27 July, 2013

Of Activism and Emancipatory Citizenship in Malawi

by George A. Mhango

Barely two years after Malawi experienced gruesome killings of civilians during a national protest on 20th July 2011, it is important to reflect on what has become of the demands that were pressed on the government by the citizens. In the first place, it was clear that the motive behind the nationwide protests was to get the attention of government regarding the deepening inequalities perpetrated by poor governance and deteriorating terms of trade. Malawians were tired of an authoritarian regime that sacrificed the lives of its people for selfish gains.

The July 20 protests of 2011 (Photo: Travis Lupick)

For a brief background, between 2009 and 2012, Malawi experienced significant deterioration in its economy which led to shortage of foreign exchange, fuel, essential health care and basic food stuffs. Given this context, the role of civil society activism became instrumental in building an environment where citizens would exercise their agency in order to get the ear of their government. Hence it was no surprise that waves of protests manifested countrywide, the climax of which was the July 20 protests that claimed lives of 20 citizens. Of course the protesters had a very solid base which was reflected in the ‘20 point’ petition that they presented to the Mutharika-led government in July 2011. The petition simply demanded serous governance reforms some of which had an implication on the country’s legal framework, especially the manner in which the executive arm of government wielded power and resources.

Just a week ago, civil society organizations (CSOs) organized a memorial ceremony for those that lost their lives during these protests. What was striking to note, however, was that the enthusiasm that was shown by the civil society in 2011 seemed missing in the reflections and speeches coming from the CSO leaders. One wonders whether this symbolized a sense of satisfaction with the much called for reforms by the government – it is becoming clear that Malawians have been deserted by the civil society which has graduated from activism to praise singing for the government. Forgotten is the fact that the ‘20 point’ petition that was advanced on behalf of Malawians remains unanswered by the government. It is ironical how the same activists that once fought for the plight of the masses are being palm-oiled by the government, consequently closing a very important political space for citizenship. Or is it time for radical citizenship to mobilize from the grassroots?

One thing that the civil society should realize is that Malawians have yet to recover from the post-2009 economic burdens most of which were self-created by the government. This makes their demands still valid. But it is unfortunate that most activists are using the civil society as a channel for achieving political ambitions at the expense of the citizens. Oh civil society, when will you stand for the rights of innocent Malawians?

26 July, 2013

The Battle for the News: Zimbabwe and Beyond

by Virgil Hawkins

A 'pirate' television station has been set up in South Africa and is now broadcasting an alternative version of reality into Zimbabwe via satellite. The establishment of 1st TV, as the channel is called, comes just twelve days before controversial elections in that country, and follows the cutting off of access via free-to-air decoders in Zimbabwe to South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) programs.

In an environment in which the national broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), has a monopoly over the airwaves, and essentially acts as a cheerleader for the ruling ZANU-PF, such exiled media should certainly inject some fresh air onto the scene. The timing of the channel's establishment clearly shows that influencing voters in the run-up to elections is high on its list of objectives (although it may seem to be arriving a little late in the game). The fact that 1st TV is being run by Morgan Tsvangirai's former communications director (Andrew Chadwick) certainly serves to cement such an impression, although he claims that the channel is providing impartial and factual information for the public, and emphasizes that it is here to stay. The ZANU-PF and its representatives are, needless to say, unimpressed by the development, and are publicly vowing to do what they can to “cripple” it.

Another form of South Africa-based cross-border media?
(Photo: Sokwanele)

Some reports have also suggested that the British government may be partially funding the endeavour, although neither the British Embassy nor the head of 1st TV have been willing to confirm nor deny this report. What we can be very sure of, is that President Robert Mugabe remains a figure that the British government, and the British media (among a long list of other entities in the Western world) love to hate with a passion, and they will have much to say about how these elections will be run and the results they 'produce'. We will hear in explicit detail about how the elections are being rigged, and, among many other deficiencies in the democratic process (to put it mildly), the iron grip that Mugabe and the ZANU-PF hold over the media and the flow of information in general.

