We suddenly received this article yesterday from a young Nigerian called Blessing Ogbu. He is a legal practitioner by profession. Ogbu sent in this article reacting and countering an article published on this website written by Chambers Umezulike, titled Counter Narrative: “How the West Engendered Africa’s Apocalyptic Development Crisis”. Enjoy as you read his article below:
In his brilliant article which he titled “Counter-Narrative: How the West Engendered Africa’s Apocalyptic Development Crisis”, my good friend Chambers Umezulike exhibited, once again, a fecund intellect as he seeks to deconstruct, through a cause – effect relationship, the developmental apocalypse that seems to be the lot of Africa. Approaching his discourse from the Theory of Realism in International Relations, especially, the Classical Realism School of thought whose arrowhead is Hans Morgenthau and the Offensive Neorealism School of thought whose major proponent is John Mearsheimer, Chambers concedes that “as absolute power corrupts, unipolar and bipolar world eras (most especially) have seen superpowers fuel a lot of conflicts by projecting their power on the international stage or causing enormous regional and international conflicts like the World War I (WWI), World War II (WWII), Cold War [the Berlin Blockade (1948 – 49) – Korean War (1950 – 53) – Suez Crisis (1956) – Berlin Crisis of 1961 – Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 – Vietnam War (1955–75), the Soviet war in Afghanistan beginning in 1979)], United States (US) Invasion of Iraq (2003), US Invasion of Afghanistan (2001), the 2011 Libyan Invasion and the Syrian War (ongoing since 2011).”
Chambers further concedes that “Realism explains the Pre and Post-Independence exploitations of Africa by the West, exploitatory agreements like the French Colonial Pact, the US invasions and installation of leaderships in the Latin America and Africa. And all the real and alleged killings of pro-masses, radical political leaders, exploitations and influenced conflicts in Africa and Latin America by the West – the atrocities of the Cold War through proxy wars – the World Trade Organization’s unfair trade agreements – and the several cases against Foreign Aid and the practices of Multinational Corporations (MNCs) in the Global South. Realism explains the suppressions, intimidations, defense-strategy and repressions of weaker states by powerful states as natural and human phenomenon.”
At this point, our points of agreement cease. Chambers veers off to contend that “states have been able to embrace Realism’s stance and move on (strive hard to progress) after atrocities against their territorial integrity and sovereignty or after terrible, gross human rights abuses against them.” He cites examples of States which have moved on. Specifically, he mentions Israel, the Latin American nations, the nations that made up the former Yugoslavia Republic and the South-East Asian nations as nations which have moved on, or, in his alternate phraseology, striven hard to progress. Impressive statistical figures are also supplied to burnish the argument that the West should not be held responsible for Africa’s Mephistophelian luck.
Except that States have not really moved on independently in the strict sense of the word.
This work will rely on the behaviour of nations in international relations, the concept of historical materialism and international law to contend that though world powers have presumably left Africa States alone, in reality, undue influence is brought to bear on Africa States, sometimes subtly, other times, blatantly in order to influence the political behaviour of its leadership.
In international relations, the behaviour of nations is a cardinal principle in the Realism Theory as advocated by Hans Morgenthau, one of the theoretical frameworks of Chambers’ argument. The behaviour of nations can be read through the interests which they seek to protect. Nations interact with each other on the basis of what they stand to gain from the relationship. This is not an earth-shaking postulation. It is a basic, yet overlooked human instinct of pristine provenance. The history of nation-states is a history of nationalistic loyalties, often defined by the leader’s idea of nationalism. Thus, empires flourished or collapsed on the strength of the emperor’s adroitness in negotiating the quicksand of diplomacy. While the leader’s policies may be constructed as an idiosyncratic use, and, sometimes, abuse of the privileges of power, it cannot be overlooked that such territorialism often receives the approbation of the citizens of the sovereign. Within the context of this discourse, this argument explains the inordinate quest of the British Empire, and indeed the West for territorial expansionism and the subsequent practice of colonialism in what has become the Third World today of which Africa States are infamously compartmentalised. It also explains why Adolf Hitler and his idea of Aryanism was able to rally the mass of Germans around him prior to and during the Second World War before his eventual defeat by the Allied Forces.
It is not for the development of the African States that colonialism was introduced: African States were viable nations before the intrusion of the West. Colonialism with its material acquisitiveness which is driven towards sustaining the economy of the West disrupted the cardinal functionalism of these African States. Even upon the attainment of political independence of these African States, the West continues to dictate political and economic policies for African States. They have been largely successful in this practice because, first, it placed its protégés in positions of political leadership; and, second, it uses these protégés to paint a glorious picture of the importance of Brentwood Institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the development of Africa. The World Bank and the IMF exists to advance the interests of the West. African leaders who oppose the policies of these Brentwood Institutions do not last. There is a popular saying among African amateur economists that ‘You fight against the greenback only at your peril.’ African protégés understand the implication of these coarse joke. A protégé owes his political ascendency to his patron. Through these protégés, the West exercises undue influence over the policies of African States so as to bring same in conformity with its defined objectives of using African States to further its economic and political interests but especially economic interests. This undue influence is exercised largely through political interactions and international economic coefficients represented by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and subtly, though not with diminished potency, through multinational companies operating in these African States.
