31 October, 2014

Grace Mugabe Opens Pandora's Box

by Shamiso Marange

The open secret is out, and the least probable individual has spilled the beans on factionalism within the Zimbabwe African National Congress (Patriotic Front). In a series of rallies she has held across the country in the past fortnight, President Robert Mugabe's 49-year-old wife Grace has attacked Vice President Joice Mujuru, alongside other senior party officials, with accusations of corruption, attempts to topple her husband, and creating divisions within the ruling party.

President Mugabe and the First Lady

Grace Mugabe’s speeches commenced as mere warnings and friendly advice from a ‘concerned’ First Lady, gradually evolving into highly charged character assassination stunts directed at VP Mujuru. Without specifying any conspirators by name, she incited supporters at her rally to shout out that the VP must resign or be prepared to have a face-off with the masses. Recent newspaper reports underscore that the First Lady snubbed handshakes with Mujuru on departure and arrival from the Vatican City where she had accompanied President Mugabe on a private trip.

If we apply the iceberg principle, and assume that if the First Lady's current provocative actions constitute 10% of what we know, then the 90% of the unseen mass of the iceberg that lies deep under water illustrates that ZANU PF is standing on thin ice. After all, it is the protracted uncertainty over Mugabe's succession and anxieties over his age and worsening health condition that has led to this precarious situation within the party and the government.

Apparently, Grace Mugabe is on a roll, recently, she graduated with a PhD from the University of Zimbabwe, an occurrence that raised several eyebrows due to the fact that the educational process was fast-tracked. In August she was nominated to head ZANU’s Women's League, a very influential position that could catapult her into the party's powerful politburo if the confirmation takes place at the party’s congress in December this year. This would make her entrance into politics official.

However, the million dollar question is, why has Grace Mugabe, a political novice, taken it upon herself to expose ZANU PF factionalism at this particular point in time, in the process denouncing the very person she claims she helped bring to the Vice Presidential position?

Joice Mujuru became the first female Vice President in Zimbabwe in 2004. She has earned her place in ZANU PF, having joined the liberation struggle in her early teens and adopted the nom de guerre Teurairopa (she spills blood). Her place at the National Heroes Acre is already guaranteed. At independence in 1980 she was the youngest cabinet minister, taking the portfolio of sports, youth and recreation. Pursuing her high school diploma concurrently with her ‘call of duty’.

She worked her way up the ranks, with the assistance of her late husband and former General in the army, Solomon Mujuru. In 2004, the former General is considered to have pressured President Mugabe to give the VP seat to a woman, a position that should have been reserved for an arguably more qualified candidate, Emmerson Mnagagwa. Solomon Mujuru is said to have been the only person to openly challenge Mr. Mugabe during party meetings and in the process might have ruffled some feathers.

In 2011, the former General died in a mysterious fire on his farm. The circumstances surrounding his death have not been fully uncovered to this day. With him out of the picture, Joice is somewhat susceptible to the sharks that operate within Zimbabwean politics.

The First Lady’s timely or untimely utterances and actions depending on which side of the fence one stands, are on one hand illustrating her immature approach to politics and on the other deepening the crevices within the ruling party.

Is factionalism her actual agenda or is she creating a platform to propel her own political ambitions? She has confidently indicated that she is willing and able to take over from her husband. Another perspective is that she is little more than a pawn clearing the political field for the ‘silent player’, Emmerson Mnagagwa, who is still resentful of the Mujuru’s because the VP seat that ought to have been his was ‘stolen’ from him. The current Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister is equally as guilty of factionalism within ZANU PF and corruption as the VP.

Grace Mugabe, the former presidential typist, is considered to have excellent business acumen. She has successfully built a huge business empire and, with a touch of altruism, she constructed one of the largest orphanages in the country. It is very likely that her entrance into the political arena is a manoeuvre to protect her affluent position after her nonagenarian spouse is gone. Whether she is laying the foundation for herself or her allies, the main scheme appears to be aimed at ensuring that she preserves the Mugabe dynasty - the business interests. Perhaps she understands all too well that when Mugabe is ‘absent’, she would have to face and survive the scuffle for power and wealth that will follow within Zimbabwean politics. And what better time than the present to safeguard her future.

The party congress in December is one to watch out for. Grace Mugabe’s deeds could be a catalyst for a ZANU PF shake up.

