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The Mo Ibrahim Foundation recently announced that once again, no-one had earned its annual prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The prize is meant to recognise probity and commitment to democracy and, crucially, it is awarded to people who have relinquished power with grace rather than outstaying their welcome.
Alas, such people are few and far between – and, in its short history, the prize has not often been awarded. In previous years members of the prize committee, such as Kofi Annan, have addressed packed press briefings to say no-one has won – these days, a single press release does the same job.
Standing in the way are the African continent’s persistent “gerontocrats” – ageing leaders hell-bent on ruling in perpetuity. Once they realise they aren’t immortal, they cling on in hopes of dying in office. Right up until the moment of death, they indulge in every medical technology the world can offer to stave off the inevitable.
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, is currently on extended sick leave in London to be treated for various ailments, most likely in an expensive private clinic. Eritrea’s president of 24 years, Isaias Afewerki, is rumoured to have secretly received urgent high-level medical treatment in Israel in the 1990s on a trip that paved the way for closer bilateral ties.
And most notoriously of all, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is well-known for his medical visits to Singapore. He’s officially being treated for a persistent eye complaint, but rumours abound that the treatment is for cancer. An increasingly frail 93-year-old, he always returns noticeably sprightly and rejuvenated.
Africa is hardly the only part of the world lumbered with such people. Various long-serving heads of state in post-Soviet Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asian countries find it hard to leave office – they too “win” election after election and disingenuously claim to be loved by their people. But even they have their limits.
Preserving the line
By and large, these leaders don’t seek to engineer their inevitable succession by members of their own family. Of course, family succession is hardly unique to Africa, and nor is it in itself wicked or anti-democratic: Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew was succeeded by his son, as was Mauritius’s Anerood Jugnauth. In the US, Robert Kennedy might have been elected president had he not been assassinated as his elder brother was, George H. W. Bush’s son served twice as long as he did, and Hillary Clinton very nearly became the 45th president instead of Donald Trump.
But the point is that anyone aspiring to lead, regardless of whether they share the genes or surname of another officeholder, must earn their mandate to do so in a fair and transparent election after a fair process of selection. Power, unlike money, is not something to be inherited – and public accountability is a crucial safeguard against abuse of office. More than that, the privilege that elevates hereditary rulers has nothing to do with political or personal merit.
Sure enough, several creaking African leaders have loved ones waiting in the wings to take over without earning the right to do so. In Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe is still thought to be manoeuvring to succeed her husband; in South Africa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s former wife, seems a favourite to succeed him.
Things are a little more subtle in Angola. Long-serving president, José Eduardo Dos Santos, has announced he will finally step down this year, and his rumoured successor is not a member of his family. But that doesn’t mean the Dos Santos family will lose their grip on the country – they still control civil society, private capital and the central bank’s sovereign wealth fund. Dos Santos’s daughter Isabel heads up Sonangol, the state-owned oil company.
Holding on while elderly and sick, living on through wives and family members – these are the symptoms of an almost clinical psychotropic condition in the elite African political class. Power is a drug – eventually it addles even the longest-lived presidents, draining them of any impetus to do anything except to cling onto life, and therefore to power itself.
Many of these leaders once used their tenacity to serve not just themselves, but their people. Some of those still clinging would do well to remember there are prizes for stepping down. The Mo Ibrahim Prize, for one, comes with enough money to fund a long retirement.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump will meet for the first time at Trump’s opulent Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida on April 6-7. There’s no indication yet that they will discuss Africa. But both major powers have extensive and often complementary interests that are of benefit to the continent.
A familiar list of more intractable economic and security issues will likely be on the table. It could be a positive counterpoint if both Beijing and Washington affirm a willingness to explore trilateral cooperation with African governments.
Trump has shown little awareness so far of the history of cooperation between China, the US and Africa. He also seems unaware of the extraordinary degree of bi-partisan support for US engagement in Africa and Sino-American cooperation. But if he’s the consummate dealmaker he purports to be then low risk, high returns of greater US-China-Africa cooperation should be irresistible.
