Racism. Racial injustice. Police brutality. Protests. Battlespace. Black Lives Matter: A specter is haunting America—the specter of centuries-old pathologies never really addressed. When the crisis currently roiling America began, following the brutal killing of yet another unarmed black man, it should have been a decidedly domestic crisis. Instead, the outrage following the murder, compounded by the scandal-prone leadership of the Trump administration, has quickly turned what was originally an “” into an international one with major geopolitical ramifications for years to come.
The massive demonstrationsin solidarity with America’s protestors is just one example of its international dimension. But a more defining factor in the internationalization of this particular saga was surely the violent response by law enforcement officers and the constant attempts to militarize the crisis.
The self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’ was now terrorizing its own citizens, who took to the streets to demand justice and accountability. For many, especially those watching from countries and regions that have long been lectured on human rights issues, the whole episode was another indication of a deep-rooted hegemonic hypocrisy—“do as I say, not as I do.” Unsurprisingly, America’s geopolitical adversaries, in a characteristically opportunistic burst, have been quick to jump on the social justice bandwagon to score a few geopolitical points.
IranFloyd’s death a ‘cold-blooded’ killing that reveals the true nature of the American government. Russia opted for what it usually does: flooding the Internet with divisive messages and seizing the occasion to critique Washington’s ‘repressive’ response to the unrest. Turning the geopolitical dynamics on its head, the Russian Foreign Ministry on American authorities to respect people’s right to peacefully protest. China was also quick to jump on the fray. Beijing has been heavily reprimanded for its growing totalitarian repression aided by state-of-the-art surveillance technology, epitomized by the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the oppression of its Muslim minority in the Xinjiang autonomous region. But, if in April America was able to issue harsh and scathing criticisms against China while Beijing faced a global over the racial profiling and mistreatment of African nationals, the table seems to have turned. Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, ‘I can't breathe’ on Twitter, referring to George Floyd’s last words that have become a rallying slogan for demonstrators the world over, while China’s state-media have been actively on America to address racial injustice at home and stop interfering in other countries’ internal affairs.
But the geopolitical battle between Beijing and Washington extended to Africa, where the two powers have been engaging in narrative battles to undermine each other’s broader engagements with and interests in the continent. Nonetheless, it is crucial not to overstate China’s role in Africa’s perception of race and racism issues in America—issues one could refer to as ‘the Great American Question’—if only because the dynamics and the relationship well-outdate China’s modern engagement with the continent.
From a historical vantage point, to talk about America is to talk about African slavery. And understanding that tragic history, I would suggest, is critical to understanding the reactions in Africa to the Great American Question. In July 1964, Malcolm X brought home to his ‘African brothers and sisters’ at the first summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)—the predecessor of the African Union (AU)—in Cairo, Egypt, the concerns on the fate of Americans of African descent. Malcolm X’s message to African leaders at the summit, like most of his speeches, was a poignant pan-African plea. African-Americans, he said, ‘firmly believe that African problems are our problems and that our problems are African problems.…’ In part, thanks to Malcolm X’s moving imploration, the OAU passed a resolution that condemned ‘the existence of discriminatory practices’ against African-Americans and called on America ‘to intensify... efforts to ensure the total elimination of all forms of discrimination based on race, color or ethnic origin.’ This was just an instance of how America’s foreign policy towards the continent was complicated by brutal racism at home, a fact J.F. Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, once: ‘the conduct of our foreign policy is handicapped by our record in the field of civil rights and racial discrimination.’
Decades later today, that egregious record still shocks and disheartens many in Africa. So it was only natural that Floyd’s killing drew widespread condemnations in the continent. For instance, the president of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat,‘the murder of George Floyd, which occurred in the United States of America, at the hands of law enforcement officers.’ In his statement, Mahamat recalled the OAU’s historic resolution of 1964 to reaffirm ‘the rejection by the [AU] of persistent discriminatory practices against black citizens of the United States of America.’ Likewise, in an , African writers, ‘who are connected beyond geography,’ denounced the killing and expressed their strongest solidarity with the protestors. Such an outpouring of outcries across the continent forced American embassies in Africa to attempt to control the damage by an unprecedented move to condemn the murder that took place back home.
But given America’s long history of racial caste system, enforced and sustained through violence and socio-economic oppression, such diplomatic efforts are destined to achieve very little. The foundation of the American promise, an ambitious young African-American senator who would later become America’s first black president told the 2004 Democratic National Convention, is ingrained in Americans’ belief that ‘all men are created equal,’ making it the only place on earth where his story could even be possible. The paradox, however, is that beneath that American exceptionalism also lies the foundation of the Great American Question. Obama himself knows too well how America has long denied its black people the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—the basis of the quintessentially American dream. Indeed, America is proud to have fought and won two world wars to “save” the world from fascism. It is equally proud to have “saved” the world from the oppression of godless communism.
Yet that same America has also failed to liberate its black people from perpetual oppression and subjugation at home. As a product of that brutal reality, Malcolm X warned his audience at the 1964 Cairo summit on how, to people of color, America could be as repressive and dehumanizing as South Africa’s Apartheid regime. Indeed, while the Apartheid regime ‘is like a vicious wolf, openly hostile to black humanity…, America is cunning like a fox, friendly and smiling on the surface, but even more vicious and deadly than the wolf.’
In that 1964 African tour, Malcolm X also dismayingly observed, this time in Ghana, that ‘for the twenty millions of [black people] in America who are of African descent,’ there is no American dream. There is only the American nightmare. Today, that nightmare seems to engulf the country and help further tarnish its global standing. The protest and the quickness with which it gained steam might be a clear sign of a troubled nation: Think of the racial injustice, the police brutality, the job losses, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which, instead of being America’s great equalizer it was deemed to be, turned out to be a black plague for Black America. Unfortunately, a clear leadership to steer the nation out of these storms has been wanting. ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts’ is usually something one associates with some nameless militaristic state on the brink of collapse. But this fanning the flame of hatred comes from ‘the leader of the free world.’ Or perhaps, that too is an idea, just like the American dream. Little wonder, some see Americastate whose stabilization is off the table in the near term, while others see a much .
America’s democracy was built on the denial of basic humanity to a large portion of its population, while its wealth and power are rooted in the plunder of its black and native inhabitants. And that could well be its undoing today. It is the specter that has been haunting America. But all is not yet lost. If anything, the sustained protests over the past weeks offer a window of opportunity to genuinelyfor these historical wrongs and, perhaps, avoid James Baldwin’s apocalyptic call for “fire next time”.
There is a consensus that racial injustice at home hasAmerica’s international standing. That the country has so far failed to reconcile the values and ideals it professes to champion with what is actually happening. Thus, the repeated attempts to give an apparent solidity to pure wind have been a dramatic failure. In 1964, Malcolm X called on heads of independent African states to rescue their ‘long-lost brothers and sisters’ by bringing ‘our problem to the United Nations [Council] on Human Rights.’ Today, Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, is the same institution to help ‘black people in America.’ This presents a clear opportunity for America’s critics to call out its hypocrisy. Surely, Russia and China are among the last places to turn to for human rights protection. But the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman : ‘it’s time for the U.S. to drop the mentor’s tone and look in the mirror.’ Only then might it regain its lost grounds, both at home and abroad.
Recent racist anti-African incidents in China are just a manifestation of deeply rooted attitudes vis-à-vis ‘blackness’ in China that predate and will likely outlive the coronavirus pandemic.
This piece appeared in 'Africa is a Country' under the title: China and Africa: A trial by pandemic?
“We are being systematically discriminated against as blacks and African nationals,” a Ghanaian student I spoke to and who has been under forced quarantine in Guangzhou concluded with a shaking voice. And though he has no recent travel history and no particular exposure to the virus, he was forced to take the coronavirus test, which came in negative, unsurprisingly. His was not an isolated incident of discrimination and blatant racism based on skin color and passport.
For the last few weeks, the Chinese province of Guangdong and especially its provincial capital, Guangzhou, became the focus of news reports and social media posts on widespread discriminations and mistreatments of African nationals in the city. Evictions from homes and hotels, people sleeping on the streets, the police forcefully dragging black individuals, forced-quarantine, involuntary and repeated COVID-19 tests, etcetera are some of the accusations that have been widely circulating. But the unprecedented level of outcries and indignations from African countries have also brought to surface China-Africa relations more broadly, with many quick to predict the looming end of the buoyant relationship.
In addition to a rise in imported COVID-19 cases, the targeted discriminations and racism against African nationals started after reports emerged that five Nigerian nationals in the southern city of Guangzhou, who tested positive for Covid-19, had broken a mandatory quarantine and been to multiple restaurants and other public places, and thus infecting many others in the process. Yet, since the coronavirus knows neither skin color nor national boundaries, it is surprising and particularly troubling that the crackdowns on these mischief-makers would be extended only to African nationals in the city, regardless of their travel history and risks of exposure. For example, though they were not the only foreign nationals in the group, two of my African colleagues at Peking University received repeated calls from the Guangzhou police. They had participated in a two-day class trip to the city in early December, long before the coronavirus became a health concern even in Wuhan. Yet the calls are believed to be part of ‘contact tracing’.
In a rare move, African ambassadors in Beijing issued a joint complaint to China’s foreign minister, arguing that “the singling out of Africans for compulsory testing and quarantine, in our view, has no scientific or logical basis and amounts to racism towards Africans in China.” Yet, while Chinese state media described the incidents as “small rifts,” the government, in a typical fashion, initially tried to deny the reports, instead characterizing them as “rumors,” “misunderstandings,” and stories fabricated and spread by Western media—an attempt to the issue a new point of contention with the West (read the US). But for those familiar with Beijing’s responses to crises as sensitive as this one, the move is not surprising. In a usual fashion, the government was first slow to react to the outcry, before moving in full force to dismiss the existence of the crisis while also calling out on ill-intention forces (read Western media and their governments) for trying to drive a ‘wedge’ between Beijing and its African counterparts. To anxious African governments, China was keen to reaffirm the principle of equality and equal treatment towards all.
