Guy Scott Returns White Rule to Africa: a timely reminder of the continent’s lack of progress

Guy Scott has drawn rare attention to the African state of Zambia this week, not for anything he has done but because of the colour of his skin. The death of President Michael Sata has handed the white Scott temporary leadership of one of the continent’s more stable countries, elevating him from his previous role as Vice President.

Scott was born in Northern Rhodesia and educated in the UK
Scott was born in Northern Rhodesia and educated in the UK

Scott is the first white leader of a mainland African state since F W De Klerk made way for Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994. He is Zambia’s first white head of state since Sir Evelyn Dennison Hone, the final Governor of what was the British colony of Northern Rhodesia.

Although Scott is anything but the white nationalist, some people within Zambia and further afield are likely to voice scepticism about his appointment, however temporary. This may partly relate to his relative lack of diplomatic power in the past, but is likely to largely concern his race and the uncomfortable prospect of a white man leading a black majority.

Despite the inherent unfairness of the white majority rule that embedded itself in several African states in the 20th century, it can hardly be argued that the prospects of the average African have improved by the year 2014. Indeed, incidences of violence and crime continue to escalate across the continent, with corrupt governments and rebel militias wreaking misery in equal measure on their own people.

The shooting of South African soccer captain Senzo Meyiwa this week provided yet another reminder of the awful degradation of South African society. Fears of inter-racial violence are paling with the now abundant phenomenon of black-on-black crime. Political representation and democratic choice seem increasingly insignificant for many black South Africans whose educational and economic aspirations have surely declined since the Apartheid era.

Student protests were at the heart of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Today, education provision for many black South Africans is woefully inadequate
Student protests were at the heart of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Today, education provision for many black South Africans is woefully inadequate

In Burkina Faso, another president unwilling to relinquish the reins of power has created widespread rioting that has claimed 27 lives. Since the French colony of Upper Volta dissolved, this impoverished West African nation has been characterised by political repression and corrupt authoritarian rule.

Robert Mugabe, meanwhile, soldiers on in defiance of his various medical ailments in Zimbabwe, having successfully destroyed the productive capacity of the once prosperous white-led Southern Rhodesia.

Guy Scott will probably not run for the Zambian presidency in 90 days time when elections are scheduled. He may not be allowed to because of his foreign-born parents. Yet his temporary elevation to ascendancy is a stark reminder of how little has been achieved for the majority of Africans since the fall of the European colonies and white-minority governments that proliferated on the continent in the 20th century.

Our poorest people remain some way behind.

Percentage of population living in poverty
Percentage of population living in poverty

British Withdrawal from Afghanistan Puts Pressure on USA: can they really afford to scale back?

British combat operations in Afghanistan have ended after 13 years of struggle against the Taliban. With the US also in withdrawal mode, the onus is now firmly on the Afghan security forces to try and implement a degree of stability in this desperately troubled country. Unfortunately, in a nation which has constantly been subjected to foreign intervention and internal strife, recent history suggests that the prospects for enduring peace are slim.

Afghan-withdrawal-_3085659k

The last major withdrawal by an international power from Afghanistan was when the Soviet Union conceded a stalemate against the Mujahideen after a decade of conflict and departed in 1989. Of course, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is somewhat different from the US-led intervention in 2001, yet there are some undoubted similarities. A foreign state fought an indigenous movement for control of the country, with a plethora of warlords, ethnic militias and rival factions aligning and re-aligning themselves between the two main players.

Ultimately, the Soviet withdrawal paved the way for the Afghan Civil War and the eventual seizure of power by the Taliban in 1996. It is certain that the initial Soviet invasion created the conditions for the rise of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and their presence in the country was anything but stabilizing. Their withdrawal then precipitated the rapid rise of these extremists, who sidelined the more moderate leaders of the Mujahideen and their supporters.

Many of the Mujahideen that fought the Soviets later joined the Taliban and other extremist groups
Many of the Mujahideen that fought the Soviets later joined the Taliban and other extremist groups

It did not take long for American and British forces to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001, yet eradicating this terror-loving group has proven to be a monumentally difficult task. Despite being ousted from large parts of the country, with much of its leadership eliminated, the Taliban continues to wage an insurgency. The Afghan security forces will find this increasingly hard to resist when American combat operations cease.

