patrick smith

The road to hell

To borrow a little from Samuel Johnson, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and bad interventions.

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How state capitalism helps the super rich

Spot the connection. Presidential candidates in Africa are richer than ever and governments proclaim that state capitalism is the favoured...

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The Addis Ababa doctrine

After a year of diplomatic failure in the face of quickening political change, the leaders meeting at the African Union summit in Ethiopia on 23-30 January have a chance to reverse those setbacks and steer the organisation onto a course of development and reform.

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Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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Proponents of aid fight back

In the worst financial crisis since the 1930s,  arguments over the role of foreign aid are central to the debate over Africa’s policy options. In London on 7 April, Ghana’s President John Atta Mills insisted that he was on a mission to negotiate trade and investment and not looking for aid, adding that the crisis would force Africa to become more self-reliant: “I am not returning to Ghana with my pockets full of pounds sterling. We will have to import less food and grow more locally.”


After The Africa Report interviewed Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, author of ‘Dead Aid’, which advocates the rapid phasing-out of the foreign-aid cycle in Africa, the debate was joined by development economists, finance ministers and officials in international financial institutions.


The IMF’s Africa director, Antoinette Sayeh, also took a strong stance on proposed aid cuts: “Aid has been shown to have a very positive impact on growth and poverty reduction in Africa. We think it’s actually dangerous to suggest that the appropriate response to Africa’s problems at this very difficult time is to further deprive AIDS patients and young people, who’ve been out of school for a decade because of a civil war, of access to education and health.”


Back to Africa & the crisis: A way out of the tunnel


Military Viewpoint: Paul Collier, University of Oxford


Just as long-standing African leaders have been following the putschists’ progress across the continent over the past year, so has British economist Paul Collier. Their interests, however, are entirely different. Incumbent leaders want to gauge the strength of the revived threat to their grip on power; Collier wants to test his new theory that coups might be good for democracy (a theory presented in his new book ‘Wars, Guns and Votes’, The Bodley Head, London 2009).?


For Collier, the unpalatable reality in many of the poorest countries is that military coups are the most effective check on abuses of power. “The only force that leaders truly fear is their own military. After all a leader is far more likely to lose power as a result of a coup than in an election”, says Collier.?


Although the introduction of multi-party elections across Africa was meant to improve governance and accountability, Collier says that far too often the ruling parties held on to power using bribery, intimidation and fraud. Collier suggests the idea of the ‘good coup’. The problem is that coups “have been an unguided missile, indiscriminately replacing both corrupt and decent regimes”. ?


Collier’s solution? “To improve electoral accountability, we need to provide coups with a guidance system”. He proposes a pact under which EU and US forces – with a rapid reaction capacity to deploy in Africa – should guarantee to protect any government that was judged credibly to have to come to power through “free and fair” elections.?


Although much of Collier’s background analysis adds up, having outsiders encourage soldiers to seize power after questionable elections risks bloodletting and worsening national schisms. Stolen elections by civilian parties have long been a fine pretext for coups, but the ensuing military regimes cannot be counted on to hold free elections. And it’s hard to believe that American or European soldiers would be prepared to defend freely elected governments against putschists. And as for the AU’s military capacity, its failure to intervene in four coups over the last 12 months speaks volumes.  


Back to Military Rule, Marching back to the future 


Nile: Hydro-politics and diplomacy


Egypt’s reactions to growing demands for Nile water from Sudan and Ethiopia shapes regional diplomacy. Cairo has long tried to prevent irrigation and dam-building projects in Ethiopia and Sudan, and staunchly opposes the secession of southern Sudan, which it fears will further diminish its control of the Nile waters.


As the Nile floods the valley and its delta spreads each year, Egypt looks ideally suited to grow wheat. Yet due to its relative scarcity of water, Egypt instead imports almost half its grain requirements. Now Egypt’s pro-Western regime and Sudan’s Islamist regime are working on a common plan for several million Egyptians to relocate along the Nile in northern Sudan to work with locals on ambitious wheat projects. Egypt will enhance its food security and Sudan will use the revenues to finance an expansion of the Khartoum metropolis. That helps explain why these ideological opponents can work together, for now. ?


