Southern Africa’s SADC Under the Spotlight

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
The Southern African Development Community (SADC), comprising 15 member states, convenes an extraordinary summit in Sandton, South Africa on 11 June, principally to discuss the extension of free trade
between itself and larger counterparts, the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA). On the sidelines of this conference, two of SADC’s reprobate siblings, Madagascar and Zimbabwe, will draw the greater media focus in the face new criticisms of SADC for its manifest apathy in dealing with regional crisis.

There are few parallels between Madagascar and Zimbabwe, and these are tenuous. The single common denominator bringing them to SADC’s tending are issues of governance and the right of their peoples to choose political leaders in free and fair elections, being devoid of violence and intimidation. Madagascar suffered a transfer of power to opposition leader, Andy Rajoelina, who headed up an imposed High Transitional Authority in what was tantamount to a military coup. Following lengthy negotiations, SADC recently bungled by approving a ‘road-map’ intended to return the nation to democracy, which the entire Madagascan opposition had instantly rejected. The people are not liberated.

Zimbabwe is the bigger headache for SADC. Surprisingly, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa demonstrated his increasing impatience with Zimbabwe’s failure to implement resolutions to save a shaky Global Political Agreement (GPA). Politically, Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity (GNU) is decaying. The problem is, nobody knows how genuine, or indeed impartial, Zuma is, especially behind closed doors. An apparent increase in levels of political violence and intimidation, ahead of elections, for which no date has even been set, the seeming militarization of politics by one contender party, and the polarization of the parties to the GPA are cause for concern. Yet SADC’s professed disquiet with Zimbabwe is not being matched with commensurate action or pressure. There is certainly no urgency and the people are not liberated.

This is, perhaps, not surprising. SADC has long been regarded as a toothless bulldog. It has unresolved issues concerning its ineffective secretariat, which lacks both political and administrative infusion from the club’s regional powerhouse, South Africa. Its objectives were once that of a political liberator in southern Africa. Added to this, the very concept that this old nationalist liberators’ club, might ever confront one of its own, indeed face up to Africa’s most upheld liberation revolutionary, showers water on fuming discontent in some parts of the region. Zuma’s ANC government, charged with structuring the election ‘road-map’ in Zimbabwe, is hardly likely tip the scales and topple a crony liberation party, thus exacerbating a rather disturbing trend.

Astonishingly, the Community has already suspended its SADC Tribunal, a regional law court, in the wake of its judgements made against the Zimbabwean government on land issues brought before it. The Tribunal had ruled that land reform in Zimbabwe was racist and illegal. Zimbabwe ignored the judgement and facilitated the suspension. Many are now crying foul. Their loss of recourse to regional law establishments, such as the SADC Tribunal, for protection against human rights abuses, leaves the victims of bad governance vulnerable to no justice or seeking refuge off-shore in foreign courts. This is a huge blow for democracy.

Now, opposition parties in Zimbabwe, which may well agree on an election road-map at the summit, still have serious contending issues. In particular, the essential need for security sector reform. Zimbabwe’s military and police service are considered to be fiercely loyal to Robert Mugabe and his former ruling party, which are clambering to retain power as Zimbabwe’s one and only liberator. Many believe the security forces are simply a party political militia, which cannot respect a constitution for all people. Clearly, without such reform, any election road-map will be critically damaged, before the first steps are taken.

SADC needs to take stock of its obligations to the people of southern Africa when faced with crisis in one nation or another. It needs to understand the requirement for impartiality and get over the liberation culture that appears to have ingratiated itself within. Southern Africa has golden opportunities at its doorstep, yet, like the rest of Africa, it seems destined for the slippery slope of internecine squabbles, economic demise and destruction in the deep waters of just too much politics. Without active and assertive regional leadership, empathy and simple common sense within SADC, North African styled revolutions may easily fester in the south.