I will explain further, this time with practical illustrations.
As African States prepared for political independence, the West scouted for pliable political parties which would serve as its proxies in the continued economic domination and exploitation of the newly independent States. To this end, therefore, it ensured that power was vested in those political associations whose pledges of loyalty it had obtained. That is the advent of neo-imperialism. In Nigeria, the British ensured, through gerrymandering and other sorts of political skulduggery, that the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) emerged as the party with the majority membership of the House of Representatives with the consequence that, though it could not obtain the majority required to form Government at the Centre, yet, through its coalition with the National Congress of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), it emerged as the senior partner in a marriage of ideological contrast and political incompatibility. Even where the NCNC could have formed Government with the Action Group (AC), the possibility of such progressive coalition was foreclosed by the British. The consequence is that the British handed over to a pliant and provincial NPC instead of the progressive and national NCNC and AG. This pattern was repeated across African States which obtained political independence at that time. Where, due to populist approbation, progressive parties like Convention People’s Party (CPP) of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana could not be frustrated, the West, specifically the United States of America, sponsored reactionary elements in the military led by Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka and the National Liberation Council to topple the Government in 1966. The first policy step taken by the new junta was to invite the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to take the driver’s seat in managing the Ghanaian economy. The consequences of these Western interventions is that these African States, through the military dictators, remain perpetually under the political dominion of the West.
Political dominion is about the exploitation of the economic resources of the States under political domination. Political dominion can be attained through a variety of means. Where it is not achieved through direct political control, it is exercised through the multinationals which, often, are the economic face of the Western States which seek political dominion. This argument is not different from the Realism theory of International Relations upon which Chambers places heavy reliance. While the plausibility of the argument that African leaders should be responsible for the development crisis of their States may be sustained, it is not in doubt that most of these African leaders are the products of Western neo-imperialism. Their emergence, especially the military Heads of State, finds attribution to either the activities of the Western secret service or Western multinationals. The ultimate motivation, always, is the affirmative question to the question of the economic benefits derivable by the Western patrons from the Government.
Approaching this argument from the vista of historical materialism still yields the same results as the underpinnings of Hans Morgenthau’s Realism Theory in international relations. Nations enter into union with other nations for the furtherance of their interests. If the weak State is not amenable to the interest of the stronger State, then the stronger State finds a chink, usually through the political leadership of the weak State through which it penetrates the nation and establishes its interests. Capitalism provides facility through which the praxis of domination in international relations is achieved. The existential requirement of human society necessitates the creation of definite social relations. On the international level, it finds expression in the need for raw materials for Western industries and energy for both domestic and industrial needs of the West. Sincere Western economists and political historians appreciate this reality. This reality is known as neo-colonialism, or, mildly put, neo-imperialism. Kwame Nkrumah, in the Introduction to his work NEO-COLONIALISM: THE LAST STAGE OF IMPERIALISM opined that “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality, its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”
Writing in the Guardian (UK) of 20 August, 2005 Richard Drayton a historian and Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at Kings College London tersely observes: “There are many who like to blame Africa’s weak governments and economies, famines and disease on its post-1960 leadership. But the fragility of contemporary Africa is a direct consequence of two centuries of slaving, followed by another of colonial despotism. Nor was “decolonisation” all it seemed: both Britain and France attempted to corrupt the whole project of political sovereignty.”
I return to Chambers’ Counter-Narrative. In his article, Chambers proceeds to reel out questions on the political and economic demography of African States. The rhetorics of those questions, no doubt, is to reinforce his dialectics that the African leaders are responsible for Africa’s development crisis. What he conveniently overlooks, sadly, is that the crop of leaders which has come to define African leadership are a creation of Western imposition in Africa’s political history. He mentions Idi Amin Dada of Uganda as a prime example of an African leader steeped in infamy; but he fails to tell us that Idi Amin came to power through British covert action. Mobutu Sese Seko is mentioned in Chambers’ Counter-Narrative; but Chambers conveniently ignores historical facts which show that Mobutu, then a Colonel in the Congolese army was primed, supported and unleased on the Congo political landscape by the combined forces of Western neo-imperialism led by Belgian forces to topple the nationalist and widely popular Government of Patrice Lumumba. The United States and its Western allies saw Lumumba as a radical nationalist who could prevent them from accessing the Congo’s mineral wealth. Nor should it be forgotten that it was British Statesman and eventual Prime Minister of Britain from 1963 – 1964, Alec Douglas-Home, who as Foreign Secretary agreed with President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States in 1960 that Patrice Lumumba needed to “fall into a river of crocodile”.