Therefore, instead of promptly acknowledging the wrongdoing and working to solve the problem and alleviate the pain inflicted to African nationals in the city, there is a widespread feeling that the Chinese authorities have focused more on downplaying the issue or completely denying its occurrence. The official, polished diplomatic language will have us believe, for example, that China has zero-tolerance for racism and skin-color-based discrimination. Yet, everyday reality tells a different story. Racism against black people or Africans in China has become so commonplace as to be banal. In fact, China may applaud itself for establishing a friendly relationship with many African governments, but systematic discriminations and repeated ill-treatment of African nationals in China are also well-documented. Thus, there is a clear contradiction between the lived and the experienced reality for Africans living in China and the way their governments and Chinese leaders interact. Given the current context with the coronavirus pandemic, some have explained the quickness with which many African governments has accepted Beijing’s reassurances, given China’s overall importance to Africa’s fight against the pandemic. But the fact of the matter remains that African government officials have never been comfortable and willing to officially address these issues, as they are perceived as rather too embarrassing for what is believed to a brotherly/sisterly relationship between China and Africa.
In Guangzhou specifically, recent incidents are just a manifestation or a symptom of a deeply rooted issue vis-à-vis ‘blackness’ in China that existed long before COVID-19 and will likely survive the pandemic, despite the recently announced measures to combat discrimination in Guangdong province. And though some seem to celebrate “the rising African agency… that is spilling over in the [Sino-African] relationship,” one genuinely wonders how long that will last. For one, Beijing is happiest, as always, to have the incidents quickly forgotten (at least by African leaders) while African governments are also concerned with mobilizing more support and resources in their efforts to address the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic in the continent, including appeals for medical aid and debt relief. Unsurprisingly, there is an apparent calm on the surface despite the boiling currents deep below in the China-Africa relationship.
In early March, I wrote a piece on how the coronavirus has ignited deep-rooted stereotypes about Chinese and how it was wrong to associate it with particular geography or race because it knows not such social constructs. And I am now reiterating the same call with equal vigor. The best way, indeed, the only way to effectively defeat the ongoing pandemic is by working together, collaboratively. So, beyond the staged official PR visits with TV and camera crews, it is encouraging and commendable to see many people, including Chinese nationals, join hands to bring comforts to the affected individuals throughout the city.
For both Chinese and African government officials, however, these crises should serve as an opportunity for a fact-check, especially with regard to the much-touted people-to-people exchange in China-Africa relations. And neither Beijing’s denials nor African governments’ disquieting silence is helpful for that purpose.
Indeed, as the crisis continues to wreak havoc, much of attention has been on its health and economic consequences. Yet, although these are certainly pressing issues, it should be lost to us that the pandemic is already having major impacts on the 'older' issues and might contribute to worsening them in the foreseeable future, especially if we solely focus on just addressing the new challenges brought about by COVID-19.
Find out more about what that means for the ongoing security challenges in the Sahel Region.
How Turkey’s Hegemonic Bet on Neo-Ottomanism with Pan-Islamist Face is Costing it Friends and Allies
Finding itself at a crossroads,
increasingly isolated by its Western allies, and no longer the dominant Muslim
voice it once was, Turkey is now flexing its pan-Islamist muscles.
At a pan-Islamism and anti-Islamophobia-themed meeting, recently held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the initiative of Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, and Qatar, Turkey’s President Erdoğan seized the occasion to broadcast what has become a driving principle (in spirit, at least) of his foreign policy projections: saving the Arabo-Muslim world from the incessant, perennial onslaught of an essentially anti-Muslim global order.
In the Malaysian capital, Erdoğan spoke about resistance and the need for a robust Muslim fraternity so that the the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, surely under Turkey’s guidance, can rise to the security and socio-economic challenges of globalization and modernity.
Saving brothers in need, but also driving friends and allies away
Erdoğan’s message was clear: now is the time to revive pan-Islamism. This was later echoed by all participants of the small circle of countries who effectively styled themselves as the saviors, or the forerunners of a much-needed “Muslim coalition” to liberate the Muslim world.
There is nothing new to such pan-Islamism-flavored rhetoric in Erdoğan’s political communication toolkit. The Turkish leader has to some degree already effectively styled himself over the years as the “daring one” who stands up to the West. But the Kuala Lumpur gathering came with a more consequential twist as the MENA seeks a new economic system to extricate itself from the grasp of the all-mighty American dollar.
All this was merely a glimpse of Turkey’s regional ambitions. Just days after the Malaysia meeting, Erdoğan announced Ankara’s plans to send troops to Libya to support the beleaguered Tripoli-based and internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in its struggle against the troops of General Khalifa Haftar.
The Turkish president said he was responding to an invitation from Tripoli as France, Italy, Egypt, the UAE, Jordan, and Russia-backed Haftar prepared to launch a “final assault” on the capital Tripoli. Ankara, once again the savior and the righteous voice in a volatile region, was only legitimately flying to the rescue of the rightful government of Libya. The announcement wasby the Turkish parliament on January 2.
To critics and regional foes, the move was a dangerous threat to regional stability. But Erdoğan swiftly fired back, arguing that “They are helping a warlord. We are responding to an invitation from the legitimate government of Libya.”
These two episodes—the Kuala Lumpur meeting and the decision on Libya—are inextricably linked; they share the same ethical and ideological underpinnings. What they convey is the pointed nostalgia of a country determined to claim the prestige and diplomatic (or geostrategic) prominence and reverence it thinks it deserves.Yet these same moves have been driving Turkey’s erstwhile neighboring friends and allies, including NATO, while effectively confining the carefully crafted concepts and ideals of “strategic depth,” “zero problems with neighbors,” “a center country,” and “order setter,” which were supposed to guide its foreign policy, to the long-forgotten pages of history.
Ahead of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s trinary general assembly in late September, China, along with Russia, issued a position paper denouncing the UN body’s aviation emissions plan. Better known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), the plan is a medium-term scheme that aims to set caps emissions for international flights from 2020. Global aviation industry accounts for about 2% of all human-induced carbon emissions, but the share is expected to increase in the coming years as air travel becomes accessible to more people. To China, however, CORSIA “lacks moral fairness” since it fails “to ensure a level playing field to all countries.”
Instead, China calls for “promoting the establishment of a fair and equitable CORSIA implementation pathway featuring fairness and equity… through dialogue, consultation and negotiation”, rather than the one-size-fits-all orchestrated by the developed countries. China’s hardened public stance toward CORSIA runs against its earlier position as a critical proponent of the UN plan in 2016. It is, therefore, important to understand China’s position and its potential implications more broadly.
China & CORSIA: Why a Step Back?
In denouncing CORSIA for lacking moral fairness, China effectively presents itself as the spokesperson of the developing countries and emerging economies. But it might be fair to argue that China was, first and foremost, defending it “right for development.” According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), for instance, China will overtake the US to become the world’s largest aviation market by 2024. This also means that, with the proposed CORSIA plan, China’s aviation industry would share more burden on reducing carbon emissions in the near future than is historically warranted, especially given that developed countries shoulder more historical responsibilities when it comes to carbon emissions.
For China and the developing world more broadly, however, increasing burden in carbon emissions reduction is not the only issues with CORSIA. It also threatens to quash the development and future potential of one of the key sectors in these countries’ national economies—the aviation industry. Therefore, China wants to ensure that CORSIA does not derail its growth potential with the proposed plan. As such, China’s criticism is unsurprising, especially given that Beijing has been pushing to ensure that its growing aviation industry is driven by indigenous players, ranging from services related to air travel to aircraft manufacturing.
China’s Expanding Aviation Industry
Although the global duopoly of plane makers Boeing Co. and Airbus SE., have been dominating the Chinese market for years, Beijing has increasingly been calling for its homegrown plane manufacturers with the aim of eventually breaking Boeing-Airbus strongholds. To the call, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) seems to have been answering. COMAC aims to firmly establish itself as an important player not just in the Chinese market but also in Asia and potentially globally.
Despite COMAC’s ambitions, however, the aircraft still relies on American and European imports for critical components, such as the engine, avionics, and landing gear. For instance, more than 50% of the materials for COMAC’s C1919 is produced outside China. Yet the aircraft was set to break Boeing-Airbus’ dominance in global aviation industry. Likewise, in developing its engine–the LEAP-1C–the Chinese aircraft manufacturer had to jointly work with the US and France. Surely, the lack of critical technology will continue to significantly hinder China’s aircraft manufacturing capabilities and substantially hinder Beijing’s push for greater “Made in China” in its aviation market. Worth noting is that, although it is unclear how (if at all) this connects to China’s shared position with Russia on CORSIA, China began a joint venture with Russia to develop the CR929 aircraft since May 2017. But even this joint venture does not entirely break the mentioned China’s dependence on imports of critical components from advanced and more experienced manufacturers.
Beijing’s seeming reversed take on CORSIA might be a huge blow to ICAO’s global efforts to curb carbon emissions. But it would be a mistake to view that as China’s move to loosen its commitments to fighting climate change and protecting the environment. As the position paper demonstrates, “China has been a consistent advocate for the establishment of a full consultation-based CORSIA.” Privately, moreover, China is taking steps to implement CORSIA’s guidelines, while pushing for the eligibility of its environmental projects that airlines could purchase under the scheme.
But the Nobel Committee’s announcement is also a call for attention: Abiy has finally taken the lid off Ethiopia, initiating one of the world’s most important political transitions, but also its most fragile.
