Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Africa is a continent

Check out this opinion piece by Marian Tupy of the Cato Institute. The piece is titled "What's Wrong with Africa?"


When I first saw the title, I was amused. I get a kick out of reading pieces that purport to explain/critique Africa. Besides, writers rarely gets to pick the title for their pieces -- so I was willing to give Tupy a chance.

As you may have noticed, I don't opine much on this blog. But I cannot let this piece go by without comment.

1. South Africa is not Africa and neither is the situation there "illustrative of Africa".

2.** I can agree that $16 billion to upgrade the military is a lot of money ... and that SA "faces no foreign threat" ... and that Mbeki would most likely commit a souped-up military to peacekeeping missions on the continent .

Given all that, I wholly reject Tupy's assertion that committing SA's military to peacekeeping is "misguided foreign policy". In fact, it could be the exact opposite. Good lord! Just look at the countries wracked by civil war and the effect those wars have on the region and the continent as a whole. Calculate the cost of displaced people, disease, hunger, capital flight, pillaged resources .... It is in everybody's best interest to end these wars.

3. Daniel Arap Moi was a corrupt dictator. And Moi is unlikely to face justice for plundering the country while he was in power. However, the glass isn't half empty. The fact is, Moi stepped down. He didn't have to. He could have kept on and died in office, after placing an heir in power. As things stand, the man he annoited to succeed him, Uhuru Kenyatta, isn't the one in State House now.

Understand that I am not defending Moi. I just dislike statements that gloss over or simplify a layered situation.

4. Charles Taylor. Nigeria gave him sanctuary and Obasanjo seems willing to protect him from bounty hunters and others who might want to harm him. Tupy characterizes this as an example of African leaders abetting their deposed, corrupt cronies.

Again, things aren't that simple. Just think back to this past summer and the drama surrounding Taylor's decision to step down. For a while there, people weren't sure that he would step down. Then there was genuine fear that he would step down and go back to the bush to continue fighting. I recall that there was perceptible relief when Nigeria decided to give him sanctuary because that got him out of the way.

5. Zambia is not the only country to prosecute a corrupt former leader (Chiluba). I offer Mengistu Haile Mariam, the former dictator of Ethiopia, as an example .... mainly because Tupy offers him as another example of how an African leader (Mugabe) abetts a deposed crony by giving him asylum.

The Ethiopian government has put Mengistu on trial in absentia on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

I did agree with Tupy about one thing. Mobutu, Sani Abacha, Mugabe ... the list of corrupt leaders is long.

I was trying to find something positive to say.

** I cannot for the life of me find any mention of the $16 billion (100 billion rand) Tupy says the ANC has pledged to spend to upgrade South Africa's military. I have checked the ANC's website, news search engines (the free ones), and other resource sites. Any ideas?

The only story that relates to spending on that scale ... the ANC has pledged to spend 100 billion rand on infrastructure improvement projects.