Tuesday, 31 January 2012

One Continent, two 'African Unions'.

One Continent, two 'African Unions'.
By Takura Zhangazha.*

The failure by the African Union to elect a new chairperson for  its Commission on January 30 this year points to a seriously divided continental body.  Had this been an election merely  based on the popularity or campaign skills of the two candidates (Mr. Jean Ping and Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) it would not warrant analysis beyond its own occurrence.  

Unfortunately for us, as Africans, it has greater ramifications for the current and future context of the AU and other sub-regional bodies such as SADC, ECOWAS and EAC (East African Community). It is also a development that has had the added consequence of embarrassing Africa in the world by casting doubt on the ability of our African leaders to recognize the seriousness of the challenges the continent is facing.

Furthermore it indicates an unfortunate leadership deficit at the highest level  due to the AU’s failure to arrive at consensus on as basic an issue such as who should chair the Commission (a body which to all intents purposes is meant to be run by general consensus of  member states)

So now, there shall have to be second round of voting in June 2012 at the Malawi AU Summit.  While it is yet to be seen whether  Jean Ping and Dlamini-Zuma will again be considered as candidates,  it is almost certain that their camps will be the more mobilised to ensure that their proxies acquire the chairperson-ship.

The closeness of the vote, (29 for Ping, 23 for Dlamini-Zuma in the third round) indicates that a compromise candidate is well nigh impossible for either camps, unless it is literally a statesman/woman of great respect on the continent (such leaders are becoming extinct). The reason for this is that it seems there are vested interests in either candidate that are informed by both a ‘new scramble for Africa[1]and its attendant ‘falsely universal liberal intervention’ doctrine from the West.  This is particularly true for the Ping camp which has been referred to as being dominated by former French colonies.

On the other hand, the Dlamini-Zuma camp, which is distinctly  dominated by Southern and East African countries, is informed (surprisingly so) by the Mbekite African Renaissance project (though they won’t admit it) , which has as its dictum, ‘African solutions for African problems’. This approach has been revived by what is now seen as the embarrassing ouster and murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi with the direct assistance of NATO and the consent  of the African Union. It is also an approach that has the backing of Russia and China who are involved in their own ‘new scramble for Africa’.

So as it is, it appears as though there are now two versions of the African Union even though this does not mean they did not exist before. It had to take the election of an AU Commission Chairperson for the divisions to become more apparent. In the process, Africa has now allowed itself to continue being a hapless battleground for the global powers, with either side of the AU playing to one superpower gallery or the other.

It is however the consequences of a sharply divided AU that are depressing. In the first instance, it means that for the next fife months, Africa will not speak with one voice when it comes to addressing continental and global challenges such as the crisis of global capitalism, human rights, the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and climate change.  Even if there was to be agreement on paper on issues such as the Somalia famine and war, there will be limited political will to put such plans into action.

As a result the five or so months until the next elective AU summit are going to be preoccupied by lobbying trips on the part of the ‘two AU’s’ to try and get their new candidates endorsed by the majority votes required. This lobbying will also involve regular communication and currying of favours with (if not visits)  either the West or the East.

The second negative  effect of the divisions in the AU relates to the global impression that African leaders are incapable of doing things on their own and must therefore be ‘assisted’ to overcome their problems and challenges.  The reinforcement of this perspective is reminiscent of the colonial narratives of the ‘dark continent’ which is there to be ‘enlightened’, can only learn from the West  and simultaneously be exploited for its natural and human resources. 

All of this will be couched in a language of 'universalism' that has as its base the false assumption that Africa’s historical trajectory can only now follow the path of the West and  as some western academics put it, arrive at the liberal democratic and free market ‘end of history’. 

But perhaps there is a silver lining to the cloud that is hovering over the continent at the moment. And this silver lining is premised on the possibility that after this recent  AU summit, our leaders will reassess the damage they are doing to our continent and get their act together by the time they meet in Malawi in June this year. And  we can only hope that at the Malawi AU summit, they will recall the words of the great Kwame Nkrumah, ‘Africa Must Unite!’

[1] See also Southall R, Melber H (eds)2009. A new Scramble for Africa? Imperialism Investment and Development, UKZN Publications, South Africa. 

