28 June, 2012

Malaise in Madagascar

by Virgil Hawkins

The eyes of the world seem to be fixed on Madagascar. Or should I say Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted? The animated comedy movie with lions, zebras and other assorted animals that talk, sing and dance, continues to sit atop the box office, dazzling audiences around the world. The world is not quite as bedazzled, on the other hand, by the goings on on the large island that sits to the south east of the African mainland, which also happens to be known as Madagascar. In fact, if the levels of media coverage are any indication, many might be surprised to learn that things are going on there at all.

But they are. In 2009, amidst political upheaval on the island, 35 year old Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo (and before that, a radio DJ), took control of the country with the backing of the military and was declared President of the 'High Transitional Authority'. His rise to power was swiftly condemned by most of the outside world as a coup d'etat. Madagascar was suspended from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (which also imposed targeted sanctions on the 'government'), and the bulk of non-humanitarian aid coming from beyond the continent was cut off. For its own political and economic reasons, France, however, continues to back the de-facto administration.

It has been a long and eventful transition. Rajoelina promised presidential elections and promised not to stand as a candidate, but the elections did not happen, and he managed to push through a constitutional referendum that conveniently reduced the minimum age for the president from 40 to 35, making him eligible to stand. A group of disgruntled soldiers attempted a coup of their own in 2010, but the mutiny was put down.

The deposed president, Marc Ravalomanana, who went into exile in South Africa, was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. In 2011, an agreement signed by all the major political parties under the auspices of SADC established a road map for a unity government and elections. And although the same agreement guarantees the unconditional right to return for exiled political leaders, a unilateral attempt by Ravalomanana to do so ended in failure when the commercial flight he had boarded was refused permission to land.

But before becoming overly sympathetic to the plight of the deposed president, we might spare a thought for how things were in Madagascar before he was deposed. In March 2009, thousands of demonstrators gathered near the presidential palace to protest against was perceived as a corrupt and increasingly authoritarian regime. Presidential guards threw grenades and fired into the crowd and a massacre ensued leaving as many as 50 people dead.

And South Africa is unlikely to remain a safe haven for Ravalomanana for much longer. In 2012, a court in South Africa ruled that foreign nationals in that country who are accused of crimes against humanity must be investigated, and Ravalomanana would appear to fall under this category. For the time being, attempts at a return to political life may have to take a back seat to the realization of a reconciliation deal that includes a pardon for the crimes he has already been convicted of (in absentia) in Madagascar and immunity from further prosecution. Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have, in fact, agreed to a meeting, which will possibly take place at the end of June, although the agenda is unclear.

In spite of the endless political wrangling, life goes on for the people of Madagascar. But it is not the same as it was before. The country's political crisis coincided with the global financial crisis, and the economy has taken a battering. Foreign investment and international demand for the country's produce (not least vanilla, of which Madagascar is the world's leading producer) have dropped. Levels of illegal logging and mining and the resulting environmental degradation, on the other hand, have skyrocketed. Poverty levels are rising and health indicators are falling. As the expression goes, when elephants fight the grass gets trampled.

Madagascar 3 the movie had its happy ending. Hopefully the other Madagascar will too. And even if this is a little too much to hope for, an increase in the levels of attention from the outside world – some enhanced external scrutiny, engagement, and cajoling – will probably not hurt its chances of at least heading in the general direction of something happier.

22 June, 2012

Governing Africa's Cities

by Hussein Solomon

The phenomenal growth of urbanization and the concomitant re-emergence of the city-state constitute a severe challenge to urban governance. Kevin Davie has recently pointed out that even by the most conservative estimates China will have 130 cities with more than one million inhabitants by 2025 – this is more than the United States and Europe combined. Of these, 90 are expected to have more than five million people, while 8 will have more than 10 million. In similar fashion, to ease urban “congestion”, Egypt is building 65 new cities.

