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The futility and dangers of a NATO-installed regime in Libya

This is not to say that foreign support is bad per se. However, such support must be minimal, aimed at building the capacity of local actors to prosecute the war on their own. Rebels should be willing to pay the price of such an undertaking. They must be the drivers. They must demonstrate they can mobilise resources, build an organisation and inspire people. They must also demonstrate a willingness to pay the price of freedom. Many have already done part of this, and they should be given space to build that capacity over a period of time. The form of support by NATO today is decisive; it will decide who wins and who loses.

Besides, NATO is setting a standard for how Gaddafi should behave towards rebels that goes against its own practice. For example, US bombing raids have been killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan for nine year. US troops have been partly responsible for the death of many innocent civilians in Iraq. All that former US secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, had to say about this was that “stuff happens.” Why is it that when the same crime is committed by NATO or the US, it is “collateral damage”; when done by Gaddafi, it is called mass slaughter of the innocents?

It seems therefore that the wider concept of international criminal justice and its body, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is merely an instrument for western powers to impose their wishes on leaders in poor countries. Yet the problem is not merely the targeting of leaders of poor countries who commit atrocities. Rather it focuses on those leaders who commit crimes and also threaten the interests of the western powers. There seems to be an attempt by the western powers to regain control over the management of affairs of poor countries that was lost through decolonisation.

Africa is coming under increasing pressure to surrender key decision making powers to the international community, the west. Today, international financial institutions like IMF and World Bank, international human rights groups, the global humanitarian effort to fight poverty and impunity in poor countries are trying to wrestle control of the management of African affairs from African decisions makers to themselves. The most effective instrument of this process, however, is intellectual; because elites in poor countries actually see these trends as legitimate. This movement is driven by a discourse on democracy and human rights that is actually disarticulated from the peculiar challenges our nations face.

Many of the criticisms raised by the international community in advancing the cause of Western control over our affairs are often correct. They also resonate with public opinion among a section of elites in our countries. However, my issue is not with the analysis of the problems but the solutions suggested. Many elites in Africa are frustrated by the forms of corruption, nepotism and incompetence of our rulers. But this frustration should not lead us to believe that external interventions are the solution, however well intentioned. Indeed, it is wrong to let one’s frustrations guide their vision. Not every/any alternative is better.

Thus, across a broad spectrum of our lives, someone else is claiming to be acting on our behalf and for our own good; our role is to be spectators. The people of Libya are protected by NATO, the hungry in Ethiopia are fed by World Food Programme, the sick in Congo are treated by Doctors Without Borders, Ivory Coast is liberated by French Special Forces, war in Sierra Leone is ended by British troops, Liberia is held together by US marines, at G8 summits it is Bono who represents the views of the poor.

In every effort aimed at our emancipation, someone else is doing it for us, on our behalf. We are victims to be “helped”; our role is to be passive spectators not active participants in efforts aimed at our own liberation. What we get are not hard won rights of a self determined people; it is charity from a caring and benevolent international community, the western world. So groups of activists have assembled on almost every single issue that affects our lives. They raise money, organise campaigns, speak on television, write in newspapers, organise seminars and lobby their parliaments in our name.

Yet this trend is not new. In the 19th century many high minded Europeans argued that colonialism was necessary to liberate us from the tyranny of our customs and the despotism of our chiefs. These were genuine ills in our societies and many African elites like Sir. Apollo Kagwa and Semei Kakungulu in Uganda joined the British to promote the colonial project. Colonialism was also meant to promote commerce, Christianity and civilisation but what we got was a regime of racial discrimination, exploitation and injustice.

Today, the situation is not very different. Every day I am watching on television Europeans and Americans discussing the liberation of Libya, not Libyans. I read newspaper articles written by the same people about freedom and democracy in Libya. The voice of Libyans is missing in this debate about their destiny, their future.

The lesson we learnt from colonialism was that although we face fundamental internal problems, foreigners are ill equipped to liberate us regardless of the nobility of their intentions. We need space to shape our destiny not because foreigners are bad but because they cannot understand the complexity of our problems. The problems our countries face are much more complex to be solved by a single stroke of removing one leader. We have seen many changes of government in Africa with little change in governance. Many tyrants have gone and worse have come into their stead.

amwenda@independent.co.ug

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