Kemedu Emetulu does an extensive analysis on Ayittey's piece:
Now, while I commend your proposed article for rightly censuring African leaders for their part in the continuing conflicts in the continent, I must say I view your suggested solution of a return to what you regard as “Africa's own indigenous conflict resolution mechanism” with a little feeling of déjá vu.
It is true that a huge number of post-independence anti-colonial narratives by African intellectuals and commentators tend to end up with a recommendation of this sort. Considered deeply though, even you will find that the feeling that our only answer to neocolonialism and some of the problems thrown up by the new world we’ve inherited is to be found in the past or palpably neglected traditions is also what governs the mentality of those who blame all sorts of problems on the West, and, worse still, use these as excuses for the underdevelopment, obvious failure of leadership and gridlock that pervade the place.
Thus, I could say, arguably, that your response and the responses of those you oppose (the forever-blame-the-whiteman brigade) are simply two sides of one coin! While you fight colonialism and neocolonialism with African traditional values, they fight it with a mishmash of populist and communist heehaws, bellowing hot air and delivering little in terms of suggestions for moving forward. You, at least, make suggestions, whether we agree with part or all of them or disagree with all is a different matter.
Anyway, back to my criticism of your "Africa's own indigenous conflict resolution mechanism", I think conceptually, you will find it difficult to define for each particular situation what you mean by this. Already, in your proposed article, that problem has become evident in your attempt at providing an example of how this works:
>>>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.<<<
Naturally, the first question I would want to raise with you is to ask what African community or what African chief you are talking about. The assumption that Africa is this huge homogenous chiefdom where such a process works perfectly is implicit in your article and, of course, we know that this is not exactly the case. The Hausa have/had a different conflict resolution mechanism from the Xhosa, as the Igbo from the Ewe or the Yoruba from the Luo, etc. Africa is made up of different ethnic nations with different cultures, traditional jurisprudences and conflict resolution mechanisms; thus, the idea that we can have one traditional mechanism imposed as solution or pick and choose which one to apply to where when conflict erupts simply would not fly, neither would the idea that we can ‘fine-tune’ or adopt one to serve this general purpose.
Frankly, I personally believe that the old or present African traditional conflict resolution mechanism you described is quite inadequate for the kind of political, economic and social conflicts that today pervades Africa, if only in terms of scale. None of the indigenous mechanisms we can come up with from the past or present can actually address inter or intra-state conflicts of the nature we have today. Even your examples are more applicable in person-to-person conflict situations than between nations, between ethnic groups or between economic or political classes within the modern African milieu. Because these classes and groups transcend what was known to old Africa and new impulses have become intertwined with the old, it’s become imperative to conceive of new models for solutions that take these changes into consideration. It is that challenge we all must face, not to go back to old inadequate or failed models.
Also crucial is the fact that tradition itself is dynamic and that success does not depend on retaining an old system or returning to a pre-existing model. Societies provide solutions for situations and problems they encounter at a point in time. While they can look back at the past for workable precedence, they cannot think too much for the future and, indeed, the present or the future is not bound to follow the past. The world is constantly changing and even the successful societies we look up to are not that beholden to their past as to constantly seek solutions from it. Their judicial systems are constantly being reviewed; their political structures are constantly being tinkered with and it is safe to say that new ideas more than old ones are dominating popular culture, at least for the past fifty years; so, why should we be pining for old Africa to face our new reality?
The idea that face to face conflict resolution mechanism is “Western” or alien to African may also have been overstated in your piece. I think the real problem is in the assumption that those who put up these shameful arrangements in Africa where the Sankohs of this world are brought to the table to enjoy the loot of their criminal destructions are indeed seeking genuine resolution or justice. NO! In most cases, they are merely protecting interests. In every side of any conflict in Africa, you’re bound to find Westerners and their agents, whether as private individuals, institutions or governments backing one side against the other or being privy to the origin of one conflict or the other, for example, as we are now witnessing with the revelations from the aborted coup in Equatorial Guinea. The control of Africa’s natural resources and indeed its people is a far bigger consideration than justice or peace. So, when they cover all these shenanigans with the credibility’ of the international system, it still does not hide the cold fact that people like Sankoh, Savimbi and company do have powerful backers outside Africa who can pull strings and impose their own forms of settlements’. We keep returning to this paradigm because Africa’s string is indeed still being pulled from the outside.
