29 August, 2014

Deception or Disclosure? Political Developments in Zambia

by Maximilian Mainza

Deception is the livelihood of the political system. A system which claims to work for the best interests of the people, while in fact largely working for corporate special interests, is riddled with deception strategies. The deception strategies of false promises, false enemies, pushing the fear button, hidden agendas and general secrecy are a common age old, worldwide problem. The political system, with great help from mainstream media, is designed, it would seem, to foster mass deception rather than expose it. Its success has led to more corruption, war, economic catastrophe and oppression than any other single cause. Deception depends on the notion that because while you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool most of the people most of the time, with the right political 'skills'.

Many politicians are guided by Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous work, the Prince, in which he wrote a concise guideline for how to attain power and how to keep it using deception. A good example is Vladimir Lenin’s rise to power and consolidation of his and the communist party’s iron grip over the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution, to a degree using force, but also in large part using the fog of deception. It was he who gave the world this quote: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth”.

However, for a healthy democracy, disclosure of issues that have an impact on the people is important because with access to the truth, they lack the tools with which to make their decisions. They can be easily controlled by politicians who effectively use deception to hoodwink the masses into supporting him and his positions. But how far does this need for the truth apply? The degree to which the disclosure to the public of the health status of a president of a country, for example, has been the subject of intense debate. Over the past century, the health of presidents had become a political as well as a medical issue. The perceived political consequences of disclosing a president's medical problems have sometimes conflicted with the public's concern for accountability and openness. Some presidents choose to keep their incurable diseases secret, while other presidents have advocated full disclosure.

In Zambia recently, there has been a public outcry about the health of his Excellency President Michael Chilufya Sata. On 22 June, 2014, the Zambian government announced that President Sata was in Tel Aviv Israel on a working holiday. According to the government, the president was in Israel at the invitation of out-going Israeli President His Excellency Mr. Shimon Peres. However, at that time President Shimon Peres was reportedly on his way to the United States of America. The Israeli media reported that President Sata was admitted for treatment at Sheba Medical Centre. The Zambian Government, however, insisted that the President was on working holiday in Israel. President Michael Sata returned from Israel on the 5th July and is said to have celebrated his 77th birthday with friends and family on 6 July.

President Sata: Healthier days

On 14 July, 2014, State House released images of President Sata chairing a cabinet meeting after an absence from the public eye for over 20 days. However, some sections of society are not convinced with the still picture which was released. The United Party for National Development (UPND) has cast doubt on the authenticity of the still pictures of President Michael Sata chairing a Cabinet meeting. UPND Vice President Dr. Banda said that State House should have released motion pictures or invited different media organizations for a press conference for the country to be sure that President Sata was well. Some opposition parties and political and human rights activists have been questioning whether the President is fit enough to continue leading the country. They contest that the Zambian government is being selective in its disclosure about the real state of the health of the President. The view by these activists that deception is being used as a tool to keep power by the Patriotic Front (PF) government is evident by the action of a Civil Rights activist Brebner Changala, who petitioned the High Court to constitute a medical board to examine the health of President Sata, a motion which was rejected by the court as frivolous and vexatious.

But most people are still not convinced by the PF Government’s information generated to prove that the President is capable of running the country. They feel that Government is taking advantage of the principle of the confidentiality of health information, to the detriment of the health of the state and its leadership. More recently, President Sata failed to appear to campaign for the PF candidate in parliamentary by-elections held 19 August, and no word has been heard from the President regarding a long-overdue new constitution.

It would be highly desirable that there exist a clear mutual understanding of what health information is expected to be made public and what information, if any, should remain private, for a sitting president, or one who chooses to become a candidate for the presidency. We must consider the fact that anyone can suffer from any diseases, illnesses, and maladies prevalent in our society, but also that leaders may choose to hide or minimize the presence of a disease during their terms, and that some may take advantage of post-term “illness” to go abroad and evade corruption charges. It is clear that the health status of presidents and presidential candidates will continue to attract the strong interest of the media and the public. If anything, the stress associated with the position is likely to increase for the foreseeable future.

The key political question is whether or not the deception strategies used by the PF Government is going to cost them votes in the next general elections in 2016? Because the notion that “while you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool most of the people most of the time, with the right political deception”, can be invalid if the majority of the people could see the truth and would rise up on election day, peacefully removing the ruling party from power.

13 August, 2014

Inga 3 and Beyond

by Hussein Solomon

I was first introduced to the amazing hydro-electrical potential of the Democratic Republic of the Congo almost a decade ago when a South African company brought me in as a consultant. The idea was to tap into the waters of the Inga River and bring this hydro-electrical power into energy-starved South Africa. To put matters into perspective the Grand Inga Plan aims to generate 40,0000 Mega Watts (MW) of power – enough energy its proponents argue to not only benefit southern Africa but also Sub-Saharan Africa.

Inga Dam (Photo: Alaindg)

Clearly, without reliable energy sources, prospects of large-scale industrial and agricultural projects in Africa will remain unrealized. The Inga River which is the second-largest river in the world by volume could then play a key role alleviating Africa’s energy deficit. Following years of vacillation, given the insecurity plaguing the country, there seems to be some positive forward movement. The approval by the World Bank of a US $70 million technical feasibility study is not only important in its own right but a positive signal to the private sector and individual countries to also get involved. South Africa, given its own energy woes was quick to sign an agreement with the DRC to buy much of the energy generated.

All this is quite positive but much more needs to be done. In the first instance, insecurity in the Congo needs to end and this entails not only an end to hostilities and an end to foreign interference (Rwanda comes to mind) but also better governance on the part of the Kabila regime and greater responsiveness to the needs of ordinary citizens. To put it frankly, mechanisms needs to be set in place that the economic windfall of the country’s hydro-electrical power benefits ordinary Congolese. In addition, in order to ensure private investors are attracted to this project, the issue of corruption needs to be tackled head-on. The DRC has the potential to transform itself from being the “Heart of Darkness” into a beacon of hope for the region and the continent.

22 July, 2014

Malawi at Fifty: Celebrating Independence Amidst Political and Socio-Economic Anxieties

by Harvey C.C. Banda

On 6th July 2014 Malawi clocked fifty years since the attainment of independence from her former colonial master, Britain. As is the case in many African countries, scholars have long debated the question of independence - whether or not (in this case) Malawi got genuine independence. The dominant view is that Malawi, just like most African countries, got political and not economic independence! In other words, Africa never got weaned from her ‘colonial master’ mother. A situation that is worse off than the common chicken-chick scenario. Yet even the so-called political independence leaves a lot to be desired: there is a lot of political bickering and undue in-fighting among people who are entrusted with the responsibility to administer development. Shameful indeed. In this article, I take a swipe over Malawi’s fifty year independence period with a view to predict what lies ahead bearing in mind that ‘history repeats itself’. I argue that despite being independent for fifty years, based on what is obtaining on the ground politically and socio-economically, it is as if Malawians have only been independent half that time. Quite amazing!

Around this time last year I authored an article titled ‘Malawi at Forty Nine: Economic Misery or Progress?’ in which I centrally argued that the economic challenges outweighed economic progress, as it were. I went on to argue that the independence celebration period was a moment for deep reflection and not a time for merry-making since there were so many areas which required not just catching up, but literally patching up! For instance, in terms of infrastructural development, Malawi continues to rely on genuine infrastructure that was put in place by the first President, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda (1964 – 1994). It would, therefore, not be far from reality for one to argue that during the silver jubilee independence celebrations in 1989 there was something to showcase, hence to celebrate about. However, this does not mean that everything was rosy. In fact, during this one-party, dictatorial rule Malawi had a bad human rights record where freedom, liberty and fraternity were more of a mere illusion. Yet some of these represented the very foundations on which the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) of Dr. Banda was, arguably, built.


In this article I argue that a year later, Malawi is worse off! Sadly, and realistically though, it is as if you are cycling down-hill and while in motion your brakes snap! There are usually few options in such a hair-splitting scenario: you try to control (merely directing) ‘the now-uncontrollable’ machine while, simultaneously, saying your last prayers just in case of a worst case scenario (death)! The situation that is obtaining in Malawi would be likened to this scenario because, surely, you do not know what the next fifty years will be like. In this case, I have to point out that I am not a pessimist; I am simply being realistic and objective about it. When things are good, tell it; when they are not, they are simply not. Period. This reminds me of the great twentieth century idealist, Woodrow Wilson, who in his wishful thinking, looked at World War One (WWI) as ‘a war to end war’ and, unfortunately, it is common knowledge that the reality was and still is the exact opposite.

