“When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were poor, they called me a communist.” —Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop, 1909 – 1999
In Bishop Camara’s case, they might have been calling him a communist because he was an open socialist who advocated Liberation Theology. But leaving the specific case aside, let’s speak more generally: the problem isn’t that people think it’s inherently communist to wonder why there are poor people; the problem is that you are asking the wrong question.
The state that we now call “poor” was the default condition of the vast, overwhelming majority of humans for the entirety of our existence on this planet. Agriculture has only existed for 10,000 of humanity’s 200,000 years; the vast majority of your ancestors were hunter-gatherers with no more wealth to their names than what they could comfortably carry on their backs or construct in a few hours’ time out of grass and sticks. A modern guy living out of his car has more wealth than our ancestors did.
The important question is not why most of the world’s people are still poor. The question is why some of the world’s people (or groups of people) have become fabulously wealthy, and if whatever they did can work for everyone else.
Why are people poor?
Why shouldn’t they be poor?
You want to be rich? Figure out how the rich did it.
Quality of life and human well-being have increased tremendously around the world in the past 30 years. The number of people suffering starvation has dropped precipitously. Why? Did Ethiopia and China introduce some fabulous new welfare program to provide for their poorest citizens? No. Capitalism and technological advances in food production happened. (Caveat: Russia post-USSR had collapsing well-being due to, AFAIK, terribly managed and opportunistic transition to capitalism. As always, don’t be stupid.)
Before you can make solve problems, you have to understand what the problems actually are–and that requires asking the correct questions in the first place.
Welcome back to our discussion of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, an account of chimpanzee life in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. I enjoyed this book quite a bit; my chief difficulty has been deciding which parts to excerpt for you.
Tanzania borders the DRC ne Congo ne Belgian Congo, which was (coincidentally) the location of our previous Anthropology Friday selection, Isaac Bacirongo’s Still a Pygmy.
The book begins with the difficulties inherent in setting up the research–obtaining permits and funding, overcoming the locals’ distrust, (they of course did not believe that this white woman actually wanted to live in the forest and stare at monkeys all day,) and a massive influx of refugees:
Once we reached Nairobi, however, I could think of nothing save the excitement of the eight-hundred-mile journey to Kigoma–and the chimpanzees. … When we reached Kigoma, however, after a dusty three days on the road, we found the whole town in a state of chaos. Since we had left Nairobi violence and bloodshed had erupted in the Congo, which lay only some twenty-five miles to the west of Kigoma, on the other side of lake Tanganyika. Kigoma was overrun by boatloads of Belgian refugees. …
Eventually we ran the District Commissioner to earth, and he explained, regretfully but firmly, that there was no chance at all of my proceeding to the chimpanzee reserve. First it was necessary to wait and find out how the local Kigoma district Africans would react to the tales of rioting and disorder in the Congo. …
Bernard shared his room with two homeless Belgians, and we even got out our three camp beds and lent them to the harassed hotel owner. Every room was crammed, but these refugees were in paradise compared to those housed in the huge warehouse, normally used for storing cargo… There everyone slept in long rows on mattresses or merely blankets on the cement floor, and queued up in the hundreds for the scant meals that Kigoma was able to provide for them.
… On our second evening in Kigoma we three and a few others made two thousand SPAM sandwiches. …
Two evenings later most of the refugees had gone, carried off by a series of extra trains to Tanganyika’s capital, Dar es Salaam.
There follows a nice description of the town of Kigoma itself, and of course there is soon a great deal of material about chimpanzees and rather little about humans. Jane doesn’t mention the refugees again. (To be fair, isolation probably meant that she had rather little knowledge about most human affairs for most of the 60s and 70s.)
So who were these refugees? Where did they come from, and why?
Patrice Lumumba was an anti-colonialist protestor who was jailed for opposing Belgian rule in the Congo and became the first democratically elected prime minister of the DRC.
He then gave raises to everyone in the government except the military, so of course the military revolted. He asked the UN for help putting down the rebellion, but the UN sucked so he went to the Soviets.