Disproportionate Justice? Cash-gate Scandal Versus Court Sentences in Malawi

by Harvey C.C. Banda

Since the introduction of democratic and multi-party politics in 1994 in Malawi, corruption has continued to show its ugly face. In fact, it is currently so rooted and complex that one wonders whether it is ever going to come to an end. In October 2013 there were shocking revelations of massive abuse of government financial resources which came to be known as the cash-gate scandal. In this article, I reflect on the recent court sentences involving cash-gate suspects. In line with the observations by the citizenry, I argue that there is a glaring mismatch between the gravity of the offence and the penalty that has been accorded, for instance, in the recent case of former Principal Secretary (PS) for Tourism, Tressa Senzani. This is so conspicuous that it has caused unrest among the citizenry who had high expectations of Malawi’s judicial system: they expected the latter to give stiffer and deterring sentences to those found guilty in the on-going cash-gate court cases. In practice, however, the opposite seems to be the case.

The cash-gate scandal exploded barely a year after the untimely takeover of government in April 2012 by the then Vice President of the Republic of Malawi, Joyce Banda, following the demise of Professor Bingu Wa Mutharika. In line with Malawi’s Constitution, the Vice President assumes the Presidency following the incapacitation of the incumbent President. The cash-gate scandal was a result of tampering with the government’s payment system – the infamous Integrated Financial Management and Information System (IFMIS), particurly between April and September 2013. However, there have recently been shocking revelations that there was a first phase of cash-gate between 2009 and 2012 during which time about 90 billion Malawi Kwacha (MK) went missing. This was at the peak of the reign of the late Professor Mutharika.

In a recent judgement, Tressa Senzani was slapped with a three-year jail sentence after being found guilty, on her own plea, of stealing MK 63 million in public funds. In sharp contrast, in 2006 former Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Yusuf Mwawa, was sentenced to five years imprisonment with hard labour for using public funds amounting to MK160,550 to finance his wedding reception in Malawi’s commercial city of Blantyre. In another contrasting case, a certain Thomas Phiri from Ntchisi District in central Malawi was slapped with a four-year jail sentence for stealing a goat valued at a meagre MK10,000.

Following the Senzani court ruling, the media in Malawi was awash with comments from the general public displaying their anger and disgust at what they saw as a betrayal. Surely, to a lay person these and numerous other cases raise so many disturbing and unanswered questions: What criteria do the judges use in determining sentences? What is the meaning of such sentences vis-à-vis corruption in Malawi? Obviously, court sentences in the on-going cash-gate scam are partly meant to deter would-be offenders. But can this be achieved going by the Senzani case?

Commenting on the Senzani case in response to the media frenzy, a lawyer based at the University of Malawi was quoted as saying that the sentencing of a case is at the discretion of the courts although some common factors are taken into consideration. Some of these are the offence and its prescribed judgement, circumstances of the offence and mitigating factors. In addition, there are other factors, for instance, whether or not the offender showed remorse. The lawyer in question categorically stated that Senzani showed remorse for her action and that she did not waste the court’s time by quickly pleading guilty and also repaying the money in question. However, in spite of such a clarification, the public (lay persons) have drawn their own conclusions regarding the Senzani court sentence: ‘take a gamble, steal government money in millions, use it promptly, thereafter return it and quickly plead guilty; you will surely get a lenient sentence!’

At this juncture it would be prudent to draw insights from the application of the laws in ancient times – Hammurabi’s law code in the Old Babylonian civilisation, for example. What is the legacy of this code for later civilizations? Hammurabi was not the inventor, but the promulgator of the largest collection of laws still surviving in human history. What was the ultimate aim in compiling these laws? One of the aims was to ensure that justice and fairness prevailed in the land. Were these aims fulfilled? These are some of the numerous questions worth raising in critiquing the application of Hammurabi’s laws.

One of the crucial issues worth noting is that Hammurabi’s laws promoted some degree of fairness. For instance, there was distinction between major and minor offences: minor offences usually carried lighter punishments and major offences drew stiffer punishments. However, some scholars have observed that at times there was equality within and not between social classes. This means that offenders from a particular social class enjoyed similar punishments for similar offences, but this was not the case across social classes. This is similar to recent observations that judges in modern Malawi seem to be generally considerate when meting out punishments to prominent citizens, but this is not the case with ordinary citizens: petty offences committed by the latter, such as the Thomas Phiri case noted above, are accorded stiffer punishments.

Although the underlying principle in Hammurabi’s laws was ‘an eye for an eye’ and ‘a tooth for a tooth’, and obviously this should not be encouraged in democratic and modern Malawi, there are some insights that can be drawn from the famous Hammurabi’s code, for instance, the notion of fairness in the application of the laws. It would be proper to consider the general good of the society, in this case deterring would-be offenders, in the process nipping corruption in the bud for the improved welfare of Malawians. The guiding question remains: Is the court system in Malawi creating a legacy for posterity as it is meting out punishments to offenders? Going by what is being played out in the search for justice in the cash-gate scandal and the Senzani court sentencing, a lay person wonders if the answer to this question is ‘yes’.

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.