The Problems of External Mediation: A View from John Young

Hi Medhane,

It should be no surprise that I am in sympathy with the sentiments of your negative assessment of external mediation in general and with respect to Sudan and South Sudan in particular.

I think the critique, however, has to be placed in a broader framework that appreciates this type of Western led peace-making (even when it is pursued by local agents of the West such as IGAD) came to the fore in the wake of the supposed victory of the West in the Cold War and the embrace of neo-liberalism.

The Cold War victory produced a Western triumphalism, a return to modernization theory and its view that the West was the only model of development and that non-Western states must establish Western-like institutions of governance, Western systems of economic management, and give priority to capitalism and reject state-led development. The supposed victory in the Cold War also gave the West new confidence to meddle in the affairs of non-Western countries through the Bretton Woods institutions, multiple trade agreements, insisting that these countries fall in line with Washington’s Global War on Terror, and also to accept its mode of peace-making and the values and thinking that underpinned it.

It turns out, however, as you have correctly noted in your piece that the model of peace making pursued in Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia is a complete failure. I am less surprised than you that despite repeated instances of failure that the same model, same approach, and even some of the same actors, like General Sumbeiywo, are re-cycled. This is the model, there are no alternatives, and unfortunately the local agents of the West have completely bought into the values and assumptions on which this model is based. This also applies in spades for most intellectuals, be they from the region or from abroad.

The end of the Cold War also represented the end of critical modes of thought, including and crucially, the rejection of Marxist, Dependency, and World Systems, but without any alternative means of challenging the dominate modes of thought and analysis. Indeed, while a generation ago intellectuals were highly critical of the West, debated alternative models of development and governance, opposed various forms of imperialism, and fought to protect the sovereignty of their states, most of the present crop of intellectuals lack any theories other than those pursued by the dominant elements in the West and have sold themselves in multiple ways to the West.

They thus do not have the tools to challenge the failed peace-making other than to throw up technical criticisms which do not address the extent of the failure and worse, reinforce the view that this model is the only one practical. But they are mistaken and the situation is so bad that critiques of the model of peace-making pursued in the Horn of Africa are more likely to come from the peace-makers themselves than the indigenous victims of these processes. If there is a way out of this morass it lies in revisiting and revising the critical theories of the past in light of the global changes of the past thirty years.

Best wishes, John