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Thursday, February 1, 1990

A Reviewers Notebook: Africas Hope

The Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole is founder and president of the Zimbabwe African National Union, and he personally appointed Robert Mugabe, the present Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, to be his secretary general. He spent ten years without trial in prison under the Rhodesian government, using his time to write books and articles that have been translated into eight languages. His newest book, The Secret of American Success: Africa’s Great Hope (Washington, D.C.: Gazaland Publishers, 235 pages, $15.95), is the product of a long sojourn in America, where he interviewed 500 people in 31 states. Currently he is the founder and chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe African Research Center in Washington, D.C.

Sithole is not only an indefatigable interviewer, he is also a prodigious reader of books by Americans. His footnotes spot everything from Thomas Jefferson to The Closing of the American Mind. But his new book stands four-square on the interviews. A sample of his quotations includes a trade unionist, James Stewart of Pittsburgh (who spoke of “the unintended consequences of free enterprise”), Jim Smith, a Dallas entrepreneur (“Free enterprise is the secret of American success.”), Jim Parker, an advertiser from Chicago (“Free enterprise is the thing that makes America tick.”), J. L. Carlton, a bus driver (Free enterprise is “our secret for everything we’ve achieved so far”), and Bill Stump, a Houston aerospace engineer (“We believe in free enterprise.”). We can be sure that Sithole is accurate, but the question of the validity of his sample arises. He chose activists, not professors, for the interviews. And he obviously asked all of them the same leading question. One wonders how his listeners would have responded if he had opened his interviews with a request for opinions about the way we elect our Congressmen, or the way we put up with pressure groups, or the way we put Presidential choices for the Supreme Court through the mill. We might not seem so perfect if Sithole had not practically directed the interviewees.

Even so, nobody will seriously dispute the idea that free enterprise has been primarily responsible for American prosperity. Some of our teachers whose tenure dates to the Sixties may deride business, but it was John D. Rockefeller who subsidized the University of Chicago and Leland Stanford who supported Stanford. Sithole fills long pages of a big book with what individuals like the Rockefellers have done. He writes: “As one lands and takes off from the various American airports and sees scores and scores of American international and domestic airlines and hundreds and hundreds of small planes, one is impressed by the fact that all of these are privately owned, and not government owned . . . . the most powerful newspaper networks that circulate millions of copies daily . . . the TV and radio networks that inform and entertain millions of American adults, teenagers and little children are privately owned . . . property ownership by the American individual is unprecedented in the recorded history of mankind . . . . the question now arises, who controls the American mind? Is it the people themselves or the government?”

The answer to this question is surely obvious. The American regards government as his servant, not his master.

Sithole wants to see the American system transported almost totally to Africa. He lists 16 points of imitation for African governments to pick up. Some of the points are repetitive. Number Six (“Allow the profit motive to have full expression.”) is practically the same as Number Two (“Allow the people free enterprise, and they will succeed beyond belief”). But there are nuances in the repetitions.

Despite his schooling in British-owned Rhodesia, which was part of a commonwealth that has no written constitution, Sithole endorses his Point Seven (“Give Africa impartial written laws instead of the whims of her rulers”).

Sithole is very Jeffersonian in his insistence that government be bound by a constitution. He would also protect inventors. “Governments,” he says, “have never invented anything. Communities have never invented anything. It has always been the individual. Only the individual knows where his shoe pinches.” In Point Twelve Sithole says, “Let everyone in Africa have his own dream, not another’s dream . . . . in colonial days people were forced to become subjects of the colonial power; in present day Africa people are still forced to become Marxists, Marxist-Leninists, communists or socialists. In other words they are forced not to become themselves, but carbon copies of others.”

Sithole has a most positive psychology. He hymns the virtues of education and hard work. If Africa will only adhere to his 16 points, he says, “success cannot fail to come her way.”

It’s all breath-taking as Sithole paints his picture of the future. But one goes from his book to the map on the wall. Sithole’s own Zimbabwe is smack in the middle of a belt of African states that are more Marxist than not. Jonas Savimbi is trying to change Angola, but he could be forced into a disastrous compromise by the Portuguese-Marxist two-thirds of the country (including its big cities) that he hasn’t taken over. Mozambique is supported in socialism by troops from Zimbabwe itself.

Elsewhere in Africa there are states that turn directly to Moscow. Ethiopia has provinces whose dissident people were calculatedly starved to death by a dictator who used donated foodstuffs to feed his friends. Idi Amin was driven out of Uganda, but to the south of Uganda the tribesmen of Rwanda and Burundi cheerfully slaughter each other. Tanzania is still struggling to feed itself with agricultural socialism. Libya wants to lord it over Chad and has built the facilities to make poison gas. Kenya is not the free place is was in Kenyatta’s time.

There is diversity in Africa, all right, but a diversity that includes thousands of mercenaries under the control of Fidel Castro is not the diversity that the Reverend Sithole wants.

The “great hope” for Africa is that Moscow’s Gorbachev may get tired of paying Castro’s bills. But that hasn’t happened yet.

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.