18 December, 2014

Zimbabwe: ZANU PF Congress 2014

by Shamiso Marange

Joice Mujuru’s fall from grace leaves yet another dent in the political history of Zimbabwe. Ms. Mujuru, 59, the first female Vice President in the country, along with eight ministers aligned to her faction found themselves displaced in an effort by President Mugabe to purge factionalism from his Zimbabwe African Nationalist Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU PF). A first in the 51 years of party’s existence.

Prior to Robert Mugabe curtailing Mujuru’s influence in the politburo of the ruling party and sacking her and her comrades from their government positions, Grace Mugabe had gone on a whistle-blowing crusade, verbally-attacking Mujuru and instigating contempt towards the former freedom-fighter.

It is now evident that, the first lady had been unleashed to lay the the foundation to vanquish the Vice President and her faction on behalf of her husband. All Robert Mugabe had to do was step on the podium at the 6th ZANU PF Congress (or should we say, Con-Grace?) and hammer the final nails in the coffin. By the time the convention had begun Mujuru had been turned into a villain. She had been exposed and the knives to stab her in the back had been drawn. Her squeaky clean image as a hardworking heroin dedicated to the ruling party, was dragged through the mud. She was made out to be a thief, a traitor and a simple-minded character relying on witchcraft in an attempt to unseat the ‘messiah’.

A few days before the congress Mugabe set up a kangaroo court and made amendments to the ZANU-PF constitution, granting him powers to directly select his deputies and anoint his successor. An indication of the lack of genuine democracy within the ruling party structures. Before the changes to the ZANU-PF charter, Mugabe and his two ZANU-PF deputies had to be elected by members from the country’s 10 regions. The deputies automatically took up the same posts in government.

Mugabe set his snare in a timeous fashion, creating a well-orchestrated exit for Mujuru. She was check-mated and outmanoeuvred before she could make her move of superseding the nonagenarian leader from the party. In the end she never attended the congress and it would have been improvident if she had presented herself for her own guillotining. Only time will tell if she can make a comeback because a sizeable number of influential ZANU PF members were ousted along with her. But then again, because Mugabe has instilled so much fear in his followers, it is very likely that she will not rebel, and this could signify the end of her political career. Bullying, intimidation and violence are a part and parcel of the ruling party and not even its members are immune to these ailments.

New appointments
ZANU-PF’s other faction leader, former freedom fighter and security strongman also known as the Crocodile, Emmerson Mnagagwa, 68, replaced his rival Mai Mujuru as Vice President.

The new VP: Emmerson Mnagagwa

The crocodile (a name earned for his ruthlessness in the liberation struggle) was so gleeful with his new appointment that he knelt in front of Mugabe when he was appointed VP of the ruling party and state. It would appear he is having the last laugh as he was elevated and his nemesis, Mujuru, was reduced to being an ordinary card-holding member of ZANU PF.

Mr. Mnagagwa, the justice minister was named as Mr. Mugabe’s first deputy, whilst Phekezela Mphoko a small-time former diplomat, was named as the second deputy. As a high-school student in the 1960s, Mr. Mnangagwa was imprisoned for arson charges and it is whilst in jail, he met Mr. Mugabe, a political prisoner during the Rhodesian era. This is where the father-son bond between the two was created, as Mnagagwa looked up to one of the masterminds of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle.

After he was pardoned from a death sentence because he was under 21 years old and later released from prison, Mnagagwa went on to train as a lawyer in Zambia, and after graduation, he received military training in Egypt and China. By the late 1970s, he had climbed the ranks within ZANU PF and was appointed Mugabe’s special assistant.

Since then, Mnagagwa is rumoured to have been in charge of the security and intelligence operations for ZANU PF. He was head of internal security in the 1980s when Mr. Mugabe ordered a brigade of soldiers to be trained by North Korean in an operation called Gukurahundi (the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains). Several thousands of civilians, mainly supporters of Joshua Nkomo of the opposition party Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), were murdered.

However, now that Mugabe has purged the factionalism from within ZANU PF, and the succession issue within the party is somewhat transparent, the question arises - why did the nonagenarian choose Mnagagwa over Mujuru?

The Mugabe dynasty is arguably the principal reason. The president needs to ensure that his family and his business interests will be safeguarded upon his death. This is where ‘Gucci Grace’ enters the arena, many believe that whoever has her ear has Mugabe’s favour. Mnagagwa wants power, Grace wants to preserve her dynasty. Her whistle blowing gambit was meant to clear the path for her apparent ally, Mnagagwa. Although she might have obtained the leadership of the ruling party’s Women’s League, the appointing of Mnagagwa dampens the supposition that Grace would take over from her husband. It is very doubtful that she will be able to play an influential role in politics or take control of ZANU PF when her spouse is gone. However, if she succeeds in attaining influential power within ZANU, then she can be credited for having created a new phenomenon now being referred to as the ‘bedroom coup’.

On the other hand, Mnagagwa is considered to embody Mugabe’s leadership ethics. He is deemed a hardliner that is unlikely to adopt liberal democratic practices. He has been in the game for too long and has observed, learned and assisted Mugabe in his reign as President. In terms of security and intelligence, Mnagagwa will continue to offer Mugabe a safe environment from anyone or anything that is deemed as a threat.

Can an individual with such a ferocious background be trusted to uphold the rule of law or respect human rights if he succeeds Mugabe? The manner in which he superseded Mujuru makes one wonder how dignified of a leader he will be once at the throne.

Furthermore, the recent shake-up on the political scene in Zimbabwe has nothing to do with improving the lives of the 13 million plus citizens of the country. It is the typical tale, the legacy of self-serving leaders that take advantage of the vulnerability and helplessness of their people, which is unfortunately not new to sub-Saharan Africa.

12 December, 2014

Political Will Versus Political Entitlement: The Left-Right Political Spectrum of Lesotho

by M. K. Mahlakeng

On the 18th November, Prime Minister Tom Thabane and his coalition government partner and leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP), Thesele Maseribane went AWOL after missing a crucial meeting with South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa is acting in his capacity as the facilitator of the peace process under the banner of SADC, whom is expected to ensure the possibility and stability of the upcoming snap elections proposed for end of February 2015.

Thabane and Maseribane’s unhappiness towards Ramaphosa includes concerns of his mediation process citing unsatisfactory judgements by Ramaphosa in favour of the “opposition” (also known as the left-wingers). This includes the allied Congress parties and Metsing, who is also a Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government and a leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), but has since shared the sympathies of the opposition regarding the reign of Thabane.

Facilitation talks: Cyril Ramaphosa and Lesotho minority opposition (Photo: GCIS)

Many in the opposition have viewed this stance by Thabane and Maseribane (right-wingers) as a means, among many others, to sabotage or delay the unfolding satisfactory status to hold these upcoming elections. This, as history serves, is what distinguishes the left-right wingers of Lesotho. And this distinction has always been marked by a sense of political will versus political entitlement.

