France flexes its muscles over Mali but where are the regional peacemakers?

Published January 16th, 2013 - 06:42 GMT
French army soldiers stand on armoured vehicles as they leave Bamako. (AFP PHOTO /ERIC FEFERBERG)
French army soldiers stand on armoured vehicles as they leave Bamako. (AFP PHOTO /ERIC FEFERBERG)

Africa is a land of extreme contradictions. It is a continent of incredible abundance, but also unconscionable scarcity. Because of this, Africa attracts adventurers, plunderers and other fortune seekers, and starry-eyed do-gooders in equal measure.

It is the cradle of humankind and human civilisation, but is now the most backward place on earth. That is a source of mixed feelings. First, there is immense pride in what once was and the potential to retrieve what made that possible. In some way this feeling compensates for Africa's other deficiencies. Second, there is shame that, in spite of that glorious history, we must owe our existence to people once considered barbarians.

Africa is home to some of the proudest and bravest people, but also harbours some of the most spineless. It boasts some of the most visionary, philosophical, independent-minded and selfless leaders. Equally, some of the most short-sighted, mediocre, selfish and vicious dictators trample its beautiful landscape and desecrate its heritage.

The list of contradictions goes on.

Africa holds so much promise. All the good and great things about the continent can be so exciting, even exhilarating. For the same reason, all the bad and negative things, the unrealised potential can be so depressing. That's why Africa can be so exasperating.

In the last two decades, however, most of the news from Africa has been good, even uplifting.

After so many years of economic stagnation, and regression in some cases, African economies are on the rise and growing faster than some of the traditionally strong economies. New resources are being discovered. The continent is attracting other suitors, creating jealousy among those who thought they had her to themselves.

Again, following decades of political instability and insecurity, stability has returned to large parts of the continent.

The continent is recovering from many years of sheepishly following political ideologies and directives from the outside, and development models designed elsewhere. Many countries feel confident enough to apply genuinely African, home-grown approaches to issues of governance and development.

They feel strong enough to take on continental problems and solve them without having to wait for external prompting and leadership. At least that has been the rhetoric in the recent past. We have heard stronger and louder African voices calling for "African solutions to African problems". And to be fair, Africans solving their own problems has been the practice, especially in Eastern and the horn of Africa.

It has become a cherished principle of the African Union to call on fellow Africans to come to the aid of countries in various kinds of trouble. And it has been working.

In Sudan, leaders of the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, played a key role in ending the conflict between north and south and saw the birth of an independent South Sudan. Of course, problems remain, but they are being addressed at regional level.

The same is happening in Somalia. Uganda and Burundi took the initiative to pacify the country that had defied all previous attempts. Kenya joined them and now Somalia is slowly returning to a functioning state.

But just when things are getting neatly in place - the economy, politics and diplomacy - they come unstuck and we return to the familiar, frustrating contradictions.

In West Africa, the French have returned to their traditional role of military intervention in local conflicts. Mali has provided the occasion for this. West Africans clapped and welcomed French involvement in expected ways.

Mali has been practically partitioned for close to one year. The partition was hastened by the collapse of a government in a country that had been touted as the very model of democracy. As it turned out, Malian democracy was an artificial creation of the very country that is now being applauded for intervening to restore the unity of the country.

The threatened break-up of Mali is also the result of the actions of France and its Western allies in Libya. They removed Gaddafi but also damaged the Libyan State and left a political and diplomatic vacuum that Islamists and other rebels exploited.

To be fair, West African States have dragged their feet on the Mali crisis. And this warranted intervention of some kind. But that was to be expected. They have been used to Big Brother wielding the stick whenever there is a quarrel.

Earlier in the Ivory Coast, a similar situation had developed. Again, it was the originators of the problem who came in to provide a solution.

So, are we seeing the end of "African solutions to African problems"? Probably not. Two things are evident. Some Africans refuse to take responsibility for their continent. Former colonial powers are not about to change their ways. They want to maintain their influence and are not even hiding it behind some high sounding moral principle. Sadly, some Africans are complicit in this.


Should regional bodies be overtaking international intervention? Or should the U.S. and France continue to get involved? Tell us what you think below. 

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