24 April, 2012

Clicktivism, Slacktivism and the Alternatives

by Virgil Hawkins

The recent Kony 2012 campaign led by US-based advocacy group Invisible Children to draw attention to Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, was supposed to have culminated in an event held on 20 April to 'cover the night' – an event that aimed to “blanket every street in every city” with Kony 2012 posters and messages.

On the whole, it appears the event fizzled. A handful of news outlets noted the failure of the Cover the Night campaign to bring people in any numbers to the streets or to leave much of a mark, but perhaps more significantly, most major news outlets did not report the events at all. Invisible Children's own website reported the participation of “thousands of people”. It was a far cry from the more than one hundred million people who watched the initial Kony 2012 video designed to promote the event, and the more than three million people who pledged to “stop at nothing” to get Kony.

In all fairness, this was largely inevitable. The act of watching a video (assuming those who began watching it actually finished it) or clicking on a pledge, however powerful, was never going to translate into a comparable level of real-world action. And the fact that the campaign did manage to attract such levels of attention and the participation of thousands of people in response to a conflict in central Africa was certainly an impressive feat. But the drop was quite pronounced nonetheless. This cannot simply be attributed to the barrage of criticism the video attracted, or the public meltdown of the group's founder and video's 'star', Jason Russell, although these certainly played a large part.

More importantly, it was inevitable because the very factors that made the campaign work so well as a piece of propaganda, were also its undoing. Invisible Children was well aware of the limited breadth (in global terms) and length of the attention span of the youth it was targeting, as well as the need for grandiose spectacle to attract that attention, and they developed their campaign accordingly. The campaign broke everything down into a simple and urgent 'get the bad guy Kony this year' message, called for what looked like a clandestine and rebellious (read cool) poster campaign, and in a very self-aggrandising manner, spoke of a 'Facebook world' changing 'everything', of revolution, of changing history. It was designed to be cool and give youth a sense of empowerment. Although it claimed to be “turning the system upside-down”, the campaign essentially worked within the 'system' of fleeting interest in grand spectacle and cool clicktivism. It was a fad of sorts, and fads inevitably fade away.

It is also important to note that the arrest of Joseph Kony, when/if it happens, will not in itself be something revolutionary. While the video claimed, presumably for dramatic effect, that “arresting Kony will prove that the world we live in has new rules”, examples of this clearly already exist. Thomas Lubanga, another warlord formerly active in the DRC also responsible for mass atrocities and forcibly recruiting child soldiers, for example, had already been arrested in 2006 under a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and interestingly, was convicted of war crimes (after a lengthy trial) less than ten days after the release of the Kony 2012 video.

The Thomas Lubanga case was an important moment, not just because it marked the first time someone was convicted by the ICC, but because, for all the shortcomings of the process, it happened without massive and passionate pressure from the masses (and largely without their knowledge). The ICC itself, which is becoming an increasingly important tool in deterring war crimes and crimes against humanity, was developed and brought to life not only in the absence of large-scale public outcry, but also in the face of vehement opposition from the powerful US government. It is a systemic attempt to reduce and prevent conflict and conflict-related suffering, and it was made possible not by uninformed (or suddenly informed) passions, but by years of hard work by large numbers of people who were very well informed and were measured and realistic in their approach.

Newborn emotive pressure from the masses tends to be an unwieldy instrument, and unfortunately does not form the basis for a system capable of addressing the world's many injustices and problems. It can, in the short term, serve as a form of pressure for policymakers to 'do something' (primarily to relieve the political pressure) – but not necessarily 'the right thing' or 'the most effective thing'. If it 'works', the Kony 2012 campaign, for example, will boost the level of military action against the LRA, but will this do more harm than good? If the answer is yes (and there certainly are precedents), then are we not confronted with the uncomfortable possibility that doing nothing may have been better than doing 'something'? Does not the existence of such a possibility then suggest the need for great care when generating and wielding this type of emotive pressure, particularly when there will be large-scale life and death consequences in a complex and volatile environment such as that in the DRC?

