Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Chikane's biased but brave take on Mbeki and Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement.

Chikane's  biased but brave take on Mbeki and Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement.
By Takura Zhangazha *

The former director general in the South African office of the Presidency, Reverend Frank Chikane has recently published an interesting if not controversial book. The title of the book, Eight Days in September. The Removal of  Thabo Mbeki  is indicative of its content and story line. In reading the book, it seems that there are two main perspectives that Reverend Chikane makes apparent in his writing.

The first perspective being that the ouster of Mr. Mbeki from the office of the presidency of South Africa was, on the basis of procedure, unconstitutional. In fact, Chikane makes reference to it being at one point or the other having been referred to in some circles as a potential ‘coupe de tat.’  He however avers that it was Mbeki’s revolutionary leadership that seems to have saved the day as the latter did not utilize the constitutional options open to him by ‘magnanimously’ following instructions from the African National Congress (ANC) post Polokwane leadership. 

This, according to the author, was because Mbeki was aware of the necessity of unity within his party and not being seen to be acting in his own personal interests. This is an issue that is also raised within the context of the author warning that it was evidence of the ANC taking over the role of the South African Parliament and therefore blurring the distinction between a sitting government and a ruling party’s leadership.
The second point that is put across in the book is that Mbeki’s presidency seems to have made the wrong sort of impression internationally, particularly with global powers. While Chikane does not claim any direct hand in the role of these same said global powers in the ouster of Mbeki, he mentions more than once that he was worried over the safety of the then president.  The argument given is that the former president’s foreign policy was rubbing a number of former colonial powers and international pharmaceutical companies the wrong way.  In this argumentation, Mbeki is compared to Ghana’s founder Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah ( with a chapter dedicated to this comparison).

For Zimbabweans however, this book will be of particular interest in that the author makes reference to the fact that the week that the Zimbabwe’sGlobal Political Agreement (GPA)  was signed, was the same week in which a ANC National Executive Council meeting to recall Mbeki was  scheduled to take place. In mentioning this Chikane argues that the South African media sought more to focus on statements attributed to the post Polokwane ANC  leadership concerning the matter of ‘recalling’ Mbeki from the office of president of South Africa than the foreign policy triumph that was the Zimbabwean GPA. 

Reference is also made in the book to statements attributed to former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer.  In the referred to statements, Frazer is quoted as denouncing  the GPA, a development that the author hints to as being part of the unfortunate lexicon of the vilification of Mbeki’s foreign policy.  The author makes it clear that he views the GPA as a major African diplomatic success (under the mediation of Mbeki)   and further emphasizes that there were other vested global interests that sought to impose a leadership on the people of Zimbabwe.

For any Zimbabwean, this is a controversial point on its own given the fact that there are divergent views  on Mbeki’s role in the formulation of the GPA, particularly from the leaders of the political parties that constitute the inclusive government. What is apparent however is that it is time for Zimbabweans to assess the role and legacy of the GPA, Mbeki and SADC as the country anticipates elections by March 2013.  This is why Chikane’s take on Mbeki’s ouster is probably an important book for those that seek to understand the progression and politics of the inclusive government established under Mbeki’s mediation. 
This is because while Chikane writes mainly for a South African audience, his assessment of the Zimbabwean crisis and the remedies sought via Mbeki’s role remain important. Indeed the Reverend may be viewed as arguing more in defence of Mbeki but that does not mean his views are dismissible. This is particularly so given the fact that author served as cabinet secretary to Mbeki for both of the latter’s terms as South African president. 

What is however of greater significance to Zimbabweans is the necessity of beginning to assess the impact of the GPA in the broadest and particular political performance terms. This should not necessarily be done within the ambit of Chikane’s opinion of the same, but in aide of a much more honest political assessment of what have been the advantages and disadvantages of the GPA.  

This is even more important because the inclusive government has come full circle and at best, barring an amendment to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, will come to a conclusion in the first quarter of 2013. While I may not be in a position to make the rather extravagant comparison of Mbeki with Nkrumah, we are all well within our right to measure whether the former’s legacy should be accorded the recognition that Chikane seems so keen on.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Africa is not a movie script Mr. George Clooney!

