UP EXPERT OPINION: Analyst’s article devoid of analytical thinking he accuses his critics of lacking

Posted on February 27, 2023

In his Business Day  column on 27 February 2023, Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship's (CAS) Research Fellow Professor Adekeye Adebajo reflects on the political analysis environment in South Africa. 

Foreign policy analyst and author Peter Fabricius recently wrote an acerbic defence of the US-Africa summit held in December. In the process he castigated Alvin Botes, Nontobeko Hlela and David Monyae for “unanalytical thinking” requiring “greater nuance”, and complained that “there remains a persistent strand of scepticism about anything the US does here”.
The phrase that most caught my attention however, was Fabricius’s observation that Islamic extremists being confronted by Western armies in Africa were “surely an enemy to all civilised people”. While reasonable people would condemn the wanton killing of civilians in the name of religion, Fabricius’s use of the loaded term “civilised people” in the context of a condescending critique of three black analysts echoes British imperial poet Rudyard Kipling’s notorious 1899 call on Western nations to “take up the white man’s burden”.
His own article was ironically devoid of the nuance and analytical thinking he accuses his critics of lacking. Fabricius takes Washington’s promises at face value, without critically investigating whether the US has delivered on similar pledges in the past. He uncritically touts former president Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative, unveiled at the previous 2014 US-Africa summit.
Obama pledged $7bn to double the electricity supply to 20-million Africans households, but by 2016 his “signature project” had generated less than 5% of new power. With Washington now granting $100bn to Ukraine — nearly double the amount pledged to 46 African countries over three years — Fabricius does not seem to notice any inconsistency in America’s approach.  
Ridicules claims
He then calls for “more nuance in interpreting the growing military presence” of external powers in Africa. But contrary to his erroneous claim that “the proliferation of foreign military bases in Djibouti ... began as an effort to counter Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden”, France has maintained a military base in the country since 1932 as part of its strategy to preserve its colonial influence in Africa. The US established its own base in Djibouti in 2001, not to track Somali pirates as Fabricius claims, but to wage its post 9/11 “war on terror” against Yemeni and Somali terrorists.
Fabricius ridicules claims that “the US and other counterterrorism operations have been the cause of the rise of violent jihadism and other ills in West Africa and the Sahel”. However, anyone with knowledge of the Nato intervention in Libya (led by Washington, Paris and London) in 2011, would be acutely aware that the heavily armed militants who were fighting for assassinated Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi have since destabilised Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, and continue to do so.
Few would disagree with Fabricius’s statement that poor governance in Africa has contributed to Islamist militancy. But to offer mono-causal explanations that seek to blame all of Africa’s ills on internal factors while absolving Western actors of any culpability is disingenuous.
His observation that “most of the continent’s ills derive ... from the way individual African governments treat their own people” sounds eerily like British Afrophobe Richard Dowden, whose notorious 2000 Economist cover portrayed Africa as “the hopeless continent”. Fabricius similarly condemns “corrupt deals with foreign corporations ... in which African governments are often complicit”, blaming the corrupted but not the corruptor.
His analysis reflects the widespread Eurocentrism that pervades parts of the SA media, as evidenced by analysts such as the Brenthurst Foundation’s Greg Mills. It is almost as if such authors are harking back nostalgically to the dark days of apartheid, when SA was safely in the anticommunist Western camp and a member of the “white dominions”.
Those days of the politics of “kith and kin” are over. Even an “exceptional” SA will now have to forge a democratic African future, while adroitly engaging West and East in promoting its own national and regional interests.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo is professor and senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.

This article first appeared in The Business Day on 14 February 2023

- Author Professor Adekeye Adebajo

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