One of the notable developments in the history of Malawi is the introduction of multi-party politics and democratic governance in 1994. This actually replaced the once-mighty one party system under the then flamboyant ‘His Excellency, the Life President of the Republic of Malawi, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’ (may his soul rest in peace). It is not surprising that such a personality was associated with all kinds of myths. I remember whenever we were chatting while in junior primary school in the 1980s we used to caution each other “don’t mention the name Ngwazi because he hears every conversation that people make about him and despite your location, you will be arrested by the police and the youth league members”. As if this were not enough, we had youth league members aged over fifty, clearly a propaganda tool! The youth league was in many ways mightier than the police: they could soak someone wet for merely having forgotten to carry an MCP membership card. As if that was not enough, there was also the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) which was more military (at times rivaling the Malawi Army), than its theoretical intention: to impart agricultural skills to a cross-section of the populace.

Things really improved politically after 1994. Malawians became freer than before. They could belong to a political party of their choice. The dominant political parties then were United Democratic Front (UDF) of Bakili Muluzi, Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) of Chakufwa Chihana, and MCP which eventually came under the tutelage of Gwanda Chakuamba and John Tembo, respectively. Although this was the case, democracy, good as it is, came with attendant problems: misinterpretation of human rights and freedoms by Malawians, especially the youth; laziness and dependency syndrome as Malawians relied more and more on handouts from the ruling UDF; and competition amongst the successive political leaders to carve for themselves and their party a lasting political legacy. This seems to be the obsession of most political leaders up to the present day. Unfortunately, it is real time development that suffers since there is no continuity in government ideology and policies, themselves a sure foundation on which lasting development is solidly built. It is partly a result of this that the Karonga-Chitipa tar mac road, which is only 101 kilometres long took more than ten years to complete; again thanks to the timely intervention by the People’s Republic of China.

The same ugly story applies to the education sector. When Bakili Muluzi took over leadership in 1994, he had good intentions of increasing access to tertiary education following the hasty introduction of Free Primary Education. In order to realize this goal, he upgraded Mzuzu Teachers’ Training College (TTC) to university status, in the process establishing Malawi’s second public university, Mzuzu University. The latter opened its doors to students in 1999. On paper the idea was very good. The government was eventually supposed to ‘relocate’ the defunct TTC. Sadly fifteen years down the line construction of this TTC is yet to start! Secondly, Mzuzu University was expected to be permanently located at the much-talked-about Choma Campus. Whole villages were relocated at the site and, alas, fifteen years later the project is still in its infancy as no single block has been erected and the local people are left wondering: ‘why did you move us?’ I wonder if there is any official who can give them a convincing response. When Bingu Wa Mutharika took over leadership in 2004, he abandoned this project and came up with his brainchild: establishing not one, but five public universities. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012 before even one of these became operational.

Following the demise of Bingu Wa Mutharika, Mrs. Joyce Banda took over the Presidency in line with the provision in Malawi’s constitution. Banda was the first lady President and the fourth President since the attainment of independence. Malawians including most people in Africa had high expectations from her leadership. A few months into her tenure things started to improve for the better: fuel crises and maize shortages were a thing of the past. This was in stark contrast to the last years of Mutharika’s rule. However, after barely one year her reign was embroiled in a deep-seated financial mismanagement scam, locally dubbed cash-gate scandal, which actually shook the very foundation on which her political party, the now withering People’s Party (PP), was built. Through this millions of Malawi Kwacha were looted from the government coffers at Capital Hill in Lilongwe. In fact, it was as if there was no one in control: quite reminiscent of the ‘sheep without shepherd scenario’.

To add salt to injury, Banda generally lacked political clout and stamina. No wonder the Tanzanians capitalized on this to claim part of Lake Malawi. The dispute remains unsettled a few years after it erupted. She had also espoused populist politics earlier craftily used by President Bakili Muluzi between 1994 and 2004. She was usually out in the field conducting the so-called development rallies where distributing maize and elevating chiefs became the order of the day. Little did she know that twenty years after the introduction of democracy, Malawians had become politically literate. At this point her Presidency days were numbered. No wonder she performed miserably during elections in May 2014: she came third and her party, PP, won less than 30 seats in a 193-member Parliament. Malawians’ hope is now in the hands of the newly elected President, Professor Peter Mutharika, who has an up-hill task to win the trust of Malawians because of his late brother’s faltering and hovering legacy.

Based on the foregoing discussion, it is clear that the second twenty five years of Malawi’s independence (1989 – 2014) are associated with more problems not only on the political scene, but also on the economic arena. Economically, Malawi started breathing a sigh of relief following the establishment of Kayerekera Uranium Mine in Karonga District around 2009. However, five years later, the mine has majored in retrenching her workers, citing losses on the international market.

Although all is not lost, Malawi’s leadership has to pull a surprise if the current socio-economic and political landscape is to improve. That is why I reiterate my earlier position that the future remains bleak. Malawi needs to overhaul the political engine if this political vehicle is to go another fifty years! This is in line with the old adage ‘unenesko ukubaba’ (truth hurts). I rest my case.

30 June, 2014

Lesotho: The Coup That Was Not

by Hussein Solomon

The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho consisting of a mere 11,720 square miles, and a population of less than two million has lurched from one political crisis to another since independence. Crises have generally been spawned by a dwindling economic base, authoritarian leadership styles and a military periodically overthrowing the civilian political leadership. Indeed, coups occurred in 1986, 1991 and 1994. Following the 1998 elections, the Lesotho Defence Force once again mutinied. This prompted the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) to authorize a military intervention force consisting of Botswana and South African troops to restore law and order.

Fears of another military intervention on the part of the regional body surfaced this past week when the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) issued the following statement:
“The South African Government notes with concern the unfolding political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho ... The South African Government has further noted with grave concern the unusual movements of the Lesotho Defence Force units in the capital, Maseru. The South African Government wishes to reaffirm and reiterate the African Union’s position on the unconstitutional change of governments on the continent and in this regard, the South African Government and SADC will not tolerate any unconstitutional change of government in the region and Continent”.

And just in case, the official statement came across as unclear to the Lesotho government, DIRCO’s spokesman – Clayson Monyela - went onto a popular radio show and declared, “No neighbouring country will be allowed to go the route of instability”.

Lesotho Prime Minister Thabane with South African President Zuma (Photo: GCIS)

What prompted these uncharacteristically harsh statements from DIRCO? Following the 2012 elections, the three main political parties: Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convenion, Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy and Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party formed a coalition government. As Thabane’s party won the most votes (but not an outright majority) he became Prime Minister and Metsing, whose party secured the second most number of seats occupied the post of Deputy Prime Minister. For a while, it seemed this political arrangement would bring stability to the country.

Earlier this year, however Metsing criticized Thabane’s aloof leadership style and that he neither bothered to consult parliament nor his cabinet on crucial decisions. Realizing the ambitious Metsing was preparing a no-confidence vote in him, the wily Thabane promptly suspended parliament until February 2015. In response, Metsing threatened to leave the ruling coalition – threatening to bring down the government. Thabane, it would seem then turned to the military to shore up his fading authority.

It is in this context that the strong statements emanating from Pretoria were issued. Realizing that Pretoria and SADC were serious in preventing yet another bout of political instability in the mountain kingdom, all three political parties have opted to stay in the coalition government until 2017 when new elections are to be held.

Whilst the strong stance of both SADC and South Africa needs to be commended, it is clear that the underlying authoritarian political culture in Lesotho needs to change. Moreover, the Lesotho Defence Force also needs to still understand the full-import of civil-military relations and need to stay out of the political fracas between the political parties.

03 June, 2014

The Ethnic Factor in Southern Africa

by Hussein Solomon

The world is witnessing a resurgence of a cult of origins with an emphasis on virulent ethnic and religious identities. The thorny issue of independence for ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and the killings of Muslims and Christians in the Central African Republic illustrate the problem well.

In Southern Africa, too, the ethnic factor has historically played a significant, though often ignored, role in the conflict dynamics of the region. Whilst the conflict between the MPLA and UNITA in Angola was seen through the prism of the Cold War with the governing MPLA seen to be allied to Moscow and Cuba whilst UNITA rebels were perceived to be pro-West, underlying this dominant narrative was the ethnic dimensions of Mbundu and Ovimbundu. Similarly in Mozambique the conflict between the governing FRELIMO and the rebel RENAMO were seen through the paradigm of Marxist FRELIMO vs pro-West RENAMO, the ethnic dimensions, however, were clearly evident in the competing Shangaan and Ndau ethnic constituencies of these respective antagonists.

