Mbembe on the State of South African Politics

Rainbowism and its most important articles of faith – truth, reconciliation and forgiveness – is fading. Reduced to a totemic commodity figure mostly destined to assuage whites’ fears, Nelson Mandela himself is on trial. Some of the key pillars of the 1994 dispensation  – a constitutional democracy, a market society, non-racialism – are also under scrutiny. They are now perceived as disabling devices with no animating potency, at least in the eyes of those who are determined to no longer wait. We are past the time of promises. Now is the time to settle accounts.

But how do we make sure that one noise machine is not simply replacing another?

That is Wits professor Achille Mbembe writing on the state of politics in South Africa. The whole piece is definitely worth reading (also liked this response from T. O. Molefe).

Economic elites in South Africa (both black and white) are playing with fire. The lessons of Zimbabwe were not learned. The implementation of Mugabe’s land reform project was a disaster, but there is no question that the levels of land inequality in Zimbabwe were simply politically untenable. Something had to give.

One need not be against everything neoliberal (whatever that means) to acknowledge that the same situation holds in South Africa, and that something will have to give. Consider Bernadette Atuahene’s observations on the land situation in South Africa:

When Nelson Mandela took power in South Africa in 1994, 87 percent of the country’s land was owned by whites, even though they represented less than ten percent of the population. Advised by the World Bank, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) aimed to redistribute 30 percent of the land from whites to blacks in the first five years of the new democracy. By 2010 — 16 years later — only eight percent had been reallocated.

In failing to redistribute this land, the ANC has undermined a crucial aspect of the negotiated settlement to end apartheid, otherwise known as the liberation bargain. According to Section 25 of the new South African constitution, promulgated in 1994, existing property owners (who were primarily white) would receive valid legal title to property acquired under prior regimes, despite the potentially dubious circumstances of its acquisition. In exchange, blacks (in South Africa, considered to include people of mixed racial descent and Indians) were promised land reform.

Rapid economic growth and mass job creation could have masked the structural inequalities that exist in South Africa. Instead the country got Jacob Zuma and a super wealthy deputy president (and BEE beneficiary), both of whom are singularly out of touch with the vast majority of South Africans.

There is no doubt that South Africa needs a complete reorganization of its political economy. The question is whether the process will be managed by a “moderate” outfit like the ANC; or whether leaders will continue to sit on their hands and allow voices of less moderate groups like the Economic Freedom Fighters to gain traction.

ps: Just in case it is not obvious, South Africans are unambiguously better off now — as a people — than they were under apartheid rule.

Presidential Salaries in Africa

Paul Biya of Cameroon earns $610,000 per annum, 229 times the earnings of the average Cameroonian.* Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.31.57 PM

Think about it for a second: Paul Biya earns $210,000 more than Barack Obama.

Notice that these figures do not include all manner of allowances.

Source: Daily Nation

*Note that the interns at the Daily Nation mixed up Mauritania and Mauritius. The CNN bug is contagious.

Most read posts in 2014

Here are the top posts in 2014

1. Corruption under apartheid South Africa: This post was top partly because of the 2014 South African elections. More on the legacies of apartheid era corruption and rent-seeking in South Africa here.

2. Kenya Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014: This bill (now an Act of Parliament) is further evidence of Uhuru Kenyatta’s autocratic tendencies. I personally don’t think that he is an incarnation of Moi or other dictators of years gone. Rather, Mr. Kenyatta is a poor administrator who likes taking shortcuts to get quick results. As I argued in a related post, the Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014 could potentially severely limit civil liberties in Kenya.

3. Did European Colonialism Benefit Africans? The popularity of this post is perhaps a reminder that more research is needed on the long-run effects of colonialism not just in Africa but in other formerly colonized places as well. So far all the literature tells us is that colonialism was bad, but that the Western institutions that Europeans spread around the globe are good. More recently we’ve seen evidence that pre-colonial institutions in the colonies were pretty resilient in the face of colonial intrusion; and have had lasting effects (also remember that the duration and intensity of colonialism varied widely across the globe). One avenue of research that I have been exploring is how pre-colonial institutions interacted with colonial administrations, and how this shaped the institutions that emerged out of the independence wave of the early 1960s. More on this in the new year.

4. Why Raila Odinga Lost: A sizable proportion of Kenyans still believe that Odinga was robbed in the March 2013 election in Kenya. I disagree. In my own projections on this blog – merging disaggregated opinion polls with historical district turnout rates (perks of having a case with tight ethnic voting) – I found Mr. Kenyatta to be ahead of Mr. Odinga by about 740,000 votes, or 7.2 percentage points (which was close to the final official figure of 6.7% difference between the two).

