Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, July 28, 2005

This man speaks my language
Trevor Manuel speaking on the Zimbabwe loan:
"We need to ensure that all of the African continent remains in the family of nations. The worst thing we can have is a failed state or a rogue state on our borders."

Trevor Manuel was responding to questions on South Africa's responsibility to meet Zimbabwe's pleas for financial help. He said he did not know of any decisions yet on South Africa extending Zimbabwe a credit line.

"Clearly we have a responsibility. It's a responsibility we take very seriously."

However, this was done with the mindset that the government was looking after the resources in its coffers on behalf of all South Africans. He said that as minister of finance, he had a huge responsibility and would not be "reckless in the way I exercise that responsibility".

The UN's Report on Zimbabwe
These are the main findings of th UN's report on Zim. Get the full report here.
The Special Envoy’s findings and their implications are as follows:

(i) Operation Restore Order, while purporting to target illegal dwellings and structures and to clamp down on alleged illicit activities, was carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering, and, in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national and international legal frameworks. Immediate measures need to be taken to bring those responsible to account, and for reparations to be made to those who have lost property and livelihoods. In parallel, other confidence-building measures need to be taken to restore dialogue between the Government of Zimbabwe and civil society.

(ii) Even if motivated by a desire to ensure a semblance of order in the chaotic manifestations of rapid urbanisation and rising poverty characteristic of African cities, none the less Operation Restore Order turned out to be a disasterous venture based on a set of colonial-era laws and policies that were used as a tool of segregation and social exclusion. There is an urgent need to suspend these outdated laws and to review them within the briefest time possible to ensure the sustainability of humanitarian response and to set the stage for meaningful physical reconstruction and the restoration of livelihoods;

(ii) The humanitarian consequences of Operation Restore Order are enormous. It will take several years before the people and society as a whole can recover. There is an immediate need for the Government of Zimbabwe to recognise the virtual state of emergency that has resulted, and to allow unhindered access by the international and humanitarian community to assist those that have been affected. Priority needs include shelter and non-food items, food and health support services.

iv) Any humanitarian response can only be meaningful and sustainable if it contributes to the long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts of the Government and of its people. Zimbabwe is not a country at war and it remains peaceful. By African standards, it has a well maintained physical infrastructure. The international community should engage the Government of Zimbabwe and help it to address some of the issues and causal factors that led to the present predicament. These include, first and foremost, the lack of security of tenure for the poor. They also include conflicting and outdated housing and urban development policies, overlapping jurisdictions, and a lack of clear definition of and respect for the respective roles and competencies between central and local spheres of government. The humanitarian response provides a unique opportunity and entry point to link the provision of temporary shelter and other forms of humanitarian assistance with immediate security of tenure for all those affected and to prepare the ground for overcoming the failures and inherent weaknesses in governance.

Operation Drive Out Filth an "internal matter"
I'm not sure why I keep getting riled up about Nkosazana's stance on Zimbabwe, but I find it hard to brush off. She stated yesterday that Southern African countries viewed ZimbabweÂ?s mass demolition campaign as Â?an internal matterÂ?.

It's important to note that when the UN wanted to place the Zimbabwe raids on the security council agenda last night, it was opposed by China, Russia, Algeria, Benin and Tanzania (Brazil abstained) on the same grounds; that it was "an internal matter". The difference is that we live on the borders of the country, and are ignoring the plight of thousands of people made homeless by these actions, many of whom will undoubtedly be crossing said borders to find work in South Africa, further exacerbating our own fragile employment issues. Their are socio-economic, as well as basic political reasons why Zimbabwe is a poisonous ally for South Africa.

What riles me more as this was the exact message used by the Apartheid regime to dissuade international inspection of their abhorrent practices. It took a concerted effort from leading nations to bring the full force of international pressure to bear on the Apartheid government, yet those very leaders that fought for its abolition cannot see history repeating itself in Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

China loves Bob
So it's not just Thabo then...

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Zimbabwean Financial Conundrum
The potential loan to Zimbabwe has raised a lot of discussion amongst the South African public and there are no simplistic answers. It's a case of giving tacit support to a government that has got itself into this dire situation through mismanagement and deception versus letting a country, and its people, slide in an economic depravity that will have significant consequences for South Africa.

In giving the loan to Mugabe, Mbeki has been largely aware that it could well be money thrown down the drain, as Zimbabwean financial management has been short-sighted and incompetent to say the least. One finds it hard to believe that they will suddenly change their mischievous ways due to access to South Africa coffers. Mbeki has stated that the loan will be tied to economic and political concessions that will need to be made. However, Mbeki has shown an almost revered patience with Mugabe and his henchmen in the past and one wonders whether this is just lip service being paid to the South African and the international public to dissuade a perception that this is tacit support of Mugabe's regime. There are no guarantees of any return on these funds.

