Category Archives: Humanitarian Issues

Southern Africa – the curse of struggle politics and the liberation movement divine right to power

The Conversation

How liberators turn into oppressors: a study of southern African states

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace. Mugabe has been in power since 1980. Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

This article is a foundation essay. These are longer than usual and take a wider look at a key issue affecting society.

Since coming to political power, the anticolonial movements of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa have remained in control of the former settler colonies’ societies.

At best their track record of running the countries they helped liberate is mixed. From the “oiligarchy” in Angola under José Eduardo dos Santos and his family clan and the autocratic “Zanufication” under Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to the presidential successions in Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa, all movements embarked on what could be termed “state capture”.

This is true of all five: the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU PF), Namibia’s South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa.

During the years of organised resistance, activists in the liberation movements often internalised a “we-they” divide that categorised people as comrades or enemies. This was true in exile politics and armed struggle, as well as militant internal underground mobilisation.

The repressive regimes the liberation movements opposed were based on human rights violations as an integral component of minority rule. To have a chance of success against them, the struggle mainly operated along the lines of command and obedience. Operating in exile or for a banned organisation at home left no room for complacency. Suspicion was required for survival. It is normal for resistance movements to adopt rough survival strategies and techniques while fighting an oppressive regime.

Unfortunately that culture takes root and is permanently nurtured. Such confrontational mentality has become entrenched in an authoritarian political culture that is based on the claim that liberators have an entitlement to rule within a new elite project. This has happened much to the frustration of those who believed that the struggle against settler colonialism was also a struggle against a range of other things. These include economic exploitation, redistribution of wealth, plural democracy and respect for human dignity, rights and civil liberties.

This happened in societies in transition almost everywhere. Those who sacrificed during the resistance felt in many cases entitled to new privileges as a kind of compensation and reward. As a new elite, they also often mimicked the lifestyles of those they replaced. Mugabe’s cultivation of Oxford English is as much a case in point as the new Indian elite culture analysed by Ashis Nandy in “The Intimate Enemy”.

There is also nothing new about militant movements that are supposedly justified in ethical and moral terms losing their legitimacy quickly when obtaining power. Since the French Revolution, liberators have often turned into oppressors, victims into perpetrators. New regimes often resemble features of the old one.

Wounds old and new

Armed resistance was in different degrees part of the liberation struggles in the southern African settler colonies. While liberation did not come from the barrel of a gun, the military component accelerated the process towards self-determination. In the cases of Zimbabwe, Namibia and, to a lesser extent, South Africa, it was a contributing factor for a negotiated transition towards majority rule.

The compromises required from all sides were part of a wider appeasement strategy tantamount to elite pacts. Negotiated transfer of political power did not abandon the settler colonial structures of society.

It bears repetition that the unscrupulously violent character of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) regime had already revealed itself in the early to mid-1980s. Already during the exile years internal power struggles led to assassinations and showed the brute force inherent in liberation struggles, even within their own ranks. This willingness to resort to violence was seen on a massive scale after independence as it was turned against political opponents and their support base.

A special unit killed an estimated 20,000 people through Operation Gukurahundi, where the opposition Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) had most support. Atrocities bordering on genocide did not stop until ZAPU agreed to sign a pact. ZANU basically took ZAPU over.

When the Movement for Democratic Change as a new opposition party turned into a serious competitor, the Chimurenga, or revolutionary struggle, became a permanent institution. Violence was the customary response to political protest. And as political power shifted away from Mugabe after the lost referendum in 2000, his regime became more violent.

Swapo’s human rights violations have also been downplayed. In the 1980s the organisation imprisoned thousands of its members in dungeons in southern Angola, accusing them of spying on behalf of South Africa. These people lost their liberty and often their lives in spite of never having been proven guilty. Indeed, they were not even brought to trial. Most did not survive the torture. Those released are scorned even today.

While political leaders of these movements might not have practised such acts of violence themselves, they were accomplices and knew of them.

South Africa’s trajectory is sobering too. Given the country’s vibrant political culture pre-democracy, the prospects for democracy were more encouraging.

But the horrific degree of violence displayed by those executing “law and order” on behalf of the South African state in Marikana was a reminder that Sharpeville was not past.

