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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Africa and the outside World: the politics of survival and ascendancy

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 This survival struggle is being succinctly dealt with in a very comprehensive manner by Christopher Clapham, in his book titled, ‘Africa and the International System.’ The Politics of State Survival where all salient interrelated issues surrounding the continent’s relations with the outside world are looked into by examining the workings of international politics from the viewpoint of a group of states and in some degree their people, which are at the bottom of the conventional ordering of global power, importance and prestige as well.

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The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 met Africa a hub of perpetrating colonial agenda by the colonisers. Africa was seen fighting a foreign war, losing a great chunk of her most energetic and young men. The continent was caught up in a war that it should not have been.

As World War I came to an end in 1919, and learning from the terrible experience in terms of material and human loss, European powers became busy in trying to reconstruct their continent and by extension the world at large. It became the concern of the likes of Du Bois for Africa to take part in the reconstruction of a new world for the attainment of universal peace and stability. To get it possible, Du Bois consulted Blaise Diagne, a Senegalese who was a Deputy at the French Chamber of Deputies. No wonder, as the mobiliser and recruiter of African forces for France (Blaise), on his plea, the opportunity was given for Africa to take part.

As colonialism took strong roots in Africa in the inter-war period, the concentration of the colonial powers was slightly shifted back home to prevent Hitler’s Nazi Germany and the anti-comitant pact of conquering Europe which would have without doubt augmented Germany’s might across Europe. But an eye glance remained on Africa for control.

The outbreak of the Second World War and its subsequent end in 1945, only welcomed the start of a mind game dubbed ‘the cold war’. It was the ideological combat that unravelled the true nature of post-World War II era, which signalled the beginning of a fresh relation between Africa and the outside world, the Western and Eastern powers to be specific. This was to become robust and appealing to African interest after the attainment of independence in the 1960s, a year described as the ‘the Year of Africa’, when many African countries resorted to the forward march to independence.

This period witnessed the birth of a new relation with the outside world. The continent became a bastion of influence as both the East (USSR) and the West (US) became highly interested in winning the support of more and more allies for ascendancy on the global stage. It witnessed the bulk flood of weapons that was used by African countries to build up their military armouries for so-called self-defence and fighting one another, as regime, regional and other forms of intra-state conflicts became highly widespread.

The Chinese were also involved in the cold war struggle in offering assistance to African countries with a sense socialist orientation. The construction of the 1,860km TAZARA railway in 1975 that linked the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salam to the Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi to Zambia was carried out by the Chinese.

Not only were weapons supplied in abundance by the contending powers, but those powers were seen intervening in those conflicts they have contributed in fuelling in one way or the other. This is known as the ‘hidden hands behind African conflicts. When the Belgians left Congo, they left chaos and instability behind, and the country’s first year of independence was just a night mare. This was evident in the power struggle that ensued between newly appointed Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and his arch rival Moi Tshombe who took control of the Katanga secessionist movement in the Katanga province, calling for an independent Katanga.

As a revolutionary leader who continued to fight for the independence of the Congo, eliminating Lumumba became the priority of the Americans with their notorious C.I.A. Three years after the assassination of Patrice, Kleptocrat Joseph Desire Mobutu Sese Seko Ngbendu Wa Za Banga as he came to add to his nomenclature, which in the Ngbendu language means a warrior never loose, took control of the country through a military coup. He became so notorious for his acts earning different negative adjectives for himself: ‘The great Plunderer’ he is called by Martin Meredith in his book; ‘The state of Africa’; ‘the Kleptocrat’ by most political writers and ‘A friendly dictator’ by the Americans who supported him throughout his misrule.

It is important to note that, it was not only the Americans that were involved in the Congo crisis, but shockingly and disappointingly, the United Nations Mission in the country that had initially employed a neutral stance in the crisis as part of the rules of ‘Neutrality in Peace Keeping Missions, came to be very much bias by directing their actions against Lumumba which was even attested to by the then Secretary General Dag Hammaskjold, that getting rid of Lumumba was their priority.   

