"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Time to Reevaluate Africa?

The United States is complicit in decades of African misrule, mismanagement, corruption, and autocracy. In its desire for trustworthy allies, it has befriended and supported dictators throughout the continent to safeguard and promote American commercial and economic interests. Oil, precious metals, and other natural resources have become political commodities in the international marketplace, and the US is a major player.

Under pressure from the African American lobby and its progressive political allies, Democratic administrations have desperately tried to show their support for African regimes which are 'democratic'. Not surprisingly, given this bias, they have made foreign policy with blinders on. Hillary Clinton made a disastrous mistake in Mali, loudly cheering for President Toure even though many Western observers knew that he was a corrupt despot.  Bruce Whitehouse (London Review of Books) wrote:
It turns out that many of the democratic reforms and institutions were shams and used by canny politicians to keep the sluice gates of foreign assistance flowing.
‘A fish rots from the head,’ Malians say. To keep the aid money flowing, Touré maintained a veneer of progress. His government at first boosted the number of children enrolled at school, which pleased donors, but never invested adequately in the country’s dilapidated education system. Only 12 per cent of students passed the high school leaving exams this year, the lowest rate ever recorded. Touré purchased a temporary peace in the north but never made good on promises to reduce the acute poverty there. He accepted millions of dollars of US military aid, which was supposed to be used to drive out al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, but he never actually went after the group’s encampments. The military itself was racked by nepotism, and officers often skimmed off their soldiers’ ammunition and pay.
The State Department looked, but saw only what it wanted to see.  The signs of this political corruption were evident everywhere:
The cracks in Mali’s democracy were present before the latest Tuareg rebellion. The 1992 constitution, the free press and regular elections obscured long-standing anti-democratic practices. Western governments, glad to see the formal trappings of democracy anywhere in the region, tolerated these abuses. Touré’s presidency had begun under a cloud. Although international observers noted irregularities during the 2002 election, they declared it free and fair. Many in Mali and elsewhere believe Touré won only because the scales were tipped in his favor: the constitutional court annulled half a million votes, roughly a quarter of the ballots cast in the first round. Konaré, the incumbent, had chosen Touré as his successor and had acted to ensure his victory. Touré has been accused of orchestrating an ‘electoral hold-up’ for his 2007 re-election. Turnout for Mali’s elections throughout the decade was the lowest in West Africa. Recently Laurent Bigot, a French foreign ministry official, succinctly described Mali as a ‘sham democracy’.

The most significant failure in US African diplomacy has been the unequivocal support for the creation of the independent country of South Sudan; and in so doing overlooked the tribal hatreds within the region, the Sudan-South Sudan armed conflict, the desperate poverty of the new country, its unfamiliarity with democracy and governance; and perhaps most importantly the disputes over land and natural resources.  In short, by championing the cause of South Sudan for the domestic political reasons cited above, it consigned the it to years of war, misery, abject poverty and disease, and little hope of survival.

These recent fiascoes are nothing compared to the past:
Hundreds of farmers attacked a village, killing at least 48 people in south-eastern Kenya in an escalation of clashes between the farming and pastoral communities over land and resources, an official said on Wednesday.
Some people were burned to death in their houses, while others were hacked to death or shot with arrows, said Tana river region police chief Joseph Kavoo.
The majority of those killed were women and children, said area resident Said Mgeni. He said the attacks began on Wednesday at dawn when about 200 people belonging to the Pokomo ethnic group raided a village in the Riketa area and torched all the houses belonging to the Orma, a pastoral community (The Guardian 8.22.12)
In the same Guardian appears an article which speaks about the remarkable progress the continent has made and how the image of a backward continent is wrong.  Using Ethiopia as an example, it cites the number of new cafes that have sprung up in Addis and how many new Boeings the government has purchased.  It praises Paul Kagame, long-time leader of Rwanda and leader of the Tutsi fight against Hutu ‘genocidaires’ for having presided over a burgeoning capitalist resurgence. 

