Looks like succession planning in private companies is just as bad as in non-democracies

I was fascinated by this piece in the Times about the impending retirement of Steven Ballmer as the chief executive of Microsoft. The piece notes that:

Succession planning is a delicate issue for many companies, particularly one like Microsoft, where Mr. Ballmer has been a senior employee since 1980 and chief executive since 2000, and his longtime friend, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder, remains chairman.

“Particularly for a person like Ballmer, who really is one of the founders, leaving is almost like death, so it’s extremely difficult to have an orderly process,” said Joseph L. Bower, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “It requires a very grown-up relationship between the chief executive and his board.”

Microsoft is certainly no dictatorship but does this remind you of the delicate question of when a certain founding president in southern Africa will retire?

The most interesting paragraph notes that: 

Developing a succession plan is one of a board’s chief responsibilities, but only half of companies actively groom executives, according to a 2010 study by Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and Heidrick & Struggles, the executive search firm that is leading Microsoft’s search. Boards spend only an average two hours a year on succession planning, the study found.

One of the lessons here is that absent term limits, no one really wants to openly plan for succession (It’s obviously destabilizing, and worse, might result in internal splits and conflict). And the longer the incumbent stays, the harder it becomes to remove her; for those around them actually become invested in maintaining the status quo.

So in the end, the timing of a transition becomes not just the prerogative of the incumbent, but also of those around her – which results in the boards of private companies behaving more or less in the same way as Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s praise-singers in the military and ZANU-PF establishment. 

On the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe

The latest ICG report says this about the General Elections in Zimbabwe tomorrow: 

A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely, as Zimbabwe holds inadequately prepared presidential, parliamentary and local elections on 31 July. Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist. Confidence in the process and institutions is low. The voters roll is a shambles, security forces unreformed and the media grossly imbalanced. The electoral commission is under-funded and lacked time to prepare. Concerns about rigging are pervasive, strongly disputed results highly likely. 

More on this here.

On a lighter note, check out this prank from 5 years ago:

Nairobi to Lusaka, Part II

Dar es Salaam is a pleasant town in late June. I had only been there once before, back in 2011 when I stayed for a day and a half to catch the Tazara. I didn’t like it then because of the heat and humidity (humidity is up there with cats – I am allergic – on the list of things I cannot stand). But this time round it was nice, I managed to walk around town marveling at the pillars of concrete and glass that are rising up in every corner of the city. The construction boom puts even Nairobi to shame, enough to make me think that the suggestions that Tanzania may soon eclipse Kenya as the place where all the action is in East Africa are not that far fetched after all (see image and this piece).  Image

My only complaint was that a prime section of the beach front still remains under-utilized, although this might be because of the presidential palace nearby. I hear you can’t drive there at certain times of the day (Stop channeling Mugabe, Bwana Kikwete. Also, let Chadema be). Oh, and I did manage to drive on the Kibaki road. I thought it was a new road, but it is not. Sections of it are actually pretty bad. Apparently, the Tanzanian government is planning an upgrade soon. I also drove past Mwalimu Nyerere’s home. It made me respect the man even more.

I arrived in Dar late on Tuesday night after many hours of travel by bus. On Thursday morning I was scheduled to continue with the second leg of the journey to Lusaka. I was at the bus stop by 5:45 AM, still sleepy. I had stayed up late the previous night, watching the Confederation Cup matches of the day, reading and writing my Saturday column. I fell asleep as soon as I got to my seat.

Image

Dar’s public housing units. For a moment I thought that the choice of color was meant to discourage applicants. Until I saw the pink public housing headquarters. Some of the units are in really nice parts of town.

The bus left the station promptly at 6:15 AM. Tanzania is huge. From Dar es Salaam to the Tunduma border is about 931 kilometres. The drive to the Zambian border took a total of 16 hours.

As I said in the previous post on this trip, I regretted taking the bus. If you want to travel overland between Dar and Lusaka, take the train. It is a million times more pleasant. There is a restaurant and a bar (that serves Tusker) on the train. There are bathrooms. And you have a bed. Plus the train is just slow enough that you can read and truly appreciate the empty Tanzanian countryside.

But the trip wasn’t all gloomy. The scenery was still enjoyable. Sections of Tanzania are quite hilly, with amazing views of cliffs and rivers and rock formations. At some point past Iringa I saw what seemed to be the biggest tree plantation in the world. For miles and miles all I could see were rows and rows of trees. And when there were no trees there were rows and rows of sisal. Someone is making bank off the land in that part of the country.

