Blair Fraser October 5 1963


Blair Fraser October 5 1963


Maclean’s overseas editor begins a series of reports on the most dramatic and vital news story of our time: the troubles of the African Negro as he struggles toward “emergence”

Blair Fraser

WE WERE STANDING outside a dingy little meeting hall in Northern Rhodesia, two white reporters among perhaps a hundred indignant black men. Their indignation had started not because we were white but because we were reporters—apparently a local paper had run an unfavorable story about the political party whose executive was meeting inside the hall, and its supporters held the two of us to blame— but that phase didn't last long. In no time at all the crowd developed a general hostility against the white intruders, and their cries turned into a steady chant of “foreigners get out, foreigners get out.”

My companion, a Rhodesian, beckoned me off with a jerk of his head. “The trouble is, if these chaps get really angry th^ don't stop—they kick you to death,” he said quietly. “Let's move over toward the police van.” This seemed rather a thin protection to me, since the police were also Africans and were looking on with total indifference, but 1 did what 1 was told.

In the end nothing happened at all. We managed to send a message into the hall; the party leader who had invited us came out and talked to us in a friendly way, and his supporters then drifted off, still muttering but no longer threatening. The whole episode w;as over within minutes. But it gave me a clearer idea than I'd had before of what is involved in a white man's decision to stay on under majority rule in an African country.

Nowhere in the world up to now have white men and black men in substantial numbers been able to live together peacefully on a footing of equality. This year, for the first time in history, serious attempts are being made to break this long record of failure. Of one such attempt the whole world knows — the increasingly

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A Canadian says, “Living among Africans has been humbling"

triumphant struggle for equal rights by American Negroes. Less notice has been taken in white countries at least, of another very different attempt on the other side of the globe in eastern and central Africa.

Here it is the whites who are the minority, but until now they have been a dominant one. By the end of 1963 this domination wiM come to an end in at least three African countries — Kenya, Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia—and will face new challenges in the few parts of Africa where it is still resolutely maintained.

Kenya already has a black government in office which becomes fully independent Dec. 12 under the leadership of the former Mau Mau terrorist commander, Jomo Kenyatta, now at seventy-two an apparently benign elder statesman. Northern Rhodesia will have a black government as soon as another election can be held, when victory for Kenneth Kaunda and his dominant party is a certainty. In Nyasaland Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda's black government operates nominally under some British tutelage, but in fact is already independent.

The white minorities are small— one percent of Kenya's population, a third of one percent in Northern Rhodesia, even tinier in Nyasaland, Tanganyika and Uganda. But unlike the minorities in West Africa they are not negligible; they cannot be ignored. Countries like Ghana and Nigeria have no color problem for the same reason Canada has none, that the minority is too insignificant to matter. The new nations of east and central Africa have the color problem at their very core. Whites and Asians live and must continue to live among the black people, for whom their work is still economically essential. The open question is whether this economic necessity can prevail over ancient prejudice, new jealousies, and the memory of terrible wrongs.

Some whites profess no anxiety at all as they await the full impact of majority rule. Penelope Sanger, a pretty girl from Port Hope, Ont., lives with her English husband and a brood of small children in a village about ten miles outside Nairobi, Kenya. Her husband, Clyde, is a journalist with the whole of cast and central Africa as his beat so naturally he is away a lot and his wife stays at home unprotected. The only thing about this situation that disturbs or annoys her is getting letters of alarm and despondency from her family back in Canada. She says she feels just as safe with her African friends as she would in Port Hope if not more so.

“It has really been a humbling experience to live among Africans for these three years,” she said. “They are wonderful people, much nicer than we are.”

“In what way?”

“Because they are so kind, and so cheerful and gay with so little to be cheerful about, and especially because

they are so willing to help other people. Anybody who comes along can count on a meal or a bed for as long as he wants to stay. They seem to think nothing of it on either side.” And she told several anecdotes of astonishing generosity on the part of her African neighbors.

In Tanganyika later I got the same kind of answer from my African guide. I had asked him how the thousands of jobless young men in Dar-EsSalaam managed to live when they

came to town from their native villages and found no work to do. He replied, not boastfully but as one stating a simple fact, “We Africans are very generous people. A young man from the country would find a cousin or even just a friend and he would he welcome to sleep there anti share whatever they have to cat.“

Most Europeans, though, would point out that this is part of the African joint family system or kinship group. Africans do this kind of thing

for fellow tribesmen but not necessarily even for Africans outside their kin, let alone for white men.

