The pragmatics of African politics

Reason Wafawarova On Thursday
We, Africans, through our collective political leadership, have a mandate to look after the continental interest, and it is on this basis that the Organisation of African Unity was formed way back in 1963. The African Union (formerly Organisation of African Unity) has in the past spearheaded a number of ideological forays, and in its formation there were many outstanding political personalities, among them Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere. At the launch of the AU in July 2002 there was one ideologically outstanding character, Muammar Gaddafi. Presently, the ideological face of the AU is only visible through the immediate-past chair, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the only direct link with the continent’s founding fathers.

From its revolutionary socialist founding principles once so popular during the Cold War era, the AU has shifted to a somewhat ideology-free movement that carries out routine annual rituals in Addis Ababa. Apart from the numerous and seemingly unheeded calls for African economic and political sovereignty from the current chair, there is no visible cohesion, or any sign of collectivity in the AU’s foreign or trade policies.

The suspicion and animosity that crippled the impressive vision of Kwame Nkrumah some 52 years ago is the same devil that crippled Gaddafi’s efforts at reviving Nkrumah’s dream, and the same bane facing Robert Mugabe’s call for emancipation today. Kwame Nkrumah was checked by Julius Nyerere’s cautious and arguably more pragmatic approach to African unity, and Gaddafi’s efforts were stifled by similar cautiousness from the likes of Yoweri Museveni, and South Africa even voted for the UN resolution that led to the revolutionary’s demise.

President Mugabe is surrounded by an uninterested and an uninspiring generation of leadership both at home and on the continent when it comes to ideological issues, and it does not look like there is much political will in pursuing a collective policy position for the betterment of the continent. Most of the current leaders are content to entertain the rhetoric of African sovereignty only at the level of applauding the eloquence of speeches from proponents like the current Chair, but will assume neither responsibility nor commitment towards the goal.

Nkrumah envisaged a fast tracked unity of purpose across Africa that would result in the creation of the United States of Africa. Julius Nyerere, in agreeing with the nobility of the principle, warned of the suspicion and animosity that existed between the founding fathers of African independence at the time.

By his own admission in 1997, Nyerere secretly pushed for the adoption of the 1964 OAU resolution on permanently maintaining colonial borders, and the resolution was adopted at the Cairo Summit in 1964. With this resolution the great Nkrumah’s dream was sealed in failure. It is hard to imagine any African who stands opposed to the idea of African unity of purpose, and for this reason most of us feel with Nkrumah, like the majority on the continent feels with Robert Mugabe when he talks about economic and political sovereignty today.

We are stuck in the dungeon of principle versus pragmatism, or idealism versus realism, and there are those among us who feel Africa is simply not positioned and ready for independent determination of its own economic and political affairs, and these often argue for a gradual transition towards this nobility. What happened after the 1964 OAU resolution was somewhat a vindication of Nyerere’s fears. Nkrumah himself was overthrown by his own military in 1966, and many countries were seriously afflicted by civil wars and military coups soon after they attained independence.

The tripartite core values of development, peace and freedom have been somewhat problematic for Africa, and even the much vaunted Millennium Development Goals have not meaningfully changed the landscape of development on the continent, save for some isolated cosmetic statistics of success in sectors like education and gender equality. We have not seen much advocacy for the right to development, much as we have seen the sprouting of vociferous foreign-funded civic groups that incessantly push for civil and political rights.

Africa is such a dependency-afflicted continent that we now understand development as something driven by external obligations, and we hopelessly place these obligations at the doorsteps of our former colonial masters. The sooner we come to terms with the fact that developed nations are not, and will not, be obligated to develop Africa the better for the future of the continent. This is a point President Mugabe has tried to make always.

Even if we agree that there is a moral obligation for former colonisers to correct colonial wrongs by developing Africa, the reality around this simplistic approach to international affairs is that it is simply impracticable on the part of Western countries. Our leadership must understand the importance of state responsibility in developmental affairs. Economic international relations and international economic law are essentials in governance, but most African countries invest very little resources towards these initiatives.

If we are going to achieve practical effectives in African economic affairs, it is important that pragmatism is not sidelined in pursuit of political expediency. The easy way of explaining away underdevelopment through the regurgitating of Africa’s historical and current socio-economic disadvantaged position will never in itself better a single life in Africa.

The point cannot be any clearer than in the socio-economic political landscape of Zimbabwe since the year 2000. We are aware of the legal obligations Britain failed to honour after the 1979 Lancaster Agreement, and we have reiterated ad-nauseam the colonial disadvantage of the Zimbabwean. The tangible, implementable and justiciable solution adopted was to reclaim colonially stolen land and redistribute it to the disadvantaged African.

