Moving forwards by going backwards

VanessaMdee_Orezi_VideoTanzanian singer Vanessa Mdee with Nigerian singer Orezi in a music video.

Vicensia Schule_Byline med bild till bloggen

Shrinking freedom of expression in Tanzania is causing concern to citizens and foreign community. Media have reported several cases of censoring artists’ work and outlook in music videos and on social media. State issued statements resemble those of the Ujamaa era, when Tanzania embarked in implementing African socialism policies in the 1960s and 1970s. TANU Youth League members – the youth wing of the Tanganyika African National Union – used to walk around measuring women skirts and gowns to make sure they were long enough. If not, they harassed the women and in some cases had them arrested.

In December 2017, President John Magufuli spoke of taking legal action against artists who posed “nude” in music videos. He said how disgusting he found it to see images of “naked” female artists on TV. He used the word synonymously with wearing skimpy clothes.

It is not the first time that Head of the State has entered into “dress politics”. About ten years ago, Magufuli’s predecessor Jakaya Kikwete’s cabinet began the adventurous project of designing a Tanzanian national costume. According to Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe, the current minister of information, culture, arts and sports, the then minister Nape Nnauye presented the draft designs at a cabinet meeting. The project died prematurely.

The government’s entanglement in dress politics is part of a larger agenda. The government intends to censor almost everything from communications on social media platforms to creative forms such as cartoons and songs. The outlines of the official new art policy, which the government is due to formalize in 2018, clearly indicates that ‘ethics” are its first priority. The dominant narrative in the policy draft is that artists have been the major cause of a supposed decay in social norms.

Hence, policymakers are calling for systemic censorship to “clean up” the “polluted” art world with the help of government bodies such as the National Arts Council of Tanzania, National Film Censorship Board and Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority. However, the truth is that artists are not teachers or rebel leaders – they merely mirror what is happening in Tanzanian society. If there is a spot on the national uniform, the mirror will inexorably reflect the same. Breaking the mirror glass will not make the spot disappear.

Censorship creates anxiety and fetters creativity. There is a limit to what a human being can stand when it comes to suppression of freedom and self-expression. It is important that Tanzanians, particularly young people, are allowed to express themselves. Freedom is compatible with self-esteem and belief in the future. For the young generation to enjoy being Tanzanians, it is a necessity.

Vicensia Shule
Senior Lecturer, University of Dar es Salaam

Condemning racism is not enough

World Economic Forum in Davos, 26 January 2018. US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, two days before he assumes office as AU chair, and two weeks after the AU said it was “frankly alarmed” by Trump’s “shithole” comment. Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.

Patience MususaAfrican countries need to take a firm stand against the growing tide of racist and xenophobic discourse that is shaping public sentiment and policies globally. The strides anti-colonial movements of the past century made are systematically being dismantled in an attempt to shape a world that harks back to imperialist nostalgia. The emboldening of pseudo-racial science in academia and populist media’s attempts to normalise racist and exclusionary narratives support politicians of a certain ilk. We cannot stand idly by while these dark forces strengthen their grip on society.

Racism is not just a matter of rhetoric, as the Holocaust and genocides of colonial conquest remind us. It enables people to further their dubious political and economic aims by doing cruel things to others without feeling judged or being held to account by the violence they inflict. Racism catalyses a divisive politics that breaks the possibility for solidarity with fellow humans. It constructs fictitious “others” as contemptible, to generate loathing and fear.

These dynamics have driven people to commit mass murder, large-scale theft of land, mineral resources and artefacts, and destruction of cultural heritage. Today, people fleeing persecution and economic hardship meet with little or no empathy in host countries, and are treated as a number or worse.

Why should African leaders care? Pan-Africanist and non-aligned movements outlined a vision for racial and economic equality to end the depravations imperialism brought about. They sought, as they still do, to run their own affairs and achieve meaningful independence in all spheres of life. Racist ideologies hinder this.

Today, a class structure that makes all but a few co-opted Africans into second-class citizens reflects these ideologies. The endurance of colonial-era practices in new African states shows this: the continued expropriation of land; segregated living, with large segments of African residents relegated to living in poorly served neighbourhoods; highly unequal classist and racialised pay gaps; and development narratives that focus on changing the behaviour of Africans as though there were something inherently deficient about them.

What can Africa’s countries do beyond condemning racism and racist views?

Firstly, Africa’s countries and leaders need to take a critical look closer to home. How are they themselves feeding these broader trends? In a chapter of a book on southern African regional integration that I co-wrote with Francis Nyamnjoh, we show that in southern Africa xenophobic attitudes towards people from African countries other than their own have been growing. These undermine the efforts of Africa’s countries to join hands in solidarity in shaping their future.

In addition, discussions on the growing influence of Asian economies in Africa are degenerating into anti-Asian xenophobic and racist narratives that have a long history in the West. These sentiments are used to legitimise the Western corporate presence in Africa, and limit African countries’ freedom to cooperate with other regions on their own terms. Rather than resorting to similarly toxic tropes, African countries in their growing relations with Asian economies need to scrutinise why and how these emergent relations are generating resentment.

Secondly, Africa’s countries ought to realise that their acceptance of weak terms of trade for their valuable and strategic natural resources – usually for short-term political expediency or rent-seeking – is contributing not only to the undervaluation of their economies, but also their societies. They should drive a harder bargain for their resources: limit access only to those actors willing to engage in equitable partnerships and put in place strong mechanisms for wider redistribution. Most importantly, they should be bold in banning exploitative activities that do nothing to better the lives of Africans and their environments. To do so requires the continent to reconsider the neo-colonial market structure that has co-opted Africa’s and other global leaders to act as brokers for the totalising effects of contemporary monopoly capital.

Thirdly, African countries, governments and societies must recognise the need to build a public sector that provides the widest access to its citizens – for it is in the elite private spaces that delusions of class and racial superiority flourish. The growth and maintenance of this public sector will require the closing of loopholes that allow the elites to hoard the continent’s wealth and resources overseas. A substantial portion of this revenue has to remain to be used towards making the lives of the many of Africa’s poor dignified. One way to do this, and cement the financial independence the African Union is seeking, would be to formalise African unity and put in place directives that prevent the exploitation of Africa’s people and the un-remediated degradation of its land and resources.

Last, but not the least, the continent and its leaders need to act based on the moral codes of the pan-African movement that united against racism, socio-economic marginalisation and violence. This would oblige Africa’s countries to put in place, nationally and regionally, mechanisms that deter exploitative and racialised practices. These could be in the form of preferential treatment towards, for example, trade partners, who do not operate in such a manner, whether on the continent or elsewhere. It would require tight government oversight to dismantle the informal racial differentiations in pay and employment conditions, and the imposition of hefty stiff financial penalties with clear timelines to comply.

Moreover, Africa’s countries and its leaders should change their focus to the welfare of their citizens, rather than on the extension of subsidies and benefits to exploitative capital. To catalyse this shift, the continent and its citizens need a shared understanding of what racism and exploitation are. To do so, Africa’s countries cannot depend on media that treat these forms of exploitation as reasonable or justified. The subjection of Africans to popular media that covet the continent’s land and resources, while portraying its population as parasitic, is deeply problematic. So, too, is the reinforcement of the idea that Africans cannot act on their own behalf without external agents saving them.

In short, to effectively end racial prejudice and inequalities, African leaders need to do more than voice their concerns. They need to achieve a dignified existence for their people and a respect for shared humanity. Africa’s countries have to collectively legislate against the exploitation of their people, land and resources – for it is then that they will create the moral suasion to take control of their coveted resources and in turn prevent the devaluation of their people and lands – but also formally make it unacceptable.

Patience Mususa
Senior researcher, the Nordic Africa Institute

Can AU agree on reform agenda that achieves increasing independence, ownership and security?


Photo: UN / Stuart Price

Mikael Eriksson, Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute

The African Union (AU) holds its 30th ordinary session of its Assembly at the end of January 2018. Rwanda, under President Paul Kagame, will hold the leadership for the coming year, succeeding Guinea. It is the first time that Rwanda has led the AU since its establishment in 2001, after the name change from the Organisation of African Unity.

