Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What If?

End of the world by 2012. Heard that one before? Research any New Age writing and its bound to crop up. Largely based on the Mayan calendar which does not continue beyond December 21 of that year, despite being an astronomical masterpiece of the ancient world. Thanks to the Spanish conquistadors the Mayan libraries were destroyed, some 2500 sacred texts according to the consensus view. So, no corroboration there although inscriptions on tablets and monuments have provided some information. This has led to divided views that the calendar may also depict the start of an enlightened age, on the date in question. Whether this will turn out to be a self fulfilling prophecy remains to be seen.

Its also commonly accepted amongst alternative thinkers, that, a "quickening" manifests in the immediate period preceding great change. This convergence of issues usually provides the critical mass to then effect understanding and acceptance of a new order. When we look at the planet today these issues abound: rising prices and dwindling resources in the agricultural and energy sectors, deepening antagonism and confrontation regarding geo-political questions, massive increases in development projects for water and housing, the continued infra-structural demand for transportation, reckless financial operations fuelled by globalization, increased consolidation of media and information outlets into fewer hands, greater unemployment thanks to mass manufacturing and distribution, sharply climbing inflation due to macro mismanagement, continued political corruption and civil unrest. The list goes on.

Globalization is, of course, increasingly being blamed for most of these ills. Globalization is very often used to refer to economic globalization, that is integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, and the spread of technology. In short, a world system that places economics above anything else and which now effectively controls most areas of human activity. If that sounds like a conspiracy theory, consider this: what can you achieve today without money, education and technology? The odds are stacked in favour of the system, but the system is not sustainable. Far more people are being excluded, while fewer are benefitting. Often with obscene accumulation of wealth.

Looking at those Mayan extrapolations again, it seems there might be something to it after all. We don't have to be economists to figure out that the issues described above, are fast driving our world towards the moment of truth. The moment when you lose your house or your car is repossessed; your job long sinced downsized, outsourced or eliminated through mechanization. Maybe the moment arrives when money can no longer buy food and water because it has been exhausted. With money no longer the instrument of control, the moment is defined when societies start using guns to ensure their primacy. Some scenario planners predict environmental catastrophe will be the moment when the planet readjusts the imbalance. Most agree that large loss of life will be an inevitable result, perhaps even extinction. Whichever way you lean, many people in the third world already experience these condition on a daily basis.

Ironic then that Africa seems to be the "canary in the coal mine" when contextualizing these complex issues. The world looking at its future, so to speak, when observing the continent. The captains of industry all admit that corporate governance has become a priority, but also claim that globalization is still the way to go... it just needs a human face. Their trump card being that there doesn't seem to be a ready made solution in the wings. So, a ticking clock with less the 4 years to the Mayan deadline; perhaps even social disintegration before then if current global trends intensify.

Still, we can't die en-masse and then blithely start all over again with a small band of survivors. Einstein famously said: "...we can't solve problems with same understanding that created them." Clearly, then, a new understanding is called for; but where do we turn when our global system has created these problems? If first nation peoples were capable of creating complex societies built on astronomical calendars, what other ideas of wisdom may their history contain? Some say its impossible to integrate knowledge of this nature with modern societies, that urban culture is impervious to it. Well, history shows that resistance to change disappears pretty quickly when a crumbling system collapses. Self preservation is still the oldest concept known to man.

The talking shops of our planet can do with fresh perspectives too. Imagine for a moment the impact of recent Amazonian tribal protest over a hydro-electric scheme, if it had taken place on the floor of the UN general assembly. How arresting will it be to see Congolese pygmies and Namibian KhoiSan walk through the snow to address the World Economic Forum in Davos. Alaskan Inuit and Indonesian aborigenes appearing before OPEC about the effects of oil drilling on their environment. Its a safe bet that the message will be same; we need this planet, not the other way around.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mars Or Bust

The spacecraft Phoenix has landed successfully on the icy northern plains of Mars after a triumphant voyage of 422 million miles halfway around the sun. With a 130-pound cargo of instruments and a robotic digging arm to probe for ancient water and ice and long-decayed traces of organic chemicals essential for life, the three legs settled gently onto a boulder-free Martian surface. No obstacles were anywhere near - only a little pile of small rocks nearby, looking somewhat like a very small hill. 

Because the planet is now 171 million miles away, it took 15 minutes at the speed of light for the first faint radio signal of success to reach the scientists, relayed from Mars Odyssey, the orbiter flying high above the landing site. Carl Sagan famously announced that existing technology could place humans on the red planet, but the great distance involved precluded the possibility of an immediate return journey. Robert does make an interesting case that life can not only be supported on Mars, but will actually flourish. Which creates an interesting question: would you sacrifice yourself, on a one-way trip, to establish a human presence on Mars?

