Tuesday, 13 July 2010

An Inspiration

I was sorry to read of the death of Basil Davidson. I was an avid reader of his articles on Africa and decolonisation in newspapers and magazines in my teenage years. As the obituary relates with a distinguished war record and considerable academic achievements including 27 books on Africa he lead an impressive life.

I was inspired by him when he came to give a talk at my school when I would have been 14 or 15. In a less international world it seemed amazing that this man who strode the world was in Herefordshire. He gave a fascinating talk particularly about Portuguese decolonisation and brought moden history to life. I have thought since that I wish had his talents. Reading his obituary he left school at 16 - life is what you make it!

Racial equality is the norm now but it wasn't by any means in my youth. I remember discussing Basil Davidson's visit with my father. Dad told me how unpopular he had found it in the 1960s supporting African independence at work or in the pub. Many of his friends cleaved allegiance to white settlers especially in Northern and Southern Rhodesia based purely on skin colour. He talked about the "sins of our fathers". In recent years with the increases in overseas aid, we are perhaps repaying some of the debts on which the wealth of Britain was based.

Decades later I am grateful that Basil Davidson gave up an afternoon to explain that in Africa, there wasn't a "white man's burden", but rather as his book title puts it so well a Black Man's Burden that was the legacy of colonisation.


  1. Mark, colonisation, cause and effect, is an interesting subject but your practice of needing to approve comment, particularly with your busy working and public life, has, might I suggest, a tendency to stifle debate. At times comments take so long to appear that interest has waned.

    Often you contribute more interesting material than other well known Thanet bloggers but with far less response. Can I suggest that you move to a system like that of Eastcliff Richard where comments are instantly added but subsequently deleted if inappropiate or obscene. That way debate flows evidenced by a mass of contributors to some pretty petty subjects at times.

    Just a thought which I trust you do not mind me putting forward.

  2. I posted a comment on this subject a few days ago but it has not been published. Since it contained nothing offensive, inappropriate or obscene I can only assume it was because I challenged Basil Davidson's view of African colonisation. If so that makes the very purpose of inviting comment on this blogspot questionable.

    I accept that it is your site, Mark, and you are expressing your own views, though I would suggest it exists to enable you to proclaim the Labour cause. That being so, you will only achieve that aim if you attract visitors, encourage healthy debate and, by your answers, win over support.

    I will not repeat all my earlier comment on the African issue but suffice to say that Brian Davison, expert as he was, was not unique in having experience of that continent or its colonial and post colonial issues.

    There are many angles from which to view this situation, not least to consider that Africa is economically worse off, despite years of aid, than it was fifty years ago. Furthermore, many other parts of the world, particularly in Asia, have emerged from colonial rule to develop into flourishing economies, some even potential world powers. This has been achieved with no more advatages than most African countries. Why is the million dollar question?

    Likewise, some other places, the American Continent and Australasia will never emerge from colonisation for the settlers now well out number the indigenous. I make this point just to emphasise that Africa has not had it that bad yet some people portray it as the only victim of European imperialism.

  3. I regret I have to moderate but there are several reasons.
    1. http://marknottingham.blogspot.com/2009/01/labour-councillor-advertises.html
    2. There's lots of advertising, I allowed one through here
    to illustrate this problem
    3. I receive occasional unpleasant personal attacks on both myself and other individuals. Cllr. Ezekiel I am sure would have objected to publication of many lurid matters no matter how briefly they were available. I suspect some of these were designed to try and get me into trouble which brings me to...
    4. Sadly the right to anonymous comment is abused by people like Thanet Council Deputy Leader Martin Wise
    5. When accessing blogger through my phone I see a short snapshot. If I see it is from a name I know like Chris Wells or Ken Gregory then I publish without needing to see what they have said. So to facilitate debate I would hope more people would put their names to their views.

  4. Bluenote re your 12.13 comment I've never received this comment. I know the software can be clunky I sometimes have to press the post comment 3 times to ensure comments are published. I think I've published every comment you've submitted so please resubmit.

    You write "Africa is economically worse off, despite years of aid, than it was fifty years ago."

    what's your evidence for this assertion?

  5. Mark, the evidence came from a UN sponsored survey published in fairly recent months. However, if you had visited Africa pre and post independence,as I have, you would have seen the self evident decline in so many places.

    Zimbabwe is perhaps the place most starkly demonstrating the decline after independence of which our nation is familar, although it is not unique in Africa. From the highly productive bread basket of central southern Africa in Rhodesia days it has declined to the point of having to import food from neighbours it once exported to. Ironically, that food, particularly from Zambia, is often grown by farmers driven off their now derelict Zimbabwe farms by Mugabe's so called 'land redistribution' policy.

    More than four million Zimbabweans, about a third of the population, have fled that sad country thanks to the mis-rule of Mugabe and his ZANU/PF party. Bet if you ask them, particularly the older ones from Matabeleland who remember the colonial days, whether the Smith or Mugabe regime's were better the answer might well surprise you.

    Having lived, worked and even fought alongside Matabele soldiers, their treatment by Mugabe and his predominantly Shona regime saddens me. Such issues are not always the clear cut black and white, no pun intended, that some political observors take them to be. Colonialism was not all bad anymore than self determination is all good.

  6. A clearer reference would be welcome. No one would defend Zimbabwe but you can't generalise to the whole of Africa from one country. Further many economic problems result from wars due to colonial borders and the consequent nationalist problems. Ethiopia/Eritrea perhaps being the best example.

  7. Sadly in the limited scope of a blog exchange we tend to trade in generalisations though I did say I was quoting Zimbabwe as an example well known to British people. Surely the title 'The Black Man's Burden' is a generalistion in itself effectively implying that all colonisation was bad.

    In an attempt to move beyond Zimbabwe, we could look at Beira in Mozambique, once a busy port and flourishing sea side resort but now a scene of derelict buildings and general depravation. Take the road up from Lusaka to Kitwe and in places there are more potholes than tarmac and, on some stretches, the locals have taken to creating parrallel tracks to drive on because the roads are so bad. Look at Livingstone, once a fine town, but now few of the grand old houses have glass in the windows, shutters, if still in place, hang from broken hinges, evidence of minimal maintenance is everywhere and rusting engines and rolling stock stand abandoned in the railway sidings. One could go on to internal airlines where doors fall off in flight or the masses of crashed, broken down and abandoned vehicles to be found on the roads. However, don't take my word for it but go and look for yourself but away from the tourist package holiday locations.

    Whilst I would agree with you about colonial borders in some places, many were natural like major rivers or mountain ranges, not simply where imperial powers met. Others, as in many British former colonies, were set by African kingdom or tribal boundaries as with Basutuland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland for example. One thing the colonial powers did do was end the tribal wars, or the 'blooding of spears' practices so prevalent before they came. Sadly, in many places, those old tribal differences have returned leading to much blood letting.

    Obviously views are conditioned by one's own experiences but, whilst I can recognise the wrongs of colonisation, I afraid some people can only see one side of the argument. We should, perhaps, remember that colonisation often brought education, medicine, new agricultural practices, bridges, roads, railways, a civil administration and, in some places, even the wheel. Whether they were wanted or not is another matter.

  8. You seem out of step with former grandees of your own party in your admiration of Basil Davidson. He was considered to be a 'fellow traveller' of the communists by the post war Labour government, was described as 'dangerous' by Attlee and Hugh Gaitskell even tried to get him removed from the Daily Herald staff. It is all there on the net for anyone interested. Certainly his writings on Africa were much admired in Moscow, the capital of the 'Cold War' enemy of that time.