Xi would have to take the lead. He has a much deeper knowledge of African affairs than Trump and has travelled extensively on the continent. Last year he co-chaired the Sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation with South African President Jacob Zuma. He’s also able to draw on assessments that have already been done of key areas where practical and mutually beneficial cooperation among China, the US and Africa has occurred or could be beneficial.
History of co-operation
It’s been several years since Xi’s then special representative on African affairs Zhong Jinhua and US Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Princeton Lyman began informally discussing African issues of mutual concern. They were, at the time, working to resolve the Sudan crises. This work continued later under the auspices of the independent Carter Centre in Atlanta. Zhong and Lyman, who is Special Advisor to the President of the US Institute for Peace, also served as their nation’s ambassadors to South Africa.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, a distinguished Ghanaian lawyer, diplomat, academic, and currently special representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, is the other coequal African partner in this exploration.
On March 3 Chambas, Lyman, Zhong and Carter Centre Associate Director John Goodman published the project’s initial report. It concludes that Africans, Americans, and Chinese agree on five broad goals:
- Economic growth and development
- Combating disease
- Mitigating conflict
- Enhancing political stability
- Fighting violent extremism and organised crime.
Economic growth and development may be the least promising area for immediate practical steps in trilateral cooperation. But the report cites numerous examples of progress in the other areas.
For instance, since 2010 China and the US have coordinated efforts in a larger multilateral effort to eliminate piracy off the Horn of Africa. The report also envisions growing opportunities for trilateral cooperation to ensure greater maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. This includes, as the report explains, applying antipiracy lessons learned in the successful Gulf of Aden antipiracy campaign.
An inter-regional cooperation centre called for in the “Yaounde Code of Conduct” is a promising partner for China and US assistance. The code was drawn up by 22 central and west African states to protect the region’s waters. It was subsequently endorsed at the African Union Summit in Lome, Togo.
The code urges that a forum among these states should regularly share information about maritime activities. This could possibly evolve into a cooperation centre, similar to one that exists for states with interests in the Gulf of Aden.
The trilateral report also suggests extending intra-regional security cooperation north of the Gulf of Guinea. This would address the extremist threats posed by organisations causing havoc across the region – among them al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. China and the US are already separately rendering counter-terrorism assistance to African governments. Greater coordination will be needed in this realm, too.
And the report recommends that China and the US to provide greater support for the AU’s goal to end the continent’s wars by 2020.
It’s been difficult for both Washington and Beijing to share information to avoid duplication and facilitate effectiveness. Mutual suspicions run deep. These have been exacerbated by Trump’s rhetoric and incoherent policies. And his recent budget proposals would cut US support for critical programs vital for Africa and in areas where Sino-US cooperation could be vital.
Ironically, US policies toward Africa and China have enjoyed exceptional bi-partisan support in Congress and successive US Presidents for decades. Trump’s renunciation of America’s commitment to cooperate with China and other nations to mitigate climate change and help Africa adapt would be especially damaging.
But there are conflict and security issues that Trump appears willing to invest in. These are highlighted in the report. And although Trump proposes deep cuts for international health, China and the US worked quickly and effectively in helping Africans overcome the deadly 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, before it spread abroad – including to the US.
Let’s hope Xi at least nudges Trump in the direction of cooperation. If managed correctly, it could greatly benefit all three parties.
Visitors to “the land of wide open spaces”, as Namibia is successfully promoted to tourists, will be impressed by what they see. Besides the beauty of the nature and abundant wildlife, the urban face of inner cities appeals to foreigners who treasure security and comfort amid the wilderness.
Namibia contributes a positive image to Africa. It ranks among the continent’s top five in governance and other performance related surveys. But beyond the surface of the success story looms a different reality for most of the country’s 2.3 million people, as it marks 27 years of independence.
Independence was finally achieved on March 21, 1990 after a long and violent anti-colonial struggle. Since then, Namibia has shown remarkable signs of political stability. The former liberation movement Swapo governs with an ever-increasing majority.
