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The Arab Spring and Africa’s false ‘end of history’
26/10/2011 00:00:00
by Takura Zhangazha
 
 
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AFRICA, in the aftermath of the UN-sanctioned Libyan aggression, has possibly reached the “end of history”.

The majority of Africans may not be familiar with this particular phrase and therefore it may be necessary to explain it. The phrase was re-invented, as it were, by an eminent American academic, Francis Fukuyama, in the aftermath of the cold war.

Fukuyama’s primary argument, in a rather sweeping global perspective, was that with the fall of global socialism in the late 1980s, the “world” and its “history” from a common perspective had come to an ideological end. That is to say there is little left beyond a collective global ideological embrace of liberal democracy and free market economics for all of us as citizens of the world to follow.

That argument can also be contrasted by what other Western academics termed the “Clash of Civilisations” with a particular focus on the global “threat” to western hegemony that was deemed to be harboured by Islamic radicalism and the rise of what Edward Said derided as “Orientalism”.

In the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, in New York City, it was this latter view that was to gain dominance and lead to two US-led “wars on terror”, first in Afghanistan and subsequently in Iraq. These wars, with the benefit of hindsight and after the fervent “you are either with us or against us” emotions dissipated, are increasingly viewed as not only based on reasons that have turned out be dishonest, but also as coming to indicate the manipulation of the United Nations Security Council as well as its founding Charter.

Fast forward to the contemporary Arab Spring and the “clash of civilisations” is no longer as apparent because as it turns out, the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain are actually intent on acquiring democratic government made in the image  and with the now interventionist financial support of liberal Western states. This is regardless of the fact that the Western states, prior to the current “revolutions”, were in collusion with the ousted dictators of the countries in question.

In the same vein, it is now apparent that Fukuyama’s initial argument on the “end of history” is back in vogue, not necessarily in Western states themselves as they grapple with the negative effects of their own domestic free market economic policies and the rise of right-wing/ultra radical conservative parties and policies.



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It is an argument that is now back within the context of the foreign policies of the NATO member states and their attendant allies, particularly so in Africa, wherein it is now unofficially deemed necessary, upon request by one opposition party or the other, to intervene in the context of unproven (in the case of Libya, see the Amnesty International Reports on the issue) but well-received media reports of a potential genocide.

I mention Africa particularly because it is the only place where military intervention has been utilised to support the ousting of an unpopular government. This is yet to happen in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. It did not happen in Egypt or Tunisia.

Libya’s case is a poignant example of this new approach because it could not happen with demonstrations and non-violence only on the part of the Libyan people, but with direct military intervention by NATO, and on the ground assistance to the Libyan rebels by British and French military personnel.

The same is also true for the Cote de’ Ivoire where the French military played a direct and pivotal role in the storming of Abidjan and capture of Laurent Gbagbo.

It is from these two examples (Libya and Cote d’Ivoire) that one can begin to place and understand the notion of Africa’s false “end of history” wherein there is an assumption that for all that the Africans would like to see of their societies, their inevitable path is to embrace political and economic hegemonic values that originate from the West, and accept solutions as determined by the same. No matter the context, no matter the political relevance.

The fall of Laurent Gbagbo and Muammar Gaddafi were and have been phenomenal events not least because of the wars that were fought to bring this about but because of the manner in which the political language of powerful nation states and media was embedded with one side more than the other. They were also particularly unique because for the first time since its inception, the African Union did not have a direct role to play in seeking to resolve either conflict. The lead in all of this was that of the United Nations, and its Security Council, particularly the United States and France.

From this, it is easy to read the reality that the West has taken upon itself the responsibility of governing Africa and Africans by proxy and will not hesitate to intervene militarily in any other African state, particularly where there are reports of potential genocide and knowledge of mineral resources in the given African country. This may or may not include acquiring the consent of African states that are in the Security Council on a rotational basis.

Furthermore, seismic political events such as the toppling of governments in Africa can now seemingly only be done with the direct assistance and approval of one Western state or the other, particularly if it is one of those in the UN Security Council. And this is a historical dilemma as well as a now real precedent that Africans and their leaders need to consider with a serious understanding of this new reality.

It is, as argued by the renowned Professor Mahmood Mamdani, the new age of interventionism in Africa, regardless of the AU, or any other regional African bodies. If African leaders do not conform to what the West determines to be “good governance and democracy” with the precedents set by Libya and Cote d’Ivoire, their and independent nation states’ days are numbered.

A key question that arises is “how did Africa come to this state of affairs?” It is a question that is without a definitive answer but one can begin by analysing the subservience of the continent to Western hegemony. And by this I mean the lapping up by most of our post independence leaders of ideas and governance styles based on proximity to the West (and in some instances the East) while at the same time acquiring resources from the same for purposes that ended up either prolonging their stay in power or treating their citizens as subjects.

Their interactions in this instance were not grounded in people-centred interests nor firm political principles stemming from our liberation struggles. The ease with which there was a disjuncture between the popular aspirations of people who had struggled for independence and the betrayal of the same by post independence and contemporary leaders has left Africa as an “open sesame” continent to those that have the power or the money.

Our leaders have been inorganic and too committed to the demonstration of equality with the Western other without demonstrating commitment to their own peoples, countries and continent. This has left the West with wide latitude to re-engineer African societies via both resource/aid distribution and the expansion of unmitigated hegemonic projects such as the global media and Western biased knowledge production systems. To this extent, sometimes one is not sure whether the current or next African leader represents more the vested interest of either the Chinese or the Americans than she/he does their own people.

As a result African leaders have neither negotiated our values and principles where it has come to their foreign policies and they have all along been wrapped around the fingers of global powers, some with what can be called “pragmatic” intentions, such as those that initiated New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), but most with the selfish motive of power retention at all costs.

Where our leaders have been arguing against imperialism, they have also been alienating their own populations with their repressive leadership regimes, styles and their uncouth pursuit of self aggrandisement by way of political office. In so doing they have mortgaged the making of African history to outsiders and they have alienated  future generations of our continent, who seem to see no choice but to look to the Western “other” for liberation.

The challenges of our now complex circumstances require that we actively and urgently return to making our own history on our terms. But in so doing, we must not mortgage our countries or our future to those that have a history of aggression toward our founding ideals of independence, democracy and human rights.

We must therefore endeavour to be more conscientious in our politics, carefully and collectively define our pending or completed revolutions more clearly and with popular participation and understand the vagaries of our international relations of the past, the present and the future.

Where we seek assistance in completing or fulfilling our revolutions, we must negotiate on the premise of these revolutions’ founding principles, be it with neighbouring states or with those that bestride the global political economy. It is then that we will be able to avoid a Western-defined and false “end of history” for our continent.


 
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