Kagame does not come unprepared for this assignment– quite the opposite. For years he has promoted a reform agenda within the AU as well as having urged a more speedy continental integration agenda. Thus, with Kagame taking over the chairmanship, the upcoming meeting could be the starting point for several of AU’s reform programmes (click here for more on the origin of a number of challenges the AU faces and its ambitions).

The theme for the meeting in January, which will take place at the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation. Corruption is widespread in many AU countries and by putting the issue high on the agenda, shadowy practices will be brought to light. Corruption is ultimately a security issue for many African states. Furthermore, the risk is that corruption dilutes political systems and thereby creates instability and political insecurity. But corruption is not the only important issue.

Other issues members are likely to raise are for example, conflict development, terrorism and migration. These are listed under the heading “Silencing the Guns” in Agenda 2063. The majority of conflicts and armed forces in the world are located in Africa. During 2016 alone, 19 conflicts took place on the African continent.

Issues such as these are connected to what is perhaps the most important question of all for AU citizens, namely African ownership of dealing with security challenges in Africa. Who is going to handle the challenges of the security issues that Africa is facing? External actors continue to steer the security agenda in Africa, but the AU and Regional Economic Communities desire greater responsibility. The issue of clearer ownership is something Kagame has pushed for, together with Idriss Déby Itno, president of Chad and former chair of AU, and Alpha Condé, president of Guinea and the AU’s current chair.

Even if the AU and the RECs are best placed to deal with its own security challenges, they currently lack the financial instruments to handle these. An important step in achieving Africa’s self-financed peace and security work is a proposal by Donald Kaberuka, former head of the African Development Bank.

One of his propositions is to implement a selective import fee. Under this framework member countries should commit 0.2 percent of trade profits to finance the AU peace building budget. Members in July 2016 accepted the proposition, which the AU is currently implementing. However, the implementation process has dragged on in the face of opposition.

“Economic independence has been a part of the pan-African vision ever since the AU’s establishment.”

By mid-2017, only 14 member countries out of 55 had contributed in keeping with Kaberouka’s proposal. This means that 12 percent of the total amount needed for that year was collected, US$ 65 million. This is still far from the actual amount the AU’s peace building and security fund needs, which by 2020 should contain US$ 400 million.

However, the AU does not need to raise this sum on its own. The largest portion, about 75 percent, is a contribution from the UN. Economic independence would obviously increase if all AU member states lived up to the ambition. This is something that has been a part of the pan-African vision ever since the AU’s establishment.

However, Kaberuka’s proposal has its opponents, not least from free trade supporters and advocates of World Trade Organization principles. Critics are not necessarily against African independence, but against parts of the proposal. Thus, during 2018, the issue of financing will be extremely important.

As a result of Africa’s current financial dependency on external states AU and RECs tend to lose control over its own security agenda. Money are many times needed to invest in military infrastructure rather than on institutions building community resilience and human security. In other words, money within the AU and money from external actors to some African states is being used to promote military solutions rather than non-military ones, such as those related to health, medical care, and climate adjustment etc. In addition, militarization is taking over areas that the AU previously considered non-military (for example epidemic outbreaks). Overall, an increased level of militarization of AU institutions, and the African security narrative and landscape, is taking place.

This is a huge challenge and dilemma for African heads of states. It detracts from other issues of the highest importance in Africa, is expensive and undermines African states’ own possibilities of solving native challenges – African solutions to problems in Africa.

The pressure on negotiators at the AU meeting to reach a common position that will de facto enhance independence, ownership and security is likely to be intense.

Mikael Eriksson
Senior Researcher
The Nordic Africa Institute


This blog post was written within the research program AU Waging Peace? Explaining the Militarization of the African Peace and Security Architecture, funded by the Swedish Research Council. See the project website.


The decay of the ANC: From liberation movement to a party in disarray

ANC_Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Who will succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC-leader? Former trade unionist Cyril Ramaphosa or Mr Zuma’s former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Henning Melber



The 54th elective conference of the African National Congress (ANC) started with some expected hiccups when the registration process for the over 4,000 delegates from the different provinces was interrupted by a court verdict which forced the National Executive Committee to hold an emergency meeting: court judgments against the KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West’s Bojanala regional conferences had ruled that the processes were flawed and marred by irregularities. More than a hundred nominated delegates were considered to have obtained their positions by fraud and were barred from voting. Given the neck-to-neck race between the two presidential candidates Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who both claim to have sufficient support to be elected, these votes (claimed to be in favor of Dlamini-Zuma) could play a decisive role.

The prelude is symptomatic for the drama unfolding since a longer period of time. The in-fights document the continued decline of a former liberation movement in political power. Since the icon Mandela retired from active politics, the ANC’s support base has eroded. A party machinery disclosing the limits to liberation and the betrayal of most values by the Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 and demanding equality, freedom and justice, created new space for old and new political parties challenging the dominance. But as in other former liberation movements, the knee jerk response by those in denial of betraying the anticolonial struggle’s vision for social justice dismisses any challenge as remote controlled efforts for ‘regime change’. Such arrogance of power seeks reasons for a decline in popularity only in promoting a conspiracy theory. It puts the blame on a plot by the enemies of the people, including the media, the judiciary and NGOs, as well as the private sector and the political opposition, as specified by president Zuma in his opening speech to the congress. Through such a lens, a democratic process resulting in the election of others into political power is tantamount to regime change. In such logic, rulings as the one on the ANC delegates are dismissed as undue interference. Reportedly , ANC Youth League president Collen Maine, a Dlamini-Zuma supporter, accused the judiciary of being “very political”. As he maintained, despite such interference

“agents of white monopoly capital will not lead”.

Such absurdities setting the tune for the showdown at the conference were documented widely in the build up, when the Zuma camp claimed to represent economic transformation in defiance of “white monopoly capital” while the systematic plunder of state assets and resources under the Zuma administration had reached hitherto unprecedented dimensions and created with “state capture” the new synonym for the ANC government and its looting of the country’s public purse. Only in October the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Zuma will again be dragged to court and prosecuted for 783 charges of corruption, money laundering and other criminal transactions. The legal proceedings had been set aside eight years ago to allow him to resume office as the country’s president, which paved the way to pursue his fraudulent self-enrichment further. But in sheer irony, the largest single corporate fraud hitherto discovered in South Africa’s history emerged since then not through the systematic plundering of public funds by the Gupta brothers in cohorts with Zuma and his minions, but by a globally operating ‘white’ corporate entity Steinhoff . Its large-scale audit and accounting manipulations (rubberstamped by a global audit firm) were originally discovered at the German listed parent company and further traced in South Africa. By mishandling government pension funds, it is estimated that it robbed the state of at least 12 billion Rand.

One wonders who are indeed the biggest gangsters in democratic South Africa within a system, which by looting the state controlled resources displays almost symbiotic links between organized crime in all forms and cohorts in government and the public administration, the state owned enterprises and the security branches. Dlamini-Zuma did not even bother to convincingly dismiss the accusation (supported by visual documentation through photos showing her in the company of the unsavory entrepreneur) that she received donations for her campaign from a kingpin in the lucrative business of cigarette smuggling. Meanwhile, Ramaphosa had to limit the damage of a deliberate indiscretion, which dragged into public domain his extramarital affairs. But throughout the campaign trail he was not even by the opposing camp forced to revisit his role in the massacre of striking miners at Marikana. It almost seems as if such involvements with fatal consequences for common people murdered in cold blood are considered these days as an integral part of the political profession within the higher ranks of the ANC and not as immoral as playing around. As pointed out by Richard Poplak:

“Laughably ‘radical economic transformation’ (a wacky buzzterm better described as ‘hyper-accelerated unguided wealth redistribution’) is facing off against Ramaphosaism (basically, Angela Merkel’s Germany without an operational economy). How these two sides are supposed to reconcile with each other employing the essential element of politics – compromise – is beyond the ken even of metaphysics. (…) Ultimately, this fight is about how the spoils of the state are spread around.”

And so the ritual unfolds, pretending that the congress and its elections are about finding the best option for post-Apartheid good governance in a country, which despite its wealth remains among the most unequal societies on our planet. Where race is regularly used as convenient smokescreen to cover up realities of an unashamed predatory capitalism, which – independent of race – is purely guided by the looting of the resources at the expense of the ordinary people for the benefit of a few.   A most appropriate assessment of what to expect has been made in a pre-conference analysis by Mashupye Herbert Maserumule. Warning of the misleading implications of appealing to unity in the party ahead of the elections, he reminded us:

“The contest for the leadership of the ANC is in fact about proximity to state resources, not restoring its foundational value (…) it’s important to remember that when the ethical edifice collapses, society becomes the victim of the leadership of scoundrels.”