Well aware of the challenges Abiy and his 110 million constituents face, and the problems already manifest, the committee’s announcement cited concern about growing “ethnic strife” and the social unrest that in recent years has displaced some three million people — more than anywhere else in the world. “No doubt some people will think this year’s prize is being awarded too early” they noted in pre-emptory fashion. But the committee believes “it is now” that the prime minister’s efforts “deserve recognition” and “need encouragement.” They’re right on both counts.
Among Ethiopians (and many foreign observers), opinions of the 43-year old prime minister are as diverse as they are passionate. Supporters refer to him, not infrequently, as a “gift from god,” hailing his divinely inspired agenda and his rhetoric of unity and reconciliation. Critics balk at what’s become known as “Abiy-mania,” however, variously concerned that the Pentecostal preacher-in-chief is naïve, self-aggrandizing, or an unconvincing product of the old guard. (Abiy is a member of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, which has ruled the country since 1991 and is known for its abuses of democracy and the security and intelligence establishment from whence he came.)
Whatever one thinks of Abiy, he deserves genuine credit for ending a senseless stalemate with Eritrea, and for the gusto with which he has pledged to usher in an era of openness, modernity, and economic liberalization at home. Even prominent skeptics agree. After unprecedented protests gripped the nation in 2018, and in turn paved Abiy’s unlikely path to the top, one former regime figure told me that while he did not believe Abiy was the “right doctor for Ethiopia’s long-term care,” he may be the “emergency room medic we need” right now.
The prestigious recognition, while deserved, must be accompanied by a sober appreciation of what came before Abiy, and of the bumpy road ahead. The ruling EPRDF is a marriage of convenience, a four-tentacled coalition that allowed each ethno-regional arm a degree of autonomy and a share of the national cake. While famously disciplined and undeniably heavy-handed, proponents of the liberation movement-turned ruling party argued their formula is what has held one of Africa’s largest and most diverse countries together for three decades.
At the center of the coalition was the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) — a minority from the country’s northern highlands that dominated the regime’s political and security structures until the passing of its intellectual strongman, Meles Zenawi, in 2012. Abiy isn’t one of them, and his ascension in 2018 was a watershed moment. The outgoing TPLF — unaccustomed to anything but total control — was thus believed to be the greatest threat to Abiy’s rule and his plan to overhaul the state they fashioned.
The new leader’s declaration of peace with Eritrea was an historic and courageous act. More than 80,000 died on the battlefield between 1998-2000, and the two countries had been locked in a tense standoff ever since. When Abiy and his Eritrean counterpart personally opened the border crossings last fall, his office announced the “radical transformation” of the border into a “frontier of peace and friendship.” Citizens from both countries flooded across the boundary for the first time in 20 years. When the first flight between the two nations touched down in Eritrea’s capital city, families long divided by war embraced on the tarmac, tears streaming down their faces. Abiy’s opening to Eritrea was right on its merits. But it was also motivated by domestic politics.
Much of the war was fought in Tigrayan territory, near the border with Eritrea, and the hostility between the TPLF and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is hard to over-state. Abiy and Isaias thus shared an interest, as one seasoned observer noted, of “choking the life out of the TPLF.” Since Abiy’s arrival, TPLF bosses have left their privileged posts and returned home to Tigray — first to lick their wounds, and then to organize. And they aren’t alone — the powerful Amhara and Oromo constituencies have likewise reinvigorated their political cadres, their regional security forces, and their nationalist rhetoric. Some argue the EPRDF coalition will persist in one form or another, its inherent compromise too valuable to each constituent part. Others believe it is already dead.
National elections are slated for 2020. Some worry Abiy won’t be able to hold it together, much less to advance his sweeping domestic and regional agendas. (The border crossings to Eritrea have been closed again, and full implementation of the peace pact remains an aspiration.) Others fear that when the going gets tough, Abiy may resort to an all-too familiar playbook of repression. As such, the Nobel Committee is also hoping this year’s prize can both encourage its recipient to stay the course and act as a guardrail as his government enters a period of profound political uncertainty.
This is not the first time Alfred Nobel’s trustees have sought to maximize the award’s political potential, or the first time its recipient has proven controversial. Aung San Suu Kyi, then a Burmese opposition figure, received the prize in 1991 for championing human rights and a “democratic society in which [her] country’s ethnic groups could cooperate in harmony.” She was later elected to the country’s top political post, and like Abiy, won great international acclaim. But when her government was accused of killings, human rights violations, and ethnic cleansing last year, many called for the Nobel committee to take back her prize.
Abiy Ahmed was right; the time for change in Ethiopia had come. Now he must balance tradition and modernity, democratization and stability, ethnic loyalties and national identity. The success or failure of Abiy’s high wire act will shape not only his country, but the entire region, for a generation to come.
When I asked another of the prime minister’s skeptics what he thought of last week’s Nobel announcement, he opted not for the usual cynicism, but for the spirit of unity Abiy has championed. “I am celebrating,” he said, “after all, this is the first Ethiopian ever to win the prize.” Here’s to hoping that all Ethiopians can celebrate Abiy’s prize for a generation to come, and that no one ever has to ask for it back.
Read the original commentary on Brookings, posted on 15 October 2019
As the Communist Party of China (CPC) prepares to celebrate the 70 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), this piece aims to offer a short analysis of the oft-forgotten struggles with extreme poverty in rural China. Few people would deny the fact that it was extreme poverty that paved the way for the Communist Party to gain popularity in China. And still fewer would deny the significant role the mass rural poor (peasants) played in helping it take the helm. In fact, the ‘great struggle’ brought the CPC to power was the struggle to end a century of humiliation by improving the economic and social lot of the Chinese people. Now in power, the Communist party had the task of fulfilling this historical mission. But then came the fateful idea of “Great Leap Forward”, which instead of changing China from a predominantly agrarian to a more modern and industrial society, greatly leaped the world’s largest country into unprecedented mass starvation and famine and social calamities. Yet, as if these disastrous consequences were not consequential enough, the Communist party engineered a decade-long revolution that needed not be: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
If the Great Leap Forward resulted in millions of deaths due to mass starvation, the Cultural Revolution helped wipe out what little there was remaining. It, therefore, seemed clear that the Communist party of China was failing to realize its raison d'être. If the disastrous consequences of these policies were truly an existential crisis for the people, they were even more so for the party if it were to retain power. Until the late 1970s, about 81% of China’s population lived in rural areas and 84% lived in abject poverty, which--if China’s long history teaches us anything--is a ripened Pandora's box for social and economic upheavals. Nonetheless, the reform and opening up that began in 1978 offered a way out as the slow and incremental process of reforms in rural areas started soon to pay dividends.
That is, when the Chinese leadership embarked on the path of transforming the economy through reform and opening up, the central aim, the driving objective was to change the appalling domestic miseries. According to Garnaut & co-, “At the beginning of China’s reform and opening-up, the most pronounced developmental challenge the country faced was the elimination of poverty”. Combating poverty has, therefore, been at the forefront and the overarching agenda of the economic transformation from the fateful central planning, collectivization, and import-substitution industrialization to wider reforms and liberalization. Interestingly, the process of restructuring and reforming the economy in China, though still incomplete and largely imbalanced, seems to have left rural China, where it started, far behind. In just 40 years, for instance, more than 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty and China is home of over 600 billionaires, a number higher than anywhere else in the world.
As a Report (2019) by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress makes it clear, there are daunting issues ahead. In its own words, “Despite the decisive progress in the fight against poverty, with the gradual advancement of poverty alleviation, the problem of deep poverty has become more prominent, and the difficulty of attacking has increased. There are still some practical difficulties and outstanding problems that cannot be ignored.” It also finds that, in 2018, “there were 16.6 million rural poor people in the country, about 400 poverty-stricken counties, and nearly 30,000 poverty-stricken villages.” This is definitely a significant figure even by China’s standards. In a 2015 address to the Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum held in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared China’s resolve to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020. Since then, the government has continuously devised innovative initiatives and multiplied policies and financial support to pull over 70 million people out of extreme economic hardships: “the Chinese government will enact more support policies to pull up the country's 70 million poor people above the poverty line by 2020.” To that end, “China will engage in concerted efforts with the government and the public to fight the hard battle against poverty.” Nevertheless, misappropriations and mismanagement of poverty alleviation funds are major challenges facing China and its President, with the fast approaching deadline of 2020. As the Report quite accurately points out, rather than improving the still lagging behind rural infrastructure (roads, clean water, schools, housing, electricity, etc.), it is not uncommon that poverty alleviation funds end up in corrupt deals or even in individual pockets. It also argues that even the idea of promoting local industries to facilitate poverty alleviation in a more sustainable manner is still lagging far behind.
Furthermore, “in various places… formalism, bureaucracy, falsification, irritability and war-weariness, and negative corruption still exist to varying degrees”, thus also adding that “the implementation of central poverty alleviation deployment [in many cases] focuses only on short-term effects, and insufficient attention is paid to post-poverty work”; that is, little attention is paid to the long term sustainability of the poverty alleviation efforts, which makes little sense since one cannot declare victory on poverty only for those same people to fall back after a year or two. Finally, there are concerns that the rush to declare victory over poverty usually comes at the expense of the environment and some other equally important social issues such as urban poverty, widening regional and income inequalities, land ‘grabbing’ from farmers, etc.Nonetheless, these issues are more likely to be confined to secondary importance as the CPC looks to emphasis more on its great achievements to present itself as the only and ultimate ‘savior’ the country could ever have.
Whether Africa can become an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful [continent], driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena” will fundamentally depend on its ability to achieve the twin goals of sustained peace and development. And here is why:
In 2007, a report presented some striking findings on the costs of insecurity and instability on Africa’s development efforts. In the period between 1990 and 2005, for example, half of all deaths due to armed conflicts worldwide took place in Africa, and the continent became the host of world’s largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons. Moreover, during the same period, violent conflicts cost the continent about $300 billion, almost an equivalent amount of foreign aid it received throughout the same period. Indeed, civil wars, which are hitherto recurrent, have been the most devastating to the continent. According to Paul Collier, for instance, civil wars last about seven years, during which the GDP of the concerned countries shrink by around 15%. To return to pre-war economic performance, they would need about ten years and more than twenty extra years to attain the development levels they would have reached had they not descended into chaos.