Let's consider the more prosaic reasons for colonizing Mars: similarity to Earth, economic value, inter-planetary position for further exploration, scientific discoveries etc. The best reason has to be the focus it will provide to Earthbound humans though. Here's a concept that transcends narrow national interests, in fact in can only be realized through tremendous vision and cooperation. To make it happen all current disputes and conflicts will have to cease. Imagine that, an idea so big it can relegate any problem we have to the backseat. The idealism it will unlock can unify our species to a common goal, greater than any we have imagined in our history.

Mohammed Cartoon Furore

Danish newspapers on Wednesday reprinted one of the 12 drawings of the Prophet Muhammad that caused global Muslim outrage two years ago, to protest against a plot to murder one of the cartoonists. A Danish citizen of Moroccan descent and two Tunisians were arrested on Tuesday for planning to murder 73-year-old Kurt Westergaard, a cartoonist at Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that originally published the drawings in September 2005.The republication of the cartoon showing Muhammad holding a bomb drew criticism from Muslims, who said it would only stoke anger. Five major daily newspapers, 10 smaller papers and a Swedish daily reprinted Westergaard's cartoon, the one that had caused the greatest controversy.

In the interest of respecting Islamic religious believes, without denying rights to freedom of speech, this link provides visual material for private viewing: http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/jyllands-posten_cartoons/

Most Muslims consider any depiction of the founder of Islam as offensive. "We believe this is very foolish and does not help building the bridges we need," said Imam Mostafa Chendid, a leading Danish Muslim cleric. Chendid, an Imam at the Islamic Faith Community, a religious Muslim organisation at the centre of the first cartoon controversy, condemned all violence but said it would be difficult to absorb the anger young Danish Muslims might feel. "It will make our young people feel more isolated," he said. "The printing of the cartoon is an insult to our intellectual capacity. We are not against freedom of speech but we are opposed to continued discrimination of the Muslim minority in Denmark." Three Danish embassies were attacked and at least 50 people were killed in rioting in 2006 in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Several young Muslims have since been convicted in Denmark of planning bomb attacks, partly in protest at the cartoons.

This link provides a chronology of events from the Danish perspective: http://jp.dk/udland/article1292543.ece

A scene from an animated version of a popular Japanese comic book has sparked a renewed outcry in the Muslim world, where some fear it could fuel the backlash created by the republication of the Muhammad cartoons. At issue is a 90-second “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” video segment that depicts Dio Brando, a villain, picking up a Quran from a bookshelf and apparently examining it as he orders the execution of the hero and his friends. The original artist professes innocence, citing that he didn’t understand Arabic and simply thought adding Arabic writing would be more believable in the context (the villain was hiding out in Egypt).

Islam In Africa

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim - An African Perspective by Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Anthropology, Columbia University:

Islam and Christianity have one thing in common. Both share a deeply messianic orientation. Each has a conviction that it possesses the truth. Both have a sense of mission to civilize the world. Both consider the world beyond a sea of ignorance, one that needs to be redeemed. Think, for example, of the Arabic word al-Jahaliya, which I have always known to mean the domain of ignorance.This conviction is so deep-seated that it is even found in its secular version, as in the old colonial notion of "a civilizing mission," or in its more racialized version, "the White Man's Burden." Or simply, in the 19th century American conviction of a "manifest destiny."In both cultures, Christian and Muslim, these notions have been the subject of prolonged debates. Even if you should claim to know what is good for humanity, how do you proceed? By persuasion or force? Do you convince others of the validity of your truth or do you proceed by imposing it on them? The first alternative gives you reason and evangelism; the second gives you the Crusades.

Take the example of Islam, and the notion of Jihad, which roughly translated means struggle. A student of mine gave me a series of articles written by the Pakistani academic and journalist, Eqbal Ahmed, in the Karachi-based newspaper, Dawn. In one of these articles, Eqbal distinguished between two broad traditions in the understanding of Jihad. The first, called "little Jihad," thinks of Jihad as a struggle against external enemies of Islam. It is an Islamic version of the Christian notion of "just war". The second, called "big Jihad," thinks of Jihad as more of a spiritual struggle against the self in a contaminated world.

All of this is true, but I don't think it explains terrorism. I remain deeply skeptical that we can read people's political behavior from their religion, or from their culture. Remember, it was not so long ago that some claimed that the behavior of others could be read from their genes. Could it be true that an orthodox Muslim is a potential terrorist? Or, the same thing, that an Orthodox Jew is a potential terrorist and only a Reform Jew is capable of being tolerant of those who do not share his convictions?