On the one hand, commoners or those perceived to be commoners (i.e. ordinary people who are members of neither the nobility nor the priesthood), throughout history, used their political will to influence political and socioeconomic decisions. And on the other hand, those perceived to have a degree of nobility or relations to such would be entitled and/or feel entitled to a role in decision-making. The right-wingers for instance, favoured nobility and/or priesthood and therefore used the chieftainship, the Britons and the Catholic Church to curtail popular freedom, while the left-wingers wanted more freedom and liberty and therefore advocated that the role and influence of these institutions be reduced.

History serves that, in a society where party A (i.e. a tribe, clan, parties, positions or ideologies) prohibits party B from contesting power through political will and/or popular support (i.e. the ballot), it leaves the former with a sense of entitlement thus making them hostile to elections, while the latter develops a basis of political reason.

In contrast to political will which advocates freedom and liberty, political entitlement on the other hand incorporates sabotage, use of excessive force etc. This is relevant to, for instance, the “1970 state of emergency” by Chief Jonathan Leabua (founder of the BNP and then PM) when he refused to cede thus denying the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) power after winning general elections; and the notorious “Order Number 4” of 1986 introduced by the Military Government of General Justin Lekhanya (then chairman of the Military Council and leader of the BNP) to prohibit political activity and thus legitimised repression. It is events such as these that have chiselled the current political landscape of Lesotho since independence, thus leaving Lesotho’s right-wingers (Nationalists) with political entitlement and left-wingers (Congress) with a sense of political will.

09 December, 2014

Another Landslide Victory for SWAPO in Namibian Elections

by Hussein Solomon

Namibia became the first African country to adopt electronic voter machines in its November 2014 polls. This technological innovation at e-voting however was not without its problems with technical glitches experienced with both electronic voting machines and handheld scanners to verify voter cards and fingerprints of voters. A subsequent report from the African Union’s Electoral Observer Mission made it clear that these were less technical glitches and more the result of electoral staff not knowing how to use the equipment. Unsurprisingly, the AU called on electoral staff to be properly trained in these new technologies.

Photo: Electoral Commission of Namibia

The 28th November polls saw Namibians voting for members of the National Assembly as well as a President. Incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba is compelled to step down on account of constitutional term limits. The ruling South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) retained their electoral dominance in the National Assembly, with SWAPO’s Hage Geingob succeeding Pohamba as president. What accounts for this SWAPO dominance? After all, SWAPO’s growing authoritarian streak, its mounting corruption scandals and its poor record at governance should count against it at the polls.

SWAPO’s political dominance can be explained by three inter-related variables. First, is demographics. 50 per cent of the population are Oshivambo speakers. These make up 90 per cent of SWAPO’s core supporters. This makes SWAPO one of the most ethnically based political parties on the continent. Second, and a concomitant of this, is that most of the other opposition political parties are also ethnically based but their respective population groups are in single digits, thereby preventing them from mass political mobilization in the same way that SWAPO can with the Oshivambo. Unless political parties can mobilize on political platforms other than ethnicity, they are bound to lose any future election. Third, SWAPO makes use of its vast patronage network – its parasitic relationship with the Namibian state – to co-opt critics and rewards sycophants.
Whilst SWAPO has won these polls, ordinary Namibians are the losers in the long run.

From 'Bethani' to Lindela: The Plight of Malawian Migrants in South Africa

by Harvey C.C. Banda

International migration of unskilled and semi-skilled labourers between Malawi and South Africa is a century-old phenomenon. In fact, for a long time on the one hand countries like South Africa and Botswana have been dubbed labour-receiving countries because of their strong economies. On the other hand, countries like Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and, of late, Zimbabwe are labour-supplying countries because of their faltering economies.

In this article, I reflect on the plight of Malawian ‘illegal migrants’ in South Africa in the wake of a recent South African court ruling regarding the treatment of detainees by Lindela Repatriation Centre. I argue that in spite of the High Court order in South Africa, the detainees’ constitutional rights will, in practice, continue being trampled upon. In my view, this is because the detention and consequent deportations are expected to deter repetition and to ward off potential illegal entrants.

Asylum seekers queue at Dept. Home Affairs (Photo: UNHCR)

For quite some time Malawian migrants have dominated the numbers of immigrants entering South Africa for purposes of taking up wage employment. This was particularly the case during the hey-days of mine migrancy up to the late 1980s. Alongside contract migration to the mines, a large number of migrants entered South Africa clandestinely, as ‘border jumpers’. The latter were categorized as illegal migrants since they entered South Africa without requisite documentation – travel passes and other identity documents.

However, towards the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s, mine migrancy entered a decline partly as a result of the process of internalization or localization in which the South African government preferred engaging South African nationals in the mines. In the case of Malawian migrants, specifically, as most people might be aware, the popular HIV/AIDS scourge debate between the South African and Malawian governments also played a significant role.

In the period up to the 1980s, all illegal migrants in South Africa captured by the police were sent in droves to work in farm prisons, one of which was the famous ‘Bethani’ prison. Most former Malawian migrants who once worked in such prisons have fond memories of the suffering and torture that they experienced, hence the popular ‘Bethani stories’. For instance, captives were forced to dig Irish potatoes using their bare hands.

Since the early 1990s a new wave of labour migration replaced mine migrancy: informal migration. Since then different categories of both men and women are involved in the migration process. What is also different is the fact that almost all informal migrants during the contemporary period enter South Africa with valid documentation in the name of passports. In this case, they enter South Africa as legal migrants. However, they are only allowed to stay for a specified period, for instance, thirty days. Since they purportedly go to South Africa to secure wage employment (i.e. fewer numbers enter South Africa for business purposes), they end up overstaying upon which they become ‘illegal migrants’ hunted down by police authorities.
With expired visas, they are arrested and sent to Lindela Repatriation Centre awaiting deportation. As can be depicted here, their illegal status is actually acquired during their stay in South Africa and not necessarily upon entry, as alluded to by the Malawi Human Rights Commission executive director, Grace Malera, in the media recently.

In my view, the Lindela sufferings nowadays are reminiscent of the ‘Bethani stories’ in the old days since captives have no room whatsoever to collect their property including monetary savings ahead of deportation. There have been reports of human rights violations of detainees at Lindela including deprivation of medical care. The situation is bound to continue in view of the xenophobic feelings of South Africans towards foreign migrants who, in their words, ‘steal jobs’ rendering nationals jobless.

Having seen deportees, locally called ‘madipoti’, looking frail and sickly alighting from ‘cargo planes’ from South Africa, and who have left behind hard-earned possessions in South Africa, it is not surprising to find some of the migrants resort to any number of means, including traditional medicinal beliefs, in an effort to avoid such Lindela sufferings and eventual deportations.

