Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, July 30, 2004

Mbeki launches his strongest attack yet on SA journalism
Thabo Mbeki has continued his unpresidential penchant for personally responding to media articles that he feels misrepresents him or his party, which I have commented on before. This time Thabo has taken issue with a recent Sunday Times article entitled "Mbeki passes the buck on job creation", and his augmented his usual commentary in his 'ANC Today' newsletter with a broad attack on the South African media.

In this case, Mbeki's usual paranoia about media criticism has been heightened by his assertions that this second term is one of delivery. In this criticism, the Sunday Times is attacking the implementation of the Expanded Public Works program as a non-starter, which cuts to the very core of Mbeki's State of the Nation resolutions on delivery.

Many great business leaders enjoy micro-managing, but I am unconvinced that a president should be involved to this level. This is a government spokesperson's role, not a presidential role. Mbeki should be placing himself above the day to day commentary of the media and letting his party strategists shape government responses to criticism and respond through alternative channels. Personally attacking either an author (as he has shown want to do in the past), or in this case, a particular newspaper, only elevates the issue at hand to a wider audience and thus escalates the national commentary of the issue, usually with negative consequences for Mbeki.

But Mbeki has gone even further this time, launching into a tirade against the quality of South Africa's journalists and general media. Forsaking brevity, this needs to be quoted in full:

"The strange and false discoveries of the "Sunday Times" with regard to the EPWP raise a number of serious concerns. One of these relates to the quality of journalism in our country. The sorry tale told by the "Sunday Times" handling of the EPWP issue points to the reality of a serious national problem. Questions must necessarily arise about the extent to which we, and the general public, can rely on the media as a source of objective information, on which we should base our actions."

"Another relates to the extent to which "political correspondents" actually understand the most basic elements of South African and other political reality and practice. This must be considered together with the peculiar notion that seems to be prevalent in some circles, that media independence must necessarily translate into a consistent effort to find fault with, and criticise the government and the ruling party, at all costs."

"The third of these concerns arises directly from the obvious certainty on the part of the "Sunday Times" that the ANC ran a fraudulent election campaign, based on the brazen propagation of a big lie. This indicates that there are some within a media that proudly proclaims that it is committed to "objective, truthful, unbiased and balanced" reporting, whose fundamental assumptions about the ANC are far removed from what would qualify to be described as objective, truthful, unbiased and balanced."

This depth of criticism is an unprecedented move by Mbeki, and shows a leader that is placing comments into the public sphere that, in my view, are best kept private, or at best dealt with through more collaborative channels. Mbeki is questioning the role of the media in the country, and is communicating ambiguous and dangerous signals of government inferences on muzzling media criticism.

Personally, I also feel that this shows a great weakness in Mbeki's leadership, a lack of measured, composed management of situations and a lack of nuance and sensitivity to a sector that is critical to the management of the public image of the presidency.

Mbeki concludes by quoting Ignacio Ramonet: "As people are now beginning to realise, news is contaminated. It poisons our minds, pollutes our brains, manipulates us, intoxicates us, and tries to instil into our subconscious ideas that are not our own. This is why we now need to establish an ecology of news, to sort real news from a flood of lies."

He then closes by saying "Hopefully the situation will not arise in future when, as seems to happen so regularly with regard to negative social phenomena, somebody will claim a place for us as the global leader among the purveyors of contaminated news."

If this is how Mbeki reacts to a small piece of criticism amongst a media that is almost pathetic in its reluctance to criticise him, one wonders about the future of government interference with the media, and I truly hope that there is much response to his tirade from the media industry itself. In the past the industry has tended to run for the hills when Mbeki throws his big stick around, but I fear that this may be a watershed moment.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Manto's 'plan'
Manto has today released her 10-point "Strategic Priorities for the National Health System, 2004-2009," plan. Following my post this morning, I am absolutely appalled that she finds no space in the plan for AIDS. How can AIDS not be on a ten point priorities list?

Tshabalala-Msimang tries to dodge the issue by saying "It does not mean that if a particular health matter is not on the list of priorities, the department will ignore it. This list represents those things that we must pay particular attention to amongst all the other things that we do every day."


SA's collective health in trouble
The annual South African Health Review has just been released, and it does not offer any reasons for celebration.

The report shows that HIV and Aids is reversing all the health gains that have been made in the past two decades and is affecting South Africans at every age and stage of their lives. In addition, our increasingly unhealthy lifestyles are killing us.
The report also exposes a deterioration in the quality of healthcare services for a range of reasons including a significant lack of staff. The number of women dying during childbirth, a critical measurement of health sector progress, has increased markedly in the past five years, almost doubling since 1998. The number of children perishing before the age of five are also increasing, although this is largely due to AIDS.

So who do we blame? The report lays it at three doors: AIDS, the brain drain of doctors and policy implementation. Let's look at doctors first.

