Colin Legum

Colin Legum editor of Africa Contemporary Record and co-editor of the Middle East Contemporary Survey, is the author of The End of Haile Selassie’s Empire and of The Continuing Conflict in the Horn of Africa.

World Policeman

Colin Legum, 20 November 1986

Because Americans have never quite made up their minds about whether they want to play the role of ‘world policeman’ or to restrict themselves to policing their own hemisphere under the writ of the Monroe Doctrine, US foreign policy has changed in pendulum swings. In the post-Vietnam/post-Nixon mood which brought Jimmy Carter to the White House, it swung quite a long way against interventionism, and even conservative Republicans like California’s Governor, Ronald Reagan, fulminated against the idea of America being expected to act as policeman for the world. Sickened by exposures of Nixon’s misuse of the CIA, Congress asserted itself in the mid-Seventies, appointing its own committee to share with the Executive political control over the Agency’s operations, and passing the Clark Amendment which forbade clandestine support for movements such as Unita, the Union for the Total National Independence of Angola.

Fleet Street is a raging, under-reported battlefield. For most of the time it’s hard to discover what is going on, and even harder to know how much will be left of Britain’s national newspapers, or what state they will be in, at the end of the current battle of the tycoons. Most of these tycoons have little or no knowledge of owning or managing newspapers, and many of them are foreigners. There is no rule to prevent any foreigner from buying a British national paper, and Colonel Qadhafi himself tried to do so in the case of the Observer.

Some must get rich first

Colin Legum, 15 March 1984

An estimated thirty to thirty-five million Chinese died, and millions more suffered, in the great revolution associated with Mao Tse-tung’s leadership, but at the very least, he laid the foundations on which it became possible to build a modern industrial society. The great revolution has now entered its fifth phase: an era emblazoned in neon lights all over the country as the Four M’s – modernisation of agriculture, industry, national defence, science and technology. What is missing from the Four M’s is Maoism.–

Bad News at the ‘Observer’

Colin Legum, 4 November 1982

The press, in common with the rest of the mass media, is everywhere under political attack – sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly – while at the same time it faces such severe economic pressures as to raise real doubts about its future. Many great newspapers and magazines have disappeared altogether, and only a very few new ones (not many of them improvements on the old) have taken their place. Most towns in Europe and North America are now served by only one newspaper, emphasising a trend towards monopoly of newspaper ownership and, with it, a return to the age of tycoon proprietorship which had begun to decline after the war. Most countries have seen a drop in newspaper readership (especially among serious newspapers); the ratio to ‘entertainment’ of column space devoted to serious (especially foreign) news has decreased, resulting, inter alia, in a substantial decrease in the number of foreign correspondents employed in overseas posts by national newspapers. The growth in the number of Communist regimes and the rise of the Third World has seen the expansion of a government-controlled press in all but a few countries of which India, Mexico and Nigeria are examples. And this is by no means the whole liturgy of woes that can be recited by those who believe in the value of a free and independent press.

Revolution from Above

Colin Legum, 1 April 1982

The first and only time I have been inside Boodle’s was early in 1972, when I was bidden (I choose the word with some care) for a confidential tête-à-tête with an Ethiopian in whose high caste Evelyn Waugh would have rejoiced. Ras Asrata Kassa – as noble in physique and physiognomy as in his birth – had recently been dismissed as Governor-General of Eritrea, but he still retained his position as chairman of Ethiopia’s Crown Council. While this was notionally one of the three most influential positions in the country, all real power in Haile Selassie’s empire derived solely from the Emperor’s authority. The ras confessed to me the weakness of his own position, and spoke of his deep fear that his cousin the Emperor was leading Ethiopia to its ruin. Although he was on the eve of his 80th birthday, Haile Selassie had stopped his ears to any suggestion from his Crown Council that he should arrange for the surrender of any power in his own lifetime, and stubbornly refused to arrange for a peaceful succession. ‘I’m afraid,’ said the chairman of the Crown Council, ‘that the Emperor’s egomania has developed in him the attitude of après moi le deluge.’

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