29 August, 2013

Dangerous Heaven: Do Refugees Have a Future in SA?

by Hitomi Kosaka

“Do white people have a future in South Africa?” Such was the question posed by John Simpson in a BBC News article on May 29, 2013. However, the question is not necessarily one that can be posed only to white South Africans.

As a foreigner myself, I have been conducting interviews in South Africa with those of foreign origins who have been affected by xenophobic attacks for a project on xenophobia led by Prof. Hussein Solomon of the University of the Free State. The interviews made me face the quagmire that refugees are placed in.

“If I had the money, I would go back to Somalia today”. These were the words of a Somali refugee in his 50s, looking me straight in the eyes. He was first attacked on his way home in 2008. He was injured so badly that he was in a comma for a few days. He was attacked again in 2012. Those attacks caused his current health issues which made him decide to go back to Somalia, despite the conflict, instability and uncertainty back there.

The majority of the informants keep, or used to keep, shops that are made of shipping containers. They usually sell items at a cheaper price than other local shops, and they also live in the containers.

Another Somali refugee in his 30s told me that several people set his shop on fire. Once he and his friend came out of the shop, people broke in and looted everything.

Whether or not those attacks are “xenophobic” or more of an issue of theft or other unrelated crime, it is clear that some refugees are facing difficult situations, or even death, on a daily basis, even though they fled their countries of origin seeking a life in a safer environment.

There is clearly much room for improvement in South Africa’s refugee reception, not only in terms of mere physical reception but also actual integration. Right now, there is no integration program in South Africa like those conducted by other major refugee-receiving countries. Even the tracking of refugees is not sufficient. One of the informants who works for the municipality in Bloemfontein told me that once refugees arrive at the international airports, they are basically free to go anywhere they want, whereas in Australia, for instance, refugees participate in an integration program where they learn about life and rules in Australia in order for them to become not only economically independently but also to be able to adapt to the host society.

Another issue is that there is no institution or organization which is dealing with the issues they have face since the attacks.

An Ethiopian informant in Paarl tried calling the Human Rights Council. “I called them on Friday, they told me to call on Monday. I called them on Monday, but they said they were busy so call on Wednesday”. He told me that he lost his shop in Johannesburg after it was looted.

A Congolese informant, who seemed to be well integrated in the community, said the issues in the community must be solved within the community, by drawing from a French proverb “Il faut laver son linge sale en famille” (Don't wash your dirty linen in public).

However, a few Somali shop keepers in Paarl told me that they went to the local committee within the township and asked them for help after the major xenophobic attacks in May 2008. According to them, the committee, which is made up of leaders from the community, asked them pay the committee so that it could stop the xenophobic attacks. One of the informants paid 100R/shop. One week after, however, the committee asked them to pay again to keep the situation in control.

Besides this, the lack of understanding of the concept of refugees is another major issue.

“They come illegally and run illegal business”. This sentiment was expressed very emotionally by a local business man of Indian decent. He said his grandfather had come to South Africa as a legal immigrant, with emphasis on legal, although South Africa is in fact legally bound by the Refugee Convention to protect refugees.

The issue of xenophobia is very complex. Yet, it is clear that refugees saw no future in South Africa.

“I don’t want to stay here, but what can I do?” On our way back from the township, one Somali informant who accompanied me told me that UNHCR had already sent some refugee families to other countries. He asked me about Japan. I gave him the most positive answer that I have even given anyone regarding Japan’s reception of refugees: “It’s tough, but you probably wouldn’t get shot or die from an intentional fire”.

The other Somali informant, whose brother was shot and died in a shop, was sitting right next to me in the car, looking out the window in silence.

26 August, 2013

Malawi Congress Party’s Resurrection? Exit John Tembo (Spent Force), Enter Dr. Lazarus Chakwera (Voice of Reason)

by Harvey C.C. Banda

The election of Rev. Dr. Lazarus Chakwera as Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President during the party’s convention held on Saturday, 10th August 2013 in the Capital City, Lilongwe, is good news for the party ahead of the tripartite elections scheduled for May 2014. Dr. Chakwera replaced long-time President, John Zenus Ungapake Tembo. The latter was, so to speak, a spent force in as far as party leadership is concerned, having failed to lead the party to victory during the 2004 and 2009 general elections. Chakwera out-smarted the other ten presidential candidates in a strongly-contested election. This article looks at MCP’s potential in the coming elections with the injection of Dr. Chakwera, who is politically-inexperienced, but a force to reckon with as far as leadership skills are concerned. It is worth noting that Rev. Dr. Chakwera is the former President of the Assemblies of God in Malawi. The article argues that the election of Chakwera marks the political resurrection of MCP having been politically dead for almost two decades. MCP has been in opposition since 1994.