Back to Nile, Troubled waters


A way out of the tunnel

Grwoth projectionsInternational institutions are prescribing higher social spending, more flexible monetary policy and a watchful eye on the banks. 


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Zuma: The man and his allies


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


Editorial: Justice goes offshore

In the serene opulence of a five star hotel in the north of Zanzibar, a fierce battle about war crimes broke out. The protagonists – diplomats, activists and journalists – sported jeans and tee-shirts not battle fatigues and waved UN resolutions not kalashnikovs; but they held to their positions as firmly as any rebel leader or incumbent president. The subject under discussion was whether the indictments for murder served by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Sudan’s President Omer el Beshir would bring justice and peace to the beleaguered people of Darfur.?The hosts of this meeting, the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation of Tanzania, have a big stake in the issue. They are trying to promote substantive negotiations in some of the most intractable conflicts in the world, so the effects of the ICC’s issuing of arrest warrants for heads of state and rebel leaders are a critical concern. It is an issue that has divided the growing conflict-resolution industry between those who see the ICC intervention as unwarranted Western interference in the affairs of sovereign states, and those activists who see the ICC as a critical means of holding war criminals to account.??


The 30 African states which have signed the Rome Statutes establishing the ICC are the bedrock of the institution, whose judges include several distinguished African jurists. And it was the governments of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda that first invited the ICC to investigate war crimes in their countries with the aim of prosecuting the perpetrators in the Hague. Then, some argued that issuing arrest warrants against the Lord’s Resistance Army for war crimes would obstruct the attempted peace talks with Uganda. ?In Kenya, local political debate is obsessed with how to bring to account those who sponsored the political violence which killed 1,500 people and chased another 300,000 from their homes in 2008. As part of the political accord last year, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was charged with handing a sealed envelope containing the names of 10 of the most important suspects behind the violence to the ICC – if the local politicians could not agree to establish a tribunal to deal with the cases locally. They have not, and the deadline is looming. ?Sudan’s position is more complex still. When the Khartoum regime expelled 13 aid agencies the day after the ICC issued the arrest warrant for President Omer, the opponents of the ICC warrant said the action had scuppered the peace talks and put at risk food aid for about 2.5m displaced people in Darfur. But the regime is quietly backtracking, allowing the affiliates of some of the expelled aid agencies to return, restarting the Darfur peace talks in Qatar, and signalling to Western governments that it will hold elections next year. The diplomatic game continues with or without the ICC, although the arrest warrant may change the balance of power. ??


The failure of China, Russia and the US to join the ICC also undermines it. Suliman Baldo of the International Institute for Transitional Justice, who led the discussions in Zanzibar, said afterwards that some opponents of the ICC’s actions in Africa have legitimate concerns, but the bigger question concerned Africa’s commitment to holding those accused of war crimes to account. There would have to be a credible African alternative or perhaps supplement to the ICC’s efforts, Baldo suggested.


?The same argument might apply to the myriad corruption cases across Africa. Although the prosecuting authorities in South Africa have dropped their cases centred on the country’s $6bn arms deal, state investigations into the deal and the role of Western companies and officials are continuing in Britain and Germany. They seem destined to result in the prosecution of companies and individuals in those European jurisdictions.?


Similarly, the US, British and French investigations into corruption surrounding Halliburton’s $6bn gas plant in Nigeria implicate the business associates of former vice-president Dick Cheney and suggests that three former Nigerian heads of state were part of the US company’s criminal scheme. Yet there has been no serious investigation, let alone a prosecution, in Nigeria. Until that reaction changes, justice will continue to go offshore.


Rwanda/Sudan: Crime without punishment


Africa’s vicious genocides over the last 15 years have posed agonising dilemmas for the international community, with the March indictment of Sudan’s president raising new ones


Fifteen years after the extermination of 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus, there are still no international institutions with the credibility and capacity to respond quickly to mass killings of civilians.


