Pan-Africanism : Pan Africanism = Code of political correctness in dealing with Africa

dustyelbow

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Oct 25, 2005
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African - Americans with education, money, and political connection cannot handle the day to day life of Africa based on the experience of this journalist.

How can any diaspora African go back to the motherland and continue the work of our ancestors in the continent?

What general approach to take other than the dismal accounts of these African americans make?

Did these disappointed African-Americans miss something before leaving America or is Africa truly a nightmare in action for any notion of going back based on these testimonies?

Do you think the man became "born-again" after his trials in Africa to love America much more (directly fight for more African Americans inclusion in his news orgainzation, convince his collegues to spend time to help poverty bound African-americans with dreams experience life working at a international news organization, etc) and be of more service and spent his quality time getting neglected, suffering, and poorly educated African Americans "up to date". Despite his unpleasing reactions in Africa anything an American does is considered forgivable and a lesser evil based on what was experienced in Africa.

To the above question, I think not. But he said he reach a truth in this matter.

Original site

American in Africa

By Keith B. Richburg
Sunday, March 26, 1995; Page W16

Part One of Two

I watched the dead float down a river in Tanzania.

Of all the gut-wrenching emotions I wrestled with during three years of covering famine, war and misery around Africa, no feeling so gripped me as the one I felt that scorching hot day last April, standing on the Rusumo Falls bridge, in a remote corner of Tanzania, watching dozens of discolored, bloated bodies floating downstream, floating from the insanity that was Rwanda.

The image of those bodies in the river lingered in my mind long after that, recurring during interminable nights in desolate hotel rooms without running water, or while I walked through the teeming refugee camps of eastern Zaire. And the same feeling kept coming back too, as much as I tried to force it from my mind. How can I describe it? Revulsion? Yes, but that doesn't begin to touch on what I really felt. Sorrow, or pity, at the monumental waste of human life? Yes, that's closer. But the feeling nagging at me was -- is -- something more, something far deeper. It's a sentiment that, when uttered aloud, might come across as callous, self-obsessed, maybe even racist.

But I've felt it before, that same nagging, terrible sensation. I felt it in Somalia, walking among the living dead of Baidoa and Baardheere -- towns in the middle of a devastating famine. And I felt it again in those refugee camps in Zaire, as I watched bulldozers scoop up black corpses, and trucks dump them into open pits.

I know exactly the feeling that haunts me, but I've just been too embarrassed to say it. So let me drop the charade and put it as simply as I can: There but for the grace of God go I.

Somewhere, sometime, maybe 400 years ago, an ancestor of mine whose name I'll never know was shackled in leg irons, kept in a dark pit, possibly at Goree Island off the coast of Senegal, and then put with thousands of other Africans into the crowded, filthy cargo hold of a ship for the long and treacherous journey across the Atlantic. Many of them died along the way, of disease, of hunger. But my ancestor survived, maybe because he was strong, maybe stubborn enough to want to live, or maybe just lucky. He was ripped away from his country and his family, forced into slavery somewhere in the Caribbean. Then one of his descendants somehow made it up to South Carolina, and one of those descendants, my father, made it to Detroit during the Second World War, and there I was born, 36 years ago. And if that original ancestor hadn't been forced to make that horrific voyage, I would not have been standing there that day on the Rusumo Falls bridge, a journalist -- a mere spectator -- watching the bodies glide past me like river logs. No, I might have instead been one of them -- or have met some similarly anonymous fate in any one of the countless ongoing civil wars or tribal clashes on this brutal continent. And so I thank God my ancestor made that voyage.

Does that sound shocking? Does it sound almost like a justification for the terrible crime of slavery? Does it sound like this black man has forgotten his African roots? Of course it does, all that and more. And that is precisely why I have tried to keep the emotion buried so deep for so long. But as I sit before the computer screen, trying to sum up my time in Africa, I have decided I cannot lie to you, the reader. After three years traveling around this continent as a reporter for The Washington Post, I've become cynical, jaded. I have covered the famine and civil war in Somalia; I've seen a cholera epidemic in Zaire (hence the trucks dumping the bodies into pits); I've interviewed evil "warlords," I've encountered machete-wielding Hutu mass murderers; I've talked to a guy in a wig and a shower cap, smoking a joint and holding an AK-47, on a bridge just outside Monrovia. I've seen some cities in rubble because they had been bombed, and some cities in rubble because corrupt leaders had let them rot and decay. I've seen monumental greed and corruption, brutality, tyranny and evil.

