Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Sunday, June 3

Blair's legacy in Africa

A piece in this weekend’s Economist examines Tony Blair’s legacy with regard to Africa. Politically, Africa has been good for Blair, but how good has he been for Africa? This past week, in the waning days of his tenure as prime minister, Blair took a tour of the continent—to Libya, Sierra Leone, and South Africa—“in an attempt, perhaps, to remind people that there is more to his legacy than Iraq.”

Blair’s stubbornness on Iraq and his relatively enlightened approach to Africa are not so incongruous—indeed, his positions on intervention in the names of democracy and human rights seem among the most consistent in politics. When the British intervened in Sierra Leone in 2000, it was a failed state engulfed in a diamond-fueled conflict, but when Blair visited this week, he saw a country that is peaceful and slowly improving, if still fragile; this presents a marked contrast to the result in Iraq, yet the principles beneath the interventions appear the same.

In his column last month, David Brooks called Blair “the world’s leading anti-Huntingtonian.” “Blair’s decision to support the invasion of Iraq grew out of the essence of who he is,” Brooks wrote; Blair is the face of one pole in the debate over the prospects and possibilities for mending the world’s cultural divides—he, according to Brooks, represents those who believe “the process of globalization compels us to be interdependent, and that the world will flourish only if the international community enforces shared, universal values.”

“Globalisation is a fact,” Blair posited in 2006. “But the values that govern it are a choice. ... It is our task to fashion an international community that both embodies and acts in pursuit of the values we believe in: liberty, democracy, tolerance, and justice. ... The rule book of international politics has been torn up.” Yet, while Blair has often followed his words with actions, the results have not always matched the rhetoric. In contrast to the apparent success in Sierra Leone, is the failure to rally African opposition to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. “Zimbabwe’s neighbours have preferred the solidarity of the liberation struggle against what they still tout as white imperialism. Zimbabwe is one case where Mr Blair’s brand of easy Western morality has come up short against the realities of African big-man politics.”

Other outcomes have proved mixed. Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi was on Blair’s Commission for Africa, but more recently he presided over flawed and violent elections. And though Sudan acquiesced to a U.S.- and British-backed peace deal for the south in 2004, President Bashir has remained obstinate on the issue of U.N. intervention in Darfur.

On Blair’s end, though, the results have been rosier. “New Labour’s technocratic approach at home never satisfied the old yearning to build a New Jerusalem that lurks in the breast of every Labour activist. Africa gave them a ‘great cause’ to rally round, and helped Mr Blair through some of his worst patches over Iraq. Furthermore, scaling up [foreign aid] and debt relief are among the few issues on which Mr Blair and his successor, Gordon Brown, are in absolute harmony.”

The Economist concludes that, tacked onto the successes Blair has seen, such as in Sierra Leone and in the bargain with Muammar Qaddafi to resume diplomatic ties in exchange for Libya’s abandonment of its nuclear program, “if all the ‘scaling up’ of aid agreed at G8 summits does eventually help to reduce poverty and disease on the continent, Mr Blair’s African legacy might yet turn out to have been important.” But that’s a big “if.”

For Brooks, the question that will determine Blair’s legacy is: “Is this human community real?” “Over the past three years, people on the left and right have moved away from Blair and toward Huntington. There has been a sharp rise in the number of people who think it’s insane to try to export our values into alien cultures. Instead of emphasizing our common community, people are more likely to emphasize the distances and conflicts between cultures.”

But perhaps there’s a third pole that rejects Huntington’s end, but differs from Blair on the means. The Blairite and Huntingtonian camps offer a contrast in weltanschauung, but both push a one-size-fits-all, sweeping generality with their attitudes toward globalization—cultural barriers are either insurmountable or readily dissolvable. And this lack of nuance has real implications. In the scaling-up of foreign aid, as we have seen in the invasion of Iraq, if we ignore the details and the context, no amount of idealism can produce positive results. But this still doesn’t imply futility.

Tony Blair’s record in Africa and beyond demonstrates exactly this—solid principles can still lead to a mixed bag of outcomes, depending on the realities on the ground and the way we approach them. While Blair may be, eventually, lauded for championing an augmentation in aid or laughed at for standing by Bush on Iraq, this will be determined less by the principle that liberty can be bruit about the world than by the way we enact that doctrine.

Globalization is a fact. And liberty, tolerance, democracy, and justice are all as attainable as they are essential. But, while they may be exportable, they are not imposable. Blair’s geopolitical failures are not a knock on his vision but on his method; in intervention of any sort—be it military, economic, or political—process counts.

Iraq and Africa are very much related, and it would be unforgivable if we failed to cull from the disaster in the former lessons for our approaches to peacekeeping, development, and diplomacy in the latter. The moral of the story in Iraq, and the maxim we ought to apply in Africa, is that, while our ideals may be grand, our methods mustn’t be grandiose. That should be Blair’s legacy.

2 comments:

Caitlin said...

Tony Blair is apparently still popular in Sierra Leone. One Sierra Leonean, Augustus Kamara, was so grateful to Blair for deploying soldiers to stop the fighting in Freetown that he named his son Tony Blair Kamara after the prime minister. Augustus Kamara told the Telegraph, “That powerful British leader saved our country. Even before the baby was born and my wife was still pregnant, I decided: ‘I will call him or her Tony Blair.'”

Aaron mentions that Sierra Leone is, “peaceful and slowly improving, if still fragile.” But how is Sierra Leone doing politically? Despite the recent flurry of optimistic reviews of Sierra Leone accompanying assessments of Blair’s legacy, democracy is still budding amid strong-man politics.

The April issue of Africa Confidential (available online for paying subscribers only) gives a comprehensive portrayal of the political landscape in Sierra Leone. As proper politics resumes, the main issue is President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s management of the post-war transition.

The IMF reports that the economy is growing at 7% (although many people probably don’t feel it); US$ 1.6 billion in debt will be forgiven this year, and government provided electricity is flickering. But many Sierra Leoneans are still dissatisfied with their government. Vice President Solomon Berewa, or Solo B, will lead the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) to elections on July 28. But the aging Solo B and his government are widely accused of corruption; even the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is implicated.

In addition to the SLPP, at least seven other parties, including the Revolutionary United Front Party, the political wing of the former rebel army, will contest the elections in July. Complicating elections is President Kabbah’s plan to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments the same day as presidential and parliamentary elections.

Sierra Leoneon lawyer Peter Tucker drafted the current constitution in 1991 and is now leading the Law Reform Commission that is proposing the package of amendments. One controversial amendment would grant immunity from all criminal charges to presidents and vice presidents. Given that Kabbah is condemned for publicly executing 24 soldiers by firing squad in October 1998, and is accused of diamond smuggling, the immunity amendment could be the cause of urgency for the President.

Head of the National Electoral Commission Christina Thorpe does not want the constitutional referendum to further complicate the organization of elections. Electoral registration finished in April, and only 2.7 million electors were registered out of a population of 5.5 million. Thorpe complained that registration efforts left out women, youth, disabled people, and rural residents.

As each of the three biggest parties, the SLPP, the All People’s Congress (APC) and the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) is sure it will win, the elections in July are sure to be exciting. The extent to which they are fair and peaceful will be a true indicator of Sierra Leone’s progress.

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