Africa is not a movie script Mr. George Clooney!
By Takura Zhangazha.

American Hollywood celebrities are good to watch in the movies or the television series that are now available on many African television channels that would want to capture the attention of a decent audience. In recent years, like celebrity sportspersons, they are now also involved with international humanitarian organizations efforts (such as UNICEF) in increasing global awareness of the many disasters that afflict our shared global world.

Some  Hollywood celebrities may have however probably decided that it is not enough to just be Goodwill Ambassadors for these  important international relief organizations. On occasion they have decided to wade into the choppy waters that are those of ‘liberal interventionism’ in aide of one political cause or the other. The latest example of such a celebrity has been the famous American actor, George Clooney, who seems to have made it a personal endeavor  to represent some of the people of Sudan at the highest levels of international diplomacy and/or American government.

Recent reports indicate that he was arrested, with others, in the American capital of Washington DC while on a picket about the civil war in the Nuba region of Sudan (not to be mistaken with the Republic of South Sudan). It also turns out he has been involved with issues around the Sudan for some time now, particularly in the Darfur region.   Mr. Clooney’s activism is however not without its own controversies.  An eminent Ugandan academic, Professor Mamdani has previously argued that a campaign on the Sudan that  the actor was involved in was not necessarily based on historical and political fact.

Regardless of these controversies it is a given that Mr. Clooney is within his right to express his opinion on what he perceives to be human rights violations occurring in Sudan.  Indeed the reports of these have been many, but in the aftermath of the Kony 2012 video, it would be necessary to advise the American actor to be cautious of becoming the central public American narrative on the plight of the Nuba region in the Sudan. This is because at this rate, he may become the global spokesperson for the people of Nuba Sudan, particularly those that he insists are facing ‘systematic killing’ in the same country. This while he is in the comfort of his home country. 

It is obviously a role that Mr. Clooney takes very seriously given the fact that he has visited the Nuba region recently and been arrested on behalf of the same region. It is however also indicative of an unfortunate trend wherein famous individuals from the north/west are beginning to exhibit problematic quasi-messianic streaks on behalf of people who might not or will never know who these people ‘fighting’ on their behalf are.

Whereas in the African struggles against colonialism, international attention and acts of solidarity  to repression and human rights violations were generally the collective act of many citizens of the West, the newfound tendency by movie or music celebrities to almost singularly seek to bring attention to contemporary sites of political conflict is borderline ‘feel good’ political activism. It may bring global/American attention to perceived atrocities but in the long run may compromise long term African political solutions to the same. This is because the primary solution to the Sudanese crisis resides in the ability of the Sudanese people to address the crisis in the Nuba region. To seek to bring attention to it in Washington DC is not a bad thing and given the fact I neither have the celebrity status nor the backing of a global power’s media hegemony, I would be mistaken to dismiss his actions outright.  I can however only argue from the point of view of an African.

Mr. Clooney’s actions are instructively indicative of the missionary functions of (colonial ) yesteryear wherein by default , he simultaneously  seeks to claim the moral high-ground on what indeed may be actual human rights atrocities and at the same time do so on the basis of having urgently come from Africa (read as the ‘dark continent’) . This would include, like the missionaries of old, calling upon the all powerful metropolis of origin or center to take to arms and go forth to go save the ‘natives’ by (eventually) conquering  the ‘barbarians’.

Of course Mr. Clooney could not have gone to the African Union immediately as this would be less befitting of his status, and in any event if he has limited locus standi to do so it is least likely he would have pursued that path with as much urgency.

It would however be helpful to instruct Western celebrities that Africa is not a playground for intermittent  demonstrations of their assumed moral or political uprightness when they cannot at the moment demonstrate reasonable commitment to their own country’s poor and disadvantaged. Indeed celebrities like Mr.Clooney are representatives of the global cultural dominance that is Hollywood, but they must understand that while they may mean well, Africa and African problems are best resolved by cooperation and not missionary exhibitionism.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. He is a human rights activist based in Harare, Zimbabwe.  

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Zimbabwe’s Discordant Linkage of Foreign Direct Investment and the National Economy.

