In DepthColumns



South Africa: What the elections mean

Gemma Ware


The three biggest parties can all draw some comfort from the election results. The ANC fended off the challenge from some of its former comrades, and opponents are pleased that the ruling party won just less than a two-thirds majority, its total of just below 66% of the poll was down by more than 3% on its 2004 victory. Voter enthusiasm remained high with a 77% turnout.?


The opposition is now more consolidated with the Democratic Alliance (DA – 16.74%), the new Congress of the People (COPE – 7.32%) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP – 4.99%) taking most of the remaining votes. The DA probably drew most of the National Party’s former support, especially among coloured (mixed-race) voters in the Western Cape. It will govern in the Western Cape without needing coalition partners and will have an impressive 67 seats in the National Assembly, but its 21% share of the vote in Gauteng was about the same as it was in 2004.?


For a new party without resources, COPE did not do too badly, with relatively strong support in the Eastern Cape, the Free State and the Northern Cape. But its results were not the seismic shift hoped for by the ANC dissenters who founded the party. Its poor showing in Gauteng (7.78%) suggests COPE failed to dent the ANC’s black middle-class support. The disaffected notables who broke away last year did not take much of the ANC’s branch-level organisation and grassroots support with them. ?


The ANC kept its support among the rural poor and the urban working class. With a million more votes than in 2004, the ANC benefited from the higher turnout, particularly among young first-time voters. The ANC also made big gains in KwaZulu-Natal, nearly doubling the total of its ballots since 2004. Here the gains were chiefly at the expense of the IFP, with the ANC picking up support among rural voters in former IFP strongholds.


Back to South Africa, Zuma's targets: jobs and services

Zuma: The man and his allies

Gemma Ware


President Jacob Zuma’s early days in office are refusing to live up to his critics’ characterisation of him as a South African version of Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose battles against corruption allegations have become as legendary as his special loathing for judges and journalists. The mood at Zuma’s first press conference on 10 May was sweetness and light: indeed, he looked a little tired having spent half the night hammering out cabinet appointments with ANC barons.?


Friends and fans of Jacob Zuma have been telling journalists they’ve misread the man. Far from being the hard-nosed ideologue with a troubled history in security operations, he is a determined pragmatist who did his best to fight for the lives and good treatment of the ANC’s underground fighters in the 1970s and in the 1980s when he headed the ANC’s internal intelligence wing. In government, Zuma’s finest hour was his mediation between ANC and Inkatha cadres to end the political clashes in KwaZulu-Natal in the mid-1990s which had cost tens of thousands of lives. He owes much of his popularity in the province to those efforts.?


Zuma’s first moves show a sureness of touch in balancing the communists and the neo-liberals in the government. The great unknown is whether Zuma can exercise the presidential authority to make the balancing act produce positive results. Those who backed him on his campaign trail for the presidency over the past five years – friends such as Siphiwe Nyanda, Mo Shaikh and Tokyo Sexwale – have no doubts.


?Behind Zuma’s affable manner, they say, lies a steely determination to make government work better and to put people back to work. As the country struggles to shake off the financial crisis, that test is clear enough. South Africans will know the answer within a year. 


Profiles of Zuma's new team 


Tokyo Sexwale?, Human Settlements Minister


??Known to have presidential ambitions, Sexwale has spent several months tidying up his business dealings and putting them in a blind trust. There was talk of conflicts of interest: his company Mvelaphanda invested in Group Five, which deals with mass residential housing – an area that will come under his control as minister. Premier of Gauteng after the 1994 elections with a wide and growing support base, Sexwale was accused with two others in 2001 of plotting to overthrow President Thabo Mbeki. He dismissed the claims as absurd and they were never followed up. He set up Mvelaphanda in 2002 and chaired it until 2007 when he stood down to become non-executive chair, also standing down as non-executive director of ABSA. Sexwale boosted his profile in 2005 by hosting SABC’s ‘The Apprentice’.


Siphiwe Nyanda?, Communications Minister


??Described as a ‘mystery’ general, 59-year-old Nyanda has long experience in different intelligence organisations and served as head of the South Africa National Defence Force (1998-2005). Before 1994, he was chief of staff in the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, but he remains virtually unheard of in the telecommunications industry and public broadcasting sector he is set to influence. While in the military, he fought corruption, especially amongst soldiers who were accused of robbing Zimbabwean refugees crossing South Africa’s borders. He also has stakes in arms companies and interests in five businesses, including a security firm. Questions remain about his proximity to the multi-billion rand arms deal that shadowed Zuma for so long.


