Category Archives: Politics

African Peace Militaries War, Peace and Democratic Governance

9781138682290

About the Editor

David J. Francis is the most recent Head of Department of Peace Studies and is currently Director of the John and Elnora Ferguson Centre for African Studies (JEFCAS), at the University of Bradford, UK. He is author/editor of eight books, including US Strategy in Africa (ed. Routledge, 2010).

Description

This book provides a critical understanding of the emerging role of African militaries in peacetime democratic Africa.

This book departs from the dominant perspective which simply presents the military as an ‘enemy’ of democracy because of the history and legacy of unending military coup d’états and interventions in civilian politics. In the context of Africa, the military has been blamed or largely held responsible for instigating wars, armed conflicts, political violence, poverty and underdevelopment due to bad governance and mismanagement of the state. Drawing from diverse case studies across Africa, including Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Egypt, this volume presents the argument that though the military has played a negative, and sometimes, destructive role in undermining constitutional rule and the overthrow of democratic civilian governments, the same military, now operating in a changed global environment, is making effort to support the development of democracy and democratic consolidation as well as remain subjected to civilian democratic oversight and control. Notwithstanding, the real challenge for this emerging trend of African peace militaries is the extent to which they are able to fulfil, on a predictable and consistent basis, their constitutional mandate to defend the people against ‘elected autocrats’ in Africa who try to use the military to perpetuate themselves in power.

This work fills a critical gap in the literature and will be of much interest to students of African security and politics, peace and conflict studies, security studies and IR in general.

Table of Contents

1. African Militaries in War, Peace and Support for Democratic Development, David J. Francis

2. The Military in Nigeria: War, peace and support for democratic governance, Oshita Oshita

3. The Rwanda Defence Force: from Genocide to Peace and Democratic Consolidation, Marco Jowell

4. Military in Uganda: war, peace and support for democratic consolidation, Eric Awich Ochen

5. Military Response to Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: Implications for Peace, Security and Democracy in the Lake Chad Basin, Kenneth C. Omeje

6. African Solutions to Western Problems: Western-sponsored Training Programmes for African Militaries: impact on Peace and Democratic Consolidation, David Chuter

7. African Standby Force: Challenges and Opportunities for support of Democracy in Africa, Kasaija Phillip Apuuli

8. African Militaries, Security Sector Reform and Peace Dividends: a case study of Ethiopia’s post-1998 Defence Reform Experience and impact on Democratic Development, Ann Fitz-Gerald, Paula MacPhee & Ian Westerman

9. Egypt: the Military in War, Peace and Democratic Development, Joseph Lansana Kormoh

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The Violence-Development Nexus

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Introduction

Post the Second World War, there has been an increase in intra-state conflict, civil wars and other forms of violence. They have become much more common than international war, affecting close to one quarter of all countries in the world by the mid-1990s. Over this period these forms of violence not only became more recurrent; they have also appeared to last longer (Fearon and Laitin, 2003). Violence is not a completely new phenomenon in the areas of development practice and theory. Rogers (1989) highlighted that there has been a perceived relationship between violence and development since the nineteenth century. The issue of violence in development discourse especially in analysis of the global south has however begun to gain more attention since the 1990s. For example, Africa and Latin America have largely been tagged as the most violent and notorious continents (UNCHS, 1996). The Department for International Development acknowledged violence as a pivotal developmental hindrance especially with regards to issues of poverty reduction (White, 1998; Short, 1999). For some scholars, the rationale behind war  are such that are hinged on the opportunities and privileges afforded by chaotic situations to perpetrators  of violence such as those tied to the opportunities they afford, as exemplified by the “Blood Diamond” loots of Sierra Leone  and the profiteers from the DRC Congo war (Reno, 2000 and Mwanasali, 2001). Other scholars have approached the discourse from the perspective that argues that understanding the rationale behind violence cannot be understood exclusive of a proper understanding of economic development and vice versa (UNDP, 1994 and King and Murray, 2001). They situate their arguments within the context of the linkages of violence and development through “well-being”. This has given more drive to the proponents of the concept of human security[1].