Yet Africa is intermittently mired in violent conflicts and insecurity, further frustrating its development initiatives. For example, the Peace Research Institute Oslo finds that 2015 and 2016 witnessed the most conflicts in Africa since 1946, a trend that would continue well into to 2017; and the Council on Foreign Relations reports that of the 25 ongoing conflicts worldwide, nine are in Africa. Unsurprisingly, many African countries have been dealing with various forms of instability. In fact, although some progress has been made since 2016 (when Africa recorded 21 fragile states of a total of 26 worldwide), 14 of the world’s top 20 most fragile states were African in 2018. Such state of affairs creates “increasingly ungoverned and ungovernable spaces” while similarly greatly hindering African countries’ attempts to prosper. Undoubtedly, this explains as much the fact that of the 15 UN Peacekeeping Missions worldwide, 8 are in Africa and nearly half (10) of the 21 UN Political Missions and Good Offices Engagements are deployed in the continent as it does the fact that Africa’s security issues represent more than 60% of all issues dealt with by the UN Security Council. With such a reality, the AU’s goal to “Silence the Guns by 2020” is an almost missed deadline. Yet, rather than giving ways to a sense of helplessness, these issues call for more urgent and more decisive actions, if only because this is undoubtedly the Africa we have, rather than the one we want. And to shape the Africa we want, more efforts and new thinking in tackling security and development issues are called for.
What is clear though is that as they persist, security challenges have direct bearings on African countries’ development efforts. Indeed, many would agree that violent conflicts, with their high human, social, and economic costs, have been the most obliterating obstacle for the continent: lives are lost in untold numbers, people forcibly displaced, families and communities divided, future generations lost to ruins, and what little there may have been shattered.
Nonetheless, if insecurity and instability frustrate development efforts in Africa, securitizing development has equally proven disastrous, as the nexus of security-development is much more convoluted. Perhaps, this intricacy is best captured by the former UN Secretary-General and late Kofi Annan when he once observed that “there is no long term security without development. There is no development without security”. In line with this premise, I argue that Africa needs to rethink its development strategies to ensure that both security and development are given equal priority. More specifically, I contend that
African countries’ ability to collaboratively and cooperatively achieve the twin goals of sustained peace and development will decide on the future of Agenda 2063 for the continent.
Of the seven aspirations the Agenda set, aspiration number four, building “a peaceful and secure Africa”, will likely be the gateway to their materialization, because it entails effectively balancing the security-development nexus—whereby broader security measures adequately serve to promote sustainable development and development initiatives help foster efforts to consolidate long-term peace. As such, I primarily focus on this aspiration, which in turn requires three crucial initiatives to be realized: rethinking security, engaging the African youth, and fostering broader collaborative and cooperative efforts on security and development.
Rethinking security in Africa fundamentally entails reconsidering Africa’s approach to security to ensure that security initiatives are integral parts of the broader development efforts i.e. striking a balance between hard-security issues (state security) and the broader human-security through poverty alleviation and inclusive prosperity. It also entails reinforcing and adapting the African Peace and Security Architecture as well as updating its pillars to sustainably promote and maintain peace, security, stability, and prosperity in the continent. In more practical terms, for instance, post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding efforts would be more conscious and purposeful in striving to holistically address the root causes of the conflicts and promote more inclusive development. They would also effectively adopt and adapt the DDR Programs—disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs—to fit each specific context. This would help end Africa’s recurrent violent conflicts as they prevent future outbreaks and foster more peaceful and inclusive societies.
Moreover, rethinking security in Africa entails recognizing the fact that mismanagements and illegal exploration of Africa’s abundant natural resources (alongside deeply entrenched grievances, inequalities, and exclusions) have been playing a leading role in fueling and sustaining violent conflicts throughout the continent. For that reason, adopting, effectively enforcing, and transparently evaluating performance with natural resources management mechanisms such as the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), the Equator Principles (EPs), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), NEPAD’s guidelines for resource management, the ECOWAS’s Conflict Prevention Framework (as this has brought some successes in West Africa), etc. would be a necessary step forward, a concerted effort a better future. And although it is crucially important to reinforce regional and continental initiatives on resources management, it is equally important Africa learns from and adapt to its specific contexts the “good practices” and effectiveness of the international mechanisms.
Finally, in rethinking security, Africa would do better to initiate and operationalize cross-regional interactions, dialogues, and learning. As such, the AU could reinforce its continental leadership role by aligning regional economic communities (RECs) to its agenda while allowing for more flexibility to tailor continental guidelines to meet regional and country contexts. To that end, the dual principles of subsidiarity and proportionality should be given more momentum. It would be a trust-building process across the continent and across RECs. Perhaps, the African Standby Force, which has been divided in line with the existing RECS, is a good example, as it helps ensure a quick response to security challenges in each region. But more coordination and cooperation amongst them is needed, especially in cases where the challenges do not fit into the traditional geographical delimitations (as is the case with the cross-border crises in Nigeria and Cameroon).
Engaging the African youth
There is a growing consensus that Africa’s failure to “take off” is largely due to its long practice of sidelining its vibrant and dynamic youths. That is, with its long history of marginalizing its young population, hence its future, Africa has been missing a lot. It is, therefore, time to better engage the African youths, empower young men and young women. That building an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa” is a fundamental task for each African cannot be overstated. As a crucial stakeholder, thorough participation of the African youths in shaping Africa’s future is as important as the aforementioned rethinking security in the continent.
Yet to better harness Africa’s demographic dividend, the quality of education and training this a dynamic segment of Africa’s population receives would certainly play a determinant role. That it is quite impossible to build “an integrated Africa” without integrating the educational systems of its youths is to state the obvious. Hence rekindling, in the African youths, the spirit of a continental togetherness in forging Africa’s destiny would help promote the idea of peace, continental unity despite diversity as much as it would revitalize the sense of common destiny. For example, initiating continental exchange programs and regional and cross-regional working groups, youthful movements of which Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma talks about so passionately, would allow young Africans to learn from their shared knowledge, experience, and aspiration through interactions, exchanges, discussions, and even (positive) confrontations. Only when the youths feel empowered and meaningfully engaged, could there be “a peaceful and secure Africa” the aspiration four Agenda 2063 has called for.
Fostering broader collaborative and cooperative efforts on security and development
In addition to empowering and engaging the African youths, building a secure and peaceful Africa also requires more collaborative and cooperative efforts at all levels of governance systems i.e. continental bodies, regional organizations, national governments, civil society, activists, etc. This would ultimately promote cross-border and regional dialogues and learning processes. In that regard, despite the fact that there is room for betterment, the newly established Continental Free Trade Area and the adoption and ongoing implementation of initiatives such as the Kampala Convention on internally displaced persons may serve as tangible results born out of combined and concerted efforts.
Likewise, collaboration and cooperation would help the continent effectively claim ownership of its destiny and its development priorities, both of which are largely lacking to these dates. They would also help the continent use efficiently its limited resources to achieve measurable goals. Governance deficiencies have been identified to be detrimental to Africa’s development efforts. Yet fostering broader collaborative and cooperative efforts on peaceful and secure development would contribute to achieving Agenda 2063. Since it is obviously counterproductive to attempt to do too much, as it would dilute the efforts and weaken the impacts, it is imperative that peace and development strategies have informed focus, clearly defined priorities, implementation guidelines, and transparent and accountable evaluation mechanisms—all of which may be best achieved through intensive and rigorous research (R&D) and well-informed policy making, especially, given that security-development challenges are as dynamic as they are intertwined.
To sum up, Africa faces daunting security and development challenges. Yet I strongly believe that the Agenda 2063 is achievable and must actually be achieved. To meet that imperative, however, I identify the aspiration number four of the Agenda as the gateway to realizing other aspirations. In finding a way forward, I argue that Africa needs to rethink its approach to security, better engage the African youths, and collaboratively and cooperatively work toward sustained peace, security, and inclusive prosperity. Certainly, the success or failure to take such bold and innovative measures, at such a critical moment of the continent’s history, will determine the future of Agenda 2063 and that of the continent more broadly, no less because “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” Thus Africa’s stakeholders must work together even more diligently in choosing and building the future of the Africa We Want.
According to hardcore Realist thinkers such as Kenneth Waltz, having more actors (states) possessed nuclear weapons may contribute better to international peace and security since no state would be willing to face mutual nuclear annihilation as a result of a direct nuclear confrontation. This idea is the backbone of what is known as “Nuclear Deterrence Stability” (or what some commentators dubbed “stability under madness”). Indeed, at prima facie, the idea seems compelling enough, especially given the fact that no nuclear war has ever been fought since the end of the WWII despite the massive proliferation of nuclear weapons the world has seen thereafter.
Nevertheless, had this premises been correct, one would certainly expect almost no country to adhere to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as it strives to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Instead, well over 180 countries are now signatories to the NPT, making it a near-universal regime on nuclear limitation that will undoubtedly have long term implications. In fact, although nuclear weapons are widely perceived as an effective deterrent against actual or potential aggressors, there are many issues associated with them, ranging from the costs of maintaining their facilities to accidental nuclear strikes. That is not all, however. Just like they could fall into the hands of non-state actors and, especially, terrorist organizations, who could utilize them indiscriminately for their malicious purposes, nuclear weapons could also be used for expansive and aggressive purposes (rather than defensive ones) by ambitious state actors. Even more challenging is the difficulty in discerning when a state uses its nuclear capabilities for defensive or offensive purposes since in many cases those capabilities can serve both ends simultaneously.
