Ian Smith was right.
Regardless of everything else that’s been said about him, enough time has passed for us to know one thing about him without question . . . Ian Smith was right – in the end, his refusal to pretend he wasn’t is what did him in. Certain types of truth are incompatible with modern society. The result is that Smith is now studiously ignored, and when he is discussed, his views are wildly misrepresented (by his friends and enemies).
Why 20th Century Sub-Saharan Africa?
I know basically nothing about the history of colonialism in Sub-Saharan Africa (Rhodesia was gone by the time I was born). Good information is difficult to come by. Why not just do the polite thing, and ignore it like everybody else?
It’s an important topic because the mainstream narrative is so obviously false. As Moldbug put it:
Here, for example, is a Times story on the fight against malaria. Often, as with politicians, journalists speak the truth in a fit of absent-mindedness, when their real concern is something else.
If you read the story, you might notice the same astounding graf that I did:
And the world changed. Before the 1960s, colonial governments and companies fought malaria because their officials often lived in remote outposts like Nigeria’s hill stations and Vietnam’s Marble Mountains. Independence movements led to freedom, but also often to civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care.
Let’s focus on that last sentence. Independence movements led to freedom, but also often to civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care.
I often find it useful to imagine that I’m an alien from the planet Jupiter. If I read this sentence, I would ask: what is this word freedom? What, exactly, does this writer mean by freedom? Especially in the context of civil war, poverty, and corrupt government?
What we see here is that independence movements – which the writer clearly believes are a good thing – led to some very concrete and very, very awful results, in addition to this curious abstraction – freedom. Clearly, whatever freedom means in this particular context, it’s such a great positive that even when you add it to civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care, the result still exceeds zero.
Isn’t that strange? Might we not be tempted to revisit this particular piece of arithmetic? But we can’t – because if we postulate that colonial governments and companies (whatever these were), with their absence of freedom, were somehow preferable to independence movements, which created this same freedom (the words freedom and independence appear to be synonyms in this context), we are off the progressive reservation.
In fact, not only are we off the progressive reservation, we’re off the conservative reservation. No one believes this. You will not find anyone on Fox News or townhall.com or any but the fringiest of fringe publications claiming that colonialism, with its intrinsic absence of freedom and its strangely effective malaria control (note how the writer implies, without actually saying, that this was only delivered for the selfish purposes of the evil colonial overlords), was in any way superior to postcolonialism, with its freedom, its malaria, its civil war, etc.
“Free” Rhodesia, is of course, Zimbabwe. At this point, even the most brazen defender of “independence movements” prefers to ignore Zimbabwe.
Strangely effective malaria control, etc.
It’s fashionable to claim that, “with the exception of Hong Kong, no massive economic modernization has ever happened in a colony.” Let’s take a moment to summarize the economic (and political) history of Rhodesia and see if a “massive economic modernization” happened, shall we?
Rhodesia was founded by contract to Cecil Rhodes. It was set up differently than other colonies in that empire was essentially subcontracted to a company (for some reason this approach brings to mind Botswana, but I digress). As such, the colony was never governed by the British government.
At the relevant point (before independence), blacks outnumbered whites 20 to 1. However it’s worth noting that the black population went from 300,000 to 4-5 million after the scourge of colonization. Before colonization, these blacks plowed their fields (to the extent they farmed) with wooden tools, were polygamous, had more children that died than survived, and constantly died in wars and famines.
Southern Rhodesia (Rhodesia/Zimbabwe) was part of a federation that included Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi). Southern Rhodesia had been repeatedly promised that it could have independence. It never took it, until it was too late. By the time it wanted it, it was no longer fit for independence in the eyes of the British, despite the fact that by any measure it was more stable and capable of functioning than any other African country that had been granted independence. Indeed, blacks in Souther Rhodesia had higher standards of living than those in the British governed colonies nearby. Rhodesia’s problem was that it was run nearly exclusively by whites. It didn’t matter that it was well run.
Ian Smith’s father moved to Rhodesia in early part of the 20th Century. His father’s brother moved to the US and eventually settled in San Diego. Before they left England, the brothers agreed that they would both moved to which ever place was better. After exchanging letters, they couldn’t agree which place was better. Living in southern California in the middle of the 20th Century was perhaps the best that the world has yet to offer. The fact that Rhodesia, in Smith’s father’s mind, could compete says something.
In Smith’s words:
It is difficult for people who have never lived in this part of the world to appreciate that sub-Saharan Africa is different. It was the last part of the world to come into contact with European civilization, and when the pioneers [i.e. colonizers] arrived in this country the local people had no written language, no form of currency, no schools or hospital, and lived in makeshift houses with grass roofs. The wheel had not even evolved, nor had the plough. The change which has taken place is absolutely phenomenal, and is a tribute to what the white inhabitants did over a period of ninety years.