Despite some excellent achievements and phenomenal sacrifices, the international intervention in Afghanistan has fallen short of complete success. Unless a significant number of American troops are retained in the country for the long-term, then the Taliban will regain control of much of the country. This is partly as a result of their ability to exploit the ethnic and regional divisions of the Afghan people. Mainly, however, it is due to the fact that it has always been able to count on sanctuary in Pakistan.

Northwest Pakistan is a lawless wasteland beyond the reach of Islamabad. American drone strikes have claimed the lives of countless Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives and leaders in the region. Yet the support from the tribal elders who control much of the territory in places like North Waziristan has allowed Islamic extremists to launch cross-border raids against Afghanistan on a regular basis.

North Waziristan's rugged terrain has made it an ideal refuge for extremist groups intent on inflicting misery in Afghanistan
North Waziristan’s rugged terrain has made it an ideal refuge for extremist groups intent on inflicting misery in Afghanistan

With an ineffective Pakistani political class – which has long remained subject to the desires of the military and ISI, whose support for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is barely disguised – the international coalition has been unable to deliver the death knell for the Taliban.

Put simply, it is not just Afghanistan itself but its geo-political environment that is irreparably compromised. It seems an almost impossible situation to solve and the best the Afghan people can hope for is for it to be managed effectively enough to deliver a semblance of peace.

Without British and American troops, and the sacrifices they have been willing to make, this will not be possible.

afgahn US withdrawal

Russian Sub in Trouble in Swedish Waters? Evoking Memories of the Cold War

The Swedish Navy continues to investigate ‘foreign underwater activity’ in the waters off Stockholm, amid claims that a Russian submarine had got into trouble after illegally entering Swedish waters. Memories of the Cold War have been evoked by Sweden’s dramatic response, which has extended to asking all civilian vessels to leave the search area.

A Swedish minesweeper patrols the Stockholm Archipelago
A Swedish minesweeper patrols the Stockholm Archipelago

If the intelligence is true it would be further testament to Russia’s current disregard for the territorial sovereignty of neighboring states and may also constitute the first sinking of a Russian submarine since 2003. That year, the nuclear-powered K-159 sunk in the Barents Sea whilst being towed for scrapping. This followed on three years after the Kursk Disaster, when 118 sailors perished after an explosion aboard the Oscar-II class sub, also in the Barents Sea.

Serious submarine accidents have become rarer in recent years as technology has improved and the dangerous stealth missions of the Cold War have theoretically ceased. More recent incidents have tended to occur during docking or close to shore. Collisions between submarines and undersea terrain or commercial vessels occur periodically, although military collisions are unusual.

The Royal Navy's HMS Astute ran aground off the Isle of Skye in 2010
The Royal Navy’s HMS Astute ran aground off the Isle of Skye in 2010

During the Cold War, Soviet and American/British vessels tracked each other mercilessly, testing out their stealth capabilities whilst providing a deterrent against nuclear assault. Near misses were recorded and tensions were permanently high as the combat-ready vessels sought ascendancy in one of the key theaters of military competition between East and West.

These tensions and concerns were potentially manifested in October 1986, when the Soviet K-219 submarine sunk after an explosion in the torpedo room, which some later claimed was the result of a collision with the USS Augusta as it tracked its Soviet counterpart.

Whatever the true cause of that incident, such happenings were a very real possibility three decades ago. Given the nuclear capabilities of the submarines and their sensitive reactors it was a constant concern for the powers-that-be.

K-219 Damaged
K-219 Damaged

There is no evidence to suggest that the Russian submarine off the Swedish coast (should the rumors turn out to be true) is ailing as a result of a collision. Yet its mere presence in Swedish waters raises questions about Russia’s renewed military assertiveness in the aftermath of its Ukrainian maneuvers.

Whether it will prompt anything more than raised eyebrows at the UN Security Council, or precipitate a re-escalation in covert international submarine patrols by global powers, is probably something we will never know.

Until the next collision that is.