I am aware that this does not exhaust the question of culture and politics. How do you make sense of politics that consciously wears the mantle of religion? Take, for example the politics of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, both of whom claim to be waging a Jihad, a just war against the enemies of Islam? How do we make sense of this? I want to suggest that we turn the cultural theory of politics on its head. Rather than see this politics as the outcome of an archaic culture, I suggest we see neither the culture not the politics as archaic, but both as very contemporary outcomes of equally contemporary conditions, relations and conflicts. Instead of dismissing history and politics as does culture talk, I suggest we place cultural debates in historical and political contexts. Terrorism is not a cultural residue in modern politics. Rather, terrorism is a modern construction. Even when it tries to harness one or another aspect of tradition and culture, it puts this at the service of a modern project.

Eqbal Ahmed writes of a television image from 1985, of Ronald Reagan meeting a group of turbaned men, all Afghani, all leaders of the Mujaheddin. After the meeting, Reagan brought them out into the White House lawn, and introduced them to the media in these words: "These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America's founding fathers." This was the moment when official America tried to harness one version of Islam in a struggle against the Soviet Union. Before exploring the politics of it, let me clarify the historical moment. 1975 was the year of American defeat in Indochina. 1975 was also the year the Portuguese empire collapsed in Africa. It was the year the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted from Southeast Asia to Southern Africa. The question was: who would pick up the pieces of the Portuguese empire, the US or the Soviet Union?

As the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted, from Southeast Asia to Southern Africa, there was also a shift in US strategy. The Nixon Doctrine had been forged towards the closing years of the Vietnam War but could not be implemented at that late stage - the doctrine that "Asian boys must fight Asian wars" - was really put into practice in Southern Africa. In practice, it translated into a US decision to harness, or even to cultivate, terrorism in the struggle against regimes it considered pro-Soviet. In Southern Africa, the immediate result was a partnership between the US and apartheid South Africa, accused by the UN of perpetrating "a crime against humanity." Reagan termed this new partnership "constructive engagement."South Africa became both conduit and partner of the US in the hot war against those governments in the region considered pro-Soviet.

This partnership bolstered a number of terrorist movements: Renamo in Mozambique, and Unita in Angola. Their terrorism was of a type Africa had never seen before. It was not simply that they were willing to tolerate a higher level of civilian casualties in military confrontations - what official America nowadays calls collateral damage. The new thing was that these terrorist movements specifically targeted civilians. It sought specifically to kill and maim civilians, but not all of them. Always, the idea was to leave a few to go and tell the story, to spread fear. The object of spreading fear was to paralyze government.

After the Cold War and right up to 9/11, the US and Britain compelled African countries to reconcile with terrorist movements. The demand was that governments must share power with terrorist organizations in the name of reconciliation - as in Mozambique, in Sierra Leone, and in Angola. If terrorism was an official American Cold War brew, it was turned into a local Sierra Leonean or Angolan or Mozambican or Afghani brew after the Cold War. Whose responsibility is it? Like Afghanistan, are these countries hosting terrorism, or are they also hostage to terrorism? I think both. Official America has a habit of not taking responsibility for its own actions. Instead, it habitually looks for a high moral pretext for inaction.

I was in Durban at the World Congress Against Racism (WCAR) when the US walked out of it. The Durban conference was about major crimes of the past, about racism, and xenophobia, and related crimes. I returned from Durban to listen to Condoleeza Rice talk about the need to forget slavery because, she said, the pursuit of civilized life requires that we forget the past.It is true that, unless we learn to forget, life will turn into revenge-seeking. Each of us will have nothing but a catalogue of wrongs done to a long line of ancestors. But civilization cannot be built on just forgetting. We must not only learn to forget, we must also not forget to learn. We must also memorialize, particularly monumental crimes. America was built on two monumental crimes: the genocide of the Native American and the enslavement of the African American. The tendency of official America is to memorialize other peoples' crimes and to forget its own - to seek a high moral ground as a pretext to ignore real issues.

I would like to conclude with the question of responsibility. It is a human tendency to look for others in times of adversity. We seek friends and allies in times of danger. But in times of prosperity, the short-sighted tend to walk away from others. This is why prosperity, and not adversity, is the real litmus test of how we define community. The contemporary history of Southern Africa, Central America, and Afghanistan testifies to this tendency.Modernity in politics is about moving from exclusion to inclusion, from repression to incorporation. By including those previously excluded, we give those previously alienated a stake in things. By doing so, we broaden the bounds of lived community, and of lived humanity. That perhaps is the real challenge today. It is the recognition that the good life cannot be lived in isolation.I think of civilization as a constant creation whereby we gradually expand the boundaries of community, the boundaries of those with whom we share the world - this is why it is so grotesque to see bombs and food parcels raining on the defenseless people of Afghanistan from the same source.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Corporate News Media

The current polemic over the negative coverage of Africa is becoming strident in tone. At the recently held International Media Forum in Johannesburg, several members of the foreign media faced allegations of bias. Sensitivities were focused on the reports of xenophobic violence gripping South Africa. Naturally the debate completely ignored the big questions, namely whose agenda is being served and who ultimately owns the world's major media outlets. As usual the underlying cause of the dissent, over content and analysis, remained firmly swept under the rug. Lest we think this is a peculiarly South African problem, take a look at this interview with legendary political commentator Gore Vidal...

