Guns, Germs and Steel is a fascinating read that tells the history of humanities development from the time we could begin to call ourselves Homo sapiens. There was much in this book I didn’t know, and I feel like I could read it again and find things I missed.
The author tries to answer questions centered on, why did some races ‘develope’ faster than others? For instance, why did Native American Indians not develop guns, food, immune resistance and other things that would have helped them in their fight with those looking to unsettle the ‘New World?’
Sitting on this side of history, I find myself asking, “what now?” in regards to how we solve some of the problems that have arisen as the result of the history of guns, germs and steel. For example, modern day South Africa is a result of the insatiable European thirst for land, diamonds, any just about everything else. 400+ years after those from the East Indian Trading Company arrived, the white population (10% of the total population) holds an overwhelming majority of both the land and the wealth. There is currently about a 35% unemployment rate, and virtually all of those are black.
How does a society come together to solve the problems brought about by guns, germs and steel? Should they? Mugabe tried it in Zimbabwe by taking over all the private industry and land and placing them in the government’s hand, promising that doing so would make the future better for the majority. The result? What was once the breadbasket of Africa now needs food aid from other countries. The economy has tanked and the national currency has suffered hyper-inflation. The system is broken and many have suffered as a result. Those who suffered under the old system are not better off. Nobody is better off.
In South Africa they’ve tried to tweak the system rather than blowing it up (like Mugabe). For example, companies have to give a certain percentage of their income to NGO’s that are seeking to alleviate the ills of the past and the vast inequality that exists. The government is trying to create RDP housing for those in the informal settlements. But for the millions who are still waiting for things to change, it is not enough. They still have a lack of food, jobs, shelter, water and good schooling. In many ways the end of the Apartheid area hasn’t benefited them in ways the ANC (African National Congress) had promised when it took power 20 years ago today. On top of that, corruption is a significant problem in the party as evidenced by over $20 million in public funds going to renovate President Jacob Zuma’s private home. How do we tell people living in poverty that they have to wait, while they look at those who are reaping the rewards from centuries of guns, germs and steel and, in South Africa particularly, the Apartheid system?
What’s your solution? How do we acknowledge the history of guns, germs and steel and move forward in a way that benefits everyone? Is that even possible?