Making Africa

James P. writes:

In response to the Houghton Mifflin textbooks on Making Europe, which wildly overstate African influence on the people, politics, and culture of Europe, Traditionalist Press is coming out with a two volume series, Making Africa, which will describe the decisive impact of Europeans on the development of the people, politics, and culture of Africa. Students will learn that in contrast to the mendacious leftist approach of the Making Europe series, it is actually true that Europeans “made Africa,” in the sense that Europeans created ALL the nations that exist in Africa today.

Making Africa, 1420-1815

The cover of the first volume (1420 to 1815) will depict Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese prince who patronized the first exploratory voyages along the west coast of the Dark Continent. The cover of the second volume (1815 to 1945) will depict Cecil Rhodes, the great empire builder, founder of the state of Rhodesia, and posthumous sponsor of the postgraduate British education of Bill Clinton.

Making Africa, 1815-1945

A follow-up volume, entitled Unmaking Africa, 1945-2005, will describe the calamitous history of Africa after decolonization. The cover will depict Franklin Delano Roosevelt, architect of the tremendous crime that was decolonization (though it was left to others to carry through his ideas).

LA replies:

I just looked up Henry the Navigator, and he is a notable figure in European and African history. He opened the great Age of Exploration, by developing faster, lighter sailing ships, and sending them further and further down the west coast of Africa, where no Europeans had been before. What Henry began was completed 30 years after his death by Bartholemew Dias when he reached the southern tip of Africa, showing that the continent could be circumnavigated. Unfortunately, Henry also initiated the European slave trade (though on a very small scale), that brilliant move by the white West which ultimately resulted in having the picture of a black African on the cover of the textbook Making Europe, along with everything such a cover signifies.

Here are highlights from the Wikipedia article:

The Infante Henrique (March 4, 1394-November 13, 1460 in Sagres) was an infante (prince) of the Portuguese House of Aviz and an important figure in the early days of the Portuguese Empire, being responsible for the beginning of the European worldwide explorations. He is known in English as Prince Henry the Navigator.

Early life

Prince Henry the Navigator was the third child of King John I of Portugal, the founder of the Aviz dynasty, and of Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt. Henry encouraged his father to conquer Ceuta (1415), the Muslim port on the North African coast across the Straits of Gibraltar from the Iberian peninsula, with profound consequences on Henry’s worldview: Henry became aware of the profit possibilities in the Saharan trade routes that terminated there and became fascinated with Africa in general; he was most intrigued by the Christian legend of Prester John and the expansion of Portuguese trade.

Henry was born in 1394 in Porto, probably when the royal couple was being housed in the old mint of the city, nowadays called Casa do Infante (Prince’s House). He was the third son born to Philippa of Lancaster, the sister of King Henry IV of England. Henry was 21 when he, his father and brothers conquered the Moorish port of Ceuta in northern Morocco, that had been for a long time the base for Barbary pirates that assaulted the Portuguese coast, depopulating villages by capturing their inhabitants to be sold in the African slave market. This attack was successful, as it inspired Henry to explore down the coast of Africa, most of which was unknown to Europeans. The desire to locate the source of the West African gold trade, find the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John, and stop the pirate attacks on the Portuguese coast were three of his main interests in the region. The ships that sailed the Mediterranean at that time were too slow and too heavy to make these voyages. Under his direction, a new and much lighter ship was developed, the caravel, which would allow sea captains to sail further, faster and much more efficiently. In 1419, his father appointed him the governor of the province of the Algarve.

Early results of Henry’s explorers

Until Henry’s time, Cape Bojador remained the most southerly point known to Europeans on the unpromising desert coast of Africa, although the Periplus of the Carthaginian Hanno the Navigator described a journey farther south about 2,000 years earlier.

As a second fruit of this work Joao Goncalves Zarco, Bartolomeu Perestrelo and Tristao Vaz Teixeira rediscovered the Madeira Islands in 1420, and at Henry’s instigation Portuguese settlers colonized the islands.

In 1427, one of Henry’s navigators, probably Goncalo Velho, discovered the Azores. Portugal soon colonized these islands in 1430.

Gil Eanes, the commander of one of Henry’s expeditions, became the first European known to pass Cape Bojador in 1434. This was a breakthrough as it was considered close to the end of the world, with difficult currents that did not encourage commercial enterprise.

Henry also continued his involvement in events closer to home. In 1431 he donated houses for the Estudo Geral to reunite all the sciences—grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music and astronomy—into what would later become the University of Lisbon. For other subjects like medicine or philosophy, he ordered that each room should be decorated according to each subject that was being taught.

