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Opinions of Friday, 21 January 2011

Columnist: Dapaah, Maxwell

How President Mills’ decision contradicts contemporary consensus ...

..... for dealing with geo-political issues

The decision made by the Mills administration to publicly announce that Ghana will not contribute troops to any decision by ECOWAS to use force to remove Ivory Coast’s embattled Laurent Gbagbo from office, because to do so will amount to interfering in Ivory Coast’s internal affairs, is to take a “contractarian” position to dealing with what has now become a regional political crisis. The decision contradicts the contemporary consensus for dealing with geo-political issues in a regional or sometimes global manner.

Long before President Mills took office, some philosophers including Thomas Hobes in the seventeenth century, followed later by John Locke and others had argued that the principles of impartiality, fairness and justice as defined by a “social contract” be invoked within the confines of the “society in which the original position is being contemplated”. In this sense, the “social contract” or contractarian view implies that these principles can be effectively pursued only within a “closed” society – i.e “confined to the members of the contracting parties ( or their “representatives”). To date, some contractarians still hold the view that the “idea of global justice is an absurdity without a global sovereign state”.
In his book titled “the theory of moral sentiments”, Adam Smith on the contrary argued for an “open” approach for dealing with issues of society by what he called the “impartial spectator”. According to Smith, the perspectives of other people far and near have relevance in seeking and ensuring that the core principles of impartiality, justice and fairness are pursued in a given society. Smith argued that the eyes of the “rest of mankind” must be invoked to understand whether punishment appears equitable for example. This view, obviously contrasts with the contractarian model which limits such judgment to only members of the social contract.

Well, the events of the past decades and the present have proved that the principles of impartiality, justice and fairness can be pursued within a global or at least within a regional context. They have shown that morality, impartiality, fairness and justice can be better championed within the sovereign borders of a nation when that nation owes a moral responsibility to do so not only to its citizens as defined by the social contract, but also to its neighbors or to the rest of the global society at large. The shift towards multilateralism and the consequent evolution of global and regional institutions and agreements after the second world war, is a testament to the global consensus amongst the peoples of the world that the best way to secure peace, stability, justice, impartiality and fairness in a society is for leaders and individuals to stand up for such principles everywhere in the world, irrespective of nationality and sovereignty. The formation of the United Nations (UN) and its organs including the International Criminal Court among others, the Britton Woods institutions (World Bank and IMF) and other regional organizations such as the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and other sub-regional organizations such ECOWAS and SADC just to mention a few, point to the framing of a new order that is underpinned by this fundamental shift to a global or a regional approach to solving “common” problems of society. This new order supersedes the colonial framework that appears to be mostly influenced by the “social contract” view, because the mandate of such institutions in ensuring impartiality, justice and fairness defy the binding constraints of sovereignty. Leaders around the world and the citizens of the world have become the “impartial spectator” in the global society and do reserve the mandate through agreements and international agreements to hold leaders whose partial, unjust and unfair actions breach the peace of the regional or global space. It is interesting how organizations such as the UN, AU, ECOWAS and other countries have responded to the Ivory Coast political situation due to their shared interest regional peace. It is needless to say that the proactive response of these institutions and some governments contrasts with their reactionary response in past cases. This is evidence that the frontiers of the contemporary consensus for a “common” approach have been pushed even further upfront this time. This may lay the framework for dealing with future cases.

Most world leaders- past and present- who have shaped the direction of the global discourse on how to deal with geo-politcal issues have covertly or overtly embraced the new consensus that the pursuit of justice, impartiality and fairness should not be limited by sovereign borders. Martin Luther King Jr. for example, is noted as saying “injustice any where is a threat to justice everywhere”. Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah is noted for his famous phrase at Ghana’s independence that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent”. John F. Kennedy in his inaugural speech in 1960 said “ for those people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required- not because the Communists will do it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right”. Ronald Reagan called on Mikhial Gorbachev to “ tear down” the walls separating the East from the West Germany.., just to quote a few.

It is in the context of this new consensus among global leaders that the President’s announcement, albeit well intended is worrying. Deciding against such a regional approach if need be, is a step towards isolation and irrelevance in the “new” world of interdependent interests that call for common front solutions to geo-polical issues. This new order calls for a principles-based leadership, strong moral leadership and a firm stand against actions that breach the peace of the “common” space of nations. This space is not only defined not by sovereign borders but by global and regional interest in the peace and security of individual nations. Ivory Coast’s current political situation which is a result of Gbagbo’s insistence on staying in office after losing the December elections is thus not only an Ivorian issue, but obviously a regional issue, and hence the need for a regional solution that Ghana has to be a part of.