And it has only become worse since this report! 
Shiva Naipaul's African Journey
 by Allan Callahan
 July 1995

From: j
The late Shiva Naipaul, who died in 1985, was an Asian Hindu writer from
Trinidad.            In the 1970s he got to wondering what terms like
"liberation," "revolution" and "socialism" actually meant to black Africans,
and wanted to find out, first hand. His idea was to travel   in East Africa
for five or six months, and visit Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. If his
experiences were interesting enough, he would then write a book about them,
but it wouldn't be a "straightforward travel book," nor a "current affairs"
book. He would, instead, focus on the rhetoric of liberation and its actual
manifestations, and to do this, he would have to experience the "heat and
dust" of the aforementioned countries.
> He wrote to his English publisher with an outline of his plans, and
received a go-ahead.  His book, North Of South, was first published in Great
Britain in 1978. He apparently had no original intention on doing a put-down
on blacks, but after his journey commenced, his experiences with negro
ineptitude and savagery were eye-opening; also he witnessed the sad
devolution of the whites living under black rule. So his book turned into
pretty much of a put-down, after all.
> Naipaul got a ticket in Brussels on the Congolese national airline.
Anxiety must have shown upon his face, because the travel agent told him
they had good planes -- Boeings -- flown by white pilots. Upon landing in
Kenya his luggage did not come off the plane. He was told that he might as
well forget all about it, but he filled out a claim form anyway. A week
later the luggage did turn up, but his transistor radio was missing, along
with some other items.
> In Kenya, he found out that in the "New Africa," the old form of
tribalism -- which had offered at least some slight constraint to greed --
was fading away, and a type of society was forming which lacked definition
and solidity. The new African society is being disfigured by lust and greed.
Naipaul discussed this with a Dutch fertilizer expert and his wife.
> "My God!" the Dutchman said, "you have to experience it to believe it.
These people are extraordinarily greedy. I've never seen anything like it.
They say West Africa is even worse. But I find it hard to imagine how
anything could be worse then this. The corruption is incredible."
> His wife then chimed in: "It's a disease."
> "That's right," her husband confirmed, "it is a disease, an illness. You
know, I go to meetings all the time. I try to talk about technical problems.
They couldn't give a damn about those. Not a damn. They fall asleep! I could
sell them tinned sunshine if I wanted to. They only wake up when you mention
money. The only thing they care about is their cut."
> In Nairobi, the beggars have their own dearly demarcated territories, but
when they get too numerous, they are apparently rounded up and taken off
somewhere, away from sensitive tourist eyes, and maybe "culled," as are the
numerous prostitutes. The shantytowns are periodically razed, but always
come back again, as do the beggars and prostitutes.
> To see how European farmers were now doing under black rule, Naipaul
traveled out to meet the Palmers, who had about three hundred acres planted
to tea. They used black labor, and said the natives had rather work for them
than their own people, who often treated them like slaves; not paying them
properly, offering them no medical facilities, and housing them in
deplorable conditions.
> But the negroes were prone to pilfer and the Palmers had to keep
everything under lock and key. Their hired hands would even steal things
they couldn't possibly have any use for. And the Palmers especially tried to
keep liquor out of their hands. There was, they said, an old saying among
the Europeans in Kenya that to give a native alcohol was like putting a
loaded gun into the hands of a child.
> Mr. Palmer remarked on one peculiarity of black thinking: "One of my pet
theories is that Africans lack what I call a storage sense. The same thing
occurs with my headman. Time and again I tell him to order more pesticides
when stocks fall below a certain point. He never does. I must have told him
a thousand times. But he waits until the last drop runs out and then comes
running to me wringing his hands."
> His wife added: "They never think about the future. It has no meaning for
them as far as I can see. Only today matters. Now. Of course, that's how it
was in the old days. If their crops were good, they feasted day and night,
fattening themselves up. If the rains didn't come on time, they starved.
Never a thought for the morrow."
> The Palmer's place was well kept, but across the way was a formerly
white-owned farm that had been taken over and divided up among blacks. The
original idea was to turn it into a cooperative, but everything had gone to
the dogs. "I hate looking at it now," Mr. Palmer said, "I believe the
treasurer ran away with the money. In this country, treasurers are very
fleet of foot."
> One notable adventure that happened to Naipaul in the Highland country was
a long, overland taxi trip. Having experienced enough African "service
industries" by this time to be leery of them, he was nevertheless assured
that his taxi for this trip would be the best because it had been ordered by
the D.C. (District Commissioner) himself, and Naipaul would be treated like
a king.