He functioned as a primary organizer of the Portuguese expedition to Tangier in 1437. This proved a disastrous failure; Henry’s younger brother Fernando was given as a hostage to guarantee that the Portuguese would fulfill the terms of the peace agreement that had been made with Cala Ben Cala. The agreement was first broken by the Moors, who attacked the Portuguese and captured the Portuguese wounded when they were being carried to the ships, killing those who tried to resist. The Archbishop of Braga and the count of Arraiolos refused to approve the terms in the reunion of the Portuguese Cortes, thus condemning Fernando to remain in miserable captivity until his death eleven years later. Henry for most of his last twenty-three years concentrated on his exploration activities, or on Portuguese court politics.

… By 1462, the Portuguese had explored the coast of Africa as far as the present-day nation Sierra Leone. Twenty-eight years later, Bartolomeu Dias (can be spelt Diaz) proved that Africa could be circumnavigated when he reached the southern tip of the continent. This is now known as the “Cape of Good Hope.” In 1498, Vasco da Gama was the first sailor to travel from Portugal to India.

[end of Wikipedia excerpt]

- end of initial entry -

LA to James P.:

Thank you for letting us know about these books.

However, I was not aware that Franklin Roosevelt (or his ideas) was the main driving force behind de-colonization.

James writes:

There is a good overview in Warren Kimball’s The Juggler. Roosevelt’s two big ideas for a “peaceful” postwar world were US cooperation with the USSR and the negotiated dismantling of European colonial empires. During the war, FDR traveled around the colonial world, meeting nationalist leaders and preaching independence, and also sent emissaries to do the same thing. In public speeches he often lashed out at British and French colonialism. He emphasized the “jewel” of Britain’s empire, India, as a particular target, and badgered Churchill to set a date for Indian self-government. FDR also attempted to enlist Stalin in the anti-colonial campaign. For example, at Tehran, FDR met privately with Stalin (i.e. without Churchill) and initiated a discussion of the need for independence for India and Indochina. The 1941 Atlantic Charter declared that “all peoples had a right to self-determination”, and a major motive behind FDR’s push for the creation of the United Nations was to provide a vehicle to push for decolonization.

Yes, that’s right, FDR actively undermined our major ally, Britain, during the war, even to the extent of colluding against them with the Soviets. The push to decolonize was certainly not strictly necessary during the war—he could have taken the attitude that this matter would be resolved after the war at an international peace conference. Furthermore we might note that FDR had a very different attitude towards Soviet imperialism than towards British and French imperialism.

Thus, I think that FDR was the single man most responsible for post-1945 decolonization, even though he didn’t live to see it. He established the framework for post-war international politics, and decolonization was a critical element of that framework.

LA writes:

James P. writes that “Europeans created ALL the nations that exist in Africa today.”

This would not be true of Ethiopia, an ancient independent nation, and one of the oldest Christian nations. See Kidist Paulos Asrat’s article for VFR on the history of Ethiopia and the relations between Christians and Muslims in that land in the Middle Ages.

James P. replies:

The current nation of Ethiopia exists because the British liberated it from the Italians in 1941. The British gave it full sovereignty in 1944 and decided what its borders would be. It is not much less artificial than a number of other nations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia whose territories were defined for European imperial reasons without reference to pre-existing ethnic and tribal boundaries.

LA replies:

And what was Ethiopia before the Italians took it over about a decade before that? It was an independent country. By your reasoning, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and other ancient and famous European states that were conquered by the Nazis and then liberated by the Allies are artificial entities created by the Allies.

Hannon writes:

I think there is a distinction to be made here between post-colonial African nations whose boundaries were drawn more arbitrarily and those that are more natural. A place like Ethiopia would appear to be, as you note, a natural entity in historic terms, in spite of its diverse and often divergent peoples. However, its modern boundaries were flawed from the start. One can easily observe this in the Ogaden region, where on the map a sharp point of flat, relatively low territory juts eastward into Somalia, itself an even more disastrously artificial construct. In geographic-ethnic terms this was a senseless decision. I don’t know the politics behind this anomaly but it must have had something to do with the European powers involved in the area at that time (Italians, British, French). Eritrea was another ill-considered region of Ethiopia that required drawn-out bloodshed before a modern resolution was arrived at.

Many African tribes are “trans-national” because of the arbitrary nature of the frontiers decided by the colonial powers. Those of the Sahara are good examples, as well as groups in West Africa which could not possibly be contained in reality by those neat-looking parcels from Senegal to Cameroun.

It has been my contention since I first learned about African geography and culture, from people who had worked there as well as books, that the continent as a whole needs to be let off the post-colonial programme. It should instead be left to its own natural affinity for social arrangements based on family, clan, tribe, etc. Maybe natural trading blocks (as opposed to the sovereignty-killing EU model) could work well for them.

What exists on the continent today is a political and social disaster whose European justification is akin to neoconservative yammering about bringing higher levels of organization (democracy) to peoples who are better left to their own, radically different devices.

