Why southern Africa is the world’s most unequal region – and what can be done about it

The leaders of the Southern African countries meeting at the 38th SADC Summit in Namibia, 18 August 2018. Photo: GCIS, Creative Commons.

Following the end of the cold war, the independence of Namibia in 1990 and the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1994, the southern African region entered an era of relative political stability and competitive multi-party politics.

But the peace dividend proved unable to finance the hopes and expectations of the region’s masses. Why? Political analysts point to the ‘mixed bag’ of democratisation processes as the reason for this. Of concern has been the marked shift in the last few years towards populist authoritarianism in some of the countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Patience Mususa

Since the early 2000s, the region has seen a surge in foreign direct investment in its extractive economies – driven by growth in China and India – and in the shift to electric vehicles, renewable energy sources and digital economy with the attendant growth in big data is fuelling demand for battery minerals which are of increasing strategic importance for the key global economic players in North America, Europe and Asia.

These trends have received significant coverage in the media, with democratisation pundits emphasising good governance and participation in election cycles; and economic analysts looking at growth and investment forecasts in commodities such as cobalt, copper, platinum, uranium and rare earth minerals.

The attendant destruction of the state’s vital functions in the wake of the harsh neoliberal austerity policies of the 1980s and 1990s, and the stark socio-economic inequality characteristic of inadequate redistributive mechanisms, have received less attention.

Infographics from the 2017 UNPD report showing that five of the ten most unequal countries in the world are in Southern Africa. Source: World Bank, Gini Data from December 2016.

Roots of inequality

In 2013, a policy note from ILO highlighted a severe crisis across the region, with poor living conditions, high unemployment and inequality. In some countries, such as Zambia, gains that were made in the immediate post-independence period of the 1960s had actually been reversed.

The paper recommended a ‘developmental state’ approach that reflected broader socio-economic concerns, and depended less on the interests of ruling parties’ inner circles and donor prescriptions. A 2017 UNDP report showed little progress in alleviating growing inequality: South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana (in this order reflecting their regional ranking) remained among the 10 most unequal countries in the world.

Some of the key factors driving growing inequality in the region also influence the kind of politics found there: all of the countries in the region operate a dualistic economic structure, with a small number of citizens employed in the formal sector, and the remainder engaged in precarious and underpaid work in the informal sector or the subsistence economy.

The failure of redistributive mechanisms in those countries – a result of prolonged austerity policies and rentier economies – means that services and infrastructure (health, education, transport, water, energy) are concentrated in areas with small, better-off populations.

Political parties whose politicians often have business interests tend towards populism rather than taking concrete measures for redistribution. Their business connections make them reluctant to take on the corporations and business elites that dominate the regional economies.

Debt distress

Between 2011 and 2015, Mozambique and Zambia where among the 10 fastest-growing economies globally. Both countries issued Eurobonds on the back of this optimism. However, since Mozambique’s default last year, concerns have grown over whether Zambia will meet its repayments, which are due in 2022. Fears are mounting that debt distress will catalyse a fire sale of key state assets such as utilities, and extortionate demands by creditors on mineral resources.

On top of this, serious allegations of non-transparent and fraudulent acquisition and spending of grants and loans have dogged Zambia and Mozambique, leading donors to threaten to withdraw support for poverty-alleviation programmes. This is not unprecedented.

In effect, corruption has become endemic regionally, reflecting global trends. It is symptomatic of the privatisation and outsourcing of public services and assets, and of politicians acting as brokers in these processes (Zambia is a case in point).

While anti-corruption rhetoric has grown fuelled by public anger and civil society mobilisation, a question that has received less attention is how countries can ever be expected to meet their debt obligations without also reversing ongoing privatisations, and stopping corporate tax evasion and regulating financial flows.

Land as a welfare mechanism

Land is an important resource and welfare mechanism for the rural and urban poor of the region who either rely on subsistence agriculture for a living, or supplement their livelihoods by growing some of their own food. Roughly 80 percent of the sub Saharan Africa region’s population is employed in small-scale farming. However, in countries such as Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and until recently Zimbabwe, the most fertile land is concentrated in just a few hands. In the former white-settler colonies of Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, land ownership reflects a history of racially based capital accumulation. In South Africa for example, roughly 67% of the land is ‘white’ commercial agricultural land.