While repressive state control over the flow of information in Zimbabwe is certainly deserving of persistent and critical attention from abroad, the state of affairs in that country need to be kept in perspective – we should not forget that there are other countries on the continent where the situation is considerably worse. If the Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index is to be believed, there are (according to the 2013 index) thirteen African countries that are considered to be more repressive than Zimbabwe in controlling their media.

Of the 179 countries covered by the index, Eritrea is the country in the world with the least press freedom, falling below North Korea, Turkmenistan and Syria. Other African countries near the bottom of the list include Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, and Equatorial Guinea. Rwanda, which (until recently at least) has rarely attracted any criticism from the West, is not far behind them, ranked at number 161. As we move up the list, we find Egypt, Swaziland, Gambia, DR Congo, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Morocco (another close friend of the West), before reaching Zimbabwe, which is ranked at number 133.

Such rankings, of course, do not tell the whole story, and the Edward Snowden case has certainly reminded us that the threat against freedom of information posed by those with power is not just something that applies to those countries on the lower end of the list. The administration of Zimbabwe's northern neighbour Zambia (which comes in at number 72 on the Press Freedom Index), led by Michael Sata, for example, has apparently been looking into the possibility of shutting down access in the country to Facebook and Twitter. This comes after finding that sites critical of his administration (Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports) that the government has already had shut down, are still disseminating their information through these social networks.

The old adage, 'information is knowledge and knowledge is power', serves as a source of fear for those who would jealously guard their power, but it should also serve as a source of encouragement for those of us with an interest in closing the gap between the haves and have-nots of power.

23 July, 2013

Malawi at Forty-Nine: Economic Misery or Progress?

by Harvey C.C. Banda

On Saturday 6 July 2013 Malawi clocked forty-nine years of independence. As is annually the case, there were national independence celebrations which were held in the Capital City, Lilongwe. However, these celebrations drew mixed reactions from a cross-section of Malawians. “Is there, genuinely, any need for these celebrations?” “Aren’t these celebrations nowadays merely organized for formality’s sake?” These were some of the questions posed by Malawians in trying to critique the gains and losses during the five decades of independence. This article is a snapshot of these gains and losses and presents an argument that Malawi, on the whole and in relative terms, is doing poorly, especially on the economic front.

Following the attainment of independence on 6 July 1964, Malawians had high expectations as far as economic progress was concerned. They hoped for a better economic future, in stark contrast to the economic woes associated with the colonial regime. These woes were, believably, to be buried together with the defunct Federation (Chitaganya). In line with this view, the first President of the Republic of Malawi, late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, had the vision of transforming the country into the ‘Denmark of Africa’. It is worth noting that Denmark had prospered due to her agricultural resources, and Malawi was to take the same path. However, since then Malawi has not maximized benefits from agriculture largely because the produce is sold while raw (unprocessed) on the international markets, hence at low prices.

Tea plantation in Malawi (Photo: Publik15)

Despite such hopes, the reality on the ground is quite the opposite. Almost fifty years down independence lane, Malawi is still economically dependent on her former colonial master and other donors. This is enough reason for one to argue that Malawi did not gain economic independence. Although this may be applicable to most African countries (neocolonialism), Malawi is relatively worse off. It is worth noting that Malawi ranks high among the poorest countries in Africa. It is intriguing to realize that in 1964 when the country attained political independence, it was economically ahead of China, South Korea and Singapore on a per capita income basis. Yet fifty years later, Malawi is looking at China as one of her major bilateral donors.

Even Malawi’s neighbouring countries (Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique) are doing better economically, despite the fact that thirty years or so ago the per capita incomes of these countries were not very different. One explanation for the difference is that the neighbouring countries’ economies are anchored by resources such as precious metals, oil and gas. Although Malawi of late also boasts of a uranium at Kayerekera Mine in Karonga District, northern Malawi, it is yet to start contributing significantly to the economy. With the reportedly exploitative contractual agreements in place between Malawi Government and Paladin Africa (responsible for mining and processing uranium at Kayerekera), if media reports in Malawi are anything to go by, such a contribution to the economy may even be more difficult to realize.

