Books: History’s Worst Decisions on Africa
A controversial book at its best; Stephen Weir’s ‘History’s Worst Decisions and the people who made them’ sounds very much like a publication on world’s leading idiots! But immediately the names of those who supposedly made these ‘stupid’ decisions start trickling in than one gets alarmed. Leading personalities such as Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Moctezuma, Stalin, Mao, and Robert Maxwell are not spared.
The brief and easy to read book highlights personalities such as the
biblical Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit that plunged humankind into its present folly; Cleopatra for too much ‘lying down’ with men that cost Egypt a dynasty; Pope Alexander III and the search for a non existing Prester John that fed Christian crusades for centuries (even claims that Vasco Da Gama was actually on a mission in search for Prester John); King Leopold and the scramble for Africa that led to the pillaging of the continent; the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that helped trigger the first World War; British Wakefield’s nut aid project and starvation in Tanzania; unknown scientists vaccine project in Congo and its association with the genesis of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; and Robert Mugabe’s great land grab that turned Africa’s breadbasket to a charity case among others.
The author draws inspiration from George Santayana’s philosophy that argues that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I recommend this 150 page, easy to read book that will sure take you centuries back to the times of Hannibal and Cleopatra and at the same time catapult you to present day mistakes such as the Y2K, Enron and lack of early warning systems on Tsunamis. It is a book that makes ancient people such as emperor Nero of Rome to rub shoulders with modern day culprits; but be warned that not all who appear in this book were motivated purely by sinister motives; some were simply naïve, meant good for their people and were even driven by religious virtue in their deeds. But their actions would quite often lead to the deaths of a few thousands to several tens of millions of people.
This is a must read for African people to be able to put certain aspects of geopolitics in perspective and how it affects them. For example, the
infamous land grab that was orchestrated by King Leopold during the Berlin conference – did it only pillage Africa or it helped ‘create’ Africa; the Mugabe land grab - are Zimbabweans hungry because white farmers left, or is it simply because of president Mugabe – and or some other reason. Contrast with modern day ‘decisions’ on African development - that she must receive aid and development agencies’ theories of development: are all these simply meant to serve as an elaborate brickwork in developed country fortresses to bar free movement of Africans?
Listen to Prof. Gregory Clark in his book “A Farewell to Alms”… A visitor to the planet, innocent of its history would notice the fortifications
protecting the affluent Western world from the invasion of poor societies of Africa, South America, and South Asia! That history shows that the West has no model of economic development to offer to poor countries of the World. “We know a good deal about the economic consequences for migrants from historical record of countries like Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which had large flows of immigrants in modern era. That record shows that migrants, particularly from those very-low-income countries, have been able to achieve enormous income gains through migration.”
BUT before you grab the book, here is what a friend forwarded from one of her favorite blogs to go alongside Africa’s Worst decisions… open any African daily newspaper and what is described below is what you are likely to read as the news of the day!
*Dakota Native American tribal wisdom passed on from generation to generation, says: “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount and get a different horse.”
However, in educative, corporate and governmental Sub - Saharan Africa, more advanced strategies are often employed such as:
1. Buying a stronger whip
2. Changing riders
3. Appointing a committee to study the horse
4. Arranging a visit to other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses
5. Lowering the standards so that the dead horse can be included
6. Re-classifying the dead horse as ‘living impaired’
7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse
8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed and efficiency
9. Providing additional funding and or training to increase the dead horse’s performance
10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance
11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses
12. Re-writing the expected performance requirements for all horses, And of course…
13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position!
Clearly; Africans urgently need to initiate their own Age of reason. The
World history offers such a wealth of experience of mistakes committed by other civilizations that we ought not to invest in re-inventing them. We should steer clear of the traditional “Monkey see – monkey do!” relationship with other developed Nations. Those who argued before, that knowledge is power must have been aware that to simply have a monkey ride a bicycle does not qualify such an animal to be knowledge driven. Knowledge is generated by willingness to engage in inquiry, debate and readiness to engage in measurement. We must therefore urgently seek to minimize recurrence of ‘worst decisions’ in Africa!
*Words on Italics have been sourced from blogs
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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