However, the prevailing Euro-American attitude that land redistribution equates to racial war deflects attention from inequality. In the wake of the chaos of the land redistribution policy in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe – which in effect rendered the country a pariah state until Mugabe was eased out of power – the ruling parties of Namibia and South Africa are taking a cautious approach.

In those countries, the land reform debate has been driven by restive young people who make up the majority of the populations: in Namibia, the Affirmative Repositioning movement has taken on the ruling SWAPO party over its failure to make affordable land available to poor urban youth, organising mass applications for rent-controlled land from municipalities that have dragged their feet over land distribution.

Meanwhile, in South Africa the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – an offshoot of the ruling African National Congress’s youth league – are not only calling for equitable land reform, but also for the nationalisation of key industries to fund wider redistribution. In February 2018, the EFF successfully tabled a parliamentary motion for land redistribution without compensation.

Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s new president, is to oversee the land reform process. Since he is regarded as inclined to favour corporate interests, scepticism remains about his effectiveness.

Resistance to change

In DRC, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, the growth of extractive industries on the back of a commodity boom has led to calls for the redistribution of income from mineral wealth, much of which finds its way abroad because of lax tax regimes. The undue influence of the extractive industries’ lobby means that any discussion of redistributive mining taxes defers to corporate mining interests.

An active lobbyist is the Brenthurst Foundation, established by the South African Oppenheimer family – which has the ear of the region’s right-leaning opposition parties. In DRC, Tanzania and Zambia, proposals to raise mineral taxes and royalties has been met with howls of protest from corporations, some of which are actually threatening to challenge this in international arbitration (which some critics say is skewed towards protecting Euro-American business interests).

In countries dominated by extractive industries, all discussion of tax regimes, ownership and, indeed, whether the potential profits from extraction are worth the costs involved has tended to focus on the interests of a narrow political constituency. The views of large swathes of the region’s population – those involved in informal and subsistence work – are ignored.

While the corporate mining industry, which often manages to avoid public scrutiny, has negotiated subsidies for itself, people face increasing costs for land, water and energy. Leading opposition parties, such as Zambia’s United Party for National Development (UPND) and Tanzania’s CHADEMA, contribute to stifling the debate. They incline politically to the conservative right and do little to explain how they would tackle inequality.

Similarly, the ruling parties in those countries – Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in Tanzania, led by President John Magufuli, and the Patriotic Front in Zambia, led by President Edgar Lungu (both in office since 2015) – have resorted to ad hoc rather than holistic systemic approaches to deal with discontent over poverty and inequality.

As parties, the UPND and CHADEMA have little in the way of internal democratic structures. The upshot is a form of politics that is neither participatory nor representative of wider concerns, but which has become a factional struggle among each country’s political elite.

In Zambia and Tanzania, the ruling parties have resorted to politically repressive measures: in Zambia, daily newspaper The Post was closed down; and in Tanzania, the weekly Mawio was suspended after an investigation into dubious mining contracts overseen by Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete, both former leaders of CCM.

There are worrying signs in north-western Mozambique and DRC’s Katanga region that a resurgence of mining and exploration may be dragging those regions into civil strife. In Mozambique, the acquisition of land for coal and gas exploration has led to resistance from communities who object to forcible relocation to pave the way for mining. The response has been violent repression by the police.

There have also been worrying indications of what The Economist referred to in August 2018 as a ‘bubbling Islamist insurgency’, including the burning of houses and beheading of a local Islamic leader. The appearance in Mozambique of Erik Prince, founder and former CEO of the private security contractor Blackwater (which was implicated in war crimes in Iraq), and his offer to provide maritime security to the country, and possibly to other areas such as mining raise serious concerns.

In DRC, political tension is rising after the breakdown of the political alliance between President Joseph Kabila and Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, the exiled former governor of mineral-rich Katanga, who now plans to contest the presidency. Kabila, who recently agreed to hold elections after refusing to step down, is embattled on several fronts.

Poverty and insecurity are growing in various parts of the country. Meanwhile multinational mining companies are resisting a proposed increase in mining royalties, which would boost revenue from strategic mineral resources such as cobalt, (important for its use in rechargeable batteries): the country has roughly 48 percent of the world’s cobalt reserves.