We can go on. The list is endless. In Burkina Faso, the West sponsored Blaise Compaore to topple the Populist government of Thomas Sankara. Declassified documents have shown that the United States of America was fingered in the military putsch which ousted the Government of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. In Nigeria, all successive military juntas, with the exception, perhaps, of General Murtala Mohammed, had enjoyed Western support in furtherance of Britain’s oil interests. Recently, the role of the West in the events in North Africa, especially in Egypt and Libya has demonstrated that the West would never endorse a progressive Government in Africa, especially where such Government maintains a strict control over its natural resources. The point is that Western colonialism, and then neo-imperialism, has been the bane of Africa’s progress.
States cannot move on (strive to progress) where they are forced into several kinds of alliances by the big nations supposedly for the protection of the weak States. The structure of the United Nations, for instance, is patterned in such a way to ensure that power resides in the powerful nations. Though it may appear that actual powers reside in the United Nations Security Council, the actuality of the situation is that the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council possess veto powers. Apart from China and Russia, the other three nations with veto powers are Western powers. This veto power has been employed, especially by the United States, on several occasions, to overrule several Resolutions of the General Assembly which would have ended a lot of political conflicts in African States even where such Resolutions enjoy international support. Specifically, Britain deployed its veto power, in concert with the United States and France to frustrate Resolutions aimed at ending the racial situation in Apartheid South Africa and Zimbabwe, then known as Rhodesia. This is even where China and Russia vote for some form of intervention. Though argument may be canvassed that during the Korean crisis of the 1950s, the United Nations General Assembly passed and accepted a Resolution known as “Uniting for Peace Resolution”, it is common knowledge that mustering two-third majority votes required to overrule a Security Council Veto is a no mean feat. Moreover, the Uniting for Peace Resolution is invoked only where there is in existence a situation threatening world peace and security. And, of course, what amounts to a threatening situation is subject to the interpretation accorded to same by the Superpowers. The history of the veto powers of the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council has been, invariably, a history of the projection and protection of national interests; and, of course, these national interests are not the national interests of African States! Chambers agrees this much when he surmises that States are “self-centered, power seeking actors, who seek to maximize their security and survival chances, and can even go to war to advance or protect their national interests.” If this assertion is true, then the narrative that the West is responsible for Africa’s pathetic development story is equally true.
Though I begrudgingly concede that some of these African leaders, after they have been installed by the imperialists, eventually morphed into modern day Frankenstein Monster, often leaving the world, though not their patrons, bewildered, yet, it can be argued successfully that the Western imperialists endorse the undemocratic practice of these African dictators as long as, again, the interests of the West are protected. One of the sore points in international relations, especially the politics of the United Nations finds root in the distinction between humanitarian interventions in sovereign states, especially sovereign African States, and political interference in the internal affairs of sovereign African States. It is within this context that one begins to question the motive behind the aids and grants the West advances to African States. What are the motivations? Chambers makes reference to the Marshall Plan which was the structural plan the victors of the Second World War put in place for the reconstruction of Europe. He however fails to explain the absence of a similar monitoring and evaluative mechanism in the case of aids and grants advanced to African States by the West to ensure that the said aids and grants meet the purpose for which they are granted. It is submitted here that the absence of such mechanism is a deliberate omission to guarantee that the political leadership of the affected States look the other way as the imperialists, acting through the multinational companies continue the policy of economic exploitation of Africa. In similar vein, it is inconceivable that the donations and grants from the West to indigenous civil liberties organizations are made out of altruistic motivations.
Ultimately, we return to the Realist Theory in International Relations to explain why nations behave the way they do. And, because the interests of any particular nation is its starting point in any diplomatic interaction, the protection and projection of these interests at the international level become paramount. The implication is that it becomes a question of which nation has the necessary power – political, economic, military – to protect and project its interests. Thus, what determines what at this stage is expediency and not the rules of morality. It is perfectly expedient, for instance, for the West to bankroll an African demagogue as long as that African will work for the West against his subjects. This explains the emergence of fascist African leaders like Mobutu Sese Seko and Blaise Compaore for instance.
If, as dialectical materialism goes, the law is the subsequent legislation of the collective mores, values and ethos of a given society; and the dominant ideology of any society is the ideology of the ruling class, it stands to reason that the law is an elitist contraption. If this argument is introduced in international relations, it can be said that international law invariably derives its validity from the sanction of the powerful States. In international power plays, African States are disadvantaged. This gross inequality of bargaining powers ensures that the powerful Western nations dominate international conversations. The consequence is that international instruments, protocols, resolutions, etc signed by African States at such international meets and subsequently ratified and domesticated as part of the corpus of the municipal laws of African States are instruments which the West employs to continue its domination of African States in particular and other less powerful States in general.
Africans will continue to hold the West responsible for the development apocalypse to which the African continent has been reduced; for, even where Africans take conscious steps towards re-writing their history, the West always intervenes through its stooges, foisting a state of hopelessness on Africa and frustrating honest efforts towards a better Africa. Neo-liberal theorization cannot change the role of the West in the actualization of an almost bleak existential reality of Africa.
Ogbu, Blessing Ekpere Esq., a Legal Practitioner, writes in from Abuja. Ogbu writes extensively on a wide range of contemporary issues. He can be reached through his email address email@example.com