Emerging Europe Makes One Continent Shudder : Africa: Without its Cold-War leverage, the chances of forming new alliances are limited.
Africa, already weakened by war, poverty and debt, is taking a new blow from an unexpected source: Eastern Europe. Once singled out for special treatment by the former communist regimes, Africa is now being summarily eliminated from East European concerns--with rising racism as an ugly byproduct.
Poland, Hungary and Romania had hardly liberated themselves from communism when they adopted policies of rapprochement with South Africa. These countries are inviting investment from South Africa and want to strengthen trade ties. By encouraging emigration of their own citizens to South Africa, they are serving the policies of the Pretoria regime, blocking the rise of skilled black workers in South Africa’s growing industrial and mining enterprises.
At the same time, African students on scholarships in Eastern European countries are being firmly encouraged to return to their countries of origin. Some who were stranded at the height of the upheavals in Eastern Europe were dispatched homeward and their often impoverished governments were forced to foot the bill.
Africans still there experience open hostility from some East European governments. They also face growing resentment from ordinary people, many of whom remember the special privileges and VIP treatment the students received from the previous regimes. This backlash coincides with a growing anti-black racism in Western Europe that has become the rallying cry for right-wing “national front” and neo-fascist movements.
For a lot of Africans, the new Europe that is emerging is painfully reminiscent of Europe before World War I. That was a time when the white Western world saw itself as utterly superior to all the world’s darker races, and East Europeans, despite their own oppressed conditions, still felt a part of that same white race. It was also a time when European leaders blithely carved up Africa, drawing boundaries that to this day separate country from country.
It was only the Russian Revolution of 1917 that sent a shaft of hope from the white world to Africa. That revolution split Europe into two distinctly opposite ideological blocs. And when the split widened after World War II, the leaders of Africa’s newly emerging independent countries were able to play off one side of the white world against the other.
Africans also harbored some hope that the United States might tilt toward their interests and aspirations. President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it clear to wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that post-war Europe would have to abandon its colonial empires if it hoped to “save” them from sliding by default into the Soviet sphere of influence.
A third thrust that aided African liberation came from the Chinese revolution of the late 1940s. With a new communist threat now facing the West from a vast non-white nation, the West hurriedly began to loosen its colonial grip.
Today, with its Cold-War leverage gone, Africa’s chances of forming new alliances outside the continent are limited. Given the concentration of political power in one-party states--the norm in Africa since independence--all links are necessarily government-to-government. That alone precludes any affiliation between like-minded political parties, which might combat the drift toward racism in Europe.
More isolated than ever on the world stage, battered by its own problems, and hobbled by oppressive, inefficient and disorganized governments, Africa has only one way to go. It must look to its own potential human and material resources as a source of renewal.
If viable governments come to power in African countries and are able to forge new bonds with their increasingly better-educated publics, then Africa can develop a new source of power more reliable and productive than manipulating the conflicts among the white powers of the developed world.