Andrew Sardanis. Africa: Another Side of the Coin: Northern Rhodesia's Final Years and Zambia's Nationhood. London: I. B. Tauris, 2003. ix + 340 pp. $39.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-86064-926-4.
Reviewed by Eugenia W. Herbert (Department of History, Mount Holyoke College)
Published on H-SAfrica (August, 2004)
A Cypriot's Tale
Andrew Sardanis was born in Cyprus, then immigrated to Northern Rhodesia in 1950 at the age of eighteen, bringing with him a congenital aversion to British colonialism and a spirit of enterprise and adventure. He also seems to have been remarkably free of the racism that characterized so many of his fellow European settlers. He formed close friendships with Africans from his early years of developing a transport business between the Copper Belt and North Western Province, a region he came to love for the beauty of its landscape and the warmth of its people. In 1962 he became involved in the politics of independence and subsequently played an important role in molding and implementing economic policies of Zambia from 1965-70. Gradually he became more and more disaffected, indeed dismayed, by the blatant politicization of economic decision-making and the cynicism of political life.
Africa: Another Side of the Coin covers "the expiring years of Northern Rhodesia, the birth and travail of Zambia in its early years of independence, its fitful progress and the current state of the nation as seen through my eyes and personal experiences and interpreted from my point of view" (p. 1). This is a fair summary; indeed, the book is most valuable when it deals with events in which Sardanis was directly involved. He seems clearly to have won the affection and trust of Kenneth Kaunda in the tumultuous run-up to independence. He describes how "KK" would occasionally slip away to Sardanis's house on weekends to snatch a little relaxation, away from the rigors of campaigning, dealing with the colonial authorities and British government, and keeping order among his unruly comrades in UNIP.
Sardanis was made chairman and managing director of Indeco, the Zambian Industrial Development Corporation in 1965, just when Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) cut Zambia off from its normal outlets to the south, posing serious problems for exporting copper, her main source of revenue, and for importing fuel and other necessities. He negotiated contracts for building the road to Dar es Salaam and organizing truck transport, feats that arguably saved the economy from collapse while waiting for the completion of the pipeline and railroad to the east coast port. He also oversaw a multitude of other investments intended to build up the indigenous business sector, although he constantly complains about the attitude of most white businessmen who were more than content to profit from this boom period without accepting Zambian citizenship and investing long-term in the economy. In principle, he approved of the government's policy of Zambianization, much as it was abused, both by white-owned companies who installed token Africans, and by Africans who expected loans with no claims to business expertise and no intention of repayment.
Indeco had an enviable track record during the first years of Sardanis's stewardship: its profit increased exponentially, as did its assets. Trouble began brewing in the late '60s, however. The struggle between Kaunda and Simon Kapwepwe spilled over into the economic realm, inspiring, in part at least, the so-called Mulungushi reforms. Sardanis could accept the rationale of economic nationalism that underpinned them, but when the government abrogated the agreements that he had labored so painfully to hammer out and nationalized the mining sector in 1973, it was too much. Here it is particularly interesting to follow the machinations of Tiny Rowland who had been waiting in the wings to make his move. Rowland bought up ZIMCO bonds at discounted rates in mid-1973 before nationalization was announced, then persuaded the Zambian government to redeem them in full and made a huge profit. Sardanis estimates that the Government overpaid an extra $100 million for the "enrichment of Tiny Rowland and many others" (p. 277). Sardanis tried to lay out the dimensions of the debacle in a letter to Kaunda before the final decision was made, but apparently Rowland had carefully cultivated figures high up in the government and at this point "Kaunda was not interested in the facts" (p. 276).
The irony is that Sardanis had briefly accepted a position with Lonrho, Rowland's conglomerate, after he left government in 1970. It took only a few months to see that it was an empire built with smoke and mirrors, albeit immensely profitable. Sardanis then created an independent consulting firm, but found himself, like others of his cohort, subject to nameless suspicions and trumped-up charges, as James Skinner, also one of the few Europeans to throw in their lot with UNIP early on, had been a few years earlier. Unlike Skinner, Sardanis stuck it out, although for a while he spent an increasing amount of time out of the country.
When the tide turned against UNIP and the one-party state in the early 1990s, Sardanis distrusted Chiluba and other dominant figures in the Movement of Multiparty Democracy (MMD); he fantasized that Kaunda himself might be persuaded to take on the mantle of reform. The best hope, he argued, lay in constitutional reforms, above all an abandonment of the Westminster model in favor of an American-type presidential system. This came to nothing, and his fears for the MMD proved well-founded. Sardanis now looks after a nature reserve set in a cooperative village (although he never approved of business cooperatives when they were in vogue) some thirty miles outside of Lusaka.
Sardanis has a tendency to fill in gaps in his own experience with chunks taken from standard secondary sources, as well as to quote letters and directives in more detail than necessary. Nevertheless, his commitment to Zambia is beyond question, and when he speaks of economic matters he is well worth listening to. Pace the World Bank, IMF, and Western experts, he is skeptical that foreign investment "will cure the ills of Africa"; the continent, one must acknowledge, is "at the bottom of the list of international investment destinations" (p. 315). Investment in big-ticket items-- mining, petroleum, tourism, and hydroelectric projects, for example--usually comes with wildly generous terms and concessions. These projects do little to remedy the crumbling infrastructure of countries such as Zambia, something that international lending agencies also tend to ignore but which Sardanis sees as indispensable for any kind of economic revival. In the end, Zambia's best hope, he believes, will come from local enterprise, indigenous investment and reinvestment, and a modicum of protection for domestic agriculture and industry. What the West can offer is not so much aid as open markets and an end to the dumping of its produce on African markets.
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Eugenia W. Herbert. Review of Sardanis, Andrew, Africa: Another Side of the Coin: Northern Rhodesia's Final Years and Zambia's Nationhood.
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