The Imported Tradition of African Dictatorship

16 June 2014

Burundi Soldier in Bangui, Central African Republic, courtesy of US Army Africa/Flickr
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Has the African continent always been synonymous with despots and dictatorial rule? Not according to George Ayittey. Prior to the modern colonial era the region was awash with communities that embraced customary law and justice as their guiding principles.

By George B.N. Ayittey for World Policy Institute

 

The passenger terminal building at King Shaka ...

The passenger terminal building at King Shaka International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article was originally published by World Policy Blog  on 28 May 2014.

Despotism and dictatorship did not exist in traditional African political schemes. In fact, the famous British economist, the late Lord Peter Bauer, noted this in his book, “Reality and Rhetoric: Studies in Economics of Development” where he wrote, “Despotism and kleptocracy do not inhere in the nature of African cultures or in the African character.” Stateless societies such as the Somali, Igbo, and Tiv—which are characterized by the rejection of any centralized authority or “government”—did not have leaders who could be despots or dictators. Rather, these political systems stressed customary law and emphasized justice, or the establishment of justice, as the ruling principle.

In chiefdoms such as the Fante, Mossi, Shona, and Xhosa, the chief could not dictate policy or law independently. Without the assent of the council of elders—an independent body—the chief was powerless. In kingdoms, where the king often had little or no political role, much of his authority was delegated. Even the powerful Shaka, the Zulu, delegated his authority.

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Review: The Tiananmen Papers

INSIDE CHINA’S POLITBURO

For the first time ever, reports and minutes have surfaced that provide a revealing and potentially explosive view of decision-making at the highest levels of the government and party in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The materials paint a vivid picture of the battles between hard-liners and reformers on how to handle the student protests that swept China in the spring of 1989. The protests were ultimately ended by force, including the bloody clearing of Beijing streets by troops using live ammunition. The tragic event was one of the most important in the history of communist China, and its consequences are still being felt.

The materials were spirited out of China by a sympathizer of Communist Party members who are seeking a resumption of political reform. They believe that challenging the official picture of Tiananmen as a legitimate suppression of a violent antigovernment riot will help unfreeze the political process. The extensive and dramatic documentary picture of how China’s leaders reacted to the student protests is revealed in The Tiananmen Papers: The Chinese Leadership’s Decision to Use Force Against Their Own People-In Their Own Words. This article is adapted from the extensive narrative and documents in that book.

THE STUDENTS’ CHALLENGE

The 1989 demonstrations were begun by Beijing students to encourage continued economic reform and liberalization. The students did not set out to pose a mortal challenge to what they knew was a dangerous regime. Nor did the regime relish the use of force against the students. The two sides shared many goals and much common language. Yet, through miscommunication and misjudgment, they pushed one another into positions where options for compromise became less and less available. Continue reading

Russia: Digging Themselves in Deeper

Why Big Oil is doubling down on Putin’s Russia.

BY Keith Johnson APRIL 22, 2014

Russia may have become an international outcast in the wake of its annexation of Crimea and continued destabilization of eastern Ukraine. But for one group of powerful multinationals, Russia these days is less pariah than promised land.

Big Western oil companies from BP to Shell have not just stayed the course in Russia in recent months — many have essentially doubled down on oil and gas investments there and built even closer ties with Russian energy firms. Taken together, the deals could send billions of dollars flowing into the Russian economy just when Barack Obama’s administration is trying to hammer it hard enough to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to reverse his annexation of Crimea and stop menacing eastern Ukraine.

“We’ve made clear that we’d be prepared to target certain sectors of the Russian economy if we see a significant escalation, including direct Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine,” White House spokesperson Laura Lucas Magnuson has said. Continue reading

Mao’s Little Red Book in China and Beyond

The Diplomat speaks with Alexander Cook, editor of a collection of essays on Mao’s Little Red Book.