I don’t think that Kenyatta won in the first round, but do believe that we would have trounced Odinga in a runoff anyway. Which is why I have never come to terms with the unanimous Supreme Court decision granting Kenyatta victory on the basis of less than 9000 votes out of 12.3 million cast.

5. Understanding Uganda’s Military Adventurism Under Museveni: General President Museveni has managed to create an image of himself as the anti-terror hatchet man in the wider horn of Africa region. Ugandan troops are the backbone of the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Since his triumphant entry into Kampala in 1986 Museveni has also been involved in conflicts in Rwanda, the DRC, Sudan, C.A.R, and more recently South Sudan. Because of the degree of militarization of the Ugandan state and recent public displays of intra-elite friction, I think Uganda will continue to inch up in the coup sweepstakes ahead of the 2016 election.

Quick Hits

Haiti wants to join the African Union 

Partisan stats: Of red-state moochers and blue state makers 

Romney’s elusive tax plan (funny)

Zuma’s failed presidency and South Africa’s labor unrest

Mo Ibrahim Prize goes unclaimed, again

Kenya might be seeing the origins of insurgency (More details on this soon)

Quick hits


The Atlantic has a nice piece on the legacy of Meles Zenawi, the ailing Ethiopian Premier.


The African Union elected South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to head its executive arm, the AU Commission. Ms Dlamini-Zuma is a former wife of the polygamist South African President Jacob Zuma. I hope that with Pretoria’s success in having her elected to head the AU South Africa will take a more proactive role in leading the regional organization. As I have stated before, I think the organization needs “owners” in the form of diplomatically powerful custodians. Being the region’s biggest economy, South Africa is well placed to provide strong leadership to the African Union, if it wanted to.

Still on the AU Summit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been conspicuously absent, fueling speculation that he is critically ill. Rumors abound that Mr. Zenawi has left the country for a Belgian hospital – the Saint-Luc University Hospital in Brussels (where he is believed to be receiving treatment for an acute case of hematologic cancer). Some opposition groups have suggested that Mr. Zenawi may have died in hospital. The last time he was seen in public was on the 19th of June. Mr. Zenawi has led Ethiopia since 1991. His record has been a mixed bag of aggressive and ambitious development projects (with results, growth has averaged over 8.4% over the last ten years) and militarism and authoritarian tendencies that have seen many opposition members detained, exiled or killed.

And in Somalia, BloombergBusinessweek reports on the massive corruption in the Transitional Federal Government.

The nearly 200-page report lists numerous examples of money intended for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) going missing, saying that for every $10 received, $7 never made it into state coffers.

The report, written by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea and obtained by The Associated Press Monday, says government revenues aren’t even clear: The Ministry of Finance reported revenues of $72 million in fiscal year 2011, while the accountant general reported revenues of $55 million.

The Somali Government remains an unrepresentative shell, propped up by African Union forces and barely in control anywhere outside of Mogadishu. No elections are in sight (and rightly so. I have never been a fan of rushed post-conflict elections. See Liberia circa 1997 for details), instead the UN and the AU are presiding over a process in which Somali power brokers will put together a list of electors to appoint the next parliament. The current government’s mandate expires the 20th of August (next month).

South Africa and the AU [Rant and rave alert!!]

As you may already know South African candidate for the AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (ex-wife of president Zuma) failed to get elected. Instead the AU extended Mr. Jean Ping’s term till June. Ms Dlamini-Zuma intends to vie for the seat again in June.

South Africa and its backyard (SADC member states) had lobbied hard for Ms Dlamini-Zuma.

The South African Business Day reports:

Mzukisi Qobo of the University of Pretoria says: “It is clear that this is an intensely divisive campaign, and plays into the hands of those who view SA as harbouring intentions of running roughshod over other countries. Unity in the AU is a facade reinforced by a poorly conceived notion of pan-Africanism.

“Africa’s political elites still think very much in terms of regional groupings — east Africa, north Africa, southern Africa and west Africa — as well as along the colonial lines of Francophone, Lusophone and Anglophone. These are realities that are there.”

SA’s foreign policy stance has been back and forth, which may have caused more divisions with countries like Nigeria and Egypt.

 But political analyst Steven Friedman does not think policy “flip-flopping” was the reason Ms Dlamini-Zuma did not get the post. With its economic infrastructure strength, other countries feared that SA would dominate Africa politically if given a chance, he says.

To which I say, why not?

What would be so wrong with a reasonably stable and important regional player taking charge of the rudderless dictators’ club institution that is the AU? The organization’s failures in the recent past – including in Libya, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Zimbabwe, DRC, Central African Republic, etc – have been partly because no single country has managed to emerge as its de facto leader and ultimate guarantor (forget the delusional late King of Kings, he was a clown on steroids).

