Thursday, March 28, 2013

Continent in Transition: Toward Freedom in Africa

Bill Lloyd and two of his four children spent ten weeks with him crossing Africa during Fall, 1957. They subsequently published a series of first-hand reports in Toward Freedom on independence struggles in ten countries. In the process they also met privately with the new leaders of Ghana, the Sudan and Tunisia.
     Lloyd called the first article “An Anti-Colonialist Journalist Reports from Inside Africa.” It began with a description of a bus ride in Dakar. A strange theme had emerged in his conversations with several locals. They had spontaneously offered that if the French “won’t give us what we want, we will ask the Americans to come in.”
 * * *
     From there they went to Ghana, where Bill obtained an interview with Kwame Nkrumah and listened to his opponents at a large outdoor rally. Being the only Europeans in the crowd attracted considerable attention – until they met an old friend, opposition leader Joe Appiah. As they talked politics others in the crowd stepped closer to listen and offer protection from a light rain with their umbrellas. It was a magic moment.
Nkrumah rationalized
rough tactics
      During that encounter people said they were upset about the deportation of two Muslim leaders. But the government said the two were leaders of a gang that was beating up pro-government organizers. Even some of Nkrumah’s supporters were skeptical about that. Meanwhile, the Minister of the Interior admitted bluntly, “I love power,” and issued more extreme threats.
     If so-called “subversive” activity did not stop, he warned the nation, there would be a real dictatorship, complete with concentration camps.
     Nkrumah excused that statement, arguing that it was just for local consumption and meant only to scare the opposition. Bill Lloyd’s interview with him was off-the record, but he did write that officials frequently used tribalism and fragmentation as their arguments for a strong, “unitary” government. Basically, he felt they were going too far, trying to mold people along preconceived lines rather than adapt to public needs and desires.
     Nevertheless, Lloyd concluded that Ghana was an exciting, hopeful achievement with the potential to inspire the continent.
* *  *
     In Nigeria he was impressed with the dignity of people in the face of intolerable poverty. It was and remains Africa’s most populous country (161 million, according to the UN), as large as Texas and Nebraska combined. In the late 1950s there were only about 15,000 Europeans in the country, which was inching toward self-government through what Lloyd called “progressive Nigerianization” of administration, the courts and legislature. 
     But Britain was holding on to certain powers, even over self-governing regions. The goal, for most Nigerians at least, was complete self-government by 1960.

Encountering Inconvenient Truths

The second installment of the series was called “From the Cameroon to Angola.” Lloyd found Douala to be a clean city, with concrete curbing and underground drainage along most streets. But he heard about political repression, despite the country’s status as a Trust Territory.
    Why was there only one daily newspaper? “Because the others were suppressed,” replied a clerk. On balance Lloyd concluded that, although people clearly feared reprisals, they were determined to speak out.
     Self-government within the French union was supposedly on the horizon.  But France could annul any local law or regulation that “impeded” its obligations, or if French and Cameroon law conflicted. In essence, France could prevent any changes it didn’t like. 
     “If this interpretation prevails,” Bill wrote, “then the scheme is hardly self-government or even autonomy.”
* * *
     In the British Cameroon, despite years of denial, Lloyd learned that plans were still afoot to integrate this "Trust Territory" into Nigeria, a British colony. Important members of the majority party had resigned in protest. Unless people were allowed to freely vote for either unification or independence, he concluded, both Britain and France could be charged with “bartering away the fate of peoples without their consent.”
     In French Equatorial Africa, the Lloyds attended a lecture – on desegregation in the US, and at one point Bill offered a few words about reconstruction bitterness after the Civil War. The question period afterward proved to be especially challenging, especially since some who attended felt that recent US progress on race was propaganda designed to help Washington impose its policies on the world.
     “As far as discrimination was concerned," the editor concluded, "we Americans were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t.”
     He also noticed that, in some cases, the communists and reactionaries in the crowd were backing each other up. Asked why the US felt justified in getting involved in Africa’s problems when it had serious problems of its own, he considered the question an attempt to silence him and answered with this:

“It’s physically one world, and Africans are justified in observing, if possible, and writing about race relations in the South, just as Americans should be concerned with the morality of what the West does in Africa and, to a more limited extent, with what Africans do in Africa.”

     The next stop was Angola, where two Angolan-born African businessmen from Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo told him about the arrest of several hundred former Angolese who had tried to visit from the Congo for a festival. The authorities were apparently concerned that the men, who enjoyed more prosperous conditions than people living in Angola, might spread dissatisfaction and spark a revolt.

On the Road Toward Freedom: A Cold War Story, part four of six.
NEXT: Robin Lloyd in Africa
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