The report revealed that "the exodus of skilled health personnel for the year under review has been substantial - 600 South African doctors are registered in New Zealand and 10 percent of Canada's hospital-based physicians and six percent of the total health workforce in the United Kingdom are South African."

So why do they leave? I assume this report must have been formulated before the recent slew of dispensing and practice regulations brought in by Manto, but it just goes to show the environment that we create for our doctors here. In a globalised world, we cannot try to force our doctors to act in ways that are contrary to their career or life requirements, they will simply take their skills to other markets, and this is exactly what has happened. Personally, I feel extremely sympathetic to doctors, and I don't think of their emigration is a 'treasonous' action. They work incredibly hard to achieve a career that ultimately is in the best interests of the country, and yet their goalposts are incessantly being moved.

The second issue is the issue of AIDS, and only the most unintelligent pundit could possibly come to the conclusion that the government's current HIV/AIDS policies have given those infected any type of chance for recovery. Manto's efforts have been disastrous, and her and Mbeki's viewpoints shamefull. Yet, even after the TAC won the right to receive antiretrovirals, when government stated that deadlines would be laid out for the dissemination of the drugs, the deception continues. Under this supposed second Mbeki term of delivery, Manto will not publicly release the deadlines for the rollout, an appalling slap in the face to all those who have waited so long and fought so hard for their right to live.

Which brings us to policy implementation, which is purely a management issue. Manto has clearly not set up her department for delivery, and her staffing has been a shambles. The head of the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape, David Saunders says "The reason there is this huge gap (between policy and implementation) is the lack of capacity of human resources at all levels. When we say the health systems are not functioning it is because the human resources are not functioning." And nobody can claim that the health department does not have a budget, it is merely run poorly. Manto has stumbled from one disaster to the next and the faith placed in her by government is inexplicable. This is one moment that I wish South Africa was a country of opinion polls, because it would be fascinating to see the confidence that our populus has in our Health Ministry.

And to top it all off, the front page of the New York Times carries a story today on the 'recycling' of graves in Durban because "city is being battered by an AIDS pandemic so sweeping that people are dying faster than the city can find space to bury them." At least the article doesn't attempt to investigate Mbeki or Manto's checkered past with the HIV/AIDS question, but the paper's influence in world affairs. Some might say it's great that the AIDS pandemic in South Africa is getting such substantial publicity to encourage aid, I just hope the publicity forces the world to put pressure on our government's infantile AIDS policies.

Clearly we need change, and when it influences the collective health of all South Africans, change cannot come to soon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Do the Democrats want Moore?
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Michael Moore stated that he "has not publicly endorsed Kerry." Moore sees it as his role to show the deficiencies in Bush's presidency rather than endorse another, which is rather incongruous with his endorsement of Nader in the last elections and Wesley Clarke in the current Democratic campaign. In fact, I'm sure Moore would, in private, be rather critical of Kerry, who holds some very similar policy decisions to Bush, and is also from a very cushy background. (Anybody catch the CNN Presents... special on Kerry this weekend, showing clips of him sailing with JFK is the Hamptons?)

But the question is, would the Democrats want an association with Moore? Wesley Clarke found out rather quickly that Moore's aggressive stance is often more a problem than a service, and Moore's endorsement would be simple fodder for the Republican War Room's cannons. With every vote counting, and the country as polarised on Moore as they are on Bush, a Moore endorsement may be too heavy a burden to carry for the Democrats. Thus, no official invite for Moore to the Democratic convention, but rather an invitation as a guest of former President Carter who, as CNN so deftly enunciated it, is more famous for what he has done after his presidency than during it.

Monday, July 26, 2004

The IFP reshapes itself
The IFP conference held this weekend was an important moment in the current political landscape, and one which may have lasting ramifications. On Friday, Mangosuthu Buthelezi took the politically-correct step of releasing himself from the leadership but was unsurprisingly voted back into that position without much further fuss. However, national chairman Lionel Mtshali made a rather dejected departure after being voted out of his position and replaced by Dr Ziba Jiyane.

In his address to his party, Buthelezi stated an interest in calling a conference of all opposition groups to define the role of the 'opposition'. This is an important move that will win the IFP no friends within the DA, but could be music to the ears of disgruntled South Africans voters.

The IFP party strategists believe that they can challenge the ANC head-on, with the Sunday Times reporting that "they believe they have a chance of driving a wedge between the ANC leadership and its supporters at a time when the ANC does not have a clear post-Mbeki succession plan."

With no disrespect to the DA, I personally think that if anyone can take ANC voters from their base, perhaps the IFP can. If the ANC fails in this second Mbeki term to comprehensively solve its problems in delivery of services and 1994 election promises, the IFP could take advantage of growing dissatisfaction amongst the ANC voting base. This however, would be dependent on the strength of traditional Xhosa-Zulu rivalries.

Much has been made, particularly in KZN itself, of the spat between the DA and the IFP for the title of official opposition. However, the IFP holds the distinct advantage over the DA as having higher moral currency as an opposition party, considering its history.