Mo Shaikh, Former Speical Advisor to Foreign Ministry ?


??Brother of Schabir Shaikh, the man who was convicted of brokering the arms deal in which Zuma was implicated, Mo Shaikh is a former ‘special advisor’ to the foreign affairs ministry. His career path was blocked after his brother’s conviction. During the anti-apartheid struggle, Mo Shaikh was an underground operative, alongside Siphiwe Nyanda, of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. After 1994, Shaikh took a senior post in the National Intelligence Agency before joining the foreign ministry and serving as ambassador to Algiers. A close ally of Zuma’s, Shaikh sees the corruption case as political victimisation. He will play an important role as a discreet advisor and negotiator, and will bring a wide-ranging network of local and international contacts to the new order.


Zweli Mkhize, Premier of Kwazulu-Natal


??Between 1991 and 1994, Zweli Mkhize was a member of the ANC’s national health secretariat before becoming KwaZulu-Natal’s health minister in 1994-2004. He subsequently became the province’s minister of finance and economic development, where he was noted for engaging directly with businesses and banks, urging the latter to provide finance for small enterprises. Last year he won substantial damages from City Press which claimed that he helped arrange a murder. Very active within the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Mkhize has long played a role in stabilising relations between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC in the province. He played a leading role in the ANC’s massive increase of votes in KwaZulu-Natal in the April elections.


Zwelinzima Vavi, ?COSATU General Secretary


??Appointed general secretary of Cosatu in 1999 after coming up through the union movement. A former gold miner, he cut his teeth as an organiser in the National Union of Mineworkers. A long-time opponent of Robert Mugabe’s government, he has criticised the ANC’s approach towards Zimbabwe. In January, he was nominated as an ANC representative in the National Assembly but turned it down. He insists that workers expect measurable results from the Zuma government on livelihoods, education, health, crime, corruption and rural development. A powerful orator, the government will want him on its side. Since 2007 he has been a member of the local organising committee board for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and a member of its audit committee.


Back to South Africa, Zuma's targets: Jobs and services

The long view: Mexico's war on drugs

Gemma Ware

The long arm of the cartels


After seizing leadership of the cocaine trade between Colombia and the US, Mexican cartels seem to have all the weaponry and information they need for many years of successful business


Nobody knows who is really who in Mexico. Governors, judges, intelligence officials and policemen of every rank have been found guilty of corruption in the past few years, most of them bought by the gangs who smuggle cocaine into the United States.


?“Nationwide, every time we recruit policemen, we know that some of them are narco-agents trying to infiltrate the system, and that some others are, soon or later, going to collaborate with the narcos, either because they accept their money or because of pressure on their families”, says an interior ministry official who does not want to be named.?


Life in the police is a vicious circle. An honest policeman is under threat. A dishonest one is not any luckier; if he joins one of the four main drug cartels, he will become a target for the other three. A young policeman can earn 5,000 pesos ($366) a month, but the gangs will promise him ten times that plus a brand new automobile. But as his family’s standard of living rises, his life expectancy falls.?


The law running scared?


The war between the cartels has already killed more than 7,000 people this year, 160 of them by decapitation. The violence reaches into the US itself, with cartel-backed kidnappings on the rise in Arizona and other southern states. In January, a police commanding officer’s head was dropped off in front of the police station just outside Ciudad Juarez, the twin city of El Paso in Texas, with a message saying “for the Sinaloa Cartel."


?In Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa State, cradle of the narco-dynasties, fewer and fewer people want to join the police. Bodies are picked up in the streets every day, making mortuaries the fastest-growing businesses in this dusty city. In February, in the Caribbean seaside resort of Cancun, the head of the local police, Francisco Velasco, nicknamed ‘The Viking’, was arrested on charges of murdering a retired army general.?


Corruption is taken for granted in Mexico, but President Felipe Calderón says “the same phenomenon of corruption of the authorities is happening” on the other side of the Rio Grande. And so Mexicans were pleased to hear US President Barack Obama say during his first visit to the country that the US “could not pretend this is Mexico’s responsibility alone”.


?Formerly acting as subcontractors and considered as such by Colombia’s Pablo Escobar and his colleagues, the Mexican cartels are now the masters of the game. They control the entry points to the US along a 3,200km border. The cocaine may still come from Colombia, but the Colombians are now only the suppliers.?


