Monday, July 07, 2003

Today, I was reading an article in Le Monde entitled “The second ‘pacification’ of Africa.” The article included a comment from a recent speech by French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. In it, he stated, “The fall of the Berlin Wall, opening the doors for a new world, did not bring about the expected pacification” of Africa.

Mr. de Villepin is clearly implying that the wars and general instability in Africa from the era of independances (late 50s/early 60s) until the collapse of the Soviet bloc (late 80s/early 90s) was due to the struggle between the USSR and USA. While no one can be sure how the newly independent African nations would’ve turned out otherwise, clearly the meddling of the West and of the communist bloc destroyed any hope the continent had of a good jump out of the starting blocks, so to speak.

Yet the expectation expressed by Mr. de Villepin displayed either a willful ignorance or a shocking naivete. For 30 years, foreign countries undermined harmony throughout the continent, supported or actively implemented coups d’Etat, intervened militarily to protect their economic interests and funded government armies or rebellions. To expect that three decades of instability would simply end just because the Soviet Union collapsed is to ignore that such conflicts inevitably generate momentum of their own. Mr. de Villepin is like the parent who gives his kid a ton of candy after dinner and then reacts with anger when the kid won’t go to sleep.

I suspect the foreign minister’s comments were based more on willful ignorance, as a way to brush off French complicity in helping create the mess that is sub-Saharan Africa. Certainly Britain,and to a lesser extent the Soviets, Belgium and the US, played their part but France’s culpability is by far the greatest.

Political alliances, particularly those with autocratic regimes, are almost always based on perceived short-term interests without regard to unintended long-term consequences. This should serve as (yet another) warning about opening such Pandora’s boxes.


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