This was my column in the Cyprus Star and Turkey Star last Friday.
Two weeks ago the Maltese Government announced the death of Dom Mintoff, one of the fieriest socialist postcolonial leaders in Mediterranean history, who acted as Prime Minister between 1955 to 1958 when Malta had limited self-rule and between 1971 and 1984, when Mintoff infamously declared impromptu ‘freedom’ and attempted to push Malta into becoming an ‘active’ partner in shaping Mediterranean and regional political processes.
It was time for yet another Mediterranean outburst of emotion and immediately the island went into a pre-planned weeping mode. As one of the local Maltese stations kept airing a photograph of Mintoff with my great-grandfather, who worked as an architect when Mintoff was still minister for public works during the post-WW2 era, I couldn’t help but think about this pint-sized but yet vociferous politician. Dom Mintoff is equally loved and hated by the Maltese. His political opponents describe him as secretive, impatient and ruthless whilst his fans fondly regard him as the father of a modern Malta who tried to bring about significant social reform.
Whatever the case may be within the local scenario, nobody can dismiss the fact that his contributions significantly shaped Malta’s fate within the international and regional fora. At a time when Malta, like other former colonies, was trying to find its feet following independence in 1964, Mintoff’s election as Prime Minister (PM) helped to prop-up a distinctive foreign policy that took full possible advantage of the lucrative diplomatic conducts of the cold war era. Consequently, while other newly independent states in the Mediterranean and neighbouring regions crumbled due to internal conflict or were taken over by dictatorial regimes, Mintoff’s contributions to the Maltese political system can be seen as part of an extensive journey which provided Malta with a homogeneous identity, self-pride, economic survival and the means to start a successful decolonization process. His reforms and the counter-reactions of his political opponents are seen as shaping the Maltese political landscape which contrary to that of its neighbours, and despite its small state status, has managed to remain somewhat stable.
What didn’t kill him made him stronger
The man had a particular flair for turning national misfortunes into potential opportunities. When by 1979, the British failed to renew the agreement for their naval base in Malta, Mintoff made it all about him and decided to declare ‘Il-Helsien’, even though the island had already gained independence and had been a republic for five years. This stunt of ‘neutralité-nouvelle’ consequently served to attract significant interest from global and regional actors. Mintoff was able to forge a ‘special relationship’ with Gaddafi’s Libya, thus providing a hinterland for Maltese business and enterprise where to expand, and opened relations with communist China and U.S.S.R., at a time when such states were ostracized by the West (only for the latter to follow suit when the Western countries became aware of the potential economic opportunities which lay ahead). Mintoff’s government managed to secure trade relations and foreign aid to keep the country afloat, which in turn provided a terra firma for his confrontational and daring politics. Having acquired help from the ‘adversaries’ of the Western sphere in a then-polarized international scenario, Mintoff’s Malta could afford to keep its head high and assume a bargaining position when acting within regional and international fora and institutions. Consequently, one can say that the course which Malta’s external relations took during Mintoff’s time, enabled the island to move away from the traditional characteristics of small state foreign policy behaviour and exhibit a higher level of participation in world affairs, broaden the scope of foreign policy issues and secure participation in multinational initiatives and institutions.
Putting it together
Even though Mintoff maintained rigorous socialist views on political economy, his government managed to establish relations with even with North Korea (D.P.R.K), one of the most secretive and isolated states in the international system. Given North Korea’s habitual siege mentality, Mintoff’s rapprochement is not something that could be underestimated. As they say, every drop counts.
Mintoff’s international contributions are mostly synonymous with the contemporary nature of Mediterranean political structures and processes. Perhaps the most famous episode is that of 1975 when Mintoff insisted on including a chapter on the Mediterranean as part of the Helsinki Declaration, in a bid to express commitment towards peace and stability within the region. The vision of postcolonial leaders such as Mintoff was to redefine the international roles of newly independent states and try to broaden their scope of issues in order to secure long-term stability that would ultimately guarantee the continued survival of their own states. Such was the case that under Mintoff’s government Malta also repeatedly sought to express its concern over the Cyprus problem, the issue of Palestine (often leading to worsening relations between Malta and the state of Israel), and also established bilateral relations with a number of Arab states.
