14 May, 2014

Zimbabwe's Support for Russia Shortsighted

by Leon Hartwell

An alleged telephone conversation surfaced on YouTube between Igor Chubarov, Russia's ambassador to Eritrea, and Sergei Bakharev, the ambassador to Zimbabwe and Malawi. The 5-minute long discussion started with Chubarov stating; “My congratulations! Your country [Zimbabwe] demonstrated very, let’s say, right understanding of the situation on Ukraine.”

Bakharev immediately replied, “And as for yours [Eritrea], they have surprised us. Are they fucking crazy?” Chubarov then indicated that he was not sure how that happened and expressed his surprise as well. He then exclaimed, “[but] your guys were fucking good. The only one on the continent [to reject the UN’s Resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of the Ukraine]. Oh no, Sudan as well.”

The conversation then continued with a lot of swearing and a couple of jokes about which territories Russia will annex next. Whether the telephone exchange is authentic or not, the truth is that Zimbabwe supported Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

Formal annexation of Crimea (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Resolution 68/262: Territorial Integrity of the Ukraine
On the 27th of March 2014, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 68/262 by a 100-11 vote with 58 abstentions. The Resolution primarily focused on the dubious secession referendum held in Crimea on the 16th of March as well as Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. It called on “states … not to recognize any change in the status of Crimea or the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol...”

States that supported Resolution 68/262 broadly argued that Russia’s intervention in Crimea infringed on Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Those who voted against the resolution included Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. As a whole, taking into consideration their lack of respect for human rights, this is not a group of countries that any state necessarily want to be associated with.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980 and who turned 90 years old in February, is a self-proclaimed supporter of ‘sovereignty’. That begs the question; why does Zimbabwe support Russia’s annexation of Crimea?

Sovereignty is sacrosanct
Mugabe never misses an opportunity to talk about the sacrosanct principle of “sovereignty”, which is exactly what has been violated in Ukraine. The nonagenarian leader has gone as far as rejecting both the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (which promotes intervention) and the International Criminal Court on the pretext that it conflicts with the idea of sovereignty.

At the 66th UN General Assembly in 2011, Mugabe stated: “the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) should not be twisted to provide cover for its pre-meditated abuse in violating the sacred international principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of states because to do so amounts to an act of aggression and destabilization of a sovereign state.”
Mugabe’s statement was in response to UN Resolution 1973, which in 2011 essentially led to the removal of his long-time friend and fellow dictator, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In context though, Resolution 1973 was adopted after Gaddafi labelled protestors “cockroaches” and demanded that his supporters should “cleanse Libya house by house.”

Gaddafi’s language, which was reminiscent of Rwanda’s Hutu regime’s message during the 1994 genocide, suggested that he intended to exterminate a group of people. Despite the wave of killings that Gaddafi unleased on his opposition in Benghazi, Mugabe was angered by NATO’s intervention as this, he argued, challenged state sovereignty.

President Mugabe speaking at the UN (UN Photo/Ryan Brown)

Putin justifying support for Crimea
Fast forward to the 18th of March 2014: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gave an eloquent speech and selectively drew upon history to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

First, Putin referred to the shared history between Crimea and Russia, which helped to soften the idea of a big takeover of the region.

Second, he argued that the Soviet Union’s decision to incorporate Crimea into Ukraine in the 20th century was arbitrary as it “was made behind the scenes”.

Third, Putin portrayed Ukraine’s Euromaidan protestors and their leaders as illegitimate and characterized them as “Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites” with the aim of cloaking Russia’s annexation of Crimea under the pretext of humanitarian intervention.

Fourth, the Russian leader stated that there are many ethnic and linguistic Russians located in Crimea, thereby giving Russia an added purpose to intervene (supposedly) on behalf of their interests.

Fifth, Putin argued that Crimea asked for Moscow’s help to join Russia (although he failed mention that a pro-Moscow armed group took over the parliament building in Crimea which enabled pro-Moscow Crimean MPs to approach Russia for ‘assistance’).