Also, western Tanzania is a lesson on how hard it is to achieve economic development in the context of a sparsely populated country. Such situations make it impossible to reach everyone with the grid and water pipes. Either the government has to wait for demographics to work its magic (again, see figure above – and be sure to check out this story on the Africa-driven demographic future of the world) or provide smart incentives to accelerate the process of urbanization.

For those who went to high school in Kenya, journeying by land through Tanzania reminded me of Ken Walibora’s Siku Njema. I felt like I was retracing the steps of Kongowea Mswahili. Some day I would like to go back and spend some time in Morogoro and Iringa. By the way, Siku Njema is by far the best Swahili novel I have ever read (which reminds me that it has been eight years since I read a Swahili novel. Suggestions are welcome, preferably by Tanzanian authors). It is about time someone translated it into English for a wider audience.

We reached Tunduma some minutes past 10 PM. The border crossing to Nakonde on the Zambian side was closed. Some passengers on the bus left to rent out rooms for the night. I decided to tough it out on the bus with the crew and a few other guys. Desperate for something warm to eat, I had chicken soup and plain rice for dinner. The “restaurant” reminded me of the place in Tamale, Ghana where Vanessa and I got food poisoning two months earlier. But I was desperate. I quickly ate my hot soup and rice and hoped for the best.

ImageI crossed the border early in the morning on foot. The bus had to wait in line for inspection and to pay duty for its cargo (It is at this point that I learned that the bus was actually going all the way to Harare in Zimbabwe). I am usually very careful with money changers, but perhaps because of my tiredness and lack of sleep the chaps in Nakonde got me.

If you ever cross to Nakonde on foot wait until you are on the Zambian side to exchange cash at the several legit forex stores that line the streets.

The bus finally got past customs at noon (on Friday). In Nakonde we waited for another two hours for more passengers and cargo.

I took the time to get some food supplies. Lusaka was another 1019 kilometres away. 

By this time I was dying to have a hot shower and be able to sleep in a warm bed. It was cold. Like serious cold. And Lusaka was still another 14 hours away.

I slept lightly through most of the 14 odd hours. In between I chatted with two Kenyan guys that were apparently immigrating to South Africa, with little more than their two bags. They said that this was their second attempt. The previous time they found work in Lusaka and decided to stay for a bit before going back to Nairobi. They were part of the bulk of passengers from Nakonde who were going all the way to Harare. Apparently, this is the route of choice for those who immigrate from eastern and central Africa into South Africa in search of greener pastures.

Before it got dark we saw several overturned trucks on the road. I slept very lightly, always waking up in a panic every time the driver braked or swerved while overtaking a truck just in time to avoid oncoming traffic. My only source of comfort was the fact that the driver was a middle aged man, most likely with a family to take care of and therefore with a modicum of risk aversion.

I arrived in Lusaka at around 4 AM, more than three days and 2871 kilometres since leaving Nairobi.

I said goodbye to my two Kenyan countrymen and rushed out of the bus as soon as I could. On the way to my hotel I couldn’t stop thinking how much I would like to read an ethnography of the crew of the bus companies (and their passengers and cargo) that do the Dar to Harare route.

At Lusaka Hotel that morning I had the best shower I had had in a very long time. And slept well past check out time. I had two months of fieldwork and travel in Zambia to look forward to.

The 2013 Resource Governance Index

The 2013 Resource Governance Index (published by the Revenue Watch Institute) is out. The top performing African countries include Ghana, Liberia?, Zambia and South Africa, with partial fulfillment. The bottom performing countries are Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.

The 58 nations included in the report “produce 85 percent of the world’s petroleum, 90 percent of diamonds and 80 percent of copper.” Ghana, where we are doing some evaluation  work on extractive sector transparency initiatives, is the best performing African country on the list. Image

More here. 

And in related news, The Africa Progress Report was released last week. The report details the massive loss of revenue by African governments through mismanagement – either by commission and/or omission – of extractive resources. For instance:

The report details five deals between 2010 and 2012, which cost the Democratic Republic of the Congo over US$1.3 billion in revenues through the undervaluation of assets and sale to foreign investors. This sum represents twice the annual health and education budgets of a country with one of the worst child mortality rates in the world and seven million pupils out of school.

