, she can benefit from the mistakes of others. The road to progress and fulfillment does not lead either to chauvinism or to Communism. "African unity," writes Nyerere, "is not, to us, a chauvinistic racialism but an essential step towards our full participation in the main stream of human development." What Nyerere and other sober-minded Africans visualize is not a single Africa but a united Africa, which is what Pan-Africanism signifies to them-an Africa which has its own contribution to make to the pool of human progress and coöperation from which she has for so many years been excluded by the majority of mankind. From this sense of grievance and of cruel isolation comes the chauvinism which characterizes many Africans in their speech and patterns of behavior. In the African, chauvinism is a racial hang-over which will evaporate as the continent moves toward maturity. Islands of white reaction such as South Africa and the Portuguese possessions polarize black hostility and ignite racial venom.

Many, including not a few Marxists, hold that African economic and social conditions are not favorable to Communism, and that since the African is acutely aware of himself and lacks a class consciousness because of the absence of compradors, entrepreneurs or large property owners, he is not easily vulnerable to Marxist dogmas or doctrines. Even according to Sékou Touré, who is generally but mistakenly regarded as an African extremist, a social revolution is possible in Africa without a class struggle. The single-party system, as it exists in the continent, is not impregnated with Communist ideas but inspired as being representative of the mass of people as a whole. Moreover, land does not normally attach to the individual but to the tribe; Africa, it is argued, can therefore skip the stage of proletarian dictatorship and move from the communal ownership of property to a socialist system.

Plausible as the African hypothesis is, it does not stand up to close examination. In West Africa, particularly in Nigeria and Ghana, a class of African businessmen, along with successful lawyers, doctors and other professional men, has grown in recent years, especially since the war. A leaven of African "master farmers," helped by loans from the marketing boards and other kindred public bodies, has also come into being. African- owned estates, worked by paid labor, are on the increase, and the creation of farmers' unions testifies to the emergence of a rural bourgeoisie. African labor shows an increasing tendency to migrate across the open frontiers of underpopulated territories, thereby making inroads into the old social cohesiveness. Yet African socialism, whether in the guise of nationalization, a planned economy or the building of coöperatives, clings stubbornly to its African character. Mali and Guinea, for instance, have banned the Marxist-Leninist group known as the Partie Africane de l'Independence. Collective ownership of the land and of the means of production, where it exists in Africa under a planned economy, is on a restricted scale.

Yet the question arises whether with the end of colonialism and with the political withdrawal of the White Presence certain countries of the continent might not be tempted to resort to the Communist solution. There are several reasons against this-the weakness of Communist parties within Africa; the reluctance of the leaders of the newly independent countries to exchange one form of foreign domination for another; the open rift between Moscow and Peking; and the realization, particularly by African students and leaders, that the Russians and Chinese are as color-conscious as the Western democracies. Informed observers place the number of Communists in the continent at only around 50,000, and despite the suspicion once attaching to Sékou Touré, the Communists include none of the top-ranking leaders.

IV

The attitude of Africans to Asians, whom they regard with some justice as abettors of white imperialism during the period of Western domination in the continent, has not visibly thawed. If anything it has hardened. I recall a white settler in Northern Rhodesia remarking angrily: "Once we are gone the Africans think they can step into a £20a-week job and ride in American cars. They are nowhere as good as European employees but demand the same salaries." He agreed, however, when I said that the Asians and not the Europeans would be the first economic casualties, which is what has happened. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, Asian employees in government offices and commercial concerns are being replaced more quickly than Europeans. This is natural, since big Asian-owned commercial establishments and industries are few and far between and, additionally, the Indian serving as a bank assistant, salesman or government clerk signifies to the African a competitor who can now be easily dislodged and replaced. The European's economic presence operated institutionally through large corporations such as shipping units, insurance companies and banks. As many Asians, both Indians and Pakistanis, explained to me, their primary concern was trade, and because of this they kept for the most part away from the politics of the continent. It was obvious, though they did not say so, that in the process they were interested in preserving the political status quo.

A truth which suddenly dawned on me in Africa was the realization that the Asian, particularly with his caste and community consciousness, found it comparatively easy to accept the compartmental way of social life common to the African and was not excessively embarrassed by it, for the average Indian is habituated to living within his caste and community whether in his own country or abroad. He accepted segregation with less resentment than the African, for within his own caste and community the Indian lives a fairly full life. True, he resented the European's attitude of social superiority, but curiously his own attitude toward the average African was not very different from the European's. And the African was acutely aware of it. To a cosmopolitan Indian, the spectacle of Sindhis, Gujarathis and Sikhs, each with their own separate housing colonies and schools, appeared anomalous and contradictory. At the same time, there was a common, composite Indian awarenesss among them. In all this it very largely reflected Indian society at home.

V

Margery Perham makes a shrewd point when she stresses that African nationalism, as compared with Western nationalism, has an extra and major ingredient-the sense of racial feeling which derives from a consciousness of color. To a lesser but none the less discernible degree it is also evident in Asian nationalism. From this sense of derogation and repression of his race arises the African's inverted complex of superiority toward the non-black. With independence, the Asian has largely shed this compulsive urge, but with the African it still lingers and rankles. Time, however, is bound to efface it, for as the African achieves political freedom and an acknowledged status in the comity of peoples, the world's color consciousness will fade. Miss Perham also makes a perceptive point when she observes that "it is not so much the principle of democracy for which Africans have struggled as the end of the rule of white over black." Theirs has been as much a revolution as the French Revolution with its slogan of "liberty, equality and fraternity," but the motive force has differed; for whereas the European revolutionary was reaching out for a form of democracy, however tinsel, the African revolutionary was primarily interested in ending race rule and white domination. Color, not creed, provided the stimulus. Hence négritude, which arose from the African's long isolation and the loneliness which he sought to sublimate in a feeling of togetherness with his own kind. The gulf which once separated the sensitive educated African from his European counterpart was almost as wide as that which divided him from the passive, ignorant masses of his own country. The layer of cream at the top of the bottle was too thin. What the South African writer, Lewis Nkosi, terms the African's "quest for identity and selfhood" might, following the encounter with Europe, "produce a new man altogether in Africa." Nkosi sees the perpetual quest for self ending in the achievement of a synthesis. But obviously this calls for a greater two- way traffic between Europe and Africa than exists today. Both Europe and Africa must lose their color-consciousness.

By and large, Africans have obtained their independence with less violence than Asian countries and largely in agreement with the colonizing powers. Africa, moreover, is not afflicted to the same degree by the appalling population problem which weighs on many Asian countries. Her main economic problem is that the countries of the continent are too often reliant upon a single crop in a single area which puts the local economy at the mercy of fluctuations in world raw-material prices. Africa, for the most part, is devoid of those apparently insoluble problems that make countries like India an economic nightmare. Nor are they unduly oppressed by the necessity of belonging to one bloc or another. As Nyerere has picturesquely put it: African states have no intention of becoming "jumping jackasses" siding automatically with West or East. They want to live their own way of life in peace and coöperation.

Slowly but surely they are climbing out of the sense of not belonging which for so many years has burdened them. Africa is no longer a thing apart. A vital force animates her being, and with the lifting of the white man's menace she seeks a place among the sons of earth.

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