In the same vein, John Kapito, one of the consumer rights activists in Malawi, recently described the country’s forty-nine years of independence as shameful, arguing that the quality of life keeps on deteriorating as the years go by. Almost twenty years after the introduction of multi-party politics, Malawians cannot actively demand the real fruits of independence from their political leaders largely because of political patronage. Through this patronage the order of the day is creating ‘dictators’ by blanket and undifferentiated praise. The other contributing factor is the politics of the belly whose by-product is grueling corruption (katangale). In such an atmosphere, what matters most is what one benefits from a deal or transaction and not whether (or not) the deal is (procedurally) right.

Nevertheless, there are some indicators towards economic progress. The guiding question here is ‘Have there been changes in people’s lives over time?’ Certainly yes. Malawians these days look better dressed and healthier; most of the people sleep in brick houses with iron roofs; and most of the vehicles on the roads are owned by Malawians. In addition, most Malawians can access and attain some education, especially following the introduction of the Free Primary Education (FPE) policy in 1994. This is a rosy picture on the surface, but when you go deeper you realize it is misleading. For instance, with only two public universities in full operation, access to tertiary education is extremely limited (less than one per cent of the population has access to university education). Similarly, it is indicated that less than seven per cent of the population of about fourteen million people have access to electricity, meaning that fifty years later about thirteen million people still live in ‘darkness’.

At this juncture, one can conclude that Malawi still has a long way to go. Factually, and not arguably, Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. What is the way forward? Malawi needs visionary and principled leadership; a hard working, morally-upright and, at the same time, critical populace; and a pragmatic approach towards real time development. I dare say we do not need celebrations this time. You do not celebrate misery, rather progress! Let us try to postpone celebrations for another fifty years during which we should merely be commemorating independence!

21 July, 2013

Call for Papers

Southern African Peace and Security Studies, the flagship publication of the SACCPS, has entered its second year of publication. In keeping with a publishing schedule of two issues per year, we are expecting to be publishing volume 2, number 1 in the next few weeks.

We are now calling for papers for volume 2, number 2, to be published by year's end. We welcome research articles (6,000 to 8,000 words), policy briefs (1,500 to 2,000 words) and book reviews (up to 800 words). In the interest of maintaining high academic standards, all articles are peer-reviewed by experts in their respective fields. We welcome articles from both academics and practitioners, and any topics associated with peace and security in the southern African region are welcome.

For those interested in making a submission, completed manuscripts, prepared in accordance with the house style of the journal (found on this page), should be submitted to the editor by email for consideration no later than 25 October 2013.

We continue to aim for a publication with a quality mix of cutting-edge academic and practical policy-oriented content, offering a variety of perspectives from experts and practitioners from within and beyond the region. The journal is published online (some hard copies are also produced) and is available free of charge.

The cover of the inaugural issue, 2012

For further information on the aims and content of the journal, and to access the guidelines for authors, see the journal tab on the SACCPS homepage.

16 July, 2013

Prospects for Zimbabwe Look Bleak

by Hussein Solomon

Later this month – on 31 July – Zimbabweans go to the polls. The electoral date was set by an arrogant Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) despite protests from the political opposition, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the international observers.

The early and unilateral date set by ZANU-PF is particularly problematic given the fact that the conditions to create a level political field under the SADC roadmap have not been met. Consider the following: The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the registrar-general’s office, the military, judiciary and public media are all staffed by ZANU-PF sympathisers. All these institutions will be playing a key role come election day. Consider too that the voter registration process was characterized by anarchy and several questions have been raised about the voter role compiled. Short wonder, then, that the opposition has already been complaining about a rigged ballot come 31 July. It would seem that the choice of the date by ZANU-PF stemmed from two issues. First, the 89 year-old President Robert Mugabe is suffering from various health issues and there are fears that a later poll date might prevent him from electoral campaigning. Second, an early poll date hardly gives the political opposition time to prepare an adequate campaign.