?The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) issuance of an arrest warrant on 4 March for Sudan’s President Omer el Beshir for war crimes in Darfur may yet advance the cause of international justice, but its capacity to end the war looks questionable in the short run. To make real progress in Sudan, the ICC’s warrant would need massive, determined, internationally-coordinated action to protect civilians and greatly increased diplomatic pressure on the Khartoum regime.? Waging Peace, Drawings from Sudan and Chad


It might have helped if the ICC’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo had been able to start with trials of lower-ranking officials. After the ICC announced the arrest warrant, there was a dreadful silence as the Khartoum regime expelled most of the aid agencies in Darfur and closed down local human-rights organisations.?


African governments’ concerns about the warrant centred on the fear that Khartoum would redouble attacks on the Darfur people and close down the AU peacekeeping mission there, Ethiopia’s Premier Meles Zenawi told the The Africa Report. “The political implications of the arrest warrant weren’t thought through,” Meles said. “If it’s about a regime-change agenda, there was no plan there… If it’s about political pressure, there’s no more leverage once you’ve announced the warrant.”


?The road to the arrest warrant for Beshir goes back to Rwanda’s genocide in 1994 when survivors pledged that “justice will be done”. And those foreign politicians who ordered the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers at the time – while the murderers went to work in Rwanda – have gradually made their apologies, quietly repeating the “never again” mantra.?


Responsibility to protect?


Partly as a result of that, the UN General Assembly in 2005 passed a resolution establishing the UN’s ‘Responsibility to Protect’ which gave the UN the responsibility to use “appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means …to help protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”


?But the international response remains tragically slow. The Darfur war in western Sudan reached its peak in 2004, almost a decade after Rwanda’s genocide. Estimates of the deaths caused by the war range from 200,000-400,000. Some 2.5m people have been chased from their homes and into camps. Almost all UN and human-rights groups’ reports hold the Khartoum government responsible for the vast majority of deaths and displacements. ?


The response was inchoate and dilatory. The AU started with a monitoring mission protected by 300 soldiers as the UN began a long deliberation, commissioning several investigations into the Darfur crisis.


Rhetoric saves no one


?Western rhetoric was far more strident than the quiescent approach to Rwanda in 1994, when President Bill Clinton’s administration barred officials from describing the killings as genocide for fear that it would compel the US to intervene. ?


There is little argument about the extent of the Darfur crisis, but there is fierce debate about whether it was right for the UN Security Council to mandate the ICC to investigate the killings there.


?Nick Grono, a director of the International Crisis Group sees the arrest warrant as a “welcome and crucial step towards challenging impunity that has worsened conflict in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan”. Grono says that Khartoum might look for a way out by making tactical concessions and stalling for time, and argues that the ICC should make it clear that it will investigate those responsible for violence against peacekeepers, aid agencies and people in camps.?


Many diplomats opt for a pragmatic approach. President George Bush’s Sudan envoy, Andrew Natsios, says he changed his policy because hostility did not work: “The best way for Washington to proceed is not by confronting Khartoum but by engaging it… Moral outrage is no substitute for practical policies aimed at saving lives and promoting stability.”?


Ultimately, it is the Sudanese who will decide, and they are keeping their counsel. Southern Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has pointedly not attended any of the state-sponsored warrant protest rallies. None doubt that many opponents of the regime are quietly celebrating the ICC’s action.


?For now, southern politicians want to hold Beshir and his allies to the north-south peace accord which provides for national elections this year and a referendum on southern independence in 2011. If Khartoum starts to tamper with that schedule, using the warrant crisis as a pretext, then there will be a high risk of the country slipping back towards the killing fields of 2004. 


Ghana: World Bank lecture spoils the party mood


Ghana fiscal and current account balancesThe World Bank found itself at the centre of local politics in January with the leaking of a letter from its country director, Ishac Diwan, to newly inaugurated President John Atta Mills, warning him of the “difficult financial situation Ghana finds itself it.” Diwan’s letter argued that Ghana’s fiscal and trade deficits were dangerously high and told Mills that the Bank had “grave concerns” about Ghana’s financial position.?