A relic of past conflict in Angola (Photo: M Worm)

Ethnicity, however, is not merely a historical phenomenon for the region. Examine the repeated issue of Barotseland separatists in Zambia or the conflict dynamics of the Banyamulenge Tutsis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and one would understand the need for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to embark on pro-active measures with which to prevent latent ethnic conflict to repeat the tragic ethnic overtones of the conflict in the Ukraine.

SADC can take its cue from international law – specifically the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1992. Article 1 of the Declaration calls on states to protect the existence and identities of minorities and to adopt appropriate legislation to achieve these ends. In other words, SADC can push to achieve compliance of this Declaration within the SADC region – in the process creative inclusive as opposed to exclusionary states.

Another proactive measure SADC could adopt is to look at the European example. In January 1993, a High Commissioner on National Minorities for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now the Organisation on Security and Cooperation in Europe – OSCE) was created. The purpose of the High Commissioner and his small secretariat is to give an objective evaluation of incipient conflict, as well as concrete recommendations for its resolution. In this way an early warning mechanism was integrated into an early response system. SADC could do well to emulate the example of the OSCE and create its own High Commissioner on National Minorities.

Given the potency of ethnicity in the Southern African region, we need not await an explosion before we engage in reactive measures. Rather, proactive steps can be taken to prevent a Ukraine or Central African Republic scenario from developing in this volatile region.

01 June, 2014

All that Glitters Is not Gold...

by Virgil Hawkins

...Or emeralds, or diamonds, or cobalt, or tantalum, or platinum, for that matter... On 22 May, Al Jazeera aired a documentary under their People and Power series entitled Afghanistan's hidden gems. The program opened with an optimistic view of the potential role that Afghanistan's as yet insufficiently tapped emeralds, as well as a host of other minerals including copper, bauxite, cobalt, lithium, tantalum, and yes, gold, could play in developing the country. It suggested that their abundance was a “miracle” that could perhaps “lift the Afghani people out of poverty”. But it also went on to show the role of the minerals in financing conflict in the past, the dangerous and impoverished conditions currently faced by the miners, and interested foreign buyers for the minerals.

From the perspective of southern Africa, it all sounds so hauntingly familiar. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is equally 'blessed' with enormous mineral wealth, including many of the type (and more) found in Afghanistan. The extraction of, and trade in, these minerals have contributed to devastating armed conflict (the worst the world has seen in decades), and conditions for miners remain horrendous. And while the wealth generated has made a small number of multinational corporations, as well as local corporations and government officials exceptionally rich, it has done precious little to lift the Congolese population “out of poverty”.

Tungsten mining in the DRC (Photo: Julien Harneis)

This coming Monday (2 June) marks the deadline for US corporations using minerals potentially associated with conflict in the DRC to submit an audit of their supply chains to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Apple, Intel and HP are some of the corporations that have already done so. The quality of some of the reports that have been submitted so far have been questioned, and many others are expected to fail to meet the deadline altogether. Repercussions for non-compliance are unclear. But one of the greatest impacts of the legislation that set this process in motion may well be that corporations simply avoid the DRC altogether in procuring minerals (instead of working to improve the situation), which would again serve to deny the opportunity for local growth and development.

But it is not only in conflict-afflicted DRC where enormous mineral wealth has helped enrich already wealthy multinational corporations and some select few (in the public and private sector) in the areas in question, yet has left so little for the wider population. The percentage of royalties paid by multinational corporations extracting copper and cobalt from mines in Zambia, for example, has admittedly risen in recent years, but it remains paltry. And allegations abound of some of these mining corporations falsifying reports detailing the volume of extraction to avoid payment of these royalties. Further south, miners demanding a decent wage continue to strike at Marikana, South Africa, nine months after the massacre there over the same issue. South Africa and Namibia, both exceptionally rich in mineral wealth, have the highest levels of income inequality in the world. In so many cases, in conflict or in peacetime, the wealth benefits a select few, and the bulk ends up leaving the country.

A number years ago, I spent some time in the DRC's Katanga Province – where much of the country's mineral wealth is concentrated – as a representative of a non-governmental organization. We were investigating the possibilities for establishing poverty alleviation and development projects there, primarily in the health sector. Among the people we spoke to, a fair number treated me, a foreigner, with considerable suspicion. Many thought that the health project was just a cover story, and that I was in fact there to get involved in the mineral business. Some others accepted that I was there on NGO business, but still thought that it was only a matter of time before I discovered how lucrative the mineral business was, and jumped ship. Clearly, the ways in which the mineral wealth is removed from the country (legally and illegally) are many and varied, and equally clearly, the lure of the glittering stones, not least for those reaching in from the outside, is strong.

14 May, 2014

Zimbabwe's Support for Russia Shortsighted

by Leon Hartwell

An alleged telephone conversation surfaced on YouTube between Igor Chubarov, Russia's ambassador to Eritrea, and Sergei Bakharev, the ambassador to Zimbabwe and Malawi. The 5-minute long discussion started with Chubarov stating; “My congratulations! Your country [Zimbabwe] demonstrated very, let’s say, right understanding of the situation on Ukraine.”

Bakharev immediately replied, “And as for yours [Eritrea], they have surprised us. Are they fucking crazy?” Chubarov then indicated that he was not sure how that happened and expressed his surprise as well. He then exclaimed, “[but] your guys were fucking good. The only one on the continent [to reject the UN’s Resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of the Ukraine]. Oh no, Sudan as well.”

The conversation then continued with a lot of swearing and a couple of jokes about which territories Russia will annex next. Whether the telephone exchange is authentic or not, the truth is that Zimbabwe supported Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

Formal annexation of Crimea (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Resolution 68/262: Territorial Integrity of the Ukraine
On the 27th of March 2014, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 68/262 by a 100-11 vote with 58 abstentions. The Resolution primarily focused on the dubious secession referendum held in Crimea on the 16th of March as well as Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. It called on “states … not to recognize any change in the status of Crimea or the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol...”

States that supported Resolution 68/262 broadly argued that Russia’s intervention in Crimea infringed on Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Those who voted against the resolution included Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. As a whole, taking into consideration their lack of respect for human rights, this is not a group of countries that any state necessarily want to be associated with.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980 and who turned 90 years old in February, is a self-proclaimed supporter of ‘sovereignty’. That begs the question; why does Zimbabwe support Russia’s annexation of Crimea?

Sovereignty is sacrosanct
Mugabe never misses an opportunity to talk about the sacrosanct principle of “sovereignty”, which is exactly what has been violated in Ukraine. The nonagenarian leader has gone as far as rejecting both the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (which promotes intervention) and the International Criminal Court on the pretext that it conflicts with the idea of sovereignty.

At the 66th UN General Assembly in 2011, Mugabe stated: “the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) should not be twisted to provide cover for its pre-meditated abuse in violating the sacred international principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of states because to do so amounts to an act of aggression and destabilization of a sovereign state.”
Mugabe’s statement was in response to UN Resolution 1973, which in 2011 essentially led to the removal of his long-time friend and fellow dictator, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In context though, Resolution 1973 was adopted after Gaddafi labelled protestors “cockroaches” and demanded that his supporters should “cleanse Libya house by house.”

Gaddafi’s language, which was reminiscent of Rwanda’s Hutu regime’s message during the 1994 genocide, suggested that he intended to exterminate a group of people. Despite the wave of killings that Gaddafi unleased on his opposition in Benghazi, Mugabe was angered by NATO’s intervention as this, he argued, challenged state sovereignty.

President Mugabe speaking at the UN (UN Photo/Ryan Brown)

Putin justifying support for Crimea
Fast forward to the 18th of March 2014: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gave an eloquent speech and selectively drew upon history to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

First, Putin referred to the shared history between Crimea and Russia, which helped to soften the idea of a big takeover of the region.

Second, he argued that the Soviet Union’s decision to incorporate Crimea into Ukraine in the 20th century was arbitrary as it “was made behind the scenes”.

Third, Putin portrayed Ukraine’s Euromaidan protestors and their leaders as illegitimate and characterized them as “Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites” with the aim of cloaking Russia’s annexation of Crimea under the pretext of humanitarian intervention.

Fourth, the Russian leader stated that there are many ethnic and linguistic Russians located in Crimea, thereby giving Russia an added purpose to intervene (supposedly) on behalf of their interests.

Fifth, Putin argued that Crimea asked for Moscow’s help to join Russia (although he failed mention that a pro-Moscow armed group took over the parliament building in Crimea which enabled pro-Moscow Crimean MPs to approach Russia for ‘assistance’).

