Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Back to the (Regional) Grind: A Tale of Two Cities

To say that both the secular and non-secular world enjoyed a turbulent transition to the New Year is to seriously understate things.

I was locked up at home--gardening and listening to the BBC World Service (as I am wont to do during the weekend) when the News Hour anchor at the time--Dan Damon--interrupted regular programming to announce that there were reports coming in about the leader of the Pakistan's People Party--Benazir Bhutto--having been injured--possibly killed--in what was supposed to be a rally.

Minutes turned into hours, and over the next few days, the BBC started talking about her having been assassinated. Whilst evidently thinking of the implications for Pakistan and the lacuna of the democratic dispensations associated with the presumed assassination, I could not help but reflect over what it might mean for the role of Pakistan in no less than...SAARC.

SAARC had celebrated--or not--22 years of its existence some 20 days earlier on 8th of December, and I believed it ominous that the two countries of India and Pakistan that could make a difference in what looks like a moribund regional grouping (insofar as engaging other members to revitalize the organisation) would have one key member bedevilled by an internal crisis so profound and tortuous that the regional solution would be the last thing on its mind.

For all the analyses proferred by various pundits and whatnot, I was disappointed to not have heard mention being made of the regional implications of the violence. I would have loved to have heard SAARC issuing a statement condemning the violence. None came--and none has come.

Idem with Kenya, where, at the time of writing, AU chairman -- Ghana's John Kufuor -- is en route to try and broker peace between Odinga, leader of the ODM, and Kibaki--incumbent and "newly"-elected leader of Kenya since two Sundays ago (30 December).

It would have been equally great to have had the East African Community (EAC) condemn the violence, and also issue a statement to that effect. Neither came--and it hasn't come either.

What to me the absence of these statements speaks to is less an appreciation for the regional and more of a relatively myopic view of the conflict, and possible solutions to resolving it. Do we only turn to the regional when it's on trade? Kenya is a de facto regional leader. Look at the role it played last year in resolving conflict through the conduits of IGAD and EAC.

Does it mean that when the hegemon is under fire, the smaller members should not rally round? Where was Uganda; Tanzania; Rwanda and Burundi to say "let's go the regional way!". That the African Union (AU) was both approached and initially rejected, only to give way for their eventual intervention, in the inchoate post-election violence speaks volumes. In my view, though, the volume ought to be loudest at the regional level.

If there is to be any level of seriousness ascribed to regional integration in 2008, then here's to a greater accentuation both by smaller and bigger states within regions -- along with citizens raising the bar on the regional solution for every type of injustice being perpetrated anywhere.

My the good winds of fate blow your way in 2008!

Warm regards...

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