Why Africa taking on the West over Mugabe is a Bad Idea

Writing in the South African newspaper Business Day, Thami Mazwai, says that Africans must back up their demands for the West to drop their sanctions against Zimbabwe by detailing what action SADC and the African Union will do if sanctions are not dropped. Mazwai compares the West’s refusal to accept the results to Hamas’ win in Palestine and says that African leaders should unify in the same way they have ‘stood their ground’ on the matter of Omar al-Bashir’s arrest warrant from the ICC.

Fortunately, this view isn’t shared by others at Business Day (above), but it does continue a pan-African narrative that dates to the liberation era which has been co-opted into a pro-dictator narrative in recents times. It builds upon the idea that Africans must unite as a whole in order to fulfill their liberation mission of removing the hold that slavery and colonialism has on the economy and society of the continent. This was an effective communicative technique in the 20th century – Africa was the underdog both before and after colonialism. The need to rally as a cohesive and stronger whole, thus forming a larger bloc of actors at the UN, as part of the Non-Aligned Movement. It also worked in defeating Apartheid South Africa.

But the issues that faced newly liberated African states in the middle of the 20th Century were much simpler than today – climate change, free trade, political development, technological innovation, and health crises don’t have moral imperatives likes slavery and colonialism. These issues are not black and white (the ones that are, such as freedom of expression challenge the domestic govt’s power so those are left to the side).

Mazwai doesn’t recognize this fact in his call to back Mugabe. Africa is not a homogenous nation – while their are theoretical linkages in the societies between similar colonial experiences, a black South African is just as likely to have more in common with a someone from Britain than from Senegal.  Thus, calling for a unified bloc is hard enough but to back a tyrannical leader against punititive sanctions surely would only damage the reputation of African organizations and states further. We must not forget that repercussions still exist from Dictators’ Club of the old OAU and its refusal to condemn auhuman rights abuses.

However,  the narrative in calling for unity behind a fellow African leader resonates for some. This only makes issues worse for Africans on the global stage because of the idea that African states will stand behind each other no matter their transgressions. This damages the moral standing and rhetorical arguments made by African leaders on other issues. If other countries view the African bloc as a unified group that will never condemn one another, Africa’s ability to negotiate and stand firm will be damaged. Similarities abound to how white colonists or slave owners stood together to prevent the end of the system that benefited them.

This is not to say Sub-Sahara Africa countries should not work together – they should. But the issues upon which to form a continental bloc are specific – not the default stance taken by African leaders. To do so would not strengthen Africa’s power in the world, it could set it back even further.

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South Africa’s Trade with Africa is Valued by the BRICS

BRICS logoThis past spring, I heard a lecture by a communications professor about Globalization in Africa. It was a very generic talk, covering many broad issues that concern Africans and policy makers. I was dissappointed to take nothing substantive away from the talk, as I felt it was simply a quick overview of basic themes and topics. However, it was during the second part of his talk, that on South Africa, that I become motivated for my latest paper, Globalization in Emerging Markets United: How South Africa’s Relationship to Africa serves the BRICS (Click here to Read). In no uncertain terms, the professor mitigated South Africa’s involvement in the continent in terms of trade and investment. For someone who claimed to have a special place for the Rainbow Nation in his heart, I was taken aback by the mistatement. Since his talk had contained numerous inaccuracies and misintepretations of South African history, I decided to bite my tongue rather than start a critique on his presentation after the Q&A part began. The talk did provide me an incentive to correct his statement through a research paper that would show how deep South Africa’s involvement with the continent, especially the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Then I would explain that the BRIC countries see this importance and have integrated South Africa into its organization.

The paper starts off by discussing Apartheid South Africa’s interactions with the continent during the time of Total Onslaught and the origins of South African hegemony in the region. It then explains the links through which South Africa and its neighbors are inter-connected by covering certain markets and business sectors that South Africa capital had swept into after the dismantling of anti-apartheid sanctions. The paper then specifially talks about South Africa Telecom by examining the New South Africa poster child for success, MTN, and their continental ventures.

Finally, the paper dives into the formation of the BRICS and South Africa’s invitation to join the organization this spring. By examining trade data from the International Trade Centre, I was able to show how strong South African trade is with the region despite its economy being of much smaller size than it’s new BRICS partners. It turned out to the one of the most empirically based papers I have written to date, but it allowed me to play around with charts and graphs that really made the information come through to visual learners like me.