Finally, Russia recognized that 82% of Crimea’s electorate took part in the secession Referendum and 96% of them spoke out in favor of reuniting with Russia, thereby legitimizing the outcome.

Mugabe’s support for Putin’s is unwise
How would Mugabe react should the UK demand intervention in Matabeleland based on the same dubious principles that Putin used for annexing Crimea? Like Russia in relation to Crimea, the UK has a history with Matabeleland. The Russian Empire first annexed Crimea in 1780s, while Britain colonized Southern Rhodesia (which is today known as Zimbabwe) approximately a hundred years later. Still, where do you draw that historical line with regards to territorial boundaries? How far back into history can you possibly go?

Furthermore, Mugabe knows that territorial boundaries are as arbitrary in Africa as it is in Crimea. The Scramble for Africa meant that Africa’s territorial boundaries were created in accordance with the interest of European colonial powers. That is why the Democratic Republic of Congo has over 500 ethnic groups in one territory while the Somali people are scattered all over modern-day Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. The then Organization of African Unity accepted the application of the principle of uti possidetis, which meant maintaining the sanctity of colonial boundaries in an attempt to limit border disputes and to speed up independence. What if Matabeleland today decides that its borders are arbitrary and therefore they should have a secession referendum?

Moreover, as mentioned, Putin tried to build his case by portraying the current Ukrainian government as illegitimate, despite the fact that it came into being as a result of almost three months of protests against Viktor Yanukovych’s draconian regime. What if the UK attempted to justify both intervention and re-colonization of Matabeleland based on the fact that most Zimbabweans speak English, Mugabe is authoritarian, illegitimate, and that his regime has led to the killing of thousands of Zimbabweans?

Based on the above assumptions, imagine if the UK decided to send well-armed groups into Matabeleland to take over government structures and then to support a secessionist referendum where people could vote either to become independent or to join the UK. Voter turnout for a secession referendum in Matabeleland will probably be high. Many people in the region resent Mugabe for generally marginalizing Matabeleland and for Gukurahundi (which lead to the killing of about 20,000 Ndebele).

In short, Russia’s annexation of Crimea is as absurd and unjustifiable as the re-colonization of Matabeleland by the UK would be. Yet, Mugabe supported Putin’s actions in Crimea.

Practicality over principle
Mugabe supported Putin because it is a matter of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. For example, on the 11th of July 2008, Russia and China vetoed sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle responsible for violence, torture and intimidation that preceded the controversial presidential run-off elections on the 27th of June 2008.

Zimbabwe’s objection to Resolution 68/262 was important for Russia in as much as it needed to demonstrate to the Russian public that there was a small group of states that viewed its actions as legitimate. For Mugabe, Russia’s support in the past (and possibly in the future) has been invaluable given that Russia has veto power in the UN Security Council.

As the world is becoming increasingly globalized, international relations matter more and more. Putin violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and in the future this could also have negative impacts in other countries where secessionist movements could demand independence based on some of the same dubious principles. This is arguably why China, Mugabe’s strategic ally, chose to abstain rather than to blatantly reject Resolution 68/262. Mugabe’s regime failed to see the bigger picture. Zimbabwe’s foreign policy stems from the individual interest of Mugabe and his inner circle rather than being based on a strategic approach that serves the country’s long-term national interests.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

05 May, 2014

Ominous Trends in Run-Up to This Week's SA Elections

by Hussein Solomon

As the country prepares for this week’s elections in which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is to retains its majority, ominous trends have emerged which should concern all democrats.

The Sunday Times newspaper carried an interesting front page story on how police were distributing ANC election t-shirts in official police vehicles. When a journalist snapped photographs of this, police from the VIP protection squad promptly grabbed his phone and deleted the pictures. More than anything else, this incident highlights the illegal use of state resources by the ruling party – where government, state and party are conflated. The longer the ANC remains in government, the more difficult it will be to separate state, government and party interests which holds ominous risks for the country’s floundering democracy. Unlike other countries where incumbent parties have been in power for some time and where an independent civil service has developed which understands the distinction between party and state and is only loyal to the government of the day; in South Africa the ANC has created a politicized civil service.

The ANC emblem

It is politicized since the ANC rewards its loyal cadres with cushy jobs in the civil service. Since skill sets are worth less than political loyalty, incompetence is on the rise in South Africa’s bloated civil service. Such incompetence also translates into greater problems with service delivery fuelling ever more protests which, in turn, threatens South Africa’s stability and, ironically, the ANC’s continued hold on power. Unfortunately, few in the ANC seem to be concerned about the medium to long-term risks of the abuse of state resources and power. Fewer still – seem to have a long-term perspective to governance generally.

Beyond the understanding of sustainable people-centred governance, I think the major issue relates to the ANC viewing themselves less as a political party and more as a revolutionary movement. One should not forget that many senior members in the ANC were trained in the former Soviet Union and East Germany and that communist mindset penetrated the movement’s core: The ANC is the vanguard party, they are the revolutionary party, they represent the people. Conversely anyone who opposed the revolutionary party are counter-revolutionaries, opposed to the peoples’ interests as represented by the ANC. This arrogance of power and that notion that right is on their side bodes ill for the future prospects of democracy in South Africa under the ANC.

What Nelson Mandela's Memorial Service Tells Us About South Africa

by Leon Hartwell

Former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s Johannesburg memorial in December 2013 was in many ways a microcosm of South Africa’s political and economic situation. The events that played out in and around the memorial represented South Africa’s best virtues while flagging a number of challenges that have to be dealt with. Some of these issues will be reflected in upcoming election manifestos as they are seen as imminent. Others might only be confined to footnotes, but they will be equally important for the long-term prosperity of South Africa’s economic and political environment.

The memorial day was characterised by a lot of rain. In many African countries, rain is considered to be a blessing; it symbolises new life and growth. This is very much representative of South Africa, a young democracy with a developing economy. South Africa has lots of prospects, especially given that there is still plenty of scope for the country to grow. Since 1994, the year of the first democratic elections in South Africa, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased by 33%. The end of Apartheid opened up new economic opportunities for local and international businesses and South Africa became more integrated into the world economy.

Rain at the memorial service (photo: GovernmentZA)

Conversely, the expression “a rainy day” also has certain negative connotations to it, as rain could ruin a special day. It reminds us that although there are prospects for hope in South Africa, there will be many spoilers along the way. Even though the overall memorial went rather well, there were several issues that reflected some of concerns that personify the young nation.

Let’s start with the fact that the event was held at the FNB Stadium. It is where Madiba gave his first speech in Johannesburg after he was released from prison in 1990. It has since been upgraded for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, thereby becoming the largest stadium in Africa, attesting to the country’s great achievements in the post-Apartheid era.

Beyond the symbols of greatness, we have to keep in mind that the memorial began one hour late. In economic terms, time costs money and South Africa will have to step it up in order to compete at an international level. Government and businesses will have to become much better with planning and organising their activities. As argued earlier, economically speaking South Africa is moving in the right direction, but it is not happening fast enough. Jac Laubscher recently noted that countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey grew by 114% on average since 1994 (compared to South Africa’s 44% growth over that same period).

There is also a real risk that South Africa’s debt overhang is increasing rapidly and that a serious economic crisis might be looming in South Africa. According to Forbes, the country’s debt has been increasingly rapidly since 2008 and external debt currently stands at $136.6 billion, or 38.2 percent of the GDP and “the highest level since the mid-1980s.” It means that there will have to be major budget cuts in the near future, which will also impact on education, health and the general well-being of the nation, especially the youth.

In this context, it was interesting to note that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was cheered at Madiba’s funeral. Mugabe, who has been responsible for massacring between 10-20,000 Ndebele, the torture of hundreds of people, and the plundering of a once prosperous economy; was warmly welcomed at a memorial service in honour of Madiba, a man who ardently stood for democracy, human rights and peace. Nonetheless, it is quite possible, that Mugabe was cheered by a group of people who were perhaps disillusioned about the lack of economic opportunities in South Africa and who think that Mugabe’s “land-reform programme” was executed in the name of the poor. South Africa’s unemployment rate is 40% and inequality is extremely high (with a Gini coefficient of 0,6 to 0,7). Inequality is arguably one of South Africa’s most dangerous systemic issues that has to be confronted. If the matter is left in the hands of populists (like the Economic Freedom Fighters), the results could be disastrous, as was the case in Zimbabwe.

