I took the Ghana Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) driving test some time ago. I tried my best to be a good student and eventually scored 80% in the theory test.
But the most important lesson I learned from that exercise is from one of the road regulations or I should say principles. It says when two or more vehicles meet at an uncontrolled intersection (intersection without traffic lights, stop sign or human direction), the vehicle that gets to the intersection first has right of way. It does not say that always the small taxicab must give way to the long imposing fuel tanker. Our global system looks just uncontrolled like this intersection, without a central authority to regulate the behavior of states and punish recalcitrant ones.
However, unlike the intersection, it is common to see obvious bullying at the global stage. This usually finds manifestation in conflicts and unequal or unfair trade relations. Discussion of these two will form the third and final part of our series on the post covid-19 era and international relations. I proceed with a discussion on international security and later international trade.
International Security: International security has traditionally been associated with state security. This has to do with the protection of the territorial integrity of the state. Based on this understanding of international security, states basically try to enhance their security (militaries) to protect themselves from the incursion of other states. States also engage in building security alliances with other states to maximize their capabilities. For instance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance among thirty North American and European countries was formed in 1949 to collectively secure members from external incursion. This idea of security where states are prohibited from using force in the territory of another state is enshrined in Article 2(4) of the Charter that established the United Nations. All of these could simply be captured under the principle of non-interference – where states could not interfere in the affairs of other states.
However, in the 1990’s there were instances where state power was used against civilians rather than protecting them. These forms of violence against citizens were common in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and others. This caused the international community to rethink what real international security was. The concept of international security, therefore, began expanding from overconcentration on state security to focus on threats that endangered the lives of individuals living in the state. This idea has come to be known as Human Security. International Security Scholars and Analysts largely agree that the security of the state must necessarily include the security of its individuals. This involved protecting individuals from threat of their own governments (non-indifference), threat of diseases, threats of the negative impact of the environment, conflict and violence, among so many other threats. The concept of international security, therefore, has moved beyond just securing the state to securing the individual.
It becomes apparent from the foregone that covid-19 as a health threat to individuals across the world is an integral human security issue. I suggest, therefore, that in the post covid-19 era, issues of human security are going to be more pronounced. It has become obvious from the fallout from the pandemic so far that separating the security of the state from the security of its residents is becoming difficult. The pandemic has taught us that the state becomes automatically insecure when the people within it are insecure. The state becomes ill when its people are ill. The state begins to die when its people are dying. States are, therefore, likely to invest more in healthcare and other socio-economic factors and less on military hardware. This is because the biggest threat to the state today is not an enemy state but unforeseen natural occurrences such as diseases, earthquakes, environmental degradation, climate change, etc.
International Trade: One of the main occupations of states in their international relations is trade. Since states are prohibited from using military force against others, bullies would want to use trade as a way to hurt other states. Taking just a cursory look at the world, one will see trade war between the United States and China, US sanctions against Iran, Western sanctions against Syria, US sanctions against North Korea, as well as many other individuals. Whatever the reasons behind each of these actions, the idea is to weaken the economy of the receiving state for them to have a change of way. These sanctions make it difficult for the affected state to trade with the outside world, thereby weakening or even collapsing its economy. A weakened economy often eventually leads to regime change. This shows just how important trade is to the development of any state.
One key principle in international trade is the principle of Comparative Advantage – where states specialize in what they can produce very well at low production cost, export to other states and import what they would have produced at higher cost. However, for whatever reasons some states have the raw resources but cannot covert those resources into finished or valuable goods for export. They thus export the raw material. Unfortunately, this is the situation of many African states. History – from the European industrial revolution to the more recent Chinese industrialization as well as the experiences of states such as Singapore and Malaysia – tells us that no state can develop by exporting raw material. If you are a raw materials exporter it means you have nothing of value to export and, therefore, the trading systems will always be set to your disadvantage. This partly explains the disproportionate development gap between industrialized and non-industrialized countries. The truth is, every continent develops through a form of revolution and African needs a revolution in order to develop.
In a feature article published on 3news.com titled “Mahama writes: Covid-19 is a chance for Africa to have its own Marshall Plan,” a former President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama advocated what he termed as “A Marshall Plan for Africa.” Among other things, he suggested that the plan be “directed and coordinated from within Africa, through cooperation and communication between its member states.” He hinged this position on an interesting caveat that “Sustainable development can only come about through intelligent investment in infrastructure, in enterprise, in energy, and in ideas.” In one of his updates to the nation on measures taken to address the covid-19 pandemic, the current President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo touted University of Ghana Scientists who had carried out successful sequencing of genomes of the novel coronavirus. An obviously proud President declared that his government was collaborating with other African governments on medical research and that in future Africa would begin production of its own vaccines. I don’t know what has come of this promise and will surely be interested to know that indeed such a measure has been initiated. However, what is obvious to me is the seeming sudden confidence in Africa. Covid-19 appears to have injected in us a sense of self-worth – that we can actually fix for ourselves most of the problems we thought we needed the “Whiteman” before we could face.
Unfortunately, since May 25,1963 when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed, the story of Africa has been one of rhetoric minus deeds. Africa is obviously tired of leaders who can talk. What Africa needs to ensure any meaningful change in the post covid-19 era in terms of its development is visionary and action-oriented leadership. If there will be any positive change in the new era for Africa, African leaders and citizens will have to understand one thing. The global space is full of states with competing and conflicting interests, the rule is strictly survival of the fittest, no state has time to think about the problems of another state. African states must, therefore, think, plan and act for themselves and stop relying on Europeans, Americans and Chinese for assistance. None of them has ever been ready to offer free lunch. The Chinese or Americans would give out aid because it advances their national interest, not because it will necessarily help the receiving state. And because of national interest, there are a lot of non-productive-stringed aids flowing in the system scouting for their victims. At the same time, opportunities abound for non-lazy minds and visionary leaders. The opportunities grabbed by the Asian Tigers and so forth still exist. While “African Marshall Plan” and vaccine development are all within the reach of Africans, they cannot be realized with the current attitude and leadership of convenience. Commitment to principles is needed.
By way of conclusion, covid-19 has forced states to take a frank look at themselves. Obviously, states will decide the course of the post-covid-19 era. Some states and their citizens will be victims of the new era while others will triumph. But the game will not be a fair one and no one is going to be a fair referee to protect the weaker ones. The weaker ones will have to fight for themselves. In this case, the most prudent thing to do is to get united, speak and act as one in relation to the rest of the world. The rest of the world will resist by trying to cause division but it will eventually be the strong-willed patriots who will stand.
Source: Dr. Francis Kwabena Atta
International Relations Lecturer, Wisconsin International University – Ghana