Let Africa Sink

As my Let Africa Sink essay from 2002(!) is going to feature in my Monday post, I thought I’d take the opportunity to re-publish it below, pretty much un-edited except for a few typos which somehow survived to the present day. 

Let Africa Sink

May 26, 2002
11:40 AM CDT

When it comes to any analysis of the problems facing Africa, Western society, and particularly people from the United States, encounter a logical disconnect that makes clear analysis impossible. That disconnect is the way life is regarded in the West (it’s precious, must be protected at all costs etc.), compared to the way life, and death, are regarded in Africa. Let me try to quantify this statement.

In Africa, life is cheap. There are so many ways to die in Africa that death is far more commonplace than in the West. You can die from so many things: snakebite, insect bite, wild animal attack, disease, starvation, food poisoning… the list goes on and on. At one time, crocodiles accounted for more deaths in sub-Saharan Africa than gunfire, for example. Now add the usual human tragedy (murder, assault, warfare and the rest), and you can begin to understand why the life expectancy for an African is low — in fact, horrifyingly low, if you remove White Africans from the statistics (they tend to be more urbanized, and more Western in behavior and outlook). Finally, if you add the horrifying spread of AIDS into the equation, anyone born in sub-Saharan Africa this century will be lucky to reach age forty.

I lived in Africa for over thirty years. Growing up there, I was infused with several African traits — traits which are not common in Western civilization. The almost-casual attitude towards death was one. (Another is a morbid fear of snakes.)

So because of my African background, I am seldom moved at the sight of death, unless it’s accidental, or it affects someone close to me. (Death which strikes at total strangers, of course, is mostly ignored.) Of my circle of about eighteen or so friends with whom I grew up, and whom I would consider “close”, only about eight survive today — and not one of the survivors is over the age of fifty. Two friends died from stepping on landmines while on Army duty in Namibia. Three died in horrific car accidents (and lest one thinks that this is not confined to Africa, one was caused by a kudu flying through a windshield and impaling the guy through the chest with its hoof — not your everyday traffic accident in, say, Florida). One was bitten by a snake, and died from heart failure. Another two also died of heart failure, but they were hopeless drunkards. Two were shot by muggers. The last went out on his surfboard one day and was never seen again (did I mention that sharks are plentiful off the African coasts and in the major rivers?). My experience is not uncommon in South Africa — and north of the Limpopo River (the border with Zimbabwe), I suspect that others would show worse statistics.

The death toll wasn’t just confined to my friends. When I was still living in Johannesburg, the newspaper carried daily stories of people mauled by lions, or attacked by rival tribesmen, or dying from some unspeakable disease (and this was pre-AIDS Africa too) and in general, succumbing to some of Africa’s many answers to the population explosion. Add to that the normal death toll from rampant crime, illness, poverty, flood, famine, traffic, and the police, and you’ll begin to get the idea.

My favorite African story actually happened after I left the country. An American executive took a job over there, and on his very first day, the newspaper headlines read:
“Three Headless Bodies Found”.
The next day: “Three Heads Found”.
The third day: “Heads Don’t Match Bodies”.

You can’t make this stuff up.

As a result of all this, death is treated more casually by Africans than by Westerners. I, and I suspect most Africans, am completely inured to reports of African suffering, for whatever cause. Drought causes crops to fail, thousands face starvation? Yup, that happened many times while I was growing up. Inter-tribal rivalry and warfare causes wholesale slaughter? Yep, been happening there for millennia, long before Whitey got there. Governments becoming rich and corrupt while their populations starved? Not more than nine or ten of those. In my lifetime, the following tragedies have occurred, causing untold millions of deaths: famine in Biafra, genocide in Rwanda, civil war in Angola, floods in South Africa, famine in Somalia, civil war in Sudan, famine in Ethiopia, floods in Mozambique, wholesale slaughter in Uganda, and tribal warfare in every single country. There are others, but you get the point.

Yes, all this was also true in Europe — maybe a thousand years ago. But not any more. And Europe doesn’t teem with crocodiles, ultra-venomous snakes and so on.