Commoner reasons given by w'hites for staying on were less starry-eyed but solidly material. “I've put twenty thousand quid into this country and I’m damned if I’m going to walk away and leave it.” said an English farmer in Nairobi. "I can't afford to.”

Another planter said, “We are riding along a fairly level road, just a bit bumpy and swampy, but w'e know'

we are headed for a precipice Dec. 12 — independence day. We don't know how high the precipice is. or what we shall be like when w'e hit the ground on the other side."

What they seem to fear is not violence against themselves (they have great confidence in the loyalty of their own farm workers) hut rather an outburst of dubious adventure by the newly independent government. One or two small incidents made me see what they meant.

At lunch one day a senior minister in the Kenyatta government was asked what plans they had for the armed services after independence — how strong a force they thought they would require.

“It will have to he larger than we originally intended." he answered, “because of this business with Somaliland. ( Moslem Somalis who live in the northern frontier district of Kenya are demanding to be united with Somaliland. It is a mere accident that when European states were carving up Africa these desert-dwelling Somalis were lumped in with the Kenya tribesmen for whom they have a fierce and fathomless contempt.)

“We shall have to deploy some troops in the frontier district." the minister went on, “to show Somaliland that we mean business. That means a larger army than would otherwise he necessary. We must take a firm attitude and make them realize we are strong.

“However, besides the army we shall have our youth organized in a semi-military fashion—youth brigades. They will not be the army, but we shall have them available in case anybody says the wrong thing."

Would he arm these young men?

"Not exactly arm them, no. Not like the army, that is. We would recruit them primarily for work, big projects like building dams and roads and so on. You see w-e already recruited our youth for the election campaign—both parties did. They got no pay but they helped us by distributing propaganda and disciplining our political meetings. Nowthese young men are coming to us and asking what we are going to do for them. They think they helped us win the election and therefore that we owe them something."

I asked how much the youth brigade would cost. Apparently he hadn't thought of that, but he took a pencil and paper and began figuring it out there and then, hailing passers-by to ask their estimate of various items. The total came to more than he had expected, whereupon he began with engaging candor to calculate how the youth brigade might he wangled into the development budget so that the British and the Americans would pa\ for it.

When I told this story to a member of Kenya's large Asian community, which provides most of the skilled and semi-skilled workers in the country, he snorted: "What those

young men want is not work, it's pa\ and authority. They want to he able to tell other people what to do. " And he described how the week before the youth w ing of KANU ( Kenyatta’s political party) appointed itself a morality squad to clear prostitutes off the streets of Nairobi. Quite a few girls

had been beaten up and some had been raped. Among the women beaten were some perfectly respectable wives out with their husbands.

Later I raised the matter with Tom Mboya, whom Western diplomats regard as their strongest friend in the Kenyatta cabinet and who as minister of justice w'ill be responsible for police and internal security. He said substantially the same thing about the youth brigade as his more ebullient colleague had done, though in soberer terms. “We have to take advantage of the élan of these young men, their spirit and their energy." As for the beating up of women on the streets. Mboya did not seem unduly concerned: “Some of the boys went too far, but all of those who could be identified have been disciplined and some have been charged in court. Meanwhile they really have cleared the prostitutes off the streets. They’re more effective at that than the police have ever been."

None of these things would cause too much anxiety if the economic outlook were brighter, but here the clouds are very dark indeed. Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda, who intend to join in an East African Federation as soon as Kenya becomes independent, are all relatively poor countries with no resources except agriculture. They have no one easy source of revenue like the copper mines of Northern Rhodesia, nor a single easy cash crop like the cocoa that makes Ghana relatively prosperous. All their wealth above mere subsistence, the earnings that support modern cities like Nairobi and the facilities of modern government, come from a few export crops like tea, sisal and pyrethrum, a member of the chrysanthemum family whose oil is the basic ingredient of many insecticides. All these crops are now mainly in European hands. All require a high degree of skill, organization and uniformity of quality.

Theoretically there is no reason why an African farmer should not produce as much coffee of as good quality as a European farmer. Coffee does not require huge farms for economic production—it can be grown as well on plots of a few acres, since each acre requires approximately one man’s working time. But in a one-day tour of farms around Nairobi. I got an inkling why the transfer of coffee farms from Europeans to Africans is regarded as a considerable economic risk.

In the morning we visited several large farms. Each supports a European family in comfort and even luxury, and about two hundred to two hundred and fifty African families on the prevailing wage which is twelve dollars a month, plus food and lodging. The houses arc two-room cottages of local stone, by no means luxurious but better than an ordinary African hut—they have electricity, for instance. and community taps of clean water nearby. Under supervision each man cultivates rather more than an acre. The farms are beautiful—row on row of neat shiny bushes pruned to about the height of my shoulder, not a weed in sight anywhere, and the bushes heavy with coffee berries just beginning to ripen. They produce about a ton of coffee to the acre, double the national average.

