The Kansas City Shuffle

The Kansas City Shuffle is a confidence trick or con. The perpetrator creates a big enough diversion to distract their intended target so they can can carry out their mission. To pull off  a proper Kansas City Shuffle though, you need a body, a dead body.

Yesterday Zimbabwe watchers were shocked at the televised assassination of (the character of) Miss Lindiwe Zulu by South African Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj. It was the proverbial accident in slow-motion you just can’t turn your eyes away from.

For those who do not know, Miss Zulu is President Jacob Zuma’s  international relations advisor and representative on the SADC facilitation team mandated to oversee the implementation of the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA), the founding document of the current political dispensation in Zimbabwe.

At the signing of the GPA Zimbabwe’s three leading political parties, through their principals, appointed chief negotiators who would represent their party interests in the GPA implementation process with South Africa as the facilitator. When Jacob Zuma became President of South Africa in 2009 he became the SADC facilitator and as is his right, assembled a team to represent him in the facilitation process, enter career diplomat Miss Zulu, already a senior member of the African National Congress, who by all accounts I have read, is well respected and liked.

As was to be expected the facilitation team have been lambasted from time to time by the parties but events and statements of the last two to three weeks escalated beyond expectations. It started with President Mugabe making a thinly veiled and insulting personal reference to Miss Zulu during a campaign speech. It was on a Friday so the weekend papers went into a frenzy over the statements. In an interview on Radio 702 the  following week Miss Zulu brushed the statements aside as a distraction from the work that was being done in Zimbabwe.

Miss Zulu continued to make statements on the situation in Zimbabwe on, we all believed, behalf of the SADC facilitation team and President Zuma. This did not please President Mugabe who on Friday, took aim at her again and in statements attributed to him asked for her to “just shut up” about Zimbabwe as she did not have a mandate to speak on the country. He went on to say only President Zuma could speak on Zimbabwe as far as the facilitation process was concerned.

On Saturday there were reports, to be denied the following day,  that President Zuma had warned President Mugabe to tone down his rhetoric as this could jeopardise SA-Zimbabwe relations in particular and SADC in general. The world went to sleep thinking all was well and balance had been restored to the universe but this was not to be.

On Sunday President Zuma issued a statement through his spokesman Mac Maharaj which effectively backed President Mugabe and apologised for Miss Zulu’s “unfortunate” statements regarding Zimbabwe’s readiness to hold elections. Being a watcher of South African politics I am used to Mac Maharaj coming out swinging as the Presidential hatchet-man but this was a shock and deeply disturbing. President Zuma’s spokesman followed this up with interviews on various news channels to make sure the message was well and truly heard. South Africa and by extension SADC, had capitulated to President Mugabe’s Zanu PF and offered up a sacrifice. It doesn’t help matters that there have been rumours for months that President Mugabe wanted Miss Zulu gone and even an unsubstantiated claim of an assassination plot. Could this be the endgame? ZANU PF showing that the entire SADC region dare not come up against it? The timing is indeed fortuitous for ZANU seeing as Zimbabwe is in the middle of an election campaign, suffice to say, time will tell.

However, assuming that Presidents Zuma and Mugabe are right in their assertions, a few questions come to mind.

If it is correct that it was not Miss Zulu’s place to make statements on behalf of the facilitation team since her appointment, why is it only being made clear now? She has been speaking on Zimbabwe for years.

If Patrick Chinamasa and Tendai Biti as chief negotiators for ZANU PF and MDC T respectively, can make statements on behalf of their principals and parties regarding the GPA why is Miss Zulu not extended the same privilege? It would be interesting to see Miss Zulu’s letter of appointment and terms of reference.

In the meantime the SA Presidency’s statement has touched off a firestorm on social networks with some questioning President Zuma’s support of women’s professional advancement,  in particular those who serve in or on behalf of his government.

