Thursday, January 13, 2011
Soapy Reports On Africa
Even for old Republicans in the crowd, it was good to see the familiar face of G. Mennen Williams when he addressed the Kiwanis Club last week and their church pastor guests.
Soapy (as even his wife, Nancy, calls him in public), is much more distinguished looking than during his days of governor. He has grown a little grayer, of course, and a little heavier. He never was a dynamic speaker and in this department has made no significant improvement. But his fascinating subject before Kiwanis members was on Africa was covered just fine without a dynamic flair. Soapy served as assistance secretary of state for African Affairs during the Kennedy administration and is now ambassador to the Philippines.
AS SOAPY SPOKE, my thoughts meandered back a dozen years ago in Plymouth, Michigan where I labored for another newspaper. The governor was making his annual Fourth of July appearance and spoke briefly to a throng preceding holiday events at the football stadium.
Soapy’s convertible entered the field first and he got a polite hand. I was riding in the next convertible with Soupy Sales, master of ceremonies for the program. Soupy, who was at the peak of his popularity as a TV show personality, received a wild ovation that lasted for five minutes.
But Gov. Williams was not one to lose his composure. When it came time for him to speak, he immediately announced that “I’ve just decided on a running mate should I run again for governor. I don’t think we can lose. Our ticket will be known as Soapy and Soupy.”Roger Weymouth, president of Kiwanis, complained to the audience that since they were having such a distinguished guest to introduce, his wife advised him to get a haircut. But it being Monday, all the shops were closed. “My wife said that it was bad enough that I’m a Republican…”
THE FORMER governor and ambassador to Africa said he doesn’t expect that the African nations will form a United States of Africa for at least 20 to 30 years. Such a group was considered, however, when the present Organization of African States was formed. Half of Africa is desert. Only 10 percent is the jungle (or rain forest) which is the popular Tarzan conception of Africa in America. One-fourth is highlands, which is as pleasant as anyplace in our country. The 300 million people speak 1,000 languages.
Soapy related that he knew he was to receive a ceremonial robe from a chief so learned to say a few words of appreciation in another town only a few miles away. He found the words did not apply since it was a different language. Twenty-one countries speak French.
PARTS OF AFRICA once had a high culture but the exportation of 50 million slaves starting in the 16th century apparently drained the best people and the “dark continent” days began. Soapy optimistically reported that Communists are not as popular as they once were. Politically, Africa has one-third of the votes in the United Nations, which makes them a significant sector.
One of the saddening circumstances, Williams reports, is the blow to Christianity. “They are seeing that blacks are being kept out of many white churches and they wonder if that religion is for them. Christianity is now losing out to Muslims, 8 to 1.
In Salisbury, Rhodesia, the former ambassador found that white missionaries were going through a traumatic experience. Missionaries who had spent their lives there are seeing their churches being decimated by blacks who found that not even in Christianity is there equality.
It was certainly something for the ministers in the audience to ponder.