However, the party has significant problems to overcome. Firstly, the party has never truly succeeded in breaking out of its traditional power base of Kwazulu-Natal. Secondly, the party has not proved itself to be very efficient in terms of election strategy or campaigning abilities. The IFP has taken some disastrous strategic decisions over the past decade, which has led them to their current position which is tenous at best. The IFP has also struggled to develop a strong enough leadership structure beneath Buthelezi.

The answer in truly challenging the ANC will be in the alignment with other smaller opposition parties and offering of a pragmatic alternative choice to the ANC's voters. Where the DA fits into that alliance could largely depend on that conference, but one feels that no alliance can be big enough to fit two leaders as egotistical and charasmatic as Leon and Buthelezi.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Every SA cent on military?
The US Congress has approved a revised military budget in excess of SA's annual GDP. Kinda makes you think doesn't it?

SA gets SADC security seat
SA officially takes over the reigns of the SADC politics, defence and security chair today. With no disrespect to Lesotho, this should aid the implementation of some wider African policy initiatives, and perhaps policies close to Mbeki's heart (such as NEPAD). The SADC chair adds more bargaining power in African affairs and gives SA the vehicle to continue to shape Sub-Saharan politics.

It was with some interest that I learnt that the decision to rotate the chair annually was only taken last year, of which, since 1990, Mugabe had control. How did Mugabe managed to secure that position in the first place (assistance, blogosphere?), and how come this deranged dictator was only told to relinquish the post in 2003?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Leigh Matthews strikes a cord
The terrible news last night that the kidnapped Leigh Matthews had been found dead brings to a close almost two weeks of intense media coverage of the story. It always interests me how some stories get picked up by the media more than others, and Guy Berger from the Mail & Guardian investigates the reasons behind this case very well.

What was interesting this morning was the statement released by ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama. "We must find a way to deal with this and we must be committed to weeding out these elements. We can't unite as a nation if these sick elements are in our midst," said Ngonyama, who had issued a statement earlier this week to her captors to release her. "Leigh Matthews was a flower, a young person, the lifeblood of the nation and she was abducted for no apparent reason and (not returned) even though her parents gave the money."

Clearly the ANC is responding to the national (and media) interest in the story, as many people are ruthlessly killed in our country each day. What is interesting though, is the question whether the ANC have chosen to comment on this case specifically because it was a white upper-middle class family. At a time when white South Africans' number one fear is crime, and at a time when Mbeki has illustrated a susceptibility to alienate white voters, ANC strategists have used this as an opportunity to reassure South Africans, and more especially white South Africans, that crime is high on the ANC agenda.

In fact Ngonyama even went as far as evoking Apartheid memories in his statement, saying that although kidnappings and abductions were familiar to people directly involved in the struggle against apartheid, "Whether it was caused by oppression or because of crime, the effects are the same."

It is highly commendable that the Government has shown such empathy in this tragedy, and will definitely gain plaudits amongst the South African populus for doing so. It will be interesting however, to see whether there are any rumblings in the African language press that this may be a hypocritical time to make such a statement given the incessant murder that continues in the townships.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Jumping on the bandwagon?
Remember Jonathan Idema, the US ex-Special Ops guy who was running a private jail in Kabul? Well, the BBC is reporting that he is claiming that he "has evidence to prove he was working for the Pentagon." He claims to have "helped prevent several attempted terrorist attacks" and said he "had regular e-mail, phone and fax contact with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office and other senior Pentagon officials."

As much as this would drive the nail further into Rumsfeld's (already rather damaged) coffin, I cannot believe that Rumsfeld would be as brain-dead as to have personal contact with any undercover "black-ops" personnel and further, one would think that they would be operating under greater secrecy that a residential house in Kabul. I'm sure there are plenty of more remote places in Afghanistan to hide detainees. This will undoubtedly be one of the few reports to offer any semblance of credibility to his claims, as it is clearly a case of an over exuberant bounty-hunter that has gone too far...

Big week for Bush

This week kicks off the start of the convention season leading up to the traditional election starter's gun of the early September US Labour Day. And this week is a particularly tough one for Bush. On Thursday, the commission investigating Sept. 11 is to release its final report, criticizing government efforts to prevent the attacks, and Mr. Kerry is about to enjoy a week of extensive coverage of his nominating convention. In addition, one of Kerry's planned key plugpoints, the administration's involvement in Halliburton, has just been given added weight with revelations of a criminal probe into Halliburton's dealings in Iran.

In response, Bush is planning a month-long campaign that will "blend criticism of the Democratic ticket with what aides said would be Mr. Bush's first effort to set out a second-term agenda." Bush has thus brought forward his definitions of his second term, an campaign strategy traditionally reserved for the period subsequent to the Republican Convention. In addition, according to White House communications director Dan Bartlett, "White House senior adviser Karl Rove has told Republican allies that, in the 2000 campaign, Bush suffered from having little new to say in September and October, and that the 2004 campaign plan was drawn up to avoid that mistake."

