On September 27th, Centre for Conflict Resolution’s Dr. Adekeye Adebajo wrote a critical appraisal of former President Mbeki’s article: “The African Union at 10 years old: A Dream Deferred” which appeared in last month’s edition of The Thinker magazine.
The response, entitled: “Is Mbeki correct to declare the AU a failure?” and published in the Business Day, argues that the former President’s critique of the African Union is “akin to infanticide”, presumably the murder by Mbeki of his own child.
To support this conclusion, Dr. Adebajo also makes some startling arguments, among them that:
(a) Mbeki must accept some of the responsibility for the AU’s failures he has identified since he was President of South Africa for six of the 10 years of the AU’s existence;
(b) “Many of the rent-seeking leaders Mbeki condemns were allies with whom he worked closely;
(c) “The western governments he criticises as “neocolonial” were the same governments he went to year after year at annual summits of the Group of Eight industrialised countries to seek increased economic assistance and military support for Africa, which never arrived;”
(d) As President of South Africa, Mbeki did much damage to its credibility of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM);
(e) Mbeki’s criticisms of western intervention in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya are questionable since it was largely held that President Laurent Gbagbo had lost the November 2010 Presidential elections and there were, with regard to Libya, “no clear positions being communicated to African missions in New York from the AU Commission in Addis Ababa;” and,
(f) Mbeki’s “curious post presidential “radicalism” sometimes seems little more than a useful stick with which to beat his presidential successor,” i.e. President Jacob Zuma.
Firstly, we should accept that former President Mbeki’s assessment and conclusions of the first decade of the AU might well be wrong, and as a result, can and should be challenged including by ‘public intellectuals’ such as Dr. Adebajo.
Contrary to what Dr. Adebajo suggests, one can find no evidence that Mbeki sought to distance himself in any way from blame about the weaknesses and mistakes of the AU during the period when he served as President of South Africa.
Proceeding from this assumption, Dr. Adebajo says that Mbeki “would surely have to accept some of the responsibility for the failures he identifies,” as though he has implied or had said anything to the contrary.
As a logical result of this fundamentally wrong assumption, he arrives at the entirely absurd conclusion that what he describes as Mbeki’s “curious post presidential ‘radicalism’”, as he put it, “sometimes seems little more than a useful stick with which to beat his presidential successor.”
One can find no evidence to suggest that when he served as President, Mbeki ever thought that he had the power singly to determine the future of the AU and the fate of our continent.
It follows that Mbeki would never accuse President Zuma of failing to do what he knows he could not do himself. To do so would be to abandon rational thought, to ascribe failures of the AU to a single individual, in this case President Jacob Zuma, thus “to beat his presidential successor.”
Nevertheless, one would like to challenge Dr. Adebajo to cite every instance in which Mbeki has, as he claims, opportunistically used his public commentary to “to beat his presidential successor.”
Dr. Adebajo’s other assertions are similarly difficult to understand. Their intellectual probity would not survive even the most cursory of intellectual peer reviews.
One of these is that as President of South Africa, Mbeki “did much damage to [the] credibility of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).”
One is aware that this assertion has been widely marketed in the media. Frankly, it bears no resemblance to the truth.
When the South African Peer Review was presented to the AU Heads of State and Government Summit in Accra in 2006, the sharpest and most pointed criticisms of the Review were not advanced by Mbeki but by his Peers, the Heads of State and Government, who thought that the Reviewers had, in part, not understood various specifics of South African reality.
These observations were accepted by the Reviewers, led by Professor Adebayo Adedeji.
Both the Peers and the Reviewers accepted that the “criticisms” of the South African Peer Review actually helped to improve rather than weaken the effectiveness of the APRM.
The South African Government accepted the overwhelming majority of the APRM criticisms and recommendations, and presented a detailed programme of action to the Peers to implement the APRM suggestions.
Perhaps the strangest is the suggestion that simply by government taking issue with one or more of its findings would damage the APRM’s credibility.
With regard to the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, Dr. Adebajo is humbly advised to conduct research about that country, the its political and economic relationship with its former (some might say current) colonial master, France in general and during President Laurent Gbagbo’s tenure in particular and as it relates to the November 2010 Presidential elections. It is not enough merely and only to rely on the “feelings” of AU and UN member-states, however many they might be.