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General Democracy

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIConcerns have been rising in Zimbabwe about the predominance of the military in running the affairs of the country. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with former military officers taking the stage in politics or commerce, if they have the substance to do so, but there is clearly a move to saturate both the civil service and strategic, government-owned corporations with these strongmen. One would be forgiven for asking, ‘for what purpose?’ They would seem rather naive if they did. What we are seeing in Zimbabwe is the smart coup d’état, a gradual non-violent, but extremely intimidating infiltration of the military into power.

Coup d’état are not uniquely African, nor are they new. The earliest know coup d’état was in 509 BC when members of the Tarquin dynasty led by Lucius Brutus overthrew the King of Rome to establish the Roman Republic. It has been going on ever since. Africa has a recorded 114 coup d’état, the first being in Ethiopia in 1910 when Empress Taytu, regent of the incapacitated Emperor Menelik II was overthrown. Egypt will be remembered for one of the earlier coup d’état in Africa where, in 1952, Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Nasser overthrew King Farouk, later resulting in the Suez Crisis.

The predominance of coup d’état in Africa have mostly followed the colonial withdrawal with the winds of change that swept through most of Africa in the 1960s. Prolific in suffering putsches are Ethiopia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, each of which suffered six military or violent takeovers. This is nothing like Haiti, with its 26 coup d’état, which, reflecting on the current state and health of Haiti, should surely be a signal to those attempting to impose military power elsewhere. There are disturbing correlations between military rule and oppression, freedom denial, human rights abuse and poverty.

Some might suggest that Zimbabwe’s situation is a little more unique in accepting some form of military rule. Zimbabwe’s birth was through the barrel of a gun, following a vigorous liberation struggle. Guerrillas who served the revolution during the liberation era, over thirty years ago, were de facto party faithful, political soldiers or militia, and so it seems the current crop of generals remain. Did anyone expect a different outcome after a Maoist styled insurgency? The concept of the apolitical soldier, and in Zimbabwe’s case apolitical policeman, thus has just never been muted, so long as their loyal support was in favour of the single incumbent liberation party or regime.

Zimbabwe has moved on and things have changed, conceivably for the better, as its people strive for greater democracy and freedom, away from the autocracy and pseudo-democracy offered by the liberation party. A couple of opposition parties have evolved in the last thirty years, providing the prospect for democratic, party political choice by the people. The hegemony of power, theoretically, should not be retained by a narrow mind set hanging onto its liberation bona fides. This brooks no choice.

The liberation party, and supposed architect of Zimbabwean freedom, is the benefactor of the generals’ unwavering loyalty and support, albeit given the patronage which has swayed that process in the last ten years. These same generals will deny Zimbabweans any legitimate choice, by suggesting, openly as they have, that only a party with liberation credentials can rule Zimbabwe. They have intimated, shamelessly, that if they do not get their political way, they will take over, pfuti dzinorira (we will go to war). With whom?

This is crass political folly. The problem with this thinking is that there is only one surviving party with liberation credentials, the other party with such qualification having been crushed and forced into a unity arrangement during the mid 1980s. Eventually those who took part in the liberation war will die out, besides such liberators do not have a God given right to rule eternally. So where does this leave the people’s democratic rights and choice and is this not, potentially, a malicious denial of their freedom and a perversion of the liberation struggle? Zimbabweans should take heed and forthrightly reject these sinister overtones, before allowing their nation to descend into a reign of deep subjugation.

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Alas there are no Ayatollahs in Zimbabwe

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIEgypt is gushing with euphoria following the fall of Hosni Mubarak. We have seen this elation elsewhere before; it will be short lived, but nevertheless joyful for the masses triumphant. Some, outside Egypt, may envy this sudden release of jubilant hysteria, from beneath the umbrella of their concurrent oppression. Others may be reflecting inwardly, scheming, perhaps wondering who has the audacity to encourage their first freedom forgathering.