What to remember him by
Mintoff is now some five feet under the ground. Whether he did more good than bad is of course subject to eternal debate and depends on whether one assesses his performance in local politics or his contributions within the international fora. However, our current leaders have a lot to learn from Mintoff and other seasoned politicians of his time. Mintoff’s idea was to strike alliances with a diverse number of actors to maximize Malta’s lobbying position and possibly move away from small-state political discourse in a bid to instill confidence in his country. In this case the means clearly justify the end, as Malta was one of the very few if not the only state in the Mediterranean to secure a complete decolonization process and maintain political stability. Whilst Mintoff through his little efforts tried to push for Mediterranean unity and identity, his ideals were often engulfed by the greater unwillingness of other neighboring actors who at the time did not have the political nous to share his long-term vision for regional stability.
This is my column on the Cyprus Star and Turkey Star, today.
The debate on whether the European Union (EU) should adopt a common foreign policy has long been on the agenda, allowing for extensive debates amongst policy-makers on how to adopt a structured plan for interactions within the global fora and effectively interact with neighbours and other external actors. The Lisbon treaty has provided the union with a renewed organisational infrastructure that should now incentivise member states to take the next step forward and make effective use of the institutions by agreeing on general foreign matters. Having established stability within its own territories, one of the contemporary objectives of the EU should be to spread the advantages of a political system based on democracy and social responsibility and an economic system based on open markets to other areas of the world, in a bid to guarantee its own continued security and the further economic growth of the union itself.
It is a known fact that because of the multiple state actors acting within the institution, differences are bound to emerge. However, the issue is not whether the union should have an external agenda but rather why all member states should agree on a common foreign policy when the states themselves might not necessarily agree on the same priorities. A successful common foreign policy for the union is to capture the common ideals and focus on transmitting the principles that bind the member states together, rather than substituting the power-seeking strategies of the individual member states.
Its all about a common nest
The demand for the EU to have a concerted outside policy strategy is directly dependent on the structure of the union itself, as apart from mutual benefits, the scope of membership is also to share responsibilities. The removal of internal trade barriers made the task of handling trade relations with external actors a common function, which thus sheds light on why an organisational infrastructure for cooperation on external matters is a necessity and not a frivolity.
The EU is deemed to be the largest institutional donor of development assistance. Member states had originally agreed to divide the cost of lending assistance to former European colonies. Gradually, the EU extended its financial assistance towards the Mediterranean, Asia and Latin America. Consequently, the responsibilities the union has towards development assistance are a common concern that requires collective cooperation and backing from all member states in order to leave the desired effects.
As the union’s borders have grown, the external interests grew accordingly. Needless to say, as the capacity of International Relations has grown, it is even more essential for the EU to have a renewed foreign policy which does not only reflect the interests of the core founding members but rather a concerted foreign policy incorporating all member states in order to deal affectively with the new external issues affecting the union.
An organised EU foreign policy would mean that the EU states could obtain more lobbying leverage through group-diplomacy by acting as one bloc within other international institutions, such as the United Nations (UN). One of the initial successes of the European Political Co-operation (EPC) was the number of coordinated votes it managed to initiate on a number of resolutions in the UN General Assembly. An agreement on a common external stance gives the EU the opportunity to appear cohesive, set bold statements and remain at the forefront of decision-making within other international institutions. This has been the case in the 66th session of the UN General assembly when the EU 27 delegations walked out together during Iran’s speech together, thus delivering a direct message that the union stands as one vis-à-vis Iran. A concerted foreign policy in this matter contributes to a multi-actor strategy, which helps to empower the union to ensure security and counteract external threats of aggression.
