Category Archives: North Africa

Sudan:politics by declaration

African Arguments
Sudan: politics by declaration – By Magdi el-Gizouli

Posted on August 28, 2014 by AfricanArgumentsEditor

Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the National Umma Party (NUP) and patron of the Ansar brotherhood, held a brief round of talks earlier this month in Paris with leaders of the rebel Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), the umbrella organisation whose main members are the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North (SPLA/M-N), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the two factions of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M). The talks concluded with the signing of political statement by the two sides on 8 August which they chose to name the ‘Paris Declaration’.

From the French capital, Sadiq al-Mahdi flew to Cairo where he hopes to market his new document to an international audience, while the SRF figures, Yasir Arman, secretary general of the SPLA/M-N, and al-Tom Hajo, a former functionary of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), jetted to London to win the favour of Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani, the chief of the DUP and patron of the Khatmiyya brotherhood, resident in the British capital since the bloody protests against the downscaling of fuel subsidies in Khartoum in September 2013. A statement released in Khartoum said al-Mirghani only talked about his health to his visitors.

Sadiq al-Mahdi’s daughter and newly declared deputy, Miriam, made the journey to Khartoum where she was apprehended by the security authorities upon arrival and now awaits presidential clemency or prosecution, depending on the political temperature, in the women’s prison in Omdurman. Her brother, Abd al-Rahman, who serves as President Bashir’s assistant, reportedly advised Miriam to stay put in Paris, and has not even made the gesture of interrupting his duties in the republican palace on the Nile. Rather, he has been busy discussing ‘national dialogue’ with Hassan al-Turabi, his uncle-in-law (husband of his paternal aunt) and chief of the Popular Congress Party (PCP).

The itinerary of its signatories aside, the four-page Paris declaration is the latest incarnation of a trail of documents that brought together the ancestor SPLM and representatives of Khartoum’s political class dating back to the 1980s, with the promise of delivering an agenda and platform for the transformative management of Sudan’s crises. The first of these documents is the March 1986 declaration signed by the SPLA/M and delegates of the National Alliance for National Salvation (NANS) in Ethiopia’s Koka Dam. The NANS joined the political forces that came together to topple the regime of Jaafar Nimayri in the 1985 intifada.

Idris al-Banna represented Sadiq al-Mahdi’s NUP in the NANS delegation, which was dominated by leaders of professional associations and academics. But the NUP backtracked from the deal under immense pressure from the Islamic Movement under Hassan al-Turabi, at the time politically operative as the National Islamic Front (NIF), when the two pages of the document were made public in Khartoum. The NUP eventually found no need for the Koka Dam declaration once it won the largest share of parliamentary seats in the April 1986 elections and Sadiq al-Mahdi’s premiership was guaranteed.

The Koka Dam declaration called for a ‘national constitutional conference’ to debate Sudan’s governance crisis, predated by a series of measures to ensure an adequate political environment, notably the repeal of sharia laws, adoption of the 1956 constitution as amended in 1964, and efforts to sign a ceasefire with the SPLA/M in southern Sudan. The document demanded as a condition for the ‘national constitutional conference’ the dissolution of the government of the day, the chronically rotating cabinet premiered by Sadiq al-Mahdi, and its replacement by an ‘interim government of national unity’ representing all the political forces in the country, including the SPLA/M and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).

Whether by design or destiny, the Paris Declaration of Sadiq al-Mahdi and the SRF rehashed the basic tenets of its Koka Dam predecessor: the call for the convention of a constitutional conference under the authority of an interim all-parties government that accommodates the political leaders of an insurgency. Koka Dam it must be said was a touch more ambitious and boldly promised to inaugurate the ‘New Sudan’, a term that the SPLA/M-N and its allies in the SRF consciously dropped in their Paris document for understandable reasons. They opted instead for the blanket reference to ‘forces of change’. While the signatories of the Koka Dam declaration, Khartoumian intellectuals of a liberal bent, could easily claim the credentials of the ‘New Sudanese Man’ (at the time gender sensibilities were not particularly sharp), buoyantly democratic and human rights conscious, Sadiq al-Mahdi, an establishment heavyweight, can hardly claim to represent anything ‘new’ in the Sudanese polity.

Earlier this year, the NCP launched its National Dialogue initiative in close coordination with the NUP chairman Sadiq al-Mahdi and the PCP chief Hassan al-Turabi. The two men, along with Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Attabani, newly evolved into an opposition figure after an outstanding record of service in the successive governments of President Bashir, listened intently to the President’s ‘leap speech’ on 27 January this year, and were involved in the initial deliberations to form the 7+7 steering committee, composed of an equal number of representatives of government and opposition parties.

Sadiq al-Mahdi, however, soon opted out, for the same reason that he had before parted with the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to sign the Djibouti accord with President Bashir in November 1999 and more recently walked out of the opposition National Consensus Forces (NCF), when his plans for restructuring the alliance were rejected. The former premier identified his core grievance in a proposal he voiced in July after the suspension of his party’s involvement in President Bashir’s National Dialogue a few weeks earlier. A frustrated Sadiq called for the National Dialogue process to be restricted to the “six historical parties” and the rebel movements – excluding the smaller organisations and break-off factions that confound the NUP’s claim to be the largest political party in the country, a claim based on the results of the 1986 elections, twenty-eight long years ago!

The big six in Sadiq al-Mahdi’s count are his NUP, Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani’s DUP, the two wings of the Islamic Movement, the ruling NCP and Hassan al-Turabi’s PCP, in addition to the SPLA/M, in the really existing ‘New Sudan’ the SPLA/M-N of Malik Agar, Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu and Yasir Arman, and the Sudanese Communist Party. According to Sadiq al-Mahdi’s calculus, newcomers would have to prove their political weight through demonstration of a country-wide network and a record of activity in order to secure access to the comprehensive national dialogue he envisions. Sadiq’s July proposal had the bulky title: “The Nation-Building Charter – Unified Diversity”. When asked about the activity of his own party, Sadiq, the keen accountant, usually cites the numbers of workshops, press conferences and political declarations with an NUP tag.

Sadiq al-Mahdi’s concern for representation stems from his stubborn resistance to acknowledge the mutations of the political terrain he attempted and disastrously failed to charter as premier between 1986 and 1989, a time when he failed to live up to his billing as “Sadiq… hope of the nation”. Darfur and southern Kordofan were once regions of a secure NUP vote, so much so that the party had more trouble managing factional disputes over candidacy than defeating competitors. Since then, the violent convulsions in those areas have generated patterns of political consciousness, easily dismissed as ‘tribal’, that preclude a NUP sweep without further qualification.