Many, like the author, will be making a few comparisons between Egypt and Zimbabwe. Clearly, there is none, that is, between the politics of Maburak’s Egypt and that of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. One was an iron fist dictatorship evolved from, and supported by, the military and the other is a pseudo democracy where true freedoms are yet to be realized, a transition between tired, single party, absolute power and apparent political polarity.

The common territory between the, now disassembled, Egyptian regime and the power base of Zimbabwe lies with the insatiable need of an individual to retain power. Some say at whatever cost. Many will draw the comparison between a hugely transparent military involvement that uplifted the Mubarak regime and the more opaque involvement, and power influence, of an elitist military within Zimbabwe’s political circle.

The hypothesis presently kicking around is that the people’s revolution in Egypt will erupt in other Middle Eastern countries. A few hopefuls speculate its eruption in other parts of Africa, and Zimbabwe is no exception. The question is, do Zimbabweans, in comparison with their Egyptian brothers, have the passion to perpetrate something similar to the Nile Revolution? Indeed, is there actually a need to do so?

One may envisage such revolution in Zimbabwe and ask if a peaceful atmosphere with mass demonstration could actually be achieved. Mubarak’s army turned its back on their erstwhile leader and lowered their barrels. Many doubt Zimbabwe’s generals would do the same. Mubarak’s army refused to fire upon the surging masses and one wonders if Zimbabwe’s finest would imitate that lead.

Ignore the potential response of otherwise noble military officers, in the face of popular uprising, and consider the history of mass protest in Zimbabwe. Has this ever been truly peaceful? Has not mass protest been marred by death, injury and malicious damage; bullets, teargas, water cannons, and fire? Violent response may not bloody the hands of the generals, but rather soil the mitts of an unruly coterie of ignorant lackeys, blinded by their own propaganda. This is the most perilous, potential danger of ‘peaceful’ protest in Zimbabwe.

Another danger lurks with yet further comparisons in the unlikely scenario which could evolve. The Egyptian protests have created a political power vacuum. There is no organized politics to fill the void, save a fringe fundamentalist movement already dribbling in anticipation. The ayatollahs must be gleeful and the military have been forced to take control. Zimbabwe has its opposition, which presumably would fill the void, but people are beginning to ask if indeed it will.

It seems, to the casual observer, that the opposition appears to have retreated into its shell, like a timid tortoise. It has lost its bottle. The parties are not awfully vocal, nor protesting about much these days. Tsvangirai’s MDC seems to be enjoying the trappings of its sham leadership, while the key political focus is on their apparently more dominant foe.

The Ncube or Mutumbara MDC, or whoever is running that seeming shamble of a party, appears to be concentrated on their rather divisive, petty, internal squabbles. No one is hungry or dribbling in anticipation, and certainly no military transition could allow such disingenuous opposition to take control. And therein lays the real threat, the insatiable retention of power.

Wikileaks: Corrupting the Keepers of Secrets

By Andrew Field
Today, the media dwelled upon the recent exposure of previously classified information by Wikileaks.
They have just published 400 thousand pages of a United States Army situation reports during the Iraq occupation, causing much retrospective indignation. The material leaked is old news, there are few surprises. It has renewed the disclosure cravings of Iraq war critics. Despite pre-release media hype, the information is stale, and while revealing a few points of interest, there is no major scoop.

One does not know whether to scorn or admire Wikileaks. For what purpose do they act? They say ‘transparency creates a better society for all people’, and that ‘better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organizations’. Fair enough, if we were living in a pure world, but what of our enemies’ institutions who benefit from this ‘principled leaking’? Was there no corruption by the principled leaker?

What some struggle to come to terms with, is that while western nations are collaborating to prevent or fight terrorism, thus protecting its citizens; there are those who choose to expose their secrets, unwittingly perhaps, to the enemy, in the interests of such transparency. We seem to be losing the plot here, if wicked nations and organizations are really intent upon your absolute destruction.

For centuries conflict and political turmoil, and even commercial competitiveness, have given rise to a world immersed in cloak and dagger activity, spying and snooping. This has been enhanced hugely by technology in the last few decades. Our institutions have much to gain from information about their enemies, adversaries and competitors. Is this so thoroughly immoral?