*Please acknowledge that this article was sourced from takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

In reply to ‘ You lazy (Intellectual) African Scum’

In reply to ‘ You lazy (Intellectual) African Scum’
By Takura Zhangazha.

A number of friends recently forwarded a link to a popular blogsite titled ‘You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!’ to my email inbox. It's written by a Zambian doctoral student based in the United States of America, a Mr. Field Ruwe. It has an anecdotal beginning wherein it offers a real or imagined scenario about an assumedly black African sitting next to a white American on an aeroplane ride from Los Angeles to Boston.  It turns out that the white American has worked extensivley in Africa and spent a lot of time in Zambia(he even knows the nickname of Zambian President Sata!)

What follows as one reads further is what I would hazard to call ‘bar-stool’ conversation. The white expatriate who is referred to as Walter, explains much to the initial shock and then eventually ‘deification’ acceptance of his one person African audience everything that is assumedly wrong with African society, intellectuals and African political leaders. 

On the face of it, the observations made by 'Walter' are premised on assumptions of ‘hard facts’ or alternatively a ‘let’s cut the white/black man nonsense’ and look at facts. The underlying truth however is that 'Walter’s' arguments are made on the very same basis, i.e a white man lecturing an assumed ahistorical black figure on the comparative historical successes of ‘western civilization’. 

All this done with the seeminlgy neat caveat that it is completely the fault of the Africans that they are where they are today. 

And to make 'Walter’s' argument seemingly insurmountable and beyond reproach, he invokes the now ubiquitous comparison of what the Japanese, Chinese and Indians have done to play ‘catch-up’ with the Western world. Never mind the fact that the historical trajectories of these  three countries  have been profoundly different from those of Africa.  

 In any event it is an argument that dismisses Africa’s historical arrival at where it is in favour of substituting the making of African history for a Western trajectory. So much so to the extent that it would not be surprising had Mr. Ruwe’s ‘Walter’ character insisted that Africa first undergo not only an industrial/ technological  revolution a-la-carte the West but ensure that the same is 'teleologically' accompanied by a couple of World Wars (with the attendant horrific genocides) as well as never ending  ‘war’s on terror’ against one ‘bloc’ or the other from the global east. 

Knowing my colleagues as I do, they probably forwarded the link to me because while they might find  some of the blog’s contents unpalatable, they are probably drawn to what they think are some valid points. Particualry if the argument entails moving away from the syndrome of blaming the ‘Western other’  in dealing with the challenges that Africa and Africans are facing continentally and globally. 

In fact, Mr. Ruwe’s  friend goes into a semi-confessional mode where after the ‘real or imagined’ berating and denigrative lecture from ‘Walter’, he undertakes a serious self whipping act of contrition. 

After which, he then offers advice to Zambian President Mr. Sata not to be ‘highly strung’ by ‘Walter’.
This contrition however has a ‘technological’ catch to it wherein Mr. Ruwe argues “Knowing well that King Cobra will not embody innovation at Walter’s level let’s begin to look for a technologically active-positive leader who can succeed him after a term or two. That way we can make our own stone crushers, water filters, water pumps, razor blades, and harvesters. Let’s dream big and make tractors, cars, and planes, or, like Walter said, forever remain inferior.”  And therein lies the fundamental problem with the argumentation. 

Its premise is too embedded in a wrong assumption that Africans  are ‘inferior’ because they do not make tractors, cars, planes and razor blades even (in fact we do make cars or contribute significantly to the making of them, even though we might not have been the first to invent them).   

We might not be as technologically savvy as our Western compatriots but we are not here to be judged inferior as human beings by them on the same basis either. If that is the case, we might as well all manufacture nuclear weapons. 

Our challenges may be more numerous but in some instances are not any more different than those of our compatriots in the West. That they hide their societal challenges from full purview does not mean the same challenges are in any less need of redress.  

Contrary to the assertions of ‘Walter’, we are all equal as human beings. Wholesale judgements of the success or failure of a continent have rarely been made elsewhere save with regard to the ‘native’ African and the African continent. To seek to perpetuate such judgements is borderline acquiescence to racist stereotypes of our continent. It can only be viewed as an unfortunate attempt at the ‘prejudicial truth'. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Mbeki’s problematic take on the ‘democratization of knowledge’

Mbeki’s problematic take on the ‘democratization of knowledge’.
By Takura Zhangazha
On Monday January 16 2012,  former South African President Thabo Mbeki made a key note opening presentation on the ‘Democratisation of knowledge: The Role of knowledge in the Betterment of society’ at a conference held under the same theme by the University of  Stellenbosch Business School in South Africa.  It was a presentation  that on the face of it appears either too philosophical or too abstract to rouse the public interest. 

