Nigeria: A change in need of belief

Amidst a protracted government crisis, Nigerians hope their politicians may learn some of the lessons of Barack Obama’s presidential victory in the US


As Nigerians celebrated the victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential elections of 4 November, President Umaru Yar’Adua interpreted the event for his fellow politicians: “I believe for us here in Nigeria, we have lessons to draw from this historic event – and the prejudices arising from various differences in tribe, zone, and regions. We should examine ourselves in the light of this experience and conduct ourselves purely as Nigerians to serve Nigeria and serve humanity.”?


Warming to his theme, Yar’Adua fulminated against those Nigerians in power who make decisions according to where they come from or according to the ethnic group to which they belong: “That is the old world; this is the old era. Its coffin has been nailed throughout the world and we have entered a new era.”?


Rotating rivalries?


That should be music to the ears of Nigerians, whose politics has been dominated for three decades by damaging internecine party warfare and a complex system of ethnic balancing or ‘federal character’, which divides the country into zones and reserves the top jobs for representatives of different zones. Given the febrile political atmosphere in Abuja around the presidency with plots and counter-plots developing, it’s unsurprising that Yar’Adua wants a new era. The question is whether he will be able to shuffle off the country’s difficult political past.?


In theory, the top political jobs are rotated among the zones to ensure that every part of the country has a chance to provide a president or a vice-president. In a country with a population nudging 150m and with more than 300 ethno-linguistic groups, balancing and representing those disparate interests challenges even the most skilled Nigerian political fixers.?


In principle, many Nigerians supported this system as a way to heal the fissures after the civil war of the 1960s when the Igbo people and some local allies broke away from the federation to form their own oil-rich republic. For many outsiders, Nigeria made an exemplary recovery from that devastating war in which over a million died: the first post-war government loudly proclaimed: “No victor, no vanquished!”. The reality has been more difficult. The federal character of the system is cumbersome but has, many claim, kept the more extreme proponents of ethnic exclusivity in check. No one region can dominate political, economic and military organisations without having to recruit senior officials from other parts of the country.?


Spreading the wealth


?If a Nigerian establishes a bank or a big new company, the directors must be drawn from across the country. Similarly, the mid-ranking and top civil service posts are divided on a geographic basis. In the middle of Kenya’s post-election crisis and ethnic mayhem in early 2008, the Commonwealth Secretariat sent its special advisor, Professor Ade Adefuye from Nigeria, to help mediation: and some of Nigeria’s principles of federal character found their way into Kenya’s power-sharing agreement that resulted in its current grand coalition.?


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Proud as some Nigerians may be about such political exports, many are profoundly disturbed at the state of national politics. The obsession with regional and ethnic balancing, requiring each senior politican to deliver for his or her ethnic constituency, has held back civilian politics, because it most resembles a marketplace.?


Some see the country’s federal character as benefiting the politicians – especially those of the biggest ethnic groups of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – more than the people. According to former President Olusegun Obasanjo: “The ordinary Nigerians are no problem. They are wonderful in hospitality, forbearance, tolerance and in the love of their fellow human beings. But the elite... it is when the elite want something and cannot get it that they remember that you are Igbo or he is Yoruba... or he is Hausa and you are Igbo.”?


President Yar’Adua’s administration promised change. After two terms of President Obasanjo’s rumbustious political style, replete with allegations of nepotism and vindictiveness, there were hopes that the quietly-spoken and thoughtful Yar’Adua would offer a more effective, if less flamboyant style of government.?


Obasanjo’s long shadow?


After 18 months of power, Yar’Adua has been unable to break away from the legacy of his predecessor. Although some of his aides speak vitriolically about Obasanjo and the business dealings of his relatives and associates, there is plenty of unfinished business from that era in the in-tray, such as the billions of dollars of contracts in the power sector awarded to such little effect under Obasanjo. Most of all there was the messy presidential election in 2007 which has been the subject of a high court action by the losing candidates – Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. The legal dispute over the presidential election has been a dead weight on the Yar’Adua govermment, delaying decisions on project funding and a vital cabinet reshuffle.?


The political clans have been gathering and plotting in Abuja. Their schemes encompass the art of Nigerian high-table politics: to his face all the players pledge loyalty to Yar’Adua, but behind his back they brief the press on how the government is falling apart and how Yar’Adua’s health problems have rendered him incapable.?


Something has to break, say the presidential watchers in Abuja. The legal decision which will either confirm Yar’Adua in office beyond dispute or re-commend fresh election will be a turning point. If it confirms Yar’Adua, his aides say that he will accelerate the pace of government and prove the doubters wrong. If the courts rule against his election, then Nigeria is due for a protracted period of political uncertainty. And for an increasingly impatient country, that will mean even more tendentious politics in 2009.

