Sunday February 10 2013

Neocolonialism back in Africa

By Lee Mwiti

The last time the African Union held a pledge drive, only four African presidents showed up, including the host, then-Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi.

The said fundraiser, for the Somali famine, had been much-delayed, despite fierce criticism of Africa’s own inertia over the unfolding humanitarian crisis with memories of the Ethiopian famine still fresh.

To make matters worse, the amounts pledged bordered on the pitiful, starting with the AU’s own paltry donation of $500,000 - against a budget of $1.5 billion.

This week, another fundraiser was held at the same venue, this time for Mali. This time round, the folks at the AU were brighter, pegging it to the just-ended heads of state summit to ensure a full house. Unexpectedly, the AU pledged what it itself agreed was an “unprecedented” $50 million towards stabilising the war-torn country. But I digress.

At any AU heads of state summit the unstated theme is always of African sovereignty - the “African solution to the African problem” dogma. While already criticised as nothing more than a cloak to protect their hold on power, it has become even harder to defend in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Africa’s decision-makers’ love for twiddling their thumbs and sitting on their hands has been on full display, forcing the West to step in - the very idea that is anathema to many of these leaders.

For their African sovereignty ruse to even survive this decade, the leaders need to ditch the NGO-model of endless conferencing in plush hotels, which achieves very little on the ground.

The assault on northern Mali was mooted last year as Islamists rapidly seized huge swathes of the country. The UN, in keeping with its penchant for bureaucracy, needed former colonial power France to draw up an intervention plan. Even then, boots could only be on the ground in September, the clever people in New York said.

This should have been a golden chance for the AU, and more specifically West Africa through its Ecowas grouping, to seize the moment and chart a solution - political or military - for Mali.

Instead Ecowas and AU heads shuttled leisurely between capitals, while military chiefs from member countries were as late as last week still engrossed in planning meetings.

And with each intervention, a little bit more of the continent’s much-touted sovereignty, and pride, is chipped away. It was telling to hear France say that its goal in Mali is “total reconquest.”
Would anyone bet against the next round of neo-colonialism?

Lee Mwiti