11 November, 2014

Succession Games and Presidential Candidates in Zambia

by Maximilian Mainza

Zambia, a country well-known for being peaceful and politically stable, mourns its late resident, Michael Chilufya Sata, who died on 28 October, 2014 and will be put to rest on 11 November, 2014. It was a well-known secret that the late president was sick, even though the Zambian government hid the sickness and the actual health condition which caused his death. He becomes the second Zambian president to die in office. The Vice President Guy Scott, who has Scottish parentage, was announced as Acting President according to the provisions of the constitution, taking over from Edgar Lungu, Secretary-General of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), who was Acting President at the time of Sata’s death. According to the Zambian constitution, presidential by-elections should be held within 90 days from the day the office of the president has been rendered vacant.

Zambia's ruling party: Who will take the helm?

The announcement of Guy Scott as Acting President of Zambia, has been a bone of contention for some sections of society who have different interpretations of the constitution, with some still insisting that Edgar Lungu should have been allowed to continue acting as president until after a new president is elected. Despite the announcement by Acting President Guy Scott that no political meetings/campaigns were allowed during the mourning period – 29 October to 11 November, 2014 – many PF members have been strategically positioning themselves in an attempt to influence the course of the presidential candidacy for the party. Every day of the mourning period has been mired with new twists and turns, each of which seems to create more friction between those aspiring to be adopted as presidential candidates. The political environment boiled over when it was announced that Acting President Guy Scott had dismissed Edgar Lungu from his position as PF Secretary-General. The result was spontaneous riots and protests in Lusaka and other PF strongholds, with many others taking to the social media to express and share their dissatisfaction. The internal wrangles and divisions within the ruling PF government are a source of concern for Zambians, the majority of whom appear to feel that the mourning period of the late president should be respected.

There are leaders within the PF government who are frequently mentioned in the media as potential presidential candidates. Edgar lungu, who, in addition to party Secretary-General, serves as Minister of Defence and Minister of Justice, seems to be the favorite to be adopted for the presidential by-election. Others hopefuls are former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, former Defence Minister Geoffrey Mwamba, Chishimba Kambwili, Miles Sampa, and Mulenga Sata, the Mayor of Lusaka. However, the succession process is reportedly being marred by underhanded methods by outside forces like Fred Mmembe, editor and owner of The Post newspaper, with editorial attacks against PF leaders such as Finance Minister Chikwanda, Chishimba Kambwili and Edgar Lungu. According to most media reports, Fred Mmembe is believed to be supporting former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, and is using Acting President Guy Scott as an important player in the king-making games.

These succession games provide an opportunity for the opposition to take advantage of the situation. The main opposition is already known, with the United Party for National Development (UPND) President, Hakainde Hichilema, being seen as the major threat to the still unknown candidate from the PF. The other opposition will be from the former ruling party, Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), with its president, Nevers Mumba, who still has to overcome internal wrangles within his party. Other opposition parties that might have an influence on the next Zambian president include Elias Chipimo Jr. and his National Restoration Party (NAREP), and Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) President Edith Nawakwi. If the opposition wins the upcoming presidential by-election, there will be more twists and turns, given that there is no major opposition in parliament. While the UPND have 32 members of parliament and the MMD has 37, the ruling PF has 78, the rest being independent members of parliament.

The question is whether the candidate to be adopted by the PF will have enough time to sell his/her vision to the electorate, or will have to rely on the spillover effects of the late President Sata’s legacy to attract sympathy votes. The succession games provide a lot of talking points in predicting who the next President of Zambia will be. We wait for more revelations after the burial of the late President Michael Sata, may his soul rest in peace.

08 November, 2014

Reflections on Botswana's 2014 General Election

by Hussein Solomon

On 24th October 2014, more than 680,000 Batswana went to the polls out of 824,000 registered voters and in a population of two million. Voters had a choice between 192 candidates for 57 seats in parliament. The result was an eleventh straight victory for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) of President Ian Khama, which has been governing the southern African country since independence in 1966. The BDP captured 37 of the 57. In other words, the BDP secured 64.9 percent representation in parliament.

President Ian Khama (Photo: GovernmentZA)

Whilst at face value, this might appear as the trouncing of the political opposition, in reality the BDP’s vote share fell for the first time in its history below half - to 46.7 percent. What accounts for the almost twenty percent difference between the popular vote and the BDP’s representation in parliament is the first-past-the-post electoral system which institutionalizes a winner-takes-all system. To put it differently, 25 of the 57 MPs elected secured less than 50 percent of the vote. As a result there has been a call for this first-past-the-post system to be discarded and replaced with a proportional representation electoral system which is intrinsically more democratic. Despite these calls to ditch the existing system, the major stumbling block is the intransigence of the BDP to change the current system – a system which they draw benefit from.

Despite the inequities of the current system, the political opposition in the form of the Botswana National Front, the Botswana People’s Party and the Botswana Movement for Democratic Change, have made tremendous political progress. These parties contested the elections under the banner of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and managed to secure 30 percent of the popular vote, giving them 17 seats in parliament. This is the highest number of seats any opposition political party managed to secure since independence. If the UDC could forge an alliance with the opposition Botswana Congress Party which secured 19.6 percent of the popular vote in the next election then the political ascendancy of the BDP will end. One of the fault lines which has been highlighted in the October 2014 elections is the rural-urban divide with the ruling BDP maintaining its support in the rural parts of the country whilst the opposition has been making significant inroads amongst the educated middle classes in the urban areas.

As President Khama’s second and final term will end in March 2018, 18 months before elections are due in 2019, the next elections in the country will be most interesting.

06 November, 2014

Districtization in Lesotho: A Desperate Pre-Election Move

by M. K. Mahlakeng

As in most countries, when elections approach, the political sphere becomes interesting. Either because of the war of words between contenders, or maybe because this is the only time civil society feels involved in the political life of a country. It is commonplace that in many democracies and political circles around the World during this period, politicians vie for electoral support by “promising the most benefits from the public treasury”, as Alexander Tyler puts it. And politicians go directly at each other.

Nonetheless, it becomes worrisome when statements are issued or used in a careless racial, tribal and/or ethnic manner in a desperate attempt to win electoral support. This limits the political literacy of the electorate to racial, tribal and/or ethnic lines, and subsequently endangers the political existence on which the well-being of a great many citizens rely, and reduces the mere national allegiance of citizens to racial or tribal allegiance. This is an evident cause of many African intra-state conflicts.

Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Thesele
‘Maseribane; Prime Minister, Tom Thabane and Lesotho Mounted Police
Service (LMPS) Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.

In Lesotho, a homogeneous country with ten districts, where ethno-linguistic structure consists almost entirely of Basotho, an estimated 99.7% of the people identify as Basotho. There remains, however, another form of division. Politically, the national allegiance of citizens tends to be reduced to a small sector of the country (i.e. districts), and popular support is contested and divisions are created on the basis of districts. “Districtization” has become an instrument for electoral support and also a threat to communal peace and stability. This is a phenomenon with serious implications for the future political literacy and stability of Lesotho.

