If You Want Regional Security in Africa Then Support Better Governance
Chatham House has decided to invite President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo for a discussion on Togo’s role in regional security in West Africa. The invitation has rightfully sparked a backlash from activists who are condemning the fact that an institution which presents itself as a serious policy institute would extend an invitation to such a brutal and corrupt dictator. Not only is this hypocritical on the part of Chatham House, but it also defeats the purpose of what the discussion is meant to be about. The greatest security threat in Africa are ineffective leaders like Faure and other ineffective African leaders that receive the backing of Western institutions and Western governments, so if Chatham House is serious about regional security it should join the Togolese people in demanding the Faure resign from power because he has been the greatest security threat to the safety and well-being of the people of Togo.
Faure Gnassingbé has managed to successfully brand himself as an African president who is concerned about regional security and the fight against terror in Africa — all while terrorizing his own people. The government of Togo has even gone so far as to label the pro-democracy activists as being terrorists who are trying to destabilize the country. The regime’s logic seems to be that it must brutalize and kill the citizens of Togo in order to protect the citizens of Togo, and Western nations go along with this and support this backwards logic.
Apart from Togo, much of the security problems in Africa are related to the issue of poor governance and rather than help solve this issue, Western governments contribute to the problem by supporting these regimes. In many cases, the security problems experienced by African nations are also directly related to the fact that Western governments have destabilized countries across the African continent. Nowhere is this truer than in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the nation’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated in a Western supported coup. Since then the Congo has been governed by corrupt and dictatorial governments which have overseen the plundered of the Congo’s resources, as well as rebel violence targeted against civilian populations.
The instability in the Congo has also been exacerbated by the involvement of neighboring Rwanda, which is being led by Paul Kagame. Kagame has maintained a close relationship with Western governments, including the United States which has tried shield Kagame against accusations of committing human rights abuses in the Congo. Eventually the evidence of Kagame’s abuses in the Congo became too much for even the United States to ignore and military aid to Rwanda was cut, but by this point the damage to the Congo was already done.
In Mali thousands of people protested against the inaction of the government following the massacre of 160 people. Not only is the problem of religious extremism in Mali exacerbated by the lack of action on the part of the government, but the government’s ineffectiveness has helped to turn some of the Malian citizens towards extremism. Corinne Dufka, the Director of Human Rights Watch in West Africa, noted that the Islamic extremists in Mali exploit grievances with the government on the part of frustrated citizens. The Fulani people have long felt marginalized by the government and some are turning to extremism to make their voices heard.
Mali is one of the many African nations that have struggled with political instability and dictatorship. Modibo Keita, the first president of Mali, was overthrown in 1968. Moussa Traoré took power and remained in power until he was himself overthrown in 1991. Traoré’s regime in Mali was used in an attempt to destabilize Thomas Sankara’s government in 1985 when the Malian government (with French support) launched an attack against Burkina Faso, which was repelled. In a show of solidarity with the people of Mali, Sankara released the Malians prisoners who were captured in the conflict. Sankara urged his people to “make an effort to surmount feelings of hate, rejection, and hostility toward the Malian people.” Sankara recognized the invasion was merely a French plot to sow division between Mali and Burkina Faso in an attempt to destabilize Burkina Faso.
Some Western political pundits like Bill Maher have often simplified the issue of Boko Haram in Nigeria as being yet another case of Islamic extremism, but the roots of the crisis are much deeper than just being a religious conflict. During the days when Nigeria was a British colony, the Muslim population in the north was marginalized, whereas the southern part of Nigeria was given more attention and development by the British. This pattern of neglect continued after Nigeria received its independence. Long before Boko Haram emerged, there was Mohammed Marwa. Marwa was an Islamic religious leader who attracted a large following by appealing to dissatisfaction that many northern Nigerians felt towards the government. Therefore, Boko Haram can be understood as an extreme response to decades of neglect. The Nigerian government itself has been very ineffective at handling the crisis. In 2015 president Muhammadu Buhari declared that Boko Haram was “technically defeated”. Since then Boko Haram has continued to launch violent attacks, killing Nigerian civilians. Buhari’s predecessor Goodluck Jonathan has also been accused of not doing enough to address the Boko Haram rebels. Boko Haram is the result of decades of poor governance in Nigeria and this is a problem that Western corporations have contributed to by supporting prior military dictatorships in Nigeria.
The ongoing crisis in Cameroon is the product of decades of ineffective governance, which has been overseen by one of Africa’s oldest dictators, as well as years of the English speaking regions of Cameroon being marginalized and neglected. Western governments moved very slowly to act in Cameroon. The United States announced earlier this year that some military assistance to Cameroon was being cut over the abuses on the part of government forces, which has included murdering a mother and her baby. Paul Biya has overseen what has been described as genocide in Cameroon. Despite this, the United States congratulated Biya on his re-election last year, knowing full-well that these abuses were occurring.
In Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front turned to extreme violence in response to the corruption and ineffectiveness of the ruling government in Sierra Leone. During the civil war, which lasted from 1991 until 2002, RUF rebels murdered, tortured, and raped civilians as part of their war against the government. The war was further fueled by the fact that Western companies purchased diamonds which were supplied by the RUF rebels through the use of slave labor. The money from these diamonds allowed the RUF rebels to finance their war efforts. So this is yet another case of a crisis in Africa which was fueled by a combination of poor governance and Western interference. This has been the general pattern wherever there has been unrest and political crisis in Africa.
Returning to the original topic of Togo, if Chatham House and other institutions are serious about regional security in Africa then they should support better governance, and stop supporting these corrupt regimes which are truly responsible for all of the unrest and instability across the African continent.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.