Some of the tensions reflect a geopolitical struggle for resources. Over the past decade, China, a relative newcomer to the region, has been trying to get a foothold in the extractive sector, which is dominated by Euro-American and Australian mining interests.

A political focus on large-scale commercial agriculture, agribusiness and the extractive sector is undermining discussions on how to achieve equitable redistribution in this, the world’s most unequal region. It is particularly concerning that the largest opposition parties in South Africa (Democratic Alliance), Tanzania (CHADEMA) and Zambia (UPND) offer little in the way of alternatives, and are actually veering even further to the right of the ruling parties.

The present focus on electoral politics and procedures is not enough to build on the democratisation process that started in the 1990s. What is needed is a shift towards participatory economic models and a willingness to introduce wide-ranging redistributive mechanisms.

These changes would involve a developmental state; progressive taxation; a clamp down on corporate-sector tax evasion; collective and state ownership of strategic resources; and equitable distribution of land and access to services.

The region’s young people are pressing for a redistributive political agenda. They are the biggest losers in the current economic system and have much to gain by keeping the growing inequalities at the top of the agenda.


Patience Mususa is a senior researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute. Her research interests are mining and urbanisation in southern Africa. Her published work includes ‘Mining, Welfare and Urbanization: Wavering urban character on Zambia’s Copperbelt’ in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies, and ‘Topping Up: Life amidst hardship and death on the Copperbelt’ in African Studies.

A shorter version of this article has appeared in German in WeltTrends Südliches Afrika: Stagnation statt Aufbruch? No. 144, October 2018

Court upheld Mnangagwa’s win – but his real challenges remain

Photo credit: Zinyange Auntony, AFP

A TV in an office of Zanu-PF shows Chief Justice Luke Malaba during the court ruling that upheld Mnangagwa’s win on August 24. Photo: Zinyange Auntony, AFP

After a court upheld his election victory, President Emmerson Mnangagwa now quickly needs to turn Zimbabwe around as people long for better living conditions. Otherwise he will not be any more popular than his predecessor Robert Mugabe.

Henning MelberFollowing the presidential and parliamentary elections of 30 July, the former liberation movement and governing party since independence, ZANU-PF, regained a two-thirds majority in Parliament. With 50.8% of the vote, its candidate, Emmerson Mnangagwa seized a narrow first-round election victory by absolute majority to become the country’s president.

For Mnangagwa, this was a crucial moment: after being installed as successor to Robert Mugabe thanks to a military intervention in November 2017, he was determined to secure a degree of legitimacy based on a democratically obtained mandate. As president with a majority in Parliament, he now can rule as he likes – if, as in the case of Mugabe, the military does not object.

According to the official result announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) after several days delay, Mnangagwa’s opponent Nelson Chamisa received 44.3% of the vote. Chamisa dismissed the figures and called it “a coup against the people’s will”. On election day itself he had indicated that he would not accept defeat, but would claim there had been electoral fraud – not a particularly democratic or strategically clever contribution to unfolding controversy.

Unfortunately, this motivated hardcore opposition supporters to show their frustration through protests on the streets of the capital Harare, even before the final results had been announced. They were met with a heavy-handed response from riot police and soldiers, who shot at the unarmed demonstrators. They reportedly killed a total of six people, including bystanders.

President Mnangagwa condemned the violent protests, but also appealed to the security forces to show restraint. This raises a question over who is really in charge in Zimbabwe. Who had ordered the army to leave the barracks if not Mnangagwa as the ultimate commander-in-chief? The response suggests that Mnangagwa is either a wolf in sheep’s clothing – not for nothing is he nicknamed ‘Crocodile’ – or confirms that on closer inspection Zimbabwe is not ruled by a civilian government, but elements among the securocrats under former general Constantino Chiwenga. Chiwenga, who led the ‘soft coup’ that ousted Mugabe and installed Mnangagwa, has been appointed as vice-president. Several other former generals involved in the coup also hold influential positions in the government and judiciary. It seems that, much as before, the head of state does not have the final say.

Predictably, the MDC approached Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court to invalidate the presidential election result. The MDC argued that the vote count did not add up and a considerable number of votes came from non-existent ‘ghost’ polling stations. That the ZEC announced three different results should speak for itself.