It secured 80% of votes in the last parliamentary elections. The directly elected party candidate for head of state, Hage Geingob, scored almost 87%. Still representing the first generation of the liberation struggle, he personifies the smooth succession of three post-independence state presidents with far reaching executive powers.
Catchwords attributed to them by party propaganda include reconciliation (Sam Nujoma, 1990-2005), consolidation (Hifikepunye Pohamba, 2005-2015) and prosperity (Hage Geingob, since 2015. Geingob is the party’s vice-president and became acting president in April 2015.
But under his presidency the promised prosperity has remained the privilege of few. Namibia is a rich country with poor people. Redistribution of wealth is mainly limited to beneficiaries within a new black elite. These are office bearers, party stalwarts and those with close ties to the new inner circles of governance. They thrive through a policy of so-called affirmative action and black economic empowerment.
Namibia’s state-driven economy
Namibia’s state-driven economy is a paradise for parasitic and rent-seeking self-enrichment schemes. The creation of state-owned enterprises as troughs for embezzlement has flourished. State tenders have dished out large sums for projects bordering on megalomaniac elite symbolism, often without creating any meaningful productive assets. Nepotism is a striking feature of a society with one of the highest income discrepancies in the world.
The UNDP’s Human Development Report documents the gross inequalities. A commonly referred to statistical figure is the country’s Gross National Income distribution per capita. This categorises Namibia as a higher middle-income country. But this number is misleading.
The inequality adjusted Human Development Index shows that Namibia has one of the highest inequalities in the world as measured by a Gini coefficient 0.613.
Also, 23.5% of the population was classified as living below the income poverty line using 2013 data.
Namibia’s government claims to have achieved considerable poverty alleviation. This contrasts sharply with the data. If tourists would end up in some of the overpopulated shack settlements at the outskirts of Namibian towns, they would see a different world from the lodges and Windhoek’s inner city.
Namibia’s government is not shy of self-appraisals. It’s fond of blueprints, strategies and programmes, all claiming to solve the country’s problems. Under President Geingob, a new Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare had been established. But so far little has been achieved.
The country’s fourth National Development Plan has been complemented by a Harambee Prosperity Plan. It’s based on an annual economic growth rate of at least 7%. Given the (un)predictable insecurities such as global economic shocks, the effects of climate change, and the devastating consequences of the recent drought, this borders on wishful thinking similarly set out in Vision 2030. This claims that by then “Namibia will be a prosperous and industrialised nation”.
In reality, Namibia’s economy has been in recession since mid-2016.
The discrepancy between promises and realities suggests that President Geingob’s rhetoric borders on populism. The ritual of declaring the annual state budget as “pro-poor” has long lost any convincing effect.
Expenditure for army, police and security related portfolios have over the years proportionally increased more than other expenditure. So have debt services for local and foreign loans.
The hope for an economic recovery in the near future is pinned on a booming tourism sector and the full production of one of the biggest uranium mines in the world owned by a Chinese company. Such silver linings look rather bleak and faint. Sustainability would require other ingredients, not least a meaningful increase of employment.
But as of mid-2016, the state’s finances have faced a precarious shortage. The annual budget for 2017/2018 reflects the need to restore fiscal prudence and austerity to regain liquidity and some degree of credibility. Local trust and confidence in the state’s ability to deliver is at an all-time low.
A contentious issue is the bloated civil service. More than 20 years ago a wage and salary commission urged then Prime Minister Hage Geingob to stop recruitment in the public sector. But the expansion continued unabated.
The political elite continues to preach water and drink wine: a year ago President Geingob signed a 6% salary increase with immediate effect for all political office holders. His cabinet is by far the biggest since independence.
Grown up, but not mature
Despite shifting grounds, the party still mobilises along the heroic narrative of the liberation struggle, much to the frustration of a younger generation. But the number of born frees with voting rights will soon exceed the older generations. Inner-party rivalries and tensions, as well as ethnicity as a potential source of conflict are on the rise. An unresolved land issue, also manifested in urban and ancestral land claims, is adding fuel to the flames.
