culled from GUARDIAN April 8, 2003
ABOUT 40 per cent of Africa's population resides in West Africa. The huge mass
of the region is made up of rich, fertile lands that can support this large
population of over 250 million. Also, the region has huge mineral resources
most of which are yet to be explored or exploited. It has a vast coastline,
teeming with abundant marine resources.
West Africa encompasses the gulf of Guinea which has the largest reserves of
oil and natural gas on the African continent. It is the cradle of the African
diaspora, with its progeny dispersed throughout the world, but particularly in
the United States of America, the Caribbean and Latin America. The energy,
intellect and raw talent of West Africa's people is second to none; and the
region's cultural diversity is rich and alluring. West Africa ought to be, not
only prosperous and powerful but the engine of growth and prosperity for the
rest of Africa. Its voice should be heard and respected in the highest
councils of the international community. And it should be on the cutting edge
of international political decision-making.
Indeed, West Africa should be a force for good, a beacon of hope for the
down-trodden, a model of democracy-in-action, a defender of justice and human
rights in Africa and beyond. In a nutshell, it holds so much promise. Yet, the
portrait of the region we see is much different. The reality is far from the
ideal. What ought to be simply isn't. Our West Africa of today is mired in
conflict and poverty; resources are wasted and squandered and old autocrats
too often refuse to give way to new, enlightened, and democratic leadership.
National potential including economic, social and political - are unrealised.
West Africa remains the land of "Ought to be", and the hopes and dreams of
those who love this continent are shattered and unfulfilled.
West Africa's current crisis began in 1989, with the brutal civil war in
Liberia. Never before had this region seen such wanton destruction and
brutality; never before had the troubles in one country engulfed so many
others; never before had a country been taken over by ethnically based warring
factions. That war killed 150,000 Liberians, generated 750,000 refugees and
internally displaced 2.4 million Liberians, nearly 70 per cent of Liberia's
population. The civil war in Liberia ended in 1997 with internationally
observed national elections. I was there and we all rejoiced; ECOMOG had been
a success. A new model for regional conflict resolution and peacemaking had
been born; and a partnership among ECOWAS, the International contact group on
Liberia and the United Nations had proven its mettle. As President Bill
Clinton's special envoy in Liberia, I personally had travelled nearly one
million miles in search of peace in Liberia. I was drained and exhausted but
very happy at the outcome.
Little did we realise at that time that the civil war in Liberia would spawn
an "ARC OF CRISIS" in West Africa, that would progressively engulf the other
countries in the Mano River Union (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) and
countries further afield. This was a plan, premeditated throughout, to foster
chaos, control the resources of the region, and install like-minded regimes
bent on regional control. The plan, I believe, was hatched in Monrovia,
Tripoli and Oquagadougou, by leaders that I will call the "The Three Horsemen
of the Apocalypse" (Taylor, Campaore and Quadafi). The plan, which launched
"Operation no living thing" in Sierra Leone, under the maniacal leadership of
Foday Sankoh, nearly destroyed that country, and left thousands of innocent
civilians maimed and homeless. It also left a virtual army of child soldiers
who had committed the most unspeakable atrocities. In time, the plan was
checked by ECOMOG, and the International community, through the peacekeeping
efforts of UNAMSIL.
Today, Sierra Leone is the poorest country in the world, although rich in
diamonds, timber, marine resources, and fertile agricultural lands. The
International Community has introduced agreements to check the trade in blood
and conflict diamonds but large quantities of illicit diamonds still flow from
Sierra Leone. Liberia again teeters on the brink of a civil war with the
Government of Charles Taylor seriously challenged by its own rebel movement.
Cote D'Ivoire could still implode along regional, ethnic and religious lines,
dividing the country along a North-South axis, no thanks to a misguided policy
of Ivoirite - a definition of Ivorian citizenship that excluded 40 per cent of
the country's population.
Hovering above all of this are Nigeria's impending National Elections. This is
perhaps the most critical period in this country's history. Nigerians can
squabble and fight and kill one another or they can pull together and make
this the first successful civilian-to-civilian political transition. They can
consolidate this young democracy or throw it to the wind. They can set a new
course for this nation based on a national consensus that Nigeria will move
forward, strong and indivisible, a model of unity in diversity for the rest of
the world, not least your troubled brothers and sisters in this neighbourhood.
I worry about the level and frequency of violence, including assassinations
that have trailed these elections; I also worry when some political parties
and personalities have already declared these elections to be rigged, unfree
and unfair before a single vote is cast.
Nigeria is the second largest economy on the continent; nearly 50 per cent of
West Africa's GDP resides here. Cote D'Ivoire is the third largest economy on
the continent. If Nigeria and Cote D'Ivoire falter, West Africa stands no
chance, and what "Ought to be" will never come to pass. The region will lose,
Africa will lose and the Diaspora will lose. We must not allow this to happen;
no political prize is worth the cost.
Mr. Jeter is the United States Ambassador to Nigeria.