Related to the above issue, it is not only about what was present at the memorial that is important, but also what was missing. After the memorial, one reporter rightfully noted, “Where were the children? Mandela loved children …But young South Africans did not feature on the programme.” Almost half of the electorate is under 40 years of age while close to 2 million are ‘born frees'. Yet, to be part of the country’s youth is not always easy. South Africa has high levels of youth unemployment, estimated to be 50% and the 3rd highest in the world according to the World Economic Forum. Tough times might be ahead for the economy and this group risk being even further isolated and marginalised. Again, radical political parties could be attractive to this group, given that the youth have ‘nothing to lose’.

Furthermore, while Mugabe was applauded at Madiba’s memorial, President Jacob Zuma was booed when he entered the FNB stadium, whenever his name was mentioned, as well as when he gave his speech. The booing was not an “embarrassment”, as some commentators remarked. Rather, it was a clear expression of the will of the people, something that Madiba (and once also Zuma himself) fought hard for. The booing was a reflection of discontent towards South Africa’s top leader. This is not the same as saying that the African National Congress (ANC) was rejected in total. Other members of the ANC, including former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, were loudly cheered by the same crowd. Even former South African President F.W. de Klerk and US President Barack Obama were cheered. The fact is, many people are fed up with Zuma, and the ANC will lose a lot of votes during the upcoming elections because of him.

The contrasts between Madiba and Zuma are rather remarkable. Madiba publicly regretted not doing enough to tackle HIV/AIDS under his watch, a period marked by a multitude of competing issues all demanding immediate attention. In 2005, Zuma admitted to having unprotected sex with the daughter of a struggle comrade whom he knew was HIV positive and then taking a shower to “cut the risk of contracting HIV.”

Mandela' body lying in state (Photo: GovernmentZA)

Shortly after Madiba became President, he cut his salary by 20%. Furthermore, he donated one-third of his annual salary of ZAR 150,000 to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Last year it was reported that Zuma’s annual salary is ZAR 2,622,561, more than 17 times that of Madiba. Recently, the Public Protector raised serious concerns regarding the enormous costs at the expense of South African taxpayers. Total expenditure for “security” upgrades at Zuma’s private residence has been “conservatively estimated at ZAR 246 million”. Security upgrades at Madiba’s private house has been estimated at ZAR 35 million (compared to ZAR 12 million for Mbeki, and ZAR 236,000 for de Klerk).

During Madiba’s memorial, South Africa’s state media, the SABC, was allegedly ordered not to report the crowd’s booing of Zuma. The great irony is that a free media is something that Madiba cherished deeply. He understood and preached widely about the importance of a free media that is able to keep government on its toes. Censorship of SABC on the day of the memorial is a warning that should a questionable person like Zuma continue to lead the country, there will be more and more political interference in the judiciary, state institutions, media and even the arts. Zuma seems to treat the state coffers as his personal bank account, and gradually South Africa is turning into a Mobutu-like “kleptocratic state”, as was recently argued by Barney Pityana. The fact is that the more elites have to hide, the more they will silence those that are outspoken about it, particularly also institutions that were created to make sure that those in power will not abuse it. Thus, it was not surprising that there was a delay due to political interference (cloaked in a security excuse) of the Public Protector’s report on Zuma’s “opulence”.

As said by Funeka Gingcara-Sithole, an ordinary attendee, "Mandela had a vision, Mandela lived that vision. But what Zuma speaks, he doesn't live …He should do the honourable thing and resign." If Zuma does not resign, he will lead the ANC to a win in the forthcoming election, but it is unlikely that he will complete his second-term in office. In the past, the ANC has demonstrated that it is not scared to get rid of their leaders.

Moreover, it was rather appropriate that Thamsanqa Jantjie, a man with an alleged criminal record and apparently no sign language qualification whatsoever, was the official translator for Madiba’s memorial. The mistranslation of Madiba’s memorial is perhaps emblematic of how some political leaders misunderstand the true values that Madiba himself stood for. Mandela wanted a liberal democratic government to serve the people and to focus on the future, he did not want to be voted into office based on past glories nor to become president to serve himself and his family.

Moreover, the fact that Jantjie was officially accredited for the memorial is symbolic of a mixture of incompetence, patronage, nepotism, and corruption that South Africans often experience. No one has been willing to take full responsibility for hiring this ‘interpreter’ and there are many question marks as to why this person was there in the first place. Shortly after the incident, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu stated, “the ANC reiterates that the organisation did not take part in the government process to procure the service provider for the memorial service.”

Mtembu’s above statement clearly implies that the state was in charge of the memorial. However, what surfaced over the coming days seemed to have blurred the line between the state and the ruling party. A few weeks after Mthembu’s statement, his personal assistant Cikizwa Xozwa and her husband Reverand Bantubahle Xozwa “resigned” from the ANC after it was allegedly by the media that they were owners of the company that employed Jantjie. More often than not, in countries where the ruling party in effect becomes the state (look at our neighbours in Zimbabwe), it is people who suffer. South Africa has to work towards creating stronger institutions - especially the media, public protector, and the judiciary - that are answerable to the people and not the interests of a specific party.

The fact that there was a burglary at retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s house while he was attending Madiba’s memorial was another symbol illustrative of one of the top issues that South Africans rich and poor experience. Compared to other countries, South Africa has a very high rate of murders, assaults, rape and other crimes. If crime affects the Arch, one of South Africa’s greatest icons and most respected individuals, it could happen to anyone. The high levels of crime have to be seriously tackled at it negatively affects victims, it contributes to emigration of some of South Africa’s most talented, it taints the country’s image as a viable tourist destination, and it forces South African businesses to focus more on physical security rather than on other creative ways of making their businesses more sustainable. More importantly, crime leads people to build massive walls and iron gates between one another, and impedes the building of a society. In a word, crime makes South Africans isolated and miserable.

Beyond the domestic symbols that were scattered throughout Madiba’s memorial, there were also signs that were reminiscent of South Africa’s foreign policy. There were close to a hundred heads of state and government at the event from all corners of the globe. It not only symbolised Madiba’s popularity, but it also attested to South Africa’s success to move from being a global pariah to an international player. Madiba and Mbeki were particularly good at resituating the country as a developing nation often punching above its weight. Pretoria is said to have the second largest number of foreign missions in the world. South Africa is also no longer at war with its neighbours and the economy and her businesses are continental (and sometimes global) leaders.

Aside from the fact that South Africa’s wealth is tied to that of the world, the country’s transition is a model that could be emulated elsewhere. South Africa has participated in a number of peace keeping and peace building efforts on the continent. It was thus rather fitting that even in death Madiba could get US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to shake hands. Yet, the handshake also mirrored a wrongful assumption: getting players to shake hands is enough to change the game. Truth be told, peacebuilding requires time and commitment. Sometimes South Africa’s peacebuilding efforts have lacked follow up.

In the end, Madiba’s memorial was to celebrate the life of a legend, which is why the crowd continued to be cheerful throughout the rain. But when the event was over, it reminded us that South Africa no longer has a moral compass with the same stature as Madiba to lead the country into a new critical phase in the country’s history. Madiba was successful because he challenged the injustices of the day, which is what made him transformational. He was also adamant that South Africa’s leaders should look to the future rather than ride the wave of past glories. In 1994, he warned ANC leaders who wanted to have a “liberation election” campaign that “we should forget the past and concentrate on building a better future for all.” As South Africans honour Madiba’s legacy and celebrate 20 years of democracy, we also need to take a hard long look at present issues that threaten the stability of the country. A constitutional democracy cannot thrive in these conditions.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

30 April, 2014

Economic Catastrophe Beckons Under ANC Leadership

by Hussein Solomon

Election posters adorn streets, talking heads on television continue to discuss the impact of this or that political party’s rally and potential voters are being assailed by party campaigners at their home, on the radio as well as on social media on why they need to vote for this or that political party.

Yet few social commentators, never mind the political parties themselves wish to deal with the ticking economic time bomb at the heart of the nation. Current economic policies are not working and this is most obviously seen in the fact that Nigeria with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$ 509 billion has recently surpassed that of South Africa’s with an almost puny-looking GDP (given its potential) of US$ 380 billion, making Nigeria Africa’s largest economy. This is set to widen with the Nigerian behemoth growing at 7 percent per annum compared to South Africa’s anaemic growth rate of a paltry 2.3 percent.

South Africa: Open to investment?

