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




Photo: Human Rights Watch

On December 1st, Gambia held a presidential election in what seemed as another victory for the then incumbent, Yahya Jammeh. Just as the fall of communism caught political analysts off-guard, the victory of the coalition over Jammeh was also another miracle that no one saw coming – not because the coalition lacked the support base, but because Jammeh has been accused of electoral fraud before.

The Gambia gained independence in 1965 from Britain, and Sir Dawda Jawara became Prime minister, with Queen Elizabeth II remaining as head of state until 1970 when Gambia became a republic and Jawara became its first President. The country enjoyed relative peace under Jawara’s thirty-year rule, but corruption and plundering of state resources was rife.

In 1994, Yahya Jammeh, with the help of some senior officers in the army, overthrew the weak government of Jawara and installed a military government until 1996 when elections were held and the military remained in power. Since then, the small West African country has not experienced any sign of democracy: torture, disappearance, exile, extra-judicial killings, patronage, cronyism, all became the order of the day, until Gambians took to the poll in last December, and ECOWAS came to their rescue by negotiating a peaceful exit for Jammeh, who is now in exile in Equatorial Guinea. But what are the challenges facing the country in its ambition to achieve a full-fledged democracy?

Unity and reconciliation
A couple of months after the coalition government led by Adama Barrow, who is a member of the United Democratic Party (UDP), was inaugurated, one of the first measures it initiated is the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which undertook a study mission to Sierra Leone and Liberia in order to learn how these two countries succeeded in reconciling the warring factions after their civil wars. While Jammeh’s victims demand justice for the pain inflicted on them and their love ones, some of whom were exhumed from secret mass graves located few miles from Jammeh’s home village, The Gambia’s case is evidently different from that of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

While some Gambians are optimistic that the TRC would bring some light at the end of the tunnel, the government has faced criticisms for what other critics called “confused policy”.

Foday Samateh, an analyst of Gambian politics, observes: In the context of The Gambian situation… who will be reconciling with who[m]? All the three examples — Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and South Africa — the advocates of the TRC advanced as models share no resemblance to our experience. There was no civil war in The Gambia as in the case of Sierra Leone. No ethnic genocide as in the case of Rwanda. No tribal government that enforced tribal discrimination in all spheres of society as in the case of racially-segregated South Africa.

The Gambia experience is unique in that neighbors who are of the same tribe reported each other to Jammeh’s secret police. This led to disappearance without any trace, extrajudicial killings, and torture. But for the victims, justice delayed is justice denied. This is why most of Jammeh’s victims are calling for swift actions to be taken against those who tortured for Jammeh; and so far, many alleged torturers have been arrested and are facing series of charges, ranging from abduction to murder. While these arrests continue, supporters of the former regime are alleging that they and their families have become victims of a government witch-hunt.

The dilemma of the TRC is two-fold: On the one hand, it has been viewed by Jammeh’s victims as a tool which gives immunity to the perpetrators, because most are still walking freely whilst the bureaucratic nature of the TRC drags on; on the other hand, any rush to deliver justice to the victims without due process of the law would offer critics and Jammeh’s supporters the maxim ‘Justice rushed is justice crushed.’ This is why the existence of a TRC has posed a great challenge on the country’s democratization process.

Last month, the country’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Tambadou, promised that “[t]here will be justice for every victim of Jammeh.” Now the government faces challenges from identifying the perpetrators to serving justice to the victims without being accused of witch-hunting. As it seems, the victims demand more than reconciliation: they demand justice. However, given the magnitude of Jammeh’s atrocities, the work of the TRC would likely open up old wounds, leading to unrest in some parts of the country, as already seen in Foni, the region Jammeh comes from.

Furthermore, the demand for justice has divided the country, with some supporters of the new government saying Jammeh’s followers, most of whom are from the Jola tribe and concentrated in Foni, have had enough. The advantage with this new government is that it has taken both sides seriously.


Photo: Human Rights Watch

De-politicizing a heavily politicized bureaucracy
The country faces the challenge of de-politicizing a heavily politicized and weak bureaucracy. After decades of bureaucratic degeneration, institutions, under Jammeh, became patchworks of a politicized clan, because Jammeh appointed and fired anyone at will, resulting to institutional inertia and nepotism. Restructuring the bureaucracy has led to heavy criticisms that the new administration is doing the same thing Jammeh did. With new pragmatist operators who have no experience in government, the bureaucracy is moving at a snail’s pace; nevertheless, there is a semblance of independence and non-interference by the executive arm of government.

