President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan along with former head-of-state Thabo Mbeki of the Republic of South Africa. Both nations have sought an independent foreign policy towards Africa and the rest of the world., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
‘After Libya, who is next?’
Monday, 20 February 2012 00:00
By Thabo Mbeki
I would like to thank the Law Society of the Northern Provinces for giving me the honour to address its AGM this morning. As you know, I suffer from the great deficiency that I am not a lawyer. However, I took the decision to speak to you on what I consider to be the important subject of "International law and the future of Africa". I elected to address this topic because I am convinced that the legal community in our country, such as yourselves, and in Africa as a whole, has an urgent obligation to use its enormous talents to defend the inalienable right of the peoples of Africa to self-determination and thus affirm the inviolability of an important principle of international law.
I hope that what I will say later will explain why, in all humility, I decided to place this challenge at your feet.
Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the historic "Declaration on the Granting of independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples".
Among other things, the Declaration says: "The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.
"All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."
For the colonised, the Declaration constituted an important step forward in terms of expanding the corpus of international law to the extent that it decreed that "all peoples have the right to self-determination".
This proposition had been raised earlier in the context of the Second World War, when US President Franklin D Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston adopted "The Atlantic Charter" in 1941, which served as the precursor to the UN Charter.
In this context they said they "deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world" and went on to say that: "they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned" and, "they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them."
And yet the UN Charter which came into force in October 1945 suggested that the colonial powers could continue to hold onto their colonies. This was despite the fact that its Article 1, spells out that one of "The Purposes of the United Nations" is: "To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples . . . "
In its Article 73 the UN Charter says: "Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognise the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories, and, to this end . . .
"(Agree) to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement."
To this extent the UN Charter gave legitimacy to continued colonial rule, of course with the proviso that the colonial powers would chaperone their wards towards self-government. It is self-evident that this was done at the insistence of the then colonial powers, principally the United Kingdom and France.
To the contrary, the "Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples" made the peremptory determination that: "All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
"Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence." It goes without saying that the eradication of colonialism, apartheid and white minority rule is one of the great and historic achievements of the period since the end of the Second World War.
As an expression of this development, we too, as South Africans, won the rights "freely (to) determine (our) political status and freely (to) pursue (our) economic, social and cultural development."
I am certain that all of us present here at this AGM, other South Africans and all Africans throughout our continent, place a high value on these rights and would defend them with our very lives. I have spoken as I have because of troubling developments which suggest, ominously, that Africa's right to self-determination, so unequivocally confirmed in the "Declaration on the Granting of Independence . . ." and entrenched as an important part of international law, is under threat.
In hindsight, it would seem to me that we made a serious error as Africans when we paid virtually no attention to a particular and pernicious thesis advanced by various individuals in the countries of the North, and specifically the UK, arguing for the re-colonisation of Africa. In a 2002 article on "The Post-Modern State", the British diplomat and then adviser to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now occupies an important position in the EU Commission, Robert Cooper, said that one of the "main characteristics of the post-modern world" is achieving "security (that) is based on transparency, mutual openness, interdependence and mutual vulnerability".
He went on to say: "Today, there are no colonial powers willing to take on the job, though the opportunities, perhaps even the need for colonisation is as great as it ever was in the nineteenth century.
"Those left out of the global economy risk falling into a vicious circle. Weak government means disorder and that means falling investment . . . All the conditions for imperialism are there, but both the supply and demand for imperialism have dried up.
"And yet the weak still need the strong and the strong still need an orderly world. A world in which the efficient and well governed export stability and liberty, and which is open for investment and growth - all of this seems eminently desirable.
"What is needed, then, is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle."
This view was echoed by Bruce Anderson, columnist of The Independent (London), in a June 2, 2003 article, in which he wrote: "Africa is a beautiful continent, full of potential and attractive people who deserve so much more than the way in which they are forced to live, and die. Yet it is not clear that the continent can generate its own salvation.
"It may be necessary to devise a form of neo-imperialism, in which Britain, the US and the other beneficent nations would recruit local leaders and give them guidance to move towards free markets, the rule of law and - ultimately - some viable local version of democracy, while removing them from office in the event of backsliding."
On April 19, 2008 The Times (London) published an article by Matthew Parris entitled "The new scramble for Africa begins", in which he said: "Fifty years ago the decolonisation of Africa began. The next half-century may see the continent recolonised.
"But the new imperialism will be less benign. Great powers aren't interested in administering wild places any more, still less in settling them: just raping them.
"Black gangster governments sponsored by self-interested Asian or Western powers could become the central story in 21st century African history."
Writing in the New Statesman magazine published on January 15, 2001 another British commentator, Richard Gott, writing to oppose this "new imperialism", said: "What Africa really needs, Maier, (in his book "This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis"), seems to suggest, is the advice of a new generation of foreign missionaries, imbued with the new, secular religion of good governance and human rights.
"Men such as Maier himself and RW Johnson would fit the bill admirably. Other contemporary witnesses, the innumerable representatives of the non-governmental and humanitarian organisations that clog the airwaves and pollute the outside world's coverage of African affairs with their endless one-sided accounts of tragedy and disaster, echo the same message.
"With the reporting and analysis of today's Africa in the hands of such people, it is not surprising that public opinion is often confused and disarmed when governments embark on neo-colonial interventions.
"The new missionaries are much like the old ones, an advance guard preparing the way for military and economic conquest." I am certain that all of us will not hesitate to denounce these arguments in favour of "a new kind of imperialism", "a form of neo-imperialism", "neo-colonial interventions" as constituting a direct and unacceptable challenge to international law, and equally repugnant justification for the repudiation of the solemn "Declaration on the Granting of Independence . . ." In the passages we have quoted from his article, Robert Cooper says "the weak still need the strong and the strong still need an orderly world - a world in which the efficient and well governed export stability and liberty, and which is open for investment and growth . . . "
In essence he is arguing that the mighty and powerful should use their might to determine the shape and content of "the new world order", positioning themselves as the global but unelected law-givers, giving practical expression to the undemocratic and brutal principle and practice that "might is right".
As South Africans we waged a protracted and costly struggle among other things to assert the primacy of the rule of law and to establish a law-governed society founded on respect for justice in all its forms. In this regard we sought to liberate ourselves from arbitrary rule and injustice and therefore the ineluctably negative consequences of the implementation of the principle that "might is right".
--The article is an address given by former president of South Africa, THABO MBEKI, on November 5 to the annual general meeting of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces.