The West's Hand in African Affairs

766 views Published on 26th July 2010

General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, meets with students from three U.S. universities who are working as interns in Wiesbaden, Germany.       Photo courtesy

The past few months have witnessed pivotal events in Africa. The most prominent event was the successful hosting and conclusion of the World Cup in South Africa which, without doubt brought a palpable and much-needed sense of unity across the Continent. The other was the celebration of the 92nd birthday of the West’s favorite African icon, Madiba Mandela, and at the close of the celebrations in South Africa, the suspiciously-timed bombing in Kampala, Uganda followed by the AU’s decision to increase outside troop presence in Somalia.

These events are deeply connected. The lead-up to the World Cup, hosted by South Africa, had been the target of negative media vitriol in the West’s tabloid press with the usual dire predictions of the inability of Africans to pull off such a complex operation as there would be cost-overruns, the stadia would not be finished in time, the work would be shoddy and visitors would be unsafe, thanks to the high rate of ‘crime’ in South Africa.

Sadly, none of the predictions by the preachers of doom [heavily tinged with racism] came to pass. The Games went off smoothly; no soccer hooligans rioted, tourists were not mugged or murdered and South Africans generally treated their guests with graciousness and hospitality. Although African teams never made the final cut, Africans across the Continent rooted for the African teams not as representatives of their individual countries but as representatives of Africa.

For one long shining moment which lasted from June 11 to July 11, the Continent was united behind its footballers. This was not as unprecedented as it might have seemed, but a reflection of the deep yearning for unity of the Continent and its people that lies beneath the surface. This is a force that the current crop of leaders can ignore at their peril.

Madiba Rohilala Mandela has reached the age of 92 years, a momentous achievement for any man, even more so for this iconic figure. Mandela stands tall in the eyes of the West, who hold him up as a paragon of virtue, the Noble African who had the ‘courage to forgive his enemies,’ and an example of ‘what an African leader should be.’  To hear and read the plaudits coming from the West, one would think that the man liberated the Continent by himself. Other more relevant leaders in the bloody struggle to free the Continent have been eclipsed. Agostino Neto, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane, Chris Hani, Mugabe and others were men who fought in the field, took up arms against their oppressors not in an abstract but actual sense but have been eclipsed by Mandela. But let us weigh his achievements against those of the aforementioned.

When Mandela took up the reins of the liberation struggle in South Africa, he was not an initiator, but a successor of countless others who had fought and died pitting themselves against the inhumane apartheid system. This system had no mercy towards the African people [one of its generals who deserved to face the International Criminal Court more than any of the current African defendants, declared that he was prepared to kill millions of Africans to preserve apartheid] and with its power crumbling, the people smelled blood and were prepared to bring the system down in one huge Gotterdammerung.

All those in the West who had previously preached that the racist regime was a ‘force for stability in Southern Africa’ panicked. The CIA made overtures to the ANC, reasoning that if South Africa ‘went left,’ so would the whole of Southern Africa and possibly the whole Continent. The cards had to be shuffled or the game was lost. The only hand they could play before the region caught fire was a gesture that would mollify the masses or at least hold them at bay. Mandela, the larger than life Political Prisoner, had to be released. But would he play ball? Would he urge simmering masses to tear the house? Could deals be cut? Would he consent to an ‘orderly transfer of power?’

Mandela will carry the secret of his deal-making to the grave, but there is no doubt that deals were made: there would be no war crimes trials, no seizures of property, no reprisals however justified and the whites would lose political power but maintain a firm hand on the economy which they still do to this day. In return Mandela would be released, share the Nobel Prize with De Klerk, travel the world to be lionized by the Western press and finally receive the laurels of the Presidency to go down in history as the Great Man. But is it really so?

Mandela is an almost untouchable icon, age now adding impermeability to his moral armour, but what had he really done in the struggle against apartheid? Mandela, while free and on the run from apartheid’s gestapo practiced an impractical form of liberation struggle - the blowing up of empty buildings, avoidance of targeting the economic structure and no attacks on the military who were oppressing Africans without mercy. When the regime struck back, it was with the force and ferocity of a brutal racist regime. Mandela was caught without his actions making any dent in the regime’s armour.  Eventually his greatest contribution to the struggle was to become an almost mythic figure incarcerated on Robben Island, the world’s Most Famous Political Prisoner. 

