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August 12, 2003

A Place in Line

Alec Russel of the Telegraph is jumping the gun a bit in a recent article, but his article, "Liberia is Freed from Tyranny: When is it Zimbabwe's Turn?," deserves attention and a little applause.

His original premise, that "Liberia is freed from tyranny," seems a bit premature. Certainly, Taylor has stepped down, but the situation is far from resolved, and it is still yet to be seen what the transitional presidency will look like. Yes, as he points out, a despot has been toppled, and for this we should all be thankful. Liberia, though, may or may not be freed from tyranny.

This is the only blemish in what is otherwise a brilliant article calling for African leaders to be more aggressive in dealing with nations like Zimbabwe.

As for Africa, if Mr Mbeki and other leaders want us to believe that a page has been turned, they should now turn their attention to Zimbabwe.

When Mr Mugabe is seen in Harare flanked by his peers and delivering a valedictory speech, we will know Africa really is changing.

Absolutely true. What most of us are wondering is whether the typical political cycle will afflict Liberia wherein one "elected" leader is replaced by another who preaches reconciliation and practices oppression. Corruption is, seemingly, the only political constant throughout much of Africa.

Russel is also aware that the much touted "African solutions for African problems" may not be enough to break free of these political cycles. His call is not only for Africans, but for Westerners as well.

Only last month, George W Bush appeared to accept the Mbeki doctrine of African solutions for African problems. That is all very well, but are the African nations up to the task? The Nigerian peacekeepers are today applauded on the streets of Monrovia, but, just seven years ago, their predecessors in an earlier operation were loathed for their freebooting ways.

The neo-colonial template is all too obvious. Sierra Leone, where British troops are keeping the peace, is a success story. So, to a lesser extent, is Ivory Coast, under de facto French military control.

If Mr Bush's neo-conservative advisers are serious about their philosophy of bringing democracy to the Middle East, they could also consider expanding the vision to Africa and urging him to send in the troops who are floating off shore.

The debate on American levels of involvement in Liberia continues, and opponents of direct involvement have good arguments. But if the US truly is serious about spreading democracy throughout the more troubled portions of the world, Liberia is a good place to make a start. If Africans like South African president Thabo Mbeki are serious about policing their own back yards, then Zimbabwe would make a logical next step.

Read his story.

Posted by zombyboy at August 12, 2003 08:46 PM

As I was reading this, the thought struck me: although Nigerians were loathed for their freebooting ways before, the near presence of US troops has to have a restraining effect. Maybe that is a better model than the neo-colonial template: instead of stepping in to fix the problems for Africa, which only keeps them dependent on us (just like Great Britain in Sierra Leone and France in the Ivory Coast), we should just keep an eye on the Nigerians as they keep an eye on the rebels.
It requires much less direct involvement, much less actual risk to the US, and actually increases the Nigerian commitment to honorable peacekeeping rather than "freebooting" and looting on their own.
We really spearheaded the idea of using locals as the ground troops in Afghanistan, and wanted to do the same in Iraq (except that the Shias didn't trust us enough to play that part). And although it's only been a few days, it seems to be working so far in Liberia.
Sure, the Nigerians on their on would probably be a bad idea. But Nigerians who know what side their bread is buttered (aid and respect and diplomatic/military contact dependent on peacekeeping behavior) seems to be working fine.

Posted by: nathan at August 12, 2003 11:56 PM
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