In the at.ernoon we visited an African farm where six of the thirty acres had been put into coffee. Admittedly it was not the best coffee land— higher than the farms we had seen in the morning and therefore a little too cool to be ideal for coffee production. But this did not account for all the differences we could see. The bushes, though younger had not been pruned, and towered over our heads, skinny and gangling. Weeds grew tall between the rows, half concealing the abandoned tools, tin cans and bits of planking that were lying about. Many clusters of coffee berries were blackened with disease.

1 crumbled one such black berry in my fingers. The English farmer w'ho was with me said quietly, “Don't touch any other berries now, or you’ll spread the disease like wildfire.” So I didn’t—but who will tell that to the coffee pickers who are hired by the day to harvest the crop? The same casual laborers go from farm to farm, and could set off an epidemic of coffee berry disease.

Will European farmers stay?

The contrast would have been less disturbing were it not that this particular farm is apparently a bit of a showplace. It is owned by an educated man who has the rank of subchief, occupies an office, and draws a salary for advising and assisting the people of his district. The actual farming is done by his w'ifc, a shapely, attractive woman despite the fact that she has borne nine children since 1945, w'ho herself was a teacher before her marriage. They have a herd of grade cattle and sell a fair amount of milk each day. Unlike most African farmers they use fertilizer, with the result that their corn is eight feet high and a thriving contrast to the wilting, drooping corn we saw on other farms we passed on the way out. In short, these were well above average people, superior in education, income, equipment and enterprise to the general run of their neighbors. Nevertheless, their farm would not have encouraged an economist trying to forecast Kenya’s exports for next year.

The Kenyatta government is keenly aware of this problem and is trying hard to persuade European farmers to stay. But there are grave political obstacles in the way in all African countries but especially in Kenya.

The accepted British version of British occupation of Kenya is that the land was largely empty w'hen they first explored it in the 1870s, built a railway from the coast in the 1890s. and started British settlement in earnest at the turn of the century. The Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest and dominant tribe, say it was nothing of the kind. Their own population had been reduced by a smallpox epidemic, which came in with the British railway, and their flocks and herds by a simultaneous epidemic of rinderpest, but they contend that the lands the British took were Kikuyu lands either temporarily vacant because of the epidemics or deliberately left fallowafter the usual African method of cultivation. No matter which side is historically right, the point is that every Kikuyu firmly believes the British stole his land. Hence every

British landowner is in Kikuyu eyes an interloper, a usurper and a thief.

Therefore the Kikuyu feels no compunction about settling down as a squatter on British land or helping himself to British cattle. Even while the British were still running the government and the police they found this type of crime very difficult to control. How a popularly elected African government can hope to control it and still keep the support of its voters is an open question.

There is also a kind of mysticism about land in most African countries, a belief that if every man had his rights there would be land enough for all and each could sit under his own vine and fig tree. This may be a tenable notion in a country like Tanganyika, where ninety percent of the people live on subsistence farming outside the money economy altogether, and population is controlled by the fact that most babies die of dysentery or protein deficiency before reaching

the age of four. But in Kenya the population explosion is already in progress. Natural increase is a whopping three and a half percent per annum, which means the population doubles every thirty years.

Land settlement schemes are already proving that Kenya hasn't room on the farm for its surplus people. A million acres have been expropriated for land settlement from nine hundred European farmers and on them, by the end of this year, seventeen thou-

sand Kenyar families will be settled. Mainly these families will be chosen from the landless unemployed. The thousands of other Kenyans who were employed on the European farms will replace them among the unemployed and the vicious circle will be complete.

“It’s politics versus economics,” said a white economist who has stayed in the Kenyan government service, “and so far politics is prevailing. What is the sense of putting seventeen thousand people on the land when you are also putting ten or fifteen thousand off. and anyway your labor force is growing by a hundred thousand?”

Disillusionment with the land settlement scheme is bound to be a political shock for which no government would willingly take the blame. It will be difficult to resist the temptation, in a country that still believes in evil wizards, to blame it on the evil white man who has brought so many evils in the past. Difficult also not to press on with land settlement so long as a black Kenyan is unemployed and landless and a white Kenyan still appears to be lord of vast acres.

