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"I'm Convinced Now That Somaliland Should Be Allowed To Be A Separate Country"
Professor Ali A Mazrui
The issues of governance and political stability are very much intertwined, especially in the Horn of Africa. This is what Professor Ali Amin Mazrui stresses in an interview he gave to Zerihun Taddesse.
Born in Mombasa , Kenya , on February 24, 1933 to the Mazrui dynasty, an old family that originated from Oman and settled in Mombasa in the 17th century, Professor Marzui obtained his BA degree from Manchester University and his Doctorate from the Centre for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Oxford University . He spent 10 years teaching at Makerere University , Kampala , Uganda , and is now Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University , State University of New York. He is also associate and visiting scholar to a number of Universities and Institutions worldwide.
Ali Mazrui married twice, firstly to an English woman with whom he had two children. He also has two children with his second and current wife, a Nigerian Christian. Excerpts of the interview:
Let us begin with the subject of this conference that you are here to attend: "Conflicts in the Horn, Eastern and Southern Africa ." How do you perceive these conflicts? We have many of them: like the one between the states of Ethiopia and Eritrea one, non-state actors in Somalia, and also there are rebel groups in Southern and Western Sudan pitted against the government there. What do they have in common?
Well, most African conflicts are clashes of identities rather than clashes over resources. One group identifiable either by language or by ethnicity falls into adversarial relationship with another group, and then you have the potential for conflict.
And one type of conflict in the Horn of Africa has almost completely disappeared, that is between blacks and whites, which was very important in Kenya . But now there's some economic rivalry between these two but no longer armed conflicts.
And then ethnic conflict had been very considerable in Ethiopia , Sudan and Uganda , amounting sometimes to a civil war.
Religious conflict is relatively rare but it is extending beyond southern Sudan , partly because of the consequences of the war on terror, which is creating tensions between African Christians and African Muslims.
And the fourth type of conflict is interstate conflict, conflict between states. There used to be some of that between Kenya and Somalia , then between Ethiopia and Somalia , and most recently between Ethiopia and Eritrea . So the conflicts with Somalia are probably unlikely to happen again because the country has become less of a state and has more urgent problems than claiming territories from its neighbors, you see. But there's still worry about Ethiopia and Eritrea in spite of recent peace moves. So we have our fingers crossed.
Well, we may have our fingers crossed. But do you think that the five-point peace proposal by PM Meles is enough to keep us away from war and, better still, give us peace?
I think it is definitely an important start because the atmosphere has to change. So people must demonstrate more clearly that they want to find the solution even if the first proposals are not mutually acceptable. You have started the process of negotiation and, as I understand it, Eritrea 's caution is not necessarily a rejection. And it may just to find out how to strengthen its own position before concluding a proper peace treaty. So I think that's a very hopeful sign because this particular conflict has worried many of us and it was very costly in terms of lives and devastation.
So, conflicts are rampant in this part of Africa . Do you think they can be resolved by improving the governance situation that we have in our countries?
Yes, I think we have to find national solution as well as regional, transnational solutions. And national solutions have to find ways in which you can defuse ethnic rivalry and have a constitutional system that accommodates pluralism and diversity. So, I know that Ethiopia has been experimenting with ethno-cultural federalism. And the idea of trying new ways of containing these rivalries is very good. I'm not sure whether you have perfected it yet. But at least you are trying something new.
I have always said that there's too much distrust of federalism in Africa when, in fact, many countries need some kind of federalism in order to give different regions and different ethnic groups a sense of autonomy in their own areas as well as a sense of participation. And I have given lectures in Kenya on that many time although the political establishment there is very opposed to devolution, reducing the power of the center. And even the new constitutional experiment proposed for Kenya , which does include more devolution of power to the provinces has been delayed and the government is dragging its feet. So that's one important national attempt to resolve ethnic rivalries, the federal solution.
Then there is the democratic solution, that you really should have proper democracy that works, makes governments accountable, with greater peoples' participation. We are making progress in general in these area in the Horn, but there are now setbacks because of this American led war on terror, which is creating new reverses in democratization and governments are pressured to be more authoritarian, discriminatory towards their citizens almost on religious grounds. But democratization is definitely important for reducing conflicts.
And, then, much more difficult culturally is empowering women because there has been a great slowness partly for traditionalist regions to give women the kind of participation that would make them fellow decision-makers on issues of war and peace as well as on other issues of governance. So I have myself recommended many times that there should be a reservation of seats for women on legislatures in Africa . Let us say the legislature or parliament has a hundred seats, ten of them should be for women. Phase one is the women should be the candidates and a separate electoral roll of women should choose them. But this would not prevent other women from running for the remaining ninety seats. Phase two is that the candidates will be women but the voters will be both men and women for those ten seats. In this case the women candidates will have to learn how to make allowances for claims by men in the legislature and represent men as well as women. Phase three, you would abolish the reservation of seats based on gender and just let the common roll operate on its own.