To access the electoral benevolence of his core constituencies once again, Sadiq al-Mahdi would have to bargain hard and long with skilful Baggara politicians, who now command local and state governments and standing militias, and brag about cabinet quotas in the central government. In the White Nile, the other historical safe haven of the NUP, socio-economic transformations, including the massive expansion of higher education under the NCP and mass labour emigration, are likely to sap away at the NUP vote just as the urbanisation wave of the 1970’s reduced the DUP’s dominance in the three towns of the capital Khartoum to a mere remnant in the 1986 elections, to the good fortune of Hassan al-Turabi’s NIF.

The NUP as a party suffered this inconvenient history as a series of splits which Sadiq al-Mahdi prefers to blame squarely on the NCP, the most dramatic being the decision of Sadiq’s cousin and former NUP secretary general, Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi, to run away with almost half of the party organisation straight to the presidential palace in 2002. Mubarak’s tenure as assistant to President Bashir ended in 2004, but the party he summoned out of the NUP remained in government bondage, albeit splintered in yet another bout of factional dispute. Sadiq al-Mahdi has since effectively barred Mubarak’s return to the NUP homestead despite multiple attempts at reconciliation; the most recent mediated by the estranged Mahdi elder and Sadiq’s uncle, Ahmed al-Mahdi, on the occasion of Sadiq’s release from brief imprisonment in July.

It is then conceivable that Sadiq al-Mahdi found no entertainment in the NDA leadership structure before his departure in 1999. His rival Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani, chief of the DUP, maintained a permanent chairmanship thanks to an unwritten understanding with the late John Garang. Sadiq al-Mahdi also had to suffer formal equality in decision making processes with exiled trade union leaders and army officers. Likewise, Sadiq al-Mahdi could secure no advantage of political history and stature in the NCF where his NUP had to bear the same voting rights as the Communist Party, factions of the Baath Party, the miniscule New Democratic Forces Movement (Haq), itself a faction of a faction that jumped off the Communist Party in 1995, and the opposition Sudanese Congress Party of Ibrahim al-Sheikh among others.

President Bashir’s National Dialogue, where Sadiq al-Mahdi had hoped to receive the accommodation due to a former prime minister, proved no exception. Not only was the process largely dominated by Hassan al-Turabi, whose party in effect turned the page on its dispute with the NCP; but Sadiq al-Mahdi was asked to share the table with figures who had departed his NUP and formed their own mini-Ummas on the government side as leaders of political parties that had an equal say in the process as he did. Others at the table included two splinters of the ruling NCP, Ghazi al-Attabani’s Reform Now Movement (RNM) and Tayeb Mustafa’s Just Peace Forum (JPF), on the opposition side, next to a range of exotic newcomers and a tragicomic association of Nimayri fans who miraculously resurrected the long dead Sudan Socialist Union – the Alliance of the People’s Workforces but corrupted the name with the adjunct ‘democratic’.

According to President Bashir’s count, the national dialogue heralded by the leap speech brought together eighty four political parties, equal as the teeth of a comb to paraphrase a tradition of the Prophet Mohamed. In this crowd, managed by the NCP and the PCP, Sadiq al-Mahdi and his big NUP had one vote. Compared to this political bazaar, members of the SRF were at least a countable bunch.

In signing the Paris Declaration with the SRF after an extensive and eventful flirt with the NCP that included a short spell in the Cooper prison in Khartoum, Sadiq al-Mahdi was apparently enacting a political tactic employed against him during the last year of his premiership back in 1988 by his less glamourous rival, Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani. At the time, the DUP was partnered with the NUP in one of Sadiq al-Mahdi’s wobbly cabinets. Mirghani flew to Addis Ababa where he negotiated the principles of a peaceful settlement for the civil war in the country with the SPLA/M leader John Garang. It has since been hailed as Sudan’s wasted peace opportunity.

The November 1988 Sudanese peace agreement as it came to be known was a shorter version of the Koka Dam declaration, which the DUP and the NIF had boycotted. It featured Koka Dam’s basic tenets apart from dissolution of the government of the day, namely the call for a national constitutional conference to be held on 31 December 1988 on condition of the repeal of the Sharia laws, the implementation of an immediate ceasefire and the lifting of the state of emergency in southern Sudan. Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani received a hero’s welcome in Khartoum upon his return from Addis Ababa, but the NIF launched an aggressive campaign against the deal focused on the blasphemy of suspending the holy laws. Sadiq al-Mahdi was intimidated into rejecting the Garang-Mirghani accord, the DUP walked out of the cabinet and the NIF stepped in instead.

The SPLA/M-N today can hardly claim the military stature of the parent SPLA/M under Garang in the 1980s, wired to the plugs of the cold war and sufficiently serviced by the Ethiopian Derg, hence the declaration was signed in Paris and not a neighbouring capital. If Sadiq al-Mahdi sought to borrow the SRF’s regime change agenda in pursuit of a more favourable bargain with Khartoum’s rulers, the SRF wants from Sadiq al-Mahdi, the Imam, the stamp and signature of the Sudanese establishment, the very old Sudan it wishes to dispense with in ‘revolutionary’ fashion. Each side is fully aware of the tactical motives of the other but simply have no better politics to offer than the exhausted plagiarisation of past exercises.

Even the pernicious Tayeb Mustafa, leader of the JPF, could not resist the tempting opportunism of the Paris Declaration. The dedicated enemy of the SRF announced his support for the document, saying he tried but could not find fault with it. Instead of its original objective of ‘overthrowing’ the regime, the SRF had adopted Sadiq al-Mahdi’s line of ‘changing’ it, he argued in a flash of semantic insight. Next to the PCP, the NCP’s main partner in the National Dialogue, the JPF is but a footnote, and Tayeb Mustafa, the politician, is apparently a fast learner.

The SPLA/M-N ventured beyond the routines of déjà vu last July when its senior commander in South Kordofan, Jagoud Mikwar Murada, talked politics with Ismail al-Aghbash, representing Musa Hilal’s newly launched Sudanese Awakening Council. Hilal is best known as a Janjaweed leader, but his relationship with Khartoum is now stormy. Murada and al-Aghbash signed a nameless joint statement promising future cooperation to abort the politics of divide and rule in the war-ravaged peripheries of the country and establish a state based on good governance and citizenship through a “comprehensive constitutional process conducive to change”. The encounter set sirens off among the ‘liberals’ of Khartoum, devoted hitchhikers of the SPLA/M-N bandwagon and perennial advocates of ‘change’. They cried génocidaire at Musa Hilal but could not comprehend the prospect of autonomous politics flowing out of the settlements of the Mahameed in North Darfur, unmediated by a sectarian jellabiya from the capital.