Rev. Dr. Lazarus Chakwera (Photo: Maravi Post)

John Tembo was at the helm of the party for more than a decade largely through political maneuvering and not that he is a people’s favourite. In fact, within the party, there has been a lot of resistance against his leadership. Since 2009 or so, MCP Members of Parliament (MPs) have been calling for the ‘new blood’ (younger generation of politicians) to take over party leadership, with a view to taking the party to victory during the general elections. He has for a long time rejected such calls, claiming that those agitating for such change should ‘wait for their turn’. As a result of such dictatorial tendencies, MCP experienced a lot of defections of its members to other political parties, namely the United Democratic Front (UDF) then under former President Bakili Muluzi and currently led by his son, Atupele Muluzi, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The latter was formed in 2005 and led till 2012 by former President Bingu Wa Mutharika.

Consequently, the party which was mighty and formidable at the beginning of multi-party politics in 1994 was, actually, torn asunder because of these defections. It became practically dead, a perpetual opposition party, with little hope of ever taking over the government once again. Yet this is the party with the most structures in every corner of Malawi, including on the Likoma and Chizumulu Islands, compared to other shallow-rooted political parties. It is also a party solidly built on the popular four cornerstones, as espoused by its founder, late Dr. Kamuzu Banda: unity, loyalty, obedience, and discipline. Dr. Chakwera joins such a party at an opportune time with only eight months before the elections. The campaign period has not yet officially begun. In fact, one could argue that it would have been healthier if the convention were held some time back.

In his acceptance speech, Chakwera started with a prayer: “let us pray by singing the Malawi National Anthem as you know it is, in fact, a prayer”, exposing the reverend in him in the process. He showed that he is a visionary and practically-oriented leader, something which MCP has lacked during John Tembo’s reign. He kept on referring to the sound policies, for example, on agriculture, left behind by Dr. Banda – a sure foundation on which not only the MCP, but also the Government of Malawi must build.

It would be proper for one to argue that MCP’s leadership transformation will send shivers to the other political parties in Malawi, especially those that are seemingly not well rooted in as far as leadership is concerned. In such parties, the leadership has merely been imposed by its founders. Examples here are the UDF led by Atupele Muluzi, son of Bakili Muluzi, its founder, and the DPP led by Peter Mutharika, younger brother of late President Bingu Wa Mutharika.

In my view, Chakwera’s election to the highest position in the MCP should be food for thought for MCP itself and other political parties in Malawi. They need to realize that in a democratic dispensation, all you can do is to attempt to resist change, but when time is ripe you cannot prevent change from taking its course! John Tembo went to this convention with the intention to run for the third time. Delegates had to make a bold decision: “the constitution of the party (MCP) must be respected; no third term!” they agreed. As a result, his name was dropped right there, before elections began leaving eleven other contestants to battle it out. I personally find this embarrassing. I do not know about others.

John Tembo’s tragedy could have been avoided if we are to learn from history. During ancient Greece, Peisistratus met the people’s wrath and resistance despite himself being a benevolent tyrant: People preferred democracy over tyranny. If this lesson is too remote from the present, why couldn’t John Tembo learn from former President Bakili Muluzi’s foiled third term bid in Malawi in 2003?

21 August, 2013

Implications of Zimbabwe's Flawed Elections

by Leon Hartwell

As a South African I am troubled by President Jacob Zuma’s appeal to Zimbabweans to “accept the outcome of the elections”. Why should our northern brothers and sisters accept elections that were not credible? Zuma’s statement is misleading as the real “outcome” of the elections is not the results. Rather it is the betrayal of an ideal for which our liberation heroes in the region fought. Zuma’s initial endorsement of the process disregards the long-term damage that this election will do to an important neighbour who has not yet successfully transitioned from independence to freedom.

