RIGHTSView: Reappraising Africa’s half a century of ‘freedom’

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 15 January 2014 | 3,251 times

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In July last year, I indulged in my favourite pastime, which is to be glued to my television set at least five times a day to watch the hourly world news from the internationally renowned Cable Television Network [CNN], British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] and Sky News television.

These broadcasting stations have the global reputation for always relaying comprehensive analysis and coverage from the actual scenes of events of global dimension to their millions of international audiences. BBC has the reputation of reporting Africa’s many and seemingly unending civil conflicts given the fact that the United Kingdom constituted the largest bloc of former European colonial powers that dominated much of Africa before the continent gained political independence on national and individual basis since 50 or so years now with the exception of Zimbabwe that became independent in 1980 and South Africa that got liberated from minority racist rule by the Apartheid rulers in 2006 when the now late Nelson Mandela emerged as the first ever black political President of the liberated South Africa. 

In the process of enjoying my aforementioned pastime, I came face-to-face with a programme featuring the Pontifical High Mass being held in Italy’s tiny Island of Lampedusa by the Holy Father Pope Francis in memory of the over 40 African migrants that perished while attempting the very dangerous crossing into Europe through the Island that is only 113 kilometres [70 miles] from Tunisia. People in the sleepy Island in Italy used to live off fishing and tourism but, according to Reuters agency reports, the place has become the main point of entry into Europe for poor and desperate migrants willing to risk the crossing in overcrowded and unsafe fishing vessels and small boats.

During the proceedings of the spiritual event by the globally recognised symbol of humility and passion for the plight of the poor, the Holy Father condemned what he termed as the ‘global indifference’ to the dangerous experiences of the world’s poor by the comity of nations. He canvassed a world that will be fair, just and compassionate to the world’s poor to stop the disturbing phenomenon of migration crises on the African continent and other grossly underdeveloped parts of the globe in South/Latin America, Asia and other neglected regions of the world.

As reported on July 8, 2013 by BBC, on arrival, the Holy Father threw a wreath in the sea in memory of the many people who have drowned trying to reach Europe. Symbolically, the pastoral visit of the Pope was the first of its kind outside of Rome since being elected the leader of the world’s 2 billion Catholics in March 2013. As the Pope made his famous appeal for a ‘reawakening of consciences’ to counter ‘the indifference shown to migrants’, I almost wept when I remembered the crisis of underdevelopment and mass poverty that has continued to afflict the African continent even after half a century of political freedom from colonialism and foreign domination.

The question that immediately came to my mind and rolled down from my eyes as balls of tears, is why Africans have found it difficult to build our continent to become truly a home for all irrespective of our status, ethnic or religious affiliations since we are all created by God. I could not find reason why the political elite deliberately underdeveloped Africa and enrich themselves at the cost of their people even as they individually amass assets for themselves in choicest parts of Europe and America. Yet the world stands by and lets these atrocities continue even in this 21st century. All the noise about the United Nations anti-money laundering strategies has failed to stop this phenomenon.

I battled to come to terms with the reality that Africa has increasingly become an intolerable and harsh continent for her populations resulting in the ongoing massive migration into Europe and the brain drain of the finest minds out of Africa into the civilised and developed United States of America and parts of Europe. The crises afflicting parts of our continent have even heightened and escalated, leading to further and wider displacement internally of thousands of our African people in places such as Central African Republic [CAR] and the world’s newest independent nation of Southern Sudan.

These conflicts sparked off even while most rational Africans and other development oriented thinkers of the human race were still cracking their brains to work out mechanism for resolving the growing migration crises which has seen thousands of Africans not only embarking on the life threatening journey through the high seas into Europe through Malta and the tiny Italian Island but also the political establishments of nations such as Malta and Italy have cried out that a solution must be found to stop the unrelenting inflow of African migrants.

Specifically, from a report carried in the British newspaper Telegraph on July 21, 2013, the Prime Minister of Malta, Mr. Joseph Muscat, protested at the European Union meeting, calling the world’s attention to the fact that Malta is the smallest State in the European Union, and that they are carrying a burden that is so much bigger than any other country in matters of migration of foreigners onto its shores from all parts of the globe including Africa. Telegraph recalled that the tiny Island of Malta has received 17,743 mainly African migrants this decade-equivalent, in Britain, of 2.5 million people.

