Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beware of the crocodiles in Africa

All Indian eyes are on Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh –- as if he fills the whole of Africa with his towering presence. But Africa is a huge continent and no one can be the monarch of all he surveys. The distance between Addis Ababa in the heart of Africa and Abidjan on the west coast alone makes about 7000 kilometers, which is twice the travel route from Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram. Africa could contain quite a few colonial powers at the same time in the 19th and 20th centuries – Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Holland.

But Dr. Singh has no pretensions. To borrow an expression from an Indian official accompanying Dr. Singh, there is “enough space” for many outside powers to simultaneously pursue their agenda in Africa. While Dr. Singh’s prime ministerial aircraft was descending on Addis, another distinguished visitor was taking off from Abidjan – French president Nikolas Sarkozy. Their missions present a study in contrast and give a timely warning to the Indian policymaker. Sarkozy went as a conquering hero who deployed French forces to effect a transfer of power in Cote d’Ivoire. What an irony -- military power to enforce the outcome of a democratic election! Dr. Singh, on the contrary, arrived in Addis showering petals of goodwill in a continent where Gandhiji understood the magical powers of non-violence.

To go back to the Indian official, what he said is absolutely true “The West is setting up Africa as a zone of contention. They want to pit India against China. They want us to be at each other’s throat. But this is not the 1885 Congress of Berlin where European powers decided to scramble for African resources.” From the tenor of his intellect, one can identify the Indian diplomat as someone with a scholarly sense of modern history. The point is, history never quite ended in Africa with the national liberation struggles of the 1950s. The flow of history merely got punctuated and the struggle for outside domination merely took new forms as Cold War picked up. The rivalries somewhat eased when the bipolar world gave way. A respite followed but in retrospect it hardly lasted for a couple of decades.
What should really worry India is that if the push comes to a shove, the West may use military power to assert its prerogatives. Libya is an unfolding scenario. The African swamp is full of crocodiles, indeed. Sarkozy was fairly explicit that the West will not hesitate to interfere in Africa’s internal affairs if its interests are in jeopardy. Sarkozy’s vision is diametrically opposite India’s. A pattern is emerging. In the Middle East and Africa, through the Cold War era, the West gave an ideological veneer to its agenda of dominance by pitting communism as the antithesis. Today, what is unfolding is the banner of “democracy” – and in the name of advancing freedom and human rights, the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” is being dusted up. Sarkozy is a no-nonsense type statesman and he bluntly said, “This is the new Africa policy that we shall adopt, and it’s an international policy”. Was he speaking on behalf of Dr. Singh as well? I doubt it. 
M. K. Bhadrakumar in Diplomatic Perspective. More Here

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