Once the city of Timbuktu was more important in population, in commerce, in learning than the London, the Paris or the Rome of the time. It was the crossroads where African traffic, east and west, met African traffic, north and south; Timbuktu dominated all. In its commercial houses accumulated the wealth of Africa; in its universities and mosques the wisdom of Greece, Rome, Byzantium and the Near East—at a time when such learning was being destroyed in Dark Ages beset Europe.
Timbuktu's day lasted but two or three hundred years at most. By the middle of the Twentieth Century it had deteriorated into what looked nothing so much as a New Mexico ghost town, built largely of adobe. Its palaces and markets has melted away to caricatures of their former selves, its universities were a memory of yesteryear, its population fallen off to a few thousands. Not until the Niger Projects, the dams and irrigation projects, of the latter part of the Twentieth Century did the city begin to regain a semblance of its old importance.
Homer Crawford's team had come down over the Tanezrouft route, Reggan, Bidon Cinq and Tessalit; that of Isobel Cunningham, Jacob Armstrong and Clifford Jackson, up from Timbuktu's Niger River port of Kabara. They met in the former great market square, bordered on two sides by the one time French Administration buildings.
Isobel reacted first. "Abe!" she yelled, pointing accusingly at him.
Abe Baker pretended to cringe, then reacted. "Isobel! Somebody _told_ me you were over here!"
She ran over the heavy sand, which drifted through the streets, to the hovercraft in which he had just pulled up. He popped out to meet her, grinning widely.
"Why didn't you look me up?" she said accusingly, presenting a cheek to be kissed.
"In Africa, man?" he laughed. "Kinda big, Africa. Like, I didn't know if you were in the Sahara, or maybe down in Angola, or wherever."
She frowned. "Heaven forbid."
Abe turned to the others of his team who had crowded up behind him. It had been a long time since any of them had seen other than native women.
"Isobel," he said, "I hate to do this, but let me introduce you to Homer Crawford, my immediate boss and slave driver, late of the University of Michigan where he must've found out where the body was—they gave him a doctorate. Then here's Elmer Allen, late of Jamaica—British West Indies, not Long Island—all he's got is a master's, also in sociology. And this is Kenneth Ballalou, hails from San Francisco, I don't think Kenny ever went to school, but he seems to speak every language ever." Abe turned to his final companion.
"And this is our sole _real_ African, Bey-ag-Akhamouk, of Tuareg blood, so beware, they don't call the Tuareg the Apaches of the Sahara for nothing."
Bey pretended to wince as he held out his hand. "Since Abe seems to be an education snob, I might as well mention the University of Minnesota and my Political Science."
Jake Armstrong and Cliff Jackson had come up behind Isobel, and were now introduced in turn. The older man said, "A Tuareg in a Reunited Nations team?
Not that it makes any difference to me, but I thought there was some sort of policy."
"I was taken to the States when I was three," Bey said. "I'm an American citizen."
Isobel was chattering, in animation, with Abe Baker. It developed they'd both been reporters on the school paper at Columbia. At least, they'd both started as reporters, Isobel had wound up editor.
Since their introduction, Homer Crawford had been vaguely frowning at her. Now he said, "I've been trying to place where I'd seen you before. Now I know.
Some photographs of Lena Horne, she was—"
Isobel dropped a mock curtsy. "Thank you, kind sir, you don't have to tell me about Lena Horne, she's a favorite. I have scads of tapes of her."
"Brother," Elmer Allen said dourly, "how's anybody going to top that? Homer's got the inside track now. Let's get over to this meeting. By the cars, helio- copters and hovercraft around here, you got more of a turnout than I expected, Homer."
The meeting was held in what had once been an assembly chamber of the officials of the former _Cercle de Tombouctou_ , when this had all been part of French Sudan. It was the only room in the vicinity which would comfortably hold all of them.
Elmer Allen had been right, there was something like a hundred persons present, almost all men but with a sprinkling of women, such as Isobel. More than half were in native costume running the gamut from Nigeria to Morocco and from Mauritania to Ethiopia. They were a competent looking, confident voiced gathering.