Intimidated by the backlash, the SPLA/M-N leadership buried the statement in silence, preferring instead the Parisian high notes of Sadiq al-Mahdi. Hilal aside, the shoulder taps between al-Aghbash and Murada signal a potential of inventing a politics of struggle for the nas (commoners) across the racial divide of the Sudanese hinterlands, an avenue for the ‘New Sudan’ that the SPLA/M-N in its infatuation with the declaration politics of the ‘old Sudan’ is very likely to stray away from.

Magdi el Gizouli is an academic and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. He writes on Sudanese affairs at http://stillsudan.blogspot.com/

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Sudan – government bombing continues in South Kordofan mountains

Guardian

Sudan: bombings force children out of classroom and into camps

Renewed violence in South Kordofan is robbing a new generation of their education, former students and teachers tell Nuba Reports

Children play in the mountains outside of Tess, South Kordofan, Sudan.
Children play in the mountains outside of Tess, South Kordofan, Sudan. Photograph: Adriane Ohanesian/AFP

With every year and every lesson missed, the hopes for a new generation – nurtured in brief peace between 2005 and 2011 – are fading.

Howa James is one of this generation. Before the conflict between Sudan’s armed forces and Nuban rebels reignited in the Nuba Mountains in June 2011, Howa was a student at the Girls’ Peace High School in Kauda. Peace High School is a boarding school, but Howa’s family lives next door, so teachers allowed her to sleep at home.

Howa loved her time at Peace High. As the war intensified, she and her classmates tried to continue on with their lives. But they soon found themselves caught in the middle.

“I heard the sound of the jet and when I looked up, I saw the plane dropping bombs on me,” she said. “I didn’t have time to run but I found a small hole near me and I got in it. The bomb exploded 10 metres from me.”

Howa told her story as she stood next to the huge crater created by a bomb that nearly killed her. She hasn’t been to school since that day over two years ago.

Destruction of schools

Education is at the core of the Nubans’ cultural values. For all the damage war has done in the Nuba Mountains, the destruction and shuttering of the schools have hit the communities hardest.

I heard the sound of the jet and when I looked up, I saw the plane dropping bombs

Before the war, hundreds of members of a community would volunteer their time, money and crops to build and fund community schools and their students. Towns even pooled funds to fly in teachers from Kenya.

Early in the war, students would sit for final examinations with a rock on their desk. If an Antonov bomber flew overhead, the rock held their papers in place while they hid in foxholes.

At the end of each year, the schools would hold a celebration for the entire village. The teachers call the students’ names one by one and present them with handwritten certificates confirming they’ve passed their classes.

As the name of each child is called, their parents run and dance towards them. The mother sings a song praising the child, and the father slaps five Sudanese pounds ($1) to their head. The note sticks to the student’s scalp as if they are wearing a crown for their achievements. For many communities these celebrations have stopped and it is no longer safe to bring in teachers.

Aerial bombardment

Before the war, there were 255 schools in the Nuba Mountains. Now there are less than 100. None are able to provide the same level of education as they did before the war. There are not enough teachers to provide instruction for all eight grades, books are rare and there are few resources to help with lessons.

According to Tajani Tima, minister of education for the insurgent group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (SPLM-N), 10 national and international organisations were supporting education in the region but now only two of these organisations are willing to help the schools.

Before the war, there were 255 schools in the Nuba Mountains. Now there are less than 100

“The education budget for the state is significantly lower than years of peace,” Tajani said. “Teachers have fled the region and there is a high student dropout rate because most schools can’t continue to operate due to the ground fighting and increased bombing.”

Many schoolyards within the SPLM-N controlled areas have been targeted by the Sudanese government in its near-daily aerial bombardment. Bombs have landed near the Girls’ Peace High School on several occasions. But on the morning of 29 December 2012, an Antonov flew over, dropping bombs and finally hitting the school.

Jawahir Yusif was studying there at the time. “Six bombs were dropped on the school. It destroyed one of the classrooms and the dormitories for the girls,” she said, adding:

“The students and teachers are scared that if the government hears that many people are in one location like the school that they will send a plane to bomb us.”

School officials said they had no choice but to shut down.

Refugee Schools

The only other option for many students are the refugee camps across the new border in South Sudan. Families have sent their children hundreds of kilometres to Yida, home to over 70,000 refugees from South Kordofan.

According to UNHCR, Yida is too close to the Sudanese border and the conflict the refugees left behind. Unless the camp can be moved further south, the organisation says it cannot provide education.

Refugee children copy notes from a chalkboard during an open-air English lesson under a tree at the Yida camp in South Sudan. As there are no schools in the camp, refugees have organised themselves, making a few primary schools with volunteer refugee teachers to educate the children.
Refugee children copy notes from a chalkboard during a makeshift open-air English lesson under a tree at the Yida camp in South Sudan. Photograph: Reuters

The only schools operating in Yida camp are elementary schools that have been started by the refugees themselves with minimal outside funding. These schools serve thousands of students under trees and small grass huts and do not have the resources to pay their teachers well or provide textbooks. Still, the students walk days to the camps at the start of each term and sit in the sweltering heat for a chance to learn.

UNHCR does support elementary and high school education in the Ajoung Thok Camp about 60 km from Yida. Despite the efforts of UNHCR to convince the refugees to move from Yida to Ajoung Thok most families have been reluctant. Only around 13,000 have settled in in Ajuong Thok. Some students opt to go there without their families but there still aren’t enough schools for all the students in Yida or South Kordofan who need education.

The Next Generation

No matter how difficult it may be, people are determined to educate their children. Oum Juma worked as a teacher in Yida during it’s first year of existence. Like many teachers here, she refuses to let the conflict take her daughter’s childhood the way the earlier conflict, Africa’s longest-running civil war, took hers. She was separated from her family by Sudan’s war with the south, which ran from 1983 to 2005 and eventually saw South Sudan split from the north in 2011.

I just focus on these children. I want them to know right from wrong

She was raised and educated in a missionary school, and didn’t see her mother until after the peace deal in 2005. Since then, she’s become a mother herself. When fighting broke out again she fled the carnage with her infant child. She made it to Yida, but her husband disappeared.

“My whole life has been war, since I was a child, 24 years – that’s how old I am,” she said. “I just focus on these children. I want them to know right from wrong.”

For all that she has experienced Oum Juma does not want revenge. She believes education can bring peace to her children and the next generation of Nubans.

“Education cannot stop the war, but this generation must understand the problems. The children may say my mother was killed and now I want revenge. ‘I want to kill those who killed my mum,’ – an eight year old thinks this. But that thinking just starts another war. If they understand they can think of a new future, there are many ways of solving problems.” Guardian

Africa’s worst leaders – Mugabe among 26 worst

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Mugabe Among Africa’s Worst Leaders – Report

 

An American research group has ranked President Robert Mugabe among sub-Saharan Africa’s 26 worst leaders.