I've also seen heroism, honor and dignity in Africa, particularly in the stories of small people, anonymous people -- Africans battling insurmountable odds to publish an independent newspaper, to organize a political party, usually just to survive. I interviewed an opposition leader in the back seat of a car driving around the darkened streets of Blantyre, in Malawi, because it was then too dangerous for us even to park, lest we be spotted by the ubiquitous security forces. In Zaire, I talked to an opposition leader whose son had just been doused with gasoline and burned to death, a message from dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's henchmen. And in the Rift Valley of central Kenya, I met the Rev. Festus Okonyene, an elderly African priest with the Dutch Reformed Church who endured terrible racism under the Afrikaner settlers there, and who taught me something about the meaning of tolerance, forgiveness, dignity and restraint.

But even with all the good I've found here, my perceptions have been hopelessly skewed by the bad. My tour in Africa coincided with two of the world's worst tragedies, Somalia and Rwanda. I've had friends and colleagues killed, beaten to death by mobs, shot and left to bleed to death on a Mogadishu street.

Now, after three years, I'm beaten down and tired. And I'm no longer even going to pretend to block that feeling from my mind. I empathize with Africa's pain. I recoil in horror at the mindless waste of human life, and human potential. I salute the gallantry and dignity and sheer perseverance of the Africans. But most of all, I feel secretly glad that my ancestor made it out -- because, now, I am not one of them.

* * * * *

First, a little personal background that may be relevant to the story at hand.

I grew up as a black kid in 1960s white America, not really poor, but not particularly rich either. Like most blacks who settled in Detroit, my father had come up from the South because of the opportunities offered in the automobile plants, which in the 1940s were gearing up to meet the demands of America's World War II military machine. He joined the United Auto Workers, and stayed involved in union politics for more than 40 years.

There were actually two black Detroits while I was growing up, the east side and the west. The dividing line was Woodward Avenue, our own version of Beirut's infamous Green Line. But the division was more psychological than geographic, centering mainly on black attitudes, the strange caste system in black America at the time, and where you could place your roots in the South. Roughly put, the split was between South Carolina blacks on the west side and Alabama blacks on the east. These were, in a way, our "tribes."

It sounds strange even to me as I look back on it. But those divisions were very real to the black people living in Detroit when I was young, at a time when the city was transforming itself from predominantly white to predominantly black. It was drummed into me that South Carolina blacks, like my family, owned their homes and rarely rented. They had small patches of yard in the front and kept their fences mended. They came from Charleston, Anderson, Greenville, sometimes Columbia. They saved their money, went to church on Sunday, bought their kids new clothes at Easter and for the start of the school year. They kept their hair cut close, to avoid the nappy look. They ate turkey and ham and grits and sweet potato pie. They were well-brought-up, and they expected their children to be the same.

Don't cross Woodward Avenue, we were told, because those blacks over there came up from Alabama. They talked loudly, they drank heavily, and they cursed in public. They had darker skin and nappier hair. They didn't own homes, they rented, and they let the grass in the front run down to dirt, and their fences were all falling apart. They ate pigs' feet, and often had more than a dozen relatives, all from Alabama, stacked up in a few small rooms. They were, as my father would have called them back then, "*******" -- South Carolina blacks being good colored people. The greatest insult was: "He ain't nothin' -- he just came up here from Alabama!"

Detroit can get oppressively hot in the summers, and those little houses that black families owned then didn't have anything like air conditioning. So to stay cool, my brother and I would walk (you could walk in those days) down Grand River Avenue to the Globe Theater, where for less than a buck you could sit all day, watching the same movie over and over in air-conditioned splendor until it was time for dinner. I especially remember when the movie "Zulu" was playing, and we watched Michael Caine lead a group of British soldiers against attacking Zulu tribesmen in what is now South Africa. We took turns cheering for the British side and the Zulus. But neither of us really wanted to cheer for the losers. Whoever was rooting for the Africans would usually sit sullenly, knowing what fate held in store. Then came the credits and the heady knowledge that when the movie played again, after a cartoon break, you would be able to cheer for the British once more.

Beyond what I learned from "Zulu," I can't say I had much knowledge of Africa as a kid. I probably couldn't have named a single African country until high school. The word "black" came into vogue in the 1960s, thanks to, among others, James Brown. In 1967, Detroiters burned a large part of the city to the ground, and then all the white people I knew in my neighborhood starting moving out to suburbs that seemed really far away. A lot of the people my father called "black radicals" took to wearing African-style dashikis, and stocking caps in red, black and green, the colors of African liberation. But, when you were a kid from a quiet, South Carolina family growing up on the west side, these seemed like frightening symbols of militancy, defiance, even violence. Any connection to a strange and unknown continent seemed tenuous.