Not surprisingly, tales of bribery and vote buying have accompanied the nomination of delegates to the congress and their registration since weeks. It almost seems that the winner will be the one who was better in pulling the strings. For those aware of the survival abilities of Jacob Zuma this is not of much comfort, given his talent to literally laugh off any form of threat to his kleptocratic running of the office. It therefore is also of concern that just now the most draconian state of emergency laws are in the pipeline, which would allow the head of state far-reaching executive powers to act again in his own interest alone.  As president Zuma declared in the opening speech to the congress, after the end of Apartheid

“we had to implement more radical measures to realize the injunction of the Freedom Charter that the People Shall Share in the Wealth of the Country or alternatively, we had to accept that it would forever remain a dream.”

The outcome of the conference will impact on the party’s further course and most likely also on Zuma’s future. But the promise and dream of emancipation from the colonial yoke for the benefit of the ordinary people through a former liberation movement now in power will remain just like elsewhere in the sub-region an empty promise and dream. The conference will therefore not solve the party’s problems, and not those of South Africa. As diagnosed by Eusebius McKaiser:

“Whoever wins this weekend, the country will remain in trouble for a while yet.” 

Henning Melber is Senior Research Associate of the Nordic Africa Institute and currently the Van Zyl Slabbert Visiting Professor at the University of Cape Town.

Political Gatekeeping the Zimbabwean Way

There has been a massive media interest in the events leading up to Mugabe’s resignation. Over the last ten days, NAI’s Zimbabwe expert Henning Melber has given more than 30 interviews for Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish media. In this blog post, he gives his unfiltered analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe.

Henning MelberWhen following the events unfolding in Zimbabwe as from mid-November (see the separate time-line), the Revolution of the Carnations of 25 April 1974 came to my mind. In a peaceful coup, the Portuguese army then toppled the dictatorship of the Caetano regime. This also ended Portugal’s rule over African settler colonies. Since then, April 25 is celebrated as Portuguese Freedom Day.

Zimbabwe obtained Independence six years later, on 18 April 1980. It was the final step of a negotiated transition based on the Lancaster House Agreement. But despite sovereignty, Zimbabweans have hardly ever been free. Scenes in Harare and elsewhere more than 37 years later on Saturday (18 November) and Tuesday (21 November) brought back other memories, when the people celebrated on the streets the right to self-determination. – Only to experience since then, that this right was never really respected by the leaders of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) who took over the government.

A system of “Mugabeism” had unfolded, which run the country like a private propertyFrom the genocidal massacres of the Gukurahundi in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1987 to coerce the rival party Zimbabwe National Patriotic Front (ZAPU) under Joshua Nkomo into the umbrella ZANU-PF (Patriotic Front), to the disappearance of protesting students of the University of Zimbabwe in the mid-1990s, the rigged presidential elections in 2002, the Operation Murambatsvina initiated on Africa Day (!) in 2005 to “clean out” inner cities of slum dwellers, the systematic clamp down on independent media and the prosecution of journalists since the turn of the century to the killing or disappearance, maiming, arrest and torture of thousands of political opponents and civil society activists and another stolen election in 2008: during 37 years of a sovereign state, “Zimbos” never experienced freedom. Denied civil liberties under the iron fist of the one and only ruler for this period, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, a system of “Mugabeism” had unfolded, which ran the country like a private property of a combined civil-political and military-security apparatus deeply entrenched in the hegemony of ZANU-PF. As a result, since the turn of the century the political repression in combination with the economic decline and the appalling deterioration of living conditions, several million Zimbabweans left the country to survive elsewhere under often dehumanizing, miserable conditions to support heir families back home. The regime pushed many more of the people into a kind of exile than resistance to settler colonialism during the days of the liberation struggle.

While Mugabe was an initial driving force and the face, Mugabeism and the ZANUfication of the former “jewel of Africa” (Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere to Mugabe at the Independence ceremony) was a much deeper entrenched system. Mugabe never acted alone. Emmerson Mnangagwa (born 1942) was his longtime and faithful, close companion for over fifty years. Once Mugabe’s bodyguard, he spent several years alongside Mugabe in prison. Mugabe and Mnangagwa are birds of the same feather, and together they plotted the (when necessary also physical) elimination of political rivals since the exile days. During all the power struggles he was loyal to Mugabe, pursuing his own ascendancy in the shadow of his ‘big brother’. He was an influential member of the government and the state security nexus ever since Independence. During the 1980 elections preceding Independence he was involved in the intimidation of the rural population to vote for ZANU. He coordinated most of the voter campaigns for ZANU-PF since then. Rigged elections were as much his turf and responsibility as that of Mugabe and the military, which increasingly governed from the barracks. Mnangagwa chaired as Minister of State Security the Joint Command in charge of the 5th Brigade’s brutal massacre of more than 20,000 Ndebele in the Gukurahundi. He referred to dissidents as cockroaches and the 5th Brigade as DDT. He dismissed the critical voice of the Catholic Church by cynically twisting the Sermon of the Mount into: “Blessed are they who will follow the path of the Government laws, for their days on earth shall be increased. But woe unto those who will choose the path of collaboration with dissidents for we will certainly shorten their stay on earth.”

It is not by coincidence that his nickname is “the crocodile” (in Shona ngwena, associated with a stealthy and ruthless character). He has proudly declared on several occasions that he has “earned” his nickname. This could have been a warning to Mugabe. After all, a crocodile might snap back when being attacked. The geriatric leader’s public appearances showed growing signs of a frail old man whose talents as a shrewd and cunning strategist had started to fade away. Seemingly not always any longer aware of what happened he became increasingly remote controlled by his more than 40 years younger wife Grace. Dubbed “Gucci Grace” for her lavish shopping sprees, the power hungry over-ambitious First Lady emerged as Mnangwaga’s fiercest rival for her husband’s succession. Born in the boring mining town Benoni at the Witwatersrand in 1965 (where the Hollywood actor Charlize Theron was born ten years later), she started her career as a young typist for Mugabe. She then advanced to his mistress and mother of his children at a time when First Lady Sally Mugabe from Ghana (where Robert was prior to his political career for some time a teacher) was ailing. Over the years, her influence over Bob grew visibly into calling the shots.

Mnangagwa’s dismissal was also dubbed a “bedroom coup”Mnangagwa’s dismissal was also dubbed a “bedroom coup”, implying that the aging dictator was more and more remote controlled by his wife. Her support group in the party (the G40) was composed of younger, overtly ambitious, power hungry and greedy political office bearers of a new generation, including most prominently Jonathan Moyo. As a young academic at the University of Zimbabwe he had been one of the most outspoken critics of ZANU-PF since the late 1980s and left Zimbabwe not least for security reasons in the mid-1990s. Accused of embezzlement and misappropriation of funds by his various employers abroad, he returned in 2000 to turn into a willful executor of ZANU-PF police state methods. As Minister of Information he initiated a clamp down of the independent media. In contrast to the “Team Lacoste” (with reference to the crocodile as trade mark of the label), the G40 was a group of newcomers (the 40 refers to the age, though they all are also older) led by a woman who was neither popular nor accepted as truly Zimbabwean but having positioned herself as the potential next state president to establish another dynasty.

This was a tipping point for the military, which had vested interests and was the backbone of the Mugabeism under Robert Mugabe. But a Mugabeism under Grace Mugabe would have risked to be not any longer under military control. The crocodile was their man and at the same time the continued personification of the rule of the first struggle generation emerging from the days of the chimurenga. But stopping a dynasty does not mean democracy. While the military was eager to stress that the “corrective measure” is an entirely party internal and therefore domestic affair and not a coup, it continued to recognize its Commander Mugabe as being at least still officially in charge even while under house arrest, seeking to force him into resignation. But witnessing Mugabe’s disoriented behavior one was wondering if the despot still realized what the situation was and that his time was up. His resignation after a week of stubborn refusal was finally submitted in writing and not transmitted to a wider public visibly from the horse’s mouth. But the way of delivery did not bother the people, for whom the first time since Independence a new era dawned.