Strength in Numbers
The EU is largely deemed to be an economic hegemonic power, along with the US and Japan. The Economist Intelligence Unit mentions that the international scenario is likely to witness the growth of deeper south-south economic relationships, as Latin America is becoming increasingly ready to trade with the Middle East. This serves as a reminder for the EU of the continuous competition within the global market and the need to act as one negotiating bloc in economic foreign policy missions in order to retain its status as a trustworthy united skilled force within the global market.
At nearly 500 million, the combined population of the EU is the third largest in the world after China and India. Its sheer size and its impact in commercial and financial terms make the EU a globally important power. It accounts for the greatest share of world trade and generates one quarter of global wealth. However, EU member states need to combine their territory and populations in order to remain competitive and counteract China, India, Brazil, Russia and USA who all have large populations and territories at their disposal.
Making the connection
The reasons on why the EU should have a concerted foreign policy should serve as a reminder on how the need for a common external policy lies in the very purpose of the union; to provide cooperation, security and growth. If the EU could develop a mechanism that builds on identifying the common principles, the EU would be able to deliver, as the strength of its combined indigenous knowledge and resources is not its liability but a powerful asset that could keep the union afloat.
This article was first published on the Cyprus Star and Turkey Star on Friday 22nd June 2012.
This article was first published in the Cyprus Star and Turkey Star on May 18 2012.
The Gulf possibly presents a preeminent scenario of the complex differences that exist in the Arab world. Whilst the Gulf states are mostly known for their wealth and rapid economic growth derived from oil exploration, the state actors in the area are each a product of their own historical, geographic and economic trajectories; and thus characterized by different political models which often lead to contention and visible geopolitical rivalries between states in the region.
Most notable is the rise of a Saudi-Iranian rivalry that stems from deep-rooted issues; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia endorses Sunni Wahhabism as its official ruling ideology, whilst the Islamic Republic of Iran adopts Shiism, leading to ideological clashes as both state actors compete to establish regional spheres of influence.
It takes two
The Saudi-Iranian enmity in itself goes a long way and is deeply entrenched in the Sunni-Shia divide. Ever since the breakup of the Islamic world into separate jurisdictions, the rise of Persia (today Iran) elevated Shiism to a ‘national’ religion and gradually cut Iran from the rest of the Islamic ecumenical society, which consequently came to reflect into the power balance maneuvers of the region.
Today, both Iran and Saudi Arabia having undergone contrasting forms of political Islam, seek to establish themselves as influential state actors within the region often leading to direct confrontation and clash of interests. Ever since the 1970’s Saudi Arabia has spent more than $70 billion in foreign aid that has mostly been directed towards ‘exporting’ Wahhabism beyond Saudi confines. Iran, captured in the spirit of the Islamic Revolution that embodies Shia Islam into the state structures, has shaped its regional foreign policy to become a leader for the Shia populations in the Gulf, engaging in considerable effort to establish a radiant Shia sphere of influence encompassing Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia itself.
Listen to the rain on the roof
What first was a rivalry based on different religious ideologies and varying forms of political Islam, has evolved to incorporate conflictual strategic interests and competitive economic relations.
Saudi Arabia is becoming increasingly keen to foster deeper economic cooperation with the neighboring Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies and has made use of regional institutional mechanisms in order to build market leverage at the expense of Iran. The Kingdom has endorsed the prospective formation of an Arab Customs Union (ACU) and supports the idea of an Arab common market, which could potentially lead to an Arab trade bloc, and thus make it harder for Iran, being outside the institutional framework of the ACU or the Arab League (AL) to trade in the region. Given the rapid rise of economic wealth that both Iran and Saudi Arabia have experienced due to oil exploration, economic lead is one of the crucial issues that underpin the contemporary nature of the geopolitical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Furthermore strategic geographic interests come into the fold. The Strait of Hormutz that borders Iran on one side is a highly strategic waterway in the MENA region, which provides the only nautical access to the Persian Gulf. Given that Saudi Arabia and the other oil-exporting monarchies in the region depend on access through the Hormutz in order to reach world markets, there has developed further friction with Iran, as the potential closure or restriction on access to the Hormutz by the latter could lead to Saudi economic devastation.