The fact that there was no smooth handover of the bureaucratic functions of the former government to the new one, the latter faces enormous challenges as it embarks on depoliticizing the country’s bureaucracy, which accounts for about 7% of employment of the 400, 000 income earners.

In many parts of the developing world, the bureaucracy has become a gateway to political power. This is why its control can exert strong influence on the outcome of politics. In the case of The Gambia, the new government, despite criticisms, is managing to create a bureaucracy that will operate above party loyalty. After all, it is a coalition government that intends to represent all seven opposition parties that came together to form the coalition.

However, Halifa Sallah, the Secretary General of the second largest party in the coalition, the People Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), said his party has distanced itself from any ministerial position, citing the “separation of party and state matters”.

Mr. Sallah’s argument is not tenable, given the fact that ministers are supposed to provide the bureaucracy with political guidance. PDOIS’s absence from the cabinet can therefore be seen as the result of the ideological difference it has with the main party, UDP.

More questions on why PDOIS has refused to take up cabinet position remained unanswered. One thing is clear: PDOIS chooses to occupy the National Assembly in order to limit the power of the President and hold ministers accountable to their policies and programmes.

Alagi Yorro Jallow, a former Nieman Fellow at the Havard University, says the government needs to reduce the degree of “political control” in the bureaucracy, and that it should embark on creating fewer ministerial positions. Whether depoliticizing the bureaucracy could help ensure efficiency or not, is a debatable question. What is clear at the moment is that Gambians, even the supporters of the coalition government, are divided over the appointment of some senior bureaucrats, with others fearing a replica of the bureaucratic politics of the former regime – an over politicized bureaucracy.

So far there are about 17 ministers in a country of 1.9 million with less than half-a-million income earners. Considering the meager resources of the country, this number is very high. Sweden, which has a population of ten million, has 23 ministers. To cut expenditure and ensure efficiency, it is important that Barrow curbs the number of ministers and creates departments that will be run by experts and senior bureaucrats.

Internal securitization and democratization
This is the first time in more than two decades that Gambians are able to express themselves about the ways and manners in which their government conducts its daily business. Recently, a political protest erupted in Foni, a Jola-dominated region and home to the former president, demanding the departure of ECOWAS military forces. The protest spiraled out of hand and one protester died when ECOWAS forces opened fire at them. Foni continues to be a political hotcake for the new government. And Serrekunda, the largest city, has also seen series of environmental protests recently – the first of their kinds in the country.

Another challenge confronting the country is the division of loyalty in the army. Last week, Omar Bojang, the spokesperson for the Army, said they have received intelligence from their Senegalese counterparts that army deserters, loyal to Jammeh, are planning on destabilizing the country, but assured that the government of Barrow is monitoring their movements in the sub-region (Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry).

While these cases are isolated, they are altogether signs of three things: the country is democratizing; the country is grappling with security challenges; and that the legacy of the former President is looming large in the country.

The Gambia faces transition to democracy, where the old ways of governance are being replaced with new ones that seek to include all and sundry; but given the nature of the political divide, including but not limited to the coalition supporters, the transition to a full-fledged democracy has not yet reached its climax. The good news is: Gambians are now free to exercise their political rights without fear of abduction.

Amat Jeng studies International Relations at the Dalarna University.


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Amat Jeng


The AU’s road to financial independence: Pragmatic or ideological?

Ugandan police officers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia_Photo Stuart Price AU UN_red
Ugandan police officers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), August 2012. Photo: Stuart Price, AU/UN.

By Maria Osula, Mikael Eriksson and Linnéa Gelot

Faced with political instability, poverty, corruption, internal disputes, and extremist actors in its member states, the African Union (AU) is compelled to do more to manage these often-recurring problems. This requires financial resources.