For the military the mission was accomplished with the installation of another civil-political governance structure maintaining the close links to those who hold the real power in Zimbabwe without occupying political posts. While there is a biological expiry date, the first struggle generation now for the time being remains in firm control over the country and has fended off the onslaught by newcomers who as unguided missiles were perceived as a threat to the vested interests. One might call this a kind of gatekeeping the Zimbabwean way, with a new president of the party and the state who is more of the same.

Zimbabweans are to a large extent aware of the fact that the new dawn does not mean that they enter a new era of civil liberty and freedom. A tweet during the public celebrations in Harare on 18 November posted the following metaphor: we are currently transported from one prison to another, but enjoy the breeze of fresh air while sitting in the van. And while many Zimbabweans forced into the diaspora cannot wait to finally return to their families, they are painfully aware that with unemployment of close to an estimated 90 percent their chances to make a living back home are scarce. In a moving story told in the South African Sunday Times, a customer entered a conversation with a Zimbabwean taxi driver in Cape Town just when the military intervention was breaking news. At the end, the driver remarked with tears in his eyes that he misses the local food and that this is the mango season in Harare now and the mangos are out. One can only hope if not for a democratic renewal, then at least that an economic recovery allows many of those away from home to return to their country to enjoy the taste of fresh mangos.

The repressive political culture remains part of the DNA of those who finally removed him from officeAs one Zimbabwean commented, Mugabe has sought to break the humanity of the people – and failed. But the repressive political culture remains part of the DNA of those who have finally removed him from office. While his successor and long-time companion Emmerson Mnangagwa promised in his first public speech back home “unfolding and full democracy”, he stated in his separate address to ZANU-PF party members in Shona that the train moves on while the dogs are barking. A limerick tweeted already earlier on put it this way: “In Zimbabwe, which just had a coup,/They say that Mugabe is through./Mnangagwa’s the chap/Who’ll fill in the gap,/Though he is an autocrat too.” As the saying has it, a leopard does not change its spots. – The question remains, if a crocodile does change its armoured skin…

Henning Melber is Senior Research Associate of the Nordic Africa Institute and currently the Van Zyl Slabbert Visiting Professor at the University of Cape Town.

What happened – a commented time line

6 November
President Mugabe dismisses Emmerson Mnangagawa as first Vice President of Zimbabwe. Claiming recent assassination attempts, Mnangagwa leaves the country to an unknown destination (rumors mentioned South Africa or China).

14/15 November
The military intervenes for what it calles a “corrective measure” to get rid of “criminal elements” (on second thoughts, there was hardly anyone in the higher echelons of the party and the military, who would have not classified as “criminal elements”). Those referred to were members of Grace Mugabe’s G40 group. Some of them were arrested. Robert Mugabe was put under house arrest. The whereabouts of Grace Mugabe remained unknown. Mugabe was asked to resign but initially refused.

17 November
President Mugabe attends as chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe a graduation ceremony on the campus. After executing his duty (with students graciously accepting his blessing) he takes his usual nap in public and then returns to his residence and into house arrest.

17/18 November
All ten provincial branches of ZANU-PF decide to recall Mugabe as party president and nominate Emmerson Mnangagwa as his successor. Only shortly before he was again appointed by the party as the presidential candidate for the elections in 2018. As a journalist commented: loyalty is a tradable commodity in ZANU-PF.

18 November
The people of Zimbabwe are free to demonstrate on the streets in a manifestation of support to the intervention. For the first time since Independence, soldiers and civilians do not clash but celebrate together. The only damage Harare recorded was the destruction of a big billboard of Mugabe outside of the ZANU-PF headquarters and the dumping of a street sign with Mugabe’s name on it in a dustbin.

19 November
In what is considered as a bizarre speech televised live in the presence of the military commanders, President Mugabe appears confused and erratic, but aware enough not to announce his anticipated resignation. After the speech, the senior military officers defile and shake hands with their Commander, President Mugabe.

19/20 November
Emmerson Mnangagwa is elected at a ZANU-PF meeting as party president. Mugabe calls for a cabinet meeting the next day, while ZANU-PF announces that an impeachment of the Head of State will be initiated.

21 November
Parliament prepares for the impeachment process when the news breaks that the President has handed in a resignation letter. Zimbabweans in all parts of the world dance in the streets.

22 November
Emmerson Mnangagwa returns to Zimbabwe. In the evening he addresses separately the public and the ZANU-PF. His speeches show some marked differences and lkeave wide room for interpretations.

24 November
Zimbabwe has a new head of state: Emmerson Mnangagwa. People all over the world will have to practice how this is properly pronounced, since the name can be a trademark for some time to come. Though it is more difficult to remember than Mugabe, his nickname “the crocodile” is easier to memorize and no tongue breaker for non-Zimbabweans.

Interviews with Henning Melber a selection

All interviews are in Swedish, Danish or Norwegian; no English translation available.

“I den bästa av världar kommer internationella investerare att inse att det inte är någon risk att deras satsningar nationaliseras, utan att de kan göra stora vinster i landet. Det kan resultera i jobb.”

Henning Melber interviewed by TT (Sweden), 22 November 2017

“Han er en ny Mugabe. Han har vært involvert i massedrapene på 1980-tallet, og står nær militæret som de siste tyve årene har vært de som har dratt i alle trådene i Zimbabwe.”

Henning Melber about the new president Emmerson Mnangagwa in Verdens Gang (Norway), 22 November 2017

“Folket har inga illusioner. De tror inte att det är nu som de får frihet.”

Henning Melber interviewed by TT (Sweden), 21 November 2017

“Mphoko har intet grundlag i partiet længere, efter at G40 er blevet elimineret, og derfor er han ikke et alternativ.”

Henning Melber interviewed by DR (Denmark), 20 November 2017

“Nå er Mugabes ambisjoner om å la Grace Mugabes bli hans etterfølger brakt til en ende.”

Henning Melber interviewed by Verdens Gang (Norway), 19 November 2017

“Endelig har folket fått et lite pustehull med ytringsfrihet.”

Henning Melber interviewed by Dagbladet (Norway), 18 November 2017

“Det namibiska utrikesdepartementet håller tyst om den uppgiften, men allt tyder på att Grace Mugabe har lämnat landet.”

Henning Melber interviewed by TT (Sweden), 16 November 2017

“Det här handlar om en maktkamp inom partiet som har pågått under de senaste tio åren.”

Henning Melber interviewed by SVT (Sweden), 15 November 2017

“Militären är inte intresserad av att ta över.”

Henning Melber interviewed by DN (Sweden), 15 November 2017

Counterproductive blacklists – lessons learned from Zimbabwe

Photo: Aristocats-hats, Creative Commons

Mikael Eriksson, Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute

One of the most remarkable experiences in my research was a field trip to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, in the summer of 2006.The aim was to better understand the role and effects of international sanctions and blacklisting of leaders, in this case the Zimbabwean power elite.

Disembarking the plane at Harare International Airport, recently renamed Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, I carried with me a list of names of senior officials in the government of President Robert Mugabe and leading representatives of Zanu-PF, the ruling party in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. I had taken the names from the European Union (EU) sanctions database.

To carry out my research, I enrolled at a local NGO who gave me an office, a computer and a telephone. I had a base for my work.

My research followed a tradition in the field of international relations, studying sanctions through the lens of power projection. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, the principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies, laid the foundations of the most widely recognised sanctioning theories following a visit to Rhodesia in the 1960s.

Galtung identified the so-called naïve theory of sanctions. ‘Naïve’ referred to how the states of that time used sanctions.Galtung saw that all-inclusive international sanctions against Rhodesia’s white minority regime, under Prime Minister Ian Smith, strengthened rather than weakened the power elite.

Some 40 years later, the sanctions instrument has evolved from focusing on countries to focusing on individuals.

Now I was in here in Harare to test how individual sanctions worked. How did the EU and US international blacklisting work, and what effect did it have on Mugabe and his cronies? More precisely, I was trying to understand what targeted sanctions actually meant.

One of the names on my list was the minister of agriculture. I contacted the government offices in Harare to ask for an interview. To my surprise, the ministerial office approved.

I spent the days before my meeting with the minister visiting the journalists at the main newspapers in Harare; among others the state-owned daily paper The Herald. Early on in my research, I got the feeling that there was a different dynamic to the sanctions issue than prevailing attitudes in Brussels and Washington, DC suggested, which spoke of the stigma of being blacklisted.