Tackling the twin deficits should be an urgent priority, in the view of the Bank, “to avoid a socially painful financial crisis”. The letter also pointed out that the outgoing New Patriotic Party (NPP) government under President John Kufuor had used the proceeds of the country’s $750m eurobond floated in September 2007 to finance current expenditure, something it had pledged not to do.?


Diwan’s letter immediately became a political weapon. The incoming government said it illustrated the extent of the Kufuor government’s mismanagement and lack of accountability. But the Kufuor team furiously dismissed it as an “utter misrepresentation of the NPP’s record”. Indeed, some NPP hardliners demanded Diwan’s immediate recall to Washington for “conduct unbecoming”.?


It is a fact that the fiscal deficit rose to 14% of GDP and the trade deficit spiralled to 17% under the Kufuor government. Now the Bank calculates that several politically unpalatable remedial measures will be required, such as a three-year freeze on public-sector wages, the ending of subsidies on electricity and a freeze in infrastructure projects. All of that will be anathema to the more than 4m people who voted for President Mills. 


Back to Ghana, The economic battle comes to parliament 


Sokari Douglas Camp: All the world is now richer


Nigerian metal sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp’s works are big and bold. She infuses them with the spirit of Nigerian life, especially the politics of the Niger Delta


Whether it is a 20-foot-high steel palm tree or a 30-foot-long ghost ship, Nigerian sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp’s work attacks the senses. From her studio in London’s Elephant and Castle, Sokari Douglas Camp creates works that have a striking beauty and provide a biting satire of Western mores. But it is Douglas Camp’s depictions of the Niger Delta – her poignant giant steel figures brandishing AK-47s or the tragic figure of a woman commiting suicide to attract attention amid the mayhem – that are making an aesthetic and political impact around the world. As the legal campaign to secure compensation from oil companies for the despoliation of the Delta steps up in April with a landmark court case opening in the New York, a group of artistic activists known as Platform are trying to raise funds to secure a permanent site in London to mount Douglas Camp’s monument to the environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed for his campaign against the devastation wrought by the oil companies, a steel bus emblazoned with the legend in ghostly lights: “The oil companies are practising genocide against the Ogoni people.”

Sokari on Sokari


The sculptor analyses
three of her pieces. 
Read more.


??The Africa Report: Your work covers varied topics from Western mores to these reliefs that hark back to Nigeria’s past.


?SOKARI DOUGLAS CAMP: Those reliefs are me just trying to get away from war, oil, pollution and all of the things I have talked about for years. I just came to a point where I said, enough of this violence. So, all last year I spent just making beautiful things. I came across a piece called ‘King and Queen’ in Nigeria, the artwork was gorgeous and at the bottom it had the Yoruba words which mean: “Don’t laugh at me because I have tried.” And I thought it was just wonderful, my whole life is like that, so this is my version of the Nigerian ‘King and Queen’. It echoes the Benin bronzes. ???What are you working on at the moment??The whole piece is called ‘All the World is Now Richer’. It is to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade. There are six figures, which look a bit like the Magnificent Seven. They are supposed to be striding away from a field of words and the words say: “From our rich ancestral life, we were bought, sold and used, but we were brave, we were strong, we survived. All the world is now richer.” It is to celebrate our black heritage. And the first man that you said is magnificent is dressed in a wrap instead of a Wilberforce loincloth or shorts that they only put black folk in. And he is not on his knees, he is standing and walking. That is the idea, that you are going somewhere even though you have been through hell or whatever black folk went through to create so much in the West.??


How much have you exhibited in Africa?


In Africa, not much... this year is the first time I am being shown in South Africa. I worked in Zimbabwe on one of these triangle workshops and I left a piece of work there. Those stone sculptors kept on shouting at me everyday, saying I was damaging the metal and teasing me... It was quite fun and it changed my style of work. ??


