14 October, 2012

The Economy is in Crisis. Where the Hell is Leadership?

by Hussein Solomon

The South African economy stands on the precipice of economic recession as a result of an unhappy confluence of external and internal variables. Externally, South Africa’s integration into the global economy is resulting in our economy feeling the negative effects of the Eurozone crisis and the slowing down of the Chinese economy. With no short-term solution in sight to Europe’s economic woes, our exports to Europe are shrinking. China, meanwhile, perceived to be the engine of global economic growth, is also slowing down. Indeed this year, Chinese growth is estimated to be the lowest in more than a decade. For South Africa, this holds disastrous consequences for our widening current account deficit and as jobs start to evaporate.

Internally, the current wave of strikes is sapping local and foreign investor confidence in the local economy and foreign disinvestment has become a noticeable trend since the Marikana tragedy. As the strikes in the mining and transport sector is set to spread in the coming weeks and as government lacks a clear strategy on how to deal with this, the rand has plummeted to almost R9 to a US dollar, rating agencies have already downgraded our economic prospects, and the International Monetary Fund (currently meeting in Tokyo) has lowered its forecasts for South African growth prospects for 2013. Indeed, an economic recession looks imminent.

This combination of internal and external variables are exacerbating an already weak South African economy and heightening the costs of corruption which has increasingly become institutionalized in the country. Moreover the danger of intensified social strife as people are laid off works is very real. Already, only four out of ten adults work – and only two of these in the formal sector.

In all this, what is lacking is political leadership. In this time of economic crisis, when the country is desperate for decisive and effective leadership, the ANC is turned inwards with a firm focus on Mangaung and political succession. Moreover, so-called solutions bandied around by the ruling party like the amorphous “Second Transition” hardly qualifies as an economic strategy. What does the “Second Transition” say about creating a flexible labour market? What does the “Second Transition” say about making the economy more competitive? What does “Second Transition” say about easing regulations to facilitate small business? What does “Second Transition” say about restoring investor confidence? What does “Second Transition” say about our failed education system which has difficulty with producing students who can read and write – forget anything more sophisticated. We simply do not know.

South Africans, you are on our own. Do not look for leadership from this rudderless, morally bankrupt and intellectually inept government to get you out of this mess.

13 October, 2012

2012 Conference and Interview Series

by Virgil Hawkins

From 21-23 September 2012, the SACCPS held its second major conference in Lusaka, Zambia. This time the focus was on peacekeeping and peace enforcement (the topic for 2011 was mediation and peacemaking). Speakers from eleven universities throughout (and beyond) the southern African region presented the results of their research, in sessions covering the broad underlying issues, the involvement of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the sole current peacekeeping operation in the region – that in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and issues beyond the region.

With a view to keeping the research conducted policy relevant, and to help ensure that policymaking is informed by research, the conference was also designed to include the inputs of a number of policymakers and practitioners. Speakers and participants included a former ambassador of Zambia to the UN, representatives from embassies and high commissions at the ambassador level, and members of the Zambian defence force as well as civilians with experience on the ground in peacekeeping missions. A panel for practitioners on the final day of the conference proved to be particularly enlightening.

In terms of conference output, some of the papers presented at the conference will be published in the SACCPS-run journal – Southern African Peace and Security Studies. Other concepts and ideas explored will find expression in the form of blog articles here. But the SACCPS is also working to make its work available through a variety of multimedia outlets. At the conference, for example, the organisers took the opportunity to interview (on video) participants, asking them what they thought were critical issues affecting the peace and security of southern Africa. These short interviews are currently being edited and made available online through YouTube.

The SACCPS homepage continues to be updated with new information released by the network, but it should also be noted that the SACCPS Facebook page contains links to all the interviews, and also contains a large number of photos from the conference. To keep up with SACCPS events and outputs in realtime, this is a good page to 'Like' (to use the Facebook lingo).

The network is what 'we' (those with an interest in issues of peace and security in the region) make of it, and it is never too late to get involved. This blog remains open for new writers – in English, French and Portuguese (just send an email), and the journal is also open for more involved and in-depth studies and articles. We look forward to expanding the breadth and depth of the network.

05 October, 2012

South Africa's Campaign to Reform the United Nations

by Hussein Solomon

As the annual United Nations jamboree began in New York this week with the focus shifting from the ongoing turmoil in Syria, to the Iran nuclear question to the territorial dispute between China and Japan over islands both claim, President Jacob Zuma and his Minister of International Relations have sought to pursue the issue of the democratization of the august body itself – and more specifically the UN Security Council (UNSC).

At face value the arguments make sense. The Permanent Five (P5) veto wielding states reflect the power configuration of the post-World War II world. It scarcely resembles the power balance of the world in 2012. How can Western Europe have two seats on the Security Council (Britain and France) given its relative demise in global influence whilst the rising power of India and its billion-plus population is not reflected as a permanent member of the Security Council? President Zuma is also correct to note that a UNSC which does not reflect the planet’s seven billion citizens will have its authority repeatedly questioned.

Let me be clear, I do believe that the UN needs to be thoroughly overhauled if we are to have a more representative and effective world body. But, the devil is in the detail. If we increase the UNSC considerably with the addition of new members, would this not result in a more unwieldy body? In other words, increased representation might well result in decreased effectiveness. One way out of this is to possibly look at regional representation – in other words ensuring that one country represents a particular region. Here too there are problems. Mexico contests Brazil’s view that it should represent the region on the UNSC, Pakistan contests India’s incorporation into the UNSC and Nigeria, South Africa’s.

There is yet another problem and this relates to what values the new members will uphold. Could one imagine Mswati’s Swaziland or Asad’s Syria on such a reformed UNSC? Let us be clear, South Africa’s first stint on the UNSC was an embarrassment to all South Africans who assumed that post-apartheid Pretoria will be upholding human rights and freedom. Our country chose to ally itself with rogue regimes and sought to protect others from international censure. This is unacceptable. This is not to say that the P5 have been models of ethical behaviour. Too often the collective interests of the UN and humanity were sacrificed at the altar of national interest by the P5.

Perhaps one way out of the impasse is for the Zuma administration to campaign for gradual change regarding the rules of the existing UNSC as opposed to opting for revolutionary change in membership which is sure to be opposed by vested P5 interests. One such constructive way is for Pretoria to mobilize around the issue of when the veto could be used at the UNSC. It is in such incremental ways that the process of UN reform can begin.