So, some of these ideas are beginning to percolate because some countries, including south Africa and Uganda, have started quota systems in political parties and candidates for office. And Zimbabwe is thinking of having a woman vice president for the first time in the next elections. So, there is some movement which pleases most of us, I am sure.
And then also tougher is whether we empower women militarily, especially programmes to train women on how to defend themselves because many of these wars of chaos involve rape, devastation of children, kidnapping of girls, etc. So, women should participate in the military and security forces and there should be special facilities to train women on how to defend themselves, not necessarily always with the gun but through other ways as well.
Finally, there are regional solutions whether through the African Union or sub-regional organizations, on being better prepared to intervene in situations of state collapse and in situations when governments become excessive violators of human rights.
Let me draw on your last point. The AU is, for instance, bracing itself to intervene in countries in the continent where governments do not appear to respect international human rights conventions. To what extent do you think this would work?
We would have to create disincentives for both governments and armies in members countries from abusing their roles. One way of creating these disincentives is to have regional systems of intervention if things get really bad. We have had precedents in Africa but they are not adequately institutionalized. So, if you see Tanzania 's intervention in Idi Amin's Uganda , they moved all the way to the capital of Uganda-Kampala and ousted Idi Amin. And you have Nigeria 's army going into Sierra Leone to reverse a military coup which had taken place there to overthrow an elected government. In that case, there was regional support; it was supported by ECOWAS. It is very difficult in Africa , however, because our systems are weak. But precisely because they are weak, we do need to care for each other though there are also major difficulties in military intervention to solve problems.
So, the AU has to be prepared to invest resources as well as train because you don't want to send in armies who are trained only to kill the enemy. You want to send armies who are trained to disarm others and to establish peace. That is a different kind of army.
Are you convinced of the sincerity of African leaders to what is called the African Peer Review Mechanism?
They are not all committed to it universally at the moment. It may work in some parts of Africa and not in others because there is still a built-in idea that governments should not interfere with each other. It is born out of the immediate aftermath of colonialism and people did not want to have new systems of external intervention. But we have to learn that this is different and that this is not colonialism. This is peer review and this is a capacity to make sure that each of us has at least minimum standards of performance as a government.
There had been a lot of debate as to whether southern Africa has a more efficient peer review to make Robert Mugabe more accountable for his policies and South Africa has massive power to make Mugabe's regime pay a price. But the government in South Africa has been very reluctant to use this power on Zimbabwe . So, we are still not ready to do what it takes.
Kenya has embarked on a new path since the election of Mwai Kibaki and his Rainbow Coalition into office. But they are facing some problems like the drafting of the Constitution and even the composition of the ministers in the power sharing. Do you think the democratizing enthusiasm has dissipated now?
The party system is not working. The openness is working, Kenya has a more open society now than it has ever had since the 1960s. There are no political prisoners, there is no detention without trial, etc. Those democratic values are still there. But what type of party systems you have and how it relates to the party in power is fluid; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. And it was a big mistake not to have had a new constitution adopted before the election which brought Kibaki to power. They shouldn't have deliberately waited because once you have a new government and then you have a constitution which seeks to reduce the power of the president, you are asking major sacrifices from human nature. People want to keep what they have. It was Moi's fault that the elections were held before the Constitution was approved.
So, in general the democratic order hasn't failed but the party system is failing unless we do something to make it more coherent and sensible.
Uganda too is embarking on a multi-party system and it is gaining momentum right now. Do you think it is committing a mistake or should it go ahead?
The thing is we are not very sure whether President Museveni is ready to give up. Originally he did not say that parties should not come back. He just said they ought to be delayed. I had sympathy with that position not because I wanted him to remain in power but because I know that Uganda had a record of parties generating ethnic conflicts. I was nervous about that. And also Uganda has a record where, when you have ethnic rivalries at a certain stage and the army intervened their armies have not always been very enlightened and they were one of the most brutal in Africa . So, there are major risks in just going multi-party. I therefore sympathize with his caution. But sooner or later Ugandans have to attempt to go multi-party. It can’t be forever. It is just that if you do it earlier there is more risk than if you do it later.
In a lecture you gave sometime ago, you have said that Museveni’s eagerness to abide by the instructions of the Brettonwoods institutions, for instance, in privatization has made him unable to deal with the problem in the northern part of Uganda . How will these new developments of having multi-party system solve the problem in the north?