...and there it is, the twin horrors of propaganda and censorship. Granted our issues differ somewhat from those in US, yet the methodology is practically identical. Corporations control what we get so see and hear, supposedly at the behest of political puppets already bought and paid for. All in the name of furthering corporate interests. So does a spat between local and international journalists matter? Sadly, no. Their paymasters will further their agenda regardless and, if truth be told, these disputes actually provide perfect cover for those aims.

However, its becoming increasingly difficult to keep the lid on the news in this brave new digital world. Illegitimate wars, corrupt deals, electoral fraud and a myriad other transgressions eventually surface thanks to activism and technology. The internet is an obvious tool for dissent, less so broadcast television. Unless you're brave or a satirist, or John Stewart:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Xenophobia Or Agoraphobia?

With current events unfolding in South Africa, as they are, this is the most gut wrenching post to write. My country has taken a dangerous turn in the latest challenge to it's embryonic democracy. Violence, allegedly based on xenophobic prejudice, has erupted in Johannesburg. Xenophobia, as defined by Wikipedia, is a fear or contempt of that which is foreign or unknown - especially of strangers or foreign people. By now this issue is being illustrated, in high definition, across the world's television screens. Inflammatory rhetoric is being piled on top of highly pressurized communities, fanned by local government incompetence and legitimized by the absence of moral leadership.

However, graphic television footage aside, there is always more than one perspective and this case is no different. As with most incidents of civil unrest, there are several root causes that have combined at a critical juncture to reveal the faultlines in our society. To blame it all on xenophobia is simplistic and misses the larger forces at work. For example, the affected areas are without exception inhabited by poor working class people. The same group of people most vulnerable to current prices increases of food and fuel, rising inflation and unemployment. They are also the would be recipients of improved housing, education and social services promised by the government; which is yet to materialize since those same election promises were made in 1994. Failed expectations have turned to anger; and are now exacerbated by a major influx of Zimbabweans, after that country's economic meltdown.

Agoraphobia, on the other hand, is the fear of a place or event where escape is impossible or when help is unavailable. The sort of anxiety that is a constant companion in a life of struggle. A natural byproduct of high crime levels, especially amongst those least able to defend themselves namely the poor. Thus a continuous thread can be traced from reckless politics to poor service delivery and, ultimately, appeasement of yet another African dictator. Its these underlying, and frankly preventable, problems that are now manifesting as racially motivated unrest. When you are poor and defenseless your frustrations can initially only reach those on your level, such as equally poor illegal immigrants from other African nations.

Only 10 years ago South Africa was a beacon of racial tolerance. It was to race relations what the Gaza strip is to the international peace process; the hope of a new order. That hope hasn't been extinguished, but it has been severely curtailed. More to the point it has sounded a serious warning, that, none will be safe till the least of us have been accommodated in a just outcome. No border, nor law, will stop a hungry human being. Louis XVI of France famously said: "We don't sleep if they don't eat". Unfortunately he didn't heed his own advice and "they" launched a revolution that eventually removed the European aristocracy as hereditary rulers. The political process has been refined since but Louis' truism still holds, well, true.

We, as South Africans, can't duck the fact that we are the ones with the power to change this dismal state of affairs. We ought to start by making the painful admission that we are behaving with a total lack of charity, towards fellow Africans that sacrificed enormously to support the liberation of this country. Furthermore, the wealthy and powerful in our community are no longer exempt from the plight of the poor. Our collective futures are intertwined as South Africans and Africans, in fact as human beings. Today is 911 for race relations and downtown Johannesburg is ground zero. This time we have to pay attention, decipher the signs correctly and respond with just intent.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A View From The South

Looking back at the previous series of articles, its clear that international commentators are again focusing on Africa's "shortcomings". But are they, shortcomings that is? Its no secret that the continent has been the whipping boy for an assortment of raiders ranging from slavers to colonial powers, international agencies and multinational corporations. We all know how it goes: those that covet resources find a pliable co-conspirator, put financial and military muscle behind the candidate that ensures election to office, obtain sweetheart deals carefully disguised as aid or investment, maintain legitimacy through a combination of aggressive litigation and pervasive public relations exercises. If that's not enough, there's no shortage of latter day pirates that are willingly stepping into fray to strip their own people of what little they have left.

So, a veritable cancer ward of decay and decrepitude...on the surface at least. Yet in all of this squalor and tawdry politics, there remains an indomitable spirit amongst common people. Why don't they revolt or migrate in large numbers, particularly in view of their desperate circumstances? Can it be that they possess knowledge not readily accessible by others? On a certain level this stoicism speaks of great reserves, the ability to withstand unbelievable odds. Question is, why would you want to? Unless, you knew something non-Africans don't...Ubuntu, the pan-continental principle of togetherness.

