Last week, over at pambazuka.org Sokari Ekine wrote “Two African countries are presently on the verge of civil war. One is being reported minute by minute by international media, twitter and on blogs. The other is just beginning to emerge from the margins of international consciousness. Unlike Libya, Cote d’Ivoire has no strategic importance and the possible loss of its main resource – cocoa – doesn’t have the world financial markets and governments in a panic.”
This week we see that Cote d’ Ivoire is racialized as “hard to understand chaos”, where as Libya is seen as being caught between freedom and barbarity, i.e. becoming more like us in the West or reverting to a primitiveness that is too “African”. But clearly at a higher stage of civilization than Cote d’ Ivoire. Thus, in order to save Libya from itself, we are told that the “international community” must intervene and wage war against the forces of evil.
How did a naive left play into this dichotomy, and in what ways are we to blame for the break out of yet another international war?
One thing I can say is that for those constructing the mainstream story of what was happening in either place, the politics internal to the country was of no consequence.
Saying this is not meant to excuse dictators, rather, I want to get at something else. My question is: did “we” push Libya to the brink in the name of an “Arab revolution” so that it could be handed over to any number of reactionary forces? After all, in Libya were there ever any other social forces for which social revolt could mean anything at the level of governance? Who was organized in that country so that social revolt could have a meaningful benefit?
Indeed, it seems to me that any, even partial knowledge of Libya would have made it clear that the revolts in Libya were largely based with feudal loving groups (for lack of a better word). And I do not mean Islamists here (those folks are “anti-tribal” even if reactionary). The point is there was barely any organized, progressive forces in the country that could channel the various social players to produce some kind of positive outcome other than war. Clearly, a large part of that has to do with the fact that Ghadaffi himself had come to monopolize the language of the progressives. Thus, the work in Libya was to wrest that monopoly from Ghadaffi in theory and practice. Absent of that kind of movement building we could only have been faced with two evils, none of which are kinder or gentler than the other. Instead, real lives are turned into cannon fodder for ideological battles that are happening elsewhere.
As a result, when we called for the colonel’s rapid demise in Libya, as if Libya was indeed Egypt, what we also helped produce was a maximalist situation where the choice could only have been between “barbarity” and a “kinder” French/U.S led war?
So what fate for Libya and what fate for Cote d’Ivoire now that Sarkozy is that much closer to becoming king of the Mediterranean seas?
Well one thing we should acknowledge at a minimum is that in both countries the possibility of building a popular nationalism that speaks to the needs of the populations has been narrowed yet again. Next time the cracks in an authoritarian system open up we should remember that movement building takes years of work, and that spontaneity (if it is to have meaning) is never really spontaneous. Right?
We are not caught between a rock and hard place because we never left the seat of evil. And we will be there again tomorrow.
Gadaffi unlike Mubarak was a totalitarian dictator who blocked all spaces for progressive social movements to emerge, and destroyed the country’s social capital by ratcheting up social divisions. So if we follow the CPE logic as a rule-of-thumb for deciding which revolts to support or encourage, the revolts we should be least enthusiastic about are the ones that take place in the most oppressive countries. Surely this is an outcome that is hardly in line with the values of any segments of left wing politics.