Global peace and security is increasingly threatened by various factors, ranging from threats of Iranian and North Korean nuclearisation programmes to the emergence of ‘new self-determination’ in Africa and ‘new nationalism’ in the United States. The empirical conception of self-determination and nationalism is new because of the new attitudinal disposition of civil society organisations and opposition political parties, which have not only opted to protest against incumbent governments but maintain the continuity of the protests until the incumbent governments accept their will. This situation has prompted the international community, and particularly the various international organisation, to be seized with the attendant threats to global peace and security.
For instance, for reasons of nationalism and fear of foreign aggression, Iran and North Korea want to acquire nuclear capability, an objective that the Nuclear Weapons States are not prepared to condone for two main reasons: fear that terrorists might have access to and acquire nuclear weapons and non-preparedness to increase new membership of the exclusive nuclear club. This means in itself a double standard approach to the management of nuclear matters. The Nuclear Weapons States, recognised as such by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, want to maintain that status but do not want any other country to so acquire.
Apart from the question of nuclear problems, the world has been rejoicing that, since the end of World War II, there has not been any inter-state war that would have degenerated into a new World War. What the world has simply been witnessing is intra-state crisis and conflicts. Most unfortunately, however, the crises and conflicts are now deepening to the extent that global peace and security is being threatened by the same intra-state crises and conflicts. One of the threats is the new self-determination approach to the resolution of national disputes. The protests in Sudan, Algeria and Uganda, which have also become violent, are manifestations of this observation.
In the same vein, the new nationalism policy adopted by President Donald Trump in the United States is a case in point. Donald Trumps’ foreign policy is largely predicated on ‘America First.’ The main rationale for this is to be able to ‘Make America Great Again.’ This twin-policy is driven by a new brand of nationalism which does not see any goodness in any view that is not consistent with the viewpoint or interest of the United States. It is a policy that does not allow for compromise.
Put differently, the interest of the United States must be second to none, that is, every other national interest must come after that of the United States. The United States and Chinese trade war, the United States and Mexico immigration saga, as well as the United States and Venezuela dispute over election results in that country are clear manifestations of projection of the new nationalism which is done by manu militari. Nationalism is not in any way new except that Donald Trump is putting it bluntly, without due regard to any diplomatic protocol or respect for the principle of pacta sunt servanda, that is, sanctity of agreements.
Without any shadow of doubt, the new self-determination in Africa, which is to protest against sit-tight leaders, insist that the incumbent government must listen and accept the directives of the public protesters acting on behalf of the generality of the people, as well as the manu militari mania of the United States under President Donald Trump, are gradually destabilising global peace and security. When likened to Nigeria, the nature of insecurity in Nigeria is quite different. The mere fact that the Boko Haram insurrection has international support, especially in terms of terrorism funding, supply of weapons, and particularly the suspicions that there are many elements of Boko Haram in government but without the Government being able to look at the suggestion, necessarily constitute another source of threats to global peace and security. And these cannot but raise many questions.
What really is wrong with the black people, and particularly black Africans? What is the problem with military-turned politicians in Africa? What is responsible for the violence in the post-Al Bashir era in Sudan? How do we explain the violence in Uganda? Will the developments in Venezuela not heighten the emerging new Cold War? Can the United States under Donald Trump win a unilaterally-provoked crisis or war in a world that is also gradually developing much animosity against the United States simply because of the attitudinal disposition of Donald Trump? Whatever is the case, time will always tell, but the problems must not be left unattended to.
The New Self-determination
The cases of the violent protests in Algeria, Sudan and in Uganda provide a good basis for understanding the new self-determination approach to the issue of sit-tight governments in Africa. In all the three cases, one common denominator is the rationale for self-determination. The oppression, injustice, unfairness and ruthlessness in the act of governance is particularly noteworthy.
In the case of Uganda, for instance, it is the factor of intolerance of opposition and public criticism that largely explains government’s inhumanity in the management of public affairs in Uganda. Robert Kyagulangi, the opposition leader in Uganda, has been having running battles with the Government of Museveni for more than a decade. Government’s security agents mistreat protesters, beating them recklessly and violating the fundamental rights of the protesters while the President keeps quiet about the recklessness of the security forces.
As explained by Maria Burnett in her “History of Violence on Repeat in Uganda,”on September 10 and 11, 2009 Ugandan government sought to prevent a cultural leader of the Buganda ethnic group from travelling to Kayunga, a town near Kampala where national Youth Day festivities were planned. His supporters took to the streets, in some instances throwing stones and setting debris alight. The military and police beat demonstrators and quickly resorted to live ammunition, killing unarmed protesters and bystanders.’