Presidents Zuma and Mugabe in Harare (Photo: Government ZA)

President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF lay claim to the title of Zimbabwe’s “liberators” yet they continue to purposely confuse independence with freedom. Independence is simply self-rule; freedom is when a person’s liberty is promoted and protected by adherence to a host of rights. One of those fundamental rights is the right to vote under free and fair conditions.

Madiba linked his freedom to the idea of democracy. During the Rivonia Trial in 1964, Madiba stated, "I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Government exists not simply to rule, but to promote and provide a better life for its citizens. Consequently, the right to vote is essential as it acts as a cyclical safeguard to remove a government that fails to perform.

This year, Zimbabweans were once again deprived of truly exercising their right to vote under free and fair conditions. To be clear, the issue is not that ZANU-PF emerged as the winner of the elections. Rather, the electoral process leading up to ZANU-PF’s victory has not been credible, which will have implications for Zimbabwe. What makes matters worse is that the past three years - both politically and economically – have been some of the best years Zimbabwe has had in almost a decade and a half. A lot of the progress that was made could easily be reversed.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA), which came into being after Zimbabwe’s violent elections in 2008, gave birth to the Government of National Unity (GNU). The GPA was intended to "create a genuine, viable, permanent, sustainable and nationally acceptable solution to the Zimbabwe situation." In essence, it aimed to create a situation of sustainable peace and promote reforms in a host of areas that would make the government of Zimbabwe more accountable and democratic.

The GPA also forced political parties into a series of engagement and negotiation processes which helped to build trust. After several failed attempts by political parties since 1999 to change the highest law of the land, the GNU wrote and enacted a new Constitution earlier this year. Before the elections, actors across the political divide described the process leading up to the creation of the new Constitution as a form of “national healing”. Whether the same sentiments now prevail is doubtful.

The new Constitution could also easily be amended given ZANU-PF’s two-thirds majority in Parliament and the party’s history of tampering with the highest law of the land. Since 1987, ZANU-PF amended the Lancaster House Constitution, each time making it less democratic and accountable. In 1996, ZANU-PF changed the first section of the Bill of Rights to a preamble, thereby diluting fundamental rights. Within hours of the elections, in his capacity as Minister of Justice and ZANU-PF’s Deputy Secretary of Legal Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa reportedly told the media that “the new Constitution may need cleaning up”. It is thus not unforeseeable that the Constitution will be amended.

Even if the Constitution remains unchanged for the time being, there is a risk that important aspects of it will not be implemented. The new Constitution was negotiated with the intent that certain reforms have to be undertaken, thereby changing the relationship between the state and her citizens. More than 90 percent of Zimbabweans, who voted in the Referendum in March 2013, endorsed the Constitution, which means the government has a duty to implement and respect it. Key institutions – like the media, the security sector, and the judiciary – were misused in the run up to the elections. Consequently, how likely is it that the reforms related to these institutions will be implemented? Why would the rule of law and the new Constitution be observed on a daily basis if so many laws were broken in an attempt to manipulate the outcome of the elections?

Economic implications of the flawed election could also be severe, and in the worst case scenario, have a negative impact on the political situation. The importance of the GNU was that it helped to stimulate Zimbabwe’s economy. After years of economic depression and inflation of 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion (i.e. 65 followed by 107 zeros) percent by December 2008, the Zimbabwean economy grew by more than 9% per annum in 2010 to 2011 before it slowed down to 5% in 2012.

Zimbabwe experienced economic growth, not only due to dollarization of the economy, but also because businesses had more confidence to invest in a country which they thought was moving in the right direction. Both local and foreign businesses will be particularly wary to invest in the Zimbabwean economy because the political and economic environment for the time being remains unpredictable.

During the peak of the crisis years (1998 to 2008), Zimbabweans preferred to acquire foreign assets and keep their money in foreign bank accounts because controversial money printing caused the Zimbabwean dollar to collapse overnight; people feared expropriation and did not have confidence that the economy will bounce back. A 2008 study by Léonce Ndikumana and James Boyce found that Zimbabwe’s external assets were 5.1 times higher than the country’s entire debt stocks, demonstrating a huge lack of trust in the Zimbabwean economy. Today, Zimbabweans remain wary of ZANU-PF’s policy as set out in its 2013 election manifesto to re-introduce the Zimbabwean dollar. Furthermore, according to ZANU-PF’s election manifesto, there could be major problems for the 1,138 “foreign-owned companies” that have been targeted for indigenization.

