Africa and the Grand Dilemma of (European Post-) Modernity

Is it liberal to impose liberal values on non-liberal societies?

The economically prosperous (the most developed African country and the provider of solid jobs for many in the region, including Egyptians and Tunisians – over half a million of their guest-workers), but of socio-politically spent clan-favoritism regime, and jovial leader, Libya emerged as an easy target.

As an advocate of and engine to pan-African solidarity and unity, Libya was also an appropriate target for the Atlantic Europe – to pass the simple message: neither Gaddafi (-led cross-African coalition) nor China (or Indian Navy, Cuba-Venezuela/ Brazil, and the like) can silently fill the gap after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent loss of American strategic interest for Africa.

Hence, this message must be particularly painful for the African continent, and is beyond the issue whether Gaddafi should be condemned as well as when and what an appropriate condemnation in this respect should have been. Gaddafi is probably politically dead, but what was bombed for 5 consecutive months, is economically the most successful African state, one of the very few with the universal education-, health- and housing- access, consequently of the lowest income gap disparity in the AU. The notion of state’s inner cohesion and territorial integrity, peace, welfare and prosperity – so badly needed all over Africa, is collapsing in the fractured Libya – yet another (possible success turning into a) failed African state.

And most importantly; one of the key questions that kept Europe (its resources and armies) occupied throughout most of the early-mid 20 century was: is it liberal to impose liberal values on non-liberal societies? (This very question was so brilliantly overviewed in the Kymlicka’s “Multicultural Citizenship” of 1996, and thoroughly re-debated in the two books of 2004; the Brzezinski’s “The Choice” and Fukuyama’s “State Building”).

Africa for itself seemed to be answering that very question: if not through the liberation struggle (anti-colonial movements) of the 1950s-1970s, then surely by the final end of a notorious Nazi-alike apartheid regime (of a nuclear bomb eager Botha). The way Africa now receives the current Libyan Affair; it looks like the grand dilemma of liberalism is restaged again on their continent. Is a democracy deliverable by using the non-democratic (externally imposed) means and who issues the call; is justice served by fighting a crime with the public lynching; is the launched humanitarian intervention only that one that presupposes the affirmative military consideration, and other non-humanitarian objectives? No mistake, for Africa this question re-emerges and it is far bigger than either Côte d’Ivoire or Libya or any of their leaders might (ever) be.

Hence, by busily trying to analyse the outcomes in the Middle East/MENA, we should not forget the impact of the current crises on Africa. Although the “forgotten continent” is not loudly voicing it (yet), it would be foolish to believe that the LAS-disillusioned and the Arab-affairs absent Gaddafi did not manage one thing: to convince the “black continent” that Libya is in Africa (far more than in the Arab world), and that although assertively patronizing, Libya was not ignorant to the chronic problems of the continent. Further on, many in Africa – for right or wrong – have felt China as a hope (for its domestic achievements), but also as an opportunity (for its deeds in Africa).

Filling the vacuum in Africa (the Atlantic Europe was largely overextended by the domestic anti-colonial workings and subsequently replaced by the two superpowers, until finally the US lost its strategic interest following the collapse of the Soviet Russia), China silently but widely entered the “forgotten continent” in last two decades. This time African continent was approached by a completely different country from the economically poor but ideologically aggressive China of the 1950s and 1960s. A cordial, atmospheric pragmatism replaced any socio-economic or political conditionality; the beneficial direct investments replaced any ideological lecturing (or the HR/democracy preaching). Neither the superpowers not the Bretton Woods institutions ever treated Africa this way.

Despite all the international aid, Africa was sinking in ever deeper poverty, food scarcity, diseases, debts and insurgences. Chinese story was so contrasting: a backward, poor and populous – just as Africa is, China managed to effectively reform and to uplift as many as 400 million of its citizens from the poverty (below $1.25/day, 2005 PPP) – all that in just a two decades. An event, unprecedented in human history, China was not achieving with the help of the international organizations such as: WHO, FAO, UNICEF, WTO, IMF or WB, but all that by itself.  

By deterring China while reasserting its influence over Africa will not be a lasting and cost-effective nowadays, if only resting on the power to coerce without an attraction of the offer, be it of the Anglo-French dominated Atlantic Europe, the US or Russia.                                                   

The old habits die hard! Neither the Al Qaida nor China is of the global geopolitical and ideological threat of what, once upon a time, was the Soviet Union.

The very collapse of communism neither was marked by some wall erosions in Berlin nor was it the day of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A joke that one can frequently hear all over Russia and the Eastern Europe goes: “What is worse than the communism? This, what comes after it!” Beijing has no such a joke. Ergo, the final end of the communism was coming when (officially, determined Marxist-Leninist) China economically flourished by tightly resting on the neo-liberal mantra. That means that China is predictable and integrated.

The Al Qaida backpackers are predominantly nationals of the states with the considerable and lasting US presence. As seen, even the home address of the Saudi Rasputin has been detected. That means that the Al Qaida is exposed and penetrable. All this, finally, concludes that both China and Al Qaida are (self-) containable. The Soviet Union was unknown and unpredictable, socio-economically indigenous and ideologically different, big and assertive, fortified and impenetrable, nuclear and conventional, expanding and hardly containable on earth, bottom of the oceans, in air and in outer space. Past so many years, even Kissinger admits in his memoirs: “…we never knew…the Soviet Union was a black box for us…”[1]

The Cold War jargon is seen as an outdated and non-appealing for ever more countries. Most of all, the “good-old” confrontational Cold War rhetoric neither justifies at home nor it effectively brings the international legitimacy from abroad for ever larger number of actions. So, if the dictatum of the geopolitical imperatives necessitates (continuation of) certain foreign policy moves, the refreshed and modified wording surrounding them, can perhaps moderate the political costs. 

In the years to come, we will see whether the current African frustrations were exploited for the geopolitical and geoeconomic ends of the non-traditional players in Africa (China, India, or Cuba–Venezuela/Brazil, etc.), and what is the cost-exposure faced by the traditional ones. 

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

Vienna, 18 AUG 2011


[1] While talking about Kissinger; the big irony is that “his president”, a rightist Republican, deeply hated at home and abroad, ‘hard-core’ Nixon has essentially closed the colossal suffering called the Vietnam war (opening the era of détente) which a decade earlier the universally beloved, ‘leftist’, young tolerant Democrat, President Kennedy has essentially escalated beyond the point of return (after the French withdrawal).

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