BEIRUT EXPLOSIONS AND AFRICA

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Okello Oculi writes that Africa is a nursery bed for social explosions

The tragic explosion in Beirut port is attributed to combustive phosphate stored there. An explosion killed and injured hundreds of people and destroyed a vast number of houses. Neglect by security officials made it attractive to foreign and local intelligence officers for use at a strategic moment. A photographer for an international news agency was seen taking pictures of a little fire near the storage structure a short time before the explosion.

In Africa, moments of explosive social processes offer opportunities which were exploited by those with interest in lighting up explosions. One example from Nigeria is events that made up the chemistry of political crisis from 1956 to 1966. The two-stage voting processes used by British colonial officials, shut out of the regional and national parliaments members of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). They won the first stage in which the poor masses cast their votes. Those they defeated voted for each other for the seats to be taken.

The decision denied Nigerian politics more moderate voices and visions in relations with politicians from Eastern and Western Regions. Rigged elections gave Northern People’s Congress a strength not reflected in the electorate.

The strategy of Action Group and NCNC seeking political influence in the North, without enabling NEPU and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) to win seats in their regions, shaped their electoral politics as that of conquest rather than seeking for a cooperative national progress. Moreover, the joint attack by NCNC and NPC to crush Chief Awolowo, forced a resort to self-defensive violence by supporters of Action Group in the Western Region. Following the imprisonment of Chief Awolowo, leaders of NCNC found themselves confronted with NPC leaders as a behemoth to overpower with divine-aided violence in way David conquered Goliath.

In a context in which powerful American, British, and French oil companies would lobby their governments to give them a weak and fractured Nigeria; rulers of racist South Africa regarded Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as a dangerous ‘’Communist’’ (and refused to accept his offer to visit their country), and a competition between Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia against Israel for winning Nigeria’s influence, someone would ignite the thick phosphate powder floating over the increasingly bitter struggle for power in Nigeria’s politics. Nigeria’s politicians failed to shut their door to a military coup in 1966.

In Uganda, Britain’s Colonial Office invested in Captain Frederick Lugard’s call for troops from colonial India to be sent to crush a mutiny in Uganda by Idi Amin’s Nubian mercenaries, cut off when victory by Sudan’s revolutionary movement led by a Muslim preacher cut them off from Egypt, a colony of the Ottoman rulers. Fighters were later recruited from this group to fight the Mau-Mau war in Kenya. Idi Amin Dada would become a legendary figure from this group.

By 1971, Milton Obote’s politics of outwitting and imprisoning political opponents; failing to hold elections; pushing Britain to take her Asian citizens into Britain; abolishing monarchies, and nationalising properties owned by Asians and British companies, constituted an explosive environment. Foreign diplomats, academics, and their local allies, began to cultivate military officers for a coup. A race started around Idi Amin’s loyalty. With limited Western education, Amin was attractive to British and American diplomats as easy to depose with an early counter-coup. The educated classes from the five small monarchies abolished by Obote also bought into this plot. It was a very costly error.

The 1972 World Bank report estimated that Uganda’s economy shrank by 30 years one year into Idi Amin’s repressive defence of his power. Budget allocations for health, education, transport infrastructure and agro-industries were diverted into buying military weapons and brandy. President Milton Obote had accumulated the political equivalent of the phosphates that blew up Beirut.

President Omar Beshir of Sudan had built his power around claiming ‘ownership’ of Islam to undermine the support for political clans anchored on the Mahdi and Al Mirghani families, as well as the ideological appeal of the Sudanese Communist Party. As a former military Intelligence officer, he built up networks of informers inside institutions, associations and families. In the military, the large number of officers from Darfur made them targets of purges. The preponderance of three clans around Khartoum in key government institutions alienated groups from outlying regions of a vast country. Resort to punitive rules in Islam alienated educated women. Loss of oil revenues from South Sudan, and economic embargo by the United States, crippled the regime’s capacity to provide jobs to blooming youth numbers. They exploded.

The African Union has a unit for undertaking ‘’preventive diplomacy’’. Its telescope should have warned about Mali in August 2020, Islamists slaughtering ordinary citizens in impoverished northern Mozambique, Oromo convulsions in Ethiopia, etc.