We need the AU to establish the continent’s own brand of a new economic order as defined by the advantage of Africa’s vast raw material wealth. We need pragmatic legal and economic blueprints to enforce mechanisms leading to the right to development, if indeed this right will ever be achievable for Africa.

We have watched for many years as the concept of development has continued to be nebulous on the African landscape, in terms of concrete entitlements and obligations. The AU must foster a form of African unity that says holders of the right to development are the people of Africa, and that the obligation to uphold and implement this right rests on our governments. While it is a compelling duty for members of the international community to cooperate with Africa and all others on developmental matters, it is not a legal obligation for the international community to develop the continent on our behalf.

The so-called pro-democracy movement is worryingly detached from developmental politics, much as the proponents have vigorously advanced the cause for civil and political rights, albeit from a Western viewpoint. We have since seen this impeding ambivalence where there are no longer clear-cut duties on the part of individuals, peoples and governments in Africa.

Article 22 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981) confers on us a legally binding right to development, but the continent still accounts for less than 1 percent of global trade. This means that the AU has to look at other ways of leveraging the continent’s vast resources. What matters most for the continent’s people today is not this vacuous retrospective sense of justice where we constantly remind each other of how history has been cruel to us.

What matters most is what needs to be done in order for the continent to come out of poverty and underdevelopment. The choices of the AU today will determine whether or not the cycle of poverty will be broken post the 2015 MDGs. These choices will determine how we engage the rising Chinese economic incursion on the continent, and they will also determine how we relate to China’s economic rivals from the West.

Just like there has never been consensus on the idea of African unity, there is today no consensus on the nature and scope of Africa’s right to development. We have those whose feeling is that we should push for a legalistic approach to force the former colonisers to atone for their past mistakes by developing the continent, and it is very tempting to go along with this moralistic way of thinking. Yet we have others who argue that development must be a slow and gradual process pursued on the basis of pragmatic and implementable strategies, and some of these strategies may sound like a betrayal of justice, especially when juxtaposed against the glaring facts around colonial history.

It is a good starting point to view development as a right, for as long we place the obligations for the realisation of this right on the correct duty bearers. We can argue that the UN Declaration on the Right To Development (UNDRTD) has become international customary law, but that kind of argument will never place an enforceable obligation on the part of outsiders. Our past as Africans is a telling indictment of our own moral worthiness as a people. Frankly, our ancestors were complicit in the crimes of pre-slavery history.

During slavery, the European enslavers remained on the coasts while African middlemen did the dirty and cruel work of going inland, capturing and driving fellow Africans to the European buyers, evening inflicting more brutalities than the enslavers ever did. I was in at Ghana’s Cape Coast slave auction floors in 2003, and the history tellers there made me shed oceans of tears.

The lucrative slave business was mutually beneficial for both the European enslaver and the African middleman, and it took 389 years of unabated inhumanity in which Africans were wholly complicit, until someone from Europe decided to end the barbaric practice. Then came colonialism with its minority political and economic power, proudly running a monopolistic international trade system whose legacy still paralyses us today. Yet again colonialism created for its own safety a treacherous middle class of Africans that never wanted to see the system collapse.

It is this culpable class that continues to impede the emancipation of the continent, grouping itself in emerging neo-liberal political parties and in foreign administered civic organisations. Colonialism educated our people up to a point in the 1930s when young Africans began to rise against the system that governed them, and this uprising resulted in the fall of colonial empires. This dynamic force was mainly propelled by the socialist/communist ideology, and it was greatly aided by the Second World War.

Sensing imminent danger, John Maynard Keynes and his generation created the Bretton Woods institutions in 1944, making sure that they prepared the West for post coloniality by establishing a new financial system that would leave former colonisers with an advantage over their former colonies. The Bretton Woods initiative gave birth to the United Nations, the World Bank, and the IMF, all of them being the bedrock of African indebtedness.

When the Bretton Woods institutions were formed, our leaders of the time were clamouring for open, free and non-discriminatory trade. Today we must clamour for open, free and non-discriminatory trade and investment on the continent. We must be freeing ourselves from the import dependency. We have been dependent on imports for far too long, and it is time we started balancing our exports and imports to replica levels with any other developed part of this world.

There has to be pragmatic and practical ways of tapping into the raw materials of a country like Zimbabwe, so that there can be meaningful exportation of the vast range of the country’s potential products. Potential because there is hardly any production happening at the moment, and the responsibility to produce is mandatory on the Zimbabwean producer.

The obligation to implement developmental projects lies squarely on the duty bearers in leadership, as does the buck of any failure, and we must be frank and honest about such obligations. Africa we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

REASON WAFAWAROVA is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.