mbeki’s take on the ivorian crisis

Ouattara’s victory over Gbagbo in Cote D’Ivoire is quickly generating winner’s remorse. The coalition of disparate rebel forces that united to oust Gbagbo is already breaking apart. Just this past week Ibrahim Coulibaly, a rebel commander, was killed after he refused to obey Ouattara’s order to disarm his units. Mr. Ouattara himself is facing the sisyphean challenge of cleaning up the mess from the decade long civil war and the recent onslaught on Abidjan amid economic decline and divisions within his own coalition. Supporters of Mr. Gbagbo are also not yet into the idea of having the northerner running the show. Over 40% of Ivorians, most of them southerners, voted for Gbagbo.

In the wider region, many see the heavy French involvement in the whole situation as suspect. Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, had this to say in a piece posted on the FP website:

France used its privileged place in the Security Council to position itself to play an important role in determining the future of Côte d’Ivoire, its former colony in which, inter alia, it has significant economic interests. It joined the United Nations to ensure that Ouattara emerged as the victor in the Ivorian conflict.

This addressed the national interests of France, consistent with its Françafrique policies, which aim to perpetuate a particular relationship with its former African colonies. This is in keeping with remarks made by former French President François Mitterand when he said, “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century,” which former French foreign minister Jacques Godfrain confirmed when he said: “A little country [France], with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our]…relations with 15 or 20 African countries…”

Mbeki has a point.

That said, I don’t totally buy into the idea that the West, or any other outsider for that matter, should keep out of Africa’s affairs. Isolationism (caused by the great sand wall that is the Sahara) has not served Africa well in the past. Africa needs more trade and involvement  in international politics. Both acts necessarily require international involvement in Africa.

So to the likes of Mbeki I say, the trick is not to require the West or East or even the Emerging South to benevolently stay out of Africa’s business. Rather, African states should develop their own capacities to deal with the reality of world politics: Strong states will always prey on weak ones. If you do not want to be preyed upon, you have to get your act together. Stephen Waltz in his seminal work titled Theory of International Relations writes:

Weakness invites control; strength tempts one to exercise it, even if only for the “good” of other people.

The problem of exploitative international involvement in Africa is sustained primarily by the persistence of inept kleptocratic leadership in the region.

To go ahead and grant these dictators immunity from international pressure would be a most undesirable outcome. People like Idriss Deby, Paul Biya, Theodore Obiang, among others, should not be given space. Dictators do not have internal affairs.

It is a pipe dream to continue nurturing and protecting mediocre leadership all over Africa while expecting the strong nations of the world to benevolently keep off. It is the mismanagement of Africa by its leaders that creates fertile grounds for self-interested international preying involvement by the likes of France – with disastrous consequences for the local populations.

sarkozy’s visit to africa

French president Nicolas Sarkozy with new wife Carla Bruni have been on a tour of Africa with stops in Chad and South Africa. In Chad, Sarkozy held talks with beleaguered president Idriss Deby over the country’s security following a recent rebel offensive and the possible pardoning of French aid workers who last year were found guilty of kidnapping after they tried to smuggle a few dozen Chadian kids out of the country.

while in chad, president Sarkozy gave hints that he is going to change France’s defence arrangements with Francophone Africa. Over the years France has been notorious for propping up murderous and corrupt dictators like Deby himself with military and financial aid – a recent case being the French air force’s help in quelling a rebel offensive that nearly toppled the Djamena government.

This is a most welcome move. African states, and especially the unusually volative Francophone Africa, should be left to manage their own affairs and hold their leaders accountable to themselves and not Paris. Perhaps with reduced military aid the Debys of Francophone Africa will start listening to the voices of their sick, hungry and illiterate constituencies.

Sarkozy’s stop in South Africa was all about energy. According to the IHT, French engineering company Alstom on Friday signed a deal worth €1.36 billion (about US$2 billion) to equip a new coal power station for South Africa. Rumours also abound about another billion dollar deal involving French nuclear giant Areva and US group Westinghouse Electric to build a nuclear power plant in the country. South Africa has been going through an energy crisis that many experst fear will slow much needed economic growth.

the absurd

Here is a story from the BBC website that made me feel sad, angry and embarrassed, all at the same time. How do you build a hospital, equip it, and then keep it shut until the head of state opens it, all this while people whose tax money built the hospital continue to die? What level of madness is this? This is a shame on Yar’Adua and a confirmation of how hard it is for African leaders to get rid of the big man mentality. What makes presidents think that they are obligated to travel around on the tax payer’s tab just to cut ribbons and smile at the cameras?

It is bad enough that a big chunk of Africa’s roads, hospitals, universities, schools, among others, are named after despots – Kenya alone has several Moi High Schools, A Moi internation Airport, Moi stadium/sports complex, Moi Avenue, Moi University…….. This self aggrandizement has to stop. Keeping a hospital shut because of a single individual is the epitome of madness. SHAME SHAME SHAME. This is an embarrassment to Nigeria and to all that care about Nigeria – Africa’s perennial “potential hegemon-leader”.

which gets me thinking……..

Perhaps African leaders do all these things to immortalize themselves. But can’t this quest for immortality be achieved better if they wrote books and came up with revolutionary ways of dealing with the many problems facing the continent than merely naming roads after themselves or putting their faces on currencies – things that can be easily changed? Ideas last forever and the inventors of great ideas forever remain immortal. For instance, when I think of Senghor, I rarely think of his presidency, little of which I know. I think of Senghor the poet and staunch Africanist. Same with Cabral, Nyerere and Kwameh Nkrumah, all of whom were great idealists who bothered to write and let people know what went on between their ears and will forever occupy Africa’s pantheon of great leaders. Incidents like this in Borno State, Nigeria make you wonder whether our leaders have anything at all between their ears.

So a quick message to our leaders, from the cultured intellectuals like Wade, Mbeki, Mogae (among others) to those who seem to be allergic to reason like Obiang’, Deby and al-Bashir (among others) : write, write, write. If you want us to remember you give us new ideas that will help the continent escape the trap of pre-modernity. If you name a school after yourself we will change the name as soon as a rebel leaders comes along, deposes you and probably dispatches you to the Creator only to start from where you left.

anc endorses zuma for president

Jacob Zuma, the recently elected president of the ANC, is certain to become South Africa’s next president after the party officially announced that it would back him for the presidency in next year’s election. This despite the fact that Zuma is scheduled to appear in court on charges of corruption.

The ANC executive committee said that it was fully behind the former vice president and hinted that it would support his court battle against the corruption charges which many of Zuma’s supporters see as politically motivated.

Zuma has lately been on a charm offensive in his efforts to try and reassure South African businesses that he will not drastically deviate from Mbeki’s economic policies. Many hope that Zuma will not live up to his populist ideals that appear to be anti private business.