Is the ‘global coalition’ obstructing Africa’s progress?

By | July 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm | 2 comments | Africa, International Solidarity, Libya, Networking, News


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The ‘global coalition’ is ultimately a mere front for the dominance of Western economic and political interests over genuine democratisation for the peoples of Africa, writes Zaya Yeebo.

AFRICA’S CONFIDENT STEPS TOWARDS DEMOCRACY

2011 will go down in Africa’s history as one of those rare moments in which the continent was dealt severe blows to its rightful role as a member of the international community. While pontificating at length about democracy, participation and the rights of people to chose their own destinies, the West has shown once again that its own interest overrides those legitimate concerns of others. This has to be emphasised time and again to enable the youth of Africa to learn that the salvation of this continent lies in Africans ourselves.

What began as popular revolt in Egypt and Tunisia was refreshing and new, coming on the heels of post-election deadlock in Côte d’Ivoire. It was like a bolt from the blue, but refreshing and reassuring that the masses were not asleep. However, it is also time for us to wake up to new realities that threaten the nascent democratic systems which are being nurtured and our fragile economies as the West begins to search for new lands to conquer and colonise as their own economies hit the rocks. Age-old colonial attitudes die hard. In the early 1980s, there were numerous debates about the ‘re-colonislation’ of Africa. These were mainly dismissed as heresies, but as Tripoli is being pounded as I write this article, and the life of Colonel Gaddafi and his people are in peril, we see a repeat of Iraq and Afghanistan, except that this time it is on Africa soil.

DEMOCRACY WITHOUT DEVELOPMENT

Events in Tunisia and Egypt – the latest examples of popular uprisings or ‘revolutions’ – highlight issues of poverty, deprivation, dictatorships bankrolled by the West and, eventually, a people so fed up that they defy these dictatorships, irrespective of the cost to their own lives and property. Their defiance is reminiscent of the second liberation in Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Will these popular revolutions lead to the type of change envisaged by the protestors in Egypt and Tunisia? Did the second liberation in Africa lead to the type of democratic transition popular forces envisaged?

Guinea has receded in the news since the military gave way to an elected government, but it still presents us with a good example of the conundrum we are usually presented with when discussing democracy and development in Africa. Guinea was abused and desecrated by the French as a colonial power. When the late President Ahmed Sékou Touré, like most radical African nationalists, tried to reverse poverty, deprivation and the neocolonial exploitation of Guinea’s bauxite, he suffered the same fate as most of our post-colonial leaders. He died a disappointed man. When I met President Touré in Conakry, the capital of Guinea (in 1982), he was a broken man. He had lost his radical vitality and moaned a lot about Africa’s inability to develop because of constant external interference. Guinea was not to recover. In Niger, a legion of coup makers also complain about the poverty that is all obvious in spite of the fact that it is a mineral-rich country. In the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, poverty and youth unemployment was very much one of the influencing factors.

Others have argued that the quagmire of poverty in which many Africans face today is due to a lack of effective and a visionary leadership. I tend to agree. In order to understand this, one needs to look at how African leaders are groomed, selectively praised and demonised and how they sustain themselves in power. In both Egypt and Tunisia, the United States of America bankrolled the Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali dictatorships for several decades, only to wake up when the masses of these countries were in open defiance, in spite of American support for their dictators. When the masses poured into the streets, one could not help but feel nauseated at the way the American political elite suddenly found a voice to talk about ‘democracy’ in Egypt. Where have they been all these years when then President Mubarak abused, disposed and virtually imprisoned his people?

WHOSE LEADERS?

It appears that Africa’s post-colonial history is full of examples of people who assume leadership roles because of their popularity, while others assume such roles because of the support they have from foreign interests, mainly American and some Western powers. In recent years, Western powers have taken it upon themselves to decide who is a ‘leader’ in Africa. In the recent debate, we have heard a phrase uttered several times. One leader from the European Union is quoted as saying, ‘as far as we are concerned, Gaddafi must go’. Wow, is she a Libyan?

The sort of atrocities committed in the name of ‘democracy’ are a worrying trend, with several thousands of innocent children, women and men dead in Iraq, Afghanistan and Côte d’Ivoire. Several thousand more will die in Libya before this colonial enterprise reaches its logical conclusion, while several more will die in Côte d’Ivoire, firstly because of the foreign intervention led by French imperialism, and secondly the bankrupt nature of the African ruling class, who have no inhibitions if they trample over several dead African children to achieve their dream of sleeping in ‘state house’.

