The opposition paper summed up the
mood of Kampala the morning after making the statement, "Kampala
'mute' as Gaddafi falls." Whether they mourn or celebrate, an
unmistakable sense of trauma marks the African response to the death
Both in the longevity of his rule
and in his style of governance, Gaddafi may have been extreme. But
he was not exceptional. The longer they stay in power, the more
African presidents seek to personalise power. Their success erodes
the institutional basis of the state. The Carribean thinker Robert
James once remarked on the contrast between Nyerere and Nkrumah,
analysing why the former survived until he resigned but the latter
did not: "Dr Julius Nyerere in theory and practice laid the basis of
an African state, which Nkrumah failed to do."
The African strongmen are going the
way of Nkrumah, and in extreme cases, Gaddafi, not Nyerere. The
societies they lead are marked by growing internal divisions. In
this, too, they are reminiscent of Libya under Gaddafi more than
Egypt under Mubarak or Tunisia under Ben Ali.
Whereas the fall of Mubarak and Ben
Ali directed our attention to internal social forces, the fall of
Gaddafi has brought a new equation to the forefront: the connection
between internal opposition and external governments. Even if those
who cheer focus on the former and those who mourn are preoccupied
with the latter, none can deny that the change in Tripoli would have
been unlikely without a confluence of external intervention and
The conditions making for external
intervention in Africa are growing, not diminishing. The continent
is today the site of a growing contention between dominant global
powers and new challengers. The Chinese role on the continent has
grown dramatically. Whether in Sudan and Zimbawe, or in Ethiopia,
Kenya and Nigeria, that role is primarily economic, focused on two
main activities: building infrastructure and extracting raw
materials. For its part, the Indian state is content to support
Indian mega-corporations; it has yet to develop a coherent state
strategy. But the Indian focus too is mainly economic.
The contrast with Western powers,
particularly the US and France, could not be sharper. The cutting
edge of Western intervention is military. France's search for
opportunities for military intervention, at first in Tunisia, then
Cote d'Ivoire, and then Libya, has been above board and the subject
of much discussion. Of greater significance is the growth of Africom,
the institutional arm of US military intervention on the African
This is the backdrop against which
African strongmen and their respective oppositions today make their
choices. Unlike in the Cold War, Africa's strongmen are weary of
choosing sides in the new contention for Africa. Exemplified by
President Museveni of Uganda, they seek to gain from multiple
partnerships, welcoming the Chinese and the Indians on the economic
plane, while at the same time seeking a strategic military presence
with the US as it wages its War on Terror on the African continent.
In contrast, African oppositions
tend to look mainly to the West for support, both financial and
military. It is no secret that in just about every African country,
the opposition is drooling at the prospect of Western intervention
in the aftermath of the fall of Gaddafi.
Those with a historical bend may
want to think of a time over a century ago, in the decade that
followed the Berlin conference, when outside powers sliced up the
continent. Our predicament today may give us a more realistic
appreciation of the real choices faced and made by the generations
that came before us.
Could it have been that those who
then welcomed external intervention did so because they saw it as
the only way of getting rid of domestic oppression?
In the past decade, Western powers
have created a political and legal infrastructure for intervention
in otherwise independent countries. The keys to that infrastructure
are two institutions, the United Nations Security Council and the
International Criminal Court. Both work politically, that is,
selectively. To that extent, neither works in the interest of
creating a rule of law.
The Security Council identifies
states guilty of committing "crimes against humanity" and sanctions
intervention as part of a "responsibility to protect" civilians.
Third parties, other states armed to the teeth, are then free to
carry out the intervention without accountability to anyone,
including the Security Council. The ICC, in toe with the Security
Council, targets the leaders of the state in question for criminal
investigation and prosecution.
Africans have been complicit in
this, even if unintentionally. Sometimes, it is as if they have been
a few steps behind in a game of chess. An African Secretary General
tabled the proposal that has come to be called R2P, Responsibility
to Protect. Without the vote of Nigeria and South Africa, the
resolution authorising intervention in Libya would not have passed
in the Security Council.
Dark days are ahead. More and more
African societies are deeply divided internally. Africans need to
reflect on the death of Gaddafi.
Will these events usher in an era of
external interventions, each welcomed internally as a mechanism to
ensure a change of political leadership in one country after
One thing should be clear: those
interested in keeping external intervention at bay need to
concentrate their attention and energies on internal reform.