Mobutu, one of the worst tyrants continental Africa is ever cursed with became a burden on his country and Africa as a whole. As commented by Nigerians in the rule of Sani Abacha, ‘No condition is permanent’ came to end Mobutu’s rule when a counter coup was carried out by Laurent Kabila in 1997 bringing an end to thirty-three years of kleptocracy.

In Angola, the crisis that engulfed the country between the rival factions of the MPLA government and the UNITA rebel movement headed by Jonas Tsavimbi actually came to be internationalised involving the two major powers with their allies. The U.S support was directed to UNITA whiles the Soviet’s to the MPLA. Without the Russian coupled with the Cuban supports, the MPLA government in Luanda would have been heavily defeated by the UNITA.

The early part of 1980s brought a sense of hope for the West African country of Burkina Faso when revolutionary Thomas Sankara came to power through a coup and with a Marxist discourse ready to put his innovative ideas at the service of his fellow citizens. His idea of promoting self-reliance was suddenly brought to an end in 1987 when his so-called closest ally Blaise Campoare betrayed him and become a puppet to the French. Today it is sad to hear negative comments made by some people against such a dynamic leader (Thomas Sankara), accusing him of importing a ‘bad’ ideology for Burkina, while praising Campoare.

The early part of the 1990s saw the birth of another fresh relation that came up with two sets of conditionalities: Democratic reform was one baseline set by the Western powers to condition African countries in exchange for aid. The cold war ended, socialism dead, liberal democracy and market oriented capitalism of the West took strong ground in the world including Africa. As remarked by Francis Fukuyama that there is the end of history. Fukuyama’s notion of the end of history does not imply that historical events would eventually come to an end or that newspapers and other media houses will stop reporting historical events, but rather history understood as the evolution of human societies through the different forms of government culminated in modern liberal democracy and market oriented capitalism.

 The myopic notion of some Africans forced them believe that Western culture is of universal validity. African states began to search for the West as partners in exchange for aid so as to provide development for their people. But have those aids been transformed into the practical provision of development? That is another question to explore.

The continent continued to struggle with such conditions as many of her leaders found it tricky to go otherwise. This eventually culminated in the massive wave of mulita-party democracy in many countries on the continent which saw the embracing of Multi-party politics, eventually resulting in the holding of elections as a means of opening up the political space for competition. Leaders like Kenneth Kaunda, who ruled the Southern African country of Zambia for 27 years was ousted at the polls of 1991 by Freidrick Chilluba of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy. Many other leaders also vacated through the polls and those whose rules were dared not been challenged like Banda of Malawi, Kerekou of Benin etc were widely challenged now.

With the East out of the antagonism, would African countries and their leaders avoid banter and cajole any friendly relation with the West or the outside world in entirety? Of course no country is an Island in this global interconnectivity. If our independence can only inculcate the notion that we are on our own and would seize to interact with the world, in an Autarky sense I would put it, then we are certainly on the wrong side of history and by extension, the mature comprehension of globalisation. Don’t be lost, let me take a sentence to connect this notion of ‘Isolationism’ to the philosophical teaching of ‘Individualism’, in which Humans or individuals may be bored with society and prefer a private life to a public one. Such creatures would not want to be involved in human interaction and as a result would seclude themselves. But the repercussion is always hazardous on them as they live a solitary life and always come to need human interaction for survival.

It is the same way that states of the world need each other no matter how independent they are.

Certainly Africa must encourage relationship with the outside world but a relationship based on mutual respect and interests. Surely African countries would not want their interest to be at stake when it comes to international relations with the rest of the world.  In abiding by the existing etiquettes of securing national interest, many African countries continue to forge closer ties with those they think can serve their interests. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who became a statesman of the country since independence in 1980, initially employed reconciliation with former white leaders of Rhodesia, but later got it rough with them and anyone else there to back them. Mugabe’s relation with the West is indeed an appalling one which has to some degree affected the country’s kindred with the same Western powers.

As some African countries tried to tighten their relations with the outside world through different means, others seem to promote the agenda of self-reliance in all spheres of their country’s lives.

Essa Njie is a graduate assistant at the Political Science Unit of the University of The Gambia


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