From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

The Whiteman’s Burden
By Colorado: Prof. Kelfala Kallon
Jun 23, 2009, 17:16

"The Whiteman’s Burden," a poem Rudyard Kipling wrote for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, justified colonialism as an altruistic obligation of people of European descent to rule over non-whites and teach them their customs. This rationalization was not new, however, as the transatlantic slave trade had been similarly justified by the claim that enslaved Africans were being done a favor by their European enslavers because, through slavery, they became Christians and were therefore saved from eternal damnation. In the post-colonial era also, the intervention by people of European descent into the affairs of post-colonial states was justified on the grounds that it promoted good governance and economic development.

Prof. Kelfala Kallon

In his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, the late Walter Rodney provided an alternative perspective (which I will label as the Blackman’s Wahala) about the motives for, and impact of, the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism on African peoples. Rodney dismissed the curiously altruistic justification for both the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism and claimed that they were motivated by European self-interest and nothing else. Their effects on Africa were devastatingly negative in the sense that they robbed Africans of their resources and decimated their traditional institutions. And because Africans did not hold leadership positions during colonialism, as well as they fact that colonial regimes had no stomach for democratic institutions, Africans who took over from them had neither leadership experience nor appreciation for democratic institutions. Consequently, they flirted with socialist rhetoric, even though they were capitalists of the worst kind, because its one-party doctrine provided justification for their dictatorial predisposition. The results were predictable; post-independent African leaders soon transformed themselves into dictators-for-life who promptly drove their countries aground—with the support and connivance of Kipling’s Whiteman who needed their support in the Cold War.

Kipling’s "Whiteman" discovered that democracy was good for Africans only after the Cold War when the support of African dictators was no longer needed in the geopolitical contest between the West and the Soviets. It then became the Whiteman’s Burden to democratize Africa. Accordingly, "good governance" became the rallying cry for the West’s new endeavor in Africa. And because there was only one super power after the fall of the Soviets, the European-American axis was renamed the "International Community."

The new democracy that this International Community sought to promote in Africa required that African governments be weakened and made irrelevant to their people. Thus, domestic monetary and fiscal policies were sub-contracted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund through the much vilified structural adjustment programs. European non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were soon judged to be more capable of advancing the interests of Africans than their own governments. Consequently, NGOs became the new vehicle for channeling international assistance to Africans, thereby making governments irrelevant to the daily lives of the average African. This and their earlier support for African dictators provided fuel for the civil wars that blighted the lives of millions of Africans in the post-Cold-War era.

In the case of Sierra Leone, Kipling’s "Whiteman" poured accolades on Siaka Stevens for maintaining "political stability" in the country, even though they knew that Sierra Leoneans were paying a high price for Stevens’ "fake" political stability. However, when the civil war that resulted from two decades of Stevens’ dictatorial rule erupted in 1991, Stevens’ handpicked successor, President Momoh, could not rely on "Whiteman’s" support to repel the rebels. With the Cold War having ended, President Momoh was not as useful to British (and Western) geopolitical interests as Stevens had been. Thus, the British only offered him non-lethal aid (flashlights and maps).

In 2000, however, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, Britain intervened militarily in the Sierra Leone conflict (with 800 troops) on behalf of the International Community. However, this was only after she and her NATO allies had been roundly criticized for the disproportionate attention they gave to, and resources they poured into, the Bosnian conflict while the Sierra Leone conflict, which had become a humanitarian basket-case, was virtually ignored. The war ended in less than two years thereafter. In short, Britain had again shouldered the Whiteman’s Burden in Sierra Leone.

That the war ended so quickly after their intervention raises the question of how many lives the British would have saved if they had intervened in the conflict much earlier. It is similarly worth reflecting on how many needless deaths Britain and her allies might have saved if they had not colluded with Siaka Stevens to sow the seeds of the war in the first place. Be that as it may, every loyal Sierra Leonean was grateful to the British and her international partners for eventually taking up the "Whiteman’s Burden" and bringing peace to the country. Some Sierra Leoneans even wished openly for the British to re-colonize the country.

Being our most generous post-war benefactors, the British soon re-colonized the country by interjecting themselves into every aspect of the post-war (Kabbah) government’s decision-making process—including the ignominious handing-over of Chief Hingha Norman to the UN Special Court. However, when the Kabbah administration refused to dance to the British Department for International Development’s (DFID) tune on delicate matters such as the composition of the cabinet and President Kabbah’s close relationship with Iran, the British purse strings were tightened and the regime-change agenda was formulated for Sierra Leone. And by the time elections rolled around in 2007, the British and her Western allies were so wedded to the regime-change agenda that they were willing to trample on Britain’s most prized colonial-era bequest to us (judicial review of administrative decisions of public officials) in order to implement it.

Consequently, when the SLPP presidential candidate sought relief from the Supreme Court to enjoin the NEC boss, Dr. Christiana Thorpe (of "Cut-Yah, Troway-Yanda" fame) from announcing the results of the run-off elections until all ballots were tallied (including the 250,000 votes from 477 polling stations she ultimately discarded), it was the British High Commissioner and the American ambassador (the deans of the International Community in Sierra Leone) who headed a group of Western diplomats which put pressure on the SLPP leadership to withdraw the court action. And when the latter refused, Madam Thorpe was allegedly hidden at the British-controlled IMATT in order to frustrate the SLPP’s attempts to serve the Court’s subpoena on her.

