African Presidents in Cocaine and Human Security Palava, or is it?

23 July 2008 at 23:10 | 754 views

By Christopher E. S. Warburton, Ph.D. Econ.

What was generally considered to be an idle chatter in British parlance, “palaver,” has evolved into an interesting African concept, palava; a corruption which denotes a quarrel, or maybe a dispute-a disagreement on point of law or fact in international law. Disputes may not necessarily be belligerent, but their propensity to be acerbic is real. So it is with the recent characterization of political rights or process by two African presidents presiding over different historical backgrounds and cultures in Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.

The African continent has been in peril for a shockingly lengthy amount of time; the phases of which can be categorized into epochs of significant historical experiences by those who care to do so: (i) the precolonial; (ii) colonial; and (iii) the post-colonial, which may now be subdivided into new imperialism and much more recently, globalization. But the African development conundrum is a tale of innumerable agonies encompassing the eternal struggle against colonialism, political entitlement, and human insecurity- domestic or civil turmoil driven by political and socio-economic alienation [in the post-cold war era].

Since the 1960s the African fight against colonialism has been waged on two dominant fronts-political and economic alliances or neutrality and political ideology, which evidently resulted in civil and hostile conflicts in some areas of the world. For some areas of Africa, the profound hatred of the capitalist-colonialist nexus resulted in the embrace of socialism or African socialism-a form of socialism which was to be the beacon of hope to emancipate mentally and economically enslaved Africans from the socio-economic bondage of capitalism and imperialism so that Africans can enjoy a better standard of living or improved national welfare.

The welfare objective or algorithm of socialism was insured by a political philosophy of eternal despotism. The only problem is that from a general perspective, Africans progressively lacked any form of human security and the gadflies of socialism or anti imperialism became more capitalistic than the architects of capitalism they decried, with robust offshore bank accounts and private capital accumulation that are the envy of the “real capitalists.”

For demoded African leaders, including those African countries that are relatively stable but precariously so (because of adverse income concentration), the fight against colonialism or whatever is left of it, is secondary to nothing, not even the havoc of human insecurity that is the outcome of arrogant African politics. The gentleman’s agreement among African political leaders seems to be the implicit acquiescence or tacit acceptance of the brutalization of their African nationals in the name of sovereignty. They look unabashedly to the vilified and hated West for a cure of a menacing “vestige of colonialism” -despotism and its horrific consequences-because of a general lack of political rectitude or fortitude, and/or the phobia of setting “dangerous” precedents with unintended consequences. But what exactly is sovereignty, and when does a claim to its protection become spurious?

The proto-type discussions of sovereignty were never straightforward because of the erroneous notion of absoluteness that is also inherent in the idea of absolute freedom or absolute authority, even for a state. It never gained completeness as a theory, but its laissez-faire notion gained the blessing of the international community for quite sometime, as Africans decimated themselves, and African political leaders squandered and laundered money through fungible and fraudulent loan arrangements that are binding on subsequent African generations. Yet, it belatedly became apparent that illegitimate regimes, particularly those of Africa and Latin America, were severely detrimental to the welfare of their nationals, and that economic oppression and genocide could not be tolerated indefinitely by the international community. Rogue states were sanctioned by provisions of international law, mostly under the natural and conventional components.

From an economic perspective supranational organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank reshaped their thinking by taking a deeper look at poverty, development, and corruption. From a political perspective, transitional justice (including the ancillary war crimes tribunals or judicial component) was promoted under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter in response to protracted and unfettered political excesses or genocide. Of course, since its inception, the Security Council had the mandate to determine the existence of any threat to peace, breach of peace, or act of aggression under that chapter. It is still empowered to prevent the aggravation of international threats by taking action to prevent the exacerbation or persistence of trouble that can disrupt international peace and endanger human security.

Part of the complexity of sovereignty is that it has never been a concept of abject irrelevance or apathy. It has been more of a misnomer. Nations somehow exercise control over their natural resources within defined territorial delineations and are free to enter into treaties. They in effect, have not entirely renounced an elusive concept. For obvious reasons, the limits to authoritative exercise of state power became contentious in domestic and international circles since the sixteenth century, although the international variety was given a much more viable form in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the domestic setting, Jean Bodin, the architect of the modern theory of sovereignty was clearly apprehensive about the absolute authority of his monarch. Since a supreme being wielded ultimate power in Bodin’s world, his king or ruler was perceived to be answerable to the supreme power and higher prescriptions of law embodied in natural order (natural law)-typically entrenched in the constitution of civilized nations and all those nations that profess to be of such a quality.

