Still basking in his new glory, George Ayittey pens a new piece to be published in due course by the Wall Street Journal
Africa's Crises: The Tragedy of International Response
Humanitarian crises have become a constant fixture on the African
continent. Year after year, since 1985, one African country after
another has imploded with deafening staccato, scattering refugees in all
directions: Ethiopia (1985), Sudan (1972), Angola (1975), Mozambique
(1975), Ethiopia (1985), Liberia (1992), Somalia (1993), Rwanda (1994),
Zaire (1996), Sierra Leone (1997), Congo DRC (1998), Ethiopia/Eritrea
(1998), Guinea (1999), Ivory Coast (2001), and Sudan (2003).
More than such 40 wars have erupted in Africa. Some wars never end
(Algeria, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, Western Sahara) while others restart
after brief lulls. At least 11 African nations are currently wracked by
conflict and civil strife. Populations have been decimated,
infrastructure destroyed and homes razed. The economic toll has been
horrendous: Economies collapse, investors flee and agriculture is
devastated, exacerbating poverty and deepening social misery. A massive
refugee population of mostly women and children is created. Children are
abducted into child soldiery and women fall prey to marauding soldiers,
turning refugee camps into vast breeding grounds for the spread of AIDS.
Since women constitute about 80 percent of Africa's peasant farmers,
Africa's agriculture has been hardest hit -- so severe that Africa,
which used to be self-sufficient in food in 1950s, now imports 40
percent of its food needs and spends $18.9 billion on food imports - an
amount equal to what Africa receives each year as foreign aid from all
sources. And year after year, each crisis triggers the same ineffective
response on all sides.
African leaders, grumbling about colonial legacies and slavery, appeal
for urgent humanitarian assistance. In the West, horrific pictures of
victims of war and starvation are paraded on television. The
international community is outraged, demanding an end to the slaughter.
Calls are made for U.N. sanctions, arms embargo and even U.S.
intervention. Refugee camps are set up, high-protein biscuits, tents and
other relief supplies are parachuted in. Peace talks between rebels and
government forces collapse, leading to resumption of hostilities. A
feckless UN dithers while the OAU/AU does the watutsi in Addis Ababa -
until another African crisis erupts. Then the same cycle of hand
wringing, self-flagellation, and dithering is repeated. Nothing has been
learned and the same mistakes are repeated year in year out.
Slavery, colonialism, artificial borders, and Western imperialism have
little to do with Africa's conflicts. The vast majority of Africa's
conflicts are intra state in origin. They are not about driving away
colonial infidels; nor redrawing colonial boundaries. The basic cause,
in country after country, is the politics of exclusion or the struggle
for power by a politically excluded or marginalized group. And the
solution for each and every African country should be the same: Power
sharing and the politics of inclusion.
Only 16 African countries, out of a total of 54, are democratic. In the
rest, de facto apartheid reigns. Enormous economic and political power
has been captured by some political, religious, professional, or ethnic
group, which uses the state machinery to advance its interests, enrich
members and cronies, excluding everyone else: Arab apartheid in
Mauritania and Sudan (blacks excluded); political apartheid in Zimbabwe
(non-ZANU-PF excluded); Christian apartheid in Ivory Coast (northern
Muslims excluded). Elsewhere, the government has been hijacked by a
phalanx of brief-case bandits, Swiss bank socialists, and quack
revolutionaries. And to achieve their nefarious goals and protect
themselves, they subvert every key state institution - the military, the
judiciary, the civil service, the media, and the electoral commission -
to serve their interests, not those of the population. The rule of law
becomes a farce: crooks are in charge while their victims are in jail.
Judges are corrupt and the police are themselves highway robbers with
orders to protect the bandits in office. Parliament is rubber-stamp and
the state-controlled media sings daily praises of the president.
Electoral rules are subverted and laws passed to exclude political
opponents - "Ivorite" in Ivory Coast -- while Electoral Commissioner
openly predicts by how wide a margin the president will win the next
election. Eventually, this coconut republic implodes, as politically
excluded groups take up arms and rise up in rebellion, scattering
refugees in all directions.
International and diplomatic pressure is brought to bear on the
combatants to negotiate and reach a peace accord. But peace accords are
essentially a blueprint for joint plunder of the state. A "government of
national unity" (GNU) is often proposed to "bring the rebels into the
government." A certain number of ministerial or government positions are
reserved for rebel leaders. But nobody is satisfied with what they get
at the peace talks. Inevitably, squabbles erupt over the distribution of
posts, leading to the resumption of conflict (Angola in 1992, Congo in
1999, Sierra Leone in 2000, and Ivory Coast in 2003).
More than 30 such peace accords have been brokered in Africa since the
1970s with abysmal success record. Only Mozambique's 1991 peace accord
has endured, while shaky pacts hold in Chad, Liberia, and Niger.
Elsewhere, peace accords were shredded like confetti even before the ink
on them was dry, amid mutual recriminations of cease-fire violations.
The most spectacular failures were: Angola (1991 Bicesse Accord, 1994
Lusaka Accord), Burundi (1993 Arusha Accord), DR Congo (July 1999 Lusaka
Accord), Rwanda (1993 Arusha Accord) and Sierra Leone (1999 Lome
Accord). All collapsed because the approach was flawed.
The cornerstone of this "Western" approach, often foisted on African
combatants by well-intentioned Western donors or the international
community, is direct face-to-face negotiation between warring factions.
It works if factional leaders want peace or must pay a price for the
mayhem they cause -- assumptions, which grotesquely confute reality.
