Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, January 31, 2005

Darfur's denial
The Independent reports that "A special United Nations commission has decided that two years of violence in the western Sudan region of Darfur was not genocide but 'crimes against humanity with ethnic dimensions', according to leaks of the report in the US."

Could somebody please explain the difference to me? Seems to me that the world is looking for an excuse not to be forced (under UN genocide regulations) to act...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Nigerians pull no punches for UN seat
Nigeria has opened a war of words with the other two contenders for an African UN seat, with top Nigerian civil servant, Davo Oluyemi-Kusa, saying that "South Africa and Egypt are not black enough to represent Africa in the United Nations security council."

With the UN review panel indicating that Africa will most likely be allocated a seat, Nigeria is falling behind Egypt and South Africa in the race. Nigeria's corruption and poor governance will be a thorn in their side, and their recent decreasing of their African diplomatic role will further degrade their chances. It's also important to note that Nigeria ranks sixth, behind South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Morocco in budgetary assessment of the UN. Hence, Nigeria needs to change the rules of engagement to stand a reasonable chance. However, one wonders how much help this type of attack will give them. Immediately moving to a racial front is never the best way to get into the UN's good books.

As I've stated before, in a straight foot race between South Africa and Egypt, we would most likely be the natural selection, given the economic strength, Mbeki's strong diplomatic efforts throughout the continent, and the simple fact that the UN needs a point-man in Sub-Saharan Africa to a much larger degree than North Africa.

The UN's security council review panel put forward two alternative reform proposals which it named Model A & B:
"Model A and B both involve a distribution of seats respectively as, "Africa"; "Asia and Pacific", "Europe", and "America". Model A provides for six new permanent seats, with no veto being created, and three new two-year term non-permanent seats, divided among the major regional areas as per the diagram shown above:

Model B provides for no new permanent seats but creates a new category of eight four-year renewable term seats and one new two-year non-permanent (and non-renewable) seat, divided among the major regional areas as follows:

n both models, having regard to Article 23 of the Charter of the United Nations, the panel avers that a method of encouraging Member States to contribute more to international peace and security would be for the General Assembly, taking into account established practices of regional consultations, to elect Security Council members by giving preference for permanent or long-term seats to those states that are among the top three financial contributors in their relevant regional area to the regular budget, or the top three voluntary contributors from their regional area, or the top three troop contributors from their regional area to the United Nations peacekeeping missions."

The second model also offers significant hope to South Africa. We are the UN's major contributor on the African continent, have a very high diplomatic profile, were central in the creation of the AU and participate fully in peace-keeping troop allocation around the continent.

Any decision will no doubt face pressure from the current permanent seat-holders, and one would think that their obvious choice would be the B model. However, change is requisite for the UN, and I do hope that any revisions leave South Africa with a strong hand.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Target: Iran
After yesterday's comments by the leadership of Iran's Revolutionary Guards stating that there would be an "astonishing" retaliation to any attack against the Islamic republic by Israel or the United States, MEMRI has some interesting titbits from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In an address to the Hajj pilgrims he said:
"… At present, the Islamic world is faced with an all-out siege, both on the economic and the technological fronts, as well as with a propaganda offensive, and most recently with military occupation. The occupation of Palestine and the holy city of Quds [Jerusalem] have culminated in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Zionist octopus – along with the vicious and despicable U. S. imperialism – now harbors plans for the entire region of the Middle East, as well as North Africa and the entire Islamic world. They have created the general awakening, which has breathed new life into the Islamic nation [ Ummah ], the target of their vengeance and spite.

"The U.S. and the Western imperialists have finally concluded that Muslim countries and nations, especially those of the Middle East, form the core of this awakening and resistance to their plans for global domination. They foresee that if they fail to control or suppress this Islamic awakening in the next few years with political and economic measures, through propaganda, and as a last resort through military aggression, all their plans for absolute global hegemony and control of the most vital oil and gas resources, which constitute the sole powerhouse of their industrial machinery and [the sole] cause of their material edge over the rest of humanity, will come to nothing.

"If that happens, the big Western and Zionist capitalists, who are the real backstage players in all imperialist governments, will fall from the height of their power and their domination over the nations.

"However, as a consequence of the insolent and foolishly reckless conduct of the U.S. and British rulers, this mask of deception and hypocrisy has been fractured. With their own hands, they have stuffed the hearts of Muslim nations and youth with hatred for the arrogant imperialists. Should free elections be held today in any Muslim country, the people would definitely vote against the wishes of the U.S. and Britain."