However, what I saw was that, just as Galtung had identified in the 1960s, the state had set up a propaganda machine to meet the world’s sanctions head on. Headlines in daily papers in Zimbabwe screamed about how Western superpowers were targeting black Zimbabweans in general. Zimbabwean media labelled the sanctions as economic warfare, propagating the view that short-term interests of white capital in London, Washington, DC and Brussels were driving them. This starkly contrasted with the view of the sanctions imposers in the EU and US, that sanctions were a response to suspicions of vote-rigging in the 2002 elections. Nonetheless, Mugabe’s inner circle said they were to do with white Zimbabwean landowners’ protests against Mugabe’s land redistribution reforms. The white landowners, the government argued, had close links with the British upper classes.

In response to the stories in the Zimbabwean state-owned media, the US government published the names of those blacklisted in one of Zimbabwe’s major newspapers, emphasising that the sanctions were targeting them and not the Zimbabwean people as a whole.

At the time, it seemed that the newspapers were writing about the sanctions every day. For me, they were an exceptional source material, reflecting a decisive phase in the history of the country. I brought a selection of newspapers back with me to the NAI library for documentation.

What happened to my meeting with the minister?It was scheduled for 10 o’clock and I arrived at the ministry well in advance. The clock struck 10.No minister.Time passed and I began to doubt the meeting would take place after all.But I didn’t give up. I stayed outside his office until late afternoon.

While I was waiting, I thought about whether I should interview the ‘private’ person or the ‘official’ one. Which of these people was it whose money had been frozen? Who was the person on my blacklist: a symbol of the regime or an individual? As in other non-democratic countries, the difference was sometimes hard to make out, since public finances were often used privately.

The minister finally showed up, grim-faced but ready to invite me into his office.The interview lasted about an hour and I felt he answered my questions relatively honestly.He described how he had tried to buy agricultural machinery from abroad, for the benefit of the Zimbabwean state, with his own private funds, but his attempts had failed due to the sanctions.

The minister also described how difficult it had been to represent the Zimbabwean people internationally, not least because he was unable to travel to many countries due to the travel ban. In other words, the sanctions had affected him both in his private and official capacities. I reached similar conclusions in my interviews with other Zimbabwean government representatives.

Overall, there was little proof that the sanctions made any significant difference to politics in Zimbabwe. Much evidence pointed to Gaultang’s naïve theory still being relevant. The state’s use of propaganda to respond to the sanctions had created a public sense that the country was under siege. The more vulnerable and constrained the people in power felt, the tighter they squeezed their grip. Being marked out for sanctions became a badge of honour and a proof of one’s loyalty to the regime.

Western governments’ sanctions against Zimbabwe were in place for many years.The breadbasket of Southern Africa saw its store shelves being emptied; queues for fuel grew longer and power failures became part of everyday life as infrastructure cracked.The sanctions were one component behind this, Zanu-PF and Mugabe’s abuse of power another.

The international community’s inability and unwillingness to constructively deal with Mugabe has had catastrophic problems for the country, the region and the Western world’s relationship with the entire African continent. For example, the EU – Africa dialogue was negatively affected as a result of the EU-lead blacklistings.

Whether the Mugabe and Zanu-PF era is over, and whether current events in Zimbabwe will lead to democratisation or continued dictatorship, remains to be seen. But the legend of Mugabe will live on long after the regime has come to an end. The international community should be aware of this when thinking about sanctions in the future, both in relation to Zimbabwe or more generally. Any undemocratic practise will surely mean more sanctions. This time, it may well come in company with the African Union as it has developed its own sanctions practice.

Mikael Eriksson
Senior Researcher
The Nordic Africa Institute

Reading Seydou Keita and the general framing pattern of West African studio photographers

Exposition Seydou Keïta, Grand Palais Paris. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Creative Commons.

Awa Konate, BA Graduate from SOAS, London, and guest blogger at Nordic Shades of Africa

While it’s inarguable that the resurgence of asserting a space for contemporary African arts on the global art scene is growing stronger, undeniable questions regarding positionality remain: what is acknowledged as art and who is the art intended for? There is a rapidly growing interest in contemporary African art, both for the marketable public as well as for private display and profitable interest. However, it seems that what was previously involved and concerned with bringing forth African contemporary art to be recognised globally, has neglected to also consider the materialising concerns for local makers as a result of shaping markets and spaces. In the recent year of 2016, contemporary art production from Africa has seen a rapid growth in a relatively young market.

In 2016 alone, the New York Armory show “African perspectives” under the lead of curators Yvette Mutumba and Julia Grosse displayed works from Africa and the Diaspora in 14 galleries. Subsequently, the fourth of edition of the Contemporary African art fair 1:54 at London’s Somerset House attracted unexpected numbers of visitors (Peus:2016). And on the continent alone, the already prosperous Joburg Art Fair increased its sales by nearly twice the amount forecasted (ibid).

"Contemporary and modern African arts account for less than 1 percent of the global art market revenue"It’s easy to state the success of these markets are attributed to a pandemic interest in Contemporary African art on the continent and abroad, encouraged by a wish to diversify spaces and encourage moreover reposition interest in what is still an underrepresented market. But under any circumstances, the modern and contemporary African art market has yet to reach the level it is portrayed to have. According to the European Fine Art’s (TEFAF) market report from 2016, contemporary and modern African arts only account for approximately 22 million dollars – less than 1 percent of the global art market revenue of 63.8 billion dollars. (Pownall :2016)

Thus, as a viewer and appreciator, I am nevertheless wondering, who are the actors that shape this discourse? And how do we engage with these understandings, which shift beyond the current mainstream appraisal and visual conceptions of gazing Western curators in conjunction with audiences? But most importantly, in terms of globalised contexts relating to cultural and political visibility, where does Contemporary African arts position itself?

In the time of initiating my research on Seydou Keita, I often found a consistency of raving articles about the burgeoning contemporary photography arts markets, and what it initially evoked in me was the awareness that, discourses about contemporary African art, or specifically African photography, are in fact represented within public discourses and domains of art. And I strongly argue, that following the mid 1990’s photographs by Malian photographer Seydou Keita, with their carefully staged aesthetical strategies of repetition and symmetry continue to both produce imitation and touch upon subjects of displacement, belonging and self-imagination, for viewers that comprehend the visual relationship of the work, as they shifted locality constant display in Western museums and achieving acclamation, emerging Keita as a photographer, who’s name was once lost (Bigham,1999, p.63), both transformed wider non-continental African audience’s perception of Contemporary African art, but also came to symbolize the artistic passages and artistic dilemmas of following West African studio photographers who’d have their works recognised globally, notably fellow Malian Malick Sidibe.

By way of Keita’s works migrating from his Malian studio which operated between 1948 to 1962 (Magnin,1997,p.9 in Bigham,1999,p.61) to curator Susan Vogel’s 1991 exhibition titled “Africa Explores”3 at the Centre for African Art of New York and leading to the Contemporary African Art Collection4 by the Pigozzi Collection Institute and so forth (ibid), demonstrates the complexities and newer dimensions of authorship stand to make focal point of the social trajectories that exemplify the cultural commodification process which determines artistic works value, as we continue to see with West African studio photography under the overall banner of Contemporary African art.

Homid Bhabba has notably delineated this framing as the “third space”, meaning apperception which is shaped through an interaction with the other. This conceives a hybridity process which “gives rise to something new and unrecognisable” (Kalua, 2009, p.26), or in other words, it gives rise to a created “other”.

I would propose Keita’s enduring artistic and marketable profit, is remarkably owed to a strategic commercial interpretation of his works by French curator Andre Magnin (ibid). In stark contrast to his enduring fame in Mali, Keïta’s anonymity in “Africa Explores”, his first exhibition outside of Africa in 1991, reveals the complex shifts which authorship undergoes when located within different cultural settings. This is especially noticeable when the cultural context to where the work is transferred, defines its conception of authorship through either viewer’s knowledge or trademark. When Keïta’s prints were enlarged and exhibited, the valorization of his work also initiated a gradual process. By being exhibited as unknown in “Africa Explores”, the valorization of his works shifted from domestic spaces in Mali to art institutions, firstly rendered his works to suddenly become considered as objects of art and secondly to become the object of Vogel’s representation of “contemporary African urban art.”