Calderon’s ‘cancer’?


The Gulf, Sinaloa, Juarez and Tijuana cartels are well-supplied with weapons, from traditional ‘macheta’ (to decapitate opponents) to automatic rifles, rocket launchers and even anti-aircraft machine guns, like the one seized in mid-April in Sonora State, just a few weeks after the US said it would pay for Blackhawk helicopters to tackle the cartels under the three-year, $1.4bn Merida Initiative.


?Thanks to inside agents, the narco-gangs are generally one move ahead. When he was elected president in 2006, Calderón launched an aggressive offensive against the drug barons, sending 36,000 troops and policemen into the most conflict-ridden areas. The government claims to make regular arrests of the heads of the cartels and to be delivering fatal blows to the trade, but this does not seem to have weakened them.


?The drug traffic is like “a cancer”, says Calderón. And in spite of the measures taken by the authorities, no significant change has been seen in drug availability on the US side of the border: the price of cocaine has been stable, which means supplies are still getting through. ?

Nigeria's Family Wars

Gemma Ware


Billions of dollars and political reputations are at stake as the ruling class battles it out. Businesses plot with politicians for supremacy ahead of the 2011 elections. 


As President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s four-year mandate approaches its critical mid-point in April, Nigeria’s political and business clans are already busy forging alliances, repairing damaged relationships and seeing off challengers to their power bases. With the country’s next round of elections due in April 2011, there is everything to play for in the intervening two years as the parties try to gather resources at a time of economic downturn. The politicians are developing new campaigns and rebuilding old friendships.?


Survivors from times past are circling the arena like gladiators, skilfully dodging each others’ blows. They are always looking for the chance to recruit new acolytes or, in some of the most prominent cases, to promote the interests of their own close relatives.


?If a poll were to be conducted on who Nigerians think are the most influential and powerful players in their country’s political arena, those at the top of the list would have to include former military president General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, current President Umaru Yar’Adua, his immediate predecessor (and former military ruler) Olusegun Obasanjo, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar and one-time senator Olusola Saraki. Others would be former army chief General Theophilus Danjuma, former military head of state General Muhammadu Buhari and, perhaps at the head of the younger generation on the list, the business mogul Aliko Dangote.?

The Long Yar'Adua legacy


The Presidential family has a
political history. Read more


Yar’Adua’s poor health has kept him away from Abuja on several critical occasions in the past two years, and this has fed speculation about the possibility of finding a successor from within his own close family dynasty. The Yar’Aduas are a quintessentially political family whose influence dates back at least three generations to the colonial foundations of Nigeria, shining most brightly in the president’s late brother, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was murdered in prison in 1997 by agents of the late dictator, General Sani Abacha.?


With the president himself often out of action, at least some of his power is apparently exercised by his wife, Turai Yar’Adua, widely regarded as the most influential first lady since Maryam Babangida. Some suggest the family may even be considering passing the torch to either one of the couple’s sons-in-law, both of whom are serving governors of northern states. One of the presidential daughters is married to the governor of Kebbi State, Saidu Usman Nasamu Dakingari, and another is married to the governor of Bauchi State, Malam Isa Yuguda.?


The pdp barons patch up?


If indeed the first family does harbour such plans, they are bound to come up against serious opposition. Already, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, who became a close political and business associate of Shehu Yar’Adua during and after Babangida’s transition programme of the early 1990s, is making moves to return to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Atiku was a founding member of the PDP, but he was forced out as a result of the vicious battle for control of it between himself and Obasanjo in the run-up to the 2007 general election.?


In December 2008, Atiku paid a surprise visit to Obasanjo at his Ota farm in Ogun State. This in turn produced serious divisions in the Action Congress, which Atiku founded after he was hounded out of the PDP. His visit to Obasanjo, who is said to be unhappy with Yar’Adua because of his reversal of earlier policies and programmes, is now widely regarded as a move by both to scuttle anyone from the presidential camp from getting the PDP ticket for the 2011 election in the event that the president’s health fails him.?


Although in the 1999 elections Atiku won the governorship primary election in his native Adamawa State and eventually won the governorship election itself, he never served as governor. Instead, Obasanjo picked him as his running mate for the subsequent presidential elections. But their relationship broke down in the face of Obasanjo’s attempt to secure a third term ahead of the 2007 election. Not only did the vice-president lead the successful opposition to Obasanjo’s ‘third term’ re-election project, he mounted a propaganda campaign against Obasanjo’s attempt to paint him as a corrupt and unworthy of becoming the country’s leader.