Conceptual clarifications

In terms of conceptual clarifications, development has been conceptualised has a multidimensional phenomenon (Przeworski et al., 2000). Development is the process of improving the quality of all human lives and capabilities by raising people’s levels of living, self-esteem, and freedom. According to perhaps one of the most notable texts in development studies,  “Development must  be conceived as a multidimensional process that involves major changes in social structures, popular attitudes, and national institutions, as well as the acceleration of economic growth, the reduction of inequality, and the eradication of poverty , (Todaro and Smith, 2011). This therefore expounds the multiple angles associated with development, and possible links to development and the lack of it to violence. For example, poverty, a constituent dimension of development has been closely linked to Violence. A popular quote attributed to one of the famous novelist of African descent Buchi Emecheta expressed that “a hungry man is an angry one” and as such suggests a possible causative relationship between poverty and violence.

Similarly, the concept of Violence is multidimensional. Violence has been conceptualized in the contexts of Judicial, social and cultural, political and economic, that can stimulate the oppression of fellow human, as well as jettisons the opportunities of optimizing human realization and liberation. This is succinctly and aptly described as violence of the structures (Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois, 2004). The International community such as the OECD provided an alternative conceptualization for violence as the imposition and utilization of force and other means on fellow human for the sole objective of achieving a purpose (OECD, 2009).In the field of criminology Violence is perceived as individual or social actions that includes “destructive aggression and force use for the actualization of a pre-intended cause. Buvinic, Morrison and Shifter (1999) argued that this force use is not limited to just physical but can be psychological or any other form and the motive is to do harm. They concluded that the manifestations of violence therefore includes individual, domestic, organised and public. Violence therefore includes micro levels such as theft, homicide, domestic violence, kidnapping and macro levels such as genocide, war, ethnic clashes among others. Poveda, (2012) highlighted that these manifestations form some of the prevalent impediments to development and welfare of citizens in the developing world.

Theoretical Clarifications

With violence now taking a major position in the economic development discourse, it therefore becomes necessary to briefly analyse the complex theoretical nexus of both multidimensional phenomena, as well as explain the growing interest in this relationship. Until recently, the traditional knowledge on Violence and Economic development was such that presented a positive relationship. (i.e has countries urbanised and industrialised, violence and crime rates increased). Similarly it was perceived that the nature of violence manifested adjusts with development (Rogers, 1989). This position has however been highly challenged in recent periods. A major basis for this criticism has been due to the fact that it was solely based on the nineteenth century experiences of Western Europe, which contemporary historical studies have faulted (McDonald, 1982). A second basis for this criticism has been based on the bourgeoning in conclusive findings from the developing world, which has proven the traditional generalisation flawed (Rogers, 1989 and Poveda, 2012).  Although it however, remains necessary to state that quite a significant quantum of traditional knowledge on violence and economic development was ethnocentric, thereby leading to such generalisations, in consistency with the culture of poverty of Oscar Lewis and the Modernisation theory.  Contemporary studies are similarly not immune against this line of thought.  There is often tendencies to think of violence has a problem solely associated with the global south. However, empirics have shown that while the developed world tend to have more incidence of violence, compared to the developing world, the growth rate of violence in these developing countries is faster and often more violent that in the developed countries (Rogers, 1989; Zveki, 1990).

Therefore, prime of the rationales for the renewed interest in this violence-development nexus is the increasing urbanization rate which is perceived to be potent for violence due to its resultant inequality and urban poverty (Vanderschueren, 1996). Similarly important is the acknowledgement of the fact that large numbers of democratizing post-conflict states are still apt for violence (Berdal and Keen, 1997). Perhaps the most dominant and compelling factor, is that violence in more recent times is perceived as capable of jeopardizing the economic development opportunities of a country (Ayres, 1998). He linked this through the channels through which violence discourages investment Production and as such stunts economic growth. Craig and Mayo, (1998) linked this to its connections with empowerment and sustainable empowerment.