During these ninety years, the population gained access to modern medical care, exported food and developed lots of industry. In addition, “pro rata [in 1965] Rhodesia had the lowest crime rate in the world.” It also had a small police force on a per capita basis in comparison with other countries. It had a sound currency, low unemployment and a non-corrupt civil service.
Combine all that with the huge explosion in the population (thanks to the medical care) and the starting point (no wheel 90 years before) and if that result isn’t a major economic modernization, I don’t know what is.
Alas, it took much less time to destroy everything in the name of freedom.
Yes, but they were racist
All polite-thinking readers who’ve revived from their fainting spells after reading the last few paragraphs will, of course, be complaining that Rhodesia was racist. The implication, apparently, being that economic modernization doesn’t matter if there’s racism.
What did the white Rhodesian (and many black Rhodesians) actually believe about race?
It’s interesting to contrast Rhodesia “racism” with South African racism. It’s perhaps an over-simplification to say that South African racism is the racism of segregation, Jim Crow laws, and white nationalism, while Rhodesian racism is the racism of disparate impact, race-based quotas, and a well-governed diverse society, but I think that’s the best way to summarize the difference in a sentence.
The South Africans were essentially white nationalists in a mostly black country. Blacks were denied certain rights that were only granted to whites. The history of apartheid is well known.
The Rhodesian approach was different. Many rights, in Rhodesia, were based on objective factors, such as land ownership and incomes taxes paid. Blacks and whites were entitled to the same rights as long as they met the criteria. Different constitutions gave blacks a different amount of seats in the legislature, but all moved toward black majority rule. As blacks progressed in Rhodesia, white Rhodesians knew that eventually their country would be run by blacks. They believed that this process should be a gradual, not immediate one. This belief was their sin.
Smith notes that there were more black millionaires in Rhodesia than white millionaires. However, as a proportion of the population, there were fewer.
Outside of those who benefit from the who, whom aspects of the disparate impact view of racism, virtually no common sensical person views disparate impact as racism. Moreover, it’s certainly an entirely different animal than the South African/apartheid/white nationalist sort of racism. It’s interesting then that “freeing” Rhodesia became a priority for the international community over ending apartheid in South Africa. It’s almost as if a well-functioning African country was a threat to something. Anyway . . .
To put it bluntly, the white Rhodesian believed (according to Smith) that a black African who emerged from the jungle a couple decades ago without having invented the wheel, learned to read or write, or learned to govern anything beyond the immediate wants of his own (small) tribe was not quite ready to vote in elections choosing the leader of a large, artificial territory. Polite opinion disagreed. Results would seem to indicate that polite opinion was wrong.
In Rhodesia, blacks were eligible to vote and under the 1961 Constitution. There was no racial qualification for “A” voting roll and blacks could vote on the “B” roll. The objective qualifications for the A roll had a – shall we say – disparate impact.
Even Wikipedia grudgingly admits that, “The concept of eventual parity of parliamentary representation between the races was also adopted [in the UDI constitution of 1969].” Note that, under the revised constitution, income taxes paid became a driver of representation (did someone say disparate impact again?).
The white Rhodesians believed that whites could live in the same country with blacks, but that a certain amount of separation was inevitable and (in this case) necessary given cultural differences.
Smith believed firmly that most blacks in Rhodesia needed “time to adapt to the rapidly changing world that was surrounding them.” He also worried that if there was full democracy, bad things would happen to minority tribes. Polite opinion apparently saw all blacks as blacks, with disastrous results that Smith predicted.
It’s a bit difficult not to get mad. The white Rhodesian was accused of racism, cruelty to blacks, and inhumanity. In his place, his accusers selected Robert Mugabe. How broken must a worldview be to believe this change to be an upgrade? This criminal, this murderer, this third-rate asshole wouldn’t govern his own personal life is their patron saint of independence and freedom. The results . . .
A civilized, peaceful, happy first-world country turned into a modern hell. Inflation ran rampant in a country that was previously admirably fiscally responsible. Starvation was commonplace in a country that once exported tons of food. Violence was a perpetual fact of life in a country that previously was quite safe by non-African standards. (Black) People were fighting merely to survive where once they had been learning, receiving modern medical treatment, getting educations, and actually progressing. Tribal genocide broke out.
We have no chance of winning, but
We’re not at least afraid to try.
Our saint is Julian the Apostate,
Our modal prince is Castlereagh,
Our favorite statesman died today.
Ian Smith’s story really begins in World War II. He fought for the British Empire, flying planes against the Germans. He was shot down, escaped and made it to London.
He returned to Rhodesia and eventually become Prime Minister at an interesting time in African history. Countries were becoming “independent.”
The post-independence period in all the sub-Saharan countries followed a strangely predictable pattern. Smith called it the “one man, one vote, one time” pattern. In addition to the rise of (generally Communist) dictators for life, the independence movements were also characterized by the rape and slaughter of any remaining white Africans (although it’s supposedly important to protect minorities, protecting whites in Africa is apparently affirmatively bad), massive reductions in economic output and the general decay or outright disappearance of any semblance of civilization. Nevertheless, the Americans and the British (and, of course, the Russians – purely coincidentally, I’m sure) continued to push for independence.
