Thursday, March 10, 2016 5:23 pm
The new diplomatic tango between Nigeria and South Africa has set in motion the very first difficult steps to recalibrate the internal logic, protocols and workings of the African continent. If its implementation survives the shenanigans of the international system that the bold initiative is expected to invite, it has in the long term the potential to transform in a holistic manner Africa’s existential realities and realign Africa’s place in the constantly evolving landscape of humanity. Indeed, whether consciously or unwittingly, the new tango recognizes the primary challenges of the subordination of Africa of our days and our times.
We are living in great times. Great times are not characterized by the hollow certainties that assure the mundane and often toxic excitements that we enjoy. Great times are rather defined by the opportunities that we perceive. In the current case, it is the opportunities presented to grapple with historic challenges that stare black humanity in the face. Let us be explicit about this. Half a century into the emergence of Africans states into the global system of states and two decades into the historic defeat of Apartheid, it has become clear that independence and the end of Apartheid were only way stations, even though important ones, to a more important destination of total emancipation of Africa and its peoples. That final destination has eluded all of Africa. Independence and end of Apartheid are not ends in themselves. Indeed, in most instances, the manner and modalities of African independence have turned out to be a curse to the people of Africa. It is this curse that Presidents Muhammadu Buhari and Jacob Zuma have begun to confront through the Memorandum of Understanding between the Nigerian Armed Forces and the South African Defense Forces that was announced by the Chief of Defence Staff on both countries last week.
Last week, a small historic event took place in Abuja. The event, in the mundane scheme of things, would appear to be so ordinary that we may be forgiven it we lost sight of its substantive and symbolic salience. Under the leadership of Presidents Jacob Zuma and President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of South Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding to deploy South African Special Forces to Nigeria to join the fight against Boko Haram. Against the background of the many petty misunderstandings, it is a tectonic shift in the foundations of our relations with South Africa, The pettiness of the immediate past was fuelled by a lack of critical appreciations of the pivotal roles of the two countries for Africa’s ultimate emancipation. Given the consciously contrived perceptions of competition instead of the natural allies that they are, this step is indeed a giant step not only for the two countries but for Africa.
The new tango reflects a complete reorientation of the referred problematic understandings that only five years ago had almost brought the two countries into open confrontation in Cote d’Ivoire. For the first time, the quasi illiterate but all knowing Olusegun Obasanjo brought Nigeria into the fold of the most conservative and retrogressive states in Africa and openly associated Nigeria with the validation French neo imperialism in Africa. Under Obasanjo and its clone in the Jonathan Goodluck administrations, Nigeria became a brazen oddity threatening to oppose progressive forces in Africa. Arthurs Mills Ghana, recognizing the embarrassing mistake of Obasanjo’s Nigeria early enough, withdrew its traditional collaboration with Nigeria on Cote d’Ivoire.
In fact, Nigeria bereft of any further rationalizations, unable to effect a threatened invasion of Cote d’Ivoire and misaligned with the progressive thinking on the continent, began to advance a controversial policy of regional spheres of influence in West Africa. But our delusions could not pass critical muster against the realities of power configuration in the sub region. Boko Haram and the centrality of France in soliciting and mobilizing the collaborative engagement of its proxies in the sub region gave the lie to our national illusions. The cooperation of the likes of Cameroun and even Niger Republic was assured only after humbling trips to the Elysee by President Goodluck Jonathan. So much for a phantom regional hegemony.
The events of last week represent a realism and fundamental realignment of the underpinnings of policy. For that, the current administration must be congratulated. It is a unique development that would be closely watched by those who have traditionally benefitted from the deleterious construction of Africa and deliberate undermining of the basis of the continental solidarity through support for the retention of the unviable 56 state construction of the African geo-strategic landscape. Many foreign interests vested in Africa are bound to go back to the drawing board, knowing the long term implication of the successful implementation of the MoU between Pretoria and Abuja for the evolution of the African geo-strategic space in the long term.
By that single act last week, South Africa and Nigeria affirmed that the nebulous concept of sovereignty is becoming anachronistic given the problematic realities of this generation. Sovereignty would no longer stand in the way of progressive collaboration in the advancement of the common interest of the peoples of the two countries. What touches Nigeria touches South Africa and vice versa. By the same logic, we may deduce that what impacts any one African state, concerns all the other fifty five other African states and political entities. As logical as this is, it flies in the face of interests of the states with leaderships founded on the protection of personal and parochial interests that pursue the pursuit of partisan interest articulation as the national governance paradigm. These anti people characters have institutionalized what may be termed as exclusive partisan systems that frustrate the advancement of the inclusive public good. The integration of common and inclusive African imperatives as the basis of inter-state relations has long been overdue.
Although the end of the Cold War elicited behavioural transformation that led to interventions across national borders, these interventions were effected between formal states such as Uganda, Angola and Rwanda collaborating with rebel movements and proto states to upend rulers such as Mobutu. The Mobutiste state also collaborated with such forces as Jonas Savimbi UNITA and its allies like Morocco. The MoU between Nigeria and South Africa, in formally validating the deployment of South African Special Forces to fight an internal war in Nigeria, has set in motion a new principle that should ultimately help Africa to confront headlong the bastions of the exclusive partisan loot machines that are supported by their foreign benefactors.
The events of last week represent a realism and fundamental realignment of the underpinnings of policy. For that, the current administration must be congratulated. It is a unique development that would be closely watched by those who have traditionally benefitted from the deleterious construction of Africa and deliberate undermining of the basis of the continental solidarity through support for the retention of the unviable 56 state construction of the African geo-strategic landscape.