Dissenting voices, mainly articulated by vocal younger activists provoke government to consider plans to censor the social media. A whistleblower bill before parliament includes provisions to heavily punish “lies” and to prohibit any criticism of state institutions. It restricts public opinion, including intimidation of the remarkably free and critical independent print media.
The authoritarian if not totalitarian tendency is also documented in Swapo’s current initiatives to take disciplinary action against members who dare to criticise party politics. But this will not silence the growing frustration over the limits to liberation.
Nor does the close collaboration with North Korea add any positive image. A planned visit by the pariah state’s foreign minister was cancelled at the last minute after news about it leaked in the media.
A generation into independence, the country and its governance might be considered as grown up, but certainly not (yet) mature.
Morocco has also served formal notice that it will apply to join the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). At a time when there’s a growing northern backlash against free trade areas.Morocco has been actively negotiating with more than one of these in Africa.
What is going on? Morocco is now outflanking and outvoting Algeria, South Africa and their allies.
The main reason is that Morocco has been on a massive diplomatic drive, using both its political and economic muscle. Since his coronation in 1999, the king has led over 40 visits to African countries south of the Sahara. And 85% of Moroccan foreign direct investment is in other African countries.
Morocco is today the second largest foreign investor, after South Africa, in other AU countries. It’s also now in a position to grant foreign aid that swings AU votes in its favour.
Role of history
When the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was founded in 1963, one of its founding principles was to recognise all borders as they existed on the day of independence. Morocco and Somalia lodged objections – a premonition of wars to come. Both considered their precolonial territory, included neighbouring colonies, not yet independent.
When Spain withdrew from Spanish Sahara in 1975, Polisario, which waged an insurgency against Spanish colonialists and subsequently Morocco, proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976.
The SADR promptly applied for OAU membership. Diplomats resorted to their favourite tactic in cases of deadlock, to stall as long as possible. But after seven years this was no longer possible and the SADR was admitted in 1983 with Morocco withdrawing in 1984.
Diplomacy reaps rewards
Morocco is still en route to a constitutional monarchy. Parliament has no say over foreign policy and military affairs, both of which remain controlled by the monarchy.
We can infer though that a nationalist or irredentist policy towards the SADR probably enjoys wide popularity, and that a Moroccan withdrawal from the SADR would be met by some protests within Morocco.
When King Mohammed VI ascended the throne in 1999, he took cognisance of the fact that 16 years of boycotting the OAU had failed because the SADR remained an AU member in good standing. The new king used Morocco’s strengths as both an Arabophone and Francophone country to lobby zealously.
His success can be measured by the fact that Morocco’s application to rejoin the now strengthened African Union was supported by 39 out of 54 votes, with a majority of AU members, 28 out of 54, petitioning to suspend the SADR as a member. The SADR was only saved by the two-thirds rule which applies to suspension.
During these two decades of Moroccan diplomacy, the kingdom had also joined the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), until this became dormant after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s assassination in 2011. It also negotiated, but didn’t sign, a free trade agreement with the francophone UEMOA, the west African economic and monetary union.
Morocco has now formally stated that it will apply to join the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), as “part of the royal vision for regional integration”. (This is also a tacit admission that the Arab Maghreb Union is moribund, and going nowhere.)
If this seems startling, we should note that regional definitions are as much political as geographic, and are dynamic, not static. Rwanda, for example, moved from the central African grouping to the East African Community in 2007. Egypt and Libya have joined the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, Comesa.
And the AU has urged other states to follow the Tripartite Free Trade Area precedent by amalgamating with Ecowas.
We now need to consider the economic dimension. Morocco now has the fifth largest GDP in Africa.
In addition, Morocco has an economy as diversified as Egypt’s and South Africa’s unlike Nigeria and Algeria which are brutally affected by slumps in oil and gas prices.
In addition to tourism and food exports, Morocco has deftly used free trade area partnerships with the EU until it has, for example, built up over one hundred companies that are partners in aerospace global supply chains.
