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The Bible sermonizes (Galatians 6:7): “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. ”More than a century ago, European imperialism sowed the violent convulsions and upheavals we are now witnessing in Africa and the Middle East. The torrent of refugees from these regions currently fleeing to Europe was begotten by Europe’s own rapacious and unjust colonial schemes. It was altogether predictable that a refugee crisis would ultimately uncork in the aftermath of Europe’s unfinished decolonization arrangements which flouted the right to self-determination among indigenous peoples.
European colonization was born in original sin. Hearkening back to the Old Testament, Europeans believed they were “chosen people” entitled to kill, to plunder, and to rule over others who were both different and weak. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chinua Achebe’s blistering retort in “An Image of Africa” prove it all.
Colonial boundaries were drawn to suit the ambitions of the colonizers, not to facilitate nation-building by indigenous peoples. And the colonizers embraced “divide and rule” as their strategy for deterring unified popular rebellions against their racist dispensations. Accordingly, peoples with clashing histories, cultures, religions, ethnicities, languages, or otherwise were herded under single national umbrellas for the convenience of the colonizers.The British were the acknowledged experts in the field. In Nigeria, for instance, the distinct Igbo, Hausa-Fulani, and Yoruba peoples were compelled to dwell under a single British government roof. In Sudan, a largely Arab-Muslim people in the north were mixed by the British with a largely Christian-animist African population in the south to promote internal disunity.
Matthew 12:25 instructs: “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Europe decamped from its racist colonial conquests leaving numerous “houses,” i.e., artificial nations, divided against themselves. Colonial boundaries were not adjusted according to self-determination votes of discrete indigenous peoples who had been forced by their colonial overseers into unitary colonial rule. The colonial powers acted in accord with the Machiavellian principle that it is better to be feared than to be loved. They employed fear, not the consent of the governed, to rule over heterogeneous populations and to splinter the opposition. As versified by Hilaire Belloc, in the words of “Blood” in his poem “The Modern Traveler”:
“Whatever happens, we have got The Maxim gun, and they have not.”
Contrary to international law, European colonizers did not offer self-determination votes to the discrete peoples over whom they ruled prior to transferring power to new governments. If they had, few if any would have voted for a unitary government within artificial colonial boundaries. The exceptions would be the most populous or militarily powerful peoples eager to dominate and to exploit tribal, ethnic,racial, or religious minorities. That knowledge of human nature informed Article I of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It provides in relevant part: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Self-determination among peoples is an indispensable international law strategy for preventing majorities from oppressing minorities and precipitating refugee crises.
But in violation of Article 1, Europe’s colonizing nations delivered power into the hands of quislings among the colonized in hopes of maintaining their economic dominance. The result has been constant political instability, conflict, and persecution of minorities within immoral national boundaries established by the bayonet rather than the ballot box. Two representative examples are Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In the former, three of more than 300 tribes are predominant and constitute approximately 70 percent of the population: the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo. The Hausa dominate the military. Since independence in 1960 accomplished without self-determination referenda, Nigeria’s Igbo and other minorities have been constantly persecuted, marginalized, tortured, and killed by a unitary government. The 1967-1970 Biafran War was symptomatic.
The DRC, formerly Belgian Congo, also attained independence in 1960 with no self-determination votesamong its many distinct peoples, including four tribes dominant among the Bantu: the Mongo, Luba, Kongo, and Mangbetu-Azande. Soon after independence, the DRC threatened to become unglued. Katanga and South Kasai declared independence. Since then, the DRC with a unitary government has predictably experienced chronic violence, turmoil, strife, and secessionist movements among its vastly different peoples. A staggering 6 million were killed in the First and Second Congo Wars. The whole world knows of the Rwandan genocide born of France’s cynical “arranged marriage” of the Tutsi and Hutu under a single national roof. At this very moment in Agadez, a northern Niger desert crossroad, refugees from Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Chad, Guinea, Cameroon, Mali, and other towns in Niger are gathering in anticipation of flight to Europe via Libya and the Mediterranean. They have been provoked by national upheavals fueled by irrational national boundaries that mocked the right of peoples to self-determination.
That failure has clearly created a danger to international peace and security within the jurisdiction of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. Accordingly, the UNSC should establish Special Committees for each African nation to determine whether the right of people’s to self-determination has been honored. If not, the UNSC should mandate, conduct, and monitor self-determination votes under Chapter 7 as it has done previously in the cases of Eritrea and South Sudan. Redrawing African boundaries in accord with the self-determination of peoples will diminish, not aggravate, threats to international peace and security and the numbers of refugees. Thus, the post-Tito division of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia into eight separate nations featuring self-determination boundaries stopped genocidal killings, ethnic cleansings, and the flow of refugees into Western Europe. The same phenomenon can be expected in Africa following self-determination referenda. Completing the UNSC’s extensive self-determination agenda will take substantial time. That is all the more reason to begin immediately as the following anecdote about the great French Marshall Lyautey illustrates. He once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, “In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!” By
Published by Chinwe Korie