On the 31st October, Prime Minister Thabane, during the (re)opening ceremony of a national referral hospital, Queen Elizabeth II, seized the opportunity to districtize the crisis that led to the closure of the hospital some three years earlier. The 100 year-old hospital had experienced undeniably serious challenges, hence its closure. For instance, the hospital had a severe shortage of basic drugs; it lacked crucial equipment like the CT-Scan, and at times had been forced to suspend surgical operations because of power outages and the malfunctioning of some diagnostic machines. Furthermore, it was short-staffed due to the fact that doctors and nurses were faced with poor working conditions and uncompetitive salaries; and, in many instances, patients were forced to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding and a lack of beds.

In his statement the PM argued that “the closure was political and meant to punish Maseru residents who have been voting overwhelmingly for the All Basotho Convention (ABC) since the party’s formation in 2006 … the person who led government when the hospital was closed is not from Maseru (but Qacha’s Nek District); I strongly believe this hospital was only shut down for political reasons, not that it was too old”. This is despite the fact that such problems still existed in the hospital while he served as a minister in numerous portfolios during the administration of his predecessor.

01 November, 2014

Clickbait and Stereotypes: Media Coverage of the DR Congo

by Virgil Hawkins

On 31 October, Reuters released an article headlined “Congo crowd kills man, eats him after militant massacres: witnesses”. The killing was reported as being motivated by revenge for a series of attacks and massacres perpetrated by the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) – the victim was apparently suspected of belonging to this rebel group. The incident was described in just one-fifth (roughly 100 words) of the article, with a single reference stating that the victim's corpse had allegedly been eaten, according to “witnesses”. The vast majority of the article, however (roughly 400 words) is not about this apparent killing. It instead details the recent movements (primarily political and military) related to the conflict between the ADF-NALU and the DRC government.

The article in question

The term clickbait – the misleading use of a provocative or sensationalist title aimed at enticing readers to click on a link – comes to mind, although the article does, in part, cover the actual event the headline mentions. But given the brevity of the description, and the fact that the incident is substantiated only by unnamed and unspecified “witnesses”, one is tempted to question not only the dubious use of the headline, but also how well the facts were actually checked in this case. It is certainly clear that the article was rushed through the editing process – at one point, for example, the rebels are referred to as ADF-NAUL, rather than ADF-NALU.

The Reuters story was picked up by Yahoo!, and the response (at least on the US edition of the site) was overwhelming. In just 12 hours, the article had attracted 6,448 comments. Glancing through these, one struggles to find a single comment that is even vaguely thoughtful, that attempts to seriously discuss the issues raised in the article, questions its validity, or addresses anything in the article apart from the alleged incident of cannibalism. The vast majority of the comments would fit neatly into one (or more) of the following themes: pure racism (Africans/black people have not evolved, and cannibalism is something that they generally do); genocide (sealing off the entire continent and destroying it, or leaving it to its 'fate'); colonial apologism (this is what happens when you take away white European leadership and give them independence); patronizing charity fatigue/resignation (you try to help these people, but this is what they go and do); and obscene attempts at humour (primarily related to cannibalism).

Other recent articles describing the same conflict that were written by news agencies and had been picked up by Yahoo! (US edition), were, perhaps quite predictably, incomparable in terms of the readers' response. One article by AFP, for example, published two weeks earlier describing a massacre of women and children in eastern DRC by the same rebel group attracted just 10 comments in total – those comments were similarly themed to those mentioned above. The responses of Yahoo! readers to the mention of violence in Africa on the whole seem to be primarily based on knee-jerk racism and stereotyping at a grand continental level, and almost invariably include a degree of genocidal thoughts and apparent colonial nostalgia. Add a brief mention of a single incident of cannibalism that may or may not have actually happened, and all this is confirmed and amplified with great vigour. While the article in question did go on to explain some of the issues associated with the conflict, in opening it played to the lowest common denominator, and this denominator turned out to be disturbingly low.

Racism is a product of ignorance, among other factors, and, given the chronic lack of information offered by the news media about Africa in general, the fact that ignorance prevails on such a large scale should not seem surprising. The little information provided about the conflict in the DRC in particular, combined with its unparalleled scale, makes it the greatest stealth conflict in the world today. But it is more than just the lack of information – it is also about the lack of balance in the little information that is provided. And this is not only an issue of balance between 'bad news' and 'good news' (something that is indeed lacking). Consideration must also be given to the balance between brief throwaway journalism (that tends to play to already entrenched stereotypes), and detailed, comprehensive and thoughtful journalism.

Horrible atrocities are a part of any armed conflict – indeed armed conflicts are by definition horrible atrocities. But as those in the journalism industry and academia calling for 'conflict sensitive journalism' and 'peace journalism' teach us, there is so much more to conflict than expressions of violence that needs to be told by the news media. Armed conflict is a complex social phenomenon, and understanding it involves getting to know the root causes (including social, economic and political inequalities), the belligerents (including their motives and objectives), the suffering of its victims, and efforts aimed at reaching a peaceful settlement, among many other aspects. The news media rarely get this balance right, but they certainly tend to do a better job for conflicts that are not occurring in Africa than those that are.

Reuters (and Yahoo!) can do better than this, and, judging by the disturbing array of comments posted in response to this article, so can the casual observer of armed conflict and atrocities.

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.

30 September, 2014

The Comoros Islands: Interlinked Domestic, Regional and Global Security Issues

by Virgil Hawkins

Don't be fooled by the relatively small size of the country, and its virtual absence from media coverage and discussions on peace and security in the region and beyond. The Comoros archipelago, situated in the Mozambique Channel, has a host of complex security issues that make it very relevant.

The Comoron capital, Moroni

Ostensibly freed from French colonial rule in 1975, the independence of the Comoros did not exactly signify a clean break. One of the four islands of the archipelago (Mayotte, or Mahoré) voted in a controversial referendum in 1974 to remain under French rule. As the United Nations granted membership to the Comoros, its General Assembly also recognized Comoran claims to the island. France has ignored the resolution. Since independence, the Comoros has experienced at least twenty coups and attempted coups. Four of these were led by French mercenary, Bob Denard, who, at least initially acted with the tacit support of the French government. The latest coup attempt, in April 2013, involved French mercenary Patrick Klein, who worked under the now late Bob Denard.

But it is not just such meddling by the French government and some of its citizens that has threatened the stability of the Comoros. With three islands under the control of the government (Grand Comore, Moheli and Anjouan), the country has always been faced with the challenge of maintaining unity and the perception of an even balance of power. Coups have resulted from frustration that power has been unfairly concentrated on the largest island, Grand Comore, as have a number of separatist attempts by the islands of Moheli and Anjouan, the latest of which was eventually crushed with the aid of an intervention by African Union forces in 2008. A new constitution in 2001 created the Union of the Comoros, giving greater autonomy to each of the islands.