Zimbabwe’s external debt, which is said to be $10,7 billion, is unsustainable and requires careful management as well as possible debt forgiveness. It will be interesting to see how creditors will react to Zimbabwe’s flawed electoral process. If Zimbabwe is unable to deal with the debt situation and fails to channel more money (including diamond revenue) into the country’s treasury, then attempts to get lines of credit from non-transparent sources could increase, leaving the country in a more vulnerable position.

Zuma’s statement urging Zimbabweans to simply accept the results of the elections pays little attention to the seriousness of the situation at hand. Many Zimbabweans feel cheated because the credibility of the process that produced ZANU-PF’s victory was deeply flawed, thereby also betraying the essence of democracy. The implication is the return and increase of mistrust and suspicion, and possibly also the reversal of many political and economic achievements by the GNU. For the time being, the country’s transition from independence to freedom remains unresolved.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

Zimbabwe's Election Was Not Credible

by Leon Hartwell

Shortly after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced the disputed election results, President Jacob Zuma was quick off the mark to applaud President Robert Mugabe and endorse the elections. He sent his “profound congratulations to His Excellency President Robert G Mugabe on his re-election as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe following the successful harmonised elections held on 31 July 2013.” He further urged “all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people.”

A peaceful election day by itself is not enough to declare it free and fair. One of the basic premises of assessing the credibility of an election is look at the electoral process as a whole. There were many irregularities with Zimbabwe’s electoral process.

To put things into perspective, during South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, under the leadership of Madiba, the ANC garnered only 62% of the vote compared to ZANU-PF's supposed 68% win in Parliament during Zimbabwe’s latest election.

The period leading up to Zimbabwe’s elections already paved the way for a dubious process. In October 2012, Mugabe assigned nine important Acts under the office of the President. These Acts include the Commission of Inquiry Act, Emergency Powers Act, Interception of Communication Act, Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, and the Zimbabwe National Security Council Act. Mugabe’s excuse was that “those functions have not been assigned to some other minister”, yet each act allowed Mugabe to gradually usurp more power and exploit it to ZANU-PF’s advantage.

Mugabe - Flickr - Al Jazeera English
Still in power: President Robert Mugabe

On the 13th of June 2013, Mugabe used his Presidential powers (thereby bypassing Parliament) to amend the Electoral Act and unilaterally set the election date for six weeks later. This is despite the fact that many outstanding issues in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) were unfulfilled. Although it was unrealistic that the entire GPA would be implemented, the purpose of the agreement was to promote sustainable peace and development. Thus, it required that some of the most important issues agreed upon by the Government of National Unity (GNU) be dealt with before Zimbabwe headed for another election.

Zimbabwe had a special vote on the 14th and 15th of July intended for civil servants and the security sector. Due to major delays and irregularities on the special voting day, some observer missions and civil society organisations described it as “chaotic”. Even before the process commenced there was a lack of transparency about the process. ZEC announced that 87,000 applicants were approved to participate in the process. The full list of those approved for the process was not made public, which rightfully provoked suspicion among civil society and some political parties that some of the special voters were not eligible to vote. On the eve of the actual election, it was also unclear how to remove names of special voters from the voters’ roll to avoid double voting.

Before the harmonized elections, several potential voters in urban areas complained that they struggled to register as voters. This is significant given that the MDC-T appeals to urban voters. Some Zimbabweans that have voted in previous elections also claim that they were surprised to find out that they have been de-registered to vote without their knowledge.

Once the proclamation was made on the election date, the state-owned media went into full throttle in rolling out overwhelmingly pro-ZANU-PF and anti-MDC propaganda. State media provided ZANU-PF with mostly positive coverage and whenever any of the MDC formations were mentioned it was generally in a negative context. Compared to any other party, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF received the bulk of coverage on press briefings and campaign rallies. According to the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, most hate speech throughout the election period in Zimbabwe can be attributed to the state-owned media, and it is often attributed to ZANU-PF members, including the President.

Vote-buying by ZANU-PF also became rife in the run-up to the elections. For example, almost two weeks before the elections, Grace Mugabe, the First Lady, allegedly handed out 22 tons of foodstuff in Mashonaland Central. In a country where, according to the Zimbabwe Statistical Office, an average person lives on $1.16 per day, the politics of the belly remains a potent tool to influence the vote.