On the other hand, we have the Zimbabwean people themselves. Brow-beaten and defeated, most are largely along for the ride on Mugabe's roller-coaster, and there is a case to attempt to save the Zimbabwean economy for their needs alone. Then there is the fallout for South Africa if Zimbabwe does collapse. With little international support for assisting the Mugabe-led Zimbabwe, the brunt of an economic collapse will most likely be shouldered by South Africa alone. A huge influx of Zimbabwean job-seekers would result, along with a loss of any remaining exports and loan obligations, and a humanitarian crisis that will find few helpers outside of South Africa. It will be another thorn in the side of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular, Southern Africa, which will have a negative effect on international investment and international perceptions for South Africa.

It's a vexing question between assisting a ourselves and the Zimbabwean people and supporting a hapless and murderous regime. As sad as it may prove to be, as a tax-payer, I would probably support the loan on the former rationale.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Greenspan against US subsidies
Developing economies have found an unlikely hero in Alan Greenspan, who yesterday called for the US to "embrace economic openness rather than choosing a path of protectionism".

Â?The globalisation route is by far the superior route because protection may appear to be helpful in the short run, but over the long run you cannot help industries or jobs which are obsolescent,Â? Greenspan said to the House of Representatives financial services committee.

This is naturally music to the ears of developing nations, especially in Africa, as agricultural subsidies hurt African countries attempting to grow their economies by exporting agricultural goods to the larger markets in Europe and the US. The US market is more dominated by South American imports, and they are currently considering removing trade protectionism with certain Latin American states, but the European and US agricultural subsidies remain. The issue now is the fact that most of the world's largest economies have entrenched subsidies to prop up their own agricultural markets for economic and strategic security reasons (the UK is one of the few to revise this policy) and none of them will now budge. According to the Business Day, US officials addressing African nations at a trade conference in Dakar earlier this week reiterated the USÂ?s stance that "it would not commit to a timetable to cut agriculture subsidies unless other rich nations agreed to dismantle their subsidies too."

Most nations will wait for the US to make the first move (we all know the French will be the last to move, if at all) and may try to make some short-term gain from it, inferring that the dissolution of agricultural subsidies may yet be a long way off. A new US farm bill is set to be implemented in 2007, which would see these subsidies continue for another seven years, so time is against us. I really do believe that the removal of agricultural subsidies could be a real shot in the arm for African development, more so in terms of gaining access to European markets than those in the US, but the next move has to come from the US. If no agreement is reached in the next year, I fear that the moment will be lost for another decade, a luxury which Africa simply cannot afford.

Monday, July 18, 2005

More rubbish from Qwelane
Jon Qwelane certainly earns his salary at News24. Always one to find the line, and take a leaping jump over it, Qwelane's latest column practically celebrates the recent London bombings.

In it, he states:
"Let me share some thoughts on the horrible events in London almost two weeks ago which, to my mind, were not really unexpected and are an inevitable consequence of George Bush's 'war on terror' which, I must say, kills and maims innocents indiscriminately in the so-called hunt for 'terrorists' and their allies. Let us not forget that this 'war' is fought most savagely.

British prime minister Tony Blair called the unprecedented London attacks on commuter trains and a passenger bus "barbaric" and other uncomplimentary and unsavoury epithets. That is because his collusion with Bush in the massacre of innocents when scatter bombs and guided missiles rain death and havoc on Iraqi and Afghan towns and villages results in what is casually termed "collateral damage". The boot is now firmly on the other foot and there can be no prevaricating for Blair, Bush and their allies.

It must all be understood in the context of the "war on terror" that civilian massacres, shocking as they no doubt are, must happen to protagonists on both sides of this battle."

Qwelane's last statement that "civilian massacres must happen to both sides" is appalling. The antecedents of Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq were undoubtedly dubious, but I do believe that the Americans do take precautions in targeting decisions, and that the majority of the civilian massacres taking place in Iraq, as we have seen this weekend, are undertaken by insurgents, no the US Army. Perhaps Qwelane should turn on his television and open his other eye, because defending the bombings in London is a deplorable stance.

Happy Birthday Madiba

Friday, July 15, 2005

Corruption: The Good News and Bad News
The Business Day carries the results of a survey undertaken by Research Surveys on perceptions of corruption within South Africa. There's good news and bad news.

The bad news is that there has been a marked rise in the number of people perceiving corruption as "becoming a way of life in SA". 74% of those polled in January agreed with this statement, which went up to 83% in the second survey in June.

But there's plenty of good news, especially for Thabo Mbeki. In the June survey, 86% of respondents felt President Thabo Mbeki'?s dismissal of Jacob Zuma sent a clear message on corruption to the rest of government. When asked if dismissing Zuma demonstrated Mbeki's commitment to a transparent government, 83% agreed and 11% disagreed. According to the poll, Mbeki's approval rating rose from 48% in January to 83% after he fired Zuma.