* * * * *

Why am I telling you all this? What does Detroit more than a quarter-century ago have to do with contemporary Africa? Maybe I'm hoping that bit of personal history will help explain the attitude of many black Americans to the concept of their own blackness, their African-ness.

You see? I just wrote "black Americans." I couldn't even bring myself to write "African Americans." It's a phrase that, for me, still doesn't roll easily off the tongue, or look natural on the screen of the computer terminal. Going from "colored" to "black" took some time to get used to. But now "African American"? Is that what we really are? Is there anything African left in the descendants of those original slaves who made that long journey over? Are white Americans whose ancestors came here as long ago as the slaves did "English Americans" or "Dutch Americans"? Haven't the centuries erased all those connections, so that we are all now simply "Americans"? But I am digressing. Let's continue with the story at hand.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to become a journalist. It was during my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, while working on the school newspaper, the Michigan Daily. My father would have preferred that I study law, then go into politics. Blacks in the 1970s were just coming into their own in politics, taking over city halls across the country and winning congressional seats in newly defined black districts. And that's what articulate, well-educated black kids did: They became lawyers and politicians.

But I wanted to write, and to travel. The travel urge, I think -- a longing to cross an ocean -- is shared by a lot of midwesterners. I became a reporter for The Post, and would take trips overseas whenever I could save up the money and vacation time. Paris. Morocco. Brazil. London for a year of graduate school. Train journeys across Europe. Trips to Hong Kong, Taiwan, later Japan and China.

But never sub-Saharan Africa (defined as "black Africa"). Whenever friends asked me why, in all my travels, I had avoided the continent of my ancestry, I would usually reply that it was so big, so diverse, that it would take many weeks if not months. I had studied African politics in school, even written a graduate school thesis on the problem of single-party states in Africa. I considered myself a wide-eyed realist, not given to any romantic notions about the place.

The real reason I avoided Africa had more to do with my personal reaction -- or, more accurately, my fear of how I would react. I knew that Africa was a continent with much poverty and despair. But what would it be like, really like, to see it as a black person, knowing my ancestors came from there? What if I found myself frightened or, worse, disgusted or repulsed?

And what would it be like, for once in my life, not to stand out in a crowd? To be just one of a vast number of anonymous faces? For better or for worse, a black man in America, or a black man in Asia, stands out.

A friend of mine in Hawaii, a fourth-generation Japanese American, told me once of her fear of traveling to Japan. "I don't know what it would be like to be just another face in the crowd," she said rather innocently. It was a sentiment I immediately shared. When, in early 1991, my editors at The Post asked me if I wanted to cover Africa, that same feeling welled up inside me. I was in Asia on vacation when I got the assignment, and I sought out a Reuter reporter named Kevin Cooney, who was based in Bangkok but had spent several months working in Nairobi. He put it to me bluntly. "In Africa," he said, after we both had a few too many beers, "you'll be just another ******."

It was a well-intentioned warning I would find myself recalling often over three sometimes-tumultuous years.

* * * * *

"Where are you from?" the Zairian immigration officer asked suspiciously in French, fingering through the pages of my passport.

I found the question a bit nonsensical, since he was holding proof of my nationality in his hand. I replied in French, "United States."

"I think you are a Zairian," he said, moving his eyes from the passport photo to me to the photo again. "You look like a Zairian."

"I'm not a Zairian," I said again. I was tired, it was late, I had just spent the day in the Rwandan border town of Cyangugu, just across from Bukavu in Zaire. And all I wanted to do was get back to my room at the Hotel Residence, where, at least if the water was running, a shower awaited. "Look," I said, trying to control my temper, "that's an American passport. I'm an American."

"What about your father -- was he Zairian?" The immigration man was not convinced.

"My parents, my grandparents, everybody was American," I said, trying not to shout. "Maybe, 400 years ago, there was a Zairian somewhere, but I can assure you, I'm American."

"You have the face of a Zairian," he said, calling over his colleague so they could try to assess which tribe, which region of Zaire, I might spring from.

Finally, I thought of one thing to convince him. "Okay," I said, pushing my French to its limit. "Suppose I was a Zairian. And suppose I did manage to get myself a fake American passport." I could see his eyes light up at the thought. "So, I'm a Zairian with a fake American passport. Tell me, why on earth would I be trying to sneak back into Zaire?"

The immigration officer pondered this for a moment, churning over in his mind the dizzying array of possibilities a fake U.S. passport might offer; surely, using it to come into Zaire was not among the likely options. "You are right," he concluded, as he picked up his rubber stamp and pounded in my entry. "You are American -- black American."

And so it went around Africa. I was constantly met with raised eyebrows and suspicions upon explaining that I really was, really am, an American. "I know you're a Kenyan," said one woman in a bar -- a hooker, I think, in retrospect. "You're just trying to pretend you don't speak Swahili."