Zimbabwe: The high price of stubbornness


The economy took a turn for the worse as the parties failed to agree the details of their power-sharing deal


The acceleration of Zimbabwe’s economic decline became more apparent than ever after President Robert Mugabe claimed victory in his stand-alone run-off election in June and central bank governor Gideon Gono lopped ten zeroes off the Zimbabwe dollar in August to put it momentarily at par with the South African rand.?


The freefall was not even halted by the mid-September power-sharing deal between the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In fact, the failure to finalise the details of that agreement quickly brought the economy to a virtual standstill.?


By November, the zeroes on the Zimbabwe dollar were back with a vengeance. The currency was so worthless as to require Z$40bn for a single rand and Z$400bn per US dollar. The inflation rate spiralled beyond reckoning, some saying by hundreds of million percent and experts calculating in quintillions. The crisis in the countryside had begun to seep into the cities, punctuated by the stench of raw sewage clogged in storm drains as public utilities ceased to function. There have been no adequate water supplies in most urban areas since the authorities could no longer pay for chemicals for purification. In a Harare suburb, eight members from one household perished after a cholera outbreak in early November, and 22 others from neighbouring homesteads died soon after, triggering panic and uproar from residents. “We couldn’t hold our church service while people from the neighbourhood mourned,” said Tapera Mucheche, a member of the local Seventh-Day Adventist Church. “We had to mourn with others, but it was a case of moving from one house to the next the entire day.”?


Hospitals and clinics were closed by a lack of drugs and staff, resulting in deaths from easily treatable illnesses. Government, increasingly in a parallel reality, battled to play down the magnitude of the crisis. Health minister David Parirenyatwa said his ministry was ahead of the crisis. The government’s refusal to accept responsibility caused attitudes to harden. “I think ZANU-PF’s days are numbered,” said one elderly ZANU-PF activist who declined to be named. “They may try, but…I don’t think they still have a place in the hearts of even the faithfuls. We’re all dying.”?


The optimism that greeted the power-sharing deal evaporated when the parties became deadlocked over the allocation of ministries. The MDC blamed the continuing impasse on “the lack of sincerity and good faith”. Observers said ZANU-PF’s continued use of ‘hate language’ against the opposition – after Morgan Tsvangirai had officially been appointed the country’s prime minister-designate, he was still being likened to former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi – destroyed any faith the MDC had that ZANU-PF was ready to change.?


New dilemmas?


Although ZANU-PF had split into two factions, one led by former army commander Solomon Mujuru and the other by rural housing minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, they shared a “common disdain for the opposition and will therefore not work together with the opposition”, according to a key Tsvangirai advisor, Godfrey Kanyenze.?


As The Africa Report went to press, the MDC’s position with regard to the allocation of ministries had changed. MDC spokesperson Tendai Biti said that key ministries should now be “paired” and shared between the MDC and ZANU-PF. In this scheme, the defence portfolio, which had initially been allocated to ZANU-PF, would be paired with the MDC’s coveted home affairs portfolio, which controls the police. He did not say if this might apply to other contested portfolios such as finance, foreign affairs and information.


?The attitude of South Africa’s new President Kgalema Motlanthe remained unclear, although his trade union allies wanted him to put more pressure on Mugabe, perhaps by advocating Botswanan President Ian Khama’s proposal of fresh presidential elections. South African former-President Thabo Mbeki was supposed to continue to mediate, albeit with reduced leverage and credibility.?


Economic implosion


?Though Zimbabwe’s greatest hope lay in a power-sharing government, fresh elections were being considered as a way forward that could give the winner a mandate to form a government. Yet there were doubts about their likely freedom and fairness, and the role of international observers. Elections had already proved divisive and failed to solve the sharp divisions or the economic collapse.?


In the absence of a breakthrough, the business sector became increasingly jittery. The Chamber of Mines warned of an economic implosion, saying companies were near closure after government’s non-payment for gold deliveries.?


Foreign currency for critical imports was becoming more scarce. As well as the problems in mining, the decline in the manufacturing sector, already operating at less than 30% capacity, was rapidly accelerating. Nevertheless, ZANU-PF seemed determined to embark on more control of the economy.?


Analysts such as Michelle Gavin, a fellow at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, recently argued that the US and its allies (the United Kingdom and the EU) should immediately pledge a fund of $3-4.5bn over five years, as well as debt relief, to be available once the new government met certain reform criteria. Gavin argued that only through the provision of real incentives would political change be effected by those in power. In particular she singled out the “calculus of those who are in a position to trigger a transition…elites who are interested in their own long-term financial security”.?


Mining industry players said potential investment of $2bn was waiting for the economy to turn. John Robertson, an independent economic consultant, estimated the country would require $15bn to restore the manufacturing and agricultural sectors and rebuild dilapidated infrastructure.


?MDC policy coordinator Eddie Cross promised a review of legislation compelling foreign mines to cede a 51% shareholding to Zimbabweans. “That will be subject to immediate review. We plan to revise the policy for mining so as to make it more investor-friendly. It is a high priority for us to get all mining projects under way,” he said.?