One cannot but agree with Mbeki that what should inform Africa’s response to its challenges is a deep and objective understanding of these challenges to enable us as Africans to solve our own problems.
As Africans, we did not do this with regard to Côte d’Ivoire, and will inevitably reap the whirlwind of the permanent instability of this important African country.
Those familiar with the order in which the Libyan events succeeded one another will find it strange that Dr. Adebajo argues that the AU did not communicate “clear positions … to African missions in New York” or, for that matter, a clear plan about the resolution of the conflict in Libya when the UNSC adopted its infamous Resolution 1973.
The argument is entirely false.
It is a manifestation of something deeply corrupt in the conduct of public and intellectual discourse, i.e. the abandonment of publicly available facts in fear to swim against the current of the powerful.
As a result of this, Dr. Adebajo finds nothing wrong with the UNSC/NATO intervention in the African country of Libya, as he believes that the relevant and solemn decisions of the AU Peace and Security Council taken on 10 March 2011, and immediately communicated to the UNSC, an entire week before its adoption of UNSC Resolution 1973 on March 17 2011, had absolutely no meaning!
One does not understand how he could make the bold and entirely false assertion that “no clear (AU) positions (were) communicated to African missions in New York from the AU Commission in Addis Ababa” ahead of the adoption of Resolution 1973, thus to justify both the adoption of this Resolution and its treacherous support by the then three non-permanent African members of the UN Security Council!
Why does Dr. Adebajo elect to market the perpetuation of the continent’s subordinate relations with the rest of the world by enthusiastically twisting publicly available facts?
On the strength of the available information and everything they know about the history of Africa’s relations with the West, many Africans have no hesitation in stating that the West intervened in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya to serve its own interests, with absolutely no regard for the views and interests of the peoples of our continent.
If Dr. Adebajo has any information to the contrary, he should make it available so as to empower all Africans to speak and act in a correct manner.
It may very well be true that while he served as President of South Africa, Mbeki did not do many things which could have served the African objectives for which he argues.
However, even if this is true, this can never mean that because Mbeki made the mistakes which he might have made, this empowers others of our leaders to make the same mistakes.
The young generation of Africans is watching carefully what the generations preceding them will do including correcting the wrongs committed by the Mbeki generation.
What this generation appreciates about what Mbeki wrote in assessing the first decade of the AU is that he did not cover up the faults of his generation, including himself, and has therefore provided it with a clear indication of what needs to be done to ensure that our continent achieves its renaissance during the current century.
It draws inspiration from the statement he made in his article that, “as a matter of fact the (African) Union achieved much during its first ten years.”
In the very last sentence of his article, Dr. Adebajo accuses Mbeki of a false “radicalism” relating to the fundamental socio-economic and political transformation of Africa and its relations with the rest of the world.
Anyone who is familiar with Mbeki’s views, which he has expressed over many decades, would know that any ‘radicalism’ in the article on the AU at 10, if any, is by no means ‘post presidential.’
Mbeki’s public policy comments made over the decades bear remarkable consistency both in the strategic framework and the tactical messages he has communicated publicly.
Whatever ‘radicalism’ Mbeki might have conveyed in The Thinker magazine article is perfectly in keeping with the ‘radicalism’ upheld by the ANC during these decades.
To return to the substance of Mbeki’s concern, it would have done the continent a great deal of good if the July 2011 AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government had taken the trouble to assess and publish a serious agreed document on “The State of the AU and Africa, 10 years after the Establishment of the AU.”
This would have provided us with the broad breath of African views about our immediate past, which would help the entirety of our continent, and the African Diaspora, properly to discuss and chart the way forward regarding the second decade of the AU.
The importance of this challenge will be emphasised by what our continent will have to do during 2013, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity.
Mbeki’s faults notwithstanding, I am certain that Dr. Adebajo and I would be agreed on this.
One therefore looks forward to his own assessment of this half-century as one of our eminent ‘public intellectuals.’ Hopefully such assessment will not seek to reinforce Africa’s current subordinate position in global affairs.
A luta continua! vitória e cérta!