Your suggestion for the Sovereign National Conference as a way forward is an inspired one, but not your attempt to define it as representing an African traditional approach. I think Western readers would be weary of such a description, because the unproductive and criminal African leaders come up with these “African” ideas all the time. From Mobutu to Abacha, Marcias Nguema to Jean-Bedel Bokassa, it’s being their excuse When they’re asked to practice democracy and the rule of law, they respond that “Western democracy” does not address African peculiar’ situations and that all we need is an African-centered democracy, whatever that means. This ‘Africanization’ of all concepts then becomes the bogus vehicle used to explain all kinds of bound-to-fail policies and also a dangerously effective rebuff to every well-intentioned intervention from the outside.
I think it is safer to explain the need for the SNC under a more universal principle of democracy being an expression of the people’s power. The impulses that led to the Magna Carta, the Provisions of Oxford, the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man – all primary documents for Western politics and jurisprudence – are the same impulses that today drive the need for SNCs in Africa. So, rather than say we would be following African traditional models by the SNC approach, I think it is safer to say we are only demanding what has been universally acknowledged as true and workable. The demand and yearning for an accountable government is universal; even President Bush himself admitted that people everywhere instinctively want to be free.
Still on the SNC proposal, I’m surprised you did not find a place in your proposed article to discuss, even if briefly, the need for this in Nigeria. You know for more than ten years now, civil society in Nigeria have been calling for this; you know that under the pretext of listening to the people, the Abacha regime foisted the so-called Constitutional Conference on Nigerians in 1994, which actually was billed to be a transmutation vehicle for him; you know the Obasanjo government has dillydallied on this, giving conflicting signals and, most importantly, we all know that failure to yield to the call may very well spell doom for Africa’s most populated country and its largest democracy. We certainly cannot wait until Nigeria blows up in smithereens before we begin to accept it as the way forward! I thought a word to the readers of the Wall Street Journal about this would go a long way to show that there is need to protect the investment in democracy in Nigeria, which should be a very important plank for any genuine Western agenda in the continent. If we are talking suggestions to avoid conflict in Africa, overlooking Nigerians’ call for a National Conference now to address the national question may equate to the world burying its head in the sand or to Nero fiddling and croaking away while Rome blazes. Please, be the prophet and let them know this fact now.
· I found some statements a little controversial, even though I personally know the impression you want to convey:
“Africa's Crises: The Tragedy of International Response”
What exactly are you trying to say with this title? Are you saying Africa’s crises are self-imposed and as such need no international responses, but rather internal reforms to change things? Are you saying international response itself is tragic because it addresses the symptoms rather than the causes? Or, as I suspect, are you saying “Western” interventionist principles are tragic because they fail to understand that the African traditional model holds the answers? Whatever the idea you’re trying to pass across with that title, it would seem that a description of Western intervention as tragic is an invitation to isolationism and, to those who like bashing you, another attempt to absolve the West of their international responsibility to Africa. It could also be seen as a get-out clause by those who erroneously believe the West have done enough for Africa and should therefore leave it to rot, if it can’t get its act together on its own.
(2) >>>A feckless UN dithers while the OAU/AU does the watutsi in Addis Ababa -until another African crisis erupts<<<
Saying the above now that the UN is under the cosh from the Bush administration over Iraq and the Oil-For-Food programme gives an impression that you’re taking sides, even though you’re really just making an innocent comment about UN failures in Africa. Of course, if this statement was being made pre-invasion of Iraq, it would have elicited no controversy; but now, it could give ammunition to those who consider you a Western or American intellectual stooge. Rather than applying your comment strictly to the UN response to Africa, they will simply say it is an indirect way of supporting the Bush administration’s desire to see Annan out, because of his principled opposition to the invasion of Iraq. In other words, Africa seen as one more Annan failure is a good case for ousting him. Of course, I know this is not your thinking, but you know how our people are.
I would rather posit UN’s failure in Africa in the context of the powers that control the UN. Annan is a mere civil servant; he’s not the permanent members of the Security Council, who are in charge of the organization de facto. UN is failing because the US, France, United Kingdom, China and Russia are too steeped in politics of self-interest to think of the world outside them. That is why consensus cannot be reached on some actions that should go a long way in addressing the African problem. So, if you insist on talking about the “feckless UN” in your article, point out the reasons for this fecklessness and where responsibility lies. Even Tony Blair has admitted that Annan is doing a yeoman’s job.
