African papers are asking “why war, why now?” and sounding alarms about the viability of the United Nations in an increasingly complicated world. The common theme—from Burkina Faso to Zambia—is unabashed condemnation of the United States and of what Nigerian paper This Day called the “Anglo-American invasion.”
Papers across Africa questioned the rationale for invading Iraq. The Mail & Guardian of Johannesburg said the war “is about revenge; about American penis size as much as American bellies. It is an object lesson to the Islamic world in the aftermath of the Twin Towers and a shot across the bows of the other great powers with interests in the Gulf. It is an opportunity for hard-eyed generals and their industrial suppliers to test new military toys. The last thing it is really about is the liberation of the Iraqi people.” The paper added, “There is no reason for thinking that a Pax Americana is desired by ordinary Iraqis or will improve their lot.”
Nigeria’s This Day said: “America has failed to convince the world that Iraq poses any immediate threat to any nation on earth today. The question America has failed to answer is what makes the alleged pre-emptive war so urgent?” Rejecting claims by the United States and Britain that diplomatic options were exhausted, leaving them no option but war, the Lagos paper said the United States and her pro-war partners “abandoned diplomacy.” Zimbabwe’s government-owned Sunday News said the United States and Britain have yet to substantiate the weapons of mass destruction claim. “The coalition leaders are still finding it difficult to legitimise the onslaught on Iraq.”
A number of African papers seemed to relish the opportunity to condemn what they see as the United States’ arrogance and double standards. The Post, an independent daily from Lusaka, Zambia, led last Friday’s editorial: “We have just seen on television images of the brutal way in which the United States and Britain are murdering Iraqis. And these are governments that try to deceive the world by calling themselves defenders of human rights. This is how they try to clear their consciences of the helpless and defenseless people they are murdering in cold blood.” L’Observateur of Burkina Faso declared, “The policeman of the world is revealing itself to be an outlaw,” and asked, “Isn’t this the same America that supported or even created dictators—indeed, including Saddam Hussein—that today touts itself as being able to bring liberty and democracy to the Iraqi people?” Ethiopia is one of three African countries on the U.S. list of the “coalition of the willing,” but the independent Daily Monitor of Addis Ababa said “the way of the world” is for powerful nations to gain from the misfortunes of others. “It now becomes clear that only the great powers can speak of national interests [and] sovereignty and the rest of the world is supposed to say nothing.”
Many papers voiced anxiety over the implications of a pre-emptive war without U.N. backing. The Nation of Nairobi ran an op-ed with the headline, “Why We Can’t Do Away With the UN.” The paper said: “The problem is that this has set a precedent for unauthorised pre-emptive military actions in future on all manner of pretexts. This is a serious threat to world peace.” It continued, “Threats to world peace are increasing and nations of the earth, especially the US, would be mistaken if they let the UN collapse. With rogue nations like North Korea and unstable ones like Pakistan acquiring nuclear weapons, it would be all too easy for nuclear conflict to ensue in the absence of a world system that allows diplomacy to flourish. The UN must survive the Iraqi crisis.” The Independentof The Gambia also forecast dangerous fallout from the war. “If one coherent prediction can be made on the effects of America’s unilateral declaration of war on Iraq, it is that the face of the international system has been irredeemably altered.” The paper said it is “difficult to see how the United Nations will regain the status and relative coherence it enjoyed before Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The Post of Zambia declared, “They [the United States and Britain] will get their world, the world they seek, a world that will be steadily more and more ungovernable.” L’Express, an independent paper from Mauritius, simply warned, “An execrable precedent has been created.”
A number of papers tied coverage of the Iraq war to their own internal battles. An Ivory Coast paper chose to blast the French, who are currently the object of many Ivorians’ ire—thousands of French troops are in the country to protect their citizens and monitor a cease-fire seven bloody and chaotic months after a failed coup. Following France’s pronouncement that it would step in with support should Iraq use chemical or biological weapons against coalition forces, Ivoire Forum said, “Clearly, France’s fits and starts were driven by a single imperative: to protect her economic interests.” Referring to a controversial peace accord brokered in Marcoussis near Paris, in which rebels were promised key positions in a new Ivorian government, the paper said, “Perhaps we can have a Marcoussis on Iraq, under which we will have U.S. Marines in the new reconciliation government. The world is watching.” Nigeria’s This Day reported that officials there are questioning whether a recent U.S. decision to suspend military assistance was a response to Nigeria’s opposition to the war. According to the paper, the Nigerian foreign minister called the U.S. decision “sheer intimidation.” The State Department insisted its move was not linked to Nigeria’s position on the war.
The United States has not been on Zimbabwe’s friends list lately. In early March, the United States imposed financial sanctions on Zimbabwe, followed by a damning State Department report blaming the policies of President Robert Mugabe for the country’s current turmoil. After the start of the Iraq war, the pro-government Sunday News of Zimbabwe said, “[Bush and Blair] seem to have a propensity for bullying weaker nations into submission as evidenced by what has so far been a diplomatic onslaught on Zimbabwe ostensibly over the land issue and President Mugabe’s challenge of their hegemonic tendencies.” Like Iraq, the paper said, “Zimbabwe is to be punished for challenging the neo-imperialists by seeking to indeginise [sic] the economy through the land reform process.” An op-ed in Business Day of Johannesburg raised the specter of apartheid: “Democratisation of the UN is vital in organising the new global multipolarity. [South Africa] and the rest of the continent have no choice but to go this route. Joining in a new Anglo-American hegemony leads nowhere but to the ratification of global apartheid.”