Empirical Findings

Similar to the multidimensionality of the concepts of Violence and development, so is the relationship that exists between both of them.  A recent study by the OECD revealed that of the entire developing world, the “fragile states”[2] which are violence prone regions were the ones who lagged behind in achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs) (OECD, 2015). As at 2013 none of the fragile states had achieved any of the MDGS. The study however disclaimed that their might not yet any clear correlation between the MDG performance heterogeneity within these states. The Geneva declaration of 2010 stated that only  a meagre 10 percent of the fragile states had the potentials of achieving the development goal reducing their poverty and hunger levels by half  while slightly above 40 percent of the less fragile developing countries had achieved that objective as at 2010 (Geneva Declaration, 2010).  In an earlier study by the World Bank, “The cost of Violence”, it was argued that while fragile states account for about a third of the developing world, after controlling for China, India and Russia, they however account for more than half of global poverty and two thirds of infant deaths (World Bank, 2009).

Indeed the consequences and cost of violence on development are often grave. While armed violence can be profitable to individual violence profiteers such as arms dealers its implication for the general public growth and development tends to devastating. For example it was estimated that annual armed violence cost ranges USD 60 to 250 billion (Collier et.al, 2008: P22). This over a 27 year period therefore sums up to a whopping USD 123 billion. They argued further that, if violence costs are inversely measured as “peace absence”, there can be possibilities of having a higher impact. Although, economic and development costs of armed violence is not equal and the same for all countries, they however concluded that it accounts for significant portions of national economies. The Global Peace Index in estimating the economic development cost of violence, examined the assets lost and investment forgone and concluded that less violence had the potential global economic gain of up to the tune of USD 4.8 trillion which connotes a global growth rate of about 9 percent (Global Peace Index 2010, p. 38). Brauer, and Dunne, (2010) estimated the 10 years post Guatemala war violence to USD 2.4 billion which accounts for about 7.3 percent of year 2005 GDP. This therefore suggests that violence has a way it uses up scarce resources that could have been used for developmental projects that would have improved the living standard and conditions of citizens.

On the other hand studies such as Stewart (2002) have argued that the root cause of violence particularly in developing countries is the very lack of development. In analysing this relationship, Stewart highlighted Four Hypothesis. Firstly Group inequality Motivation hypothesis: This analysed the relationship through the manifestations of under-development such as religious, ethnical class or geographical divides leading to violence, citing Bosnia’s class inequality violence. Secondly Private motivation and greed hypothesis: This derives from the profiteers of violence such as arms dealers or uneducated and unemployed youths who get recruited as soldiers or rebels in violent situations citing cases of Collier and Hoeffler (2000) analysis on Sudan and Sierra Leone. Thirdly is the Social-Contract Failure hypothesis: This derives from the analogy that with fiscal inadequacies and economic hardships, Social contract between the people and the government is broken and results in violence. Moyo (2008) cited the structural violence in Zimbabwe as a product of this. Lastly is the Green War Hypothesis: This derives from the environmental degradation as a form of poverty perspective. Stewart argued that in this case, the evidence is rather contradictory, claiming that both environmental poverty and resource wealth can be linked with violence, citing a case of Rwanda and Niger-Delta Nigeria.

In another article “Civil war is not a stupid thing” Cramer (2006) concluded that there are no clear pointers that violence necessarily impedes development. Luckahm (2017) succinctly put it that the development-violence nexus can either be synergetic or contradictory. He argued that development can either be as “Violence Prevention” or “Violence called”.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, this essay has attempted to investigate the relationship between violence and development. The study presents conceptual clarifications for both phenomena and how the narrative on their relationship has evolved. While, the broader scope studies focused more on economic cost of violence that could have been otherwise used for developmental activities, the Case study focused more on developmental dimensions. It is however worthy to note that the underlying dimensions of interest of development for this study, is such as can be linked to socio-economic and for violence was armed violence. This is however by no means exhaustive of the possible manifestations of dimensions of both concepts as already expressed in the conceptual clarifications. Going by the arguments highlighted in the study, the relationship between economic development and violence can be said to be multifaceted, causative and complementary all at once, where the lack of development causes violence and the exhibition of violence causes development “deficit” through the cost of violence or development “surplus” through the framework of “violence called development”.

Footnotes

[1] A term used to try to re-conceptualise what human well-being means (traditionally measured using exclusively economic criteria) in order to take account of the impacts of violence.

