The Black Continent has long suffered identically from what the oil-rich countries such as Iran have undergone historically. The pervasiveness of energy resources, minerals, profuse water, oil and gas supplies, gemstones and other precious resources have been the ancient reason for Africa’s subjugation and affliction.
The perennial rivalry of Colonial Powers to gain the ownership of more African lands and properties, their insatiable aptitude to take over tiny African realms and archipelagos and eventually the political failure of unmerited leaders all around the continent could be named the major factors which have been pushing 53 countries and 61 territories to the brink of poverty, conflict and disappointment over the past decades.
Africa is undisputedly an ancient, reputable and prestigious continent which should be taken seriously as a key role-player in international developments. It constitutes 6% of Earth’s total surface, accounts for about 14.8% of the World’s population and has been the passageway between Asia and Europe.
However, the distorted image of Africa as a downtrodden yet profitable and lucrative continent is portrayed by the mass media. The success stories of democratization in a number of African countries, the rise of hopes and aspirations among the youth generation of Africa and the promotion of numerous prominent figures from this advantageous soil are the neglected stories which should be reviewed.
We owe many of our progressions and improvements to the African figures whom we even sometimes forget the nationalities of; notable figures include Nelson Mandela, Fredrik Willem de Klerk, Kofi Annan, Wangari Mathaai, Naguib Mahfouz, and Mohammad ElBaradei.
Alex Matthews is a South African citizen journalist and blogger who has been working on the dossiers of Africa for quite a long time. He is affiliated with his country’s most important newspaper, Mail and Guardian and writes in his blog Afrodissident.
In an interview with Foreign Policy Journal, Matthews talks about the current situation of some insurgent spots of the African continent, the prospect of economic development, the most important sports event of the continent in 2010 and the local failures of states in Zimbabwe and Sudan.
Let’s start with Zimbabwe. The government of Mugabe is under international pressure for what the western states deem his noncompliance with human rights, freedom of press, democracy etc. Of course the inflation rate of Zimbabwe is irrefutable as it passed 250,000,000% last month. What about the people of Zimbabwe themselves? Do they consider their government as unpopular and despicable as the westerners do?
Yes, very much so. The government has been deeply unpopular for a long time now; dissatisfaction gave rise to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change being created in 1999. People were tired of the endemic corruption and failure to deliver that characterized Zanu PF rule. In 2000 Mugabe lost a constitutional reform referendum which would have given him greater power. He retaliated with the invasions of white-owned farms in which special punishment was meted out to thousands of farm laborers.
The MDC would have won the elections in 2000 and 2005 had they been free and fair – unfortunately there was widespread ballot-rigging and intimidation that prevented this.
I have spoken to Zimbabwe refugees in Cape Town as well as to Zimbabweans on my visit to Zimbabwe in January this year and there has been an overwhelming indication that Mugabe and his party is considered corrupt, wicked and evil.
Have you ever conducted any research or written essays on the roots of exceptional inflation in Zimbabwe? What this universal figure of 250,000,000% is the indicator of? Do the people there buy goods and commodities 250,000,000 times more expensive than the real prices thereof?
In fact the inflation is even higher! The reason why it is so incomprehensibly large is simply because whenever the government of Zimbabwe required funds, the Central Bank of Zimbabwe was forced to print more money. This was done more and more as the economy collapsed. The economy was reliant on the agriculture sector for foreign currency but this sector has been decimated as a result of the takeover and destruction of productive white-owned farms. This has been done for some time now and has resulted in the currency being absolutely worthless.
There are severe shortages of everything from food, clean water, medicine, clothes, farm implements and petroleum. The food and goods available are mostly only offered for sale in US dollars; with dollarization, slowly a parallel economy has emerged in which goods and services are paid for in hard currency; namely US dollars, South African Rand and Botswana Pula. People also buy a lot of stuff in neighboring countries and then bring it back home to Zimbabwe.
Because of the shortages which have been caused by a government interference, inflation and general economic collapse, the cost of living in Zimbabwe is extremely high.
Now we go to your home country. The most important sport events will be happening in Africa the next year; FIFA 2010 World Cup. There was some dispersed gossip regarding the replacement of WC host as the South African government could not manage to meet the required criteria for the event in the terms of transportation, accommodation, venues etc. What do you think about that?
Yes, there were those rumors but they have been quashed by FIFA’s head, Sepp Blatter. It is unlikely that FIFA would have made South Africa the host if they did not believe South Africa was able to prepare itself in time. While there have been challenges in preparing for the world cup, the building of the stadiums are on target and infrastructure development is expanding our public transport capacity.