But even when presenting its case, the MDC was prevented from submitting evidence it claimed to be of relevance to substantiate its claims, such as an audit of the V11 forms that officially register the votes cast at polling stations. It came as no surprise, when on 24 August the court dismissed the claim, disqualifying it as “mere suspicion” without substance.

The ZEC said that inaccuracies while counting the votes were the unfortunate result of compiling the wrong data. The court considered the deviations to have been too small to make any major difference to the result. If it had not been such a serious situation, the judgement could have been mistaken for an entertaining satire, culminating in the chief justice’s statement, “we believe in facts, not figures” and stressing that elections are credible until proven otherwise.

Two days later, Chief Justice Luke Malaba presided over the oath Mnangagwa took for his first elected term in office. Not surprisingly, the MDC did not attend the swearing-in and instead announced that (unspecified) civil protest would continue. In his inauguration speech, Mnangagwa struck a conciliatory note and emphasised his willingness to create a good climate for economic investment.

Much will depend on future socio-economic trends, if and to what extent the renewed ZANU-PF dominance will be accepted and whether ordinary people support the government. After two decades of decline, people long for improvements in their daily living conditions, better health and education systems and employment opportunities.

If the current government succeeds in achieving this, while maintaining at least a limited liberal image in the eyes of the political opposition, it will be considered credible and legitimate. If, however, political protest is met with further uncompromising repression while daily life remains a constant struggle for survival, Mnangagwa will not be any more popular than Mugabe was. Above everything hangs the question of how far the military will be willing to accept control by a civilian government.

Henning Melber
Senior Research Associate
The Nordic Africa Institute

From Independence to Banditry: The Casamance Conflict

bild hus brinner

A village house on fire in Casamance, Senegal.
Photo: Africaborn, creativecommons

Amat Jeng_Byline med bild till bloggen

The conflict in Casamance, in southern Senegal, fought between the Government of Senegal and the separatist movement, the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), is the longest-running conflict in Africa. As a separatist movement, the MFDC started agitating for independence from the north in the early 1980s, but as a political movement, its foundation dates back to the 1940s under French colonialism. Today, the MFDC has been reduced to a splinter group, carrying out banditry to make ends meet.

The Casamance conflict has claimed more than 5,000 lives in a region with 1.6 million inhabitants (Senegal’s total population is around 16 million). As evidently documented by researchers, the MFDC had enjoyed the support of both Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh and some influential elements in the government of Guinea Bissau in the form of arms supply and sanctuary. This role bred a bone of contention between the government of Senegal on the one hand and Bissau and Banjul on the other.

After more than three decades of low-intensity conflict, the MFDC has become weak. The question of how the MFDC has lost legitimacy, support and strength is, therefore, a significant one, because both Guinea Bissau and The Gambia have a tiny presence of the Djola people; and for the case of The Gambia, its former President, Yahya Jammeh, is a Djola. This geographical and cultural connectivity has contributed to making the Casamance conflict vulnerable to the social and geopolitical dynamics of the region.

Wade’s rationalism and regional governments
When Abdoulaye Wade came to power in Senegal in 2000, after nearly three decades of politicking, he espoused a different strategy from that of his predecessor, Abdou Diouf, under whose presidency the conflict erupted. While Abdou Diouf responded with force, Wade, as a rational calculator, responded with pragmatism, by reducing the role Bissau and Banjul played in serving as mediators. He saw larger meetings as a waste of time and resources, so he limited the involvement of both Bissau and Banjul.

Before Wade came to power, Guinea-Bissau had been embroiled in a civil war that resulted from the sacking of the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Ansumana Mané, by the president, João Bernardo ‘Nino’ Vieira, a man Senegal had counted on to help eliminate the MFDC. Mané received support from the MFDC during the 11-month civil war and Nino accused him of supplying arms to the group. The war resulted in a government of national unity, which lasted until Mané and his forces finally ousted Nino in 1999. A presidential election swiftly followed, bring Kumba Yala to power. The death of Mané the following year led to a purge of MFDC sympathisers from the Bissau army, and consequently, the gradual weakening of the MFDC.

