Monday, November 01, 2004

You will hear of it in Ingilterra and be sad ...

To a good liberal, or anyone educated in England over the last 30 years, all the troubles of Africa are the result of the evil colonialists, who exploited Africa for hundreds of years - then suddenly, in the 20 years between 1945 and 1965 - stopped exploiting it and left (or 'replaced colonialism with corrupt elites, bribed by the multinationals etc etc').

If only we hadn't put our Imperialist hands on Africa - how different things would be ! And thank God we listened to reason and got out !

Take the Sudan, for example. From Hilary Hook's book 'Home from the Hill', a Sudanese chief explains his problem with the British. This conversation took place in 1950. How many dead since then in the South ? A million ? Two ?

On my last day the bash shawish asked to see me. I gave him a chair in the office and called for tea - he refused a cigarette and sat very up right staring ahead. I waited, and finally he spoke; 'Mabruk ya, sath el bey - Congratulations, your excellency the Bey,' he said, with the ghost of a smile. 'So you are leaving us.' I nodded. 'Inshallah, wa lakin ana hazeen giddan - If God wills, but I am sorry to be doing so,' I replied. He remained silent for a long time and the smile left his face, then he spoke again. 'There is talk that all "El Ingliz" will one day leave us.' 'Yes, there is talk - one day you will govern yourselves, it is right that this should happen.' He shook his head. 'We will not govern ourselves, we will be governed by Northerners from Khartoum. They do not understand us or like us.' 'That is not true,' I said. 'What of our Northern Sudanese officers here in the Equatorial Corps. What of Bimbashi Zein? What of Bimbashi Khalil? What of Sagh Talat? They are every bit as fit to govern or command as we Ingliz and more so, as they are also Sudanese.' 'That is true.' he replied, 'they are officers of the Sudan Defence Force. You Ingliz trained them, but there are many whose hearts are not so good, they call us "abid" (slaves) and despise our nakedness and our customs.' 'Do you not want to rule yourselves?' I asked. 'Yes, one day, but the time is not yet, the young men you have educated are conceited and dishonest and the old chiefs think only of their tribes. They are no match for the Northerners. The time is not yet - my father told me terrible things that happened before the Ingliz came.' 'We are soldiers not politicians,' I said. 'We must obey the orders we receive.' 'I know that, Janabuk, but I tell you this. On the day that the Ingliz leave us there will be bloodshed and more bloodshed. You will hear of it in Ingilterra and be sad, they will never govern us from Khartoum - never.' He rose, saluted and left, and next day as I flew North over the green maze of the Nile Sudd I brooded sadly on his words 'bloodshed and more bloodshed'. The old man was seldom wrong.

Twelve years later, in the early 1960s, I met him secretly in a hut on the Congo, border. His son had been killed and he was a sad broken old man with a terrible tale to tell. He bore no grudge except against his soldiers who had joined the revolt, but over and over again he said, 'I told you, Sath el Bey, I told you.'

And when the 'Ingliz' weren't there ? Darfur is only the latest episode. The South of Sudan has been a source of slaves and cattle for the North for hundreds of years.

The chief brought us native beer in dirty calabashes, we gave him a mug of rum and sat under a council tree outside the village. The talk ranged through the usual topics, rain, cattle, raids, crops and recruits for the buluk. 'I would like you to take my grandson,' said the old man. 'He is tall and strong, and should carry a rifle. He must serve the Government as I have done all my life.' 'You must be a great age,' said Denis jokingly and then added, 'perhaps you knew Gordon Pasha?' The chief considered this for a moment and then said gravely. 'No, but my father often spoke of him, he worked under "Gordoon" Pasha when he was Governor here in the south. "Gordoon" Pasha was a God, he destroyed the slave traders. My father said that "Gordoon" Pasha's eyes were like spears - no man dared tell him a lie. He was here many years, then he left us and the slavers came again but worse than before. They slew the great "Gordoon" Pasha in Khartoum and the Turks were driven from the Sudan.

Then terrible years came - we lived in fear. One day from over those hills raiders came: they were not Arabs but black men like ourselves and spoke a strange language - they had guns. Before we could defend ourselves they rushed upon the village and started killing, it was a terrible day. Some escaped to the swamp, but the young men and women were herded like cattle and driven between guns towards the river. It was a long march and many died. When he reached the river we waited a long time until armed Arabs came in steam boats to take us for sale in Omdurman.' The chief paused in thought and stared ahead. I refilled his mug with rum. 'Go on with your story, old man,' said Denis gently, 'we want to know how you are alive to tell us.' 'I was only a "wallad" then, not old enough to be a warrior. The boats were small and we suffered greatly. The dead and the sick were thrown to the crocodiles. One day we came round a bend in the river and saw a big boat with a strange flag. It had a big gun which fired at us. Our Arab guards fired back but many were killed and jumped into the river and swam. Then we heard that Kitchener Pasha had defeated the Kalifa in a great battle at Omdurman and we were free. My mother and young brother had died in the boats, but I met my father again a year later; he had escaped to the swamp taking my sister with him. They lived and my father became chief of Lafone.'

Those were the days, eh ?

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