To some extent these problems are common to all the new nations of Africa, but Kenya has another that is peculiarly her own—the memories of Mau Mau. To white Kenyans, and indeed to white men everywhere, the words Mau Mau recall an outburst of primitive savagery ten or twelve years ago whereby the Kikuyu turned on the white man by stealth and treachery, and murdered him and his sleeping children in their beds. Indescribably filthy oathing rites swore black men to secrecy and to murder, and led them to the most barbaric and bloody crimes.

Some white people remember that the Mau Mau troubles killed more blacks than whites. But most of us probably think (I did, anyway) that these black victims were “loyal” Kikuyu servants or farm workers who refused to join the savage revolt and were punished for their refusal. It’s true that many blacks were so killed, twenty times as many as the whites who lost their lives. What the white people do not remember is that the vast majority of those killed were Mau Mau terrorists themselves — or black men suspected of being Mau Mau terrorists. The Mau Mau lost six of their own for every black man they killed, and a hundred and twenty for every white man. With casualties of that magnitude it’s a fair guess that not every one of the twelve thousand Mau Mau dead would have been found guilty and sentenced to hang in a court of law. It’s a fair guess that

some at least are mourned as innocent victims of a ratissage like those the French paras used to carry out in Algeria.

So when Jomo Kenyatta appeals to his people to forgive and forget he is not. as white Kenyans seem to think, appealing to white Kenyans alone. Already, even before the British have gone, Kenyan politicians talk about Mau Mau as a war of liberation and its black victims as heroes and martyrs.

Of course, if anyone could count

on being heeded in an appeal for mutual forgiveness, it would be Jomo Kenyatta. He himself, after all, spent ten years in prison or enforced rustication for his part in organizing the Mau Mail terror. He is now called father of his country, a man of colossal prestige.

Malcolm MacDonald, the governor of Kenya, who describes himself as a “cautious optimist,” places heavy reliance on the “calm wisdom” of Jomo Kenyatta. He can recall many inci-

dents, trivial in themselves, which might have built up into political crises, or anyway political problems, but for Kenyatta’s moderation and good judgment. This no doubt astonishes and perhaps even outrages British settlers in Kenya to whom Kenyatta is now what he has always been, the Mau Mau leader with his gang of scoundrels, now called Her Majesty's ministers. But it is undeniable that all Kenyatta’s recent speeches and public statements have been counsels of mod-

eration, friendship between races, and above all hard work.

The question is whether Kenyatta or any other African leader will be able to keep his own people under full control in situations where whites or Asians still occupy, or even appear to occupy, favored positions. Political pressure for so-called Africanization is already building up—against the Asians who staff the postal telegraphic, railway and kindred services in Kenya, and who operate the whole merchandise distribution system of Tanganyika. It also builds up against whites, though these are fewer and better protected and so feel it less.

There is also another and sinister factor—the tradition of violence in Africa. Tribal warfare is only one lifetime away, and in some places not even that. Quite aside from color prejudice, political differences tend to be settled by force and moderate leaders are not always able to prevent it.

Kenneth Kaunda, prime minister designate of Northern Rhodesia, is as gentle a man as I have ever met. The son of African missionaries of the Scottish Presbyterian church, he still takes his religion seriously. He neither smokes nor drinks. He is esteemed and respected by blacks and whites alike in his country, where he is already a cabinet minister and will become prime minister as soon as his party wins the next election, as it is certain to do (he got about three quarters of the votes at the last election but a complicated franchise system, now abandoned, gave him less than a clear majority of the seats). He is president of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) which is the decisively dominant party in Northern Rhodesia, and he has no rivals for the leadership.

Nevertheless, even from this position of strength, Kaunda is unable to prevent fearful outbreaks of violence almost every weekend between the youth of his own party and that of its feeble rival, the African National Congress (ANC). In June the Liberal Central African Mail, showing commendable courage, published a truly horrifying front page. Under the headline “Is this politics?" it printed photographs of three dead men killed in riots between UNIP and ANC goons on Sunday, June 16. One had a spear ' through his throat, another an arrow through his mouth transfixing the skull, and the third man’s brain had been removed.

Nobody of any color supposes that Kenneth Kaunda had anything to do with these outrages or that they rouse anything but horror and dismay in his mind. The point is, even he was not able to stop this political warfare, and it is still going on. The police, despite strenuous efforts, have been unable to control it—and next year, if the pattern of some other countries holds, these UNIP strongarm men will be the police.

Some effects of this goonery are lamentably obvious. One that perhaps is not obvious is certainly unintended. This kind of violence is having the effect in South Africa, and to a lesser extent in Southern Rhodesia, of eroding the moral case that is the only effective weapon against apartheid. But that big subject is an article in itself. ★