Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, February 28, 2005

Gnassingbe's Short Reign
I think we all herald some success in the resignation of Faure Gnassingbe as Togo's president. As I stated previously, this is undoubtedly a great success for "African solutions for African problems". African governments, most especially Nigeria and most of the ECOWAS states, deserve high praise in the hard line taken against Togo's infringements against democracy.

But what do we do with this precedent? Togo is a small, rather insignificant country, and this victory is incomparable with the gross violations of human rights being undertaken across the continent each day. If we could hold all African countries to the same account, we could be reaching great heights as a continent. Think Zimbabwe, think DRC, think Sudan. This is the continental viewpoint that we have to strive towards. No real growth can come without adherence to democratic principles, there are simply too many examples of despots destroying states without heed to their own people or the economic disasters that naturally follow.

This type of governmental discipline will help to lower the investment risk and improve Africa's allocation of FDI, so critical for the continent's future. Peer review is concurrently a fundamental strength and weakness of NEPAD. Its success depends on it, and it is the factor that international investors are scrutinising most closely. If we can develop a robust peer review mechanism as seen in Togo across the continent, we have a basis for African renaissance.

Where should it start? On our own doorstep, with Zimbabwe.

In the interim, Togo's problems are not yet over. After the parliamentary speaker (the supposed acting president under the Togolese constitution) left the country before Gnassingbe's induction and was refused re-entry into Togo, the deputy speaker has been made president of Togo until the elections, which has sparked more demonstrations and riots in the streets of Lome. The next test will be the elections, which could come under undue influence from Gnassinge's cohorts.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Trevor's Gold Star
On the whole, I was very impressed with Manuel's budget outlined yesterday. I was particularly happy with both the tax relief (more on the preferential tax regimes than the corporate tax rate) and red tape reduction for small businesses, which has to assist the economic engine of the economy (and myself!). Some tax relief for the individual, however small, was welcome and reflects the continually enhanced methods of tax collection in South Africa. It is definitely a budget for growth, although the increased spending in education is something which is always pleasing to see. Some teacher's unions have been doing the talk radio rounds this morning, saying that those increases in education spending were merely pay raises negotiated late last year, so perhaps we haven't heard the end of that.

And what of the misses? Pensions, although raised by some R40 a month, could have seen a greater increase. For those living on the poverty line in their old age, R780 is not much to get by on. Some have extolled the lack of interest in social grants, but in my view, social grants are wasteful, growth-hampering spending anyway. Finally, some were hopefully anticipating some form of exchange control relaxation, but this was not to be.

All in all, a rather unsurprising and straight-forward budget, and what a luxury that is in South Africa. A growing economy held together by tight macro-economic policies, now bearing fruit for the majority of South Africans. Congratulations Trevor Manuel.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Manto and AIDS

The government's AIDS program really does beggar belief. Recently, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang declared that South Africa has the world's leading AIDS program. Yet it?s been a full 15 months since the government, largely under TAC pressure, announced its plans for antiretroviral rollout, and only yesterday did Manto announce that her department has completed negotiations with drug companies to supply antiretroviral drugs to state hospitals. The health minister had stated that tenders would be delivered by June last year. They have yet to be sent out.

AIDSMAP offers an interesting viewpoint of the delay:
The delay in the national purchasing programme may be traceable to troubles between the Ministry of Health and the Clinton Foundation around the time the treatment plan was approved. The Foundation had originally committed to help in the plan?s implementation ? especially lending its expertise in the procurement of affordable generic antiretroviral medications.

In fact, the Foundation had used their forecasts of South Africa?s demand for ART to help secure an initial agreement from generic drug manufacturers to supply a triple-drug ART combination to treatment programmes in several nations ? including South Africa ? for only $132 dollars each year per person. The price that was more than 50% lower than the previous best price offered by a generic manufacturer for this triple combination (see aidsmap news story).

The Clinton Foundation announcement was the likely cause of a fallout between the South African Ministry of Health and the Clinton Foundation. While South Africa had promised to contribute millions of Rand to pay for its HIV programme, it was also expecting to qualify for vast sums from President Bush?s $15 Billion Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). But PEPFAR?s head Randall Tobias (former CEO of Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals) had grave concerns about using PEPFAR monies to buy generic antiretrovirals. (See aidsmap news story).