(3) >>>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.<<<
Believe me when I tell you that I am one person who is sick and tired of the old blame-the-white-man-for-everything mentality of some Africans. But then, let’s be real - the answer also is not in discountenancing the role of neocolonialism in perpetuating today’s problems in the continent. The answer is to find a realistic balance in apportioning the blame. African conflicts are not usually between the African combatants at home or on the ground, but between Western power blocs interested in access to natural resources and in perpetuating political puppetry to keep that access open. Name that coup or conflict in Africa and ultimately you will have to trace the money trail abroad to see who dictates the tune. For the roguish African leader, it is bliss that he does not need to be legitimized by his people, but by those who have the power to provide him with guns and tanks to keep him in power and open doors to him internationally to present himself as a credible leader in the comity of nations. The kind of settlement’ the West or the ‘international community’ imposes on Africa, which you rail against, is successful’ and consistently pursued only because it protects shady and questionable interests. Let’s face it, even on the question of looting public money; how many African banks keep the looted African funds? Why is it so difficult for Western political and economic leaders to make their bases unwelcome for the loot considering the tragic consequences of this grand thievery for the long-suffering African people?
Whether we like it or not, slavery and colonialism are still huge scars borne by black people all over the world, including in America. For instance, when about a week ago Alabama, a US state voted to keep ‘separate schools for white and coloured children’ in its constitution, they were not only sending a message to the African-American community in the US, but to Africans in the homeland as well. The colonial legacy is everywhere – in our civil service, in our political relationships, in our economy, everywhere. Yes, I know it would be hypocritical to blame the white man for striving, as he does, to sustain this in the form of neocolonialism without putting some perspectives to it. Indeed, I frankly do not expect him to look out for Africa against the interest of his own people in the way his government and political leaders interpret such interest at any point in time in history. I know it is futile blaming him for following the first rule of international relations which is self-interest. So, while we wail and cry, I know deep down that that until we begin to breed leadership that can confront these problems intellectually and physically on the national and international planes, nothing will change in Africa. But such leaderships and supporting followers must not forget where the rain started beating us. That is the only way we can move from step one to two successfully – full knowledge is vital!
So, yes, slavery and colonialism have a lot to do with African conflicts, because these are legacies that have not been addressed properly; however it is also clear that they alone are not enough to explain the African condition. There is a lot of mileage in the fact that there’s a distinct lack of responsibility on the part of today’s African leaders, as you’ve pointed out; even if for every one of them there is a powerful Western collaborator in the background - be they individuals, governments or institutions. After all, the whole idea of leadership is to free your people from this slavery or neocolonialism, not perpetuate them with an eye on personal material gains. Thus, recognizing the role of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism is not diametrically opposed to recognizing that today the larger responsibility for change lies with African leaders.
Again, you are right to see the solution in power sharing and the politics of inclusion, but I would want to point out that power sharing in the face of African realpolitik may connote even the undesirable, except we have well-defined standards. At every point in time power is shared, someone or group loses and another gains, be it in Africa, America, Asia or Europe – it’s a universal reality. However, the key is in the kind of convention in place and the safety net provided for losers. If today’s losers know that losing does not mean economic and political annihilation; that it does not mean being witch-hunted and driven out of property legitimately belonging to them; if they can trust that process that declares them losers and believe that the same process can make them winners tomorrow; if they can believe that progress and development is not compromised by whoever sits in government house; that they can look across the political divide and vouch that their opponents in charge are really thinking about the good of the nation rather than self, then power sharing will be meaningful. It will also be meaningful if power sharing does not connote the discarding of merit for mediocrity in the name of ‘fair’ ethnic representation (as it does in Nigeria).
I think of the two, the politics of inclusion holds a greater promise as solution, because it is simply about delivery. Many a time, power sharing arrangements are only beneficial to the elites who claim this power in the name of their people without delivering anything. African politicians have mastered the art of divide and rule, which includes targeting sectional or ethnic leaders for ‘settlement’, while leaving the bulk of the people who look up to these leaders in limbo. In other words, it becomes a case of erstwhile credible leaders or representatives joining the criminal cliques in power to perpetuate the thievery in the name of power-sharing. But the politics of inclusion goes deeper; it is about delivery. If people continue to feel excluded and marginalized by government policies, no matter how many sectional leaders or representatives are settled’, the fact will still be obvious that the policies are not helping those it should. A government that takes the principled road of engaging in the politics of inclusion will certainly deliver development, which really is all that is needed to turn people away from the gun and chaos and deprive recruiters of erstwhile disgruntled recruits from getting people for their accursed cause.
But, as I said, these are just preliminary comments from me. I would be interested in discussing further, if you are interested in pursuing this as well. But let me use this opportunity in the meantime to congratulate you on being named as one of “The Authors of the Week” a few days ago. I urge you to remain strong and true to the cause; ignore meaningless and mischievous criticisms while engaging those you consider as genuine seekers of knowledge and true partners of progress, even where their ideas differ from yours. Continue to make us proud, because God knows we need many of your kind if our continent is to move ahead.