Spurning the culture of impunity in West Africa: Between passive complacency and tough choices

After the signing of the infamous 1939 Munich Pact that compelled a sovereign nation, Czechoslovakia to cede a third of its territory to Hitler’s Germany, Neville Chamberlain, the then British Prime Minister, who played a key role at the Munich Summit, returned to London triumphantly waving a piece of paper that contained the wordings of the cessation agreement and declared that “there will be peace in our time”.

It did not take the world long to realise that the Munich Pact was no peace at all. Rather, it encouraged Hitler, making him believe that he could get away with cross-border impunity. That gave him the leverage to drive on with his dream of a Pan-German Lebensraum with relentless vigour. The ‘peace in our time’ became the ominous prelude to a tragic war – the most destructive yet fought by mankind.

The moral of the Munich Pact story is a case for spurning culture of impunity in domestic and international politics. A lot has happened in African politics in the past – especially during the cold war years. In fact it can conceivably be argued that most of the wars that took place, and still ongoing in West Africa were the fallouts of the politics of the cold war.

In those days, the superpowers, seeking to win client states in Africa, often turned a blind eye to the misrule and abuses perpetrated by regimes that warmed to them. This encouraged a culture of impunity – and many African leaders took full advantage of it.

Today the equation has changed in international power politics. Western attitudes and perceptions as regards to governance in Africa have also changed, and the mantra about democracy and good governance resonates everywhere.

But impunity has many faces in Africa, where it is a hydra-headed monster. It goes beyond a leader oppressing his people. It includes such misdemeanors as brazen looting of the national treasury, rigging elections and flagrant disregard for international conventions and protocols.

Building peace and stability in the West Africa sub-region requires a critical reassessment of peer roles in triggering off, and stoking conflicts. This means shirking off passive complacency in the face of any glaring impunity and calling the bluff of West African leaders who, through their domestic policies and style of governance are likely to create situations that would breed dissent among their people and engender future conflict.

Erring leaders usually fashion means of spurning the searchlight on their activities – they are always quick to take umbrage when their perverse acts are frowned at by the international community – with their spokespersons forcefully expressing the righteous indignation of their bosses. They invoke all necessary clauses in international laws and conventions about sovereignty and undue interference in a country’s internal affairs.

Dissent finds it extremely difficult to breed in climes where there is genuine democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and economic prosperity.

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