As I've said before, it was an incredibly brave move from Mbeki, which is being proven by the current waves of populist attacks on him, and one that will have long-term effects on the acceptance of corruption in South Africa.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

"Normal room level speaking" Diplomacy
Morgan Tsvangarai set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons yesterday with his comments stating that Mbeki will take a more aggressive stance on Mugabe since "he recognises that the quiet diplomacy has not produced the requisite result and therefore he cannot continue to operate in the same manner he has been operating for the last three years". If I know anything about Thabo, it's that he doesn't like surprises, and it's a sure fire way to raise his chagrin.

Sure enough, Presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo came out firing last night, saying "I don't know what Mr Tsvangirai is talking about." All this in response to the fact that new Deputy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka flew in to Harare on Tuesday for a quick visit. This, most likely, was exactly that, a chance for her to introduce herself to the Zimbabwean leadership.

I'm not sold on the fact that Mbeki is changing tack, certainly not to the extent extolled by Tsvangari. This seems like a desperate cry for relevance for Morgan Tsvangarai and the MDC, trying to rouse up some interest in the party under the force of Mugabe's boot. His call that Mugabe must "realise that he has put the country in a cul de sac and that he needs to negotiate himself out of an irreconcilable corner" seems futile and verbose, and likely to fall on very deaf ears. Tsvangarai knows that Mugabe has successfully strangled the life out of his party, and his supporters, and he needs Mbeki's support. His frustration may be at the root of what may surely turn out to be a political miscalculation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

International views on investing in SA

"It's a wealthy version of Brazil or Chile, with healthier infrastructure but difficult transitions."

Description of South African investment opportunities from Forbes International Guide to Investing: South Africa.

Common Monetary Policy in SADC
Though it's a long way off, the Business Day reports on Tito Mboweni's discussions regarding the development of a commom currency in the SADC. The SADC comprises SA, along with Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

I do have a concern about a common currency. Even in Europe, with stable economies and fairly homogenous economic policy, the Euro has had a troubled introduction. Extrapolate this to the SADC, with calamitous states like the DRC, Zimbabwe and Angola, and you begin to see my point. I'm not sure I would like to be sharing a common currency that would open us up to the fair winds of investment and risk perceptions as one consolidated currency unit.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The polarisation of Islam
This will undoubtedly get lost in the midst for the horrors in London, but it's notable nonetheless. The Egyptian Ambassador to Iraq, Ihab al-Sherif, has been murdered by his Al Qaeda captors, who stated:

"We announce in the al-Qaeda in Iraq that the verdict of Allah against the ambassador of the infidels, the ambassador of Egypt, has been carried out. Thank Allah."

Egypt has a long history with Islam, and has one of the main states of the Muslim Brotherhood, and this killing shows the growing polarisation of the Muslim world. Whilst recent Islamic militant fanaticism has influenced many Muslims to become more militant, it has also brought moderate Muslims to turn their backs on their more fanatical members. Egypt is an Islamic country that has tried to tread the middle moderate line, having strong and full diplomatic relations with Israel (Ihab al-Sherif was previosuly Egypt's Ambassador to Israeli) as well as with the West. The hatred by which Al Qaeda refers to Egypt, as "infidels", and the murdering of a high-ranking government official illustrates this polarisation between the moderates and fanatics within Islam.

London Terror Attacks
It's still only hours after the well coordinated London blasts, but it does seem fairly clear that this is an Al Qaeda attack. Due to Al Qaeda's cellular structure, any militant that shares Bin Laden's militant philosophy can fall under the umbrella of their 'brand' of terror, and the 'Secret Organisation of Al Qaeda Europe' seems like one of these as yet unknown cells.

As many have said, a terrorist attack in London was almost inevitable, given that it's a large city with mostly walking inhabitants. It is near impossible to stop a street level attack on London's inhabitants simply due to the scale of the access points and the ease of transport. The G8 summit is the clear target (I would think the Olympic announcement is merely coincidental) and London was patently the 'next' target that Al Qaeda wanted to hit as the financial hub of Europe. It is an extension of Al Qaeda's methodologies of carrying terror to the western world in the name of Islamic militanism, and will undoubtedly give further stature to the organisation, as if they needed more.