The absence of Keïta’s name functioned to give a detached and general overview/representation defining an artistic canon without taking into account the alternative historical trajectories which shape that canon. That black and white studio photography suddenly becomes an emblematic reference of Contemporary African arts for Western audiences. Overshadowing this is new mediators (curators, critics and dealers) who, according to Keller, are authoritative agents in continuing this frame. It is through this canonization that the authoritative topic of West African studio photographers, is reframed and redefined through various interpretations to Western audiences. Anthony-Appiah calls attention to, the fact that “to sell oneself and one’s products as art in the marketplace, one must, above all, clear a space in which one is distinguished from other producers and products-and one does this by the construction and the marketing of differences.”

Consecutive is also the permanent reauthorization of Keïta’s work by his viewers based on aesthetic judgements (Bigham, 1999, p.67). Given the continuous relocation of his portraits within different institutions as Bigham proposes, viewers from an institutional or monographic frame, confronted with quantities of photographs, see portraits which are assigned with only one name: Keïta’s. One after the other, the specificity of each image is not observed, but rather it is assumed by the viewer to be a consistent homogenous aesthetic, when in fact each image forms its own nexus but ultimately exists as part of a wider photographic corpus. Such understanding as objected by Bigham, allows for viewers (as I pointed above regarding black and white photography becoming a paradigmatic articulation of West African modernity), to perceive these images as documentation of societal realities when they are not so.

Viewers, assume these images’ denotative characteristics to be visual representatives of social, historical and cultural indications. This reading is inevitable, given the framing of these images which incorporates texts to be interpreted so, as the portraits are framed as, in the instance of Keita’s works, historical insights Mali’s past for viewers of today. The framing seems to extend itself to what Oguibe in “Postmodernism and Contemporary African art” (1999) proposes when he argues the history of African arts is not constructed but rather canonized within a corpus where the African artist acts as a mere observer within a hegemonic discourses, that he or she isn’t permitted self-articulation beyond the boundaries of these constructed disquisitions. (Oguibe, 1999,p. 20; Anthony- Appiah, 1991, p.355)

This construction, extends to the general framing of West African studio photographers, most recently Burkinabe photographer Sory Sanle’s works currently displayed in London. And I believe Magnin’s framing of Keita when his works were becoming widely distributed, established this notion for specialised curators to follow.

Given that Magnin’s curatorial interventions have expanded this particular notion of contemporary African art, these questions become very necessary to consider, as I believe, that his interpretations of contemporary African art through Seydou Keïta have reaffirmed Sallah Hassan’s notion: Africa is rendered a site of perpetual rediscovery. This rediscovery further contributes to marginalising local African art forms or artists whose works reside outside of this theorization. Magnin’s position of Keïta as the studio photographer of Mali has left very little room for either his locally celebrated peers contemporary Malian photographers known or unknown to be considered in an alternate discourse, whilst at the same perpetuating the false notion of “anachronistically characterizing ‘contemporary’ photography in Mali according to black and white film practices from the 1950s to 1970s” as Keller remarked (Keller, 2014, p. 44)

Nevertheless to a certain degree, Magnin correctly identifies transnationalism as a component of his practices through Seydou Keïta because of his photographic medium, and to a certain degree, his way of using it. However, it is evident that his curatorial practices assume incorrectly that globalization in that context takes on a neutral standing. While it may appear, that the notion of globalization itself stands to render null and void the idea of localities, I argue that it in his practice it inevitably actually reinforces these constructed binaries, by positioning Seydou Keïta into a hegemonic commodification discourse so long as his work is ascribed to Western notions of what is deemed contemporary art.

The globalised commodification acquiesced by Hassan, has become a one-sided exchange, which forces locality on African artists by narrating their contemporary practices in relation to the supposed universalism of Western contemporary art rather than regarding it within local contexts of production. This brings attention to the economics of cultural productions which devalues or values African contemporary art in the context of globalisation (ibid). Contemporary African arts and its critical reception globally is readily identifiable with the notions of globalisation and transnationalism; this assumes a free cultural production and sharing. Moreover this assumption is patently false, since the global contacts precisely enforce locality on contemporary Africans through regulations of their movements within its centers (ibid). And this is precisely the general pattern one will observe through the framing of photographer’s artistic journey.

Thinking about the same issue, Von Bismark noted that contemporary curators who specialise in non-Western art, have by large monopolized this role and in their practices aggregated works to construct interpretations which fit into the contemporary frame of reference (Von Bismark, 2012, p.62-63). Hence one wonders about the discursive visibility of art objects and their financial value,which sustains the works of Art fairs and the existence of public cultural and related institutions: in which position does contemporary African art fit into the global discourse and globalization? And how does these globalisation driven shifts reflect in political and cultural visibility? But most importantly, how does an emerging form of imagining local identities situate itself, in relation to cosmopolitanism in the places where it occurs without also subverting or suppressing the local constituency which is pivotal in formulating a newer discourse from its own standpoint?

Awa Konate is a recent Danish-Ivorian BA graduate of Politics and African studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Prior to, and whilst living in London, and pursuing her studies, she has been working as a freelance writer, having works published in both print and digital publications. While completing her bachelor’s degree, she wrote her dissertation on the political analysis of Malian photographer Seydou Keita’s artistic legacy of authorship and power interiorly as well as exteriorly to the context of globalisation.

Her research interest, which has now lead her to pursue a post-graduate degree in Contemporary Art, centres around Contemporary African art ranging from the significance of transnationalism along with globalisation on markets development and cultural moreover political visibility of artists. She is particularly interested in assessing critical art theory’s potential to formate newer curating mechanisms, which enables dialogues calling into question authoritative representation methods of comprehending Contemporary African arts. She has been working on a digital curatorial project titled “Culture Art Society” since 2013.

Zuma survives in office once again – for now

2017 June_President Jacob Zuma budget debate in the National Assembly Parliament Cape Town_Photo GCIS

Jacob Zuma during a debate in the National Assembly, June 2017. Photo: GCIS

Henning Melber_Byline med bild till bloggen

According to a common saying, a cat has nine lives. Jacob Zuma has at least the same amount. He just survived the eighth vote of no confidence in his illustrious political career. During the late afternoon of 8 August a total of 384 Members of the 400-member South African Parliament (with five seats currently vacant) casted their secret votes to decide over the president’s fate. 177 voted with yes (for the motion of no confidence), 198 with no, while nine abstained. But while Zuma stays in office for now, the problems in South African politics are far from over.

All eyes are now on the ANC national congress in December this year. The party then has to deal again with the ever-growing voices in its own ranks to replace a widely discredited head of state in the interest of the party. And the forces are in formation on different sides, with Zuma’s choice (his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) and Cyril Ramphosa as the front runners, but several other competitors looking for outsider chances.

While removing Zuma from office now would have been too early as regards the party-internal dynamics unfolding, the writings are on the wall: at least 20 plus ANC MPs refused to toe the party line and voted for the oppositional motion. A clear indication that the ANC is increasingly divided over the strategy: keep Zuma despite his dismal performance as a sign of party loyalty in office – not to be mistaken as a loyalty to him – rather than to succumb to a political opposition’s demand?

Quote 5_width 330 px.pngIndicative was the debate preceding the vote: not a single speaker spoke in defense of Zuma, who after all is also (still) the party leader. The opposition was eager to explain that the motion is not about removing the ANC from government, but Zuma from presidency. As speaker after speaker stressed, this should be a vote against corruption, state capture and the Gupta clique appropriating state assets big time. In contrast, those taking the floor for the ANC, appealed to their own members to protect the government from regime change and not abandon the party loyalty.

After the motion was dismissed, the opposition parties celebrated the high number of votes supporting the yes, while the ANC members in their majority started to sing and dance in celebration of what they considered a victory. Rather, however, it was avoiding defeat by a margin more narrowly than many might have expected. The major issue discussed afterwards by political commentators therefore was how the party might handle the dissenting votes in its ranks.

A triumphant Zuma celebrated his survival by singing and dancing too. Seemingly unimpressed by the party-internal dissidents, he suggested that their votes were bought. His camp was quick to dismiss the whole motion as a conspiracy initiated by white monopoly capitalism. The pro-Zuma camp has more recently systematically cultivated this populist equation, prophesizing that Zuma’s removal would be tantamount to a counter-revolution.