While vertical proliferation helps amplify the challenges caused by rising great powers, the cost of maintenance, the looming possibility of an accidental nuclear strike, and the possibility of using nuclear weapons to subvert other states (for expansive and aggressive purposes) add to this entangling complexity. By the same token, however, horizontal proliferation also has the inherent danger of spreading nuclear materials to “unwanted”, unstable, and even crabby actors. That is, the horizontal proliferation increases the possibility for terrorist groups to acquire nuclear materials, possibly allowing them to make nuclear weapons either independently or in collaboration with “friendly” state(s)—a state-sponsored nuclearized terrorism?
Nonetheless, if the prospects for terrorist groups to acquire nuclear weapons seem low, the possibility of a nuclear disaster at any given moment seems to loom large. Otherwise stated, since the adoption of the NPT in 1970, horizontal proliferation has dramatically slowed down (or nearly halted); yet the issues of nuclear weapons have never gone away. And to a larger extent, this is due to vertical proliferations and the fact that some states party to NPT such as North Korean and Iran have acquired or attempting to do so despite the Treaty. The danger, however, is that vertical nuclear proliferation not only amplifies great power competitions, but it also undermines the credibility of the NPT, since as Graham Thomas (2004), argues, the Treaty is based on a central bargain, whereby: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals”. To these days, however, it is obvious that the latter close (nuclear disarmament and the elimination of nuclear arsenals) has been a dramatic failure.
In sharp contrast to Graham Thomas (2004)’s determined optimism, vertical nuclear proliferation is increasingly rendering the NPT a “nuclear apartheid” regime of some sort, as it de facto provides privileged “great-power” statuses to a small group of nuclear states while confining other states, the non-nuclear majority, to a “second-class status”. As such, there is little doubt that the success or failure to maintain both ends of the bargain will be the determinant factor for the future of nuclear armaments in general, and the NPT, as a near-universal nuclear regime, in particular.
It is actually intriguing that many international security strategists have stuck to their mantra that building and maintaining a stronghold on nuclear arsenals is still the best course of action in boosting state security, notwithstanding history and historical records showing otherwise. Consider, for example, Trachtenberg (1985), who questions the political utility of nuclear weapons in the international relations of states. In his study of the role nuclear weapons played in the Cuban missile crisis, Trachtenberg (1985) concludes that the crisis clearly demonstrated the political insignificance and even the political irrelevance of nuclear weapons. Citing a prominent figure in the Kennedy administration, Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense, Trachtenberg (1985) argues that America’s nuclear superiority "was not such that it could be translated into usable military power to support political objectives” while Dean Rusk, the former Secretary of State, is even blunter on that matter. For Dean Rusk, nuclear power does not translate into usable political influence. Indeed, it is a lesson the US should have learnt long before the Cuban crisis, since the US-Soviet struggles over the defeated Germany, the struggle that helped start the Cold War, showed that the United States could not use its nuclear monopoly to impose its political will on the Soviet bloc although many American leaders at the time hoped that would be the case. Yet apparently, people do not learn or at least they forget to learn from these historical circumstances.
Perhaps the most daunting challenge with nuclear proliferation is when two or more acrimonious states acquire nuclear weapons. And there is no better example today than the case of India and Pakistan, both of which are nuclear states and none of which is a signatory to the NPT. As aforementioned, nuclear weapons have always been, in the words of Noam Chomsky (2017), “an existential challenge”. But the nuclearization of the Indo-Pakistan animosity has brought that challenge to even an indescribable level. For these two states, it is not beyond possibility that their confrontations could easily escalate to a nuclear disaster, which is facilitated by their seemingly incompatible nuclear postures and differing political regimes; for instance, although there are discussions that India might change its nuclear posture, the state is still (at least rhetorically) adhering to a no-first-use doctrine while Pakistan, due to its weak position and limited conventional capabilities vis-à-vis India, relies more on the first-use posture to deter any potential Indian conventional armed assaults. A nuclear confrontation between the two, however, would be disastrous at the utmost as it would further destabilize the already largely unstable region, generate refugees in a gigantesque proportion, and cost innumerable human lives. Such is the real challenge of nuclear weapons and their proliferation.
To sum up, terrorism, however one understands it, may be receiving more international attention; it may even be the most covered topic on international media; yet there are more pressing, more urgent, and more challenging issues to international peace and security that call for immediate attention and practically workable solutions. Here, I identify nuclear proliferation as one of such issues. First, nuclear weapons and nuclear armaments have always embodied catastrophic and disastrous consequences to the very existence of human beings. Second, it facilitates and intensifies the issues of great powers competitions, as the continued expansion of the nuclear arsenals and massive nuclear armament programs from the US and Russia illustrates. In that regard, George Lee Butler is probably right that “we have so far survived the nuclear age by some combinations of skill, luck and divine intervention—probably the latter in greatest proportion.” Third, nuclear proliferation threatens the credibility of the NPT and therefore the future global peace and security while it also makes peaceful settlements of the dispute between historically acrimonious states almost impossible.
Indeed, despite the often dramatically conflated international coverage on terrorism, and despite the attention it receives on the international stage as a major issue, there are more pressing issues to global peace and security.
Nuclear proliferation is one example. There is almost no denying that the issue of nuclear proliferation has always been an urgent and pressing challenge to world peace and security since the inception of nuclear weapons. Indeed, there are several reasons to believe that the proliferation of nuclear weapons constitutes a major (if not the major) challenge to world peace and security today, nearly three decades after the end of the Cold War.
Conceptually, nuclear proliferation is to be understood as both vertical proliferation (the increase in nuclear arsenals of a nuclear state) and horizontal proliferation (the acquisition of nuclear weapons (or their materials) by new actors). This understanding is crucially important for the development that follows. Thus, my central argument is that the proliferation of nuclear weapons inherently endangers world peace and security, regardless of whether we are talking about vertical or horizontal proliferation. Moreover, the conceptualization also helps shed light on the challenges stemming from “the rise of great power” in our age of nuclear armaments and great power competitions. For that reason, I also argue that, despite the promise that led to the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1970, little is actually being done beyond mere political rhetorics to bring about a world free of intermittent nuclear threats.
Few people, for instance, would deny today that nuclear weapons have always been horrendous from their inception. In that sense, one only needs to consider the bombing of the two Japanese cities—Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the near nuclear-apocalypse brought about by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 to understand the inherent dangers nuclear weapons embody. That is, the fact that they are of horrendous implications and that they are of immeasurable destructions with enduring consequences is well beyond doubt. Perhaps, Schelling (2008)’s marked observation sums it up in the most forceful way possible. In Arms and Influence, for instance, Schelling (2008) opens his 1966 preface with the striking remark that: “One of the lamentable principles of human productivity is that it is easier to destroy than to create… And a country can destroy more with twenty billion dollars of nuclear armament than it can create with twenty billion dollars of foreign investment. The harm that people can do, or that nations can do, is impressive. And it is often used to impress”. With such a gloomy yet compelling principle “of human productivity” in mind, it would interesting to now consider how each of the proliferation (horizontal and vertical) constantly threatens global peace and security. (Soon to come)!
The seemingly simple task of defining the term “terrorism” belies the daunting challenges in dealing with the issue, both as a concept and as a phenomenon. Indeed, beyond the fact that “terrorism” is a “bad” thing and therefore carries pejorative implications, there seems to be little common understanding of the term. As Pillar (2001) argues in The dimensions of Terrorism and Counterterrorism, although it is often broadly understood as a politically motivated act of indiscriminate violence on civilian population, the term has come to mean different things to different people; it has also become a nametag used to demonize, dehumanize, and vilify the perceived “other” (i.e. it is not uncommon for politicians and political actors to portrait their rivals and oppressors with such a nametag; also common are words like Muslim terrorists, Middle Eastern terrorists, and in a more disparaging Trumpian parlance, Mexican terrorists)—all of which help further compound the difficulty. But this tendency is equally true beyond mere political discourses, and perhaps, best epitomized by the popular motto that “one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”.
Moreover, if it is difficult to define the term, it is even challenging to gauge the scope or the degree to which it constitutes a major challenge to international security in the post-Cold War era. Plainly stated, despite the unwavering attention the issue of terrorism attracts, it is highly reasonable to believe that the threats to international security, stemming from terrorist acts, are generally over exaggerated. A case in point, consider the United States, for instance, which has been the leading actor in countering (some people would say, ‘promoting’ by virtue of some of its foreign policies) terrorism at home and abroad. The number of annual death caused by terrorist attacks, since 9/11, are overwhelmingly low compared to losses of lives due to gun-related violence, drug usage, car crashes, unintentional drowning, etc. Therefore, judged by their human costs, one would expect them to make the headlines. Instead, these tragedies usually get far less attention than they would warrant.
In short, if considered by the attention it receives on the international stage (global media), terrorism may be seen as a major international security issue. But the truth of the matter remains that there are more pressing issues to global peace and security than the usually dramatically conflated international coverage on terrorism would have us believe.
The bombing of the two Japanese cities—Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the near nuclear-apocalypse brought about by the Cuban missile crisis in the 1962 neatly demonstrated the horrendous consequences nuclear weapons can inflict. Indeed, although they are widely perceived as an effective deterrent against actual or potential aggressors, there are many issues associated with nuclear weapons, ranging from the costs of maintaining their facilities to accidental nuclear strikes. Moreover, just like they could fall into the hands of non-state actors and terrorist groups who could utilize them indiscriminately for their malicious purposes, nuclear weapons could also be used for expansive and aggressive purposes (rather than defensive ones) by ambitious state actors.
It comes to no surprise, therefore, that there have been concerted efforts to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons since the late 1960s, paving the way to what is now known as the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime. Plainly stated, due to their enormous destructive potential, containing nuclear weapons capability is crucially important.