Joint military collaboration between forces of good against external proxies in Africa becomes legitimized. The agreement between Kenya and Somalia, is akin to the collaboration between Nigeria and its neighbours who are also directly impacted by the activities of the Boko Haram. The modal African state is unviable and the African states system is compromised. The compromising of the African state is however contrived. It is important that Africa develops its own tools and mechanisms to confront the many internal proxies of external and neo-colonial forces that constitute the impediment to holistic emancipation of the continent.
Manifestations of this contrived compromise include the extant construction of Africa. The extant structure of the African state system is an important context and a crucial pointer to the evolution of politics in and of African states since independence. This problematic construction reflects the inability of the leaders of Africa in the immediate post-independence era to surmount the most fundamental historic challenge in the post-independence era. This challenge was expressed in fractious structures and institutions of a fragile states system that was bequeathed as legacies of colonialism. The main existential dilemma before the continent in 1963 as new states emerged, often variously directed and controlled by the colonial powers, was clearly defined.
It was whether in forging ahead in the post-independence era, Africa would maintain the fractious and divisive structure of the evolving continental states system that was based on the outcome of the Berlin Conference of 1884 at which the colonial powers partitioned the continent according to their national interests or mobilize the will to transcend these contrived divisions and build a strong and viable continental state. The failure of an ideo-philosophically divided leadership of the continent to consolidate the colonially designed states system into a one strong and viable continental federation thereby radically realigning the continental political geography has haunted the evolution of Africa since independence.
Two camps emerged in the struggle; the Casablanca group whose integrationist vision was encapsulated in the struggles of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and a conservative Monrovia group led by the likes of Houphouet Boigny of Ivory Coast (now Cote d’Ivoire), Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal and William Tubman in Liberia, among many others, whose insistence on a gradualist approach to substantive African unity merely reflected the interests of their neo-colonial controllers and their personal predilections informed by personal political interests to maintain the status quo. Before then, the French idea of a united francophone West African colonial state for example crumbled over the personal rivalry of Boigny and Senegal who both sought to maintain a post-colonial fiefdom under their respective control. On the other side, Kwame Nkrumah, the preeminent articulator of the integrationist perspective, canvassed total political integration in the form of a continental union. The Union was to have three main objectives: overall continental planning on a continental scale; a unified land, sea, air, military and defence strategy; and a common foreign policy.
Many foreign interests vested in Africa are bound to go back to the drawing board, knowing the long term implication of the successful implementation of the MoU between Pretoria and Abuja for the evolution of the African geo-strategic space in the long term.
Nkrumah emphasized that the interests of neo-colonialism and the objectives of African governments are directly opposed, for whereas the strength of African countries lies in their unity, the strength of neo-colonialism lies in their disunity. The subversion of the integrationist project of the visionaries also reflected the lack of will of most of the leaders of early post independent Africa to rise above parochial and personal interests in resolving the first and defining political challenge that faced the continent. This failure presaged the transformation of post independent African states into mere personal fiefdoms of these early leaders through their complete appropriation of the socio-political and economic spaces of post independent African states. The personal appropriations of state spaces by early political leaders were convenient for the sustenance of external and neo colonial control and fed well into the calculus of the Cold War that prevailed as African states emerged as proxy entities into the global system of states.
Africa is held hostage to the historic error of most of its founding fathers. It would be disrespectful to call them minions of foreign interests, even though they turned out that way. Many transformed the entities into personal fiefdoms and collaborated with foreign interest to check the ambitions of their people. Even now, many seek tenure elongation or transfer of power to their children in dynastic succession. South Africa has been a prime victim of the historic short-sightedness of the founding fathers. Had Africa evolved in the direction of a continental force, the history of South Africans, and all others could have been different. The price paid for the lack of courage to right this historic wrong has been in the sea of blood that is spilled every day over unimportant contestations among groups of Africans occupying incongruous political spaces delineated by senseless demarcations. The price is in the grinding paradigms of governance that mass produce poverty and those who die trying to escape unlivable realities of home.
If we accept that sovereignty is outmoded or has no serious relevance in meeting the historic challenges of Africa, the anachronistic systems in place all over Africa, their local drivers and foreign backers must begin to tremble. They are indeed the moral equivalents of Boko Haram. Africa must come together to extirpate these entrenched cancerous outgrowth of the grave error of 1963. The MoU is a beginning to this.
With the mantra of change as his domestic manifesto, the MoU with South Africa infuses a critical substantive dimension into what for some time has become a stale and meatless Afrocentric policy articulation. Policy devolved into atomistic operations of meaningless concepts. Economic diplomacy, Consular diplomacy that merely illustrated a dearth of understandings, integration and coherence in the conceptual pivots to foreign policy. The MoU between the two defence forces establishes the required convergence between black Africa’s two ranking powerful states, that between them also share over 22 per cent of the population of Africa. This convergence provides a basis to create and operate a truly continental army for the African continent.
With this convergence, the African Army can begin to operate as a truly autonomous plank supported and nurtured by the key states Africa and driven by African rather than extra continental interests. The military, as traditionally is, then becomes an instrument to advance the political interests of the people of the continent. This is a good expression of Buhari’s change mantra in the foreign policy. The administration should ensure th.at it is the beginning of more profound and interaction that should ultimately serve as the launching pad of long term emancipation of African people.