This put the South African government in a delicate situation. Ever the statesman, it was not like President Mbeki to antagonise President Bush or embarrass former President Clinton. So South Africa quietly decided to proceed with implementation on its own, which meant foregoing Clinton Foundation assistance ? and procuring the supply of drugs by itself.

This partly explains the government?s refusal to release the implementation schedule of the treatment plan, Annexure A, to the public. TAC has sued the government for force it to make this document public as it lists the sequence and delegation of tasks that needed to be performed to implement the programme successfully. But releasing the original document would have revealed the Clinton Foundation?s extensive involvement in the plan?s implementation ? as well as the plan?s original reliance on generic drugs.

South Africa?s subsequent procurement process has been halting at best. Many generic companies complained of being shut out of the process ? which mostly seemed tailored to favour the Western pharmaceutical industry and/or possibly, the development of South African sources.

Some activists have alleged that the South African procurement process was waiting for the US Food and Drug Administration (and PEPFAR?s) nod of approval. It is notable that, only three weeks ago, the FDA announced that it had approved a coblistered triple combination of AZT, 3TC and nevirapine manufactured by the South African company Aspen Pharmacare.

This has had the result that the government has managed to treat only between 28,000 and 31,000 AIDS patients with anti-retroviral drugs, far short of its target of treating 53,000 people by March. This only opens the government?s policy to more questions. It is incredibly difficult to substantiate any belief that the government is committed to its AIDS policies, and this in a country with 5 million infected with AIDS.

Mbeki blames the failure of government's rollout program on doctors and the medical system, saying they were not doing enough to bring people in need into the program, but this is an incredibly weak defense, and a sign of a government trying to shift the blame.

Then the Business Day carries a news item this morning that only serves to reinforce the lack of commitment. The government?s National AIDS Trust, which was meant to advise Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on HIV/AIDS policy and implementation has not met once since its inception in 2002. The trust has a budget of R30 million, including a donation of R769 000, and to date it has spent R520 000, which has been wasted on the rent of offices that have never been used. This flagrant abuse of funds and complete lack of interest is an incredibly damning factor. The worst thing is that the trust is chaired by the person tasked with co-ordinating the fight against HIV-AIDS within the ANC, deputy president Jacob Zuma. Let?s just say he has other things on his mind, which makes it even more incredulous that he has been given such a pivotal post.

It just seems bizarre when the Stats SA releases a report stating that there has been a 57% increase in deaths in the five years until 2003, and blames most of it on AIDS, that we have a questionable government commitment to AIDS programs.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Sanctions for Togo: A new step for Africa?
The recent actions of ECOWAS, as well as the condemnation from the rest of the African nations heralds an important step for the continent. Never before has their been such continent-wide condemnation, and action, against a dictatorial leader acting outside of his country's constitution. Surely this is a sign of a more mature, more engaging Africa?

The West African nations of ECOWAS decided this weekend to throw Togo out of their organisation, and imposed so called "smart sanctions" - travel bans on Togo's leadership, cessation of diplomatic ties and arms embargo against the state. This after Gnassingbe had stated that he would hold elections in two months, but indicated he would not step down before the vote. The country's constitution calls for the national assembly head to take over the country and that elections must be held within 60 days of the death of a president. In other incidents, 10 000 people marched in the streets to protest against Gnassingbe's 'coup' over the weekend and Nigeria's National Assembly authorised President Olusegun Obasanjo to use his full powers, including military, to resolve the constitutional crisis in Togo.

Such condemnation under flouting of the constitution's rules is rare in Africa, and it is incredibly refreshing to see African nations unified against a despot such as Gnassingbe. Perhaps the relative size of Togo (it's GDP is about US$1.6 Billion, 1% of South Africa's US$160 Billion) points to the rationale of an easy state to make an example of, but it is still holds significance nonetheless.

It remains to be seen whether or not Gnassingbe will capitulate under the pressure, early signs are that he will, but the response from the continent has been exemplary. Hopefully it is the start of the continental house-keeping philosophy called for under NEPAD. Now, if only the SADC could do the same to Zimbabwe.

SA Blog Award Nominations
Thanks for everyone that nominated The Fishbowl for the SA Blog Awards. The blog has been nominated in the Best New Blog, Best Political Blog and Best Blog Entry categories. Now all you lot have to do is vote and help me win! Head on over to the SA Blog Awards site (here), and hit the vote machine at the bottom.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Seminar: "The Rwandan Genocide - What Have We Learned?"
For those in Cape Town on Monday, the UCT Centre for Conflict Resolution has an interesting talk by U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda's head, General Romeo Dallaire.

