Thursday, 5 November 2015

Cameron, Sisi Diplomatic Incident and Africa's Dilemma in Polarised ‘Global War on Terror’

By Takura Zhangazha*

This week was a scary one for Africa in international relations. In what has turned out be a very dramatic and sudden turn of events, the government of the United Kingdom has suspended all civilian flights from its airports to the Egyptian resort town of Sham el Sheik. The reason for this immediate decision was reported in the mainstream British media as being intelligence reports had advised that the tragic Russian airline crash over the Sinai last week  had ‘most likely been caused by a bomb’.  Therefore it would be unsafe for flights to continue until such a time security and threat to civilian life in that particular part of Egypt had been established. 

Meanwhile President Abdel Fatar el Sisi of Egypt was enroute to the United Kingdom for scheduled talks with his British equivalent.  In a further dramatic turn of events, the British government then de-escalated its decision to allow civilian flights to ‘rescue’ its citizens out of Sharm El Sheik after the meeting between Cameron and el Sisi.  All without their luggage and with empty cabin holds in the aeroplanes.

The threat to civilian life it turns out is from the Islamic State (ISIS) which both governments have been fighting either directly or by way of proxies largely in Syria.

The diplomatic incident took another turn with the Russian government reportedly telling its British counterpart not to ‘quickly jump to conclusions’ about a bomb having caused the tragic accident.
What strikes the mind however is the fact that this was a major diplomatic incident that could have had far reaching implications including the possible escalation of global polarization, with an African country, Egypt, becoming a possible pawn in a bigger game of global superpower chess.

It is a given that the West (read as Europe and North America) have serious differences with Russia over the latter’s 'unilateral' actions in Syria. And the West also thinks that if it turns out ISIS was responsible for the tragic airline crash, then it is partly the Russian intervention in Syria that is to blame.

These are issues that are difficult to take sides on mainly because African countries are generally meek in such global superpower disputes and tend to hide behind the principle of sovereignty to claim that its hands are tied. Even when an African country is in the throes of a major international incident as is Egypt.

But Africa and Africans should at least be worried about these developments that are still far from being amicably concluded. Even if we know that there is no direct risk of war breaking out in Egypt.
What we must however be able to discern is the possibility that the war against ISIS is evidently expanding into what is increasingly a ‘polarized’ global war on terror.  In this, we once again will be asked to demonstrate what would be similar to the disastrous ‘cold war’ loyalties of yesteryear.

So Africa is in an invidious position that we cannot wish away by arguing that the current standoffs between Russia and the West are none of our business.  It takes a tragedy such as the one in Egypt for everything to all of a sudden become quite complicated. Including the oddity of having a sitting African president while on his way to meet a leader of a global superpower of sorts and finding out that there have been major foreign policy announcements about his country by the counterpart he is visiting before they meet.

But regardless of the arrogance that the United Kingdom government displayed toward its Egyptian counterpart, the global war on terror together with increasing international incidents  is taking on complicated characteristics that Africa will have to tackle with great caution.  The responsibility for this should essentially reside in the African Union but as in the past, the primary challenge continues to be the Nkrumaist warning of the ‘bifurcation’ of the continent. 

Not by way of sovereign design but more by a repetition of history with the continent continuing to be the playing ground of global superpowers. Even if for development aid, but with limited contextualised continental solidarity and democratic consensus.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (