By Bill Saidi
THE African Union (AU) is bound to deny the accusation that it has shown a distinct lack of guts in the face of recent, and, intrinsically, African conflicts.
In the Arab Spring crisis, there was loud AU indecisiveness.
Muammar Gadaffi declared: “We will show no mercy.”
This was directed at his own people if they defied him.
Had the man lost his marbles?
Most people wondered.
He was true to his threat, butchering even unarmed, innocent citizens.
It was left to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces to launch a campaign against Gadaffi, until he was cornered.
The recent Mali conflagration featured, most probably, “doped up” or “crazed” suicidal Islamic militants.
The decision to enlist French help was not entirely dependent on AU approval.
If that had been the case, then there would have been a bloodbath.
By the time the French and Mali forces had driven the Islamists out of Timbuktu, there was no more fighting to speak of.
Mali is no stranger to conflict.
The ingredients of religious divisions had always led to bloodshed since independence in 1960.
The founding president Modibo Keita was overthrown in a coup.
The indecisiveness of the AU was commented on at a conference in Addis Ababa.
But it was not the AU in the forefront of the fight against the Islamists: The French were ahead of everyone else.
The only African leaders to comment on the crisis confined themselves to stating the obvious — there was a grave situation.
The French were asked for help.
The Islamists’ aim was to turn Mali into an Islamic state, with Sharia law the guiding light.
Under Sharia law, it can be assumed that no other religion would be allowed.
Egypt’s unsteady march to democracy, under the guidance of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been stymied by this same dichotomy.
People have been killed long after they had hoped for peace at the end of the revolution, which now seems steeped in the uncertainty beloved of such odious dictators as Hosni Mubarak, Idi Amin and Sani Abacha.
There is a heavy suspicion that the real change hoped for by the Egyptians who turned up in their thousands at Tahir Square may still be light years away from realisation.
In the Mali conflict, you would suspect that the preference for Islam by some citizens, for instance, was anchored on its being more “African” in origin than Christianity.
Historically, this is inaccurate.
The prophet Mohamed was an Arab.
Jesus Christ was a Jew born in Israel, also in the Middle East.
Neither of them had any confirmed African roots.
In any case, much of the concern over the religious context of the conflict in Mali and elsewhere in North and West Africa must be slightly futile.
Since both Christianity and Islam are not African in origin, there must surely come a time when the combatants realise how unrealistic the conflicts are — their own ancestral spirits might be turning in their graves.
It is probably too late to appeal to the combatants’ African roots for a restoration of sanity. After all, what is driving them apart is not essentially African in nature, is it?
It was straightforward enough, in the 1970s, when Julius Nyerere confronted Idi Amin, after he had attacked Tanzania during his massacre of his own people.
He was a raving Muslim and Nyerere a Catholic.
But the conflict between them did not boil over because of their respective faiths.
Nyerere, although criticised later for his attack on Kampala, was universally applauded for ending Amin’s madness.
Nobody in their right mind would have condoned any non-action against Idi Amin.
The case of Liberia’s Charles Taylor in Sierra Leone was entirely different.
Certainly, it did not feature any faith in a living or departed spirit. The trouble with Taylor, as with many African leaders with an exaggerated sense of machismo, was an element of larceny.
Yet he insisted everything was for the good — amazingly — of the people of Sierra Leone, let alone of Liberia.
In the end, it’s a question of what kind of guts a leader has. . . saw-dust or cow dung?
- Bill Saidi is a writer based in Harare