Several Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed companies received loan pledges from South African banks and other South African firms – including supermarket chain Massmart, Blue Financial Services, mining company African Rainbow Minerals and retail outlet Famous Brands – all waiting to enter the Zimbabwe market. 

How the provinces shape up


South Africa’s nine provinces are bitterly divided by the falling out in the ANC. At the ANC conference in Polokwane last December, Thabo Mbeki got 40% and Jacob Zuma 60% in the race for the party presidency. That split is now reflected in the national political realignment.


?Four of the nine provincial branches of the ANC supported Mbeki; Zuma won the rest. The Mbeki supporters are: Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Limpopo and the North West. The Zuma supporters are: Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Free State and the Northern Cape. Zuma just beat Mbeki in Northern Cape and Free State.


?Mbeki said he will endorse neither Zuma nor the new Congress of the People; but the 40% who voted for Mbeki at Polokwane are likely to back the breakaways. Most of the group’s support comes from Western Cape, Eastern Cape, North West and Limpopo, and so these provinces could become heartlands of the new party.?The ANC Youth League and Women’s League were evenly split at the national level.


The ANC Youth League split between Mbeki and Zuma in the provinces as well. The breakaway party wants to win key provinces in next year’s elections and key cities in the local elections afterwards. ?


At its national convention on 1-2 November, supporters of the breakaway party sang the same songs and used the same symbols and traditions as the ANC. Speakers for the new party strongly defended the corruption-busting Scorpions police unit, abolished by parliament in late October. The Scorpions had investigated Zuma and several of his supporters for corruption.


?The former premier of the Eastern Cape, Nosimo Balindlela, ousted by Zuma supporters, resigned from the ANC in early November. Other senior Eastern Cape officials resigned with her, including former ANC provincial spokesman Andile Nkuhlu, Amathole regional leader Moses Qomoyi, and Youth League members Nkosifikile Gqomoand and Thabo Matiwane.?


Among the new party’s grander ambitions is a plan to reform South Africa’s electoral system, including a modification of proportional representation to a system that closely ties MPs with specific constituencies. It also wants a directly-elected president. But it cannot make headway on these without a national election win.


Back to South Africa, the death of unity

South Africa: The Death of Unity


Zuma’s ANC is not expected to lose the 2009 election but it now has a serious challenger. A new breakaway party has started a phase of radical change in South African politics and it could also herald an era of multiparty competition


The leaders of the breakaway faction of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) chose to announce their intention to form a new party on an auspicious date: 2 November 2008. Exactly 50 years earlier another important group split from the ANC to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Led by Robert Sobukwe and opposed to the ANC’s non-racial stance – enshrined in its adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955 – the PAC captured the imagination of younger black radicals before it collapsed after the end of apartheid.


?This year’s new breakaway party, the Congress of the People, led by former ANC national chairman and defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota must hope for a different trajectory. It claims that the Jacob Zuma-led ANC has reneged on the Freedom Charter’s promises of non-racialism, clean government and equitable distribution of resources. ?


Lekota was among a third of the cabinet who resigned in September after Thabo Mbeki was vengefully forced out as president of the country by the ANC national executive.?


At the national convention of the breakaway group, Mbhazima Shilowa, the former general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the likely new party leader, said: “I stand here today on behalf of this preparatory committee to say not only do we intend to tackle it [the ANC], we intend to win the next election.” ?


ANC president Jacob Zuma dismissed the new party. “Crisis, what crisis? The crisis is in the heads of the analysts, academics and the media,” Zuma said. “ANC membership is for life. Why would anyone join the ANC if they run away at the first sign of difficulty?” ?


Former President Thabo Mbeki said he would side with neither faction but castigated the Zuma-ites. Mbeki accused Zuma of creating a “noxious” cult of personality – similar to North Korea’s late Kim Il Sung – by “publicly declaring a determination to ‘kill’ to defend your own cause, the personal interests of the ‘personality’, Jacob Zuma.” ?


A desperate tactic by the ANC to recruit former President Nelson Mandela in next year’s campaign was rebuffed. “Any attempt to draw him [Mandela] into [the ANC’s internal politics] now is without his consent”, said spokesman Jakes Gerwela.


?Lekota’s breakaway group has been welcomed in the media, including the state broadcaster SABC (pro-Mbeki when he was in power, and pro-Zuma after he won the election in Polokwane) as well as by white and black middle classes and educated young people. But it is the mass of voters in the rural areas, shanty towns and townships, with little access to the media – apart from the radio – who matter if the new party wants to reshape the country’s politics.


?Zuma and his closest allies, ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, are increasingly portrayed as bumbling, amateurish and clueless. There is “a level of irritation that Lekota’s megaphone politics is getting so much media attention”, said the pro-Zuma ANC’s Carl Niehaus. ?


President Kgalema Motlanthe, who took over after Mbeki was pushed out, said he was optimistic that the ANC would talk to Mosioua Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa constructively. “If the policies of the splinter group were close to those of the ANC”, the ANC leadership could “try to bring them back into the fold”. ?