Homer Crawford knocked with a knuckle on the table that stood at the head of the hall and called for silence. "Sorry we're late," he said, "Particularly in view of the fact that the idea of this meeting originated with my team. We had some difficulty with a nomad raider, up in Chaambra country."
Someone from halfway back in the hall said bitterly, "I suppose in typical African Development Project style, you killed the poor man."
Crawford said dryly, " _Poor man_ isn't too accurate a description of the gentleman involved. However, he is at present in jail awaiting trial." He got back to the meeting. "I had originally thought of this being an informal get- together of a score or so of us, but in view of the numbers I suggest we appoint a temporary chairman."
"You're doing all right," Jake Armstrong said from the second row of chairs.
"I second that," an unknown called from further back.
Crawford shrugged. His manner had a cool competence. "All right. If there is no objection, I'll carry on until the meeting decides, if it ever does, that there is need of elected officers."
"I object." In the third row a white haired, but Prussian-erect man had come to his feet. "I wish to know the meaning of this meeting. I object to it being held at all."
Abe Baker called to him, "Dad, how can you object to it being held if you don't know what it's for?"
Homer Crawford said, "Suppose I briefly sum up our mutual situation and if there are any motions to be made—including calling the meeting quits—or decisions to come to, we can start from there."
There was a murmur of assent. The objector sat down in a huff.
Crawford looked out over them. "I don't know most of you. The word of this meeting must have spread from one group or team to another. So what I'll do is start from the beginning, saying little at first with which you aren't already familiar, but we'll lay a foundation."
He went on. "This situation which we find in Africa is only a part of a world- wide condition. Perhaps to some, particularly in the Western World as they call it, Africa isn't of primary importance. But, needless to say, it is to we here in the field. Not too many years ago, at the same period the African colonies were bursting their bonds and achieving independence, an international situation was developing that threatened future peace. The rich nations were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer, and the rate of this change was accelerating. The reasons were various. The population growth in the backward countries, unhampered by birth control and rocketing upward due to new sanitation, new health measures, and the conquest of a score of diseases that have bedeviled man down through the centuries, was fantastic.
Try as they would to increase per capita income in the have-not nations, population grew faster than new industry and new agricultural methods could keep up. On top of that handicap was another; the have-not nations were so far behind economically that they couldn't get going. Why build a bicycle factory in Morocco which might be able to turn out bikes for, say, fifty dollars apiece, when you could buy them from automated factories in Europe, Japan or the United States for twenty-five dollars?"
Most of his audience were nodding agreement, some of them impatiently, as though wanting him to get on with it.
Crawford continued. "For a time aid to these backward nations was left in the hands of the individual nations—especially to the United States and Russia.
However, in spite of speeches of politicians to the contrary, governments are not motivated by humanitarian purposes. The government of a country does what it does for the benefit of the ruling class of that country. That was the reason it was appointed the government. Any government that doesn't live up to this dictum soon stops being the government."
"That isn't always so," somebody called.
Homer Crawford grinned. "Bear with me a while," he said. "We can debate till the Niger freezes over—later on."
He went on. "For instance, the United States would _aid_ Country X with a billion dollars at, say four per cent interest, stipulating that the money be spent in America. This is aid? It certainly is for American business. But then our friends the Russians come along and loan the same country a billion rubles at a very low interest rate and with supposedly no strings attached, to build, say, a railroad. Very fine indeed, but first of all the railroad, built Russian style and with Russian equipment, soon needs replacements, new locomotives, more rolling stock. Where must it come from? Russia, of course.
Besides that, in order to build and run the railroad it became necessary to send Russian technicians to Country X and also to send students from Country X to Moscow to study Russian technology so that they could operate the railroad." Crawford's voice went wry. "Few countries, other than commie ones, much desire to have their students study in Moscow."
There was a slight stirring in his audience and Homer Crawford grinned slightly. "You'll pardon me if in this little summation, I step on a few ideological toes—of both East and West.
"Needless to say, under these conditions of _aid_ in short order the economies of various countries fell under the domination of the two great collossi. At the same time the other have nations including Great Britain, France, Germany and the newly awakening China, began to realize that unless they got into the _aid_ act that they would disappear as competitors for the tremendous markets in the newly freed former colonial lands. Also along in here it became obvious that philanthropy with a mercenary basis doesn't always work out to the benefit of the receiver and the world began to take measures to administer aid more efficiently and through world bodies rather than national ones.
