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City swelling West Africans have formed their image of America largely

from the movies they have seen. In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a cab driver

asked me to send him "a belt like the shooting cowboy wear



   Where the White Man Can't Win

A Tour of Africa's "Fever Coast"


The U.S. is now negotiating for a massive program of aid for all Africa.

First talks have been held at United Nations with African officials.

What's involved? What will it take to lift the new nations of black Africa into something resembling modern civilizations?

Albert J. Meyers of the staff of "U.S. News & World Report" has just toured the lands along the old "fever coast" of West Africa.

This dispatch takes you into jungle areas of tribal rites, superstitions and abject poverty

where the politics and culture of the white man are up against baffling odds.


Yaounde, Cameroon

Here on the Guinea coast of West Africa, you get a feeling that the white man will never really be able to understand this part of the world.

This impression grows as the traveler moves through Cameroon, Nigeria, Dahomey, Togo, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Guinea, and on up into Senegal on the African bulge.

All of these  now are free, independent, self-governing black countries, each with a vote in the United Nations. They are countries whose politicians fanning the winds of change that keep blowing up crisis after crisis in Africa. They seem as different from the white man's world as night from day.

In the first place, West Africa is one of the most primitive areas in the world. There are no neat and gleaming cities here, such as Nairobi, in Kenya, Johannesburg and Cape town, in South Africa, or even Leopoldville, in the Congo. West African cities don't gleam. They sprawl steamily amid a crowding, shoving mass of black community.

Linked to past. Sometimes, the stench in Africa is overpowering. Open drains crisscross the cities -- uncovered to the flies and other insects. This is often called the "fever coast" or the "white man's graveyard." It isn't difficult to understand why.

Many of the Africans here are descendants of those who were sold into slavery and taken to America -- or of those who worked for the slave traders, rounding up captives from tribes other than their own.

The tribal system persists. Language barriers give an idea of its complexity. There probably are 400 different tribal languages or dialects. That is only one roadblock to unity. Tribal hostility is another. The tribes within one nation often are deadly enemies, yet owe common allegiance to a central government in Lagos, Accra, or Abidjan -- whatever the capital of the country happens to be.

Everywhere, you sense the strange, secretive nature of the people. For instance, with these Africans, religion takes weird forms. Witchcraft and black magic are widespread. Ritual murders still are practiced. Humans are sacrificed to jungle gods. Children are kidnaped and sold to tribes that then slaughter them in sacrificial rites.

In West African cities, native families -- husband, wife with the inevitable baby strapped on her back, other children and innumerable relatives -- live in reeking, tin-roofed huts. In the bush, where most of tropical Africa's people live, home is a mud hut with some kind of thatched roof.

The "mammy traders." All over West Africa there are "mammy traders" -- women sitting by the side of the road selling anything from tooth paste to juju charms. Jujus are supposed to do anything from improving fertility to making the wearer invisible.

An example of how Africans think jujus work: Recently, a Communist-indoctrinated terrorist in Cameroon killed a Frenchman out in the bush and was stripping the victim's body when police arrived. The killer calmly went on with his work because he was wearing a "magic" juju ring sold to him by a witch doctor. He thought the ring made him invisible.

Slogans and lethargy. A "mammy economy" seems to prevail in much of West Africa. In Accra and other cities, for instance, the Africans travel by "mammy wagon." These rickety buses are so designated because the businesses are run by women. The "mammy wagons," always overflowing with passengers, carry slogans on their sides, such as "Jesus Is Mine," "Nothing Bad," "Slow but Sure."

An American, talking to West Africans, discovers in them a sort of lethargic surliness. Perhaps that can be blamed on the climate. It is a climate in which disease--hookworm, tapeworm, malaria, yellow fever, leprosy--is likely to strike at any time.

The visitor learns this quickly. Near the dirt-strip airport at Yaoundé there is a beautiful lake. Its blue waters look cool and inviting. But swimming in the lake is forbidden, because any swimmer would be sure to get hookworm.

At the hotel here, the guest fights off centipedes, sleeps under mosquito netting, wakes up in the morning with mosquito bites anyway. He takes his malaria pills and hopes they'll do the job.