What did you think of Nigeria when you were young?


?I didn’t grow up in Nigeria, I was one of these air-mail children. I was posted to school. I was brought up by my brother-in-law, who is professor Robin Horton, an English anthropologist who is still in the Delta today. I was brought up by this guy who married my eldest sister. Whilst I was living with them, my sister died. And this chap considered that he still wanted to have ties to my family and he decided to bring me up, which is a fairly natural thing to do in Nigeria, but I think in English culture it was odd, especially since I was a girl. But I spent time in Nigeria with extraordinary anthropologists and writers and choreographers and things, stepping in and out of the house, talking about their loves and things, and on various campuses in Nigeria. It was at the time of Nigeria’s renaissance, when there were amazing things happening, so all of that had an influence on my life. My father did not play much of a role in my life but my mother did. My father liked his children while we were children but once we could say anything back, he thought that we weren’t very good. He was a nice guy really. ??


At what stage did you decide to sculpt?


?In my teens. I liked sculpture, there was a lot of taboo about sculpture. Painting was bad enough, you know, ‘What are you doing? Drawing all the time, how can you make money with that? Be a nurse or a doctor or accountancy, you know. But sculpture, what the hell is that? Are you making magic?’ I had all kinds of conversations with my family. I never told them I did sculpture until 1987 when I became resident artist at the Africa Centre in London. And then I brought my whole village over. I thought that it was important for people to see the kind of art that I was excited about. I have great pictures of these guys on Georgian streets in the middle of London with masquerade costume. You know, Calabari people mix their dress . . . our tartan comes from Madras, but the Calabari men also wear things that are a bit like Victorian night shirts.


??Do you strike a balance between Western and African traditions?


?It is so difficult, isn’t it? I don’t try to find a balance. I don’t like pissing contests actually, and there is a lot of that in British art at the moment. There are so many important things to talk about, that seem to slip into my work more than just the pleasure of art. But you know, I am totally immersed in the pleasure of art, because you know that is my forte. I love the fact that I can make something like a bus that has words on it. The words that are written on the outside reflect on the inside the correct way around so that the words I have written – “The oil companies are practising genocide against the Ogoni people” – are playing around the inside as if Ken’s spirit is somehow doing something in there. That is magic. ??


Your art highlights the crisis in the Delta – is there a way out? Can art help?


?Some of these boys that are kidnapping and bunkering are educated graduates, they know exactly what they want. If art could create some kind of industry, that would be good, but these are bright guys that could be accountants, but they have seen so much money by kidnapping or bunkering. It is almost past the point of no return. I do think that a version of Ken’s bus could be put in trouble spots and used as a sort of a slogan. To have a symbol like that in various towns... to re-educate and to help regenerate would be great. I mean, they keep having these things when they call these militants or boys in to supposedly talk to them, but as soon as these guys turn up, they arrest the small chaps. What kind of reconciliation is that? Everyone listens to this and just shakes their head. What can they do?


Editorial: Credit-crunch politics


“Cui bono?” a FRIEND asked pointedly while we were waiting for Ghana’s election results in one of Accra’s more popular hotels. He was of that generation of Ghanaians who had spent their formative years declining Latin nouns and translating Virgil’s Aeneid. “Why the winner of course, that’s who benefits!” I replied impatiently.


?“Not our election, the bigger picture. Look at it all – crashing oil prices weaken Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Russia’s oligarchs are ruined as the gas price heads south and what chance for China’s plans to outstrip the US economy by 2025 when it’s closing factories and sacking millions of workers. And American workers are rejoicing as their fuel prices tumble. Cui bono?” he boomed.?


As other hotel guests, bored with waiting for the results, turned to listen to this high- volume exposition, my friend warmed to his conspiratorial theme. The credit crunch, he insisted, was a put-up job by the few surviving investment banks: they had made huge profits and huge errors, so they invented a huge crisis to cover it up and then got the outgoing Republican administration to bail them out with hundreds of billions of dollars. ??