 The former point is probably the more prominent given the fact that Mr. Mbeki no longer holds influential political office neither has he stated any intention to do so again.  Regardless, the truth of the matter is that the pursuit, acquisition, production and dissemination of knowledge is at the heart of human existence. And this makes not only the presentation by Mr. Mbeki  but the convening of the Stellenbosch conference itself relevant to our time.

In his presentation it is evident that the former South African president is alive to this fact.  In being so, he accuses those in positions of global political, socio-economic  and financial influence of essentially creating ‘false knowledge’ around internationally important issues. These include what he perceives to have been knowledge dishonesty about the war in Iraq, the NATO intervention in Libya, the global financial crisis and the ‘H1N1’ flu outbreak amongst other examples he gives of 'false knowledge'. 

As would be expected the South African media immediately latched on to the issue of how in his speech Mr. Mbeki argued that ‘false knowledge’ caused the downfall of former Libyan leader Muammar Gadafi . But to dwell on this point might miss  the central arguments in his presentation.

The interesting aspects of Mr. Mbeki’s argumentation is not only to be found in the examples he cites such as the ones I have referred to above. Instead they are also found in the emphasis  he makes concerning the undemocratic nature of knowledge production in the world in the political, economic and natural science spheres of global existence.  

Indeed most of this knowledge is generated in the West with Africa generally following  rather blindly and with complicity in the former's footsteps.  And this is perhaps where the former South African president begins to mix up his argument and begins to muddle the progressive points that he essentially intends to make.

This is because outside of the broad framework presented by Mbeki, there is the primary problem of Africa’s acquiescence to Western hegemony, either via its own leaders or it’s inability to persuasively address its fundamental challenges with a demonstration of understanding the continents placement in world history or in contemporary times.

As an example of the acquiescence that I mention, after his address Mr. Mbeki demonstrated a disdain for the social media platform twitter and partly defined it as an inadequate platform for engagement with knowledge for the improvement of societies. In short, he thinks it is a poor substitute for knowledge production or dissemination. Such an argument is a case of too little too late because the internet and social media platforms are increasingly popular (across Africa) methods of disseminating information on knowledge that all world governments tend to want to keep from their citizens.

 And this is where the issue of hegemony reverts. The primary challenge in seeking to ‘democratize knowledge production’  is not so much  a political solution as it is a holistic (cultural, technological, economic  and historical) one. The internet is not intended to undermine ‘genuine’ knowledge, it is a product that accentuates access to knowledge.  For the African, the primary problem is ‘who’s knowledge is it anyway?’ And why does a sizable proportion of our continental population take to this knowledge as do ducks to water? 

It is also clear that in his argumentation, Mr. Mbeki skirts  the challenge that  ‘mimicry’ in the process of acquiring, pursuing or even refusing knowledge has presented to independent African states. By mimicry I refer to the general enthusiasm shown by the majority of Africa’s post independence leaders to generate a culture of seeking to arrive at being viewed as equals with the knowledge ‘gate-keeping’ western other. And once satisfied they have 'arrived', not seeking to go any further or create new consciencious African centers of knowledge. This was done largely at the expense of seeking solutions that had context and true application to African circumstances.

An example of this was the simple shift by African leaders and liberation movements from being negotiators with both the capitalist bloc and the socialist bloc to becoming lackeys of the former via economic structural adjustment programmes and an opportunistic embrace of neo-liberalism. To that extent, where former president Mbeki correctly argues about the undemocratic nature of the dissemination, sharing and distribution of knowledge, he is at risk at doing so without a holistic summary of the historical challenges and African leadership complicity around the same.

And its understandable why he has avoided that particular issue. It would in part indict him, the ANC and other African liberation movements or governments. The indictment would not in any way undermine their respective triumphs, but it may in the end indicate that in the aftermath of our collective African independence victories, we have continued swaying from the revolutionary path in search for knowledge that benefits us temporarily and undermines our equality as knowledge producing global citizens. In short, we have failed to negotiate for knowledge and with knowledge on firm historical and ‘knowledge of selves’ grounding.