"But there was still another problem, particularly here in Africa. The newly freed former colonies were wary of the nations that had formerly owned them and often for good reasons, always remembering that governments are not motivated by humanitarian reasons. England did not free India because her heart bled for the Indian people, nor did France finally free Algeria because the French conscience was stirred with thoughts of Freedom, Equality and Fraternity."
A voice broke in from halfway down the hall, a voice heavy with British accent. "I say, why did you Yanks free the Philippines?"
Homer Crawford laughed, as did several other Americans present. "That's the first time I've ever been called a Yankee," he said. "But the point is well taken. By freeing the islands we washed our hands of the responsibility of such expensive matters as their health and education, and at the same time we granted freedom we made military and economic treaties which perpetuated our fundamental control of the Philippines.
"The point is made. The distrust of the European and the white man as a whole was prevalent, especially here in Africa. However, and particularly in Africa, the citizens of the new countries were almost unbelievably uneducated, untrained, incapable of engineering their own destiny. In whole nations there was not a single lawyer or—"
"That's no handicap," somebody called.
There was laughter through the hall.
Homer Crawford laughed, too, and nodded as though in solemn agreement.
"However, there were also no doctors, engineers, scientists. There were whole nations without a single college graduate."
He paused and his eyes swept the hall. "That's where we came in. Most of us here this afternoon are from the States, however, also represented to my knowledge are British West Indians, a Canadian or two, at least one Panamanian, and possibly some Cubans. Down in the southern part of the continent I know of teams working in the Portuguese areas who are Brazilian in background. All of us, of course, are Africans racially, but few if any of us know from what part of Africa his forebears came. My own grandfather was born a slave in Mississippi and didn't know his father; my grandmother was already a hopeless mixture of a score of African tribes.
"That, I assume, is the story of most if not all of us. Our ancestors were wrenched from the lands of their birth and shipped under conditions worse than cattle to the New World." He added simply, "Now we return."
There was a murmur throughout his listeners, but no one interrupted.
"When the great powers of Europe arbitrarily split up Africa in the Nineteenth Century they didn't bother with race, tribe, not even geographic boundaries.
Largely they seemed to draw their boundary lines with ruler and pencil on a Mercator projection. Often, not only were native nations split in twain but even tribes and clans, and sometimes split not only one way but two or three.
It was chaotic to the old tribal system. Of course, when the white man left various efforts were made from the very start to join that which had been torn apart a century earlier. Right here in this area, Senegal and what was then French Sudan merged to form the short-lived Mali Federation. Ghana and French Guinea formed a shaky alliance. More successful was the federation of Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda and Zanzibar, which of course, has since grown.
"But there were fantastic difficulties. Many of the old tribal institutions had been torn down, but new political institutions had been introduced only in a half-baked way. African politicians, supposedly 'democratically' elected, had no intention of facing the possibility of giving up their individual powers by uniting with their neighbors. Not only had the Africans been divided tribally but now politically as well. But obviously, so long as they continued to be Balkanized the chances of rapid progress were minimized.
"Other difficulties were manifold. So far as socio-economics were concerned, African society ran the scale from bottom to top. The Bushmen of the Ermelo district of the Transvaal and the Kalahari are stone age people still—savages.
Throughout the continent we find tribes at an ethnic level which American Anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan called barbarism. In some places we find socio-economic systems based on chattle slavery, elsewhere feudalism. In comparatively few areas, Casablanca, Algiers, Dakar, Cairo and possibly the Union we find a rapidly expanding capitalism.
"Needless to say, if Africa was to progress, to increase rapidly her per capita income, to depart the ranks of the have-nots and become have nations, these obstacles had to be overcome. That is why we are here."
"Speak for yourself, Mr. Crawford," the white haired objector of ten minutes earlier, bit out.
Homer Crawford nodded. "You are correct, sir. I should have said that is the reason the teams of the Reunited Nations African Development Project are here.