The 2012 Marikana massacre brought bitter memories of the apartheid-era killings of protesters in Sharpeville. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

As early as 1990, veteran underground activist and later constitutional judge Albie Sachs expressed doubts that ANC activists were ready for freedom. He worried about the habits they had cultivated. While the culture and discipline of resistance may have served as a survival strategy in the underground, these skills were not those of free citizens.

Raymond Suttner’s work, based on his view from the inside, points out that ANC ideology and rhetoric do not distinguish between the liberation movement and the people. The liberation movement is a prototype of a state within the state – one that sees itself as the only legitimate source of power.

He also explains how during the struggle there was a general suppression of “the personal” in favour of “the collective”. Individual judgment, and thereby autonomy, was substituted by a collective decision from the leadership. Such a “warrior culture” included heroic acts, but also the abuse of power.

As in many instances, women – as mothers, wives and daughters, but also as objects for satisfying sexual desires – paid the highest price and made the greatest sacrifices.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, institutionalised by the government, also talked about human rights violations committed by the ANC. Although the final official report containing these findings was never published in its original form, President Nelson Mandela did not shy away from earlier offering a public apology to the victims of the ANC’s failures to respect basic human rights.

Beyond the ‘end of history’

As we now know, postcolonial life looks for far too many people very much like that of the colonial era in respect to day-to-day living. One reason for this is that socialisation and attitudes from the struggle have shaped the new political leaders’ understanding of politics – and their idea of how to wield power.

In office, liberation movements tend to mark “the end of history”. Their party machineries – as sociologist Roger Southall describes it – promote the equation that the party is the government and the government is the state. Any political alternative that does not emerge from within will not be acceptable.

This attitude explains the strong sense of camaraderie between the Mugabe regime and the governments of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. Typically, any political alternative will be discredited as being part of an imperialist conspiracy that is designed to sabotage national independence and is seeking “regime change”.

The relevant categories of thought are winners and losers. But democracy is about something completely different: compromise, and even a search for consensus, in pursuit of the public good. To achieve that, one does not need mindsets in combat mode, but rather a broad political debate.

Looking at the history of the liberation struggles in southern Africa can, therefore, also open our eyes and sharpen our sensibility, awareness and understanding of forms of rule that show clear limitations for genuine emancipation and liberation.

We should also critically reflect on those – within the countries and globally – who rendered those movements support. How have they positioned themselves vis-à-vis the new power structures? How are they practising the notion of solidarity in the context of inequalities and injustices?

We should return to the mindsets, values, norms and expectations of those who supported these struggles. The notion of solidarity might then live on with a similar uncompromising meaning and practice.

A luta continua [The struggle continues]” as a popular slogan during the struggle days would then not translate into “the looting continues” but return to its true meaning. If implemented accordingly, it underlines that there is no end of history when it comes to social struggles for true emancipation, equality, liberty and justice.

South Sudan famine could block peace process

Sudan Tribune(JUBA)- The head of the Joint Monitoring and evaluation commission, a regional appointed body to oversee the implementation of peace agreement which armed and non-armed opposition parties to the conflict have signed in 2015 to end war, has warned that famine in the country could undermine efforts.

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Botswana’s former president Festus Mogae (Photo File AFP)

Speaking at plenary briefing to representatives of the parties to the peace, the former president of Botswana, Festus G.Mogae, who chairs the monitoring group, warned that famine in the country could undermine peace efforts if no immediate actions are taken to arrest the situation from deteriorating further.

“There can be no doubt that we now face a crisis within a crisis. Security is the foundation stone upon which we build economic and social confidence. This foundation stone no longer exists, confidence has evaporated, commerce is seizing up, prices are escalating and as a result we now face a crisis of hunger that is undermining all our efforts to make peace”, said Mogae

He said women in South Sudan face a daily struggle with inflation, never knowing if the money in their pocket will be sufficient to feed their family, adding that Insecurity creates food shortages, which in turn drives inflation that in turn results in hunger.

“A hungry man is an angry man. And angry men do not make peace. Food shortages and increasing hunger are now our immediate problems. Out in the country, beyond the reach of government, the situation is increasingly desperate. Instability and hunger has created a surge of survival-criminality that further exacerbates the problem through stealing, looting and the prevention of free-flowing commerce”, he said.

The top peace monitor pointed out that violence in the country was either carried out with central command or taken on the basis of local situation without necessarily receiving directives from anybody to which the group attaches political allegiance.