I have little doubt Miss Zulu will come back from this, it’s the nature of politics, luckily for her, the GPA has run it’s faltering course and in less than two weeks Zimbabwe will, for good or bad, have a new political dispensation. Hopefully the era of political character assassinations will no longer be a hallmark of Zimbabwean politics.

Below are relevant links: 

South Africa regrets unauthorised statements on Zimbabwe http://bit.ly/129bs0s 

http://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/Mugabe-urges-Zuma-to-silence-advisor-20130720

Don’t Call Me Mfana!

At 37 years of age I am still confused by the need older people seem to have to refer to me as mukomana or mfana, both meaning boy. Do they think it’s a term of endearment or do they feel some subliminal obligation to put me in my place, that being below them in the patriarchal hierarchy that is, for lack of a better term, African society. This happens in just about every kind of interaction imaginable and I can’t think of any situation where such a reference would be anything but derogatory.

I consciously don’t do it to men younger than I am because I know how much it pisses them off too. Where it is most irritating is when it happens in professional situations, there you are trying to get through a meeting, taking or giving instruction and it gets thrown in like some random slap in the face to wake you up from any illusion that you were being taken seriously. At what age does one graduate from being called mfana, does it ever happen? I grudgingly take it from my father and older relatives but beyond this family circle should I have to  tolerate it?

Time for real change

President Mugabe is on record referring to his cabinet and party executive as boys girls numerous times in both Shona and English. There are many stories of these same men and women literally grovelling at his feet, one minister has proudly acknowledged going as far as to sign his letters to the President, “Your ever obedient son Obert Mpofu”. Good for him if that works for him but is this really what or who we are? Recently Prime Minister Tsvangirai publicly castigated the MDC T youth leader Solomon Madzore for allegedly inciting violence, in warning him and the youth league, the PM said ” manje vapfana vangu . . ” (now my boys . . ). Now besides the fact that Madzore, in my opinion did no such thing, where does the man who claims to represent change get off referring to a senior party member as a boy, at a rally no less? Madzore has been in and out of jail for his party numerous times in the last two years and still has cases pending linked to party activities and this is the man you name and rebuke in public whilst calling him “mfana”?

With this kind of prevailing attitude from our political leaders its then no surprise that they may have limited appeal for many between the ages of 18 and 40. On January 28 this year Minister of Youth Development, Indiginisation and Empowerment Saviour Kasukuwere was in Bulawayo to meet the youth and talk to them about government initiatives to empower them. He did not have an easy time of it as they expressed their displeasure at government intransigence on these same initiatives very clearly. Is this lack of commitment to the youth symptomatic of the practices I alluded to earlier? I believe it is and with these practices so entrenched in our society what hope really is there for true youth development in Zimbabwe? Are the over 60s who run this country willing to change their ways or genuinely hand over power to a more vibrant  and attuned generation?

How to treat the youth (vote) right

Now I know this is an oft trotted out comparison but I believe it is incredibly relevant to this discussion. Barrack Obama’s 2008 presidential run is often cited as having changed the way political campaigns are done around the world. Countless analysts have identified the community organisation strategy as the secret weapon that won him the election. His campaign team composed of the greatest number of such youth volunteers ever assembled and they delivered. Recently whilst in South Africa President Obama held a town hall meeting at Johannesburg University’s Soweto  campus with youth from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, at no time during that meeting did I hear him refer to them as anything but young men and women or ladies and gentlemen. I am a keen Obama watcher and at no time since 2007 when he announced his bid for his party’s nomination have I ever heard him refer to his campaign team as boys and girls.

The mutual respect evident in that first campaign saw the youth volunteers come out swinging for President Obama the second time around ensuring a comfortable win and second term in office. This is non-existent in Zimbabwean politics and society at large, the youth are simply expected to do their duty. They are not seen by the politicians as a voting block who must be wooed despite making up the majority of the population.

