And Where Are the Democrats of the 1990s?
By Paul Japheth Sunwabe
February 27, 2001
In 1990, the Cold War ended, resulting in a new global policy initiative: democratization, the curtailment of regional conflicts, and economic reforms. Under the new global policy initiative, political legitimacy could only be won through the ballot box, and not the usual military coups, or rebel wars that characterized the Cold War period. The United Nations, the United States of America, the Organization of African Unity, and a host of other international organizations adopted the new global initiative as the medium of international diplomacy. But what exactly did this initiative mean for Africa?
On the eve of the collapse of the West African Republic of Liberia, former US Assistant Secretary of State Leonard H. Robinson summed the new global policy in these words: "A bloody takeover by force [In Liberia] would deal a setback to democratic aspirations throughout Africa and lead to the conclusion that might make right. Dissidents throughout the region would be encouraged to take their battle into the streets, rather than work through the political process. Aggressions must not be rewarded, and no one who come to power in Liberia through force or fraud can expect normal relations with the United States of America" (New Africa p; 34 1997). To the pugnacious forces battling for political power in Liberia and the countless human right activists across the Continent of Africa, the aforementioned proclamation was a policy initiative whose long-term implications were, stability, respect for the rule of law, and dispassionate judicial system. But, did Mr. Robinson say, "Aggression and fraud "should not be rewarded in Africa? And, what have we learned since the advent of the new global initiative?
Since 1990, countless African illiterate military officers have seized power through fraud and intimidation, and Mr. Robinson and the world have accepted their illegitimate regimes with little reservation. In our resolve to promote democracy throughout the world, we encouraged members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to intervene in the Liberian Civil War in August of 1990. Determined to promote the new global policy, we violated the cardinal tenet of national sovereignty (in Liberia) and rendered the Organization of African Unity's abominable policy of non-interference mute. Indeed, the gallant West African peacekeepers stood the test, refused to reward hooligans, and created a safe-haven in Monrovia in January of 1991. However, the region's leadership contradicted the mandate of ECOWAS and the demands of the "new global initiative" by conducting a fraudulent presidential election that placated and landed notorious Liberian President Charles McArthur Taylor to the Executive Mansion in July 1997. Infact, while our brave peacekeepers were fighting military aggression in Liberia, a coup took place in the Gambia in 1994 and the world and ECOWAS's leaders failed to draw distinction between legitimacy and a military takeover. In the end, the empty headed buffoons turned themselves into civilian regime through dubious "Cold War" style election financed by the international community.
As the Gambian Army consolidated their power through plunder and deception, democratic institutions were abolished and the demise of an African state was sealed. According to the BBC, since General Jammeh came to power, Gambian politics has been synonymous with habitual intimidation, arbitrary arrest and military brutality. Early this year, Gambia's main opposition leader Mr. Ousainou Darboe was arrested and charged with the murder of a pro government archivist; although the evidence in the case exonerated the veteran politician. When a superior court judge released Mr. Darboe and dropped all charges against him, the judge was dismissed and charged with "constitutional insubordination". Mr. Darboe decried his ordeal in these laconic words: it was a deplorable condition. It was squalid and sordid. There were no toilet facilitiesI was not physically assaulted but I was certainly mentally and psychologically tortured (BBC News, June 23 2000 p; 3). Mr. Darboe is not the only victim of Gambia's sponsored terrorism and intimidation; scores of Gambian students have been either beaten to death or incarcerated without trial. Fearing the state's zero tolerance for political pluralism and freedom of speech, Gambian intellectuals, teachers and students are taking refuge in neighboring countries. In all of this, where are the democrats of the 1990s? I mean the African leaders who stood for democracy, stability and the rule of law in Liberia. Are the Americans, the UN and the OAU still committed to the new global initiative? If so, where are the results? Show me the success of the new global initiative, and I will show you Robert Guei's La Cote Divoire. Now, everyone knows and understands my frustration with the hypocrisy of the rulers of the world. On the one hand, they want democracy in Liberia and all of Africa, but their actions are contrary to the policy they so passionately purport. My fellow Africans, isn't it about time that we demand consistency in the affairs of our beloved continent?
