NEW YORK, MARCH 7
Really, it is hard to deny that the West exercises racist policies. It does so by failing to reach logical conclusions about the turmoil in black Africa. We wait for Nelson Mandela to instruct us in the matter and, most recently, Keith Richburg, a black American journalist.
Do you know where Tingi Tingi is? Well, neither does the world atlas of the New York Times, though it lists villages as small as Sharon, Connecticut, population 2,000. Very deep in the day's news one learns that last Friday, ``about seventeen thousand refugees fled Tingi Tingi.'' We learn that the town is 130 kilometers northwest of Ubundu. Ubundu is where United Nations relief planes have been attempting to land in order to deliver food to the Rwandans and Zaireans engaged there in civil conflict, but the planes have had little luck because the Ubundu airstrip was last used in 1963.
Mobutu Sese Seko, as everybody knows, is in the south of France looking after his prostate cancer. He is very indignant that more strenuous efforts are not being made to hold back the rebel forces that threaten his country. And indeed there is a movement to convene ``international monitors'' to the scene. That movement is spearheaded by Kenya's president Daniel arap Moi, who has been in power for 19 years and likes it there. Nothing galvanizes dictators more than the need to encourage stability for other dictators. The rebels' ``justice'' official, Mwenze Kongolo, is reported as saying, ``International monitors could become an interposition force and it would just result once again in the protection of Mobutu by his foreign friends.''
Mobutu has difficulties other than his prostate. One deserter gave as his reason for deserting government forces that he had not been paid. Unpaid armies, we have been coached to learn since Julius Caesar, are very unreliable allies. The banks in Kindu, where the deserter was stationed, have not been open since 1991. Teachers have not been paid in three years, which is a long time to go without pay. What substitutes for it is bribery.
Twenty-four years ago Mobutu Sese Seko arrived in New York to give a speech before the United Nations General Assembly. To endure his week's visit in New York he provided himself some of the comforts of home, bringing along 63 aides including a lady-in-waiting for his wife, a maid, two valets, a radio editor, a TV editor, three cameramen, a photographer, and a lighting engineer. He received, it is recorded, more applause during and after his speech than any other visiting dignitary during the 23rd General Assembly. His address, delivered in French and composed (intelligent observers deduced) by some Gallic sophist animated by hate and contempt for the West, excoriated the West for its treatment of Africa. One of his points was that American aid to African students was simply a disingenuous means of augmenting government spending in America, since those students spent their grants in America, and he charged that it was humiliating to the African to be proffered aid in such undignified ways. General Mobutu knows something about humiliation. During one of the civil wars in Zaire he was about to suffer a throat cut by a contending black faction, and was saved from this indignity by a CIA officer who tossed him into a cellar to hide.
Two important events of recent days may be a harbinger of relief. The first is the summoning by Nelson Mandela of a half-dozen black African leaders to South Africa to explore Mandela's vision of an all-black African mobile army that might be used to bring relief to such anguished trouble spots as Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Liberia, Uganda -- the list is wretchedly long. Mandela was spurned by Mobutu, presumably on the grounds that any organization that acknowledged a need for military interposition in Africa threatens the stability of incumbent dictators, which is of course correct; it does, and should.
The second is a cultural event, the publication of Keith Richburg's book, Out of America. The author is a black journalist with the Washington Post who spent three years in Africa and confronted almost every day the terrible backwardness of the countries he visited, and the random cruelty. Africa is ``a place where the best and brightest minds languish in dark prison cells.'' Mr. Richburg's brief is primarily against his fellow black Americans, those of them who in designating themselves as ``African-Americans'' invoke, as though there were cause to do so, an implied pride and respect for the life and culture of present-day Africa. ``Thank God,'' he concludes, ``my nameless ancestor, brought across the ocean in chains and leg irons, made it out alive. Thank God I am an American.''
The condescension shown toward Africa (Mobutu was royally treated here in 1973) gnaws at the edifice of reality and the idealism of the rule of law and democratic civility, and we should try to get over it.
(Universal Press Syndicate)
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