The notable problem and challenge here is not simply that Government claimed that only 27 people were killed while hospital records have it as more than 40. The opposition claimed that 46 people were killed. The figures actually increased to 108 and the government accepted only 61 people were killed. In fact, the Transitional Military Council justified the killing by saying that hoodlums had joined the protests.
Perhaps more challenging is the fact that the Government never investigated the allegations of extra-judicial killings by the security forces and excessive beatings of unarmed protesters. Maria Burnett put it thus: ‘ in contrast to the lack of investigations into the security forces’ killings, the police response to the protesters’ alleged wrong doings was overwhelming. Almost 850 people were charged with crimes, such as unlawful assembly and including violence. 11 were prosecuted on terrorism charges, only to be acquitted after three years in a maximum-security prison. A judge labelled the police investigation “incurably tainted, rendering the prosecution a nullity.” Each time, the state pours massive resources into arresting citizens and stopping protests, even when they are peaceful, but none into ensuring the conduct of its forces, remain within the law and human rights victims receive justice.’
Put interrogatively, why is the government of President Museveni only mercilessly interested in containment of protests but not interested in the manner of such containment? Why should he be condoning violations of human rights? Why the brutalisation of the people of Uganda? And perhaps more disturbingly, is the African Union unaware of President Museveni’s mania of political oppression? In fact, why is beating made a policy of governance under President Museveni?
Oryen Nyeko, an Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, has it that ‘beating and arresting journalists is evidence (that) the authorities want to cover up security forces’ conduct and curtail the public’s access to information.’ As further explained by Mary Serumaga, who wrote following the 2016 general election, ‘there are campaign beatings, ballot beatings and post-election beatings. Ugandans this week witnessed the swearing-in beatings. They can expect swearing-in beatings, after which there is every chance there will be post-swearing beatings. Then the election cycle over, the country shall revert to ordinary beatings. It is tear gas season in Uganda again.’
The foregoing gives a picture of political governance in Uganda. Uganda had its first presidential election in 1996 and President Museveni has been winning all elections since then, implying the continuation of his mania of political governance. It is the perception of this type of mistreatment that is essentially driving the principle of self-determination in the three cases under examination. What is self? What is determination? What is self-determination? And most importantly, how does the quest for self-determination impact on global peace and security, especially in Africa? How should Nigeria react to these developments in light of her own home-grown protests? In which way will redrawing of the current international boundaries of African States not come into permanent conflict with the rule of uti possidetis?
In Sudan, the dynamics of the quest for self-determination, as evidenced by the 2018-2019 protests, is quite different. The expression of and quest for self-determination have taken different forms: demonstrations, arson, sit-ins, strike action, riots and violent riots, online activism, etc on a continuous basis. It is important to note at this juncture that Sudan had been playing host to various protests and uprisings that had forced governments out of power in 1964 and 1985, that is prior to the Arab Spring.
The protests from 30 January, 2011 to 26 October, 2013 were prompted by allegations of corruption, unemployment, austerity measures and inspirations from other regional protests and the quest for removal of the austerity measures, entrenchment of democracy, and ultimately resignation of Omar al-Bashir. This did not succeed, especially that President al-Bashir was able to douse the tension by promising not to contest in the 2015 presidential elections. However, more than 200 people died during the protests while 2000 people were arrested for engagement in the protests.
As regards the current protests, they began on 19 December 2018 as a result of rising costs of living, and particularly rising costs of basic goods like bread, austerity measures, the end put to wheat and fuel subsidies, currency devaluation, high inflation, limits put on AT withdrawals and other deteriorating economic conditions. The initial objective was to seek economic reform and solutions.
However, the objective quickly changed to demand for al-Bashir to resign and go, especially in light of his perception as a don’t care president. Expressions of anger against his autocracy, his political repression, human rights abuses, manifest corruption, etc, became more pronounced. This eventual perception led to the resolution that there cannot be an end to the sit-in protests until President al-Bashir leaves power. The protests were effective to the extent that the military were compelled to accept to convince President al Bashir to also accept to leave power which he did.