Broadly speaking, there are three defining elements or mechanisms for understanding the international efforts to curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons: the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the nuclear safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the nuclear export control system.
Although negotiations to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons started in 1965, it was only in 1970 that the NPT was established (came into force), and in 1995 it was extended indefinitely. With a total of 188 states party to the Treaty, the NPT has become a nearly-universal regime on nuclear limitation. And according to Graham, Jr., Thomas, the NPT is based on a central bargain whereby: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals”. That is, he argues, “the NPT was not designed to establish “nuclear apartheid,” permanently authorizing great-power status and nuclear weapons to a small group of states and assigning the rest of the world to permanent second-class status”. Therefore, the success or failure to maintain both ends of the bargain will be the determinant factor for the future of the NPT.
Also important to the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime is the nuclear safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which ensures that states comply with their international obligations on nuclear non-proliferation. Finally, the nuclear export control system, comprised of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), monitors and controls exported nuclear materials to ensure that those materials are in compliance with the international norms (e.g. peaceful nuclear technology or for civil nuclear energy). Perhaps, it is noteworthy to mention that the aforementioned mechanisms are enhanced by additional agreements such as the International Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials During Their Use, Storage, and Transportation as well as several other agreements creating regional nuclear weapon-free zones.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the term migration is understood as “the movement of a person or a group of persons, either across an international border, or within a State”; as such, this definition encompasses the internal, regional, and international dimension of migration. Strikingly, however, while internal and regional migrations are the largest by far and the fastest growing trend, international migration, which, according to IOM, remained constant in the past decades at about 3%, has disproportionately gained more political salience.
Undoubtedly, the causes for migration are diverse and constantly vary from one individual migrant to another. Yet to better understand the phenomenon, two factors are generally analyzed in migration studies: push and pull factors. While the former refers to negative developments in a given place such as economic hardships, wars, political persecutions, arbitrary arrests, natural catastrophes, etc. inducing people to move away from, the latter refers to positive and attractive developments in a particular place that motivate people to move to. Moreover, it is worth noting that the causes for migration, although they are, more often than not, overlapping and inextricably interwoven, help characterize and categorize migrants—for instance—into asylum seekers, migration of refugees, displaced persons, economic migrants, and so on.
Nonetheless, notwithstanding the fact that it is as old as human existence, migration has become ever more politically salient in recent decades. More specifically, international migration of individuals has a triad-effect on the relations between and amongst sending, transit-, and receiving states; even more remarkable is that cross borders movements of people often dramatically affect the internal political dynamics of the states concerned (James F. Hollifield 1992). This is particularly true for Western liberal democracies, which saw a remarkable surge of populist leaders in the political scenes. Indeed, since the outbreak of refugee crises in Europe in 2015 and the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean, the European Union has been confronted with an existential crisis that constantly and intermittently threatens to break it up. Also, migration is widely believed to have played a major role in the Brexit referendum, and politicians like Donald Trump have succeeded in playing the migration card to get elected. Beyond the internal political dynamics of states, however, scholars such as Peter Katzenstein (2018) have emphasized the increasingly leading role migration is set to play in the contemporary international affairs. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the concept of migration is worryingly increasingly perceived as an existential threat, prompting radically unprecedented measures to slash human flow across borders.
Although often overdramatized, it is fair to acknowledge that migration poses many daunting challenges to countries, namely brain drain, social problems, cultural ‘degradation’, economic pressures, and security challenges (due to terrorists’ infiltration, cross border crimes, and drugs and human trafficking, etc.).
In a nutshell, though alarmist it may sound, it is fair to assert that we are witnessing an era where migration is a ‘threatening’ concept in this overwhelmingly turbulent world.
The continent has an infamously long history of being a battlefield for foreign powers, vying for regional and global supremacy. And despite the strenuous efforts to steer its development policies towards fulfilling its potential, the African continent is still a theater of thinly veiled great power competitions. However, where historically brutal and naked military force had served as the means for dominance, trade and investment engagements have now superseded.
Very recently, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Europe’s economic powerhouse, was on a three-day trip to Africa. Unsurprisingly, migration—a core issue that might decide the fate of the European Union in the years to come—was her driving agenda. Indeed, she must have learnt that the issue of migration does not only threaten to split up the EU, but more pressingly tear apart her own government, and potentially abruptly end her illustrious political career. Therefore, the Chancellor understands well, like anyone honest enough would understand, that the most effective way to adequately deal with the migration crisis in Europe is to focus less on short-term political solutions, and more on extirpating the root causes, the driving forces that make young men and women to risk their lives traversing the Mediterranean: poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunities to thrive in their homelands, etc. Thus, investment and jobs creation were Merkel’s other priorities in Africa.
Theresa May, too, was on the continent. And her exhaustion from the unfulfilled Brexit promises did little to prevent her from an innovative ‘dance-diplomacy’, though she would do better to learn the right moves and work on her rigidity if she is ever to succeed an African dance next time! As the UK is set to force a divorce with the EU with no clear deal on the table, May is desperate to find new partners. Her trip and the “forcible” dance epitomize that state of soul-searching only those faced with an existential crisis understand best.
Jean-Claude Juncker, in his last address on the State of the Union to the European Parliament, calls for more European investments, both public and private, in the continent. Europe, Juncker argues, needs to become an investment partner to Africa, thus end traditional role as donor and patronizer, which has helped promote and maintain the development of underdevelopment in many African countries for many decades.
More remarkable, however, is China’s prominent presence as a major player in the continent. Western powers have enjoyed years of monopoly in dealing with the continent. But recent decades have seen China rise not merely as a serious contender for preeminence, but also as an alternative. It offers a radically different model of cooperative engagement for development. And regardless of one’s stand on the debate—on whether the Chinese model is sustainable, or whether it allows accountability and transparency—one thing is quite undeniable: as Africa’s biggest single investor and trading partner since 2008, China’s growing influence in the African continent is remarkable. Even more remarkable is that it also exemplifies the growing importance of South-South cooperation.
Nevertheless, to be seen is whether the African countries and their respective governments will be able to make the most out of these unstated competitions by attracting viable investment in the direly needed infrastructures, creating real economies, striving for fair and sustainable trade deals, and boosting inclusive economic development. And few with doubt that, with the shifting tides in the international trade and the global order as a whole, the way Africa manages this renewed battle will certainly determine its success or failure to develop in the years to come.
In any case, the continent had better remember that time and tide wait for no man!
“To be, or not to be: that is the question”
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Security: a Problematic Concept?
If there is a unanimity in the literature of security studies, it is that ‘security’, as a concept, is deeply contested. For Walter Lippmann, for instance, "a nation is secure to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by victory in such a war." Lippmann’s understanding of security, therefore, focuses on the external military threat to a state’s national security; it is the traditional, narrower definition of security with both military and political dimensions in the sense that it views security through the dichotomous tensions between war and peace. It is, therefore, unsurprising that this perception was most widespread throughout WWII and the Cold War. Indeed, it was the dominant definition of security for both commentators and scholars of security studies—especially led by proponents of Realism in International Relations. In fact, for scholars like Stephen Walt, for example:
The main focus of security studies is easy to identify: it is the phenomenon of war. Security studies assumes that conflict between states is always a possibility and that the use of military force has far-reaching effects on states and societies. Accordingly, security studies may be defined as the study of the threat, use, and control of military force... It explores the conditions that make the use of force more likely, the ways that the use of force affects individuals, states, and societies, and the specific policies that states adopt in order to prepare for, prevent, or engage in war.
This is hardly surprising since the traditional realist representations of world politics is that of a constant power struggle amongst states. It is the unsettling struggle for supremacy and counter-supremacy, dominance and counter-dominance. Conventionally understood, realist understanding of security refers to a condition of being protected and free from danger thanks to each state’s military power and dominance. No wonder, the Shakespearean "Security is Mortals cheefest Enemie".
Nonetheless, many problems arise from this military-centered understanding of security, especially when perceived as alter idem with ‘national security’. First, how are we to understand what “national security” means? According to Arnold Wolfers, for instance, the concept of “national security” is an ambiguous symbol:
National security”, like “national interest” may not mean the same thing to different people. They may not have any precise meaning at all. Thus, while appearing to offer guidance and a basis for broad consensus, they may be permitting everyone to label whatever policy he favors with an attractive and possibly deceptive name. The term of security covers a range of goals so wide that highly divergent policies can be interpreted as policies of security.
In that regard, “national security” could be used (and is actually regularly used) as an excuse for authoritarian governments and dictatorship to suppress political opponents, silence dissents, suppress fundamental freedoms, and flagrantly abuse human rights. Echoing Montesquieu, one can affirm that there is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of national security. And a simple reflection on history corroborates this fact.
Another important problem with Lippmann’s definition of security is that it certainly tends to prioritize “gun” over “butter”. In other words, since military might is the focus, Lippmann suggests that states had better strive to increase their military capabilities; and since the resources states have at their disposal are undeniably scarce, it follows that other sector i.e. social security, education, etc. would be underfunded--if funded at all.
Equally, one may rightly ask: is it only external military threats that can upset “national security” or could, say, environmental hazards also be indubitable threats for a state’s security? Clearly, a military-centered definition of security is doomed to fail to provide a satisfactory answer to this query. Though the military side of security is crucially important for any state’s survival, a discussion on security that solely focuses on military dimension would not give us a full picture, a broad understanding of this deeply complex concept. If anything, it is clear that, just like military might has never been the sole source of security, military threats are not the only concerns for states’ security. That is, nonmilitary issues should earn analysts’ and scholars of security studies’ interests, if only because these problems deserve sustained attention from scholars and policymakers since military power does not guarantee well-being, and, certainly, cannot provide satisfactory security to a state.
