“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.

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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.


What does a Hollow State look like?

According to John Robb a Hollow State has:

The trappings of a modern nation-state but it lacks any of the legitimacy, services, and control of its historical counter-part. It is merely a shell that has some influence over the spoils of the economy. The real power rests in the hands of corporations and criminal/guerrilla groups that vie with each other for control of sectors of wealth production. For the individual living within this state, life goes on, but it is debased in a myriad of ways.

A good example of a Hollow State is Zimbabwe where the Government under Mugabe no longer has legitimacy. Government systems are either in a state of collapse (witness the looting of food carried out by the Army) or are non existent (the health system). State infrastructure is broken (water) and the population has to rely on other sources, from charities or private citizens.

Zimbabwe has been spiralling out of control for years, and it’s only recently that the international community has had sufficient leverage over the Mugabe regime to bring about change, but the results have been limited. The failure by the international community to intervene both early on and with force (not necessarily hard power) has allowed Mugabe to operate with only a few (in some cases meaningless) constraints.

The widely reported cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe seems to have motivated the international community to speak out once again. Today Gordon Brown argued that:

“This is now an international rather than a national emergency. International because disease crosses borders. International because the systems of government in Zimbabwe are now broken. There is no state capable or willing of protecting its people. International because – not least in the week of the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights – we must stand together to defend human rights and democracy, to say firmly to Mugabe that enough is enough.”

But let’s be realistic. We can ramp up the rhetoric to the nth degree but without firm action, under a UN mandate, Mugabe and his horrifc regime isn’t going to disappear. Unless an individual or organisation takes the initiative this tragedy will continue to unfold.

Update: The arguments for not doing anything with Mugabe are numerous. Two arguments stand out: first the lack of an international mandate; second, a deficeincy in our collective moral responsibility. But I notice in today’s Observer online that the Archbishop of York is calling for President Robert Mugabe to be toppled from power and face trial for crimes against humanity. Could this be the moral outcry that creates the environment for a Chapter 7 intervention?

What Gordon didn’t say about Africa (but Gowan did)

Gordon Brown is getting a good write-up for his speech to the UN on Africa and development.  It’s short, sharp and effective.  Here’s the essential extract:

In the museum in Rwanda, which commemorates the thousands killed as the world looked on and looked the other way, there is a picture of a young boy who was tortured to death and the plaque reads:

Name: David
Age: 10
Favourite Sport: Football
Enjoyed making people laugh
Dream of becoming a doctor
Last words: the United Nations will come for us.

But we never did. Even as he died, that child believed the best of us. In reality, our promises meant to him nothing at all.

Today, facing famine, we promised we, the United Nations of the world, will come to help, but the hungry are dying while we wait. Facing poverty, we promise that we will come to help, but poor are dying while we wait. Facing betrayal of the Millennium Development Goals, we say again we will come, but many continue to die while we wait. And I believe our greatest enemy is not war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis; it is too much indifference. Indifference in the face of sole-destroying poverty, indifference in the face of catastrophic threats to our planet.

A powerful point. But you can’t just wish away “war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis”. As I’ve argued here before, differences over how to handle conflict and ideological tensions are increasingly complicating Europe’s relations with Africa. Brown’s focus today was development, but what about issues like Darfur (that’d be in the war file), the ICC indictment of Bashir and Zimbabwe (revealing deep ideological tensions)? The PM didn’t mention these – wisely – but they are fouling up the West’s relations with Africa pretty badly. And they aren’t about indifference, but real political differences over who governs Africa and how.

This is a theme that I discuss in a guest post over on the iR2P blog, where I argue that a Euro-African alliance that flourished around issues like the Responsibility to Protect a few years ago is withering.  We can’t just keep on blaming ourselves for indifference towards Africa, although we have to remain wary of it.  We need to explore the real political obstacles to continued Western engagement there.