Khamenei is clearly framing an ideological battle here, as most other anti-US Muslim leaders have. What's important is that he credits the US policies for "awakening" Islamic ideology throughout the Middle East.

The last sentence is also very interesting. Khamenei is clearly trying to play to an international Islamic audience in taking the sting out of the Bush Administrations comments that democracy would change mindsets in the Middle East. This cuts to the bone of the Bush Administration's policies, and the theocratic strength of Khamenei within Iran may well achieve stature for this type of argument.

There are huge political powerplays unfolding in front of our eyes here, with both the US and the Iranians ramping up the rhetoric. One could conclude that the US is sabotaging any European actions in diplomatic resolve with Iran in its daily threats, and it seems there is little backing for pre-emptive action from European allies, not least from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Bush is resolute in his 2nd term aims, stating yesterday that he has "planted a flag of liberty" and committing to continue his course. There seems no doubt now that no diplomatic solution will be found to the Iran issue, as it us unlikely that the Iranians can back down without losing face. Given the troop involvement in Iraq, and attack may be at least a year off yet, but bolstered by Israeli troops, perhaps we could see it sooner. In either case, it seems a formality now...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

SA in the Oscar hunt
Congratulations to Darrell Roodt, who's South African film Yesterday has been nominated for an Oscar. I have not seen the film, but apparently it's about young woman (played by Sarafina's Leleti Khumalo) coming to terms with Aids in South Africa. Our fledgling fim industry is starting to get some good international praise, and let's hold thumbs for another morale boosting win.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Chomsky's Folly
The problem with Noam Chomsky, and I used to be a fan, is that he has no issue with passing judgement (often in hindsight) about policy decisions made in the US, but never offers any alternate solution. I cannot concur that every single US leader in history, and almost every single policy decision taken, has had malicious intentions for the world at large. He has lost a lot of crediblity in his approach over the past few years, and it seems he has painted himself into a corner of incessant criticism.

He continues in the Independent this morning, describing the Iraqi invasion as one that should have been "easy: and that the antecedent was oil:

"Iraq is different. It is the last corner of the world in which there are massive petroleum resources, maybe the largest in the world or close to it. The profits from that must flow primarily to the right pockets, that is, US and secondarily UK energy corporations. And controlling that resource puts the US in a very powerful position to exert influence over the world."

However, he offers a weak alternative to the current occupation problems:
Dealing with terror, Chomsky believes, requires a "dual programme" along the lines of "what the British did in Northern Ireland". He says: "The terrorist acts are criminal acts so you apprehend the guilty, use force if necessary and bring them to a fair trial. They want to appeal to the reservoir of understanding for what they're doing, even from people who hate and fear them. If they can mobilise that reservoir they win. We can help them mobilise that reservoir by violence or we can reduce it by dealing with legitimate grievances.

"Every resort to violence has been a gift to the jihadists. Respond with violence which hits civilians and you're giving a gift to Osama bin Laden; you're giving him the propaganda weapon he wants so he can say, 'We have to defend Islam against the Western infidels trying to destroy it. We're fighting a war of defence'.

Is that a realistic alternative? Firstly, comparing Iraq to Northern Ireland is futile. The incessant, daily bombings, the suicide approach and the fury of the insurgents cannot be compared to the IRA's campaigns. Secondly, not responding to the violence would be a red rag to a bull to the insurgents, who would take it as a sign of impending victory and no doubt become markedly emboldened. Chomsky's view of the insurgents as rational individuals falls short of the mark. It simplistic at best.

Friday, January 21, 2005

I received an email yesterday from James Francis about his new political cartoon Gonzo. It's about time we had some political cartooning other than Zapiro, (although I am a big fan) and Gonzo has the potential for some great intelligent humour. See James' cartoon here and let's all keep supporting it!

Bush's Inauguration
Whatever your feelings on George Walker Bush himself, one cannot fail to be impressed by the tradition and ceremony of a US presidential inauguration. The traditional swearing of the oath as the clock strikes 12 noon, the viewing of the troops from Capitol Hill, the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the inauguration balls... it's a fantastic traditional American day. Granted, the 2005 version was a little less intimate than usual, swamped in security, with even the protesters stuck away in 'designated protest areas', but it loses little of its significance.

Bush's inauguration speech (transcript) was pretty much as expected, full of missionary rhetoric and plumped with references to "freedom", "liberty" and "tyranny", leaving no room for misunderstanding of his aims in his second term. Bush entenched his neocon roots with a commitment to continue to remove tyrannical governments, inferring that Iran may well be in for a few tough years. Interestingly, Bush did not mention Iraq by name once, but rather referred to it in metaphorical terms. This was perhaps a good thing, given that fact that (a) it has clearly not gone as planned and (b) the word itself has the ability to stoke up an America divided on its merits.