[2] Canada’s Country Indicators for Foreign Policy project (CIFP) definition of fragile states extends beyond service entitlements to include those states that ‘lack the functional authority to provide basic security within their borders, the institutional capacity to provide basic social needs for their populations, and/or the political legitimacy to effectively represent their citizens at home or abroad’ (CIFP 2006).

References

Brauer, J. and Dunne, J.P.,( 2010). On the Cost of Violence and the Benefit of Peace. Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy16(2).

Buvinic, M., Morrison, A. and Shifter, M. (1999). “Violence in LatinAmerica and the Caribbean: A Framework for Action.” Technical Study, Inter-American Development Bank, Washington DC.

Centre for International Cooperation and Security (CICS) (2005) The Impact of Armed Violence on Poverty and Development. Bradford: University of Bradford.

CIFP (2006) ‘Fragile states: Monitoring and assessmnet; the way forward’. Carleton, Ottawa. CIFP

Collier, P. and Hoeffler, A., (2000). Greed and grievance in civil war, World Bank policy research working paper 2355World Bank (http://www. worldbank. org/research/PDF).

Collier, P., Hoeffler, A. and Söderbom, M., (2008). Post-conflict risks. Journal of Peace Research45(4), pp.461-478.

Cramer,  C. 2006 Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing. Accounting for Violence in Developing Countries (London: Hurst,) deconstructs established accounts of civil war.

Fearon, J. and Laitin, D., (2003). Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war. American political science review97(01), pp.75-90.

Geneva Declaration, (2010). More violence, less development: Examining the relationship between armed violence and MDG achievement. Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, Geneva.

King, G. and Murray, C., (2001). Rethinking human security. Political science quarterly116(4), pp.585-610.

Luckham, R., (2017). Whose violence, whose security? Can violence reduction and security work for poor, excluded and vulnerable people?. Peacebuilding, pp.1-19.

Moyo, O., (2008). Surviving structural violence in Zimbabwe: The case study of a family coping with Violence. Bulletin de l’APAD, pp.27-28.

Mwanasali, M., (2000). The view from below. Berdal & Malone (Eds.), pp.137-153.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), (2009). “Conflict and Fragility Armed Violence Reduction: Enabling Development.” www.oecd.org

OECD (2015), States of Fragility 2015: Meeting Post-2015 Ambitions, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Poveda, A., (2012). Empirical research on the relationship between violence and social development in Colombia. Ensayos Revista de Economia31(2), pp.37-56.

Przeworski, A., (2000). Democracy and development: Political institutions and well-being in the world, 1950-1990 3(1). Cambridge University Press.

Reno, W.  (2000). “Shadow States and the Political Economy of Civil Wars.” (Ch.3 of Berdal and Malone 2000)

Rogers, J. (1989) Theories of crime and development: an historical perspective.  Journal  of Development Studies 25, pp.314-28.

Scheper-Hughes, N. and Bourgois, P. eds.,(2004). Violence in war and peace (pp. 1-31). Oxford: Blackwell.

Short, C. (1999). Security sector reform and the elimination of poverty. A speech held at the Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College London. March.

Stewart, F. (2002). Root causes of violent conflict in developing countries.  British Medical Journal324(7333), p.342-345

Stewart, F. (ed.) (2008) Horizontal Inequalities and Conflict: Understanding Group Violence in Multiethnic Societies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Todaro, M. P. and Smith, S. C. (2012). Economic Development. (11th edition), Boston: Addison-Wesley.

White, H., (1998). British aid and the White Paper on International Development: dressing a wolf in sheep’s clothing in the emperor’s new clothes?. Journal of International Development10(2), pp.151-166.

World Bank (2009) The Costs of Violence. Washington D.C.: World Bank.

Authors

Laniran Temitope Joseph
Ph.D. Candidate Economics and Development Studies, University of Bradford
Research Associate John and Elnora Ferguson Centre for African Studies, Bradford, and Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law, Ibadan

and

Umar Baba Aliyu
Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official stance or position of any of the above named institutions.

JEFCAS Seminar Series: Sudan: still an Unstable State?