But the AU’s financial resources have reduced since 2010, partly due to the internal political challenges in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and South Africa. These five countries have been the major financial contributors to the AU and their weakened capacity has resulted in an increased dependence on external partners such as the European Commission, at a time when many international partners but also African leaders wanted to increase African self-funding. The AU receives 60% of its funding from external partners and the more this dependence increases, the more compromised the AU’s independence becomes, and the less influence it has on how the funds received can be used.

An ambitious move
Recognizing the continent’s challenges and the implications of financial dependence on external partners, the AU has set out to implement a range of structural and financial reforms. This includes the establishment of a self-financing mechanism that would see Africa become independent of external funding.

In 2016, former President of the African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka proposed an ambitious self-financing plan that would see the AU fund 75% of its programmes and 25% of its peacekeeping operations from 2017. The plan involves imposing a 0.2% levy on imports to African countries and considers other sources of funding, including levies on mining companies, airline industries, banking and telecommunications systems.

The self-financing is not just about being independent from external partners, but is considered a step towards ensuring that African states are responsible for and accountable to decisions agreed on by the AU.

Lessons from ECOWAS and challenges ahead
Self-financing is not new to the continent and the AU could learn a lot from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  ECOWAS is a sub-regional organization with a strong political leadership that has pushed forward a conflict prevention agenda in The Gambia and Burkina Faso. It is often lauded as a good example of a well-functioning regional body. This is not just in terms of ensuring financial compliance by member states, but in its inclusive approach that promotes the engagement of a wide range of actors including civil society organizations in conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts.

While there is acceptance that the AU can finance itself, borrowing from lessons learnt by ECOWAS, many people are sceptical about the implementation of the self-financing plan. It is a rather progressive approach that may end up falling through the cracks unless issues of inclusion, political will and institutional weakness are addressed. There is no doubt that there are challenges, a major one being the lack of local ownership since the process of Agenda 2063—a framework for social and economic transformation of the continent—and development of a self-financing plan was an exclusive process without citizen involvement. There is also a financial challenge, especially for poorer countries already struggling to make a contribution to the sub-regional bodies to which they belong, who will be expected to also contribute at the regional level.

Furthermore, in the past the AU has been unable to take disciplinary action against states that default on payments, and is seen as having in place many forward-looking policies that never get implemented.

More pragmatic steps
Peace and development in Africa is dependent on the ability of the AU to effectively and efficiently finance itself. However, leaders should recognize that the security and development challenges facing the continent are far too many and complex for the proposed self-financing plan to solely and adequately address, and it will take time before the proposed budgets can sufficiently deal with the issues.

Partnerships and reliance may still be necessary but African leaders should take the bold step and push for equitable partnerships. More importantly, self-financing should not be seen as the prerequisite for ownership. In other words, Africans should not have to pay more to ‘own’ their problems but should have ownership of the issues on the continent because it is their continent.

Recognition and a change of mindset at two levels is therefore necessary: Africans must recognize that it is not the responsibility of external actors to define their security and external actors must recognize that Africa needs to play a lead role in its own affairs.

Linnéa Gelot and Mikael Eriksson at Stockholm Forum for Peace and Development 2017

Linnéa Gelot and Mikael Eriksson at Stockholm Forum for Peace and Development 2017

This blog text is a a summary of a panel organised by Mikael Eriksson and Linnéa Gelot in May 2017 at Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, hosted by SIPRI with NAI as an affiliated contributor.

Mikael Eriksson is Deputy Research Director at Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) and senior researcher at NAI.

Linnéa Gelot is a Senior Researcher at Folke Bernadotte Academy in Stockholm and a former senior researcher at NAI.

The notes were put together by Maria Osula who is a Masters student at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University.

This text is cross-published together with the blog of Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI).


Further reading:



The Crisis of Politics in Southern Africa


President Jacob Zuma and President Robert Mugabe during Fort Hare University, Centenary celebrations (Photo GCIS). CC BY-ND 2.0

by Henning Melber, Senior Research Associate, The Nordic Africa Institute

Politics are in shambles – not only, but also in Southern Africa. Populism and political gambles make headlines in many different places from London to Washington. If of any comfort, this suggests that there is nothing really genuinely typical about African versions of political populism, which would be fundamentally different from political strategies almost everywhere else too. Nor are the flaws in democracy typically African. While this might put some events into a wider perspective, it is nonetheless worrying to follow the current political turmoil in some states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South African hiccups

