14 April, 2017

Zambia: On the Brink of Dictatorship

by Hussein Solomon

Under the strong-man leadership of President Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), Zambia is increasingly displaying authoritarian tendencies whilst the economy is in free fall under the weight of corruption and gross incompetence. One indicator of this latter point according to Transparency International is the fact that 60 percent of the population are illiterate and poor whilst corruption is so endemic in society that 78 percent of the populace has admitted to paying bribes.

Amongst the first to suffer under Lungu’s growing authoritarianism was the media. In August 2016, for instance, the so-called Independent Broadcasting Authority suspended the broadcasting licenses of Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Itzehi Itzehi Radio ostensibly because they posed a threat to national peace and stability. What all these media houses had in common was the fact that they spoke truth to power. The former Editor-in-Chief of the independent The Post newspaper (which has been rebranded as The Mast), Dr Fred M’membe, was personally threatened with death by President Lungu whilst the PF filed more than 50 lawsuits against Dr. M’membe.

This authoritarianism is best seen in the political sphere, where the leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainda Hichilema has been routinely harassed by the authorities. “HH” as he is popularly known has been a thorn in the side of the ruling party for some time. In the August 2016 elections he was narrowly defeated by President Lungu in an election which was described as fraudulent by many. Since then the UPND was targeted as a major threat to the PF’s political control. Permission for party campaigning and rallies on the part of the UPND is therefore routinely denied. Last October, for instance, HH and his vice-president Geoffrey Mwamba were arrested for unlawful assembly. This past week, HH’s home was raided by police who indiscriminately fired teargas into the house causing his wife and daughter who suffer from asthma to faint. Then HH was arrested for treason on the flimsy basis that he obstructed the convoy of President Lungu. It should be noted that treason is a non-bailable offence in Zambia with a minimum jail term of 15 years and a maximum sentence of death.

UPND rally, 2016. Photo: Likezz (CC BY-SA 4.0)

In all this, the international community has been silent. The regional body, the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) silence has been deafening. If one is to prevent another Zimbabwe in this blighted region, the international community has to act now. The easiest lever to affect change may well rest in the economic realm. The parlous state of the Zambian economy has resulted in a shortfall of US $1.3 billion in the 2017 Zambian budget. Zambian Finance Minister Felix Mutati intends to borrow this amount from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the form of an Extended Credit Facility. The IMF should refuse to assist Lungu and his regime until they begin exercising democratic governance.

09 April, 2017

South Africa under Cardiac Arrest

by Michaela Elsbeth Martin

On the evening of 29 March 2017, the South African state took an unexpected turn for the worse. It has been a whirlwind few days in South Africa, with a cabinet reshuffle resulting in what has been described as a complete state capture by opposition parties. The reshuffle of President Zuma’s cabinet included the dismissal of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his Deputy, Mcebi Jonas. This move is set to have far-reaching political consequences as President Zuma and his allies have their hands firmly on the wheel of the National Treasury, with the appointment of former Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba, in place of Gordhan. The reshuffle comes three days after President Zuma informed the ANC top five that he wanted to get rid of the Minister and Deputy Finance Minister due to an alleged Intelligence Report claiming that the leadership of the Treasury Department wanted to overthrow the Zuma government.

Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in February 2017 (Photo: GCIS)

The dismissal of Gordhan has been a long anticipated move since 2016, in which the South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head, Shaun Abrahams laid criminal charges against, and announced to prosecute the country’s Finance Minister. The Finance Minister was accused‚ in his previous capacity as head of South African Revenue Services (SARS), of fraudulently approving an early retirement for then Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay and re-hiring him as a consultant. Additionally, Minister Gordhan was attacked by the Gupta Family (South Africa’s alleged captors) after he submitted an explosive affidavit at the Pretoria High Court that details a list of allegedly suspicious transactions which led to four major banks closing the family’s accounts in April last year. The National Treasury’s investigations in South African Airways (SAA), Eskom, Denel and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as well as the Nuclear Procurement Programme, have become a threat to President’s Zuma’s patronage networks, thus the intense efforts that has eventually led to the recent axing of the Finance Minister. It becomes therefore increasingly evident that President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle is driven by the ambition to appoint a Zuma-aligned Finance Minister.

The cabinet reshuffle is therefore politically driven and widely regarded as flimsy. This is an attack on the institution of the Treasury and as such has triggered multiple downgrades. While there are some fiscal attacks, what increasingly worrisome is the Treasury’s potential role in procurement, preventing corruption and oversight of state-owned enterprises, including nuclear and banking.
The Secretary General of the African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe asserted that the cabinet reshuffle plans were not done in consultation with the ANC, but were drawn up “somewhere else” and then handed over to them for their consideration. Further, Mr Mnatashe noted that the matters concerning the Finance Minister and His Deputy were discussed on Monday last week and some changes were effected to initial proposals made by President Zuma, but the rest of the reshuffle was shocking news even to the ANC's top leadership. The reshuffle of the cabinet has intensified the factionalism within the ANC. This point is reiterated by Deputy Minister of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa, in which he described the phenomenon as a government that wages war with itself. On the one end of the spectrum exists a large rural-based faction of patronage politicians surrounding President Jacob Zuma. The other faction includes with no doubt, the National Treasury, represented by the beleaguered former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, ANC stalwarts, the media, nongovernmental organisations and business leaders.

The cabinet reshuffle has similarly exacerbated the economic climate of the country. Just 90 hours after President Zuma axed Mr Gordhan as finance minister, Standard and Poor (S&P), announced that South Africa’s long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating would be downgraded to sub-investment grade or junk status. The downgrade to junk status came as result of divisions in the ANC-led government that have led to changes in the executive leadership, including the finance minister, that have put policy continuity at risk. Standard and Poor has asserted that South Africa’s political risks will remain evaluated this year and that policy shifts are likely, which could undermine fiscal and economic growth outcomes more than the company currently project. The decision pertaining to the cabinet reshuffle thus created a dire loss of institutional knowledge and raises legitimate and alarming concerns regarding issues of fiscal discipline, the protection of state institutions and the scope of state capture.

The question therefore arises of the criminalisation of the South African state, in which the President has unconstrained and unlimited political power, and where the state is used as a criminal enterprise where those in power abuse state power to loot state resources. This is power is shown by Jacob Zuma’s ability to implement and enforce decisions regarding the future of South Africa without the consultation of the ANC and the society at large. The recent developments in South Africa additionally highlight the notion of state capture in which the South African state has been captured by corrupt government officials. Despite an admirable constitution and vibrant civil society, it appears that South Africa may well be following the path of neighbouring Zimbabwe, where a predatory state enriches the elite, while investors flee, unemployment rises and government institutions collapses.