This is where the intimacy between Saudi Arabia and the United States (US) comes into the picture, as the US provides external succor to counteract potential Iranian threats in the region. In itself, US presence in the Gulf region serves to fuel further the Saudi-Iranian enmity as Iran remains determined to oppose any kind of external presence within the region, and thus the more Saudi Arabia and its allied Sunni monarchies in the Gulf rely on US protection, the more Iran becomes resistant and forceful.
There won’t be trumpets
The Gulf is rich in oil resources, and oil is the black gold. As the rivalry has evolved, the economic interests at stake make it harder for any state actor to move an inch. The Sunni regimes in the Gulf have found an outside protector in the US, and the latter having established a foothold in such a globally strategic region, has no interest in moving out anytime soon. On the other hand, the world is watching Iran. The West has moved on from diplomatic talks, to verbal condemnations and more recently to sanctions, in a bid to counteract growing Iranian siege mentality. Perhaps the time has come to go back to the drawing board and understand exactly the stark ideological differences and diversity of the Arab world. We might realize that external influence is sometimes the wrong approach to bring about stability, and perhaps international relations are after all about the pursual of national interests.
This article was first published in the Cyprus Star and the Turkey Star on April 6 2012.
I have already written about Kony on ‘The Insiter’ along with my colleague Elizabeth Mallia, but it seems nobody could get enough of Kony these days and the mass hysteria surrounding the KONY 2012 campaign has led to the boldest mass pronouncements via social media directly influencing on the conduct of US foreign policy. It quite worrisome how the public is not digging further on the Kony Campaign and is not yet aware of the larger picture surrounding the Kony-Uganda affair. So clearly there are some points which must be repeated.
Invisible Children, Inc. has drawn the world’s attention with their latest campaign KONY 2012. The focus is on Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), whose militia has allegedly kidnapped some 66,000 children in Uganda and other African countries and forcing them to fight. In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Kony for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The organisation is hopeful to make Kony so famous that the American government would send troops to pursue Kony and bring him to justice. The video campaign has become an Internet sensation and registered more than 85 million views on YouTube. But where is all this leading to we ask ourselves…
There’s Something about a War
If you watched the film, you know how persuasive it is. Invisible children has tried to sway public opinion through displays of emotion and children. The director’s son directs the audience through a simplistic thought path, interrupted by footage of desperate children fleeing the LRA, to convince us that Kony is brutal. However, it’s not all that simple and the LRA’s actions need to be put into context.
With Uganda’s independence in 1962 came internal rivalry between the Bantu in the South and the Acholi in North. Since the 1980s, the LRA, an offshoot of a greater resistance Acholi movement has fought a civil war with the Ugandan government. The campaign itself largely ignores the fact that the child abductions have occurred within the context of a conflict and has weighed Kony in the balance and found him guilty.
An armed conflict always has more than one party to the dispute and Invisible Children fails to mention the atrocities committed by the other belligerents. If the organisationis so concerned about children in Africa, it should note that the Ugandan government first used child soldiers in the conflict.
Furthermore the LRA operations have shifted away from Uganda, into South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central Republic of Africa. The issue is no longer about child abductions in Uganda but how to reinstate security in Central Africa. In Congo alone, an estimated 90% of the people in LRA-active territory live in fear due to non-existent societal security in the region.
Lack of security bring crisis and crisis wreaks havoc. The conflicts in central Africa have caused a number of internal displacements of peoples. The is no single reference in the Kony video about the worsening conditions in Ugandan refugee camps accommodating displaced people, which the Ugandan government (that the charity supports) is responsible for.