To most, this is known as intelligence and an echelon of organizations and agencies has blossomed to perform this simple task of information one-upmanship upon your enemy, to defend your democracy. By their very nature, they do have blood on their hands, some more than others, and one would like to think mostly that of their foes. There is no purity in warfare.

Evidently, and acknowledging that no conflict is clean, much hard work is done to secure information, in some cases by devious means, which is why intelligence becomes so secretive. And this seems to irk some people, because while secrecy provides protection to those gathering and providing intelligence, it also covers up truths, eliminates transparency or things which in normal circumstances should properly be exposed. Where do we draw the line?

Our enemies, and we do have them, are going to pursue their objectives by the most evil means possible, and terrorism seems to be the vogue at the moment. Terrorists have another view of utopia, and will happily deny you yours, no matter how much you demand pure and absolute democracy and freedom, civil rights or equality for all, including your enemies.

No democratically minded citizen wants this evil of terrorism on their door steps. Such conflict brings death and destruction in the ugliest way. Warfare is a filthy thing, but a necessary evil if you are on the receiving end of a threat. Sadly, the successful counter-insurgency does not conduct itself by the ‘Queensbury Rules’, so blood does get spilled.

In fact, things get very dirty out there and on both sides of the fray. But when people within your own community decide upon ‘principled leaking’, passing on our secrets to a would-be whistleblower, then surely there is something wrong. It is morally incomprehensible and corrupt for the custodian of secrets to pass them on. When our whistleblower discloses the leak, he is in fact feeding and serving the enemy.

From a purely intelligence perspective, there is an ethical clash between the transparency you demand, being the supposed democratizer, and the undoing of secret intelligence networks and conduits used. Intelligence plays a part, apparently, in protecting those citizens, who claim this right to know, in the face of deadly adversity. Think about it. This is akin to wetting one’s powder when the beast is charging.

Intelligence conduits will dry up if we broadcast our intelligence modus operandi to the opposing world. By the same token we don’t want governments or their agencies to get away with their crimes under a cloak of secrecy, such as the tortures which occurred in Iraq. They who choose to support and feed this destructive whistle blowing should examine their collective conscience. It may be suicidal to uphold Wikileaks’ rights to spill the beans acquired through corrupt leakages.

Kiddies on the African Killing Fields

By Andrew Field
Flickr_Andrew_XIIt is about a year since the United States passed the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, enabling the prosecution of those generals who recruit child soldiers into their ranks. UNICEF dubbed the practice of kiddies at war as ‘illegal and morally reprehensible’ a couple of years back.

The International Criminal Court only recognised the use of children in conflict as a war crime just over 10 years ago. Really? So, when is the World going to stop ‘talking the talk’ and start ‘walking the walk’ as promised by Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict? Not soon, apparently.

No generals have answered for the crime of sending kids to war, well certainly not in Africa. Yet, about half of the World’s child soldiers are fighting small wars and ethnic campaigns in Africa, including Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic of Congo, Sudan and Uganda.

Rebellions and insurgencies have been raging in Africa for decades, and the warlords just keep on plundering, with children as gun fodder. Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Angola had their wars too, and Zimbabwe, not in conflict, used its ‘Green Bomber’ youth militia to perpetrate ghastly violence against political opposition candidates.

Children in conflict are easy to abduct and then shape their minds to any way of thinking; and to molest and abuse too. Most warrior kids are abducted, subjected to brutal initiation and indoctrination. They are morally degraded and sexually exploited then quickly honed to perform bestial acts and atrocities against the enemy, to loot, exploit and kill.

The boys tote AK-47’s, use hardcore drugs, and smoke and swear like troopers, literally. The girls serve as porters, cooks and sex slaves, being raped by their captors, and frequently offered as human traffic for a hungry prostitution market. Many of these ‘four-foot killing machines’ are slaughtered on the battlefield. It is the ‘blooding’ of the teddy bears!