“And why should Africa have to pay for this nonsense?” he concluded rhetorically. Like many, he was hopeful that after a decade of economic growth and a few good elections, such as Ghana’s, that Africa was turning the corner. Now Africa’s plans were put on hold because of great power shenanigans, and its good economic prospects would be reversed.?


His audience quickly divided into conspiracy buffs buying into his theory and rationalist opponents who argued that economic interdependence meant everybody’s boats would be sinking in the credit crunch.?


China needed its mass sales to the US market, while the US, as the world’s biggest debtor, needed Chinese finance, the gainsayers concluded. They are locked in each other’s embrace. “Ah, but who wins at the end of the day?” flashed back the conspiratorialists.?


That the credit crunch changes everyone’s political calculations, at least, is beyond dispute. It was Barack Obama’s reaction to the evolving crisis that enabled him to pull so decisively ahead of John McCain in last year’s US elections. And it was John Atta Mills’s selective borrowings from the Obama electoral lexicon that gave him an edge over his rival Nana Akufo-Addo in Ghana’s cliff-hanger elections. Like Obama, Atta Mills won support by spelling out how the economic slowdown would hit the voters’ living standards and how change would help them. ??


We will hear a lot about change from politicians this year. In Ghana, ‘change’ is local slang for a tip or gratuity. And in South Africa, the ANC’s embattled Jacob Zuma promises change and better conditions for those left without jobs and decent houses amid the post-apartheid transformation. But with South Africa’s economic growth forecast to slow drastically as capital inflows decline, Zuma will struggle to deliver. The impact of the global slowdown will not be lost on the ANC’s new rivals in the Congress of the People.?


Other Southern African ruling parties facing elections – in Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia – have to tackle the credit-crunch effect, whether falling oil prices for Angola or crashing demand for Botswana’s and Namibia’s diamonds, or falling aid and tourism receipts for the others. And in West Africa’s Guinea, junior officers have mounted the first credit-crunch coup with over $10bn in mining investments at stake.?


Credit-crunch politics will mean weaker economies and harder-pressed ruling parties across Africa, slower GDP and export growth, wobblier currencies, lower investment and higher government borrowing. Opposition parties are gearing up for heroic election struggles this year, taking Ghana as their model. For them, harder times may mean more votes. That’s the change they can believe in.


Two scenarios for Africa

The high road and the low road for African economies 

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Obama's foreign policy team


Although Barack Obama won support for his stance against the Iraq war, foreign policy was meant to be the strength of his Republican opponent John McCain, who backed the invasion. To counter McCain, the Obama campaign built up a team led by policy professionals Susan Rice and Anthony Lake, both of whom served in ex-President Bill Clinton’s administration and have extensive experience in Africa. Rice was assistant secretary of state for Africa and Lake was national security advisor during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to majority rule.


?Lake introduced Obama to the diplomatic circuit about four years ago, after which Obama quickly assembled a group of advisors from a wide range of backgrounds: veteran diplomat and ex-ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson; Samantha Power, the author of the seminal analysis of genocide A Problem from Hell and a campaigner on Darfur; former navy secretary Richard Danzig; and retired Air Force major general Scott Gration, who grew up in Africa.?


Washington insiders tip Richardson for secretary of state and Rice for the national security advisor; and there is competition for the assistant secretary of state for Africa post – given the President is expected to have a special interest in it. In the running are the two co-chairs of the Obama campaign’s Africa policy group: Michelle Gavin and Witney Schneidman. Among the professional diplomats there is support for former ambassador to Nairobi, Johnnie Carson. Stephen Morrison, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is also in the running.


Back to Obama: enter the great communicator


Editorial: The Kogelo-Washington Axis

The jubilation greeting Barack Obama’s election to the US presidency was as loud in Africa as it was at the victory rally in Grant Park, Chicago. The triumph of Obama, the grandson of Mama Sarah of Kogelo in western Kenya, is a dynamic new axis between Africa and the US. The people of Kogelo, who were connected to Kenya’s national electricity grid for the first time to watch the election results, believe they are already seeing tangible benefits from the association.


