Bigger than the Vietnam War. Bigger than the Korean War. Bigger than the Iran-Iraq War. Dwarfing the War on Terror and the conflicts in Bosnia. It is the most deadly and expansive war on the planet since WW2, and it all happened in Africa. It is the Second Congo War. Many of its authors are still alive, their names on the periphery of memory: Joseph Kabila, Robert Mugabe,Yoweri Museveni. Here in America, we don't know, we don't care.
As the son of an old political radical, I know what Pan-Africanism was supposed to be about. We all should know by now that what it came to be was nothing. But while I still entertained the notions that something might be made of that, I happened to meet a man in New York City who actually did business in Central Africa. He was young and affluent, an Ivy Leaguer who worked on Wall Street but probably not too hard, because he didn't really need to. I met him at a poetry reading on the Upper East Side; the year was 1992 and he asked me point blank if I had the balls to deal - it was an invitation to know things most people do not know. There was something about the way he dismissed most black American's romantic ideas, especially at that moment when the kinte and mudcloth trade was making money for black investors in Brooklyn, that made my balls shrivel up. I was ambitious, but not that ambitious. I remember him telling me that I should come with him to Africa and meet the pygmies. It wasn't that I wasn't intrigued, but that I realized quite suddenly that I would be in over my head. I didn't want to get involved, through politics, in the business of Central Africa - the scary part. I wanted to make friends with upper middle class West Africans and South Africans, not with arms dealers.
It was a sobering encounter. I had previously come to understand South African complicity in the uranium trade of Namibia, and have had very confusing arguments about whether black Americans should support Cuban mercenaries in Zaire. Was it because Africans were finally going to make socialism work? If you start thinking of the implications of socialism in Africa, you realize how out of shape and out of place black American political partisanship becomes with regard to its romance with Pan Africanism. I knew this 20 years ago, because Namibia was the country I tried to adopt. You won't find many people at the Urban League fundraisers with an informed opinion. You won't find many Americans anywhere with an informed opinion. So as I talked to the gentleman in NYC, I knew quite immediately that knowing the truth about Central Africa would give me no domestic props. I could only profit from the profit of doing business with such people; I'd rather get my bling another way.
I have predicted the death of black American poltiical partisanship in this, the age of Obama, but history and the demands of accuracy continue whether or not people know jack and try to convert that jack into influence in America. There is nothing I've seen written up at The Root, nor have we heard anything new from the likes of Randall Robinson or his institutional scions, that suggest any potent literacy in African affairs has any currency. You can blah blah Darfur and blah blah Libya just reading the NYT. But I don't see any real African to African-American connections. Hell, my blogmate Baldilocks is from the very same tribe as Obama's father and she knows intimately the conditions under which such folks got chosen to emigrate to America. You might think such intelligence would be valuable in black American poltical circles. it is not, because it complicates the narrative of race.
The narrative of race is a wholly owned subsidary of the Democrat Party, and it only takes a simple look at what certain partisans were posting on this website only yesterday to prove that fact. I needn't belabor the point. I bring it up to highlight what old, tired and unexamined shiboleths of 'anti-colonialism' remain as the cornerstone of the romance of liberals in general with the reality of Africa. Would-be inheritors of any functional legacy of Pan Africanism are equally out of touch with reality, and what's sadder still is that in order for their currency to make any impact on domestic American politics, they must ignore the Great African War completely.
So on behalf of myself, I uncover the elephant in the room.
It is often said that Americans and Europeans view Sub-Saharan Africa in no other terms than safaris. That we are too predjudiced or dainty to consider the dynamics of the people and would prefer to focus instead on the wildlife. So let us defy that stereotype and deal with real African history, specifically, the biggest war on the planet since V-J Day.