While pontificating at length about democracy, participation and the rights of people to choose 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 neo-colonial exploitation of Guinea’s bauxite, he suffered the same fate as most of our post-colonial leaders. He died a disappointed man.
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?
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.
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.
The Writer is the Managing Editor of Public Agenda