Nine-province strategy?


?The new party is planning to push the ANC into a series of countrywide municipal by-elections. Next year’s general elections only concern provincial and national elections. Local elections take place separately. The breakaway group’s strategy is to have a core leadership that serves as the public face, while others remain within the ANC until just before the elections. ?


Some are expected to resign at strategic moments before the general election so as to demoralise the ANC leadership. This could disrupt the ANC electoral campaign as it does yet not know who its supporters are. ?

How the provinces shape up


South Africa's nine provinces are bitterly
divided over the ANC fallout. Read more.


Purging ANC members suspected of supporting the breakaway group has increased divisions. As many as 40 of its MPs could leave the party even before its launch on 16 December. ?


The challenge to the ANC has raised the spectre of violence. Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairwoman Brigalia Bam has offered expertise to help the ANC deal with the risks. The IEC feared rising intimidation and potential violence between the breakaway group and the ANC supporters. Bam offered to help “the next phase of an acceptance of democracy and change”.


?The ANC still has the advantages of a party in power, with an election machine, money and state resources at its disposal to run a formidable campaign. Whether the breakaway group can capture the majority of the poor in the townships and rural areas and the black working class will be crucial. ?


Bantu Holomisa, who split from the ANC in 1996 to form his opposition United Democratic Movement, said: “We need to look at how this convention does not end up as a gathering of the elite... We need policies that will address the poverty and inequality of our people.” Barney Pityana, principal of the University of South Africa, said people are hungry for politics “founded on moral values”. ?


The Damascene conversion


?Zuma appears to have successfully recast himself as someone who underwent a conversion – after Mbeki fired him for corruption in 2005 – changing from the leading defender of his boss’s transformation of the ANC and South Africa to one who is now a friend of the poor and the left. The ANC has deep roots in villages, townships and cities, providing anything from welfare for members to solidarity at funerals. With next year’s election fast approaching, the new group cannot rival this influence.?


The Zuma ANC leadership argues that any ANC members and supporters who were disillusioned with politics are now back in support of the party, and that those who are not fear for their jobs.?


The political crisis has been serious enough for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the moral voice of South Africa, to declare he will not vote unless party leaders see sense. Even Allan Boesak, a former leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), has decided to form a UDF-style civil society platform “to hold government to account”. ?


Democratic Alliance leader and Cape Town mayor Helen Zille offered a coalition partnership. “We have been doing this in the multiparty government in Cape Town where we have a successful coalition of six parties, bringing hope and bringing change for all the people of that city, not just for some,” she said. “That is the pattern of the future. Coalitions based on principles and values can work.”?


Shilowa said the new party “will try to ensure that it is not just only us who were in the ANC who are in these interim structures... It has to encompass new faces, new blood, new thinking.” The group wants to attract the elusive church-based constituencies, which the ANC and opposition parties have been unable to do. Shilowa is a member of South Africa’s largest church group, the Zionist church. Nevertheless, there could be little to gain if the ANC and the breakaways are slugging it out over the same policy space. ?


A good solution for South Africa remains the reconfiguration of the ruling ANC tripartite alliance into a clear centre-left party and a left existing separately, competing with each other, and with the assortment of current centre-right opposition parties, black and white. The new breakaway may not win next year’s general elections but could reduce significantly the ANC’s 66% vote from 2004, using it as a platform to challenge the ANC more significantly in the polls thereafter. ?


Furthermore, the breakaway is attacking Zuma as the weak link of the ANC. If Zuma stands aside for Motlanthe to become the permanent leader of the ANC, then the new party may be set back, and demoralised party members may be more likely to give the ANC another try. If Zuma becomes the ANC’s candidate for state president, Cosatu and SACP may shift the ANC to the left, with the ANC becoming a workers’ party and the new breakaway positioning itself on the centre-left. ?


What makes the split different to others in the ANC’s history is that for the first time a whole range of people, including capable senior ANC leaders, officials and civil servants, are leaving, and not just an individual. As Gwede Mantashe, the ANC general secretary, admitted to the party’s parliamentary caucus, many supporters of the breakaway group belong to the UDF faction of the ANC, seen as the party’s more able younger strategists and grassroots organisers, more upwardly mobile, and representing a more participatory political tradition, who should have played a key role in the renewal of the ANC. ?


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Both Lekota and Shilowa are effective organisers. In previous splits the ANC has been able to rally around a unifying figure; while Zuma has cult status among some supporters, others oppose him with equal vehemence.


?Breakaway leaders, such as former Cosatu president Willie Madisha, former National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa general secretary Moses Mayekiso, and former South African National Civic Organisation President Mlungisi Hlongwane, are also moving to form a new umbrella trade union movement trying to siphon off members of Cosatu. Hlongwane may also launch a new national civic movement to be aligned with the breakaway party. ?