While there is no doubt that one can once again get a good espresso in Addis, and that Rwanda is not in the same desperate conditions it was after 1994, the assumption that Africa is no longer worthy of the West’s criticism if not condemnation is wrong.  Dictators prevail throughout the region; and not only that continue to receive aid from the United States which serve to keep them in power.

The leader of Ethiopia who either just died or was murdered was a dictator, and despite years of misrule, was the beneficiary of billions.  Idriss Deby, the dictator of Chad played the US and the World Bank for fools, duplicitously agreeing to a gas-for-reform agenda and then reneging completely and continuing his despotic rule over one of the poorest countries in Africa..  The lionized Kagame presides with a repressive regime which muzzles opposition.  He has lied or distorted reports about his support of anti-government clandestine military operations in the Congo.  There are many more examples.
Helen Epstein recently described in these pages the support that aid donors give to Ethiopia’s tyrant Meles Zenawi, who has roughly matched Biya [President of Cameroon]  in aid receipts in a shorter period of time. Peter Gill in his excellent recent book Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid (2010) documents Meles’s misdeeds further, which rise to the level of war crimes in his counterinsurgency in Ethiopia’s Somali region. Other long-serving aid-receiving dictators include Idriss Déby in Chad ($6 billion in aid between 1990 and the present), Lansana Conté in Guinea ($11 billion between 1984 and his death in 2008), Paul Kagame in Rwanda ($10 billion between 1994 and the present), and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda ($31 billion between 1986 and the present) William Easterly, NY Review of Books, 11.2010
These are just some examples of misrule, notable because of the perpetuation of dictatorial regimes thanks to Western largesse.  But there are more.  Take the case of Togo where President-for-Life Eyadema ruled for decades until his death in a suspicious air disaster:
President Eyadéma died on 5 February 2005 while on board an airplane en route to France for treatment for a heart attack. Papa Gnassingbé is said to have killed more than fifteen thousand people during his dictatorship. His son Faure Gnassingbé, the country's former minister of public works, mines, and telecommunications, was named President by Togo's military following the announcement of his father's death.  After the announcement of the results [of an ‘election’ in 2005], tensions flared up and to date, 100 people have been killed. On 3 May 2005, Gnassingbé was sworn in and vowed to concentrate on "the promotion of development, the common good, peace and national unity" (Wikipedia).
The Central African Republic which endured decades of despotic rule by Bokassa, emerged from that period by fits and starts
In 1999 Mr Patasse beat nine other candidates to become president again, but there were allegations of electoral fraud. He was overthrown in a coup in 2003 and went into exile in Togo.
Illegal weapons proliferate across the CAR, the legacy of years of unrest. Armed groups are active in the volatile north. The unrest has displaced tens of thousands of Central Africans; many of them have crossed the border into Chad.
Another threat has appeared - the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels of neighboring Uganda, whose insurgency has spread to the wider region, including CAR. In 2009, LRA activities forced the populations of several towns and villages to flee, while government forces struggled to contain the gunmen.

In addition to these countries – Chad, Cameroon, Guinea, Togo, and Rwanda – one has to add Uganda.  Whatever one can say about President Museveni’s attempted modernization of the country, the Lord’s Resistance Army and its bloodthirsty, tyrannical leader Joseph Kony, continues its slaughter of innocent civilians:

Let us not forget Sierra Leone and Liberia.  One hopes that the violence of the recent civil and trans-border wars are over, but they are too recent in memory to assume that the roots of violence have been eliminated.  These recent wars were not only brutal and senseless, they were chillingly weird.  Wigged-out boy soldiers, high on dope, wearing women’s wigs and clothes went on machete rampages and slaughtered thousands.
The Guardian journalist limns the praises of Nigeria with its high GDP and federalist government.  What he does not mention is the Sierra Leone-type violence that is going on in the oil-rich delta, forcing many Western oil producers to abandon ship.
Oh yes, Boku Haram:

The journalist does not mention Angola as a success story as to many who see only what they want to see.  The country’s GDP is indeed growing by leaps and bounds but only because of the value of the oil pulled out of the ground.  What these admirers do not say is that this vast wealth benefits only one percent of the top one percent whose foreign bank accounts swell while the majority of citizens remain impoverished in as bad conditions as any in Africa.

