Whenever the term ‘international community’ is mentioned, it always carries connotations of dominance and exclusion. By way of history, the usage of this term has always implied that there is a small number of elite nations which coalesce around issues of asserting a universal brand of civility. But the international community is a concept in international relations and geopolitics that has always been patently flawed, and Africa should radically revise its approach in relation to its global placement in this context.
Africa’s placement in global diplomacy has always been largely informed by its history. And in this we refer to its colonial and post-colonial history. The colonial paternalism of imperial powers always meant that Africa was perceived — and still is — as incapable of governing itself as per the organic wishes of its people. This perception reigns supreme in the global north and east.
Colonial history, and neocolonialism in the contemporary, mean that Africa’s interpretation of good governance, democracy, stability, and human rights in the political economy is shaped on the dictates of the West; of former colonial powers. When African countries got independence, they inherited the colonial power structures of the colonizers without fundamentally altering them, thus perpetuating the dominance of capitalism to the detriment of the masses: the urban poor and peasantry.
The import of this is that Africa suffers from inferiority complexes, a phenomenon with uncanny ubiquity. Africa perennially seeks the approval of the ‘international community’, and in the absence of such misplaced validation policies in the political economy are deemed ineffective.
The global hegemonic rise of neoliberalism in the late 1970s through to the 1990s, largely purveyed through structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank strangled Africa’s capacity to flourish in its own organic solutions and ideas. This was coupled with the rise of ‘multi-party politics’, parroted by the West as the sole benchmark of democracy — democracy in the globalized, neoliberal, imperialistic, and predatory language of the West. This was in the context of the fall of the Soviet Union and the triumph of bourgeois [Western] liberal democracy, with the latter signifying a consensus that ‘history had ended’.
Africa had to discard the intricacies and nuances of its equally rich and bitter history for the purposes of fitting within this global hegemonic order. Africa had to acquiesce to the dictates of the West to ‘develop’ — the ‘international community’. And in this, everything has to be approved by the West first for it to be deemed correct.
For instance, elections in Africa are always contentious if the West says so, and in most cases, both ruling and opposition parties are desperate for the West’s attention in electoral cycles. This prevails without even considering that the same strand of democracy they look up to for validation is responsible for atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya; brutal economic warfare through sanctions and embargoes on countries such as Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe, North Korea, etc; political coups in Latin America, and so forth. The list of Western atrocities in the world is endless.
Thus, the international community is a vague concept in international relations and geopolitics which sanitizes imperialism and exploitation. The international community was summed up in this way by Martin Jacques: “[The international community is]the west, of course, nothing more, nothing less. Using the term ‘international community’ is a way of dignifying the west, of globalising it, of making it sound more respectable, more neutral and high-faluting. ‘The international society thinks this ... believes that ... is concerned about …’, adding that this term means that the majority of the world is being “tacitly ignored” unless they agree with what the West says.
But a lot of countries do not agree with the West all times. This is usually manifested in the United Nations General Assembly. Even the international war between Russia and Ukraine proved this, as some African countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe refused to condemn Russia in the face of Western pressure. Yet, Africa’s voice in this war has been on the fringes, highlighting how the so-called international community is not designed to include Africa.
In the recent 2022 Kenyan and Angolan elections, where results were contested as usual, (in the former the dispute went all the way up to the Supreme Court), what can be seen is a clear desire to gain the approval of the West that the elections were free, fair, credible, and that the victors in those elections are legitimate. But premising legitimacy on Western validation is deleterious to the wishes of the majority poor.
What this ultimately means is that Africa should assert its voice in international relations, extricating itself from dependence on the international community — an elite grouping of imperial powers that has failed and destroyed Africa endless times. As Africans “we must take our placement in the global world/ international relations much more seriously and understand that even that in the contemporary is not as equitable as it would appear.”
It must always be made clear that the international community, with its attendant international law, imposed ruthless free-market liberal economics on Africa which glorify individualism over community solidarity; it glorifies profits. And any politics built on this, parroted as democracy, fails the people and enriches a corrupt few.
Africa should have the courage to revisit its history and build conversations about the present and the future with the goal of asserting its independence regarding its global placement in the context of international relations and geopolitics.
The international community has committed infinite human rights abuses in Africa, and as such it must not be listened to. At the same time, Africa must confront its internal contradictions and hold its leaders to the highest standards of principled leadership: trust, empathy, accountability, transparency, and a deep commitment towards alleviating the lives of everyone regardless of race, class, gender, faith, or political affiliations.