The promotion, nurturing and consolidation of democracy amongst the nations of Africa should be seen as a positive imperative of British foreign policy. How energetically we respond as the people of Tunisia, Egypt, the Ivory Coast and others reach for freedom may determine a course of direction for nations across Africa.
Over the past decades, the West has moved from the era of “Wind of Change” , through the use of African dictatorships as proxies in the Cold War, the Band Aid generation that built, a now much critiqued, “aid dependency” view of Africa and now onward to the more hopeful embrace of African democracy and a growing consumer middle class.
Challenges no doubt remain, from the continuing needs for aid and development, to the menacing evils of dictators growing daily more conscious that their time may soon be up. However, the opportunities outweigh the challenges and those who love freedom have good cause to reach out and assist.
The key characteristic of the Tunisian revolution was not its apparent spontaneity and the immediacy of Ben-Ali’s exile; it was that it was a home-grown, broad based expression of a people. The revolution was not imposed from outside, it was not partisan and it was not religious. The interim government under Md Ghannouchi is working hard to fill the power vacuum that naturally occurred as a result of this and to prepare the grounds for free elections. No easy task.
That is why we should be proud that our government moved quickly to upgrade their travel advisory for Tunisia, enabling the country to promote tourism again – a key industry and foreign exchange earner. The trip today of Foreign Secretary William Hague again demonstrates the leadership the United Kingdom is taking to make available our resources to help build civil society and democratic institutions.
With so much focus on Tunisia and Egypt, we should not lose sight of the efforts of the people of the Ivory Coast to enforce the result of their recent election and see Alassane Outtara take office as President. This is a real test of the commitment to democracy of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African State. Again, the United Kingdom should be providing support at the United Nations, imposing sanctions on former President Gbagbo and preparing other forms of assistance.
Why the imperative if the signs on the journey to democracy are so hopeful? Well, the threat to this hopeful journey is the push for access to the resources of Africa by the state-owned enterprises of China, the growing needs of India, and defensive moves by entrenched, largely Western, multinational businesses.
While multinationals have become used to transparency for their operations and face pressure from activist shareholders, media and civil society groups, Chinese state owned enterprises are less susceptible to these constraints. A broader push for democracy may encourage their enlightenment.
For the United Kingdom, this is not a call for a 21st century equivalent of a “Race for Africa”, rather it is a readiness to supply the support, information and experience to enable people from nations across Africa to reach forward for freedom and to entrench their democratic rights.