The Punch

More Berlin conference­s

- Mibelema@bellsouth.net

BETWEEN November 1884 and February 1885, European powers met in Berlin to formalise the colonial carving-up of Africa. As conference­s go, it was of unusually long duration. And that could only have been testimony to the magnitude of the prize being shared.

Then in January 2020 and June 2021, there were two other Berlin conference­s featuring the same powers with a few additions. This time the goal was not to carve up, but to put together. And judging by the state of affairs around the continent, many more of such conference­s could be afoot.

The recent Berlin conference­s were for finding a solution to Libya’s fragmentat­ion and civil war. Ethiopia too might need one soon. Somalia has had its equivalent­s and might need another. And then there is the Democratic republic of Congo’s equivalent of the 100-year war. Though different in characteri­stics, they have in common the rejection of a central authority. As such, a formula for Libya’s unificatio­n could inspire combatants in the other wars to, well, bury the hatchet.

Ever since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed in a Us-supported insurrecti­on in october 2011, Libya has known no peace. In fact, though still referred to as Libya, for practical purposes it has been two countries: Eastern Libya and Western Libya. Attempts to establish a unity government in Tripoli in the West have repeatedly been rejected by General Khalifa Haftar, who rules over

Eastern Libya from Benghazi to the East.

As is often the case, the domestic division is complicate­d by unwieldy foreign alignments and individual opportunis­ts. “According to recent numbers by the UN, more than 20,000 foreign mercenarie­s and military personnel are still in Libya,” reports DW, the German multimedia news operation. “They include fighters from Turkey, Russia, Sudan and Chad.” Even EU member countries are split in their loyalties, with most supporting the Tripoli-based government and France supporting the Benghazi faction.

The Berlin conference of 2020 tackled this complicati­on by getting France to get on board another quest for a government of national unity and also demanding that all foreign armies and mercenarie­s leave Libya. The latter is, of course, easier said than enforced. And that’s a major reason for the 2021 conference.

The other major reason is to concretise the process of a planned national election in December. A major accomplish­ment of the 2020 conference was to bring about a ceasefire and to form an interim government that would oversee the election. The challenge is how to prop up the fragile arrangemen­t and retain everyone’s confidence toward, during, and after the election. It is a mighty task.

Mansuour El-kikhia, a Libyan professor of internatio­nal relations at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is skeptical that elections will make a difference. “(Libyans) are angry with the whole situation,” El-kikhia told the US National Public radio after the June Berlin conference. “They have no faith in government. And even worse, they’re expecting elections based on what? There is no constituti­on.”

Presumably, the world powers will see to it that there is a constituti­on before the elections. If they accomplish the improbable and bring peace to Libya, it will portend a promising future for the resolution of power tussles and separatist rebellions in Africa. If they fail, oh well….

The Tigray rebellion

If the Berlin conference­s succeed in putting Libya back together, the formula will most aptly apply to Ethiopia. The civil war there is mostly a matter of muscle-flexing. Actually, it has much more in common with pre-kagame rwanda, some would say current rwanda. For a long time, the Tutsi minority dominated political leadership. The ascension to power of the majority Hutu was what inspired Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, to form a guerilla insurgency that ultimately took power in 1994.

In Ethiopia, the election of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister in 2018 marked the first time an Oromo, the largest ethnic group, held the top office. Before then, Ethiopia’s politics was dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Ahmed’s election and his opening up the political space struck the TPLF as marginalis­ation. rather than join a national coalition, the party became entrenched in its home base in Northern Ethiopia and correspond­ingly began to defy federal authority. Armed conflict followed precipitou­sly. The conflict, in effect, is as ego-driven as there can be. As such, it should be amenable to whatever formula emerges from the Berlin conference­s for Libya, even more so.

Haiti’s hell

Haiti is not in Africa, but it might as well be. The first predominan­tly black country in the Western hemisphere to declare independen­ce, it remains the poorest country in that region. Things have lately gotten much worse.

Yet, it is testimony to the allure of power that political leadership is still fiercely contested for even there. In fact, the tussle has been so intense that it has stalemated elections and normal governance for quite some time.

The political situation took a nose-dive when, in an audacious operation, mercenarie­s invaded the home of President Jovenel Moïse and shot him. That has turned an already beleaguere­d and violence-wracked country totally chaotic. There are reports that armed gangs are seeking to form a coalition to oust whatever is left of formal governance. If that happens, Haiti will record another first: a coalition government of armed gangs.

There are reports that some Haiti leaders are requesting the US to intervene to restore order. But the US has lately had some tough experience­s with interventi­ons. And it is currently withdrawin­g troops from Afghanista­n — to the horror of those who fear that the Taliban will take over and unleash a reign of Islamist terror. So, Haiti may well sink deeper into hell before there will be normalisat­ion, even by Haiti’s standards.

What hath Zuma wrath?

Back to Africa, South Africa is convulsing because of the jailing of its third post-apartheid president, Jacob Zuma. It is another demonstrat­ion of the damning effect of lack of democratic ethos. Zuma was jailed not for a crime, per se. He was jailed for refusing to appear in court to answer questions about potential crimes. That is the ultimate in lawlessnes­s.

Zuma must have known that he was putting the government he once headed in an untenable situation: be damned if you do and be damned if you don’t. The government rightly chose to do so. But the consequenc­e is riots by Zuma’s supporters and criminal opportunis­ts. As of Wednesday, they have resulted in the deaths of about 72 people.

When the populist Zuma was first elected president in May 2009 to replace the celebral Thabo Mbeki, I expressed my misgivings in this column. I compared Zuma unfavourab­ly with the black South African leaders that preceded him: Chief Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, and Mbeki.

“The election of Zuma is in many respects a step down from that cadre of leadership,” I wrote in the May 17 edition of Sunday PUNCH. “It is not that Zuma, unlike the other three leaders, is from very humble origins. It is that he seems unable to transcend that background.”

The bloodshed he has precipitat­ed only confirms my misgivings.

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