As the world confronts the reality of the deluge of migrants and unwanted visitors from the African continent into other developed Western states, the African leaders are busy chasing political trophies through the staging of choreographed and heavily manipulated electoral processes to assist their self perpetuation agenda. Sadly, African Union that evolved from the moribund Organization of Africa’s Unity and other sub-regional bodies have so far failed to wield the kind of political and military influences that will serve as checks and balances to the over fifty or so national political leaders to stop them from throwing their respective nations into chaos through the implementation of certain political agenda that would engender national distrust on a scale that could cause civil conflicts among their people and create further refugees’ crises to the continent and the world as a whole.

The African Union has failed to emulate other world economic and political blocs such as the European Union by not setting up structures and mechanisms/frameworks for detecting early conflict signs and resolving these conflicts before they evolve into full blown civil wars the types that are raging in the South Sudan and the Central African Republic [CAR] created essentially by what I may call the virus of the African concept of ‘big man’ whereby incumbent political leaders will tinker with the rules to self perpetuate themselves in offices thereby creating animosity among the various contending political forces who are ever so willing to play up some mundane and primordial affiliations such as tribes/ethnicism to throw their nations into civil conflicts. The conflicts going on simultaneously in South Sudan and CAR are both linked to certain indiscretions of the respective political forces in contention for power.

Specifically, reports have it that the ongoing conflict that have resulted in the gruesome killings of thousands of vulnerable civilians, started on the eve of December 14th 2013 when a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army caused a political crisis which began as a mutiny in South Sudan. But the bottled up anger of certain sections of the military and political establishments in South Sudan actually sparked off the scenarios that characterised the conflict in that nation that only less than one year became independent of Northern Sudan dominated by Arab Moslems. Before South Sudan was declared a republic, the various armed wings waged over three decades long bush wars against the Sudanese Arab dominated junta.

Now to the issues that culminated in the ongoing conflict which spread across the country in December 2013, the underground scenarios started actually after rumors about planned coup surfaced in Juba, the political capital in late 2012. The President issued series of decrees according to reports and sacked a lot of high profile military and police officers and in July of last year, he escalated the political crisis by sacking his Vice President Mr. Rick Macher along with his entire cabinet. Macher who got the boots accused the Southern Sudanese President of growing dictatorial tendencies even as he announced his determination to become a candidate to vie for the flag of the Presidency in a primary that will pit him against the incumbent President in the 2015 presidential poll. Marcher and President Sylva Kiir although are members of same political family but belonging to two different powerful ethnic groups. Kiir is an ethnic Dinka while Marcher is an Ethnic Nuer.

Fighting which flared up has continued to such an extent that several thousands of ordinary civilians are bearing the brunt of this mindless show of force and naked contention for political power by two influential elitist groupings who would rather that they are seen as champions of their various Ethnic blocs. President Barack Obama of the United States and the United Nations officials, including the Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, are said to be concerned about the escalation of conflicts in this newest member of the United Nations and have called for immediate cessation of fire and for negotiations to take place so genuine peace can be restored. The African Union has stepped in and negotiation for peace is slow but ongoing.

 Some observers have stated that the increased and unrelenting attention paid by the global leaders on the growing and widening South Sudan’s conflict may have come about because of the fact that this tiny nation is one of the world’s largest crude oil endowed nations in the World. But other development observers think that it will be better for the world leaders’ attention to be focused properly on South Sudan so that peace can reign and for the people of this new nation to collectively utilise their God given natural resources to build a better economy and a great nation for their people such as has been achieved by the people and government of Botswana. Botswana the home of the Tswana people, is a success story, peaceful, democratic and wealthy, so stated rightly by Richard Dowden the British journalist with considerable knowledge of African affairs.

Writing in his beautiful book ‘Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles’, Richard Dowden in this book with a foreword from the late internationally renowned novelist, Professor Chinua Achebe, asserted rightly that the success story recorded by the people of Botswana has demonstrated the futility of the widely held ‘Resource Curse’ theory which most writers think has afflicted much of the African nations which although are heavily resource endowed but these resources and the funds generated therein are stolen by the political leaders thus rendering the rest of the populations wretched and very impoverished for the rest of their lives. For instance, over $400 billion of Nigeria's crude oil revenue have been stolen by the political elites in the last fifty years.