To address this shortcoming, there is a need to broaden our understanding of the concept of security by analyzing nonmilitary phenomena and dangers i.e. mass starvation, poverty, AIDS, climate change, and environmental problems—all of which threaten states, societies, and individuals.
In that vein, Arnold Wolfers argues for the distinction between “objective” and “subjective” understanding of security, since “Security, in an objective sense, measures the absence of threats to acquired values, in a subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked”. Though this is a salutary demarcation, Wolfers’s definition of security is still engulfed in the military-centered depiction of security, as explained above, and therefore fails to provide us with a comprehensive picture of security. In the end, we may do better to dive into the constructivists’ mantra that ‘security’, like anarchy, “is what state make of it”!
The Changing Nature of Security
The intractable problem of objectively defining security is not just that it is too sensitive a concept, but that it is also too fluid and intermittently. Historically, and in line with realists’ understanding, the security of a state is usually viewed as the absence of (real or putative) military threats from other states. It offers an absolutist view of security, as promoted by realist thinkers.
(Un)fortunately, to achieve such a proportion of absoluteness, one state must be absolutely powerful while its rivals, enemies are kept absolutely weak; only then could security be said to have been attained. Yet, this is an unattainable objective given the fact that other states would have to build up. The ultimate results? Security dilemma and arms race. Notwithstanding the maddening madness behind arms race, it has been the traditionally defining characteristic of states’ in global affairs up till the end of the Cold War. With the change in security understanding came the changing nature of threat perception.
“New” Security Challenges
Despite their inherently fundamental differences, and despite their disagreements, states throughout the world have increased their cooperation in dealing with the new challenges they face; but the move is not a mere charity. It is mainly due to the fact that there have emerged new security challenges that transcend individual state’s power to deal with. International terrorism is one example; global warming is another. Environmental hazards are yet another example; the list is endless. Little wonder that the focus of security has shifted from a state-military-centric perception to a more englobing human-nonmilitary understanding. A case in point, the UN Development Program (UNDP), for instance, identifies seven dimensions of a human-centered security understanding: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security. These are some of the leading “new” security challenges that will haunt states in the foreseeable future.
To start with, the concept of insurance can be broadly understood as an agreement, a contract between two parties: a policyholder and an insurer. The contract or agreement, if respected by all involved parties, guarantees that the latter (insurer) will be obliged to cover some or all portions of the former’s (policyholder’s) losses, as it had been defined and agreed upon in the contract. As part of respecting the agreement, however, the policyholder is required to pay a regular some of money—aka premium—to the insurer, again as it had been defined and agreed on in the agreement. With the regularly paid premium, the policyholder is entitled to claim insurance coverage from the insurer should the covered or that unwanted risks occur (illness, injuries, car accidents, house fires, death, etc.). Therefore, it is not an overstatement to say that insurance is a means for risk management; in a world full of contingencies and uncertainties, insurance is a wherewithal principally used to hedge, guard against potential personal, material, or financial damage or losses. Fundamentally, an insurance agreement can be viewed as a contract through which trust is traded, whereby the insurer sells it to the policyholder. As for the language in entering into the agreement, it can be literarily translated in the following terms: “as a policyholder, I entrust you (insurer) my financial resources (paid in premium) so that you will be there for me on my ‘rainy days’, when I’m faced with difficult situations”. Moreover, it is worth noting with great emphasis that, depending on the type of insurance, the coverage extends to damage, losses, or injuries caused to a third party—aka third party liabilities—i.e. an insurer—say, car insurance company, for instance—would be liable if its policyholder (a car driver) has a car accident in which a third party is injured, damaged, or killed.
Having dwelled on the concept of insurance, I may now proceed to evaluate whether it is important to have insurance. To properly be able to evaluate such a concern, however, I must ask what is to be insured. Otherwise said, in deciding on whether a particular type of insurance is important at all for us, we must consider first if it is worthwhile to cover or protect such or such particular “items”. That is, we must have something to insure in the very first place, as it is, for instance, inconceivable to buy a car insurance while there is no car to insure. Hence, the above-asked question can be properly formulated thus: what do we have, and how important is what we have? In short, if one owns something that is very important to him/her, then it would be wise to insure that particular thing. Nonetheless, this statement certainly warrants qualifying.
Undoubtedly, regardless of our social class (rich or poor), our social status and gender or age, we all value our health, our well-being. As such, it leads us to the logically unanimous conclusion that health insurance is fundamentally important to all. Indeed, I venture that health insurance should be provided to all whether rich or poor, young or old, male or female, etc. for the undeniable fact that regardless of these social stratifications we all get sick from this or that cause. Thus we have health insurance no less because if we get a costly illness, insurance is the only way we would be able to pay to cover the expenses of the needed treatments. That each government should provide health insurance to all its citizens is as unequivocal as is the struggle for a basic income to all. It is, I believe, an undeniable duty for each government, and a fundamentally inviolable right of all to have access to healthcare, necessary treatments. In a nutshell, beyond any shadow of doubts, health insurance is crucially important for all.
As for all other types of insurance, it is fair to say that their significance solely depends on wealth and preferences of each individual. For example, it makes no sense to purchase a car insurance if one has no car—for whatever reasons—any more than it would be conceivable for the poor individual to purchase life insurance. Likewise, it would only make sense to insure items whose loss or damage would bring about significant financial burden to recover. Having said this, let’s consider, in more detail, some prominent types of insurance, namely car, and life insurance.
The leading type of insurance in the insurance business is car insurance. Yet, it is only important to those individuals whose wealth can afford them a car one. Once these two conditions are met, however, purchasing car insurance is as significantly important as it is an obligation for each car driver to have a driving license. For car owners, car insurance is undoubtedly important for at least three reasons: first, it protects the owner in the sense that the insurance would cover some or all of the financial losses or damage incurred should an accident occur. The second reason, which is the continuity of the first, is that when or if an accident occurs with an insured car, the owner would be financially relieved for having hedged the costs well-beforehand. The third and final reason is perhaps the most important of all. In an event of a major car accident that involved a third party and where the driver is at fault, it would be financially devastating to pay tens of thousands of dollars in order to cover the damaged car(s) and the medical bills of the involved third party. Hence, having car insurance should be an obligation for anyone who can afford to purchase a car in the same way that it ought to be an obligation for drivers to have a driving license before getting on the wheel.
As for life insurance, I believe that the most crucial question to be asked is whether it is needed at all. For instance, an individual whose entire earnings suffice just to cover the necessary desiderata had better not consider purchasing life insurance. The same goes for an individual with no one to benefit from such an insurance after his/her death. In fact, the primary purpose of life insurance is to ensure that one’s death does not bring about dramatic financial problems to one’s dependent(s). That is to say, a breadwinner with direct dependents and whose “bread” is significant enough ought to consider purchasing life insurance in order not to put those who entirely depended on him/her into irrecoverable financial distresses after his/her unexpected death. On the contrary, if one has no potential beneficiaries, no dependents, or if there are many breadwinners to provide the potential beneficiaries with the necessary financial support, or if one’s “bread” is not significant enough, life insurance may practically not be a necessity or even an option. In a nutshell, a wealthy individual with a lavish lifestyle may be well advised to consider life insurance if s/he has potential beneficiaries for whom the one cares and wishes them not to descend into dismay as a result of that individual’s unexpected death. Otherwise, one should think twice, if not thrice, before purchasing life insurance.
In closing this discussion on insurance and its importance, several general observations deserve to be made. First, except perhaps for health insurance, one ought to think of the necessity of buying an insurance in the first place. That is, the costs of holding an insurance policy should be weighed against the benefits. For instance, an insurance with an intolerably high cost of coverage (high premium) may not be worthwhile holding; nor should one insure an item with a little more than insignificant worth. Second, before purchasing an insurance, it is momentously important to make informed decisions on insurance policies. That many people have little to no understanding of insurance policies before getting a contract or agreement cannot be over-stated; nor does it need any further demonstration. This limited knowledge about and understanding of insurance policies have far reaching consequences as many people end up with poor decisions regarding their choices on insurance coverage to purchase. That is not all, however. Many people usually buy insurance contracts without carefully reading or without really understanding the terms, requirements, and ultimate benefits of the entered agreements. Third, with the prominence of these issues, it is no wonder that many insurers (insurance companies) engage in the insidious practices of shrouding, whereby they display incomplete, misleading, or inaccurate information on the services they provide through their insurance policies. While moral hazard from policyholders is another prominent issue in the insurance business with equally devastating consequences. There is no doubt, these problems could be avoided if all the involved parties in insurance business could make informed judgments about the insurance policies.
Not a long time ago I was unexpectedly assigned to write a page or so discussing the concept of “Cultural Diplomacy” and its impacts on international relations of states. Bewildered was my frame of mind when, after jotting down a sentence or two, I find myself unable to organize my ideas in any meaningful way, make sense of what I was to pen down, and hope to persuade myself that I was indeed writing non-nonsensical, however meagerly. That the lecturer should waste his time and energy reading my sheer nonsensical tautologies, that I should waste my—valuable?—time and energy writing baloney, that I fail to convince myself about the meaningfulness of what I was jotting—was just as unacceptable and objectionable as it was repugnant. It might have been worth it, for the sake of mere esthetic, had my handwriting been anything exquisite. But it is not, and it has never been anything close to esthetic—(un)fortunately?
Yet, I confess that that may have been exactly what I did. Bluntly put, I wrote—if it is allowed to be called writing at all—sheer absurdity, if not entirely rubbish. Willingly? No. Knowingly? Yes. But what is the difference? The difference between the two is the difference between the meagerness of a desirable will and the power of an uncontrollable desire. In other words, my Kafkaesque mind intolerably failed my will for logic, the thirst for wittiness. Misery.
