African Union – the Power to Resist Foreign Intervention (II)

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki

Of course we can also cite other very negative developments which took place in Africa during the period of the Cold War, where these developments must be attributed to administrations which the Soviet Union supported as progressive representatives of what was characterised as the ‘non-capitalist path of development’.

In this regard we can mention specifically the Sekou Toure administration in Guinea Conakry, and the Ethiopian ‘Dergue’, led by Mengistu Haile-Mariam.

However, the balance of evidence makes the statement that much of the negative developments on our Continent during the period of the Cold War derived from the determined efforts of the West to defeat what they saw and described as ‘Soviet expansionism’.

These are the countries which Xavier Renou said the African academy is reluctant or afraid boldly and accurately to characterise as imperialist and predatory.

I have spent what some among us might conclude is unjustified extended attention to the past of the Cold War years.

However, I believe, firmly, that this past is very much part of the present.

Accordingly, in my view, it is not possible for us properly to understand our present reality without a proper assessment of what might seem, in terms of chronology, to be a dead past that we must discount.

The hard truth is that absolutely each of our days is weighed down by the heavy burden of the past.

I am certain that as we consider ‘post-Cold War’ Africa, we will have to reflect on the continuing impulses which derive from the period of ‘Cold War’ Africa.

Nineteen years ago, on March 7, 1993, in the aftermath of the earlier disappearance of the Soviet Union, the influential US Newspaper, The New York Times, published an article written by Steven A. Holmes, entitled: ‘The World: Africa, From The Cold War To Cold Shoulders.’

With your permission, I will take the liberty to quote this article at some length.

Among other things Holmes wrote:

“Having been carved up and colonized by European powers and turned into pawns, knights and rooks on a cold war chessboard by the superpowers, Africa now faces a devastating new problem: indifference.

“Writing in the current issue of Foreign Affairs Quarterly, Marguerite Michaels, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that the disintegration of the Soviet Union “set America free to pursue its own interests in Africa – and it found that it did not have any.”

“It is a harsh assessment. But with the end of the cold war, Africa’s strategic importance to the West has declined. With shrinking per capita income hampering the market for Western goods, political instability and a poorly educated work force making investment unattractive… Africa’s economic significance has been reduced…

“I’m not nostalgic about the cold war,” Salim A. Salim, Secretary General of the Organisation of African Unity, said during a speech last week in Washington. “I am very happy the cold war is over. What I am saying is that there is diminishing interest in the issues of real human concern.”…

“Perhaps the most significant development is the willingness of Africans to admit their own past mistakes – to stop placing the blame for the continent’s underdevelopment entirely on the West and the legacy of colonialism, and instead condemn gross abuses by incompetent or venal leaders…

“In the past, the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other African countries, enshrined in the charter of the Organisation of African Unity, gave leaders for inaction even in the face of blatant abuses by rulers like Idi Amin of Uganda.

“We allowed the violations of human rights,” Mr Salim said. “We allowed the dehumanisation of our people and used the charter as a scapegoat.”

These comments would have been read by many decision-makers in what was by then the sole world super-power, the United States, making for what was called a unipolar, post-Cold War world order.

They made the assertions that: the end of the Cold War had left Africa adrift in terms of the global geo-strategic agenda and considerations of the sole world super-power and presumably its Western allies; liberated from the obligation to secure the allegiance of independent Africa in the context of its global anti-Soviet struggle, the US had found that Africa was otherwise not of any importance in terms of its global strategic interests; as a consequence of this, the ‘world community’ would leave Africa to her fate, except in the context of its ‘humanitarian crises’, thus reducing it to subsisting in the global geometry as a recipient of charity;

Africa understood this reality, and pleaded that this ‘indifference and neglect’ meant that Africa, left to herself, could not, on her own, attend to what were her most basic human challenges; for Africa to regain her place as a worthy international partner of the dominant world capitalist system, she had to establish a track record as a Continent of democracy and the related free capitalist market economies, consistent with the paradigm that has been prescribed by the so-called ‘Washington consensus’;

Africa had the responsibility to solve, on her own, the problems she had inherited as a legacy of the policies generated during the Cold War; among others, in this context, she had the responsibility to pull herself by her bootstraps to make herself a relevant economic player in the context of the global economy;

Africa had to accept that the time for all special and favourable consideration by the former colonial and imperialist powers, resulting in her preferential treatment, had come to end, and therefore that all argument about any continuing impact of the legacy of imperialism and colonialism would be treated as self-serving argument to justify our own failures as Africans; and, accordingly, the West had no particular and special responsibility to assist Africa to address what the then OAU Secretary General referred to as ‘issues of real human concern’.

To be cont’d.

Mr Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, made these remarks at a conference on The Architecture of Post-Cold War Africa – Between Internal Reform and External Intervention, organised by the Makerere University’s Institute of Social Research, Uganda, on Thursday.