> The taxi was over a half-hour late, and what greeted his eye was an
ancient Peugeot station wagon. Raucous music blared from the dashboard. The
driver drove to the bus station and picked up more passengers, one of them a
man in yellow trousers carrying an enormous transistor radio, which he
started playing, its noise merging with that of the cassette player in the
> More people kept boarding, one of them a girl with a baby, and there was
also live poultry, pumpkins, and bags of grain. A mattress was placed partly
on the roof and partly behind the rear seat. But even after the number of
riders exceeded the legal limit by two, the driver continued to seek more
passengers. A boy came in, and without even asking, plopped himself down on
Naipaul's lap. This made thirteen people, or fourteen, if the baby was
> To get out of town they drove through a maze of what might have been
called "dirt alleys," but which looked like (and almost certainly were)
people's backyards, scattering chickens, goats and children.
> Arriving in Tanzania, the same mishmash of general incompetence was found.
An American woman who had lived in upstate New York was complaining about
the general indolence of the locals who did service work. "The other day I
had some painters in. They took one week to do a job that a New York painter
would have done in one day. One whole week! Just having to sit here and
watch them nearly drove me crazy."
> She also remarked on how barren the shelves were in the local stores.
Arusha was like a ghost-town. "I tell you, it's driving me crazy. If I stay
here another three months, I'll go out of my mind. I know it."
> Visiting a clinic staffed with Caucasian volunteers, Naipaul found an
elementary building with cubicles for rooms. They had bare concrete floors
and a bed in one corner. There were no curtains, tables or chairs.
> Outside, women with their babies and children waited. Flies swarmed
everywhere, including around the eyes of the mothers and children, who made
no attempt to brush them away. They fed greedily on sores, which of course
spread the infections which the clinics tried to deal with.
> One Swedish volunteer said: "One of the strangest things is that we cannot
get well-off and educated Tanzanians to come and help us out. I know many
middle-class women who sit home all day with nothing to do nothing to do but
polish their nails and read foreign magazines they buy from Kenya. If all we
expatriates had to leave the country tomorrow, this clinic would probably
have to be closed down. They just don't seem to care. They sit back and let
us do everything. How do you account for that? Why should I care when they
don't? Why do I bother to come here? That is a question I ask myself all the
> Under negro rule in Africa, more land is turning into desert. Naipaul
described one such area he traveled through, inhabited by the Masai. "We
were crossing a treeless plain. The withered grass had been cropped so close
that it could hardly be said to exist... Here, within living memory, there
had been trees. But the trees had all been cut down for firewood and the
land was slowly turning into desert. Fire-blackened hillsides were spiked
with the leafless, twisted skeletons of a dying secondary vegetation. The
Masai periodically roamed these plains with their herds of cattle, squeezing
what little sustenance they could from the desolation. Masai cattle were
particularly damaging to the land over which they passed, more damaging even
than goats: they had a tendency to pluck out the grass by its roots. In a
short time even the Masai would be driven from these plains. The ruined land
was austerely beautiful."
> Unable to get into the last country he planned to visit -- Zambia -- by
train, plane or bus (all booked up for weeks), Naipaul managed to hitch a
ride with a party of campers who were headed for South Africa. He would ride
with them as far as Lusaka, in Zambia. The first night in the country they
pitched their tents below an embankment of a railroad built by the Chinese.
> Arriving in Lusaka, he took a train to Kapiri Mposhi. He was able to see a
recently built railroad station, and observed how it, along with everything
else under negro influence, had started going down the drain: "The railroad
had been in operation for only a few months, but decay had already begun to
set in. A row of brightly painted children's cots was arrayed on a platform
that ran the length of one wall. A thoughtful touch -- but not one of the
cots was being used. Babies slept on sheets spread on the floor or crawled
about in puddles of urine. I had been unable to slake my thirst: the
drinking fountains were waterless; the handles of one or two were broken,
reduced to jagged stumps of metal. The telephones were not working. The
toilets were locked. The clock was wrong by hour. What must the Chinese
> It is obvious that Shiva Naipaul left the Dark Continent with a low
opinion of black Africans, nor did he think much of the guilt-ridden whites,
so full of self-abasement, who chose to live among them as equals, with the
object of "uplifting" them. He felt that they corrupted each other, and
"deserved each other. Neither was worth the shedding of a single tear, both
were rotten to the core. Each had been destroyed by contact with the
other -- though each had been destroyed in his own way."
> Just before dosing his book, he took a parting shot, or did a summing up,
of the new black Africa: "Only lies flourished here. Africa was swaddled in
lies -- the lies of an aborted European civilization; the lies of
liberation. Nothing but lies."