Ubuntu has as it's core philosophy the principle: "I am what I am through others". Contrast this approach of "I belong therefore I am", with the western ethos of "I think therefore I am". Strip away all the external factors such as politics, economics and sociology; and this is what its going to come to in the great debate to determine our progress as a species. Resolving the confrontation between these two fundamental principles will reveal much about our willingness to succeed. The third world is playing it's role in this great drama, just as the first world is. The trick is not to get bogged down in the detail, but to resolve the big question. Can we come up with an alternative to our failing global system?

Its no coincidence that the faultlines are appearing in the third world. Crop production is up 7% on last year , yet food prices have doubled. Man's most basic ability, to feed himself, is controlled by corporate interests. Our environment is spinning out of control and excessive military force has replaced diplomacy. You don't have to be a critical thinker or geo-political pundit to know that we're in trouble on this third rock from the sun. So, the irony wouldn't be lost on us that we are making a return to the place where life for homo sapiens began...Africa.

Here on this blighted land we are coming full circle to face ourselves, and our report card doesn't look good. Our erstwhile philosophy of Ubuntu had been subordinated to material progress, and in the process we had lost our way. We have the intellectual and scientific means to cure our malaise, but it will be for nought if we don't reignite our inter-personal understanding. From this common understanding all is possible, our challenges will unify us and inspire a new order. It is so simple, yet that is the curse of it too. Can we teach ourselves that we don't actually own any of it, but are rather custodians of what our planet endows us with? The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the land and oceans that provide it.

We repeatedly give up when facing what we perceive to be this complex, insurmountable problem; when all we have to do is ask a simple question. Am I measuring my fellow humans by their hearts or their wallets? When we consider how monetary resources have been made paramount, we also need to acknowledge how that has relegated our ability to understand and value each other. It's no accident that monetarism is being confronted by humanism in Africa, and that this abused land holds the key to the future. When we look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into us too. In that moment we find the wisdom to change, and the eternal process continues.

South Africa's New Struggle

The last article in the series is by John Pilger, author of "Freedom next time". He argues that the struggle continues, with globalization having replaced apartheid as the enemy:

The ANC government has allowed the world's most voracious companies to escape reparations for poisoning the land and its people. When I returned to South Africa following the fall of apartheid, I asked Ahmed Kathrada to take me to Robben Island. Known affectionately as Kathy, he wore dark glasses to cover eyes damaged by the glare of the limestone where he and Nelson Mandela had wielded a pick for decades. He showed me his cell, five feet by five feet, where "the light was burning bright, day and night". I wondered how he had emerged from a quarter-century of incarceration as a sane, rounded, tolerant and gracious human being. His reasons included the teachings of Gandhi and the support of his loved ones, but, above all, "there was the struggle, without which nothing changes".

This sense of struggle is back in South Africa. The other day, I met the writer Breyten Breytenbach, who spent eight years in prison under the apartheid regime. Speaking at the Time of the Writer festival in Durban, he evoked the "dreams" of the great liberation fighters Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe. "How are we going to stop this seemingly irrevocable 'progress' of South Africa to a totalitarian one-party state?" he asked.

It is a question many ask in a country that now typifies an economic apartheid imposed across the world under a cover of "economic growth" and liberal, corporate jargon. For "democracy", read socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. For "governance" and "modernity", read a system of division and plunder designed and approved in Washington, Brussels and Davos - a system in which, says the South African finance minister, Trevor Manuel, "winners flourish". And he speaks from a country where inequality and poverty are described as "desperate", where the ANC government has allowed the world's most voracious companies to escape reparations for poisoning the land and its people, and which has been suckered by British arms companies into buying 24 Hawk fighter jets at £17m each, "by far the most expensive option", according to a House of Commons report.

Britain's Department for International Development has played a notorious role. Although required by law not to spend money other than on poverty reduction, DfID is, in reality, a privatising agency that greases the way for multi nationals to take over public services. In 2004, the department paid the Adam Smith Institute, an extreme right-wing think tank, £6.3m for plans to "reform" the "public sector" in South Africa, promoting "business-to-business" links between Brit ish and South African companies whose singular interest is profit.

Once the wretched Robert Mugabe is gone, Zimbabwe will get the same treatment. Offering a billion pounds' worth of "aid", the British government will lead the return of capital, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to restore what was, long before Mugabe's wrecking, one of the most exploited and unequal societies in Africa. The new heist was outlined on 5 April at the amusingly titled Progressive Governance Conference in Britain, one of Tony Blair's legacies, where "left-of-centre" leaders pretend to be crisis managers instead of, as is often the case, the cause of the crisis. (In 1999, Blair flew twice to South Africa to promote the now scandalous arms deal.)