The Wikipedia page on the Congo Crisis gives far more detail on this conflict–notably, it blames the outbreak of the crisis not on Lumumba failing to give the army a raise, but on a Belgian military commander’s speech:
Lieutenant-General Émile Janssens, the Belgian commander of the Force Publique, refused to see Congolese independence as marking a change in the nature of command. The day after the independence festivities, he gathered the black non-commissioned officers of his Léopoldville garrison and told them that things under his command would stay the same, summarising the point by writing “Before Independence = After Independence” on a blackboard.
Basically, the Belgians officially proclaimed that the Republic of the Congo was independent on June 30, 1960, thirty years earlier than they had intended to. They seemed to have thought they could get people to stop protesting against Belgian rule by “officially” handing over power, but would still run everything. After all, while the colony had been advancing rapidly in recent decades–
During the 1940s and 1950s, the Congo experienced an unprecedented level of urbanisation and the colonial administration began various development programmes aimed at making the territory into a “model colony”. One of the results of the measures was the development of a new middle class of Europeanised African “évolués” in the cities. By the 1950s the Congo had a wage labour force twice as large as that in any other African colony.
–most native Congolese still weren’t well-educated in the fields thought necessary to run a country (or army.)
The idea that the Congolese were too dumb and inexperienced to run their own country and therefore needed the Belgians to do it for them went over great with the army:
This message was hugely unpopular among the rank and file—many of the men had expected rapid promotions and increases in pay to accompany independence. On 5 July, several units mutinied against their white officers at Camp Hardy near Thysville. The insurrection spread to Léopoldville the next day and later to garrisons across the country.
Of course, the Congolese proved the Belgians wrong by transforming their country into one of the world’s best-run economic powerhouses with an astonishing per capita GDP of $499 and reports of cannibalism. (By contrast, the nearby country of Botswana has a per cap GDP of over $6,000.)
But back to the post-independence anti-Belgian violence:
The government attempted to stop the revolt… but in most of the country the mutiny intensified. White officers and civilians were attacked, white-owned properties were looted and white women were raped. The Belgian government became deeply concerned by the situation, particularly when white civilians began entering neighbouring countries as refugees.
Violence and chaos in the Congo. Barely 11 days after official independence from Belgium, Congolese troops begin a wave of attacks and looting throughout the fare flung sectors of the former colony. Meanwhile in Belgium and African countries bordering on the Congo, refugees are pouring in with harrowing tales of violence and of hasty flight. …
The mutiny first started only four days after independence, on July 4, 1960, in the camp outside Leopoldville. The rebels used machetes on their white officers and broke into the armory. On day eight, all 1000+ Belgian officers were removed from their positions, and replaced with Congolese. With or without an Africanized officer corps, the soldiers are running amok throughout the Congo, and panic-stricken whites are fleeing in all directions. Numerous European targets have been attacked.
The flight of officers has left the army totally uncontrolled, and the new country has no effective instrument to control the territory.
Back to Wikipedia:
… On 9 July, Belgium deployed paratroopers, without the Congolese state’s permission, in Kabalo and elsewhere to protect fleeing white civilians. …At Lumumba’s request, white civilians from the port city of Matadi were evacuated by the Belgian Navy on 11 July. Belgian ships then bombarded the city; at least 19 civilians were killed. This action prompted renewed attacks on whites across the country, while Belgian forces entered other towns and cities, including Léopoldville, and clashed with Congolese troops.
Then parts of the Congo started secede. UN “Peace Keeping” troops tried to get people to stop fighting but without actually defeating once side or the other, so predictably people kept killing each other. The Prime Minister, Lumumba, went to the Soviets for help, which concerned everyone because the Congo made a lot of money selling uranium to the US, which used it in atomic bombs, so the Congolese President dismissed Lumumba and Lumumba dismissed the President, at which point Mobutu dismissed both of them (leading pro-Lumumba protesters in Yugoslavia to attack the local Belgian embassy,) and had Lumumba shot. Mobutu, while awful in many ways, did end the civil war and restore a modicum of order.