I note among us various members of this project besides those belonging to my own team, by the way. However, most of you are under other auspices. We of the Reunited Nations teams are here because as Africans racially but not nationally, we have no affiliation with clan, tribe or African nation. We are free to work for Africa's progress without prejudice. Our job is to remove obstacles wherever we find them. To break up log jams. To eliminate prejudices against the steps that must be taken if Africa is to run down the path of progress, rather than to crawl. We usually operate in teams of about half a dozen. There are hundreds of such teams in North Africa alone."
He rapped his knuckle against the small table behind which he stood. "Which brings us to the present and to the purpose of suggesting this meeting. Most of you are operating under other auspices than the Reunited Nations. Many of you duplicate some of our work. It occurred to me, and my team mates, that it might be a good idea for us to get together and see if there is ground for co- operation."
Jake Armstrong called out, "What kind of co-operation?"
Crawford shrugged. "How would I know? Largely, I don't even know who you represent, or the exact nature of the tasks you are trying to perform. I suggest that each group of us represented here, stand up and announce their position. Possibly, it will lead to something of value."
"I make that a motion," Cliff Jackson said.
"Second," Elmer Allen called out.
The majority were in favor.
Homer Crawford sat down behind the table, saying, "Who'll start off?"
Armstrong said, "Isobel, you're better looking than I am. They'd rather look at you. You present our story."
Isobel came to her feet and shot him a scornful glance. "Lazy," she said.
Jake Armstrong grinned at her. "Make it good."
Isobel took her place next to the table at which Crawford sat and faced the others.
She looked at the chairman from the side of her eyes and said, "After that allegedly _brief_ summation Mr. Crawford made, I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll be here until next week unless I set a new precedent and cut the position of the Africa for Africans Association shorter."
Isobel got her laugh, including one from Homer Crawford, and went on.
"Anyway, I suppose most of you know of the AFAA and possibly many of you belong to it, or at least contribute. We've been called the African Zionist organization and perhaps that's not too far off. We are largely, but not entirely an American association. We send out our teams, such as the one my colleagues and I belong to, in order to speed up progress and, as our chairman put it, eliminate prejudices against the steps that must be taken if Africa is to run down the path of progress instead of crawl. We also advocate that Americans and other non-African-born Negroes, educated in Europe and the Americas, return to Africa to help in its struggles. We find positions for any such who are competent, preferably doctors, educators, scientists and technicians, but also competent mechanics, construction workers and so forth.
We operate a school in New York where we teach native languages and lingua franca such as Swahili and Songhai, in preparation for going to Africa. We raise our money largely from voluntary contributions, and largely from American Negroes although we have also had government grants, donations from foundations, and from individuals of other racial backgrounds. I suppose that sums it up."
Isobel smiled at them, returned to her chair to applause, probably due as much to her attractive appearance as her words.
Crawford said, "When we began this meeting we had an objection that it be held at all. I wonder if we might hear from that gentleman next?"
The white haired, ramrod erect, man stood next to his chair, not bothering to come to the head of the room. "You may indeed," he snapped. "I am Bishop Manning of the United Negro Missionaries, an organization attempting to accomplish the only truly important task that cries for completion on this largely godless continent. Accomplish this, and all else will fall into place."
Homer Crawford said, "I assume you refer to the conversion of the populace."
"I do indeed. And the work others do is meaningless until that has been accomplished. We are bringing religion to Africa, but not through white missionaries who in the past lived _off_ the natives, but through Negro missionaries who live _with_ them. I call upon all of you to give up your present occupations and come to our assistance."
Elmer Allan's voice was sarcastic. "These people need less superstition, not more."
The bishop spun on him. "I am not speaking of superstition, young man!"
Elmer Allen said. "All religions are superstitions, except one's own."
"And yours?" the Bishop barked.
"I'm an agnostic."
The bishop snorted his disgust and made his way to the door. There he turned and had his last word. "All you do is meaningless. I pray you, again, give it up and join in the Lord's work."
Homer Crawford nodded to him. "Thank you, Bishop Manning. I'm sure we will all consider your words." When the older man was gone, he looked out over the hall again. "Well, who is next?"
