Friday, February 01, 2008

Sad Legacies Of Colonialism: Pakistan, Kenya

(BULLETIN: The Los Angeles Times today announced its endorsements of the two clearly superior candidates for the respective party presidential nominations -- Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic and Sen. John McCain for the Republican. Congratulations to Jim Newton, editorial pages editor, and David Hiller, publisher. More to say about this tomorrow).

The British and French colonial empires left a sad legacy of disorganization and violence in many countries, but none more so than in Pakistan, Kenya and Algeria. All three of these countries are dysfunctional and have been for a long time.

Kenya has been a great deal in the news lately, following a failed election that spun the country into tribal strife and ethnic cleansing. Hundreds have been killed, while the Western powers and the United Nations try to stitch the East African country back together. So far, they have had little success.

But this is really not new for Kenya. I remember visiting Stanley Meisler, then the L.A. Times correspondent resident in Nairobi, in the fall of 1968. As I was about to go to bed in his spacious home, he pointed to a kind of sash hanging down over my bed. "Now," he explained, "if there are intruders during the night, just pull that, and the police will be here in two minutes."

"WHAT?" I exclaimed. "Oh," Meisler said, "We still have remnants of the Mau Mau in this neighborhood."

Under a facade of greater stability than bordering Uganda, Kenya has evolved into a more and more violent and corrupt place. While foreign correspondents based there often extolled its virtues, the present strife would not surprise the author Paul Theroux, who, in his book, "Dark Star Safari," reporting on a trip almost all overland from Cairo to Capetown in 2003, depicted Kenya as more corrupt at that moment than Uganda. I've been reading Theroux's book, because I'm about to undertake a long cruise around the African continent and am scheduled to spend three days in the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Theroux seems more aware of Kenya's problems than some correspondents long based there.

In Kenya, but also in Pakistan and, for that matter, the Holy Land, the British seem to have left a tradition of internecine strife. For one thing, they had tolerated tremendous ethnic divisions without really trying to do anything about them. And then, exhausted by World War II, they cleared out in a great rush, leaving a mess behind. It might have been better had they been more perseverant about fulfilling what they had once said were their colonial responsibilities.

This is certainly true in Pakistan, which the British allowed to be partitioned from India, despite the fact that Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the Subcontinent thought it was a terrible idea.

And it has certainly turned out that way. Pakistan is a fundamentally unstable and violent country that often just doesn't work, and is now nuclear-armed with a growing terrorist insurgency that threatens the rest of the world.

Just yesterday, U.S. forces based in Afghanistan used a Predator, a drone aircraft, to fire a missile that killed an Al-Qaeda leader, Abu Laith al-Libi, in the North Waziristan borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is only nominally Pakistani territory. Foreign armies have been fighting over it going back to the 19th century and even before. It was never really stabilized under the British Raj. Now, it is a bigger threat than ever.

At the beginning of the year, two high-ranking American emissaries visited the Pakistani dictator, Pervez Musharraf, in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to ask him to agree to allow American forces to pursue Al-Qaeda and the Taliban on Pakistani territory. Musharraf publicly said no. But the drone attack by the U.S. yesterday that killed al-Libi indicates that he may secretly have given the go-ahead. Such drone attacks began in 2002. In the last few months, they have intensified.

Pakistan is a real mess, and there may have to be American and Indian intervention there to prevent Al-Qaeda from taking control of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Almost anything is possible. Meanwhile, it is becoming another Iraq, with a proliferation of suicide attacks and assassinations. British failures during the colonial period helped cause today's strife.

The same thing is true with the French in Algeria. After a violent revolution, the French bugged out in 1962, and probably had to. Algerian strife was threatening the stability of the French government itself.

But what was left was a fundamentally unstable, violence-wracked country. In recent years, there have been coup d'etats, the imprisonment of the early revolutionary leader, Ben Bella, and a bloody civil war against Islamic extremists. The extremist attacks continue. Just recently, the United Nations aid building in Algiers was bombed, with the loss of at least 17 lives.

Now, despite its wishes, the French feel constrained to help the present moderately-Muslim Algerian government keep the lid on. If they don't, the terrorism in Algeria may spread to France and Spain.

When European imperialisms are examined, we see, in a broad historical context, that they don't seem to have worked out too well. In Kenya, Pakistan, Algeria and even Israel, they have left in their wake instability that threatens the world. And this is not a complete list of troubled lands formerly ruled by Europeans. I haven't even mentioned the bloody legacy of Dutch,
Belgian and Portuguese rule in Africa and Asia.


Sam Zell, the new Tribune Co. owner, will meet with L.A. Times employees next Thursday. By then, the newspaper will probably have a new editor, and will have made its endorsements in the presidential campaign. In short, we should know more by then about the future of the paper, at least in the short term.



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