The island remaining under French rule, Mayotte, is now a French Overseas Department, and an outermost region of the European Union. It also hosts a detachment of the French Foreign Legion. Thanks to French financial assistance, the island has a per-capita GDP that is ten times greater than the other islands of the archipelago. This huge gap in wealth and has resulted in waves of largely illegal migration from the Union of the Comoros to Mayotte (a visa is required), with people seeking jobs, medical care, and/or a generally better life. As a representative of the Comoran Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted, “poverty knows no borders”. Thousands have died in unsuccessful attempts to reach Mayotte by boat. Mayotte also appears to be serving to some degree as a hub for the smuggling of drugs destined for Europe.

A billboard in Moroni: "Mayotte is Comoran and forever will be"

As if these problems were not enough, the threat of Somali piracy, thankfully now in decline, also reached the Mozambique Channel and Comoros. Understandably complicated relations between Comoros and France were set aside to overcome this issue, with a military cooperation agreement reached between the two countries, aimed at enhancing the protection of the territorial waters of Comoros.

The issue of a potential 'terrorist threat' (the particular variety perceived as being connected to Islamic extremism) is also being raised, both within and outside of the Comoros. The country, in which as much as 99 percent of the population belongs to the Muslim faith, has not had a past associated with Islamic extremism or connections with international 'terrorism'. A poll of gender experts, for example, found Comoros to be the best country in the Arab world to be a woman. But the fact that many Comoran students have been undertaking religious studies in countries that do face issues of Islamic extremism – a number of Gulf states, Pakistan and Sudan, for example – has been giving some cause for concern. It is worth noting that Al Qaeda's former top commander in East Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, was of Comoran origin.

From a slightly broader perspective, it is interesting to note that, for a variety of geopolitical reasons, the Comoros and the Western Indian Ocean region at large have been increasingly attracting the attention of many of the world's powerful players. The ever-present French relationship aside, development aid is naturally one of the manifestations of the interest of other powers. China has a long history of aid to the Comoros, for example, and this has recently included a large-scale malaria eradication scheme. India keeps a close watch on China's influence in the region (it has listening stations in Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles), and has stepped in with with soft loans for development projects. Gulf states are also stepping up their assistance, with Qatar opening an embassy in the capital, Moroni, in August 2014. Closer to home, Tanzania, which has significant historical and cultural ties with the country, also established an embassy in 2013.

With such interconnected domestic, regional and global peace and security issues, we would do well to include the Comoros in our consideration of the region. Last week, it was announced, without a reason being given, that legislative elections scheduled for December this year, were being postponed by three months. Let's hope it is a simple technicality and not a sign of any further political instability on the archipelago.

18 September, 2014

Political Opposition in SA Unites

by Hussein Solomon

There is a welcome new political maturity amongst South Africa’s political opposition which is a positive development. Following general elections earlier this year, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) appointed its National Chairperson, Ms. Baleke Mbete as the new Speaker of parliament. Eyebrows were raised since whilst the Speaker does emanate from the majority party, s/he is expected to stand above party politics and for this reason is not usually a party leader. Instead, the Speaker is expected to maintain the integrity of Parliament and stand above the fray of party politics.

President Zuma with Ms. Baleke Mbete (Photo: GCIS)

At the time of her appointment, then, speculation was rife amongst analysts that the reason for her deployment to Parliament had a lot to do with the perception amongst ANC leaders that she must go to Parliament to stifle dissent amongst ANC back-benchers and to muzzle the opposition. Indeed, the ANC had a torrid time in the previous National Assembly when cabinet ministers were taken to task by members of the political opposition and shown wanting. Meanwhile, ANC back-benchers walked out on key votes threatening the ANC’s majority. Ms. Mbete’s second tenure as Speaker proved pundits right. She has attempted to shield the executive from criticism whilst stifling debate on crucial questions. At the same time, she proved to have a rather thin skin when faced with probing questions regarding her own conduct. This is an unfortunate character trait in a Speaker of Parliament. At the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that the street brawl tactics of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) merely added fuel to the fire.

Given Ms. Mbete’s repeated attempts to shield the executive from scrutiny, members of the opposition decided that there was far more at stake than their personal egos and the changing fortunes of their respective political parties. What was at stake was nothing less than the future of South Africa’s constitutional democracy. At its core was a system of checks and balances with Parliament holding the executive to account for its actions and any abuses of power. Unfortunately the abuse of power seems to be characterizing the Zuma Administration and therefore there is a desperate need for a robust Parliament to play its role of watch-dog with tenacity.

As such the political opposition decided to unite in an effort to protect the integrity of Parliament and our constitutional democracy and call for a vote of no-confidence in the Speaker. Whilst a united opposition certainly do not make up the votes necessary to oust Ms. Mbete, given the ANC’s majority, it surely must be a wake-up call to the ANC. More importantly, its presages a new political maturity amongst the political opposition to make common cause in defence of South Africa’s hard-won democracy.

03 September, 2014

Another False Coup: Tom Thabane's Inevitable Loss of Power

by M. K. Mahlakeng

“I have been removed from control by the armed forces”
PM Tom Thabane, eNCA News, 29th August 2014

“I am in South Africa visiting my daughter and would return to Lesotho on Sunday” 
PM Tom Thabane, BBC News, 30th August 2014

These two statements issued by Lesotho's Prime Minister present a contradiction, and serve to question whether an intervention is necessary. In definitional terms, a coup is a “sudden, violent and illegal seizure of power from government, and it is often broadcasted announcing a shift of power into the hands of the military etc.” Thailand serves as a classical example. None of the actions by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) are tantamount to what a coup really is. The cause and the epicentre of the current standoff is the PM. The military has done nothing wrong so far.

There is no doubt that Lesotho has had its fair share of political instabilities. The classification of certain recent political crises as coups, however, has been used as a systematic attempt to muddy the waters, compromising the concerns of the opposition, thus inviting the Big Brother to mediate not on the concerns of civilians, but on the concerns related to securing its interests and those of the ruling parties. Hence the PM requested the deployment of troops in the country. This was a similar case to the 1998 bungled Operation Boleas which saw Lesotho in socio-economic ruins.

Thabane is confronted with fears emanating from two inevitable scenarios: 1) the fear of re-opening parliament and facing a no-confidence vote from a grand coalition of parties; and, 2) the fear that he might lose in elections considering his declining popularity. Therefore, in an effort to secure power, Thabane has resorted to an authoritarian style of leadership and has turned the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) into a security institution for his All Basotho Convention (ABC).

