The Farber Report on Angola

The Mail

To the Editors of The Crimson

In the report "Gulf and Angola", published in the Harvard University Gazette of October 6th, I was very pleased to read than Mr. Stephen Farber believes that Harvard's "Primary Strength and influence" in African affairs might "lie in its capacity for teaching and research." Neverthless, as an anthropologist with some knowledge of European and American research on Africa. I found a number of points in Mr. Father's report which raise questions about his own summer researchers and the cogency of his entire point of view.

First, I was very perplexed that Mr. Farber's "hard factual analysis" told an nothing, beyond the mere length of his stay in three African countries and his use of a tape recorder, about the specific nature of his research. For example, a whole series of methodological question remain vague in at least my own reading of his report.

Does Mr. Farber speak Portuguese or did he use English to communicate with his "Informants"? How much time did Mr. Farber spend speaking with Gulf and Portuguese authorities relative to that of what he terms "Gulf's critics"? who gave Mr. Farber his information on the security situation at Cabinda and the strategic military strength of Portuguese vs. black liberation forces? What are the sources and reliability of all the statistical data on Portuguese and Gulf expenditure in Mr. Farber report? where and from whom did Mr. Farber get his statements on the so-called "official position of the insurgent groups?"

This last question raises a second issue about the language and implicit biases of Mr. Farber's report. Throughout his "Factual analysis, "Mr. Farber talks of the liberation forces as "Insurgents." This is all well and good, but the frequency of Mr. Farber's allusions to "Insurgency" snacks of the "think tank Jargon" which characterized the statements of American social scientists and policy makers charged with legitimizing the war in Indochina. For example, he uses much phrases as the "black insurgent threat," "anti Portuguese Insurgents," "Insurgent triumphs," "Insurgent dam busters," "Crush the insurgents," etc.


This choice of vocabulary it appears to me is not fortuitous. One could just as well ask why Mr. Farber makes to mention of "decolonization," "national liberation," or "armed struggle" to describe the actions of the MPLA in Angola or FRELIMO is Mozambique. Why, for instance, are we told so much about the "corporate managers" of Gulf (e.g., the portrayal of Ambassador Vasco Garin). and almost nothing about the "revolutionary leadership" of the MPLA? Obviously, Mr. Farber has chosen his own language for telling us about the situation in Portuguese Africa, and that language is not strikingly different from the one which mystified the American public in the early part of the 1960's.

Finally, at the end of Mr. Farber's report, there is the passing assertion, attributed to the critics of divestment but truly of his own making, that there are parallels between the social injustices in Southern Africa, and "racism in Uganda, genocide in Burundi, Pygmy slavery in the Central African Republic, and other manifestations of tyranny worldwide." Mr. Farber introduces this comparison there are no possibilities of political and ethical choice, and that the question of corporate investment is an all or none game.

To even raise the comparison without detailed discussion as Mr. Farber has done, it appears to me is the grossest of rhetorical tricks and an almost total retreat from the types of social and historical analysis which a university should be all about. Such a comparison raises the issue of ultra-colonialism in Angola to the status of a natural phenomenon, obscures the reasons for bloodshed in places like Burundi and Uganda and contrasted with Portuguese Africa, and conveniently gets rid of white racism, responsibility, and guilt Further, the comparison is even more invidious given Mr. Farber's own failure to concretely analyze the nature of the colonial situation in Angola. At its worst, it becomes the sort of rationalization used to justify the University's present non-negotiable stance.

In conclusion, I tend to agree with Mr. Farber that Harvard's primary responsibility as concerns Africa should be the educational one of public clarification. Before this can occur, however, it is obvious that we would need a financial cleaning up of our own house, a redistribution of power in the direction of the black members of our own community and a radical break from the dangerous premises that are so deeply rooted in his own report.

Yes, Mr. Farber, there is a political and ethical choice. Shelton H. Davis,   Lecturer on Social Antropology