Friday, 16 April 2010

Sénégal recovers the bases

Fifty years after the apparent restoration of its independence from over a century of French conquest and occupation, Sénégal is about to take over a stretch of military bases in the country that France has, until now, continued to control and operate. Congratulations to Sénégal! It is never too late to secure one’s freedom – even if it is 50 years or more down the line... The quest for freedom is an ever-ongoing human endeavour. Provided people remain resolute and focused, no setbacks are enduring and no hurdles insurmountable.

France has used these bases, during the period, as essentially its eyes and ears to keep tabs on its vast and entrenched interests across Africa. The bases are France’s pivotal intelligence tracking station to oversee and coordinate its uninterrupted exercise of hegemony over the political and socioeconomic affairs of those 22 so-called francophone African countries that it (and Belgium, and Germany until 1918) had conquered and occupied hitherto. Immanent in the worldview of the French political establishment since Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, i.e. irrespective of ideological/political colouration, none of these states is considered really independent or sovereign by any breadth or shade of either of these definitions. Instead, according to this conception, they are “francophonie” backwoods, which, at best, have some measure of local administrative autonomy (hence, “francophone Africa”!), with ultimate sovereign power supposedly lodged at Paris.

Each of these states “hosts” a French military base of varying capabilities and configuration as part of this overarching network in which Dakar is at the epicentre, in turn linked to requisite interventionist brigades positioned back home in Corsica. Thanks to this network, the French military has invaded this continental “francophonie” enclave 50 times since 1960 – from Chad to Congo Democratic Republic (CDR), Côte d’Ivoire to the Comoros. Such invasions provide the French the opportunity to directly manipulate local political trends in line with their strategic objectives, install new client regimes, if need be, and expand the parameters of expropriation of critical resources even further. On this score, the CDR (or Zaïre or Congo-Kinshasa as it was variously called), the jewel in the crown of “francophonie”, is aptly illustrative. Between 1961 and 1996, France intervened militarily in the country 17 times to prop up the notorious dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko which ravaged one of Africa’s richest economies. For France, therefore, its hegemonic control of “francophone Africa” in the past 50 years has been a lucrative and prestigious enterprise to maintain a stranglehold of influence in the Southern World. Jacques Godfrain, a one time French government official with special responsibility for “francophonie”, is perfectly right to observe: “A little country, with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our] ... relations... with 15 or 20 African countries.”

It is extraordinary that despite its lived status of “limited sovereignty” for one-half of a century, Sénégal has emerged as arguably Africa’s most successful “nation-state”. This has occurred as a result of the amicable relationship nurtured, shared and displayed by the country’s constituent nations and faiths – a far cry from the genocidal turbulence that maps the sociology of a polity located just a few hundreds of miles away in the region. The exception of course to Sénégal’s highly laudable tale is Casamance, its south region. This is clearly a restoration-of-independence subject that the Sénégalese peoples can and should resolve peacefully.

With the imminent return of the bases, Sénégal should strike off new vistas of “firsts” in its exemplary Africa journey. The excellent housing units in the bases should be converted to affordable social housing for the people rather than being “taken over” by the Sénégalese military. Sénégal should indeed think of disbanding its military. It does not need it. As I have argued severally for nearly a decade, there should be a mandatory global ban on all arms sales and transfers to Africa and the dismantling of the military on the continent. No African state needs the presence or the use of the military and arms on its soil except, as the world has witnessed in anguish since May 1966, to murder targeted peoples of its population. Sénégal, as usual, can show the way in this stride for the new Africa by cancelling all existing arms procurements and abolishing its military.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Breaking news on Kenya!

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is on the move again in Africa. Coming fast on the heels of its laudable decision last year to issue an arrest warrant to apprehend Omar al-Bashir (head of the Sudanese regime) to stand trial for “war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed in Darfur, the ICC has turned its attention to Kenya. The court has empowered Luis Moreno-Ocampo, its indefatigable chief prosecutor, to embark on the investigation into the December 2007 post-election widespread violence in Kenya when 1300 people were murdered. It declares that “information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity [were] committed on Kenyan territory” during the polls. Moreno-Ocampo had asked the court’s authorisation to investigate these murders because he believed that Kenyan “political leaders organised and financed” some of the killings.

For 44 years, African peoples have waited patiently, sometimes in understandable despair, for this kind of news report. The report is indeed extraordinary. Little did these Kenyan “leaders” believe that as they plotted and unleashed unimaginable violence on their very own citizens over elections that the regime and its allies had fraudulently organised and consequently rigged, they might account to some tribunal for perpetrating this heinous crime. The tens of thousands who survived the massacres and are still displaced from their homes and communities have waited anxiously for justice. They will undoubtedly view the ICC intervention as the beginning of this overdue process of restitution. Thankfully, there is no statute of limitations on pursuing the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity.
Until now, African “leaderships” have felt that they could murder any one, people or peoples tagged as “opponents” within the country’s population as ruthlessly and horrifically as they wished because they envisaged no sanctions whatsoever from their colleagues elsewhere in Africa or from the rest of the world. The background to this impunity was of course laid in Nigeria on 29 May 1966. On this day, the north Nigeria political, religious, business and military establishment ordered a janjaweed attack on Igbo population centres across the entire stretch of north Nigeria – killing, raping, looting, wasting and heralding the first phase of the Igbo genocide which would claim 3.1 million lives by 12 January 1970. The world stood by as these murders were committed. Even some major powers and transnational institutions of the time were either complicit in the genocide or supported it outright. It is precisely because the perpetrators of the Igbo genocide appeared to have been let off the hook for their crimes by the world that Africa did not wait very long before the politics of the Nigeria genocide state morphed violently beyond the country’s frontiers. Leaders elsewhere on the continent including Rwanda, the Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya particularly waged their own vile versions of liquidations of peoples, à la Nigeria, because they expected no sanctions as a result. The tragic consequence for Africa for not stopping these regimes, since 1970, has been the additional state murders of 12 million children, women and men.

The ICC’s next port of call in its Africa journey cannot but be Nigeria. This was where this infectious malady was incubated. As should be expected, Moreno-Ocampo is assured a very busy workload here. Many of those responsible for the genocide, pogroms and other acts of murder against the Igbo are still alive. Many are in their 60s-70s while some are in their 80s and 90s. A number of them are ex-heads of regime, ex-military and ex-police personnel, ex-civil servants, legislators, retired professors, businesspeople, even “diplomats”. Prior to the genocide, Igbo people were murdered in Jos (1945) and Kano (1953) for what were effectively “dress rehearsals” for the slaughtering of 1966-1970. Subsequently, the Igbo have been subjected to 16 planned pogroms/other acts of murder in Nigeria during the following years: 1980, 1982, 1985, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010. Lately, in the wake of a catastrophic strain in state hegemonic coalition, the Berom of the plateau central region have been targeted as well as the earlier destruction of the village of Odi.

With this historic ICC intervention, members of Africa’s “leaderships” (at whatever tiers of their regimes) who have murdered people/peoples in their country or are currently murdering people/peoples in their country or are in the process of planning to murder people/peoples in their country now know that they can no longer hide under the bogus rubric of “immunity from prosecution” or seek the protective “diplomatic cover” offered by a London or Moscow or whoever else as often occurred in the past. The world, even if belatedly, now demands and expects justice for the slain and the survivor from Africa’s states of death.