Venue: Pemberton Room 2.11

Date:  Wed 3rd May 2017

Time: 16:00 – 18:00

Speaker: Professor Peter Woodward (University of Reading)

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About Prof Peter Woodward:

Professor Peter Woodward worked for the VSO in Kosti, Sudan from 1966-67 and then became a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Khartoum until 1971 when he joined the Department of Politics at the University of Reading. He was also a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Natal, Durban in 1991 and 1993, and at the American University in Cairo in 1999.

Professor Woodward is regularly consulted on African affairs by various branches of government in several countries including the FCO; DFID; the US House of Representatives sub-committee on Africa; and US State Department. He also contributes to various media outlets, most regularly to the BBC World Service. He acted as Rapporteur for Sudan peace talks at the Carter Center in 1993, Chaired jointly by President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and Chaired constitutional talks on Sudan for the International Dialogues Foundation, Durham, 1999.

JEFCAS Seminar Series: The Interest in Inclusivity in Peace Negotiations

Venue: Pemberton Room 2.11

Date: Wed 8 March 2017

Time: 16:00 – 18:00

Speaker: Dr Devon Curtis, University of Cambridge

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About Dr Devon Curtis:

About Dr Devon Curtis:

Devon Curtis is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Emmanuel College. Her main research interests and publications deal with power-sharing and governance arrangements following conflict, UN peacebuilding, non-state armed movements in Africa, and critical perspectives on conflict, peacebuilding, and development. Her field research concentrates on the Great Lakes region of Africa, especially Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Previously, Devon worked for the Canadian government and the United Nations Staff College, and she has been a consultant for the UK Department for International Development, the Overseas Development Institute, and a Visiting Senior Advisor to the International Peace Institute. She has had fellowships at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University and at the Centre for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University.

JEFCAS Seminar Series: Radicalisation and Violence in Africa

Venue: Pemberton Room 2.11

Date: Wed 11 January  2017

Time: 16:00 – 18:00

Speaker: Professor Charles Abiodun Alao.

Professor Charles Abiodun Alao, King’s College London: Radicalisation and Violence in Africa.

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About Professor Abiodun Alao: Abiodun Alao is Professor of African Studies at King’s College London. His areas of Research interests include: Emerging Powers and Global Leadership; the Politics of Natural Resources Management; Religious Radicalisation and Political Violence; Politics, Security and International Relations in Africa.

His authored books include Mugabe and the Politics of Security in Zimbabwe, (McGill-Queens University Press, 2012); Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa: The Tragedy of Endowment, (Rochester University Press, 2007); The Burden of Collective Goodwill: The International Involvement in the Liberian Civil War, (Ashgate Publishers, 1996); and Brothers at War: Dissidence and Rebellion in Southern Africa, (British Academic Press, 1994). He Co-authored Peacekeepers, Politicians and Warlords: The Liberian Peace Process, (United Nations University Press, 1999); and Co-editor of Africa after the Cold War: The Changing Perspective on Security, (African World Press, 1998); Nigeria and the United States: Twists and Turns over 50 Years, (African Peace Support Publishers, 2011); and China and Africa – Building Peace and Security Cooperation (Forthcoming Palgrave – Macmillan, 2016).

Apart from extensive publications on African security issues, Prof Alao has undertaken numerous assignments for international organisations, including the United Nations, African Union, European Union, World Bank, ECOWAS and for individual countries.

JEFCAS Seminar Series: Liberals against human rights

Venue: Pemberton Room 2.11

Date: Wed 7 December 2016

Time: 16:00 – 18:00

Speaker: Dr Peter Brett

Peter Brett, Queen Mary University of London: Liberals against human rights: how transnational rights regimes have undermined the re-building of political order in Zimbabwe.

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About Dr Peter Brett: Dr Peter is a lecturer in African politics, Queen Mary University of London. Previously he was a Teaching Fellow in Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he did his graduate studies. He has also worked as an Adjunct Professor at Richmond – the American International University in London, and has taught at the University of Paris (Panthéon-Sorbonne). He has a broad range of interests, including the politics of Sub-Saharan Africa, international law, legal sociology, the politics of rights, and the history of international relations.