The prospect of electoral competition has already made the ANC more responsive. The Africa Report understands that ANC leaders have already warned militant Zuma supporters – such as ANC Youth League president Julius Malema – not to attack the judiciary, media and public institutions.


?In campaign speeches Zuma has begun to freely acknowledge the ANC’s failures, so as to soften the criticisms of the Lekota group. If a new breakaway party fights for the same centre-left ground, it will force the ANC to become more democratic and improve its record in government. Not yet on the track, the new opposition party has already started to change South Africa’s politics.

Running for a renaissance


The next chance for Meles Zenawi’s opponents to pick apart the ruling party’s record at home and abroad will be Ethiopia’s landmark elections in 2010


In keeping with this country’s sporting traditions, the so-called ‘Ethiopian renaissance’ being proclaimed on billboards across Addis Ababa may seem to resemble a marathon run. ?


Yet there is fierce debate about whether the country’s leaders are running in the right direction. Ethiopia is not only divided by some bitter sectarian political rivalries but many among its 80m people are right now struggling against the vicissitudes of drought, while their government faces conflict in two neighbouring countries.


?Ethiopia is also a country whose economy has seen double-digit growth over the past five years, becoming a favoured African destination for productive investment by foreign companies (after South Africa and Botswana), and it has made impressive progress in education and health provision.?


The idea of a ‘renaissance’ is central to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s plans. Having survived 17 years of turmoil following the ousting of Haile Mengistu’s much-loathed Derg regime, he speaks with fervour about development economics and “fundamentally changing” Ethiopia.


?“As we moved from a centralised authoritarian political system towards a decentralised, federalised, democratic system,” Meles said, “there was always a risk that we could disintegrate like Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Union.”


Make our garden grow?


Meles is proud of progress in the countryside where former subsistence farmers have moved into small-scale commercial farming and have pushed up their yields substantially. It is these farmers who have been driving growth, boosting production of coffee, tea, cereals and livestock. Industrial production in the sugar refineries and food processing plants is up too. Ethiopians in the diaspora have been sending money home to set up new businesses, but mostly to finance new houses, fuelling the building boom.?


But these signs of new growth face a hostile climate. Soaring food and fuel prices have pushed inflation to high levels over the past year and an ambitious state-led investment programme has eaten into foreign reserves. Over recent months, drought in southern regions has brought back the country’s all-too-familiar scourge of mass malnutrition. In mid-October, the government and the UN released figures showing that 6.4m Ethiopians would need emergency food aid this year. These are in addition to the 7.2m Ethiopians so poor that they depend on government cash or food aid to survive.


?Food aid, like much else in Ethiopia, is highly politicised; some aid agencies and opposition parties accuse the government of ‘denial and delay’ over food aid. “Famines frighten investors”, commented a Western diplomat. ?


Opposition parties also accuse the government of clamping down ahead of the 2010 elections. Bulcha Demeksa, leader of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), and Bertukan Mideksa, the former judge who chairs the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party, have been campaigning against the government’s new laws on political parties and civil society organisations. ?


In the 2005 elections, political parties and factions jostled for power openly as never before in Ethiopia; opposition parties did well in the cities, although the government maintained control in the countryside. Some 200 people were killed in clashes between opposition supporters and security forces.


?Bertukan, who was jailed after her former party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, won 109 out of 546 seats in the 2005 election, said that the ruling party’s control of security and the legal system makes democratic progress almost impossible. “Our key issues are democratisation, respect for human and political rights, and the rights of association,” she said.?


“Political repression is very serious,” the OFDM’s Bulcha said, “of our eleven MPs, three have already come under government pressure and quit. Rallies are effectively banned, parties can have just small meetings and press conferences.”?


The OFDM general secretary Bekele Jirata was arrested in early November, and the government accused him of working with ‘terrorists’.?


Uncritical critics


?Meles’ record of reform has won uncritical support from Western governments according to Tom Porteous of Human Rights Watch (HRW), who said: “Meles has transformed Ethiopia from a war-torn, famine-prone dictatorship into a relatively stable state which combines elements of both democracy and authoritarianism.” But HRW has led international criticism of the military operations in the Ogaden and Somalia, and accuses Western governments of ignoring unpalatable facts about their ally in Addis Ababa.?


Meles dismissed such criticism as “uninformed”. Foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin said that much reporting of Ethiopia’s role in Somalia is exaggerated: “Al-Shabaab is fragmented … they are resorting to selective political assassinations. There are more deaths of peacekeepers in Darfur than Mogadishu.” Ethiopia recently reduced its troops to about three brigades (3,000 soldiers). Seyoum said Somalia urgently required better local leadership.?


The prospects look little better for Ethiopia’s other foreign policy headache, the rumbling border dispute with Eritrea. According to Seyoum: “By re-occupying the border zone, Eritrea has committed a material breach of the Algiers Agreement.” He insisted Ethiopia is willing to talk “up to head of state level with Eritrea”. But he, like everyone else, is not holding his breath for a summit between Meles and Eritrean leader Issayas Afewerki. 

