On North Korea’s Lucrative Relationship With African States

A number of African countries have close ties to North Korea. And it is for the very same reasons that these states have (or had) ties with Cuba, China, and USSR/Russia:

Namibian officials describe a different North Korea — a longtime ally, a partner in development and an affordable contractor. Since the 1960s, when North Korea began providing support for African nations during their independence struggles with European colonial powers, the regime has fostered political ties on the continent that have turned into commercial relationships.

Recall that it is China that was willing to come to the aid of landlocked Zambia after apartheid South Africa and apartheid-lite Southern Rhodesia threatened the country’s trade links on account of its support for nationalists from both countries. The USSR and Cuba were also vital allies of African nationalist liberation movements at a time when the West was mired in doublespeak over decolonization and racial equality on the Continent. Cuba, in particular, committed blood and treasure in the liberation of Angola and Southwest Africa (Namibia).

Nelson Mandela vowed never to forget friends that aided the ANC against apartheid:

All to say that China, Russia, Cuba, and North Korea are not merely using African states. It has always been a game played on the basis of mutual interests, with the distribution of benefits dictated by the prevailing balance of bargaining power.

Advertisements

Why is Mugabe Still in Power?

Zoe Samudzi provides some excellent answers to the question of why President Robert Mugabe has had such staying power despite the many political and economic upheavals that have beset Zimbawe since the late 1990s.

Here is an excerpt:

Throughout the course of his thirty-six years in office, President Robert Mugabe has used coercion and violence to clear the Zimbabwean political arena of opposition and dissent and consolidate his political power. He has singularly blamed the deteriorating economy on western sanctions rather than responsibly attributing it also to his own inadequate planning, mismanagement of both capital and resources, his allowance of economic liberalisation and structural adjustment, and political corruption. Yet, contrary to the singularly critical narratives that tend to dominate, he enjoys some earnest support beyond what western reports about stolen elections indicate.

Also:

Most critically, the land issue – an issue of indigenous sovereignty, and perhaps the most unifying politic of Black resistance to colonial rule – went unaddressed. President Mugabe’s refusal to resign or allow regime change is justified, in part, by an idea that the revolution was stalled, and there must be consistent leadership in its continuity. It is no mistake that the ongoing process of land repossession and reform is characterised as the Third Chimurenga, and it is no accident that such vehement western critique has been levelled at state policy (genuine or otherwise) seeking to regain land sovereignty.

Remember that around independence in 1980 some 6,000 European immigrants, nearly all of whom defended the apartheid-lite (Southern) Rhodesian regime, owned 42% of Zimbabwe. Given the importance of land in an agrarian economy such as Zimbabwe’s, this was always going to be a politically untenable situation — regardless of the race of the landowners. Zimbabwe was on a path to significant land redistribution, one way or another.

So why didn’t Zimbabwe deal with the land question before independence in 1980?

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 7.45.33 AM.pngThe answer has to do with the the relative political power of the European settler community, especially after UDI. Since 1923 the group had enjoyed effective self-government with significant autonomy from London. And it is precisely because of their political power that Zimbabwe never had a “Swynnerton Plan” akin to what happened in Kenya in response to the Mau Mau anti-colonial insurgency.

Zimbabwe’s landowners failed to appreciate the need to make deals when they had the (political) upper hand. And by so doing set themselves up for very costly reforms/expropriations thirty years hence.

Why they made this choice is an interesting and open question.

Perhaps they trusted that Zimbabwe would continue to rely on Western aid in a manner that would have incentivized property rights protection by the government (under the threat of aid cuts and sanctions). They may have also thought that the government would not be crazy enough to jeopardize its commercial farming sector and risk total economic collapse. Another reason might have been the comfort of knowing that any land reform efforts in Zimbabwe would elicit reaction from South Africa (then under apartheid) in defense of property rights.

Apartheid, of course, ended in 1994. And the first two considerations did not stop President Robert Mugabe, at great cost to Zimbabweans of all stripes.

Given the complicated history of Zimbabwe and the wider anti-colonial struggle in eastern and southern Africa, I expect Mugabe’s legacy to be sanitized as soon as he passes on, especially outside of Zimbabwe.

 

 

Who’s responsible for South Africa’s woes? Zuma or the ANC?

I raised this question in a post last year.

Friend of the blog and Harvard-trained historian Matthew Kustenbauder has this thoughtful response (posted with his permission. Emphases mine).