In other words, President Omar Al-Bashir was ousted from power on April 11, 2019 by his own military, a situation that cannot be considered to be consistent with the African Union’s policy of non-use of force (coup) to take over power. The military take-over of power in Sudan is a coup per excellence. One possible reason that might have explained al-Bashir’s acceptance to quit could be assurances that he would not be released for trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the same vein, if the Transitional Military Council is also not showing any preparedness to quickly hand over power to a civilian group, it might also be because of the fear that any successor civilian government is most likely not only to accept to release al-Bashir for trial by the ICC, but also the acceptance to have the members of the Transitional Military Council tried. Thus, the incumbent government in power and the opposition elements are engaged in a political lull. This is the object and subject of foreign policy focus of the leading international stakeholders. The political lull determines their foreign policy attitude.
On June 6, 2019, the African Union suspended the Republic of Sudan from participating in the activities of the Union and promised to take further actions in the event of non-preparedness of the TMC to return power to civilians. As noted by the African Union Peace and Security Council, Sudan is suspended with immediate effect ‘until the effective establishment of a civilian-led transitional authority.’ In the viewpoint of the Peace and Security Council, this will enable the Sudanese government to ‘exit from the current crisis.’
More importantly, the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat has called for an ‘immediate and transparent investigation in order to hold all those responsible accountable for the blood shell.’
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed arrived the country on June 7, 2019 on a one-day official visit to mediate the crisis. He held talks with members of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), as well as with its leader, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. However, no clear picture of success can be said to have been achieved as the protests are still on as at the time of writing this column.
In this regard, the United Nations has urged restraint from the security forces and also ‘urged that the government respect all of the basic human rights of the people, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.’ It announced the pulling out of UN personnel as a result of the deteriorating violence and that it is ‘temporarily relocating some of the staff on hand to perform critical functions, but because of security, some are being relocated.’
The position of the great powers is equally interesting. The United States has not only asked the TMC to ‘desist from violence,’ but has also asked for a ‘civilian-led transition that leads to timely elections and free expression of the will of the Sudanese people.’ In this context, what really is the will of the people of Sudan? The will of the Sudanese is nothing more than the application of the principle of self-determination. Self-determination in this regard is that the military should simply go away and allow for a civilian-determined way forward.
Even though Russia expressed opposition to foreign intervention in Sudan, it supports the holding of elections, but in doing that, it believes that there is the ‘need for order to be imposed, and you need to fight against extremists and provocateurs who don’t want the stabilisation of the situation. But we are against any external intervention, the imposition of anything on the Sudanese.’
Again, put differently, if the Russians support the holding of elections as wanted by the people of Sudan, and if they are against any foreign imposition or involvement, Russians are also directly arguing in favour of the rule of self-determination, which is currently taking the format of public protests as a new method of change of government in Sudan.
At the level of Algeria, the situation of protests as expression of self-determination principle is not different from what obtains in Sudan. The Algerian protests, also generally referred to as Smile Revolution, began on February 16, 2019, ten days after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika indicated interest to contest for the fifth time in the presidential elections. The much pressure brought to bear on the Algerian president compelled the military to similarly compel him to resign, on April 2, 2019. His Prime Minister was also compelled to resign. President Bouteflika ended up dropping the idea of contesting in the election. With all these developments, the protests are yet to end.
The protests are prompted by allegations of corruption. But perhaps more interestingly, but also disturbingly, President Bouteflika had been away for about six months in Europe for medical treatment. On return, he has also been indisposed. He has not been able to physically participate in many official functions, and yet, he still wanted to answer the name President of Algeria. This was one of the major angers of the protesters. Sit-tight mentality of the president, governing through his brother and other intermediaries, coupled with corruption and ineptitude largely explain the rationales for the so-called Smile Revolution.
The main problem with the various protests is that it does not appear that there will be a quick end to them. Besides, there is nothing to suggest that the imbroglios will not degenerate into fresh civil wars, a development that has the potential to deepen the emerging Cold War politics and the likelihood of testing of new weapons. And perhaps most disturbingly is the fact that, if a section of a given nation-state affirms the principle of self-determination, not simply for purposes of change of government, but also for possible autonomy or separation, and the incumbent government is opposed to it, there is no way global peace and security will not be threatened, beginning from the nation affected and through the immediate regional insecurity that will be created. This is also because an order and counter-order cannot but first engender an encounter, the prompt non-removal of which cannot but result in disorder. Consequently, it has become a desideratum to avoid prolonged protests. Both al-Bashir and the Transition Military Council in Sudan should be referred to the International Criminal Court for trial for disregard for the African Union.