The impact of urbanization will be particularly felt on the African state given its fragility. Africa’s urban population stood at a mere 15 percent in 1960. It then rose to 35 percent in 2006 and is expected to reach a staggering 60 percent by 2020. Unfortunately for many of these migrants from rural areas the promise of the bright lights of the city and the expectation of a higher standard of living is not met and sprawling informal settlements characterised by poor housing and even poorer infrastructure or “slums” is the result. Indeed, Sub-Saharan Africa has the dubious reputation of having the highest prevalence of slums of any region in the world. Small wonder then that Franklin Obeng-Odoom observed that the “...movement to cities in Africa is a journey from rural poverty to urban misery”.

Given the youthful profile of Africa’s population unmet expectations, frustration and urban misery might well result in urban and political violence. Consider here the fact that these very same dynamics propelled young Arabs on the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi. Small wonder then that from 2009, 77 percent of African governments tried to stem the tide of urbanization. In its most extreme form this was reflected in Zimbabwe’s Operation Murambatsvina (“remove the filth”) where the military was used to clear out squatter settlements and “restore order”. Of course, the fact that these informal settlements also happened to be the strongholds of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) also entered into their calculations. Such efforts to stem the tide of urbanization however are bound to fail for three inter-related reasons. First, African governments do not have the necessary financial resources to invest sufficiently in rural areas to make staying there an attractive option to would-be migrants. Second, they do not have the capabilities to physically stem the urbanization tide. Consider here the disastrous example of influx control in apartheid South Africa. Third and most importantly is the fact that the tide of demographics is against them. Given Africa’s youthful profile, the continent’s population is expected to continue to grow rapidly. By 2050, a quarter of the world’s population will live in Africa.

If one cannot stem the tide of urbanization, how then do we manage it? Some principles need to be laid out. First, local government functionaries need to be chosen on the basis of their professionalism and their competence. They cannot be appointed on the basis of their political connections. Second and a concomitant of the first our approach to urban governance cannot be dictated by ideological considerations, pragmatism, economic efficiency and social inclusion must govern our approach to governing Africa’s cities. In the interests of inclusion city councils need to form strategic alliances with non-state actors: both non-governmental organizations and the business community sharing the same geographic space. In this way all stakeholders buy into the vision for that municipality. In the process, democracy is deepened.

Governing Africa’s cities should have special resonance to South Africans for three reasons. First, 68.5 percent of South Africans are urbanized. Second, local government remains the Achilles’ heel of governance in South Africa. Third and more importantly, is the restive nature of our cities seen in the violent and recurrent service delivery protests every week in some part of our country.

19 June, 2012

Of Solidarity Politics and African Dis(Unity): The Shifting of the AU Summit

by George A. Mhango

The announcement by Malawi on Friday 8th June 2012 that it is not hosting the African Union (AU) summit takes the debates about realities of disunity in the purportedly cohesive African continental organization to a new level. It is becoming clear that some countries are ready to reverse their earlier mistakes on the subject of compliance with arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on serving African leaders. All along, the AU has vehemently argued that it does not recognize international arrest warrants on serving heads of African governments on the basis of their immunity, and the organization further urged its member states not to comply with such arrest warrants.

Yet, only months after giving the Sudanese leader, Omar al-Bashir a red-carpet reception at a regional summit, Malawi made it clear that it was not ready to repeat the gesture during the forthcoming 19th AU summit which was supposed to take place in Lilongwe from 9th to 16th July 2012. The venue has since been moved to Addis Ababa. Malawi expressed that it was not ready to accept any conditions from the AU for it to host the summit, further arguing that, much as it was bound by continental obligations, it also had [other] obligations to international protocols and that it was in the best interest of Malawians to comply with the ICC since Malawi was a signatory to the Rome Statues. This was in protest to a directive from AU that all heads of state should be invited to the Lilongwe summit. Hence, to avoid being dragged into a quandary of continental versus global allegiance, Malawi decided to surrender the hosting of the summit, thereby putting the celebrated solidarity politics of the African Union to the test.

Africa received the announcement with mixed reactions. For some it was an expression of cowardice by the new Malawi government in that was ready to give up the ideals of solidarity for the sake of serving an imperialist agenda. Others lauded the development as a signal that some African states were ready to implement the Rome Statutes that established the mandate of the ICC.