We continue to play second fiddle to others  primarily because in our contemporary times, the acquisition of leadership or knowledge in our societies  has been less about what the Guinea- Bissau and Cape Verde leader Amilcar Cabral referred to as the ‘return to the revolutionary path’ of making our own history. Instead, and tragically so, it has focused too much on seeking to demonstrate an ability to make a post-independence  history that is all too similar to that of those who today have continued to orchestrate a dictatorship of knowledge.
Ends//Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity and this article first appeared on http://takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com/. Please acknowledge this.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Anticipating the 2012 African Cup of Nations with pride and anxiety for Sport in Africa.

Anticipating the 2012 African Cup of Nations with pride and  anxiety for Sport in Africa.
 By Takura Zhangazha

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) African Cup of Nations (AFCON) begins on 21 January 2012 in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. It is a tournament that will have many of the participating countries citizens glued to television screens and radio sets in support of their teams. Other football fans of countries that did not qualify may however not be as enthusiastic and understandably  they will fight over the television remote controls arguing about whether to switch to an AFCON or a European league match.

This is because when it comes to the entertainment component of football, fans want many options, even if they are using one television as is the case in most African circumstances. Sometimes however, there is a lot more loyalty to a European club than a national side or even a local premiership side. This is probably because the European Clubs play better football and in any event, football is intended primarily to entertain and in most instances only requires loyalty from fans as an added advantage.

This year’s AFCON is however significant in that it occurs almost two years after South Africa became the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup, a development which, as the same tournament’s slogan had it, was intended to show it is now Africa’s time (it is time!) to enter the world stage of football on an equal footing with the rest of the world.
It has since transpired that we did not gain as much as we thought we would either as Africans or as South Africans. Arguments still remain in South Africa about the benefits of large stadiums that are difficult in the aftermath of the tournament to justify amidst poverty. We can however take comfort in the fact that premier league football is still played in some of the stadiums, though without the capacity crowds. The quality of the game may not improve, but at least for a while it will be played in somewhat modern settings.

And perhaps this is the challenge of not only African football but all major African sports. This being a desire, via hosting important but costly sporting tournaments,  to be seen as being modern and up to international standards albeit temporarily so. The two weeks of football we shall witness in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are worked for over two years, and the moment in the international/continental sun is enjoyed only to leave limited benefits in the aftermath of the games. And of these limited benefits, the most celebrated one is always that of new sporting infrastructure in the form of new stadiums or a new short railway line linking stadiums and improved hotel accommodation (read as improvements in tourism).

These hardly have anything to with the development of the sport in the host country or even for the hosting region or continent, especially if it is viewed as an underdeveloped one. After all the stars leave, there will be a return to complacency in relation to the management of the particular sport and sport in general. An easy example is that of the South African national football team and not only its failure to qualify for this year’s AFCON but the manner in which it did so. This only some eighteen months after their country hosted the FIFA World Cup.
Zimbabwe is an even more disappointing example when one looks at  the manner in which we hosted the All Africa Games in 1995 and built infrastructure  without a longer term comprehensive national sports policy. The end result has been not only dilapidated sports infrastructure and unfinished sporting projects but inefficient sports administration and continued decline in popular participation in various sports disciplines.

In order to mitigate the challenges that come with hosting international tournaments, African sporting associations and governments need to re-think the long term benefits at country, regional and continental level. It is ill-advised to fall into the default mode of arguing that countries  bid to host a tournament for short term gain and expect the long term ones to define themselves later.

And it is not the physical infrastructure that counts. Instead it is the sporting culture and administration that is significantly more important. This includes not only how the tournament is held, but how the relevant sports become an integral part of the socio-economic fabric of the societies that hosted them. From grassroots based training institutions through to national, regional and international competitions that are not only popular but grounded in firm institutions that seek more to serve than to extract raw talent from the African continent.

