Sub-Saharan African leaders have continually shown undue deference to people with lighter skin than theirs, and in this day and age we see that trend continuing. Recent events in Ivory Coast and North Africa have only underlined this bold statement.
It's why our leaders sold off their people and historical artifacts for mere trinkets - most of which were worthless - to the Portuguese, French and English. The belief that the man with the white skin was a god that needed to be assuaged.
It's why our leaders allowed themselves to become colonial stooges (contrast that to the colonial experience in North Africa) and allowed what at the time were foreign gods and ways of living to become de jure.
It's why since "independence", our leaders spend billions of dollars yearly on foreign education, weaponry, goods and services, etc with very little care for developing the manufacturing industries in their respective countries.
It's why despite the turmoil currently surrounding North Africa - Libya in particular - the African Union has been relatively silent. After all, Libyans are our lighter skinned brothers, relatively wealthy and with a demagogue ruling the stable - the very recipe for the AU adopting a hands-off approach.
Now I'm not suggesting that the African Union's (fronted by ECOWAS) hard-line approach to the growing crisis in Ivory Coast was misplaced. I happen to be one of the few who think the humanitarian situation there is worse than that in Libya, but of course they have no oil, so few outside the continent care. I believe that the ECOWAS response to Ivory Coast and their threat of military action against Laurent Gbagbo's illegitimate government may have saved thousands of lives, although many are still being lost on both sides.
What I am suggesting is that the incident on Libya is one that commands more international attention, if nothing else because that's where CNN, Fox News and the BBC want our attention to be. For that reason, it's where I feel our leadership, represented by the AU, should have stood up to be counted. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found, abrogating their responsibilities to the Arab League and the United Nations until it was too late.
First we saw Egypt, then Tunisia, then Libya. No strong condemnation from the AU. No similarly worded resolutions from the body asking for the maintenance of peace and civility in government response to protesters, despite the evident violence against protesters that became one of the hallmarks of the revolutions.
No white paper released asking the reprobate governments and leaders involved to step down or summoning them for talks. As our leaders have shown over history, the Arab is above the black and has the ability to do as he pleases. Mubarak and Gadaffi are no different than Mugabe and Gbagbo, yet we are vocal over the very dark latter two, and silent over the very light former two.
So when the rest of the world decided to take action, the AU was once again exposed as a union of weak-willed, easily-dominated, self-centered individuals who probably thought it would be "cool" to have an organization because they saw it happening in Europe, South America and Asia. While those continents have used such continental bodies to develop trade, to improve security and share resources, the AU as a collective is more famous for its silence on critical issues affecting the continent. Biafra, South Africa (until the mid-70s when Nigeria took a lead in opposing Apartheid), Rwanda and Sudan readily come to mind. The AU is particularly silent in cases where outside groups like the United States and the United Kingdom have a vested interest.
I watched a recent BBC Hardtalk show where the African Union's Chairman, Jean Bing, said the AU was not approached for its point of view on Libya. I found his response to abound in misplaced annoyance and without substance. How can the world approach you for your point of view when you've shown no inclination to provide one? Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa as members of the UN Security Council voted for the No Fly Zone (NFZ) and attendant air strikes, while most of the AU spoke in hushed tones about Libya being an "internal matter" that should - presumably - be handled by the dictatorial government of Moammar Gadaffi, a certifiable conflict of interest if there ever was one. Then, in a classic African show of "arrogance" and misplaced "big-manism", the AU refused to attend an international conference in London to discuss the UN resolutions. Did the AU really think the West was going to wait for its 'parleys' and 'deliberations' while thousands of people were being killed (and hundreds of thousands of oil barrels not shipped, might I add)? We, Africa, are as usual, the architects of our growing irrelevance as an international bloc. Some questions for Mr. Bing and the AU:
Why did the African Union release its condemnation of the UN resolution on Libya after said resolution was passed? Shouldn't they have consulted with the African members on the UN Security Council?
Why didn't the AU embed peace-keepers or other such observers in Libya, as other countries were doing?
Why didn't the AU publicly condemn Moammar Gadaffi's violent acts against his people?
For decades, Gadaffi and Mubarak were allowed to do as they pleased on the African continent. They meddled in the affairs of other African nations: trying to speak for democracy, advocating the breakup of certain countries to avoid religious conflicts, posing as international democrats and diplomatic brokers...offering advice that they never practiced. The AU allowed all this and upheld them as statesmen until their people revolted. That, Mr. Bing, is why no one asked for your opinion - sadly we know what it would have been.
What will it take for the AU to achieve its potential? The people of black Africa waking up from their slumber and taking destiny into their own hands by electing the right leaders - individuals who understand the concept of pan-Africanism, who aren't looking for Western handouts, who are willing to stand for their views even in the face of opposition. Waiting until we are humanitarian situations on CNN and BBC is not acceptable, nor is it viable. Fact is, unless your country is a major supplier of oil, it will take a Rwanda-like situation to capture the world's attention. We often ponder the progression rate of African countries - especially politically and economically. This progress requires a strong African Union. Recognize, Black Africa!
We're seeing the potential start of such mass recognitions in Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon. Let's hope it comes to fruition and sweeps the rest of the continent.
Nnaziri Ihejirika, a Professional Engineer, writes from Alberta, Canada.