The West Marginalizes Africa in Quest for Democracy, Says Mbeki

Popular uprisings in North Africa have given a boost to so called “democratization” across the continent, but the world has marginalized Africa in the handling of recent crises in the continent, says former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

He was speaking during and after a recent conference at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago, in the United States.
Addressing the meeting, Mbeki said the uprisings “have indeed confirmed that there does exist a generation on our continent whose sense of rage about what has gone wrong guarantees Africa’s advance towards its renaissance.”

It was now up to Africans, he said, “to ensure that the process of democratization which began in the 1990s, and has now been given an extraordinary fillip by the… uprisings in North Africa continues, thus to ensure that all Africa becomes a democratic continent.”

However, in an interview after his presentation he was critical of the way in which the United Nations had treated the African Union (AU) in responding to the conflicts in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire.
In the case of Libya, five African heads of state had tried to achieve a ceasefire. “The African Union mission was ignored for seven or eight days,” Mbeki told this correspondent. “[They were ] ready to fly to Tripoli on March 18 and Benghazi the following day. Unfortunately, the no-fly zone was declared.

“The possibility of an African intervention for a political solution didn’t happen. We’re witnessing the marginalization of an African solution in an African country.”

On Cote d’Ivoire – where Mbeki has tried in the past to broker a long-term solution, in the face of vigorous French opposition – he said the crisis over last November’s disputed election was a manifestation of a more deeply-rooted crisis.
When he was there last December, the United Nations envoy, Choi Young-jin, had shown him maps which illustrated how presidential election voting mirrored the lines of division which generated the civil war which began in 2002.

“This was not a crisis ensuing out of an election… The presidential election outcome entrenched divisions in place since 2002. The problem is the original division of the country…

“According to an agreement entered into by the Ivorian parties in Ouagadougu, the election was not to have taken place until the country was unified, soldiers demobilized and the process of disarmament completed at least two months before [the vote].”

Addressing what needed to be done next in Libya, Mbeki said there was a risk the war there would impact other areas, from Darfur in Sudan to Chad and Mali: “The weapons, the armed groups in Libya, we’re going to inherit them.. The sooner we start on a political solution to minimize the spread of weapons, the better…”

He added: “African governments must insist that Libya be governed by consensus… We agree with the Libyan people’s call for democratic change.”

Asked about the role of the West, he said there was a “fundamental problem: Western countries have their own preferred outcomes.

“In Libya, the big story being told is about a humanitarian crisis, protecting civilians. What is not being said is regime change. They want to remove [Colonel Muammar] Gaddafi.”

Mbeki, who heads the African Union High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, said resolving the conflict over Darfur required action on three tracks:

  • Negotiations in Doha, Qatar among the belligerents aimed at a ceasefire;
  • Involving the people of Darfur in an inclusive political process; and
  • Improving conditions by helping displaced people return to their villages and promoting development in Darfur.

On the future of Sudan and the soon-to-be-independent South Sudan, Mbeki said it was crucial for both states to construct peaceful relations that promote two viable states.

“If Sudan goes wrong, it could all go badly,” he said. “Currently, Sudan shares borders with nine other countries. We have to produce a soft landing,” he said.