Moderator: Professor Toyin Falola

This series creates a Pan-Africanist intellectual community drawn all over the world to examine serious and current issues about Africa. The third in the series examines the issues of interactions between the United States and Africa. USA/Africa Dialogue, No. 1 spells out some of the core issues to be pursued.
No. 155: George vs Moses, VI (back to menu)

Moses and George keep the debate focused and interesting. As usual, Moses has responded to George point-by-point, without losing the contexts and coherence of his response.

George: I agree with many of the points that you made and share some of your concerns regarding Western involvement and the role of Cold War intrigues and global forces in the ruination of Africa. But at the end of the day, SELF-RELIANCE is the imperative. As Reverend Jesse Jackson once said: "It is true somebody knocked you down but it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to get up."

Moses: Thank you for agreeing with many of my points and for sharing my insistence that Western involvement and culpability in Africa's crisis must be acknowledged. A corollary of this acknowledgement must be an understanding of the structural mechanisms (as opposed to ephemeral human agency) that sustain Africa's continuous vulnerability to Western self-interested manipulation. That said, I am not sure that the ideal of self-reliance is attainable or desirable. I think that the world has moved beyond the rhetoric and utility of self-reliance, and Africa must move along. The doctrine of self-reliance, especially in its most vulgar form, supposes that Africans can de-learn and divest themselves of the tastes and aesthetic sensibilities that hundreds of years of forced and voluntary interactions with other parts of the world have bestowed on them. Implicit in the mantra of self-reliance is also the flawed belief which underlay the failed modernization and import substitution craze of the 1960s, '70s, and late '80s. These projects failed partly because African rulers who supervised them believed erroneously that Africa's path to development lay in the capacity to produce everything that we currently import as opposed to what we are comparatively best equipped to produce. You are an economist(?), so you're intimately familiar with these economic nuances.  What is desirable for Africa, in my opinion, is an interdependence that is not characterized by unequal exchange. And this is possible.

Some strains of self-reliance discourse also suppose that Africa can catch up with the developed world by closing itself to foreign economic relations and falling back solely on its resources and expertise a la China during the cultural revolution. This is a lofty goal, but as history shows, every country that has attained industrialized status either enjoyed a flow of raw materials and profits from imperial outposts (Britain, France, Russia, Japan, etc) or benefited from a massive infusion of capital (credit or grants) from abroad (Germany). Arguably, the doctrine of self-reliance without empire or foreign funds worked in China, but China, as we know didn't blossom economically until it opened itself up to Western capital.

So, while I agree that ultimately it is our responsibility to pull ourselves up from this prostate position, I am not a fan of solutions that deny the necessity for cultivating foreign alliances and USING THEM STRATEGICALLY and wisely to position ourselves advantageously and to build structures that would empower us in the global system of economic and political interdependence. This is what India and Pakistan have done. Let's not even get into the case of the Asian tigers, whose path to industrialization laid precisely in their openness to Western capital and technology.

George: We may rail all we want about slavery, Western imperialism, neo-colonialism, hostile global forces, or geo-political intrigues. But at the end of the day, it is OUR  RESPONSIBILITY to get up. Arguing about who knocked Africa down and whose responsibility it is to pull Africa up, in my view, serves no useful purpose. And taking this position does NOT mean a denial of Western culpability. Rather, it constitutes a ruthlessly PRAGMATIC position.

Moses: Yes, I agree that one can insist on making Africans bear ULTIMATE responsibility for their situation without exculpating the Western forces that devastated the continent in different epochs. However, if this process of assigning responsibility entails a belief in the non-involvement of foreign forces in African affairs or the so-called self-reliance, self-help ideology of "African solutions to African problems" then I am afraid it is neither pragmatic nor reflective of present realities of the African condition-a condition which, I never tire of insisting, has internal and external dimensions. My insistence that the resolution of African crises must take into account both of these dimension and thus include both local and foreign actors stems directly from this pragmatic assessment. Similarly, self-reliance ideology, which is a euphemism for your catch phrase of "African Solution to African Problems," is an approach which may have the ultimate EFFECT emboldening Afrophobes in Western thinking and political institutions, whose patronage and advocacy Africa needs for its immediate and long-term problem-solving goals.