 

 

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Sudan – floods disrupt schools and isolate villages in Khartoum region

Sudan Tribune

(KHARTOUM) – Sudan’s Khartoum state has declared a state of high alert following heavy rains which hit the capital on Wednesday.

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A Sudanese woman sits with her child next to her house in a flooded street on the outskirts of the capital Khartoum on 10 August 2013 (Photo: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

Dozens of families in the west of Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman were seen carrying their belongings after their homes were destroyed by rain which amounted to 43 mm. Floods have also destroyed homes in villages and areas south of Omdurman.

Eastern parts of Omdurman also suffered from heavy rains and power outages and distress calls were heard in Al-Thawra neighbourhood. Fallen trees and shattered signboard impeded normal flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic on public streets.
Khartoum state governor, Abdel-Rahman Al-Khidir, toured areas affected by floods in Um badda and Karrari neighbourhoods, announcing closing of schools for one week.

Al-Khidir declared a state of high alert and formed a 24-hour central emergency committee in the state’s 105 administrative unit besides giving localities the right to use heavy machinery to draw waters and clean up roads.

He also decided to put the civil defence and river rescue forces in a high of alert besides putting police in a %50 state of readiness of 50% in anticipation of emergency matters following weather forecast that heavy rains will continue until 11 August.

The governor also directed state’s authorities to supply affected families with sheeting and tents.

Khartoum state stressed in a press report that old and new water drains were able to discharge most of the waters, saying some lowlands and squares need additional work.

It underscored there were no casualties or serious damage to property, saying that primary outcome showed that 60 homes were completely or partially destroyed in Um Bada besides 10 others in Karrari.

The governor further called upon Khartoum residents to allow the concerned engineering bodies carry out their work and not to throw wastes on water drains.

The commissioner of Jebel Al-Awliya, al-Bashir Abu Kasawi, told the state-run radio of Omdurman that localities of Karrari, east Nile, and Jebel al-Awliya and other areas have been affected by rains and floods.

Sudan’s General Authority for Meteorology (GAM) said Khartoum state saw an increase of rainfall ranging from 60 to 110 mm which led to raising levels of the Nile waters, pointing the increase represent a real threat to residents of the White and Blue Nile banks.

Competent bodies have advised Khartoum state to carry out strategic plan to build permanent water drains, spray insecticides, and drying waters of public squares.

Heavy rains also isolated 15 villages in the locality of south Gazira in Gazira state.

Sudan’s president, Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, was seen on Monday in a surprise inspection tour for construction works of a bridge in east Nile locality following heavy rains which hit Khartoum state on Saturday.

Heavy floods have been common in the past few years in Sudan’s east along the Blue Nile but happen more rarely in the capital and the north where much of Sudan’s population live.

Floods and rains that hit different areas in Sudan last year lead to the death of at least 38 people and injured dozens.

Rains which fell during the past few days have turned Khartoum into a pond of water amid widespread anger over what is perceived as an inadequate government response.

Meanwhile, the commissioner of south Gazira locality, Kambal Hassan al-Mahi, attributed isolation of these villages to poor drainage, saying walls and bathrooms of several homes and schools were destroyed by the rain.

He announced mobilization of all resources of the locality, state, and Gazira scheme board to rescue the isolated villages.

The commissioner of Al-Ghorashi locality in Gazira state, Abdel-Basit al-Dikhairi, for his part, announced collapse of 114 homes and several government buildings in 15 villages due to heavy rains in the past two days.

(ST)

Sudan – Turabi demands election delay until 2015

Sudan Tribune

Sudan’s PCP leader demands 2015 elections be delayed(KHARTOUM) – The leader of Sudan’s Popular Congress Party (PCP), Hassan al-Turabi, said his party participated in the national dialogue in order to return “power to the people”, disclosing he demanded the government to delay the 2015 elections.

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Head of the Popular Congress Party (PCP), Hassan al-Turabi gestures during an interview in Khartoum on 3 October 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Turabi, who delivered a Eid al-Fitr sermon at a mosque in his native village on Monday, said they accepted president, Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, initiative for national dialogue in order to return power to the Sudanese people, stressing he asked the government to extend elections date to allow political parties contact their bases.

Reliable sources from opposition side in the national dialogue committee known as 7+7 told Sudan Tribune that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) expressed reservation on issues of the transitional government and review of elections law while opposition forces insists on discussing these issues before the 2015 elections.

Sudan’s general elections are set to be held in April 2015 but opposition parties threatened to boycott it saying NCP holds absolute control over power and refuse to make any compromise to end the civil war and allow public liberties.

Sudan’s National Elections Commission (NEC) had previously said it received requests from political parties last April to delay elections.

The NEC chief, Mukhtar al-Asam, said they received requests for postponing elections from the PCP and the National Umma Party led by, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, due to financial difficulties and the country’s present circumstances.

He said the NEC agreed with these political parties on the possibility for postponing elections until improving their financial position.

However, after conflicting statements from government officials, Bashir emphasised that there will be no postponement for next year’s elections and even berated NCP officials who suggested otherwise.

Turabi urged residents of his village to properly choose their representative in the parliament, calling upon them to take elections seriously.

The veteran Islamic leader ruled out running in the upcoming elections, saying it must be fair and transparent.

He further demanded the government to allow neutral bodies oversee elections.
Last week, the 7+7 committee said it has partially agreed on a roadmap for a process to realise peace and democratic reforms.

Presidential assistant, Ibrahim Ghandour, said the committee agreed to more than %90 of the roadmap, noting the framework agreement would be completed no later than Eid al-Fitr [feast of breaking the fast of Ramadan] holiday.

He expressed optimism that political forces would confidently move towards the national dialogue.

Last January, Bashir called on political parties and armed groups to engage in a national dialogue to discuss four issues, including ending the civil war, allowing political freedoms, fighting against poverty and revitalizing national identity.

He also held a political roundtable in Khartoum last April with the participation of 83 political parties.

The opposition alliance of the National Consensus Forces (NCF) boycotted the political roundtable, saying the government did not respond to its conditions.

The NCF wants the NCP-dominated government to declare a comprehensive one-month ceasefire in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. In addition it has called for the issuing of a general amnesty, allowing public freedoms and the release of all political detainees.

Bashir at the time instructed authorities in the states and localities across Sudan to enable political parties to carry out their activities inside and outside their headquarters without restrictions except those dictated by the law.

The Sudanese president also pledged to enhance press freedom so that it can play its role in the success of the national dialogue unconditionally as long they abide by the norms of the profession.