Bush has been forced into a position of incessant campaigning due to his under-50% approval ratings and the fact that the campaign is currently on a knife-edge. He simply cannot afford to concede poll data to Kerry in this week, as the momentum (if Kerry could jog himself to take advantage of it) carrying through to the real electioneering in September may be significant. His key campaign theme of the economy is increasingly coming under attack for the lack of real job growth, as much of the job growth has come from low income positions, the so-called "McJobs". Stephen S. Roach, chief economist at Morgan Stanley, reached the conclusion: "While there has been some improvement on the hiring front in recent months, the quality of such job-creation has been decidedly subpar…Unless that changes, the risks to a sustainable economic recovery will only intensify."

However, Kerry has been up to some less intelligent campaigning recently. Over the July 4th weekend, Kerry fielded reporter's questions after picking up a Beretta 12-gauge shotgun and shooting 17 of 25 clay pigeons and noting "I'm just doing what I normally do". Whilst clearly an attempt to lessen the attacks of the NRA, the NRA. executive vice president Wayne LaPierre retorted that Kerry has voted against its positions 51 out of 55 times and has "not fought for gun owners' rights once in 25 years". The NRA is planning an extensive print campaign in support of Bush to begin airing this week. Bit of a waste of time then...

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

SA to accept US help on defense
The Mail & Guardian carries the story this morning of US offers to provide training and equipment to two SA infantry battalions, primarily for peacekeeping missions. US Ambassador to SA, Cameron Hume, stated that the SA had agreed to the offer.

The US has already assisted Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Malawi and Senegal, which is rather bizarre as there are some states in that list that the US has been very critical of for human rights abuses. So often in the past, US assistance in military forces has ulitmately benefited rebels and militia and caused more problems than goodwill, however, it seems that the US has only been providing basic equipment such as uniforms and communication equipment. For SA, sources say the agreement will cover simulation equipment similar to that used at facilities such as the US Joint Readiness Training Centre where army and air-force units train together against an opposing force before deploying abroad.

Any strength that the US can provide to African states for peace-keeping is undoubtedly a good thing, both in assisting AU peace-keeping initiatives and the improvement of continental responsiblity by African states.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Tony turns on Liberals
According to the Guardian, Tony Blair will today announce "the end of the 1960s liberal consensus on law and order", in a move designed to attract voters to the party.

While insisting that the sixties removed ugly prejudices and expanded individual freedoms, Mr Blair is expected to concede that the new lifestyles did not sufficiently foster responsibility to others, family discipline or role models - and focused the law and order system too much on offenders' rights.

"People do not want a return to old prejudices and ugly discrimination. But they want rules, order and proper behaviour. They know there is such a thing as society. They want the society of respect and responsibility, they want a community where the decent law-abiding majority are in charge, where those who play by the rules do well and those who do not get punished," he is expected to say.

Blair thus will introduce increased State intervention in a five year anti-crime plan that includes broad-ranging community-based policing, an expansion of the national DNA database and new satellite tracking technology to keep tabs on Britain's 5,000 most prolific offenders. New measures are also expected to improve the treatment of victims and witnesses by the criminal justice system, including the appointment of a dedicated witness officer in every court to ensure they are kept fully informed.

Bush snubs NAACP
President Bush has become the first sitting president since Warren G. Harding to refuse to speak at the NAACP annual convention, after declining the invitation for the fourth time.

In Bush's defence, Black voters have preferred Democratic presidential candidates by a 9 to 1 margin, but in a tight election, alienating 10% of black voters that could vote Republican is risky business. The NAACP has also been very critical of Bush policies, but none more so than previous presidents, who have all realised the importance of the NAACP vote.

Bush's spokesperson put it down to a scheduling conflict, but Bush's records show that over the time of the speech he was attending a White House tee ball game. Whether this will have any impact will remain largely on how much it is reported, with currently only the left-leaning papers covering the story.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Kerry finds a voice on Iraq
Kerry has finally found a voice on Iraq, but it is certainly not a standpoint that will convince many voters of his status as a presidential alternate.

Kerry stated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the conditions under which he would remove troops are: "if he is assured Iraq is stable, that it looks likely to remain so and that its military is strong enough to enforce order."

It is a largely centrist and unambitious position though, and again shows how similar these candidates are in many of their positions. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Bush will make a very similar offering during the election campaign. Kerry's assertions on his conditions for troop withdrawals are all commendable, but there is little indication of the strategy to achieve these goals, and when challenged, he hid behind semantics.

"I'm not going to negotiate my plan in the newspapers. But I will get there in ways that this president can't because he has burned the bridges of credibility and burned the alliances. They need to be re-established with a new president." Besides giving an inclination of a less unilateral approach, not much there...

