Role of statecraft in the African Renaissance amidst regime change and ethno-religious insurgency - A West African Case Study
Being a paper delivered by Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, at the 2012 Achebe Colloquium on Africa held at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island USA on Friday December 7, 2012
AFRICA Rising - That is the headline of last week's cover of Time Magazine. It is for me an appropriate place to start my discussion on the theme "Governance, Security and Peace in Africa"; and if I might say so at the onset, it is a somewhat misleading if not patronizing headline.
I say this because, students of world history will know that the story of our planet is one of the rise and fall of civilization and empires.
Civilizations and empires have thrived and floundered on the basis of the challenges of their time, when they peak or fall; and what men or women do or fail to do. And I propose to discuss this in some fuller detail as I deal with the subject of institutions. But I must emphasize that Greece, which is one of the Europe's poorest and highly indebted nations today, was once at the zenith of human civilization.
The heart of the Roman Empire which gave the world one of its most enduring legacies of law, was situated in what is modern day Italy and is currently a struggling economy.
But we have not heard the last of Italy or Greece. In the way that Germany rose from the ruins of two World Wars to become Europe's super power house today, we have seen the renaissance of a Ming Dynasty that took almost 5,000 years to re-discover herself in the renaissance of China.
Africa is not rising; it is experiencing a renaissance again. The sustainability will be determined by what men and women do or fail to do
So contrary to a rising Africa, I see the renaissance of a region that once boasted the amazing engineering feats of the Egyptian pyramids when there were no super cranes and a place where Timbuktu in modern day Mali, was once the place to be for science, mathematics and learning.
Africa is not rising; it is experiencing a renaissance again. The sustainability will be determined by what men and women do or fail to do.
This is the platform from which I propose to address my sub-theme of "Regime Change, Ethno-Religious Insurgency and State-craft in the 21st Century with my focus on West Africa.
Let me start by submitting that I have read enough history and seen a lot of conflict in almost five decades on earth to come to the clear conclusion, that all conflicts are fuelled by the desire for dominance, territorial control, economic benefit for self or allies.
I am convinced that in whatever garment these conflicts are dressed, whether ethnic or religious, those cloaks are only designed to whip up a sense of identity and support towards a cause they often may not understand.
West Africa, as the name suggests is a sub region of Africa that has 16 (sixteen) countries who are independent nations. Collectively they have a population of approximately 300,000,000 (three hundred million)people whose lands are blessed with all types of natural resources such as oil, gas, coffee, cocoa, timber, gold, to mention a few and access to water especially the Atlantic Ocean.
It is important to mention this so that there is clarity about abundance of human and natural resources. Some of the oldest and foremost learning institutions such as the Fourah Bay College and the many learning centres such as in Old Timbuktu are located in this region.
In the last few decades they formed an economic block, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for short, almost like the European Union to deepen economic trade.
But ironically, this region has until recently made global headlines for the wrong reasons. Apart from hunger and poverty experienced by a people so blessed; and I am not happy to say this, peacekeeping operations have consumed several millions of dollars as perhaps the only successes that can come out of a region of such vast resources.
These are peacekeeping missions to end the mindless slaughter of innocent men, women and children who have been victims of mindless orgies of violence in the pursuit of crass and brazen ambition under the guise of attempted governance. Sierra Leone and Liberia once very free, peaceful and historic settlements for their roles in the end of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the redevelopment of the African human capital through education, have lost their innocence forever.
While the healing process and rebuilding continues at a pace that encourages hope, there are scars that will never go away. My own country Nigeria faced a bloody civil war about which I will say a word or two,Ivory Coast was not spared; neither was Ghana, in the mindless toppling of regime after regime in the 1980s and several execution of leaders and the displacement of millions of citizens who became refugees outside their homeland.
Yes, many Ghanaian professionals became shoemakers, drivers, odd job men and women in my own country when I was a teenager because their country failed them. All these are now in the past. The old Gold Coast of Africa is back. The Ashanti Dynasty is not rising. It is experiencing a renaissance. What lies at the heart of all this conflict for me is a difficult question; and from here I have to be careful what I say so that I am not misunderstood.
Before the colonization of Africa in the late 19th Century, many of these nations were several kingdoms with kings and emperors.
We must remember that succession was by conquest and it is possible to rationalize what we have today on that basis. However, it is important to also explain what I think compounds the problem.
A good idea, whose frontiers are being tested to the limit. Liberal Democracy. In my view, there is yet to be a better form of organizing the affairs of a multitude of men than a representative democracy.
My worry is whether an idea conceived by men can last forever. Democracy has survived many ages. The Agrarian Age, the Industrial Age and it has merged with other philosophies like capitalism and moved into the age of information technology and now globalization.
It faces perhaps its biggest threat yet by the effects of technology and globalization which both test the limits of freedom. The success or otherwise of this model of governance has been the Achilles heel of the political stability of West Africa.
It is possible to argue that the African concept of communal existence, sharing and conciliation were shaken to their foundations by the winner takes all that elections produce in a democratic setting. While I may be wrong, and I hope that I am, it is a study that I hope will be undertaken. Those who are products of ancestors who ruled as kings and emperors may seem somewhat perplexed that they cannot share the Court of a successful winner after an election; and must, therefore, accept the economically unrewarding role of opposition, at least until the next elections are called.
Human endeavour and conflict
Really and truly, all human endeavor and conflict about a better life, but the irony is that the concept of a better life is itself amorphous and difficult to define. One might wonder for example why the people of the Western economies with all their infrastructure and progress, which are many miles ahead of what you will find in many parts of Africa are still agitating for a better life.
Happily for me, I am able to say that in spite of the difficulties many parts of West Africa are democratizing and with that, political stability is emerging and we are seeing development. Sierra Leone just conducted peaceful elections for the second time after many years of conflict.
The evidence of political stability stares every person in face as one witnesses the block by block rebuilding of a once peaceful country whose infrastructure was ravaged by conflict induced by regime change.
The question therefore is this:- In the light of the progress being witnessed in many parts of democratizing West Africa, is democracy the answer or the missing link to unlocking the vast opportunities in West Africa. Yes, democracy will, on the basis of the available evidence of what has been done under it, be critical to achieving the goal. On its own, it will not suffice to solve the problem.
In spite of democratic structures in Mali and with only a few months to general elections a few people still ganged up to seize power, with an official statement that they wanted to change things. The question on everyone's lips was: why not wait for the general elections that were so close; to effect the change by the ballot? The answer may be long in coming.