Some form of engagement from the rich and powerful actors/sectors of the world is certainly one of the necessary components in bringing peace and stability to this region. But this engagement needs to be very carefully planned and implemented. Would it not be better to have thousands of well-informed and dedicated people able to contribute to focused debate and serve as a political force in effectively promoting the necessary long-term comprehensive policies, than millions of people with loud voices calling for simplistic and instantaneous solutions? I would say yes. Will the rousing of millions of voices eventually boil down to these thousands of well-informed voices? Possibly. But at what cost? Will the millions of voices already have contributed to hasty decisions that may make things worse? And will the disillusionment felt by many of the millions when confronted with the complex and harsh realities on the ground serve to damage future activist efforts? Only time will tell. Is there a better way to build up these thousands of well-informed voices? This may be a good time to seriously start considering how.

I would suggest that, while working to dazzle and emotively rouse people into immediate action has its place, much more effort needs to be put into reforming the systems of day-to-day newsgathering and transmission as well as education, to provide a more solid basis for informing and educating larger numbers of people and getting them involved in some form in the development and implementation of effective measures to bring conflict and conflict-related suffering to a lasting halt.

22 April, 2012

Mozambique and the 2014 Presidential Succession.

by Rui Faro Saraiva

FRELIMO (‘Frente de Libertação de Moçambique’) continues to control the government of Mozambique: it is the only political party that has been in power since independence over 35 years ago. Armando Guebuza, the incumbent President of Mozambique will step down from power during the next elections with no apparent prospects for the opposition to gain a more participative role in the government. The weakening of RENAMO (‘Resistência Nacional de Moçambique’) as an opposition party seems to consolidate FRELIMO's hegemony in the Mozambican political landscape. During the 2009 elections the new ‘Movimento Democrático de Moç̧ambique’ (MDM) emerged as a new political actor with sensational results. The MDM party leader was the Beira mayor Daviz Simango and the creation of this new party seemed to stimulate a long stagnant political process. But at the same time, it may break the already weak bipolar FRELIMO-RENAMO dynamic into a triangular dispute that lowers the possibility of the opposition reaching power.

Although Mozambique it’s still a developing country with great challenges, where 55% of the population lives below the poverty line, it’s also one of the ten fastest growing countries in the world over the past ten years. Mozambican exports are growing; foreign investment is reaching levels never before imagined and domestic consumption is also increasing. The predicted GDP 7.5% growth for 2012 and the general optimism about the coming years means that Mozambique is now viewed as one of the most dynamic and attractive African countries for foreign investors.

Along with the rise of the Mozambican economy it is difficult to predict the rise of political reforms that may lead the country into a 'mature' democracy, with a strong opposition and alternating parties in power. Succession will be decided this year and some names echo in the press or among the political elites and the civil society, such as Graça Machel, the widow of the revolutionary Mozambican leader Samora Machel and the 3rd wife of the former South Africa President Nelson Mandela. Other names are the current Mozambican Prime-Minister Aires Ali, the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Executive Secretary Tomás Salomão, General Alberto Chipande or even the former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano. The decision about Guebuza’s successor will take place at the 10th FRELIMO Congress, this September: exactly 50 years after the creation of the liberation movement.

It can be confidently said that the nomination of the new FRELIMO leader will also determine who is the next President of Mozambique after the 2014 general elections. This situation seems to be a reflection of a weak democracy in which public appointments result from the distribution of influence, from the system of FRELIMO’s cherry picking and string pulling. This, along with other forms of corruption, draws legitimacy to political power, weakens accountability and public confidence and allows certain members of society to have a privileged and obscure access to public goods and decisions.

The results of the 2009 elections show an unbalanced Mozambican political system. FRELIMO’s presidential candidate, Armando Guebuza, garnered 75% of the votes. And at the Mozambican Parliament, FRELIMO got 191 seats out of 250. Although it is possible to find the foundations for a democratic regime in Mozambique, the current system seems to be a multiparty illusion more similar to a one party autocracy.