Interview: Ato Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia

In power since 1991, Ato Meles Zenawi speaks of an Ethiopian renaissance as the economy and social indicators improve substantially, but national politics remain fraught and the government faces an array of deadly foes in the Horn of Africa, led by arch-enemies in Eritrea and Islamist militants in Somalia


The Africa Report: How will the financial crisis affect the global economic hierarchy – do you think it will accelerate the shift of economic power towards Asia?


?PRIME MINISTER MELES ZENAWI: Innovation in the financial sector appears to have gone way beyond the capacity to be effectively regulated and perhaps the capacity of the regulators themselves to understand the financial instruments that have been built. So I would not be very surprised if there were to be more effective regulation in the financial sector. I’m not sure whether there would be fundamental change in the other sectors of the economy. Asia has been doing very well in relative terms, [and] it is bound to increase its weight in global economic issues. I doubt whether this will be the result of the financial crisis, rather than the result of more structural change in the economies. ??


Although Ethiopia’s economy has been growing strongly, inflation is spiralling and there are serious foreign exchange shortages. How will you deal with this pressure??


The key strategy is to continue to increase exports at a much faster pace. In the past five years, exports have been growing at 25% per year; perhaps we can push it a little bit further. Oil prices accounted for much of the foreign exchange and balance of payments problem. If oil prices are coming down, the foreign exchange that we use to import oil will be reduced. And we are now passing the price through to the consumers directly and we hope to reduce consumption of oil. Reduction in prices and reduction in demand may improve our balance of payments situation.?In the past five years we have had very promising results. The most important structural change has happened in the rural areas. Most of the farmers are shifting from small-scale subsistence farming into small-scale commercial farming and that has created a very positive feedback loop. In the urban areas we have not made as much progress as in the rural areas, but the impact of the rural growth is beginning to filter down to the urban areas.??


You say you want to promote business, yet Ethiopia does not have a stock exchange. Do you plan to launch one??


We don’t think the securities market is as critical to Ethiopia’s development as a commodities market. That is why we have launched the commodity market first; nevertheless we understand that at some stage we have to develop the securities market, and that requires a lot of state capacity, among other things. We do not want to create a casino which is out of control. We need a properly regulated securities market and that requires capacity building, both on the part of the state, which should be doing the regulation, and on the part of the private sector actors.??


There are widespread complaints about telecommunications. Do you think more competition in the sector would improve services?


?We’re investing about $1.5bn in telecommunication infrastructure and we expect the subscribers of mobile phones to increase up to 15m over the next 18 months or so. More importantly we plan to expand our broadband optic-fibre network to well over 10,000 km, connecting all the major towns, universities, hospitals and so forth. After 18 months when we’ve completed our current programme of developing telecommunications infrastructure, we’ll see if there’s any need for institutional reform, but at the moment the focus is on investment in infrastructure.?


There are experiences elsewhere which prove that under certain circumstances competition might help and other circumstances there is no real competition, it’s an oligopoly. In the end therefore, it may depend on the quality of regulatory capacity… At this stage we have chosen to err on the side of caution.


??On coming to power, your government promised a revolutionary restructuring of the state. Do you think you’ve achieved that??

 1955 Born in Adwa, northern Ethiopia
 1974 Joined the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)??
 1989 Became chairman of the TPLF and the
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front
 1991 With the overthrowing of the Derg military regime,
became the president of the transitional government??
 1995 Elected for the first time as prime minister
 1999 Border clashes with Eritrea led to full-scale war??
 2004 Earned a master’s degree in economics


We’ve gone a long way. States in reform are states facing a huge risk of disintegration. And as we moved away from centralised authoritarian political systems towards a de-centralised, federalised, democratic system, there was the risk that we could disintegrate like Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Union, or other countries that have tried economic and political transition at the same time. Well, clearly, we have survived. And that – as one of the actors of the French Revolution is supposed to have said – was quite an achievement, to have survived turmoil. We have survived as a state, we have survived as a nation. I think we have gone a little bit beyond surviving. ??


How much of a challenge do the opposition parties represent to your government?


We have two extremes that are joined at the centre. There are those who feel that the transformation of the Ethiopian empire under Emperor Haile Selassie – and the other emperor who followed, Mengistu – that the federalism that we introduced, the independence of Eritrea that we recognised, there are those groups who feel that that is a crime against the very concept of Ethiopia. And there are those who feel that the reforms we have introduced – pre-empting secessionist pressure – have been a cynical attempt to preserve the empire rather than transform it. So you have two extremes: those who feel that the reforms of the empire have gone too far, and those who say that the reforms have been a cynical ploy to stem the tide of secessionism in Ethiopia. Those two are the main opposition groups in the country now. Sometimes they come together against a common enemy in the centre, sometimes they are at each others’ throats because they have very different agendas.??


