18 October, 2014

Mozambican Elections: Little to Cheer About

by Hussein Solomon

More than 10 million Mozambicans are eligible to vote in this week’s presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections taking place across 17,000 polling stations in the country. At the presidential level, the race is between Frelimo’s Feilipe Nyusi, the former Minister of Defence, Renamo’s Afonso Dhlakama and the Mozambique Democratic Movement’s (MDM) Daviz Simango.

Current President Guebuza with Renamo's Dhlakama (Photo: VOA)

Frelimo, the ruling party in Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975 is expected to score yet another electoral triumph with early votes being counted putting Nyusi in the lead. At the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that final elections results will only be released in two weeks’ time. The fact that Frelimo has once again routed its political opposition has come as a surprise to some observers who have pointed out that the ruling Frelimo has presided over a country with growing wealth inequality, increased corruption and mismanagement of public services. Consider the following: whilst Mozambique’s economy has been growing at a rate of 7.4% per annum this past decade, its 26 million citizens remain amongst the world’s poorest. According to the United Nations’ Human Development Index the country ranks 178th out of 187 countries. Given the failures of Frelimo, one would then expect the electorate to punish them at the polls. Why is this unlikely to happen?

Perhaps the answer to this question lay in the allegations of electoral fraud and intimidation that opposition parties allege is taking place across the length and breadth of the country. The MDM, for instance, alleges that one of its members was shot in both feet by police after he attempted to prevent a local Frelimo official from stuffing a ballot box in central Sofala province. Similarly, in a polling station in Tete province, Renamo officials say they found ballot boxes already stuffed with votes for Nyusi. In Nampula province, meanwhile, riot police used teargas to disperse a crowd that had gathered to watch the ballot count. This served to incense local public sentiment further since they suspected fraud in the ballot count and therefore wanted it to be done under the gaze of the public.

What is problematic in all this is the apathetic response from the international observers monitoring the poll – arguing that it’s being conducted in a largely peaceful manner with scant comment on the alleged electoral fraud taking place.

The credibility of the poll is absolutely essential in a polity as divided as Mozambique – divided along reinforcing cleavages of ethnicity, region, language, political affiliation and religion. But this week’s poll has done nothing to restore the faith of citizens in the country’s democratic pretensions. As such, there is nothing to cheer about in this week’s elections.

06 October, 2014

Ramaphosa and Parachute Diplomacy in Lesotho

by M. K. Mahlakeng

The Lesotho nation, domestic and in the diasporas, grows divided as to who is accountable for the current security situation in the country. Moreover, the shift of blame from the state house to the barracks as Prime Minister Tom Thabane portrays the Army Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as the source of the disputes in Lesotho has added to this division. In search of any possible shade in the mountain kingdom, Thabane has sought to find solace in this “blame game”, and in the “parachute diplomacy” of South Africa's Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Tom Thabane with Cyril Ramphosa (Photo: GCIS)

In an attempt to avoid lifting parliament prorogation and facing a no-confidence vote as his leadership was accused of maladministration early this year, Thabane sought to muddy the waters and play the blame game, claiming that, as long as Kamoli continues to defy the order to vacate office, the security of Lesotho remains threatened. And of course the legality to Kamoli’s dismissal is questionable. Nonetheless, this has comfortably secured a seat for Thabane among a long list of elderly African leaders who find it impossible to relinquish power.

After a series of failed talks, the arriving, shaking hands and then leaving of men in suits and ties has not changed the state of Lesotho since the prorogation of parliament. And it has also failed to provide answers to the questions of who really is responsible for the current security situation in Lesotho and whether alternatives have been provided. It became clear that no one was willing to confront the elephant in the room.

The roles of all relevant stakeholders (i.e. the security agencies, the PM and his coalition partners, Members of Parliament and that of the opposition parties) in the current political turmoil have been heavily discussed and analysed. But one important issue has been censored from the lips of the media. And this is the involvement and interests of the Gupta-ANC in Lesotho’s affairs. The Gupta-ANC relationship cannot be over emphasized. And as far as Lesotho is concerned, both these parties’ interests are two-fold. Firstly, the Guptas’ main interest in Lesotho is the diamond mines. And, secondly, the ANC’s long battle over Lesotho has always been hydrological and territorial.

