Posts Tagged ‘Burundi’

Thomas Sowell on Black Africans Blaming Imperialism for Post-Independence Failure

July 31, 2022

Thomas Sowell is a Black American conservative intellectual, and fierce critic of affirmative action, which he argues is actively harmful to Black improvement and uplift. I’ve been reading his Conquests and Cultures: An International History (New York: Basic Books), his examination of the effects of imperialism on both the conquerors and conquered peoples, concentrating on four groups of peoples: the British, Black Africans, the Slavs and western hemisphere Indians. In his chapter on Africans, he states very clearly that the western imperial powers committed atrocities, including the imposition of forced labour. This was widely resented and also caused innumerable deaths. The mortality for rate for porters on one route in colonial Tanzania, for example, was 20-25 per cent. However, he also describes the political, social and economic chaos that swept many African nations after they gained independence with coups, ethnic violence and economic collapse. Africans compensated for the disappointment of their political hopes by blaming the former imperial masters and the US. He writes

‘African governments by the dozens were toppled by military coups in the post-independence era. The swift disappearance of newly attained democracy, as brutal dictatorships took over, led to the cynical phrase: “one man, one vote – one time.” The elaborately fragmented peoples of Africa turned upon one another, sometimes with massive bloodbaths. Approximately 30,000 Ibos were slaughtered by Moslem mobs in Nigeria, 200,000 Hutus were slaughtered by the Tutsis in Burundi, and Idi Amin’s regime slaughtered 300,000 people in Uganda. A continent once virtually self-sufficient in food, Africa became a massive importer of food as its own production faltered and in some places declined absolutely, in the face of rising population. It was not uncommon for national output as a whole to decline absolutely for years in various African nations. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, the growth rate was negative for the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, averaging nearly minus 4 per cent per annum for the 1980s and minus 9 per cent for the 1970s. In Burundi the annual “growth” rate of national output was minus 6 per cent in 1994 and minus 18 per cent in 1995, while in Rwanda it ranged from minus 3.2. per cent in 1992 to minus 50 per cent in 1994.

After the soaring rhetoric and optimistic expectations at the beginning of independence were followed by bitter disappointment and painful retrogressions that reached into virtually every aspect of African life, the immediate political response was not so much a re-evaluation of the assumptions and policies which had led to such disastrous results, but instead a widespread blaming of the departed imperialism, or racial minorities such as the Indians, or even the United States, which has had relatively little role in African history, for good or ill.’ (p. 120).

The British Conservative historian Jeremy Black says much the same in his The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015), where he discusses the way contemporary commonwealth politicians have used the history of British colonialism to divert domestic attention away from the failures of their own regimes.

The same attitude is held by some elements of the recent anti-racist movements. Post-Colonial Theorists, for example, will not criticise indigenous colonised societies, but will only attack western nations for the horrors of imperialism. At a Zoom event a few years ago held as part of the Arise festival of left-wing ideas, ‘Why Socialists Should Oppose Imperialism’, Barbara Barnaby, the head of Black Lives Matter UK, demanded that Britain allow in immigrants from the former colonies ‘because you oppressed us under colonialism’. But colonialism was at least fifty years ago in the cases of many of these countries. Western meddling and international capitalism has contributed greatly to many of these nations’ misery, but it cannot be considered the sole cause. These countries had the opportunity of creating better societies and economies for themselves during independence. By and large, they didn’t, at least, not in the immediate post-independence period. Since then it has been African oppressing and exploiting other Africans. The argument that Britain should take in more African immigrants because of imperial oppression is invalid, and is a piece of deliberate anti-White racism by Barnaby and those like her.

There are other, better arguments for allowing entry to Black asylum seekers – common humanity, the moral imperative of giving sanctuary to those genuinely persecuted or oppressed, and common historical ties through the empire and commonwealth.

But not a vengeful attitude of entitlement by Black militants unable to come to terms with the oppression of Blacks by their fellow Blacks.

Three Books on African Languages

June 19, 2020

Teach Yourself Swahili: A Complete Course for Beginners, Joan Russell, (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1996).

Teach yourself Swahili Dictionary, D.V. Perrott, (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1965).

Teach Yourself Yoruba, E.C. Rowlands (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1969).

I’ve an interest in languages, and two that I considered learning are the African languages Swahili and Yoruba. I tried teaching myself a bit of Swahili when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol in the 1990s and very early couple of years of this century.  I didn’t get very far with either of them, and haven’t really done anything more with the Yoruba book than look at it since I bought it. However, I thought some people out there might be interesting in knowing about them, especially now that the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked an interest in African culture and civilisation.

Kenneth Katzner in his book, Languages of the World (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1977) has this section on Swahili:

Swahili, more correctly called Kiswahili, is the most important language of east Africa. It is the official language of both Tanzania and Kenya, and is also spoken in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire. (In Zaire a separate dialect is spoken, known as Kingwana.) Swahili is the mother tongue of perhaps only a million people, but at least ten million more speak it fluently as a second language, and many millions more at least understand it to some degree.

Swahili is one of the Bantu languages, which form a branch of the Niger-Congo family. Its vocabulary is basically Bantu but with many words borrowed from Arabic. The name Swahili is derived from an Arabic word meaning “coastal”, having developed among Arabic-speaking settlers of the African coast beginning about the 7th century. During the 19th century it was carried inland by Arab tradesmen, and was later adopted by the Germans as the language of administration in Tanganyika. In modern Tanzania it is the national language, and in 1970 it was proclaimed the official language of Kenya.