Beware the ghosts of March

Whilst I don’t have the statistics, I would wager that those under 40 make up the bulk of Zimbabwe’s voters yet the messages coming out of the campaigns do not seem to be particularly relevant to them. For how long can politicians expect to continue with the same strategies every election and keep a dynamic electorate interested? During the Constitutional Referendum in March this year much was made about the poor voter turnout and many asked if Zimbabweans had not become disinterested in politics. I have not seen these questions being asked now that the elections are here despite the chaos of the voter registration exercise and the disastrous special voting for civil servant earlier this week. At the time of the referendum there was talk that the youth had not come out in their numbers and this voter apathy was a worry for the coming elections. Jump to two weeks before harmonised elections and what has been done to bring the youth to the ballot box? Very little from what I can see. Instead we have candidates continuing to treat them as their children and in some cases, private militia, moving through areas coercing people to attend rallies or to keep other politicians out of “their leaders'” constituency or ward. Youth voter apathy has not been properly dealt with and politicians might be in for a rude surprise come July 31, then again, I could be wrong.

In my ideal Zimbabwe no-one will manipulate the youth or anyone else for that matter in this way and mutual respect will reign supreme in all our dealings with each other. So Mr, Ms or Mrs Candidate, if you want my vote, don’t call me mfana!

Who Will Guard The Guards?

It’s election time again in Zimbabwe and the circus that has become our version of democracy is well and truly under way. Whilst almost everyone I meet and talk to these days is concerned with the parties and candidates, I have another concern.

I have watched with trepidation the media frenzy that has already started to get out of hand with suspicious unverified stories being passed around as fact in the race to break the next big Zim election story. Over the weekend there was the claim that President Mugabe had plotted to kill President Zuma and his foreign policy advisor Lindiwe Zulu in order to scuttle the SADC push for ZANU PF’s adherence to the Global Political Agreement (GPA). A fantastically unbelievable story. The weekend also saw the on again off again opposition grand coalition along with claims and counter-claims of political violence fuelling a social media storm like never seen before in Zimbabwe.

Taking note of the global explosion of “citizen journalism” since Zimbabwe’s last Presidential election in 2008, I wish to focus on the content produced by professional journalists and media houses. These are the public/state-owned media and the private-owned media covering Zimbabwe.

Whilst  Zimbabwe is by no measure as precarious, I am reminded of the role the media played in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and ask, who will keep the media honest?

In 1994 Georges Rutaganda was a successful Kigali businessman and DJ on the popular station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). He was also a member of the Interahamwe Militia and used his position to encourage them to exterminate the “Tutsi cockroaches” and “witches”. After being arrested in 1995, in 2000 Rutaganda was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and murder. This is the most extreme example of the media as a tool of hatred in recent times and serves as a warning of just how wrong things can go when the media appoints itself the infallible voice of the nation. In his book, The Media and The Rwanda Genocide, Professor Allan Thompson gives a critical and dispassionate account of the Rwandese and international media’s role in the 1994 genocide.

In an article for today’s Guardian UK newspaper entitled “We are all subjective: why journalists should declare who they vote for”, Antony Loewenstein makes the case that journalists should practice the same level of transparency they demand of their subjects if only for the sake of fair and accurate reporting, especially when covering politics. This becomes imperative during an election period such as Zimbabwe is currently in.

I agree with Loewenstien. I have no problem with a journalist taking a side on an issue as long as they are transparent about their position to begin with and can back up what they publish. Very recently I challenged a Zimbabwean journalist on the veracity of a post, he did not take kindly to this and after failing to back up his report resorted to schoolyard insults. I thought of taking this up with the publication but the journalist in question is the managing editor so I doubt I would have found redress down this avenue.

Zimbabwean journalists fall more into the class described by Loewenstein rather than the Rwandese crop of 1994 and I am reminded of  former UK Labor leader Mark Latham’s recent comments that the press gallery are “people who want to be players in politics, but lack the integrity and courage to run for elected office in their own name”. This, however, does not excuse the often obvious bias to be found in both private and state-owned media  across film, print, radio and cyberspace.