However, there was another reason to believe that Malawi was going to give up the summit at some point. Soon after her ascendancy to the presidency in April 2012, Joyce Banda was pessimistic about the capacity of Malawi to host the summit in light of the country’s seriously deteriorated fiscal stance which is currently having serious knock-on effects on the economic position of the government she inherited following the sudden death of Bingu wa Mutharika. But even after resolving to proceed to host the summit, following consultations with government and civil society, Banda categorically stated in May 2012 that the Sudanese president should not come to Malawi for the summit because Malawi was ready to comply with ICC arrest warrant. She indicated that she was not ready to damage her efforts aimed at diplomatic reconstruction with key donors by ignoring international obligations such as the Rome Statutes to which Malawi is a signatory.

Of course, the establishment of the ICC has not received universal reception in Africa as evidenced by some countries that have yet to sign the international agreement and hence do not feel bound by any obligations under the statutes. These countries argue that there is no need for an international policeman masquerading as the executor of justice in countries that are self-governing and have internal laws capable of supporting the wellbeing of their citizens. Ethiopia is one such country, and hence it is no surprise that Sudan insisted that the Summit be shifted to Addis Ababa after the president of Malawi had advised the Sudanese president to stay away from the Lilongwe Summit or risk being arrested.

However, without dwelling on global justifications and condemnations, a sober reflection on the developments reveals that the African Union’s stance to have all heads of state invited to this year’s continental summit had merit and a moral basis. Among the many reasons, Sudan and South Sudan are on the Agenda and it was only in the interest of natural justice that the president of Sudan must be invited to the heads of state summit. The challenge however was that the venue of the summit was predetermined a year prior to the summit which, ceteris paribus, was a non-conformist and non-cooperating government to the ICC despite being a signatory to the Rome Statute. Hence, there was no doubt that Malawi would be receptive to a visit by the Sudanese head of state, and the pace was clearly set in October 2011 when Malawi defied the ICC arrest warrant by ably hosting the Sudanese leader.

But four months before the summit, a change in the political landscape led to a reformist and somewhat conformist new government that has found itself between a rock and hard place with regard to respect of international standards, fear of donors and satisfaction of AU standards for hosting a summit for heads of governments. Hence, under pressure from the international society and in a bid to save its ailing economy, Malawi snubbed a crucial summit participant whose presence adds immense value to deliberations on the question of South Sudan.

In light of the foregoing, it is also important to understand that Malawi’s unique relationship with the continental body which reflects departures from norms in certain crucial moments. A historical perspective of this relationship reveals some unorthodox anti-solidarity resolves made by Malawi and most often in response to its difficult economic situations. On such occasions, the main argument has been that the government was not ready to sacrifice its people for the sake of continental good citizenship.

For instance, during the 1964 Organization for African Unity (OAU) summit, just months after independence, Malawi’s first president Dr Hastings Banda openly declared his refusal to support sanctions on the regimes in Zimbabwe (then under Ian Smith who unilaterally declared independence from Britain but was suppressing self determination movements by Black Zimbabweans), Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) and the apartheid regime in South Africa, on the basis of national interest (survival). His argument was that he did not want to betray his people by backing sanctions against the very same countries that sustained Malawi’s economic heartbeat. Since Malawi’s economy hinged on trade routes in Mozambique and South Africa, Dr Banda was not ready to be party to a resolution that seemed to alienate these two countries for the sake of his people. What followed was a period of suspicion and distrust as Malawi was treated as an intruder in the OAU.

Of course, there are a number of differences between the 1964 experience and the current scenario. While in 1964 Malawi was in support of regimes that were tramping human rights and specifically, the right to self-determination, in the current scenario Malawi is repelling a leader who has grossly violated human rights on his own soil yet the continental body supports him. Another contrast, and more important, in light of the recent development, is the growing number of states that are ready to act contrary to the declaration by the AU that none of its member states will arrest Omar al-Bashir. This alone challenges the assumption that AU speaks with one voice. There have been instances where countries such as Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia have openly declared that Omar al-Bashir is not welcome in their territories while in others such as Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic (CAR), civil society has put pressure on governments not to welcome the Sudan leader and this has resulted in the cancellation of proposed visits.