This is all so morally repugnant to any civilised person. Would elegant people allow this to happen to their own issue? One would suppose not. Yet the civilised World just does not seem to be able to come to grips with the situation. Yes, of course, there has been serious debate in the august chambers of the almighty United Nations, with treaties and human rights laws even being established.

Sure, the Security Council debates these matters, from time to time, and points its ‘fearsome’ finger at offenders, but nothing more. And there are the Conventions and Protocols forbidding this and that in conflict and categorising this war crime and that too. Why, even the International Labour Organisation has predefined the use of children in war as the ‘worst forms of child labour’. Goodness, one can only shudder at the dimension of this toothless dog.

Some are working really hard at the problem. The ‘Coalition to Stop the Use of the Child Soldiers’ is such an organisation. It plays an important role with its awareness campaigning. Various World bodies do likewise, but, frankly, the message just isn’t getting through. Well, not at least to those who believe they can influence change, so it would seem.

Politicians are in the firing line here. Whatever their philosophies, or which ever ‘ism’ is the flavour of the day, World leaders just do not seem to have the moral fibre to act, nor the intelligence to understand the real issues unfolding in African wars. It seems abhorrent to them to be critical, least they might offend, or have the courage to do what is right for the World’s children in conflict zones, especially in Africa.

Guns for Africa

By Andrew Field
Flickr_Andrew_XIAfrica has long been the dumping ground for those weapons of mass destruction of a different kind, the notorious Kalashnikov, or AK-47, and other lethal miscellany.   For some, however, it has been an opportunity killing field and a somewhat bloody lucrative market that fuels death, injury, destruction and poverty too.  The prize is influence in the scramble to access Africa’s natural wealth and resources, in a sick feast of political back scratching.

The continent has seen more than its fair share of revolutions, wars and counter revolutions.  The rule of law in a few states has degenerated into the gambit of simple gun power, dominated by those who hold the biggest caches.  Some governments have failed and small fiefdoms have evolved.  Africa’s politically aligned armies, with the sweat of revolution still on their brows, are grotesquely loyal to the parties who rule them, rather than nations that pay them.  The ‘party’ and revolutionary pride are all powerful in Africa and their patronage ever stronger.

Little wonder, therefore, that a good portion of today’s illicit, military, small-arms trade finds its way to Africa.  At least a dozen small wars are raging, political dissention and instability is rife, and a few autocrats continue to hold onto their ill gotten power, chiefly through the barrel of a gun.  Yet, most people who die in Africa, at the hands of AK-47 lugging killers, are not actually at war.  People are not the sole victims here either.  Wildlife is being decimated by the Kalashnikov to reap ivory and horn.  Politicians, die-hard revolutionaries and outlaws are snuggling to make it ever so easy for gun-runners and dealers to flourish.

AK-47 Rifle

Added to this equation are China, the post-Cold War Soviet devolution states and member states of the now defunct Comecon.  The common denominator here is old-fashioned communism, Africa’s trough of anti-colonial fervour and idealism.  These nations are desperate to rid themselves of huge Soviet era stockpiles of, superfluous, but still lethal weapons, which are ideal for Africa’s small wars.   Ship loads of armaments have been hitting the coast of Africa for years now.  Africa seems to make it all the more easier, with its corrupt regimes, poor infrastructure and leaky borders.

The key to control is the disruption of ammunition supplies.  Legitimate trade in small arms munitions into Africa only accounts for about 4% of world trade.  Of course, much more comes in.  Trade pacts in West, East and Southern Africa are actually serious about implementing gun controls, but it is just not enough and far too late.  Besides, governments still seem content to circumvent the rules to maintain old revolutionary friendships.  Illicit gun-running continues to thrive through the back door and will continue to do so, as long as this favours those who rule.