The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, is said to have been recruited to get rid of the obstacle that is Mugabe, but he is cautious, no doubt recalling that Mugabe, on his last visit to South Africa, received an embarrassing ovation from the black crowd. This was not so much an endorsement of his despotism as a reminder that most South Africans had not forgotten one of the ANC's "unbreakable promises" - that almost a third of arable land would be redistributed by 2000. Today the figure is less than 4 per cent.

Meanwhile, the evictions continue, along with urban dispossession, water disconnections and the ubiquitous indignity of begging. "Our country belongs to all who live in it," say the opening words of the ANC's Freedom Charter, declared more than half a century ago. Recently, the South African police calculated that the number of protests across the country had doubled in two years to more than 10,000 a year. This may be the highest rate of dissent in the world. Once again, like Kathy, they are calling it "struggle".

Mbeki & Mugabe

Continuing the series on African politics, here is an article by Professor Stephen Chan on Zimbabwe and it's position apropos SADEC:

Even the South African mediators involved in talks with Zimbabwe are frustrated over the South African president's failure to put the boot in at the right moment. The appearance of Jacob Zuma in London this week is a carefully-crafted reassurance, for the benefit of the West, that all will be well in South Africa under his leadership. It is also intended to be a demonstration of clear blue water between him and Thabo Mbeki over Zimbabwe. Zuma’s dissatisfaction with Mbeki’s mediatory efforts, and his even greater dissatisfaction with Robert Mugabe, are well-known. Even so, he chose his words carefully, both praising such mediation that has occurred, and not condemning Mugabe in public. He might, after all, inherit the same troublesome president of Zimbabwe as his neighbour.

But Zuma adds his weight to a growing Southern African regional concern over the contortions in Zimbabwe. Zambia’s President Mwanawasa was forthright in calling upon all neighbouring states not to allow the Chinese ship, carrying arms for Zimbabwe, to dock. The new half-white President Khama of Botswana is unhappy with Mugabe’s rhetoric against residual white ownership of the continent, and many are upset that the Mauritius Protocols on how to conduct free and transparent elections has had the transparency element so visibly flouted in the tortoise pace of counting the votes. Zuma also has an electoral problem on his own hands. With 3 million Zimbabweans on South African soil, there is a real social and economic problem which will manifest itself in next year’s South African elections. The ANC is frightened that, after the years of lacklustre Mbeki leadership, it will have a greatly reduced majority. Mbeki’s failure to achieve breakthrough in Zimbabwe cannot have helped.

The South African efforts over Zimbabwe have in fact been assiduous. But even the key South African mediators – of the very highest rank and skill – have been frustrated both by Mugabe himself and by Mbeki’s failure to ‘put in the boot’ at critical junctures. There has been a string of instances over two years where agreement had been reached on key issues concerning the Zimbabwean elections, only for Mugabe himself to refuse to honour what his own negotiators had agreed.

There are five reasons for Mbeki’s extraordinary patience. The first is that he does not see Mugabe as a lone figure, but one who owes his increasingly precarious position to the support of his hardline generals. Some say that these generals have already instigated a coup of sorts and Mugabe is their captive. This overstates the issue, but Mbeki knows the hardliners will not disappear at his say-so.

The second is that neither he, nor almost any leader in Africa, sees Morgan Tsvangirai as a viable alternative president. This is unfair to Tsvangirai, who has come a long way and who would accept a unity government to ensure continuity and the preservation of vested interests, but he is a very rough diamond indeed, and the choice is between him and a diamond that cuts the wrong way.

The third is that Mbeki and Mugabe simply get on intellectually. The huge change in tone in the regular ANC newsletters, now that Zuma is writing them, is striking. Gone are the erudite and literary qualities that Mbeki brought. Quite simply, Mbeki and Mugabe are the two intellectuals of the region’s presidents, and Mbeki always thought, wrongly, he could make reason prevail.

The fourth is that Mugabe genuinely holds Mbeki, and many other African presidents, in thrall. His personal charisma and position as the grand old man of liberation gives him both seniority and pedigree that no one else can match. What is taken as senseless rhetoric in the West is a rhetoric of great meaning in a continent where the welts and scars of racism and colonialism will take another generation to heal.

Fifthly, Mbeki simply has blind spots – a capacity for sustained stubbornness even where his preconceptions have been demonstrated as palpably wrong. The HIV/AIDS question was the most famous of these, but dithering over Mugabe’s Zimbabwe will run it close.