The woes in South Africa are only the tip of the iceberg. On 1 June, President Zuma closed the parliament’s budget debate in front of empty seats. Opposition parties boycotted his speech. Trumping his US-American colleague, he declared to be “proud to have been a leader during this period in our democratic transition”. End of May an academic team had published the dimensions of “state capture”. The study shows how deeply the personalized systematic plundering of state assets is entrenched. Additional explosive evidence was presented only days later through thousands of leaked e-mails. Dubbed as “Gupta Leaks” they document a mafia-like network among Zuma-loyalists and the Indian Gupta clan. It illustrates the massive influence if not control over political appointments, the hi-jacking of higher public administration and embezzlement of enormous proportions.

65% of South Africans want Zuma to resign . An all-time low approval rate of 20% makes him less popular among the electorate than Donald Trump. But despite growing party-internal demands the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) still backs its president. At least demands by the party for an investigation of the “Gupta Leaks” have now been made. The leaked communication to be scrutinized also reveals plans for an “exit option” to offer Zuma a posh retreat in Dubai instead in his traditional Zulu-homestead Nkandla (which remains one of the many financial scandals during his presidency). Zuma quickly denied such plans. Rather, he seems for the time being more concentrating on pulling the strings to secure with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma a successor as party president and next Head of State over his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa. This is motivated by the assumption that once in office, his former wife would not endorse any legal prosecution of the father of her children. – It would not be the first time that he would escape responsibility for criminal acts before the law.

But not all other political parties reap the benefit of the blunders disclosed. The Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition and biggest winner of last year’s municipal elections, has its own problems. These limit the gains from the ANC’s mess. After tweeting that not all was bad under colonialism, its former leader and premier of the Western Cape province, Helen Zille, caused since mid-March a protest storm. She tried to justify her judgment and posed as a victim of deliberate misinterpretations, before finally half-heartedly apologizing. Since weeks the party is at pains how to deal with the scandal. DA-leader Mmusi Maimane finally announced that Zille is suspended and that a disciplinary hearing will decide over any further political consequences. But a resilient Zille pointed out that this was not in compliance with the DA’s statutes. The party then contradicted Maimane, claiming Zille was not suspended. – All within some 24 hours and followed by another stubborn effort of Zille to justify her slip. Which ever the outcome of the affair will be, the DA’s image is severely damaged. Aspirations to emerge as the new majority party received a major blow and setback with such unfortunate reminder that the party’s roots were in a predominantly white liberal opposition to the Apartheid regime and anything but a genuinely black alternative.

Regional woes

With the regional hegemon embroiled in domestic policy issues of hitherto unknown proportions, politics in the sub-region seem not much better off. As discussed on the popular South African radio station 702 with the prominent host Eusebius McKaiser, the state of opposition politics and democracy elsewhere in SADC is in shambles too. The fragile political climate and the mentality of most opposition politicians hardly offer meaningful alternatives. Undemocratic practices permeate every other of the regional democracies in differing degrees. Beyond multi-party systems with regular elections, they at times resemble very little true democracy in the absence of a level playing field.

In Angola, 74-year old Jose Eduardo dos Santos (in office since 1979) has after several earlier announcements now indeed for health reasons decided to select a successor of his choice. The scenario will secure that the family “oiligarchy” will remain in control of politics and the (currently ailing) economy. The governing People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) will continue to use the state apparatus to ruthlessly suppress any meaningful social protests.

In contrast, Robert Gabriel Mugabe – reigning in Zimbabwe since Independence in 1980 – shows no intentions to retire. Despite increasingly frail, he was nominated again as the Zimbabwe African Nation Union/Patriotic Front (ZANU/PF) candidate for the next presidential elections in 2018 – then being 94 years of age. But everyone follows anxiously the party internal power struggles over the ailing autocrat’s replacement. Fears are not too far fetched, that the vacuum created by his departure might create a worse situation. The regime’s constant violation of human rights is like in Angola geared towards any form of meaningful opposition. But concerns are growing, that the unresolved succession might add a party-internal dimension of violence to local politics.

