Why Tears Are Not Enough

Robert Miller July 29 1985

Why Tears Are Not Enough

Robert Miller July 29 1985

Why Tears Are Not Enough



Robert Miller

Less than three decades ago, as it began shedding its colonial shackles, the Dark Continent looked confidently to an independent future of economic growth and social development. But today legions of Africans are hungry and broke, sick and tired, humiliated and divided. The independent black states are nearing the point of

collapse under a cruel combination of famine, drought, debt, chronic mismanagement and runaway population growth. They face a potential human, environmental and economic catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions. Millions of lives and billions of dollars are at risk, and Africa desperately needs help—food, money, technology and time to recover. As the Canadian-produced hit record for rock music’s unprecedented African relief effort declared, with eloquent simplicity, “Tears are not enough.”

The developed world has become increasingly appalled at Africa’s plight. There is at least a brief flicker of hope that the humanitarian instincts of ordinary people can somehow overcome a

crisis that has so far defied resolution by governments, financial institutions and relief organizations. Last week donations flowed into rock music’s Band Aid charitable foundation, which staged a unique worldwide telethon for Africa on July 13 (page 17). A Who’s Who of pop musicians, including Britain’s Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger, U.S. singers Tina Turner and Madonna and Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, performed before a global audience. Live Aid’s chief

organizer, Irish musician Bob Geldof, vowed that every penny raised would be spent on African relief. Said Geldof: “It was pop music’s ultimate day.”

Agony: But the agony of Black Africa —where an estimated 13 million people, principally in Ethiopia and the Sudan, face imminent starvation—cannot be eradicated by music and spontaneous acts of individual generosity. Said Canada’s Maurice Strong, the executive coordinator of the United Nations Office for Emergency Operations in Africa: “You cannot rely on rock concerts to produce regular commitments for longterm development.” At the official level, the rest of the world—like the Africans themselves—seemed almost impotent in the face of impending disaster. Un-

certainty abounds about how to cope with a crisis that has been intensifying since the mid-1970s. At the same time that soaring energy prices triggered worldwide economic upheaval, a relentless 17-year drought afflicted a broad band of northern Africa, from Senegal on the Atlantic to Somalia on the Red Sea (page 20). African scholar Basil Davidson of Britain observes, “ A continent does not simply lie down and die.” But the prospects for African recovery are

bleak. Warned Philip Ndegwa, governor of Kenya’s central bank: “Africa is currently in a dangerous economic crisis whose real severity, dimensions and social and political consequences are not fully appreciated.”

Decline: After a tenfold increase in the price of oil in the 1970s, the already marginal African economies suffered crippling blows from which they have never recovered. Among them: depressed prices for such export commodities as copper, sugar and cocoa; concurrent increases in the cost of essential imports, including fertilizers and petroleum products; and a rapid rise in borrowing by governments trying in vain to prevent deterioration of what were already among the world’s lowest living

standards. At the same time, much of the continent’s agricultural sector slid into decline—partly as a result of regional droughts, partly as a result of mismanagement and higher costs for chemicals and equipment. The result of the economic and agricultural crises is that Africa cannot feed itself and cannot afford to buy the food it needs. As many as 150 million Africans live in areas threatened by famine, and the continent is staggering under a debt burden expected to total $170 billion by the end of this year. Said Peter Onu, secretary general of the divided and ineffectual 51-member Organization of African Unity (OAU): “The debt situation is intolerable. People who are starving certainly are in no position to pay debt.” Crisis: Indeed, the debt crisis is as potentially dangerous to Africa’s future as the shortage of food. Some black states are spending as much as half their total foreign exchange earnings merely on interest—much of it to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. One cruel consequence of the high interest payments is that they inhibit the debtor nations’ chances of ever assembling enough capital to finance economic recovery. Last week African heads of state met in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for an OAU summit meeting, at which the retiring chairman, Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, urged members to adopt a common front and negotiate a new deal with foreign creditors. Said Nyerere: “The bleeding of Africa continues.” Both the IMF and the World Bank have imposed increasingly tough conditions on African borrowers, often dictating domestic policy governing agriculture spending, import purchases and currency devaluations. Proud and sensitive governments have little choice except to agree. Such countries as Ghana, Zambia and Tanzania have accepted IMF advice with varying degrees of enthusiasm. A rueful President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia said that whatever the malady, the IMF “will always give you quinine.” Weapons: The African summit’s host went further. Ethiopia’s Marxist leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, charged at the OAU conference that international banking institutions are “weapons of pressure and intervention” for capitalist countries. Added Mengistu, whose country has been embroiled in a 22-year-long war with the Red Sea province of Eritrea and is one of Africa’s neediest famine cases: “Unmercifully, and through blind lack of political will, they have refused to budge to our repeated pleas for the cancellation of our debts.” But the conference stopped short of unilaterally declaring a moratorium on debt payments. Instead, the leaders prepared a communiqué urging Western credi-

tors to ease repayment schedules, call ing for an international conference to discuss Africa's debt burden and asking members to work harder at restoring order in their own economies. Said act ing Secretary General Peter Onu of Ni geria: "Our people are anxiously await ing the inevitable verdict that will rekindle hope where there is already despair." The summit also prepared a resolu tion in which OAU members acknowl edged that agriculture-the traditional cornerstone of the African economy -had "rapidly deteriorated in recent years." The resolution thanked the world for food aid, vowed to emphasize food-crop production at the expense of the much-valued but largely failing in dustrial sector and urged all members to encourage small farmers by paying "re munerative prices" for food. Reliance: At least part of the current food shortage arises from the wide spread policy of African governments that hold prices down to appease politi cally influential members of their urban middle class. Indeed, until recently Af rican governments encouraged farmers to grow exportable cash crops-pea nuts, coffee, cocoa and sugar-as a means of earning precious foreign exchange. One result: during the past 10 years 25 African countries have slipped from self-sufficiency in food production to reliance on food aid. Living on handouts has damaged African pride and raised the spectre of the food emergency be-

coming a permanent feature of African life. Said Capt. Thomas Sankara, leader of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Vol ta): "I swear that, contrary to appear ances, a little of us dies with each grain of millet we receive." Growth: Still, foreign aid has been a

way of life in Africa since the first nations gained their independence in the early 1950s. Since then, the world has transfused $120 billion (U.S.) into a conti nent that absorbed it as eas ily as desert soils soak up sparse rainfall. Most of the newly independent black nations were born with primitive agriculture-based economies, little or no man ufacturing, severely limited medical facilities and only a handful of schools. But en thusiasm and optimism

were bourniless, anu Atrica seemea to offer potential for rapid economic growth. It had massive mineral depo sits-diamonds, gold, copper, uranium -as well as dozens of fast-flowing rivers suitable for hydroelectric devel opment and millions of acres of un ploughed farmland. Africa was in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the world. As the colonial powers-primarily Britain, France, Bel gium and Portugal-withdrew, the United States, the Soviet Union and, on a more limited scale, China moved in to

fill the void. The superpowers vied with one another to distribute money, tech nological assistance and military sup plies in countries eager for everything they could get. Most of the new nations shrewdly adhered to former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's doe-

trine of nonalignment and thereby avoided discourag ing courtship by the big spenders from either Wash ington or Moscow. At the same time, the African states attempted to develop their own forms of govern ment-usually eliminating the official opposition, a tradition that rulers claimed was artificially transplanted from Europe. With their critics either silenced or co-opted, inexpe rienced governments inev itably made mistakes. They

squandered billions of dollars on illfated and often ill-advised prestige proj -ects and programs: national airlines that flew mainly empty jets, publicly funded skyscrapers built chiefly to en hance a capital's image, elaborate em bassies more notable for their lavish parties than their diplomatic achievements. According to French agronomist René Dumont, whose 1962 book, False Start for Africa, infuriated many African na tionalists, one expensive blunder is a hydroelectric project nearing comple-~

tion on the Senegal River. Backed by Canadian, West German and Arab sponsors who stepped in when the World Bank refused to take part, the West African countries of Mauritania, Mali and Senegal are building two dams —one due for completion next year and the other in 1988. Estimated cost: $800 million (U.S.). But according to Dumont, the dams will generate more electrical power than the region could ever hope to use. And to cut costs the three impoverished African states are now considering an indefinite delay in building the irrigation networks the project was designed to provide. Said Dumont: “I believe this is the most abhorrent project I

have ever encountered, and I have seen a few.”

A more promising megaproject, with substantial Canadian involvement, is the rehabilitation of the East African railroad linking Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The line—built during British colonial times—had been allowed to fall into disrepair after the East African countries achieved independence. But now, under a $175-million (Cdn.) grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canadian experts are upgrading the railway line. Said Franz Koch, an aid officer with the Canadian High Commission in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam: “A year

ago trains were derailing once a week during the rainy season, but since several of our Canadian specialists repaired the track there has not been even one derailment, and that in itself is saving millions of dollars.”