Prime Minister Tom Thabane

The PM has on recent occasions used the police force as his personal agency to threaten and intimidate members of society (this includes members of the opposition and the military). It was later discovered that the PM intended to use the police to distribute arms and ammunition to his ABC-allied youth movement, Under the Tree Army (UTTA), to destabilise an intended peaceful march by members of the opposition on 1 of September proposing for the re-opening of parliament. Hence a pre-emptive disarmament and barricade of police stations to stem this flow of weapons. With the police losing sovereignty at the hands of political actors, the military as the last agency mandated to ensure peace and security had the right to intervene. Also as argued by the military spokesperson Captain Ntoi, “the army is empowered to prevent terrorism, internal disorder and threats to essential services”.

Thabane must refrain from unilateralism when dealing with crucial national decisions, especially in a coalition government expected to engage in consensus-based politics. Secondly, parliament must resume in order to chart the way forward for Lesotho’s leadership and governance. Thirdly, both security agencies must disengage themselves from the political spheres of the country, only assisting in maintaining order where national security is threatened.

02 September, 2014

President Mugabe's Media 'Freedom'

by Leon Hartwell

The media has an imperative role to play in shaping the societies in which we live. In 1994, the year South Africa became a democracy, then President Nelson Mandela stated, “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference … It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”

On the 18th of August 2014, Angela Jimu, a photojournalist with the Zimbabwe Mail, was beaten up by police while covering a demonstration in Harare. In Zimbabwe, such attacks against independent journalists and the media have become normalised.

In 1980, then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was asked by the Swedish magazine Contact whether he would permit “an open, critical press”. He replied, “Yes, sure. This you will see, quite a lot of open criticism in the press. I am for the freedom of the press, really, freedom of expression.”

Newspaper printing press in Bulawayo (Photo: David Brewer)

Looking back at Mugabe’s time in office, the nonagenarian has not been the champion of media freedom that he set out to be. His actions speak louder than his words and there have been many similar and worse violations against media practitioners than that of Jimu’s most recent assault.

One of Mugabe’s problems is that he confuses independence with freedom. He likes to refer to himself and his party members as “liberators” of Zimbabwe. Let us be clear: independence is strictly speaking self-governance and sovereignty over a specific territory. Freedom is much more extensive; it involves “the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government”.

Mugabe’s interpretation of liberation gives him the impression that it is somehow justifiable to oppress Zimbabweans as long as the oppressor is a native of the country (although Mugabe would exclude White natives from this category). However, as explained, true liberation and freedom is much broader than independence as it goes beyond self-rule. Freedom means that Zimbabweans should not be oppressed by anyone, irrespective of the origin of the rulers.

Political scientists claim, as is the case with milk, that political leaders run the risk of becoming ‘sour’. The shelf-life of a president/prime minister is typically ten years (or even shorter). In a (pseudo) democracy, a leader that performs well, have nothing to worry about (unless there are two-term office limits) as voters would presumably affirm a leader’s good work by voting for him/her. But, when a leader is incompetent or cruel and consequently unpopular, they might use a combination of bribes, threats, or violence in order to cling on to power, further augmenting the souring process. The longer a non-performing leader (intent on staying in office) stays in power, the more mistakes he/she is apt to make, the more he/she has to hide, the more people he/she will owe, the more violence he/she needs to use, the more he/she will have to subdue the truth.

As Mugabe and his cronies became sourer, the Zimbabwean media became more critical about their activities. In response, the regime increasingly clamped down on their ability to report without fear or intervention.

Based on Mugabe’s wrongful interpretation of ‘liberation’ (i.e. self-rule/sovereignty), he also set out to ‘liberate’ the media. The 1980s kicked off by replacing a largely White (minority) dominated media, not with a Black (majority) dominated media geared to serve the public interest, but with a pro-Mugabe/ZANU media. Already in 1981, the then editor of the Manica Post, Jean Maitland-Stuart, was forced to resign after she criticised the use of North Korean experts to train the notorious Fifth Brigade (which was used during the Gukurahundi Massacres). In 1985, the first Black editor of the Sunday Mail, Willie Musarurwa, was also fired after reporting on financial scandals related to Air Zimbabwe. Such early examples should have served as a warning as to future prospects for the media.

From 2000 onwards, Mugabe’s regime introduced numerous pieces of legislation with the intent of further restricting media freedom and freedom of expression. In 2002 alone, ZANU-PF introduced three infamous media gag laws, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and the Broadcasting Service Act (BAZ).

With the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2009, media reform was supposed to have been a priority. Initially the Movement of Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) promoted some reforms, but as time went by they became less vocal about the issue. It might have to do with the fact that independent media stopped treating the MDC-T as the underdog outside of government. This meant that the MDC-T, as is the case for ZANU-PF, had to be scrutinized where they made mistakes and when they failed to deliver. Tsvangirai apparently disliked this and wanted the media to treat him and his party with kid gloves. In fact, his aides have on a few occasions threatened and even physically assaulted journalists.

Another reason why the MDC-T perhaps failed to push for media reform, is because there were some slight changes within the media environment, giving the (wrongful) impression that progress has been made. For example, during the GNU years, ZANU-PF licensed five new newspapers, including the Daily News and NewsDay, under the punitive AIPPA.

While the launch of these newspapers was important, they could only reach a limited (largely urban) public as newspapers continue to be expensive for the majority of Zimbabweans. Radio and television therefore remain the most important media to reach the Zimbabwean public. This is why ZANU-PF clings on to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Commission (ZBC) and would only license new radio stations operated by Mugabe’s cronies.

While there were no new independent television stations launched in Zimbabwe during the GNU years, ZANU-PF allowed the entry of two new radio stations into the market, including ZiFM (owned by ZANU-PF’s Supa Mandiwanzira) and StarFM (owned by Zimpapers, ZANU-PF’s chief mouthpiece).

To be clear, there were several anti-ZANU-PF representatives that had some air time on ZiFM and StarFM, perhaps more so than ZBC. This serves to give the illusion that these radio stations are somewhat objective. But, by and large, these radio stations are pro-ZANU-PF. They allow Zanu-PF to set the agenda and public discourse at the expense of the opposition and other alternative viewpoints. Closer to elections, they also become more political.

As a result of the lack of reforms during the GNU years, ZANU-PF continues its hegemonic hold over public discourse. The big loser, of course, is the media and, ultimately, also the Zimbabwean public. The role of the media is to speak truth to power and to keep the public informed. When governments interfere with the media, the latter loses its value.