Richard Dowden recalled that Botswana had nothing at independence except a few cows and a lot of bush. Diamond mining was developed there only from 1967. Since then, the country has earned billions from Diamonds. In two decades its wealth has increased by 500 per cent. Per head of population, Botswana had $122 each in 1970. This grew to $4755 by 2006, so says Richard Dowden in this widely acclaimed book.

To me this is political sagacity and excellent leadership at its best when compared to Nigeria another equally resource rich nation but whose resources are stolen by the ruling elites allowing the greatest majority of the populations to become so poor that living has become nightmarish and dangerous.

In CAR fighting was sparked off on December 10, 2012 between government and the Seleka rebels, a coalition of rebel groups many of whom were previously involved in the CAR Bush war that raged between 2003 and 2007 when a peace accord was signed by the fighting forces. In this latest conflict in CAR, the rebels accused President Francis Bozize of reneging on several terms of their peace accord signed in 2007and also repeated in 2011. Rebel forces known as seleka [meaning ‘union’ in the Sango language] according to the Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, began by capturing many towns in the Central and Eastern regions of the country in 2012. Seleka is composed of two main groups based in the North Eastern Central African Republic namely the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity [UFDR] and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace [CPJP], but also includes lesser known groupings such as the patriotic convention for saving the country [CPSK] and two other groups based in northern region of CAR and a Chadian group which announced an alliance with Saleka.

As reported, the Economic Community of Central African States made up of Chad, Gabon, Cameroon, Angola, South Africa sent troops to try to stop the rebels from destabilising the country but were overrun resulting in the eventual overthrow of President Bozize and the forceful takeover of power by the rebel leader Mr. Michel Djotodia. The rebels that captured power allegedly got support by an al-Qaida affiliated Chad based rebel group.

France and the United Nations are still battling to restore some semblance of normalcy but the conflicts have resulted in genocidal killings along ethnic and religious lines. There have been reported cases of rape and the growing trend of child soldiers in the conflicts.

These dangerous occurrences remind us of the ever increasing need for Africans to work towards ensuring that respect for rule of law and democratic tenets become sacrosanct to such an extent that one man with political power will not be given the latitude to abuse his privileges directed towards eliminating his political rivals and to create atmospheres of self perpetuation. Western powers including China and Russia must also rein in their illegal arms dealers to stop them from infiltrating Africa with illicit arms and weapons of mass destruction which fuel these conflicts.

Speaking about dictatorial attitudes, the case in point is South Sudan whereby the President gave himself so much power as to demolish all the democratic structures with the aim of transmuting into a tin political god. In CAR the unbridled quest for naked political power for selfish ends is solely responsible for the ongoing conflicts which have now become religious and ethnic in outlook resulting in loss of precious lives. 

Some international and local scholars have blamed the West for much of Africa’s civil wars but again we need to take a critical look at the role that selfish political agenda of certain political ‘demi-gods’ have led their nations into economic meltdown and/or civil conflicts. Zimbabwe, Southern Sudan and CAR are examples of this evil trend.

Richard Dowden on his own part wrote thus; “Independence officially restored power in Africa to Africans, but the countries created and the systems that the Europeans imposed on Africa as they left were not rooted in African culture or experience and not strong enough to contain social and ethnic pressures that lay immediately beneath the surface.”

Good enough, but again are Africans perpetual slaves to these foreign political systems since the last half a century that they gained political independence and liberation? Why have African leaders and elites and members of the civil society in these African nations failed to work out home-made panacea to their problems of underdevelopment? I do not believe that we should perpetually blame the Western powers for our problems but we should look inwards and work out measures to end the perennial agenda of self perpetuation in political powers by Africa’s various political ‘demi-gods’ and ‘big men’ who have refused to abide by the rules of the game and allow democratic ethos to take root in Africa. We should blame ourselves for our problems and must look for solutions rather than indulge in the lazy pastime of always shifting blames. Political stability and economic growth are basic if the crises of migration and civil conflicts tearing African nations apart are to be contained.

RIGHTSVIEW appears thrice a week on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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