26 June, 2013

The Silly Season of Electioneering Has Begun in South Africa

by Hussein Solomon

Sigh; yes it is that time of the year when politicians go out of their way to make asses of themselves all in the pursuit of votes. Votes, that will secure them another couple of years defrauding taxpayers. Whilst their snouts dig ever deeper into the fast-emptying troughs of public coffers, their rhetoric grows ever more sanctimonious.

This past week has seen Dr. Mamphele Ramphele launch her new political party – Agang. Whilst taking on the ruling African National Congress on issues of corruption, the dearth of democracy and the poor state of education, there was no clear policy on how this latest political entrant will fix the rot, revive our failing democratic institutions and bring credibility to South Africa’s atrocious education system. In similar vein, South Africa First, formed by disgruntled members of the ANC’s armed wing, are trying to woo voters as well. In the process, voters are asked to ignore the atrocities committed by these erstwhile liberation heroes in notorious camps like Quattro in Angola. Smaller, but established political parties like Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement seek to revive their flagging fortunes by seeking a coalition with newer entrants on the political scene like Agang.

The ruling ANC, though, is seeking to concentrate on its main opposition nemesis – that of the Democratic Alliance, which controls the only non-ANC province – the Western Cape. President Jacob Zuma saw it fit to visit the poorer regions of the Western Cape and express his horror at the conditions in which residents are living in the DA-controlled province. What makes his response so insincere, of course, is that poorer residents in ANC-controlled areas are in a similar situation, if not worse. In parliament, meanwhile ANC political hacks saw it fit to lambast Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the DA for her weight, her accent and her hairstyle as opposed to the substance of her discussions.

This political buffoonery unfortunately serves no other purpose than to further alienate the electorate – who are affronted that such political theatre detracts from the suffering in their daily lives. Indeed the South African electorate want politicians to get on with the core of their business which is governance. The failure of these politicians to understand this is resulting in popular disenchantment with the political process which is resulting in ever more numbers of South Africans, especially younger people, from not wanting to vote and be part of this political circus.

21 June, 2013

The DRC: Beyond Short-Term Solutions

by Hussein Solomon

From Congo Free State under the tyrannical rule of Belgian’s King Leopold to Zaire under the kleptocratic dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko and now as the “Democratic Republic of the Congo” under the leadership of first Laurent and now his son Joseph Kabila, the DRC as lurched from crisis to crisis. Disconcertingly, the most discouraging fact is that the international community have always engaged in short-term solutions which involved propping up whoever occupies the Presidential Palace in Kinshasa – where Mobutu or current incumbent Joseph Kabila.
President Joseph Kabila (Photo: European Parliament)

So it is at the current juncture with more international troops coming to the rescue of the eastern DRC from the rapacious M-23 rebels. At no point does the international community want to recognize the fact that Joseph Kabila is part of the problem; that the Congo hardly exists as a country; nor that a regional conflict system exists in the Great Lakes Region where sources of insecurity in each of the countries reinforce those of other countries.

The deep structural malaise that is the DRC today is best reflected in the fact that it, together with the likes of Somalia, tops the Failed State Index. Failed states are those which fail to provide the basic functions that a state must perform in order to be recognized as sovereign. Topping these functions is that of security to its citizens – to protect them from internal and external threat – a singular appalling failure on the part of the Kabila government on account of it not having a monopoly of force in the country. Without such security neither governance nor economic development is possible. This is one reason why, despite the existence of its vast mineral riches, its people are so desperately destitute. Another characteristic of state failure, and a concomitant of the previous point, is that the government needs to be viewed as legitimate. The corruption of the Kabila regime and the thuggish brutality of its security forces however have robbed this regime of this popular legitimacy. Still another aspect of state failure is destructive ethnic mobilization. This we see especially in the eastern DRC and is a reflection of the failure of Joseph Kabila and his pillaging cronies to articulate a common identity and to define what being Congolese is.

Under these failed circumstances, the deployment of additional international troops is made to the eastern DRC. This will serve to ameliorate none of the structural failures alluded to above. It will merely buy time for Kabila to loot state coffers further.

01 June, 2013


by Virgil Hawkins

The Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) opened today in Yokohama, Japan. It is the fifth such TICAD conference, in which African heads of state and other representatives are invited to Japan by the Japanese government every five years, ostensibly for the purpose of furthering and supporting Africa’s development.
Photo: GCIS

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has pledged a hefty sum of money in aid for Africa, and, provided that this pledge is followed through and put to good use, it should certainly contribute to the development of Africa. But we should harbour no illusions that the conference (or the pledge) is an altruistic gesture, or that African development is the primary objective of the process. The Prime Minister has scheduled, for example, a summit with African leaders on UN Security Council reform (not a topic that one might readily associate with African development) – Japan hopes to receive support for its bid for a permanent seat on that Council. More importantly, the summit has much to do with securing African natural resources for Japan, promoting Africa as a market for Japanese goods, and competing in this regard with rivals in Asia – China and South Korea.

The choice of venue (outside of Africa) has always raised questions. With no apparent irony, the statement produced in Japan after the last such conference in 2008 stated in its introduction that “…from its inception in 1993, the TICAD Process, with Japan at its center … stressed the importance for Africa to exercise full ‘ownership’ of its own development agenda…”. It seems somewhat difficult to reconcile the notion of full African ownership with the fact that this particular process has Japan “at its centre”, is held in Japan, and is wrapped up in a text entitled the ‘Yokohama Declaration’.

The media in Japan seem to have very clear ideas about what TICAD V is all about. A television program (Close-up Gendai) aired by the national broadcaster (NHK) two days before the conference kicked off, for example, focused primarily on Japan’s public and private partnerships being employed to maximise Japanese benefits from Africa’s current economic growth. The program, whose title roughly translates as “Capture Africa’s Growth: Team Japan’s New Strategy”, featured a segment (‘Secure soy beans through Team Japan’) showing how the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA: Japan’s governmental agency that coordinates official development assistance) was strategically using training and infrastructure projects to help secure a large supply of soy beans from Mozambique for Japanese trading companies and producers. A JICA official involved in the project went on record proudly stating that he was serving as a “businessman for Team Japan”.

There is nothing wrong with the self-interested promotion of business as a win-win means of furthering development – Africa certainly needs trade more than it needs aid. But the key question that is not being addressed here (apart from the unabashed use of ODA to directly support business interests back home) is – is it a fair deal? It may well be true that Mozambican farmers can benefit from growing soy beans and selling them to Japanese trading companies. But poor farmers becoming slightly less poor is not the same thing as those farmers getting a fair price for their produce. The exceptionally cheap cost of production (read exceptionally cheap labour) is, of course, the prime reason why Japanese companies are attempting to procure soy beans from farmland 13,000 kilometres away from their intended market.

If government statements and media coverage in Japan are anything to go by, TICAD is seen in Japan primarily as a vehicle to take advantage of growing African economies for the furthering of Japanese economic and political interests. And although a large pledge of Japanese aid to Africa has been made, very little has being mentioned in the lead up to the conference about actual African development. The narrative has been dominated by the perceived need to get in on the action and benefit from a rising Africa, and to counter the influence on the continent of China and Korea.

With all this in mind, one is tempted to rename the process from TICAD to TICJAD – the Tokyo International Conference on Japanese and (hopefully also) African Development.