The nation and world at large deserve better than to be taken as unintelligent, unquestioning consumers of all that is published simply because it comes out of an established media house. Just as consumers have the right to return shoddy goods, they have the right to question shoddy reporting.

The role of active citizen journalism is to keep the media honest. In a time where it is normal for journalists to join a candidate on the campaign trail or for candidates to write opinion pieces in popular publications, it falls to the active citizen to say “NOT IN OUR NAME”! The media portray themselves as the guardians of the citizenry but if citizens, as the ultimate custodians of Zimbabwe do not monitor the fourth esate, then who will do this on their behalf? Who, will guard the guards?

Why Zimbabwe doesn’t need loans and aid.

President Mugabe and Justice Minister Chinamasa are right, Zimbabwe does not need donors to fund the upcoming elections. In fact, Zimbabwe should not need ANY financial aid whatsoever.
Much was made of Minister Tendai Biti’s statement in April 2013 that South Africa was about to release Balance of Payments (BOP) support for Zimbabwe to the tune of $100 million, as we all now know, this only succeeded in embarrassing his opposite number Pravin Ghordan and both governments. Following the ensuing media storm, no money came and the country continues to live from hand to mouth. Months later not only does Zimbabwe still not have BOP support but the government has also spurned election support from the United Nations and the politicians are again haggling over election dates causing much anxiety in the country and the Southern African region. In all of this the question of how these elections are to be funded has not been answered and every time a solution seems to have been found it slips from the nation’s collective grasp. But is aid really the only option?

Externalization

It is common cause that since independence in 1980 Zimbabwe has suffered undocumented capital flight running into potentially billions of Us dollars. In 2004 this practice came to be known as externalization and examples of this include:

  • Transfer pricing in the 1980s and 1990s whereby manufacturers exported goods cheaply then imported the same goods back into Zimbabwe at hugely inflated prices.
  • Under-pricing of exports only to sell them at their proper price once off-shore and the bulk of the money kept out of Zimbabwe.
  • Blatant smuggling of precious and unprocessed minerals to avoid declaring them as exports thereby not remitting the subsequent proceeds.
  • Banking malpractice that peaked in 2003 but continues unabated today including but not limited to manipulation of exchange control regulations.

Under Reserve Bank Governor Leonard Tsumba, 1993-2003, the country began to see the effects of externalization, this peaked in 2000-2003 with the liberalisation of the financial services sector, particularly banking,  typified by the rapid unchecked growth of indigenous players. Upon his retirement Dr. Tsumba was replaced temporarily by Charles Chikaura in an acting capacity until the appointment of  Dr. Gideon Gono in late 2003. On his appointment by President Mugabe Dr. Gono promised to clean up the financial sector which by then was widely perceived as the catalyst of Zimbabwe’s economic downturn. Dr. Gono’s initiative led to five years of sensational arrests, escapes, international chases, court cases, asset seizures and more with the list of suspects including many of the country’s business leaders at the time. Some of the accused even chose self-imposed exile to escape prosecution leading to failed requests for extradition by the RBZ through the police’s Serious Economic Offences Unit. By 2008 though the whole exercise had fizzled out into nothingness amid presidential pardons and the pressure of legal challenges on constitutional grounds. Though some of the cases are still ongoing, little of the plundered wealth has been recovered.

The dollarization of the Zimbabwean economy that followed the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in late 2008 was the catalyst for the recovery of the economy and this was strengthened by promises of financial support from all SADC nations in 2009. Despite much fanfare and a number of false starts, nothing of substance has been forthcoming and Zimbabwe’s recovery has been predominantly domestically driven and has predictably, stalled.