The French Revolution of 1789 popularized the concept of sovereignty by bestowing it on the people rather than on a monarch, but in 1688 the English had already driven out James II and welcomed William of Orange in what marked the start of The Glorious Revolution in England-an attempt to limit the authority of the English monarch.

From an international perspective, the issue of whether the international community as a whole is the ultimate holder of sovereignty has been debated extensively; essentially because nations are becoming increasingly interdependent. Only rules and regulations can regulate a bilateral or multilateral community of nations in the quest of trade or use of environmental and human resources. Pointedly, questions about the applicability of international law to a sovereign state becomes mute when a nation voluntarily surrenders part of its autonomy to live in a community of nations by entering into international conventions that are implicitly or otherwise respectful of fundamental human rights or long established principles of international law-most of which are evident in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it was adopted in 1948. By entering into voluntary protocols or acquiescing to civilized codes of conduct, nations can no longer claim protection under the amorphous, if not anachronistic or ill-defined concept of sovereignty while they brutalize their nationals.

As the unlikely presidential dispute takes it course or comes to an end, the issue of international interference or crime becomes irrelevant when human security of egregious proportion is at stake. The merits of the cocaine allegation will not be discussed here because of inadequate evidence. Yet, to the extent that it happened is indicative of a serious breach of national security.

Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone present an interesting post colonial story that is symptomatic of the challenges confronting post-colonial African states. Sierra Leone, like Zimbabwe, was first administered by a private company before it became a Crown Colony in 1808. The UK annexed Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from the South Africa Company in 1923.

While Sierra Leone became independent in 1961, a 1961 constitution instituted apartheid in Southern Rhodesia. Four years later, Rhodesia unilaterally declared its independence, but the UK did not recognize the act and demanded more complete voting rights for the black African majority in the country (then called Rhodesia). Ironically, Africans are being mutilated and killed today because they desire to exercise that fundamental right; something which may be reminiscent (in attenuated from) of “flee and fear” elections in Freetown during the days of Stevens (a contemporary of Mugabe). After a decade of war, Sierra Leoneans were fortunate to exercise the right to vote for a leader of their preference, which symbolized a rare turning point in the history of the post-colonial African state. Is Zimbabwe getting to that turning point anytime soon?

A combination of UN sanctions and a guerrilla warfare led to free elections in 1979, and ultimately, Zimbabwean independence in 1980. Robert Mugabe became the nation’s first prime minister and has been president since 1987.

While President Mugabe was redistributing land in 2000, Sierra Leone was involved in an ebbing bloody civil war, which caused an exodus of Sierra Leoneans from their country and a refugee crisis. As Sierra Leoneans ran for their lives, embittered and frightened white farmers exited Zimbabwe. The lack of human capital and precipitous reform policy, crippled the economy, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic commodities.

The international community complained that President Mugabe rigged the 2002 and 2008 presidential elections to ensure his reelection, but President Koroma, was sworn in 2007 as President of Sierra Leone. Many continue to wonder how a man of such a remarkable political accomplishment and stature as Mugabe, could squander so much goodwill and political capital in the quest of lifetime political power that is so characteristic of politics in the post colonial African state. The consequences are obvious.

In the 1960s Zimbabwe generally registered positive and higher growth rates relative to Sierra Leone. Since 2000, Zimbabwe has recorded negative growth unlike Sierra Leone’s positive growth rate. Inflation in Zimbabwe is astronomically higher than that of Sierra Leone, but GDP per capita in Zimbabwe is higher with less income concentration. Of course, income concentration measured by the Gini coefficient does not take into consideration concentrations within categories (deciles or quintiles), and is at least conflictive about measures of wealth. Africans in both countries are evidently looking forward to a better standard of living, although with a different sense of urgency under the current political and economic conditions. Is the post colonial African state beyond redemption?

Undoubtedly, the post colonial African state is in deep trouble if it is stuck in the quagmire and trenches of imperialism at the expense of African human security. The recent presidential exchange highlights the growing need for African political leaders to not only revisit those fundamental objectives that constituted the rallying cry for decolonization, but also to set up graft free and transparent institutions if Africa should compete in the new global economy and salvage the welfare of its citizens. It is increasingly apparent that for better or worse, the African leaders look into what goes on in their neighbor’s backyard with hawkish vigilance. Is this behavior a source of informed policy making in Africa? One might hope so if it generates positive externalities.