Fact is, war is "profitable" to both sides to the conflict. The conflict
situation provides warlords with the opportunity to rape women, pillage
villages and plunder natural resources, such as gold and diamonds. Both
rebel and government soldiers have grown rich by looting and seizing
control of diamond fields. The war also gives the government an excuse
("national security") to suspend development projects, provision of
social services and keep its defense budget secret, thereby shielding
padded contracts to cronies from scrutiny.
None of the war combatants pay any price for the destruction they wreak.
Rather, they are "rewarded," gaining respectability. Back in 1993, the
late Somali warlord, Mohammed Farar Aideed, was transported in U.S.
military aircraft to Addis Ababa to take part in peace negotiations.
[Aideed forces were subsequently responsible for the deaths of 18 U.S.
Rangers in Mogadishu.] The most outrageous appeasement, however, was
that of Foday Sankoh, the barbarous warlord of Sierra Leone, whose band
of savages (the Revolutionary United Front) chopped off the limbs and
breasts of people, including women and children, who stood in their way.
The 1999 Lome Accord, brokered by Rev. Jesse Jackson, former President
Clinton's Special Envoy to Africa, who outraged Sierra Leonians by
comparing Foday Sankoh to Nelson Mandela, rewarded RUF with four cabinet
positions and Sankoh himself with the ministry of mines.
Africa's own indigenous conflict resolution mechanism provides a better
approach. It requires four parties: An arbiter, the combatants and civil
society or those directly and indirectly affected by the conflict (the
victims). For example, in traditional Africa, when two disputants cannot
resolve their differences by themselves, the case is taken to a chief's
court for adjudication. The court is open and anyone affected by the
dispute can participate. The complainant makes his case; then the
defendant. Next, anybody else who has something to say may do so. After
all the arguments have been heard, the chief renders a decision. The
guilty party may be fined say three goats. In default, his family is
The injured party receives one goat; the chief receives another for his
services and the remaining goat is slaughtered for a village feast. The
latter social event is derived from the African belief that it takes a
village, not only to raise a child but also to heal frayed social
relations. Thus, traditional African jurisprudence lays more emphasis on
healing and restoring social harmony and peace than punishing the
guilty. Further, the interests of the community supersede those of the
disputants. If they adopt intransigent positions, they can be sidelined
by the will of the community and fined say two goats each for disturbing
social peace. In extreme cases, they can be expelled from the village.
Thus, there is a price to be paid for intransigence and for wreaking
social mayhem -- a price exacted by the victims.
A similar indigenous African approach has performed exceptionally well
in resolving political crisis. When a crisis erupts in an African
village, the chief and the village elders would summon a village
meeting. There the issue was debated by the people until a consensus was
reached. During the debate, the chief usually made no effort to
manipulate the outcome or sway public opinion. Nor were there
bazooka-wielding rogues, intimidating or instructing people on what they
should say. People expressed their ideas openly and freely without fear
of arrest. No one was arrested or locked out of the decision-making
process. Once a decision had been reached by consensus, all must abide
by it, including the chief.
In recent years, this indigenous African approach was revived and
modernized by pro-democracy forces in the form of "sovereign national
conferences" to chart a new political future in Benin, Cape Verde
Islands, Congo, Malawi, Mali, South Africa, and Zambia. Benin's nine-day
"national conference" began on 19 February 1990, with 488 delegates,
representing various political, religious, trade union, and other groups
encompassing the broad spectrum of Beninois society. The conference,
whose chairman was Father Isidore de Souza, held "sovereign power" and
its decisions were binding on all, including the government. It stripped
President Matthieu Kerekou of power, scheduled multiparty elections that
ended 17 years of autocratic Marxist rule.
In South Africa, the vehicle used to make that difficult but peaceful
transition to a multiracial democratic society was the Convention for a
Democratic South Africa. It began deliberations in July 1991, with 228
delegates drawn from about 25 political parties and various
anti-apartheid groups. The de Klerk government made no effort to
"control" the composition of CODESA. Political parties were not
excluded; not even ultra right-wing political groups, although they
chose to boycott its deliberations. CODESA strove to reach a "working
consensus" on an interim constitution and set a date for the March 1994
elections. It established the composition of an interim or transitional
government that would rule until the elections were held. More
important, CODESA was "sovereign." Its decisions were binding on the de
Klerk government. De Klerk could not abrogate any decision made by
CODESA -- just as the African chief could not disregard any decision
arrived at the village meeting.
Clearly, the vehicle, similar to the "loya jirga" that was constituted
for Afghasnistan in 2003, exists in Africa itself. If it worked in
Afghanistan, Benin, South Africa and Zambia, it should be prescribed for
Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and
elsewhere in Africa. But African leaders aren't interested in giving up
or sharing power.
At the Organization of African Unity Summit in Lome, Togo (July 2000),
Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary-General, himself an African, ripped into
them, telling them that they are to blame for most of the continent's
problems (The Daily Graphic, July 12, 2000; p.1). During a brief
stop-over in Accra after the Summit, he disclosed in a Joy FM radio
station interview that "Africa is the region giving him the biggest
headache as the security council spends 60 to 70% of its time on Africa.
He admitted sadly and that the conflicts on the continent embarrasses
and pains him as an African" (The Guide, July 18-24, 2000; p.8). Earlier
in the year at a press conference in London in April, 2000, Kofi Annan,
"lambasted African leaders who he says have subverted democracy and
lined their pockets with public funds, although he stopped short of
naming names" (The African-American Observer, April 25 - May 1, 2000;
p.10). Even the Ghana government-owned paper, The Mirror, became fed up
with the crisp OAU resolutions passed each year to be dealt with by
special committees that never get established.
It is imperative that the UN, the U.S., the AU and the international
community insist on the indigenous African model for viable resolution
of conflicts and political crises since more African countries stand in
line ready to implode.
The writer is a native of Ghana, Distinguished Economist at American
University and President of the Free Africa Foundation. His new book is