From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Sep 13 2011 - 18:10:44 EDT
What does Gaddafi's fall mean for Africa?
2011-09-13, Issue <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/546> 546
Gaddafi's fall points to more Western interventions to come in Africa,
writes Mahmood Mamdani.
"Kampala 'mute' as Gaddafi falls," is how the opposition paper summed up the
mood of this capital the morning after. Whether they mourn or celebrate, an
unmistakable sense of trauma marks the African response to the fall of
Both in the longevity of his rule and in his style of governance, Gaddafi
may have been extreme. But he was not exceptional. The longer they stay in
power, the more African presidents seek to personalise power. Their success
erodes the institutional basis of the state. The Carribean thinker C L R
James once remarked on the contrast between Nyerere and Nkrumah, analysing
why the former survived until he resigned but the latter did not: "Dr Julius
Nyerere in theory and practice laid the basis of an African state, which
Nkrumah failed to do."
The African strongmen are going the way of Nkrumah, and in extreme cases
Gaddafi, not Nyerere. The societies they lead are marked by growing internal
divisions. In this, too, they are reminiscent of Libya under Gaddafi more
than Egypt under Mubarak or Tunisia under Ben Ali.
Whereas the fall of Mubarak and Ben Ali directed our attention to internal
social forces, the fall of Gaddafi has brought a new equation to the
forefront: the connection between internal opposition and external
governments. Even if those who cheer focus on the former and those who mourn
are preoccupied with the latter, none can deny that the change in Tripoli
would have been unlikely without a confluence of external intervention and
MORE INTERVENTIONS TO COME
The conditions making for external intervention in Africa are growing, not
diminishing. The continent is today the site of a growing contention between
dominant global powers and new challengers. The Chinese role on the
continent has grown dramatically. Whether in Sudan and Zimbawe, or in
Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria, that role is primarily economic, focused on two
main activities: building infrastructure and extracting raw materials. For
its part, the Indian state is content to support Indian mega-corporations;
it has yet to develop a coherent state strategy. But the Indian focus too is
The contrast with Western powers, particularly the US and France, could not
be sharper. The cutting edge of Western intervention is military. France's
search for opportunities for military intervention, at first in Tunisia,
then Cote d'Ivoire, and then Libya, has been above board and the subject of
much discussion. Of greater significance is the growth of Africom, the
institutional arm of US military intervention on the African continent.
This is the backdrop against which African strongmen and their respective
oppositions today make their choices. Unlike in the Cold War, Africa's
strongmen are weary of choosing sides in the new contention for Africa.
Exemplified by President Museveni of Uganda, they seek to gain from multiple
partnerships, welcoming the Chinese and the Indians on the economic plane,
while at the same time seeking a strategic military presence with the US as
it wages its War on Terror on the African continent.
In contrast, African oppositions tend to look mainly to the West for
support, both financial and military. It is no secret that in just about
every African country, the opposition is drooling at the prospect of Western
intervention in the aftermath of the fall of Gaddafi.
Those with a historical bent may want to think of a time over a century ago,
in the decade that followed the Berlin conference, when outside powers
sliced up the continent. Our predicament today may give us a more realistic
appreciation of the real choices faced and made by the generations that went
before us. Could it have been that those who then welcomed external
intervention did so because they saw it as the only way of getting rid of
In the past decade, Western powers have created a political and legal
infrastructure for intervention in otherwise independent countries. Key to
that infrastructure are two institutions, the United Nations Security
Council and the International Criminal Court. Both work politically, that
is, selectively. To that extent, neither works in the interest of creating a
rule of law.
The Security Council identifies states guilty of committing "crimes against
humanity" and sanctions intervention as part of a "responsibility to
protect" civilians. Third parties, other states armed to the teeth, are then
free to carry out the intervention without accountability to anyone,
including the Security Council. The ICC, in toe with the Security Council,
targets the leaders of the state in question for criminal investigation and
Africans have been complicit in this, even if unintentionally. Sometimes, it
is as if we have been a few steps behind in a game of chess. An African
Secretary General tabled the proposal that has come to be called R2P,
Responsibility to Protect. Without the vote of Nigeria and South Africa, the
resolution authorising intervention in Libya would not have passed in the
Dark days are ahead. More and more African societies are deeply divided
internally. Africans need to reflect on the fall of Gaddafi and, before him,
that of Gbagbo in Cote d'Ivoire. Will these events usher in an era of
external interventions, each welcomed internally as a mechanism to ensure a
change of political leadership in one country after another?
One thing should be clear: those interested in keeping external intervention
at bay need to concentrate their attention and energies on internal reform.
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