By Obediah Mazombwe
GOVERNMENT-OWNED media have gone full throttle to discredit US president George Bush’s trip to Africa this week as an imperialist foray into African affairs. George Bush and Tony Blair ar
e perceived as post-modern imperialist ogres on a mission to bring Africa and its resources under Western control.
This perception defies all logic and is refuted by American and British actions on the ground in relation to the state in which Africa is today.
Most of sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa constitutes a politically and economically “dying” continent, with calamitous levels of poverty and human suffering, accompanied by political and economic repression of the powerless by the ruling elite.
Countries like Zimbabwe are already in free fall. All that powerful industrial nations like the US and Britain would need to do, if they really had grand imperialist and neo-colonialist designs on them, is simply to be as indecisive as institutions like the United Nations and the African Union. Simply sit back and do nothing.
Left to their own designs in total “sovereignty”, most of these African states will simply self-destruct. All the imperialists would need to do then is move in and reconstruct the countries in the Western image. Or they could just sit back and let Africa’s inter-party, inter-tribal, and cross-border wars decimate millions whilst famine and disease mop up the rest.
One does not want to sound like an apologist for the West. The West is far from perfect and, in my opinion, there remains a significant imperialist and hegemonic streak in their outlook. But they are increasingly aware of the contradictions in their stances and are confronting these, struggling with them and agonising over them continuously.
Tony Blair’s “scar on the conscience of the world” speech represents real soul-searching rather than a trick to “con”, let alone force, Africa into some subservient position to the West. Too many African countries are already over-dependent on the benevolence of Western countries for their survival in spite of their grandstanding and theatrics at various international fora.
Many Africanists and other watchers had expressed the fear that since the US was tied up in Iraq and the Middle East, it would not devote much attention and resources to Africa.
It is indeed remarkable, as President Festus Mogae of Botswana has noted, that even as America is under threat in Iraq, with American soldiers coming under attack almost daily, the US president has still taken time to attend to African issues. Indeed, the UN, with Ecowas’ urging, has requested that the US leads any UN peace-keeping forces in Liberia.
George Bush has made clear his government’s position on problems faced by Zimbabwe, Sudan, the DRC and Liberia. It is serious business when an American president commits his country to a war situation. He has to justify the war not only to Congress, but to the general public. He has to justify it, not only before commitment, but literally every day during engagement. The death of every single American soldier sends shock waves throughout the establishment. This is a far cry from what obtains in some African countries.
Here the president can simply wake up one morning and order the army into some multi-billion dollar war in a foreign country. Worse still, the president can declare war against his own people and send the national army against them.
It is critical that Africa views the Bush visit in its fullest context. There is nothing wrong with African analysts pointing out whatever hegemonic undertones they might reasonably read in the visit. This trip is part of a radical change in America’s approach to foreign relations and Africa needs to take note.
An objective reading of on-going processes and the internal dynamics at major Western think-tanks and strategy centres like the British Foreign Policy Centre and the US Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, particularly in the post-September 11 era, will be educative to Africanists. It reveals an eagerness on the part of some Western thinkers to re-order the world for the benefit of all humanity.
Most inspiring is Tony Blair’s persistent theme that Western approaches to international relations should no longer be exclusively determined by narrow Western national interests, but should take into account broader human interests in a rapidly globalising world.
This new Anglo-American interest, and its associated initiatives in “reordering” the world is a fact. The question is how, we, as thinking Africans, should interpret it.
Rather than being an imperialist trick, it is, hopefully, a new realisation by the West of the commonality of all humanity, compelling a more humanitarian approach to global management. At worst it can simply be a realisation by the US and the UK, following September 11, that Western national interests can only be assured by addressing the interests and security of all humanity.
Whether the motive is humanitarian or realpolitik, it is necessary that African think tanks, where these may exist, constructively engage with the Western effort.
African governments, in spite of their sharp differences with the West, should still constructively engage with the US and the UK. There is something sinister in some African governments’ insistence that current Western interests regarding Africa are all imperialist and ill-intended.
Certainly the notion that “only Africans can resolve African problems”, or “only Zimbabweans have the solution to their problems” are only correct to the extent that they mean Africans must be an active part of any workable solutions to their problems. It is not sustainable beyond that point in much of sub-Saharan Africa in its current state.
It is a fact that the modern nation state that Zimbabwe aspires to be is modelled on a concept that has its origins in the West.
Paradoxically the African ruling elite, particularly Zimbabwe’s, in spite of their constant vilification of the West, simply adore things Western. Many Zimbabwean government officials’ children have studied or are studying in the US or in the UK.
There are two fundamental truths regarding the African and the Zimbabwean condition today.
The first is that our rulers’ psyche is “sick”. It suffers from endemic corruption, from an insatiable lust for personal political and economic power, from an amazing preparedness to inflict immeasurable pain on fellow Zimbabweans who stand in their rulers’ way to personal gain.
The second is that countries like Zimbabwe cannot improve the living standards of their people in the way that such improvement is understood today without the cooperation and partnership of developed, industrialised Western countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.
It is in this context that Zimbabweans should view George Bush’s visit to Africa. His insistence on good governance and the observance of Zimbabwean citizens’ human rights should all be seen in this context. Even his call for regime change through a process in which Zimbabweans (not Americans or anybody else) select their rulers in a free and fair election should be seen in the light of the above.
* Dr Obediah Mazombwe is a lecturer in languages, literature and media studies at Zimbabwe Open University.