Hi Ken,

Interesting post on South Africa’s recent rollercoaster and explanations for the economic downturn under Zuma’s presidency.  A few quick comments:

I agree South Africa’s current woes may be attributed to ANC policies, not President Jacob Zuma alone.  Take the issue of land, for example, about which Mr. Mngxitama is as passionate as he is wrong.  As I pointed out previously on this blog, the politics of land redistribution in South Africa are tied to the ANC’s historic decision to support and strengthen traditional authority in the former bantustans.  In short, the ANC forged an alliance with traditional leaders to bolster its negotiating power with the apartheid government in the 1990s and, afterwards, to win elections.  Mozambique served as a cautionary tale: civil war broke out after the socialist liberation government FRELIMO abolished chiefs and traditional forms of authority outright.  The ANC’s entrenchment of traditional chiefs and kings has had a ripple effect across South Africa, creating a drag on the rural economy, locking up productive agricultural land and capital assets, not to mention denying rural people equal justice under the law.

I also appreciate the argument, and agree to a degree, that both Mr. Zuma and Mr. Mbeki are ANC cadres.  When the opposition Democratic Alliance argue that somehow the country was in good hands until Mr. Zuma came along, it is more a political manouver to appeal to the black middle classes, many of whom are embarrased by Mr. Zuma and favoured Mr. Mbeki, than it is a faithful rendering of the historical record.  Thabo Mbeki was, despite his polished veneer, a disaster on many fronts, including but not limited to: unrepentant AIDS denialism, cadre deployment as an ANC policy, racial politics, silencing of internal opposition within the ANC, and a narrative that counterrevolutionary forces lurked within the media. These ideas and practices either began or were ramped up to become de facto party policy under Mr. Mbeki’s presidency.

I disagree, however, that Zuma and Mbeki represent nothing more than two cadres of the same party.  For one thing, the challenges facing South Africa today are different than those during the Mbeki years.  At that time, South Africa still luxuriated in the glow of 1994’s transition to democracy and the Madiba magic of Nelson Mandela had not yet worn off.  Mbeki was a skilled orator with global leadership aspirations, the likes of which have not been seen in South Africa since Jan Smuts was Prime Minister during WWII.  But it is not simply Zuma’s halting English, or his multiple wives, countless offspring, traditionalism, patriarchy, and coziness with Russia, China, and Sudan that make South Africans uneasy.

What is so disturbing – and what Mbeki assiduously avoided – is Zuma’s overt corruption. The most public evidence includes: Nkandla, the Gupta family’s illegal landings at Waterkloof Airforce Base, a prolonged legal battle over spy tapes that implicate him in fraud dating all the way back to his time as Deputy President (for which Mbeki sacked him and Schabir Shaik was found guilty and went to jail), and the most recent dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene for standing in the way of sweetheart SAA and nuclear deals that would have yielded tenders for Zuma’s friends and family.  If Mbeki was a loyal cadre who represented the ANC’s failed policies, Zuma is a loyal cadre who represents the ANC’s descent into patronage, corruption, and jobs for pals hidden behind a façade of election-time slogans, “our glorious struggle history” and “A Better South Africa for All.”  

Andile Mngxitama, booted out of the EFF, and firebrands like him who drone on about the ANC’s errant support of neoliberal policies and the tragedy of Mandela’s compromise during the political settlement period have little appreciation for just how far South Africa has come since 1994. Nor do they grasp the direction in which South Africa must go – and must go soon – to avoid a[n] even more tragic tailspin.

To give just one example, a major problem in South Africa has not been, contra Mr. Mngxitama, that capitalism has been prioritised. Rather, grassroots capitalism has been far too constrained – not just by government overregulation but by monopoly capitalism sheltered by the state.  This is a historical dynamic inherited from the apartheid-era National Party, one that the ANC never addressed, mainly because such arrangements benefitted the ANC so long as they controlled the levers of the state.

The number of state owned enterprises in South Africa – over 700 by the last count – is staggering for a country so small.  Just one, South African Airways, has drained well over $2 billion in bail-outs from state coffers in two decades. The energy sector is even more dire: Eskom, another state owned enterprise, has a near complete monopoly over energy generation and a complete monopoly over its transmission.  Due to a lack of capitalist competition, the country’s electricity supply is not just overly expensive, it is also tightly constrained. Last year South Africans plunged into darkness, and for some time now manufacturers and other industrial electricity consumers have actually been paid by the state to reduce their operations.

The result is that South Africa’s manufacturing sector is less competitive globally and unable to expand to create the jobs so desperately needed at home, where there is a 30% unemployment rate.  There are countless similar examples, where state owned enterprises should have been privatised, or at the very least private companies should have been permitted to enter the market and compete.  What must be remembered, however, is that the country’s economic system, designed by the old National Party, is now controlled by and benefits the African National Congress.

Similarly, in the private sector, too many large companies have a monopoly, making the cost of entry for small companies far too expensive. Government labor regulations and aggressive trade union action ensures that only the largest companies with the deepest pockets can comply and survive. Large private companies – like the mining groups, agro-processing operations, banks, telecommunications companies, and industrial manufacturers – operate with few competitors. Relatively small players in sectors like the textile industry have closed their doors and relocated to countries where labour is more productive, regulations more lax, and costs are cheaper. Too few South African companies can compete globally.

