By Ahmed Charai / Gatestone Institute
What has just happened in Zimbabwe is merely symptomatic of the state of affairs in the African continent. Robert Mugabe, the “last of the Mohicans” of the wars of independence in Africa, has been shown the door at the age of 93. It was the higher echelons of the military and his own political party that decided they had enough of the “Old Lion”, rather than a popular upheaval. The exit scenario was executed masterfully, without any bloodshed or violence of any kind.
To be sure, the people of Zimbabwe, a country that boasts an 83.6% literacy rate among its adult population, have to be commended for showing a strong sense of civility, to say the least, in the face of this major turning point. They are indeed an exception in Africa.
Press reports highlighted that Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe and the country’s Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa have been arch-rivals in the succession wars over President Robert Mugabe’s position. There was no love lost between them: both have been angling to succeed the President, who has ruled the country for 37 years. It is, however, important to caution anyone who rushes into analyzing what is going on in Zimbabwe solely through this prism.
Zimbabwe’s economy is in tatters. Unemployment stands at a staggering 95%, which must be some kind of world record. High inflation has completely destroyed the country’s monetary system. The state has expropriated private savings and converted them into obligations, against the background of a steep deterioration in the standard of living during the last two years.
The Chinese are the only ones who continue to invest in Zimbabwe; they have pumped in as much as $450 million over the last five years. Some people point to the Chinese as having had a hand in the recent events that rocked the country — a scenario that is highly plausible.
The total failure of Mugabe’s governance could have led the country on the dangerous path of strife and civil war. Nonetheless, the way things have favorably turned out to be begs the question: What should be done in Africa?
The African continent is blessed with an extraordinary potential for development that would benefit the populations as well as the world economy. But for some reason, this dream does not seem to materialize because of strife, a lack of stability, a lack of industrialization and often, in many African countries, corrupt and dismissive governance.
Nikki Haley, the US permanent representative to the UN echoes these problems that keep plaguing Africa:
“What you have to look is these African countries and all countries, if they take care of their people, if they respect the voices of their people then you get true democracy. If they don’t listen to the voices of their people, conflict will erupt. Extremism will happen, and the United States will have to deal with it. This is all about making sure we don’t get to that place.”
The United Nations keeps spending huge amounts of money in many countries for missions supposedly established for peacekeeping. However, the cost-effectiveness of these missions remains to be seen. They have utterly failed to solve any crisis. The UN, which has in some cases managed to assuage the impact of famine, has nevertheless failed to initiate stability and democratic processes in the countries where it has expended human and financial resources.
“The UN’s track record of long-term success is not good. Neither South Sudan nor the DRC has shown any real progress toward political solutions that would stop the violence,” wrote Haley.
Haley’s diagnosis is spot on. But how shall we go about solving these problems?
One of Ambassador Haley’s predecessors at the UN, Ambassador John R. Bolton, has long argued that his country, which automatically funds roughly a quarter of the UN’s annual budget, should instead support it on a voluntary basis: “We would pay only for what we want, and we would insist that we get what we pay for — that is, real performance.”
A military intervention with the aim of circumventing civil wars may be necessary, but without a plan for a political outcome, any intervention is reduced to maintaining rogue leaders and dictators in place.
The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, two countries blessed with natural riches, and South Sudan, a young state reeling under strife and civil war, need not only a peacekeeping force but rather a firm engagement on a path leading to democratic institutions, good governance and development.
For Nikki Haley, “The United States very much sees Africa as a very important part of the world. We see great opportunities in Africa, we see challenges in Africa, but we want to support and help in those situations.”
But for now, there remains the critical issue of the gargantuan budgets of the UN’s peacekeeping missions. We also expect so much more from the United States. Africa, which will have as many as 2.5 billion people by 2050, is fertile ground for terrorism and Chinese soft power.
The stakes in Africa, in terms of security, cannot be higher for the United States. The US is called upon to provide equipment, expertise and training for the local governments. Terrorist activities over almost all of the continent threaten US citizens, personnel and investments. The fact remains that those who decide to join terrorist groups often do it out of despair and lack of alternatives, rather than based on ideological grounds. US investments present the real prospect for creating job opportunities for young people to prevent them from succumbing to the temptations of the merchants of death. The way forward is to piece together a new platform of African consumers of US products and services, and by the same token fend off terrorist groups.
President Trump, during the G-7 summit that took place in Taormina, Italy, rightfully described Africa as a land of opportunity. More than words, Africans are waiting for action from President Trump.
Ahmed Charai, a Moroccan publisher, is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for the National Interest and the Gatestone Institute. Copyrighted material is republished here with the permission of the Gatestone Institute.
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