28 March 2011

Africa: Failing a continent

That the AU had no say in the recent declaration of a no-fly-zone over Libya is a shame, and a huge step backward for a continent that has been trying to prove it is capable of managing its own affairs. 

Against the backdrop of the debate about the foray of the Chinese into Africa, and the resulting concerns about neo-colonialism, we have watched with dismay as Africa's leaders, under the umbrella of the AU and other regional bodies, have repeatedly shirked the responsibility of ensuring that Africa has a say in its internal affairs.
The West African regional group, ECOWAS, is equally guilty of this abdication. For months now, Cote d'Ivoire has lain in crisis; the fallout of disputed presidential elections. Laurent Gbagbo, who has been in power since 2000, is believed to have lost the November 28, 2010 elections to Alassane Ouattara. But Mr. Gbagbo, following the lead of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, has refused to concede defeat, and continues to hold on to power; polarising a country that emerged from civil war that fractured it into two, only a decade ago.
In the months since the elections, the body count in Cote d'Ivoire has steadily risen; and West Africa is on the verge of yet another refugee crisis. Yet it wasn't until last week that ECOWAS leaders resolved to take concrete action in Cote d'Ivoire to put an end to Mr. Gbagbo's continued illegal hold on power.
One does not need to be a foreign affairs analyst to realise that the ECOWAS leaders were probably nudged into motion by the military action recently embarked upon in Libya, by the United Nations.
After months of equivocation (meetings and half-hearted resolutions, which Mr. Gbagbo predictably ignored) and outright nonchalance, ECOWAS now wants us to believe that it is deeply concerned about the tragedy unfolding in Cote d'Ivoire.

Now that the decision has been made to take military action to save Cote d'Ivoire from Laurent Gbagbo, (the resolution has received the endorsement of the United Nations) we are eager to see how quickly and efficiently the regional body will move to implementation.
It is also important to note how the violence (orchestrated by the state against its citizens) in Libya and Cote d'Ivoire, and the precarious nature of Gabon's situation (also a case of disputed elections) are threatening to reverse the progress that Africa seems to have made in the last decade. Just when we thought we were gradually putting a culture of wars and sit-tight leadership behind us, we are faced with these reversals.
The new century brought with it some hope. The reinvention of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) - a three-decade-old organisation run by dictators and warlords essentially for themselves - as the African Union, in July 2002, was supposed to usher in a new age for Africa. The early days of the AU did indeed promise much. The new organisation launched the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), and a celebrated (at least in theory) Peer Review Mechanism; and made noise about being committed to good governance and human rights.
But Africa seems to have become quite adept at the one-step-forward-two-backwards motion.

There is now little difference between the AU and the inefficient, dictator-ridden OAU it replaced. Nothing signifies this as much as the decision of the union to elect, in January this year (at a time when Tunisians and Egyptians were revolting against dictators who had held them in bondage for decades) a surviving member of Africa's class of long-standing tyrants (Teodora Obiang, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea for 31 years) as its new Chairperson.
Puzzling as that choice was, it says a lot about the true state of leadership on the continent - more than a third of Africa's Heads of States have spent well over a decade in power; a fifth have spent more than 23 years.

This state of affairs may partly explain why the AU has been largely silent while Libya has tragically descended into civil war. Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, and Africa's longest reigning Head of State is an influential member - and one of the most prominent in recent years - of the union's Assembly.
Many of Africa's leaders are too deeply implicated in bad governance that they have lost all moral authority to speak boldly about the continent's travails, and to intervene on the side of good when necessary.
Africa has lost a great deal of time to violence and tyranny. Now is the time for redemption. It is dismaying to realise that the leaders in whom we have invested the hopes for this redemption, have not proved themselves up to that task - whether in their domestic affairs, or in matters relating to the wellbeing of the continent as a whole.

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