The Dutch controlled the floods. All of Europe controls famine — it’s non-existent now. Apart from a couple of examples of massive, state-sponsored slaughter (Nazi Germany, Communist Russia), Europe since 1700 doesn’t even begin to compare to Africa today. Casual slaughter is another thing altogether — rare in Europe, common in Africa.

More to the point, the West has evolved into a society with a stable system of government, which follows the rule of law, and has respect for the rights and life of the individual — none of which is true in Africa.

Among old Africa hands, we have a saying, usually accompanied by a shrug: “Africa wins again.” This is usually said after an incident such as:

  • a beloved missionary is butchered by his congregation, for no apparent reason
  • a tribal chief prefers to let his tribe starve to death rather than accepting food from the Red Cross (would mean he wasn’t all-powerful, you see)
  • an entire nation starves to death, while its ruler accumulates wealth in foreign banks
  • a new government comes into power, promising democracy, free elections etc., provided that the freedom doesn’t extend to the other tribe
  • the other tribe comes to power in a bloody coup, then promptly sets about slaughtering the first tribe
  • etc, etc, etc, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

The prognosis is bleak, because none of this mayhem shows any sign of ending. The conclusions are equally bleak, because, quite frankly, there is no answer to Africa’s problems, no solution that hasn’t been tried before, and failed.

Just go to the CIA World Fact Book, pick any of the African countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi etc.), and compare the statistics to any Western country (eg. Portugal, Italy, Spain, Ireland). The disparities are appalling — and it’s going to get worse, not better. It has certainly got worse since 1960, when most African countries achieved independence. We, and by this I mean the West, have tried many ways to help Africa. All such attempts have failed.

Charity is no answer. Money simply gets appropriated by the first, or second, or third person to touch it (17 countries saw a decline in real per capita GNP between 1970 and 1999, despite receiving well over $100 billion in World Bank assistance).

Food isn’t distributed. This happens either because there is no transportation infrastructure (bad), or the local leader deliberately withholds the supplies to starve people into submission (worse).

Materiel is broken, stolen or sold off for a fraction of its worth. The result of decades of “foreign aid” has resulted in a continental infrastructure which, if one excludes South Africa, couldn’t support Pittsburgh.

Add to this, as I mentioned above, the endless cycle of Nature’s little bag of tricks — persistent drought followed by violent flooding, a plethora of animals, reptiles and insects so dangerous that life is already cheap before Man starts playing his little reindeer games with his fellow Man. What you are left with is: catastrophe.

The inescapable conclusion is simply one of resignation. This goes against the grain of our humanity — we are accustomed to ridding the world of this or that problem (smallpox, polio, whatever), and accepting failure is anathema to us. But, to give a classic African scenario, a polio vaccine won’t work if the kids are prevented from getting the vaccine by a venal overlord, or a frightened chieftain, or a lack of roads, or by criminals who steal the vaccine and sell it to someone else. If a cure for AIDS was found tomorrow, and offered to every African nation free of charge, the growth of the disease would scarcely be checked, let alone reversed. Basically, you’d have to try to inoculate as many two-year old children as possible, and write off the two older generations.

So that leaves only one response, and it’s a brutal one: accept that we are powerless to change Africa, and leave them to sink or swim, by themselves.

It sounds dreadful to say it, but if the entire African continent dissolves into a seething maelstrom of disease, famine and brutality, that’s just too damn bad. We have better things to do — sometimes, you just have to say, “Can’t do anything about it.”

The viciousness, the cruelty, the corruption, the duplicity, the savagery, and the incompetence is endemic to the entire continent, and is so much of an anathema to any right-thinking person that the civilized imagination simply stalls when faced with its ubiquity, and with the enormity of trying to fix it. The Western media shouldn’t even bother reporting on it. All that does is arouse our feelings of horror, and the instinctive need to do something, anything — but everything has been tried before, and failed. Everything, of course, except self-reliance.

All we should do is make sure that none of Africa gets transplanted over to the U.S., because the danger to our society is dire if it does. I note that several U.S. churches are attempting to bring groups of African refugees over to the United States, European churches the same for Europe. Mistake. Mark my words, this misplaced charity will turn around and bite us, big time.

