Regulars from the editor
If only the tables could be turned!
“When your master is your enemy, you are doomed.”
Bored one evening in early June, I went in search of my faithful scrapbook and three items leapt at me from its pages. The first was a letter written on 22 October 2001 by an irate reader of the British daily, The Guardian, who could not fathom how a newspaper of TheGuardian’s pedigree could refuse to cover a million or so people marching in London to protest against an imminent war on Iraq then being planned by George Bush and his mate Tony Blair. Luisa de Cusac’s letter, written from Manchester, where TheGuardian had been born as the ManchesterGuardian before it moved to London to become TheGuardian,deserves to be set in stone. It said:
“I am a third generation faithful Guardianreader of 30 years. I am now ashamed. And not because of your inexplicable leader complicity [sic] in the war. Fiercely opposed to military action, I nevertheless applaud the diversity of opinion expressed in the paper, as I am equally devoted to democracy.
“I am stunned and appalled to learn from the Readers’ Editor’s column (Opendoor,Oct20)that your general policy is not to report marches – how did I not realise this after 30 years of marching? And yet in deciding, eventually, that you made a mistake by not covering the anti-war march on October 13, you ally the paper with all who see the terrible deaths of September 11 as more worthy than all the terrible deaths we, the public, have protested over in the past. The original policy is lacking all honour and a disgrace to the sometimes fine calling of journalism. Your job is truth-telling. I suggest you start doing it.”
The second item concerned Harold Wilson, the then British prime minister, telling Africa and his political opponents at home that they could cry to high heaven if they chose, but he and his government would not send British troops to go and kill British-descended people in Rhodesia whether that country’s prime minister, Ian Smith, had unilaterally declared independence from Britain or not!
Written by a British professor, at the height of the British insistence that South Africa should be more forceful with Zimbabwe on account of the political problems there spawned out of the land reform programme, the item reads:
“The British refused to use their army against Ian Smith in 1965 during the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Harold Wilson, on 30 October 1965, said: ‘I have met African leaders again and again and again, but I have had to tell them and it was not easy and it was a bitter pill for them to swallow, that their demands for Britain to attempt to settle all of Rhodesia’s constitutional problems with a military invasion, are out. If there are those in this country who are thinking in terms of a thunderbolt hurtling from the sky and destroying their enemies, a thunderbolt in the shape of the Royal Air Force, let me say that this will not be coming’.”
The third item that caught my attention from my scrapbook was equally intriguing. Written by one of TheGuardian’s truthtelling journalists, Seumas Milne, in his 1994 book, TheEnemy Within–TheSecretWarAgainsttheMiners, this item goes to the heart of the incestuous relations that the British media have with their government and the Establishment. Milne wrote, quoting William Cobbett, in thePoliticalRegisterof August 1830: “Our press, which you appear to regard as being free … is the most enslaved and the vilest thing”.
Milne went on: “In a resolutely empiricist culture like Britain’s – where practical men prefer to shun the bigger picture and eminent historians can take delight in claiming that world wars break out because of the requirements of railway timetables – it is hardly surprising perhaps that many people feel unhappy with any suggestion of behind-the-scenes collusion and manipulation of events. To suggest anything else is regarded as somehow naïve and insufficiently worldly. Among journalists in particular, it is an article of faith to insist on the ‘cock-up theory’ rather than the ‘conspiracy theory’ of history. Real life is, of course, a mixture of the two.
“One side effect of this dogmatic insistence that events are largely the product of an arbitrary and contingent muddle has been the chronic refusal over the years by the mainstream media in Britain – and most opposition politicians – to probe or question the hidden agendas and unaccountable, secret power structures at the heart of government. This is in striking contrast to North American journalism, which, for all its failings – especially over the establishment policy consensus – does at least maintain some tradition of investigation and scepticism about the activities of its country’s rulers.
“As Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, two authors who have attempted to unearth some of Whitehall’s dirtier secrets, have commented: ‘For the most part, the areas which the British state does not want examined are still left alone by our serious papers’.
8 | July 2011 | New African Harold Wilson: “If there are those in this country who are thinking in terms of a thunderbolt in the shape of the Royal Air Force hurtling from the sky and destroying [Ian Smith and the Rhodesians], let me say that this will not be coming”
“For one whole year, Belgian politicians have not been able to agree to form a coalition government in the national interest. And this has not been headline news in the Western media!”
The result is that an entire dimension of politics and the exercise of power is usually left out of standard reporting and analysis.”
What do these three items have in common? I will tell you. How many of you, the long-suffering readers of Beefs, know that Belgium, the headquarters of the European Union which sends election observer missions to almost every election held in Africa and the developing world, has had no central government for a whole one year? How many of you have heard the EU or any European government or Western ambassador hold a press conference in Brussels or in any of the European capitals, in the past one year, to cajole or threaten Belgium that if it does not form a government of some sort (a coalition, a government of national unity) in one month’s time, sanctions will be imposed on the country and its politicians?
Belgium held elections in June last year after its then prime minister and his government had resigned two months earlier. The results of the June 2010 election were inconclusive, and since then “ethnic politics” (where are you Africa?) has taken the better part of Belgian politics – the Flemish and the French peoples of that small country want the interests and entrenched positions of their ethnic groups to hold sway, such that for one whole year (a world record, beating Iraq to second place) their politicians have not been able to agree among themselves to form a coalition government in the national interest. And this has not been headline news in the Western media! If this had happened in Africa, say in
Zimbabwe, all manner of Western journalists, their governments and ambassadors and non-governmental organisations, and even “non-governmental individuals” (apologies to former President Obasanjo) would have run for their high horses upon which they would have assailed the ears of poor Africa, daily, with homilies about the values of a central government, and how it provides bread and butter and wives and husbands for the citizenry, and so on and so forth!
So why are they not doing it to Belgium? Because Belgium is a European and Western country! As such, it has all the time in the world to decide when to have a central government. It can’t be rushed. The views of its ethnic groups must be respected and their politicians can have eternity to make up their minds.
Which reminds me of what Tony Blair’s secretary for Northern Ireland, Dr Mo Mowlam, once said about the peace process in that conflict-prone part of the UK: “You can’t switch on peace like a light. Of course it’s frustrating,” she said, “but you also have to realise people want to make it. Yes, we just have to keep going.” And how many years did they keep going? In the end, Northern Ireland got its “Good Friday Agreement” and peace has since reigned. It took time to come, but it came, at last!
So what is my point? Simple. The Europeans and Americans and Australians and Canadians and the sundry nations of European stock who have made it their business to disrespect Africa and Africans and our wishes and sensibilities, should take note: The day their ambassadors in our countries ever again try to use press conferences, non-governmental organisations and non-governmental individuals to rush African countries to do things that we are not ready or prepared to do, we will escort the ambassadors to the border and banish them across the river, to let them find their way home to Europe by whichever way is convenient to them.
Of course, what I am suggesting will never happen in Africa because we are so tamed by the donors’ money that today Western ambassadors have replaced our gods and can say anything, anywhere, and anytime to rush or impede our countries, while our ambassadors in Western countries have no such right – or are they just afraid to open their mouths? Why can’t African ambassadors call press conferences in London, Paris or Washington and pronounce on some British, French and American domestic politics that our countries don’t agree with, or even to tell Belgium that if it doesn’t form a coalition government in the next three weeks, we will impose sanctions on it, and stop exporting our diamonds, bananas, and frog’s legs to them, or some such threat!
Might is right indeed. Oh, if only the tables could be turned!
New African | July 2011 | 9