There may be a kernel of truth in Mngxitama’s claims, but his diagnosis is overly simplistic, ideological, and ahistorical.

 

Private security guards outnumber the police and army in South Africa

South Africa fact of the day:

In 2013, it was reported that there were 400,000 security guards in South Africa – more than the numbers of police and army combined. Some of the people setting up private security companies are ex-police or ex-military, and the guards are often well armed and trained in how to use automatic rifles and handguns.

Also, in case you missed it, here is the video footage of the SABC reporter who was robbed this week on live TV in Jozi outside a hospital.

[youtube.com/watch?v=WDCrp5wjr1s]

More on crime in South Africa here.

Residents of Johannesburg also worry about not having enough bike lanes. One wonders whether fixing the security situation by addressing the root causes of crime ought to precede any public expenditure on enabling people to bike outside – it’s easier to rob cyclists than motorists, no?

Corruption under apartheid South Africa, 1976-1994 (and its present institutional legacy)

Since the ANC took over in 1994 several top government officials in South Africa, including the current president Jacob Zuma, have been implicated in grand corruption. This has led some commentators to make the controversial claim that governance in South Africa has actually deteriorated since 1994.

apartheidLet’s just say that this is a rather odd claim to make. Of course, from a governance standpoint, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to appear uber efficient if all you have to do is milk over 90% of the population of its surplus and resources to make less than 10% happy (for more see history of South Africa).

Don’t get me wrong, South Africa under the ANC has been a massive disappointment (both for South Africans and for Africa in general). But when analyzing the ANC’s failures over the last 20 years, the comparison should never be to the “good old pre-1994 days.” Anyone who does this either has a minimal understanding of history, or is (inadvertently) letting known their stand on the morality of apartheid.

But I digress….

Like any good student of institutions will tell you, institutional habits die hard and outlive even the most sharp of discontinuities – like decolonization or the end of apartheid. And as we’d expect, many institutional habits of the apartheid era survived the 1994 transition. Indeed a 2006 report on grand corruption under apartheid appears to show that post-1994 corruption in South Africa is not a new phenomenon, and to a large extent is actually a mere continuation of the bad old habits inherited by state institutions from the apartheid era.

The report indicates that between 1976-1994, the equivalent of US $54bn (in 2005 ZAR) went through secret “government” accounts controlled by a small clique within government. It is not clear exactly what proportion of this wound up in the pockets of those with access to the lootable cash.

On the question of the quality of governance under apartheid South Africa, the report rightly notes that:

Racist nationalism is as vulnerable to corruption as most systems of authoritarian rule. In closed societies, which are highly militarised under dictatorial rule, the truth is hidden from public view by design. Access to power (and a monopoly over it) provides the elite in the public and private sectors with a unique opportunity to line their pockets. In so doing, the defenders of an illegitimate and corrupt system start to defy their own rules and laws that criminalise such behaviour. In terms of common law crime they are simply crooks dressed in the guise of patriots representing the interests of their volk, their race or their narrow class. They have effectively corrupted themselves.

Such a system can also only survive for as long as a monopoly over power is maintained. Its survival is therefore tenuous—common knowledge to all functionaries of the system, who are the first to ensure that they are taken care of should there be a break with the past. This leads to a reliance on ‘insurance’, usually in the form of cash or other easily moveable assets that can be moved abroad in the event of regime change. It is in the period before regime change that the elite, in particular, are likely to accumulate as many resources as possible for fear that they may soon be out of a job or, at worst, have to flee the country.

Adding that:

A key tenet of the apartheid state was secrecy. This manifested itself in the creation of secret organisations such as the Broederbond, a group of white male Afrikaner Nationalists that numbered 12,000 by the late 1970s (almost all loyal members of the NP), who were the invisible hand directing NP policy and who held enormous influence over government policy and its implementation

In other words, implementing the total domination of a minority or a majority population by the state necessarily requires the curtailment of everyone’s rights, EVEN the rights of those in whose name the state is supposedly carrying out the domination. Also, the authoritarian nature of such domination necessarily leads to the emergence of a select few who must be above the law in order to maintain the system. And like we’d expect, those above the law habitually abuse their power for their personal benefit. This was true in pre-1964 America (to a greater extent in the deep South than elsewhere), was true under Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, and is true in the modern states that continue to institutionally discriminate against sections of their populations.

Check out the full report (pdf) here (H/T Kenyan Pundit).

For those into the study of the rule of law and governance check out these two new papers – Paul Gowder on the egalitarian underpinnings of the rule of law (Law and Philosophy) and Marcus Agnafors on the meaning of good governance (APSR).

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.

Happy Birthday Madiba!

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is 92 today. To mark the occasion scores across the world will celebrate the Nelson Mandela Day, created in honor of Madiba’s service to humanity. The man surely has a special place in the pantheon of the greatest sons and daughters of the Continent who ever lived.

Happy Birthday Madiba!