Who are the dirtier dealers in this wicked scenario and do the so called ‘Lords of War’ have the most blood on their hands?  Apparently not.   The power of the gun in sustaining governments in control, or removing them for that matter, is not entirely foreign to Africa.   But those who really facilitate this mischievous trade, and by it hope to garner influence, are very foreign indeed.   They are swimming in blood and collective Africa, without realising it, is experiencing a new, but subtle, wave of colonialism, which will properly exploit an insatiable hunger for her resources.

All that Glistens is not Gold, Diamonds, Swords or Armour

By Andrew Field
Flickr_Andrew_XIZimbabwe’s fledgling diamond industry seems to have set off to a rather poor start. One would have thought that a new found precious stone resource would have been treasured by the mining sector and the State alike. Well, it has been, but by greedy people and, so it seems, now crooked institutions too. In the process, a new trade in smuggling, money laundering, combined with human rights abuses, has evolved. Free enterprise has been trampled under, along the route.

Utilisation of the Marange diamond fields began its natural course, in March 2002, with the exploration by Kimberlitic Searches, a subsidiary of the diamond king, De Beers plc. This followed the discovery of diamonds by local villagers in the area. Pegging, under Exclusive Prospecting Orders, and leasing of claims followed, but, incredulously, De Beers failed to renew these leases in 2006. African Consolidated Resources plc now asserts to have acquired these rights from government, a matter which remains sub judice.

It seems that once the wealth of these claims became better known, self serving politicians stepped in to cancel the leasing rights of African Consolidated, on the very dubious grounds that they were not properly conferred. Much like with land, stake holders were simply the wrong colour and supposedly of a hostile nationality. Police started their evictions of African Consolidated personnel, despite magisterial orders to desist, while government granted the rights to its own Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.

The then ruling party announced, with such typical folly, the opening of the diamond fields to all indigenous people and the World’s latest, and perhaps last, diamond rush began. Politicians did not count upon people flocking to Marange from all corners of the globe. Nor did they anticipate an illicit trafficking hierarchy, from lowly agents to corrupt barons, enjoying their political patronage, including, apparently, some of their own and members of the forces too. Zimbabwe’s was soon being robbed of its wealth, enriching a select few ‘chefs’ while the new bounty traveled as far afield as Lebanon, India, Pakistan, China and Europe.

Then Operation Chikorokoza Chapera arrived, in which hundreds of police were deployed, and twenty-two thousand wildcat diggers and illicit diamond dealers were arrested. Widespread allegations of human rights abuse: including arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture; use of child labour; and even extrajudicial killings, came to the fore, according to Human Rights Watch, all, of course, officially denied. A new and odorous level of official corruption was being observed, while other nations simply looked on.

There followed military intervention, to achieve controls, where the police had once failed, leading to yet further accounts of brutality, human rights abuse and yet more accusations of sleaze. Fingers were being pointed at the central bank too, for illicit dealing in the precious stone, which they had not the mandate to do. Inevitably, the names of a few more senior politicians slipped into the debacle to make it all the grubbier. It really is quite a little mess.

Enter then the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, with allegations about ‘blood diamonds’, citing human rights abuses, and with disingenuous intention to ban Marange diamonds, through Zimbabwe’s suspension from its ranks. Of course, Zimbabwe’s unique situation does not fall within the definition of ‘conflict diamonds’. The Kimberley Process eventually absolved Zimbabwe from any wrong doing, stating no proof was established, but urging de-militarisation of the diamond fields, a contradiction on its own. This has been largely ignored. Zimbabwe thus escaped its suspension.

Zimbabwe’s delicate unity government remains weirdly silent, as a few of its own, and their lieutenants, continue to gorge at the trough. What could it do? The nation is in a quagmire of graft, brimming with illicit diamond dealing and political ineptitude. Governments which act with such blatant impunity, then send in the troops to protect ill gotten gains, are surely at risk of being subjugated by their protectors, when the glitter of new found diamond wealth dulls once shiny swords and armour. The ugly truth is that this may be a fait accompli.