A cri­sis in con­ti­nen­tal lead­er­ship

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Wil­liam Gumede Gumede is chair­man of SA’S Democ­racy Works Foun­da­tion, and au­thor of Rest­less Na­tion: Mak­ing Sense of Trou­bled Times.

the African Union ( AU)’S lethar­gic re­sponse to the deadly ebola cri­sis in West Africa and Boko haram’s bloody surge in north­ern Nige­ria, af­firms how in­ef­fec­tive the con­ti­nen­tal body re­ally is, re­flect­ing a pro­found lack of sol­i­dar­ity be­tween African coun­tries, and how empty talk of African in­te­gra­tion of economies and pol­i­tics is.

the AU’S long-awaited con­ti­nen­tal re­sponse to Boko haram in Nige­ria, by send­ing a re­gional five-na­tion force of 7 500 African troops, is in­ad­e­quate. Un­less it is com­bined with get­ting the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment to gov­ern in the in­ter­ests of all its cit­i­zens, be­have more ac­count­ably and spread the benefits of growth more fairly, the AU mil­i­tary re­sponse is likely to fail. Poor gov­er­nance — elite groups ben­e­fit­ing from pol­i­tics, gov­ern­ment and eco­nomics, while oth­ers are glar­ingly ex­cluded, and of­ten ig­nored or sup­pressed when they com­plain — is at the heart of most of Africa’s re­cent con­flicts, popular up­ris­ings and re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism.

the irony is that the de­ci­sion by the AU to fi­nally in­ter­vene in the Nige­rian cri­sis by send­ing in African troops co­in­cided with Robert Mu­gabe, who per­son­i­fies the worst of African poor gov­er­nance, tak­ing over the chair of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. one rea­son for the slow re­ac­tion by the AU and in­di­vid­ual African gov­ern­ments to lo­cal ter­ror­ism di­rected against or­di­nary cit­i­zens, such as those of Boko haram, is that the guiding prin­ci­ple of the Union and most African coun­tries, is to pro­tect the sovereignty of gov­ern­ments and na­tional lead­ers, and not or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

the irony is that the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment typ­i­cally dis­missed de­mands from Boko haram in 2009, when the group was still in its in­fancy. the typ­i­cal African gov­ern­ment re­sponse to lo­cal de­mands for change has of­ten been to ig­nore it or crush it, rather than ad­dress it. there has been a lot of de­bate about why the at­tacks by Boko haram in Nige­ria’s Borno state, which last month alone killed about 2 000 peo­ple within two weeks, got so lit­tle in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion, com­pared to the ter­ror at­tacks in Paris over the same pe­riod, where 40 world lead­ers joined the “March for Unity”.

sadly, African lives are still less val­ued than West­ern ones. A massacre in Africa is of­ten seen as “or­di­nary” and global lead­ers and or­gan­i­sa­tions are un­likely to fall over them­selves to find a so­lu­tion. Af­ter all the years of Boko haram ter­ror, it pre­dictably took the UN un­til midJan­uary last month to de­cide on send­ing a spe­cial en­voy to “as­sess” the sit­u­a­tion in Nige­ria. Yet more than 13 000 peo­ple have been killed and more than one mil­lion made home­less by Boko haram vi­o­lence since 2009.

how­ever, the sad truth is that African lead­ers don’t ap­pear to value the lives of their cit­i­zens. An African life lost is of­ten not met with out­rage by African lead­ers, un­less of course, it hap­pens to be their im­me­di­ate fam­ily, friends and al­lies. African lead­ers, like West­ern lead­ers in Paris, should have rushed off to Nige­ria and shown their sol­i­dar­ity in a march. some African lead­ers were in Paris in the march against ter­ror last month, but they could not or­gan­ise a march against Boko haram.

Granted, the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment has tried to down­play the num­ber of cit­i­zens killed in Boko haram at­tacks. of course this was par­tially for po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency, as it did not want to show it is los­ing con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion. the slow­ness of an African re­gional re­sponse to the Boko haram threat is also an in­dict­ment of the lack of African re­gional in­te­gra­tion be­yond the in­sin­cere rhetoric of “pan-african­ism”. Last year, Nige­ria’s Good­luck Jonathan had to seek France’s in­ter­ven­tion to get its neigh­bours, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, to co-op­er­ate across bor­ders to tackle Boko haram.

It says much about the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of the AU and re­gional African or­gan­i­sa­tions, which were spec­tac­u­larly in­ef­fec- tive in get­ting Nige­ria and its neigh­bours to co-op­er­ate and pool re­sources to deal with Boko haram. sim­i­larly, African coun­tries strug­gled to muster a col­lec­tive re­sponse to the ebola virus. the sierra Leone and Liberian gov­ern­ments last year say they felt “aban­doned” by the AU’S lack of in­ter­ven­tion to help them deal with the ebola cri­sis.

the spread of the ebola virus arises from a lack of in­vest­ment in health in­fra­struc­ture and public ser­vices for or­di­nary peo­ple. African lead­ers go to West­ern and eastern coun­tries for health care. their cit­i­zens don’t have it. As long as the lead­ers are looked af­ter, they don’t care about their cit­i­zens.

It is es­sen­tial that African coun­tries build use­ful in­fra­struc­ture – hos­pi­tals and schools and in­vest in hu­man re­sources, and pool spe­cial­ist in­fra­struc­ture, but one coun­try alone can­not af­ford such health re­search cen­tres – this will pro­mote prac­ti­cal re­gional in­te­gra­tion.

Pan-african sol­i­dar­ity must be­come real, rather than rhetoric. the truth is that un­less African lead­ers and re­gional and con­ti­nen­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions fo­cus on pro­tect­ing their in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens, and not lead­ers and gov­ern­ments, out­siders will also keep ig­nor­ing at­tacks on the con­ti­nent’s peo­ple.

African se­cu­rity forces must also be re-ori­en­tated to pro­tect in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens rather than con­cen­trate on pro­tect­ing lead­ers and gov­ern­ments. Africa is en­ter­ing a pe­riod where there will be fewer wars be­tween coun­tries but more de­mands from or­di­nary peo­ple for po­lit­i­cal rights and fair eco­nomic benefits com­pared to rul­ing elites. the irony is that many sup­port­ers of Mu­gabe claim he is a “strong” leader who will not let the West dic­tate to the con­ti­nent. how­ever, Africa’s con­cept of a “strong” leader needs to be changed dramatically.

strong should mean car­ing about in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens, gov­ern­ing in the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple, putting one’s coun­try above per­sonal in­ter­ests, and above all, gov­ern­ing hon­estly.

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