Wade, an adept diplomatist, asked the UN to deploy its observers on the Guinea-Bissau–Senegal border, because of regular cross-border skirmish between MFDC fighter and the Senegalese soldiers. This ruffled feathers in Guinea-Bissau. Yala, constrained by the power struggle with Mané, urged the UN to refuse Wade’s request. Despite this, Wade found in Yala someone who wanted to help solve the Casamance problem. This would mark the beginning of what would become Guinea-Bissau’s gradual disengagement from the MFDC.

At the domestic level, Wade included two ministers from Casamance in his cabinet. He replaced the mayor of Zigunichor with a Southerner, in order to integrate the people of Casamance in the administrative affairs of the country; and he also visited Casamance to show that the region could not be separated from the rest of Senegal. Wade, by talking to certain actors in the MFDC and not others, widened the split within the movement between Rev. Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, a Catholic priest – Wade’s preferred man – and Salif Sadio, the leader of a belligerent faction accused of attacking civilians and military personnel.

Macky Sall’s political realism
When Macky Sall in 2012 succeeded Wade, he found a divided MFDC, a decentralising and democratising country initiated by Wade in the early 2000s, and a limited role for Banjul and Bissau in Casamance peace initiatives. Whereas Wade had made his first official overseas visit to Guinea-Bissau, Sall headed to the Gambia. With a new government in Bissau sensitive to Senegal’s concerns, Sall had his eyes fixed on the role played by another MFDC sympathiser in the person of Yahya Jammeh. This would mark the beginning of a pragmatic diplomacy that would see Sall as Jammeh’s political nightmare.

When Gambians voted in the presidential poll in 2016, Senegal was on alert. The victory of the Gambian opposition over Jammeh gave Senegal a political card to finally eliminate the MFDC’s main man in Banjul. However, when Jammeh refused to step down, Sall initiated Senegal’s most concerted diplomatic engagement for years, mobilising regional and international support to topple the unpopular regime. The fall of Jammeh could be seen as the biggest political setback for the MFDC since the death of Mané, as the movement lost both sanctuary and a patron.

The people’s desire for peace
When the Casamance conflict erupted in 1982, women played a significant role in supporting the move for independence. Research has shown that the role of women in armed conflicts has always been underreported. In Casamance, however, the MFDC could not have endured for so long without the women’s support

Senegal is rich in culture and tradition, so the relationship between the ethnic Djolas who dominate the MFDC, and the Wolofs and Serers who are found mainly in the north revolves around what anthropologists call ‘Joking and avoidance’. According to this notion, the Djolas and the Serers are, among other things, not supposed to spill each other’s blood.

Initially, the ‘traditional disdain’ for the Djolas by the Northerners might have been one of the reasons for the conflict. But as Casamance began to trek on the path to modernisation, grassroots initiatives emerged, making use of the joking relationship between this various ethnic groups, thus creating an aversion to bloodshed.

The conflict in Casamance, which the MFDC initiated, has now been reduced to banditry, carried out mostly by splinter elements to keep their heads above water. This could not have been possible without the decentralisation of politics in Senegal and the political pragmatism of Wade and Sall.

Amat Jeng
studies International Relations, Dalarna University, Sweden

This extract is part of an academic thesis on Peace and Conflict Studies. A complete version can be provided upon request, contact Amat Jeng, email amatjeng@icloud.com.

Why are water wars back on the agenda? And why we think it’s a bad idea!

14403481105_f4bd570e40_kThe Nile from above. Photo: Stuart Rankin/Flickr. Creative commons license.

By: Ana Elisa Cascão; Alvar Closas; Emanuele Fantini; Goitom Gebreleul; Tobias Ide; Guy Jobbins; Rémy Kinna; Flávia Rocha Loures; Bjørn-Oliver Magsig; Nate Matthews; Owen McIntyre; Filippo Menga; Naho Mirumachi; Ruby Moynihan; Alan Nicol; Terje Oestigaard; Alistair Rieu-Clarke; Jan Selby; Suvi Sojamo; Larry Swatuk; Rawia Tawfik; Harry Verhoeven; Jeroen Warner; Mark Zeitoun

