Jim Bailey, the man who made a small fortune from a large one in funding Drum magazine, described Milton Obote's Uganda in the 1960s as one that had "followed the socialist policy of the period, centralised the government under himself and abolished the monarchies ..."
"Thus," wrote Bailey, "he stirred up tribal tensions, each group trying to command the centre. As political tensions rose, people in Uganda began to be murdered."
These tensions exploded and coup followed coup, Obote came, went, came again, and then went permanently, during which time the economy completely imploded, further reinforcing the cycle of collapse, violence and instability - until Yoweri Museveni came into power in 1986.
Bailey was a remarkable man by any standards, for his crusading philanthropy and personal bravery (during World War 2 he was a Defiant pilot - this was an aircraft with an astonishing casualty rate, even by the standards of the time). He was apparently also never afraid of authority in pursuing his convictions, not least with the apartheid regime. His 2000 obituary described him as a "good man in Africa".
But he was wrong in at least one respect in his analysis. Uganda's example still holds true today for a number of African examples, including South Africa.
This is not to say that such countries are going to disintegrate into Amin-style buffoonery (though we try hard sometimes), then into collapse and unspeakably savage violence.
But it does illustrate two other less obvious but extremely costly trends.
First, the history of the failure of delivery of the African (and more than a few other) centralised states has been eased by the passage of time and superseded by a reinvigorated, bolshie arrogance, fortified in turn by the 2008 global economic crisis, that this time "we will do it better".
They have failed to learn the lessons of history that the state, while a necessary enabler, does not run businesses or even allocate preferences and incentives very well. Regardless, redistribution through the state rather than development through the private sector remains the preferred policy method - not least since it guarantees political constituencies.
Second, in Africa the focus of government and political debate remains on politics for the sake of power rather than the sake of development.
East Asia developed rapidly because its leadership had a laser-like focus on growth. Asian leaders used their resources to transform their societies.
This was no miracle, but rather the product of adroit political management.
In Africa, in contrast, politics is seldom used as a tool for development, and nor are economic choices front and centre of political debates.
Not surprisingly, governments are reluctant to make development delivery the foremost criteria for their re-election. Instead, they favour playing the old politics of identity and distribution along these lines.
If only the ruling alliance could move as swiftly and mobilise as effectively on working for the private sector as it has against other things.
That brings one inevitably to the issue of The Spear. Yes, events were a sad reflection on how far we have failed to travel as a nation over a generation in political and racial terms. Yes, too, it was a sad day for freedom of expression. But for me, while a jarring reality, this was not the most notable outcome.
More importantly, the ruling party's machinery was brilliantly and rapidly mobilised around the issue. If only they could do that for the sake of development progress.
Indeed, the fact that there were several thousand unemployed people available to be bussed in to march illustrates how far off the mark we are in political debates, where the mobilising issue is not endemic unemployment but a piece of art.
As Henry Kissinger's career and fame began to grow, he was asked by his former Harvard colleagues why he did not spend much time with them any more. He apparently paraphrased Henry David Thoreau in answering: "Never look back unless that is the way you want to go."
The same could be said of those who, sadly, continue to play the politics of identity.
linked page/file: <http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/2012/06/10/politics-of-identity-show-obsession-with-past