?Rivalry abounds


?Atiku would not be the only source of rivalry for Yar’Adua or for any of his allies who might hope to get the presidential ticket. Also waiting in the wings is the formidable family of Olusola Saraki, a medical doctor, senate leader in the Second Republic and a powerful aristocrat in Ilorin, Kwara State.?


Saraki first came into the limelight as a prominent member of the constituent assembly which wrote the 1979 constitution that changed Nigeria from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential one. Later he became a founding member of the National Party of Nigeria, which won the presidential election of 1979 that ushered in the Second Republic under President Shehu Shagari. Since that time, the four civilian governors of the state have been his political godsons, as have been most of those from Kwara appointed as federal ministers.


?In the last governorship election in 2007, Saraki set a record in Nigeria by installing his own son, Bukola, also a medical doctor, as governor of Kwara. Earlier, he had installed his daughter, Gbemisola, as one of three senators from Kwara. Gbemisola is also close to the first lady. Another son, Olaolu, is a special assistant in the presidency, while Governor Bukola Saraki is currently the chairman of the Governors’ Forum and also close to the president. A Saraki godson, Abubakar Kawu Baraje, is the secretary-general of the PDP. With such a formidable presence in the presidency and the party, and with his daughter in the Senate, many speculate that Olusola Saraki is positioning Bukola to become the country’s president, and perhaps as soon as 2011.?


Federal Business in Abuja


'Federal character' abounds
in Nigeria's boardrooms.
Read more. 

Opposition to Yar’Adua’s second term will come not only from within the PDP, to which Babangida, Yar’Adua and Saraki all belong, but naturally enough, the other parties too. Right now, however, such opposition seems extremely weak. The biggest opposition party, the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), has been in disarray since its former candidate Buhari opposed taking part in the PDP’s so-called government of national unity. The party hierarchy had, on the other hand, endorsed it. In the 2007 general elections, the ANPP lost to the PDP several of the state governorships and seats in the National Assembly that it had held in 2003. Since then, two of its governors, those of Zamfara and Kebbi States, have defected to the PDP. There is speculation that the governors of Bauchi (who recently became the president’s son-in-law) and Borno may join the PDP ahead of the 2011 general elections. With the ANPP deeply divided, it is difficult to see how Buhari can mount a formidable, never mind successful, campaign against the PDP in 2011.?


Buhari entered civilian politics halfway through Obasanjo’s first term as elected president (1999-2003). His previous disdain for politics was not surprising given his treatment of politicians during his 20 months as military head of state beginning in December 1983. However, his political career has not been a roaring success. Not only did he suffer defeat twice as the presidential candidate for the ANPP, but his party is now in just as much disarray as all the other opposition parties.?


Men in camouflage


?Apart from Atiku, the Sarakis and Buhari, opposition to Yar’Adua’s second term is likely to also come from General Theophilus Danjuma, one of the most influential chiefs the country has had. Danjuma, along with General Obasanjo, was on the list of people that the February 1976 coup-makers had planned to eliminate. Whereas Obasanjo went into hiding in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt, Danjuma mobilised the troops that remained loyal to neutralise the coup. He was therefore in a position to declare himself head of state. Instead, he and the then-inspector-general of police, Alhaji M.D. Yusuf, persuaded Obasanjo to put himself forward as head of state. ?


Danjuma was a major financial and moral supporter of Obasanjo’s presidential ticket for the PDP – the northern establishment, at the initiative of Babangida and General Aliyu Mohammed, a one-time army chief and long serving intelligence officer decided that a southerner, more specifically a Yoruba from the south-west, should be the country’s next elected leader. This move was apparently meant to assuage Yoruba ill-feeling over Babangida’s cancellation of the June 1993 presidential election, the putative winner of which was the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, a Yoruba.?


Obasanjo remained grateful to Danjuma at least until his second term began in 2003, when they fell out over a range of policy issues. On one occasion Danjuma publicly condemned Obasanjo’s government as one controlled by ‘a cult’. Now, Danjuma has become one of President Yar’Adua loudest critics. After nearly two years of little action by the president, Danjuma criticised it as a ‘standstill’ administration.