George: In the piece that I wrote for the Wall Street Journal, I proposed two "African" solutions to deal with conflict resolution and political crises.

1.   Conflict resolution in Africa has had such abysmal record in Africa. Peace accords failed in Africa because of the Western approach often foisted on combatants by Western donors. I suggested that the indigenous African approach might be better. It requires 4 parties: an arbiter, the two disputants and CIVIL SOCIETY or those directly and indirectly affected by the conflict. Africans believe that it takes a village, not only to raise a child but also to resolve a conflict.

Moses: You keep making the same mistake of talking about what you call "indigenous African approach" without answering the criticism of that overly generalized category offered by myself, Edward Kissi, and Kennedy Emetulu. We have given you several examples of precolonial African states in which the village model of crisis resolution was never practiced and some in which it was merely a façade. Yet, you persist in peddling this fallacy of the village model being normative in Africa. I have to put this down to disciplinary insensitivity on your part to historical nuance. When you talk about the failure of Western-imposed conflict resolution, I am not exactly sure what the antonym is, and whether you can vouch for its success in resolving African conflicts. I have told you of how the SNC model failed in Zaire, Togo, and other places precisely because incumbents, in the absence of or half-hearted external pressures, were able to constrain the outcomes. If I am not mistaken, the warring factions in the Congo have all signed a peace agreement mediated by South Africa and other African countries. Yet, the conflict is far from over. It is my belief, as it is yours, that as long as they are parties for whom conflict and anarchy are a meal ticket, we shall continue to have conflagrations. This statement applies to Western arms dealers and mineral smugglers as it does to African warlords. With their weapons and de facto control of territory, they can scuttle any peace process of whatever model. Thus, this fixation on model on your part completely misses the fact that what we need is a system of decisive international action designed to isolate and tackle the African and international conduits and circuits of illegality and violence that keep crises raging on the continent. We want more Western action against illegal diamonds and other minerals, and better enforcements of arms embargoes and policing of smuggling routes along international waters aimed at squeezing recalcitrant groups, and of course Western political pressure to force parties into compliance. It worked with Charles Taylor and the Apartheid regime in South Africa; it can work elsewhere.

George: 2.      The "sovereign national conference" (SNC) is a vehicle that can be used to resolve political crises. It was successfully used to dismantle apartheid in South Africa and to craft a new democratic political dispensation in Benin, Cape Verde Island, Zambia, Malawi, and other African countries. SNC is a modernization of an African institution (the village meeting) and can also be used to chart a new political future for Nigeria, Sudan, and many other African countries.

Moses: The SNC succeeded in South Africa because of the intense external pressure put on the Apartheid regime of the National party. In Benin, it was a rare display of political magnanimity on the part of Matthew Kerekou combined, we now know, with unyielding French pressure. Zambia did not convene an SNC; rather, it was a success of good old people-oriented pro-democracy activism. But even in the Zambian case, international isolation, not to say condemnation, of Kenneth Kaunda, and his own commendable hesitation to resort to strong-arm tactics and state-sponsored violence made the holding of free elections possible. But as recent rumblings in that country and in Malawi shows, the holding of multiparty elections neither guarantees inclusion nor good governance/development.

George: I call these "AFRICAN SOLUTIONS", informed by a "back-to-roots" agenda; that is, modernizing an indigenous African practice or institution and using it to resolve a modern problem. Now, if you believe these solutions won't work, then please suggest BETTER SOLUTIONS. You have not. Please tell us what solutions you would offer for Ivory Coast and Sudan. Second, if you feel this "back-to-roots" is "phantasmastic", then offer us a BETTER SLOGAN. You have not.

