THE MUTUMWA MAWERE COLUMN
Chavez v Bush: implications on Africa
Chávez has anointed himself, with the blessing of Castro, as the representative of all the forces challenged by a unipolar world where Bush’s assertive foreign policy and its consequences on global security has ignited an unprecedented anti-American sentiment particularly in the poor and developing world.
President Chávez had this to say: "Yesterday, the devil came here ... and it smells of sulfur still today. Bush was talking as if he owned the world."
His remarks came one day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech at the United Nations in which he defended his country's nuclear program. The United States has demanded that Iran stops its nuclear enrichment program.
Although the United States dismissed Chávez's remarks as a "comic strip approach to international affairs", Chávez scoffed at Bush's foreign policy goals by saying: "They say they want to impose a democratic model. It's the false democracy of elites, and, I would say, a very original democracy that's imposed by weapons and bombs and firing weapons. What type of democracy do you impose with Marines and bombs?"
Chávez held up a book by American leftist writer Noam Chomsky titled Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance and recommended it to everyone in the General Assembly.
He likened Bush's policy to a scary movie. "An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario," Chávez said. "I would even propose a title: The Devil's Recipe."
Chavez was not alone in launching vitriolic attacks on Bush personally and American foreign policy. It is significant that many leaders in the developing world who find themselves challenged by their domestic political and economic challenges have chosen to deflect attention from their inability to generate solutions to general debates about the utility and consequences of globalization using the Middle East confusion as a case in point.
The sentiments that were expressed by the heads of states including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Cuba that preceded the UN meeting were no different from the tone expressed by many at the UN.
Although Chavez may have scored points for having the balls to take Bush head on and personally, it is debatable whether his approach would advance the cause of the poor. It is also debatable whether Castro has made a difference to his people by monopolizing the debate in his own country and positioning himself as an icon of the marginalized without offering any real and sustainable solutions to poverty.
If Venezuela was not the fourth-largest supplier — after Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia — of crude oil, gasoline and other petroleum imports to the USA, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the opinion of Chavez would not have any consequence.
Africa, with a rich mineral and oil resource endowment, could easily fall into the same trap where a head of state who is intolerant of the very values of democracy and good governance he appears to champion at the global level denies his own citizens the same rights he is accorded at the international level.
Is it conceivable that a Venezuelan would get away with making the same comments that Chavez made on Bush? Does Chavez extend the same freedom of speech and the press to the people of Venezuela that he is accorded at the global arena? If not, should we not be entitled to question the sincerity of Chavez and many of his fellow heads of state who have a problem with the current unipolar global architecture only to the extent that they are not controlling it? Some of these heads of states do not value the freedoms of their own citizens and yet they have the luxury of preaching about democracy at the global level.
It is important that we locate the struggles in Africa for democracy in the same realm as the struggles against a global architecture that is controlled by a few. The similarities between the anti-globalization struggles and the struggles against tyranny and dictatorship in individual nation states are too obvious.
Many African countries are governed by a centralized political structure that is pyramidal in nature where the head of state is at the pinnacle accountable only to God and not to his/her people. The US and its European allies dominate the global agenda not only because they have the economic muscle but because the post-cold war era has seen the ideological debate take a new direction following the collapse of the communist countries but because their policies are informed by real domestic interests.
If you critically examined the challenges of the world trade regime and the collapse of the Doha round, you will observe that the positions taken by the rich nations are informed by an organized domestic constituency. However, in the case of developing countries one is not surprised to observe the clear disconnect between the positions taken by their governments at the international stage and what their citizens want at home. In fact most citizens in Africa do not enjoy the same rights that are accorded to their governments at the international stage where they can even call the President of the most powerful nation in the world a “devil” without risking being arrested.
Why is it that leaders in Africa and their counterparts in the developing world are angry with Bush for stealing global freedoms in the name of “war against terror” while failing to recognize that their own citizens are equally angry at them for stealing their freedoms in the name of national interest? It is important to note that while our leaders are given the opportunity to voice their concerns at the international stage, they would not countenance to confer the same rights to their own citizens.
The irony is that even Bush is ultimately accountable to the American voters and yet one may not say the same about Chavez and many African leaders. In as much as Bush is criticized for abusing American might not for righteous ends, many African heads of states would not escape the same criticism. The abuse of power by those elected to represent the powerless is universal and even Chavez cannot claim to speak for the voiceless of Venezuela.
We have seen the leaders of the developing world attempting to create a united front against the hegemony of the developed world using values of democracy and fairness and international law. The real challenge is how to bring the message to our leaders that if the respect of the rule of law, human rights and property rights are the bedrock values of any successful global environment, then why is it not self evident that the same values ought to be practiced in their own countries?
In the case of Africa we have often seen leaders hijack the revolution and privatize the nation-building agenda by imposing the perspectives of the world at the expense of the majority. The real cost to development of unaccountable leaders like Chavez and his fellow gangsters have not been measured. We are often reminded of the cost of Bush/Blair leadership to the world without also taking note of the irresponsible and reprehensive behavior of our own leaders. The difference is that the policies of Bush and Blair may be informed by the interests of the voters who may want to control a cheap source of energy or resource.
The emergence of Chindia threatens not only the developed world but requires a response. It is evident that the global manufacturing platforms of the world will necessarily be located in other parts of the world including Chindia and American jobs will require reorientation. If this is true, America will have to maintain its hegemony using other means in as much as our leaders continue to maintain and sustain their hegemony using brutal force. If the conversation in the world is elevated to a higher moral ground where minimum standards of democracy and governance are established, I have no doubt that the same quest to tame the hegemony of the developed countries will resonate in the individual nation states of the developing world.
The attack by Chavez has to be seen in the broader context of rich versus poor. As a businessman who was stripped of his assets by a government that professes to fight for global justice and respect of international law, I have come to accept that the fight against globalization is also a fight against people like me. For how can you support the rights of big business in the developing world and then proceed to fight against a perceived conspiracy of the rich nations whose wealth can only be located in the hands of people like me?
The consensus in the world appears to be that it is the responsibility and obligation of those that are well off to offer a helping hand to the less advantaged. The risk faced by any businessman operating in a country like Venezuela that has already decreed that it is only state institutions that can be trusted to deliver value to the nation is quite obvious. The message of Chavez, therefore, resonates with the views of many political actors in the world who are challenged by the objective conditions in their own countries where the majority of citizens are poor while the minority rich continue to increase their wealth and dominance.
In the Chavez v Bush debate, there are important lessons for Africa in terms of how to communicate its real or perceived injury and also how its citizens should respond to domestic tyranny that is often camouflaged as law and order. With Castro on his way out, Chavez will increasing dominate the debate between the developed and developing countries? His celebrity status that was confirmed in Harlem last week when actor Danny Glover introduced him to a packed audience of African Americans hungry to hear from an anti-Bush voice has positioned him an important individual to listen to and watch as the global architecture continues to be challenged.
The need to reform the multilateral institutional framework is self evident but what is not evident is what should replace it. Should the world look up to Chavez who without oil would be nothing but a joker devoid of any meaningful ideology to offer to the world?
We have seen how
power vacuums have been filled in many African countries to the detriment
of the development agenda and my only sincere hope is that Africans
will not be confused about the obvious concerns regarding globalization
with the equally real concerns about the state actors in our continent
who remain oblivious to the real cost they have imposed on their citizens.
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