I will therefore be watching the AFCON 2012 with pride and anxiety. Pride that as Africans we continue with the international traditions of the beautiful game that is football. The anxiety  for the future is that the two weeks of sporting competition will once again, leave us the poorer in the development of our sport as countries and as a continent.
Ends//Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity and this article first appeared onhttp://takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com/. Please acknowledge this

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

COPAC’s constitutional reform by disputed mathematical reports.

COPAC’s constitutional reform by disputed mathematical reports.
By Takura Zhangazha*
The political parties in the inclusive government are generally not known to be scientific or mathematical in their approach to our national politics. Except of late when it comes to the constitutional reform process that is being controversially led by the Parliamentary Select Committee on constitutional reform (COPAC).

On Friday 23 December 2011, the same committee issued what has turned out to be a disputed national report on its findings. In this now disputed report, there are percentage figures that are given on various ‘thematic issues’ based on what are assumedly the findings of the donor driven and politically partisan constitutional outreach process.

This is done by explaining the percentage number of people that agreed to a specific constitutional theme such as whether government executive authority should be vested in the presidency or the prime minister’s office. In this there is the very technical assumption of ‘let the mathematics do the politics’. By dint of the same, this would also mean that we have entered the somewhat unforeseen political phase of the inclusive government’s  ‘constitutional reform by mathematics’. Or to borrow an American phrase,  a ‘do the math’ narrative of constitution making. 

As expected the MDC-T has disputed the veracity of the ‘math’ as presented in the report. In a statement issued just after Christmas, the MDC T strongly refuted the report and  stated that it is not privy to it as a member of COPAC. (The other MDC has via its representative indicated that it to has problems with the report). This essentially means that whoever drafted the report probably has to re-argue the veracity of the same to a now clearly divided COPAC leadership.

Also not to be outdone is the leader of the Zimbabwe National War Veterans Association, Mr. Jabulani Sibanda who has all of a sudden come out shooting from the hip accusing the COPAC drafters of refusing to record what he considers the correct views of the ‘people’. This is to be expected, probably not only from the war veterans but even among the members of COPAC and the GPA principals themselves.

Because some people are curious at the actual contents of the report it would be necessary to outline some of its ‘findings’ in relation to their political import. The report has various thematic areas that it covers by percentage of people in support of a specific clause or item in the constitution. The most politically significant items include that of the claim in the report that close to 80 % of the respondents desire the retention of the executive presidency with the same sort of figure appearing in relation to issues of elections of the president and his/her powers. Approval of having a prime minister is low as it hovers around the 20-30 percentage range in relation to the post as well as its potential powers.

Another clearly politically controversial finding is that which relates to transitional mechanisms in government in the event that a president is incapacitated. Close to 50% of respondents indicated that they would prefer the Vice President to take over, an issue which might be deemed to fit into the problematic succession issue for Zanu Pf.

Other clauses that are significant to measure in the report include the thematic area on land that gives a figure of 63% saying that land reform is now irreversible and another figure of 71 % saying that there should be 99 year leases for landowners and not title deeds. In this, the argument is that the state should own all land that was taken under the land reform programme (73%).

In relation to elections there is a surprising 61 % that would like for there to be a ‘hybrid’ system of ‘first past the post’ and ‘proportional representation’. That is an issue that would most likely lead to a lot of political contestation and politics by literal mathematics in how parliament will be constituted if it is allowed to pass. Another contentious element of the report is that which states that 52% of respondents rejected dual citizenship, an issue that will have a bearing on the Diaspora which has been clamouring for it to become a reality.

There are many other elements in the report that remain controversial but the key political ones are the ones I have attempted to outline above. One would need to separately deal  with issues of women, youth and the bill of rights in a different article in order to do justice to them.

This initial analysis of the disputed COPAC report however indicates that its main ‘results’ retain the current executive authority in the presidency an issue which fits in snugly with what are broader Zanu Pf policies, succession challenges and objectives in their current form. These include matters such as the irreversibility of the land reform programme, the rejection of dual citizenship, the maintenance of the same sort  of powers for the president and the introduction of an electorally convenient ‘hybrid system’ of first past the pot and proportional representation.

And this is probably why the MDCs are disputing this report. It barely takes into account their own policy perspectives. As a result and once again the country’s citizens will watch from the sidelines as the political parties and their principals slug it out as though this were a high school debate, and not a national political process.
*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity and this article first appeared on http://takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com/. Please acknowledge this.