The Swahili alphabet lacks the letters c, q, and x, but contains a number of its own. The dh is pronounced like the th of “this” (e.g., dhoruba-hurricane), gh like the German ch (ghali-expensive), and ng’ like the ng in “thing” but not as in “finger” (ng’ombe-cow). Whereas English grammatical inflections occur at the end of the word, in Swahili everything is done at the beginning. Kitabu is the Swahili word for “book” but the word for “books” is vitabu. This word falls into the so-called Ki Vi class, one of eight in the Swahili language. Others are the M Mi class (e.g., mkono-hand, mikono-hands; mji-town, miji-towns), and the M Wa class, used mainly for people (mtu-man, watu-men; mjinga-fool, wajinga-fools). Furthermore, these prefixes are carried over verbs of which the noun is the subject, as well as to numerals and modifying adjectives. Thus “one big book” in Swahili is kitabu kikbubwa kimoja (“book-big-one”), but “two big books” is vitabu vikubwa viwili.

Katzner gives as a example of a text in the language the poem, The Name, by Shaaban Robert. This runs

Mtego wanaotega, ninaswe nianguke,

Sife yangu kuvuruga, jina liaibike,

Mungu mwema mfuga, nilinde lisittendeke,

Na wawekao kaga, kudhuru watakasike.

 

Kwa wingi natangaziwa, maovu nisiyotenda,

Na habari nasikia, kila ninapokwenda,

Lakini Allah mwelewa, stalifanya kuwanda,

Jina wanalochukia, badala y kukonda.

 

Badala ya kukonda, jina litaneenepa,

Ugenini litakwenda, lisipopendeza hapa,

Kutafuta kinbanda, ambako halitatupwa,

Huko wataolipenda, fadhili litawalipa.

 

A trap they set, for me to get caught,

My reputation they blemish, to spoil my name.

Oh, Lord the Keeper, save me from the plight,

And those who promise me harm, remove their aim.

 

Many slanderous charges are published against me,

And these I hear, wherever I go.

But God who understands, my name will clear,

The name they hate, He will surely emancipate.

 

Rather than wither, my name will thrive,

Abroad it will succeed, if here they will not heed,

Shelter it will find, where it will not be remiss,

Where those who care, it will reward and recompense.

 

The blurb for Teach Yourself Swahili runs

This is a complete course in spoken and written Swahili. If you have never learnt Swahili before, or if your Swahili needs brushing up, Teach Yourself Swahili is for you.

Joan Russell has created a practical course that is both fun and easy to work through.She explains everything clearly along the way and gives you plenty of opportunities to practise what you have learnt. The course structure means that you can work at your own pace, arranging your learning to suit your needs.

Based on the Council of Europe’s Threshold guide lines on language learning, the course contains:

  • Eighteen graded units of dialogues, culture notes, grammar and exercises
  • A guide to Swahili pronunciation
  • Swahili-English and English-Swahili vocabularies

By the end of the course you’ll be able to cope with a whole range of situations and participate confidently in life in Tanzania, Kenya and other Swahili-speaking areas.

The blurb for Teach Yourself Swahili Dictionary simply says that it is

A concise working dictionary that contains all the Swahili words you are likely to hear or read. The Swahili-English and English-Swahili sections of the dictionary provide clear definitions for a range of words and phrases, including words that are particularly appropriate to life in East Africa. A useful Swahili grammar and practical hints on pronunciation are also included at the beginning of the dictionary.

Katzner says of the Yoruba language that

Yoruba, with the stress on the first syllable, is one of the major languages of Nigeria. It is spoken in the southwestern part of the country, in the region whose principal city is Ibadan. There are about 12 million speakers. 

He also notes that it is a member of the Kwa languages, which are a subgroup of the Niger-Congo family. It’s written with grave and acute stresses over letters, which indicate the rise and fall of the voice.

The example he gives of a text in the language is a passage from A King’s Election in Yoruba Land. Here it is, but I’ve been unable to include the tone accents.

Ajo igbimo ti awon agbagba ni ima yan oba larin awon eniti nwon ni itan pataki kan ninu eje. Ilana kan ti o se ajeil ana saju iyan ti oba. Awon olori ama dan agbara ti iroju re ati ise akoso ara re wo. li ojo ti a yan fun dide e li ade, awon olori ama lo si afin oba, nwon a mu u dani pelu agbara, nwon a si na a pelu pasan. Bi oba ba farada aje n lai sun ara ki, nigbana nwon yio de e li ade, bi beko, nwon yio yan oba miran.

The king is chose by a council of elders from among those who have a certain blood descent. A curious ceremony precedes a king’s election. His powers of endurance and self-restraint are tested by the chiefs, who, on the day appointed for the coronation, go to the king’s palace, get hold of him forcibly, and flog him with a whip. If the ordeal is suffered without flinching, then the king is crowned; if not, another king is chosen.

The blurb for Teach Yourself Yoruba runs

This book provides a complete introductory course in Yoruba, the mother tongue of over 10 million people living in Western Nigeria, in parts of Northern Nigeria and Benin.

The book is concerned with the generally accepted “standard” Yoruba which is widely understood even where regional dialects exist. The course assumes no previous knowledge of the language and every stage is illustrated with examples and exercises. Pronunciation, grammar and syntax are comprehensively covered and the book will equip you with a basic, everyday vocabulary.

I’ve no doubt that other books are available on these languages, and that these may well be a little dated after all this time. Reading about them, it’s clear that they’re very different, and therefore very difficult for speakers of European languages like English. Nevertheless, I thought that people interested in Africa and its languages might like to know about them.