End of May the DA’s Maimane made headlines when being refused entry into Zambia. He was on his way to attend a hearing in Court against the country’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND).  Since years Hichilema is embroiled in a personal feud with the Head of State Edgar Lungu of the governing Patriotic Front (PF). Arrested in early April after obstructing a motor cavalcade of the President through a competing race with his own escort, he faces charges of high treason for willfully putting president Lungu’s life in danger. While Hichilema’s political behavior shows not much less authoritarian tendencies, this drastic act of prosecution nurtures growing concerns over an increasingly autocratic regime. Critical analysis has alerted to the decline of the once praised democracy, which allowed for several relatively peaceful transfers of political power since the turn of the century. It was ridiculed in revealingly simplistic terms.

Competing parties seeking to obtain political control over governments are by no means a guarantee for better governance and a more peaceful daily live. Aptly described as a “Groundhog Day election”  citizens in crisis-ridden Lesotho went for the third time since 2012 to the polls with anything but new alternatives or options as regards policies. On 3 June their limited choice was between the former Prime Ministers Tom Thabane (aged 77) of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Pakalitha Mosisili (aged 72) of the Democratic Congress (DC) as the main contenders for the highest political office. Thabane’s campaign was generously sponsored by the Guptas. This sparked fears that his return into presidency might risk another state take over. The outcome seems another fragile coalition government under Thabane – provided, the military accepts the result. Cyril Ramaphosa, who as SADC-mediator was kept rather busy during the last years, would certainly not mind to devote his full attention again to domestic policy matters.

Meanwhile, the biggest challenge for relative political stability in the region might still be in the making: President Kabila’s second term in office in the (not so) Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ended with December 2016. He hangs in with the promise to vacate the post latest by end of this year. But despite the constitutional two-term-limit, his plans remain a matter of speculation. An interview published by “Der Spiegel” in early June was qualified by the weekly journal as “a document of evasiveness”. Kabila simply refused to answer the question if he considers another term and flatly denied that he had promised anything, including elections. An already explosive situation, marred by violence end of last year provoked by Kabila’s extended stay in office, looms with potentially devastating consequences not only for the Congolese people.

After all, the DRC is neither The Gambia, nor Lesotho. An unconstitutional continued reign of Kabila junior would not only provoke further bloodshed at home. Its spill over effects will challenge SADC’s willingness and ability to find solutions to regional conflicts in the interest of relative stability. A stability, which is already in the present state of democracy in the region at best fragile and indicative of the crisis of policy in most of the SADC member states.

Henning Melber
Senior Research Associate
The Nordic Africa Institute







A Creeping Tendency Towards Violence in Zambian Society

Woman with children in Petauke, Zambia, December 2016. Photo by Yeowatzup, Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Woman with children in Petauke, Zambia, December 2016. Photo by Yeowatzup, Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

By Patience Mususa, senior researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute

In the months since Edgar Lungu’s inauguration as president of Zambia on 13th September 2016, life in Zambia has returned to a strange sort of ‘normal’, characterised by the attempts of the state to undermine the critical press and voices, incidences of police violence, and the unsolved serial murders in Lusaka. A sharp increase in the cost of living amid an economic downturn, and the prospect of worse (a looming IMF ‘bailout’), has many Zambians simply want to return to trying to make a living. The death of eight Lusaka residents in a stampede for free food offered by a religious organisation has brought home just how desperate the economic situation is.  Having experienced prior dramatic declines in living conditions, particularly in the 1990’s following the implementation of IMF sanctioned austerity policies, Zambians have also become disillusioned in the ability of the state to significantly improve their lives. The opposition which could be outlining alternatives to bolster the economy and tackle the country’s growing inequalities is curtailed by a ruling party that is increasingly intolerant of opposition. The largest opposition, the UPND is mired in various constitutional battles, challenging, not only the outcome to last year’s election which was marred by various electoral irregularities, but also countering the possibility of Lungu standing a third term, an option he is said to be exploring.

The unprecedented level of violence seen during the elections has made supporters of the leading opposition party scared of protesting the election outcome. The Zambia Police ‘Service’, often acting in the interests of the ruling party has a history of criminalising peaceful assembly. A repressive public order act, and the police’s brutality in enforcing it, have made protest a potentially dangerous activity. The recent killing by police of a Lusaka resident who tried to turn up for a rally organised by the opposition UPND underlines these fears. This has left much of the contestation on the electoral process and outcome to legal technocrats, who themselves are being suppressed through state sanctioned counter legal machinations.