Kerry also made a small strategic move, 'warning' the public that Bush may cut troops in Iraq just before the elections and inferring that it would constitute an insincere move to endeavour to sway swing voters in the lead-up to November's vote.

One could argue that it is too early to be publicly debating strategy, but any indication Kerry can give allied voters and swing voters as to his strategies, should he be elected, would only help to drive him further in this formative stage. One could argue that this 2004 election campaign is unlike most of its precedents due to the highly politically polarised public that currently makes up the US voting base, and that it simply cannot be too soon to be campaigning.

Martha's new look
So Martha Stewart, the doyenne of decor, will be sentenced today at around 16:00 our time. Not that I'm awaiting the results with baited breath, but everybody loves to see celebrities fall and especially a person with such a reportedly horrible demeanour. The irony is fantastic, Martha Stewart, the epitome of the 'American soccer mom done good', the queen of home style and interior design, facing the prospect of a little time in a concrete six-by-four without a yard of fabric or touch of colour in sight. Apparently the judge overseeing the case, Judge Cedarbaum, is no fan of Stewart, and yesterday threw out a last minute appeal by her lawyers to have the federal sentencing guidelines that call for a 10- to 16-month prison term set aside. "Martha Stewart Living" could have a whole new ring to it, and most likely a string of B-Grade documentaries too...

Thursday, July 15, 2004

So being gay is a danger to US security?
The Bush Administration lost its attempt yesterday to push through a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. What I couldn't resist though, were some of the Republican comments after the loss. Republican Senator Rick Santorum, one of the amendment's champions, said: "I would argue that the future of our country hangs in the balance because the future of marriage hangs in the balance. Isn't that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?"

Um, no Rick, that would be defending your country against terrorism.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Iran threatens Western powers
Troubling signs from Iran as MEMRI reports this morning of recent threats made by Iranian leaders against Western powers. Over the past few days and weeks, prominent Iranian figures have been drumming up their populus with some dangerously antagonistic messages that seem to be leading to an overt support of terrorist activities.

Iran's spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, said on July 5th: "We, the Iranian people, within the borders of our country, will cut off any hand that harms our scientific, natural, human, or technological interests. We will cut off the hand that is sent to invade and work against our people's interests. We will do this with no hesitation.... If the enemy has the audacity to harm and invade, our blows against it will not be limited to the borders of our country... If someone harms our people and invades our country, we will endanger his interests anywhere in the world."

This is a usual fiery response of Islamic leadership that perceives an external threat, but Iranian Revolutionary Guards Political Bureau head General Yadollah Javani seems to infer a more sinister threat.

He stated: "The converging of millions of Iranian youth imbued with the spirit of Shehada [martyrdom] in the Basij forces... along with a courageous leader, the trend of the Islamic awakening, and the consolidation of many supporters around Iran's Islamic revolution can [all] go into action in times of crisis and play their part in light of these threats. Today we have in our possession long-range smart missiles which can reach many of the interests and vital resources of the Americans and of the Zionist regime in our region. Thus, if the enemies show stupidity and make any mistake towards Iran, [Iran] will certainly use all the means and capabilities at its disposal."

Whether this can be viewed as mere rhetoric or not is a debatable issue, but the message it sends to radical groups within Iran is unquestionable. It amounts to an unconstrained, inferred approval of what we could be termed 'terrorist activities' from the "many supporters around Iran's Islamic Revolution".

The Middle East is becoming an increasingly enflamed arena of foreign policy for both the US and more generally the West. One does get that feeling that we're nearing some sort of tipping point either way, a watershed if you will, and the foreign policy initiatives played out in the next few months will have vast implications. With this all being extrapolated in the midst of a US (and possibly UK) election campaign, the stakes could not be higher.

Monday, July 12, 2004

ANC in the hot seat over Zimbabwe
The ANC's persistently ambiguous stance on Mugabe's leadership is coming into even more fervent question after recent reports in the Sunday Times regarding covert meetings with Zanu-PF officials to share election strategies. Whilst I had in a previous post mentioned that the attempted AU censure may have been the first positive moves Mbeki had made against Zimbabwe, subsequent reports about Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma quashing the report seem to have put paid to that. This latest revelation is inexplicable at best, and raises some troubling questions.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that top ANC officials "led by President Thabo Mbeki" held a top-secret meeting in June with leading members of the Zanu-PF to forge closer political ties. This, according to the Sunday Times, included open assistance on election strategies for the forthcoming Zimbabwean elections, as well as the provision of "between four and six" ANC election strategists to travel to Zimbabwe to assist Zanu-PF in their planning. In response, ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe said that no such agreement had been made, but added that there was an "open invitation" to Zanu-PF to study the ANC strategy in their recent election win. Whether or not the ANC sends election strategists is largely inconsequential, the main point is how on earth the ANC can be actively supporting the Zanu-PF in the first place.

