05 Aug 2013
August 5, 2013

Africans: the low-hanging fruit


Who’s the worst dictator in the world?  Well, according to Forbes magazine and a fair proportion of ‘commentators’, it’s this African bloke who leads a small African state which has just conducted largely peaceful elections and whose administration was preceded by a whites-only government.

Where are all the war criminals in this world? That’s easy. The International Criminal Court has indicted 30 people and they’re all Africans, so that’s pretty clear-cut.

What about the world’s most despotic regime? According to one of the world’s largest and highest-profile human rights NGOs, that’ll be tiny Rwanda.

Now, imagine a part of the world where pretty much all of the countries are democracies of some sort, and almost all are members of a regional alliance which polices its own security problems and monitors all elections. Imagine that former heads of state with solid constitutional records lead such monitoring missions and make their best judgement on how elections have gone.  Imagine that their judgements stress above all other things the lack of violence and mayhem. Sounds good? Maybe –  unless it’s Africa and the African Union we’re talking about. Because we can’t trust Africans’ judgement on that stuff, right?

I’m a big fan of democracy, although I notice that under 15% of UN member-states are considered by the highly respected Economist Intelligence Unit to be ‘full democracies’.  Most of those countries farthest from democracy, including the world’s largest and many of the world’s richest per capita, are a long way from Africa too. Conversely, most African states have made remarkable progress towards democracy in a tenth of the time it took countries like the UK.

I’m a big fan of human rights, but if I wanted to flag the most serious abuses I wouldn’t be concentrating my fire on a little Rwanda, which has since 1994 made greater strides in social development than any other country on the planet.

So here’s a thought. The rise of African nationalism at present, with its potentially very negative consequences for us in the UK, is coming about in large part because most Africans in Africa are getting pretty fed up with being the easy target of our virulent, un-ending criticism; irked by our claim that our values are manifestly superior to theirs; annoyed that we feel we can pick-and-choose their leaders, even.

Is it just possible that we might cut the African leaders some slack? Recognise the scale of their task? Put aside our fear of more strategically important parts of the world? Cut the hypocrisy we conveniently ignore because some targets outside Africa are just too difficult?

We’re far too wedded to the imperative of making ourselves feel virtuous by attacking flaws in poor African states while largely avoiding the big boys who can give us a kicking in one way or another.

So, Africans and pan-african nationalism? You’re damn right.