Archive for December, 2011

Prunier on ‘African’ conspiracy theories

More on the application of cynical mindsets in African contexts…

Following my earlier post, I’ve been reading Gérard Prunier’s Africa’s World War (I believe printed in Europe as From Genocide to Continental War). He makes some good points which, as chance would have it, back my view up pretty much entirely! Professional writers rarely do this, so I’ve decided to quote him at length…

On US Congolese mining interests and a supposedly Machiavellian manipulation of Rwanda during the (first) Congolese War to achieve US foreign policy goals:

If Rwanda was indeed “poor, densely populated and a tinderbox,” it was in no shape or form a “platform” for the Americans. Regardless of the opinion one has of President Kagame’s leadership it is absolutely necessary to recognise that he is nobody’s puppet, that his decisions are not dictated by any foreign power. This is always the problem of conspiracy theories applied to Africa: they purport to denounce the evil visited upon Africans by ill-meaning foreigners and they end up with Africans looking like perfect dolts, manipulated here, pushed there, used for this, deceived into that.

He continues…

In thirty-seven years of studying Africa, I have seen more whites manipulated by blacks than the other way around. But lingering postcolonial racism makes it hard for the victims to admit to themselves that they have been taken for a ride; the implicit notion that all things being equal the white fellow is smarter than the black one is still the unspoken assumption of a large number of white diplomats, international civil servants and businesspeople. Conspiracy theorists do not represent an exception: their evil whites are more cleverly evil than their evil blacks, an assumption that I seriously doubt. General Kagame was no more a puppet of the Americans than President Mobutu was a puppet of the French. As to his reasons for invading Zaire… several… were quite local, and… others… have had little to do with Washington’s gameplan, which in Kigali has always been considered more a resource to be tapped than an obligation to be obeyed.

Thus Prunier eloquently outlines how an overly cynical approach isn’t just fairly useless in explaining what’s going on (which would be bad enough) but actually quite a patronising and racist outlook (which hardly makes it any better). As a fairly disillusioned member of the British electorate, I certainly don’t have extensive trust in the genius of any of our leaders to even give a damn about the DRC, let alone hatch a master plan according to their strategic interests.

Their superficial and material interests in the continent may in fact allow them to be doddled all the more easily. For example, when former Maoist Jonas Savimbi gained the patronage of both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, allowing him to escalate his war against the Angolan government, was this really just a Western masterplan to install a puppet government? Or did the reductive Cold War outlook of the USA and UK (which runs along the lines of the following: the MPLA have Marxist in their name {and, what’s worse, CUBA likes them} so their enemies must be our friends) actually simply render them all the more a resource to be tapped by Savimbi?

The extreme version of that last argument may not hold entirely, but its food for thought.


You can’t raise a Cain back up when he’s in defeat

A bit late to the ball on this one, but that was partly because I wasn’t sure that Cain’s announcement last Saturday would be definitive (and it’s still unclear, but y’know, time waits for no man and all that) but also more importantly there isn’t a whole lot to analyse, except the Robbie-Robertson related pun and whether a Costello “blame it on Cain/don’t blame it on me” would’ve gone down better (of course, all fans of LessThanZero will appreciate such references immediately…)

But go on then, I’ll try to analyse why the one time “front-runner” of the Republican presidential nomination field dropped out so unceremoniously: the main reason being he was never a front-runner. In the way that Newt isn’t the front-runner now. Journalists abuse the term wildly, and after every poll/ahead of every debate there’s the question “can Romney overtake the *frontrunner* with a strong performance” ie the latest crank who is polling highly. Political scientists, on the other hand, refuse to be quite so myopic, and so people like Jonathan Bernstein ruled out Bachmann, Cain and Newt long ago. And while they’re left sitting on their hands, promising that the GOP will see sense and desert Gingrich soon, they encourage us all to “ignore those polls!”, unless, of course, they hilariously start to back your argument the very next day.

The fact is, however he polled, Herman Cain was never going to be a contender, let alone President. He’d never held elected office, and while Eisenhower and Grant managed to become President from such a position, they were in the helpful position of being, erm, war heroes previously.  Now I’m not gonna knock it, but being head of the National Restaurant Association is not a natural primer for the White House (cue hilarious joke about being popular among Republicans because he’s endorsed by the NRA). He wasn’t a fan of being “tried in the court of public opinion”, which makes one wonder exactly what he thought the job of President would entail. As for being a potential commander-in-chief, his list of foreign policy blunders is too long to count. Particularly egregious, I thought, was not so much his brainfreeze but his criticism of Obama not “identifying the enemy” in Libya, as if the intervention of the international community wasn’t predicated upon exactly that point – that in Libya, the opposition could be identified and protected. Hey ho.

So even without questions being raised over his private life, this guy was a non-starter. The question is why was he a candidate, not why did he lose. Maybe the GOP has gone literally mad. And maybe it’s  about time also that the (especially British) media take a slightly more long-term view of the nomination process, rather than believing the likely nominee is directly a function of today’s polling figures.