30 June, 2014

Lesotho: The Coup That Was Not

by Hussein Solomon

The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho consisting of a mere 11,720 square miles, and a population of less than two million has lurched from one political crisis to another since independence. Crises have generally been spawned by a dwindling economic base, authoritarian leadership styles and a military periodically overthrowing the civilian political leadership. Indeed, coups occurred in 1986, 1991 and 1994. Following the 1998 elections, the Lesotho Defence Force once again mutinied. This prompted the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) to authorize a military intervention force consisting of Botswana and South African troops to restore law and order.

Fears of another military intervention on the part of the regional body surfaced this past week when the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) issued the following statement:
“The South African Government notes with concern the unfolding political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho ... The South African Government has further noted with grave concern the unusual movements of the Lesotho Defence Force units in the capital, Maseru. The South African Government wishes to reaffirm and reiterate the African Union’s position on the unconstitutional change of governments on the continent and in this regard, the South African Government and SADC will not tolerate any unconstitutional change of government in the region and Continent”.

And just in case, the official statement came across as unclear to the Lesotho government, DIRCO’s spokesman – Clayson Monyela - went onto a popular radio show and declared, “No neighbouring country will be allowed to go the route of instability”.

Lesotho Prime Minister Thabane with South African President Zuma (Photo: GCIS)

What prompted these uncharacteristically harsh statements from DIRCO? Following the 2012 elections, the three main political parties: Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convenion, Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy and Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party formed a coalition government. As Thabane’s party won the most votes (but not an outright majority) he became Prime Minister and Metsing, whose party secured the second most number of seats occupied the post of Deputy Prime Minister. For a while, it seemed this political arrangement would bring stability to the country.

Earlier this year, however Metsing criticized Thabane’s aloof leadership style and that he neither bothered to consult parliament nor his cabinet on crucial decisions. Realizing the ambitious Metsing was preparing a no-confidence vote in him, the wily Thabane promptly suspended parliament until February 2015. In response, Metsing threatened to leave the ruling coalition – threatening to bring down the government. Thabane, it would seem then turned to the military to shore up his fading authority.

It is in this context that the strong statements emanating from Pretoria were issued. Realizing that Pretoria and SADC were serious in preventing yet another bout of political instability in the mountain kingdom, all three political parties have opted to stay in the coalition government until 2017 when new elections are to be held.

Whilst the strong stance of both SADC and South Africa needs to be commended, it is clear that the underlying authoritarian political culture in Lesotho needs to change. Moreover, the Lesotho Defence Force also needs to still understand the full-import of civil-military relations and need to stay out of the political fracas between the political parties.

03 June, 2014

The Ethnic Factor in Southern Africa

by Hussein Solomon

The world is witnessing a resurgence of a cult of origins with an emphasis on virulent ethnic and religious identities. The thorny issue of independence for ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and the killings of Muslims and Christians in the Central African Republic illustrate the problem well.

In Southern Africa, too, the ethnic factor has historically played a significant, though often ignored, role in the conflict dynamics of the region. Whilst the conflict between the MPLA and UNITA in Angola was seen through the prism of the Cold War with the governing MPLA seen to be allied to Moscow and Cuba whilst UNITA rebels were perceived to be pro-West, underlying this dominant narrative was the ethnic dimensions of Mbundu and Ovimbundu. Similarly in Mozambique the conflict between the governing FRELIMO and the rebel RENAMO were seen through the paradigm of Marxist FRELIMO vs pro-West RENAMO, the ethnic dimensions, however, were clearly evident in the competing Shangaan and Ndau ethnic constituencies of these respective antagonists.

A relic of past conflict in Angola (Photo: M Worm)

Ethnicity, however, is not merely a historical phenomenon for the region. Examine the repeated issue of Barotseland separatists in Zambia or the conflict dynamics of the Banyamulenge Tutsis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and one would understand the need for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to embark on pro-active measures with which to prevent latent ethnic conflict to repeat the tragic ethnic overtones of the conflict in the Ukraine.