Even worse would be to think that the simplicity of Africa holds some kind of answers for Western society: remember Mrs. Clinton’s little book, “It Takes A Village”? Trust me on this: there is not one thing that Africa can give the West which hasn’t been tried before and failed, not one thing that isn’t a step backwards, and not one thing which is worse than, or that contradicts, what we have already.

So here’s my (tongue-in-cheek) solution for the African fiasco: a high wall around the whole continent, all the guns and bombs in the world for everyone inside, and at the end, the last one alive should do us all a favor and kill himself.

Inevitably, some Kissingerian realpolitiker is going to argue in favor of intervention, because in the vacuum of Western aid, perhaps the Communist Chinese would step in and increase their influence in the area. There are two reasons why this isn’t going to happen.

Firstly, the PRC doesn’t have that kind of money to throw around; and secondly, the result of any communist assistance will be precisely the same as if it were Western assistance. For the record, Mozambique and Angola are both communist countries — and both are economic disaster areas. The prognosis for both countries is disastrous — and would be the same for any other African country.

The West can’t help Africa. Nor should we. The record speaks for itself.


  1. Can the argument be made that things would improve in Africa with the re-institution of apartheid and outright slavery, Kim? (I am speaking hypothetically of course).

    Yes I know it would be racist and politically incorrect as hell… but it seems to me that in European spheres of influence during imperialism – life was much better for everyone, even the blacks.

    I’m just spit-balling here, I am not trying to promote race hate or fascism – I’m just asking the question because I would like an objective opinion on that from somebody that has been there, and not from some bed wetting pasty faced social justice warrior hell bent on virtue signalling.

    1. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsic to apartheid or any kind of segregation which would improve or degrade conditions in Africa. As with most things, how it was implemented and the motivations of the authorities would matter a lot. I don’t see any potential Imperial powers nowadays with the “White Man’s Burden” mentality of the nineteenth-century British who would try to do well by doing good for their subject peoples. Most likely you’d end up with Belgian-style rulers and genocide (not much different than the purely domestic rulers in Africa today).

      1. When it comes to Africa, there are no solutions. If Africans want to improve their lot and condition, they’ll have to find a way themselves. That they seem to be incapable of doing so does not mean that any outsider should step in and offer any, either.
        Let ’em sink, or learn how to swim. By themselves.

        1. You would think our experience with Iraq would dispel any notions that a society can be improved from without when there is no desire for it from within.

    1. Remember all powerful Japan Inc from the late 80’s?
      Remember how they were going to buy up and own the world?
      And remember how that bubble popped in the 90’s?

      Yeah, China is about to do the exact same thing, only their fall will be a whole lot harder.

      1. Yep – my concern is more along the lines of how ugly will it be when China implodes. They are sitting on 10 X the bubble Japan was without the financial, legal or social structures to deal with the fall out. It will be ugly.

        1. China’s also not one single people with one single language and culture- nor have they ever been.
          Expect to see the current dynasty fall, an era of civil war, and then the rise of a new dynasty.

  2. “not your everyday traffic accident in, say, Florida)”

    Kim, as someone with three generations of experience in the rural South, it’s a LOT more common than you might think. The number of car crashes caused by a population explosion of whitetail deer is amazing. I’ve known several of the victims… including one AL veterinarian who ended up in the back seat with the deer in his lap. He lived mostly because we have better medical care here, but 5 years later he was still having surgeries to move his face down from his forehead. Bambi my ass. There needs to be a year around hunting season on the things.

    1. Disney has a lot to answer for.

      It surprises people that I regard deer as less welcome than a squirrel in the bird feeder, particularly as I am not an avid hunter. The reason I’m not a hunter has less to do with any starry eyed delusions about ‘cuddly wild critters’ and more to due with my personality, which tends towards getting bored if left to my own devices for any length of time.

      Deer are, as I’ve noted to friends, fairly stupid animals. Yes, bucks can look majestic, and I’ve seen a dozen pictures online of cuddly fawns. But the fact is they’re really dim witted animals, and bucks in season are notoriously aggressive.

      But because we have legions of starry eyed nitwits who watched Bambi as kids, they get all teary eyed at the notion of hunting them. Never mind the fact that wild animals who can’t find enough food in their normal stomping grounds can and will move to new ones — regardless of who might already be there. Hence the uptick in vehicle-versus-deer incidents.

