The irresistible call of the colonial master

Journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustapha shakes her head at the continued calls for western intervention despite all the evidence that such action leads to disaster.

A few years ago I stumbled on a book entitled “The upcoming fall of the House of Al Saud.” What promised to be an interesting read on one of the Arab world’s most unpopular monarchies turned out to be an appeal to the West to rid the Arabian peninsula of its largest ruling family.

Rather than addressing those very people able to challenge the kingdom’s rulers – the country’s own subjects – the author was looking to the monarchy’s very sponsors for help. Those very capitals responsible for propping up the Al Saud dynasty in the first place.

This incongruous position was all the more striking given the author’s Palestinian origins. As a child he had been made a refugee after the state of Israel was established, thanks to Western capitals, in Palestine. Despite his stateless status and the ongoing suffering of his people, this highly intelligent man was looking to those responsible for his predicament for help.


Fast forward sixty years in Benghazi in Western Libya and calls for Western intervention were heard as soon as protests triggered by the Arab Spring turned bloody. Rather than consider the numerous offers of negotiations made by Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, protesters turned to French President Nicolas Sarkozy for help.

These talks, brokered by notorious “interventionist” Bernard Henry Levy, were followed by jubilant scenes of Libyans brandishing French and British flags with women vowing to name their children Nicolas, or David after British Prime Minister Cameron.

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NATO-backed Libyan rebels overthrew Gaddafi in 2011
NATO-backed Libyan rebels overthrew Gaddafi in 2011

The country that gave Africa Omar Mukhtar, Libya’s heroic freedom fighter who tirelessly fought Italy’s brutal occupation, was now inviting an alliance of forces that it had so stubbornly resisted half a century before.

This chapter in the Arab world’s recent history has highlighted the alarming levels of dependency of local populations or governments on western nations with whom they visibly enjoy a love-hate relationship which they remain unable to escape.

Those who opposed the Nato intervention on the grounds that it was a violation of a sovereign nation’s integrity were accused of neglecting the plight of Libyans and of indulging in rabid “anti-Westernism.” While the Libyan suffering could well have been alleviated through negotiated talks, the reply was that Gaddafi was not trustworthy…as opposed to Nato which initially vowed to implement a no-fly zone and ended up pounding the entire coastline of Libya for six months.

Those who considered this opposition basic “anti-westernism” were unable to see that just as Western nations became the relatively healthy democracies we know today, it was through the work of local activists that these countries saw an improvement in their standard of living without looking for outside help to bomb them into democracy.


So with a Nato intervention secured in Libya, Syrian protesters who had gone out in the streets to oppose their President’s rule, immediately turned to the same capitals for help. Expecting a similar onslaught in oil-poor Syria, protesters refused to engage in talks with their leadership, assuming a military operation would bring an immediate end to Assad’s rule.

While the international community (otherwise known as “the West”) promised a military response that never materialised, the war momentum was kept high leading the opposition to refuse any negotiations with a leadership expected to implode any day or week. Three years on and what of Syria? Thousands have died, over a million displaced and half of the country’s infrastructure destroyed. The country will take over a generation to recover from this crippling civil war.

Yet rather than engage with fellow Syrians, the opposition chose to consistently look for outside help that only extended the duration of the war. Nevertheless, intellectuals from across the region are still wondering: why has the West allowed this to happen? But hasn’t the West done enough in Iraq and Afghanistan? Has it not contributed enough to Palestinian suffering?


Over in Africa and the scenario is tragically similar. Four hundred years of colonialism and trans-Atlantic slavery may still weigh heavily on the entire continent’s consciousness, but it is to those very same former colonial powers that African nations turn to time and again to resolve their never-ending problems, many of which were created by voracious corporate entities praying on the endless greed of corrupt leaderships willing to sacrifice their countries for generous bank accounts in Switzerland.

And sadly it isn’t just in governments that the call to Western help is often heard. Intellectuals and civil society activists fail to see the inanity of appealing to your former oppressor for help while still pointing to his crimes as an explanation for future failures. Revolutionary writer Franz Fanon famously wrote that liberating the lands would be easier than liberating the minds; fifty years since his death, his words still resonate.

This month many countries across the continent marked Africa Liberation Day. The very same month Nigeria, one of the most resource rich countries in the region, invited US and British drones to look for kidnapped school girls by a local terror organisation that saw its military arsenal double thanks to Nato’s intervention in Libya two years ago, and which left the country awash with arms that have been circulating across the Sahel belt propping up terror organisations along the way.

Muslims still look to the West for leadership
Muslims still look to the West for leadership

This month also saw the latest figures published by the UN on the forced exodus of Muslims from CAR. Where once 150,000 Muslims lived alongside their Christian counterparts, only 500 remain in the capital city of Bangui. The country has been emptied of its Muslim population under the watchful eye of French forces called in to help in December 2013 in a bid to stop the bloodshed. The bloodshed continues apace, Muslims have been removed from the country, and the nation is likely to be fractured between warring factions. Still NGOs who employ local educated researchers argue that Western intervention is beneficial.

High on the backing of the West, South Sudan was created with much fanfare and celebration. Hollywood film stars had supported the cause to establish a South Sudan independent from Khartoum’s rule. The country’s fabulous oil resources appeared to clumsily plaster over the tribal tensions that had been simmering for years. Once George Clooney obtained his African photo op, South Sudan slowly but expectedly descended into the barely reported chaos we see today.

South Sudan’s “independence” was the subject of many oil conferences in the run-up to its referendum with oil minors and majors gathering to discuss their future lucrative projects. Earlier this year a tribunal in Uganda indicted a French general in the hope he would be extradited and face justice for his role in the country’s war and consequent genocide twenty years ago. While the trial is unlikely to take place, it shows Africans are increasingly aware of who is pulling the strings that fuel the arms industry.

And yet still Africans, at the first signs of trouble often ask, where is the West? Still in Africa by all accounts.

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