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I. P. A. Manning's Blog

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People who trust African governments to care for their nations’ natural resources delude themselves


I. P. A. Manning

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Paraphrasing the incomparable historian, Paul Johnson (People who put their trust in human power delude themselves), who wrote recently in The Spectator magazine, “One thing history teaches is the transience and futility of power, and the ultimate impotence of those who exercise it”, it is quite clear that African Governments, these highly centralized spawn of western civilization where duty, principle, humanity are trampled in the concupiscence for absolute power, are simply replaced and replicated endlessly by more governments of similar bent. And out there in the blue, in the wildlands that continue to enchant the world in what is left of our Pleistocene effulgence of life, are the bushfolk and the wildlife, left to their own devices. Thank God. For were their governments and the often misguided donors to alter their ancient hunter-gatherer, shifting cultivation survival strategies, their lives would deteriorate – and along with it the land and wildlife and vegetation that supports them.

Old Africa hands like myself ponder long and hard on these things. Yesterday, in the early hours of the morning, one of my sons, Brendan, phoned me from Zambia with the news that our employee and church pastor, David Chilubula had died; not surprising, perhaps, given that he was 41, had been ill for some time, and that the average life expectancy in Zambia is now 37 years – a one year drop for each of the last twenty. He had first come to us as a cook on the recommendation of a Zambian family whose friendship we prize, and soon showed that like all good cooks, there was hardly a job or assignment which he was not prepared to undertake. His biggest assignment, in the face of pressures unimaginable to Europeans, was to stand up against corruption and witchcraft, to investigate (for he had been on the Police Reserve) those involved with elephant poaching in our community conservancy, and those who had orchestrated the theft of a vehicle of ours – a hit job of our enemies, whose spoor and whereabouts he had doggedly followed for three months. But his main job, along with some other key community people, was to pass on the fact that rural tribal communities, the bushfolk, can no longer - like the Cargo Cult of old, await the coming of aid, of deliverance from the people whom they have elected. Change and development, he had told them, has to come from within, from us.

In Zambia, under western influence for a mere 122 years, I have for 45 years of that time had to witness the enforced departure of our colonial civil servants from the inherited duty of Magna Carta in 1215, which laid in more than embryonic form, the basis of our common law, the American Bill of Rights, our Zambian law – the one thing that protects the governed from the excesses of the government. I have had to witness the incalculable loss of Christian and Hindu pioneers, the attacks on Indian businesses, the Watchtower religious sect, the Lumpa religious sect - followers of Alice Lenshina whose only sin was that she exorcised witchcraft from the afflicted and wanted nothing to do with this newly independent Government moulded in Westminster form. Unknown to us all, hers was a cry for the saviour of the African soul, not for some spurious independence with the palms ever uplifted. And how can we forget the extinction of the Black rhino, the decimation of the elephant herds once again, herds which colonialism had brought back from near extinction to a point where in the 1960’s they overran villages and their crops, but also made famous such areas as the Luangwa and Zambezi valleys, the Kafue. The dream was that Zambia, enlightened, would take its place with proud developing nations. This has not happened. Thinking of this while standing in the development and reform trench, I was inclined to the view that all was lost without some massive re-affirmation of western values, without the opening of Zambia’s doors to western immigrants. But clearly, this is not going to happen.

Three recently published books by distinguished development economists illuminates the reality, and suggests what is, and is not, possible: William Easterley’s The White Man’s Burden, which takes Jeffery Sach’s book The End of Poverty to task for its grandiose plans for the upliftment of the poor (my bête noire as well, for his flooding of Zambia with mosquito nets – now stitched together and used to clear our rivers of fish), and which suggests that finding ways of getting the money to where it is needed and used judiciously is a priority; and Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms, a comprehensive quantitative appraisal of global development since 1200 which suggests that cultural characteristics evolved from long periods of settlement and security, the more settled and secure, the more developed they became – leading of course to the Industrial Revolution, and concluding that industrialization for countries without such a settled history, is not a blessing; and Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion, which addresses the ‘failed states’ – one of which is Zambia, and analyses the traps into which these countries have fallen, one of which is the extraction and export of natural resources, the “resource curse” or “Dutch Disease”, the latter named for the effects of North Sea gas on the Dutch economy, and as Collier explains, ”The resource exports cause the country’s currency to rise in value against other currencies. This makes the country’s other export activities uncompetitive. Yet these other activities might have been the best vehicles for technological progress.” Zambia with its second great mining assault, driven by the massive rise in the price of copper and gold, has been so ensnared.

African Governments, in the light of all this, confirmed by my experiences in development, have become largely irrelevant – except where they interfere with the status quo or deny customary landowners rights to the natural resources supported by their land. The way forward is to avoid the ‘great plan’ driven by rock stars and UN types, to support rural communities and their culture, to give them the room and the freedom to avoid the Malthusian trap which comes with more people and less resources – the inevitable results of inappropriate development. Hats off to Tanzania therefore who recently cancelled the hunting concession on the Hadzabe lands, and gave it back to this ancient people.

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