Thirty four years after Zimbabwe’s independence and his interview with Contact, Mugabe continues to rule a broken nation. Mugabe could have used the media to promote liberal values and to do nation building, he could have asked the media to promote reconciliation and to report the truth. Yet, he has chosen not to. The nonagenarian (and his inner circle) has been in power for so long that he needs a media that will only tell the public what he wants them to believe. Public information then becomes lies (or at the very least half-truths), all to serve the ruling elite. It is in this context that ordinary journalists, like Angela Jimu, will continue to be victims of a ruling elite, which ‘expired’ a long time ago.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

29 August, 2014

Deception or Disclosure? Political Developments in Zambia

by Maximilian Mainza

Deception is the livelihood of the political system. A system which claims to work for the best interests of the people, while in fact largely working for corporate special interests, is riddled with deception strategies. The deception strategies of false promises, false enemies, pushing the fear button, hidden agendas and general secrecy are a common age old, worldwide problem. The political system, with great help from mainstream media, is designed, it would seem, to foster mass deception rather than expose it. Its success has led to more corruption, war, economic catastrophe and oppression than any other single cause. Deception depends on the notion that because while you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool most of the people most of the time, with the right political 'skills'.

Many politicians are guided by Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous work, the Prince, in which he wrote a concise guideline for how to attain power and how to keep it using deception. A good example is Vladimir Lenin’s rise to power and consolidation of his and the communist party’s iron grip over the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution, to a degree using force, but also in large part using the fog of deception. It was he who gave the world this quote: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth”.

However, for a healthy democracy, disclosure of issues that have an impact on the people is important because with access to the truth, they lack the tools with which to make their decisions. They can be easily controlled by politicians who effectively use deception to hoodwink the masses into supporting him and his positions. But how far does this need for the truth apply? The degree to which the disclosure to the public of the health status of a president of a country, for example, has been the subject of intense debate. Over the past century, the health of presidents had become a political as well as a medical issue. The perceived political consequences of disclosing a president's medical problems have sometimes conflicted with the public's concern for accountability and openness. Some presidents choose to keep their incurable diseases secret, while other presidents have advocated full disclosure.

In Zambia recently, there has been a public outcry about the health of his Excellency President Michael Chilufya Sata. On 22 June, 2014, the Zambian government announced that President Sata was in Tel Aviv Israel on a working holiday. According to the government, the president was in Israel at the invitation of out-going Israeli President His Excellency Mr. Shimon Peres. However, at that time President Shimon Peres was reportedly on his way to the United States of America. The Israeli media reported that President Sata was admitted for treatment at Sheba Medical Centre. The Zambian Government, however, insisted that the President was on working holiday in Israel. President Michael Sata returned from Israel on the 5th July and is said to have celebrated his 77th birthday with friends and family on 6 July.

President Sata: Healthier days

On 14 July, 2014, State House released images of President Sata chairing a cabinet meeting after an absence from the public eye for over 20 days. However, some sections of society are not convinced with the still picture which was released. The United Party for National Development (UPND) has cast doubt on the authenticity of the still pictures of President Michael Sata chairing a Cabinet meeting. UPND Vice President Dr. Banda said that State House should have released motion pictures or invited different media organizations for a press conference for the country to be sure that President Sata was well. Some opposition parties and political and human rights activists have been questioning whether the President is fit enough to continue leading the country. They contest that the Zambian government is being selective in its disclosure about the real state of the health of the President. The view by these activists that deception is being used as a tool to keep power by the Patriotic Front (PF) government is evident by the action of a Civil Rights activist Brebner Changala, who petitioned the High Court to constitute a medical board to examine the health of President Sata, a motion which was rejected by the court as frivolous and vexatious.

But most people are still not convinced by the PF Government’s information generated to prove that the President is capable of running the country. They feel that Government is taking advantage of the principle of the confidentiality of health information, to the detriment of the health of the state and its leadership. More recently, President Sata failed to appear to campaign for the PF candidate in parliamentary by-elections held 19 August, and no word has been heard from the President regarding a long-overdue new constitution.

It would be highly desirable that there exist a clear mutual understanding of what health information is expected to be made public and what information, if any, should remain private, for a sitting president, or one who chooses to become a candidate for the presidency. We must consider the fact that anyone can suffer from any diseases, illnesses, and maladies prevalent in our society, but also that leaders may choose to hide or minimize the presence of a disease during their terms, and that some may take advantage of post-term “illness” to go abroad and evade corruption charges. It is clear that the health status of presidents and presidential candidates will continue to attract the strong interest of the media and the public. If anything, the stress associated with the position is likely to increase for the foreseeable future.

The key political question is whether or not the deception strategies used by the PF Government is going to cost them votes in the next general elections in 2016? Because the notion that “while you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool most of the people most of the time, with the right political deception”, can be invalid if the majority of the people could see the truth and would rise up on election day, peacefully removing the ruling party from power.

13 August, 2014

Inga 3 and Beyond

by Hussein Solomon

I was first introduced to the amazing hydro-electrical potential of the Democratic Republic of the Congo almost a decade ago when a South African company brought me in as a consultant. The idea was to tap into the waters of the Inga River and bring this hydro-electrical power into energy-starved South Africa. To put matters into perspective the Grand Inga Plan aims to generate 40,0000 Mega Watts (MW) of power – enough energy its proponents argue to not only benefit southern Africa but also Sub-Saharan Africa.

Inga Dam (Photo: Alaindg)

Clearly, without reliable energy sources, prospects of large-scale industrial and agricultural projects in Africa will remain unrealized. The Inga River which is the second-largest river in the world by volume could then play a key role alleviating Africa’s energy deficit. Following years of vacillation, given the insecurity plaguing the country, there seems to be some positive forward movement. The approval by the World Bank of a US $70 million technical feasibility study is not only important in its own right but a positive signal to the private sector and individual countries to also get involved. South Africa, given its own energy woes was quick to sign an agreement with the DRC to buy much of the energy generated.

All this is quite positive but much more needs to be done. In the first instance, insecurity in the Congo needs to end and this entails not only an end to hostilities and an end to foreign interference (Rwanda comes to mind) but also better governance on the part of the Kabila regime and greater responsiveness to the needs of ordinary citizens. To put it frankly, mechanisms needs to be set in place that the economic windfall of the country’s hydro-electrical power benefits ordinary Congolese. In addition, in order to ensure private investors are attracted to this project, the issue of corruption needs to be tackled head-on. The DRC has the potential to transform itself from being the “Heart of Darkness” into a beacon of hope for the region and the continent.

22 July, 2014

Malawi at Fifty: Celebrating Independence Amidst Political and Socio-Economic Anxieties

by Harvey C.C. Banda

On 6th July 2014 Malawi clocked fifty years since the attainment of independence from her former colonial master, Britain. As is the case in many African countries, scholars have long debated the question of independence - whether or not (in this case) Malawi got genuine independence. The dominant view is that Malawi, just like most African countries, got political and not economic independence! In other words, Africa never got weaned from her ‘colonial master’ mother. A situation that is worse off than the common chicken-chick scenario. Yet even the so-called political independence leaves a lot to be desired: there is a lot of political bickering and undue in-fighting among people who are entrusted with the responsibility to administer development. Shameful indeed. In this article, I take a swipe over Malawi’s fifty year independence period with a view to predict what lies ahead bearing in mind that ‘history repeats itself’. I argue that despite being independent for fifty years, based on what is obtaining on the ground politically and socio-economically, it is as if Malawians have only been independent half that time. Quite amazing!

