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Seth Engel Headshot

Turn Towards Africa

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Traces of the 2012 U.S. Republican campaign will no doubt imprint politics for years, particularly for its virulence against women and minorities: attacks on food stamps, claims that women aren't fit for combat, callous remarks on women's health, and barely suppressed racism. But foreign policy has yet to figure into the candidates' debates, a sector in which the incumbent maintains a formidable CV. And all of this during a year of elections in Iran, Egypt, France, and Myanmar, to name a few countries.

President Obama's first term has run concurrently with a number of global trends that have been disturbing, inspiring, and contradictory, sometimes all at once. Transitional councils like the one in Libya, bodies that have never been voted into power, have grasped the vast network of levers, gears and pulleys instituted by their authoritarian predecessors. All those things that make up a modern nation -- court systems, police departments, foreign ambassadors and the department of state, sanitation and water -- are now in the hands of friends, associations, and subsidizers of the revolutionary movements. This weekend, two Tunisian bloggers were sentenced to seven years of prison for posting a photo of a naked Muhammad on their blog.

Regardless of their short-term results, the dynamics of the seemingly dangerous democratization in the Middle East and Northern Africa contrast sharply with occurrences in sub-Saharan Africa. Western nations should and must pay attention; recent shifts in African power can promote their own interests in Africa, the Middle East, and the world. But these occurences might also just serendipitously fall in line with international cooperation and the rule of law.

This past weekend, Joyce Banda ascended to the role of president in Malawi while a military junta in Mali has promised to stand down. These two coups for democracy occurred without a single shot fired. The planned resignation of the military leaders in Mali emerged from the humiliation of the wolves after attacking their own coop. Wolves, they belatedly learned after losing Timbuktu, are not meant to govern. The increasingly powerful regional body Ecowas (Economic Community of West Africa States) imposed sanctions while the corpse of civil power was still warm. The junta leaders could not give state power away fast enough, to yet another interim leader.

Malawi has set the example for other African states, wherein state power should be wielded only in accordance with the country's founding document and the rule of law. On Saturday, the order of succession was followed to the Constitutional letter despite two days of political intrigue after the death of the former President, Bingu Wa Mutharika. Against the will of the ruling elite, Joyce Banda was named Africa's second female president in modern times.

The ascendance of President Banda and the handover to civilian power in Mali flies in the face of the former Republican candidates. Mitt Romney consolidates power and the former candidates fade away, but the sexism and racism they spewed on the airwaves remain. Perhaps it's time to turn to Africa.