Instead of having a strong leadership – whether by a single country or by a group of regional representatives – the AU has opted to have weak leadership in the form of a Commission headed by nondescript individuals political lightweights unable to rally the member countries to any respectable cause. The only time the club’s dictators are ever united is when they dump on the ICC and all other manner of foreign infringement on their “sovereignty” (which to them means the right to starve, jail or murder their citizens). The existing post of a rotating presidency has also been a complete sham.

Obiang was the latest one to occupy the post. Yes, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. This guy.

May be this episode will end Pretoria’s navel-gazing and encourage it to focus on having a coherent Africa policy that will provide strong leadership for the AU.

A leaderless organization of 54 states, new $200m headquarters or not, is a useless organization.

For more on this see here and here.

Also, check out this thought-provoking piece on the symbolism of the new AU headquarters.

Quick hits

Follow the goings on in the DRC (especially this election season) over at Alex Engwete’s blog.

Living under the shadow of Kony and his men in Eastern CAR.

On a related note, the Ugandan army’s dirty war in the Congo and CAR.

Shame on the ANC. But there is still hope for cleaner politics in South Africa. The ANC is an over-size coalition with a high chance of internal breakup in the not so distant future. It might even occur sooner, over the Zuma succession. And this time it might not be a rather benign COPE affair. You can read more on the controversial bill over at the Economist.

Trying God? Churches claim to have cured HIV positive congregants. This goes beyond faith, it is naked exploitation. And a call for government involvement.

And lastly, a very dictator Christmas (via Blattman)

Zuma may be a one-term president

Back when he dislodged Thabo Mbeki South African President Jacob Zuma promised that he would only serve one term. But having tasted the power of the presidency, he now wants a second term. His bid, however, has not been well accepted within the ANC.

Although it is common knowledge that the much-married Zuma wants a second term he has remained equivocal on the issue, at one point saying “I never said I would serve one term and I have never said that I would want two terms”  (The New Age reported on Wednesday, June 8th).

The Africa Confidential reports:

Zuma’s main rivals, Tokyo Sexwale and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, are trying to fix it so that Motlanthe would be a one-term president, Sexwale would be his deputy and Paul Mashatile, Gauteng’s provincial leader and Premier, would be ANC national chairman. They may offer a deputy presidency to Lindiwe Nonceba Sisulu, the Defence Minister and Zuma’s ally. Sisulu and Sexwale, however, do not get along.

An anti-Zuma tirade erupted from the General Secretary of the Congress of SA Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, who said there is leadership paralysis in the ANC and warned that the country is in danger of ‘imploding’. He criticised Zuma’s ‘doublespeak’ on economic issues.

More on this here.

Quick hits

The world marathon record is back in Kenya, where it belongs.

Zambian Economist has nice maps showing the results of the just concluded general elections.

(Dada) Kim on Haba na Haba has a story on the continuing decline of Malawi into overt and brutal dictatorship. President Bingu wa Mutharika recently appointment his wife and brother to the cabinet. This reminded me of this paper on the inefficient extraction of rents by dictators.

President Zuma of South Africa still hasn’t established his dominance within the ANC (and probably never will).

The drought in the Horn has thus far claimed 10,000 lives. The Bank is increasing its aid package to the region.

Africa needs zuma (to have a coherent foreign policy)

This week the Economist rightly called out South African president Jacob Zuma on his country’s lack of a coherent foreign policy. South Africa was reborn in 1994 with the moral authority and international goodwill to be Africa’s shining light in the world. Instead, under Mbeki and now Zuma, the country has squandered all that away.

Mbeki did it with his intransigence against reason on the issue of HIV/AIDS and support of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Mr. Zuma is doing the same with his support for Mugabe and equivocal pronouncements against other murderous tyrants on the Continent. Since his election he has not spoken strongly against any injustices or electoral fraud on the Continent; this task has been left to Ian Khama, president of tiny but relatively prosperous Botswana.

Sub-Saharan Africa is desperately in need of a regional hegemon to help it chart a coherent path in global politics. Latin America has Brazil. South Asia has India. East Asia has China. Even Europe has Germany. In Africa, Nigeria (pop. 150+m), South Africa (~40m, biggest economy), Ethiopia (85m) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (~70m) – all potential regional leaders – have woefully underperformed.

Nigeria is Nigeria. Ethiopia is dirt poor and needs to clean its own mess, Somalia’s and Eritrea’s, before it can venture further afield. The DRC is struggling to keep itself afloat. South Africa, by far, has the capacity and the requisite soft power to take up the job of regional guiding light. The country is slated to become a BRIC country soon, making the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

It is a shame that Mr. Zuma has chosen to abdicate his role as the Continental leader. He alone, among the members of the Continent’s club of kleptocratic autocrats (a.k.a AU), has the clout to stand up to the evils we continue to see in Cote d’Ivoire, Darfur, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.