To compound matters still further South Africa is raising barriers to investment – crucially this is being done in the context of slowing growth in India and China and where the Eurozone’s economic woes continue whilst the US economy continue to register sluggish growth. Consider the following: a foreign investor in the resources industry is expected to hand over a fifth of the investment to the South African government. The private security industry as well as the electronics industry, meanwhile, has to hand over a whopping 51 percent of ownership to the state. Given the poor savings rate in South Africa, there is little domestic investment within its borders to make the necessary investments to grow the economy. As a result, South Africa is dependent on foreign capital to grow the economy. Unfortunately under the African National Congress (ANC) government, foreign investors are increasingly being deterred to put their money into the country given the ruling party’s socialist bent. Far from learning the lessons of failed socialist policies elsewhere in the world and on the African continent, the ANC is doing its utmost to repeat them – dragging all South Africans and the region into the economic abyss.

Ultimately, it is the youth who suffer the most from such insane policies. This is reflected in the escalating figures of youth unemployment in the country. Such economic tragedy is bound to impact negatively on social stability as is evident with the rise of violent social delivery protests where unemployed youth is playing a key role in chasing local councillors out of townships and setting fire to government buildings. Economic catastrophe beckons if a radical about-face is not realized.

29 April, 2014

Promises and Lies: Politicisation of Socio-Economic Issues ahead of Malawi's General Elections

by Harvey C.C. Banda

“There is nothing so strong or safe in an emergency of life as the simple truth”.
~ Charles Dickens ~

In May 2014 Malawi will hold tripartite elections when, for the first time, Malawians will elect Councilors, Members of Parliament (MPs), and the State President at the same time. In most general elections the Councilors have been left out despite being central on issues of governance and local development. It is sad to note that the campaign period ahead of the general elections is characterized by promises and lies by those vying for the different political positions. In fact, this has become a trend twenty years after Malawi adopted multi-party politics in 1994.

With elections around the corner, it is easy to predict what message politicians bring to political rallies: empty promises and lies. This is true of Presidential hopefuls and aspiring MPs alike. In fact, if these politicians were to deliver in line with their ‘promises’, Malawi would really have been the warm heart of Africa – relatively well developed. However, this is far from the reality on the ground. What remains of the warm heart of Africa is the fact that Malawians remain kind-hearted, cheerful and welcoming to outsiders. Looked at from a different angle, it is this soft-spokenness that is part of the problem; that is why these politicians, once voted into office, get away with their laxity, deceit and corrupt tendencies. I wish Malawians were a little bit 'militant' (positive militancy, in the sense that they are ready to confront these political crooks and cronies in the event that they are not delivering on their promises).

In 1995 most newspapers carried articles titled ‘TEBA won’t work’ (TEBA sitheka) following the realization that what the United Democratic Front (UDF) had promised before the general elections in 1994 was not actually going to take place. Former President Bakili Muluzi and his UDF party had, among other issues, promised Malawians that once voted into office, the UDF would ensure the re-opening of TEBA, that is, the engagement of Malawians in the South African mines following inter-state negotiations and agreement. As most people are aware, mine migrancy in southern Africa was in decline in the 1980s following a process of internalization (localization) of mine workers by the South African Government during the period. Consequently, many Malawian migrants working in the South African mines were retrenched and returned home. Cleverly, Bakili Muluzi took up this economic issue during the campaign period, promising ex-migrant workers an automatic return to the South African mines.

Former President Bakili Muluzi

Sadly, the opposite was the case during the aftermath of the 1994 general elections: Malawian migrants were being deported in droves by the South African Government authorities with a view to creating space at the workplace for the South African nationals. In this connection, it was reported in The Monitor (Vol. 3, No. 193, 15th December 1995) that the President (Bakili Muluzi) actually distanced himself from the issue when he lamented: “the issue of TEBA is in the hands of the South African Government”, implying that there was nothing much that the Malawi Government could have done about it. This can as well be interpreted as playing with the minds of innocent Malawians. The pertinent question here is “when did the Government know that there was little it could do about the TEBA issue?” Additionally, “why make empty promises during elections before entering negotiations on such a bilateral issue?”

Despite our democracy maturing over time, politicians are still fond of making such empty promises whenever elections are drawing close. In fact, this is the order of the day. Sadly, they do this without shame or remorse. Surely most Malawians can vividly remember former President Bakili Muluzi promising ordinary Malawians that once voted into office, he was going to buy ‘his people’ (banthu bake) pairs of shoes! After elections, he had the audacity to shout at ‘his people’: “Some of you expect me to buy you pairs of shoes, are you crazy? How can I know the shoe sizes of Malawians from Nsanje to Chitipa?” This was too much, to say the least. In fact, it was more than ‘playing with the minds of the people’, in that it was taking advantage of lack of political awareness; civic education; human rights; and literacy among the mass of Malawians then resident in the rural areas.

The above case study (UDF) does mirror the situation in almost all ruling and having-ruled political parties in Malawi: Malawi Congress Party, Democratic Progressive Party and now People’s Party of President Joyce Banda. Almost all these parties have largely failed to deliver on most of their promises, for instance, in the field of infrastructure. As a case in point, it is astonishing to note that most roads, bridges and buildings are in bad shape despite infrastructural development being on top of the development agenda of these parties.

What lessons can one draw from such political promises which in the end fail to be implemented? First, this is part and parcel of the ‘big man syndrome’ in Malawi’s politics, as argued fervently by Brian Shawa, among other scholars. It is sad to note that a political figure would be blatantly lying at a political rally and yet he or she in response would get all kinds of praises (viwongo) and ululations (nthungululu): “You are the greatest; in fact, there is no-one like you in Malawi’s politics!” In short, people are, due to this syndrome, generally less critical. Second, politicians know that such utterances (promises) can hardly be implemented, but take advantage of illiteracy levels among the populace largely resident in the rural areas. Obviously if the majority of Malawians were literate, such promises and lies would not germinate and grow in Malawi’s political soil. Third, in line with Basil Davidson’s argument (in Modern Africa: A Social and Political History, 1994, p.216), what is at stake here are the basic tenets of democracy:
...the important question is not the number of parties, for a many party (multi-party) system …can
also degenerate into abuse. The important question concerns the degree in which ordinary people
can really influence their governments.
In short, the argument here goes back to the basic definition of democracy: ‘people power’, as defined by the ancient Athenians, the originators of democracy. Clearly, in Malawi’s politics the ordinary people do not own power, rather it is in the hands of (elected) leaders and, what is worse, it is as if the latter are doing the populace a favour if they are to deliver on their political promises! Shame.

It is, however, encouraging to note that the level of awareness amongst Malawians has improved steadily over the two decades of multi-party politics. Credit has to go to the civil society including the churches for the role they have played in bringing about political awareness and civic education among Malawians over time. Malawians show signs of political maturity in many respects, for instance, they are able to compare one’s promises and what one is able to deliver thereafter. In the event that there is a mismatch between the two, then the political days of the politician in question ‘are numbered’: they actually gang up against and start de-campaigning (silently) him or her. Consequently, such candidates hardly make it during the next elections. Most MPs and Presidential hopefuls have lost political mileage this way. The electorate does the opposite of what politicians do: they make promises that they would not vote a political liar and crook back into office, say as MP, and lo they actually deliver on their solemn promise, as the candidate actually loses miserably! One would describe such promises as ‘promises and truths’.

Malawi’s democratic politics is surely maturing over time: the electorate is delivering on their promises (promises and truths). Once politicians do away with promises and lies and, instead, start delivering on their own political promises, surely Malawi will be a better place to live in for all: the elite and the populace alike. In short, Malawi will truly be the warm heart of Africa!

31 March, 2014

Zimbabwe: Celebrating 90 and a Country in Ruins

by Hussein Solomon

Robert Mugabe turned 90 in February, officially making him Africa’s oldest Head of State – or should that be monarch? Dismissing rumours about his failing health (he did after all celebrate his 90th birthday receiving medical treatment in Singapore), Africa’s autocrat insisted to reporters that he was “fit as a fiddle”. Despite his protestations that all is well, it is clear that his advanced age and repeated medical treatments are encouraging factions within the ruling ZANU-PF political to position themselves for the top position following Mugabe’s long overdue demise. Two key contenders for the presidency remain the Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

A possible successor? Joyce Mujuru

The presidency following the despot’s death, however, will remain a poisoned chalice for any incumbent. A sixth of the country needs emergency food aid, factory closures continue, the current account deficit for 2013 stood at 23 percent of GDP, foreign investment has practically disappeared on account of Mugabe’s policy of “indigenisation” of all foreign and white-owned businesses. In practice, what “indigenisation” actually means is that ZANU-PF fat-cats can now receive a 51 percent stake in businesses to which they contributed nothing. Ordinary Zimbabweans are hardly “empowered” by this process of “indigenisation”. Not surprisingly, this banana republic continues to haemorrhage skilled workers placing further strain on the economy.

