Have you ever watched a colony of anemones? Touch the biggest one and it immediately begins to shrink into itself. Then even without touching others, all the anemones follow suit withdrawing into themselves.
It’s like the mopane tree in Africa. One giraffe starts to nimble a mopane leaf and the whole forest starts to fold leaves and emit toxins.
Africa’s top 2018 stories resemble the top stories in lots of other parts of the world. But believe it or not, Africa actually started earlier and may be ending sooner than much of the rest of the world, as evidenced by the February resignation of Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa.
That story – the forced resignation, pre-impeachment of a crazy, corrupt populist in any otherwise beautiful, sane country – tells us almost exactly what’s going to happen to us. It’s the basis of my overall summary and “what to do about it,” and I’ll post that next week. Meanwhile:
The world is increasingly, efficiently connected. What happens in Peoria happens the next hour in Kigali. To get a grip on this I’ve sliced this 2018 whirling dervish into three parts:
Today I’ll recount Africa’s stories of Viral Isolationism. Tomorrow, Popular Populism and Monday, the Progressive Reaction – all African stories with a terrifying similarity to our own.
(Yesterday I began the 2018 recap totally unpolitical! It was about the great discoveries made in 2018 regarding early man. There are, of course, plenty other important nonpolitical stories, such as climate change, and I’ll also get to those next week.)
#1, Viral Isolationism
First, as America and Europe pull back from global responsibilities, Africans are among the first to suffer, and understandably they become defensive. It leads to their own isolationism, and developing countries often have so many difficulties that trying to go it alone usually ends up badly.
Right now we’re still reacting to the surprise announcement of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Remember that 2018 saw a huge American withdrawal from Africa: Old ambassadors weren’t replaced; old deputy ambassadors and cultural attaches weren’t replaced. Some embassies were actually closed down.
These are as much a surprise to Africans as any policy first announced to the world in an early morning tweet. New wars and new conflicts have begun, and old wars restarted, and almost all because of American and European negligence and indifference.
In May Trump’s conversation in Washington with Nigeria’s president sparked new violence in Nigeria that could develop into something very serious. Despite James Mattis becoming everyone’s darling, the Defense Department in June reversed almost 20 years of progress in Somali through sheer negligence, and today the violence in Somali is greater than ever.
What’s so interesting with the above is that it really isn’t Trump to be blamed and probably not even Mattis. Trump doesn’t know anything. With much of the Defense Department shrinking just like the State Department, Mattis was likely overwhelmed. Syria and Saudia Arabia had a bit more priority with him than Somalia. What’s to be blamed is the breakdown – really total breakdown – of American diplomacy.
This was sealed in the wide open by Melania Trump on her hastily arranged then hastily aborted Africa visit in October. She managed to offend nearly everyone, not intentionally but just through stupidity and neglect.
All this does trickle down. On my own safaris I suffered extreme embarrassment when a South African lodge manager quietly took me aside to shyly explain that my clients had to be sequestered from the other clients in her camp “except Russians and Argentinians.”
When I returned from two months in Africa, chagrined and exhausted, I was able to see so plainly what so many of you probably can’t simply because you are understandably becoming complacent with our situation. You’ve changed and not for the better: You accept impoliteness, crass language and behavior and seem no longer offended by the greatest social and even criminal offenses of our leaders.
This condones the bad behavior and aggravates the neglect and stupidity increasing the horrible effects on Africa, and I expect much of the rest of the world. Africans feel understandably offended.
Some of them have even actually turned our neglect and perfidy into marketing tools, turning us into the bully dumb kid on the planet.
You all probably remember that Trump started his presidency by referring to African countries as “shit-hole” in a public forum. He compounded it almost immediately by calling out “Nambia” for something. Well, I leave you with one bit of humor, as the Africans see it: