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Friday, 19 June 2015

Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" — Missing What's Missing in Africa

When liberals don't get that the people make the land.

by Frank Hilliard

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
US travel show Parts Unknown by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain is an American chef, writer and television personality who currently has a restaurant-themed travel show with CNN called Parts Unknown.1 The parts are not totally unknown, since one in the first series was Montreal where he ate at Joe Beef, Canada's only entry in the top 100 restaurants in the world. Perhaps that was the exception; there are plenty of unknown restaurants sampled in Myanmar, Columbia, Libya, Morocco and elsewhere.


By episode six, Bourdain decides to go right off the beaten path and takes his crew, helpers and fixers across the Rwandan border into Eastern Congo at Goma. Crossing the border is, as he says, like entering Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. He then begins mixing his tourist observations with a little history:
The 20th Century's first holocaust happened here when Belgium's King Leopold bamboozled the world into giving him personal title to the Congo. Leopold's agents, of which the mythical Kurtz was one, raided, slaughtered, mutilated and pressed into forced labour much of the population in a blood-thirsty quest for first ivory and then rubber. When independence finally came, the Belgians trashed what they could and left behind a completely unprepared, tribally divided and largely ungovernable landmass filled with stuff that everybody in the world wanted. And things pretty much went downhill from there.
Let's pause and try to unpack that slam at the Belgians, who are generally agreed to have been the worst colonialists in Africa. According to conflicting estimates, the founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State resulted in the deaths of as much as 8 million Congolese people.

That doesn't sound too good, but what Bourdain doesn't say is that the Belgian government forced Leopold to relinquish control over the country in 1908 after which it spent millions in developing cities, harbours, power plants, roads, administration networks, schools and railways, including one running south to the (then) Union of South Africa. It also opened a tropical agricultural research centre in the heart of the country staffed by hundreds of Belgian agricultural specialists. All this didn't win them any thanks; the Congolese revolted and Belgium was forced to grant independence in 1960. Wikipedia tells what happened next:
the Congo was left unstable because tribal leaders had more power than the central government. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba tried to restore order with the aid of the Soviet Union as part of the Cold War, causing the United States to support a coup led by Colonel Joseph Mobutu in 1965. Mobutu quickly seized complete power of the Congo and renamed the country Zaire. He sought to africanize the country, changing his own name to Mobuto Sese Seko, and demanded from African citizens to change their Western names to traditional African names. Mobuto sought to repress any opposition to his rule, which he successfully did throughout the 1980s.
Let's be clear what that means; as soon as the Belgians were out, the army threw out the government and took over. Like a lot of other newly-independent African countries, the Congo was now the personal property of an African dictator. This led, eventually, to one of the worst and longest African civil wars, one that is still on-going in the East of the country.

OK, back to the travelogue: Bourdain flies to Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville) the country's third largest city and the site, which he doesn't mention, of the Simba rebellion, in which 200 foreigners and thousands of Congolese were executed by rebels. This gives him a chance to talk about the Congo River which, he says:
was a natural route to transport slaves, ivory, rubber, minerals; the commodities upon which modern-day Brussels and Antwerp are built.
I don't want to belabour my argument that Bourdain's history lesson is dramatically anti-European, but I have to point out that international slavery was ended by the Royal Navy in 1807, long before King Leopold was even born (in 1835) and Brussels prosperity was based on its location on an important trade route between Bruges, Ghent and Cologne, and is currently based on its central role in the European Union.

Kisangani Train Station Kisangani Train Station
Kisangani Train Station

The heart of the piece comes in two extended features inside the travelogue. In the first Bourdain shows us what's left of the Congo railway. It's a disaster; buildings crumbling, tracks torn up, engines idled, only one train running. But amazingly, the staff keeps turning up. After interviewing the quite pitiful railway manager, Bourdain makes one of his two most significant observations.
Like many Congolese we meet they are, all these years later, and in spite of everything that's happened, ready, and waiting, for the situation to improve.
The second observation comes after visiting the research station, the Institute for Agricultural Studies of Congo, I mentioned earlier. The staff still turn up, still write letters asking for government aid, still look after thousands of books and research papers. However, the lack of power means humidity is ruining the documents because the dehumidifiers don't work.

Belgian agricultural research station at Kisangani
Former Belgian agricultural research station

Bourdain interviews the manager through an interpreter:
Bourdain: Does he remember the Belgian rule?
Interpreter: Oh yes, he remembers. He remembers the period of colonialism. That was the good, the best time they were living.
Bourdain (in voice over): What do you say to someone who suggests Belgian colonialism might have been 'the good times'?
So here, finally, we see Bourdain's heart of darkness; a spot he can't understand as a typical East Coast liberal. The good times for the research centre administrator was when the Belgians were running the place. What he and the railway manager interviewed earlier are waiting for, what they get up in the morning for, is for the Belgians to return.

What they're waiting for is the white man to come back.

At least some of them are waiting. Others are not. Millions of sub-Saharan Africans are, as I write this, trekking north to Libya to find a leaky boat to take them to Spain, France, Italy or Greece. If the white man won't come back and save them, they're prepared to go north and find him. By some estimates there are half a million black Africans waiting on the south shore of the Mediterranean to cross over to what, for them, is the promised land.

All of which brings me to my final point. Imagining Europe's future is easier than you think. With declining white birth rates and a continuous wave of mass black immigration, all you have to do is go to the Congo.

Mass immigration will turn Europe tomorrow into what the Congo is today.

If you remove one population and replace it with another less capable, more warlike, more fecund, that's what you get.

How ironic that those who stand by their posts waiting for Europeans to come back will stand in vain. Europe will never be back. Thanks to liberals like Mr. Bourdain, Europe won't even be European in a few years time and we'll all be cast into our own personal Heart of Darkness.

Postscript: South Africa

In a later episode Bourdain visits South Africa where he rails against the colonialism of the Dutch and the racial segregation of the Boers. He notes, sympathetically, how black squatters have taken over much of central Johannesburg and then mentions the city has become a magnet for economic migrants from other parts of Africa. This is also seen positively because — wait for it — the newcomers have brought with them regional cuisine from other countries!

It never occurs to Bourdain why these economic migrants are flooding into South Africa, or why South Africa is so different from the Congo he visited earlier. He never asks, never speculates, on what the key difference is between the countries they're are fleeing from and the one they're fleeing to. That difference, of course, is that whites are still responsible for keeping South Africa running, keeping the lights on, keeping the economy working.

The hard, simple, fact is that Africans have failed in their attempt to take over from the white man in the post-colonial era and now are fleeing to areas where there are still European standards in civic, social and economic life, to where there are still Europeans.

Bourdain speaks of the Boers as "tough bastards", and portrays them unsympathetically. Yet the very fact South Africa still works, and the Congo does not, is because not all the white men and women have left. He should have thanked them, shaken their hands, congratulated them on coping with violent crime, murder, corruption and kleptocracy. Instead, he criticizes their cooking.

Watching Bourdain wander through Africa is like watching a liberal walking through an African-American slum. He has a sharp eye for what he sees, but has no idea what it means.

[1] Set up a Virtual Private Network and tunnel to an American IP address. Then open your Netflix account through and search for Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Season 1, Episode 6, Congo. View the episode then come back here to understand what it means. Listen for the phrasing "waiting for" in the voice over.

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