“Violence and conflict on this level is either centrally directed or locally orchestrated. I fear it is now time to acknowledge that, across the board, among all armed forces and armed groups, central structures of command and control appear to have broken down. Violence around the country is increasingly based on local decisions taken at local level. Armed groups may declare an allegiance to one leader or another, but they seem no longer to take their instructions from them.”

The briefing was part of monthly activities at which the peace monitoring body presents report to the Board members, including representatives of the Transitional Government of National Unity, South Sudanese Stakeholders, IGAD member states, the UN, the Troika (US, UK, Norway), China, EU and International Partners Forum and Friends of South Sudan.

These reports are also received from the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU), Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), Joint Military Ceasefire Commission (JMCC), Joint Integrated Police (JIP), Strategic Defence and Security Review Board (SDSRB) and the National Constitutional Amendment Committee (NCAC).

Mogae decried the killing of the humanitarian situation, saying it was no longer acceptable to claim the lives of people who are working hard to salvage the situation of those in dire of humanitarian aids.

“Twelve aid workers have been killed in South Sudan so far this year. It is simply deplorable that in 2017 we must still plead with a government for the safety of those who deliver humanitarian relief,” said the former Botswana president.

“I can only repeat that this humanitarian situation is predominantly man-made and the result of violence, conflict and the deliberate denial of access. Men, women and children are suffering and dying of starvation because the leadership at various levels is failing to prevent it,” he further stressed.

(ST)

 

South Sudan – UN says some African states oppose return of Riek Machar

Reuters

By Michelle Nichols | UNITED NATIONS

UNITED NATIONS East African states and South Africa believe that allowing South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar to return to the war-torn country would not “necessarily be positive at this stage,” said United Nations envoy David Shearer on Wednesday.

Machar, who fled to Democratic Republic of Congo in August after fierce fighting in South Sudan, is being held in South Africa to prevent him from stirring up trouble, diplomatic and political sources told Reuters in December.

Shearer, who heads a U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, confirmed that was the case.

“The feeling very much within the region is that his role, in terms of bringing him back, wouldn’t necessarily be positive at this stage, so that’s the decision of regional governments and South Africa,” Shearer told reporters in New York.

South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir fired Machar as his deputy, unleashing a conflict that has spawned armed factions often following ethnic lines.

Shearer said Festus Mogae, the former Botswana president who heads the international mediation and monitoring body JMEC in South Sudan, and U.N. envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, had both visited Machar.

“What’s the most important thing — and I have made this point to everybody including President Kiir — is that the constituency he represents must be part of any peace process and any process that moves forward,” Shearer said.

The United Nations has warned of a possible genocide as millions have fled their homes, the oil-producing economy is in a tail-spin, crop harvests are devastated because of the worst drought in years and millions face famine.

The United States slammed Kiir on Tuesday for the African state’s “man-made” famine and ongoing conflict, urging him to fulfill a month-old pledge of a unilateral truce by ordering his troops back to their barracks.

U.N. sanctions monitors reported to the Security Council last month that South Sudan’s government is mainly to blame for famine in parts of the country, yet Kiir is still boosting his forces using millions of dollars from oil sales.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols;

 

Somalia – roadside bomb kills six soldiers in Puntland

Al Jazeera

Al-Shabab claims deadly attack with improvised explosive device on a military pick-up truck, 40km south of Bosasso.

Al-Shabab fighters display weapons as they conduct military exercises in northern Somalia [File: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP]

A military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region on Sunday, killing at least six soldiers and wounding another eight.

The al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened on the outskirts of the region’s port city of Bosaso.

Al-Shabab is fighting to topple the Horn of Africa country’s Western-backed government and wants to rule the country according to its strict version of Islamic law.

It also wants to drive out of Somalia Africa Union peace keeping force AMISOM that helps defend the country’s central government.

Mohamed Ibrahim, a major in Puntland’s military, told Reuters news agency the vehicle, a pick-up truck, was from Galgala hills, about 40km southwest of Bosasso.

“Our military pick-up hit a roadside bomb today, six soldiers died, eight others were injured,” Ibrahim said, adding two of the wounded were in a serious condition.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman, said the group carried out the bombing.  “We are behind the attack,” he said.

Al-Shabab once controlled much of Somalia but in 2011 it was driven out of the capital Mogadishu and has since lost most other former strongholds.