?Obasanjo’s position is particularly ambiguous. Having steered Yar’Adua’s nomination through the gauntlet of PDP barons three years ago, he soon found he and his family had become the target of a vendetta from rivals within the party after he had left office in May 2007. Within weeks, stories emerged in the press about how he had misused his network of contacts for personal gain; some suggested more misappropriation than his predecessors, Babangida and Abacha.?


Family trees?


Obasanjo’s daughter and senator, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, remains her father’s favourite. Obasanjo Holdings is the family business and Iyabo is an executive director. It claims to be Nigeria’s leading agricultural company, but it is also a holding company for many other interests like those in Tempo Food and Packaging and in banks such as the former First Interstates Merchant Bank (now part of Unity Bank). Obasanjo has a stake in Sahara Energy, led by Tope Shonubi, and Transcorp (owner of the Abuja Hilton). Other Obasanjo investments include stakes in NITEL (the former state telecoms company, which is now privatised), and Dangote Holdings as well as substantial property holdings in Abuja and Lagos.?


The high cost of Nigeria’s presidential political system seems to have made some Nigerian businessmen into important players. Few have achieved the prominence of Aliko Dangote, the young billionaire from Kano State, who has made substantial donations to the election campaigns of presidents, governors and other elected officials. In return, he has reaped huge financial rewards from the award of oil blocks, the purchase of privatised government companies and concessions in manufacturing companies. Dangote now sits on top of the country’s biggest trading and manufacturing empire, with interests in commodity trading, cement manufacturing and oil production.


?Some dynasties have deep roots. Since government contracts and patronage dominate business in Nigeria, that gives a built-in advantage to those in office and their commercial networks. The elite is by no means immune to the entry of newcomers whose ill-gotten wealth has bought them prominence, but the networks thrive on long-standing social links across ethnic boundaries.?


Big names, big men


?Oba Okunade Sijuade, the Oni of Ife, is no gate-crasher but the ancestral father of the entire Yoruba ethnic group of western Nigeria. He is a highly respected king, said to be descended from the mythological Oduduwa. His business partner and trusted confidant for over four decades has been the emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, a northern oligarch if ever there was one. Their companies now lift crude oil jointly; they have also passed on the tradition, as Princes Tokunbo Sijuade and Nasir Ado Bayero are bosom business partners too. Similarly, Centrica is a company associated with both Okunade Sijuade and Edmund Daukoru, the Nembe king from the Delta, who happened to be oil minister in the last administration. ?


The most obvious route to the upper echelons of Nigerian society has been through the top schools, mostly on the English ‘public school’ model, like King’s College in Lagos, Barewa College in Zaria, Christ’s School in Ado Ekiti and Government College in Ibadan. These have now produced several generations of Nigerian rulers, top civil servants and senior professionals. These institutions take Nigerians from all ethnic groups and train them to become the new elites. This helps them to band together when their personal interests are at stake and to use ethnic alliances to achieve their aims.?


And yet, as can be seen from the large number of former military officers in the political hierarchy, it is often the soldiers who have been the most adept at manoeuvring through the thickets of society – capitalising on the fact that it was they who ruled Nigeria for 28 of its 48 years as an independent country to date. After serving in the military, senior officers have ended up on the boards of banks and oil and gas companies, before moving on to become either emirs or traditional rulers, though some were already princes before even going into the military. Oba Gbadebo, the Alake of Egbaland, an influential monarch, was a colonel in the army and now sits on the board of oil company Oando.?Nigeria’s elites have always known how to close ranks and take care of themselves across the country’s ethnic borders. Whatever may happen at the top of the political parties, the ruling class survives. The top professionals in business and academia, the businessmen, the military class and traditional rulers are invariably woven together in a grand alliance to continue to dominate the upper reaches of the Nigerian economy. 

The long view: Central Asia's oil riches

Gemma Ware


A full tournament of players: A change of leadership in Turkmenistan has brought a challenge ?to Kazakhstan, which had become all too comfortable in determining the terms for oil companies operating in Central Asia


The race for influence in Central Asia that began in the 19th century now has a host of new players. What was once a Great Game between Russia and Britain has escalated into a full tournament. ?


The Caspian basin has some of the world’s largest energy deposits, with Turkmenistan sitting on the fifth largest natural gas field and Kazakhstan holding around 3trn cubic metres of gas and 40bn barrels of proven oil reserves. Competition between Russia, China, the EU and US for the bounty is hotting up as Turkmenistan flings open its doors and Kazakhstan realises that it will have to stop playing hardball.?