The world justly rejected Charles McArthur Taylor and his deranged National Patriotic Front of Liberia in 1990, and Africa showered international policymakers with accolades. Similarly, the leaders of ECOWAS ousted the vacuous military junta of Sierra Leone's Major Johnny Paul Kroma from the Presidential Place in 1998, and we lauded their efforts. Like Mr. Charles Taylor, Major Koroma lacked democratic legitimacy, and could not rule in the newly democratized Africa. Clearly, the world demonstrated that utilitarianism would have direct bearing on the new global initiative. But, here is the crucial point: In June of 1997, former Congolese Marxist dictator Denis Sassou Nguesso ousted the elected government of President Pascal Lissouba, imposing autocratic rule on the people of Congo. Since then, Africa, Mr. Robertson and the World are yet to denounce, oppose, and isolate the illegitimate regime of Mr. Nguesso. Is Denis Sassou Nguesso immune to legitimacy or democracy? Is he any better or worst than Charles Taylor of Liberia? Why isolate a valiant like Taylor, but allow another criminal (Nguesso) to ascend to power through the barrel of the guns? It is not within my limited power and ability to speak for the World's leadership, and as common sense would have it, I will leave this question to the despicable rulers of the World; hoping that someday and somehow, they can provide the victims of Nguesso with answers.
After all, Nguesso is not the only violator of the new global initiative, or may I justly say the "rubberstamp global proclamation." Laurent Kabila, who led a successful, but ruthless military campaign against career Zairian dictator President Mobutu Sese Seko did not only oust the much-loathed African strongman, but also orchestrated genocide, ethnic cleansing and regional instability. In a desperate attempt to save the new global initiative, and address the legitimate concerns of African Human Right Activists, the United Nations, and African and Western leaders demanded inquiries into Kabila's atrocities. But Kabila, whose totalitarian government had been given prior stamp of approval by the spineless rulers of the world refused to subject himself to inquiries and took the United Nations for a soccer match, dribbling the world body with the skills and prowess of legendary world African soccer star, King George Weah of Liberia. In the end, nothing happened, and Mr. Kabila expanded his bloody rein of terror to his former allies, Zairian Tutsi and Ugandans most of whom have resided in Zaire since the tragic days of President Amin. Again, beloved Africans, where is our moral outrage to this? Why have we failed to seek justice on behalf of the innocent lives destroyed by President Kabila, and his cohorts? Isn't it true that we have lost our moral conscience? And, isn't it fair to say that what denigrates a particular African country denigrates us all? If so, why have we abandoned social justice, leaving our people to meander in the wilderness of neglect, poverty, vituperation; and rejection? Can someone answer the above questions?
According to New Africa Magazine, powerful Western businessmen, who had ties to world leaders like U S President Bill Clinton, and former British Prime Minister John Major, financed Mr. Kabila's rebels. The veteran West African journalist, Baffour Ankomah was blunt when he asserted that Kabila was simply a "consortium" of powerful firms from President Clinton's home state of Arkansas (New Africa, October 1997). My fellow Africans, is there any difference between Kabila, Taylor, Kroma, and Nguesso? Folks, the "new global initiative" has been relegated to the periphery of international politics, and a new one based on deception, lies, and collusion has been ushered into place. The new policy simply says that if you are a consortium of Western businessmen and an associate of Africa 's craven leadership, then you can commit murder, violate the "Geneva Convention" and several international laws, and still be crowned president of an African State. Nowadays, adherence to diplomatic norms and international rules of conflicts are conspicuously absent from the volatile African political theater.