Your government has faced armed resistance in the Oromo and Somali regions. What are the grievances and how do you intend to address them??


The armed entities in the Oromia region do not pose a very serious challenge to us. Over time, a broad consensus has emerged in the region. The key challenge is the Somali region. We have not done as well in terms of economic development in the Somali region as we have in the rest of our country. We have not done as well in the pastoralist regions as a whole, and in particular in the Somali region, so there is room for the opposition to capitalise on this fact. Nevertheless, we have done enough to show people in the Somali region that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, not very bright, not as bright as in the rest of the country, nevertheless there is some light, and we need to do more of that. The Somali people in Ethiopia for the first time in our history plan their own affairs locally, use their own language in schools and in local government entities, have their religion respected absolutely… and they see what the alternative is on the other side of the border. So, I don’t think the secessionist agenda in the Ogaden is as strong as it might have been 15 years ago, but we recognise it as a challenge and we need to do more.??


Almost six years after the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission announced its decision, there is still no agreement on demarcation. How dangerous is the current stand-off between Ethiopia and Eritrea??


The Eritrean government is trying to use indirect means to destabilise Ethiopia and the region but it is not as dangerous as some people think. We have said that we are not going to respond in kind unless there is a full-scale invasion. Eritrea is in no way ready to launch a full-scale invasion of Ethiopia. So militarily it is going to be stalemate for the foreseeable future. The only way forward is dialogue. We are prepared to engage the Eritrean government in dialogue any time, anywhere. And this is not an underhanded way of trying to change the boundary commission’s decision. We have made it clear in the note we gave to the Under-Secretary General of the UN that we unconditionally accept the de-limitation decision of the boundary commission. What we want dialogue on is the implementation of the decision. It is possible that there is going to be this tense situation for a long time; Ethiopia can live with it more or less indefinitely.??


What are the prospects of disengagement from Somalia? Do you think this would help end violence??


Our strategy is not a strategy of withdrawal, it’s a strategy of helping Somalia’s stability, so we are not dying to leave at the first possible opportunity. We don’t have an open-ended commitment to Somalia’s stability. We’ll stay on and help if two conditions are kept. First, the Somali leaders have to get their act together – reach out to moderate elements within Somali society, build consensus around the transitional government – so that we can win the hearts and minds of the Somali people, which would isolate the extremists and make it easier for us to hunt them down. Second, the international community will have to shoulder its responsibilities. If these two conditions are fulfilled we will stay on, but if these conditions are not met, then we will withdraw. ?


?If you withdraw, are you prepared for the consequences such as a return of the Islamic courts regime to power??


We are fully aware that our withdrawal would cause the withdrawal of the AU troops, and possibly the withdrawal of the Transitional Federal Government from Mogadishu, and possibly Somalia going back to civil war, where it was in 2002-2003. There won’t be an Islamic courts regime in Somalia so long as we are around. If the Al-Shabaab (Islamist militia) got control of Somalia, we would go in and remove them again. That’s non-negotiable.??


You’ve been in power for almost 18 years. When are you planning to retire and would you take a post with an international organisation?


?I have no plans with any international African organisations. My plans after retiring would be first to have some rest – I have not had enough rest since age 19 – and reflect on my life experiences, contributing perhaps, getting out some studies, research and writing, a light kind of schedule. I do not want to be involved in another full-time job, but I would want to be active and as helpful as I could be.

Obama: Enter the great communicator

Gemma Ware

The first-ever black candidate for the US presidency succeeded on his first attempt, thanks to an articulate and positive style, clear values and his powerful communications strategy


“This is an unbelievable moment in our history,” was the response to Obama’s victory from Georgia congressman John Lewis, a civil rights movement hero. “This is a great distance from when I was walking across that bridge [in Selma, Alabama] 43 years ago when we were beaten, left bloody and unconscious. Last night something came over me. I just jumped up and kept jumping up. Tears came down my face.”?


Barack Hussein Obama did it! He scaled the walls of doubt and cynicism, racism and religious bigotry, hysteria and hate, and on 4 November walked into history, appealing to the ‘angels of our better nature’, by getting elected to become the 44th President of the United States. Almost a century and a half after the US Constitution erased the designation of a black man as ‘three-fifths of a person’, on 20 January 2009, the 47-year-old Obama will become America’s First Citizen, his wife, Michelle, a descendant of slaves, its First Lady, and their children, Malia and Shasha, will become as well known as other First Children before them.?


Over the years, many black people have crashed down the barriers to become Firsts, but this was the Ultimate First. Yet, as voters in America and people around the world came to see, Barack Obama is not just any black man. He comes with the credentials of a multi-racial heritage, a multinational upbringing and a 21st century vision that gives him a unique view of a complex time, a complex world and America’s place in it.?