With this background in mind, projections into future relations between Malawi and the AU consequent to the summit shift may not be straightforward. One early sign is the announcement by Joyce Banda that she will not be attending the 19th AU Summit in Addis Ababa and that her deputy, Khumbo Kachali, will attend in her stead. Her boycott of the overly male-dominated caucus may be perceived as a deliberate refrain from a possible diplomatic backlash that may come from some die-hards in the pro solidarity camp. However, with all the indications that Botswana(1) is ready to stir the debate towards the circumstances leading to the shift of the Summit, one can only expect more divisions on the issue. However, it is only fair to say that Malawi has set the pace on a topical issue that AU has customarily considered sacred, and it remains to be seen where the tide will point as we continue to reflect on the future of the AU.

(1) Botswana publicly lauded the decision by Malawi not to host the summit following the insistence by AU that all heads of state be invited.

15 June, 2012

SA Economy on a Precipice

by Hussein Solomon

Call me pessimistic but I just do not believe the newspaper headlines screaming out how well our economy is doing. I am sure you have seen it too: ‘Strong Growth in SA Economy,’ or ‘SA Banks Soaring Profits’. Let me confess that I am no economist, but each time I am confronted with these positive headlines I think of my friends and colleagues living from pay check to pay check. I think about the people in the Checkers queue paying for groceries with their credit cards. I think about the “For Sale” signs on homes I walk by everyday for months. Worse still, I am not the only person feeling negative about the economy. Indeed, South Africa’s business confidence index plummeted to a 10-year low.

For better or worse we live in a globalizing world characterised by an interconnected economy. The European Union is our largest trading partner and the woes in the Eurozone are bound to affect us. Whilst investors consider the very real prospect of Greece exiting the euro, Spain, Europe’s fourth largest economy, is calling for a credit line for its ailing banks. Neither is this an issue only affecting the southern periphery of the Eurozone. Last week German banks were downgraded. Germany is the very core, the heart of the Eurozone. These problems in the Eurozone are also mirrored across the Atlantic, in the world’s largest economy – the United States – where the economy refuses to take-off despite quantitative easing. Meanwhile, across the Indian Ocean, both the Indian and Chinese economies are slowing down as a direct result of the contracting economies in Europe and the United States. South Africa has already been negatively impacted by these developments seen in the fact that our economy lost jobs in the first quarter of the year as well as the volatility of the rand.

However, the problems confronting the South African economy are not only the result of external factors alone. Internal factors like corruption also play a role. According to Transparency’s International Corruption Perception Index, the country has been steadily slipping. With corruption perceived to be on the rise in South Africa, it is understandable when investors think twice in investing in the country. Given the poor savings culture, South Africa needs these foreign investors if we are to invest in the infrastructure of the country. Populist rants about nationalization are also sure to further dent investment confidence in the country.

More than anything, there is a desperate need for new social compact between government, business and labour. Government needs to move from rhetoric to demonstrate its seriousness to take on corruption, to facilitate small business development, to deregulate the labour market. Business has to understand that given legacies of the past, a business culture of focusing on profit alone and not also social redress is bound to undermine stability in this country. Labour unions have to accept that they need to shift their focus from those employed to the ranks of the unemployed – getting South Africa to work as opposed to focusing on those lucky enough to have jobs.

In this spirit of compromise, we can all serve as catalysts for our moribund economy.


by Rui Faro Saraiva

April 2012 - another “semi-successful” coup d’état in a fully failed state - this seems to be the never-ending story of Guinea Bissau.

On this occasion, the presence of the Angolan Military Mission in Guinea Bissau – MISSANG – appeared to be the prime trigger for the event. But we can also observe that this was in fact only a tool used by the coup plotters to interrupt the current electoral process.

MISSANG, composed of the Angolan armed forces and police, was concluded on the 9th June, with the withdrawal of all personnel. The Angolan military were in Guinea-Bissau on the basis of a military technical cooperation agreement signed by the two countries, which aimed to carry out reforms within the armed forces and local police, as well as to rehabilitate its infrastructures. The Angolan military have now been replaced by forces of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commanded by Lieutenant-General Guibanga Barro, of Burkina Faso, who, in a ceremony at a Guinean military airport, presented farewell greetings to Lieutenant General Gildo dos Santos, the Commander of the Angolan troops.