The thing is we should also find solutions including the need for other African countries and external friends to provide equipment, etc. So that movement has to be defeated or has to be negotiated into good behavior. Most people think he has not tried enough and his critics think he has deliberately avoided it and that it contributes to his control over the rest of the country. I don’t buy that allegation but I have heard it said by Ugandans. But Museveni, who has been very good in pacifying and stabilizing the south of the country, has been inept in dealing with the northern instability.
Coming to a relatively more stable country in this region, Ethiopia , you have said that this experiment of ethnic-federalism may be one solution to the conflicts that have happened previously. But Ethiopians question the sincerity of the party which instituted this kind of federalism. Don't you think that this arrangement exacerbate rather than mitigate conflicts?
There are two ways of dealing with the system in Ethiopia . One is to compare it with preceding systems in Ethiopia and, in my humble opinion, the score is very high. The preceding systems were much more lethal, capable of killing large-scale. I don't mean just the post-1974 revolutionary regime but even the Imperial regime before that. The Imperial order at least had more stability but very often at considerable cost to human rights and so on. So, if you are judging the present system in Ethiopia as compared with preceding systems in the country, I think this one scores high. It is an improvement over what has happened before.
If you are judging the present system with what is possible, what can be enacted, then, of course, this is not a system that already matured into maximizing both stability and freedom or into giving real autonomy to the regions. It is a system in the making rather than already perfected. So, it still has some way to go to achieve its final ideal.
Do you envision a better Ethiopia than you see now? Have you seen signs?
You see even for a stranger coming in there is a better Ethiopia , there is more openness in articulating positions. People walk in peace at night; in fact Addis Ababa is the least violent city in eastern Africa . Certain things which in the previous regimes would not have been allowed could be said publicly. Ethiopians could, of course, disagree with me and what not. So, there are gains which we should not neglect to acknowledge. Things are better than they used to be but they are not yet good enough. And Ethiopians should continue to press for better and better changes.
What was your understanding of the conflict in the north of the country, especially with the rebel movement - the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) - that now controls the government of Eritrea ? And what are your views now regarding the situations in Eritrea ?
The thirty-year fighting that took place in Eritrea increasingly convinced me that the two countries should just part just as I am convinced now that Somaliland should be allowed to be a separate country. There are certain levels of persistence you should recognize. So, I was trying, without being a major agitator on behalf of Eritrea , which I never was, but I became more of sympathizer. If they can't agree on real free federation then they should go their separate ways. Then when it happened after the collapse of the Mengistu regime I was hopeful and it seemed a very civilized parting of company, Ethiopia going to join celebrating the independence of Eritrea . And some of us wrote about that saying that Africans should recognize that if they can't be reconciled, then they should part in a friendly manner.
I don't know whether we have the right figures on the number of people who died in the recent war between the two countries. But I suspect a bigger proportion than those who died in thirty years of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia . It is a disappointing development but there are some peace moves taking place. These are people who are cousins. This should not have happened. They should really not only end the war but look for ways they could construct forms of relationship that includes confederation in the future without either giving up their sovereignty.
You said that Somaliland should be allowed to become an independent state. Why is that and what do you think of the Naivasha peace process which has resulted in the formation of a new government?
I think the rest of the world, of course does not agree with me. The rest of the world thinks that there is only one Somalia which, of course, is legally the situation. Even those who sympathize with Somaliland feel that somehow they ought not to take a public position. And I think a regional organization like the African Union is very reluctant to legitimize secession. So, at the moment it is true that people are trying to find solutions. The solution for Somalia is Ok, but I don't think any effort to force Somaliland back should be part of that. It would defer the solution for Somalia as well; it would be back to square one. So, if you start bringing in Somaliland , who are reluctant citizens, even what you achieved now in forming a government for the southern part won't last for very long.
It was a good attempt to try and unite the part of Somalia previously ruled by the British and that previously ruled by the Italians. But it did not work. So, if Somaliland appears to be more capable of self-government, may be we should give them credit for that. There have been attempts before of countries that were united and pulled out like Mali and Senegal . They decided to break-up. Singapore and Malaya were put together as one country when they attained independence. Then Singapore said it is not going to work and pulled out. And now both sides recognize each other and Malaysia is a separate country from Singapore . An African combination which did not break up, and I hope succeeds consolidating, is Cameroon which includes a part that was ruled by the British and a part that was ruled by the French. The French part is the dominant part and there is a lot of disillusionment on the former British part but not enough yet for people to fight each other.
So, the Somalia-Somaliland divide is not unique. It is just that in some situations people have just come to terms with the break-up and some situations just continue.