Zimbabwe’s Discordant Linkage of Foreign Direct Investment and the National Economy.
By Takura Zhangazha.*
On March 1 and 2 this year, the Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion held an investment workshop in Gauteng Province, South Africa. The    conference was held under the theme ‘Realizing Zimbabwe’s Investment Potential’ and was primed to attract the South African and the broader  international business community to invest in our country. It turns out that the most contentious issue in the aftermath of the conference was that of the government’s policy of indigenization. This being particularly evidenced by the public spat generated when the Minister of Youth, Indigenization and Economic Empowerment, Mr. Kasukuwere referred to statements made by Prime Minister Tsvangirai at the same conference as being characteristic of a ‘lose cannon’. It is probably not only in Zimbabwe where one minister attacks a senior member of cabinet with such brazen vitriol, but that is probably a full indication of how fractured the inclusive government remains.

The bigger issue however is not related to what can only be viewed as a public display of insubordination by Minister Kasukuwere to the office of the Prime Minister. Instead it is to query the motivation of the inclusive government, via the relevant ministry to host an investment conference without being clear within its own cabinet on the short, medium and long term effects of indigenization of the economy. This is because courting the South African and in the same process, the broader international business community to invest in Zimbabwe is obviously a matter that merits a common and collectively responsible  investment  approach from any serious government.

There are three  quick probable  answers as to why the government went ahead with hosting this conference regardless of evident policy disagreements. The first being that  the ministry responsible  probably wanted to be seen to doing the right thing by way of the government work programme. Secondly, there is obviously an intention by the ministry which is run by an MDC-T minister to demonstrate its commitment to what has come to be viewed as the ‘best practice’ courting  of private-public sector partnerships and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

The third reason why cabinet as a collective and with at least four ministers in attendance agreed to host this conference is that Zanu Pf probably wanted to prove a particular political point to both South African business as well as its reluctant  bedfellows in the inclusive government. This being that regardless of the investment conference’s  or international capital’s concerns, it was not going to change its globally controversial indigenization plans. This was a point made even more poignant by the very Minister Kasukuwere’s very public insistence that mining giant, Zimplats concede to ceding shares to the government the same week the investment conference was due to be held.

All these probable and somewhat political reasons are however only symptomatic of a larger problem that faces the ‘matrix’ (to use our Finance Minister’s terminology) of the state, foreign direct investment and the national economy. It is functionally an ‘inorganic ‘matrix thus far into the tenure of the inclusive government. This is  primarily because of its heavy emphasis on the extractive nature of FDI in Zimbabwe without social investment conditionality on those international conglomerates that are being courted. And this, if one takes the examples of the diamond mining industry, has been done with what can reasonably presumed to be collusion between state elites and international mining concerns.  The outcome of these not so clear  deals and mining concessions, has been negligible in relation to progressive societal or public infrastructure  impact. 

To compound matters further, the inclusive government seems over-obssessed with public-private partnerships without clearly delineating the expected broader national development impact of the same. This may be because some ministers are somewhat overkeen on demonstrating their ability to grasp World Bank or IMF concepts even where the same said concepts or strategic economic interventions are inapplicable to our national context or where they have proven to be a failure elsewhere ( a key example is that of biofuel agriculture in Chisumbanje, which has been discredited as disempowering to peasant farmers and damaging to the environment in parts of Latin America). 

The inclusive government, particularly the ministries that are responsible for trade, mining, promoting investment and finance need to learn to drive a much more transparent and publicly accountable FDI bargain. Indeed while the national economy has suffered over the last ten or so years from the flight of investment, it remains necessary that we do not negotiate on a platform of complete desperation for any sort of investment. Be it from the East or the West. 

A firmer FDI negotiation platform would be strongly assisted if the government sets out social responsibility frameworks for potential and current international companies that are in Zimbabwe. This would include making FDI acceptable where it is linked to the development of public infrastructure that will benefit not just the military but also our hospitals, transport networks (especially our national railways) and our education system (with emphasis on transfers of knowledge to Zimbabweans). And in all of this, our ministers must be cautious about seeking international recognition merely because they have come to grasp seemingly complex financial and investment concepts. They must be more focused on our local contexts when they court international capital in order that it also finds progressive meaning to all Zimbabweans and not just those that are in proximity to state power.
*Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity.