European-African Co-operation to Rebuild Africa

August 15, 1994|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris. -- It now is essential to be serious about Africa. The Conradian darknesses produced in culturally ravaged and uprooted African societies during the years since decolonization have been a taboo subject among Americans and Europeans. To continue with that now will make us all accomplices to genocide, and not only to genocide in Rwanda.

Rwanda is merely the latest catastrophe. Burundi may be the next -- tomorrow. Zaire is an entrenched horror of social disintegration and corruption. Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone are enclaves of mindless violence, political anarchy and warlordism. Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia are ravaged victims of totally self-interested American, Soviet, Cuban and South African policies, by which the outside powers fought their ideological wars with African proxies and mercenaries.

Once-promising Kenya, Nigeria and Ivory Coast are in decline. The democracy movement, which during the past three years produced a series of national conferences to end dictatorship, is now foundering.

The recent past saw Emperor Bokassa of the Central African ''Empire'' and Uganda's Idi Amin, whom American and European journalists thought amusing until Amin expelled Uganda's Asian population and destroyed its economy, and bodies were found in Bokassa's deep-freeze. But the French had indulged Bokassa, and the United States and British governments had found Amin a useful clown.

What can be done? Africans themselves now are saying there has to be a disinterested recolonization of countries manifestly incapable of governing themselves. The Kenyan historian Ali Mazrui wants the old League of Nations Trusteeship system re- established, with Asian and other African nations among those appointed to govern by the United Nations, under the general guidance of a council of major African states, possessing a peacekeeping army.

The feasibility of one-nation trusteeship seems to me slight, and the prospect that any single nation would take on such a thankless responsibility seems to me zero. Some kind of internationalist U.N. trusteeship seems equally unlikely. The United Nations is already vastly overburdened. It has the greatest difficulty finding peacekeeping troops. It is all but bankrupt (the United States being the principal defaulter on pledged payments). It has no apparatus actually governing a country, and the politicking of its membership makes it almost impossible that it could create one.

What is left? Let me ask several questions.

Who is responsible for this catastrophe? Answer: the European powers, who colonized Africa in the 19th century out of an immensely complex mixture of good and bad motives, thereby destroying Africa's existing social and political systems, its customary institutions and law.

Following that, in response to the Africans' natural demands for freedom and the anti-colonialist Zeitgeist of the 1950s and '60s, and under intense U.S. and Communist pressures, the Europeans withdrew. They left a narrow elite of Western-educated leaders in control, committed to mostly irrelevant ideologies and ambitions, in countries totally lacking politically responsible middle classes, the ''civil society,'' that makes democracy possible.

Next question: Who outside Africa has an urgent material interest in Africa's salvation?

Answer: The Europeans. Besides the fact that Europe is the principal consumer of African mineral and agricultural exports, Africa's foundering means hundreds of thousands, even millions more desperate people are attempting to get out of Africa to places where they can find order, jobs, security, a future. Their scarcely controllable migration toward Europe already has created immense social problems and serious political tensions.

Third question: Who is competent to administer Africa? Certainly not the United Nations or the United States. Somalia was a dramatic demonstration of that. Both Italian and French peacekeepers in Somalia warned the Unites States and United Nations against their misconceived attempt to impose American-style solutions. The Italians know Somalia, just as the French know West and Central Africa, the British East Africa and the Portuguese Angola and Mozambique. They know the languages, they have not only former colonial administrators but specialists and scholars concerned with these regions. If anybody is competent to deal sympathetically with these countries, the Europeans are.

How could this be done? No European government in its right mind would today undertake the recolonization of a former colony. But the European Union as a whole -- which insists that it wants political projects and an international role for Europe -- could collectively assume the responsibility of cooperating with Africans themselves to arrest the continent's decline and put it back on a progressive course.

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