?Obama’s success may have other effects too. Voters in different countries can assess the chances of a youngish politician of modest means from a minority group becoming their head of state: nowhere in Europe leaps to mind; it’s unlikely in Asia and, sadly, all too improbable in Africa.??


Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. on 20 January will nevertheless be a joyous moment for Africa and the US, a celebration of his dual heritage and also of the universal ideals of liberté, fraternité et égalité. The hard policy calculations are already being made. As Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told The Africa Report, Obama’s first duty will be to promote American interests even if he has much more knowledge and experience of Africa than his predecessors. Odinga wants Africa to receive more attention as a place for investment than as a humanitarian case. ?


Taking over a US Treasury that has just bailed out recalcitrant banks to the tune of over $700bn and financed a $1trn war in Iraq, the Obama administration will not be sprinkling largesse in Africa. But the new economic strategists could cut some of the subsidies that rich countries pay to their farmers, which suppress the world price of Africa’s agricultural exports. If the US gives a lead, the more serious subsidy violators in Europe and Japan would be under pressure to follow. ??


Foreign policy advisors around Obama have long-dismissed George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ concept and speak of a more nuanced and multilateral approach to crises. Sudan and Somalia will be near the top of the Africa priority list. Both urgently need heavyweight diplomacy, hard-headed political analysis and well-targeted development funds. Obama has already made commitments on material and diplomatic support for the peacekeepers in Darfur. The credibility of Washington’s commitment to punish war criminals would be boosted if the US finally signed up to the International Criminal Court.?


Inevitably, the Obama era will nurture the ties of the more than 30m African-Americans with the mother continent: this offers a great opportunity for African businesses to bring in the investment, technology transfer and research capability that is so badly needed.


??Such possibilities could light up the continent as Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports with a detailed analysis from Atlanta of the Obama win. Our correspondent in Johannesburg, William Gumede, tells the cautionary tale of the ructions in the African National Congress; as the political landscape changes, an exciting election looms in early 2009.?


Elections in Ethiopia have been more troubled still but Premier Meles Zenawi insists in an exclusive interview with The Africa Report that there will be no repeat in the next elections of the violence that left about 200 dead after the 2005 polls. From Harare, Charles Rukuni and Christopher Thompson report on prospects for resolving the political stalemate and economic meltdown. Oladipo Salimonu reads the political tea-leaves in Nigeria. ?


Attacking a broader canvas, Managing Editor Nicholas Norbrook and Editorial Assistant Gemma Ware go in search of the effects of the West’s financial crisis and reach unexpected conclusions, with the help of senior experts and economists. Finally, our pièce de résistance is the 53 country-by-country analysis of Africa’s prospects in 2009.


African roots and Africa policy


Kenya’s prime minister Raila Odinga has already tried to inject some realism into Africa’s hope for an Obama presidency: “He is first and foremost answerable to US voters, maybe under him Africa will receive more attention in US foreign policy.” Odinga hopes he will be able to persuade Obama to offer fairer trade agreements to Africa, and also nudge the recalcitrant Europeans and Japanese in that direction.


?The clearest ideas on Obama’s foreign policy come from a security strategy edited by former assistant secretary of state for Africa, Susan Rice. It lists counter-terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change and oil dependence as top policy priorities, of which three are of key concern to Africa.


?There is also likely to be a sweeping reorganisation of foreign aid agencies in Washington, perhaps with the creation of an international development post at cabinet level. Given budgetary pressures, few believe an Obama administration will spend more on aid but it will try to spend it more effectively.?


With campaigners on Darfur such as Rice and Samantha Power on board, an Obama administration is likely to proceed more determinedly on Sudan: the campaign pledged to provide the UN/AU mission with helicopters and more surveillance capacity as well as to give backing to a ‘no-fly zone’ over western Sudan.


Back to Obama: enter the great communicator

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