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We seem unable to focus on one thing long enough until we get a solution. Our fickle minds paralyse us into inaction, says Makhudu Sefara.
Johannesburg - One of the fascinating things about global affairs is the speed with which people of the world easily move attention away from things that must preoccupy them. We, like sardines, move with the times. We get caught in the moment.
Not long ago, citizens of the globe were fascinated by what appeared to be the emasculation of the US at the G20 leaders’ summit in St Petersburg, Russia. The host, Vladimir Putin, seemed to show that the Kremlin had not lost its lustre completely with the collapse of the USSR in 1989.
Today, though, the shutdown showdown on Capitol Hill, and the US’s indebtedness, – or is it its unwillingness to extend medical cover to its poorer citizens, something already done by other developed countries – is the world’s newest craze.
From Africa to Asia, Europe and the Americas, many wonder how North America’s governance logjam will impact on their countries.
For Republicans, it is an unwinnable battle. If they consent to signing Obamacare into law, it is political suicide as the benefits accruing from the law will win hearts and minds for the Democrats. If they don’t, can they afford the public relations nightmare in terms of which they would be blamed for the effects of the shutdown?
The key question is whether the Republicans will dig in their heels and risk a US default, or if the world’s superpower will be pulled back from the brink. We are, in a way, caught up in America’s maelstrom, its indecision, the crassness of the numbers’ game at play. Fascinating, though concerning. This, too, shows how we all just find one topic and get very fascinated about it to the exclusion of many other things that necessarily ought to preoccupy our minds. Conveniently, all we worry about are the symptoms of the saga and not its genesis.
Just a week ago, we were horrified by the terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Some were even more fascinated by the alleged involvement of Samantha Lewthwaite and dished out such meaningless labels like the “White Widow”. But we were not horrified sufficiently to look at the causes and have serious debates about what Africa should do to rid itself of elements like al-Shabaab.
Prior to that, on July 3, the generals in Cairo seized power, arrested President Mohamed Mursi and unleashed a crackdown, killing a few people in the process. However unlikeable Mursi might have been, however undemocratic some of his decisions, he was, in the end, appropriately elected by the majority of his country. The manner of his removal necessarily ought to have been democratic.
Think back to our other preoccupation prior to the G20 – yes, the US’s resolve to attack Syria for using chemical weapons on children. Remember the images of gassed kids? Infuriating. Remember how Obama was girding for military battle, until John Kerry’s off-the-cuff remarks almost accidentally handed Russia a diplomatic victory on the saga?
Were we infuriated enough to want to know the real truth of the situation that led to those children being gassed? Why is it that all of us, including the UN, appear incapable of knowing what led to these children dying such brutal deaths? Well, we are of fickle minds and attention, are we not? If not, how do we explain Bashar Assad and his regime simply vanishing off the radar?
Similarly, how do the military men of Cairo simply just unseat a legitimately elected president, arrest his colleagues, shoot dead a few protesters and nothing happens? How does that DJ, that man who removed Marc Ravalomanana from his position as president of Madagascar, remain in his position for so long? The killings in Central African Republic? We seem unable to focus on one thing long enough until we get a solution. Our fickle minds paralyse us into inaction.
President Jacob Zuma told the UN General Assembly recently that its most crucial council, the Security Council, was unrepresentative and undemocratic. He wasn’t the first, or the only one, to do so. And certainly will not be the last.
In fact, the best critique of the UN was by former secretary-general Kofi Annan, who, in his 2005 report titled “In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all”, lays bare the limitations of this instrument for security and development. Annan labelled the composition of the Security Council “anachronistic” and went on to write about the legitimacy deficit of the UN, how unrepresentative it was of the “geopolitical realities of today” – that being eight years ago.
But the critical thing is not to merely stand on international platforms and issue prosaic platitudes, especially when we already know how divided the Security Council is and how it is used to pursue interests of already powerful nations.
The truth is that in spite of what the UN pretends it is, or what it claims it could do, people of the world who inhabit less democratic spaces are left to dictators and murderous scoundrels to determine the quality of lives they get – if they are not gassed like the kids in Damascus. For the parents of those South Africans who lost their lives in the CAR, they will sit and wonder if they will ever know who the bright spark is who planned and led the coup that led to their kin’s merciless deaths. And the UN, like the rest of us, will sit on its hands because of problems we know, problems Annan spoke about in 2005, problems about which there are no concrete steps being taken to resolve. All we have, and ever will get, are platitudes. This is a great shame.
As we marvel at the US’s indecisiveness, as the thick heads in Damascus disappear off the radar, as the military in Cairo establishes itself as a parallel to democratic rule, as the citizens of the CAR and Madagascar wonder whether democracy, this very thing central to human development but which we take for granted, will ever grace their shores, others, meanwhile, watch with fascination as the Republicans and Democrats risk the globe’s economic recovery. They also wonder what the next craze will be after the US shutdown showdown.
It’s like a sickening cirque du soleil. We get caught in the moment and, in the end, the mothers of those gassed kids get no justice. You’ve got to be sad.
* Makhudu Sefara is editor of The Star.