What is clear is that ZANU-PF as a whole refuses to deal with the consequences of their ineptitude and refuse to recognize that the economy is collapsing. Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Finance clearly has on rose-tinted spectacles since he predicted that the economy will grow at 6.1 percent in 2014. The collective reaction from economists both inside and outside of Zimbabwe was, “What the hell is this guy smoking?” This inability to deal with reality will only serve to hasten economic collapse with its resultant impoverishment and misery to ordinary Zimbabweans.
On the bright side however, Mugabe’s birthday is to be celebrated by a lavish stadium party costing R11 million. How does one respond to a stagnating economy, grim living conditions, the impoverishment of ordinary people and the penury of an entire country? You give them cake of course, birthday cake. Marie Antoinette would be so proud!

21 February, 2014

Choice of Running Mates: The Folly That is Malawi’s Politics Ahead of 2014 Elections

by Harvey C.C. Banda

Malawi will hold tripartite general elections in May 2014, when Malawians will democratically elect leaders in three positions: the President, Members of Parliament for the constituencies, and Councilors for the various wards. Malawi has been without Councilors for more than ten years. As is the case in most countries, the run-up to the general elections is full of drama, that is, both tragedies and comedies. But suffice to say that the 2014 tripartite elections have broken a record: all the four deemed major political parties (Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the ruling People’s Party (PP), and the once-mighty United Democratic Party (UDF) of former President Bakili Muluzi) have taken their turns in goofing (hitting a snag) when choosing the Presidential running mates. This has been a surprise and a disappointment both to political heavyweights within those parties, who have remained expectant long enough, and to the onlookers and party sympathizers, alike. It is astonishing and paradoxical to note that the so-called briefcase parties have shown maturity and sobriety in choosing Presidential running mates.

The Malawi Congress Party ruled Malawi between 1964 (independence) and 1994 (when Malawi espoused pluralist and democratic politics). Thereafter the affairs of the Government were in the hands of the UDF under Bakili Muluzi. The latter ruled Malawi for a solid ten years and handed over power to Professor Bingu Wa Mutharika in 2004. Immediately after this (in 2005) Mutharika ditched the UDF and formed his own party, the DPP. Despite coming in as a political novice, Mutharika won the hearts of many Malawians, especially during his first term of office (2004 – 2009) to the point that in 2009 he was rewarded with a landslide victory. During this period, Mutharika won accolades and awards at home and abroad for his transformation of Malawi’s weak economy. However, as we are aware, he failed to outlive his second term of office, dying in April 2012.

In 2009 Mutharika handpicked Joyce Banda as his running mate, clearly targeting the female vote as part of his elections strategy. In fact, this paid dividends during the 2009 general elections: as alluded to earlier, the DPP won by a wide margin. Following the demise of Mutharika, Joyce Banda assumed the Presidency in line with the Malawi Constitution. She settled for Khumbo Kachali as her deputy. Kachali comes from the northern region while Banda comes from the southern region.

Just before Mutharika’s untimely death, there was antagonism between the President and his deputy to the extent of the latter forming her own political party thereafter, the flamboyant, but clearly politically-inexperienced PP. In fact, the only major attraction of the PP is its ruling status: the party had no political structures, and a weak support base..

It is worth noting that the ruling PP inherited all the challenges that the DPP and Mutharika left behind. And yet, through thick and thin, the PP has tried to sail through to the 2014 tripartite elections. Joyce Banda has managed to deal with the political storms with Khumbo Kachali by her side.

However, in a sudden twist of events, all in the name of elections strategy, President Joyce Banda has dumped her two-year political partner, Kachali, choosing instead a political 'child', thirty-seven year old Sosten Gwengwe, as her running mate. Gwengwe is nowhere on the list of political heavyweights in Malawi’s politics. It is, therefore, not surprising that Kachali has taken this as a bitter pill to swallow, and was “conspicuously absent” during the (Gwengwe) running mate unveiling ceremony at the prestigious Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, Malawi’s famed commercial city on 13 February 2014.

President Banda and her young running mate (Photo: Maravi Post)

In a related development, the rate of attrition of political heavyweights from the ruling PP is shocking. Recently, Sidik Mia, a political magnet in the Lower Shire Valley (Chikwawa) region dumped the party due to so-called personal reasons. Strictly-speaking, this was a result of political frustration within the party. PP also lost a large number of loyal members over the way it conducted primary elections for Members of Parliament in December 2013. From these elections it was apparent that the people in a constituency had their own choice while the party tried to impose (to no avail) its own favourite, hence massive resignations. Consequently, one is left wondering as to the political stamina that PP still wields ahead of the May elections.

Another shocker in the choice of Presidential running mates is that by the DPP, a party formed and popularized by Bingu Wa Mutharika and now led, somewhat weakly, by his younger brother, Peter Mutharika. The latter on 10 February 2014 unveiled the politically unknown Saulos Chilima, who until his appointment was the Managing Director of mobile phone company Airtel Malawi. One wonders whether the economics attributes that Chilima have are in anyway transferable to Malawi’s politics! This is clearly another choice of a youth as part of the elections strategy.

The last comedy is displayed by the United Democratic Front (UDF). With the latter the opposite is actually true. A youthful Presidential candidate, Atupele Muluzi, son of former President Bakili Muluzi, recently settled for somewhat-aged George Chapola as his running mate. Both (Atupele and Chapola) have glaring political weaknesses, most notably an overall lack of political muscle, so that their pairing up is simply worsening their case as far as the May 2014 Presidential elections are concerned.

The MCP should be accorded the benefit of doubt under the tutelage of Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, who was elected during the fiercely-contested convention held in 2013. The MCP settled for Richard Msowoya, a northerner from Karonga District. Msowoya has worthwhile political mileage having been in politics for quite some time. Chakwera comes from the central region district of Dowa. Bearing in mind that Malawi’s politics is played mainly along regional lines, the MCP has a weak hold in the populous southern region. In this case, the party has to ‘crack its head’ and come up with a befitting political gimmick if it is to sail through the coming elections.

As can be depicted from the foregoing analysis, Malawi’s politics ahead of the May 2014 elections is marked by both tragedies and comedies: tragedies in that the political heavyweights are swept under the carpet in favour of what one might call ‘political toddlers’. All this is in the name of trying to secure the ‘youth’ vote. In the process potential political parties are, simply put, crumbling just before the elections (i.e. self-orchestrated defeat); comedies in that the whole process lacks seriousness and, therefore, displays political mediocrity of the highest order. This would be equated to junior primary school pupils doing stage-acting (playing adult roles, for example, in cooking, parenting, etc, what is locally dubbed vidimbiko in Chitumbuka (the popular language of northern Malawi) and masanje (in Chichewa of central Malawi))!

Ever heard of a dictum ‘politics is a crazy game’? If the answer is no, come to Malawi ahead of the general elections: crazy politicians busily making crazy decisions!

12 February, 2014

Mozambique Made by Japan: Reflections on the Japanese Prime Minister's Visit to Mozambique

by Constancio Nguja

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his first visit to Mozambique from 11 to 12 January, 2014. According to the Mozambican news agency AIM, the visit aimed at strengthening bilateral relations. During his stay in Mozambique, Abe signed a number of instruments covering the areas of agriculture, education and energy.

Since Mozambique discovered gas and is already exploiting coal, the Japanese government has redefined its interests in that country, by including the energy sector as one of the top priorities of its bilateral relations. A number of Japanese corporations have stakes in the energy sector: Mitsui & Co. in the gas fields, and Nippon Steel in the coal mines, the latter planning to start production in 2016. Japan has announced loans to Mozambique for transport and other infrastructure projects, in excess of 572 million USD. Many of these projects will support the Japanese business interests.

The Mozambican Government’s perception of the visit
In 2009, the Director for Asia and Pacific at the Mozambican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Maria Gustava, said that the cooperation between Mozambique and Japan was positive and was reflected in the Japanese assistance to Mozambique in the areas of health, education, agriculture, trade and investment, education and training of human resources. She also highlighted the progress of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) cooperation.

The Japanese Embassy in Maputo

During Abe’s visit to the country, the President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, said that the foundations for a more intense interaction and bilateral cooperation between Mozambique and Japan have been laid since the establishment of diplomatic relations in January 1977. The Embassy of Mozambique was opened in Tokyo in November 1993, followed by the opening of the Japanese Embassy in Maputo in 2000.

