We don't take charge in Africa, but get very prickly about those who do
Mondli Makhanya: You've heard this line of argument before. The US always acts in its own interests, and its foreign doctrine is based on ensuring global dominance. Britain's foreign policy is predicated on promoting its interests. France wants to spread its influence and expand its geopolitical lebensraum.
To borrow a term from the youth: duh! (President Jacob Zuma, whose children span several generations of youth, would be familiar with this term.)
Countries, especially powerful ones, ALWAYS act in the interests of increasing their power and influence and prosperity.
Which is why the self-pitying mantras about the West acting in its self-interest by intervening in the conflicts in Libya and the Ivory Coast boggle the mind. Fact is: it is we Africans who have failed to act in our interests time and time again.
With regard to the current high-profile conflicts, African leaders have given Ivory Coast's strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, too much rope. They have betrayed Africa's interests by entertaining his defiance of a democratic process. They have been lethargic in their response to Muammar Gaddafi's slaughtering of his people. By not acting, they opened the door to others to do their work for them.
Africa was initially firm on Gbagbo, taking tentative but tough actions against him and his coterie. It was an admirable stance by a bunch notorious for protecting their own at the expense of the people.
Then the continent's leaders started to vacillate and attempted to find some accommodation between Gbagbo and the legitimate winner, Alassane Ouattara. This process of appeasement, led by Zuma, emboldened Gbagbo and angered the Ivorian people.
With the country gripped by full-blown civil war and Gbagbo sparing neither dog nor human in his quest to remain in power, all that the continent's leaders could do was make silly appeals for calm and quiet and a return to the negotiating table.
It was left to the French, who some accuse of hijacking the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country, to take charge. Cries of imperialism and neo-colonialism reverberated.
The same outcry had greeted the Nato-co-ordinated air strikes over Libya. When Gadaffi went on state television calling on protesters to be lynched and responded to the uprising with brutal force, African leaders issued statements encouraging peace and love, and decided to send a "fact-finding" mission to establish what everyone else already knew: there was death and destruction deluxe in Libya.
Again, African inaction had opened the way for decisive action by Western countries. Curiously, even South Africa, which had backed the UN Security Council resolution authorising the enforcement of the no-fly zone, somersaulted and joined the anti-imperialist toyi-toyi.
If ever there was anything in its foreign policy about which the Zuma administration should hold its head high, it was taking a stand alongside those who were determined to stop the Gadaffi forces' brutal reclamation of lost territory and power. And one day, when an ageing Zuma is sitting on his stoep and playing with his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and newborn children, he should rightly look on that decision as one of the proudest moments of his tenure.
Someone who knows the price of lethargy by the international community is Rwandan President Paul Kagame. In an opinion piece penned in the wake of Libyan air strikes, Kagame bemoaned the "slow" response of the African Union to crises and endorsed the actions of the Western powers in that country.
"No country knows better than my own the costs of the international community failing to intervene to prevent a state killing its own people. In the course of 100 days in 1994, a million Rwandans were killed by government-backed 'genocidaires', and the world did nothing to stop them .... So it is encouraging that members of the international community appear to have learnt the lessons of that failure."
Yes, powerful nations will be guided by national interest when they intervene in conflicts abroad. If we wish to call it imperialism, colonialism or whatever, we must be cognisant that world powers will not spend trillions on conflicts in obscure locales if there isn't some benefit at the end. That's how the world has always worked and will always work.
The question Africa should be asking right now is: beyond being averse to Western intervention, how can the tools and instruments available to the AU and regional bodies be used quickly and effectively to stop the continent's bad men from visiting evil on their citizens? Should others sit idly by and watch Africans get slaughtered while our leaders deliberate on African solutions?
Only when we have answered that question and acted on the answer will we earn the right to tell others to butt out of our affairs.