JEFCAS SEMINAR SERIES: Governance Reforms and the Re-emergence of the Old Order in Sierra Leone

Venue: Pemberton Room 2.11

Date: Wed 9 November 2016

Time: 16:00 – 18:00

Speaker: Dr Felix Marco Conteh

Countries emerging from conflicts are likely to relapse, depending on the political settlements on which peace processes are anchored. In Sierra Leone, despite the fact that the peace has largely held, there have been fears that the country might relapse into conflict if the causes of the 10-year war continue to linger. But to what extent are these fears justified? Using decentralization reforms and drawing from other recent governance reforms and political events, a case is made that the two likely masterminds of conflict – the All People’s Congress (APC) and Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP,) have used reforms such as decentralization as processes of political compromise and accommodation. While decentralization has helped facilitate the reemergence of the old political order, the APC and SLPP have secured a consensus through which they have reconfigured the post-war state on their own terms. The narrative of a ‘divide’ within the political class, it is argued, is grossly exaggerated. The extent to which the peace will be sustained by the existing compromise and accommodation is uncertain, but this framing is useful in understanding the political economy in which fragility and political compromises co-exist, and illuminates the political class’ agency, as well as its capacity to ‘unite’ and act against ‘others’.

About Dr Felix Marco Conteh: Dr Conteh is a development and governance specialist, with over a decade of well-earned experience. He currently works at the Office of the President as a special Assistant/Adviser to the chief of Staff. His research interests include decentralization and chiefdom governance, and extractives and community development. He has recently published in the Review of African Political Economy and Critical African Studies Journals.

Felix holds a Bachelor of Arts from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, a Master of Arts in International Development Management from the University of Bradford, and a PhD from SOAS, University of London.

Annual Peace Studies & International Development Conference: Resources, Conflict and Development in Africa

The annual Peace Studies & International Development conference for Africanist doctoral students and early post-doctoral career scholars and practitioners is scheduled to take place on the 11th May 2017 at the University of Bradford in United Kingdom.

The conference theme is: Resources, Conflict and Development in Africa.

Conference cluster themes include:

1) Natural Resources and Conflict

2) Transition from Resource Conflict to Peace and Peacebuilding

3) Natural Resources, Demographic Change and Development

4) Conflict, Security, Peace and Development Nexus

5) Regional Integration, Security and Development

6) Africa and the Rest of the World
The conference is open to doctoral students and early career scholars, researchers and practitioners. Potential participants and paper presenters are required to submit an Abstract of 200 – 300 words on or before 15th November 2016 to:              africanistpgrc2017-group@uni.bradford.ac.uk
All shortlisted participants will be required to submit the first draft of their papers at least two months before the conference. The conference is expected to result in a co-edited book (Lead Editor: Professor Kenneth Omeje, Senior Research Fellow, John & Elnora Ferguson Centre of African Studies, University of Bradford). Kindly note that all short-listed participants will be responsible for the full-cost of their participation, including visa, travels, accommodation and subsistence.

For full details on the conference: conference-call-oct-2016-revised-version-1

From a Refugee Camp to Bradford University

[Eritrea's diaspora is one of the largest refugee communities in the world; in Israel (above protest) they are among many immigrants subject to draconian policy and detention]

Tesfalem H. Yemane is a current Peace Sutdies MA at the University of Bradford. Originally from Eritrea, he is a scholar at risk and refugee.

Tafaslem (1)Fear and uncertainty have been the biggest enemies of mine since I left my country in 2010. But now, I find myself sitting in the office of

Professor David J Francis, a man of overflowing and reassuring academic aura. After months of nail-biting wait, I am offered a place at the Division of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. Going through the memories of the past five years of my life, I whispered, “I should be wary of resting on my laurels now.” For a person of my background, education and hard-work are the only gateways for countless opportunities. I should be grounded!

My life journey is that of many Eritrean youths’. At independence, the country was dubbed by many as the beacon of hope and renaissance in Africa. Its leadership, along with those of Uganda’s Museveni, Ethiopia’s Zenawi and Rwanda’s Kagame, was touted as the new breed in African leadership. In the heat of such euphoria and jubilations, we ostensibly boasted on turning the new nation into ‘the Singapore of Africa’. Those dreams have been shattered and we tuck Professor Gaim Kibreab’s book, ‘Eritrea: A Dream Deferred‘ under our pillows. The book explores the national euphoria at independence and the disappointing disjuncture that has resulted in a dystopian society thanks to the regime’s siege mentality.