Thabane has become a drone and has strongly defended his Gupta-ANC relationship, and it seems that achieving a solution without Thabane is unlikely. Reiterating from Thabane’s 22nd August statement regarding these relations, he argued defensively that: “These people (the Guptas) are good friends of the ANC and we have good relations with the ANC...I was introduced to them by the ANC president Jacob Zuma and other ANC officials...I will not bury my head and shy away from the Guptas”. This was in essence burying his head and shying away from his own country. Therefore, Ramaphosa has been given this paramount role through parachute diplomacy as a “facilitator” to ensure a safe pass of the Guptas through Thabane and ensure the Gupta-ANC’s interests are secured.

30 September, 2014

The Comoros Islands: Interlinked Domestic, Regional and Global Security Issues

by Virgil Hawkins

Don't be fooled by the relatively small size of the country, and its virtual absence from media coverage and discussions on peace and security in the region and beyond. The Comoros archipelago, situated in the Mozambique Channel, has a host of complex security issues that make it very relevant.

The Comoron capital, Moroni

Ostensibly freed from French colonial rule in 1975, the independence of the Comoros did not exactly signify a clean break. One of the four islands of the archipelago (Mayotte, or Mahoré) voted in a controversial referendum in 1974 to remain under French rule. As the United Nations granted membership to the Comoros, its General Assembly also recognized Comoran claims to the island. France has ignored the resolution. Since independence, the Comoros has experienced at least twenty coups and attempted coups. Four of these were led by French mercenary, Bob Denard, who, at least initially acted with the tacit support of the French government. The latest coup attempt, in April 2013, involved French mercenary Patrick Klein, who worked under the now late Bob Denard.

But it is not just such meddling by the French government and some of its citizens that has threatened the stability of the Comoros. With three islands under the control of the government (Grand Comore, Moheli and Anjouan), the country has always been faced with the challenge of maintaining unity and the perception of an even balance of power. Coups have resulted from frustration that power has been unfairly concentrated on the largest island, Grand Comore, as have a number of separatist attempts by the islands of Moheli and Anjouan, the latest of which was eventually crushed with the aid of an intervention by African Union forces in 2008. A new constitution in 2001 created the Union of the Comoros, giving greater autonomy to each of the islands.

The island remaining under French rule, Mayotte, is now a French Overseas Department, and an outermost region of the European Union. It also hosts a detachment of the French Foreign Legion. Thanks to French financial assistance, the island has a per-capita GDP that is ten times greater than the other islands of the archipelago. This huge gap in wealth and has resulted in waves of largely illegal migration from the Union of the Comoros to Mayotte (a visa is required), with people seeking jobs, medical care, and/or a generally better life. As a representative of the Comoran Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted, “poverty knows no borders”. Thousands have died in unsuccessful attempts to reach Mayotte by boat. Mayotte also appears to be serving to some degree as a hub for the smuggling of drugs destined for Europe.

A billboard in Moroni: "Mayotte is Comoran and forever will be"

As if these problems were not enough, the threat of Somali piracy, thankfully now in decline, also reached the Mozambique Channel and Comoros. Understandably complicated relations between Comoros and France were set aside to overcome this issue, with a military cooperation agreement reached between the two countries, aimed at enhancing the protection of the territorial waters of Comoros.

The issue of a potential 'terrorist threat' (the particular variety perceived as being connected to Islamic extremism) is also being raised, both within and outside of the Comoros. The country, in which as much as 99 percent of the population belongs to the Muslim faith, has not had a past associated with Islamic extremism or connections with international 'terrorism'. A poll of gender experts, for example, found Comoros to be the best country in the Arab world to be a woman. But the fact that many Comoran students have been undertaking religious studies in countries that do face issues of Islamic extremism – a number of Gulf states, Pakistan and Sudan, for example – has been giving some cause for concern. It is worth noting that Al Qaeda's former top commander in East Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, was of Comoran origin.