Finally, Russia recognized that 82% of Crimea’s electorate took part in the secession Referendum and 96% of them spoke out in favor of reuniting with Russia, thereby legitimizing the outcome.

Mugabe’s support for Putin’s is unwise
How would Mugabe react should the UK demand intervention in Matabeleland based on the same dubious principles that Putin used for annexing Crimea? Like Russia in relation to Crimea, the UK has a history with Matabeleland. The Russian Empire first annexed Crimea in 1780s, while Britain colonized Southern Rhodesia (which is today known as Zimbabwe) approximately a hundred years later. Still, where do you draw that historical line with regards to territorial boundaries? How far back into history can you possibly go?

Furthermore, Mugabe knows that territorial boundaries are as arbitrary in Africa as it is in Crimea. The Scramble for Africa meant that Africa’s territorial boundaries were created in accordance with the interest of European colonial powers. That is why the Democratic Republic of Congo has over 500 ethnic groups in one territory while the Somali people are scattered all over modern-day Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. The then Organization of African Unity accepted the application of the principle of uti possidetis, which meant maintaining the sanctity of colonial boundaries in an attempt to limit border disputes and to speed up independence. What if Matabeleland today decides that its borders are arbitrary and therefore they should have a secession referendum?

Moreover, as mentioned, Putin tried to build his case by portraying the current Ukrainian government as illegitimate, despite the fact that it came into being as a result of almost three months of protests against Viktor Yanukovych’s draconian regime. What if the UK attempted to justify both intervention and re-colonization of Matabeleland based on the fact that most Zimbabweans speak English, Mugabe is authoritarian, illegitimate, and that his regime has led to the killing of thousands of Zimbabweans?

Based on the above assumptions, imagine if the UK decided to send well-armed groups into Matabeleland to take over government structures and then to support a secessionist referendum where people could vote either to become independent or to join the UK. Voter turnout for a secession referendum in Matabeleland will probably be high. Many people in the region resent Mugabe for generally marginalizing Matabeleland and for Gukurahundi (which lead to the killing of about 20,000 Ndebele).

In short, Russia’s annexation of Crimea is as absurd and unjustifiable as the re-colonization of Matabeleland by the UK would be. Yet, Mugabe supported Putin’s actions in Crimea.

Practicality over principle
Mugabe supported Putin because it is a matter of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. For example, on the 11th of July 2008, Russia and China vetoed sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle responsible for violence, torture and intimidation that preceded the controversial presidential run-off elections on the 27th of June 2008.

Zimbabwe’s objection to Resolution 68/262 was important for Russia in as much as it needed to demonstrate to the Russian public that there was a small group of states that viewed its actions as legitimate. For Mugabe, Russia’s support in the past (and possibly in the future) has been invaluable given that Russia has veto power in the UN Security Council.

As the world is becoming increasingly globalized, international relations matter more and more. Putin violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and in the future this could also have negative impacts in other countries where secessionist movements could demand independence based on some of the same dubious principles. This is arguably why China, Mugabe’s strategic ally, chose to abstain rather than to blatantly reject Resolution 68/262. Mugabe’s regime failed to see the bigger picture. Zimbabwe’s foreign policy stems from the individual interest of Mugabe and his inner circle rather than being based on a strategic approach that serves the country’s long-term national interests.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst

05 May, 2014

Ominous Trends in Run-Up to This Week's SA Elections

by Hussein Solomon

As the country prepares for this week’s elections in which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is to retains its majority, ominous trends have emerged which should concern all democrats.

The Sunday Times newspaper carried an interesting front page story on how police were distributing ANC election t-shirts in official police vehicles. When a journalist snapped photographs of this, police from the VIP protection squad promptly grabbed his phone and deleted the pictures. More than anything else, this incident highlights the illegal use of state resources by the ruling party – where government, state and party are conflated. The longer the ANC remains in government, the more difficult it will be to separate state, government and party interests which holds ominous risks for the country’s floundering democracy. Unlike other countries where incumbent parties have been in power for some time and where an independent civil service has developed which understands the distinction between party and state and is only loyal to the government of the day; in South Africa the ANC has created a politicized civil service.