For now, with the Mozambican economic dynamism and the spike in investor interest in the country, there seem to be few signs of political reforms that may lead the country into a more ‘mature’ democracy and a more open and inclusive political system. But today’s vibrant economy may eventually help pave the way towards tomorrow’s vibrant democracy, although that doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong trend in the Southern African region.

17 April, 2012

Exit Big Man Mutharika, Enter Big wo(Man) Banda?

by George A. Mhango

The events that have taken place in Malawi since 5th of April 2012 caught most by surprise. What started as a normal day in a struggling economy suddenly turned into drama, confusion and dilemma as the nation learnt through one of the prominent private radios that president Bingu wa Mutharika had collapsed while holding a meeting at the State House in Lilongwe (his official residence). He was then quickly rushed to Kamuzu Central Hospital, about 8km from his residence, where it was reported that he had a cardiac arrest. While the nation stood in shock, it was rather strange that State broadcasters proceeded with their normal programming as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile, rumours and international reports started flying all over the country as well as in social networking websites that the president of Malawi had died. It was not until on 7th April 2012 that the government officially announced that Bingu wa Mutharika had died.

The events preceding the official announcement were very interesting though. It was blatantly clear that the old regime was trying to do last minute maneuvers in order to save their selfish political interests. In fact, it has now become an open secret that soon after Bingu’s collapse, the Cabinet began to conduct a series of meetings with an intention to circumvent the constitution and place Bingu’s younger brother, Peter, as president. With the blackout on state broadcasters regarding the state of the president, Malawians began to press for information. First to make the call was the former head of state, Bakili Muluzi who earlier in the day on 6th April 2012, wondered why government was not making a statement despite announcements by international broadcasters about Bingu’s death. He further called for the need to follow the constitution in managing the transition. His concerns were echoed by a joint statement by a coalition of opposition parties who warned the Democratic progressive Party (DPP) government that any attempts to rape the constitution would be met with stiff resistance.

But it was not until late in the night of 6th April 2012 at around 23:00 hrs, after immense pressure from the public, that finally the (then) Minister of Information flanked by some DPP gurus appeared on state television and radio purportedly to update Malawians on the condition of the Head of State. What was surprising, however, was that the whole statement had nothing to do with the health of the President but a vehement dismissal of the possibility that Joyce Banda, then the Vice President, could assume the highest office since she had ditched the party that elected her to that office(1). At this point it became more than obvious that Bingu’s lieutenants were ready to go for the onslaught. However, realizing that information about the demise of the head of state had circulated in the country through alternative sources, some members of DPP went on one of the private radios to uncover the scheme by senior DPP members to bypass the constitution in managing the transition. This led the Chief Justice, the Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet and the Army Commander to expedite the transfer of power to Joyce Banda in order to heed the call by Malawians that the constitution should prevail.

Of course, the most important lesson that the transition in Malawi conveys is that peaceful transfer of power in Africa is possible. The fact that Malawians dislocated efforts of masquerading lieutenants of the former president in their bid to rape the constitution shows that Africa possesses the political agency requisite for the advancement of the cause of democratic deepening. Through the inspiration drawn from the Arab spring which was epitomized in the 20th July 2011 nationwide demonstrations, Malawi has demonstrated that post election power transfers can be done peacefully even in the midst of serious contestation. Viva Africa’s constitutionalism!

But again, this discussion will be incomplete if Malawi’s security sector is not acknowledged. The professionalism with which the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) conducted itself during this tricky power transition was by far unprecedented. I make this point considering how military juntas are fast overthrowing legitimate regimes in Africa on what I feel are trivial grounds. The MDF’s decision to quickly undertake their constitutional mandate to protect the residence(2) of Joyce Banda on 5th April and their relative swiftness in protecting state media houses was seen by many to be a prudent step by the Army Commander in order to safeguard the nation against the DPP machinery that was bent at fulfilling its clandestine agenda. Furthermore, the Chief Justice and the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet made their positions clear that the constitution was going to be followed in the transition with the Chairman of the Malawi Law Commission emphasizing that if the president was incapacitated, the Vice president was supposed to assume office.