Of course, it didn’t matter to the Western diplomats that both the Constitution of Sierra Leone and the elections laws reposed final jurisdiction for all disputes arising from public elections in the country in the courts—not in the Western diplomatic corps. All that mattered to them was the regime-change agenda, even if its implementation required the perpetration of an electoral fraud of monumental proportions on the people of Sierra Leone. Accordingly, they stamped the "selection" as free and fair and the rest is history.

Since that day of infamy, the International Community has been mum on the worrying emergence of political violence and the naked abuse of power that have characterized President Koroma’s tenure. In the rare cases when they have acknowledged these problems, they have been quick to make facetious excuses on behalf of the APC regime—in much the same way as they excused Idi Amin Dada’s human rights abuses early in his regime because they had played a vital role in his overthrow of Milton Obote.

For his part, President Koroma has moved swiftly to ingratiate himself even more to his political benefactors. For example, he wasted no time to roundly condemn Mugabe (the African leader the West loves to hate). Moreover, his recent transfer of the South American cocaine convicts to the Americans, even before the deadline for appealing their convictions in Sierra Leone’s appellate courts expired, has significantly increased his political stock in the halls of power in Europe and America. Thus, just as they initially see Idi Amin’s antics as capable of destroying democracy in Uganda, the West (cum International Community) is refusing to understand that APC-sponsored political violence, if unchecked, will eventually undermine Sierra Leone’s hard-won peace.

What surprises me most is that former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair—an avowed champion of constitutionalism, rule of law, and human rights in Zimbabwe—is so intent on promoting what his government wrought in Sierra Leone that even the alleged rape of 6 SLPP women by a gang reportedly led by President Koroma’s chief bodyguard failed to elicit any public comment from him. Can anyone imagine how worked up Tony Blair would have been if Mugabe’s supporters had raped even one opposition female supporter? Also, would Tony Blair and the International Community have endorsed a Mugabe victory in a Zimbabwean election in which the electoral commissioner declared Mugabe as winner only after discarding even a single vote, let alone 250,000?

I am by no means equating the current level of human rights violations in Sierra Leone with what obtained in either Zimbabwe or Idi Amin’s Uganda when the British developed their regime-change agendas for those countries. Hence, a Zimbabwean- or Ugandan-type response is neither justified nor appropriate for Sierra Leone at this time. But given our recently violent history, and especially the APC’s demonstrated predisposition to violence, the International Community should know that the Sierra Leonean situation can deteriorate very quickly if the APC continues to illegally frustrate the aspirations of Sierra Leonean’s opposition parties. This, in my opinion, is the greatest reason why Mr. Blair, Sierra Leone’s most influential friend in the West, should put pressure on his friend at State House to enforce the law in a fair and transparent manner.

In any case, the hypocrisy of the International Community regarding what they consider "free and fair" elections has been amply demonstrated by their response to the recent Iranian presidential election crisis. Given the standard they set in Sierra Leone, which is that administrative officials have the right to toss over 250,000 votes even when the law says otherwise, what moral standing do they have to castigate the Iranian officials who merely ("efficiently") counted 40 million votes in less than two hours? At least, unlike Madam Cut-Yah, Troway Yanda, who actually admitted to ditching 250,000 legally-cast votes, the Iranian Mullahs claim that they counted and tallied every vote. Whether they actually did this is beside the point here.

One wonders, therefore, whether by their position on the Iranian election the International Community now agrees with the SLPP that elections are only "free and fair" when every vote is counted accurately. If this is the case, then we should wonder whether the International Community’s double-standard is perhaps a demonstration of their apparent belief that Africans have no right to aspire to what is good for Kipling’s Whiteman—given the fact that Persians are Europeans.

Finally, before some dimwit accuses me of being against the International Community, I must state that I believe that the International Community can play a very positive role in the promotion of peace and democracy in our country. However, to accomplish this, they must be seen to deal fairly and honestly with all political parties. Secondly, they must recognize the unintended negative consequences of their recent successful regime-change agenda in the country and make amends with the people of Sierra Leone who are now condemned to bear those consequences. Thirdly, they must realize that their refusal to condemn the dictatorial tendencies of their benefactee, President Ernest Bai Koroma, have the capacity to sow the seeds for the next wahala in our country—in much the same way as their erstwhile support for Siaka Stevens contributed to our last wahala.

Thus, to avoid this, they must not only condemn all acts of politically-motivated violence and abuse of power in the country, they must also sanction those perpetuating them. Lastly, they must understand that band-aid gimmicks such as inter-party communiqués (which everyone knows will be only effective until the next APC attack on the SLPP) are not worth the paper on which they are written. If they do these things, perhaps the people of Sierra Leone would forgive them for corruptly foisting a miserably incompetent, despicably violence-prone, and unapologetically tribalistic government (which has succeeded in reversing all the economic and democratic gains the country enjoyed under the former SLPP government in less than two years) on them.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.