In summary, the government of Mozambique welcomed the visit of the Prime Minister of Japan, pointing out the examples of food aid, the Pro-Savanna program, the program of Japanese volunteers, as well as programs and projects for the improvement and expansion of the infrastructure network as the rehabilitation of the Nacala Port and the Road linking Nampula to Cuamba, in the Northern region of the country.

Criticism
The implications of the first visit of a Japanese Prime Minister to Mozambique and recent Japanese policies towards the country, are being heavily criticised, however, by sectors linked to Mozambican agriculture, as being dangerous and imperial. To many Japan is being seen as implementing a colonial policy in the sector of agriculture in Mozambique. The criticism has much to do with the Pro-Savanna agricultural project, to be implemented in the northern Mozambican provinces of Niassa, Nampula and Zambezia and covering an area of 11 million hectares.

For some civil society organizations (CSOs), the Pro-Savanna project will increase pressure on the land, will enable the expropriation of the land of local farmers, and increase the risk of forced resettlement (as has been witnessed with other mega-projects, namely coal mining in Tete province). It is seen as something that will destroy livelihoods, cultural heritage and water resources. CSOs look at the project as a great threat to human security.

Apart from the fact that the interests of local communities are largely being ignored, there are also those that claim that the Pro-Savanna project is not complying with what is stated in the Environmental Impact Assessment, among other related issues.

The way forward
The text above provides a brief outline of the relations between Japan and Mozambique, as well as the significance of the visit and the Japanese Prime Minister in different sectors in Mozambique. Moreover, the negative views of certain social sectors around the Japanese investments and interests have their antecedents. These have to do with the feelings of exclusion that these sectors harbour regarding the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. In other words, as is the case with Japanese policies in Mozambique, criticism will certainly arise against any foreign investment that does not give sufficient consideration to the rights of local populations as it pursues its interests. Having said that, the protection of the local population is priimarily the task of the Mozambican government, rather than of outside governments or corporations. States and corporations act according to their own interests, and thus at times inevitably ignore moral values and principles.

For the Mozambican government, there is need to design and publish plans for the exploitation of national resources taking into account the inclusion of all social sectors. In an earlier article, I mentioned that the current political tension prevailing in Mozambique has to do with the feeling of exclusion that RENAMO (the main opposition political party) holds regarding the dividends arising from the exploitation of natural resources in Mozambique. Dealing with such feelings of exclusion and exploitation is something that must be made a high priority of the Mozambican government, if it is to maintain stability and consolidate and expand on the gains it has made so far in terms of development.

Constancio Nguja is a political analyst at the Center for Mozambican and International Studies (CEMO)

11 February, 2014

Gatvol en Vies: Bleak Prospects for South Africa

by Hussein Solomon

Forgive my beginning this column with some Afrikaans expletives. I can, however, think of no other words to express my current state of mind. In my defence, the choice of expletives has lots to do with a certain Black Air Force officer who chose to use Afrikaans expletives during my basic training at the Air Force Gymnasium. According to him, there is no better language as expressive as Afrikaans to curse in. I believe he was right.

My work takes me all over the world and I am always amazed at the beauty of South Africa, the resilience and general friendliness of its citizens and its vast human and natural resources. However this country will not realize its fantastic potential under this ANC government. Three issues illustrate the point well.

First, the country is burning with service delivery protests spanning Hout Bay in the Western Cape to Welkom in the Free State to Zithobeni in Gauteng and to Brits in the North-West. To put it differently, South Africa has experienced 430 service delivery protests over the past year – or a shocking 33 each and every month. What is particularly disconcerting, however, is the government’s inability to accept the obvious – that they are failing South Africa’s long-suffering citizens. Government’s refusal to accept accountability is aptly illustrated by a Gauteng MEC believing some dark machinations are afoot to scuttle the upcoming elections as opposed to citizens’ genuine unhappiness with the state of service delivery and the ANC’s increasingly disappointing track record in governance.

Service delivery protest, Standerton (Photo by Jan Truter)

The refusal to be accountable and therefore responsive to citizens’ needs would, in turn, result in the intensification of such protests. The burning tyres and toyi-toying masses which increasingly has come to characterize South Africa in the international media is a definite turn-off to foreign investors when we desperately need them to fund the goals of the National Development Plan since domestic savings are so paltry.

Second and closely related to the first, service delivery will not improve if the government continues to see local, provincial and national government as part of their ever-widening patronage network – loyal party members being deployed into lucrative government jobs. A case in point is the crisis-prone SABC where the redoubtable Stephen Mulholland has reported that that 60 percent of senior management failed to meet the minimum requirements for senior management. This is also illustrated in the sorry state of affairs at SAA – another albatross around the necks of taxpayers. Despite cash infusions of R16 billion this past 13 years, the national carrier is unable to turn a profit and is now asking for more money whilst fat-cat executives are not punished for their incompetence.

Third, the ANC government has also succeeded in turning South Africans into a nation of takers as opposed to people willing to work hard to build a decent life for their family and the country. This is well illustrated by the 21 million South Africans living off welfare. Far from creating a conducive business environment to get more people into formal employment and thereby growing the dwindling tax base, the ANC government has created a nation of parasites and a culture of entitlement. This is their enduring legacy after two decades in power.

Sadly, we will never realize our vast potential with this corrupt, incompetent government.

20 January, 2014

South Africa 2014: Democracy Endangered

by Hussein Solomon

The danger signs are everywhere. The arrogance and authoritarianism of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is growing – endangering South Africa’s fragile democracy – even while the country prepares for the 2014 elections. The ruling party’s refusal to be accountable is clearly evident in the cavalier manner it has dismissed the report of the Public Protector on the building of President Zuma’s palatial complex in Nkandla in the midst of the poverty and destitution of the local community.

President Zuma's complex in Nkandla

Its arrogance is evident in the assertion made by the president that only the ANC will govern – no opposition party in his view will take over the mantle of governance. That such a statement can be uttered suggests the president is deluded given the high levels of dissatisfaction amongst ordinary people against the ANC – the service delivery protests wracking the country is but one indicator. Various polls, too, suggest that the ANC might well receive less than 60 percent of the vote. More worrisome for Zuma is the fact that there is growing dissatisfaction with his leadership by rank-and-file ANC members. This was dramatically illustrated with him being publicly humiliated when he was booed whilst in the company of world leaders at the memorial service of the late Nelson Mandela.

But the stakes are far higher than the plummeting popularity of the worst president we have had this past twenty years. The brutality of the state’s response to popular protest was clearly evident in the townships surrounding Brits with three people killed following weeks of not having water in the midst of a heat wave. This brings back the nightmare of Marikana as well as the killing of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg during protests there. Increasingly we are witnessing a state at war with its citizens as people take to the streets in ever-greater numbers and frequency on account of the gross incompetence of the state apparatus in meeting their basic and legitimate demands for water and the like.

The crisis of the state in not being able to meet the needs of its citizens also illustrate something else too – the intellectual poverty of the ANC in not having any workable solution to fix the state and society and the moral bankruptcy of the ANC leadership in stemming the tide of corruption which is bleeding state coffers dry. Tender-rigging and the deployment of incompetent cadres to senior positions of state has become the norm during the Zuma administration. In this context, it is impossible to believe the president when he recently ranted against corruption. If he is serious, why not start with Nkandla or his close relationship to the Guptas? Or for that matter when exactly is the terminally ill Schabir Shaikh supposed to die whilst playing golf and hurling abuse at journalists and the like?

The crisis of the state is however intimately related to the self-delusions of No. 1. After all, who in his right mind, would announce the creation of millions of jobs as part of the ANC’s election manifesto when our manufacturing sector is actually shedding jobs, when millions of unemployed youth do not have the necessary skill sets to partake in the formal economy, and when government and its tripartite allies are actually creating an environment which is not friendly to business? Who, in his right mind would talk of creating millions of jobs when Europe, our largest economic trading partner is beset with economic woes? Who would talk about the creation of millions of jobs in South Africa despite the lacklustre performance of the US economy and the slowing of the Chinese and Indian economies?

Our democracy is in peril. As the ANC is unable to demonstrate on its grandiose election promises, the gap between promise and performance will increasingly become evident to ordinary citizens and street protests will become ever more violent resulting in even more brutal action on the part of the ruling ANC. This, in turn, will strengthen the hand of the securocrats within the ANC government resulting in a more authoritarian state. This is the future which awaits us with the ANC in government and Zuma at the helm of state. God help us all!

*Dr. Hussein Solomon is Senior Professor in the Department of Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State.