The ANC emblem

It is politicized since the ANC rewards its loyal cadres with cushy jobs in the civil service. Since skill sets are worth less than political loyalty, incompetence is on the rise in South Africa’s bloated civil service. Such incompetence also translates into greater problems with service delivery fuelling ever more protests which, in turn, threatens South Africa’s stability and, ironically, the ANC’s continued hold on power. Unfortunately, few in the ANC seem to be concerned about the medium to long-term risks of the abuse of state resources and power. Fewer still – seem to have a long-term perspective to governance generally.

Beyond the understanding of sustainable people-centred governance, I think the major issue relates to the ANC viewing themselves less as a political party and more as a revolutionary movement. One should not forget that many senior members in the ANC were trained in the former Soviet Union and East Germany and that communist mindset penetrated the movement’s core: The ANC is the vanguard party, they are the revolutionary party, they represent the people. Conversely anyone who opposed the revolutionary party are counter-revolutionaries, opposed to the peoples’ interests as represented by the ANC. This arrogance of power and that notion that right is on their side bodes ill for the future prospects of democracy in South Africa under the ANC.

What Nelson Mandela's Memorial Service Tells Us About South Africa

by Leon Hartwell

Former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s Johannesburg memorial in December 2013 was in many ways a microcosm of South Africa’s political and economic situation. The events that played out in and around the memorial represented South Africa’s best virtues while flagging a number of challenges that have to be dealt with. Some of these issues will be reflected in upcoming election manifestos as they are seen as imminent. Others might only be confined to footnotes, but they will be equally important for the long-term prosperity of South Africa’s economic and political environment.

The memorial day was characterised by a lot of rain. In many African countries, rain is considered to be a blessing; it symbolises new life and growth. This is very much representative of South Africa, a young democracy with a developing economy. South Africa has lots of prospects, especially given that there is still plenty of scope for the country to grow. Since 1994, the year of the first democratic elections in South Africa, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased by 33%. The end of Apartheid opened up new economic opportunities for local and international businesses and South Africa became more integrated into the world economy.

Rain at the memorial service (photo: GovernmentZA)

Conversely, the expression “a rainy day” also has certain negative connotations to it, as rain could ruin a special day. It reminds us that although there are prospects for hope in South Africa, there will be many spoilers along the way. Even though the overall memorial went rather well, there were several issues that reflected some of concerns that personify the young nation.

Let’s start with the fact that the event was held at the FNB Stadium. It is where Madiba gave his first speech in Johannesburg after he was released from prison in 1990. It has since been upgraded for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, thereby becoming the largest stadium in Africa, attesting to the country’s great achievements in the post-Apartheid era.

Beyond the symbols of greatness, we have to keep in mind that the memorial began one hour late. In economic terms, time costs money and South Africa will have to step it up in order to compete at an international level. Government and businesses will have to become much better with planning and organising their activities. As argued earlier, economically speaking South Africa is moving in the right direction, but it is not happening fast enough. Jac Laubscher recently noted that countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey grew by 114% on average since 1994 (compared to South Africa’s 44% growth over that same period).

There is also a real risk that South Africa’s debt overhang is increasing rapidly and that a serious economic crisis might be looming in South Africa. According to Forbes, the country’s debt has been increasingly rapidly since 2008 and external debt currently stands at $136.6 billion, or 38.2 percent of the GDP and “the highest level since the mid-1980s.” It means that there will have to be major budget cuts in the near future, which will also impact on education, health and the general well-being of the nation, especially the youth.

In this context, it was interesting to note that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was cheered at Madiba’s funeral. Mugabe, who has been responsible for massacring between 10-20,000 Ndebele, the torture of hundreds of people, and the plundering of a once prosperous economy; was warmly welcomed at a memorial service in honour of Madiba, a man who ardently stood for democracy, human rights and peace. Nonetheless, it is quite possible, that Mugabe was cheered by a group of people who were perhaps disillusioned about the lack of economic opportunities in South Africa and who think that Mugabe’s “land-reform programme” was executed in the name of the poor. South Africa’s unemployment rate is 40% and inequality is extremely high (with a Gini coefficient of 0,6 to 0,7). Inequality is arguably one of South Africa’s most dangerous systemic issues that has to be confronted. If the matter is left in the hands of populists (like the Economic Freedom Fighters), the results could be disastrous, as was the case in Zimbabwe.