The West: Time to come clean
The campaign shows no comprehensive understanding of African political-economic development. The Ugandan issue largely stems from the colonial era, when borders in Africa were created artificially to suit the interests of colonisers. Following independence, Uganda couldn’t function as a unified state: the development of the state itself was not aligned to the political patterns of the country. The conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government stems from the incompatibility between the Acholi people and the southern tribes.
The video ignores the fact that the Western powers might play a role in the crisis, instead advocating for US intervention. Invisible Children (hopefully with good intentions) are enforcing the beliefthat the west knows how to handle it better.
Come in, stranger
If the US intervenes in Uganda, it will not be bona fide intervention. The US government needs to justify an intervention back home and would devote its military and logistic resources only if it could get something back in return. This is where politics and economics intertwine. Uganda is rich in copper and oil, but lacks the infrastructure and indigenous knowledge to extract resources. If Multi-national Corporations find operation in Uganda financially viable, it is most likely that the US would develop an interest in restoring stability in the region. This is a form of emerging neo-colonialism where the MNC’s extract the resources without having the legal burden of governance. The USA could end up consolidating its hegemony, because the American public, influenced by the mass hysteria made by Invisible Chidren, asked for action. Neat isn’t it?
by ELIZABETH MALLIA and DARREN CHETCUTI VELLA
During last year’s royal wedding, an Independent correspondent remarked that whilst 8,000 journalists had assembled in London to cover the nuptials, “the entire African continent has perhaps 500 Western journalists at any time”. Despite the lack of Western coverage, the rise of social media campaigns can draw the public’s gaze to issues that are often ignored in mass media. KONY 2012 is a case in point.
KONY 2012 is the name of the campaign by Invisible children Inc., concerning the Ugandan warlord and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony. The LRA has allegedly kidnapped around 66,000 children and forced them to join the army as child soldiers. The organisation hopes to make Kony a household name so the American government will be forced to actively take an interest in capturing Kony and bringing him to justice. The video campaign quickly became an internet sensation and has registered more than 87 million views on YouTube alone.
The LRA is a militant group which stemmed from the conflict and civil war in Uganda, an offshoot of a greater resistance movement by the Acholi. With Uganda’s independence in 1962 came internal rivalry between the Bantu in the south and the Acholi in north. Since the 1980s, the LRA and the central Ugandan government have fought a bloody civil war. The LRA was further strengthened when in the mid-1990′s it obtained military support from the Sudanese government.
The attempts of the US army, the UN Stabilization Mission in Congo, and several central African states to destroy the LRA have proven futile. Kony and the LRA have shifted their operations from Uganda to South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Although the government of Uganda claims that the LRA has weakened considerably, and estimates reveal that by 2011 the LRA had only 300 to 400 combatants, the LRA still manages to wreak havoc in central Africa, as its operations have spread beyond Uganda.
The LRA is believed to have abducted more than 3000 and killed some 2500 civilians in South Sudan, Central Republic of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2008 and 2011, displacing many others and creating one of the worst humanitarian situations in the world. In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Kony for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Anyone who has watched the KONY 2012 video will have noticed how persuasive it is. In political communication, children and displays of emotion have proved themselves to be successful audience manipulators. Invisible Children has applied this strategy in its video campaign, using the director’s son to direct viewers through a simplistic thought path, interrupted by images of desperate child refugees fleeing the LRA, sobbing or huddled up, in a bid to convince the public Kony is pure evil.
Soft power reversed
The KONY 2012 campaign is an example of a soft power strategy that uses social media. Joseph Nye describes soft power as the qualities of attraction and influence that a country gains when foreign audiences and important figures in the international scene become attracted to the culture and ideas of that country. Soft power is more subtle and perhaps more persuasive than military action or coercive strategies (such as economic sanctions), trying to accomplish international aims using co-operation and persuasive diplomacy.