In the aftermath of the devastating 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrea war, the country has turned into a giant prison wherein forced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrest and severe curtailment of freedom of expression and movement are the norm. There is zero tolerance to dissidence and any legal procedures have been a hard sell to the ‘democratic novices’, to borrow Professor Chandra L. Sriram’s phrase. Under the pretext of existential threat, from its favourite bogey, Ethiopia, the regime has employed a pervasive security apparatus that has virtually controlled every aspect of the citizens’ lives. Eritrea is a society under siege and the dream of making the country a major trading terminus in the strategic part of the Red Sea has been sorely deferred.

The leadership’s anti-intellectual culture has forced many bright minds into exile. The only university that operated with an internationally accredited academic standard was deliberately dismantled in 2006, and with it, the hope of nurturing a mass of critical thinkers in the Eritrean body politic poignantly gone. Accompanied by media concoctions, six sub-standard and militarized colleges were hastily grafted in different parts of the country. And in an invasive manner, parallel party and paramilitary structures were put in place to create a numbing duplication of tasks and tight control of the Eritrean youth.  

A state of a crumbling economy, indefinite military service and the lethargy of oppressive hopelessness have forced the youth to ‘vote with their feet’ and embark on the perilous journeys. It was in this context that I decided to vote with my feet in April 2010, never to set foot again. Because of the regime’s imprudent macroeconomic and impulsive diplomatic decisions, the state of the economy was very precarious in the 2000s. In fact, the brunt and wrinkles of the notorious coupon economy were so humiliating that I was excited to find out basic food commodities were in good supply when I first arrived in Sudan. I spent more than two months in the Hobbesian-like and desolate refugee camp in the periphery of eastern Sudan before I was smuggled to the capital.  

Khartoum, Sudan in 2011.
Khartoum, Sudan in 2011.

While in Sudan, I envied the relative freedom of expression presentin the East African country. I bore witness when many Sudanese took to the streets of Khartoum, rattling, “The people of Sudan are hungry!” in April 2012. Having said this, however, I should be cautious of vindicating the authoritarian government in Khartoum. As oppressive as it is, Khartoum’s strong handedness pales in comparison with Asmara’s.

In Uganda, a country infamously known for its rampant corruption, I bore witness to people taking to the streets to demand their President heed to public concerns and corrupt officials be held accountable. I also noted many newspapers publicising information about corrupt officials, police officers and the government.

My time in China was an eye opening cultural and intellectual ride. Those late night discussions, debates and questions about the merits and demerits of a developmental state and state capitalism shaped my worldview. Those many discussions about the dialectics of Washington Consensus and Beijing Consensus were reconciled by the synthesis of Geneva Consensus during my memorable years in China.

The Bird’s Nest Stadium, Beijing, 2014.
The Bird’s Nest Stadium, Beijing, 2014.

However, there was a downside to such a pleasant experience in China-that I was a refugee in a student’s body. I had to struggle to conceal my story from many of my wonderful classmates; because I did not want to have a different identity. I lacked the emotional and intellectual maturity to come out and share my story and the story of my compatriots. And that was the most painful episode of my amazing time in China.

I also realized the mismatch between the China of Mao as emulated in Eritrea and the current China and its politico-economic policies. The Eritrean regime serenades in the past achievements of the armed struggle while China has moved away from Mao’s disastrous policies. And thanks to the Isaias Afewerki’s short politico-military training in China in the late 1960s, we sing the ‘Red’ song louder than the Chinese do. The Eritrean leadership still dances to Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ and ‘Cultural Revolution’ rhetoric while the Chinese themselves have moved on and started reaping the rewards of Deng Xiaoping’s economic vision.

On Eritrea, I still remain positive that my country will have its Godsend Lee Kuan Yew sooner than later-a leader who rectifies the malaise the nation finds itself in and Professor Alex de Waal is convinced to backtrack his Museum of Modernism tag on the current state of affairs in the country.