21 February, 2014

Choice of Running Mates: The Folly That is Malawi’s Politics Ahead of 2014 Elections

by Harvey C.C. Banda

Malawi will hold tripartite general elections in May 2014, when Malawians will democratically elect leaders in three positions: the President, Members of Parliament for the constituencies, and Councilors for the various wards. Malawi has been without Councilors for more than ten years. As is the case in most countries, the run-up to the general elections is full of drama, that is, both tragedies and comedies. But suffice to say that the 2014 tripartite elections have broken a record: all the four deemed major political parties (Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the ruling People’s Party (PP), and the once-mighty United Democratic Party (UDF) of former President Bakili Muluzi) have taken their turns in goofing (hitting a snag) when choosing the Presidential running mates. This has been a surprise and a disappointment both to political heavyweights within those parties, who have remained expectant long enough, and to the onlookers and party sympathizers, alike. It is astonishing and paradoxical to note that the so-called briefcase parties have shown maturity and sobriety in choosing Presidential running mates.

The Malawi Congress Party ruled Malawi between 1964 (independence) and 1994 (when Malawi espoused pluralist and democratic politics). Thereafter the affairs of the Government were in the hands of the UDF under Bakili Muluzi. The latter ruled Malawi for a solid ten years and handed over power to Professor Bingu Wa Mutharika in 2004. Immediately after this (in 2005) Mutharika ditched the UDF and formed his own party, the DPP. Despite coming in as a political novice, Mutharika won the hearts of many Malawians, especially during his first term of office (2004 – 2009) to the point that in 2009 he was rewarded with a landslide victory. During this period, Mutharika won accolades and awards at home and abroad for his transformation of Malawi’s weak economy. However, as we are aware, he failed to outlive his second term of office, dying in April 2012.

In 2009 Mutharika handpicked Joyce Banda as his running mate, clearly targeting the female vote as part of his elections strategy. In fact, this paid dividends during the 2009 general elections: as alluded to earlier, the DPP won by a wide margin. Following the demise of Mutharika, Joyce Banda assumed the Presidency in line with the Malawi Constitution. She settled for Khumbo Kachali as her deputy. Kachali comes from the northern region while Banda comes from the southern region.

Just before Mutharika’s untimely death, there was antagonism between the President and his deputy to the extent of the latter forming her own political party thereafter, the flamboyant, but clearly politically-inexperienced PP. In fact, the only major attraction of the PP is its ruling status: the party had no political structures, and a weak support base..

It is worth noting that the ruling PP inherited all the challenges that the DPP and Mutharika left behind. And yet, through thick and thin, the PP has tried to sail through to the 2014 tripartite elections. Joyce Banda has managed to deal with the political storms with Khumbo Kachali by her side.

However, in a sudden twist of events, all in the name of elections strategy, President Joyce Banda has dumped her two-year political partner, Kachali, choosing instead a political 'child', thirty-seven year old Sosten Gwengwe, as her running mate. Gwengwe is nowhere on the list of political heavyweights in Malawi’s politics. It is, therefore, not surprising that Kachali has taken this as a bitter pill to swallow, and was “conspicuously absent” during the (Gwengwe) running mate unveiling ceremony at the prestigious Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, Malawi’s famed commercial city on 13 February 2014.

President Banda and her young running mate (Photo: Maravi Post)

In a related development, the rate of attrition of political heavyweights from the ruling PP is shocking. Recently, Sidik Mia, a political magnet in the Lower Shire Valley (Chikwawa) region dumped the party due to so-called personal reasons. Strictly-speaking, this was a result of political frustration within the party. PP also lost a large number of loyal members over the way it conducted primary elections for Members of Parliament in December 2013. From these elections it was apparent that the people in a constituency had their own choice while the party tried to impose (to no avail) its own favourite, hence massive resignations. Consequently, one is left wondering as to the political stamina that PP still wields ahead of the May elections.

Another shocker in the choice of Presidential running mates is that by the DPP, a party formed and popularized by Bingu Wa Mutharika and now led, somewhat weakly, by his younger brother, Peter Mutharika. The latter on 10 February 2014 unveiled the politically unknown Saulos Chilima, who until his appointment was the Managing Director of mobile phone company Airtel Malawi. One wonders whether the economics attributes that Chilima have are in anyway transferable to Malawi’s politics! This is clearly another choice of a youth as part of the elections strategy.