In the name of democracy, the ‘international community’ creates its own centres of power, and labels them ‘coalition’ governments, sometimes with the blessing of the African Union. We have them in Kenya and Zimbabwe. ‘Coalition’ governments are like the jobs of a poorly constructed house put up by cowboy builders: it will hold for a while, but its structural deficiencies cannot be overlooked. Kenya’s vice-president, the Honourable Kalonzo Musyoka, calls them ‘the worst form of government’. In the Cold War era, such intervention was either directly or indirectly through local proxies (Mobutu Sese Seko and Jean-Bédel Bokassa are examples of this). In other times, direct intervention through mercenaries is easier and less costly; we saw this in Sierra Leone with the British mercenary group, Executive Outcomes, leading the charge against guerrilla forces.

In the 1980s, Africa was replete with ‘charismatic leaders’, ’strongmen’, ‘new leaders’ – names invented by admiring Western journalists. These leaders were also bolstered by Western financial support. Neocolonialism had come of age. The inventors of these so-called African ‘strongmen’ always ignored the most basic principle of political science and democracy that only the citizens of that country have the legitimate authority to decide whether a leader is good or bad for a country. My countryman Nii Akuetteh (executive director of Africa Action, USA) calls this, ‘the genuine, informed, enlightened opinion and sentiment of the broad majority’. The reality in Africa today is that ‘this majority is never consulted. Indeed, steps are taken to suppress its views’. The role of the African majority is usurped by the labelling chorus of Western praise-singers and their African cohorts.

This Western chorus praises certain African leaders and keeps them in power through public praise, insidious secret military agreements, large doses of Western aid and military equipment to suppress their opponents in the name of ‘fighting terrorism’. Even when these leaders are kleptomaniacs, they look the other way. Before the Cold War was interrupted, it was all done in the name of fighting ‘communism’. These days, it is either about fighting ‘terrorists’ or supporting local ‘democracy’. This scenario is being replayed in the Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Libya (of late) and several African countries under the guise of finding an international consensus to post-election crisis. In Côte d’Ivoire, the post-election crisis has been largely fuelled in part by the interference of France, and other conniving imperialists’ interests and the local ruling elite. The real interests of the Ivorian populace were irrelevant to these forces.

Why does the West keep corrupt, undemocratic, visionless and ineffectual leaders in power? It is because these leaders serve and protect the interests of the West. They become front-men and -women for implementing Western orthodox economic policies which endanger Africa economies and people but serve vital Western economic and military interests. Liberalisation provides an unfettered access to African minerals, oil, military bases or complicity in renditions, which allows Western torturers to arrest and incarcerate innocent citizens or transport them to lawless lands in the name of fighting terrorism.

In serving Western interests some of these African rulers wage war on the true interests of their people. In the end what we see in Africa today is a global coalition of foreign interests and their local puppets usurping power in the name of ‘democracy’. The liberators now turned plunders and abusers, who have always seen collusion with Western interests as normal and as a protection of ‘democratic values’. In reality, these Western interests and their local puppets actually hate and stifle real popular democracy.

In the immediate post-independence period, Africa had leaders like Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Sékou Touré (Guinea), Modibo Keïta (Mali), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and several others whose voices on the global stage could not be ignored because these were leaders with a vision, an intellect unmatched by any other and who were committed to the cause of Africa. They were feared and respected in equal measure because the African liberation train was at full speed, unstoppable and fearless. Imperialism changed tact and through coups d’état, sabotage and assassinations, eliminated these leaders, leaving us with the profiteers and plunderers.

Today, African voices on the international stage are muted, indeed muffled, in the cacophony of Western-led musicians and praise-singers acting on behalf of Africa. African voices are so muted that the African Union can be ignored by institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), to which these leaders are signatories. The lack of respect for African leaders at the global level is indeed worrying because if our leaders cannot speak for us at the United Nations and be listened to, then who can? If Jacob Zuma, Mwai Kibaki, John Atta Mills, Goodluck Jonathan, Meles Zenawi and Yoweri Musevine can be ignored and treated with disrespect, then what happens to the rest of African humanity? Such treatment is carefully choreographed by this global coalition as a defence of ‘democracy’ and of the people of Africa. The contemptuous attitude of Western leaders (even junior ones) towards African leaders is baffling.

AFRICA’S RESPONSIBILITY

In trying to understand the role of this global coalition, it is also important to examine African history since the 1980s when the West used food and development aid and support to Western non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to deepen their stranglehold on the continent. The former British prime minister Tony Blair called this intervention ‘humanitarian’. It probably was to the eyes of the Western public, but to a more discerning eye, there was more to it. While Tony Blair was preaching humanitarian intervention in Africa, he was leading one of the bloodiest periods in the history of Iraq, ignoring and lying to his own people about his motives.

