The idea was this: "we"—although actually I usually said "I" since this was a plan imagined for after I was ruling Britain!—would take over an African country, stop any civil wars and help the indigenous peoples to build up both an infra-structure (roads, etc.) and a stable political system. This would be done on a rolling commercial contract—say, eight years, and then the contract could be renewed for five years, then three, etc.—and paid for, on a commerical basis, through the appropriation of the valuable natural resources in which Africa is so rich. In other words, we would foster a stable democracy and, importantly, a non-corrupt civil service (in the way that we, mostly, failed to do when we withdrew from our colonies) and infrastructure and then we would take the cost of the operations (and a small profit) from the country's resources.
The state that I used to demonstrate this idea was Sierra Leone: they were still broadly pro-British (as demonstrated by the welcoming crowds when we went in there in 2000) and they had a demonstrable natural resource (diamonds). The idea was that we would enter into a contract with the politicos to help them out; as a guarantee, we would destroy the rebels holding the majority of the diamond mines, before we started taking any payment (indeed, we would have to). We would develop and make the mines safer, build infrastructure to transport them and then provide a stable trading partner on the international markets.
Now I recognise that there are a number of serious flaws in this idea, not least that our governments would be both benign and competent enough to carry all of this out, but I thought that the principle was sound enough.
Thus, it was with interest that I read, this morning, this post on Brian Micklethwait's blog; it is a report on Sierra Leone from a soldier friend of his who has been stationed out there.
White men – most particularly the Brits – are held in high esteem in Sierra Leone. If you stood for election on a platform of the British re-colonising the country you’d sweep to power. Only the existing pols would oppose you. It would be massively popular.
From independence to the civil war of 2000 and before was a tale of gradual descent into hell. So, Brits rule: good. Brits leave: things go from good to bad to worse to the worst things you can imagine to stuff so bad you can’t even imagine it. Eventually Brits rescue. You can see why they like us.
Go and read the whole post; I found it extremely interesting and a very good example of the type ground report that the internet is so useful for.
And in the meantime, see if you can forgive my youthful idealism...
UPDATE: another story in a similar vein from Elaib.
A chum of mine, a Glaswegian Royal Marine corporal was on duty back in June 2000 when Robin Cook rocked up in Freetown. My friend was part of Cook's personal security team, and thus accompanied him almost everywhere.
At one point the tribal elders were all gathered in a big tent with Cook sitting at a table in the front.
"What can we in Britain do for you? Ask us and I am sure that we will everything in our power to provide it."
The chiefs went into a huddled discussion discussion with lots of waving arms and nodding heads and a couple of minutes later one, rather impressive old man stood up as their representative.
"We have thought about this before this time Minister, and we agree. We would like Britain to recolonise our land."
Cook spluttered out something like, "Ach, that's not possible, ask something else."
"Then leave your army here for as long as you can," was the reply.
And they are still there.
As Elaib says, ask anything but that...