Africa can Learn from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, though carrying himself simply, has no doubt ruffled the feathers of the high and mighty. In Western circles, he has been described as a zealot, fascist, fanatic, lunatic and racist who wants to “wipe off” Israel from the map. Can this man who has assiduously toured third world countries especially in Latin America and Africa be wished away? Do his actions and talk make any sense?
|President Ahmadinejad Photo:Courtesy|
That Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government has left footprints in Africa is no closed secret. Tehran has forged ties with Senegal where it has promised to build an oil refinery, a chemical plant and a $80 million car assembly. Tehran and Zimbabwe have signed deals to boost energy cooperation, restart Zimbabwe’s defunct oil refinery, underwrite agricultural policies that have left the Southern Africa nation on the brink of famine and help repel sanctions. In 2007, Iran not only pledged cooperation to exploit Uganda’s newfound oil fields, but its Export Development Bank pledged $1 million to underwrite microfinance in Uganda. Iran has wooed Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Malawi, Lesotho, Mauritania, Mali, Namibia and South Africa among other countries.
Africa should however be strategic in this relationship to avoid the previous skewed economic relationships that have seen the continent lose all its wealth to investors. According to Breaking the Curse: How Transparent Taxation and Fair Taxes can Turn Africa's Mineral Wealth into Development, a report by Action Aid International-Africa Region and the Tax Justice Network for Africa, African governments are foregoing millions of dollars in revenue through mining tax subsidies and company tax avoidance. The main beneficiaries of the mining boom in Africa are “…a handful of African political elites, the shareholders of mining companies, the engineering, construction and management consultant firms servicing the global mining industry, and the financial institutions backing these ventures."
Under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s watch, Iran has developed an advanced nuclear capability that has raised international concern. How many African leaders can boast of having laid infrastructure that has propelled their nations to prosperity? Most of them, though presiding over countries with fertile soils cannot feed their populations. Though managing mineral-rich countries, their populations wallow in poverty and die of basic treatable diseases. They still use the infrastructure inherited from former colonial regimes and have not even improved on it. Having neglected and run down their health infrastructure for example, they have to fly abroad for simple medical attention.
Upon ascending office in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got rid of the highly valued Iranian carpets in the office of the President and replaced them with low-cost ordinary carpets. He shut down the huge and extravagant lounge for receiving and welcoming VIPs and replaced it with an ordinary room. He also converted the presidential aircraft into a cargo aircraft. In other words, though heading an oil-rich nation, he was keen to reduce government expenditure on items that did not add value to the nation’s economic progress. African leaders ought to draw a lesson from this and reduce unnecessary government expenditure. The Kenya government for example has budget deficit. The country however is not very keen on reducing expenditure through reducing the size of government ministries and cutting down on legislators’ hefty pay. African leaders are keen to build new mansions for their leaders, purchase fuel guzzling cars for them and purchase presidential planes. All this is done in spite of the fact that the citizenry can’t afford a single meal and youths are plagued with massive unemployment.
To show an example of accountability, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared his wealth upon assuming office. It included the money in his bank account, his Peugeot 504, a house inherited from his father and the salary he was earning as a university lecturer. This is opposed to African leaders who have stashed billions in offshore banks, money which is never recovered once they are dead as nobody in the country knows about it. The leaders’ lack of confidence in their respective countries saw the total capital flight from 40 Sub Saharan Africa countries amount to $420 billion (in 2004 dollars) compared to a total external debt at the end of the period (1970 to 2004) of $227 billion. This made the continent a net creditor to the rest of the world.
Ahmadinejad should however clear himself from allegations that he is using his hard-line stand against Western imperialism to mask his political failures back at home as segments of the Iranian government are in bed with the Zionists and are inviting them to pillage and loot the population. Domestically, says George Michael (Assistant professor of political science and administration of justice, University of Virginia’s College at Wise) “Some Iranians fear that Ahmadinejad’s provocative rhetoric is isolating their country.” He should thus guard against going against the very tenets of cooperation and right to exist that he is advocating for and craft a stratagem that will see the rights of Israel and Palestine respected, even if it means creating what Libyan president Muammar Gadaffi calls the rainbow “Isratine.” Arash Norouzi (artist and co-founder of The Mossadegh Project) states that Ahmadinejad has never said that Israel must be wiped off the map. “Ahmadinejad did not refer to Israel the country or Israel the land mass, but Israeli regime,” he says. “One cannot wipe a regime off the map. The word ‘map’ was never used nor was the phrase ‘wiped out.’” In the light of the foregone explanation, Ahmadinejad consequently needs to walk this tightrope of providing a Solomon solution to the Middle east crisis.
Do Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks make sense? His participation in the recent UN race conference spurred boycott from the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland among others. In the conference, he decried international dictatorship that has seen powerful countries decide the fate of less powerful countries. He cited the establishment of Israel as a strategic bridgehead of the West to ensure domination of the Middle East and its assets. In other words, he was not only agitating for equal-partner relationship and consultation on major global issues, but also for the redefinition of the rule of law. Who defines the rule of law? Is rule of law only fair when it serves the interests of powerful regimes? This comes in the wake of the sanitizing of the Rwanda regime. Is it strategically being propped up to exploit the mineral-rich DR Congo?
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also decried the act of powerful countries deciding for others based on their own interests. He cited the global finance establishments that have imposed crippling standards on developing countries. In his essay "Divorce Africa from the World Bank and IMF: Reflections on an Abusive Relationship," James Shikwati (Director, Inter Region Economic Network) observes that the current economic order is making Africans poorer while opening up the continent to plunder by developed economies. Attempts to push Africa to adopt market economic policy framework by Western countries through the World Bank/IMF and their allied international agencies goes against the spirit of free choice enshrined in free market systems. Africa therefore ought to rethink its relationship with the World bank/IMF and seek to build ethno sensitive institutions that will address the continent’s interests.
By Josephat Juma
The author writes for The African Executive
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