Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University. Wellington Vol. 24, No. 2. 1961
Students and World Affairs
Students and World Affairs
It is possible that some Victoria University students have noticed that there are sufiicient nuclear weapons stockpiled at the moment to blow up a considerable part of the world at very short notice. It is not, of course, polite in New Zealand to talk about such things: whoever gets a bomb dropped on them, the assumption seems to be it won't be us.
New Zealanders have always been noted for their optimism. But as fortunately or unfortunately, our country is committed to the defence of the free world by several military pacts, it is possible that the Russians detest us sufficiently to toss a few nuclear warheads in our direction. It will he a new experience to have one's country devastated; New Zealanders, unlike Europeans, have never really suffered in a modern war.
It is mainly because New Zealand has never been sufficiently hurt by the outside world to notice its existence that the outside world may, on occasion, feel annoyance with this small island. If one does not care about other countries, one commits blunders in foreign policy and puts one's country in a position where H-bombs may be thrown at it. New Zealand, isolated from the consequences of two world wars, is conducting the foreign policy like a child of four playing in an ammunition dump. Any movement may blow the child to smithereens, and the child does not know enough about ammunition to realise either its danger, or how to act to get out of danger. This is precisely our own position as long as we prefer reading the sports news in the Dominion to working out what the banner headlines about the Congo really mean.
The overseas news section in Salient hopes to be able to inform those students who have nothing better to do than read it about the ammunition with which their country is playing. We are not ambitious, we do not expect to have much effect; we only hope that the issues which are interesting so much of the world today have sufficient intrinsic importance to make students read about them. If we emancipate a few students from the tyranny of the right and left-wing sterotyped views of world affairs and succeed in persuading them to think matters out for themselves, we shall have succeeded.
For, let us make it clear, there are stereotypes. We know all about the angelic Americans gallantly defending freedom against totalitarianism with the aid of such great free nations as Fascist Spain. We know, too, the all-beneficent socialist system which the workers love, and never raise a finger to injure, unless they are Fascists like three-quarters of the population of Hungary* These are myths: we want the reality. If there Is a conflict between good and evil on the international scene at the moment—and every political judgement assumes there is—it is not a conflict between angels and devils but between human beings, who are on occasions stupid, make mistakes, and act wrongly, ev*n though on the whole light. It is always easier to believe the myth than the reality; myths are especially constructed so as to be easy to believe. But the society that is founded on a myth eventually fails, because men only tolerate societies if they effectively grapple with reality. If we fail in foreign affairs the penalty is greater than the mere dissolution of a decadent society; it may be perhaps the dissolution of civilisation Salient wants this year to de-mythologise international affairs: it is up to you to decide whether it is effective in so doing. We want to present every possible view, and to have each view argued out, Its consequences judged, its value assessed. Then we may be able to pick our way gingerly out of the International ammunition dump.
The Congo Record
The current crisis in the Congo has summed up concisely in one situation most of the problems besetting the new African states. These problems are not, primarily, concerned with the need for Africans to be educated for self-government; the former Prime Minister, Mr Lumumba, was one of the best educated men in the Congo. Rather, these problems concern the legacy of colonialism. In the Congo, the secessionist provinces of Katanga and South Kasai have armies run by Belgian officers, and have Belgian administrative advisers. These provinces, by a curious coincidence, are also the wealthiest in the Congo, and the principal company operating there, the Union Miniere du Katanga, is largely a Belgian concern. It seems fairly clear that the secession of these provinces has been inspired by the Belgians to maintain Belgian control over the area. The Belgians have not really abandoned the Congo; their grant of independence has, largely been a fraud. Here, then, is a case history of colonial rule persisting after formal independence has been granted: a case history which cannot but alarm African opinion.
Independence, as everyone knows was granted to the Congo in a hurry, and some have seen in this evidence of Belgian stupidity. Evidence, however, seems to tell in other directions. The grant of independence was preceded by an economic recession in Europe which affected Belgium sharply, and widespread disturbances in the Southern Congo, particularly a strike of ferry workers which paralysed transport. The Southern Congo was affected by disturbances; the Northern Congo, the area including Katanga and Kasai, was not. Was it pure chance that, when independence was conceded, the southern Congo remained in the hands of Africans friendly to Belgium? A case can be made out that Belgium was trying to free herself from the burden of ruling a relatively poor and troublesome part of the Congo, while retaining control of her chief source of wealth in the Congo.
If this was indeed true, Belgian actions did not belie it. After independence, Belgian medical men left the Congo; the Belgian officers left en masse, having taken care to train no Congolese to take their place; and the Lumumba administration felt itself saddled with a huge national debt accumulated by the Belgians. If the Belgians were not trying to sabotage the new government, it is hard to see what they were trying to do. The secession of Katanga and Kasai, which occurred soon after, left Lumumba in an impossible position, but the Belgians claiming that the secession was due to the incompetence of the central government, stepped in "to protect Belgian lives." Actually, any breakdown of administration wns due to Belgium; and the Belgian intervention to aid a province technically in rebellion against the central government recognised by Belgium, was connivance at rebellion.
It was at this point that the United Nations Intervened. The Security Council passed a resolution authorising U.N. troops to be despatched to "aid the central government in its tasks." These tasks undoubtedly included the suppression of rebellion in the north. The United Nations force, however, first occupied only the southern Congo, and only after a delay of three months negotiated with Mr Tshombe the entry of troops into Katanga. Tshombe would only agree to admit U.N. troops on his own terms: and these terms were kept to, despite the fact that Tshombe was in law a rebel against the government the U.N, were supposed to aid. Shortly after the U.N's. unexpected deference to his authority, Mr Tshombe elevated himself to the rank of President of Katanga. The U.N., apparently convinced by Tshombe that Mr Lumumba was a Communist, then announced that it was not aiding the central government, but only protecting European lives.
The subsequent quarrel between Kasabuvu, a supporter of tribalism, and Lumumba, the supporter of centralism, checked any possibility of the use of a Congolese force against the Belgian-aided rebels. Lumumba had to seek the protection of the U.N. and was eventually betrayed by Kasabuvu into the hands of his enemies in Katanga. The rebels and Belgium, had won out.
How long they can win out remains to be seen. The new American administration may well aid Mr Lumumba's successors. Many African countries are tremendously concerned about the situation. All is not over yet.
But, from what has happened, there are lessons to be drawn. The United Nations has shown that its impartiality cannot always be relied on: in this moment of crisis, it has failed and assisted a colonial power. The myth that is the guardian of the rights of small nations will now be difficult to preserve. But Africans may now have doubts about other things besides U.N.O. Now that one colomai power has openly tried to preserve its economic interests in a country by the grant of formal independence, Africans will ask how often this has been done less openly. In Accra and Conakry there will be more suspicion of Western capital investment. The result may well be fatally injurious to Western influence in Africa.