Shortly before British colonial William Moorcroft died of fever in an expedition to bring horses from Uzbekistan to Calcutta in 1825, he wrote: “A body of European migrants would speedily have allies in the natives of the neighbouring districts tired of the confusion, oppression and tyranny under which they have long laboured.


”The turkmens’ new tune


?He was not right at the time, but he is now. Locked into the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan were forced to do Russia’s bidding until they became independent in 1991. Kazakhstan, eager to maximise its earning potential, embraced Western business allies in the mid-1990s and has seen rapid economic growth. President Nursultan Nazarbayev continues to pursue an aggressive strategy aimed at pulling the country into the top ten oil-producing countries by 2015 and is relying on a consortium of Western companies developing the largest oilfield at Kashagan to do so. ?


Turkmenistan, however, has been hiding under a rock from under which it is only just ready to crawl out. Saparmurat Niyazov, the tyrannical head of state under the Soviet Union who became president in 1991, exercised an isolationist policy that allowed Russia to keep a hold on Turkmenistan’s gas. Authoritarian, he banned beards and pop music, renamed the months of the year after his family and hoarded most of the country’s wealth in private bank accounts. After Niyazov’s sudden death in December 2006, energy-hungry countries were relieved when the wholly more reasonable Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov replaced him. Now open for business, Turkmenistan is welcoming its suitors.?


Partly because it has no interest in Turkmenistan’s appalling human rights record, China was first to step up. China National Petroleum Corporation signed a deal in 2007 to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which will supply 30bn cubic metres of gas annually when it opens this year.


?No one quite believed Niyazov when he boasted of huge reserves, but an independent audit revealed in October 2008 that the South Yolotan-Osman field alone contains between 4trn-14trn cubic metres, so there is plenty to go around. ?


Russia controls 42% of Europe’s imported gas and relies on Turkmenistan’s reserves to meet that demand. Eager to stave off its looming energy crisis and avoid suffering the cold when disputes between Russia and Ukraine disrupt supplies as they did in January, the EU is leaning on Berdymukhammedov to join several pipeline plans that would transport Caspian gas to Europe, bypassing Russia. Despite mounting pressure, the Turkmen president has still not given the EU a firm answer, but has used the proposal as a bargaining chip to charge Russia more for the gas it buys. Since 2007, Turkmenistan has raised its price agreement with Russia from $65 per cubic metre to $150. ?


Turkmenistan now holds more cards than Kazakhstan. When oil prices peaked in 2008, the Kazakh government felt that the terms of production agreements signed in the 1990s were “too generous”. Employing tough tactics, it raised oil export taxes and increased its share in the largest oilfields. Now the oil price is plummeting and investors are tightening their belts, Kazakhstan will have to learn that it cannot afford to shift the goalposts whenever it wants to, lest companies like Eni and Shell go looking for safer prospects.

Richard Dowden and Parselelo Kantai debate African 'deal democracy'

Gemma Ware


Last year’s disastrous elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe raised new questions about what kind of democratic practice works best in Africa. Here our East Africa correspondent Parselelo Kantai challenges the case for “more inclusive systems of democracy” which was put forward by Richard Dowden in an article in Prospect magazine, the main points of which we reproduce here:


Richard Dowden?


?Can electoral democracy work in Africa? After catastrophically bad elections in Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe, many people, both inside and outside the continent, are starting to have doubts.?


There is certainly no lack of elections – almost all the continent’s 53 countries are multiparty democracies, and since the beginning of 2007, they have held 35 presidential or parliamentary elections – just not very much real democracy.


?Western governments point to the rising number of elections in Africa and claim that their flaws are merely teething problems. The assumption is that electorates will force governments to behave better and deliver development for their citizens. But this is not the case. Many African rulers have neither the will nor the capacity to improve the lives of their people, and the people do not, at this stage, have the political power to force change through democratic mechanisms. Vote-rigging and election-related violence are getting worse, not better.?


Behind the façade of African nation states lie networks of political and business elites. These may be family, ethnic, regional, religious or social in basis, but no one can escape them. Power and influence in Africa is exercised mainly through such connections. It is very hard for people like judges and civil servants to operate independently of them. Those who try to uphold the rules are often overruled by other, more powerful players whose commitment to national development depends on their own interests.?