In today's Africa, the legacies of the failed and criminal "new global initiative" are wrenching: mass graves, emaciated babies, the dejected looks on the faces of the African peasants, and the impending apocalypse. Despite this, the world has elected to isolate a handful of hooligans (Taylor and Kroma), while it continues to placate and reward others like Kabila and Nguesso; and for economic reasons. Such a pathetic and hypocritical approach to the implementation of the "new global initiative" confirms Africa's deep and long held suspicion of the exploitative "marriage of convenience" that have existed between powerful Western leaders, and the selfish leadership of Africa for well over a century. To begin with, the "new global initiative" was a well-concocted duplicity designed to assuage the conscience of the West and the pain of the brutalized African people, while their murderers, now confidants of powerful Western businessmen, and world leaders are allowed to run amok. What is even more disgusting is that, the sons and daughters of Africa, who are largely living comfortably in the West, are too complacent. They would rather go to nightclubs (i.e. Zanzibar, Cross Road, etc.) than to try to help to indict, apprehend, convict, and incarcerate culprits of mass massacre on the African Continent.
Africa is an important part of the international community, and a signatory to multiple bilateral and international laws. When essential international laws are violated on the African Continent, inevitably resulting in the deaths of millions of Africans (Rwandan Style), it is imperative that Africans demand justice on behalf of the victims. After all, the lives of the impoverished African people are just as good as that of Europeans, and other victims of wars. The world's leadership has indicted genocidal criminals like Yugoslavian President Slobidan Milosevic for crimes committed against humanity in Kosovo. In Africa, however, such an indictment is yet to become a reality. Of course, there are countless reasons why the world's leadership has failed to indict African Warlords. Apart from the existing corrupt business ties between African Warlords and Western businessmen, some Western presidents have personally become involved in the looting of individual African nations. Liberia's Charles McArthur Taylor for example, was a business partner of former French African Affairs Minister Jean Christopher Mettarrand. The corrupt alliance between Taylor and Christopher Mettarrand ensured the looting of Liberia's vast iron ore, timber, rubber, gold and diamonds deposits. The funds generated from the looting of national resources was used by the Liberian belligerent and his National Patriotic Front Rebels for weaponry projectiles and several overseas bank deposits (Africa In The New International Order p; 157). Mettarrand used his influence in the West African region to rally support for Mr. Taylor, and thwarted the efforts of African Human Right Activists, and caring members of the International Community, who sought indictment against Mr. Taylor for genocide. While it is true that Presidents like Mettarrand are immensely powerful, it is worth noting that the will of the masses has historically overcome the ambitions and aspirations of individuals. If Africans, particularly the intelligentsia will amalgamate their efforts, march to the helms of world power and demand justice for the senseless murders of millions of Africans, then, the world will listen. But you see; the exiled Africans elite, most of whom are well intentioned and once fought for justice, are now making deals with the coconut head dictators of Africa, and for personal financial and economic benefits.
So, fellow Africans, we have reached this critical juncture in our history, and the essential question still lingers: where are the democrats of the 1990s? Not one victim of Africa's endless civil wars, or political brutality knows for sure the whereabouts of Mr. Robertson, his superior, and the OAU policymakers, who crafted the inconsistent "new global initiative." But one thing is certain: the African masses keenly aware of the 1990s' "new global initiative are still waiting for Mr. Robertson, the US Government, the United Nations; and the Organization of African Unity to deliver on their promises. To the sons and daughters of the oppressed African people, let me leave you with one of my many platitudes: what good is a man, or a woman who knows the truth, refuses to act on the truth, and as a consequence, millions of babies, children, innocent women and men are sent to their graves before their time. Africans, the very next time an African child is bayoneted by the likes of Taylor, Kroma, Nguesso, etc, let us march to the helms of world power demanding justice, and always keeping in mind that justice for one is justice for all.
Editor's note: Paul Japheth Sunwabe is a co-founder and President of Freedom and International Justice, a Washington DC based political organization seeking democracy, social justice and economic reforms in Africa.