Nevertheless, despite a general sense of relief from the economic and governance ills resonant with the Bingu regime, important questions remain in the minds of ordinary citizens and experts alike. These stem from the fact that the nation is yet to unshackle itself from the tentacles of patronage politics considering that the tactics of these politicians have been the same overtime. Joyce Banda is a product the UDF political machinery where Big Man Muluzi mentored Big Man Mutharika. This raises concerns about the safety of the new president in a political system that subsists on the disbursement of favors to recycled politicians who sustain their careers by aligning themselves with the ruling party-of-the-day. Such politicians, who cannot stand the smell of opposition politics, are ready to defect to government even without seeking a fresh mandate from the electorate. Interestingly, soon after the official announcement of Mutharika’s death, and the ascension of Joyce Banda to the presidency, a few dozen DPP MPs and Cabinet ministers have announced their willingness to work with the new president’s People’s Party (PP). This shows their temporary allegiance to Mutharika in that, even as the country is still in the period of mourning the departed president, these politicians are busy realigning their allegiance just to safeguard their interests. It is this ‘politics of the belly’ that should begin to worry the nation if Malawi is to successfully move towards serious governance reforms. Otherwise, Joyce Banda risks becoming another big patron in Malawi’s politics as long as she is surrounded by the same opportunistic kingmakers. The irony is that the presidents that have served in democratic Malawi have always performed very well in their first term of office and messed up in their second term. Remember that patrons are made and not born. That said, we can only hope that the spirit of constitutionalism that has prevailed during the transition can continue to shape the culture of citizenship in Malawi so that the nation remains vigilant in safeguarding these hard-won gains.

(1)In Malawi, both the president and the Vice President are elected on the same ballot such that it is not possible for the president to fire his/her deputy.
(2)All along The Police Service was the one responsible to security at the Vice President’s residence

13 April, 2012

In Defence of Reuel Khoza

by Hussein Solomon

An independent and assertive business community is as important to any democracy as a vibrant civil society, media professionalism or an independent judiciary. Indeed, if we look at South Africa’s own transition to democracy the role of the business community in getting the Nationalist Party to engage with their avowed enemy – the African National Congress – cannot be underestimated. Moreover, once the Kempton Park negotiations commenced, the South African business community played a key role to keep those negotiations on track despite the zero-sum games played by some of the politicians.

Whilst, those critics to the left of the political spectrum believe that business is all about profits, the truth is that the business community understands the wider context in which such profits are to take place: macro-economic stability and socio-political stability. Thus the business community have a keen interest in fixing our failing education system, they are concerned with the rising tide of corruption and, of course, the increasingly dirty ANC succession race which risks tearing both party and country apart. The business community, are therefore, vital partners in South Africa’s project for democracy.

It is in this context that Nedbank’s chairman, Dr. Reuel Khoza’s political statements need to be welcomed. His concern about the “…emergence of a strange breed of leaders who are determined to undermine the rule of law and override the Constitution” should be a concern to all South Africans. Characteristically the ANC’s Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe launched a scathing personal attack against Khoza, urging him to talk about “… business at Nedbank, not business he did not understand”. If we are to understand Mantashe correctly, the business community should stay out of politics and focus on economic matters entirely. The ANC Secretary-General should know that at a time when government plans to review the judiciary and when some ANC members called for the Constitution to be reviewed, since in their estimation it hinders transformation, this is a matter for all South Africans since the Constitution and our democracy is owned by all. The inclusive nature of our democratic transition has ensured a collective ownership of the Constitution which reflects the collective aspirations of all South Africans – including Dr. Reuel Khoza.

The intolerant nature of the ANC was exposed in the manner they launched highly personalized and vitriolic attacks against Dr. Khoza. Far from engaging with the merits and the underlying facts of the arguments, government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi saw Dr. Khoza’s statement as an “…attempt to discredit the government”. In similar vein Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa referred to Dr. Khoza’s statement as “twisted logic”. In my view, all this proves Dr. Khoza’s second point: “We have a duty to build and develop this nation and call to book the putative leaders who, due to sheer incapacity, cannot deal with the complexity of 21st century governance and leadership, cannot lead”.