But its fighters remain a formidable threat and constantly carry out bombings against both military and civilian targets in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

Officially called the Puntland State of Somalia, the region in northeastern Somalia declared autonomy 1998. However, it does not seek independence.

Source: Reuters news agency

Sudan accuses South Sudanese president of meeting rebels

Reuters

Khartoum Sudan on Monday warned South Sudan to cease its support of rebel groups at war with Khartoum, accusing its president of meeting with rebels last week in a rare public statement from Khartoum’s intelligence agency.

Sudan regularly accuses its neighbour of backing insurgents in the Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions that run along its southern border.

South Sudan split away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war fuelled by ethnic divides and disputes over oil.

Monday’s statement was exceptional for pinning blame directly on South Sudan’s president, potentially suggesting an escalation of tension between the neighbouring states.

The National Intelligence and Security Service statement said that “… since last Wednesday and until Saturday, April 22, the president of South Sudan … and several executive branch leaders and security officials held intensive meetings with leaders of the so-called northern sector in Juba”.

Sudan has intermittently threatened to close its border with South Sudan if it continued to support rebel groups, an allegation Juba denies.

“We warn the government of the south and demand that they stop immediately their interference in Sudanese affairs,” the statement added.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Somalia – US sees increase in piracy linked with famine

Reuters

 

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis is greeted by Djibouti’s Minister of Defense Ali Hasan Bahdon as he arrives at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport in Ambouli, Djibouti April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Idrees Ali | DJIBOUTI

DJIBOUTI The United States is closely watching a recent increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia, a senior U.S. military official said on Sunday as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited an important military base in Djibouti.

The rise in piracy attacks has at least partially been driven by famine and drought in the region, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa said during Mattis’ visit as part of a week-long trip to the Middle East and Africa.

The United States uses the base in Djibouti, a tiny country the size of Wales at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, as a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.

The sudden string of attacks by Somali pirates comes after years without a reported incident. Attacks peaked with 237 in 2011 but then declined steeply after ship owners improved security measures and international naval forces stepped up patrols.

This month has seen a new rash of attacks, with two ships captured and a third rescued by Indian and Chinese forces after the crew radioed for help and locked themselves in a safe room.

“The bottom line is there have been a half dozen or so(incidents),” Marine General Thomas Waldhauser said at a press conference standing alongside Mattis.

“We’re not ready to say there is a trend there yet but we’ll continue to watch,” he said, adding one reason for the increase was famine and droughts in the region since some vessels targeted were carrying food and oil.

According to the U.N. World Food Programme more than 20 million people from Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are at risk of dying from starvation within the next six months.

In South Sudan alone, more than 100,000 people are suffering from famine with a further million on the brink of starvation.

Mattis added that while the situation was being watched, he did not expect a U.S. military response to the surge in piracy.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said international shipping companies had started to become complacent about their security, which could also help explain the rise in piracy incidents.

MILITANCY IN THE REGION

Djibouti is strategically important as it is on the route to the Suez Canal. The barren nation, sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, also hosts Japanese and French bases.

The U.S. base, which has about 4,000 personnel, is located just miles from a Chinese one, still under construction, which has caused concern to some U.S. officials.

Mattis’ visit to the base comes as the United States has been increasing pressure on militant groups such as al Shabaab in the region.

The White House recently granted the U.S. military broader authority to strike al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants in Somalia.

Waldhauser told reporters that he had not yet used the new authorities given to him by the White House.

Al Shabaab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the Somali government.

On Sunday, a military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Somalia’s semi autonomous Puntland region on Sunday, killing at least six soldiers and injuring another eight.

The United States recently sent a few dozen troops to Somalia to help train members of the Somali National Army.

It is also carrying out strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

AQAP boasts one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and it has been a persistent concern to the U.S. government ever since a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Clelia Oziel)

Kenya – the clear threat of election violence

The Conversation

Voters queue to cast their ballots during presidential and parliamentary elections in 2013. Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

In the last few weeks Kenya has seen an increase in intra-party political violence following the start of its political party primaries that began on April 13th and are scheduled to run for two weeks.

The primaries are “mini-polls” held by political parties to choose which candidates will vie for seats in the general election that will be held on August 8th.

The focus has been on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which was the first party to begin the nomination process. The ODM was formed in 2007 and is one of Kenya’s main political parties.

Since the start of the ODM primaries chaos has continued to mar the process. The worst cases of political violence were witnessed in Migori in south-western Kenya and Ruaraka in Nairobi. In both cases violence between rival camps led to injuries.