During the period leading up to the elections ZEC outsourced the registration of voters, as well as updating, inspection and custody of the voters’ roll to Registrar General (RG). Voter registration, as argued, has been flawed but it is worth mentioning that the RG’s office has numerous court orders against him that relates to the failure to perform this function and allow for inspection of the voters’ roll. Furthermore, the final voters’ roll was not made public in advance of the elections. This is despite the fact that it should be provided to the public in electronic or hard copy within a reasonable time. Currently, the MDC-T is reportedly claiming that there are 870,000 duplicate names on the voters roll, representing almost one sixth of the total voters on the voters’ roll.

On polling day there were reports that youths, some of whom seemingly did not look 18 (the official voting age), were bussed into MDC-T strongholds where they presented fake voter registration certificates enabling them to vote. One such youth group was caught on film in Harare – they presumably travelled from the Honde Valley which is located at the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, situated approximately 300 kilometres from the capital.

Several polling stations were set up at the last minute and their locations were not published in advance. As a result, party agents and election observers could not be deployed in time to properly monitor the electoral process. These polling stations were often in tents with no electricity, making it impossible to count votes under decent light.

According to ZEC own statistics, 3,480,047 Zimbabweans cast their votes during the harmonized elections. Almost 305,000 voters were turned away (mostly in areas considered to be MDC-T strongholds) and, despite the country’s high literacy rates, another 206,000 received “assistance” from election officials. This is serious as it represents more than 15% of votes cast.

There were also reports of stuffed ballot boxes, the extent of which remains ambiguous. ZEC nonetheless announced some results, which were very suspicious. In the 1980s, during Gukurahundi, almost 20,000 Ndebele were massacred by Mugabe in Matebeleland. Yet, according to ZEC, voters in Matebeleland overwhelmingly voted for Mugabe and ZANU-PF, which would be the equivalent of Apartheid victims voting for Hendrik Verwoerd and the National Party.

Another important questionable aspect of the elections is to the credibility of the judicial system, especially those that will be used for disputing the process if need be. The Constitutional Court and the Electoral Court dealt with most cases related to the elections. The former consists of the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and seven judges from the Supreme Court, while the latter is composed of the Chief Justice and several judges from the High Court.

Mugabe unilaterally appointed numerous judges shortly before the election in anticipation that some electoral issues will be legally challenged. He made all the appointments without consulting his then partners in the GNU and the Judicial Service Committee. For example, almost before the ink was dry after signing the new Constitution at the end of May 2013, Mugabe appointed two Supreme Court judges (and by implication judges serving on the Constitutional Court). Again on the 14th of July, two weeks before the actual election, Mugabe appointed six new High Court judges while one judge was elevated to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. Given the circumstances in which these courts were stacked in favour of ZANU-PF, one cannot expect them to deliver a fair judgement.

As argued, the electoral process as whole remains deeply flawed. Many of the above issues are in conflict with SADC’s own guidelines on elections. Zuma’s rush to wish Mugabe “profound congratulations” is thus hard to come to terms with.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

18 August, 2013

The Failing African State in Context

by Hussein Solomon

In recent years, far from seeing viewed as the “hopeless continent”, Africa is being characterized as “hopeful” by publications such as The Economist. There seems to be some empirical evidence to support such an optimistic view. After all, half a dozen African economies have been growing at more than 6 percent per year for the past six years and two out of every three African countries hold elections. However such optimism is seriously misplaced. Whilst economic growth is taking place, such growth is occurring from a low base – reflected in the fact that Africa accounts for a dismal 2.5 percent of world output at purchasing power-parity despite accounting for a sixth of the world’s population. Moreover such economic growth is hardly sustainable given the income disparities on the continent – a sure recipe for further socio-political unrest. Consider here the following statistics from the African Development Bank:
- 60 percent of Africans are engaged in low-paid, unpredictable and informal jobs
- Half of Africa’s population of one billion subsists on less than US 1.25 – the international poverty threshold
- Only half of Africa’s youth is economically active

Afro-optimism in the air

On the political front, whilst more elections have been taking place on the continent, these have not necessarily led to liberal democracy. This is reflected in the fact that only 11 African countries have been classified as “Free” by Freedom House, whilst 23 have been classified as “Partly Free” and 22 “Not Free”. In attempting to explain the discrepancy between holding elections whilst perpetuating authoritarian rule, Fareed Zakaria coined the phrase “illiberal democracy”. He defined this as “... the troubling phenomenon of elected governments systematically abusing individual rights and depriving people of liberty”. This has been aptly demonstrated in Zimbabwe’s recent fraudulent elections which saw the ruling party extend its hold on power.