Moses: It should be clear by now that what I am advocating, since I had in my first reaction to your Wall Street Journal piece, declared my support for the SNC model, albeit without the traditional label and with a more modest expectation attached to it (this is where we differ), is the deployment of the SNC in a manner that invites, not dispel, foreign pressure and international organs of accountability---sanctions, resolutions, Charles Tayloresque international isolation, etc. I have argued quite convincingly that the SNC model is neither rooted in a normative African historical tradition nor authorized by the past. It is a pragmatic solution that seems to be the best of many alternatives for solving Africa's conflicts in the present.

I am not the one who was asked to proffer solutions to the conflicts in Africa. It is you. You willingly put your prescriptions in the public domain, inviting criticisms and comments. I don't understand why the proffering of alternative solutions should now constitute a part of a critical agenda on my part. Nonetheless, let me say that my preferred solution for the Sudanese crisis will entail more, not less, external (Euro-American) pressure on the bigoted and murderous Sudanese government. My preferred solution will involve an internationally-backed and funded peace mission that would at least restore calm and normalcy on the ground, a precondition for any SNC-like negotiations that African troops have so far proved incapable of providing. I am not an Afrocentric ideologue. If it will take direct foreign involvement to halt the carnage, it's welcome. I think it is morally wrong to take our Afrocentrism-if that is what it is-to the point where we are literally willing to live with mass murder and carnage, even if it is temporary, due to a stubborn, idealistic, and utopian belief in the concept of "African solutions to African problems," and a proud attachment to a so-called African political heritage. This kind of idealism and is dangerous. No village meeting or SNC can take place under a cloud of violence.

Ivory Coast similarly requires more, not less, foreign involvement. Have you noticed how docile and conciliatory Gbagbo has suddenly become, even conceding recently that the Ivorite constitutional clause should be reviewed? Well, I don't know about you, but it seems to me that this new attitude, or is it posturing, on the part of Gbagbo is the direct result of the pressure/muscle flexed by France and the presence of UN troops on the buffer zone. Without these international organs of restraint-which you want to see banished from African conflict resolution efforts, I doubt if Gbagbo would have been willing to talk to the New Forces or to accommodate them in his government, not to talk of suggesting the possibility of a much-needed constitutional review.

George: A debate over what is "African", in my view, is not very useful. The people of Benin themselves said their sovereign national conference was modeled after their own traditional village meeting. Inkatha Freedom Party says South Africa's Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) was derived from "ndaba" - a Zulu word for "village meeting." It is exceedingly arrogant on your part to dismiss these as "phantamastic." I have pasted their own view below.

Moses: That the political actors in Benin sought to legitimize and authorize what they were doing by appealing to traditional institutions does not make what they were doing a mutation of some supposedly historical (and efficient) village meeting of the past. Efforts aimed at legitimating and popularizing the SNC with traditional labels are not new. I suppose the Beninois SNC participants were/are well-intentioned in their appeal to antiquity, just like you. But they can still be wrong in historical and factual terms. In my readings on the states of Allada, Whydah, or Dahomey-all states which existed in present-day Benin, I never came across village meetings as institutions of conflict resolution whose verdicts were binding and outside the control of kings. In any case, the case of the Beninoise SNC participants is not as egregious as yours, since they only attribute their characterization to "traditional Beninois" practice, not some "African" traditional practice, as you've done. My question to you is: does the fact that Abacha called his political gimmick an "African home-grown democracy" make his contraptions "African" or "traditional"?
On the accusation of arrogance, I would like to pose a series of questions. Is questioning the African origin of what Abacha was doing despite his insistence that it was an indigenous form of democracy arrogant or scholarly? One can criticize the Africanization policy of Mobutu Sese Seko by drawing attention to the fact that there is hardly anything African or traditional about arbitrary and forced adoption of African names, since Africans have been bearing Arabic and Islamic names since the first Millennium AD and since in the ancient Kongo kingdom, many of the converts to Catholicism happily took Portuguese and Christian names. Is this criticism a display of arrogance in the light of Mobutu's insistence, with the support of a coterie of Congolese hagiographical anthropologists and historians, that it is African to bear African names and wrong to bear Western names? Charles Taylor's is fond of issuing forth defensive refrains on his polygamous marital lifestyle, refrains which cast polygamy as an essential African tradition. When one criticizes this defensive grandstanding by insisting that polygamy is NOT quintessentially African, and that most precolonial Africans were not polygamists in spite of the cultural tolerance for it, is that arrogance or a scholarly intervention?

