If you can bomb Africa to enforce good governance, why spare the US
Posted Thursday, September 24 2009 at 18:26
- Reacting to Prof Paul Collier’s book that patronises ‘unsuccessful’ Sub Saharan states and others, researcher MUTUMA RUTEERE rejects its imperialistic tone, noting that Africa has handled its governance and security problems well
Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford University, has written a troubling book. Wars, Guns & Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places is troubling because it takes to a new extreme some of the ideas that have steadily gained currency in international development and humanitarian discussions on Africa and the developing world.
Collier’s focus is what he calls the countries of “bottom billion”, largely Sub-Saharan Africa and some Asia countries. His argument is that these countries are structurally insecure and structurally unaccountable. These post-colonial countries, lack social cohesion as they are too large to be nations and are too small to efficiently produce basic goods such as security that are the responsibility of states.
In Collier’s view, the experimentation with democracy in these countries has failed. Elections that the “international community” has assiduously promoted have merely driven these countries to a cul-de-sac from which they cannot extricate themselves.
Collier’s prescription is therefore simple: the international community has to step in and take on the burden of providing and guaranteeing security for these countries. The international community can do this by investing more in international peacekeeping and intervening militarily. He concludes that military coups should also be encouraged against leaders who steal elections and jeopardise democracy.
Collier’s book is important for several reasons. First, its author is a highly regarded international expert on development who is regularly called upon to advise international multilateral institutions that support African development. He his also a professor of economics at Oxford University and the Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies, where he is producing the next generation of experts for Western foreign ministries and for international organisations. What he therefore proposes will come to influence events and policies in developing world.
Second, it is important to address the arguments raised by Collier because they are part of a set of influential ideas on the question of the use of military force by the West for humanitarian purposes in the non-Western world. Because bad ideas have the tendency of contaminating good ones faster than the good ones can cleanse the bad, it is important that we inoculate the good by robustly confronting the bad.
In 2000, a Canadian government-led initiative constituted the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty to examine the dilemma posed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on international response to systematic and widespread human rights violations in the face of state sovereignty.
The commission coined and popularised the idea of “Responsibility to Protect.” In its argument, sovereign states have the primary responsibility to protect their citizens against catastrophe. In the event they are unable or unwilling to do so, the community of states has the responsibility to provide that protection.
Most policy and international affairs experts understood that argument to apply to contexts of mass slaughter or genocide, similar to what happened in Rwanda in 1994. In practice however, the appetite for the use of Western military force to “do good” in the developing world has been growing with new grounds for “humanitarian intervention” being promoted in policy think tanks and academic circles.
NGOs no longer neutral
What has come to be known as “humanitarian intervention” gained ascendancy in policy and academia in the West following Nato’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999. The failure of the international community to act decisively to prevent the Rwanda genocide in 1994 has also heavily influenced the discussion surrounding the use of military force to “rescue strangers” faced with the peril of genocide or mass slaughter.
Couched in the language of morality and ethics, this new form of humanitarianism rejects any suggestion that it is imperialistic. Writing in the current issue of the Boston Review, Paul Collier has sharply rejected the criticism by fellow economist William Easterly of New York University that his advocacy for military intervention in poor countries is not even “neo-colonialism” but full blown and old-fashioned “colonialism”.
By speaking in the name of universal humanity, this military humanitarianism has allowed humanitarian and human rights actors, development experts and even old-fashioned empire builders to find common cause in the use of weapons in “rescuing” others.
Where in the past, the humanitarian movement stressed its neutrality in contexts of armed conflicts, certain sections of the humanitarianism movement now advocate the use of military force in the name of humanity. In fact the earliest advocate of an international “right to intervene” is Bernard Kouchner, the founder of the charity, Medicines sans Frontieres, who is currently the French Foreign Minister.
However, the humanitarian justification advanced by scholars like Paul Collier is not necessarily accepted in those countries where military interventions take place. Certainly it was not accepted in Iraq. As a result, the United Nations, which was seen as legitimising the US military intervention, was attacked in 2003 and its representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello killed.
The International Committee of the Red Cross -ICRC, universally known as the very symbol of humanitarian neutrality was also attacked in Iraq in 2003. In his book, The Humanitarians, David Forsythe, a leading expert on the ICRC has pointed out that the ICRC was well known in Iraq, having operated in the country since the days of Iran-Iraq war.
The reason, the ICRC was targeted this time, is because it was no longer seen as neutral-the consequence of the erosion of the idea of neutral humanitarians. Conor Foley, writing in the Guardian in May 2004, has noted that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, “the humanitarian emblems” designed to protect NGOs and other humanitarian actors, “now identify them as legitimate targets.” Those who attacked the humanitarian agencies and the United Nations saw them as extensions of the American military mission.
At the onset of the war in Afghanistan, the US Secretary of State Collin Powell was clear that he regarded NGOs as subcontractors to the US mission noting that “NGOs are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team ... [we are ] all committed to the same, singular purpose to help humankind....”