From the late 1980s into the 21st century, the Western agenda – ‘open your markets, allow multi-party politics and respect human rights’ – was written across Africa. But that period came to an end on 12 July 2008 with the Chinese and Russian veto of the UN resolution calling for sanctions on Zimbabwe. Now African governments have other allies, who ask no questions.?


Those used to Western multiparty democracy may see a government of national unity – outside a national emergency – as a form of authoritarianism. But looked at from Africa, governments of national unity may be the best way of holding these countries together, as long as they are constrained by accountability and the rule of law. Elections would not bestow absolute power but serve to determine the share of power.


?Politically and culturally, Africa needs more inclusive systems – an African form of proportional representation. The trick is to combine this with the rule of law, checks and balances, and the right to dissent. A better system might be for electoral support to determine not only how many seats in parliament a party gets, but how many positions in government. It could hardly be worse.


??Parselelo Kantai??


There are many problems with this argument. By privileging the West it hints, once again, at a new set of experimental solutions either promoted or supported by the West. More worrying is its prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach. While Richard’s Prospect piece is a cautionary tale of how disastrous Western intervention has been for Africa, he cannot help doing the same. Even as he rightly identifies the fragmentary nature of African states – the states within states bound by the colonial project – his proposed solutions fail to see beyond the elite competition for power. Power-sharing at the top does not necessarily translate into consensus at the bottom.?


The true meaning of power-sharing in Kenya – a re-orientation of power at the centre among rival political elites, but elites nonetheless – has become clearer with every passing day. Sold to the Kenyan public as a means of fixing deep-seated ethnic and resource-distribution problems as well as a real attempt at creating national cohesion, attempts at deepening power-sharing have been half-hearted and vague. Political deal-making and the noisy re-alignment of the politics around President Mwai Kibaki’s succession suggest that real political intentions lie elsewhere.?


He fails to mention the enduring struggles within African countries for a new constitutional order. In multiethnic republics such as Kenya, power-sharing remains a fiction without the establishment of a constitutional infrastructure that first acknowledges historical contradictions – that we were thrown together by a colonial enterprise but have always, to paraphrase Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, been held together by geography. Building such infrastructure is perhaps the first step to solving the riddle of governance. ??


Richard Dowden


??Parselelo has misunderstood what I am saying and where I am coming from on the issue of first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all multiparty democracy in Africa. He accuses me of “privileging the West”, whereas I am doing the exact opposite. I am complaining that this ‘Western’ model of democracy has been imposed on Africa by outsiders and Africa’s ruling elites. It does not appear to be producing stable, effective states, and the reason may be that it does not suit the multiethnic make-up of Africa’s artificially-created states. As used, most blatantly in Kenya, by ruling elites to secure power through ethnic chauvinism, it will always leave a group of losers excluded by government.?


Nor was I calling for a single ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. I drew attention to this problem with the suggestion that Africans should develop new constitutional systems of their own, more suitable to their circumstances. Western democratic systems grew out of European and American history, and I do not believe that they are either universal or the best forms of democracy for all nation states. Africans must develop their own. But which Africans? I would like to hear more about these “enduring struggles within African countries for a new constitutional order”.


?Parselelo Kantai


??I find Richard’s arguments both over-determined and reductive. As far as he is concerned, Africa is Europe’s fault. Europeans created those arbitrary colonial boundaries and gave us Westminster-style governments. The former ignores the fact that Africans, for good or ill, consciously retained those colonial borders on the premise that, having been dealt a bad card, they were determined nevertheless to begin forging new realities. That was the meaning of independence. Whether they failed or succeeded, they had, by the act of taking power, now become solely responsible for their destiny. The blame-the-West game is, therefore, dead. Blame the Africans.?


Most worrying is his power-sharing idea. By portraying it as a kind of affirmative-action argument in the negative, a cry of surrender for a continent chronically unable to play by the rules of normal democratic competition, Dowden (inadvertently, one hopes) endorses criminal behaviour. The trigger for the violence in Kenya last year was that President Kibaki stole the election, as did Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Power-sharing was introduced as a stop-gap measure. Nobody recognises it as a permanent solution. In Kenya, it will soon cannibalise itself as rival factions of the corrupt coalition turn against each other in a bid to protect themselves from rising public anger.


?Dowden’s power-sharing argument only holds in a context of failure. It is designed with the idea of impending doom in mind. Coming in the immediate aftermath of the Kenyan and Zimbabwean debacles, I dare say that this theorising would have been considerably less bold if the outcome of the Ghanaian elections had been known.

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