Seconding Pilger

Oh dear. My resolve to try and keep this blog less earnest appears to be crumbling. Please skip to the loo roll item if you’re already having a bad day. In the meantime, here’s comment on an article by John Pilger published on the M&G site, which seemed to be attracting unwarranted derision. I’d post it on that site, but their system, under maintenance, is keeping me out:–

Let’s analyse Pilger’s article blow by blow, concentrating on the facts with which he backs up his arguments.

  • Pilger contends that Somalia is a failed state because of Western intrigue and exploitation.
    – The US supported the brutal regime of dictator Siad Barre with arms for over a decade.
    Pilger SCORES.
  • Pilger says that the West loves to condemn certain African failures (where it has no vital interests) while ignoring useful despots.
    – Self-evidently true. Think Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and a host of others.
    Pilger SCORES.
  • Pilger says that African under-development is a consequence of crippling foreign debt, unfair trading rules, ruthless exploitation of African resources (think of the consequences for people in Nigeria and the DRC of oil exploitation and mining, not least by SA companies), the withholding of wealth looted by African despots (true), colonial interventions (who knows that France regularly undertakes wars in central Africa in support of French mining interests?), and a devastating arms trade (to take just one example, the UK sold weapons worth half a million pounds to Sudan — anyone heard of Darfur? — between 2001-3).
    Pilger SCORES.
  • Pilger says the Mbeki government has ‘been suckered’ by British arms companies into buying the most expensive option for fighter jets, and supports his contention by quoting the British *themselves* acknowledging this.
    Pilger SCORES.
  • Pilger says Europe is demanding trade deals that will badly damage African econonies.
    “[The EU is] turning the screws on the African countries, and pushing them into agreements that will hurt poor farmers and undermine future industrial development,” says Oxfam.
    Pilger SCORES.
  • Pilger says the rural masses in South Africa have been treated worse under democracy than under apartheid. He’s quoting an independent report. The facts he reveals are as uncomfortable as the Mbeki government’s failures to reduce economic inequality, its HIV denialism and xenophobia, amongst others.
    Pilger SCORES.
  • Pilger implies that many black South Africans supported Mugabe long past his sell-by date because they approved of his land policies and his “fuck you” attitude to the West. This is opinion, but certainly is consistent with my experience. Fair to say, now, though, that South Africans without distinction abhor Mugabe.
    Pilger PROBABLY CORRECT.
  • I’m not sure, though, that his explanation is convincing when applied to Mbeki, our contrarian wrapped in an enigma inside a exhausting and prolix exegesis.
    Pilger on SHAKY GROUND.

But does his central argument, that of a silent war on Africa, hold water? Obviously. I can assure you, as one who has recently attended a couple of ‘development’ conferences, that many non-Africans remain as patronising and imminently exploitative towards Africa as ever.

Those of you who protest indignantly that we should be honest, and admit that Africa’s flaws are its own, are missing the point. People can’t take kickbacks unless they are offered. Elites have not piled up mineral wealth without the happy assistance of Western companies.

Our flaws have been horribly compounded by exploitation and colonialism and apartheid, systems which continue under new guises – colonialism by patronage of elites, by economic manipulation, by conditional aid, by outright but underreported military action.

We badly underestimate the effects of the lost legacies of social bonds and ties, of indigenous knowledge, of cultural confidence.

Every time one mode of exploitation becomes embarrassing, another is invented. And now that food and fuel crises are upon us, the West is positively tumbling over itself to exploit Africa’s potential for industrial agriculture and biofuel production. If you watch the right kind of news sources, you can see it building like a slow but inevitable tide.

None of this excuses indigenous African exploitation and brutality. But then, neither does Pilger.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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