3/31/2011

The (Post-Colonial) Ties that Bind



As the "no fly zone" continues over the Libyan skies, many analysts are speculating about Muammar Gadhafi's possible exit strategies. Yesterday Uganda cited that it might be open to receiving the dictator, while Venezuela could also be an escape option since Gadhafi and Hugo Chavez are "friends." Even Zimbabwe is on the table.

From Bloomberg:

Several African nations could take Qaddafi, the diplomat said, citing Ethiopia or Mauritania as examples. The likeliest countries to let him in are those that aren’t parties to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, a tribunal based in The Hague that seeks to try despots charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

“All you need is one country to take him,” Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said in a telephone interview. “Uganda sounds like a good option. We are most likely talking about Africa.”

So why are other African nations willing to take in Gadhafi? This brings up a fascinating conversation many are not talking about: the everlasting bind among one time revolutionaries turned tyrants. Gadhafi is still considered a anti-colonial hero and Arab nationalist throughout the post-colonial world. So there should be no shock that the likes of Chavez, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe are quick to come to his defense.

Speaking of which, the same is true of Mugabe's reputation in Africa as a leader against the apartheid regime in southern Africa. Peter Godwin, author of "The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe" recently explained this phenomenon.

From NPR:

GODWIN: ...The government in Pretoria has protected Mugabe from a ratcheting up of international pressure, that he's basic that Pretoria has basically insured his longevity in power. And that's one of our big problems, is that by appointing South African presidents as the sort of referee in Zimbabwe, we've actually protected Mugabe because the referee is, in this case, is partisan.

NPR: Why would the president of South Africa want to protect Mugabe?

Mr. GODWIN: Well, it's interesting. I mean and even going back to President Bush, who said Thabo Mbeki, who was then the South African president, was his point man on Zimbabwe, and that was an easy handoff. You handed it off to South Africa and then you could get on with other things. And to some extent that's continued under the Obama administration.

Systemically, I think that why - that Pretoria supports Mugabe, and more importantly, not just Mugabe but his party Zanu-PF. I think from talking to people in South Africa and the administration what they had originally hoped, was that they might pressure Zanu-PF to reform, to become a sort of Zanu-PF light and to maybe get a technocrat, someone like Simba Makoni or one of these other guys who don't actually have blood on their hands, to take it over.

The reason they don't want to see the opposition winning, the MDC winning in Zimbabwe, is if you look at the southern African countries that all fought liberation wars, anti-colonial wars, those original parties, those liberation parties are all still in power - the ANC in South Africa, Swapo in Namibia, the MPLA in Angola, Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe and the Frelimo in Mozambique; they're all still in power. And it's not in any of their interests for any one of them to lose power, because it's a terrible precedent. It sort of shatters the myth of the sort of aura of liberation invincibility.

NPR: Of the original freedom leaders, the original anti-colonialists...

GODWIN: Absolutely. I mean it's a very, very potent well that you can dip your bucket in and pull out this sort of, you know, this history. It's very potent and it can kind of re-anointed you, you know, for decade after decade.


But when is it time to pull out a bucket of new history?

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