African intellectuals and activists ought to respond to policy directives from Washington and London with equal robustness in defence of Africa. In recent weeks we have all been treated to a flurry of writing from African academics, extolling the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia for the youth of Africa. They write as if Africa has not been there before. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Africa was a ferment of popular revolutionary struggles led by students, youth, trade unions, farmers’ and women’s movements. Current regimes in most African countries are the result of these popular struggles. So when people pose the question whether ‘Egypt can be replicated’, the answer should be a resounding ‘no’, because Egypt is following a precedent set by African youth and political activists in the era before the Facebook generation of activists.

DEMOCRACY AS SELF-DETERMINATION

Democracy in its true meaningful sense requires self-determination and true empowerment of the people, the ability of a country through its legislature and institutions (e.g., civil society) to protect the nation’s natural resources and national vital assets, including its children, people with disabilities and water resources. Democracy has to be relevant to the people in whom it is exercised and cannot be imposed by bombs rained on innocent women, children and so on. African history is replete with kingdoms where ‘democracy’ of a more relevant type was practiced. A weak, ineffective state is incapable of doing this, and lends itself to corruption, impunity, plunder, the abuse of its citizens and manipulation by foreign vested interests. Yet there has been a deliberate attempt to weaken the African state. In the name of democracy, the African state has been weakened while national leadership is severely undermined and discredited deliberately through selective insults, deliberate economic sabotage and the use of mercenaries and misguided youth to create mayhem in the name of empowerment. This tendency is part of a process of imperialist and neocolonial political and economic control.

The only way the West can continue its stranglehold on Africa is through the weakening of state institutions and by undermining the very nature of the state through open, insidious and perfidious means such as abusing African leaders through blanket selective name-calling and the mobilisation of hostile forces in the grand name of ‘supporting democracy’ while doing the exact opposite. The forced imposition of national ‘grand coalitions’ after contested elections is one example of such attempts to weaken the African state and render it ineffective and amenable to manipulation by vested foreign and local interests. But as noted earlier, these coalitions are problematic, as the case of Zimbabwe and Kenya demonstrate. Contested elections in other parts of the world do not automatically lead to so-called ‘grand coalition governments’.

These national grand coalitions are underpinned by a global coalition of its own. This also constitutes the defenders of imperialist and neocolonial interests in Africa. This global coalition has become the instruments for imposing and enforcing the will of the so-called international community in some African countries, the latest example being the attempt to enforce regime change in Libya. Members of this global coalition include the neoliberal African ruling elites, Western politicians, bureaucrats, tycoons, Western heads of missions in Africa and journalists. Kenya is an example of the role of this grand coalition. Where the interest of this global coalition is threatened either by poverty, youth uprisings, armed rebellion, land seizures or the failure to secure lucrative oil and other contracts, they would not hesitate to undermine democracy or its institutions. Sometimes Western interests turns to hate of Africa and its continuing quest for legitimate self-determination and economic independence.

In the past, this global coalition has recruited mercenaries or hired pliant neocolonial collaborators in African armies to overthrow legitimate and democratically elected governments, with all kinds of puerile reasons and justifications. As Nii Akuetteh puts it: ‘The grand (global) coalition thus constitutes the enemies of democracy in Africa. It uses subtlety and deception as part of its war. Consequently, every member of this coalition – the African rulers, the Western politicians, bureaucrats, tycoons and journalists, at the appropriate time – profess their love for democracy.’

The timing and geographic element in this phenomenon should not be overlooked either. In the words of Nii Akuetteh: ‘The specific set of Western interests being served changes with time and also depends on region. The changes in Western interests produce changes in which African rulers receive the labelling and the praise.’ In the 1960s leading up to the 1980s, when Western interests were largely influenced by winning the Cold War against communism – i.e., protecting capitalism while professing its right to plunder Africa’s resources – rulers who received support included Mobutu Sese Seko (then Zaire, now the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)), Jonas Savimbi (rebel leader in Angola), General Ibrahim Babangida (former ruler of Nigeria) and Jerry Rawlings (Ghana), to name but a few.

Today, Western interests have changed to imposing capitalism (in the name of globalisation and economic prudence), the continued plunder of African resources and fighting the ‘War on Terror’. Those receiving Western praise and support now include President Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia), President Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), President Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia. In the words of Nii Akutteh: ‘The time and geographic elements also explain why some African rulers receive the Kleenex treatment from the West. When their usefulness comes to an end, they lose favour, are thrown aside and become pariahs, if not demons. President Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and ex-President Charles Taylor (and now Muammar Gaddafi) might fall into this category.’

