Ivory Coast, Libya highlight growing rift between Africa and the West
Many African leaders share China's viewpoint that national sovereignty is more important than human rights and democracy.
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But nationalism is a powerful force in Africa because it is popular, Mbembe says, and the UN is not helped by the fact that “the history of foreign intervention has been negative throughout Africa, from the tragedy of [the killing of former Congolese President Patrice Lumumba in 1961] to the indifference shown during the Rwandan genocide to the UN force bombing the military in Abidjan.”Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, Mbembe says, resistance to UN intervention in Africa is growing.
Even when African leaders are charged with human rights crimes – as Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and a half dozen Kenyan politicians are, in separate cases currently before the International Criminal Court – their fellow African leaders increasingly protest against an “unfair” intervention of “rich Western nations” in African domestic affairs, instead of standing firm for the principles of universal human rights and justice.
Yet there is no reason that democracy and self-determination have to remain at odds, Mbembe adds.
A false choice?
“It’s a false choice," says Mbembe. "From 1960 to the end of the century, authoritarian governments in Africa have tried to convince people that these two things are not doable, and we should favor authoritarianism over democracy. But what we are seeing is people are going back to the original project in which democracy and self-determination shared equal space.”
Here in South Africa, the continent’s largest economy, the ruling ANC retains a firm nationalism at its ideological core, and it has pointedly marked out a foreign policy that is at odds with the West, and the US in particular.
While serving on the UN Security Council, South Africa used its vote to defeat a censure vote against the military regime in Myanmar (Burma) back in 2009, a move that horrified human rights activists.
During both the Ivory Coast and Libyan conflicts, South African President Jacob Zuma has personally traveled to both countries as part of AU fact-finding missions to explore possibilities for mediation, including power-sharing deals that would allow unpopular leaders to remain in power.
“At its core, the ANC saw nationalism as more important than human rights,” says Adam Habib, a political scientist and deputy vice chancellor of University of Johannesburg. But like Mbembe, Mr. Habib says “there needs to be a new alliance between human rights and nationalists. We get this question of development or democracy. It is not possible to have one without the other.”