“Mad” Mike Hoare was a Irish mercenary active in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa:
Later Hoare and his mercenaries worked in concert with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA-hired mercenaries who attempted to save 1,600 civilians (mostly Europeans and missionaries) in Stanleyville from the Simba rebels in Operation Dragon Rouge. This operation saved many lives. Hoare was later promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the Armée Nationale Congolaise and 5 Commando expanded into a two-battalion force. Hoare commanded 5 Commando from July 1964 to November 1965.
Mad Mike once tried to conquer the Seychelles, but failed when customs officials noticed his groups’ weapons.
Many of the Belgian refugees, meanwhile, fled to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which became just “Rhodesia” after Northern Rhodesia changed its name to Zambia (one of the obscurer African countries, with a per cap GDP of $1,143) The white folks + refugees of Southern Rhodesia took one look at the chaos over in the Congo, said “Nope,” and declared themselves independent of Great Britain to avoid handing over power to the black majority (97% of the Rhodesian population.)
The rest of the world (Great Britain included) never officially recognized Rhodesia as a country and hit it with a bunch of sanctions. According to Wikipedia:
Although prepared to grant formal independence to Southern Rhodesia (now Rhodesia), the British government had adopted a policy of no independence before majority rule, dictating that colonies with a substantial population of European settlers would not receive independence except under conditions of majority rule. …
After the federal break-up in 1963, then-Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home insisted that preconditions on independence talks hinge on what he termed the “five principles” – unimpeded progress to majority rule, assurance against any future legislation decidedly detrimental to black interests, “improvement in the political status” of local Africans, moves towards ending racial discrimination, and agreement on a settlement which could be “acceptable to the whole population”.
Note that Douglas-Home here is the head of the British conservatives.
Harold Wilson and his incoming Labour government took an even harder line on demanding that these points be legitimately addressed before an independence agenda could be set. …
However, few seemed to initially realise that Rhodesia was no longer within the Commonwealth’s direct sphere of influence and British rule was now a constitutional fiction; Salisbury remained virtually immune to credible metropolitan leverage.
In October 1965, the United Nations Security Council had warned Whitehall about the possibility of UDI, urging Wilson to use all means at his disposal (including military pressure) to prevent the Rhodesian Front from asserting independence. After UDI was proclaimed, UN officials branded Ian Smith’s government as an “illegal racist minority regime” and called on member states to sever economic ties with Rhodesia, recommending sanctions on petroleum products and military hardware. In December 1966, these measures became mandatory, extending to bar the purchase of Rhodesian tobacco, chrome, copper, asbestos, sugar, meat, and hides.
Britain, having already adopted extensive sanctions of its own, dispatched a Royal Navy squadron to monitor oil deliveries in the port of Beira, from which a strategic pipeline ran to Umtali. The warships were to deter “by force, if necessary, vessels reasonably believed to be carrying oil destined for (Southern) Rhodesia”.
Meanwhile, of course, no one is allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia, but no one seems to care about that.
You probably know the story by now: the USSR supported the black nationalists, pretty much no one supported the white Rhodesians, and eventually they got tired of civil war and gave up. According to Wikipedia:
In the ten years after independence, around 60% of the white population of Zimbabwe emigrated, most to South Africa and to other mainly white, English speaking countries where they formed expatriate communities. …
While as Rhodesia, the country was once considered the breadbasket of Africa. Today, Zimbabwe is a net importer of foodstuffs, with the European Union and United States providing emergency food relief as humanitarian aid on a regular basis. The nation has suffered profound economic and social decline in the past twenty years. Recently the agriculture sector has started to do well since the availability of expertise and machines has improved supported mainly by China.