General Dallaire witnessed unspeakable horrors in Rwanda, as extremist Hutus massacred over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus in the space of a few days in 1994.

General Romeo Dallaire did everything he could, pleading for 2000 more peacekeepers to be added to his insufficiently-equipped 3000-man force. If they had answered General Dallaire's pleas, the U.N. could have stopped the slaughter of hundres of thousands of Rwandans.

Instead, following the deaths of 10 Belgian Peacekeepers assigned to protect the Rwandan president, his forces were cut down from 3000 to a mere 500 men, who had to watch helplessly as one of the most horrific genocides in human history unfolded before them.

Frustrated, and disheartened by the U.N.'s passive attitude, General Dallaire nonetheless stood for his beliefs, repeatedly confronting his superiors who did nothing to prevent the horrific events. In 2002, he was honoured with an award for his work.

General Dallaire is now working on the problem of war-affected children, and has visited countries where children are used as soldiers or are being sold into sexual slavery. He has written a book, reviewed by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for the Washington Post, and published several articles on his experiences.

Main Speaker:
General Romeo Dallaire (Former Commander of the United Nations Forces in Rwanda)
Fathima Hajaig (Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on International Affairs)
Cedric de Coning (Research Fellow, African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, ACCORD, Cape Town)

Date: Monday, 21 February 2005
Time: 17h00 - 19h00
Venue: CCR Offices, UCT Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Gardens
RSVP: Lindy Mudenda
Tel: 021 4222512
Fax:021 4222622


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Zim Elections

These stories were in the papers this morning, and once again show the South African government being largely out of step with occurences in Zimbabwe in the run-up to the elections.

SA 'scraps' Zim poll monitors (News24)
South Africa feels that an official fact-finding mission by a team of legal experts to Zimbabwe for the parliamentary election there is "unnecessary" and should be scrapped. The government was initially holding back its views on whether a fair and just election was possible until after the visit. But, on Tuesday it said the circumstances were in place for a free election.

MDC election chief held in Harare (IOL)
Zimbabwean police arrested the main opposition party's elections director on Wednesday as he conducted a training session for candidates in parliamentary polls next month, the party said."The MDC notes with concern the continued disruption of its campaign programme and the continued harassment of its candidates and leaders," the party said in a statement.The disruption of its meetings was a clear violation of Southern African Development Community (SADC) guidelines on the conduct of free and fair elections, the MDC added.

AU Backs Report on Zim Abuse (IOL)
The African Union has endorsed a report that concludes political violence, arbitrary arrests and police torture occurred in the run up to the 2002 Zimbabwe presidential elections, the union's spokesperson said on Wednesday. The comments come as Zimbabwe's main opposition movement and foreign observers accuse the Zimbabwean government of using similar tactics in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled next month.

That sounds like it's free and fair doesn't it?

Iraq: The exit strategy
Great article in the Foreign Relations magazine regarding the US' strategy in Iraq and possible exit strategies. It's written by James Dobbins, who is Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand, and also was a U.S. Special Envoy in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

"American forces have lost the support of the Iraqi population and probably cannot regain it. The insurgency can be defeated only by Iraqi forces under Iraqi leadership, and only to the degree that those forces can dramatically reduce their dependence on the United States. Military operations should be governed by a counterinsurgency strategy emphasizing pacification--that is to say, priority should be given to securing the civilian population, not hunting down insurgents. In the end, insurgencies are defeated not by killing insurgents, but by winning the support of the population and thus denying the insurgents both refuge and recruits."

Read it here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Blogger sick
Apologies for the lack of posts, been down with a rather heavy bout of flu. Normal service will resume shortly...