The DRC alone is estimated to have 24 trillion dollars worth of untapped mineral resources.

The most bizarre case of resource management in Africa is Equatorial Guinea, a coutnry that is ranked 43rd on the global per capital GNI index but ranks 136th on the Human Development Index (2011).

Below is a map showing flows related to Africa’s vast resources:

RESOURCE-MAP

Rumors that Mugabe is “fighting for life” in Singapore

UPDATE: The sensational rumors about Mugabe’s health situation appear to be just that. The government is denying that the longtime autocrat is critically ill. According to Reuters:

A terse Zimbabwean government statement saying a weekly cabinet meeting set for Tuesday had been postponed to Thursday had fed the rash of media speculation about the president’s health. Mugabe usually chairs cabinet meetings.

The officials declined to give details about the exact timing of Mugabe’s return, citing security reasons, but one said the president was expected to chair the rescheduled cabinet session on Thursday.

More on this here.

**********************************************************************

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, 88, is battling for his life in a Singaporean hospital. The official word is that Mugabe is in Singapore for a private visit to celebrate Easter.

It is believed that should Mugabe pass on his defense chief Emmerson Mnangagwa will take over as leader of ZANU-PF. Such an eventuality would probably result in an early election. The next elections were due to be held in 2013.

More on this soon.

Rants and Raves / Thoughts on the African Union

The African Union (AU) has had a rough few months. The diplomatic failures in Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, and Madagascar exposed the organization’s incompetence. The misguided anti-ICC crusade continues to cement the image of the organization as nothing more than a club of out-of-date and tone deaf autocrats. To many observers, calls for “African  Solutions to African Problems” amid all this failure has been seen as a cover of impunity and mediocre leadership on the African continent.

It says a lot that the current chairman of AU is President Theodore Obiang’ of Equatorial Guinea; a man who leads an oil-rich country of under 0.7 million people, with a per capita income of more than 30,000; but with more than 70% of its population living on less than $2 a day.

The epitome of the organization’s woes was the total snub it got from NATO before the military campaign against Libya’s Gaddafi, one of the AU’s main patrons. The AU was created by the Sirte Declaration, in Libya. Mr. Gaddafi’s influence ranged from his “African Kings” caucus (in which he was the King of Kings) to investments from Libya’s Sovereign wealth fund. I bet Gaddafi had a hand in the organization’s green flag.

So what ails the African Union?

The AU’s problems are legion. In my view, the following are some of the key ones.

  1. Lack of a regional hegemon(s): The AU faces massive collective action problems. With no regional hegemon(s) to act as the rudder of the organization, most of the organization’s resolutions are not worth the paper they get written on. The rotating chairmanship is a distraction from the real leadership needed in the organization. For instance, I had to google it to find out who’s currently in charge of the presidency of the EU (Poland). Everybody knows that France and Germany run the EU. Their word has gravitas in the Union. In the AU on the other hand, there is no leader. Could it be Navel-gaving South Africa or serially under-performing Nigeria?
  2. Too much political control: Most successful international organizations, despite having political principals, tend to have technical agents that are to some extent shielded from the principals. The AU is political through and through. The key decision-making body is the assembly of heads of state. The council of ministers does nothing. And the commission is all bark and no bite. Cronies of dictators staff most of the key positions in the organization.
  3. Disconnect from the masses: Most Africans have no idea what exactly the AU does. What is the point of the organization? Is it to preserve Africa’s borders? Is it to defend the likes of Gaddafi when the ICC’s Mr. Ocampo comes calling? Giving the people a voice in the Union might force the organization to do the people’s bidding, instead of being a protector of impunity in the name of African sovereignty.

What would reforming the AU entail?