"Okay," I told her, "you found me out. I'm really a Kenyan."

"Aha!" she said. "I knew it!"

Being able to pass for an African had some advantages. In Somalia, for example, when anti-Americanism was flaring as U.S. Cobra helicopters were bombing militia strongholds of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, I was able to venture into some of the most dangerous neighborhoods without attracting undue attention. I would simply don a pair of sunglasses and ride in the back seat of my beat-up white Toyota, with my Somali driver and AK-47-toting bodyguard up front. My biggest worry was getting caught in the cross hairs of some U.S. Army marksman or helicopter gunner who would only see what, I suppose, we were: three African-looking men riding around Mogadishu's mean streets in a car with an automatic weapon sticking out one of the windows.

But mostly, I concluded, being black in Somalia was a disadvantage. This came home to me late in 1993. I was one of the reporters at the first public rally Aideed had held since coming out of four months of hiding. The arrest order on him had been lifted, and the Clinton administration had called off the humiliating and futile manhunt that had earlier left 18 U.S. soldiers dead in a single encounter. The mood at the rally was, predictably, euphoric. I was among a group of reporters standing on the stage awaiting Aideed's arrival.

Suddenly, one of the Somali gunmen guarding the stage raced up to me and shoved me hard in the chest, forcing me down onto my back. I looked up, stunned, into his wild eyes, and he seemed to be pulling his AK-47 off his shoulder to take aim at me. He was shouting in Somali, and I couldn't understand him. A crowd gathered, and there was more shouting back and forth. Finally, one of Aideed's aides, whom I recognized, helped me to my feet. "I apologize," the aide said, as others hustled my attacker away. "You look like a Somali. He thought you were someone else."

Being black in Africa: I had to fight myself to keep my composure, to keep from bursting into tears.

* * * * *

Many months later, I found out it wasn't only black Americans who felt the way I did. That was when I ran across Sam Msibi, a black South African cameraman for Britain-based Worldwide Television News. I was stuck in Gikongoro, in southwestern Rwanda, and I needed a ride back to Bukavu in Zaire. Msibi was driving that way and gave me a lift.

Msibi had started out in the early 1980s at the South African Broadcasting Corp., then joined a German station, and had worked for a while as a cameraman for the TV station in the "independent" homeland of Bophuthatswana. Since joining WTN, he had covered the worst of South Africa's township wars, back when the African National Congress and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party were still battling for political dominance.

Msibi knew better than I what it was like to be a black journalist amid Africa's violence; he had been shot five times, in Tokoza township, and managed to live to tell the tale. "It's a problem in Africa," he said, as he navigated the winding mountain road. "When you're black, you have to worry about black-on-black violence."

"Sometimes I want to stop to take pictures," he said, surveying the scene of refugees on the move toward the border, often with their herds of cattle and goats in front, always with small children trailing behind. "But I don't know how these people will react." I explained to him, naively, that I had just traveled the same road a week or so earlier with a Belgian TV crew that had no problem filming along the highway. "Yeah, but they're white," Msibi said. "These people might think I'm a Hutu or something."

I grew quite fond of Msibi during that nearly four-hour drive; I found that he, a black South African, and I, a black American, were thinking many of the same thoughts, venturing together into the heart of an African tragedy that was about as different from downtown Johannesburg as it was from Detroit or Washington, D.C.

"Africa is the worst place -- Somalia, Zaire," Msibi said, more to himself than to me. "When you see something like this, you pray your own country will never go this way. Who wants to see his children walking like that?

"I feel I'm related to these people. I feel they're my own people. I pity them -- and not just here. In Kenya, Zambia, in Angola. I always feel pain in my heart to see this."

"In South Africa," he said, "you hear on the radio that a million people got killed somewhere in Africa, and there you are brushing your teeth, and it doesn't mean anything to you." Then he added, "It's like in America."
Part Two of Two

Are you black first, or a journalist first?

The question succinctly sums up the dilemma facing almost every black journalist working for the "mainstream" (read: white) press. Are you supposed to report and write accurately, and critically, about what you see and hear? Or are you supposed to be pushing some kind of black agenda, protecting black American leaders from tough scrutiny, treating black people and black issues in a different way?

Many of those questions were at the heart of the debate stirred up a decade ago by my Post colleague, Milton Coleman, when he reported remarks of Jesse Jackson referring to Jews as "Hymie." Coleman was accused of using material that was off the record; more troubling, he was accused of betraying his race. For being a hard-nosed journalist, he suffered the wrath of much of the black community, and even had to endure veiled threats from Louis Farrakhan's henchmen.