Political detainees who have not been found to be involved in criminal acts will be released, Bashir said

But since then, Sudanese authorities arrested al-Mahdi and the head of the Sudanese Congress Party (SCP) Ibrahim al-Sheikh. It also intensified its censorship of newspapers by either suspension or shutting down the entire media houses.

The NUP suspended its participation in national dialogue following detention of its leader in May after he criticised government militia, accusing them of committing war crimes in Darfur. After his release in June, Mahdi said there is a need to review the current process and to include rebels in the political process.

The PCP refused to suspend its participation in the national dialogue, saying all current difficulties can be resolved within the existing mechanisms.

(ST)

Is Africa really rising?

allAfrica

document

Photo: Tami Hultman/AllAfrica

Kingsley Moghalu

London — Public Lecture at the London School of Economics by Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, Deputy Governor (Financial System Stability), Central Bank of Nigeria and Author, Emerging Africa: How the Global Economy’s ‘Last Frontier’ Can Prosper and Matter (Penguin Books, 2014)

Is Africa Rising?

In the past decade Africa has emerged in the world’s consciousness in the context of an evolution in the continent’s image. Africa is not yet seen as the place to be, to go to, or to be envied in terms of economic and societal progress. Indeed, still too many people around the world hold a decidedly different view. Gradually but surely, however, Africa is increasingly viewed less as a “hopeless” continent and more as one with promise for economic development, less as a haven of poverty, war and natural disaster and more as a continent that offers economic opportunity. In short, Africa is seen more as a “normal”, even if less prosperous place than many other parts of the world, than as the decidedly “abnormal” place off the map of the mental imagination that it once was.

This recent emergence and the positive evolution of the continent’s image has led to the growth of an “Africa-Rising” industry of analysts, commentators, scholars and business executives in which the continent is seen as the next big thing in the world’s economy. The continent in this view can lay claim to a looming African century close on the heels of the economic rise of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Three main factors have shaped this trend.

First, many of the wars for which Africa was famous have ended. The wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Great Lakes region of Africa including Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the long armed conflicts in the Horn of Africa in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan were and are only a few of the destructive orgies of annihilation of human capital, political stability and economic possibilities that shaped perceptions of Africa as a war zone writ large in the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s. As most of these conflicts have ended, more recent ones have raged in Mali and the Central African Republic, keeping the world’s peacekeeping armies in business. But the continent is far more at peace now than it once was, clearing the path for a shift in attention to democratization and economic development.

Second, macroeconomic stability has been broadly established across the continent in the past decade. Inflation is down, at an average of 10 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa compared to the nearly 25 per cent in the 1980s and the 1990s. This trend can be traced to the evolution of better monetary policy by increasingly independent central banks, as well as improved fiscal management. At the same time, GDP growth has continued apace. Average GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa in the decade leading to 2013 was 5 per cent, with a third of Africa’s countries reaching growth rates of 6 per cent and others, such as Nigeria, growing at average rates of 7 per cent.

According to the African Development Bank, Africa’s economies are growing faster than those of any other continent. Nearly half of Africa’s countries are now classified as middle income countries, the numbers of Africans living below the poverty line fell to 39 per cent in 2012 as compared to 51 per cent in 2005, and around 350 million of Africa’s one billion people are now earning between $2 and $20 a day.

The third factor is the global financial crisis and the subsequent recession in the Eurozone and other Western economies at a time in which African economies were growing rapidly. This has led to opportunistic focus on Africa by several multinationals and global investment funds as the “final frontier” for wealth creation, with returns on investment that can only be the stuff of dreams in the world’s industrialized countries.

But the reality is more nuanced. Contrary to the breathless prognostications of enthusiasts, while Africa has become an economic opportunity in the world economy, the continent is yet to fully emerge, let alone rise, as an economic presence and a co-creator of global prosperity.

Let us look at another set of statistics. Africa’s share of world trade is a minute 3 per cent, with less than 4 per cent of global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows going to the continent. With a combined GDP of S1.6 trillion, the combined GDP of the continent’s 54 countries is just about that of Brazil. The GDP of the entire sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, is just about equal to that of Belgium or that of metropolitan Chicago. All the electricity produced in sub-Saharan Africa, half of which is, in fact produced by South Africa, is equivalent to that of Spain which has 20 times fewer people than Africa.

The Argument for a New Paradigm of African Development

What all this suggests is that real questions regarding the “rise” of Africa include that of what parameters are used for measuring the continent’s progress and who does the measuring. Is Africa aspiring to holistic development that encompasses human development as a reflection of the real quality of life of Africans or is it focusing on economic growth statistics that do not necessarily translate into more jobs for its citizens and better education and healthcare? Have African economies become industrialized manufacturing economies, and will job creation outpace population growth and put Malthus to shame? What is the role of science, technology and innovation in African economies? Is Africa assessing its own progress against benchmarks it has set for itself, or is its “rise” the received wisdom from global institutions and the ambassadors of global capital seeking new frontiers of profit?

In Emerging Africa I make the case that Africa needs an endogenous growth model that is inside-out in its perspective, rather than the presently dominant one that is outside-in and globalization-centric. Africa needs to manufacture goods for its own markets as a first foundation, spreading out regionally from that base and emerging as economic power in its own right through competitive advantage or at least self-sufficiency. What is being celebrated as Africa’s rise is the fact that the continent has increasingly become a market or a playground for globalization.

Africans appear to have become excited merely to be participating in the wider globalization process, and the external economic players for whom the continent has become the new frontier are excited at the novelty of playing in new territory and the benefits it has brought or potentially will. This is quite a different thing from structural economic transformation, which is what has happened in many Asian economies and which is what Africa really needs to achieve for itself and its peoples. Without a doubt, GDP growth is necessary for such a transformation, but is not an alternative for it because the two are not the same thing.

Africa’s recent economic growth statistics have been derived largely, but admittedly not completely, from a structural dependence on primary commodity products. This growth is thus not transformative, and it is only transformed economies that can truly rise, in the manner in which we speak, for instance, of the rise of China. The continent needs to decide whether it will continue to engage with the world as (a) a destination market for consumer goods and ideas, (b) a self-sufficient player based on endogenous growth, or (c) as a dominant actor. I argue that the first option is not an option for real progress, the third one is not realistic in the near to medium term given how far behind Africa really is in terms of the structure of its economies, while the second is realistic and achievable within the next 30 years.