“Freedom” came to Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), Congo (1960), Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zanzibar (later part of Tanzania), with largely predictable results.
The writing was on the wall for Rhodesia by the early ’60s. They met to draft a new Constitution in hopes the British would grant them independence. Obviously, given the success of other independence movements, the ruling elite (mostly white) were reluctant to follow the fully-democratic route. In drafting the constitution, the leaders met with and obtained approval from over 600 tribal chiefs.
The history of the various constitutions and negotiations is too long (and frankly too depressing) to repeat. Read it, if you can stomach it.
The British perpetually pushed for full elections. The Rhodesians would have elections and consultations with tribal leaders. Always, the elections were considered unrepresentative by the British. Mugabe would convince his supporters to boycott, for example, and the British would be up in arms. Always, the constitutions stated explicitly that the political system was dedicated to “unimpeded progress to majority rule.” It was never enough. Full elections were nearly impossible anyway, in a country that had never taken a census, in which most citizens had no birth certificates, and most citizens were illiterate.
The British essentially outsourced their foreign policy in Africa to the OAU. That organization became a collective of third-rate communist dictators. A fun group to bargain with.
The international community exerted increasing pressure on Rhodesia. The UN labelled Smith a threat to world peace – apparently not wishing to plunge his country into chaos and destruction is a threat to world peace. The UN blockaded the country, even though they simultaneously didn’t recognize its independence. The UN thereby (according to its own logic) blockaded part of the United Kingdom.
Early on, the blockade was largely ineffective. In fact, it gave a boost to agricultural production (at this point Rhodesia actually started exporting food) and industry. However, the blockade put Rhodesia at the mercy of South Africa and Portugal (via it’s colonies, particularly Mozambique).
In a few years, the Portuguese government was overthrown. Portugal soon abandoned its colonies and “free” Mozambique declared war on Rhodesia (ah, freedom).
At this point, Rhodesia was entirely reliant on South Africa for things like access to the sea and bullets. Smith viewed apartheid as “unprincipled and totally indefensible” and an entirely untenable long-term solution.
At this point, South Africa basically threw Rhodesia under the bus, in hopes that doing so would appease the international community. If white South Africans weren’t getting it so badly, you’d almost think they deserved what they were getting for their treatment of Rhodesia.
One can’t help but wonder if South Africa and the international community had their own reasons to focus first on Rhodesia. Was the acceptance of ultimate black rule and the fact that blacks and whites had many equal rights too threatening to South Africa? Was the fact that Rhodesia was so successful too threatening to the international community? For whatever reason, Rhodesia had to be dealt with.
(Smith blames the Communists. Indeed, de-colonization resulted in communist governments in most of Africa. If you read this blog regularly, you may not be surprised that US and British foreign policies were entirely dedicated to gaining additional African territory for communists. Smith, however, was unable to believe that the US and Britain were promoting communist interests. If communists were trying to take over all of Africa (and ultimately the resource rich South Africa), taking Rhodesia first would be a necessary step. This, like much of post-war US and British foreign policy is probably just a coincidence though. It’s worth noting that when Smith visited the US or Britain and spoke to politicians, the politicians were always shocked by Smith’s arguments. Apparently the State Department and Foreign Office were passing communist propaganda on Rhodesia through to politicians. Another coincidence, I’m sure.)
As the situation became more dire, whites started leaving Rhodesia in larger numbers (economic output began declining accordingly). Smith stayed.
A group of black leaders emerged. Generally the leaders were generally tribal leaders (full democracy in these countries at these times just meant putting the largest tribe in control of the country). Leaders at the time include Nkomo, Sithole, Mugabe, and Muzorewa. The latter was the first Prime Minister after Smith, but wasn’t ruthless enough (and hostile enough to whites, one suspects) to keep Mugabe out.
Fully free elections (to the surprise of the British apparently, but not anyone who was actually paying attention) turned out to be competitions to see who could terrorize the largest number of citizens. The prize, under this enlightened method for choosing a leader, would obviously eventually be Mugabe’s.
Smith stayed in Rhodesia until he was stripped of his citizenship, at which point he left for South Africa. He died in 2007. The Zimbabwean “government” seized his land in 2012.
Good government in Africa
Common opinion on African government seems to be that wealthy nations should continually send support to African governments as they go through cyclical bouts of failure. You’re always supposed to express hope and send money, while knowing (and not saying) that Africa is hopeless.
However, much like good government in a diverse society is not hopeless, Rhodesia proves that a sub-Saharan can have a government that provides first world quality services, safety, stability, and fiscal independence and responsibility. The common lesson is that “pure democracy” doesn’t work in certain settings.