“African ownership”: an African critique

Last year, I wrote a couple of posts (here and here) warning of a rift between African countries and the West over how to administer peace and justice on the continent. That was coming out into the open over Darfur and Zimbabwe, forcing Western liberals to balance a commitment to “African ownership” with their desire to stay involved in African affairs. Now, a trenchant critique of “African solutions to African problems” rhetoric comes from Tsoeu Petlane, a South African scholar:

As we enter a New Year, we have to acknowledge that the “African solutions for African problems” approach has had some glaringly painful failures. The continuing crises in Somalia, in Zimbabwe, in Darfur and in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the surrounding Great Lakes region all demonstrate the weaknesses of the way “African solutions” have been implemented in 2008.  These weaknesses must be addressed in 2009. The year ahead should be one of rethinking how Africa deals with problems in a manner that is effective and restores the continent’s image and initiative.

Petlane anatomizes the problem thus:

There are three key reasons for failure: an almost unquestioning adherence to protecting state sovereignty, dependency on forces outside the continent and lack of leadership. Together, these stifle innovation, limit the effectiveness of proposed solutions and alienate potential allies.

First, the continent’s endorsement of the leaders of collapsed or collapsing states such as Zimbabwe, Somalia and the DRC, far from promoting sovereignty, negates it.

Sovereignty resides in the people, who only delegate it to leaders. In a situation in which the expression of this sovereignty is denied the people, such as in Zimbabwe; where those entrusted with it are unable to exercise it practically, such as in the DRC; or where the institutions supporting it are in question, such as in Somalia, protecting a government makes no sense – it allows a regime to maintain a veneer of statehood only on the basis of recognition by others. Thinking beyond this paradigm is urgently needed.

Second, while African leaders appear united in calling for indigenous solutions, few have demonstrated a conceptual or practical commitment to the notion. Their initiatives and solutions have depended on Africa’s “partnership” with the nebulous “international community”. A major component of this “community” comprises the very same former colonists who, we claim, have (i) “created” Africa’s problems by colonising them, (ii) “interfered” in Africa’s internal affairs, (iii) shaped the international system to serve their own interests (in trade, economy and international relations), (iv) dictated values of good governance and economic performance that are “foreign” to Africans, and (v) “abandoned/marginalised” Africa by withdrawing aid and political support after the Cold War.

This kind of dependency – developing solutions on the basis of actions of others, and blaming them when things don’t work – points to our lack of good leadership.


Deadlock in Ghana

One of Africa’s few shining lights, Ghana, is on tenterhooks as it awaits the result of an incredibly closely-fought general election. Publication of the results has been delayed, as the remote outpost of Tain in the west has yet to vote in the second round because of problems with voting materials. The national result is so tight that Tain, with just 23,000 voters, could be decisive. The poll there will open on Friday.

Ghana is important not just because it is one of very few West African countries that is not mired in corruption, civil strife and abject poverty (although there is plenty of the latter and not a little of the former if you look hard enough). It is also one of only a handful of countries on the entire continent that has regular peaceful democratic elections (it has had five since 1992). After the debacles in Kenya and Zimbabwe in the last two years, and after the recent coups in Guinea and Mauritania, it is crucial that Ghana’s poll passes off peacefully.

So far, there has been relatively little unrest, but as Chris Blattman reports, tensions are rising by the day:

My friend Naunihal sends me this dispatch, cobbled together hastily this afternoon (he urges me to tell you):

The situation is starting to look like Bush v. Gore. The election commissioner just said that the opposition leads by 23,000 votes and that there is one constituency where there was no election for security reasons which has over 50,000 votes that will vote just after new years.

But it gets messier. The incumbent party (NPP) points out that 2 big constituencies in Kumasi (its key area of support) were not included in the officially counted votes (probably because they are contested) and that it won one of those by over 51,000 votes.

In addition, they point out that in 11 constituencies in the opposition’s key area of the Volta region, NPP poling agents were thrown out and did not sign the election returns. I’ve seen the violence done to one of the party election observers – he was beaten and stoned and may lose his eye.

Right now fear is running high in Accra. Makola Market, the main market, is closed because of fear of violence. I’m getting reports right now from people aligned with the NPP, so I’m only hearing about NDC “Machomen” riding around in empty streets.

The constituency that has yet to vote for the President, voted against the incumbent party at the Parliamentary level, thus kicking out the incumbent MP. So it looks good for the opposition in that area, but everything is really too close to call.

And rumors are spreading that the election commissioner is under pressure from the incumbent government to throw things their way.

None of this is good in terms of street level tensions and legitimacy for whichever candidate gets declared.

Update: Fortunately, the election concluded peacefully, as Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party graciously conceded defeat to John Atta Mills’ National Democratic Congress. A rare example of a peaceful democratic transition, then, from one African party to another, and further evidence that Ghana really is a beacon of hope for the region. Let’s hope leaders in other parts of the continent take note.

The Failure of Quiet Diplomacy

We have posted various snippets about the tragedy of Zimbabwe. The Times expresses its dismay at the  failure of British diplomacy to do anything. Today’s Leader neatly captures the British Government’s empty rhetoric

The world has watched the slide towards starvation and collapse in despair. At each stage, Britain, the former colonial ruler has muffled its reaction. Diplomats appeared to think that quiet diplomacy in tandem with Zimbabwe’s neighbours would achieve more than an open call for Mr Mugabe’s overthrow, which, the Foreign Office believed, would be used by the President as proof that colonialists were plotting against him.

Mr Mugabe has made a mockery of African neighbours who urged him to negotiate with his opponents. He has danced rings around the so-called international community. He has outwitted the political Opposition, scorned the result of an election and killed his defenceless compatriots. He is now convinced that he is untouchable, that he cannot be removed from power either by his opponents in Zimbabwe or by any external force.

So far, he has been proved right. Harsh words at international meetings have had no effect. Isolation makes no difference to a country where money no longer has value and government no longer functions. It is high time David Miliband recognised that international intervention is the only course now available to save more than seven million people from catastrophe. Britain’s reticence has been not only fatuous; it has encouraged Mr Mugabe in his hubris and the pampered party and military elite to believe they can hang on and outlast their enemies.

Britain is guilty of more than feeble diplomacy. It has failed to ensure all the loopholes are closed in this country. The United States Treasury has named some 21 companies that it has placed on its blacklist that are still trading with Zimbabwe. Disgracefully, many of these are in Britain or in terrorities controlled by Britain.

The Prime Minister has declared “enough is enough”. He should call for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and authorise armed intervention. As The Times suggests

There are enough legal powers, including the visible threat Zimbabwe’s collapse now poses to the health and security of its neighbours. Mr Miliband should respond to Mr Mugabe’s odious claim with his own démarche. The world can take his despairing country from him. And it must.

Zimbabwe: Bargains and Cholera galore

Nevermind the bargains at Woolies this week, Country Road Casual Wear in Harare is the place to go if you’re a member of Zimbabwe’s army – as Tom says to Nick the Greek in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: “It’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s the Sale of the fucking Century!”

Meanwhile Mugabe is cracking some hilarious jokes – his latest one: “there is no cholera”! According to The Herald newspaper:

George Charamba, Mr Mugabe’s spokesman, said that the octogenarian president was using “sarcasm” when he made the statement.