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Asia’s political fallout – African Angles

By Adams Bodomo
Posted on Thursday, 6 February 2014 16:09

Asia’s current political upheavals – from the China/Japan dispute to violence in Thailand and Bangladesh – are in some respects unique to those Asian contexts.

However, they also hold parallels for Africa.

Africans have to continue pushing to achieve more democratic polities

In Thailand, you have a government that is supposed to be fighting for the poor and constantly enjoys massive support from the rural poor, yet you have an urban elite class opposing it.

This opposition believes that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is using a populist approach to cling onto power and thus distrusts the government.

In Bangladesh, you have an opposition that should be fighting to unseat the government through the polls, but instead some segments are burning down polling stations and largely boycotting the elections, revealing a lack of confidence in the electoral process and in the general democratic system.

All this demonstrates that Africa does not have a monopoly over violence and military confrontation. This can happen anywhere in the world.

Today, surprisingly enough, you can find more democracies in Africa than Asia.

As I speak now, I can count on my fingertips upwards of 15 in Africa, whereas I can hardly find 10 in Asia.

This does not mean that the African continent can be complacent.

Africans have to continue pushing to achieve more democratic polities.

The key to achieving this is inclusivity.

There must be no monopolies, and whatever the case you cannot exclude any segment of the population.

People might say – in Singapore, Malaysia and China – we’re doing well economically, so why worry?

However, any economy is a political economy, and thus cannot survive in these circumstances.

African countries that are experiencing economic growth cannot be complacent either.

They must address the issue of inequality in income distribution.

As for china and Japan, there is tension, but it is only tension for now and has no African parallel.

Most African problems are not cross-border, with the exception of those of the Democratic Republic of Congo and possibly South Sudan and its neighbouring countries.

In Africa, there are far more conflicts within each troubled polity.

We see hawkish leaders in both China and Japan stirring the waters over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

However, the reality is that neither country has an interest in escalating things.

As Taiwan’s culture minister [Lung Ying-tai] rightly said, these are barren islands, let us leave them to the birds. Obviously her advice has not been heeded.

It is in Africa’s interest that these guys don’t have problems, as whatever happens in China will have ramifications in Africa.

And it wouldn’t be wise for any African leaders to voice any partiality in the conflict, as both China and Japan are important to Africa.

It would be best to remain neutral and try to get the best out of both of them. ●

Adams Bodomo Professor of African Studies, University of Vienna

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