The fact that China does not attach the same conditions that the West gives before extending facilities to Africa does not make Chinese loans free, a professor international relations at SOAS University of London, Stephen Hopgood has warned. He spoke with Tobi Soniyi and Shola Oyeyipo in Lagos. Excerpts:
Amnesty International has been very critical of the Nigerian Army in the way it is prosecuting the war against Boko Haram in the north eastern part of Nigeria. The army does not quite like the idea, what is the place of human rights in such a conflict situation as we have in the Northeast of Nigeria?
Well, there are several to say about that. One would be, if these people; military, government agencies who are trying to deal with the Boko Haram threat can make mass human rights abuses in doing what they do, so then in effect you don’t have a difference between the atrocities the Boko Haram are committing and the military is committing. The ideal is, you hold yourself to a higher legal and moral standards than the people you are targeting.
So, Amnesty International’s view has always been that everything be subjected to these human rights requirements and it is particularly because that government formally signed up to various human rights instruments to make sure that their military abide by those human right obligations.
This standard is moral than the legal question or the justification of moral question. To what extent is it legitimate to use violence in trying to prevent some kinda of threat? Whether it is the population, whether it is territory?
This is of course one of the very difficult questions around human right. To what extent is it legitimate to do that? If everybody is just committing gross human rights abuses in the same situation you just have more people being killed and more people dying and you that have a level of accountability for the military in relation to what they are doing.
The Nigerian population, presumably, want to be protected by the government, by the Nigerian military but they also want the military to be accountable to them because it is done in the name of the people of Nigeria.
You made reference to African embracing China and yet, China is not committed to human rights but go to Zambia, go to Kenya, they ate handling projects. Sometimes it appears the African governments are doing it to spite the West, which always insists on certain levels of commitment to human rights. Don’t you think Africa needs to be cautious in dealing with China?
I think that is absolutely right! Governments don’t often like human rights.. They use human rights sometimes strategically as a way to condemn their opponents but they don’t often like human rights when it applies to them and through period of American and European influence in the international system they have often used human rights languages to criticise the governments, so when China turns and says don’t worry, you are not going to meet any human rights conditionality – we are not going to say you have to meet some human rights targets to receive our money, it is very attractive to governments because this is a source of cheap finance, it improves their relationship with a government that is going to be as influential as the United States in the international system and it doesn’t make embarrassing revelations of you at the international level and China can control it’s human right, so, you don’t have Amnesty or Human Rights Watch embarrassing your government by publishing things about the government; violence, imprisonment, military powers, so that’s why Chinese money is attractive but it is not necessarily good for the populations in those countries and human rights is not just about foreign governments complaining or criticising the way the government behaves, there are some domestic people and organisations who are unhappy about how their human rights are trampled upon.
So, the fact that China turns up and say we will give you the money, there is no question to ask, isn’t very good for a very large segment of the population because they want to change the governments, they want their rights as women, they want their rights as minority – they want their minority right recognised. So, it is not good from their perspective and in the long-run, it is not clear how free this China money is.
You reached an agreement with China but China may well impose different kinds of conditinalities in the long-run. So, it is probably not the case that any major power comes, gives you money for nothing. There is an explanation, it may not be your expectation but there will be a bill to pay at some point and that will be potentially a difficult bill, if you put yourself entirely on the other side from a whole collection of wealthy democracies.
Immigration is a very touchy issue now in Europe generally, not just in the UK. There are different kinds of statistics. Some people say immigration is beneficial to the host country, the government in the UK presently will probably argue differently, but I do concede that immigration can be an irritant sometimes but where do you stand, how do we balance this, do we still take immigrants or do we limit the number of people that can come to our country?
A country like Britain can only survive by having reasonably open borders; people coming and going. There is a lot of things said, for example, the number of international students who come and study in the UK, but a tiny percentage, like three percent, if not fewer stay in the UK, you get shortages of labour in key industries because people are coming to do those jobs. So, there is just a natural in flow and out flow of immigrants. It is used in racist way to make people feel their ways of life are under threat. Somehow, foreign immigrants are coming to take their jobs and turn Britain to a Sharia state. It is just nonsense. It is political scaremongering in order to try get votes from right wing or conservative politicians.
A country like Britain has to have people coming in and out all the time and London is a perfect example of that. The city where people come, they go, they move through but it stays very open cosmopolitan – inviting place and that is the reality rather than some great immigration threat to the condition of life.
Despite our best efforts here, our governments still don’t respect human rights, what else should we be doing?
To get the government to respect human rights in the end, has to come from citizens’ pressure. It got to be people within Nigeria – Nigerian citizens who would insist on the government meeting its human rights obligations. How they organise is through campaigns, through litigation, through putting pressure on members of the parliament, through human forum. There are a variety of ways you put pressure on the government but ultimately, if there is a strong social push for whatever the policy, you will find that the government will move in this direction because there is political support, so it is popular pressure – public pressure and to be outspoken. You have to stand up for your human rights.
Governments don’t often like human rights. They use human rights sometimes strategically as a way to condemn their opponents but they don’t often like human rights when it applies to them.
To get the government to respect human rights in the end, has to come from citizens’ pressure. It got to be people within Nigeria