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Africa is not Egypt, William Hague
Tendi, Guardian (UK)
March 24, 2011
View this article
on The Guardian website
William Hague, Britain's
foreign secretary, declared this week that "we are only in
the early stages of what is happening in north Africa and the Middle
East". Addressing a London conference of African politicians
and businessmen, Hague said that the political tumult "will
not stop at the borders of the Arab world", suggesting that
sub-Saharan countries ruled by undemocratic leaders are also ripe
for popular uprisings. Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe and Ivory
Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo, currently in a stalemate with Alassane
Ouattara over who is the country's rightful president, were singled
out as at risk of being consumed by popular uprisings if they do
not "heed" the democratic will. The west's response must
be "generous, bold and ambitious", Hague concluded.
But western boldness
and ambition has already resulted in a number of African countries
condemning air strikes on Libya, arguing that America, the UK and
France are using UN resolution 1973, which authorised the enforcement
of a no-fly zone, to effect regime change.
whatever his faults, is a true nationalist. I prefer nationalists
to puppets of foreign interests. Therefore, if the Libyan opposition
groups are patriots, they should fight their war by themselves and
conduct their affairs by themselves. After all, they easily captured
so much equipment from the Libyan army, why do they need foreign
military support?" Were these the words of Mugabe? No, they
came from Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, widely respected as
part of a new generation of modernising African leaders, and one
of a number who believe the boldness and ambition that Hague extols
have undermined the Libyan democratic cause.
Many concerned Zimbabweans,
myself included, are of the opinion that Britain cannot play a positive
role in our own nation's domestic political affairs because of its
colonial record and racially biased application of human rights
principles since our independence in 1980. Our message is simple
and consistent: lift targeted sanctions on Mugabe and members of
his Zanu-PF party because they are undermining our progress to democracy,
and stay out of Zimbabwean politics. The message has fallen on deaf
ears, as Hague's comments show.
UK immigration minister
Damian Green announced this month that Britain will resume deporting
failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers because there is significantly
less politically motivated violence and conditions have improved
in the country. But if Mugabe's security forces are acting "with
impunity, ramping up intimidation in order to instil fear in its
opponents and to prevent the people of Zimbabwe from expressing
their democratic voice", as Hague claimed in his speech, what
makes Zimbabwe safe enough to return failed asylum seekers? If,
as Green maintains, violence is diminished in Zimbabwe and conditions
are much better, why then is Mugabe ripe for toppling? The policy
inconsistencies on Zimbabwe cannot be starker.
Mugabe may be unfavourable
to Britain but his party retains significant support in Zimbabwe
- three years ago his party gained more votes than the opposition
MDC in a parliamentary poll widely recognised as the most free and
fair since 2000. Similarly Gbagbo has considerable support in Ivory
Coast, as seen in the country's north-south split in the ongoing
political crisis. These realities may be unpalatable for the UK
Foreign Office but they warrant close consideration.
In celebrating the recent
popular uprisings, Hague does not stop to ask if the governments
that arise are inevitably democratic. Uprisings may scupper democracy
by sparking full-scale civil conflict in deeply divided countries.
Moreover the instability may give militaries - historically
the nemesis of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa - an excuse
to resurrect armed rule.
And some undemocratic
leaders in sub-Saharan Africa are far too entrenched to be overthrown
despite their unpopularity - Angola president José
Eduardo dos Santos and Equatorial Guinea leader Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo
are only a couple of examples. Hague forgot that the respective
contexts of sub-Saharan countries matter. Freedom is universal but
Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have more in common with the politics of
the Arab League countries than the political dynamics of nations
south of the Sahara.
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