I have had to deal with many of the same questions over the years, including those asked by family members during Thanksgiving or Christmas gatherings in Detroit. "Let me ask you something," my favorite cousin, Loretta, began once. "Why does the media have to tear down our black leaders?" She was referring to Marion Barry and his cocaine arrest, and to Coleman Young, the longtime Detroit mayor who was always under a cloud for something or other. I tried to explain that journalists only do their job and should expose wrongdoing no matter if the wrongdoer is black or white. My cousin wasn't convinced. "But they are the only role models we have," she said.

It was an argument that couldn't be won. And it was an argument that trailed after me as a black reporter covering black Africa. Was I supposed to travel around looking for the "good news" stories out of the continent, or was I supposed to find the kind of compelling, hard-hitting stories that I would look for any other place in the world? Was I not to call a dictator a dictator, just because he happened to be black? Was I supposed to be an apologist for corrupt, ruthless, undemocratic, illegitimate black regimes?

Apparently so, if you subscribe to the kind of Pan Africanism that permeates much of black American thinking. Pan Africanism, as I see it, prescribes a kind of code of political correctness in dealing with Africa, an attitude that says black America should bury its head in the sand to all that is wrong in Africa, and play up the worn-out demons of colonialism, slavery and Western exploitation of minerals. Anyone who does, or writes, otherwise is said to be playing into the old "white conspiracy." That attitude was confirmed to me in Gabon, in May 1993, when I first met C. Payne Lucas of Africare, a Washington-based development and relief organization. "You mean you're a black man writing all of that stuff about Africa?" he said.

Lucas was in Gabon for the second African-American Summit, a meeting bringing black American civil rights activists and business leaders together with African government officials and others. It was an odd affair, this "summit," for at a time of profound change across Africa -- more and more African countries struggling to shed long-entrenched dictatorships -- not one of the American civil rights luminaries ever talked about "democracy" or "good governance" or "political pluralism" in my hearing. These same American leaders who were so quick off the mark to condemn injustice in South Africa, when the repression was white-on-black, suddenly lost their voices when the dictatorships were black.

Instead, what came out was a nauseating outpouring of praise from black Americans for a coterie of some of Africa's most ruthless strongmen and dictators. There were such famous champions of civil rights as Jesse Jackson heaping accolades on the likes of Nigeria's number one military thug at the time, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who had just shut down a critical newspaper and was about to renege on his pledge to transfer his country to democratic rule. There was speaker after speaker on the American side complimenting the host, Omar Bongo, a corrupt little dictator in platform shoes who at that very moment was busy shutting down his country's only private (read: opposition) radio station.

But the most sickening spectacle of all came when the baby dictator of Sierra Leone entered the conference hall. Capt. Valentine Strasser, a young tough in Ray-Ban sunglasses, walked in to swoons and cheers from the assembled American dignitaries, who were obviously more impressed by the macho military figure he cut than by the knowledge that back home Strasser was summarily executing former government officials and opponents of his new military regime.

I had seen that kind of display before around Africa: black Americans coming to the land of their ancestors with a kind of touchy-feely sentimentality straight out of Roots. The problem is, it flies smack into the face of a cold reality.

Last March in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, I ran into a large group of black Americans who were also staying at the Khartoum Hilton. They were there on some kind of a fact-finding trip, and being given VIP treatment by the Sudanese regime. Some of the men went all-out and dressed the part, donning long white Sudanese robes and turbans. Several of the women in the group covered themselves in Muslim wrap.

The U.S. ambassador in Khartoum had the group over to his house, and the next day, the government-controlled newspaper ran a front-page story on how the group berated the ambassador over U.S. policy toward Sudan. Apparently, some members of the group told the ambassador that it was unfair to label the Khartoum regime as a sponsor of terrorists and one of the world's most violent, repressive governments. After all, they said, they themselves had been granted nothing but courtesy, and they had found the dusty streets of the capital safer than most crime-ridden American cities.

I was nearly shaking with rage. Couldn't they see they were being used, manipulated by one of the world's most oppressive regimes? Human Rights Watch/Africa -- hardly a water carrier for U.S. policy -- had recently labeled Khartoum's human rights record as "abysmal," and reported that "all forms of political opposition remain banned both legally and through systematic terror." And here were these black Americans, these willing tools, heaping praise on an unsavory clique of ruling thugs. I wanted to confront them, but instead I deliberately avoided them, crossing to the other side of the lobby when I had to, just to avoid the temptation of shouting some sense into them.