Nearly 40 years after Mao Zedong’s death, China continues to have an uneasy relationship with the Great Helmsman, as shown by the recent ambivalence towards the 100th anniversary of Mao’s birth. To get more perspective on China’s (and the world’s) past and present relationship with Mao, The Diplomat‘s Justin McDonnell spoke with Alexander Cook, the editor of Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History, a collection of essays seeking to understand the Little Red Book as a global phenomenon.

How is Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong a reflection of the global radicalism of the 1960s?

The Little Red Book responded to the deepest anxieties of the postwar period: dissatisfaction with the unfulfilled promises of liberalism, disillusionment with the crushing realities of Soviet-style communism, and despair with the continued subjugation of the developing world. This was a generational phenomenon, but it also spoke to the shared, transcendent, existential fear of nuclear annihilation. The Little Red Book represented a rejection of the Cold War, and even more than that a rejection of the technological subjugation of humanity in the era of mass production. Needless to say, there are many bitter ironies in this story.

How was the book disseminated in China and why did it die out?

The book was originally conceived as a kind of ideological field manual for soldiers in the People’s Liberation Army. Its small size and rugged, waterproof cover were designed to fit the breast pocket of an army uniform. Leading up the Cultural Revolution, Defense Minister Lin Biao heavily promoted the cult of Mao in the military. He said Mao’s thought was a “spiritual atom bomb” and insisted that every soldier be armed with a copy of the Little Red Book. Continue reading

SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW Weekly Assessments & Briefings Volume 12, No. 38, March 24, 2014

Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal
ASSESSMENT
AFGHANISTAN

Critical Cusp
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

With less than a fortnight to go for the all important Presidential Elections scheduled to be held on April 5, 2014, a wave of terror strikes has enveloped the length and breadth of Afghanistan. In the most recent of major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities) at least nine persons, including four foreigners and five Afghans (including two children and two women), were shot dead by Taliban terrorists inside the luxurious Serena Hotel complex in national capital Kabul, in the night of March 20, 2014. The attackers managed to smuggle pistols past security checkpoints and then hid in a bathroom, eventually springing out and opening fire on guests and hotel guards. All the four terrorists were killed in the subsequent operation by the Security Forces (SFs). The attack took place despite recent security reports rating Serena Hotel, guarded round the clock by dozens of security guards armed with assault weapons, among the highest-risk locales in the city. The hotel is frequented by foreign officials and the Afghan elite. Continue reading

Ukraine: And the Winner Is . . . China

Artyom Lukin

This essay is an expanded version of an article published originally by the Russian International Affairs Council.

There is one international player that stands to gain from the recent turn of events in Ukraine, regardless of its outcome. This player apparently has nothing to do with the crisis, which has engulfed Russia, the EU and the United States, and makes a point of staying on the sidelines. The country in question, of course, is China.

The leadership in Beijing must be secretly delighted watching the struggle between Russia and the West. The Ukraine mess can seriously poison Moscow’s relations with Washington and Brussels for a long time to come, thus reducing their mutual ability to coordinate policies on the major issues in world politics. One such issue, perhaps the most important, concerns geopolitical risks associated with China’s rise and its impact on the global economic and military balance.

Up to the present, Russia has pursued a relatively balanced and circumspect policy toward its giant Asian neighbor. Although the Chinese side recently has signaled that it would welcome closer strategic ties with Russia, even a security alliance perhaps, Moscow so far has been reluctant to transform their current “strategic partnership” into a full-blown geopolitical entente. In particular, Russia has not been ready to back Beijing’s assertive stance on the various territorial disputes in East Asia. Continue reading

Iran News Round Up March 18, 2014

Nuclear power plant "Kernkraftwerk Emslan...

Nuclear power plant “Kernkraftwerk Emsland” (Photo credit: flokru)

A selection of the latest news stories and editorials published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by the AEI Critical Threats Project’s Iran research team. To receive this daily newsletter, please subscribe online. 

(E) = Article in English

Excerpts of these translations may only be used with the expressed consent of the authors

Nuclear Issue