      Hell, I even tagged one once. I was smart enough to remember I’d seen deer crossing a road I use regularly, so I wasn’t driving fast, and as a result when that stupid oversized rodent hopped out in front of the car, I was able to slow down enough that the deer just got knocked on its ass instead of launching it through my windshield. Fortunately the car wasn’t damaged (I was going pretty slow!), and the deer scrabbled to its feet and ran off. But it served as a lesson to me to watch my speed in that area.

      1. The north Chicago suburbs are infested with deer. Even the far north side of the city – I’ve encountered full-grown whitetails well inside city limits. They ravage parks and gardens (including my mother’s back yard), and cause auto accidents.

        But whenever the various authorities propose hunting the surplus, people show up at hearings and whine “You wanna shoot Bambi’s motherrr….”

  3. I find it ironic that those who would decry Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” tend to believe it with all their hearts.

  4. I don’t have any first hand experience and I don’t want any since I am too old and beat up and poor to go kill a Cape Buffalo or some other fun stuff. In my mind that is all Africa is good for unless you need special minerals or diamonds and I don’t.

    I am an avid reader and I love the stories written in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s about the professional ivory hunters and big game hunters. There was one story I read that detailed how to get fitted out after crossing from the U.S. in London by expert outfitters who would tailor all of your clothes to fit, set up and ship all of your gear and arrange the guides and professionals who could provide the crew upon arrival. Now in my early years that would be a dream adventure.

    I am old and names escape me but the PH guys knew what they were doing and they would engage the right combination of attendants to take care of personal possessions and care, gun bearers who would often stand ready to assist in a kill, cooks and then the head of the porters who were gangs of men who would carry all of the gear and supplies.

    Two things stood out in one story and the first was that when a man was sent down to get water from a river and a croc got him, the other men stopped singing long enough to send another man down to get the water and none of them seemed to mind one of their crew was killed, the just accepted it as a normal occurrence. The second was a hunter who spent several years and numerous trips hunting noted that any time he was generous and tried to help a specific man with clothing or promotion there might be an immediate thank you but there was never any building of a relationship. He equated it to giving a good hunting dog and extra treat and that is a sad comment on human behavior.

    I also read a book about 30 years ago about Africa, no clue to the title or author but I remember him talking about trying to help people who would pull down any copper telephone lines or even electrical lines that were intended to bring folks up to a better level of living because they knew copper wire made great rings and bracelets. He also said that maintenance of anything mechanical was beyond the comprehension of the people, it is what it is and if it stopped working because of lubrication the it was supposed to stop and that was what it was. He described the perfect example of Africa being a large strong man carrying a wheelbarrow with a missing tire on his head full of fruit to sell at the local market.

    1. “He also said that maintenance of anything mechanical was beyond the comprehension of the people, it is what it is and if it stopped working because of lubrication the it was supposed to stop and that was what it was.”

      This reminds me, disturbingly, of tales I’ve heard from lads returning from a tour in the Middle East trying to instruct various types in modern gear, specifically maintenance. Evidently, a lot of those Muslim-run nations regard ‘inshallah’ as a perfectly acceptable substitute for regular cleaning, calibration, etc.

      1. Islam is effective at trapping societies in a severe state of “shame culture”. Shame culture is to societies what pathological narcissism is to individuals. It is an emotional arrest at the stage of a toddler. All ideologies are a reflection of the psychologies of their creators, and Muhammad was a pathological narcissist.

        As it is to a narcissist/codependent so it is to a shame culture: appearances are everything, including the appearance-of-knowledge trumping actually having to learn how to truly understand how anything really works. Admitting one is wrong or does not know things (unless those things are deemed unknowable by anyone) brings shame, which costs you “face”.

        The practicing Islamic world, the American “ghetto”, the Far East, modern academia, Africa: these are all defined by shame cultures.

        In Gulf states you have Arabs who believe djinn make the lights go on in their high-rise apartments, in the Far East you have education systems focused on grinding out students who will score well on tests to the exclusion of all else, in academia you have identity politics and such shenanigans as the laughable attempt at “farming” carried out by the Occupy mob when they took over a research farm and began having bottled water and store-bought plants delivered.