LA replies:

I don’t disagree with anything you said. But the fact that European powers imposed some disastrous borders on Ethiopia would not make Ethiopia nothing but an artificial country created in its entirety by European powers. My point was simply that the statement, “Europeans created ALL the nations that exist in Africa today,” was too sweeping and needed some qualifications.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Ethiopia that emerged out of World War II was so discontinuous with the former Ethiopia that it was as though a new country had been created.

Kilroy M. writes from Australia:

You write:

“But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Ethiopia that emerged out of World War II was so discontinuous with the former Ethiopia that it was as though a new country had been created.”

This is similar to the argument my Communist lecturer at University pushed when he was saying that Russia should not pay reparations for crimes against humanity committed against the peoples of Central Europe because “the Soviet Union was a different entity and is now dead.” (Funnily enough, he does not push a similar argument vis-a-vis the Third Reich and Federal Germany today.)

Besides, your correspondent is trying to dance around his gratuitous statement. Although I too agree with the gist of what he is saying, the broad sweeping comment he makes about “all” African nations being “artificial constructs” takes away credibility from his greater argument: that the socio-political reality of Africa generally speaking is a product of centuries of European intervention.

However, if you assume that he may be right that Ethiopia is an artificial construct, you must tell your readers what criteria you are using to define what genuine continuity of nationhood is. I assume you would think it is ethnicity and culture. If so, then Ethiopia is the direct lineal descendant of Abyssinia, whatever its borders may be today and who drafted them. Compare this to Egypt, whose Arab Muslim peoples of today share almost nothing in common with the pagan North African Caucasoids that built ancient Egypt of biblical timers, or the Hellenes of Alexandrian times etc. No continuity there.

Moreover, you use the example of Poland to refute James P.’s broad sweeping claim, and Hannon in his comment tries to skirt around it. Well, Poland maintains its ethnic and religious foundation today even though it lost its statehood during WWII and also for almost a century and a half during its Partitions. Its “restitution” at the Treaty of Versailles (which many Germanophile revisionists claim was artificial and its borders arbitrary) came after a longer period of disruption compared to that of Ethiopia after liberation from Italian rule. Your refutation therefore is spot on, and no, you are not wrong in doubting the particulars of James P.’s reasoning.

LA replies:

James’s excellent satire made the legitimate point that modern Africa has been to a very significant degree formed by Europe, not only in its troublesome features, such as borders that violate ethnic regions, but in its good features as well. At the same time, I felt that his sweeping comment, “Europeans created ALL the nations that exist in Africa today,” makes it sound as though everything about Africa has been created by Europe, that nothing about Africa came from Africa. And so, as I looked for an exception to his rule, the ancient nation of Ethiopia came immediately to mind.

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

There is never a dull moment at VFR!

I really do think that Ethiopia is the exception in the African continent. Much of the current Ethiopian border was forged by a succession of 18-20th century Kings (perhaps more correctly known as Emperors). It started with a rather mad and universalist Emperor Twedros, later on moved by the northern Emperor Yohannes, who was more concerned with his tribal group (the less influential northern Tigray) than nationhood, and sealed with the Amhara—the leading group throughout Ethiopia’s history—Menelik. The rationale behind Menelik’s decisive nationalization was to put an end to the ethnic and tribal differences, and make one nation out of the region. Haile Selassie continued with that legacy. I personally think this imperialistic nationalization actually did more harm to Ethiopia proper, which led directly to the communist rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam. But that is a topic for another time.

Yes, there were European influences, perhaps the most notorious being the Eritrea question. In fact, the acquisition of Eritrea by the Italians was a territorial exchange to prevent Italians from encroaching further into Ethiopia. So, the argument stands the Eritrea was once part of Ethiopia, but had to be forfeited for general national security. It was later returned to Ethiopia.

Similarly, the Ogaden was, by imperialistic acquisition, part of Ethiopia long before the European intervention. In fact, the great Muslim conqueror of Ethiopia of the 16th century came from that region—so conflict between Ethiopia and the Somali of the Ogaden is perennial—it still continues.

One reason why Ethiopia didn’t descend into a non-nationalistic fragmentation of tribes is because a leading group, the Amhara, held firm throughout at least the Christian history of Ethiopia (which dates as early as the 3rd century) as leaders of the various regions, which they controlled earlier on as tributaries. Of the three Emperors I mentioned above the two Amhara were most influential in consolidating these tribes under one “civilized” Christian nation.

I am still trying to figure out how all this happened. But, I think it wouldn’t have happened without the Amhara, and without Christianity.

LA replies:

“I am still trying to figure out how all this happened. But, I think it wouldn’t have happened without the Amhara, and without Christianity.”

The two most important elements of society that I always emphasize: a majority ethnicity, and Christianity!

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 27, 2009 03:00 PM | Send

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