The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

Polyhedron or the West vs the Rest?

Evarist Bartolo Tuesday, 3 May 2022, 07:18 Last update: about 4 months ago

The absurd, colonial, and brutal war that Russian President Putin is waging against the people of Ukraine is unacceptable whichever way you look at it.

Thousands of civilians, including innocent children, are being killed. More than 11 million Ukrainians have had to flee their homes, nearly half of them to other countries. Ukraine is being razed to the ground. The war is not only generating hatred never seen before between the neighbouring Russian and Ukraine people, it is also leading to a deterioration in the regional and global relations between countries in the Rest of the world. It is causing hunger and hardship for millions of people trying to make ends meet as prices are rising sharply and there is warning of a global recession.


In the Mediterranean, the war is moving further apart Europe and Africa. On the European side there are those who argue that African countries must side with the West against Russia on the terms dictated by the West. If they do not, they must be punished: “if they don’t like what we represent and fail to see the value of western trade, investment and security – then they shouldn’t expect to share in its profits.”

Such people in the West show that they still have an old colonial mentality.

There is no serious attempt on their part to practise any respect, humility and mutual understanding to see the world from non-Western eyes.

If the US and the EU make no serious effort at some soul searching and simply dismiss with contempt non-Western countries that do not do their bidding, instead of mobilising the Rest of the world against Russia, they will end up polarising the Rest of the world against the West.

African and other non-Western countries know their history. They lived and suffered greatly through Western colonialism and are still feeling its devastating effects in many ways. They lived through the Cold War. Governments and African leaders who wanted to liberate their countries and nationalise their resources for the benefit of their people were removed, often violently and without any regards to sovereignty. Support for the South African Apartheid regime and military dictators was justified as indispensable to prevent the spread of Soviet backed communism on the African continent and beyond.

In his article ‘How (not) to persuade Africa to support Ukraine and denounce Russia’ (The African Report, 25 April 2022), Nic Cheeseman argues that African countries know that during colonialism and the Cold War, the West was willing to sacrifice democracy and human rights on the altar of national security: “that helps to explain why many African states do not want to get sucked into the current confrontation. History has taught them that becoming pawns in an international conflict they cannot control generates few benefits and massive risks.”

He refers to Muthoni Wanyeki’s observation that “the idea of being “non-aligned” is not new, unprincipled, or limited to African states… Moreover today, as in the past, “nonalignment may be a sensible strategy for individual countries as a way to preserve autonomy and avoid costly choices between major powers.”

Cheeseman goes on to say: “The majority of African leaders and people stand against imperialism and war and have no love of Putin … despite the fact that Russia provides aid and military support to a number of states … a majority actually supported the West’s position, while others sought to sit on the fence rather than actively support Putin.”

He concludes; “… simplistic arguments that are highly critical of African governments without attempting to view recent events from their perspective risk polarising the debate in a way that will only alienate potential allies, the vast majority of whom hold pro-democratic and anti-war attitudes.”

Peace is not capitulation

After all even the West, in its efforts to substitute Russian energy, has been ready to put aside its concerns over democracy and human rights. It has acknowledged that “international relations are often about choosing strategy over ideology”. It has engaged with countries all over the globe in Africa, the Gulf and Latin America that it had ostracised before.

In the resolution presented against Russia in the United Nations to condemn the aggression against Ukraine and the breaking of the core principles of the UN Charter, 141 voted in favour, 5 against and 35 abstained. The majority of the people on the planet live in the 35 countries that abstained. The West must handle the relations with these countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America with humility and empathy if it does not want to alienate them totally.

Resetting the relationship between the West and the Rest we must confront the demons of the past, the past of the slave trade and colonialism. These centuries-long abuses of Africa, Asia and Latin America by Western countries still overshadow the present relationship between them.

Western countries still have to atone fully for the brutal exploitation, civil wars, genocides and the crushing of independent movements they carried out in the Rest of the world. Many Westerners still have to learn how to talk, think about and behave differently towards the Rest of the world without any feelings of superiority. While millions of Ukrainians fleeing their country have been rightly welcomed in the West, similar refugees coming from the Rest of the world are still frequently demonised and kept away. (All refugees are equal but some are more equal than others.)

We must ensure that the relationship between the West and the Rest of the world moves away completely from being the continuation of colonialism by other means.

In ‘Fratelli Tutti’, Pope Francis denounces contemporary cultural colonization and proposes that the best way for civilizations to come in contact with each other is through the model of the polyhedron.

In January 2015 he had explained: “When conditions are imposed by colonizing empires, they seek to make these peoples lose their own identity and create uniformity. This is spherical globalization — all points are equidistant from the centre. And true globalization — I like to say this — is not a sphere. It is important to globalize, but not like the sphere but rather, like the polyhedron. Namely that each people, every part, preserves its identity without being ideologically colonized.”

In ‘Fratelli Tutti’ he elaborates what this entails: “What is needed is a model of social, political and economic participation “that can include popular movements and invigorate local, national and international governing structures with that torrent of moral energy that springs from including the excluded in the building of a common destiny.”

The Pope’s openness to the countries on the periphery, away from Western centrism, does not mean that it is morally relativistic. In the case of the Ukraine War he does not put on the same level the invader and the invaded. While appealing for peace and negotiation, he has condemned the Russian aggression against Ukraine unequivocally. Real peace can never mean capitulation and the denial of basic human dignity.

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