Thursday 27 February 2014

The West's moral confusion over landmines in Africa

Guest post by Brendan O'Neill*
 *NOT a guest post by Brendan O'Neill

Africa's right?
It will come as no great surprise to many. Despite the tutting of the West, and the efforts of Africa's small and brave anti-landmine community, the use of land-mines and cluster-munitions has the backing of large numbers of Africa's leaders, who are not exactly in the Lambeth Palace school of right-on thought.

The Foreign Office has condemned a recent move to promote their use across sub-Saharan Africa which is clear provocation and finger-wagging against developing countries.  But this is no longer just about landmines, but about the West lecturing an African country on how to slaughter it's own people.

That, of course, is an accusation that the Foreign Office is normally anxious to avoid. Whenever I've met diplomats in my time as a journalist, they are at pains not to sound like a colonial viceroy. But on the question of cluster-munitions and other maiming explosives, it's fair to say that, in recent years, the Foreign Office has not been scared of causing of offence.

At the risk of sounding like an apologist for Mugabe, I think this policy is a little misjudged. For what may sound perfectly reasonable in metropolitan London does not come across as such in many other parts of the world, be it Africa, or the Arab world with its conservative imams.

All too often, they view opposition to cluster-munitions with utter incomprehension, to the point where I fear it discredits other Western messages such as the need for good governance. And it's a gift to loopy African leaders who are able to con their people that it's Western governments that are barmy, because they do not support the use of M18 Claymore mines.

I also a detect an inconsistency here. After all, on many occasions, Britain avoids open criticism of other countries for fear that we will be seen as interfering. For example, after last June's military coup in Egypt – in which an elected Islamist government was ousted, William Hague pointedly declined to call it a "coup". Clearly, HMG's unspoken view was that in order to have any sway with the new regime, it was best to keep criticisms private. So why be diplomatic on some issues and outspoken on others?

I am not suggesting that land-mines are not a cause worth defending. Apart from anything else, minefields and other Western explosive technologies are a welcome sign of rising living standards in the region's better-off nations, but I can't help wondering whether this is a battle not for social progress but a battle to curtail Africa's right to maim civilians in the way that it chooses? 

It is a symptom of a much deeper Malthusian spite. Western leaders see Africa's traditional machete slaughters as more sustainable and eco-friendly than mass-produced booby-trap explosives. Our leaders in the West are suspicious of the potential of modern technology, and in their miserablist fervour seek to deprive Africa of its right to lose limbs in a modern and progressive fashion.

Brendan O'Neill is editor of Spiked Online.

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