The Angolan program, which was interrupted, included the repair of military barracks and police stations and administrative reorganization, along with technical and military training held in not only in Bissau, but also in military and police institutions in Angola. The mission failed to achieve its objectives, which were to support defence and security sector reform, and ultimately raise Angolan influence over Guinea Bissau, which has rich bauxite deposits and possible offshore oil.

Along with the MISSANG mission, Angolan financial support given to Guinea-Bissau to reorganize its Security and Defence infrastructure was also cancelled. Ultimately, the only apparent beneficiaries of the coup d’état were the coup plotters themselves, who have succeeded in dragging the beleaguered country into yet another crisis. Nigeria, through its mediation role and its interpretation of the “zero-tolerance approach”, may try to consolidate its influence in Guinea Bissau and profit also from the coup d’état.

The CPLP (Portuguese Speaking Countries Community), the EU and the UN condemned the coup in Guinea-Bissau and advocate a strict zero-tolerance approach to coups in general. These international institutions still call for the immediate restoration of constitutional order in Guinea Bissau and refuse to recognize all non-elected transitional institutions. Although as yet without success, they continue to push for a different outcome from the recent Guinea Bissau political crisis.

The issue of competition for influence in Guinea Bissau aside, the success of this coup seems to demonstrate definitely the failure of a weak democracy in a strong “narco-state”.

What this episode also shows is the positioning of the Angolan State as an emerging power in Africa and an influential actor among the Lusophone countries. While Angola's active involvement in the case of Guinea Bissau needs to be seen from the perspective of linguistic, cultural and colonial ties, it would be naïve to think that Angolan interests in West Africa are confined to Guinea-Bissau.

The competition for mineral (e.g. bauxite) and energy resources in west Africa as a whole will mean continued interest and involvement at some level by Angola. It is likely to become more influential, not as a South Africa proxy but in its own right, and perhaps along with the support of China.

The southern African region cannot be fully understand politically without bearing in mind its interaction and interdependence with other parts of Africa and beyond.

04 June, 2012

Overcoming the Politics of Identity in Africa

by Hussein Solomon

At the opening of the annual Africa Day conference hosted by the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa, Professor Pieter Labuschagne commented on the politics of ethnicity – pointing to the fact that you have over 3000 ethnic groups uncomfortably residing in Africa’s 54 states. The level of discomfort is clearly evident in the number of ethnic and other identity-based conflicts across the length and breadth of the African continent. These identity conflicts – whether race, ethnicity, religious, or clan – reflect the floundering of the nation-building project on the African continent. The failure of the nation-state project is seen most dramatically in the issue of secession. Where secession has taken place as in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the two Sudans – intra-state conflict is transformed not into peace but inter-state conflict.

In northern Africa, there are the ongoing tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egpyt. In Morocco conflict persists on the issue of the Saharawis and in Algeria the question of Berber identity is still unresolved. In Nigeria, in West Africa, religious strife between Muslims and Christians are reinforced by their different ethnic and regional identities. Mali has also been torn apart on the issue of a Taureg homeland.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the heart of Africa, remains a conflict-prone area despite the loss of 5 million lives since the 2nd August 1998. Competing identities in a fragile state fuelled by a war economy remains at the heart of this conflict. Here competing ethnic militias like the Hema and Lendu have fought over mineral resources, whilst ethnic groups like the Banyamulenge Tutsis in the eastern Congo see themselves less as Congolese and more as Rwandan as they share the same Tutsi origins with their kin across the border.

Kenya, in eastern Africa, has witnessed the rise of virulent ethnic nationalism between Kikuyu and Luo in the run-up to their last elections. This violent has been temporarily suspended as a result of a political power-sharing agreement brokered. However this agreement looks increasingly shaky as Kenyans hand over suspects in that violence to the International Criminal Court and as the country prepares for elections.

In the Horn of Africa, Somalia represents the quintessential example of where identity politics leads – a balkanized state carved into different clan fiefdoms run by warlords and religious fanatics.