I went back to my room at the Hilton, turned on CNN -- and learned that my Italian journalist friend, Ilaria Alpi, and her cameraman had been slain in a shootout in Mogadishu, left to bleed to death in their bullet-riddled car. I couldn't go get a drink -- alcohol is forbidden in Sudan. I didn't want to go pace the bleak lobby and encounter those instant Sudan experts with their romanticized notions. So I stayed there in my room, alone, and cried for Ilaria.

Do I sound cynical? Maybe I am. Maybe that's because, unlike some of the African American tourists who have come out here on a two-week visit to the land of their roots, I've lived here.

Do you think I'm alone in my view? Then meet Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and hear her story.

* * * * *

Thomas-Greenfield is a black American diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, her third African posting; she spent three years in Gambia and 2 1/2 in Nigeria. After completing her studies at the University of Wisconsin, she had spent time in Liberia, and she remembers how elated she felt then making her first voyage to her ancestral homeland. "I remember the plane coming down," she said. "I couldn't wait to touch down."

But when I talked to Thomas-Greenfield last summer, she had just finished nine months in Kenya. And she was burned out, fed up and ready to go home.

Her house in Nairobi had been burglarized five times. She had had an electric fence installed. "When they put up the electric fence, I told them to put in enough volts to barbecue anybody who came over." When she continued to complain that even the fence didn't stop the intruders, the local Kenyan police station posted two officers on her grounds. But then the police began extorting payment for their services. "I've gotten to the point where I'm more afraid not to give them money," she said. "They're sitting outside with automatic weapons."

Now she was having a higher, 10-foot-tall fence built around her grounds. And she had become so exasperated, she told me, that "I'm ready to sit outside myself with an AK-47."

In April, Thomas-Greenfield traveled to Rwanda for an embassy assignment. She had been in the country only a day when the presidential plane was shot down and an orgy of tribal bloodletting began. Most of the victims were Tutsi, and Thomas-Greenfield, a towering 6-foot-plus black woman, was immediately mistaken for a Tutsi. She recalls cowering in fear with machine guns pointed in her face, pleading repeatedly: "I don't have anything to do with this. I'm not a Rwandan. I'm an American."

In the end, it was not just the crime and her close call in Rwanda but the attitude of the Africans that wore down even this onetime Africa-lover. Thomas-Greenfield had never been invited into a Kenyan home. And doing the daily chores of life, she had been met constantly with the Kenyans' own perverse form of racism, under which whites are granted preferential treatment over blacks.

"There's nothing that annoys me more than sitting in a restaurant and seeing two white people getting waited on, and I can't get any service," she said. Once, at a beach hotel on the Kenyan coast, she complained to the manager about the abysmal service from the waiters and staff. The manager explained to her, apologetically, "It's because they think you're a Kenyan."

"I think it's an absolute disadvantage" being black in Africa, said Thomas-Greenfield, who, at the time we talked, said she was considering cutting short her assignment. "Here, as anywhere else in Africa, the cleavages are not racial, they are ethnic. People think they can tell what ethnic group you are by looking at you. And if there's any conflict going on between the ethnic groups, you need to let them know you're an American."

She added, "I'd rather be black in South Africa under apartheid than to go through what I'm going through here in Kenya."

* * * * *

This was not the story I sat down to write. Originally, I had wanted to expound on Africa's politics, the prospects of freedom and development, the hopes for the future. My tour in Africa, after all, came during what was supposed to be the continent's "decade of democracy" -- after the fall of one-party communist states of Eastern Europe, the argument went, and the consolidation of democracy in Latin America, could Africa's one-party dictatorships and military regimes be far behind? At least this was the view of many Africa analysts, and of hopeful African democrats themselves, when I began the assignment.

But three years of following African elections, in countries as diverse as Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique, has left me -- and many of those early, hopeful African democrats -- far less than optimistic. I've seen elections hijacked or stolen outright, elections canceled, elections bought and elections that have proved to be essentially meaningless. How can you talk about elections in countries where whole chunks of territory are under the sway of armed guerrillas? Where whole villages get burned down because of competing political loyalties? And where traditional belief runs so deep that a politician can be charged in public with casting magic spells over poor villagers to force them to vote for him?

African autocrats are proving far more entrenched, far more brutal and far more adept at the manipulation of state machinery than their Eastern European communist counterparts. Africa's militaries -- as compared with those in, say, South America -- are proving less willing to return to the barracks and bow to the popular will. In country after country, even oppositionists demonstrate themselves to be grasping, quarrelsome and in most cases incapable of running things if they ever do manage to make it to power. Politics in Africa is about lucrative spoils and fresh opportunities for corruption, and much of opposition politics across the continent consists of an out group wanting its turn at the feeding trough.