This niche surpasses both South African and Egyptian manufacturing. Morocco is also installing some of the largest solar power plants in Africa, monetising the Sahara sunlight.
The future will tell us what further diplomatic successes Morocco will achieve.
After months of trying, South Africa’s President Zuma finally fired his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. The move was met with huge disquiet within the ANC, and a predictably sharp drop in the value of the Rand. Gordhan and his deputy were replaced by two Zuma loyalists, both from the president’s home province of KwaZulu Natal, and both without any deep financial experience. Other ministers were also replaced, none by people of exceptional merit.
All were sacked and replaced without consultation of either Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, or the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe. Ramaphosa, along with many other senior figures, decried this bloodbath reshuffle as “totally unacceptable”. Opposition figures such as Julius Malema also warned against the firing of Gordhan, saying that it would be the end of Zuma.
They may yet be proven right – and the incident might also spell disaster for the country. While Zuma moves the deckchairs, the good ship South Africa is sinking. There is no strategy for its rescue, or even salvage.
Gordhan was at least trying to make sure it sank as slowly as possible. Zuma, conversely, was determined to fire Gordhan without taking cabinet advice or ANC senior party advice. He made no effort to dispel the odour of self-interest, or to rework his image as a venal ruler who doesn’t really care for his country, but only for himself and his cronies.
That image was reinforced yet again after the recent death of veteran freedom fighter Ahmed Kathadra, incarcerated for 25 years on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela. Kathadra had himself publicly implored Zuma to resign, and his family made it clear it did not want Zuma at his funeral.
The president duly stayed away – but then Kathadra’s state memorial ceremony was postponed without explanation, and with no alternative date forthcoming. Despite the efforts of Zuma’s spokespeople, petty, disrespectful pique was directed at a towering figure who had deigned to speak out against Zuma’s rule.
When he joined the fight against apartheid, Zuma was a shepherd boy without much in the way of education. Arrested before he achieved much by way of rebellion, his education was largely at the hands of his prison colleagues. On his release, Zuma was smuggled by the underground ANC to Swaziland, where Thabo Mbeki – the future president he later betrayed – taught him how to use a machine gun.
But nothing prepared him for high office, and his political roles were the first salaried positions he ever held. His main role in exile was as commandante of the ANC prison camps for dissidents in Angola; tales of torture in the camps were rife, and were a stain on the ANC’s reputation.
Zuma never learned what was rightfully his and what was the state’s, and has duly been dogged by scandal after scandal. He owes his Teflon-like endurance entirely to the protection of his ANC allies; if powerful figures like Ramaphosa and former ANC treasurer, Mathews Phosa, make serious moves against him, his time may soon be up.
As has become the way in the ANC, the knives will be out behind closed doors, and whether Zuma stays or goes, there will be nothing transparent about what happens. He may be counting on staying until the next scheduled election in 2019, betting that the party will not dare remove him. Ramaphosa, meanwhile, might simply be waiting until the ANC conference later this year, where he stands a chance of being elected president of the party. Should he take the helm, it would be much easier for him to force Zuma to a recall vote, just as Zuma did to Mbeki in 2008.
But also vying for the ANC presidency is Zuma’s ally and former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, latterly head of the African Union. If her ex-husband is ousted or steps down, she might well be his best hope for impunity in retirement. Her performance in her continental role was lacklustre; like Zuma, she has little to promise South Africa in the way of stability or prosperity.
Earlier this year, former treasurer Phosa penned an op-ed for the Daily Maverick website in which he lamented the ANC’s moral decline under Zuma:
I have come to a point where I refuse to be part of the intellectual funeral of the ANC, that I refuse to be associated with so-called leaders who trample on the people who voted them into office, who disrespect the constitution, whose only predictable response to all challenges is “racism” and who are willing to sacrifice the future of our children before the throne of a man who knows no shame and shows no character.
Zuma’s latest moves fit Phosa’s diagnosis perfectly. And if his ex-wife is elevated to power and lets him off the hook for a disastrous and haphazard presidency, the ANC will have only itself to blame.