English with static. A white man has language trouble almost everywhere. Even in Ghana, where English is the official language, communicating is hard. The average West African, if he speaks English at all, does it with an accent that makes it seem as though he had studied it by radio, taking all his lessons at a time when the static was very bad. To an American, listening to a Ghanaian speak English is rather like listening to a phonograph being played at three or four times its normal speed.

English, of course, is not the Ghanaian's mother tongue. There are more than 50 tribal languages in Ghana, and the child naturally learns his tribal tongue first. Hence his tribal accent when he is compelled to speak English.

Most West Africans--whether in the cities or in jungle villages where barebreasted women and naked children stare impassively as a car goes by--know very little about the outside world. City swelling West Africans have formed their image of America largely from the movies they have seen. In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a cab driver asked me to send him "a belt like the shooting cowboy wear."

For whites, it's "wa-wa." The few whites who live and work in West Africa have a phrase that expresses their frustration. It is "wa-wa." It means, roughly, "West Africa wins again--the white man just can't win."

A housewife sighs and says "wa-wa" when she has told her native cook again and again to wash the salad greens in a disinfectant solution and finds that he has done so--and then has washed them again at the water tap in the yard.

A businessman says "wa-wa" after he has waited an hour or more for a West African clerk to cash his check at a bank.

A traveler says "wa-wa" when he has been charged anywhere from 28 cents the first time to $2 the second for the same 10-minute taxi ride.

As an American looks at West Africa, he cannot fail to be impressed by its economic potential. There are rubber, gold and diamonds in Ghana, coffee and cocoa in the Ivory Coast, oil in Nigeria, plus mountains of iron ore.

A mass--in parts. Moving along the Guinea Coast--that great arc bordering on the Guld of Guinea--a traveler sees West Africa as a mass of primitive people broken up arbitraily into small countries, independent and in ferment.

This part of Africa was "Balkanized" -- cut up into small territories by the British and French when they ruled the area. Now these territories are tiny countries, each with its own government, or about to get its its own, each with its own brand of explosive politics.

A day's drive from Lagos, Nigeria, to Accra, Ghana, takes a motorist through two other countries, Dahomey and Togo, on the way. Split up as West Africa is, it is hard to believe that it can ever amount to much politically.

Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah wants to unify under one flag the whole area -- all of Africa, for that matter -- with himself as boss. Others, like Felix Houphouet-Boigny, President of the Ivory Coast, and Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, want a loose federation with a customs union and a common market, if anything at all.

"No strings, please." West Africa's leaders have this in common: All want as much as they can get from both sides in the "cold war." And they loudly proclaim that they want "no strings attached," that they will be "neutral."

This "neutrality" takes strange forms. In Ghana--where Russian technicians are suspect--it is a pro-Soviet sort of neutrality. But in Ivory Coast, President Houphouet-Boigny says this:

"If we Africans be naive enough to sever relations with the West, in the end we will be invaded by the Chinese, and the Russians will impose Communism on our Country."

The overwhelming impression, after a tour of the new nations of West Africa, is that, if this area is ever to reach political and economic maturity, it is the white man's skills that must do the job.

But then, this question arises: How can the white man ever understand or cope with this Africa of witchcraft and black magic, of tribal secrets and primitive customs, of mud huts and "wa-wa"?

Source: U.S. News & World Report (10 April 1961)

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power

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By 1991, following the disintegration first of the Soviet bloc and then of the Soviet Union itself, the United States was left standing tall as the only global super-power. Not only the 20th but even the 21st century seemed destined to be the American centuries. But that super-optimism did not last long. During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, the stock market bubble and the costly foreign unilateralism of the younger Bush presidency, as well as the financial catastrophe of 2008 jolted America—and much of the West—into a sudden recognition of its systemic vulnerability to unregulated greed. Moreover, the East was demonstrating a surprising capacity for economic growth and technological innovation. That prompted new anxiety about the future, including even about America’s status as the leading world power. This book is a response to a challenge. It argues that without an America that is economically vital, socially appealing, responsibly powerful, and capable of sustaining an intelligent foreign engagement, the geopolitical prospects for the West could become increasingly grave. The ongoing changes in the distribution of global power and mounting global strife make it all the more essential that America does not retreat into an ignorant garrison-state mentality or wallow in cultural hedonism but rather becomes more strategically deliberate and historically enlightened in its global engagement with the new East.

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Ancient African Nations

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