Thomas Sowell

Nature and man have combined to make Africa the most tragic of the continents  -- and the men who did this have been both black and white.

 The great French historian Fernand Braudel said, "In understanding Black Africa, geography is more important than history." Much of Africa's history was in fact shaped by its geography.

 Almost every great city in the world has arisen on navigable waterways -- and such waterways are more scarce in Africa than in any other continent. An aircraft carrier can dock on the Hudson River in midtown Manhattan but there is not a single river where that is possible on the vast continent of Africa, which is larger than Europe or North America.

 Even smaller boats can travel only a limited distance on most African rivers because of cascades and waterfalls. Most of the continent is more than 1,000 feet above sea level and more than half of Africa is more than 2,000 feet above sea level. That means its rivers and stream must plunge down from those heights on their way to the sea.

 Water transport was crucial in the thousands of years before there were trains or automobiles. It was crucial for developing an economy and crucial for developing a culture in touch with enough other widely scattered cultures to make use of advances in the rest of the world. But many African societies have been isolated by that continent's dearth of both navigable rivers and harbors.

 Isolated regions have almost invariably lagged behind regions in touch with a wider cultural universe. One among many signs of the isolation and cultural fragmentation of much of sub-Saharan Africa is that African languages are one third of all the languages in the world, even though African peoples are only about 10 percent of the world's population.

 Small, tribal societies were another consequence of geographic isolation -- and the vulnerability of such societies to conquest by outsiders was another.

 If cultural diversity was all that the multiculturalists claim, Africa would be a heaven on earth. Too often and in too many places it has been a hell on earth.

 Many people expected great things from Africa when new independent African nations began to emerge from colonial rule in the 1960s, often headed by leaders who had been educated in Europe and America.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate

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