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Mon Nov 24 08:53:25 SAST 2014

We're still a long way from the Africa we want to be

Mondli Makhanya | 28 August, 2011 02:24
Mondli Makhanya
Image by: Sunday Times

Last week Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika fired his entire 42-person cabinet. Without giving any reasons for his action, Mutharika shocked the nation by taking direct control of all ministries until further notice.

This story passed most by because eyes were focused on the Libyan rebels advancing on Tripoli. And, I suppose, because everyone thinks of Malawi as a stretch of land with a famous lake and the place where Madonna goes to fetch babies when she is feeling broody.

The "dissolution" of the cabinet, as Mutharika worded it, came on the heels of turmoil in the country. The conflict has seen many killed and injured in clashes between police and protesters.

A month prior to this - again without explanation - he summarily fired the defence force chief, General Marko Chiziko. Speculation in Malawi political circles is that he fired Chiziko because he refused to use excessive force against the protesters and had even differed with the police's brutal tactics in the crackdown. It is further speculated that Mutharika fired his cabinet because most ministers were opposed to the firing of the defence chief and were resisting his anointing his brother Peter as his preferred successor.

Whatever the reasons, it is one big circus in the country that recently wanted to ban farting in public (a good idea but ...)

The kind of bizarre and erratic behaviour by leaders is the sort of stuff that renders the African continent the butt of international jokes. It is the thing that sees us stuck in a rut and enables others to dictate the continent's direction.

I have listened and watched with great amusement in recent months as African leaders foamed at the mouth about Nato's military operation in Libya. From former president Thabo Mbeki to serving presidents and academics, they condemned the Nato action as undermining Africa's right and ability to find African solutions to African problems.

Mbeki even called on Africans to take to the streets of their capitals to show their anger at Nato. Little did he realise that the people were quite content with watching the action on TV and discussing it over a braai and beer.

Then last month a group of intellectuals and prominent leaders wrote an open letter condemning the actions of the superpowers.

"They have empowered themselves openly to pursue the objective of 'regime change' and therefore the use of force and all other means to overthrow the government of Libya, which objectives are completely at variance with the decisions of the United Nations Security Council," they wrote.

This week they were still at it as the rebel forces took over Tripoli and forced Muammar Gaddafi to flee into hiding.

As this column has stated previously, the ideal situation would indeed be for Africans to find solutions to our own problems. The conditions that necessitate outside interference should not exist because our own multilateral institutions should be able to deal with issues ourselves. But, as we all know, in most cases we can't. When faced with crises, Africa's multilateral institutions dither and vacillate.

The Libyan conflict, over whose spilt milk so many tears are being cried, is a classic case in point.

When the Libyan uprising began, Gaddafi did not hesitate to unleash his security forces on the population. When the uprising turned into a full-blown armed rebellion, he became even more brutal.

Just exactly what African solution would have prevented Gaddafi from butchering his people is a great mystery.

The fact is that the only way the mad man of the Maghreb could have been stopped was through force. The African Union's road map was a noble attempt to deal with the crisis but it was too late, and unrealistic. It assumed the person being dealt with was a normal guy who could be reasoned with and who would accept the outcome of a negotiation that would most likely have seen him cede power and accept democracy in his country.

It was fantasy stuff which hadn't a snowball in hell's chance of succeeding.

For 42 years Gaddafi had run Libya like the lunatic asylum to which he should long since have been committed. Instead of being shunned by the continent, he was applauded and hailed as a hero in many countries. This was because he mouthed empty and angry rhetoric at the West and - more crucially - lined the pockets of Africa's political leaders and royalty.

Those who did not take him seriously simply laughed at him behind his back but gave him the necessary head-of-state dues when in front of him.

No matter how much the opponents of the Nato action shout and scream, we will never get away from the fact that the action was necessary to rid Libya of an evil lunatic.

There will be another Libya some time in the not-too-distant future. The Western powers will march into a country or aid the citizens in removing a despotic government. African leaders and intellectuals will again complain about imperialism.

And this will happen until Africa learns to take herself seriously.

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