  1. Radical restructuring: Like all inter-state organizations, the AU’s leadership should reflect regional power differences. The current assembly – in which Chad has the same power as Nigeria – makes no sense. There should be a smaller assembly of sub-regional representatives (West – Nigeria; East-Ethiopia; North – Egypt; and South-South Africa) with veto power and the mandate to implement the organization’s resolutions.
  2. Competent staffing: The practice of presidents appointing their sisters-in-law as AU representatives should go. An injection of competent expertise into the organization would go a long way in making it appear to be a more politically independent, competent and respectable organization.
  3. Direct elections to the AU parliament or no parliament at all: Instead of having the members’ parliaments elect representatives to the AU parliament, there should be direct elections. If that cannot happen then the parliament should be scrapped all together. A toothless and unrepresentative parliament is a waste of resources.
  4. Constructive and focused engagement with the rest of the world: Who is the AU chief foreign policy person? Are there permanent representatives in Beijing, Brussels, Brasilia, New Delhi and Washington? Why aren’t they trying to initiate a collective bargaining approach when dealing with these global powers (even if it is at the sub-regional level)? And what with the siege mentality? Not every condemnation of African leaders’ incompetence and mediocrity is a neo-colonial conspiracy, you know. For instance, instead of whining against the ICC’s Africa bias, the AU should clean up its own house. It doesn’t matter that George Bush is not being tried for crimes against Iraqis. The last time I checked none of the leaders of Switzerland was being tried for crimes committed in the German cantons.
  5. A more consistent commitment to progressive ideals: The AU is the only organization in the world that includes in its charter the provision to intervene in its member countries under the principle of responsibility to protect. If the AU were slightly more serious, the disasters in Zimbabwe, Cote Ivoire and Madagascar could have been nipped in the bud. As things stand it is only tiny Botswana that keeps shouting about the organization’s commitment to proper governance and responsibility to protect.

I am not a fan of the idea of the United States of Africa. That said, I believe that a regional organization like the AU can be a force for good. But in order for it to fulfill its purpose, it has to change. The change must reflect the regional power balance; it must increase the competence quotient in the AU and it must increase the voice of the average African within the organization.

perspective: land issues in Kenya and zimbabwe

This quote made me pause for a moment:

“As seen in this work, the naked exploitation of land rights has a far longer and more illustrious history in Kenyan than in Zimbabwe. Further, the human cost of such exploitation of land rights in Zimbabwe pales in comparison to Kenya. Human Rights Watch, which is not known to underestimate rights abuses, reports that, by the year 2000 seven white farmers and several tens of black farmers had been killed in Zimbabwe in such violent exploitation of land rights. By the year 2000, these activities in Kenya had resulted in the deaths of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands”

That is Onoma in his book on the Politics of Property Rights Institutions in Africa.

Notice that the figures quoted do not include the victims of Kenya’s 2007-08 post election violence. 1300 died, and just over 300,000 were displaced.

In 1980 6000 (white) Zimbabweans owned 42% of the land in the country. How anyone, including the white farmers, thought this was sustainable in the long run beats me.

In some sense Zimbabwe was inevitable. South Africa is next.

from the archives…

Robert Mugabe might have pulled off the biggest prank of all time. When he came to power in Zim in 1980 (up until things started falling apart in the southern African country in the mid 90s) many saw him as a responsible gradualist reformer. Then he changed, perhaps back to his real nature. Here is a quote from Newsweek in a March 20th 1978 publication that depicts uncle Bob as we know him today. He may have given up on Marxism but ZANU-PF rules Zim:

Robert Mugabe told Newsweek’s Raymond Carroll and Lynn James he would fight on to make Rhodesia a Marxist “one-party state.”

 

zimbabwe is more than just afloat these days

As this piece in the Economist reports, Zimbabwe is slowly emerging from the hole that Mugabe and his men run it into. The pragmatic Tsvangirai and his MDC supporters appear to have decided that confronting the old man on every issue is a losing war and opted to placate him in the short run for long term gains. Importantly, Tsvangirai has strove to earn the confidence of Jacob Zuma, the South African president who is the de facto regional leader.

That Robert Mugabe is in the twilight of his despotic career is a given. What Tsvangirai and his men (and women, TIA) should be worried about is his cabal of leeches supporters who have continued to milk the country dry even as thousands of their fellow citizens died under crashing poverty and government brutality. These are the people in the way of Zim’s future.

clown of the month

The Zim ambassador to Washington has inspired me to begin a new monthly post titled Clown of the Month. His embarrassing actions at a recent dinner event are beyond madness. For having embarrassed not just Zim but the entire Continent with his unrestrained provincialism I hereby declare Ambassador H.E. Machivenyika Mapuranga Clown of the Month.

Just for the record, I am no fan of do-gooders who lecture the Continent on governance while turning a blind eye to their governments’ actions that impede the consolidation of good governance, among other structural barriers. That said, I think the debate should not be allowed to descend to mere name calling, a la Mugabe’s man in Washington. Mr. Mapuranga needs to grow up.