Obama's foreign policy team


Diplomats and policy
professionals. Read more


So how did he get there and what difference will it make to have him at the helm of the world’s leading, though wounded, industrial nation? Like Hansel’s breadcrumbs in the forest, clues abound, including from the man himself. “I think there is a great hunger for change in this country, and not just policy change,” he said in early 2007. “What I also think they are looking for is change in tone and a return to some notion of the common good and some sense of cooperation, of pragmatism over ideology. I’m a stand-in for that right now.”?


The values that have helped Obama capture the White House derive from his peripatetic childhood on two continents – America and Asia – and an identification with a third – Africa, and they have carried him through the thicket of two bruising national campaigns and helped create a superior strategy, combining substance and style.?


Giving voice to virtues


?Barack Obama’s road to the White House was paved initially with the values of his white American mother, Ann Dunham, and her Midwestern parents who helped raise him. In his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, he writes of his mother’s advice: “If you want to grow into a human being, you’re going to need some values,” and they included honesty, fairness, straight-talk and independent judgement – “giv[ing] voice to the virtues of her Midwestern past”.?


Equally, there are links to the values of his Kenyan father, also named Barack Hussein Obama, who left when Obama was two. Dunham told the young Obama of the “distant authority” of his father, who also attended Harvard – “how he had grown up poor, in a poor country, in a poor continent; how his life had been hard ...he hadn’t cut corners, though, or played the angles”.?


Dan Johnson-Weinberger, who studied voting rights under Obama at the University of Chicago, told the New York Times Magazine recently that Obama won not by playing the angles, but by understanding the playing field, specifically that “voters in African-American Congressional districts would have a disproportionate impact in selecting the nominee”.?


Obama “grasped the structural path to victory”, said his former student. He wasted no time in persuading the black community he was indeed “black enough”, acknowledging he stood on the shoulders of the civil rights movement’s pioneers. But while he walked the walk, he often talked a different talk from that era’s leaders, recognising class and race, speaking of the common burden of both poor and middle-class whites as well as blacks. And he called for “get[ing] past the racial stalemate we’ve been in for years” and for “forging alliances to walk the path to a more perfect union... binding our particular grievances – for better healthcare and better schools and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans”.?


“Change you can believe in” was the Obama mantra that resonated with so many of the disillusioned of all races, and awakened the sleeping giant of the youth across America. Together they rallied to the beat of Will-I -Am’s “Yes We Can” with Obama telling them: “America is ready to turn the page. America is ready for a new set of challenges. This is our time. A new generation is prepared to lead.”


?‘No drama obama’?


Obama has innovated in the ways he communicates. He pioneered a virtual campaign for the digital age generation at home on the internet, Facebook and YouTube. And the message drove the money – from contributions of as little as $5. No campaign in history has raised as much as Obama’s did – more than $600m. A notice to supporters to send in their mobile numbers and pass along the message to others if they wanted to be the first to know Obama’s choice of vice-president generated thousands of additional contacts. Gordon Davis, a New York lawyer and a major fundraiser for Obama, explained: “The fundraising was a basic tool to get people involved in the campaign.”  ?


From outhouse to White House


Dancing in the streets
of Atlanta. Read more

Even his opponents credit him with running a sophisticated campaign. And he did it while being labelled ‘No Drama Obama’, rarely losing his cool, his face lit up with a broad smile when attacked, a style some supporters found frustrating. But while he insisted he could deliver a hard punch if needed, that went against his natural instincts and style – which also created one of the most harmonious campaign organisations in recent memory. Davis, also a former New York City politician, said: “No internal divisions, fights among consultants, backstabbing or getting off-message... driven as much from the bottom up as the top down.”


?One close campaign advisor said: “He’s not the lone ranger, but he is the leader.” Obama is also a listener, who takes in all points of view before coming out with his own. And he assembled a team that was encouraged to voice their own opinions, including some 300 foreign policy advisors, the area that was initially his weakest. He has promised a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq, with an end-point of 2010, and telegraphed his plans for new approaches to America’s old enemies, saying, while there would be a need for staff preparation, he would meet with them without preconditions. And he is expected to appoint an administration mixed with both seasoned Washington veterans and new faces who share his vision.?


Despite his legendary confidence and the well-chosen backfield that bolsters it, Obama has been dealt a tough hand – two wars, a sick economy and potentially bitter losers among the Americans he must now attempt to lead. This comes along with a host of other 21st century problems requiring global solutions at a time when America’s image is at one of its lowest points ever, having lost much of the moral authority and leadership it once enjoyed.


?International affairs expert John Stremlau said: “Here’s a case of a black person set up to fail, but no better person to rally the country and the world at a time like this.”?


African roots and Africa policy


Hopes for a new direction.
Read more

The reception Obama has enjoyed at places like the Berlin Wall and from world leaders, as well as the pride he has generated throughout the African continent, give him at least a running start.?


As far back as 2006, when his presidential aspirations seemed more than a distant dream to many, Obama told New York magazine: “I want to be a really great president. And then I’d worry about all the other stuff.”?


Despite “all that other stuff”, Barack Obama’s election has affirmed the audacity of hope.

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