What is SA doing in CAR?

2013-03-26 00:00

OVER the weekend, the government of Francois Bozize in the Central African Republic (CAR) fell to Seleka rebels, casting a dark cloud over Africa in the year of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.

SA soldiers in CAR have also been caught up in conflict, with 13 killed and 27 injured, because rebels see them as protecting Bozize. We have to wonder if the cause for which they were in Bangui last week was worth their deaths. Was it transformation of CAR?

This coup is indicative of a deeper malaise forestalling the renaissance of Africa. This is chiefly the failure of the post-colonial state to achieve full statehood and popular governance. It is repressive and feared. It is not founded on the logic of liberation, which is about development and economic self-reliance, but on the colonial logic of dependence and imported development ideas and plans.

The problem is that many of these states are not viable and their borders make no sense. They are inherited colonial states that were arbitrarily created by European powers at the Berlin conference in 1885 to manage the pillaging of Africa’s raw materials and provide cheap labour. They were badly demarcated, butchering pre-existing notions of statehood. As liberation struggles intensified, these instruments of exploitation and oppression were handed over to African leaders, a poisoned chalice that African nationalists interested in state power simply inherited and preserved.

CAR is a landlocked state of just over four million people on the Ubangi River basin in Central Africa, carved by the French out of a much bigger Nilo-Saharan political community of people. The remaining part of this community is spread between four other unviable states — Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo Republic. Most of these states have remained clientele states of external powers on which they depend for trade, investment and even budget support, in some cases. Some are forced into dependence, but many willingly submit to external control.

Most of these regimes are too weak to withstand a rebellion. Governments typically exist in capital cities, leaving large swathes of territories ungoverned, providing breeding grounds for rebellions. Since independence from France in 1960, CAR has had many dictatorships strong enough to oppress citizens, but too weak to change lives for the better.

A concoction of solutions sought, especially in the past 20 years — a western-style democracy, constitutional reform, coalition governments and national unity governments — have failed to stabilise CAR. I propose that the reason for this is that all these measures assume that CAR exists as a nation state and so seeks to legitimise an artificial creation of the Berlin conference. The people of CAR have not been enlisted to help imagine a new country.

The national political leadership in general is short-sighted and self-interested. They perpetuate the colonial logic: muzzle the people and limit democracy to enable the primitive extraction of wealth for the benefit of external actors and the small national elite. So, although the country is rich in agricultural products and diamonds, the people are very poor and the economy remains an enclave for extraction. This rich country depends on donor countries for its development efforts.

Here is, therefore, not a poverty of resource deprivation, but a poverty of imagination and vision, a deficit of leadership.

The pursuit of African renaissance, from the Lagos Plan of Action of 1980 through the Abuja Treaty of 1991 to Nepad in 2003, has failed.

Whatever is done to deal with the crisis in CAR, including stationing peacekeeping troops, will likely be temporary solutions if it does not include fundamental transformation of statehood, leadership and citizenship in these countries. Agreements and governments of national unity work only where institutions and elite are developmental and people-oriented.

The only justification for our soldiers to be in the CAR should be to support an endogenous transformation of the political economy to serve the citizens. Working with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa must push for a radical embrace of African renaissance now.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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