Lecture by Prof. Pablo Idahosa, Director African Studies Program, York University, Canada at the 10th Professor Wole Soyinka Lecture held at Council Chambers, North York Civic Centre, Toronto, Canada on 14th July, 2007.
From my knowledge after the Darfur initiative last year, this is the first forum that Africans have actually put together where not only some of the important issues on Darfur can be articulated and discussed, but also where the government of the Sudan can be put in the spotlight. I am committed to the idea of African solutions to African problems, where African themselves can resolve the conflicts on the continent.
The Darfur situation unfortunately as pointed out by Prof Femi Kolapo earlier, points to some limitations of African solutions to African problems. It seems to me that there are three sets of issues that we have to attend to; the first has to do with extraneous factors such as the support the Sudan draws from China on the one hand and the Chinese role in the United Nations by vetoing anything that seeks to criticize or seek other forms of intervention in the Sudan.
The second has to do with the Arab League and the smoke screen that it offers for Sudan. This comes in two forms. The first in part is like the African Union in appearing to, and claiming behind the scenes that they are engaged in or involved in seeking some form of resolution. The second has to do with the kind of imbroglio in Iraq where it becomes very difficult at the very least to talk about intervention in the face of the kinds of things happening in Iraq.
The third part, which is really the anti-imperialist, is the ultra sovereignties card, which the government of Sudan has played in the Arab world, in Africa and essentially throughout the world. President Bashir, who has been at the centre of many of the atrocities, in a recent speech berated, excoriated and lambasted the United States, Mr. Tony Blair etc. These are very easy targets and these are appealing to Africans and Third World peoples. This I think is a very important ingredient in understanding the nature of the conflict in the Sudan, not the atrocities, not the appalling displacements, not the rapes and violence inflicted upon that vast region; but rather as we may say the level of ideology and unfortunately this appeals to me. I was glad to hear the words of Wole Soyinka said so stridently, succinctly and typically characteristic in the way he does. But I think that there is a call that needs to be said and done over the way Africans engage Sudan. That is to say in essence what we might say is the willingness to accept partial sovereignty.
However I want to return to Wole Soyinka just for a moment because he was the person who called Nigeria not too long ago in the times of Abacha. He referred to a political geography of the imagination. But under certain conditions of illegitimacy you can refer to that political geography of the imagination. In other words he was saying in effect that it is fiction under certain circumstances of illegitimacy. But the problem is that Africa inherited that fricative legacy of independence, of the OAU and now the African Union for the limited opportunities of intervention that exist for a place like Darfur, and it is this in many respects which have caused Bashir and the Government of Sudan have played upon.
So part of the question of today’s forum for discussion is global interventionism. In effect it speaks to the different kinds of how we intervene and of course one can talk about military intervention, which I will leave for later. Unfortunately General Romeo Dellaire is not here to give us his wisdom, insight and experience in those respects. However, one kind of intervention I think is required is a level of honesty which frankly I have not seen amongst many of my African brothers and sisters both throughout the continent and here in the Diaspora. There is a kind of unwillingness to engage in the possible intervention based on the obvious fact that people are once again withdrawing into what I call the absolutist sovereignty. That is to say we will ensure there is no intervention because of the kind or precedent it sets.
Most extra ordinary for me is that a number of African professionals and intellectuals can continue and consistently maintain a position of a kind of betrayal of what their education is partly about. So when we think of an intervention we should think about putting out the word and stopping these absolutist sovereignties because they are played upon and consistently exploited by Bashir as another reason there should not be intervention. This brings to mind that yesterday another number of people both in Chad and the Central African Republic were displaced. This comes at the same time when there is supposed to be this interim hybrid force put together that is supposed to deliver humanitarian assistance without military intervention.
However, as we speak, the lack of good faith is being displayed with regards to the government of the Sudan, where another series of thousands of people are being displaced. This is a beachhead to ensure that once again when the logistically bereft African Union hybrid force are in place that the government of Sudan is still in a position to play primary principal role. This is part of what we might call the smoking mirrors that the Bashir government has been playing and extremely clever about over a long period of time. This is not an attack on the historical OAU or the African Union. The African Union has to inherit the problematic history of its mercy boundaries and borders. It has to deal with the contradiction of the multiple possible frictions and divides that have and may yet spill over into different kinds of civil wars. Of course it wants a resolution that is home-grown or indigenous, an African solution.
However it seems to me that if professionals and intellectuals need to play a role, they have to speak out like Professor Soyinka has. They have to speak out and not just in terms of Darfur, which in some sense is a litmus test of how we deal with conflicts and governments in the context of Africa today, but their intervention must be one of questioning, the questionable sovereignty of what in effect is an illegitimate government in the case of the Sudan. When we think of the ways in which we have global intervention and I see people in this forum, I would like to see some kind of resolution at the end of this exercise. I know that people would say resolutions are not guns and tanks that people like Bashir and the government of the Sudan are willing to speak or respond to. But at the same time in the light of Africa once again gaining attention of even Vanity Fair that perhaps a series of resolutions can be adopted and this can be one step towards that.
There are structural issues that are extraneous sometimes to Africa with respect to a local resolution to this problem. Do we think of the Olympics coming up? The Chinese are trying to do everything possible to have a clean, sweet and hitch-free event. They do not want anything to make them look bad. I still think there are possibilities for pursuing different lines of making China look bad, because it is the primary player that has given the government of Sudan its resources that it can stash away in many banks both in the Arab world and in Europe. This is why it has held on for such a long period of time.
One way of, I think, generating leverage is through a bad China. If Africans want a voice that can speak honestly and legitimately to an illegitimate government and an illegitimate set of relationships; that is the material work through which the government of Sudan maintains its sovereignty over Darfur such as it is. This is one way we can intervene in a positive way. Thank you.