Illicit Capital Flight In Perspective

Considering that it is reasonably suspected that there are hundreds of millions possibly billions of dollars that have been siphoned out of Zimbabwe sitting in foreign bank accounts, the mind boggles that the Ministry of Finance is not actively engaging foreign governments and banks to institute legal proceedings against the account holders in an attempt to recover these funds. Only in 2013 did a bill go before parliament with the express purpose of tackling externalization. The Microfinance Bill is yet to be signed into law but only seeks to attach assets domiciled in Zimbabwe. It is unclear how far back the act can be enforced once signed into law thought the RBZ and the Ministry of Finance have said that as at February 2013 exporters had not repatriated $360 million. As at today it is unclear what measures either institution has taken to ensure the repatriation of these funds. In 2008 the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst published a report on capital flight from forty sub-Saharan Africa in the period 1970-2004 by Zimbabwe is estimated to have lost $16 162 000 000,00. For the full report go to http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/working_papers/working_papers_151-200/WP166.pdf.

New International Best Practice

Recently the Lybian Transitional Authority has made global headlines in its attempts to recover tens billions of dollars funnelled out of the country by the previous administration. Particular emphasis has been on South Africa which has acknowledged the existence of such investments and indicated its willingness to repatriate the funds despite their scale not having been finalised. In Zimbabwe it is unclear if the Microfinance Bill will make provision for such action by the Ministry of Finance and if so, how the Ministry will be capacitated as it is yet to be signed into law. If the government were serious about recovering externalised funds they would have speedily enacted this Bill in 2009 and by now the nation would surely have seen results. It is an indictment on the government and the finance ministry in particular that it is not known how much the country is losing annually to externalization and no effective measures have been instituted to recover what has already left or to stop the bleeding. Kofi Anan and the president of the African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka have both come out strongly against capital flight from Africa fuelled by corruption and fraud. With institutions like the AfDB willing to assist in recovering illicit capital transfers to their rightful states and the precedent set by South Africa in the Lybian case, what is Minister Biti waiting for?

What Just Happened Africa?

Last week the President of the United States embarked on what some media appointed Africa analysts called an, or is it a historical, visit to our beloved Africa. This is not to say that since his appointment President Obama has not been to our fair, sometimes scary continent, according to the dominant (read Western) press, he has, but those were whistle stops between Europe and the Middle East so we’ll pretend they don’t count. No-one, well not that I’ve noticed, even seems to remember that he spoke in front of that ex-leader Hosni Mubarak’s parliament during his first term but then again, it is generally understood in these parts that to say you are in Africa only counts if you are south of the Sahara no?

Never having been north of the Malawian border-post closest to Zimbabwe I ask you to forgive my possible southern African bias in my analysis.

Last Friday I waited eagerly for the first tweet on my timeline announcing the arrival of Air Force One at the, ummm, now shall we say well known Waterkloof Air Force Base which I’ve been told is north of South Africa’s capital Pretoria. Somehow I got distracted and woke up on Saturday morning to nothing but second by second updates of the movements of America’s first family, most of them dubious. Despite my wife’s best intentions we found ourselves watching President Obama speak at the University of Johannesburg to the youth of Africa. I’ll admit I’ve been a fan of President Obama since he was first nominated as the democratic candidate in 2008 simply because of how much he achieved in such a short period of time since entering American politics but that’s a story for another blog. 

On Saturday afternoon I tuned in curious to hear what he had to say but somewhat expecting to hear the now usual lecture to Africa of how we can and should do for ourselves if we just get ourselves together. I ‘ll admit, it’s been a while since I was so wrong. President Obama spoke to so many things I relate to regarding the development of Africa that I started wondering if the NSA hadn’t passed on my tweets and Facebook posts to POTUS. Most notably:

1. Africa needs to start trading with Africa.

2. Africans need to seriously consider all investment proposals from all comers including and especially from the United States.