Under these circumstances, small wonder then that South Africa’s Lindiwe Zulu, who is South African President Jacob Zuma’s International Relations Adviser and part of the mediation team has called for the postponement of the snap poll whilst all electoral reforms are enacted to ensure a legitimate poll. ZANU-PF has reacted angrily against her personally; accusing her of “interference”. Meanwhile President Robert Mugabe has lashed out at her as an “ordinary street woman” whilst ZANU-PF’s mouthpiece, The Herald newspaper called on Jacob Zumba to “tether his terrier”. The “terrier”, of course, being Ms. Lindiwe Zulu.
Lindiwe Zulu with President Jacob Zuma (Photo: GovernmentZA)

Whilst the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation undertook to take up these attacks on Ms. Zulu with its Zimbabwean counterpart, the issue has taken on more ominous proportions with the publication in the British Guardian newspaper of a Zimbabwean intelligence plot to assassinate both Ms. Zulu and President Zuma involving six Lebanese nationals. It seems that the alleged plot was the result of a leaked intelligence report.

What is clear is that the upcoming Zimbabwean polls will have not only national implications but regional ones as well.

14 July, 2013

2014 SA Elections Are Gearing Up!

by Hussein Solomon

I have to admit that I did not bother to vote in the last national election, knowing the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and its corrupt members were to be voted into power once again by the unthinking masses. Come 2014 I definitely intend to vote. By all accounts it is shaping up to be an exciting contest with the stakes increasingly high. To the left of the ANC, former ANC Youth League Leader Julius Malema has formed a new political platform, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). EFF has much socialist rhetoric such as the nationalization of land, financial institutions and the like. How these patently unconstitutional measures will pass legal muster is anyone’s guess. Whilst the EFF hardly stands a chance of unseating the dominant ANC, the reality here is two-fold. First, the strident nationalist rhetoric of the EFF is already scaring off investors and resulting in spooked markets – already volatile given the woes in the Eurozone – South Africa’s largest trading partner. Second, the EFF also stands a strong chance of wooing the disillusioned youth vote. Youth unemployment in South Africa is over 40% and the strong socialist agenda of the EFF might be appealing to them. Thus, the ANC’s majority might well be eroded by the formation of the EFF.
Photo by Keso S
There are, however, other challenges confronting the ANC. Despite ANC President Jacob Zuma’s convincing win over contenders for the top party post at the Mangaung conference in December last year, the reality is that he remains a tarnished and dividing president. The recent exposures regarding his Nkandla homestead – built at the expense of taxpayers money – is occurring at a time when South African citizens have to engage in belt-tightening given the weakening rand and the sputtering economy. Citizens, even the ANC support base, are in an unforgiving mood towards such predatory behaviour. Why must they belt-tighten whilst the political elite grows ever more profligate with public funds? The weakness of Zuma’s own position within the ANC, could be what triggered him into re-shuffling the cabinet once again – thereby hoping to consolidate his political control. This move, however, might well boomerang on Zuma since to paraphrase former US President Lyndon Johnson, “you now have a situation where an ejected former colleague is now outside the tent pissing in when you want him to be inside the tent pissing out!”

The main political opposition, in the form of the Democratic Alliance (DA), however can hardly seek to exploit the weaknesses in the ANC given their own challenges – governance challenges in the Western Cape which the ANC has been quick to exploit, as well as leadership challenges as the party looks to a post-Helen Zille future and the fact that another liberal political party in the form of Agang seeks to make inroads into the black urban middle class – precisely the constituency the DA needs to win over if it seeks to unseat the electoral juggernaut – that is the ANC.

By all accounts, then, 2014 looks like an interesting election!