Darcus Howe explodes a colonial myth

G8 - It must be Africans who rescue Africa from the mire into which it has sunk

Without economic, technological and educational help and encouragement from the advanced countries, Africa will fall into flames, disease, intertribal violence and every other horror imaginable. So I welcome any attempts by the G8 countries to help, and I welcome the interest stirred by Bob Geldof et al among people in the developed west. But that is not even the beginning, for without some grasp of African history, we remain at sea about what is possible.

Let's start with one of the bigger myths. The British and other European powers did not hand over independence. Africans fought for it and won it. The population was shaped by two forces: imperialism, which exploited Africans with a brutal shamelessness, and the violence they required to rid themselves of it. Therein lie the roots of the modern struggle.

There is a date: Saturday 28 February 1948. On that day the Gold Coast ex-servicemen's union, whose members had fought in Burma in the Second World War and returned to home, marched on Christiansborg, the colonial governor's residence, to petition him for relief. The police fired on them, killing three and wounding several others. Thereafter, the masses stormed the stage. They formed the Convention People's Party, boycotted this and that, staged a general strike, and leapt hurdle after hurdle until independence in 1957.

All sub-Saharan Africa was to follow the example of the Gold Coast, now Ghana, but everywhere the mass democratic party was swallowed by an ever-expanding state power, and in many places not even the carcass remains. The African educated elite used the machinery of state to accumulate capital for themselves and their own tribes.

Millions drifted rudderless from rural areas, clogging the cities. Villages remained isolated in their ignorance of the modern world, and mineral wealth offered no release, because the profits largely ended up in the developed world. Only Africans themselves can correct this degeneration. They must create new institutions of governance and protect them with their lives if need be, for then and only then will the reduction of debt and trade preferences carry weight and meaning.

And finally, a simple slogan that should galvanise a continent: Africa must feed itself.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 04 July 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Now is the time to act