SADC can take its cue from international law – specifically the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1992. Article 1 of the Declaration calls on states to protect the existence and identities of minorities and to adopt appropriate legislation to achieve these ends. In other words, SADC can push to achieve compliance of this Declaration within the SADC region – in the process creative inclusive as opposed to exclusionary states.

Another proactive measure SADC could adopt is to look at the European example. In January 1993, a High Commissioner on National Minorities for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now the Organisation on Security and Cooperation in Europe – OSCE) was created. The purpose of the High Commissioner and his small secretariat is to give an objective evaluation of incipient conflict, as well as concrete recommendations for its resolution. In this way an early warning mechanism was integrated into an early response system. SADC could do well to emulate the example of the OSCE and create its own High Commissioner on National Minorities.

Given the potency of ethnicity in the Southern African region, we need not await an explosion before we engage in reactive measures. Rather, proactive steps can be taken to prevent a Ukraine or Central African Republic scenario from developing in this volatile region.

01 June, 2014

All that Glitters Is not Gold...

by Virgil Hawkins

...Or emeralds, or diamonds, or cobalt, or tantalum, or platinum, for that matter... On 22 May, Al Jazeera aired a documentary under their People and Power series entitled Afghanistan's hidden gems. The program opened with an optimistic view of the potential role that Afghanistan's as yet insufficiently tapped emeralds, as well as a host of other minerals including copper, bauxite, cobalt, lithium, tantalum, and yes, gold, could play in developing the country. It suggested that their abundance was a “miracle” that could perhaps “lift the Afghani people out of poverty”. But it also went on to show the role of the minerals in financing conflict in the past, the dangerous and impoverished conditions currently faced by the miners, and interested foreign buyers for the minerals.

From the perspective of southern Africa, it all sounds so hauntingly familiar. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is equally 'blessed' with enormous mineral wealth, including many of the type (and more) found in Afghanistan. The extraction of, and trade in, these minerals have contributed to devastating armed conflict (the worst the world has seen in decades), and conditions for miners remain horrendous. And while the wealth generated has made a small number of multinational corporations, as well as local corporations and government officials exceptionally rich, it has done precious little to lift the Congolese population “out of poverty”.

Tungsten mining in the DRC (Photo: Julien Harneis)

This coming Monday (2 June) marks the deadline for US corporations using minerals potentially associated with conflict in the DRC to submit an audit of their supply chains to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Apple, Intel and HP are some of the corporations that have already done so. The quality of some of the reports that have been submitted so far have been questioned, and many others are expected to fail to meet the deadline altogether. Repercussions for non-compliance are unclear. But one of the greatest impacts of the legislation that set this process in motion may well be that corporations simply avoid the DRC altogether in procuring minerals (instead of working to improve the situation), which would again serve to deny the opportunity for local growth and development.

But it is not only in conflict-afflicted DRC where enormous mineral wealth has helped enrich already wealthy multinational corporations and some select few (in the public and private sector) in the areas in question, yet has left so little for the wider population. The percentage of royalties paid by multinational corporations extracting copper and cobalt from mines in Zambia, for example, has admittedly risen in recent years, but it remains paltry. And allegations abound of some of these mining corporations falsifying reports detailing the volume of extraction to avoid payment of these royalties. Further south, miners demanding a decent wage continue to strike at Marikana, South Africa, nine months after the massacre there over the same issue. South Africa and Namibia, both exceptionally rich in mineral wealth, have the highest levels of income inequality in the world. In so many cases, in conflict or in peacetime, the wealth benefits a select few, and the bulk ends up leaving the country.

A number of years ago, I spent some time in the DRC's Katanga Province – where much of the country's mineral wealth is concentrated – as a representative of a non-governmental organization. We were investigating the possibilities for establishing poverty alleviation and development projects there, primarily in the health sector. Among the people we spoke to, a fair number treated me, a foreigner, with considerable suspicion. Many thought that the health project was just a cover story, and that I was in fact there to get involved in the mineral business. Some others accepted that I was there on NGO business, but still thought that it was only a matter of time before I discovered how lucrative the mineral business was, and jumped ship. Clearly, the ways in which the mineral wealth is removed from the country (legally and illegally) are many and varied, and equally clearly, the lure of the glittering stones, not least for those reaching in from the outside, is strong.