Moreover, the talks happened on the eve of the AU summit, and it is reported that the AU censure document was widely circulated at the meeting, adding credibility to the recent reports that Zuma apparently shut down the AU censure after talks with Zanu-PF.

This all leads to some concerning postulation. The methodology of 'quiet diplomacy' has had the wind blown under its skirt, and this lays bare a troubling view of Mbeki's commitment to the resolution of the Zimbabwean problem. Could quiet diplomacy have been a ruse to cover a president who never had any intention of pulling Mugabe from power? Does Mbeki's respect of Mugabe's 'struggle credentials' really render him incapacitated to act in any meaningful way? A darker picture emerges of Mbeki's leadership here, and for the sake of our country's international image and for the sake of the Zimbabwean people, I sincerely hope that this is a false dawn. Mbeki needs to speak. This is not an issue that can be swept under the carpet, the implications are simply too substantial, and opposition parties need to be encouraged to continue this pressure until answers are supplied.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Bin Laden the Republican's trump card?
The New Republic reports that various high level US Administration officials have made their way to Pakistan in the last few weeks to continue to work the pressure vice on Musharraf's government to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar. No problems there, each of those individuals need desperately to be brought to justice.

But nothing escapes political reality.

The New Republic reports that "an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed TNR that the Pakistanis 'have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs [High Value Targets] before the election is an absolute must.' What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: 'The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington.' Says McCormack: 'I'm aware of no such comment.' But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that 'it would be best if the arrest or killing of any HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July'--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

With the entrenched tribal clans along the Pakistani border active but divided at present, Musharraf's big concern is that any prolonged military activity in the region, especially alongside US Military, will unite the clans in a civil war against the Pakistani forces. But, again according to the New Republic, his results in the capture or death of these HVTs have consequences that reach into their relations with India. Musharraf has been trying to secure an order of F-16's that would tip the balance in the cold war with India, whilst Powell has been completely non-committal, patently holding out for Pakistani results.

With that deadline only weeks away, it will be interesting to see if those dates hold any significance.

Poignant milestone in Iraq
There were no celebrations of this milestone in Iraq today, as the Coalition lost it's 1000th soldier.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The AU and human cloning
The Mail & Guardian reports today that the AU is looking to develop a common African position on human cloning. A number of African health ministers requested in a letter that it would be placed on the agenda of the next AU executive council meeting, saying "Human cloning has become an emotional and divisive issue also between African states," and added that "the question of human cloning raised serious ethical, legal, cultural, philosophical and religious questions regarding human dignity."

This raises two questions. Firstly, does Africa need an 'African position' on human cloning? Personally, I think that this is something that is policy that should be dealt with at governmental level. An 'African position' is not going to have any enforceable implementation and has the distinct possiblity of being reisgned to the bottom draw of accountable government policy. Moreover, the majority of African states do not have the scientific abilities to cure disease, let alone human cloning, and there are vastly superior priorities in health science development.

Secondly, is it viable to attempt to gain an 'African position'? Africa is a continent made up of 55 states with vastly different socio-cultural and religious values, and it may prove to be entirely impossible, or at best a distinct waste of time, to attempt to marry each state's diverse views. I think that the AU's time is better served elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Kerry makes the intelligent choice
True to form, Kerry has selected Senator John Edwards as his running mate in the upcoming presidential elections. His selection, although not neccessarily the safest one, was the intelligent choice amongst the VP candidates. Edwards' energy, drive and Southern charm are the perfect foil to Kerry's lacklustre, aloof Ivy League image that he is struggling to shake. In a campaign that already has had both sides pointing 'Washington Insider' fingers at each other and questioning each other's political ethics, Edwards' boy-next-door campaign message decrying the "two Americas" - the rich and the rest - is the perfect addition to Kerry's armoury. Added to this, his appeal in Southern states bolsters Kerry in areas where he is weak, and Edwards will be a key asset in gaining the swing vote in battleground states.

According to Kerry, "John understands and defends the values of America. He has shown courage and conviction as a champion for middle class Americans and those struggling to reach the middle class. In the Senate, he worked to reform our intelligence, to combat bioterrorism, and keep our military strong. John reaches across party lines and speaks to the heart of America — hope and optimism."

Interesting choice of words at the conclusion of the quote; "hope and optimism". Those were the exact words used to define Reagen's presidency so emphatically in the past few weeks. The hypothesis here is that Kerry is trying to sabotage Bush's use of Reagan nostalgia in his election campaign by holding onto the key principles in his own message. Whether this will hold or not we'll have to wait and see, but an interesting first shot as the Kerry-Edwards team.

SA sending troops to Sudan
Following up on from my previous post on the Sudanese situation and my question on SA's response, News24 reports today that SA will be sending 10 high-ranking officers to Sudan. These 10 'platoon leaders' will train and equip 100 Rwandan soldiers to undertake peace-keeping missions. Well done Thabo, at least it's a start.

