The area which, as Dr. Cowen notes, was inaccurately designated 'Central Africa'
provides the main backdrop to this autobiography embracing his 32 years in the
countries now known as Zambia and Zimbabwe. The author's medical career coincided
with radical political change.
It might surprise Zimbabwe's 'indigenisation' lobby to learn how well within living
memory whites did almost all skilled and semi-skilled jobs. Cowen also recalls the
exemplary manner in which colonial administrators performed their duties and the virtual
absence of corruption despite civil servants' lowly pay. Here too significant change has
occurred, regrettably for the worse. Also disappointing are his conclusions on how little
racial prejudices appear to have altered. The reflections aside, however, the uninitiated reader will end up as confused over 'Central Africa' as Cowen himself confesses to
His 'treatise' is 'completely unresearched'. The only "leading personalities" with
whom he was "closely involved" were Roy Welensky, before Federation, and Kenneth
Kaunda, after it. Errors of historical fact abound.
Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia was not dreamt up by Sir Godfrey
Huggins and Roy Welensky. The idea, first mooted in 1894 - by the Colonial Office -
was regularly reconsidered thereafter. Nor did the Rhodesians "foist Federation upon
gullible British politicians". The 1951 officials' conference and the then Colonial
Secretary were won over to Federation by Sir Andrew Cohen, his Under-Secretary for
African Affairs, and not principally on economic grounds but to create a strong and
viable state to counter the growing influence of South Africa's apartheid policies.
While protesting he is not 'anti-European' Cowen offers scant evidence to explain
why local white attitudes changed from being 'more English than the English' to outright
hostility to Britain. The inherent inconsistency between the perceived requirements for
permanent white settlement and the 'paramountcy' principle strongly espoused by another
set of Europeans in Whitehall and Westminster is virtually disregarded. With the Eederal
Government British Ministers were, according to British sources, "evasive, postponing
confrontation, blurring issues and professing support for those they were moving
against." Such tactics served to dissolve Federation. But they undermined Welensky and
his party, destroyed trust between the two white camps, comforted the Rhodesian Front
and led inexorably to Ian Smith's rebellion.
Rhodesian demands for 'independence' and the 'maintenance of civilised standards'
are dismissed by Cowen as mere emotional cliches. But he weakens his argument that
Rhodesia had actually been independent since 1923 by citing his belief that British military
force would be used against its mutinous colony. Zambians, whose standards of living
and governance plunged under Dr Kaunda's leadership, will hardly be mollified by
Cowen's unqualified praise of their erstwhile president.
While noting how Europeans laboured on the roads in the 1920s, Cowen omits mention
of the hardships white farmers endured and how whites walked from farm to farm begging
for any kind of work. The myth of white affluence is perpetuated by presenting the
whole Rhodesian conflict solely as an attempt to preserve 'the good colonial life'.
Cowen contends that revolt arose from pure prejudice, a conclusion he supports by
opining how little things have in fact changed for the whites.
Final judgement on this latter point is impossible. Over two-thirds of the mid-1970s
275,000 white Rhodesians emigrated. But some, including many former civil servants
Cowen so fulsomely commends, certainly struggle to exist in their adopted countries on
pensions whose drastically reduced purchasing power is all but ignored by the responsible
This Odyssey warily skirts such a.spects. Those wishing to avoid being led astray on
'Central Africa' should consult less priggishly self-opinionated, more historically accurate
and less obviously partisan guides to the area.