Also, the fractious ethnicised political rhetoric that characterised recent elections have made Zambians wary of further fragmenting a country that was built on the motto of “One Zambia, One Nation”. Indeed, it appears that Lungu and the PF team well aware of these concerns reinstated this mantra to precede news on the national Zambia National Broadcasting Service. With declining living standards, Zambians are concerned of tipping the country into outright conflict. As one taxi driver told me in March this year on a recent trip to Zambia:

“As long as there is peace, I can figure out how to feed my family. If there is no peace, it is worse. What do you do? You leave even the little you have, running away to lands where no one wants you.”

Zambians are aware of a creeping tendency towards violence in their society, characterised by high incidents of violent crime, mob justice, as well as a careless disregard for the poor materialised by a preference for investments in consumer infrastructure like shopping malls, rather than public clinics and schools.

Some thoughts on the roots of this electoral and societal violence.

Rise of the opportunistic state
The electoral violence experienced in last year’s elections has its roots in the character of the politics that emerged during the country’s colonisation and resultant decolonisation struggle. The divisive nature of this violence was what was used as justification by the UNIP government led by Kenneth Kaunda to unify the country under the one-party state, which also served to consolidate Kaunda and his party’s rule. By linking the party to the state from local government upwards, Kaunda created a strong developmental association between party membership and state, in particular local government. Nationalising the economy in 1970, allowed Kaunda to fund this developmental and redistributive state. However, he over-extended the national coffers, and failing to diversity the country’s economy which depended on copper, meant a drop in its commodity price severely undermined these ambitions. This contributed to a decline in living standards and catalysed the end of his rule in 1991 with the ushering in of multi-party politics and the re-privatisation of the economy by the government led by Frederick Titus Chiluba of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy. With Chiluba, party politics at the local level became more competitive but less rooted in development projects. The state machinery also became corrupt. As local government budgets declined with the selling off their income generating assets, party mobilisation at the local level became less about being able to deliver on development projects, and more about being able to promise (at least for key supporters) opportunities to make money from the delivery of services – and hence spurring widespread corrupt practices. What this has meant in practice, has been the progressive privatisation and informalisation of local government services. Party cadres in the country’s main cities run the markets, the bus stops, garbage collection and allocation of land. Members of the leading parties compete for control of these services, often violently.

Erosion of trust
In tandem with this, the civil service, as with other state institutions in the country, such as the police, and the judiciary has been weakened by the persistent interference of the ruling party and the president. There is the tendency to appoint party supporters to the helm of these institutions in lieu of technocrats. Such cronyism risks eroding the trust that Zambians have in their public institutions. Political appointments to lead the police service and the judiciary undermine their ability to be seen as unbiased and fairly executing their duties. The police service is also seen as ineffectual and in cases committing violent acts themselves. Such ineffectiveness and collusion, the opposition said is the reason why during the elections they argued for defensive retaliation, a position that increased, rather than reduced tensions. What is even more worrying being the signs of the securitisation of the state. On 5th October 2016, the day that leaders of the main opposition UPND where arrested for allegedly inciting sedition, the still closed Post Newspaper reported that the Zambia police had just purchased modern anti-riot and paramilitary equipment.

Mobs and mobilisation of difference
At the same time as the state is securitising, Zambians are alarmingly also taking the law into their own hands. Last month, over fifty residents of the town of Luanshya were arrested for rioting and burning the property of a couple who were accused of Satanism. Last year, in April, two were people burnt alive in xenophobic riots that rocked the capital Lusaka’s townships and targeted shop owners thought to be foreign. The protests apparently arose as a result of Lusaka residents frustration in the police failing to stem a wave of what were described as ritual murders, that people variously suspected where motivated by political and economic interest. Such kind of scapegoating of foreigners for crime is not uncommon. The scale of the Lusaka riots, which were thought of by observers to be unprecedented can been seen as part of the manifestation of a divisive rhetoric that has been used by politicians with growing frequency to mobilise support along ethnic lines.