Friday, February 11, 2005

State of the Nation
All eyes on Mbeki in the State of the Nation address this morning. Whilst we would love Mbeki to discuss AIDS and Zimbabwe (wishful thinking), he will focus on the delivery on socio-economic promises made in last year's address, where we can expect some scathing reviews on segments of the civil service. Additional speech notes will be given to repatriating emigrated South Africans and most interestingly, changes in the small business arena to lower the high cost of starting and operating a small enterprise in South Africa. Catch it live at your desk on streaming audio at from 11AM. Full transcript available here.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Vote for The Fishbowl!
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Controlling Hamas
The agreement reached in Sharm el-Sheikh between Abbas and Sharon yesterday is another historic milestone on the rocky road(map) to peace in the Middle East. It is an agreement that has been made possible by a change in PLO leadership, and is an opportunity that if missed, may not come around again for another decade. The spanner in the works is again Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other militant groups that have delayed any committment to a ceasefire.

The agreement states that both parties have agreed that "all Palestinians will stop all acts of violence against all Israelis everywhere and in parallel, Israel will cease all its military activity against all Palestinians anywhere."

It seems though, that Abbas may have significant difficulties in keeping the Palestinian side of the bargain. Hamas says that it cannot commit to a ceasefire before it has spoken further to Abbas, as the two demands that they had set for peace had not been fulfilled: the freeing of Palestinian prisoners and the cease of military activities against Palestinians. Just hours after the handshake between Abbas and Sharon, the Israelis announced that they would be releasing 500 Palestinian prisoners as from next week. And Sharon's committment to pull troops back from Jericho, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tulkarm and Qalqilya and cease military activities speaks for itself. Even the Palestinian authorities are saying that Hamas has no reason to boycott.

One has to consider the premise of Hamas' existence to see the reasoning. Hamas has built its existence on a stoic committment to militancy against Israel, rhetoric that borders on hate-speech, a drumming up of young militants to lay down their lives for the cause and the continued pledge to terrorist activities. Without their militant cause, the group has a fragile reason for existence.

Abbas has understood this well, and offered Hamas the opportunity to move from a militant operation to a political movement, with a negotiation ploy of offering a place in the Palestinian political environment for a committment to peace. With their successes in local elections, it is hoped that Hamas will seize the opportunity, but with the political process being so foreign to them, one wonders about its merit.

Hamas itself is at a crossroads. It has to decide whether it is a terrorist organisation fighting in perpetuity against Israel, or a true player in Middle East peace. It has to decide on the true antecedents of its militancy, a simple hatred for Israel, or a struggle against occupation that ends with the Palestinian people's release. It is often difficult for groups that are set in such a militant mindset to see the wood for the trees and realise that their central cause is finding a negotiated solution. The natural instinct is to continue shfting the goal posts. Their position will undoubtedly be adopted by the rest of the Palestinian militant groups and now that the opportunity presents itself, Hamas' decision will define its existence and its historical perception for decades to come. We can only hope that their lack of committment to the agreement is merely a stalling tactic to allow them to do some soul-searching.

It leaves the peace process at a markedly fragile juncture. As an Israeli official very accurately postulates "One can only have a cease-fire with a state or authority that controls security. You can't have a cease-fire with armed terrorist groups, because you give them a veto over peace. What we have today is a cessation of violence, and it can become something more if Abbas moves to crack down on the militants, take away their weapons and destroy their mortar and rocket factories."

There is a long road to travel, and we have had these hopes before. The critical wild-card is Hamas, and their decision to support the ceasefire will be the catalyst for change, or the continuation of the status quo.

Monday, February 07, 2005

DA's trip to Zim: Publicity or Productivity?
The DA's announcement of their imminent "fact-finding" mission to Zimbabwe, following freshly on Cosatu's recent expulsion for the same 'crime', has been met with condemnation by some, and encouragement by others. Joe Seremane said on Cape Talk this morning that they were going to speak to a cross-section of the nation, from farmers, to urban dwellers, to Zanu-PF and the MDC, to determine the political climate in the run-up to the Zimbabwean elections.

The ANC has termed it to be "highly provocative" and that they "must stay away from that situation... they are not doing any good to our neighbour."

So will this trip be productive? In my view, any activity that continues to draw attention to Zimbabwe's election inadequacies is a good thing. Whether they are turned away at the border (highly likely) or manage to make a visit, the publicity given will continue to challenge both local and international views on Zimbabwe.

Is it coincidental that it will garner strong publicity for the DA? Naturally. But that doesn't correlate to it being a bad idea. The only natural problem will be if the DA goes looking for election improprieties without objectivity in order to make petty jibes at ANC policy. Then this trip will be a wasted effort...

Friday, February 04, 2005

Chirac's attack
Chirac's verbal assault on Mbeki's peacekeeping efforts are surprising, but not without antecedent. The Ivory Coast has long been France's empirical playground, and Chirac himself has expended a significant amount of political capital in their rather messy peacekeeping efforts there under the Marcoussis Road Map. Thabo Mbeki has flown in for a few days, achieved what France has not in a few years, leaving France without position in the country.

The French take national pride very seriously, and most especially after the deaths of French peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast. Chirac has consequentially been backed into a corner with Mbeki's succesful mediation efforts and is undoubtedly under pressure from opposition at home. This places his derogatory comments about Mbeki's "lack of understanding of West Africa" and the implication that he was responsible for the insinuation that France was trying to "conquer" the Ivory Coast, in a little more perspective. Chirac was given a perfect opening when the Ivory Coast opposition party leadership, allies of the French, accused Mbeki of being in coalescence with president Laurent Gbagbo in his view of a "French neo-colonial plot". He took it...

MDC without choice
The biggest non-news story this week was the MDC's decision to retract their boycott of the upcoming Zimbabwian elections and announce their involvement. Their decision was based on the simple fact that (a) they simply had to participate if they wanted to keep their party operational and (b) they had been outplayed politically by Mugabe.

In terms of the first point, the MDC is at its core an opposition party. Its members face great hardships in declaring their support for the MDC, with their only expression being the elections. Since the 2000 election, Mugabe and his henchmen have done a great deal to break the back of MDC support through the selective delivery of food rations and sheer political brutality. Hunger and poverty have the ability to very expediently alter people's perceptions of the political and moral high ground, and ZANU-PF has exploited this very well. The result is that the MDC has shed much of its support base in the face of these hardships, and the hard-core support that remains, can only express their support in an election year. Should the MDC remove its participation from these elections, the party would undoubtedly find a support base that feels betrayed and deceived. Progress after the elections would be incredibly difficult with a weak support base that felt like they sacrificed much for a party that left them at the altar.

Secondly, the MDC based their boycott on the fact that elections were rigged, and their renewed participation only on election transparency comparable to official SADC standards. What Mugabe did was to make some improvements (including giving permission to independent election observers) which made some strides, but still fell short of SADC standards. By design, these changes are visible and communicable ones, which without entirely hampering Mugabe's ability to interfere with elections, give him the ability to convince the Zimbabwean people that he is bending over backwards to ensure "free and fair" elections. This paints the MDC into a corner, as they cannot maintain their boycott without being perceived by the Zimbabwean people as being the ankle-biting trouble-makers that Mugabe has tried to paint them as.

Undoubtedly, even if there were to be free and fair elections, one would envisage that the MDC would face a hammering anyway, such is the climate of fear that Mugabe's henchmen have managed to create. The heady days of 2000 must feel a long way off for Morgan Tsvangari. The fact that Mugabe dropped the appeal against Tsvangari's treason verdict just goes to show that the MDC leader is a shadow of his former threat.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Mbeki cartoons
Somebody's in trouble...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Exporter's Woe Misplaced?
Interesting article on the Finance24 website regarding the Rand's fortunes in January. What's interesting is that the article states that exports rose 7% in Rand terms in 2004 (25% in $ terms), reversing from a 12.7% decline in Rand terms in 2003. And for once, exporters blamed "bottlenecks on the railways and harbours" and not the Rand, for constricting their growth. One hopes that this is the end of exporters bleating about the Rand and beginning to focus on internal efficiencies to make their exports internationally competitive in the free market. I can hear the retort now, "But what would exports have been like if the Rand was weaker?", but this is spurious. The strong Rand has significant advantages to it, not least in gains in real wealth accumulation. Exporters have proved that they can achieve growth and efficiencies, so let this be the beginning of efficiency based growth as opposed to Rand-based growth. If the Rand does move weaker, it can only be to leverage higher improvements in export growth rates.

Shosholoza and the NY Times
Great coverage this morning on the front page of the NY Times, with the story "In South Africa, Yachting Erases a Racial Barrier", written about SA's entry into the America's Cup 2007. It echoes a lot of hope about South African society and is the kind of article we need a lot more of in the US in particular. At touch ambitious at times, and one thinks gets the feeling it's being tee'd up for some Hollywood scriptwriter as the next "Cool Runnings", but fantastic publicity none the less.