This volatile mix of economic disparities and the democratic deficit has provided the ideal recipe for sustained conflict within African polities laying the seeds of state failure or state collapse. Indeed, in the latest Failed State Index, the top five positions are all occupied by African states: Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan and Chad. Moreover, no fewer than 32 African states are represented in the top fifty of the Failed State Index. Worryingly, these include Africa’s biggest and most influential states such as Nigeria at number 16, Kenya at number 17, Ethiopia at 19 and Egypt at 34.

The African State has lurched from crisis to crisis since achieving independence. Post-colonial Africa has experienced 85 coups d’état and this figure passes 100 if one takes into consideration the various bloody failed attempts at regime change by the men in military. Since 1945 there have been 95 conflicts on the continent with over 45 being civil wars. To compound matters further, Africa has hosted some of the longest running conflicts in recent times. Consider here the fratricidal conflicts in Chad and Sudan lasting four decades and more or the almost three-decade long civil war in Angola. Of course, certain regions seem to be more conflict-prone than others. The sixteen West African states, for instance, have experienced 82 forms of political conflict including 44 military coups. (See this article by Ademola Araoye)

These critical reflections on the character of the African state is crucial in understanding the situation in the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s recent stolen elections (once again) with the both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) accepting the fraudulent capture of power once again by ZANU-PF. Both these structures are state-based and the dynamics at the state-level impact on the sub-regional and regional levels. How can President Eduardo dos Santos in Angola possibly criticize Robert Mugabe refusing to relinquish his hold on the reins of power when Dos Santos himself has been in power longer than that of Mugabe? How can President Jacob Zuma not congratulate Mugabe given South Africa’s own growing democratic deficit?

16 August, 2013

Of Malawi's Presidency Meddling with Traditional Authority Structures: Past, Present and Future

by Harvey C.C. Banda

In Malawi it is a norm for the seating president to be seen meddling with traditional authority structures, especially in the run-up to the general elections. The presidents usually install or promote traditional leaders in the name of appreciating the latter’s support towards development initiatives by the government of the day. In actual sense, these presidents engage in such a (mal) practice as a campaign gimmick with a view to garnering support from the constituents. This has actually been the trend since the introduction of democratic governance (multi-party politics) in Malawi in 1994. This article succinctly argues that the continuation of such a practice despite heightened criticism from the opposition parties, the civil society, and the general public, is a manifestation that ruling parties generally lack development issues with which to engage the populace during political campaign rallies.

Looking at the mess created so far, it is practically difficult to tell which traditional ruler is senior over the other since in some cases very junior ‘chiefs’ have wrongly and undeservedly been elevated to senior positions. All this is done in the name of blatant appeasement. This is cheap propaganda, to say the least. The Office of the President can surely do better than this.

It all started during the one party regime when Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda elevated Lundu as paramount of the Chewa people to consolidate his rule after the Cabinet Crisis in 1964. This continued during the Bakili Muluzi regime, that is, 1994 to 2004. During this period, the first multi-party President, Bakili Muluzi, gradually gained mass support during his first term of office (1994-1999) largely because Malawians were fed up with the one party regime under the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), then led devotedly and passionately by the late Dr. Banda, and not necessarily because Muluzi was a political and economic heavyweight, himself. He also narrowly won support, especially among the people of southern Malawi, his home region, because of his insistence on income generation at household level: starting small-scale businesses. This was, so to say, the genesis of street vendors (mavenda), some of whom graduated into political praise singers and ululators (under the United Democratic Front youth wing). Muluzi, however, misinterpreted the support he came to enjoy. Eventually, his authority could hardly be questioned, especially during his second term of office (1999-2004). No wonder, he attempted to cling to power through his third term bid in 2003. This was a flop.

With time he started ruling by decrees and most of his decisions made at political rallies lacked thoughtfulness and were, simply put, blunders. He was fond of saying ‘whether you like or not” (mufune olo musafune) “I have elevated chief so and so to this position and my decision is final”. He, therefore, came under intense criticism so that one expected the next president to change the political approach of governing the country.