The new Jihad in Iraq
The last week has seen some great journalism from Time magazine in their coverage of Islamic extremism in Iraq. Michael Ware has spent the past few months in communication with Islamic extremist groups operating in Iraq and the results are fascinating, breaking some common misconceptions about the insurgent operations in Iraq. Ware concludes that the militant's outlook has changed markedly, from one of guerilla tactics to drive US forces from Iraq, to an international religious jihad movement with a view to becoming both a call to action and a training ground for future jihad militants and leaders.

The first such misconception is that the insurgents are largely Baathist groups trying to regain power. Ware writes that whilst this was true in the immediate aftermath of the war, their investigation "reveals that the militants are turning the resistance into an international jihadist movement. Foreign fighters, once estranged from homegrown guerrilla groups, are now integrated as cells or complete units with Iraqis. Many of Saddam's former secret police and Republican Guard officers, who two years ago were drinking and whoring, no longer dare even smoke cigarettes. They are fighting for Allah, they say, and true jihadis reject such earthly indulgences." Defence of city barricades and skirmishes with US forces have seen Syrians, Saudis and Pakistan fighting side-by-side with Iraqi operatives, previously a rare occurrence.

The second such misconception is that these terrorist activities will dilute in the coming months after the handover of power. Ware reports that the militants goals extend much further than merely forcing US forces out of the country. "They want to transform Iraq into what Afghanistan was in the 1980s: a training ground for young jihadists who will form the next wave of recruits for al-Qaeda and like-minded groups."

U.S. intelligence officials say they now believe Iraq is a magnet for fanatical Muslims around the world. "It's become the proving ground," says a senior U.S. intelligence official. The jihadists are convinced they can continue fighting indefinitely."

In a similar way to Bin Laden's leadership, Zarqawi's leadership seems to be similarly based on magnetism and a loose ideological connection as opposed to a hierachial membership structure. This makes it incredibly difficult both to control and halt insurgent activities, as operations are completed on a cell basis. Zarqawi is involved in planning and operations structure, and then it is left up to cells to implement at will. Time yesterday released a videotape from Zarqawi showing how recent operations were planned and executed in shocking detail, as anyone who saw the video on Sky or CNN last night would attest.

With new Prime Minister Iyad Allaw planning to declare martial law within the next few weeks to build an assault against the insurgents, the bloodiest battles in Iraq could be on the near horizon. A final piece from Ware "The insurgents' aspirations are growing. Abdullah, a midlevel leader of Kata'ib, says he's happy U.S. troops are staying in Iraq: it means he can be part of the jihad. Asked what the jihadists will do if U.S. forces finally pull out, one of Abdullah's comrades offers this answer: 'We will follow them to the U.S.'"

It will be up to history to prove whether Bush's war in Iraq was misguided or inspired, but we may find out sooner...

Monday, July 05, 2004

AU Slams Zimbabwe
The AU has been hard at work over the weekend, adopting a report which slams the Zim leadership for "the arrests and torture of opposition members of parliament and human rights lawyers, the arrests of journalists, the stifling of freedom of expression and clampdowns on other civil liberties." This is a monumentous development in Africa's treatment of Zimbabwe and must hopefully be heralded as a new dawn in relations.

What is interesting is that the report was compiled by the AU's African Commission on Human and People's Rights subsequent to the Zimbabwean presidential elections in June 2002. Assuming that it wouldn't have taken them more than six months to complete the report, this infers that this position was enunciated late 2002, early 2003, which thus begs the question, why was it hidden until mid-2004? The official line given by the AU is that it was not submitted to the AU's 2003 summit "because it had not been translated into French." Plausible? We think not..

The report cannot have been signed off without the main African powers tacit or manifest agreement, and Nigerian and South Africa diplomats would surely not have allowed this harsh critique to be pushed through in the midst of "quiet diplomacy" initiatives. It is rather coincidental that this development comes just days after Mbeki's admission that quiet diplomacy had been a failure in bringing about any change in Zimbabwe. What is more plausible is that Nigerian and South African diplomats stonewalled that report so as to not interfere with their quiet diplomacy strategy.

Whatever the reasons for the delay though, we can celebrate this censure as a marked policy shift in Africa, and hopefully, the commencement of a new South African strategy on Zimbabwe.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Thabo admits defeat on quiet diplomacy
Mbeki stated yesterday that his policy of quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe has been a failure. Speaking through presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo, he said that the talks between the Zanu-PF and MDC were 'too slow' and that no progress had been made on the issue.

However, Mbeki also stated that he would "press on with his diplomatic efforts in Zimbabwe despite fierce criticism, because he still believed there was no alternative to dialogue." These is a confusing sentiment. There are many political alternatives to dialogue that include simple public censure and economic pressure.