The electoral rhetoric of Jacob Zuma will address all of the Mbeki weaknesses. In a very real sense, without a coordinated opposition to face, Zuma must recapture the ANC vote by distancing himself from Mbeki as much as possible. Unfortunately, this will also involve distancing himself from many of Mbeki’s most skilful advisers, and Zuma will replace them with his own hard men and women, not all with savoury backgrounds, who organised his victory as leader of the ANC. Making a clear distinction between himself and Mbeki over Zimbabwe is in some respects an easy way to start. Zuma is street-smart without being intellectual. He knows that this will win him votes. He knows also the one glaring fact that Mbeki has shrugged aside. With meltdown in Zimbabwe, South Africa’s dream of an integrated economic region has also gone. Five key states with growing economies and stable government would have led the way – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. They would have punched their weight economically against the rest of Europe minus the big four of Germany, France, UK and Italy. They would have made an impact, finally, for Africa. Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe ruined all that.

With his promises to bring a better life to the millions of South Africans who have not benefited from the changes begun by Mbeki, the last thing Zuma needs are desperate Zimbabweans on his doorstep and in his home. There is not that much moral commitment to democracy here, nor to the redress of a humanitarian disaster in a neighbouring country. Mbeki, meanwhile, has made far too much moral commitment to a bankrupt cause and his failure over Robert Mugabe will haunt his reputation for many long years to come.

The Trouble With Africa

Robert Calderisi, ex-World Bank spokesman for Africa, has just published his first book: "The trouble with Africa". In it he states that aid donors need to start using the stick instead of the carrot with incalcetrant African governments. Ringfence leaders that misappropriate funds, so that international aid doesn't water flowers and weeds alike. Here is an excerpt from the New Statesman:

A year on from the G8 and Live 8, parts of Africa are making good progress. But it's not thanks to the money and the debt relief that often prop up the wrong kind of leader. Cameroon's president, Paul Biya, looks at the world upside down. In power for almost a quarter-century and seen by almost no one except his aide-de-camp, Biya regards his country's saintly Catholic cleric Christian Tumi as an opposition leader because of his strong support for human rights. "I was born a Cameroonian," the down-to-earth cardinal told me, "and became a Christian and priest. Why can't I have views about what is happening in my country?" On May Day this year, the international community voted for Biya rather than Tumi by awarding the country $4.9bn in debt relief.

Another winner in the moral sweepstakes has been the small Republic of Congo, run by a man who overthrew an elected government in 1997. The African Union once vowed to shun anyone who took power militarily. Yet, five months ago, the continent's supreme political body chose Congo's Denis Sassou-Nguesso as its chairman. True, he was a compromise candidate, as it was Sudan's turn to take charge and a last-minute sense of decency prevailed. But the AU might as well have installed Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. The world was also kind to Sassou-Nguesso, writing off $2.9bn of Congolese debt in March. To his credit, the World Bank president, Paul Wolfowitz, tried to block this measure on learning that Sassou-Nguesso had chalked up an $81,000 bill at a New York hotel. He was overruled. The World Bank press release said grudgingly that something would have to give if the money was "not to be hijacked by vested interests".

Such stories show why many Africans are disgusted with their governments, and with the west's well-meaning efforts to help. As many sceptics predicted, progress towards implementing the decisions taken at last year's much-hyped G8 summit - especially doubling aid by 2010 - has been slow. Africa has made significant strides over the past year, but none of them was a consequence of Gleneagles. The most important development was probably also the dullest. In February, Nigeria was given a formal credit rating by international bond agencies for the first time. This was due not just to high oil prices, but also to the determination of the finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has reversed decades of economic mismanagement. Nigeria still has a long way to go to gain the full confidence of the international community - and its own people - but good economic housekeeping in the continent's most populous country is good news for all.

Economic growth has been rising, too, giving African governments breathing space, after decades of being choked between burgeoning populations and falling markets. Unfortunately, most of that growth was the result of the oil boom rather than improvements in agriculture, the source of Africa's greatest wealth. Oil has also filled the coffers of some unsavoury regimes (Angola, Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea), most of whose leaders have been in office for more than 20 years. The dean of the group, Omar Bongo of Gabon, came to power when Harold Wilson was managing a now-forgotten sterling crisis in 1967.

Over the past year, however, some of Africa's "big men" got their come-uppance - or at least an inkling of their limitations. Liberia's Charles Taylor was arrested on the Nigeria-Cameroon border and taken into custody by the international tribunal in Freetown, which will probe his role in human-rights abuses in Sierra Leone's civil war era. Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki, suffered a humiliating defeat in the November referendum on a revised constitution that would have given him more power. The Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, faced street battles over the dubious results of the May 2005 elections. In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni settled for 59 per cent of the vote. And in Nigeria, the senate, not western editorial writers, killed President Obasanjo's chances of revising his country's constitution and running for a third term.

The "big men" also had to make way for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a survivor of many election campaigns and death threats in Liberia, whose main rival for the presidency was an international soccer star. At her inauguration, she instructed incoming ministers to open their bank accounts to public scrutiny - and promised to get the lights to stay on in Monrovia by July this year. Six hundred miles to the east, Benin, the first black African country to change ruling parties democratically in 1991, held its fourth multi-party presidential election in a row. There was even encouragement on the HIV/Aids front, with the World Health Organisation estimating that 17 per cent of those requiring antiretroviral drugs were actually receiving them. While still woefully short of overall needs, the coverage was higher than anyone could have predicted just a few years ago.