Notwithstanding the oft-postulated argument that ‘opportunity once lost cannot be regained’, I now aim to rectify, though belatedly, what I might have done improperly: to discuss the concept of “Cultural Diplomacy” (CD) and its role in international relations in general.
What is Cultural Diplomacy (CD)?
I think the question may be better approached in negative; that is, by identifying what cultural diplomacy is not, one would better caricature this oft-cited diplomatic concept.
To commence with, CD is not a hard-power diplomacy nor is it a military conquest. Colonialism—internal as well as external colonialism—by definition cannot pertain to CD. The former is an unconscionable policy of domination, subjugation, and servitude while the later appertains to a friendly interaction, mutual understandings, and sympathies. As such, CD may equally not be equated with imperialism, although the dividing line may be thin or even a blurred one, and the demarcation well-nigh impossible, for they both may be perceived as a form of unilateral domination, whereby the stronger country has an upper hand that could generate nationalistic feelings of resistance, opposition, and resentments. Yet CD, perceived as the "exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding", needs not engender mistrust, much less unfounded resentment, acrimony or rancor.
More broadly, "Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation, promote national interests and beyond; Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society." It is thus a diplomatic tool, an art of persuasion, as opposed to conquest and other forms of coercion; the ability of a country to ‘sell’ what it has as distinct: culture, norms, values, ideas… A few examples may suffice to clarify my point.
Granting scholarships to foreign students opens up not only the receiving country to diversity and multiculturalism, but it is a worthy investment for future influence; hence the usual requirement of either knowing or willing to learn the national language of the receiving state i.e. a foreign student studying in Turkey, under the government scholarship, will be required to learn Turkish, regardless of whether the medium of instruction is in Turkish or not (and, to some measures, irrespective of personal interest); in so doing, it is hoped to form ‘turkophiles’ of future leadership. It is also not surprising that various scholarships for studies are increasingly emphasizing on concepts such as “intercultural exchange”, “positive cultural reception”—or in diplomatic a more parlance “international or cross-cultural experience”—and the like. The blatant truth is that a person (in this case, a student) must be culturally receptive and open-minded to constitute a fertile ground, a yielding terrain for today’s cultural assimilation and potentially favorably amenable to future influence. Not less important, however, is their (scholarships providers) equal emphasis on prioritizing applicants from regions or countries with fewer representatives in the receiving state to widen, broaden its future influence.
In a nutshell, many countries have come to realize the importance of increasing their global influence—to boost their ability to get what they want or, at least, a lion share of what they want from other states—through education, youth exchange, and cultural promotions abroad—all of which are various form of cultural diplomacy in context. Needless, therefore, to say that it is also the way “cultural diplomacy” has been impacting the international relations of states in world affairs.
The widespread usage of the concept of “globalization” makes it no less difficult to define. For some, it is the ‘McDonaldization’ of the world—the process through which cultural boundaries become permeably porous; other people perceive globalization as the overwhelmingly growing economic and political interdependence amongst nations that ensures that no national economy can any longer remain an impenetrable ‘island’. Along with the surging economic ties amongst countries, their politics are equally interwoven. In other words, due to the process of globalization, it is nearly impossible for countries to isolate their domestic politics and policies from external influences; conversely, countries are finding it extremely difficult to ‘prevent’ their domestic politics and policies from impacting others’. To illustrate, consider the recent corporate tax cuts in the US; though it is a de facto domestic policy, the reforms will definitely influence the ways international companies behave in doing business and greatly impact their future investment plans. As a result, other countries will ultimately need to respond accordingly in order to keep (or improved) the position they held before the reforms in the US. To be sure, then, one could identify three types of globalization: cultural, economic and political. In a nutshell, globalization is thus the irresistible "annihilation of time and space", as Karl Max sees it.
When is globalization? One may legitimately ask. As far as I’m concerned, the process of globalization is a historical phenomenon—historical in the broader sense that it has always been there; I even dare say: it is as old as human history. Yet the pace, the degree, the extent of its development has greatly varied in the course of time and, therefore, one may identify different waves of globalization throughout history.
Nonetheless, one may claim, with dauntless confidence, that the phenomenon started to hit unprecedented heights with the Europeans’ adventurous voyages and explorations. The ultimate results were the dominations, subjugation, and colonization of the discovered (for European colonizers and the imperial powers) territories. To guarantee their unrestrained access to natural resources and larger markets for trade, these powers had to fight disastrous wars, conquer territories, and further intensify human interactions—globalization in the making.
Yet the speediest wave of globalization may rightly be associated with, say, the end of the (hotly) Cold War and the assumed victory of capitalism, the advent of the Internet, the technological revolution in telecommunication and transportation, the McDonaldization and Coca-colonization of the world. When Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history and the (birth) of the last man, for instance, he was referring the unabashed victory of capitalism and, by extension, globalization.With the globalization of terrorism, the securitization of migration, the resurgence of nationalism/populism/chauvinism, etc., however, Fukuyama’s last man is still yet unborn—and may never see the daylight—as he so unrestrainedly and gallantly proclaimed!
I’m penning you this note to express a reserved joy that the oldest sitting president has finally fallen. I’m happy yet doubtful, joyful yet skeptical, excited yet reluctant, and delighted yet equally reserved.
You have been, for years, waiting for this very moment to be liberated from your own leader. A moment akin to a struggle for a second ‘independence’. The first, during which Zimbabwe had shaken the yokes of colonial dominations and the nationwide economic-cultural subjugation of the ‘aliens’, was a battle for human dignity, honor, respect, sovereignty, and self-determination; the second, which seems (and I dearly hope so) to have ended yesterday, was a fight against a within colonialism, an internal exploitations of the many by the few. It was a long struggle against brutality, corruption, nepotism, and propaganda by a man who heroically fought the first independence battle to liberate Zimbabwe only to enslave it in the course of 37 years.
Like a thunder, the “I, Robert Mugabe, formally resign as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe”, read in your parliament, resonated all over the country. The old lion has finally fallen. The “Comrade Bob” has vanished from the political scenes. Mugabe thought, like any other dictator, that only the unavoidable death would terminate his reign; only when “God says come” would he step down. In fact, the common feature with all dictators of all times is a paradox that has always hunted them: the (un)conscious belief of their ever-lasting rule and their simultaneous fear of an expected end of it. To satisfy the one and mitigate the other, they must be unpardonably brutal, ruthless, and merciless; they must increase their police force, raise a standing army against their own people. The longer they live, however, the more monstrous they become; each passing minute constantly reminds them of their immediate end. They grow distrustful to all—children, wife, brothers, and sisters; and become as powerful as solitary.
The second and present efforts to free the country was even more strenuous since Mugabe had the army and the police at his service. For too long, he has been their protégé. The reasons for them to turn against him today are all too well-known to you for me repeat or explain to you what you already know even far better than I do myself. The struggle was even more strenuous since Mugabe and his acolytes have spectacularly and dramatically failed to induce economic development, prosperity, and social well-being for nearly four decades in power. 37 lost years; you may justifiably conclude. His lack of clear as well as sound policies was compounded by various economic sanctions, which further isolated his geo-strategically not-so-meaningful country. The long wait and the unexpectedness with which it has finally happened could be imagined, felt, seen, and experienced. No wonder that the streets of Harare were filled with crowds chanting with delight. Their illuminating faces, like the sunny summer-days, were accompanied by “we’re very happy”, “we could not believe it at first”, “it seems like in a dream”. And so on and so forth. Their former despairs have vanished with Mugabe, and their hope for a new dawn regained.
Mugabe is not the first, nor will he be the last, dictator, authoritarian, despot (you name it!) to fall. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Mohammad Kaddafi, Blaise Compaoré, Yahiya Jammer—and the list is limitless—were first thought unshakable before their unexpected falls in different times of history and under various historical circumstances.
I said, from the outset, I’m reservedly happy for you, for your nation, and for the whole Africa that at least one political dinosaur has been eliminated from the African political scene. Yet, I’m equally reserved for the very reason that this ‘spring’ of hope can easily turn into a long ‘winter’ of despair.
With Mugabe gone, you Zimbabweans people are at a crossroads with only two choices on the table. Your first choice: You could do nothing by just contenting yourselves with the present situation and by chanting and dancing on the streets without pushing for a real change for your own good. With this choice, one of these two things will certainly happen: 1)—the military, now having turned their back on Mugabe after so many years, will unanimously choose a puppet president to serve them and not you the people—should this happen, you will soon find yourselves anew deep into the ocean of despair, hopelessness and helplessness; or 2)—the military, having unanimously thrown Mugabe out, will fail to agree on what to make of the post-Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, whereby the different fractions (of which you are better knowledgeable) within the military in line with their respective politicians will strive to eliminate one another. That seemingly internal struggle, however, will not spare you any more than a sinking boat would spare its paraphernalia.
Your second choice—and I need hardly demonstrate that it is the wisest, the best for you the people and for the country: as joyfully as you express your understandable delight for the fall of your political dinosaur, you may also choose to seize this opportunity to push for a real change with a free, fair, and transparent election; only then could you ensure that the government will-be is accountable, responsible, transparent, respectable to your rights and basic needs and dignity. You must never forget that the military and police forces you seem to felicitate were the same forces Mugabe used to brutalize, torture, and even kill you, your compatriots or relatives, and that nothing would prevent them from doing so again should they succeed in choosing a president for you at their mercy. You must never forget that the fall of Mugabe was a somewhat political coup de grâce. At the age of 93, what could be a better gift than to be offered a retirement? Nor should you forget the military’s claim that their intervention is to restore ‘legacy’ with brutality and disregard of basics human rights.
“It is my feeling” says Rabelais, “that Time ripens all things; with Time all things are revealed; Time is the father of truth.” Only time would be the best judge of any human action. And in the course of time the world will judge and condemn you or felicitate you for what you are to make of the present situation in your country. Do know, and always keep in mind, that the world is watching!
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