But what happened was actually more predictable and expected than the hype before the vote suggested. After all, no party in government anywhere would like to be voluntarily pushed by an opposition into voting against its own head of state and party leader, thereby creating or even confirming the impression that its policy was not up to standard. As regards the factionalism inside the ANC, the real litmus test will happen in December, when the party congress decides over Zuma’s succession and, by implication, his future fate.

One also wonders, if the opposition would really have wanted to abandon its most popular campaign argument, that South Africa is governed by a corrupt leader backed by his party despite better knowledge, thereby willing to accept state capture rather than to abandon party loyalty with a thief. At the end, the opposition can still register with a certain amount of satisfaction, that a substantial member of ANC MPs did not toe the party line. A message, which has certainly also been registered inside of the governing party.

But the narratives already emerge, which make use of this fact as an argument that this testifies to the party’s democratic fabric. Among the first voices commenting were those who claimed that this was finally a victory for the country’s constitution and convincing evidence for the state of democracy and good governance. That the Rand as currency improved its exchange rate after Monday’s decision to allow for a secret vote, seems to confirm that this is widely considered as a comforting indicator that not all is rotten in the state of South Africa.

Come year’s end, we will know more as regards this claim or assumption. For now, a power struggle between government and opposition, but also inside of the ANC, has not been decided but an outcome only postponed. The question remains to be answered, if at the end Jacob Zuma has more of the proverbial lives than a cat.

Henning Melber is a senior research associate at the Nordic Africa Institute


An Anatomy of the Black South African “Middle Class”

170801_Henning Melber_Middle Class

Henning Melber_Byline med bild till bloggen

According to figures recently presented by a research project at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa’s population classified as middle class increased from 12.8 percent in 1993 to 16.6 percent in 2012. Two-thirds of these are categorized as ‘black’. In contrast, 55 percent of the population remain poor, 23 percent vulnerable and 5.2 percent can be considered as elite.

A black middle class in such a socially segregated society merits closer attention as to its definition and its further deconstruction. Which are the characteristics, the aspirations, the self-definition, but also the political orientations of such a group?

Realities in Soweto

Phakati – Soweto’s Middling Class is a documentary produced in 2008/2009 by a team headed by Peter Alexander from the University of Johannesburg (UJ). It illustrates mainly through interviews a research project initiated in 2006. A survey investigated class identity.

In total 2,284 respondents were initially classified. The biggest groups were 582 in formal (wage) employment and 535 unemployed, followed by 309 recipients of social grants or otherwise not in the labor force, 261 students, 251 partial workers and 225 fill ins (the latter two categories were self-employed ‘survivalists’ or in very irregular unemployment). 129 were classified as petty bourgeoisie (self-employed professionals or small businesses not looking for work), 24 as employed middle class (salaried managerial positions) and four as bourgeoisie. In terms of occupational categories, two thirds of the persons were without occupation (being unemployed, pensioners, students etc.).

Respondents were offered a variety of class or status related options for multiple self-categorizations. The biggest group (20 percent of the respondents) opted only for the middle class label. Adding those who registered in multiple categories, a total of two-thirds (66 percent) of the respondents classified themselves as middle class, followed by 43 percent working class, 38 percent lower class and 13 percent upper or top class.

Quote 1The explanations given by the “middle class” respondents (ranging from a woman being the owner of a company occupying a posh house to an unemployed woman in a shack) were almost stereotype. Those in the upper segment argued that others were better off, while those in the lower segments referred to others still worse off.

When at the end of the film the businesswoman was asked to visit the shack dweller, they both questioned each other’s categorization. The two women were hardly able to communicate, both convinced that the other one was out of her mind by calling herself middle class. But there is some logic and sense to what seems to be an anomaly. According to the study by UJ researchers Mosa Phadi and Claire Ceruti: ‘Sowetans who declare themselves middle class are thereby distinguishing themselves from mediocrity’.

Class in SowetoThe self-perception clearly had to do with a form of pride, of dignity, and of belonging. The middle class label, Peter Alexander summarizes in the book Class in Soweto, ‘was linked to self-respect, to upward mobility and aspirations’ and ‘regarded as normal, thus neither “above” nor “below” other people’. As he adds further, “class” can be seen as something positive, because unlike “race” it permits upwards mobility. Being “middle class”, therefore, is a desired self-categorization.

While the differences in the social status, lifestyle and (in)security of these Soweto residents are enormous, they all merrily classify themselves as being part of a rather arbitrarily defined “middle”. The self-classification suggests that “being middle class” is a kind of comfort zone despite the daily struggle for survival.

170801_PARI-L.E.-2-middle-classing-in-roodepoort-final-edited-version-5June20121-1Realities in Roodepoort

A contrasting analysis was almost in parallel undertaken by Ivor Chipkin of the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) in Johannesburg in 2012. In his essay Middle Classing in Roodepoort: Capitalism and Social Change in South Africa, he studies “middle classness” in the townhouse suburbia of Roodepoort. As a previously “white” residential area of the wider Johannesburg area, it now accommodates components of a black middle class.

Chipkin diagnoses the emergence of a ‘common world’, which ‘is not associated with new patterns of sociability that transcend race or ethnicity’. But assertions that different groups defined by ethnicity would ‘signify antagonistic social positions’ and survive especially among white middle class members, are put into doubt. Instead, such sentiments have been replaced by ‘an openness to black South Africans that may well be unprecedented outside liberal and/or leftist political circles’. Chipkin therefore concludes, that ‘ordinary life refers to the pursuit of identity, of structure, rather than revolt or resistance to it’.

He observes in the Roodepoort townhouse complexes a ‘paradoxical common world conjured into being through a new regime of property right and mediated by body corporates’. And he asserts that ‘spaces of order have been constituted through a regime of (private) property’, which is not necessarily in compliance with ‘a post-apartheid society tending towards socialism or participatory democracy or, at least, subject to the morality of the Constitution’. It is, in other words, the identity of haves, who consider their own possession as the only important point of reference.

This seems to confirm a survey of political attitudes conducted by Bob Mattes in the Afrobarometer project. It suggests that black South Africans enjoying a degree of security and with access to higher education are more likely to support higher-order needs of good governance and self-expression. They are less likely to prioritise the provision of basic goods and services than those worse-off.

Realities among the black South African middle class

The BBC’s “Africa Business Report” televised on 1 and 2 January 2016 a conversation with three South African observers. They were asked for their views on the African middle class. One (himself black middle class) attributed to them not much more than greed and their own individual aspirations to accumulate wealth and status as a generation seeking ‘instant gratifications’ with ‘no loyalties’ to any political or other ideological orientation.

For her Master thesis, Amuzweni Ngoma interviewed members of a black middle class (BMC) in higher professional positions. She concludes that ‘the high levels of intra-racial inequality bond the BMC to race-based alliances rather than class-based alliances’. Occupation and income as class markers do not automatically translate into class identities. But Ngoma also observes, ‘that the BMC is becoming increasingly confident in its class position, a development allowing it to begin critically assessing the wider political landscape’, which also ‘indicates a deeper commitment to the developmental needs of the class itself’.

170801_The New Black Middle Class in South AfricaIn his book on The New Black Middle Class in South Africa, Roger Southall shows that historically the black middle class was a politically progressive force, while at the same time quite uneven: ‘at different times, in different situations, in different locations it was variously (and sometimes simultaneously) liberal, conservative, nationalist and radical. It might even be argued that the only consistent thing about the black middle class was its political inconsistency.’ He argues, ‘that the black elite and middle class now in positions of power, privilege and profit are not likely to bite the hand of the party-state that feeds them. The more dependent they are upon the ruling party for their welfare, the more they are likely to support it.’

However, as he also suggests: ‘while the most powerful segments of the black elite and middle class remain strongly aligned to the ANC’s party-state, the black middle class as a whole is becoming more heterogeneous. However much they come out of an ANC background, many younger black middle-class voters are becoming increasingly critical of the performance of the ruling party.’ One therefore should not take it for granted that black middle class loyalty to the ANC’s party-state remains cast in stone – as also the voter behavior of the municipal and local elections of mid-2016 documented: ‘A financial meltdown will bring major fractures … and the party will strain the loyalty of many within the black middle class. The political direction or directions in which the black middle class choses to go will prove an important factor in shaping the country’s future trajectory.’

