The End of Western Legitimacy

Published on 7th November 2023

South Africa will host the 20th African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum in Johannesburg. The AGOA is a US trade policy that was signed into law in 2000 and has been subsequently renewed and amended. It is designed to promote economic and trade relations between the US and eligible sub-Saharan African countries by permitting, for example, countries to export goods to the US without paying taxes.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden revealed plans to expel the Central African Republic, Gabon, Niger, and Uganda as beneficiary countries, citing that all of these countries have either engaged in "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights," or are not "making continual progress toward establishing the protection of political pluralism and the rule of law." Last year, Ethiopia lost its beneficiary status.

There were questions about whether South Africa should even host the forum, with some US lawmakers expressing concern about the country's relationship with Russia, and its pro-Palestinian stance (which, US senator Jim Risch interprets as support for Hamas, which the US deems a terrorist organization). Yet, recent weeks have exploded the hollow core of these moral and diplomatic censures, with the US's unconditional support for Israel belying the West's claims of belonging to a rules-based international order.

In October, the Financial Times published a revealing report on the global, diplomatic fallout of Israel's ongoing bombardment of Gaza:

We have definitely lost the battle in the Global South," said one senior G7 diplomat. "All the work we have done with the Global South [over Ukraine] has been lost . . . Forget about rules, forget about world order. They won't ever listen to us again

Nothing could exhibit the growing chasm between the West—particularly the US—and the rest of the world than the latest rounds of voting in the UN General Assembly. Of the more recent, was a vote on the "necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba." The outcome was almost unanimous: only the US and Israel voted against it, while Ukraine abstained.

With these faultlines exposed, the question is whether it will translate into anything. Sure, the West has lost its legitimacy in the Global South, but does it really care? The basis of Western hegemony has never been moral credibility, but military and economic might. It will take principled international coordination to undo the imperial logic of the global power structure, and not just a coalition of the disaffected led by either Russia or China.

An encouraging sign is the growing international movement demanding a ceasefire in Gaza (with a hostage and prisoner exchange). It is this kind of grassroots energy that can be harnessed toward re-imagining a more just global order by placing domestic pressure on political leaders. Whether they like it or not, the political class knows that their decisions on foreign policy could cost them—on the streets and on the ballot box.

By Will Shoki,

Editor, Africa Is a Country.


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