Southern Africa, too, has not escaped this scourge of identity politics. We see it in various forms between Shangaan and Ndau in Mozambique, between Ndebele and Shona in Zimbabwe and between Ovimbundu and Mbundu in Angola. Whilst ostensibly representing the “Rainbow Nation of God,” South Africa’s nation-building project is also floundering. The xenophobic violence which periodically plagues this country illustrates the point well. We also see it in the charges of racism which the ruling party periodically hurls at the political opposition, civil society, the media, and more recently at artists. We see it, too, in claims of the “Zulufication” of the African National Congress following Jacob Zuma’s rise to the presidency.

Whilst the African Union attempts to integrate the African continent, whilst some talk of Pan-Africanism, the reality is that one billion Africans increasingly see themselves as belonging to this or that ethnic group, clan, or extol a religious affiliation as opposed to being “Nigerian” or “African”. Until we can build more inclusive states and societies, conflict will persist and the economic potential of this continent will never be unleashed.

01 June, 2012

Mauritius and the Chagos Islands

by Virgil Hawkins

The modern history of the Chagos islands is a thoroughly shameful one. This small archipelago, situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, was originally part of what was then the self-governing British colony of Mauritius. Mauritius was convinced to sell these islands to the UK in 1965 under dubious circumstances: the sale was part of the independence negotiations (independence was achieved in 1968) and the prime minister of Mauritius who negotiated the deal was awarded a knighthood soon after the transfer.

The UK subsequently leased the largest island of the archipelago, Diego Garcia, to the US (who wanted it for a military base) in exchange for a discount on Polaris nuclear missiles. In preparation for the construction of the military base, the UK then proceeded to ethnically cleanse the islands, forcibly removing the entire population and dropping them off unceremoniously in the Seychelles and what was left of Mauritius.

Diego Garcia became an important base for the US, particularly so in the 2000s, when it served as a hub from which long-range bombers attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. The base has been used by the CIA for so-called 'extraordinary rendition' flights, and may also have served as a CIA black site prison. In 2010, the UK established a 'marine protected area' (the world's largest) around the archipelago. According to US diplomatic cables made public courtesy of WikiLeaks, this move was specifically designed to prevent former residents from returning (survival for the inhabitants would be difficult if they were prevented from fishing). For the UK, this clever 'solution' looked good from any angle: not only would the possibility of return be taken off the table, but US military activities could continue, and 'points' for environmental concern could also be scored.

Isolated and unpopulated (or conveniently depopulated) islands are, of course, the ideal springboards from which to project military power in this day and age. There are none of the hassles associated with holding or running a colony, for example, and not only do they makes sense in pure military terms (especially if one has long-range bombers), but they also preclude witness or interference by any pesky civilians, journalists or human rights organizations. In the case of populated islands, the consent of inhabitants can, to a degree, be bought, but opposition can still be politically and financially costly, as the US and its generally willing collaborator (the Japanese government) have found, for example, in the use of Okinawa for military bases.

The lease of the Chagos islands to the US expires in 2016, and any possible extension has to be agreed on by December 2014 (the lease allows for a 20-year extension). Crucially, the original terms of purchase of the Chagos islands allow for their return to Mauritius when they are no longer needed for defence purposes. If there is a time for negotiating a return of the islands to Mauritius, it is now. Indeed, the prime ministers of the UK and Mauritius are set to meet next week, and the issue of the Chagos islands is on the agenda.

Mauritius has expressed its intention to have the islands returned, but interestingly, has also made it clear that it does not intend to challenge the continuation of US military activities there. Clearly, allowing the base to remain in Diego Garcia would serve as a considerable financial incentive for the government of Mauritius. But how receptive will the UK be to a call by Mauritius for the return of the islands? Will their response reveal anything about possible plans in the West to bomb Iran? Diego Garcia would undoubtedly serve as one of the key military hubs in the case of any such catastrophe.

There are other deals in play. Mauritius has recently agreed to offer its territory and services for the prosecution and imprisoning of Somali pirates. Was this designed to improve their bargaining position for the return of the Chagos islands? To what degree will any such deals benefit the people of Mauritius and the former (forcibly evicted) inhabitants who wish to return to the Chagos islands (as opposed to a few people holding political power at the top)? Will the end result of all of this simply be a continuation of the same old systems under new management? This is a good time for some hard-hitting media scrutiny on this issue – in the UK, US and Mauritius.