There were visible scuffles between protesters and police, and much jeering along the parade route, but this is to be expected in this ideological time in the US. The inaugurations are dripping in too much history and signficance to allow protesters views on Bush to detract from the sense of occassion.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Monbiot on the US media
The Guardian's George Monbiot writes another firebrand piece about the defenseless US media cowering in the face of evil Republican bullying.

One wonders if what he would say about Thabo?

Land claims to be settled this year
In what is commendable news, if with a small caveat, SA's chief land claims commissioner Tozi Gwanya announced that all outstanding land claims would be completed in 2005.

Gwanya stated "We are confident we will settle the urban claims by March 2005." The urban land claims represent 13 247 of the total 22 447 outstanding land claims, with government committing to complete the 9 200 outstanding rural claims by year end. Even as it stands, the government has only managed to resolve 57 000 land claims since 1994, inferring that it will take a mammoth effort to resolve the 22 000 in the next twelve months.

However, it is testament to the efficiency of the process that 57 000 have been completed without much fanfare, or more importantly, without much violence. I am not including the almost communist tendencies of the Landless People's Movement under this point, as many of their policies (and their fanfare) are based not in historical fact but rather in a desire for political presence. Land restitution is an area that could easily derail political endeavour on both sides of the racial spectrum, and one must commend the ANC on their necessarily meticulous, if a bit slow, process of evaluating and dealing with claims. As with so many other political truths that we take for granted in this new South Africa, it could have turned out very differently.

Monday, January 17, 2005

ANC backs the MDC

"If Zimbabwe's elections are to be declared free and fair the Movement for Democratic (MDC) should be allowed to hold public meetings. We have been concerned about several things. The MDC is a party that participates in parliament and it controls several municipalities. This position impairs their ability to interact with their constituencies."

"Over the years we have been continually saying to them that you cannot have a properly registered party restricted in this way." - ANC Secretary-General Kgalema Motlanthe

So that's what they've been doing over the past few years. Shout if you believe Mugabe is listening...


Friday, January 14, 2005

Farewell Sir Mark
So we finally have the end of the Scratcher Thatcher story, with Sir Mark finally admitting guilt in the rather obvious coup plot. What has become clear is that Scratcher is not the sharpest tool in the shed (the first sign was his 'disappearance' in the Paris-Dakar rally in the 80's) and one hopes that he will retire from business ventures to the Texan quiet life. I'm sure Maggie does too.

In taking a step back, one can conclude that the entire affair has reflected well on South Africa. The international coverage of the story has been ubiquitous to say the least, and the comments have not been about any "banana republic judiciary" (that has been largely saved for Equatorial Guinea), but rather about the strength of South Africa's commitment to stopping mercenary activity in Africa, an entirely noble pursuit in itself. The South African judiciary has been shown to be just and fair and the entire matter has been handled very professionally by the Scorpions. Some British commentators have decried the fact that the South African government flirted with the extradition request from Equatorial Guinea, but most level minds would conclude that this was merely the government proving a point and undertaking a touch of scare-mongering.

All in all, the case has thrown a significant amount of publicity onto the murky world of African mercenaries, and broken the back of one of the largest and most respected mercenary groups in Africa. Simon Mann's original Executive Outcomes was the blueprint for mercenary groups around the world, and his well-heeled UK backers are running for the hills.

For a full wrap-up of the Thatcher case and "Mummy saving Thatcher", read the excellent article in the UK's Independent here.

A powerless Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas has been forced into responding to a critical test of his leadership just days after his election triumph. Last night, mere hours after Abbas comitted himself to the roadmap for peace, and called on militants to cease violence, Palestinian militant groups detonated a truck bomb, killing 6 Israeli soldiers at a border checkpoint. Included in those taking responsibility was the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, a group formed out of Abbas' own Fatah movement.