On the pronouncement-or is it outburst-of Inkatha, I wouldn't take the pronouncements of that legacy of Apartheid racist geographical and cultural segregation called IFP seriously. It is clear that so-called traditional or ethnic political parties will invoke traditions, actual or fictional, to carve out a niche of opportunity and influence in political climates that are increasingly becoming less traditional but where appeals to tradition and the past still have some power. The IFP are masters of the manipulation of tradition and the past in the service of present political claims.

George: For your information, Afghanistan convened under the auspices of the United Nations a "loya jirga", which the Washington Post described as " a centuries-old form of grass-roots tribal democracy" to make the transition to democratic rule. I have pasted this reference below.

Moses: Afghanistan is not Africa. And this example completely defeats your theory of non-involvement of Western forces/parties in African conflict resolution efforts. The loya jirga was crafted and executed by US policymakers. Of course, in a sensitive Islamic society, where suspicion of US and Western anti-Islamic conspiracy is rife, there was an acute need to put a veneer of tradition and history on the national conference, hence the appeal to the loya jirga of old. What actually transpired at the loya jirga is nothing different from what transpired in Benin and South Africa or at constitutional conferences in other parts of the world: representatives of civil society organizations and ethnic units coming together to discuss their countries' futures. This is something universal and modern. One can slap on it a traditional label to make it more appealing and culturally acceptable, but that's not the same thing as saying that this is a return to some ancient traditional practice.

In any case, the analogy is very problematic. Afghanistan is a country, however diverse; Africa is a continent of many states, with thousands of ethnic units and a large variety of political traditions, leaving us with the dilemma of which tradition should be privilege and of whether we should even privilege one tradition over another. Why not just come up with a modern, culturally neutral model like the SNC, instead of telling people who come from different ethnic and political backgrounds that they are participating in a modern Ama-ala. In a highly heterogeneous country like Nigeria, selling the SNC as a modern Ama-ala is guaranteed to torpedo it before it begins.

George: Here's my "back-to-roots" solution. It is NOT copied from the West nor Jupiter; it is derived from Africa's own political heritage. If you an Igbo, then consider your own Ama-ala (village meeting).

Moses: I will tell you again that it is unfair to generalize the Ama-ala or any of the other village models to the whole of Africa. Dr. Kissi has fleshed out my historically-grounded arguments in this regard and has suggested possible clues to understand your insistence on "Africanizing" a model that was neither normative nor always effective. How the Ama-ala transmuted into an "African" political heritage I still do not know. What is the basis of privileging the Ama-ala model over the numerous other models that Dr. Kissi and I have identified, since obviously such generalization cannot be done on the basis of its normative character or ubiquity?

George: So, Moses, if Igbo villagers can bring the village to a halt and put pressure on the elders to change policy, why can't Nigeria's civil society, and professional bodies (bar association, university lecturers, students), church groups, trade union groups, etc. bring social pressure to bear on Obasanjo by calling for a "village strike"?

Moses: Hiding behind historians and anthropologists who are merely offering a description of how the Ama-ala operated in SPECIFIC African settings to make sweeping and generalizing statements about how the Ama-ala is an "African" institution is not a substitute for actually proving that this was "Africa's political heritage."  Calling on the Nigerian civil society to act towards making NIGERIAN leaders accountable is one thing; calling this approach a product of some fossilized African practice is quite another, and it is sloppy to say the least. Civil societies are not an African institution; they exist everywhere in different forms and to different degrees. Of course, civil society could act as a catalyst for political change or conflict resolution. But how does that amount to an "African solution" and how is that different from the activist potential of the civil society in other parts of the world? What is new or African about this model of political action?