One should however not take for granted that this would be a more democratic course. Middle class behaviour is not principled beyond acting in the own interest, but rather pragmatic and opportunistic. Southall therefore warns that, ‘the black middle class may back a drift towards “competitive authoritarianism”, a hybrid form of governance in which democratic forms belie a reality of authoritarian rule.’ – While we follow the ANC-internal battles over succession and the handling of state capture, the verdict on the role of a black middle class is pending.

Henning Melber is a Senior Research Associate with the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) in Uppsala and Extraordinary Professor at the Department for Political Sciences, University of Pretoria and the Centre for Africa Studies, University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. This blog text is based in part on edited extracts from the Introduction and Conclusion of Henning Melber (ed.), The Rise of Africa’s Middle Class: Myths, Realities and Critical Engagements, Johannesburg: Wits University Press 2017 and London: Zed Books 2016.

On Thursday 10 August, Henning Melber will present his book in a book launch seminar at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria.


Kenyan 2017 elections: Ethnicity and multiparty politics – it’s all about the numbers


Supporters of Raila Odinga. Photo: Demosh, creative commons

Kenya is preparing for its 13th round of elections since independence in 1963. The elections are scheduled to take place on 8 August, unless anything unexpected happens. The most recent matter that might have caused a postponement was a court case over the legitimacy of a contract for the ballot papers with a Dubai company. The opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, however, lost this case in the Court of Appeal even though High Court judges had supported it.

During the final months of the campaign, in particular, there have been accusations and counter-accusations: the opposition is suspicious that the ruling Jubilee Party wants to rig the elections. The Jubilee Party, for its part, alleges that the opposition is trying to stall the electoral process with the court case as it is afraid of losing, despite the loud rhetoric of its campaign. There are also claims that the current government is dishing out ’goodies’ and misusing public resources to buy votes and ‘loyalty’.

The polls are looking much closer in the lead-up to the elections than they were about six months ago. As it has gained support, the NASA claims that it cannot lose unless the elections are rigged. Opposition leaders and supporters have already hinted that this time they will not accept defeat without resistance if there are any signs of electoral fraud. This has heated up campaigning and competition even further.

Kenyan politics are highly tribal and elections are based on ethnic alliances of the leading politicians, who use their own ethnicity to win the votes of other members of the same community. Given election-related tensions, violence has already broken out in various parts of the country. Many are afraid that it could reach the levels of post-election violence in 2007 – 2008, during which over 1,200 people were killed and around 300,000 were driven out of their homes to become internally displaced persons. In the parts of the country most affected by this ethnically based violence, many from minority ethnic groups that are not indigenous to those areas have already started to move out. Similar migration has also been reported from the slums of the capital Nairobi and other informal settlements in big towns.


Nairobi slum. Photo: Ninara, cerative commons

What has changed since the previous elections?

There is nothing new about the accusations, threats and fears that people have. However, much is at stake for Kenya. The country’s democratic system is on trial after confusing but nonetheless fairly peaceful elections in 2013, which were the first under the new constitution passed in 2010.
During those last elections people still also had in their minds the violent horrors of 2007. Many were surprised to see two former ‘ethnic enemies’, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto – who are now president and vice-president – form the Jubilee Alliance that guaranteed them the winning numbers because the opposition remained split. Their respective ethnic groups, the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, were engaged in most of the violence after the 2007 elections, against each other as well as against members of other tribes allied with the opposition. Kenyatta and Ruto subsequently went on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity for their alleged involvement in organizing the violence. The ICC trials became a major campaign issue in the 2013 elections, as both leaders claimed that the court’s investigations were external interference and direct attacks against their particular ethnic groups in Kenya. The court cases collapsed due to lack of evidence, and the disappearance and unwillingness of the main witnesses to testify. The 2013 elections, however, were very close: in the presidential election Uhuru won 50.5% of the vote against two opposition candidates. The result was contested in the courts but was upheld.

Today the country is deeply polarised and the atmosphere is heating up as the elections approach. As the numbers, ethnically speaking, are getting even with the two opposing alliances, both sides use all means available in campaigning, using language that is close to hate speech. The opposition has learnt from its failure in the 2013 elections that to reach an alliance to reach the numbers it has to remain united – despite the personal ambitions, suspicions and reluctance of its leading members from the various other ethnic groups in Kenya. The NASA brings together rival presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the Luo vote, Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement with the Kamba vote, as well as Moses Wetangula’s Forum for Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (Ford-Kenya) and Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress, which add Luyia support. For the opposition flagbearer Raila Odinga, now 72 years old, this is his fourth and probably final run at the presidency. He, his Luo community and other supporters feel that they have been cheated out of the presidency three times already and now it is their time to rule the country after years of Kikuyu and Kalenjin dominance – long-term authoritarian president Daniel arap Moi (1978–2002) was also a Kalenjin.


President Uhuru Kenyatta

On the other side, the Jubilee Party is using the slogan Tuko Pamoja, Swahili for ’We are together’, to win votes across ethnic lines. Its attempts to carry a message of unity across ethnic divisions is not convincing many, as in practice it has seemed to apply mainly to the ethnic groups of the two leaders. In fact, there have been accusations of increased ethnic favouritism and discrimination under the current government. This has amplified people’s discontent. Other factors that are costing the Jubilee Party support are allegations of increasing corruption or at least lack of serious efforts to fight corruption. On top of this, despite the government’s claims of ‘increasing development’, the country is suffering from increased insecurity, with al-Shabaab- and even ISIS-related terror threats and attacks, tribally related conflicts in various parts of the country, wildlife poaching, violent crimes, etc. Also, unemployment and poverty levels have remained at record highs, while food prices have soared and many promised infrastructure improvements have been left waiting.

Winner takes all

Kenya has always had tribal politics and since multiparty elections were first held in the country in 1992. The reality is that in the elections ‘the winner takes all’ when it comes to the use of public resources and power. Competition for votes according to ethnic loyalties and support is fierce because people know that most of the time only members of the ethnic groups in power have a chance of getting good positions in government and the civil service, and who benefit from public resources – or even tenders and business deals. In a manner of speaking, the electorate is hostage to its ethnic leaders and vice-versa. Many Kenyans are well educated and most of them aware of these problems and wish for a change. However, they do not see that they can affect the elections and improve their lives in any way other than by following these old patterns and casting their vote on ethnic lines rather than according to candidates’ previous performance or alleged corruption.

Thus, both main alliances now compete fiercely for the votes of the smaller ethnic groups in the country – with promises, gifts and sometimes intimidation – rather than with any consistent ideological political agenda or coherent policy plans. These are not needed as long as the ethnic loyalties can be relied on.

Overall, when the parties do not offer ideological alternatives, they become mere vehicles for political positions. Thus, they mushroom and multiply, forming alliances, which in turn become new political parties depending on the nature of the emerging ethnic alliances. For example, the Jubilee Alliance that brought together Kenyatta’s KANU (Kenya African National Union), the Party of National Unity and Ruto’s United Republican Party, and is now registered as the Jubilee Party. Similarly, the former opposition alliance in 2002 fell apart and Odinga’s supporters formed the ODM, which was later registered as ODM Party and now campaigns with other fairly recently formed opposition parties in the NASA. Keeping up with party politics in Kenya is an uphill struggle. Before revised legislation on the registration of political parties – the 2010 Constitution and 2011 Political Parties Act – at one point Kenya had over 200 registered political parties.

What makes the situation even more complex, is that according to the new constitution in the 8 August general elections, voters will elect not only the president and members of the National Assembly and Senate, but also county governors and county representatives. The establishment of governors and senators position, was intended to decentralise political power, but it has also brought fierce local political competition on resources and positions down to the regions.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is in charge of the elections. However, people have serious doubts about its capacity and impartiality, because it failed to produce credible results in 2007 and 2013.

As the polls are quite even at the moment, the results of the elections are likely to be very close – if they are free and fair. In that event – or particularly if they inconceivably much towards a Jubilee Party win – the results are likely to be contested and post-election violence is not out of the picture.

Sirkku Hellsten, the Nordic Africa Institute
Francis Owakah, the University of Nairobi