Mbeki has largely based himself as a foreign policy president, particularly in his first term, and to gain any credibility for NEPAD and his other strong foreign policy initiatives, he must take action on Zimbabwe. After his softening position on AIDS, it is the one factor in his presidency that the world still cannot understand. Struggle friends or not, a dictator is a dictator whatever the historical context, and Mbeki has to show his leadership and take action after this acknolwedgement. Will it happen? Probably not...

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The implications of Sudan
The ethnic cleansing unfolding in Sudan is yet another tragic situation for Africa, with implications that stretch far beyond the borders of the already decrepit Sudanese nation. With the Sudanese government giving Arab militia, or Janjaweed, full reign to 'do as they like' to the African rebels who rose up against them, they are creating both a state-sponsored genocide, as well as fertile ground for Islamic extremists. There are two distinct stories here, the tragedy of the ethnic cleansing, and the consequences of the world's response.

NASA satellite photography has shown that out of 576 villages in the Darfur region, 300 have already been completely obliterated, whilst 76 more have been substantially destroyed, and the Arab militia have already been accused of driving more than a million people from their homes. Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail has denied that there is any ethnic cleansing or mass suffering in the region, whilst the Sudanese government heavily restricts access. Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development said, "if nothing changes we will have one million casualties. If things improve we can get it down to about 300,000 deaths." To add to the problem, Chad claims that the Sudanese Arab militia are undertaking cross-border raids to kill refugees and steal their possessions and cattle, and are preparing to defend their borders.

The world was vastly chided for its lack of response to Rwanda, a point reinforced by Chadian President Idriss Deby, who was quoted yesterday as saying, "The international community has the tragedy in Rwanda on its conscience". Action must be taken this time, and it seems that this horror has not yet reached its tipping point, so time is of the essence. Bush, as leader of the world's superpower and self-proclaimed moral compass, has been slow to react, both to the humanitarian crisis and to the realisation of Sudan's importance in his 'war on terror'. Last Saturday, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times in which he applauded Kofi Annan and Colin Powell's planned trips to Sudan but accused Bush of 'dithering' for the last few months. "Mr. Bush seems proud of his 'moral clarity,' his willingness to recognize evil and bluntly describe it as such. Well, Darfur reeks of evil, and we are allowing it to continue," he said.

The other story is the position of Sudan in the war on terror. Sudan has had a long relationship with Muslim extremists. Osama bi Laden built a significant amount of his Al-Qaeda network whilst living in Sudan. Further, out of the fifteen terrorists indicted in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, five were Sudanese, and in 1998, the U.S. bombed Khartoum in retaliation for the al-Qaeda-linked bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The US has 'claimed' Sudan as an ally in the war against terror, but this has been shown up as an intensely spurious assumption. Terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah both retain offices in Khartoum, and the leadership that made Sudan a terrorist haven throughout the 90's remains in power today. Perhaps the reason that the US has taken Sudan off its 'uncooperative' list is purely to allow entry of US intelligence officials into the country, as so much Al-Qaeda activity occurs there. The bottom line is, the situation in Sudan currently plays in concert with Bush's war on terror. Any destabilisation in Northern Africa cannot be a good thing for US security, (and any conflict with Chad could put in jeopardy the increasing oil exports that the country provides to the US.)

Action so far has been limited. The US proposed a UN security council resolution imposing an arms embargo and travel ban on the Janjaweed. The draft resolution would have the security council state "its determination to do everything possible to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, including by taking further action if required". It does not propose action against the Khartoum government, which is accused of supporting the militias, but diplomats said there was an implied threat of extended sanctions if there was no improvement.

However, Powell and Annan's trips to the Dufar region have been largely 'sanitised' according to reports. Annan and Powell's movement has been severely restricted and the one camp they were taken to in Sudan was said to be a "show camp". The Washington Post reports that the Sudanese refugees driven from their homes by the Arab rebels, have been warned by Sudanese government soldiers to "to keep quiet about their experiences when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visit the region this week." In an extreme example, when Annan arrived in Khartoum yesterday for a meeting with the Sudanese leaders, Sudanese security forces were opening fire on university students trying to deliver a petition to him denouncing the goverment's atrocities in Darfur.

There exists in this horrible situation a distinct responsibility for the world not only to act to avoid the horrors of Rwanda, but also an opportunity to stamp out the flames of Islamic extremism. The US is notably reluctant to play any type of military role in North Africa, as the memory of Somalia still rings in American ears, but diplomatic, economic and joint UN pressure has to be brought to bear on the Sudanese government to halt these atrocities. History will judge the world in their actions in the next month. Genocide, rampant disease and starvation in Sudan could once again show the Western powers and UN's weakness in responding to humanitarian crises where little economic benefit ensues to them, and the responses, particularly by the US, could either further polarise the Islamic-Western world, or be a starting point to bring it closer together.

My last question in this post is, where is Thabo Mbeki and the African Union in all of this? The African Union has sent an observation team to Sudan, but is that really the power of the AU? Perhaps they should spend less time looking for solutions in Palestine and spend more time assisting in our own desperate continent.