A thus far speechless member of the audience, seated in the first row, came to his feet. His face was serious and strained, the face of a man who pushes himself beyond the point of efficiency in the vain effort to accomplish more by expenditure of added hours.
He came to the front and said, "Since I'm possibly the only one here who also has objections to the reason for calling this meeting, I might as well have my say now." He half turned to Crawford, and continued. "Mr. Chairman, my name is Ralph Sandell and I'm an officer in the Sahara Afforestation Project, which, as you know, is also under the auspices of the Reunited Nations, though not having any other connection with your own organization."
Homer Crawford nodded. "We know of your efforts, but why do you object to calling this meeting?" He seemed mystified.
"Because, like Bishop Manning, I think your efforts misdirected. I think you are expending tremendous sums of money and the work of tens of thousands of good men and women, in directions which in the long run will hardly count."
Crawford leaned back in surprise, waiting for the other's reasoning.
Ralph Sandell obliged. "As the chairman pointed out, the problem of population explosion is a desperate one. Even today, with all the efforts of the Reunited Nations and of the individual countries involved in African aid, the population of this continent is growing at a pace that will soon outstrip the arable portion of the land. Save only Antarctica, Africa has the smallest arable percentage of land of any of the continents.
"The task of the Afforestation Project is to return the Sahara to the fertile land it once was. The job is a gargantuan one, but ultimately quite possible.
Here in the south we are daming the Niger, running our irrigation projects farther and farther north. From the Mauritania area on the Atlantic we are pressing inland, using water purification and solar pumps to utilize the ocean. In the mountains of Morocco, the water available is being utilized more efficiently than ever before, and the sands being pushed back. We are all familiar with Egypt's ever increasingly successful efforts to exploit the Nile. In the Sahara itself, the new solar pumps are utilizing wells to an extent never dreamed of before. The oases are increasing in a geometric progression both in number and in size." He was caught up in his own enthusiasm.
Crawford said, interestedly, "It's a fascinating project. How long do you estimate it will be before the job is done?"
"Perhaps a century. As the trees go in by the tens of millions, there will be a change in climate. Forest begets moisture which in turn allows for more forest." He turned back to the audience as a whole. "In time we will be able to farm these million upon million of acres of fertile land. First it must go into forest, then we can return to field agriculture when climate and soil have been restored. This is our prime task! This is our basic need. I call upon all of you for your support and that of your organizations if you can bring their attention to the great need. The tasks you have set yourselves are meaningless in the face of this greater one. Let us be practical."
"Crazy man," Abe Baker said aloud. "Let's be practical and cut out all this jazz." The youthful New Yorker came to his feet. "First of all you just mentioned it was going to take a century, even though it's going like a geometric progression. Geometric progressions get going kind of slow, so I imagine that your scheme for making the Sahara fertile again, won't really be under full steam until more than halfway through that century of yours, and not really ripping ahead until, maybe two thirds of the way. Meanwhile, what's going to happen?"
"I beg your pardon!" Ralph Sandell said stiffly.
"That's all right," Abe Baker grinned at him. "The way they figure, population doubles every thirty years, under the present rate of increase. They figure there'll be three billion in the world by 1990, then by 2020 there would be six billions, and in 2050, twelve billions and twenty-four by the time your century was up. Old boy, I suggest the addition of a Sahara of rich agricultural land a century from now wouldn't be of much importance."
"You mean me, or you?" Abe grinned. "I once read an article by Donald Kingsbury. It's reprinted these days because it finished off the subject once and for all. He showed with mathematical rigor that given the present rate of human population increase, and an absolutely unlimited technology that allowed instantaneous intergalactical transportation and the ability to convert anything and everything into food, including interstellar dust, stars, planets, everything, it would take only seven thousand years to turn the total mass of the total universe into human flesh!"
The Sahara Afforestation official gaped at him.
The room rocked with laughter.
Irritated, Sandell snapped again, "Ridiculous!"
"It sure is, man," Abe grinned. "And the point is that the job is educating the people and freeing them to the point where they can develop their potentialities. Educate the African and he will see the same need that does the intelligent European, American, or Russian for that matter, to limit our population growth." He sat down again, and there was a scattering of applause and more laughter.