Conversely, the vicious attacks on Dr. Khoza might have provided the shot in the arm for our democracy. First, it has proven the growing intolerance within the ANC and that any review of our Constitution or our judiciary should be feared by all democratic South Africans. Any revision of these by an intolerant party would be bound to undermine our nascent democratic project. Second, other business executives have joined the fray. Outgoing ABSA Chairman Garth Griffin have also criticized government for its lack of a clear policy framework to alleviate the country’s economic problems. Dr. Khoza’s cause was also taken up by Leslie Maasdorp, Vice-President of Business Leadership SA who stated, “The personal attack last week by Mr. Mantashe was unjustified, inappropriate and cannot go unchallenged”.

Perhaps the result of the ANC’s brutal attack on Dr. Khoza was to awaken the sleeping giant, which is South Africa’s business community.

01 April, 2012

Human Rights Day? You must be joking!

by Hussein Solomon

March 21st or Human Rights Days in South Africa was surreal. There was President Jacob Zuma reminding South Africans of how many homes the government connected to the electricity grid. Tellingly the figures of how many homes were disconnected on account of non-payment were ignored – leave alone those Johannesburg residents getting astronomical electricity bills from an inept municipality!

Not to be outdone by the President, Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale reminded his audience in Limpopo of human rights violations of American and British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. He, too, omitted how he failed his people resulting in five Limpopo departments coming under administration from the central government.

And whilst Zuma and Mathale talked, people across the country took to the streets in service delivery protests - torching schools, attacking councillors’ homes, putting up burning barricades, engaging in running battles with the police. Far from uniting the country, Human Rights Day demonstrated just how divided we are as a nation.

The partisanship of the ANC was also exposed on this auspicious day. In attempting to gain a monopoly over the anti-apartheid struggle and thereby control over its legacy, the memory of other anti-apartheid stalwarts like Robert Sobukwe and his Pan Africanist Congress had to be obliterated. This accounts for the cynical move by the ANC to move the main ceremony from Sharpeville (forever associated with the PAC) to Kliptown (forever associated with the ANC).

As we look beyond 2012 here is my wish list for human rights in this divided country:

• An end to violence against women and girls. Between April 2009 and March 2010 there were 63,500 reported cases of sexual offences, including rape, against women and children. The fact that it is estimated that only a third of cases are, in fact, reported is cause for concern.
• Police brutality and extrajudicial executions have to end. This is seen in the 860 deaths in police custody and the 920 complaints of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm received by the police oversight body, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) between April 2009 and March 2010.
• Serious steps to be taken against xenophobia. The spiralling levels of violence against immigrants and refugees in the country are unacceptable and speaks ill of the kind of country and people we are.
• Serious efforts must be undertaken to curb corruption. Each year billions of rands are lost through corruption. Invariably, it is the poor who suffer the most. If we are serious of the slogan “A Better Life for All” we need to have real institutions having real teeth to ensure that those guilty of corruption, however high up they may be, pays the price.
• We need to end poverty. The surest way to end the scourge of poverty is to get people working. This entails opening up the job market through the deregulation of labour. For too long organized labour has held our economy hostage speaking for a privileged labour aristocracy – we need to be more concerned about the plight of the unemployed than those who already have jobs.
• Our media freedom must be protected at all costs. When Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika is arrested for his reporting on an alleged hit squad involving senior members of the Mpumalanga provincial government it bodes ill for the kind of free society we hope to be.
• The targeting of individuals for their sexuality must end. The barbarous practice of “corrective rape” against lesbians needs to end. Government has to ensure that is made a priority crime and that perpetrators are given lengthy sentences to ensure that it serves as a deterrent.

If we can embark on these seven steps, I too will begin celebrating Human Rights Day as a proud South African!