South Africa’s accommodation capacity is quite large; to ensure that there will be enough beds for the spectators, the South African National Parks, the government structure that maintains our national parks, has also been brought on board to provide accommodation in their facilities.
South Africa’s hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup and 2003 Cricket World Cup will also help in providing experience and capacity building. In addition to this, South Africa’s Local Organizing Committee has also been working closely with the German organizers of the 2006 FIFA World Cup to learn and gain knowledge as to the preparations and running of the World Cup here.
The Second Congo War of 2005-2008 where a number of at least 4 million people were killed was actually one of the most voiceless, censored and neglected genocides in the human history, I believe. Why did the mass media fail to put a comprehensive and impartial coverage on the war?
Unfortunately, often the news that is covered is based on the demand for it. Amongst many people there sadly is little interest in the fate of millions of people in the Congo. To put it bluntly, people just don’t care. Partly this is because the Congo situation is so complex and has been going on for so long, so that people have lost interest. News cycles favor simplicity and quickly lose concentration on long-burning, complex conflicts like in the Congo. Remember: this is not a case of a battle between a “good” side versus an “evil” side: rather, it is a situation in which competing factions fight for power and resources, with the civilian population caught in the middle, suffering the most. This complexity is why there has sadly been so little coverage of the conflict in the media.
Fortunately, coverage recently of the conflict has increased considerably and it would appear that Congo is back on the agenda. There has been good reporting from agencies like Reuters and the BBC. Interestingly a photo essay of the Congo conflict was recently published in “Time” magazine.
15 African countries are currently involved in longstanding, erosive wars and conflict over natural resources exploitation is a common factor among all of them. Do you believe in any particular way to end these battles, or at least reduce the civilian casualties in them?
There are no easy solutions to conflicts in Africa but there are certain things that must be done to help to stabilize situations. One such thing is holding leaders accountable for their actions. A lot of the Darfur conflict stems from the oppressive, brutal policies and actions of Sudan’s dictator Omar al-Bashir.
The ICC’s arrest warrant for crimes against humanity sends a strong message that dictators and their ruling parties can no longer continue to foment conflict and inflict suffering on their innocent populations with impunity.
I believe the international community also has a roll to play in facilitating dialogue and promoting conflict resolution and peacekeeping on the continent. This is a vital role that the UN needs to be supported in, both financially and politically, or it will continue to fail Africa’s people as we have seen in Rwanda’s genocide and elsewhere.
The perception created by the international media is that most of Africa is engulfed in conflict, and this perception exists because most news reported from or about Africa is about conflict. Like in rest of the world, normality isn’t newsworthy. But it is also important to remember that there are many countries in Africa that are at peace and are relatively stable. With the exception of Zimbabwe, most Southern African countries are stable and relatively democratic.
In Western Africa there is a more diverse picture; there’s instability in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. Cote d’ Ivoire (Ivory Coast) has also been marred by violence. But then there are success stories: both Liberia and Sierra Leone, which were both caught in vicious civil wars, are now peaceful democracies. Nigeria is the most stable and democratic it has ever been.
In Eastern Africa, Rwanda and Burundi are steadily rebuilding themselves after decades of conflict and Kenya and Tanzania are relatively prosperous and peaceful. Tensions simmer between Ethiopia and its tiny neighbor Eritrea while anarchy reigns in Somalia.
Compared with the current UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the Ghanaian Kofi Annan seemed to be much more decisive, trenchant and unequivocal in his statements, orders and decisions. What do you think?
I think some people have indeed been a disappointed by Ban Ki Moon’s apparent weakness. It is uncertain as to who will replace him and whether the replacement will be an African. If he serves two terms as UNSG then that will still be remain in office for quite a while. So, as yet, his replacement has not really been discussed in the media.
Is the intervention of foreign forces something tormenting and offensive in the view of African people? Do they crave for the involvement of US or other western countries in resolving the current conflicts in the region?
Perceptions around international involvement do vary from conflict to conflict. In 1993 in Somalia the UN forces, led by the Americans, were hated and viciously attacked by certain factions. In sharp contrast is the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the moderates and persecuted Tutsis were crying out for greater involvement from the UN to stop the slaughter of innocent lives.
I think it fair to say that while Africans do not want to be “occupied” or “invaded”, there is a general appreciation of the role the UN and other international bodies play. For those caught in horrifying conflict situations such as the Congo, the UN is regarded as an organization that must provide refuge and protection from the conflict, as well as the basics such as food, water, medicine etc required to survive. Unfortunately, the lack of political and financial support provided to the UN means that UN operations fall far short of these high expectations since they lack the resources and capacity to deliver on them.