Zimbabwe also suffered from a crippling inflation rate, as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had a policy of printing money to satisfy government debts, which introduces excessive currency into the economic system which led to the demise of the local currency. This policy caused the inflation rate to soar from 32% in 1998 (considered extremely high by most economic standards) to an astonishing 11,200,000% by 2007. Monetary aid by the International Monetary Fund has been suspended due to the Zimbabwe government’s defaulting on past loans, inability to stabilise its own economy, and its inability to stem corruption and advance human rights. In 2009, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency, relying instead on foreign currencies such as the South African rand, the US dollar, the Botswana pula, the euro and the British pound, among others.
I think one of the common misconceptions about NRx is that it is based on a bunch of overly-pessimistic speculations about the future of democracy in places like the US or Germany. There’s plenty of that, of course. But much of Neoreaction is actually based on observation of events that have already happened in places like the DRC, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
To be fair, though, we are getting really off track from our original mission of reviewing Jane Goodall’s book about chimpanzees. In the book’s Forward, David A. Hamburg writes:
The picture of chimpanzee life that emerges is fascinating. Here is a highly intelligent, intensely social creature capable of close and enduring attachments, yet nothing that looks quite like human love, capable of rich communication through gestures, posture, facial expressions, and sounds, yet nothing quite like human language. This is a creature who not only uses tools effectively but also makes tools with considerable foresight; a creature who does a little sharing of food, though much less than man; a creature gifted in the arts of bluff and intimidation, highly excitable and aggressive, capable of using weapons, yet engaging in no activity comparable to human warfare; a creature who frequently hunts and kills small animals of other species in an organized, cooperative way, and seems to have some zest for the process of hunting, killing, and eating the prey; a creature whose repertoire of acts in aggression, deference, reassurance, and greeting bear uncanny similarity to human acts in similar situations.
The two [groups] had previously been a single, unified community, but by 1974 researcher Jane Goodall, who was observing the community, first noticed the chimps dividing themselves into northern and southern sub-groups. …
The Kahama group, in the south, consisted of six adult males (among them the chimpanzees known to Goodall as “Hugh”, “Charlie”, and “Goliath”), three adult females and their young, and an adolescent male (known as “Sniff”). The larger Kasakela group, meanwhile, consisted of twelve adult females and their young, and eight adult males. …
The first outbreak of violence occurred on January 7, 1974, when a party of six adult Kasakela males attacked and killed “Godi”, a young Kahama male …
Over the next four years, all six of the adult male members of the Kahama were killed by the Kasakela males. Of the females from Kahama, one was killed, two went missing, and three were beaten and kidnapped by the Kasakela males. The Kasakela then succeeded in taking over the Kahama’s former territory.
I have the luxury of reading this account after already hearing, at least vaguely, that chimps wage war on each other. To Jane–despite having observed chimpanzee belligerence for years–it came as a surprise:
The outbreak of the war came as a disturbing shock to Goodall, who had previously considered chimpanzees to be, although similar to human beings, “rather ‘nicer'” in their behavior. Coupled with the observation in 1975 of cannibalistic infanticide by a high-ranking female in the community, the violence of the Gombe war first revealed to Goodall the “dark side” of chimpanzee behavior. She was profoundly disturbed by this revelation; in her memoir Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, she wrote:
“For several years I struggled to come to terms with this new knowledge. Often when I woke in the night, horrific pictures sprang unbidden to my mind—Satan [one of the apes], cupping his hand below Sniff’s chin to drink the blood that welled from a great wound on his face; old Rodolf, usually so benign, standing upright to hurl a four-pound rock at Godi’s prostrate body; Jomeo tearing a strip of skin from Dé’s thigh; Figan, charging and hitting, again and again, the stricken, quivering body of Goliath, one of his childhood heroes. ”
I suspect that humans evolved their upright stance to be better at carrying around large sticks with which to kill other apes. This made it harder for us to climb trees, but may have allowed for our voice boxes to descend (the voice box is actually important for closing off the lungs to provide rigidity to the chest while climbing,) allowing for a greater range of vocalizations, which in turn made us better at communicating and so organizing our bashing-apes-with-sticks expeditions. Eventually we stopped hunting other primates and turned our attention to more efficient game, like mammoths.