Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Paradigm Shift: Bringing Liberian Foreign Policy into the 21lst Century

By: ralph geeplay
A cartoon of Musivene & Gaddafi by Fred Mukabuya

While the African Union is busy finding a possible solution to the Libyan crisis, Monrovia have moved to the fore by terminating diplomatic relations with Tripoli. The move is considerable, because Libyan investment in post-war Liberia is enormous; put at almost $100 million by some estimates, it is an important source of assistance the country needs. And secondly, close relations between Monrovia and Tripoli were at their highest; never minding that Libya is widely believed to be the chief sponsor of the Liberian civil war that killed almost 300 hundred thousand Liberians. The adage says ‘Stay close to your friends, and even closer to your enemies,’ but no more now.

In an era in African politics when the African Union (AU) is still a patronizing club of corrupt autocrats and old tired men from Cameroonian Paul Biya, Gambian Yaya Jameh, Ethiopian Meles Zenawi, Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe, Ugandan Yoweri Museveni and etc, the Liberian policy shift must be commended. Slowly, the Johnson Sirleaf administration is positioning Liberian foreign policy on human rights and the rule of law, often speaking when other African heads of state are silent in the face of egregious crimes being committed against their own people.

A case in point was the Liberian government strong-worded statement against the Zimbabwe dictator, Robert Mugabe in 2008 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, during the 13th Ordinary Section of the AU.

The Zimbabwean Scholar Group took note and mentioned on July 2nd that the Liberian president spoke to her colleagues in a close door section and “called on the African Union to be courageous because "all is not well in Zimbabwe. And that the request by SADC for a postponement of the June 27 Zimbabwean elections should be heeded.” The statement went on and quoted a press release from the Liberian government that said the elections were “unacceptable and not credible.”

“Apparently the number of AU presidents who have been elected in less than legitimate ways outnumber those who have had fair elections," the group said. It also added that “Democracy" and "Human rights" have been concepts manipulated in the past, during the Cold War, during the Structural Adjustment period of the mid 1990s and in recent times, but unfortunately this lowest common denominator mentality works to protect the worst offenders.”
It’s a known fact that Colonel Gaddafi is a petty criminal and a prominent figure in the AU who have had his hands in so-called revolutions on the continent. His terrorists’ acts around the globe are no secret. The Libyan leader is famous for the bombing on 21 December 1988 of Pan Am flight 103. The fanatical act killed all 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board. Gaddafi was also a staunch ally of Charles Taylor.

It was Libyan training and ammunitions that reduced Liberia to dust. Three million displaced in the Mano River Union, which accounts for one in five of the population. The current Liberian government has realized it can not pursue a policy of dente with Libya anymore as it was during the post Arab Spring era.

Nearly all of Liberia’s neighbors have long since democratized. The Mano River Basin which includes Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast are neither sympathetic to Tripoli’s so-called Great Islamic Jamahiriya Republic nor does it shares Gaddafi’s thirst for blood and his outdated socialist philosophy and revolution. The region has moved on.

President Sirleaf speaks at Dartmouth College 2008

During meetings in Abuja, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, “Liberia impressed upon ECOWAS as mediator and as an immediate neighbor,” says a ministry of foreign affairs official in Monrovia. “That Captain Moussa Dadis Camara of Guinea who ordered the 2009 mass killing of his own people would be given a safe haven in Burkina Faso upon his returned from hospital in Morocco” where he was receiving treatment “to allow the country hold free and fair elections. 

The move was impressive.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her national security team headed by H. Boimah Fahnbulleh and defense minister Brownie Samukai also made the case with “President Jonathan of 
Nigeria, that Laurent Gbagbo had to go having lost the elections to his rival Alassane Ouattara, which was also the official position of the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations.

Coming into the 21st century, Africa must move forward, and those leaders who resist change and accountability must be dragged along or left behind.

Sooner or later Monrovia must insist or formed an alliance with truly democratic independent states within the AU that are answerable to their people, thereby leaving the autocrats on the other side of the river.

Rulers like Congo’s Denis Sasu Ngueso must conform to a new order--- a paradigm shift that puts the rights of ordinary Africans above the desires of leaders like Gaddafi to lead at all cost.

In severing ties with Libya, the Liberian government called on the Libyan state to stop persecuting its own people adding, "As the oldest independent African Republic, Liberia has fought relentlessly for the decolonization of the Continent and for subjugated and oppressed peoples everywhere to freely exercise the right to self-determination.”

The fight of the Libyan people to rid themselves of Gaddafi must enjoy currency across the continent. The AU must stop pussyfooting on the Libyan question. The Libyan tyrant has been in power since 1969, and is wildly branded as the rubble rouser liable for cross borders attacks that violate the sovereignty of many African states.