However, when late Professor Bingu Wa Mutharika took over, alas, nothing significantly changed. He continued with the (mal) practice of elevating traditional rulers as a ‘thank you’ for their support. The man was a renowned economist, locally dubbed economic engineer, but politically he was a novice! Hence he continued from where his predecessor (Bakili Muluzi) stopped: populist politics were the order of the day.

It is worth noting that within a few years Bingu Wa Mutharika won so many accolades, both locally and abroad, for the role he had played in transforming Malawi’s economy through food security, among others. Following this, he became both ‘untouchable’ and unstoppable. During his second term of office (2009-2012) he even went to the extent of forsaking Malawi’s donors through his concept of a zero deficit budget. This was, in fact, mere economic rhetoric if one was to go by the general suffering and pauperization of the grassroots as a result of its impact! Despite this, he was locally decorated by all sorts of names: Mose wa lero (New Moses of the Bible); Chitsulo chanjanji (a man who was as hard as the railway steel), etc. This reminds one of Benito Mussolini and fascism in Italy.

Following his sudden demise on 5th April 2012 (from cardiac arrest), came the current President, Mrs Joyce Banda, who is said to be heading boma la amayi (the lady’s Government). It is intriguing to note that in July 2013, ahead of the tripartite general elections of May 2014 in Malawi, elevating traditional leaders is top on President Mrs Joyce Banda’s agenda as she goes about visiting her development initiatives across the country. One would have expected that her initiatives such as the Mudzi (Village) Transformation Trust and the famed one-village-one-cow project (reminiscent of the one-village-one-product concept) should have been the real foci of her development song!

Joyce Banda Department for International Development photo
More of the same from President Joyce Banda?

Looking at the trend so far, the future looks bleak: elevating traditional leaders has actually become the order of the day; a norm and not a malpractice. One wonders whether in the next ten years there will be any junior chiefs left: all of them will have become paramount chiefs! Yet, in a normal setting, you need the traditional authority in form of a pyramid: a few senior chiefs with more ordinary rulers (village headmen and their immediate seniors) at the base. Although ‘history repeats itself’ and while history is supposed to be lesson-giving, in Malawian politics this is seemingly not the case! Whither Malawi?

02 August, 2013

The Farce that is the Zimbabwean Elections

by Hussein Solomon

The elections in Zimbabwe are formally over and whilst we have to wait for the official results of the election, the ruling ZANU-PF is already claiming a landslide victory against Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). On the positive side and unlike the 2008 elections which was marred by an orgy of violence, there was little violence during this 2013 election. In addition, the election was also marked by high voter turn-out. Indeed most of the 6,4 million registered voters started queuing to cast their ballot well before sunrise and long after sunset. What was striking about the electoral contest between ZANU-PF and the MDC were the issues at stake. Whilst the MDC focused on jobs and kick-starting the moribund economy, Robert Mugabe focused much of his campaign on attacking homosexuals.

Robert Mugabe: Still the president? (Photo: Jeremy Lock)

On the basis of the relatively peaceful nature of the election, the African Union (AU) observer mission declared the elections to be “peaceful, orderly and free and fair”. However Solomon Zwane, chairperson of the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network has rightly stated that, “It is not sufficient for elections to be peaceful for elections to be credible”. There are several reasons to question the credibility of these elections. First, the level playing field in terms of the SADC roadmap did not materialize and this resulted in a bias state media and partisan security forces. Second, the voters’ roll which was to be released to all political parties before the poll could take place was never made available to them. Third, a video has surfaced showing ZANU-PF youth members being bussed in from rural areas to vote in urban city areas. Fourth, the names of thousands of voters were missing from the electoral roll whilst more than two million dead people appeared on the lists. Fifth, there was a campaign to stop voters from casting ballots, especially in those areas where the MDC had a strong constituency. These areas, for instance, had a sudden shortage of ballot papers or polling booths will close early or not open at all. According to Solomon Zwane more than a million voters were disenfranchised this way.

It is incredible that the AU can remain so sanguine about these polls under these circumstances. More importantly, it would be interesting to see what the reaction is from SADC since ZANU-PF had violated the roadmap from the beginning. What is clear is that ZANU-PF is preparing itself for a negative reaction from long-suffering Zimbabweans. As I pen this article, thousands of riot police have appeared to protect the headquarters of ZANU-PF.