|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
3 - 9 September 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
NAM soldiers on
The plight of the world's poorest nations and the conflict in Laurent Kabila's Congo took centre stage yesterday as leaders of the 113-nation Non-Aligned Movement met in the South African port city of Durban.
Nuclear sabre-rattling between India and Pakistan, Libya's battle with the United States over the trial of two suspects in the Lockerbie airline bombing and Third World rage at Washington's military strikes against alleged terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Sudan were among other issues on the agenda of the two-day conference.
"We are looking forward to a historic gathering," South African President Nelson Mandela told reporters. He said the search for peace in Africa and beyond would be paramount.
Some 60 heads of state or government have arrived in the Indian Ocean city for the $10 million event marking the start of South Africa's three-year leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Kabila, who had not been expected to take part, arrived unexpectedly yesterday, completing the line-up for a parallel meeting of all the governments involved in the month-long rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The presidents of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia, who have all deployed troops to defend Kabila's 15-month-old administration, and the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda, whom Kabila accuses of arming his opponents, all arrived on Tuesday.
South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki said on Tuesday that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan planned to convene a summit of leaders from the Great Lakes region around the Congo. "I am quite certain that there will be a cease-fire, that there will be a withdrawal of foreign troops and agreement will be entered into with regard to regional security arrangements around central Africa," Mbeki said.
Mbeki, who is set to succeed Mandela when he retires next year, said transformation of the economic relationship between the Non-Aligned Movement's poor nations and the economic powers of the West would dominate the summit. "I think the single most important thing will be to agree on a perspective about how we approach the question of restructuring the world economy so that it has an impact on the needs of the developing countries," he told a news conference.
"The whole critical matter of ending poverty, of ending underdevelopment, of ensuring sustained growth in the context of what is happening to the world economy today is a very, very important matter," Mbeki added.
NAM is essentially a euphemism for underdog politicking. In the emerging markets of the Third World, a local currency slide invariably turns into a free fall and the banking sector itself collapses. In fact, that is one reason most Asian heads of state stayed away from the summit.
Many African presidents declined to go to Durban as well. Some feel that yet another talking shop is irrelevant in today's post-Cold War economic and political climate. Many feel that the idea no longer holds water.
But so far, the movement has managed to maintain the high moral ground and has made a great show of Third World solidarity. "We must continue to be the conscience and the champion of the... weak and powerless," stated South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo.
NAM is a forum where Third World countries try to iron out their differences in order to compete with the West, politically and economically. The Third World cannot afford to give in to Western dictates, but there are far too many problems: Third World debt, Asia's financial crisis, calls for greater Third World representation at the UN Security Council, nuclear weapons, terrorism, ethnic conflicts and grinding poverty.
There are no easy solutions at hand. But two of NAM's flash points, the Great Lakes conflict and the South Asian crisis, make it clear that NAM will have to clarify its goals and rethink the means for cooperation between member countries.
The problem with Africa is that one people's freedom could be another's deprivation: freedom for the lions is death to the zebras. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the Great Lakes region. Rwandan Foreign Minister Anastatse Gasana conceded that Rwandan troops intervened militarily in neighbouring Congo because Kabila was training and equipping militias to wage a campaign of genocide against ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge. "We had no choice but to intervene militarily and rescue Rwandans who are living in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as some Congolese who do not support the killing or any other segregation," he said.
And if Africa is a thicket of intrigue, Asia is no better. A few months ago India and Pakistan declared their nuclear capability with a series of tests. More recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who failed to show up for the summit, introduced a constitutional amendment to replace Pakistan's legal system with one based on Islamic shari'a. His decision to bring the Islamisation genie out of the bottle rattled India. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who attended the NAM summit, warned that Pakistan's decision was a retrograde step.
A shared colonial past has thrown the representatives of diverse peoples and races, cultures and religions together haphazardly. These differences have been vigorously stirred and agitated at previous NAM meetings. But ultimately, ideological differences and political schisms did not break up the movement. In the past, the strains of such an unlikely patchwork of Third World leaderships -- representing two thirds of mankind -- threatened to tear the movement apart. Regardless of the disharmony, NAM soldiers on, barely.