Friday, August 20, 2021

Scramble for Africa

Remembering the collective whiff of apprehension in the Harvard administration back in 1994 at the mere prospect of Winnie Mandela speaking at our African students conference. She tended to concentrate the mind.

Preparing for the 21st Century

Approaches were made, alternatives were immediately suggested, right thinking Harvard got into gear. I was sounded out by someone in the US State Department about our invitation. Unlike her husband, there was no good reason to deny her a visa but it was certainly being considered.

Recall that the ANC, per Ronald Reagan and George Bush, was officially designated a terrorist organization. Winnie's husband would need waivers, even post Nobel Prize, to visit the US and address the UN.

Hysteria to the left of us, amnesia to the right. (De Klerk would be feted years later at the Kennedy school). In any case, the pressure was on. The College Republicans had a new target. This was the first time I heard of Jack Abramoff.

Soundtrack: The Pressure by Sounds of Blackness

Some of us had a very different reading of Ronald Reagan's Forward for Freedom speech. It is an article of faith for me. It was written in Angola

In the event, Winnie had bigger fish to fry (the mother of all elections for one) and we went with less controversial speakers.

I wanted truth and reconciliation, and an end to apartheid and all I got out of it was a lousy t-shirt.

South Africa 1994, The mother of all elections

Still, I remember some administrator wondering aloud why we needed to bring all these "mid-level" African professionals (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Djibril Diallo etc.) to the conference [to speak to African students] when an expert like Samuel Huntington was available (and local)

There was a silver lining, I applied for my first credit card in order to finance the conference, and got some whimsical toli out of it

Call it A Debt Foretold

My enduring theme is cultural memory, the legacies of men and woman, what we choose to remember and, crucially, what we choose to forget. I hew to the skeptic's credo and am determined to bear witness.

How else could they laugh
Like they do when they should weep;
Remembering the voiceless days of the past.

Kwesi Brew, African Panorama
The antidote to the scramble for Africa is Truth and Reconciliation:

Recall that well before Winnie's husband had assumed the mantle,
Long before the ink was dry on South Africa's new constitution
Their spokesmen were already calling apartheid ancient history
And, well, de Klerk would later join Kissinger in the rogues' gallery
Call it, of cold blooded murderers that have won the Nobel Peace Prize
The three musketeers of fate: irony, infamy and goddamn lies

A Temporary Inconvenience, a playlist


Let's have a minor soundtrack to celebrate my time as a temporary inconvenience to Harvard. Some South African music, sadly many of these great musicians are no longer with us. ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: March 20, 2021

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