ANTI TERROR LEGISLATION AND DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA
By Rotimi Sankore


The surprisingly quick collapse of the Taliban over the past month has
seriously embarrassed Western political commentators, military analysts, ex-
Russian soldiers defeated by the Mojahedin and the Taliban who were all
united in their warnings of tough battles ahead and about Afghanistan
being "the graveyard of foreign invaders."

Three key factors contributed to the retreat of the Taliban and the
victories of the Northern Alliance. Firstly and most importantly, the end
of the cold war meant that the US Air Force had a free hand to utilise
superior air power to its full advantage and drop almost everything except
tactical nuclear weapons on the Taliban. The second and no less important
factor contributing to the collapse of the Taliban, is the fact that most
Afghans had suffered enough of Taliban extremism. Imprisonments and
punishments for listening to non Taliban music or watching television, no
cinemas, no libraries, no schools or jobs especially for women, forced
growing of long beards for men, dehumanisation of women, arbitrary
executions and sustained human rights violations have all exhausted the
Taliban's political capital. The third factor, which the Taliban did not at
all consider was that the US government, would by pass the public relations
tragedy of engaging the Taliban directly with American troops. By utilising
the Northern Alliance as a first wave following the massive bombing
campaign, the US military was able to sidestep the most potentially potent
weapon of the Taliban - the sight of US troops on international news
attacking and occupying a Moslem country.

This means that unlike during the Soviet invasion when the US government
supported the Afghan and Arab fighters with over $300m a year over ten
years and CIA and military training, the Taliban have nowhere to turn to
for support. Even Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that had previously provided
financial and strategic support have now turned against them leaving them
isolated. Putin's co-operation is not without benefits. The US government
attacks on Afghanistan, has done the dirty work for the Russian government
of destroying the training bases of Chechen separatists. Putin also has
a "free hand" to crush Chechen rebels and other internal dissent without
worrying about any serious Western objections.

It is not only in Chechnya that human rights have been sacrificed in order
to build and sustain the "anti-terror coalition". As regards rights
violations, the major difference between the Saudi regime and the Taliban
is GDP and Per Capita Income. In Pakistan the fact that General Musharraf
heads a military regime that ousted an elected government has been buried
by the "strategic" need to win over the Pakistani government. Musharraf in
turn has opportunistically become "civilised" and sacrificed his Taliban
friends for Western support, which will bolster his consolidation of power.
It is almost impossible to believe that this is a regime that was only
recently suspended from the Commonwealth. In China, Chinese Foreign
ministry officials have linked "Chinese support for the global campaign
against terrorism to US support for China's campaign against those
advocating independence for Tibet and the Muslim province of Xinjiang."

The new wave of anti-terror legislation across the world threatens to
undermine democracy especially in Africa where in the past, proxy wars
resulting from cold war rivalry between the "East and West" led to full
support and recognition of all sorts of dictatorships for decades. Now it
appears that all any corrupt, undemocratic or insecure government needs to
do to ensure the support of the "West" is to sign up to the anti-terror war
and introduce "anti-terrorist" legislation which is sure to be used to
suppress or undermine democratic opposition and humans rights. At best,
even if not put to immediate use against civil society, such laws are
likely to be a sword of Damocles dangling over the neck of anyone overly
keen on exercising democratic rights even in the most peaceful and law
abiding way possible.

For instance, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and human rights
organisations in Nigeria are alarmed at recent statements by
representatives of the Nigerian Police about "the need to revive" the Anti-
Terrorist Squad set up by the late dictator General Sanni Abacha. In all
its years of existence, not a single terrorist was arrested or prosecuted.
Instead, it was used to terrorise the media, human rights community, the
pro-democracy movement and other real and imagined enemies.

In Uganda, critics of the government have stated that "the Anti-terrorism
Bill seeks to lower the standard of proof on which one can be held and
convicted on a terrorism charge. If passed in the present form, the
Minister of Internal Affairs will be given powers to add any organization
to the terrorist list. By the stroke of a pen, the minister can add all
opposition parties to the terrorist list, and its leaders will be rounded
up and thrown in jail" In South Africa, the government is currently
preparing a terrorism bill to comply with calls for a clampdown on
terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States. The
bill, which was originally drafted to replace the draconian apartheid anti-
terror act, which was used to suppress opposition to white minority rule,
may now be fast tracked and become law by mid 2002. Many South Africans are
alarmed that the proposed bill contains clauses, which allows for detention
without trial for interrogation purposes. The recent memories of Apartheid
and the persecution of "freedom fighters" as terrorists means that in South
Africa at least any anti terror laws are likely to meet stiff resistance if
they are perceived as anti democratic. Many lawyers have stated that they
would oppose "any detention for the purpose of interrogation."

In countries such as Zimbabwe where regardless of any merits for the
argument for land distribution, Robert Mugabe has wielded the entire matter
like a cudgel against all opposition, any accusations of terrorism are sure
to be accompanied by very severe repercussions. For instance, the
Zimbabwean government has recently accused journalists of being "agents of
terrorism" which is no small misdemeanour considering the local political
climate.

This trend will no doubt be spurred on by the introduction of anti-
terrorist legislation in the US, UK Italy and other Western countries which
more or less give governments "dictatorial" powers to detain people
[foreigners or not] indefinitely on mere suspicion and without charge or
any publicly stated reason. In some cases, even the detained persons will
not be told of the reasons for their detention and if charged, will have
lawyers chosen for them or be tried by military tribunals. The well
publicised statements of the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
likening anti-globalisation protesters to terrorists or boasting about the
alleged superiority of western civilisation over other civilisations will
not comfort those that fear these laws will be abused.

Considering, that the United States government is likely to push for
African governments to "demonstrate full commitment to tackling evil"
and "make it impossible for terrorists to operate within their borders", it
is no exaggeration to caution that democracy on the African continent may
be in for a rough ride. The number of Muslims in countries in Africa and
Asia that indicated their opposition to the attacks on Afghanistan on
religious grounds will not have escaped the attention of the US government
and such counties in particular may come under pressure to "act swiftly
against terrorists." As can be seen with the case of Pakistan, the
terrorist atrocities in the US has been clearly seized as an opportunity
for an undemocratic government to reintegrate itself into the respectable
ranks of "the international community" and address the United Nations
General Assembly after being suspended from the Commonwealth.

No matter how unpopular it may seem, the point must be made that it will be
a serious mistake to sacrifice democracy in Africa on the altar
of "eradicating Bin Laden and Al Queda". The 'rise' of the likes of Saddam
and Bin Laden also shows clearly that short 'termism' in foreign policy is
to put it crudely "a ticking bomb." The only way to defeat and keep
terrorism and its sympathisers out of Africa and by doing so reducing their
potential bases, is to ensure more, not less democracy. Africans must make
it clear, that while they condemn terrorism, the fight against it cannot be
used as an excuse to create more Mobutu's on the continent. The tragedy of
these latest developments, is that by introducing legislation in their
countries which before September 11 would have been unthinkable, the
governments of the US, UK other Western countries may have robbed
themselves of the moral right to speak up when similar laws are introduced
and used to undermine democracy in Africa and strengthen governments which
may in the long run turn out to be eventual enemies of "civilised values."

*The above is an excerpt from an article on "The Anti-Terrorism Campaign
Democracy and Human Rights" For full article click on the link below.

Rotimi Sankore is a Human Rights Campaigner and Journalist with a keen
interest in Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights.
Further details: http://www.kabissa.org/kfn/newsletter.php?id=4520