Around this time last year I authored an article titled ‘Malawi at Forty Nine: Economic Misery or Progress?’ in which I centrally argued that the economic challenges outweighed economic progress, as it were. I went on to argue that the independence celebration period was a moment for deep reflection and not a time for merry-making since there were so many areas which required not just catching up, but literally patching up! For instance, in terms of infrastructural development, Malawi continues to rely on genuine infrastructure that was put in place by the first President, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda (1964 – 1994). It would, therefore, not be far from reality for one to argue that during the silver jubilee independence celebrations in 1989 there was something to showcase, hence to celebrate about. However, this does not mean that everything was rosy. In fact, during this one-party, dictatorial rule Malawi had a bad human rights record where freedom, liberty and fraternity were more of a mere illusion. Yet some of these represented the very foundations on which the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) of Dr. Banda was, arguably, built.

In this article I argue that a year later, Malawi is worse off! Sadly, and realistically though, it is as if you are cycling down-hill and while in motion your brakes snap! There are usually few options in such a hair-splitting scenario: you try to control (merely directing) ‘the now-uncontrollable’ machine while, simultaneously, saying your last prayers just in case of a worst case scenario (death)! The situation that is obtaining in Malawi would be likened to this scenario because, surely, you do not know what the next fifty years will be like. In this case, I have to point out that I am not a pessimist; I am simply being realistic and objective about it. When things are good, tell it; when they are not, they are simply not. Period. This reminds me of the great twentieth century idealist, Woodrow Wilson, who in his wishful thinking, looked at World War One (WWI) as ‘a war to end war’ and, unfortunately, it is common knowledge that the reality was and still is the exact opposite.

One of the notable developments in the history of Malawi is the introduction of multi-party politics and democratic governance in 1994. This actually replaced the once-mighty one party system under the then flamboyant ‘His Excellency, the Life President of the Republic of Malawi, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’ (may his soul rest in peace). It is not surprising that such a personality was associated with all kinds of myths. I remember whenever we were chatting while in junior primary school in the 1980s we used to caution each other “don’t mention the name Ngwazi because he hears every conversation that people make about him and despite your location, you will be arrested by the police and the youth league members”. As if this were not enough, we had youth league members aged over fifty, clearly a propaganda tool! The youth league was in many ways mightier than the police: they could soak someone wet for merely having forgotten to carry an MCP membership card. As if that was not enough, there was also the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) which was more military (at times rivaling the Malawi Army), than its theoretical intention: to impart agricultural skills to a cross-section of the populace.

Things really improved politically after 1994. Malawians became freer than before. They could belong to a political party of their choice. The dominant political parties then were United Democratic Front (UDF) of Bakili Muluzi, Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) of Chakufwa Chihana, and MCP which eventually came under the tutelage of Gwanda Chakuamba and John Tembo, respectively. Although this was the case, democracy, good as it is, came with attendant problems: misinterpretation of human rights and freedoms by Malawians, especially the youth; laziness and dependency syndrome as Malawians relied more and more on handouts from the ruling UDF; and competition amongst the successive political leaders to carve for themselves and their party a lasting political legacy. This seems to be the obsession of most political leaders up to the present day. Unfortunately, it is real time development that suffers since there is no continuity in government ideology and policies, themselves a sure foundation on which lasting development is solidly built. It is partly a result of this that the Karonga-Chitipa tar mac road, which is only 101 kilometres long took more than ten years to complete; again thanks to the timely intervention by the People’s Republic of China.

The same ugly story applies to the education sector. When Bakili Muluzi took over leadership in 1994, he had good intentions of increasing access to tertiary education following the hasty introduction of Free Primary Education. In order to realize this goal, he upgraded Mzuzu Teachers’ Training College (TTC) to university status, in the process establishing Malawi’s second public university, Mzuzu University. The latter opened its doors to students in 1999. On paper the idea was very good. The government was eventually supposed to ‘relocate’ the defunct TTC. Sadly fifteen years down the line construction of this TTC is yet to start! Secondly, Mzuzu University was expected to be permanently located at the much-talked-about Choma Campus. Whole villages were relocated at the site and, alas, fifteen years later the project is still in its infancy as no single block has been erected and the local people are left wondering: ‘why did you move us?’ I wonder if there is any official who can give them a convincing response. When Bingu Wa Mutharika took over leadership in 2004, he abandoned this project and came up with his brainchild: establishing not one, but five public universities. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012 before even one of these became operational.

Following the demise of Bingu Wa Mutharika, Mrs. Joyce Banda took over the Presidency in line with the provision in Malawi’s constitution. Banda was the first lady President and the fourth President since the attainment of independence. Malawians including most people in Africa had high expectations from her leadership. A few months into her tenure things started to improve for the better: fuel crises and maize shortages were a thing of the past. This was in stark contrast to the last years of Mutharika’s rule. However, after barely one year her reign was embroiled in a deep-seated financial mismanagement scam, locally dubbed cash-gate scandal, which actually shook the very foundation on which her political party, the now withering People’s Party (PP), was built. Through this millions of Malawi Kwacha were looted from the government coffers at Capital Hill in Lilongwe. In fact, it was as if there was no one in control: quite reminiscent of the ‘sheep without shepherd scenario’.

To add salt to injury, Banda generally lacked political clout and stamina. No wonder the Tanzanians capitalized on this to claim part of Lake Malawi. The dispute remains unsettled a few years after it erupted. She had also espoused populist politics earlier craftily used by President Bakili Muluzi between 1994 and 2004. She was usually out in the field conducting the so-called development rallies where distributing maize and elevating chiefs became the order of the day. Little did she know that twenty years after the introduction of democracy, Malawians had become politically literate. At this point her Presidency days were numbered. No wonder she performed miserably during elections in May 2014: she came third and her party, PP, won less than 30 seats in a 193-member Parliament. Malawians’ hope is now in the hands of the newly elected President, Professor Peter Mutharika, who has an up-hill task to win the trust of Malawians because of his late brother’s faltering and hovering legacy.

Based on the foregoing discussion, it is clear that the second twenty five years of Malawi’s independence (1989 – 2014) are associated with more problems not only on the political scene, but also on the economic arena. Economically, Malawi started breathing a sigh of relief following the establishment of Kayerekera Uranium Mine in Karonga District around 2009. However, five years later, the mine has majored in retrenching her workers, citing losses on the international market.

Although all is not lost, Malawi’s leadership has to pull a surprise if the current socio-economic and political landscape is to improve. That is why I reiterate my earlier position that the future remains bleak. Malawi needs to overhaul the political engine if this political vehicle is to go another fifty years! This is in line with the old adage ‘unenesko ukubaba’ (truth hurts). I rest my case.