When Mandela announced that he had forgiven his jailers and that there would be no toppling of monuments, no reprisals, all must bask in the glow of the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ the people were cheated of justice of their right to confront and punish those who had kept them in slavery for 300 years. The fire of their anger and humiliation was smothered with the mud of forgiveness. Their anger, unassuaged, had to be released somewhere - against each other- making South Africa the most violent country in Africa. It still seethes.When the explosion does come, would that be the legacy of the revered Mandela?

Bombs explode in Kampala Uganda and immediately the usual suspects are trotted out. Somali militants allied to al-Qaeda, the convenient boogeyman. Museveni rants and threatens and the AU meets and promises that the AU force composed mostly of Ugandans would be ‘beefed-up.’

We need to go back in time four years. In the early part of 2006, the United States with the bug up it’s behind about ‘Muslim militants’ decided to intervene in Somalia’s civil war [as it has done in several of the world’s civil wars with disastrous results] and again it backed the wrong side. The US armed and supported some of the worst warlords, who were despised by the people and despite American arms and advisers, they were driven from Mogadishu.

In the vacuum stepped the Union of Islamic Courts whose concern was to bring peace and stability to Somalia. For six months they succeeded - the banks and markets reopened, people cleaned up the streets and a sense of much longed-for security began to take hold. Yet the Americans from their base in Djibouti could not abide this. They expected chaos and could not deal with a possible end to the conflict, peace taking hold. This would make thousands of their special troops in the French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti redundant. Reasoning that the UIC was up to no good, they twisted the arms of their local satrap - the Ethiopians - and dislodged the UIC, clearing the way for more radical forces to take root. The Ethiopians, old enemies of the Somalis were regarded as occupiers and radicalization of resistance developed. It was not long before the more extreme elements took over. When the Ethiopians left in ignominy, al-Shabaab took over the fight.

The US could not have hoped for [or perhaps planned for] better. Here was an enemy they could market to the world as al-Qaeda affiliates. With the knee-jerk reaction the mention of al-Qaeda provokes, Somalia could be marketed to the world as a threat to peace, order and the security of the United States. After all, the African states were suspicious of the US moving a Military Command to Africa and no nation dared host the so-called Africa Command. But now with militant ‘Muslim ‘terrorists,’ battling the reformed warlords [the grandiloquently-named Federal Transitional Government]  the US has to step in, but she cannot do this overtly, so the African Union has to be nudged into sending troops, yet only Uganda and Burundi follow the beat of the drummer.

After years, Uganda and Burundi have made no difference and support for the occupation is beginning to fray. Along comes the bombing in Kampala at a time when the world’s attention is still focused on Africa. Could an act to guarantee maximum exposure and emotional reaction be better timed? The US has orchestrated incidents before to achieve geo-strategic objectives - the Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam’s WMD, so why not this one since it seems to be gaining its desired objective - to drag Africa into another fratricidal conflict?

Africa does not need to part of America’s ill-advised ‘War on Terror’ for this will make the Continent the proxy battleground of forces that are inimical to Africa’s peace and development. Surely, can’t the Continent’s leaders sit down with the al-Shabaab’s representatives and ask them what they want? To send more troops is to inflict more suffering on the Somali people. The United States with all its might had to leave Somalia in 1993 with its tail between its legs. Why would more AU troops do any better? The US sent more troops to Afghanistan and more are dying. Africa needs less war so its economies can grow, its unity can develop and its people can be fed. Sending more troops to Somalia is a strategic mistake. Iraq and Afghanistan scenarios must not be emulated. 

The three events are conjoined in one African whole: the successful World Cup in South Africa which has released unity in the African consciousness, the 92nd birthday of Mandela and the bombing in Kampala. South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup showed that Africans are capable of doing things by themselves and for themselves. The bombing in Kampala offers an opportunity for Africans to work together to break the cycle of war and poverty by choosing the path of negotiation among brothers which is the almost-forgotten African Way and the 92nd birthday of Madiba Mandela urges us not to blindly accept the mythologies of leaders the West praise even if they are icons. Even icons can be real men and capable of faults. The three incidents urge us to recognize and affirm our identity. Africans are one people and ever have been in a world that was ever hostile to us. We need never to forget this. 


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