The required approach to creating the real economic rise of Africa must be based on at least three things. The first is what I call fundamental understandings, a philosophical approach to wealth creation and economic prosperity that prioritizes the role of individual and collective minds in economic and social progress. In this context, what is required is nothing short of the reinvention of the contemporary African mind. That mind must better understand foundational realities and its inherent power to alter these realities in favour of the continent. The second approach is the need for strategy and the active management of risk. The third is the role of governance, the rule of law, and institution-building.

Fundamental understandings – worldviews and globalization

The point of departure for Africa is the need for African states, their governments and their citizens to understand how the world is structured in reality, and why this is so. They will then need to develop mechanisms that can enable them arrive at a different interpretation from their own perspective, and stamp that interpretation as an alternative reality in their environment. That is to say, African governments must create worldviews, and in that context develop a proper understanding of globalization as a dominant economic context, the implications of this concept and context for Africa in the world economy, and the possibility of creating an “African century”. Nothing is written in the stars in terms of Africa’s destiny. The continent can create the destiny it wants, just as other parts of the world have done.

This requires a reappraisal of a number of fundamental assumptions that have prevented Africa’s economic development and transformation such as a misunderstanding of where responsibility lies for the continent’s transformation. From this point of departure, the fundamental understandings of issues such as globalization, foreign aid, capitalism and international economic governance as a framework for economic development, and so forth, can be applied to economic activities such as industrialization, finance, agriculture, foreign investment, science and technology, and world trade.

I argue in Emerging Africa that the fundamental reason for Africa’s condition of underdevelopment is the absence of a futuristic worldview. This is the most fundamental aspect of the African development dilemma. A worldview is basically how we see the world, understand and interpret it, and how we engage with the world around us and beyond us. It is that inner world of the mind of an individual or group, which he or she or they project in their outward actions, and which influences the world around them by creating certain realities.

The Belgian philosopher Leo Apostel and his research collaborators identified seven core components of a worldview. These are: (a) a model of the world – an understanding of how the world is structured and how it functions; (b) an explanation of where we have come from and why the world is the way it is; (c) rational futurology, which addresses the question of where we are going, the possible destinations, and the options and alternatives to promote or avoid; (d) values, including systems of ethics that guide what we should or should not do; (e) action – how to get to our goals by developing and implementing plans; (f) knowledge – how to construct knowledge systems, addressing the questions of what’s true or false; and (g) building blocks that construct a worldview from what already exists in theories, concepts or models across various disciplines or ideologies.

Worldviews matter enormously, because their outcomes are never neutral. Indeed they are often reflected in or as world orders. Although initially subjective, they can with dogged application result in “objective” reality. The transatlantic slave trade was a world order based on a worldview – repugnant as it was – of the “superiority” of slave owners and the “inferiority” of the enslaved peoples. Emancipation and the abolition of slavery was also based on another worldview, and the hardiness of the worldview of the transatlantic slave trade, faced with a strong opponent in abolitionism, transmuted into colonialism in order to ensure and continue the economic benefits of the exploitation of Africa and the Africans.
Thus, the projection of these worldviews, backed up by the sustained deployment of certain comparative advantages such as military prowess based on technology, established realities that are accepted as “facts of life”. This has been demonstrated in diverse climes such as the Western world, with its worldview of scientific rationalism and individual freedoms leading to economic progress along a certain model, and the East, which has risen, represented by China, along another model of stability as an end in itself, and the importance of the clan or society above the individual.

From this foundation we can then situate globalization, its impact on Africa’s economic trajectory, and why Africans need to engage the phenomenon from a somewhat different and more sophisticated standpoint. Globalization is the process of increasing interconnectedness of the economies of previously well demarcated nation-states; the phenomenon of the instant transmission of ideas, events and culture over long distances through the instrumentality of technology, and the impact of these processes on local environments.
Thus, for our purposes here, there are two highly relevant dimensions of globalization. The first is that it has two main elements, the economic and the social, with technology as its chief instrument. This is why we all believe that the internet has made the world a much smaller place, and Africa now has over 600 million mobile telephone users, more than the United States and Europe.

Second, a more comprehensive understanding of globalization must involve both its scope and its motives. We must go beyond issues such as the extent and the geographies, the boundaries of which have been breached by globalization, to the questions of who is globalizing and why. [1]

This is what has been termed “global intent” or strategic intent, without which globalization will not be what it is and would not have had the economic and other impacts it has had.

Economic globalization has, in fact, hurt Africa more than it has helped the continent, contrary to the received wisdom. The gains for African countries from opening up to international economic forces without adequate internal preparation have been limited and far outweighed by the adverse of the continent’s engagement with economic globalization. Economic policies enunciated by the Bretton Woods institutions in the 1980 and 1990s led to lost decades of development opportunities and outcomes. Structural adjustment and liberalization without the proper foundations as a core condition led to the effective de-industrialization and unproductiveness of the continent by weakening the manufacturing sector and promoting import-driven economies. Trade liberalization under WTO regimes has not brought benefits. It has removed incomes from tariffs that have not been replaced by effective internal revenue mobilization.

It is against this backdrop – that of an uncritical embrace of globalization and its institutions or agents in the mistaken belief that these forces are benign in intent or impact, or agnostic in belief, or that African countries are obliged to do so as members of a presumed “international community” or “global village” – that Africa’s “rise” must be evaluated. The road to progress begins with asking and answering the right questions, and African countries must do so. Who is responsible for Africa’s development? Who will shape Africa’s destiny?

The answer: Africans and no one else. Not foreign investors; not development “partners”; not the supposed international community; not foreign aid.

Nevertheless, one of the paradoxes of globalization is that the phenomenon has so opened up the world and its inhabitants to each other that the prospects and opportunities economic advancement are now almost universal. This process, underpinned by the invention and innovation of industrial technology, is not a secret. It is open to any country or region of the world that is prepared to harness it. Perhaps the secret lies in what’s beneath the surface – the full understanding of all the dimensions of that process and the preparation to harness the recipe. It does not have as much to do with presence or absence of natural resources, with Africa is endowed more than any other continent. If it did, Africa would be the richest continent rather than the impoverished one it has been for far too long.

Paths to Economic Transformation

The first application of these fundamental understandings to take a very clear-headed approach to capitalist economics, the paradigm through which virtually all African states are now seeking to develop in the aftermath of the Cold War and the collapse of communism and socialism. Most of the growth of Africa’s economies is driven by the private sector. That’s ok, but not unreservedly so. To be clear, I am a capitalist.

But, to drive real economic transformation, capitalism must be managed by the state in a number of ways. The first is that clear choices must be made between the different kinds of capitalism –indeed there must exist in African governance and public policy an understanding of these different strands, and the implications of each as a possible choice for each African country. Thus, African states must choose between state capitalism as practiced by China, welfare capitalism, crony or oligarchic capitalism, and entrepreneurial capitalism. I recommend a blend of at least two of these according to the peculiarities of each African country, but have a bias for entrepreneurial, small-business capitalism because that is what most suits Africa’s historical development, societies, and its large informal economies.