There is a recent and worrying trend towards a renewed “water wars” narrative in some policy and media circles. As readers may remember, the water wars discourse emerged out of the early post-Cold War period of the 1990s. More than twenty-five years later, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, it is back. This short opinion article critically reflects on this trend and questions its timing, purpose and the evidence on which it is based. To speak of ‘war’ is to invoke images of militaries, violent conflict and destruction on a grand scale. Although we do not deny that water can be a factor – one among many – in some conflicts and mainly at intra-state level, we question why this drift towards water ‘securitisation’ at this time? To align ‘water’ with war is without doubt worrying, for water is an essential and non-substitutable resource needed by all. But to suggest that inter-state water wars are forthcoming is to ignore or undervalue decades of cooperative action. What is being argued here is in support of a more nuanced approach, that is both more evidence-based and constructive, highlighting the many varied and overwhelmingly positive efforts at an international level in support of cooperation within complex shared river basins. Ultimately, we believe that transboundary water cooperation is primarily a development issue and one that should remain in that space.

Four critical observations:

  1. ‘Water wars’ are trendy again. Articles on “water wars” are reappearing. Alarmism and sensationalism are long-standing characteristics of the media. Overstated headlines generate ‘clicks’ and higher advertising revenues. In a world of huge information volume there is, arguably, a ‘race to the bottom’ to capture the attention of information consumers. So Cape Town’s “Day Zero” has captured international media attention, whereas the everyday struggles of millions of rural and peri-urban people without water goes largely unnoticed. This kind of reporting returns us to the early 1990s and the original “water wars” narrative that water stress and scarcity would drive 21st century inter-state wars and conflicts. We now see a similar trend where security and military actors are using water, climate and environmental issues in their analysis of inter-state instability and conflict. International think-tanks and NGOs have been picking up on the theme. This re-emergence of ‘water wars’ as an acceptable narrative without substantive evidence is vividly exemplified in the Nile Basin where the BBC recently broadcast a series entitled “The ‘water war’ brewing over the new River Nile dam”. Without balance, this story failed to reference actual cooperation processes underway (see other examples from the Nile 1,2). Likewise in the Mekong (1,2) and river basins in South and Central Asia, and in regions of the world where there is recent violent conflict – e.g. Darfur, Syria, Yemen or Lake Chad – there is a rush to find ‘water causality’, whilst disregarding other local drivers and important geopolitical context. Reinforcing a simple dyad of resource scarcity-conflict renders simplistic what is frequently complex and multi-causal. Thirty years down the line, we observe this new water securitisation trend is also being linked with other global concerns – such as terrorism and intercontinental migration – that put pressure on the existing international order. Some global powers have been responding to these interlinked concerns by bringing water into their foreign policy agendas, in particular when linked to regions and countries they consider of geostrategic importance. The new US Global Water Strategy, launched last November, is a case in point.
  2. Dubious correlations/causality. We argue that selective use of evidence and/or the disproportionate and ill-informed attention to specific complex and contested rivers is partially responsible for the re-emergence of ‘water wars’ headlines that can obscure what is really going on and mislead the wider public. Recent studies on the negative effects of biased selection of case-studies and on the links/variables describing climate-conflict relationships illustrate how easy it is, as a result, to skew public perceptions. These biases are essentially reductionist and limit wider public understanding of the complexities at stake. In the Nile, for instance, many processes of cooperation are in parallel with the wider discourse of dispute and conflict but are often ignored in the mainstream media. If they were given more air time, the ‘slide to war’ thesis would look somewhat threadbare and misleading. Some studies do convincingly link climate change and water scarcity to particular local level, low-intensity violence, but these cannot then be extrapolated up and out to larger geographic (e.g. river basin) or political/administrative (e.g. inter-state) contexts. Indeed, exhaustive studies show inter-state water conflict to be extremely rare in most international contexts and cooperation and even peacebuilding are closer to the norm.
  3. Heap fiction upon fiction, and we miss the big picture. One of the most negative facets of the ‘water wars’ narrative is that it blocks out other, more pressing, narratives. Here are three examples. First, actual cases of resource-based conflicts and associated inequities at the national and sub-national levels. These affect the human and livelihood insecurity of the most vulnerable segments of society across the Global South, including appalling limits to water access facing hundreds of millions of people, as well as insecurities and inequalities driven by land and water grabbing in Sub-Saharan Africa, or rampant hydropower development in Asia. Second, the big picture on transboundary cooperation work, including high watermark processes such as the entering into force of the UN Water Convention, and having all UN member states commit to operationalising arrangements for transboundary water cooperation by 2030 under the SDGs. At a regional level this includes Southern Africa advancing legal and institutional cooperation at a transboundary level, and in the Nile Basin the recent heads-of-state meeting between the Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Third, the spectre of ‘war’ distracts us from the role that shared waters play in bringing ‘parties’ together to generate significant economic benefits for societies – including sustaining the livelihoods of millions of people for centuries in the Indus, Nile, Euphrates and hundreds of other shared river basins; or the hydroelectric power development that has helped Norway and Canada grow into large world economies; or, in particular, the trade in billions of cubic meters of “virtual water” through global food systems that helps ameliorate water deficits. All these (and other) important elements are so often overlooked under mainstream coverage as they sit outside the ‘water wars’ narrative.
  4. Over-securitisation of transboundary water resources: Why now this re-emerging trend towards ‘securitisation’ of water resources? One reason seems to be the military and security communities once again focusing on transboundary waters as a corollary to discussions surrounding climate change and national security. Evidence includes a very recent report produced by US military actors (and endorsed by some international water scientists) that places water stress as a factor in global conflict hotspots. This helps the security community ‘self-justify’ while providing space for some to argue that, in the face of potential climate-induced mass migrations, ‘the only force that can beat climate change is the U.S. Army’, as stated in a recent Foreign Policy article.  There are well-rehearsed risks associated with processes of securitisation. Framing water competition as a ‘national security’ issue closes off public debate and may exacerbate tensions. This framing can also juxtapose water challenges on other issues of migration, ethnic complexity and the upholding of human rights. Securitisation can also conflate basin-level challenges with wider geopolitical processes and interests (including those that extend beyond riparian countries alone). The net effect of all these processes is to present transboundary waters as a highly conflict-laden challenge, rather than as a developmental challenge that constructive cooperation can help to unpick. Instead, shared waters become dangerous and states sharing resources become ‘enemies’, rather than ‘good neighbours’. Therefore, ‘over-securitisation’ runs the risk of contributing further to diverting attention from fundamentally important technical, social, environmental and economic factors that should drive future management, development and allocation decision-making processes.