Support: Most of Canada’s formal aid to Africa is provided through CIDA or the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a federally funded public corporation that offers scientific and technical support to developing countries. Ottawa has earmarked more than $1.5 billion (Cdn.) for the two organizations this year. And it also has established a $50-million emergency fund to help Africa through the current drought

and famine crisis. According to David MacDonald, a former Conservative member of Parliament who now coordinates the fund, Africa “is moving toward the edge of the abyss.” The immediate question for the rest of the world, he said, is “how to pull the people there back.”

Before the famine and debt crises erupted, Black Africa was struggling to cope with difficult and sometimes painful issues. It endured brutal civil wars —in the former Belgian Congo (now Zaire), where the copper-rich province of Katanga tried to establish its independence in 1961; and in former British Nigeria, the oil-rich giant of Africa with a population of 100 million, where tribal differences led to the disastrous attempt to establish an independent state called Biafra.

Slaughter: At the root of Africa’s infighting is a crazy quilt set of borders that cut across natural and cultural boundaries. The newly independent nations inherited borders largely drawn by European diplomats and engineers during the 19th-century scramble for colonies. The European powers, panicked by one another’s colonial ambitions, feverishly carved the continent among themselves. They paid no attention either to traditional African trading patterns or to tribal differences, which continue to plague most Black African states and which occasionally

boil over into savage clashes. One example: the 1972 slaughter of 100,000 Hutu tribesmen by minority Tutsi warriors maurauding in the tiny Central African nation of Burundi.

Riot: But the most painful issue of all—and one on which most of Black Africa comes together—has been the continuing prosperity of an entrenched and increasingly bellicose white-supremacist regime in South Africa. While the black states have watched their living standards plunge, South Africa has grown steadily richer. Most of Black Africa’s battles for freedom and independence have been won—but the last and most difficult has only

just been joined. The 23 million blacks chafing under South Africa’s apartheid system of racial discrimination periodically defy the regime. Indeed, yet another round of violent disturbances erupted last week in the sprawling black township of Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg, where angry crowds stoned riot police, looted stores and torched buses. At week’s end, President P.W. Botha declared an indefinite state of emergency in 36 districts around Johannesburg and in the Eastern Cape region. The state of emergency—the first since

the Sharpeville massacre of 1960—gives police special powers to enforce curfews, arrest and detain suspects without trial and censor the media. The move followed 17 months of rioting in black townships which has claimed 500 lives.

The turmoil has created a ripple effect among South Africa’s uneasy neighbors. The socialist republic of Mozambique, for one, marked the 10th anniversary of its independence from Portugal on June 25, but—like so much of the rest of the continent—it had little cause for celebration. Five years of drought and a sustained destabilization campaign mounted by South African-backed guerrillas against the regime of President Samora Moisés Machel have wrecked Mozambique’s economy and left its citizens with less than they had in colonial times. Stores in the capital of Maputo are empty, food is chronically scarce, and most factories are closed for lack of spare parts and raw materials.

Starvation: Outside the capital, the situation is even grimmer. Roughly four million Mozambicans are subsisting on food aid. An estimated 100,000 others have died of starvation. Last year Canada shipped 38,500 tons of wheat to Mozambique, Africa’s third most seriously afflicted drought sufferer, after Ethiopia and the Sudan. And for Mozambique the immediate future threatens to be even more desperate. The guerrilla action prevented farmers in the provinces of Niassa and Cabo Delgado, where the drought is not a serious factor, from planting their crops this year. As a result, the Machel government says it will

need a minimum of 716,300 tons of food relief to avoid disaster. Television has made the possibility of catastrophe in Africa—where Livingstone and Stanley explored, where Hemingway hunted the great animals —a vivid nightmare for Westerners. The heart-wrenching pictures of children too weak to smile, of mothers too weary to weep, of old men too defeated to get to their feet in search of one last morsel of food may have changed for-

ever the romantic image of Africa that so many Europeans and North Americans have held for so long. Television’s potential to reach the masses, demonstrated so succesfully by the Live Aid promotion, may yet prove to be Africa’s greatest ally as the continent fights for

its life._

With Lyse Doucet in Abidjan, Jacqueline Toupin in Maputo, Mary Anne FitzGerald and Patrick Moser in Nairobi, Brigid Janssen in Paris, Hilary Mackenzie and Terry Hargreaves in Ottawa and Sherri Aikenhead in Toronto.