Second, African countries must revisit the role of the state as a guiding hand as opposed to the misguided abdication of the responsibility of the state to the private sector. This creates wealth but with too much inequality in the distribution of that wealth, which is in itself a long-term risk. There must be a public-private private approach to the three fundamental requirements for successful capitalism – access to finance, property rights, and innovation.

The next step in the application of fundamental understandings is that African countries must embrace industrialization. This imperative also extends to the industrialization of agriculture, a mainstay of many African economies but presently largely at a subsistence level. It would be foolhardy to be caught in the fanciful conceptual trap of a supposed post-industrial society that is assumed to have developed in the West, with 3-D manufacturing supposedly threatening traditional industries and service economies challenging manufacturing ones.

Africa must first create industrial societies because that is what creates jobs, which African countries need to outpace population growth and maintain economic growth and social stability by avoiding a youth bulge in the future. Moreover, 55 per cent of world trade is based on manufacturing, while 7 per cent is based on agriculture. And massive infrastructure networks of electric power and transport infrastructure connecting the continent’s countries to one another and their component parts have rightly been recognized as a priority by many African governments which are moving to create such infrastructure over the next decade.

The next two key drivers of economic transformation are science, technology and innovation on the one hand, and education and human capital development on the other. Both must be linked. African countries need to make technology and innovation a strategic priority from the standpoint of a worldview that Africa can invent and innovate, and must do so if it is to liberate itself from the oppressive dominance of globalization. Some African countries such as Kenya are making strides in the development of innovation with the development of an ambitious, $15 billion “silicon savannah” in Konza, a 2,000 hectare city 60 kilometres outside Nairobi that is designed to turn Kenya into an attractive location for technology businesses and incubators, and challenge South Africa’s dominance in this area.

Science, technology and innovation is one of the main paths which Africa can exploit to make a great leap forward in the world economy. Talent abounds in the continent, but African governments need to create an enabling environment for innovation and create incentives, institutions and markets to support it. Here the link between innovation and taking innovations to market as commercial products that are priced competitively to counter imports is key. Human capital development in which African countries improve the falling quality of education in several countries and focus on education that builds technical and technological skills that are linked to industrial policies and job-creation strategies will play a major role in economic transformation.

Governance, Leadership and Institution-Building

The intervention of military governments in most African countries in the three decades between the 1960s and the 1990s set back the hand of the clock in Africa’s economic development because it led not to benign dictatorships that drove economic development as happened in some Asian countries, but to the restriction of the space for the evolutionary development of good, accountable governance. With the return of virtually all African countries to democratic status, this challenge remains, alongside that of economic development.

Governance and leadership determine to a large degree how much progress a country can make on the economic front. If the governance of an African country is based on the search for the economic progress of citizens, and the effort is well directed and managed, economic transformation can occur. But if governance is based on rent-seeking and competition for the spoils of public office, the resources of the state will be drained far more than real wealth can be created, in which case the dividends of democracy become questionable.

The best way to utilize governance as a tool for creating the wealth of Africa’s nations is for governments to create a number of paradigm shifts through public and economic policy. These include the establishment of economic complexity through an industrial policy that supports manufacturing. Countries such as Nigeria and Ethiopia are making progress in this direction. Building strong, independent institutions that will ultimately have a positive impact on economic activity by assuring the rule of law and protecting investments from arbitrariness, and creating a level playing field for economic actors is also critical. Another fundamental requirement of good governance as a wealth creator is the manufacturing of consent of the citizens to a vision of economic transformation to which a nation’s collective energies can be channelled in a united manner.

The difference between the wealth and poverty of nations, their success or their failure, lies in the existence or absence of strong institutions. Institutions, when they function well, function dispassionately as systems that make predictable decisions based on benchmarks and thresholds that are clear to all. They serve to remove the system of economic incentives from the tyranny of the whims and caprices of individuals. Where institutions are weak and caprice reigns, there will be little or no progress because there is no meritocracy. Rewards are aligned not to creativity or productivity, but along lines of unproductive patronage networks that sustain political power but do not create wealth for a nation. A society that functions in this paradigm is fundamentally unable to transform its economy because the playing field is not a level one. Rent-seeking is rampant, but creates pools of plenty for the tiny few that are linked to the patronage network within vast pools of poverty.

The manufacture of consent is absolutely essential for economic transformation in Africa. Because development is the result of the deployment of creative talent and economic activity in a productive direction, it is necessary for African governments to define economic policy visions and directions and obtain the buy-in of the citizens to such a vision. We have seen this approach utilized by every dominant economic power in the world, whether it is the United States which applies a free-market oriented economic culture or China, which has achieved massive leaps in economic development in the past 30 years through an adaptation to state-directed capitalist activity while maintaining the dominance of the Communist Party. In all instances, this has been achieved through propaganda and mass mobilization.

Strategy and Risk Management

African countries have often not lacked an understanding of what the challenges to their economic development are. The real challenge has sometimes been to just get on with “doing it” effectively and creating the required transformation. This requires an understanding of strategy as a modern management concept and its application to governance. Sadly, this is still lacking inside African governments, with only very few exceptions.

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, had a famous strategy unit in 10 Downing Street that drove his governance agenda and ensured that a single thread of vision, communication and execution priority – in this case, education – ran through all the narratives actions of his ten years in office. Strategy and risk management have just come into their as legitimate functions in Africa’s private sectors. Their application to the role of the government and the effectiveness of the state – which encompasses the private sector commercial space – is even more consequential for the future of Africa.

Strategy and risk management need to become embedded in governance thinking and architecture in Africa. Strategy is about shaping the future. It is about how to create the future of our imagination. If we are to create an African century, African countries will not succeed without a clear strategy and strategic thinking. That “how” is the difference between dreaming and visioning, and bridging the gap in between.

Strategy is first of all about thinking and about a way of thinking, before it becomes a matter of plans. As Max McKeown writes in the context of corporate organizations, but also applicable to nations, it is about “outthinking your competition”. Thus strategic intent and ability are linked to the concept of worldviews, since strategy first requires strategic thinkers whose minds are open to vast possibilities. Second, worldviews, strategy formulation and strategy execution are intricately linked. Many African countries have been “planning” for decades but without the sort of strategic intent that has moved Asia forward in massive leaps. This requires focused objectives, an understanding of strategy management, especially in the context –framing choices and strategic possibilities, making the choice, and strategy execution management.