But it is too early to be upbeat about Africa. Like slowing the spread of HIV/Aids, progress in opening up the political debate has barely begun. In 1983, the novelist Chinua Achebe wrote, in a blistering essay called "The Trouble with Nigeria" that still applies to most of Africa: "There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership."

Africans hoped that foreign aid could be used to make their governments more open and honest. But in many places, the opposite has been true, and in the one big showdown with a dictator this year, it was the west that backed down. The Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline was meant to be different. It was the largest private sector investment in Africa in a decade when its principal backer, ExxonMobil, invited the World Bank to help design it properly. Central to the effort was a law assigning most of the oil revenues to reducing poverty in Chad. Last December, the country changed the law to include spending on defence. The World Bank promptly shut down its operations in Chad and blocked the overseas account holding the money. This was a sound decision, even though some thought it an overreaction - as if bankers were expected to invite defaulters on mortgages for a friendly drink.

Four months later, the bank backed off when Chad's president, Idriss Déby, threatened to close the pipeline altogether. The geopolitics was understandable: rebels supported by Chad's neighbour, Sudan, had invaded the capital that month, and few people wanted the Déby government overthrown while it was hosting 200,000 refugees from the Darfur region next door. But the political impact and moral consequences were poisonous. Direct military assistance would have been better than allowing the government a free hand with the oil revenues. Like Nigeria's success in improving its public finances, this damp squib of a showdown in Chad had continent-wide implications - but, in Chad's case, of a negative kind.

In other places, gangrene lurks just below the surface. On 2 March 2006, Kenya's internal security minister justified a raid on a major Nairobi newspaper and television station that had criticised the government: "When you rattle a snake, you must expect to be bitten." Certainly, the African Union's feeble efforts to corral Mugabe do not point to the "peer justice" promised in the much-heralded New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) that the continent adopted in 2001. Darfur's people continue to suffer terribly. Although the international community may not have been able to stop the Rwandan genocide in 1994, it could have done more to halt the carnage in western Sudan. The Rwandan killings lasted a hundred days. Darfur has been going on for three years. Despite the presence of AU troops and a series of truces, the murders, rapes and pillaging continue. Some people question the importance of "yet another" African crisis. But this is no ordinary event. Most civil conflicts in Africa, in places as diverse as Côte d'Ivoire and the so-called Democratic Republic of Congo, have been ended or checked by a combination of international sticks and carrots and the presence of foreign peacekeepers. The horrors of Liberia and Sierra Leone - though not yet Somalia - are a thing of the past. But Darfur is like a seeping sore, reminding us every day that no one has been crueler to Africans in recent decades than Africans themselves.

In the past five years, western countries have taken great steps to protect themselves (in Afghanistan and Iraq), and have stirred up a hornet's nest. Africans may rightly ask how the west can respond so forcefully to the deaths of 3,000 Americans in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001, and yet hesitate to send troops into Sudan after the killing of 180,000 people and the displacement of two million others. US efforts to stem international terrorism in Somalia by supporting local warlords have fallen flat, as the wrong set of villains took Mogadishu this month. International efforts to save the people of Darfur, who face daily terrorism, might have proved more successful.

Which brings us back to foreign aid. As long as dictatorship prevails across much of Africa, the objectives of the G8 leaders at Gleneagles will remain a dead letter. Countries as canny as Ghana, Mali and Mozambique, which have steadily opened their economies to private investors and their politics to different opinions, do not receive enough aid, while others such as Ethiopia and Cameroon receive far too much. The west must start using more sticks and fewer carrots. And more aid should be targeted at specific Africa-wide causes, such as establishing regional universities and researching new drugs for malaria, rather than just dispersing it over many countries, watering weeds as well as flowers.

A year on from the Live 8 concerts, energies should be aimed at other causes - for instance, barring western arms sales to unrepresentative governments, quarantining any state that imprisons journalists for expressing personal opinions, abolishing laws that make it a crime to criticise African presidents, focusing aid on the few countries that have used it properly, or seizing illicit African holdings in western banks, the way the British navy intercepted slaving ships on the high seas once the abominable trade in human beings was outlawed. Few African leaders would understand that parallel, but most of their citizens would.

Since Gleneagles:
19 of the world's poorest countries have had their debt cancelled.
11 million children have died from conflict and disease (or one child every three seconds).
1 million HIV sufferers now have access to treatment, with the aim to have universal access by 2010.
500,000 women have died in pregnancy or childbirth (or one woman every minute).
4,500 teachers can be recruited in Zambia after the relief of national debt from £7bn to £500m.
300,000 children are able to go to school in Burundi thanks to the removal of education fees.