3. Africa needs electricity.

Since Saturday afternoon, southern African time, much has been said about President Obama’s speech, depressingly, mostly negative. Much of it has centred around how the US is late to the table and China has effectively locked up the best deals and made good on it’s promises. To an extent this has some bearing. Earlier this year China held it’s fifth China-Africa summit, President Obama announced the US’s first equivalent summit will happen next year in Washington and he is yet to send out invitations to our beloved leaders. However, what has gotten the most attention has been the $7 Billion Africa energy fund which is actually a $16 Billion fund after you throw in the $9 Billion private sector commitment already secured. This initiative is expected to double sub-Saharan Africa’s energy capacity over the next seven years. Considering that it takes South Africa, Africa’s most developed economy, about seven years to build a 4800 megawatt (MW) coal fired power plant, this is a very, very big deal. 

The skeptics and China fans were quick to write countless reams about why this won’t work. They talk of the timing of this initiative, saying President Obama is hoping to secure his legacy with one last big African deal like his two predecessors. I have a different perspective.

What if, just work with me here, the Obama administration has intentionally waited things out regarding Africa, watching the Chinese do what they do? Lest we forget, the Americans invented economic modelling, who in their right mind can assume that they missed the African renaissance? It’s simply not plausible. Consider first America’s experiences in Africa during the Clinton and Bush years, being run out of Somalia, the failure to act on the Rwanda genocide, the Kenya and Tanzania US embassy bombings. it only makes sense for them to have taken the time to seriously look at their relations with Africa and come up up with an economic plan they could pitch as mutually beneficial and I believe this is it. 

On Saturday afternoon President Obama spoke of how the US is willing to help make trade within the continent easier, he said something like, “why is it easier for Uganda to export to Europe than it is to transport those same goods to somewhere else in Africa?”. I’ve been asking the same of Southern African states for years. Whilst not much more was said on this I believe if the US pitches this properly, China will quickly become just another suitor to Africa’s development.

Think about it, by some estimates it is possible that Africa may already have more people than the Indian sub-Continent or even China, the world’s second biggest economy. One simply has to go into the wonderful world of Google to find that the United Nations projects that whilst developed regions’ populations are in decline, Africa’s population will double within the next 37 years making it the most populous single land mass in addition to having the highest known and estimated concentrations of yet to be exploited on or off-shore minerals, oil and gas. Managed properly, these resources could guarantee that Africa becomes one of the world’s leading economies within the next 30 years or less. If I am able to collate this from freely accessible news feeds and a keen interest in the continent, what more the most equipped government in the world?

I’m inclined to believe that whilst China has been espousing its policy of investment without sovereign interference, the US have been developing their “partnership with Africa” policy which they are now launching. This comes only a few months after BRICS nations announced their intention to create a development bank focused on Africa which will go live in five years. Unfortunately the President of the continent’s leading financial institution, the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, has questioned the establishment of a BRICS bank whilst underfunded African financial institutions exist. On multiple occasions this year, Mr. Kaberuka has challenged African governments to fund the AfDB and focus on the continent’s infrastructure needs but this has only received lip service to the best of my knowledge, possibly a gap the US has identified.

In the meantime the Brits are not sitting still either. Just a few days ago, Afua Hirsch, the west Africa correspondent for a British paper, The Guardian, wrote about how the British government is considering establishing a development bank so as to better allocate resources to developing countries in the form of repayable loans rather than the current development aid model which has had, at best mixed results. This is supposed to relieve the British taxpayer but lets face it, loans come with interest and interest means profit for the lender so in a time of waning developed economies, anything that looks like it can make a buck is probably worth a look. Despite the fact that I have never been a fan of BRICS for Africa, even a devoted advocate will acknowledge that by the time their bank launches the world, especially Africa, will be a highly competitive place. Whoever is President of South Africa by then may have some tough questions to answer.

With all this attention on Africa, I’m willing to put my money on the US having a master-plan that will ensure that China remains, at best, the world’s second biggest economy and a BRICS bank nice dinner conversation for diplomats . Somebody poked the bear and the bear is putting EVERYBODY on notice.