However, the highly ethnicised political rhetoric that characterised the elections and their aftermath points to other social and economic dynamics undermining Zambia’s reputation for peaceful co-existence. Just like during the colonial period when policies of divide and rule manipulated kinship affiliations and identity discourse to the service of a hyper exploitative capitalist regime, the emergence of exclusionary identity narratives in Zambia, need to be placed within their political economic context. One could trace the re-emergence and rise of these narratives along with the destructive effects untrammelled implementation of neoliberal policies of the 1990s. These policies which involved re-privatisation of state owned corporates and public assets and services, as well as promotion of free market policies not only weakened state institutions, they fragmented and broke community associations such as worker unions and cooperatives that built links across ethnic and familial ties. These policies have also broken families, as material support for immediate and extended kin amid massive job losses and precarious employment has diminished. Also, the growth of informal domestic enterprises has turned some households into mini-sites of capitalist exploitation, increasing familial conflicts. It is not uncommon to hear people recount stories of family members being turned out for being ‘lazy’, or about fraught and sometimes violent disputes over food.

Shifting social values, inequality and economic paranoias
As the speculative economy has also widened (for example in activities such as money lending) this has overall led to increased suspicion and jealousy as inequalities within Zambian society are starker than usual, leading to accusations, popularised on the country’s social media, and by some fundamentalist Christian church leaders, of Satanism and witchcraft. The murders that precipitated the xenophobic protests were believed to have been driven by ritual practice to improve business prospects. In some rural areas in North Western Zambia, a growth in the number of witchcraft accusations, often resulting in violent mobs attacking the elderly has been in tandem with increased, highly unevenly distributed levels of cash coming with new mining investment. However, though unequal capital distribution could be blamed for the growing violence, it does not explain the subtle mechanisms through which it becomes the norm; and these would lie in the realm of symbols and myth.

Zambians, believe they are a peaceful nation. This belief lay was built as a core part of Kenneth Kaunda’s syncretic and humanistic orientation in nation building that drew on Ghandian non-violence, Christian, and Buddhist ethos of love. While not as conflict ridden, as some regions of the continent, Zambia is not as blemish free as many would like to believe. It has on its hands the massacre of the Lumpa church followers in the dawn of the country’s independence, the Mushala rebellion in the late 1970s to early 1980s and the violent suppression by the Zambian state of the secessionist impulses of Barotseland in January 2011. By not critically examining and addressing the traumas of these violent incidences, and instead sweeping them under the carpet, puts paid to Zambia’s reputation (built during the Kaunda years) as a regional broker for peace and justice.

In recent years, alongside the myth of the peaceful nation, has also been a fashionable rise in the symbolic display of wealth, referred to popularly as kulibonesha ta “to show off oneself”. This trend is growing within a context where ‘humbleness’ a trait promoted during the socialist/ humanistic Kaunda years continues to be seen as a social value. So paradoxically, as political leaders and those in their close networks amass wealth (usually by capturing the state via the public tenders which have increased with the privatisation of public goods and services), they also have to submit to the performance of being men or women of the people. This is what the late populist leader Michael Sata did with great effect, to win the votes. However, with no major structural changes to an economic structure that reinforces economic inequality, poverty, and alienates citizens from the state, the performance of humility does little to alleviate the symbolic violence that the conspicuous display of wealth wrecks on those excluded. Contributing to this, has also been the dominance of a prosperity gospel that preaches less about the redistribution of wealth, and more about the aspiration to accumulate wealth.

In addition to anxieties about making a living, Zambians are also increasingly paranoid about the effects of the spiritual and cosmological on their lives. This has been fed in part by alternative explanations to the high levels of inequality in the society, such as for example, the idea pushed by some millenarian preachers that those getting ahead are dabbling in black magic; or those that are poor have not sacrificed or prayed enough for redemption from their situation. Such explanations, drawing on divine intervention have been exploited even by the state controlled media and politicians, and has contributed to a collective paranoia that occasionally spills over into mob violence or strange readings of reality. For example, when President Lungu called for the nation to pray for the troubled economy and the unusual sighting of a rainbow around the sun was seen to bode well for recovery of the country’s economy.

