RIGHT now, Africa is like a house exposed to all winds. This thought occurred to me a few days ago, while watching a news item about the United States’ decision to end operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), though Joseph Kony, the LRA’s ruthless leader, has not been captured.
The Americans’ move did not come as a shock to me, given that President Donald Trump has made no secret of his intention to put his country first. What hit me like a kick in the stomach was the realisation that, more than 50 years after independence, most African countries still lack the means to protect their populations against rebels, warlords, mass murderers, slavers and foreign invaders.
Kwame Nkrumah would turn in his grave if he knew that Uganda, Chad, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic had to rely on ‘military advisors’ and financial handouts from the United States to fight a few thousand LRA rebels. Nay, he would sit up in despair if he knew that far from being the exception, the dependence of African countries on Western money and troops to quell or contain conflicts in their territories is actually the norm.
To cite but a few examples: Mali currently relies on the French Armed Forces to keep the local Tuareg and foreign Islamist rebels in check; the armies of Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Chad and Cameroon have received funding, equipment and training from the United States, France and Great Britain to fight the terrorists and slave-owning group Boko Haram; the African Union Mission to Somalia, which leads the battle against Al-Shabaab militants, is heavily sponsored by the European Union, while the Democratic Republic of Congo depends on tens of thousands of troops from the mainly Western-funded United Nations to attempt to pacify many parts of its territory.
Ironically, it was Nkrumah’s fury and disappointment at the incapacity or unwillingness of the UN to intervene in order to protect Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and bring peace to the Republic of Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo) that led him to suggest the creation of an African Joint High Command in 1961. Nkrumah wanted African countries to come together and set up a collective defence body that would have the means necessary to put an end to future crises all over Africa. He was rebuffed by other African leaders, who mocked his ‘inordinate ambition’ and denounced him for plotting to become president of all African countries.
To appreciate what a huge mistake these African leaders made when they failed to support Nkrumah’s idea, we only have to look at the pitiful state of the Democratic Republic of Congo nearly 60 years later. It is heartbreaking to think that despite the presence of UN troops in this country, defenceless civilians are still being routinely slaughtered, women raped and scarred for life, and children abducted and turned into barbaric killers. True, the African Union has now created a peacekeeping force, the African Standby Force (ASF), to try to stop conflicts all over Africa. But the current reliance of African nations on foreign sponsors and troops to defend themselves clearly shows that the ASF is still woefully unable to fulfil this mission.
African countries are far from being the only ones that have been let down by the UN and other international bodies. I remember a group of Chinese undergraduates I befriended when I was an exchange student in Canada nearly 20 years ago. A few were outgoing and constantly attending parties, while most were focused on their studies and rarely went out. Some were homesick and could not wait for the exchange programme to end, while others strived to find ways of prolonging their stay. But what they all had in common was an acute awareness of the betrayal of China by the League of Nations, the organisation that preceded the UN. These students were always telling me that, because of the League of Nations’ failure to shield China from Japanese attacks throughout the 1930s, they were determined never to let the protection of their country depend on others again.
We Africans must draw lessons from our history too, and develop a sense of responsibility and self-reliance. It beggars belief that despite the West’s complicity in the killing, overthrow or exile of dozens of African nationalists including Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara, we are still routinely putting our future in Westerners’ hands and entrusting them with the task of protecting our populations. It cannot be right that in spite of the UN’s failure to avoid the massacre of millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and other African territories, Africans are still relying on the UN and the ‘international community’ to quell conflicts in their countries.
It is imperative for us to stop incurring in this blatant abdication of our duty of self-protection and self-preservation. We must understand that there is no such thing as ‘international community’, only individual countries’ interests. As long as we are unable to safeguard our interests and guarantee our own security, as long as we are unable to look after ourselves, and as long as we are dependent on others to protect us, our long march to genuine independence and development will always be hampered by this big stone in our shoe.
Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell is the Founder and CEO of the leadership training organisation Medzan Training www.medzantraining.com