The last comedy is displayed by the United Democratic Front (UDF). With the latter the opposite is actually true. A youthful Presidential candidate, Atupele Muluzi, son of former President Bakili Muluzi, recently settled for somewhat-aged George Chapola as his running mate. Both (Atupele and Chapola) have glaring political weaknesses, most notably an overall lack of political muscle, so that their pairing up is simply worsening their case as far as the May 2014 Presidential elections are concerned.

The MCP should be accorded the benefit of doubt under the tutelage of Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, who was elected during the fiercely-contested convention held in 2013. The MCP settled for Richard Msowoya, a northerner from Karonga District. Msowoya has worthwhile political mileage having been in politics for quite some time. Chakwera comes from the central region district of Dowa. Bearing in mind that Malawi’s politics is played mainly along regional lines, the MCP has a weak hold in the populous southern region. In this case, the party has to ‘crack its head’ and come up with a befitting political gimmick if it is to sail through the coming elections.

As can be depicted from the foregoing analysis, Malawi’s politics ahead of the May 2014 elections is marked by both tragedies and comedies: tragedies in that the political heavyweights are swept under the carpet in favour of what one might call ‘political toddlers’. All this is in the name of trying to secure the ‘youth’ vote. In the process potential political parties are, simply put, crumbling just before the elections (i.e. self-orchestrated defeat); comedies in that the whole process lacks seriousness and, therefore, displays political mediocrity of the highest order. This would be equated to junior primary school pupils doing stage-acting (playing adult roles, for example, in cooking, parenting, etc, what is locally dubbed vidimbiko in Chitumbuka (the popular language of northern Malawi) and masanje (in Chichewa of central Malawi))!

Ever heard of a dictum ‘politics is a crazy game’? If the answer is no, come to Malawi ahead of the general elections: crazy politicians busily making crazy decisions!

12 February, 2014

Mozambique Made by Japan: Reflections on the Japanese Prime Minister's Visit to Mozambique

by Constancio Nguja

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his first visit to Mozambique from 11 to 12 January, 2014. According to the Mozambican news agency AIM, the visit aimed at strengthening bilateral relations. During his stay in Mozambique, Abe signed a number of instruments covering the areas of agriculture, education and energy.

Since Mozambique discovered gas and is already exploiting coal, the Japanese government has redefined its interests in that country, by including the energy sector as one of the top priorities of its bilateral relations. A number of Japanese corporations have stakes in the energy sector: Mitsui & Co. in the gas fields, and Nippon Steel in the coal mines, the latter planning to start production in 2016. Japan has announced loans to Mozambique for transport and other infrastructure projects, in excess of 572 million USD. Many of these projects will support the Japanese business interests.

The Mozambican Government’s perception of the visit
In 2009, the Director for Asia and Pacific at the Mozambican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Maria Gustava, said that the cooperation between Mozambique and Japan was positive and was reflected in the Japanese assistance to Mozambique in the areas of health, education, agriculture, trade and investment, education and training of human resources. She also highlighted the progress of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) cooperation.

The Japanese Embassy in Maputo

During Abe’s visit to the country, the President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, said that the foundations for a more intense interaction and bilateral cooperation between Mozambique and Japan have been laid since the establishment of diplomatic relations in January 1977. The Embassy of Mozambique was opened in Tokyo in November 1993, followed by the opening of the Japanese Embassy in Maputo in 2000.

In summary, the government of Mozambique welcomed the visit of the Prime Minister of Japan, pointing out the examples of food aid, the Pro-Savanna program, the program of Japanese volunteers, as well as programs and projects for the improvement and expansion of the infrastructure network as the rehabilitation of the Nacala Port and the Road linking Nampula to Cuamba, in the Northern region of the country.

The implications of the first visit of a Japanese Prime Minister to Mozambique and recent Japanese policies towards the country, are being heavily criticised, however, by sectors linked to Mozambican agriculture, as being dangerous and imperial. To many Japan is being seen as implementing a colonial policy in the sector of agriculture in Mozambique. The criticism has much to do with the Pro-Savanna agricultural project, to be implemented in the northern Mozambican provinces of Niassa, Nampula and Zambezia and covering an area of 11 million hectares.

For some civil society organizations (CSOs), the Pro-Savanna project will increase pressure on the land, will enable the expropriation of the land of local farmers, and increase the risk of forced resettlement (as has been witnessed with other mega-projects, namely coal mining in Tete province). It is seen as something that will destroy livelihoods, cultural heritage and water resources. CSOs look at the project as a great threat to human security.

Apart from the fact that the interests of local communities are largely being ignored, there are also those that claim that the Pro-Savanna project is not complying with what is stated in the Environmental Impact Assessment, among other related issues.

The way forward
The text above provides a brief outline of the relations between Japan and Mozambique, as well as the significance of the visit and the Japanese Prime Minister in different sectors in Mozambique. Moreover, the negative views of certain social sectors around the Japanese investments and interests have their antecedents. These have to do with the feelings of exclusion that these sectors harbour regarding the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. In other words, as is the case with Japanese policies in Mozambique, criticism will certainly arise against any foreign investment that does not give sufficient consideration to the rights of local populations as it pursues its interests. Having said that, the protection of the local population is priimarily the task of the Mozambican government, rather than of outside governments or corporations. States and corporations act according to their own interests, and thus at times inevitably ignore moral values and principles.

For the Mozambican government, there is need to design and publish plans for the exploitation of national resources taking into account the inclusion of all social sectors. In an earlier article, I mentioned that the current political tension prevailing in Mozambique has to do with the feeling of exclusion that RENAMO (the main opposition political party) holds regarding the dividends arising from the exploitation of natural resources in Mozambique. Dealing with such feelings of exclusion and exploitation is something that must be made a high priority of the Mozambican government, if it is to maintain stability and consolidate and expand on the gains it has made so far in terms of development.

Constancio Nguja is a political analyst at the Center for Mozambican and International Studies (CEMO)

11 February, 2014

Gatvol en Vies: Bleak Prospects for South Africa

by Hussein Solomon

Forgive my beginning this column with some Afrikaans expletives. I can, however, think of no other words to express my current state of mind. In my defence, the choice of expletives has lots to do with a certain Black Air Force officer who chose to use Afrikaans expletives during my basic training at the Air Force Gymnasium. According to him, there is no better language as expressive as Afrikaans to curse in. I believe he was right.

My work takes me all over the world and I am always amazed at the beauty of South Africa, the resilience and general friendliness of its citizens and its vast human and natural resources. However this country will not realize its fantastic potential under this ANC government. Three issues illustrate the point well.

First, the country is burning with service delivery protests spanning Hout Bay in the Western Cape to Welkom in the Free State to Zithobeni in Gauteng and to Brits in the North-West. To put it differently, South Africa has experienced 430 service delivery protests over the past year – or a shocking 33 each and every month. What is particularly disconcerting, however, is the government’s inability to accept the obvious – that they are failing South Africa’s long-suffering citizens. Government’s refusal to accept accountability is aptly illustrated by a Gauteng MEC believing some dark machinations are afoot to scuttle the upcoming elections as opposed to citizens’ genuine unhappiness with the state of service delivery and the ANC’s increasingly disappointing track record in governance.

Service delivery protest, Standerton (Photo by Jan Truter)

The refusal to be accountable and therefore responsive to citizens’ needs would, in turn, result in the intensification of such protests. The burning tyres and toyi-toying masses which increasingly has come to characterize South Africa in the international media is a definite turn-off to foreign investors when we desperately need them to fund the goals of the National Development Plan since domestic savings are so paltry.

Second and closely related to the first, service delivery will not improve if the government continues to see local, provincial and national government as part of their ever-widening patronage network – loyal party members being deployed into lucrative government jobs. A case in point is the crisis-prone SABC where the redoubtable Stephen Mulholland has reported that that 60 percent of senior management failed to meet the minimum requirements for senior management. This is also illustrated in the sorry state of affairs at SAA – another albatross around the necks of taxpayers. Despite cash infusions of R16 billion this past 13 years, the national carrier is unable to turn a profit and is now asking for more money whilst fat-cat executives are not punished for their incompetence.

Third, the ANC government has also succeeded in turning South Africans into a nation of takers as opposed to people willing to work hard to build a decent life for their family and the country. This is well illustrated by the 21 million South Africans living off welfare. Far from creating a conducive business environment to get more people into formal employment and thereby growing the dwindling tax base, the ANC government has created a nation of parasites and a culture of entitlement. This is their enduring legacy after two decades in power.

Sadly, we will never realize our vast potential with this corrupt, incompetent government.