It's become a cliche to call tribalism the affliction of modern Africa, but, unfortunately, my years of covering African politics has convinced me that it is true. Tribalism is a corrosive influence impeding democratic change and development. In Kenya, where the opposition had perhaps the best chance of any in Africa to wrest power from a strongman (Daniel arap Moi), it splintered along ethnic lines in the December 1992 elections. One well-educated Kikuyu woman, a secretary working for a foreign news agency, told me she would never vote for the man then considered the lead opposition candidate, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, for the simple reason that Odinga was a Luo, and Luos, you see, traditionally do not circumcise. "I will never live under a Luo president," she told me, explaining the importance of this operation to "manhood." For want of a circumcision, an election was lost. Moi was reelected with barely a third of the vote, in a split field that saw two Kikuyus dividing the Kikuyu vote and Odinga winning Luoland.

Even in places where opposition parties have managed to overcome the odds and win power in democratic elections, the results so far have been mixed. In Zambia's case, the 1991 election of Frederick Chiluba was supposed to herald a beginning of a new democratic era. But what I found there last year was a country reeling from corruption and incompetence. Government officials have been implicated in drug dealing, others have resigned in disgust claiming the old democratic movement has lost its direction. In a depressing sign of the times, the autocratic former leader, defeated president Kenneth Kaunda, took the opportunity of my visit to announce to me his intentions to launch a comeback bid.

And finally, finding hope becomes even more difficult when you look at the basket cases -- places like Zaire, which is in perpetual meltdown; Liberia, still carved up between competing armies; Sudan, ground down by seemingly endless civil war; Rwanda, which was convulsed by one of the worst episodes of tribal genocide in modern times; and Somalia, poor Somalia, which has virtually ceased to exist as a nation-state.

My final journey in Africa was to Somalia -- fittingly, I thought, because it was the place I spent most of my time over the past three years. I found it fascinating to cover a country in which all forms of government had collapsed, and to watch as the most ambitious post-Cold War experiment in aggressive peacekeeping tried to patch it together. I was one of those on the early bandwagon for intervention; all Somalia needed was a few Marines and some international aid, I thought, and the gunmen and militias would fade into the background. Somalia got the Marines, 12,000 of them, plus about 15,000 other U.S. troops, and upwards of $4 billion in international aid. But the place today is as violent and chaotic as when the troops first landed more than two years ago. And now the world has withdrawn, closed the door and turned out the lights, leaving what essentially is a blank spot on the northeastern tip of the continent, a violent no man's land, a burial ground for one of the most costly and ultimately futile interventions in the history of "peacekeeping."

* * * * *

My final journey was to Somalia. But I found that in my time on the continent, the most important journey I took was the one inside my own mind and soul.

In trying to explain Africa to you, I needed first to try to explain it to myself. I want to love the place, love the people. I can tell you I see hope amid the chaos, and I do, in places like Malawi, even Mozambique. But the Rwandas and Somalias and Liberias and Zaires keep intruding into my mind. Three years -- three long years -- have left me cold and heartless. Africa is a killing field of good intentions, as Somalia alone is enough to prove.

And where does that leave the black man who has come "home" to Africa? I write this surrounded by my own high fence, protected by two large dogs, a paid security guard, a silent alarm system and a large metal door that I bolt shut at night to keep "Africa" from coming across the yard and bashing in my brains with a panga knife for the $200 in my desk drawer. I am tired and, like Linda Thomas-Greenfield, ready to go.

Another black American, writer Eddy L. Harris, the author of Native Stranger, ventured into the dark continent, to discover that the place where he felt most at home was South Africa, that most modern, most Western of African countries. So I'll end this journey there too, recalling my last trip to Cape Town, Africa's southern tip. I traveled the wine route, and sat and drank what I'd purchased while the sun set over the beautiful sand beaches. Cape Town is one of the world's most beautiful cities, and one can feel perfectly at peace on the veranda of the Bay Hotel. But all I remember thinking was: Imagine all the horror that lies between here and Cairo, in that vast stretch of earth we call black Africa.

So, do you think I'm a cynic? An Africa-basher? A racist even, or at least a self-hating black man who has forgotten his African roots? Maybe I am all that and more. But by an accident of birth, I am a black man born in America, and everything I am today -- culture, attitudes, sensitivities, loves and desires -- derives from that one simple and irrefutable truth.
 

militant

Well-Known Member
MEMBER
Jun 21, 2005
335
3
A round of applause for you and him. I always knew you were suspect, but to use the words of another man to make your own point? I dont care what he thinks. Infact, with blacks like that who needs divide and conqueer. Its good some people come out in their true colors. Should Africa be reformed, alot of people will not be allowed within the borders of Africa. I am currently satisfied with the efforts I am taking to develop africa and I dont need his approval or anyone else's because the coin will be flipped soon, and he will sing a different tune.
 