The Busia County primaries, which were the first to take place, also ended in chaos. Busia is a county in western Kenya on the border with Uganda.

The primaries are ongoing and continue to be characterised by palpable tension.

A storm has also been gathering within the ruling Jubilee Party, which began its nominations on Friday last week. Its preparations have also been characterised by internal party tensions.

Recently in Kirinyaga County in central Kenya supporters of two contenders for the gubernatorial seat clashed violently at a prayer rally. That must have been a foretaste of things to come because the first day of the Jubilee primaries was so disorganised that the party announced a nationwide postponement of the nomination exercise.

Kenya’s elections laws require all political parties to undertake internal party primary elections. But it’s a requirement they’d rather not fulfil.

The truth is that Kenya’s political parties coalesce around individuals and ethnic communities rather than ideology. This has made the running of party primaries an arduous task as dejected aspirants often troop to rival political formations after losing in a primary.

This means that parties have to contend with the nightmare of shifting alliances close to the general election.

Rivalry behind the chaos

Party-primary violence has been intense in regions where the main political parties command a strong following. Aspirants who are nominated in their party strongholds have a much better chance of winning. This means that the battle for the nominations is fierce and aspirants often resort to violence against their opponents.

Despite having disciplinary mechanisms the main political parties have failed to rein in those instigating chaos. They usually impose fines on offenders instead of taking more more drastic measures such as a suspension or expulsion.

The fact that most politicians can easily raise the fines has bred a culture of impunity. This has resulted in perennial acts of violence during election cycles.

If the violence isn’t contained it could be a harbinger of things to come when Kenyans go to the polls in August. And while the recent conflict has been a wake up call, it has not come as a surprise given Kenya’s history of election violence.

Since the return of multiparty politics, the country has repeatedly witnessed ethnic tension and violence around election time. Only the 2013 polls stand out as being relatively peaceful.

Deeper issues

The violence during and around election time is an indicator of underlying socioeconomic and political issues such as land injustices, marginalisation and disenfranchisement.

These issues were set out in the 2013 Truth Justice and Reconciliation Report, which was written in response to the post-election violence of 2007-2008. Its recommendations have never been implemented.

The 2007-2008 trajectory of ethnic animosity – which led to 1,133 deaths and 600 000 people rendered homeless – underscores the use of disputed elections to bring underlying issues to the fore.

Although the next election in 2013 was relatively peaceful ethnic tensions have continued to build up across the country. The theatre for this vicious ethnic driven political intolerance has mostly been on social media platforms which are dominated by young Kenyans.

The flame that has been fanned on social media since the 2013 polls is growing into a fire as politicians hit the campaign trail. While leaders engage in polarising rhetoric, it’s the youth who become either perpetrators or victims of the political violence.

There are more young people in Kenya than any other demographic cohort. They are also the most disenfranchised which makes them vulnerable to being recruited as perpetrators of violence. Widespread unemployment of 22% is also a contributory factor to young people joining campaign teams as vigilantes, militias or agents.

The making of a peaceful election

As Kenya’s general election approaches, the US and UK governments have raised the alarm over the potential for violence.

The National Democratic Institute has also warned about the likelihood of violence before, during, or after the elections. The institute is an international nongovernmental organisation whose primary task is to advance democratic principles and good governance. In Kenya it’s work has mainly involved strengthening electoral and political processes.

The institute has also given a raft of recommendations on how to avoid election-related violence.

But in the end only Kenyans can put a stop to ethno-political violence.

In the medium to longer term one way they could do this would be by implementing the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report.

Another would be to build programmatic political parties that are rooted in ideology rather than ethnicity.

In the short term the institutions mandated to ensure peaceful electioneering must actively discourage violence. For example the National Cohesion and Integration Commission must fulfil its mandate. The commission is a statutory body established against the backdrop of a reconciliation pact agreed after the 2007-2008 post–election violence. It’s aim is to support sustainable peaceful coexistence among Kenyans.

In addition, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has a crucial role in mitigating political violence by conducting free and fair elections. The commission is legally mandated to conduct primary elections for political parties.

But some stakeholders have opposed its involvement in party affairs citing the principle of neutrality. In my opinion, the commission should play an advisory and logistical role to ensure free, fair, and peaceful primary elections in the run-up to the general election in August.