Mali was once considered the darling of Africa by the United States who praised its democratic reforms to the rooftops.  What Administration officials did not realize was that this illusory ‘democracy’ was based on very weak if not fragile foundations.  In recent months Malian forces were unable to repel the Tuaregs in the North, and rebellious factions within the military and the government staged a coup, the repercussions of which are still reverberating.  Whatever bulwark against Al-Qaeda that might have existed before the coup, is gone.

The West has forgotten Robert Mugabe because he made some accommodation with his political rival, but his intolerable and brutal regime continues.  He is the same brutal dictator he always was.
Perhaps one should look to Senegal for hope.  Its first president Leopold Senghor was not only a patriotic leader, but an internationally-renowned scholar.  His successor Abdou Diouf was elected in a relatively seamless transfer of power.  All that has changed, however, and the situation in the country is as unstable and as unpredictable as those around it:
The Senegalese presidential elections planned for 26 February 2012 have set the country in a situation of instability and violence. This is mainly due to the run for re-election by the incumbent president for a third term, considered unconstitutional by the opposition united under the banner of the June 23 Movement (M23). The validation of the President’s application by the Senegalese Constitutional Council has been followed by protests, demonstrations and disturbances which have resulted in four deaths and 62
people critically injured at the time of writing. (Bulletin, International Red Cross).
Even the smallest countries and those without much international interest, such as Mauritania, are under US State Department watch.  There have been violent anti-government protests for years, a number of para-military political groups have been formed, and due to the deterioration of the economic situation,  violence could erupt.

The war in Darfur led by the Government of Sudan against minority ethnic groups persisted for years with high loss of life.  Previous wars by the Northern government groups/tribes against the South continued until the partition of the country and the establishment of the new country of South Sudan which immediately began cross-border raids against the north to fight for access to oil and gas. The US was misguided in its attempts to create a new country when its government, civil society, infrastructure, and internal political divisions all pointed to a new failed state.

What can be said about Somalia, which makes sporadic and periodic attempts to get its act together, but which has for decades been one of the world’s few totally anarchic, ungoverned entities.
So, who’s left.  Ghana, which has indeed made some noteworthy progress, but its percent increase in GDP is fictional given the abysmally low level from which it started.  Djibouti?  Comoros?  Madagascar.  Oops, Madagascar, home to lemurs, wonderful fresh foie gras, and nice beaches was totally disrupted five years ago in an eruption of total political chaos. 

There is one country one can truly count as successful – Namibia. 

Swakopmund Beach Promenade
Namibia in Southern Africa is a popular destination for tourists interested in wildlife, desert scenery and traditional African cultures. Namibia is easy to travel around, the roads are good and you can rent a car or camper and make use of the wonderful campsites that are well maintained throughout the country. The main towns of Swakopmund and the capital Windhoek are modern towns with lots of hotels and restaurants. (Namibia Tourism)
Namibia also has my favorite food – oysters:

…and you can eat them in luxury:

International observers are trying desperately to discover success stories.  They would somehow vindicate the decades of foreign investment, dispel the persistent images of a Dark Continent, and somehow expunge all the 19th Century accounts of African-on-African slavery, cannibalism, and savagery. In other words, to burn the books written by the first, intrepid African explorers Mungo Park (1771-1806) and Rene du Chaillu (1831-1903). 

Most diplomats and international development workers have positive memories of good times, music, Afro-French culture, vitality, exuberance, confidence, and humanity, and wish it well; but few want a whitewash, the creation of a rosy scenario for a continent still more riven by ethnic, tribal, and political dissent and conflict than characterized by the best blend of African and Western principles.

(This post was revised on 6.8.16)

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