dustyelbow

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MEMBER
Oct 25, 2005
1,210
23
militant said:
A round of applause for you and him. I always knew you were suspect, but to use the words of another man to make your own point? I dont care what he thinks. Infact, with blacks like that who needs divide and conqueer. Its good some people come out in their true colors. Should Africa be reformed, alot of people will not be allowed within the borders of Africa. I am currently satisfied with the efforts I am taking to develop africa and I dont need his approval or anyone else's because the coin will be flipped soon, and he will sing a different tune.
I did not mention I support him but I am highlighting his approach did not work for him. He had money, he had education, he had political connections and to him all that was failure in Africa. If highly educated and class conscious people like him failed then what approach other than his would work. That is how I see it.

Believe it or not, most folks take that approach. I heard some African American thought the same of going to reside in Ghana. When they got there and began this new life they threw their passport into the ocean from the beaches. In a day or so they all went back to the beaches looking for their washed ashore passports to get out of there. But still these African Americans are not on the level as this man and his story is.

I still believe you have to tell people who have sense the reality of the situation and let them make a decision. Personally if they ask me I dont want to give an impression that they will be ok when I know some dangers in the situation. For example many early African Americans who resettled into Africa from post slavery times were sickened and sometimes died from a mosquito bite which carries malaria. Most African americans live in situations in America where mosquitoes bites do not sicken and kill you on the spot. That's the reality of the situation. I am not trying to deter them but I dont want their death or sickness be due in ignorance and a lack of giving information on my part. In reverse I was told my immigrant aquaintence the information they recieved about us was "America streets are paved with gold" and "watch out for black people". But that is not the reality of it. They die looking for this "gold" and the only communities in America in general willing to give them hospitality and "gold" are black communities. Other places dont want them as much.

Anyhow, any determined person will still proceed regardless of the outcome and that is one great firm qualification other than money education and political connections. The writer and his examples were reluctant to travel to Africa. It wasn't on their radar until someone else suggested it to them. That disqualified them. And the basis for him to write the above.

That is the idea I am trying to reach. Being under suspect is not unusual for a black man. As with anybody it seems we have to prove our worth to them.
 

Dual Karnayn

Well-Known Member
MEMBER
Nov 5, 2005
1,221
7
I remember reading this same book last year.

I've never been to any part of Africa but I know people who have and I think it's a pretty realistic view of most AfroAmerican's views of Africa if they get a chance to visit around the continent outside of the tourist or designated areas.


Africa is in a transition period.

There is a struggle between old-world traditionalism and new-world Westernization.

Those are the only choices being given and for those who are frustrated and angry at the racist Westernization and destruction of thier land and people.......the only way they know how to fight back and counter this is to become more traditional and "old-school".
They fight to hold on to their cultures and ways thier ancestors have practiced for centuries.

Unfortunately, in the process of rejecting WESTERN culture, they also make the mistake of rejecting some modern and progressive values and institutions that would be of major benefit.

They aren't hurting the white man by rejecting certain institutions, forms of education, technology, science, and other things.
Most white people could care less whether they accept it or reject it.



This is why the greatest minds of the Black world need to come together to develop our own culture and value system so we can provide reasonable and viable alternative to Westernization besides practicing "arrested development" where we totally remove ourselves from the modern world.
 

militant

Well-Known Member
MEMBER
Jun 21, 2005
335
3
Dual Karnayn said:
I remember reading this same book last year.

I've never been to any part of Africa but I know people who have and I think it's a pretty realistic view of most AfroAmerican's views of Africa if they get a chance to visit around the continent outside of the tourist or designated areas.


Africa is in a transition period.

There is a struggle between old-world traditionalism and new-world Westernization.

Those are the only choices being given and for those who are frustrated and angry at the racist Westernization and destruction of thier land and people.......the only way they know how to fight back and counter this is to become more traditional and "old-school".
They fight to hold on to their cultures and ways thier ancestors have practiced for centuries.

Unfortunately, in the process of rejecting WESTERN culture, they also make the mistake of rejecting some modern and progressive values and institutions that would be of major benefit.

They aren't hurting the white man by rejecting certain institutions, forms of education, technology, science, and other things.
Most white people could care less whether they accept it or reject it.



This is why the greatest minds of the Black world need to come together to develop our own culture and value system so we can provide reasonable and viable alternative to Westernization besides practicing "arrested development" where we totally remove ourselves from the modern world.
Wise man, what is your background? I mean are you in university, are you working, are you into politics or economics, where are you from? May be we can talk further on it cause it seems we see eye to eye on this issue.
 
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