Sandell, still glowering, took his seat, too.
Homer Crawford, who'd been hard put not to join in the amusement, said,
"Thanks to both of you for some interesting points. Now, who's next? Who else do we have here?"
When no one else answered, a smallish man, dressed in the costume of the Dogon, to the south, came to his feet and to the head of the room.
In a clipped British accent, he said, "Rex Donaldson, of Nassau, the Bahamas, in the service of Her Majesty's Government and the British Commonwealth. I have no team. Although our tasks are largely similar to those of the African Development Project, we field men of the African Department usually work as individuals. My native pseudonym is usually Dolo Anah."
He looked out over the rest. "I have no objection to such meetings as this. If nothing else, it gives chaps a bit of an opportunity to air grievances. I personally have several and may as well state them now. Among other things, it becomes increasingly clear that though some of the organizations represented here are supposedly of the Reunited Nations, actually they are dominated by Yankees. The Yankees are seeping in everywhere." He looked at Isobel. "Yes, such groups as your Africa for Africans Association has high flown slogans, but wherever you go, there go Yankee ideas, Yankee products, Yankee schools."
Homer Crawford's eyebrows went up. "What is your solution? The fact is that the United States has a hundred or more times the educated Negroes than any other country."
Donaldson said, doggedly, "The British Commonwealth has done more than any other element in bringing progress to Africa. She should be given the lead in developing the continent. A good first step would be to make the pound sterling legal tender throughout the continent. And, as things are now, there are some _seven hundred_ different languages, not counting dialects. I suggest that English be made the lingua franca of—"
An excitable type, who had been first to join in the laughter at Sandell, now jumped to his feet. " _Un moment, Monsieur!_ The French Community long dominated a far greater portion of Africa than the British flag flew over. Not to mention that it was the most advanced portion. If any language was to become the lingua franca of all Africa, French would be more suitable. Your ultimate purpose, Mr. Donaldson, is obvious. You and your Commonwealth African Department wish to dominate for political and economic reasons!"
He turned to the others and spread his hands in a Gallic gesture. "I introduce myself, Pierre Dupaine, operative of the African Affairs sector of the French Community."
"Ha!" Donaldson snorted. "Getting the French out of Africa was like pulling teeth. It took donkey's years. And now look. This chap wants to bring them back again."
Crawford was knuckling the table. "Gentlemen, Gentlemen," he yelled. He finally had them quieted.
Wryly he said, "May I ask if we have a representative from the government of the United States?"
A lithe, inordinately well dressed young man rose from his seat in the rear of the hall. "Frederic Ostrander, C.I.A.," he said. "I might as well tell you now, Crawford, and you other American citizens here, this meeting will not meet with the approval of the State Department."
Crawford's eyes went up. "How do you know?"
The C.I.A. man said evenly, "We've already had reports that this conference was going to be held. I might as well inform you that a protest is being made to the Sahara Division of the African Development Project."
Crawford said, "I suppose that is your privilege, sir. Now, in accord with the reason for this meeting, can you tell us why your organization is present in Africa and what it hopes to achieve?"
Ostrander looked at him testily. "Why not? There has been considerable infiltration of all of these African development organizations by subversive elements… ."
"Oh, Brother," Cliff Jackson said.
"… And it is not the policy of the State Department to stand idly by while the Soviet Complex attempts to draw Africa from the ranks of the free world."
Elmer Allen said disgustedly, "Just what part of Africa would you really consider part of the Free World?"
The C.I.A. man stared at him coldly. "You know what I mean," he rapped. "And I might add, we are familiar with your record, Mr. Allen."
Homer Crawford said, "You've made a charge which is undoubtedly as unpalatable to many of those present as it is to me. Can you substantiate it? In my experience in the Sahara there is little, if any, following of the Soviet Complex."
An agreeing murmur went through the room.
Ostrander bit out, "Then who is subsidizing this El Hassan?"
Rex Donaldson, the British Commonwealth man, came to his feet. "That was a matter I was going to bring up before this meeting."
Homer Crawford, fully accompanied by Abe Baker and the rest of their team, even Elmer Allen, burst into uncontrolled laughter.