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Friday, July 15, 2005

An African Perspective on Live8

A very interesting op-ed in today's New York Times, by Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme, a consultant on international law and a columnist for Le Messager (a Cameroonian daily, where a version of the article first appeared), uses the Live8 concert project as a reason to consider what he believes to be the real problems of Africa today.

Tomne says that he and other Africans certainly "hold nothing against" the organizers of and participants in Live8, but he avers, "We Africans know what the problem is, and no one else should speak in our name. Africa has men of letters and science, great thinkers and stifled geniuses who at the risk of torture rise up to declare the truth and demand liberty.

"Don't insult Africa," Tonme continues, "this continent so rich yet so badly led. Instead, insult its leaders, who have ruined everything. Our anger is all the greater because despite all the presidents for life, despite all the evidence of genocide, we didn't hear anyone at Live 8 raise a cry for democracy in Africa. . . . Don't they understand that fighting poverty is fruitless if dictatorships remain in place?"

Tomne points out that this is a highly paternalistic attitude, and he stresses that Africans are fully capable of taking on the responsibility ofself-government under liberal, Western-style principles.

"Africa's real problem," he says, "is the lack of freedom of expression, the usurpation of power, the brutal oppression." As a result, "Neither debt relief nor huge amounts of food aid nor an invasion of experts will change anything. Those will merely prop up the continent's dictators."

"What is at issue is an Africa where dictators kill, steal and usurp power yet are treated like heroes at meetings of the African Union. What is at issue is rulers like François Bozizé, the coup leader running the Central Africa Republic, and Faure Gnassingbé, who just succeeded his father as president of Togo, free to trample universal suffrage and muzzle their people with no danger that they'll lose their seats at the United Nations. Who here wants a concert against poverty when an African is born, lives and dies without ever being able to vote freely?"

Tomne's conclusion: "In Africa, our leaders have led us into misery, and we need to rid ourselves of these cancers. We would have preferred for the musicians in Philadelphia and London to have marched and sung for political revolution. Instead, they mourned a corpse while forgetting to denounce the murderer."


dfkglfk said...

My sister spent last summer in Cameroon on a missions trip. She ran into several instances of corruption, from customs and beyond, while she was there.

I agree with the speaker. Cameroon is not an isolated event of corruption (Liberia anyone?), it is a case in point. The real problems need to be addressed before any genuine changes are made.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Wonderful essay by this fellow. I suppose we should start scanning obituary columns looking for his name.

James F. Elliott said...

No argument from this liberal.

KeithM, Indy said...

Great to know that they have such talent and raw drive there. This sort of perspective is what is sorely missing from our free press.

james - never mind arguments, how about some ideas on fostering positive democratic change on that continent (or any continent.) I know the President and his administration has ideas, and that they are pursuing them (however slowly and inefficiently.)

Tying aid to such reforms for instance. Or even tie debt relief to universal sufferage and open elections.

James F. Elliott said...

See, I disagree. I don't think the president or his administration has clue one what to do there.

Take Charles Taylor for example. He may not be in Liberia proper anymore, but he is just across the border and still agitating. He's not done by a long shot, and using dollars from his "pay off" to finance his moves.

Or then there's Sudan. Much ballyhooing has been made over the peace process in southern Sudan that was largely over when Bush took office. However, the plight of northern Sudan and the government in Khartoum's complicity in arming and aiding the Janjaweed militias has been completely pussyfooted by the Bush Administration.

Thansk to Sudan's "cooperation" in the WoT, there's already discussion of lifting sanctions without any change in a situation that the Bush Administration termed a genocide two years ago.

If the Bush Administration is so concerned about AIDS in Africa, why is an initiative announced four years ago so poorly funded?

Why would they kill a deal that would have allowed African nations to produce and/or import cheaper generic versions of the drugs required for HIV/AIDS "cocktails?" Because now they have to get the expensive brands from U.S. pharmaceutical companies, the country's most profitable industry and one of its highest campaign donors and best-funded lobbies.

To put it bluntly, the Bush Administration has not demonstrated that it gives crap one about Africa.

Some real solutions are included in Jeffrey Sachs' "The End of Poverty," which details a direct-aid program that funds projects at the village and local NGO level, instead of giving the funds to governments to disperse.

A real commitment to peace involves the West giving hard materiel and training to African Union soldiers and backing up their peacekeeping with the threat of Western airpower and a steady flow of Western cash and supplies.

Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. It comes from within. Africa is ready, has been for some time. The West can support that by providing money and direct aid to dissidents, buying off corrupt leaders (say, amnesty in exchange for stepping down and leaving the country), and by helping to guide innovative ethnic power-sharing treaties.

I refer you to the works of Arend Lijphart on the workings of democracy and my old professor Donald Rothchild on conflict resolution in Africa.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Who here wants a concert against poverty when an African is born, lives and dies without ever being able to vote freely?"

Indeed. Human Rights Watch apparently doesn't figure freedom into the equation of what is "humanitarian."

And that's the rub. Such folk cannot deal with the morally ambiguous. To encourage freedom is to invite bloodletting; tyrants seldom retire bloodlessly. Our cousins at Crooked Timber have their knickers in a knot over consequences and responsibility.

Since very few human actions don't carry an inevitable downside, such as when the dogs of war are unleashed, the answer for the morally narcissistic must be, Do Nothing.

Except rage at the machine, or rage at heaven. Neither will blow up your subway, either.

(In Live 8's defense, they did have some good economic ideas.)

Tlaloc said...

"Indeed. Human Rights Watch apparently doesn't figure freedom into the equation of what is "humanitarian.""

Democracy is a system of decision making, it is not inherently humanitarian or antihumanitarian. It can be done well or badly just like every other system. Thus it makes no sense to make a democratic society a factor in determining human rights abuses.