The Kony campaign changes the way soft power is used. Soft power is normally a top-down exercise, employed by governments to target their own public or foreign audiences. In this case, we have an NGO trying to influence the public, who will in turn try to influence the US government to intervene in Uganda.
Two sides to a story
Kony 2012 has a rather one-sided stance: it has weighed Kony in the balance and found him guilty. While it is highly doubtful that Kony is innocent, the Statute of the ICC states that suspects are always presumed to be so. Part of presumption of innocence is that the suspect or accused must not be afforded arbitrary or prejudicial treatment by various institutions, including the media.
The video campaign shows no comprehensive understanding of African political-economic development. Invisible Children should try and identify the problems of development in Africa. The roots of the Ugandan issue lie in the colonial era, when borders in Africa were created artificially to suit the interests of colonisers. Following independence, Uganda couldn’t function as a unified state: the development of the state itself was not aligned to the political patterns of the country. The conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government stems from the incompatibility between the Acholi people in northern Uganda and the southern tribes.
The video ignores the fact that other Western powers might play a role in the crisis, instead depicting US intervention as the only solution. International law says that states are sovereign entities. This means that they control what happens within their territory. Invisible Children (hopefully with good intentions) are effectively encouraging the US government to ignore Uganda’s sovereignty and step right in. They might as well hold up a placard saying ‘Let the big powers handle it’. When the video was shown in Uganda, a several people flung stones at the screen to show their disapproval.
The campaign seems to ignore the fact that a dispute always has more than one party, and fails to consider that the other combatants may have committed offenses as well. If the people behind Invisible Children are so concerned about children in Africa, it should note that it was the Ugandan government that first used child soldiers in the Ugandan conflict. Most of the current LRA operations are based in Congo, where it is estimated that 90 per cent of the people living in LRA-active territory do so in fear of their safety, due to non-existent societal security in the region. The issue is not just about child refugees, but how to reinstate state security, not just in Uganda, but also in most of Central Africa. Invisible Children should also note the worsening conditions in refugee camps accommodating displaced people, which the Ugandan government it supports is responsible for.
Come in, stranger
If the US government decides to send troops to Uganda, it would not be out of altruism. Uganda is rich in copper and oil, but lacks the necessary infrastructure and indigenous knowledge to harvest or use these resources. Foreign intervention would only materialize if it is financially viable for multinational corporations to step in and extract these resources. It’s a form of neo-colonialism. Back in the colonial era, a foreign power could step into a country, take it over, and extract its resources. Today a corporation can take the resources without the hassle of governing the place. The USA could gain a powerful hold on Uganda because the American public, for altruistic reasons, asked them to take action. Democratic, isn’t it?
 Estimates from 111th US Congress, Bill Text of House of Representatives 2478
 La Sage, 2011.
 Estimates by Oxfam International
This article was first published in ‘The Insiter’, April 2012.
Darren Chetcuti Vella is reading for a B.A. (Hons) in International Relations and is a weekly columnist for the Cyprus Star and the Turkey Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Mallia is reading for B. Law at the University of Malta and is a contributor to ‘The Inister’, insiteronline.com and the Atlantic Community. E-mail: email@example.com
Al Jazeera reports how Hosni Mubarak may be stepping down as the army prepares to intervene and makes sure that the people’s demands are respected. This really is an exciting night.
Al Jazeera Reports how for the twelfth consecutive day protesters in Egypt continue to assert their presence in Tahrir Square and demand an end to the Mubarak Regime.
Stay tuned to Euronews TV and logged on aljazeera.net - excellent coverage.
As we all know the Jasmine Revolution has set a domino effect in the MENA region, and civil society is slowly taking up arms against the regimes in place. Perhaps this picture explains best the complexities of the ME and the difficult winding path towards a democratic MENA region.
An angry Egyptian activist shouts in front of antiriot police who block the way leading to a journalists’ syndicate in Cairo on Jan. 26.