Related to the above issue, it is not only about what was present at the memorial that is important, but also what was missing. After the memorial, one reporter rightfully noted, “Where were the children? Mandela loved children …But young South Africans did not feature on the programme.” Almost half of the electorate is under 40 years of age while close to 2 million are ‘born frees'. Yet, to be part of the country’s youth is not always easy. South Africa has high levels of youth unemployment, estimated to be 50% and the 3rd highest in the world according to the World Economic Forum. Tough times might be ahead for the economy and this group risk being even further isolated and marginalised. Again, radical political parties could be attractive to this group, given that the youth have ‘nothing to lose’.

Furthermore, while Mugabe was applauded at Madiba’s memorial, President Jacob Zuma was booed when he entered the FNB stadium, whenever his name was mentioned, as well as when he gave his speech. The booing was not an “embarrassment”, as some commentators remarked. Rather, it was a clear expression of the will of the people, something that Madiba (and once also Zuma himself) fought hard for. The booing was a reflection of discontent towards South Africa’s top leader. This is not the same as saying that the African National Congress (ANC) was rejected in total. Other members of the ANC, including former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, were loudly cheered by the same crowd. Even former South African President F.W. de Klerk and US President Barack Obama were cheered. The fact is, many people are fed up with Zuma, and the ANC will lose a lot of votes during the upcoming elections because of him.

The contrasts between Madiba and Zuma are rather remarkable. Madiba publicly regretted not doing enough to tackle HIV/AIDS under his watch, a period marked by a multitude of competing issues all demanding immediate attention. In 2005, Zuma admitted to having unprotected sex with the daughter of a struggle comrade whom he knew was HIV positive and then taking a shower to “cut the risk of contracting HIV.”

Mandela' body lying in state (Photo: GovernmentZA)

Shortly after Madiba became President, he cut his salary by 20%. Furthermore, he donated one-third of his annual salary of ZAR 150,000 to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Last year it was reported that Zuma’s annual salary is ZAR 2,622,561, more than 17 times that of Madiba. Recently, the Public Protector raised serious concerns regarding the enormous costs at the expense of South African taxpayers. Total expenditure for “security” upgrades at Zuma’s private residence has been “conservatively estimated at ZAR 246 million”. Security upgrades at Madiba’s private house has been estimated at ZAR 35 million (compared to ZAR 12 million for Mbeki, and ZAR 236,000 for de Klerk).

During Madiba’s memorial, South Africa’s state media, the SABC, was allegedly ordered not to report the crowd’s booing of Zuma. The great irony is that a free media is something that Madiba cherished deeply. He understood and preached widely about the importance of a free media that is able to keep government on its toes. Censorship of SABC on the day of the memorial is a warning that should a questionable person like Zuma continue to lead the country, there will be more and more political interference in the judiciary, state institutions, media and even the arts. Zuma seems to treat the state coffers as his personal bank account, and gradually South Africa is turning into a Mobutu-like “kleptocratic state”, as was recently argued by Barney Pityana. The fact is that the more elites have to hide, the more they will silence those that are outspoken about it, particularly also institutions that were created to make sure that those in power will not abuse it. Thus, it was not surprising that there was a delay due to political interference (cloaked in a security excuse) of the Public Protector’s report on Zuma’s “opulence”.

As said by Funeka Gingcara-Sithole, an ordinary attendee, "Mandela had a vision, Mandela lived that vision. But what Zuma speaks, he doesn't live …He should do the honourable thing and resign." If Zuma does not resign, he will lead the ANC to a win in the forthcoming election, but it is unlikely that he will complete his second-term in office. In the past, the ANC has demonstrated that it is not scared to get rid of their leaders.

Moreover, it was rather appropriate that Thamsanqa Jantjie, a man with an alleged criminal record and apparently no sign language qualification whatsoever, was the official translator for Madiba’s memorial. The mistranslation of Madiba’s memorial is perhaps emblematic of how some political leaders misunderstand the true values that Madiba himself stood for. Mandela wanted a liberal democratic government to serve the people and to focus on the future, he did not want to be voted into office based on past glories nor to become president to serve himself and his family.

Moreover, the fact that Jantjie was officially accredited for the memorial is symbolic of a mixture of incompetence, patronage, nepotism, and corruption that South Africans often experience. No one has been willing to take full responsibility for hiring this ‘interpreter’ and there are many question marks as to why this person was there in the first place. Shortly after the incident, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu stated, “the ANC reiterates that the organisation did not take part in the government process to procure the service provider for the memorial service.”

Mtembu’s above statement clearly implies that the state was in charge of the memorial. However, what surfaced over the coming days seemed to have blurred the line between the state and the ruling party. A few weeks after Mthembu’s statement, his personal assistant Cikizwa Xozwa and her husband Reverand Bantubahle Xozwa “resigned” from the ANC after it was allegedly by the media that they were owners of the company that employed Jantjie. More often than not, in countries where the ruling party in effect becomes the state (look at our neighbours in Zimbabwe), it is people who suffer. South Africa has to work towards creating stronger institutions - especially the media, public protector, and the judiciary - that are answerable to the people and not the interests of a specific party.

The fact that there was a burglary at retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s house while he was attending Madiba’s memorial was another symbol illustrative of one of the top issues that South Africans rich and poor experience. Compared to other countries, South Africa has a very high rate of murders, assaults, rape and other crimes. If crime affects the Arch, one of South Africa’s greatest icons and most respected individuals, it could happen to anyone. The high levels of crime have to be seriously tackled at it negatively affects victims, it contributes to emigration of some of South Africa’s most talented, it taints the country’s image as a viable tourist destination, and it forces South African businesses to focus more on physical security rather than on other creative ways of making their businesses more sustainable. More importantly, crime leads people to build massive walls and iron gates between one another, and impedes the building of a society. In a word, crime makes South Africans isolated and miserable.

Beyond the domestic symbols that were scattered throughout Madiba’s memorial, there were also signs that were reminiscent of South Africa’s foreign policy. There were close to a hundred heads of state and government at the event from all corners of the globe. It not only symbolised Madiba’s popularity, but it also attested to South Africa’s success to move from being a global pariah to an international player. Madiba and Mbeki were particularly good at resituating the country as a developing nation often punching above its weight. Pretoria is said to have the second largest number of foreign missions in the world. South Africa is also no longer at war with its neighbours and the economy and her businesses are continental (and sometimes global) leaders.

Aside from the fact that South Africa’s wealth is tied to that of the world, the country’s transition is a model that could be emulated elsewhere. South Africa has participated in a number of peace keeping and peace building efforts on the continent. It was thus rather fitting that even in death Madiba could get US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to shake hands. Yet, the handshake also mirrored a wrongful assumption: getting players to shake hands is enough to change the game. Truth be told, peacebuilding requires time and commitment. Sometimes South Africa’s peacebuilding efforts have lacked follow up.

In the end, Madiba’s memorial was to celebrate the life of a legend, which is why the crowd continued to be cheerful throughout the rain. But when the event was over, it reminded us that South Africa no longer has a moral compass with the same stature as Madiba to lead the country into a new critical phase in the country’s history. Madiba was successful because he challenged the injustices of the day, which is what made him transformational. He was also adamant that South Africa’s leaders should look to the future rather than ride the wave of past glories. In 1994, he warned ANC leaders who wanted to have a “liberation election” campaign that “we should forget the past and concentrate on building a better future for all.” As South Africans honour Madiba’s legacy and celebrate 20 years of democracy, we also need to take a hard long look at present issues that threaten the stability of the country. A constitutional democracy cannot thrive in these conditions.

*Leon Hartwell is an independent political analyst