For anyone interested in Africa, its recent history and its future. Dr Lawley's book
is a must. For me it was both interesting and enjoyable for I have had some similar
experiences to the author. Whilst his early family life was in India, mine was in the Sudan.
We both experienced the Oxbridge course for the Overseas Civil Service prior to becoming
District Officers, for me to Kenya and for him to Northern Rhodesia, although his length
of service was longer.
His descriptions of life as an administrator came alive to me. Long after the Empire
had gone he continued to serve in different capacities in Africa but mainly in industry
where he specialised in training of Africans in technical and managerial skills.
He was therefore later to be an ideal choice as Director of the Royal African Society.
His book is refreshingly frank and objective, accepting that the Empire is long gone
and looking positively to the future. The combination of distinguished colonial and post
colonial experiences of Africa is what makes this book especially valuable.
His understanding of Africa is deep, enhanced by his linguistic abilities. Who else could
speak to the Tonga people in Zimbabwe in their own language? And I share his love of
African humour and agree that "a joking relationship is the best one you can have in Southern Africa." It helps to deal with crises above all.
His lengthy experience of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) is very valuable.
I was Minister for Africa under Lord Carrington when we negotiated Zimbabwe's
independence so I found it fascinating to read his account of his time as an election
supervisor in early 1980. Lord Carrington and I agreed that it was essential to have a team
of observers who understood Africa well. It was for this reason that people like
Jonathan Lawley were invited to serve with a host of former administrators in Africa.
His analysis of what has happened to Zimbabwe since independence is penetrating,
comprehensive and objective. Whilst many whites stayed on, he rightly criticised them for
grumbling much of the time that the country was "going to the dogs" and failing to mix
adequately with the emerging African professional classes at a time when Mugabe was
genuinely trying to persuade the whites to stay and who had appointed a white farmer as
Minister for Agriculture. By contrast he praised the immense courage of the whites in
recent years in coping with the breakdown of the rule of law. His description of the land
issue is important in that Mugabe was probably mistaken in his early days in not
introducing gradual land reforms to resettle Africans but then, when he did try in the 1990s
to tackle the problem, was snubbed by Clare Short and given no assistance. It all spiralled
downhill after that and Mugabe tragically turned into a bitter, intolerable tyrant showing
not a care for the rule of law and the prosperity of his people. But Lawley holds out hope
that, with leadership, Zimbabwe has the ability to turn things round quite quickly.
The last part of the book is important for Dr Lawley has balanced, realistic but
positive views about Africa and the international approach to the continent. I agree
entirely with him that often much of our aid for development (as opposed to
humanitarian support) is misplaced and that we do immense harm in helping to create
aid-dependent societies and giving Africans the impression that their future is in our
hands rather than their own hands. His experience tells him that Africans are just as
capable as people elsewhere and can quickly learn how to manage and to lead given the
right training and that we should promote trade and investment vigorously as well as
providing training and technical help. The transformation of the Zimbabwean mining
industry since the 1980s is an illustration of that potential. He points out that Kaunda in
Zambia showed that given leadership it is possible to control the worst effects on a
nation of tribal rivalry.
In short we in Britain and elsewhere should stop patronising Africa, put aside any
remaining racial strains and look to a more positive future together as partners in the
evolution of Africa.
We should be truly grateful to Jonathan Lawley for recording his own wide ranging
and unique experiences of Africa in a lifetime of devotion to the African continent which
he loved so much.