His crimes are now being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with charges coming from its chief persecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. It is now known that mass rape has been introduced to intimidate women, and by extension the population in Libya. There is a cell phone video at present making the rounds on cable news of a woman being violated. As she begs for mercy, her tormentors believe to be Gaddafi loyal supporters show no clemency.

Considering Liberia’s own trouble past in which its own citizens have been victimized by its own leaders, and its unique role as Africa’s first independent republic founded on the premise of freedom, her history places her in an unprecedented position to be a defender of freedom and democracy on the African continent.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Let's Give It Up For Hellen Zille!

by ralph geeplay

Premier Zille hits the streets to campaign

"Have you ever seen an ugly [white] woman in a blue dress dancing like a monkey because she is looking for votes"? Julius Malema, the contentious African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) leader taunted in May as the South African municipal elections were heating up.

Malema's apparent reference was meant for the country’s most colorful opposition leader Helen Zille, who challenged the African National Congress (ANC) to a fierce political battle, which exacted a blow to the ruling party. As the election dust now settles, it was all evident that the country is headed towards a two party system; and the goad Malema threw at Zille it seems was rejected by voters with the black votes streaming steadily towards the Democratic Alliance.

Racial politics aside, some black South Africans are beginning to understand that stoic allegiance to the ANC even when it fails to delivered on campaign promises will not move the country forward. What South Africans want is service delivery, the rejection of cronyism, and an improvement in their lives, promises on which the Democratic Alliance campaigned. The African National Congress however, ran a negative campaign labeling Zille a racist, which the South African people did not buy

dominance of the African National Congress is still palpable in South Africa, a clear manifestation of the nation's struggle to end Apartheid. The ANC has led for 17 years, and it’s polices are increasingly coming under the microscope. Blacks are beginning to feel that their concerns have been ignored. An example is the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) route, introduced by the party, meant to address long standing inequalities towards minorities, which has all but enriched a few black elites analysts say, with the majority of the population not seeing the dividends promised again and again by the leaders on whom they have hedged their bets every election circle.

To its credit the ANC has invested millions in infrastructure; but senior government officials are using their incredible connections to amass vast wealth at the expense of the public. Charges of corruption, the lack of jobs and service delivery has tainted the image of the ANC for which its members are paying a political prize at the polls. According to Bloomberg, Africa’s largest economy shed 14,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2011.
During the 2006 elections, the ANC won 67 percent of the vote; and during these past municipal elections it won 60 percent. The Democratic Alliance, meanwhile has surged winning about 23 percent, whereas in 2006, it won a paltry 14 percent. The Democratic Alliance owes this increase to major stumbles by the ANC.

A cartoon of Malema by Zapiro

These developments are significant because South Africa is still a racially-based democracy and for the right reasons. But it is also amazing to a degree that the main opposition leader is a white woman.
Helen Zille is not new to South African politics. While working as a journalist for the Rand Daily Mail in the late 1970s, Zille, together with the venerable Donald Woods, famously exposed the brutal and fatal death by the then-racist South African government of the Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko.
In 2008, when she received the world mayor's award from a field of 820 candidates while serving as Mayor of Cape Town, Zille called on the nation to rally around the differences that would make South Africa work… telling the audience gathered at the ceremony that “political diversity, in other words, is not an obstacle to a better life.” She said further, “It is, in fact, the only way to guarantee it.” A year later she went on to win the premiership of the

Western Cape Province, the first major power grab from the ANC.
However, without Zille's leadership it a safe bet that South African democracy would still be asleep, because the ANC has all but taken the black votes for granted. Even the high-profile creation in 2008 of this opposition party: the Congress of The People (COPE) has all but flopped. The high-profile Cope sprouted to provide a challenge to the ANC, in the wake of the power struggle that drove Thabo Mbeki from power. What has happened is continued infighting within the rank and file of the ANC, the same scenario that gave rise to COPE's conception. Zille, on the other hand has been discipline, letting the record of the Democratic Alliance to do the talking.

Of course, the Democratic Alliance has its tradition steep in white South African liberalism, and its major challenge remains diversifying its leadership and core membership by luring in black and color voters. It hasn’t been easy because of recent South African history, but the tide is turning. Zille has recognized this fact knowing fully well that without blacks’ participation, the DA is doom.

Because the DA has given the African National Congress a run for its money, it is believed the ANC is likely to address the needs of the people and continue the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Meanwhile, smaller political parties are gravitating towards the Democratic Alliance. And if the ruling party fails and continues its same old polices, the ANC will have no one to blame but itself when the next elections rolls around.
It is accurate to say that when competitive political engagements are centered on issues rather than race and personalities the people are well served by politicians. It is a lesson neighboring Zimbabwe could learn from. Let’s give it up for Helen Zille!