With this data presented, hopefully a much clearer involvement of South Africa in Africa can be seen. As BRICS membership is likely to change the business and economy of South Africa, this paper would be a useful start for anyone beginning that journey.

Another Call for Assistance for Zimbabwe

If one was to look back through the Archives of this blog, one would find a post where one of the authors of this blog promised a step by step plan for how to help Zimbabwe, instead of the typically useless ‘calls for solidarity’. As the formation of this plan went along, holes began to develop and the whole idea became vastly more complicated and detailed than was originally set out to be. The African File’s now defunct sister site, The Fertile Cresent File, tore into the drafts of this project, and as time went along the situation on the ground continued to change right up to the unity government that was forced upon the MDC and Mugabe by SADC. Since then the world has watched (though less so than in 2008) as the two rivals parties try to form something resembling a functioning government. I had given up on any prescription because the situation seemed to deal more with personalities and certainly a little bit of luck, rather than any post-conflict organizational chart.

Since then, we have had a MDC Minister arrested, Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife has been killed in a traffic accident, and Mugabe has celebrated his 85th birthday.

All of which leads to this article from the Huffington Post by two ICG writers:

International Crisis Group – Sydney Masamvu and Donald Steinberg in The Huffington Post.

I have a few issues with this piece, other than the repeated calls for aid.

First deals with this paragraph:

…failure would likely lead to a new seizure of power by Mugabe and his hardline allies, even greater repression and isolation, and new hardship and abuse for the long-suffering Zimbabwean people.

I think this does quite an unjustice to Mugabe. I mean, it would be awfully hard to top the repression and isolation that has gone on in the country. I would be curious to learn where there were any areas in the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans that wasn’t ‘hard’ already. To suggest that it could be worse, is to suggest that Mugabe hasn’t been at the top of his game. I wonder how he’ll respond to that criticism. 

Second, is the impression that the regional body SADC actually gives a damn about Zimbabwe through the channeling of funds:

The regional grouping of the Southern African Development Corporation (SADC), has recognized the stakes, and is putting its money where its interests are, including through new financial support from South Africa and Botswana. It is time for the broader international community to do the same.

Masamvu and Steinberg realize that these are the only countries that would even have money to contribute, yes? Angola is spending their saved up petro dollars on football stadiums for the next ACN. Mozambique is just getting its budget together after years of actually useful help from the IMF/WB. Zambia is getting poached by vulture funds. Namibia is dealing with water shortages and aid reductions. The DRC is the DRC. Madagascar is suspended, Tanzania has never made a meaningful contribution to regional development lately, and everyone else is too small to have any kind of political or economic impact. Thus to back up a claim that SADC is actually interested in solving Zimbabwe’s crisis by funding through Botswana and South Africa (who are coincidently asking us to help pay), does not really make much sense. On top of that, they include a quote by Tsvangirai saying “Don’t make us pay for working with Mugabe.” They fail to read between the lines of this quote, because what Tsvangirai really means to say is “Don’t make us pay for working with Mugabe….because you made us do it“. SADC thought they had performed their role by holding the firearm in this shot-gun marriage. With their hands now washed of Zimbabwe, they can now blame the MDC and maybe ZANU-PF if and when they screw up.

Finally, to suggest that it is the US/UK refusals to contribute humanitarian assistance as the reason for service failure in Zimbabwe is overstating the effect of Western aid. Nothing short of an invasion by medical personnel, engineers, and teachers would help begin to tackle the challenges faced by the country. To suggest that simply freeing money to support these ventures would cause anything more than a bump in PR rating for the West buys into the antiquated belief that aid can have profound effects on a country simply by giving more and more. Many books have recently been published that should diminish this belief that aid can achieve anything when funneled through sovereign service delivery agencies or that half-ass projects by the UN or the West will cause significant societal changes. People would certainly argue that something is better than nothing, but I would argue quite the opposite. Either invade Zimbabwe with services and personnel, say to the unity government “take seat, you can come back in 10 years” and then commit to a decade long project of education and service improvements, while letting the politicians map out a long-term plan of reconciliation and civic society building, OR let the Zimbabweans figure it out on their own. Anything in the middle will just prolong the final product of a safe and prosperous Zimbabwe.