From a slightly broader perspective, it is interesting to note that, for a variety of geopolitical reasons, the Comoros and the Western Indian Ocean region at large have been increasingly attracting the attention of many of the world's powerful players. The ever-present French relationship aside, development aid is naturally one of the manifestations of the interest of other powers. China has a long history of aid to the Comoros, for example, and this has recently included a large-scale malaria eradication scheme. India keeps a close watch on China's influence in the region (it has listening stations in Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles), and has stepped in with with soft loans for development projects. Gulf states are also stepping up their assistance, with Qatar opening an embassy in the capital, Moroni, in August 2014. Closer to home, Tanzania, which has significant historical and cultural ties with the country, also established an embassy in 2013.

With such interconnected domestic, regional and global peace and security issues, we would do well to include the Comoros in our consideration of the region. Last week, it was announced, without a reason being given, that legislative elections scheduled for December this year, were being postponed by three months. Let's hope it is a simple technicality and not a sign of any further political instability on the archipelago.

18 September, 2014

Political Opposition in SA Unites

by Hussein Solomon

There is a welcome new political maturity amongst South Africa’s political opposition which is a positive development. Following general elections earlier this year, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) appointed its National Chairperson, Ms. Baleke Mbete as the new Speaker of parliament. Eyebrows were raised since whilst the Speaker does emanate from the majority party, s/he is expected to stand above party politics and for this reason is not usually a party leader. Instead, the Speaker is expected to maintain the integrity of Parliament and stand above the fray of party politics.

President Zuma with Ms. Baleke Mbete (Photo: GCIS)

At the time of her appointment, then, speculation was rife amongst analysts that the reason for her deployment to Parliament had a lot to do with the perception amongst ANC leaders that she must go to Parliament to stifle dissent amongst ANC back-benchers and to muzzle the opposition. Indeed, the ANC had a torrid time in the previous National Assembly when cabinet ministers were taken to task by members of the political opposition and shown wanting. Meanwhile, ANC back-benchers walked out on key votes threatening the ANC’s majority. Ms. Mbete’s second tenure as Speaker proved pundits right. She has attempted to shield the executive from criticism whilst stifling debate on crucial questions. At the same time, she proved to have a rather thin skin when faced with probing questions regarding her own conduct. This is an unfortunate character trait in a Speaker of Parliament. At the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that the street brawl tactics of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) merely added fuel to the fire.

Given Ms. Mbete’s repeated attempts to shield the executive from scrutiny, members of the opposition decided that there was far more at stake than their personal egos and the changing fortunes of their respective political parties. What was at stake was nothing less than the future of South Africa’s constitutional democracy. At its core was a system of checks and balances with Parliament holding the executive to account for its actions and any abuses of power. Unfortunately the abuse of power seems to be characterizing the Zuma Administration and therefore there is a desperate need for a robust Parliament to play its role of watch-dog with tenacity.

As such the political opposition decided to unite in an effort to protect the integrity of Parliament and our constitutional democracy and call for a vote of no-confidence in the Speaker. Whilst a united opposition certainly do not make up the votes necessary to oust Ms. Mbete, given the ANC’s majority, it surely must be a wake-up call to the ANC. More importantly, its presages a new political maturity amongst the political opposition to make common cause in defence of South Africa’s hard-won democracy.

03 September, 2014

Another False Coup: Tom Thabane's Inevitable Loss of Power

by M. K. Mahlakeng

“I have been removed from control by the armed forces”
PM Tom Thabane, eNCA News, 29th August 2014

“I am in South Africa visiting my daughter and would return to Lesotho on Sunday” 
PM Tom Thabane, BBC News, 30th August 2014

These two statements issued by Lesotho's Prime Minister present a contradiction, and serve to question whether an intervention is necessary. In definitional terms, a coup is a “sudden, violent and illegal seizure of power from government, and it is often broadcasted announcing a shift of power into the hands of the military etc.” Thailand serves as a classical example. None of the actions by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) are tantamount to what a coup really is. The cause and the epicentre of the current standoff is the PM. The military has done nothing wrong so far.

There is no doubt that Lesotho has had its fair share of political instabilities. The classification of certain recent political crises as coups, however, has been used as a systematic attempt to muddy the waters, compromising the concerns of the opposition, thus inviting the Big Brother to mediate not on the concerns of civilians, but on the concerns related to securing its interests and those of the ruling parties. Hence the PM requested the deployment of troops in the country. This was a similar case to the 1998 bungled Operation Boleas which saw Lesotho in socio-economic ruins.

Thabane is confronted with fears emanating from two inevitable scenarios: 1) the fear of re-opening parliament and facing a no-confidence vote from a grand coalition of parties; and, 2) the fear that he might lose in elections considering his declining popularity. Therefore, in an effort to secure power, Thabane has resorted to an authoritarian style of leadership and has turned the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) into a security institution for his All Basotho Convention (ABC).

Prime Minister Tom Thabane

The PM has on recent occasions used the police force as his personal agency to threaten and intimidate members of society (this includes members of the opposition and the military). It was later discovered that the PM intended to use the police to distribute arms and ammunition to his ABC-allied youth movement, Under the Tree Army (UTTA), to destabilise an intended peaceful march by members of the opposition on 1 of September proposing for the re-opening of parliament. Hence a pre-emptive disarmament and barricade of police stations to stem this flow of weapons. With the police losing sovereignty at the hands of political actors, the military as the last agency mandated to ensure peace and security had the right to intervene. Also as argued by the military spokesperson Captain Ntoi, “the army is empowered to prevent terrorism, internal disorder and threats to essential services”.

Thabane must refrain from unilateralism when dealing with crucial national decisions, especially in a coalition government expected to engage in consensus-based politics. Secondly, parliament must resume in order to chart the way forward for Lesotho’s leadership and governance. Thirdly, both security agencies must disengage themselves from the political spheres of the country, only assisting in maintaining order where national security is threatened.

02 September, 2014

President Mugabe's Media 'Freedom'

by Leon Hartwell

The media has an imperative role to play in shaping the societies in which we live. In 1994, the year South Africa became a democracy, then President Nelson Mandela stated, “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference … It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”

On the 18th of August 2014, Angela Jimu, a photojournalist with the Zimbabwe Mail, was beaten up by police while covering a demonstration in Harare. In Zimbabwe, such attacks against independent journalists and the media have become normalised.

In 1980, then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was asked by the Swedish magazine Contact whether he would permit “an open, critical press”. He replied, “Yes, sure. This you will see, quite a lot of open criticism in the press. I am for the freedom of the press, really, freedom of expression.”

Newspaper printing press in Bulawayo (Photo: David Brewer)

Looking back at Mugabe’s time in office, the nonagenarian has not been the champion of media freedom that he set out to be. His actions speak louder than his words and there have been many similar and worse violations against media practitioners than that of Jimu’s most recent assault.

One of Mugabe’s problems is that he confuses independence with freedom. He likes to refer to himself and his party members as “liberators” of Zimbabwe. Let us be clear: independence is strictly speaking self-governance and sovereignty over a specific territory. Freedom is much more extensive; it involves “the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government”.

Mugabe’s interpretation of liberation gives him the impression that it is somehow justifiable to oppress Zimbabweans as long as the oppressor is a native of the country (although Mugabe would exclude White natives from this category). However, as explained, true liberation and freedom is much broader than independence as it goes beyond self-rule. Freedom means that Zimbabweans should not be oppressed by anyone, irrespective of the origin of the rulers.

Political scientists claim, as is the case with milk, that political leaders run the risk of becoming ‘sour’. The shelf-life of a president/prime minister is typically ten years (or even shorter). In a (pseudo) democracy, a leader that performs well, have nothing to worry about (unless there are two-term office limits) as voters would presumably affirm a leader’s good work by voting for him/her. But, when a leader is incompetent or cruel and consequently unpopular, they might use a combination of bribes, threats, or violence in order to cling on to power, further augmenting the souring process. The longer a non-performing leader (intent on staying in office) stays in power, the more mistakes he/she is apt to make, the more he/she has to hide, the more people he/she will owe, the more violence he/she needs to use, the more he/she will have to subdue the truth.

As Mugabe and his cronies became sourer, the Zimbabwean media became more critical about their activities. In response, the regime increasingly clamped down on their ability to report without fear or intervention.

Based on Mugabe’s wrongful interpretation of ‘liberation’ (i.e. self-rule/sovereignty), he also set out to ‘liberate’ the media. The 1980s kicked off by replacing a largely White (minority) dominated media, not with a Black (majority) dominated media geared to serve the public interest, but with a pro-Mugabe/ZANU media. Already in 1981, the then editor of the Manica Post, Jean Maitland-Stuart, was forced to resign after she criticised the use of North Korean experts to train the notorious Fifth Brigade (which was used during the Gukurahundi Massacres). In 1985, the first Black editor of the Sunday Mail, Willie Musarurwa, was also fired after reporting on financial scandals related to Air Zimbabwe. Such early examples should have served as a warning as to future prospects for the media.

From 2000 onwards, Mugabe’s regime introduced numerous pieces of legislation with the intent of further restricting media freedom and freedom of expression. In 2002 alone, ZANU-PF introduced three infamous media gag laws, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and the Broadcasting Service Act (BAZ).

With the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2009, media reform was supposed to have been a priority. Initially the Movement of Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) promoted some reforms, but as time went by they became less vocal about the issue. It might have to do with the fact that independent media stopped treating the MDC-T as the underdog outside of government. This meant that the MDC-T, as is the case for ZANU-PF, had to be scrutinized where they made mistakes and when they failed to deliver. Tsvangirai apparently disliked this and wanted the media to treat him and his party with kid gloves. In fact, his aides have on a few occasions threatened and even physically assaulted journalists.

Another reason why the MDC-T perhaps failed to push for media reform, is because there were some slight changes within the media environment, giving the (wrongful) impression that progress has been made. For example, during the GNU years, ZANU-PF licensed five new newspapers, including the Daily News and NewsDay, under the punitive AIPPA.

While the launch of these newspapers was important, they could only reach a limited (largely urban) public as newspapers continue to be expensive for the majority of Zimbabweans. Radio and television therefore remain the most important media to reach the Zimbabwean public. This is why ZANU-PF clings on to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Commission (ZBC) and would only license new radio stations operated by Mugabe’s cronies.

While there were no new independent television stations launched in Zimbabwe during the GNU years, ZANU-PF allowed the entry of two new radio stations into the market, including ZiFM (owned by ZANU-PF’s Supa Mandiwanzira) and StarFM (owned by Zimpapers, ZANU-PF’s chief mouthpiece).

To be clear, there were several anti-ZANU-PF representatives that had some air time on ZiFM and StarFM, perhaps more so than ZBC. This serves to give the illusion that these radio stations are somewhat objective. But, by and large, these radio stations are pro-ZANU-PF. They allow Zanu-PF to set the agenda and public discourse at the expense of the opposition and other alternative viewpoints. Closer to elections, they also become more political.

As a result of the lack of reforms during the GNU years, ZANU-PF continues its hegemonic hold over public discourse. The big loser, of course, is the media and, ultimately, also the Zimbabwean public. The role of the media is to speak truth to power and to keep the public informed. When governments interfere with the media, the latter loses its value.

Thirty four years after Zimbabwe’s independence and his interview with Contact, Mugabe continues to rule a broken nation. Mugabe could have used the media to promote liberal values and to do nation building, he could have asked the media to promote reconciliation and to report the truth. Yet, he has chosen not to. The nonagenarian (and his inner circle) has been in power for so long that he needs a media that will only tell the public what he wants them to believe. Public information then becomes lies (or at the very least half-truths), all to serve the ruling elite. It is in this context that ordinary journalists, like Angela Jimu, will continue to be victims of a ruling elite, which ‘expired’ a long time ago.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

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!