It's tantamount to mutiny of the grandest scale, and Abbas' response to this moment will largely define the Palestinian's view of his leadership potential. Abbas has not yet publicly responded to the attacks, and one would think that he and his advisors are working on a very carefully worded statement. The control of the militant groups was always going to be the litmus test of Abbas' leadership, and as I've stated before, it may just be outside of the scope of his influence.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

If true, scary
According to Newsweek, U.S. officials are considering whether to hunt Sunni rebels in Iraq and Syria by creating the kind of death squads that were used in 1980s Central America. Dubbed "the Salvador option," U.S.-sponsored paramilitary forces would attack not only insurgency leaders but also civilian "sympathizers." These tactics may stop civilians from helping insurgents, but at what cost to human rights? Read it here

2004: SA's year of peacekeeping
The Mail & Guardian has a good article summarising SA's role in peacekeeping in 2004. It quotes political analyst Prof John Stremlau's conclusion that:
"South Africa's role as mediator in the continent's trouble spots was proof of its commitment to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and its standing in the global community."
Well worth a read.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The dangers of Palestinian populism
The Middle East Media Review Institute (MEMRI) has a very interesting article from a Qatari-based newspaper, in which progressive Jordanian intellectual Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi calls for the need for Palestinian leadership to reject Arafat's populism. Al-Nabulsi highlights Arafat's penchant for populist decision-making that weakened his international standing and killed any hopes for a true journey to peace in the Middle East. He calls on Mahmoud Abbas to to be act on behalf of the greater interests of the Palestinian people. Al-Nabulsi states:

"Abbas must put an end to the unrealistic illusions that Arafat promised the bleeding, revolutionary public, and must confront them with the bitter truths. One of these truths is that the return of four million Palestinian refugees to Israel is an utterly impossible [demand], which spells out the destruction of the State of Israel. If there is a right of return for the refugees, the only place that can absorb them is the land of the Palestinian state."

"Political decision-making [must be carried out] on the basis of the interests of the Palestinian people, and not on the basis of its desires and hopes. The populist decisions adopted by the Arab political leaders were the cause of the Arabs' disasters and their regression to their current situation. The Palestinian leadership must be courageous and not think about itself and its fate while making a political decision, but [must] bear in mind the interests of the homeland, the nation, and the future of the generations [to come]."

"All the intellectuals and businessmen should participate in the political building of the Palestinian state. Intellectuals should participate [in the building of the state] by means of [political] awareness, a call for political rationalism, and by fighting against suicide operations. Businessmen should participate [in the building of the state] by means of support of Palestine's economy and by building the institutions of a civil society. These should replace the social institutions which were established by the armed religious factions and through which [they] have managed to rake in the support of a large sector of Palestinian society."

Political leadership of this sort walks an incredibly fine line. As an elected leader, Mahmoud Abbas must comply with the will of his people, but must also make courageous and often unpopular moves, if there is to be any hope of peace in the region. It takes a special type of charismatic leader to achieve this, one which we in this country know very well. One wonders though, if Mahmoud Abbas will be able to keep the entrenched ideologies, desires and demands of the Palestinian people in check. We can only hope...

Monday, January 10, 2005

Gingrich for President?
For those who do not like the direction George W Bush has taken the US and by proxy, the world, look out - Newt Gingrich may be president in 2008. A consumate politician, and the architect of the "Contract with America" which led the Republicans to power in the Congress in the mid-90's, Gingrich announced that he would possibly seek the Republican nomination for President in 2008. Gingrich made the announcement during the launch of his new book criticising Bush's handling of Iraq and other domestic and international policy failings, after which he took a tour of traditional election campaign states.

A highly respected and astute politician, Gingrich was a very controversial leader during his Senatorial stint, leading spiteful personal attacks on other Senators and leaders, and falling foul of the House Ethics committee on fund raising irregularities. His acutely conservative ideologies would shade even George W Bush, and would push the Republican agenda of 'God, gays and guns' even deeper.

It could well possibly be the easiest way for Newt to gain publicity for his book, but it may also be an early 'sounding out' of the American populus' reaction to a possible campaign. If so, Gingrich will undoubtedly come up against former NY City Mayor, Rudi Guiliani in the battle for the nomination. Watch this space...

Victory for Abbas
It is testament to the strength of the Palestinians' desire for change that so many voters turned out in yesterday's presidential election. Under threat of violence from Hamas and other militant groups, and without much incentive as Abbas was very likely to win in a landslide, 71% of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots. With most pundits expecting a turnout more in the region of 40%, it notably gives Mahmoud Abbas more of a mandate to lead the Palestinians to peaceful change.

Some comments were made by Abbas in the last day of campaigning Sunday, where he called Israel the "Zionist enemy", but this was mere election grandstanding to appeal to the more radical edge of Palestinian support. Abbas has committed himself to peaceful change and the fulfilling of the road map, and the support, probably of more that 65% of Palestinians, gives him the ability to make bold steps to reshape the Middle East. The enduring question will be however, whether he can gain the respect, and the control, of Hamas and other militants within the Palestine. Without their cooperation, it will be a bumpy ride.

The Return
I'm back at work after a good break spent in Nature's Valley and the Eastern Cape coast. Funny how it never seems like you've had a holiday! Posting to resume shortly...