Some ways forward: So, what can be done? On this World Water Day, and in the broad spirit of cooperation, we offer up three suggestions.

First, researchers have to bring their accumulated evidence into a more public domain, and place greater emphasis on bringing to the public evidence that cooperation is the norm, not conflict. We need to show that deterministic analysis of water and conflict is misleading and that, above all, a critical – and more public – debate is required that challenges speculative and unsubstantiated analysis of transboundary water processes.

Second, we call on foreign-policy communities (development partners and international organisations, including think-thanks) to continue to support riparian countries and regional organisations in their existing ‘collective action’ processes, namely transboundary water cooperation rooted in local and regional contexts, where substantial success has been achieved over a sustained period. Make these the focus for engagement and debate and let the current and future priorities – and framings – be defined by riparians themselves, rather than by international media or other external actors and agendas. In this we call for greater leadership of the narrative by riparian countries themselves in order to communicate more effectively how regionally-driven and participatory transboundary cooperation process(es) achieve success and can help to refute more unconstructive securitisation narratives.

Third, and last, we call on international and regional media outlets, particularly editors and senior journalists, to avoid sensationalist conjecture and present a more balanced view that goes beyond simplified ‘water wars’ narratives. They should be more responsible in their coverage and framing and use their own editorial guidelines more faithfully to report all sides of a story. More pro-active engagement of media, researchers and policy-makers will help in supporting a more constructive, inclusive, and above all peaceful dialogue on solving the many transboundary water management challenges facing the international community in coming years.

Authors: Ana Elisa Cascão; Alvar Closas; Emanuele Fantini; Goitom Gebreleul; Tobias Ide; Guy Jobbins; Rémy Kinna; Flávia Rocha Loures; Bjørn-Oliver Magsig; Nate Matthews; Owen McIntyre; Filippo Menga; Naho Mirumachi; Ruby Moynihan; Alan Nicol; Terje Oestigaard; Alistair Rieu-Clarke; Jan Selby; Suvi Sojamo; Larry Swatuk; Rawia Tawfik; Harry Verhoeven; Jeroen Warner; Mark Zeitoun

Moving forwards by going backwards

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

 

Vicensia Shule_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?

6589010363_6cf3dcb7d2_b

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