Africa’s Future

To conclude, then, contrary to the prevailing popular view about Africa Rising, the continent has no automatic, inexorable future. Growth, though a significant factor in economic development, is quite a different thing from transformation, which is what Africa really needs. Transformation means fundamentally improved indicators in such things as education and healthcare, infant mortality, life expectancy, infrastructure, and industrial production, not resource-driven economic activity or subsistence agriculture that produces a “growth myth”, the myth that increases in GDP will make poor countries catch up with rich ones based on numbers that, while generally accepted as a standard of measurement, in fact have debatable exactitude.

The Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang makes the provocative but thoughtful point that a society can become better off without marked increases in GDP [2]. Thus the focus for African countries must remain that of a fundamental transformation in the structures of their economies, not the growth numbers that the current structures throw up. This implies a transformation away from the prevailing model that is presently being celebrated as the Africa “rising”.

Africa’s future is thus not on auto-pilot to some gilded age, but will be one that Africans create by their economic and public policy choices. What exists now, without doubt, is an opportunity for a turn-around in the continent’s trajectory from that of its not-too-distant past. In this context, then, there is no need for a return to defeatist Afro-pessimism, but what the continent needs is realism and a determined focus on the right priorities.

The most important factors that will influence Africa’s future, then, include: (a) whether African countries can develop and execute transformation strategies effectively and with discipline; (b); how Africa handles the continent’s burgeoning population, projected by some estimates to hit 2.4 billion people by 2050 – will it yield a demographic dividend or a youth bulge?; (c) how African countries handle the challenge of jobless and non-inclusive growth; and (d) whether the continent can develop and effectively deploy its human capital, the most important investment for competitiveness in a globalized world.

All of this, of course, will have to be anchored on the foundation that is the real secret for the success of Africa’s quest for prosperity – the African mind. That mind-set needs to change from one that is predominantly focused on day-to-day or short-term survival or “progress” as defined through this prism – not of a well-ordered society but of individual affluence in the midst of mass exclusion from prosperity – to one in which the mind-set takes a long term, past and future view of the world and the place of the African in that world, and what it takes to get to that place.

The African mind-set needs to place greater emphasis on “thinking it through” because action that is transformational is one that is guided by a philosophical or conceptual compass – a worldview. As we have seen, worldviews are the secret of the rise of the societies of the West and the Rest (mainly Asia). These worldviews develop through a combination of historical and cultural evolutions, on the one hand, and through the instrumentality of propaganda and public diplomacy to the citizens of a state and the rest of the world. The place to begin is in the educational system. It is that combination of well-inculcated worldviews, knowledge and skills that produces human capital – the secret of transformation.

I rest the case for a truly Emerging Africa.

Thank you.

[1] Alex MacGillvray, A Brief History of Globalization (Constable and Robinson, 2006), 27.
[2] David Pilling, “Has GDP Outgrown Its Use?”, Financial Times Magazine, July 5/6 2014   allAfrica

© Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, 2014

US-Africa summit – the struggle to get leaders to step down

Mail and Guardian

Obama may struggle to persuade African leaders to step down timeously at leadership summit.

Still popular: Burkina Faso nationals cheer for their president, Blaise Compaoré (seen in the portrait). He has been in power since 1987. (AFP)

When United States President Barack Obama faces the large group of heads of state he invited for the first US-Africa Leadership Summit in Washington on August 6, he will almost certainly be aware that many of them came to power while he was still a university student.

Civil society organisations are urging him to use the opportunity afforded by the summit to remind the long-serving African leaders about the need to step down after their terms expire.

In no less than six African countries, most of them Francophone, there are plans afoot by heads of state to change their Constitutions to stay in power for longer than legally permitted.

The rumours and allegations on changing term limits have led to political strife and, in some cases, violent protests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso, Benin, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

“The bids by leaders to change their Constitutions to stay on are one of the main sources of instability in many countries in Africa today,” says DRC legal expert Jean-Pierre Fofé Djofia Malewa.

Speaking at a conference on international justice organised by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa in Senegal earlier this month, he said all eyes are on Obama to see whether he will mention the issue at the summit.

“The message should be [to] keep things simple [and] stick to the Constitution,” he said.

In the DRC, President Joseph Kabila has been in power for more than 13 years. His party is flighting the idea of either scrapping the constitutional term limits, as many of his peers have done, or changing the electoral system to a proportional one similar to that in South Africa.

The second option would allow Kabila to turn back the clock and run in the next two elections.

Ample time
Kabila could learn from his Angolan neighbour José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979 and only changed the electoral system in 2010, ensuring that he has ample time for two constitutional mandates.

Could a word from Obama make Kabila change his mind?

Civil society activist Jeggan Grey-Johnson, from the regional office of the Open Society Foundation in Johannesburg, says Obama is being encouraged to use the summit as a platform to urge heads of state to recommit to prior engagements and instruments on good governance.

But he thinks the summit is mainly in reaction to the many previous Africa-China, Africa-Japan or Africa-Europe summits, in which politics did not play a big role.

“Obama has to tread carefully because speaking about governance could be seen as contentious,” says Grey-Johnson.

In May, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated on a visit to Kinshasa that the US is prepared to give the DRC $30-million in aid to hold elections “in accordance with the Constitution”, which was seen as a clear warning about sticking to the presidential term limits.

Swaying the other Francophone heads of state might be more difficult. In Burkina Faso, for example, plans by the ruling party to hold a referendum to change article 37 of the Constitution in order for long-time President Blaise Compaoré to serve another term has led to huge political strife.

In an interview with the weekly pan-African news magazine Jeune Afrique earlier this month, the man who took over from the popular Thomas Sankara as president in 1987 after Sankara was slain, refused to say whether he is going to push for a third term next year.

But he did say that after 27 years in power “you don’t think about yourself, but about the future of your country”.

Asked whether he is talking to his peers about constitutional term limits, notably to presidents Kabila, Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, he admitted: “I would lie if I said no, but actually [we talk] very little.”

Of this group, Sassou-Nguesso is certainly the most experienced. Having ruled the Republic of the Congo between 1979 and 1992, he again came to power in 1997, won elections in 2002 and 2009 and still seems fit enough to try for a third term in 2016. The Constitution currently forbids this.

In Rwanda, Kagame has been in power since 2000 and was elected with overwhelming majorities in 2003 and 2011. The Constitution limits the head of state to two seven-year terms, but there have been persistent suggestions by his supporters that he should change the Constitution in order to stay on beyond 2017.

These rumours and frequent media articles are seen as an effort to gauge international opinion.

The same can be said about the rumours about a third-term bid in Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza is supposed to quit power next year. Political conflict, especially involving the youth wing of the ruling party, has raised concern among observers, including the United Nations and the African Union.

m&g