It will be very interesting to see the response from Labour, especially whether the UK will follow the US in the curtailment of civil liberties. The much maligned ID cards that have been proposed by Labour over the past year will no doubt be pushed through expediently. Immigration will no doubt become a crucial election issue again, as will the open borders policy with the EU.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Graft in Africa
The New York Times carries a front page article this morning on graft (corruption to you and I) in Africa, and the challenges ahead of the G8 Summit.
There is ample fodder for pessimists and optimists alike. On the positive side, a growing number of African nations are edging away from crime and autocracy toward democracy and openness. Ghana, which marked its first peaceful democratic transfer of power in 2000, is often cited as a regional model of reform. Tanzania's president, Benjamin Mkapa, claims that an anticorruption campaign has led to a four-fold increase in government revenue in the decade since the nation's first multiparty elections. Zambia is trying its former president, Frederick Chiluba, for stealing $488,000 in state funds - even though he handpicked the successor whose government has charged him.

Yet a May study by the World Bank found that between 1996 and 2004, the quality of governance deteriorated in as many African countries as it improved.

Kenya is a painful illustration: a government ushered in two years ago on an anticorruption platform saw its widely respected anticorruption czar quit in frustration in February, apparently because his work was thwarted. The United States and Germany quickly withdrew nearly $10 million in aid.

Whether the new wave of African aid avoids the pitfalls of the past depends not just on its recipients, development specialists say, but also on the donors, who have often pushed poorly devised projects, refused to coordinate their efforts or demands with one another and failed to monitor the impact of their largesse.

Foreign aid must be tied to teaching poor nations how to build accountability into their governments, development specialists contend. In some countries, it is not even clear whether the executive branch or the parliament controls the budget, said Steven Radelet, a senior fellow for the Washington-based Center for Global Development. He warned, however, that such improvements typically require generations to take root.

Worth a read.

DA's Opportunism
The DA's brand of opportunistic politics is starting to become an irritation, and in my view, a damaging strategy. The latest non-issue around a SA Tourism poster at the airport is a case in point. The story can be read here, but basically revolves around a copy line that states "40 million people, 9 indigenous languages and not a single word for stranger." The point is that you have to read the advertisement to realise it's not about an offensive attack on English and Afrikaans, it's simply the fact that English and Afrikaans do have a word for "stranger", whilst the African indigenous languages don't. The DA's attack on a campaign that has been running for 18 months already smacks of the political opportunism that has been creeping into their party strategy for the past five years and only damages their reputation as a political party.

In this particular case, the DA is trying to woo the Afrikaner voter by being a 'champion' for their cause, but this only goes to further their perception as a white party. It's no wonder the only party that supported them is the far-right Freedom Front.

This does nothing to either grow a perception that they are a South African party for all its people, or that they are a viable party to govern this country at some stage in the future. The DA's opportunism is alienating vast segments of the country's voters, and it is bewildering to me how they continue to push these strategies.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Isn't it a bit ironic that with the entire range of Live8 concerts being held for Africa, nobody though to put the concerts on African television?

Guardian does an about turn on Mugabe
I think I know a Guardian editor that may be out of a job in an hour or two:
Zimbabwe is being hypocritically vilified by west
The evictions -- which are clearly happening on a wide scale - have been seized on by the west, and the former colonial power Britain in particular, as another reason to demonise President Mugabe and further humiliate long-suffering Zimbabwe. It's open season on the Harare regime and it appears that anyone can say anything they like without recourse to accuracy or reality. Whipped into a frenzy of hypocritical outrage, the EU, Britain and the US, as well as the World Bank -- all of which have been responsible for millions of evictions in Africa and elsewhere as conditions of infrastructure projects -- have rushed to condemn the "atrocities".

The vilification of Mugabe is now out of control. The UN security council and the G8 have been asked to debate the evictions, and Mugabe is being compared to Pol Pot in Cambodia. Meanwhile, the evictions are mentioned in the same breath as the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans -- although perhaps only three people have so far accidentally died. Only at the very end of some reports is it said that the Harare city authority's stated reason for the evictions is to build better, legal houses for 150,000 people.

- The Guardian's environment editor, John Vidal

Friday, July 01, 2005

Operation Drive Out Filth: The last straw?
I find it hard to get excited about Thabo's discussions about Zimbabwe, but this latest round of promised discussions with the MDC comes so soon after Mugabe's latest mad antics that perhaps there is something to get excited about.

The weight of international pressure is growing, with Bush having some harsh words for Zimbabwe's neighbours, and rightly so. There is a danger that this effort by Mbeki may be some last-minute window-dressing for the G8, but one hopes that it goes deeper than that. Mbeki's quiet diplomacy obviously needs revision, and as much as the Mbeki and Dlamini-Zuma call for Zimbabwe to solve its own problems, perhaps the vision of Mugabe attacking his own people is enough to dissuade them from this stance.

I don't hold much hope. With Mbeki taking so much heat from the left of his party, rubbing his Africanist allies the wrong way may be too much to ask. Let's call it hope that I'm proved wrong.

Caption Competition
C'mon, this is a picture crying out for a caption. Give it your best shot...