By Sammy Kum Buo (New York Times)
The ongoing French military intervention in Mali has not only saved the defenseless West African nation from almost certain complete occupation by marauding foreign terrorists and jihadists, it has also rekindled a debate on the risks and costs of Africa’s dependence on international charity for survival.
With many developed countries facing both biting economic difficulties and growing donor fatigue of their electorates, and with African countries by and large still mired in destabilizing vulnerabilities, it is not premature to begin to ponder the consequences of another Mali-type crisis elsewhere in the region.
Would France return or would someone else come to the rescue? Moreover, should any outside nation step in to prop up African states that many believe have no one to blame but themselves for their poverty, weakness and instability?
Many Africans agree with former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan who says in his recently published memoir, “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace,” written with Nader Mousavizadeh, that internal African politics and leadership, not colonialism or other outside factors, are largely responsible for the continent’s malaise. He enjoins both Africans and non-Africans to “grow up” and focus on finding solutions that work — not on who provides them. At the same time, however, many Africans have had good reasons for coming to rely on foreigners for help.
In recent years the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, which calls on outside forces to intervene when a nation’s civilians are threatened with slaughter, has gained currency, perhaps luring some African countries into a false expectation that should they become victims of nefarious forces, other members of the international community would swiftly respond with assistance. Meanwhile, globalization has made the world smaller, giving some Africans a false sense of security, a feeling that their global “neighbors” could always come to the rescue.
In Mali’s case, a poor democratic country that devoted its meager resources to improving the quality of life of its people instead of building a large military establishment was the victim of a powerful terrorist invasion that brought Islamist fighters to within striking distance of the capital, Bamako, before French troops stopped the invaders. Yet Mali had been left to suffer alone for almost a year, an eye-opening experience at odds with the hype of a new and fairer international order of oneness promoted by advocates of globalization.
In the end, Mali was lucky. The political stars aligned, and a new French president had his reasons for wanting to intervene. But not every African nation will be so fortunate next time.
It is the fickle nature of the Mali saga that provides a lesson for the rest of the continent: Only self-reliance and preparation for the grim realities of an international order that is still riven by familiar divisions, inequalities and contradictions will save Africans. Even counting on the continent’s traditional multinational partners, including the African Union and the United Nations, can lead to deadly consequences in the event of a major crisis, as the former lacks the means and the latter must, before it acts, secure the backing of the Security Council permanent members, who may be guided by their own national interests and priorities.
Ultimately, African countries bear primary responsibility both for the continent’s problems and for its eventual and, yes, inevitable renaissance. Other nations, in particular the major powers, can assist by refraining from sending mixed messages to the continent and instead assisting in cementing the emerging but still fragile momentum for reformist change that is gradually taking hold.
To that end, the international community should consider facilitating adequate representation for Africa in the U.N. Security Council and helping the continent fight corruption, arguably the most corrosive factor that contributes to the region’s poverty, instability and dependence on charity.
As African crises continue to dominate the work of the Security Council, the inclusion of an African permanent member would enable the continent to assume the driver’s seat in the quest for homegrown and internationally backed initiatives to prevent or resolve African conflicts. Since no single African country is as powerful or rich as the Council’s current permanent members, collective representation could be considered for Africa, perhaps through the granting of permanent membership to the African Union Commission. Such a bold and innovative step would help end Africa’s knee-jerk pattern of blaming outsiders for its problems and force it to step up and work with others to find sustainable solutions.
To help increase Africa’s financial resources, the international community should assist
African reformers by fighting transnational corruption and helping to return stolen funds to the African countries of origin. Since the lion’s share of the hundreds of billions of dollars illegally diverted from African treasuries by African elites is transferred abroad, the international community has a vital role to play. Africa needs a leak-proof plan that prevents the transfer of stolen funds from the continent into other nations abroad.
No doubt there is growing recognition throughout Africa that predictable and lasting security can best be provided through internal good governance, good neighborly relations and national means.
In the meantime, as Africans continue to face growing terrorist threats, the international community should send an unmistakable signal that the French intervention in Mali was not an exception but a precedent — and a warning to other groups of terrorists contemplating similar adventures in Mali or elsewhere on the continent.