    2. An anecdote from Oz about telegraph lines. The first one started at Darwin, and ran for +1000 miles through desert country which also had the odd aboriginal tribe. The Aborigines found out that the insulators made good points for spears, and would shim up the pole and remove the insulator, often leaving a broken wire.
      The maintenance crews are reputed to have solved the broken wire and missing insulator problem by getting a senior of the tribe to hold the copper wire whilst a repairman cranked up a telephone generator attached to the wire. Seems to have worked!

  5. And we wonder where the social disorder of the Urban Black Communities in America comes from.

    1. I blame LBJ for most of that. Children raised without a father in the home suffer from every social pathology you can think of at higher rates than children raised in traditional, two-parent, June and Ward Cleaver homes. Especially boys who need a strong, male role-model during their teen years. Take away fathers and those boys are likely to go wild, which is exactly what the Great Society did to the black community in the U.S. It’s happening in the rest of society too now, as illegitimacy becomes acceptable and even laudable for people of a certain political persuasion:-(.

      1. Check out Tom Wolfe’s “Mau-Mauing the Flack Catchers” and “Radical Chic”. Basically, the government, the media, academia, and the Left got bored with the original Civil Rights movement, with their boring middle class values and bourgeois aspirations.

        Instead, they championed the radicals, the Black Panthers, the pimps, the gangs, and others with that funky hip soul to quench their white guilt and desire for nostalgia for the mud.

        Note that the social welfare system is poisonous to pretty much any race or culture- look at England for a good example.

  6. Watching Black Hawk down. Remembering this happen during pretty boy Clintons rule. First thought is pull every one out and nuke it from orbit. There may be some people of color who get it, but the bulk are beyond hope. You cannot cure stupid. No matter how hard you try or how humane you need to be.

  7. Africa is like an alcoholic or drug addict. No amount of well intentioned intervention will ever cure what ails the continent. Africa will only join the civilized world when they hit rock bottom and want to join the civilized world.
    Of course, looking at Africa from the outside, one would think they’ve already hit bottom and are digging with great haste but it’s not bottom for them.

  8. I understand your basic point. John Derbyshire makes a similar point in his latest “Radio Derb” podcast, referring to your (and his solution as) “Lifeboat Ethics”.

    But Lifeboat Ethics require extreme ruthlessness. In the 1937 film Souls At Sea, First Mate Taylor (Gary Cooper) is in charge of the only lifeboat from a sinking ship. He shoots some desperate survivors trying to climb into it – because they will swamp it, and everyone will drown. Who can do that? Kill innocent people, perhaps even women or children, even under the spur of utter necessity?

    There may be some Second or even First World countries capable of such ruthlessness, but not many. Current First World culture cannot even muster the will to enforce immigration laws against job-seekers and welfare chasers. Will Saudi Arabia bar African Moslems from making the pilgrimage to Mecca? And if such ruthless will was mustered, the psychic costs of participating in enforcement would be immense. In the pre-Civil-War American South, slavery was legal and slaveowners were highly respected – but no one wanted to associate with slave dealers.

    So there’s one immense difficulty.

    Second, there is already an African diaspora in the First World. This diaspora includes a lot of quite respectable people. For instance, the Conservative MP for Windsor is a self-made IT millionaire; also the son of Nigerian immigrants. The Conservative Association in Saffron Walden (12th-largest Tory majority in 2015) just picked a young daughter of Nigerian immigrants as the successor to the retiring 80-year-old incumbent. Instapundit’s sister-in-law is Nigerian. These people will not agree to their homelands being embargoed and their relatives being “written off”.

    So there’s another big difficulty.

    Then there is the practical impossibility of a trade embargo with Africa, which produces 5M bbl/day of oil, 12% of world uranium, 8% of copper and gold, 75% of platinum, 40% of palladium and manganese, lots of diamonds. There will be people doing lots of business with Africa. Africa also buys and sells large physical quantities of other goods, which is not going to stop. Thus there will always be continuous physical traffic in and out of Africa.

    And finally – if the rest of the world “writes off” Africa, then Africa becomes a sanctuary for every kind of criminal fugitive and a base for every sort of criminal enterprise, including terrorism.

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