This also explains why building democracy in Africa is fraught with difficulties. The pro-democracy movement since the 1980s has fallen prey to this Western deception and beguiling. Democracies thrive and are sustained by the quality of their institutions, particularly those charged with promoting justice, equality and accountability for all citizens, not for the chosen few. These institutions, by their very nature and the quality of their work, can strengthen the public trust in their governments. So when these institutions give even the slightest appearance that they are being compromised, undermined by foreign name-calling or used for the pursuit of ethnic, foreign and/or personal interest, the very fabric of democracy is threatened. This global coalition believes that when it comes to Africa, individual freedoms should be sacrificed for its interests.

When African leaders attempt to rein in these foreign predators and resist neocolonial imposition, unjustified sanctions are applied without morality and due consideration for the poor of that country. A classic example of this is Zimbabwe, and Ghana under its first prime minister, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, and now Libya. Under these conditions, Africa is put in the spotlight and labelled ‘failed states’, ‘basket cases’ and similar patronisingly depressing accolades.

PEOPLE’S POWER IS THE ANSWER

The role of the global coalition bent on neocolonial domination of Africa calls for serious resistance to first inform African people and build solidarity within and outside Africa. There is an urgent need to expose the hypocrisy of this anti-African cabal group which claims to fight for democracy and development while doing all in their power to resist African self-determination and block genuine economic independence and self-reliance. The current popular successes in Tunisia and Egypt, like similar struggles in other parts of Africa, will prove to be a mirage as this global coalition mobilises its efforts to ensure that these popular ‘revolutions’ do not lead to genuine change for the popular movements of the people and real democracy. They will rely on the ruling elites of these countries as their pliant supporters. African activists (both political and civil society elements) in Africa and the diaspora must exploit every opportunity to relentlessly publicise and expose how Western politicians, misguided aid enthusiasts and tycoons join together to praise, prop up and protect horrific African regimes and their ruthlessly servile policies while at the same time demonising genuine pan-African, anti-imperialist leaders who seek to deal with the intractable problems of neocolonialism, poverty and deprivation.

In the same way, African activists should identify and expose both African and Western journalists who use their positions to promote anti-African diatribes in the name of freedom of expression. Nii Akuetteh provides a reason why such an exposure is critical: ‘Western reporters (who in their own countries are fearless and terrifying in ferreting out abuse of power) undergo a transformation when they leave home. When in Africa, they practice foreign journalism as patriotic propaganda. In these morality plays, Westerners in Africa do no wrong but rather are white saviours who rescue poor Africans from their evil leaders and their uncivilised culture.’ The result is that Western public opinion is in the dark. It has no clue about the harm its politicians, businessmen (some parade as benevolent investors), bureaucrats and tycoons have been doing across Africa. If African activists and progressive leaders work with Western and global activists to shine a bright light on the nefarious arrangements that hurt Africa so badly, it will wither away and leave Africa to deal with the rest.

Above all, Africa and its institutions must learn the lessons of the past and not allow foreign interest to dictate who is and who is not fit to rule an African country. This requires of us as Africans to be broadminded, to develop our own vision of what constitutes African democracy and how to resolve African differences. Activists must develop new strategies, tactics and programmes to confront the new realities. This calls for renewing confidence in ourselves to wean our countries from the extreme over-reliance on external support by building our own resource base through local resource mobilisation, fostering more equitable development and learning to mend our broken societies our own way.

The African spirit teaches us not to despair. Even though Africa may be seen through some other lenses as being in perennial crisis, Africans have a habit and an impressive record of overcoming what Nii Akuetteh calls ‘even more dire adversity’. The examples of Tunisia and Egypt have rekindled people’s believe in themselves and the possibility of peaceful positive change. We must seize the moment. But we should also not ignore the painful lessons of neocolonial, imperialist interventions. They are aimed at parachuting us back to the days before the Berlin Conference. As Nkrumah once said, Africa is ‘out of the gambling house of colonialism and will never return’.

Forward ever, backward never.

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  • Gloria

    Very insightful and well written! I took a quick nap on Sunday in celebration of the AU decision to ignore the ICC warrant. At least African leaders are beginning to recognise the politics of permanent interest played by the Western powers. Africa must now say ‘no’ to the regional divisions that favour the West. Cultural and langauge differences are not enough reasons not the unite. Europe did! Divided we beg, united we demand!

  • Curtis Murphy

    Zaya Yeebo did your statement “Activists must develop new strategies, tactics and programmes to confront the new realities”….come to fruition?…