The combination of economic frustration, paranoia, magical readings of reality, distrust, unresolved conflicts, and a history of dealing with opposition and contrary views through repression, papered over by a fraying myth of peacefulness does not bode well for Africa’s flagship democracy. To re-imagine and realise itself as a peaceful country, it needs to critically examine and confront its history and re-imagine an inclusive rather than exclusive basis for citizenship. There needs to be an ideological shift towards an ethos to create a just, equitable and humane society. This means moving towards a cooperative and redistributive economy, and moving away from the corrosive neoliberal economic model that has promoted rentier politicians. There is a need for the critical examination of the social role of the church in a country where the majority are poor, frustrated and trying to imagine better lives. A rebuilding of trust in state institutions and its representatives should involve discussion on how to widen participation in democratic process beyond election cycles, and to make the relationship between the state and its citizens more meaningful.

Patience Mususa
Senior Researcher
The Nordic Africa Institute (NAI)
Author’s presentation at NAI website







Africa, Solidarity and the ICC

SG Meeting

New York, October 2004. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan shaking hands with Philippe Kirsch, President of the ICC, after signing an agreement on the relationship between the UN and the ICC. The UN, under Annan’s leadership (1997-2006) played a key role in the establishment of the ICC. Photo: Eskinder Debebe, UN.

By Henning Melber, Senior Research Associate of The Nordic Africa Institute

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. A total of 124 countries ratified the Rome Statutes and brought the ICC into existence. 34 African states were the biggest continental bloc of signatories. The ICC can only bring individual perpetrators to task and its jurisdiction is limited to citizens of countries that ratified the Statutes. None of the big powers were among these.

In contrast, African governments took African perpetrators to task. As a result, the ICC almost exclusively investigated and prosecuted crimes on the continent. But the ICC not only prosecuted rebel leaders. It also investigated the responsibility of Heads of State in acts of mass violence, such as the Sudanese President al-Bashir or Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta. This reinforced the feeling that the powerful in the world are the ones setting the rules of the game while not abiding to them.

After years of dissatisfaction the first African states terminated their obligations. Burundi, South Africa and Gambia announced their withdrawal from the ICC in October. In contrast, Botswana, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia were among the states expressing within days their regrets over these decisions. After all, who benefits from such exit as response to the double standards and asymmetrical power relations in global politics?

Leaving the ICC erodes international criminal jurisdiction and thereby the protection of people further, especially on a continent, where no other local, regional or continental court with a similar mandate exists. The SADC Tribunal as the only of its kind was closed when its judges ruled against the Zimbabwean government. Being confronted with a highly flawed international system, where the rule of law all too often degenerates into the law of the rulers, should have different consequences.

citatteckenThe decisive question to answer therefore remains: solidarity with whom – the rotten apples in the basket or the ordinary people suffering?

One should rather demand that only ICC member states have a say over its matters and decide if and when it executes its jurisdiction. After all, EU member states (or those members of any other body, be it international or even the local football club) would rightly so dismiss any influence or claim by non-members over their authority to decide and act. This would mean that three of the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council (China, Russia and the USA) would not be entitled to refer matters to the ICC. Notably, four of the Permanent Members are currently accused of war crimes outside their territories and should therefore be investigated by the ICC if it had the power to do so.

Being unable to prosecute some of the imperialist aggressors of this world, however, should not let all perpetrators go off the hook. Advocacy for strengthening the ICC as an instrument used by a coalition of the willing would instead recognise and live up to the kind of international solidarity, which had organized worldwide support for the resistance of people on the African continent against colonialism. Apartheid, for that matter, was declared by the United Nations a crime against humanity. Solidarity and a global governance system guided by normative frameworks rooted in the UN Charter and related conventions were, after all, not only ideological humbug or completely ineffective.

Those states and policy makers who lower their levels of advocating human dignity and rights and compromise justice for the sake of convenience as a misnomer of solidarity with the wicked and evil have often forgotten that they earlier on were beneficiaries of a similar uncompromising siding with what is right in the face of wrong. The decisive question to answer therefore remains: solidarity with whom – the rotten apples in the basket or the ordinary people suffering and victimized by those who do not care for their lives? – Which side are we on?

Henning Melber is Senior Research Associate of The Nordic Africa Institute, Director emeritus/Senior Advisor of The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein and Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Commonwealth Studies/School for Advanced Study of the University of London. These are his personal views.