When A Continent Rides The Struggle Bus

While I was looking for books on another subject, I noticed that four different accounts of the proceedings of the House Committee on International Relations over the past two decades featured the word struggle in them. All four were connected to African countries: Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Nigeria (all countries with strong Islamic aspects to their culture as well, it must be noted). I read three of the proceedings [1]. It struck me as interesting, and perhaps even a bit troubling, that the word uniting these accounts of foreign problems in Africa should be the word struggle. It is not terribly surprising that in the eyes of the House Committee on International Relations, all of these struggles are connected with some common elements. What is most striking, at least to this critical observer, is that Congress thought that their example of elected leadership was a beacon to the world at large, instead of being an embarrassment that one would not want to talk about too loudly out of shame.

It is fair to ask how much of a struggle is going on in the three African countries whose testimony I read about (I chose not to read about Tunisia, though I may do so in the future). Now, it is clear that Algeria is struggling against terrorism, but that terrorism is deeply connected with the popularity of Islamist parties within the country, an unwelcome development to any nation. One of the conundrums about the politics of much of the world is that parties which are hostile to republican norms of civil political discourse and the avoidance of violence and respect for minority rights and the encouragement of a broad range of non-political institutions that perform a lot of what is necessary for civil society end up being broadly popular with people. Simply because the people want something does not mean that what they want is good or wise or in their best interests, but there remains a powerful desire simply to proclaim vox populi, vox dei, even though that is not the case. And yet it is hard to say as one human being to another that what others want is not in their best interests although that is frequently the case. One can do so justly only from a point of view that is above the human.

In the other two examples, it does not appear as if a genuine struggle is going on. One of the papers dealt with proceedings on a struggle in Nigeria against corruption, but there remains little evidence that the corrupt political elites of Nigeria are indeed struggling against corruption in any meaningful sense. They are reveling in corruption, profiting from corruption, but not struggling against it. Nor does it appear particularly obvious that the U.S. Congress, a body of people who has no little experience nor profit from corruption itself, has any moral credibility to condemn the corruption of other political elites who are engaged in the common elite sport of plundering wealth that ought to go to the general public in terms of wages and development and infrastructure spending. Nor does it appear, for example, very likely that Egypt is struggling towards a civil society that respects minority rights for beleaguered Copts or will allow broad freedom of activity to corrupt jornos and Non-Governmental Organizations that which to act in ways that may jeopardize the stability of governments. Struggle does not seem like the right word to discuss situations where the calculus of events weighs heavily against struggling, much less achieving, something that the Congress would (often hypocritically) find to be desirable.

Why should it be Africa’s place to struggle? To be sure, the continent of Africa is one where struggling of one kind or another is quite a common issue, yet struggling is a common facet of human life as a whole. It may be said, for example, that contemporary political elites all over the world struggle to attain legitimacy in the face of corruption and cynicism and a lack of identity between rulers and ruled. This is by no means a new struggle, but it is a struggle that extends far beyond Africa. A great many people around the world struggle for dignity, struggle for political power, struggle to be treated with respect and honor and to have the opportunities that they believe they deserve. People struggle for love and intimacy, struggle for freedom, struggle to avoid burdensome responsibilities, and any number of things. People struggle to feed themselves and their families and put roofs over their head. And all of these struggles, wherever they occur, are worthy of the name, even if not all struggle is good or noble or successful. It does, however, require making diligent effort in the face of resistance towards some sought goal, sought for oneself and not chosen by others.

[1] See, for example:




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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