Monday, 8 December 2008

Don't forget about Africa's big vote

After Somali pirates, Congolese warlords and Zimbabwe in the time of cholera, Ghana’s elections just don’t cut it. Or that’s the verdict of the international news organisations, which have studiously ignored election campaigning in a country that has some of the best democratic credentials in the developing world.

Only the hardened band of Africa correspondents, of which this writer is one, bothered to troop around the polling stations on Sunday 7 December and bash out our stories for the papers and the radio. Most of the international television networks are missing the Ghana election – with the honourable exception of the BBC.

If the vote is well organised, generally peaceful and delivers a widely accepted verdict, then expect Ghana’s vote to fall even further down the totem pole of news rankings. Small election, not many dead will be the verdict

My journalistic instincts point me in the opposite direction. This is an election in a country of 24 million that matters hugely for Africa and beyond. In so many ways – good and bad – Ghana has been a pathfinder for Africa. Ghana was the first African country to win independence from Britain; under Kwame Nkrumah it blazed a trial for pan-Africanism only to be derailed by one of Africa’s first military coups.

After over two decades of military rule, Ghana re-established civil rule and multiparty elections and stabilised an imploding economy. Long established as one of Africa’s best performing economies, Ghana can now develop manufacturing and services to sustain two decades of growth and it has substantial reserves of oil and gas to help. So the electoral stakes in Ghana are as high as they’ve ever been.

The lengthy campaign has been full of all the usual razamatazz – garish campaign posters everywhere, giveaway tee-shirts and baseball caps – but this election is also about policies and living standards. It is a real political contest about serious issues, and most emphatically not the ethnic census that drives elections in too much of the developing world.

The ruling New Patriotic Party is centre-right and the main opposition National Democratic Congress is centre-left. They disagree on policy, personnel and how the country’s newly found oil wealth should be spent. And for good measure, there are another half-dozen parties in contention led by the heirs to founding President Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party.

The recent influx of foreign investment and the discovery of three billion barrels of oil offer the prospect of sustained economic growth and widespread social development in a country that remains poor by global standards. The oil will start flowing in 2010 and the investment dollars and cedis are already flooding in from China and India, as well as the traditional Western companies.

There is too an increasingly nasty underbelly of organised criminals and drug smugglers that any incoming government will have to tackle. Failure to do so will start to unravel the already shaky judiciary and encourage a blatantly arbitrary and corrupt police service.

So the election is really about who is best placed to manage these economic opportunities and uphold Ghana’s spirit of relatively open and liberal politics. The NPP’s presidential candidate Nana Dankwa Akufo Addo started his political life as a Marxist and has moved rightwards; and the NDC’s candidate John Evans Atta Mills started his career as a tax lawyer and has moved to the left.

Both men are in their mid-sixties; their nearest rival, Paa Kwesi Nduom of the Nkrumahist-CPP, is a decade younger. All of them see the chance for Ghana to make a leap forward; all of them are certain that it is their party that can take the country to the promised land.

The two leading parties – NPP and NDC – are running a very close race with the CPP, perhaps holding sway over a critical minority cluster of votes. It looks like being a close result. Many seasoned observers predict it will go to a second round because neither Akufo-Addo nor Atta-Mills will win more than 50% of the votes in the first round.

That leaves a critical role for Kwesi Nduom, the CPP and the smaller parties. Nduom’s personal instincts and associations steer him towards the ruling NPP; he served as Energy Minister in incumbent President John Kufuor’s administration. Yet his party has a more natural affiliation with the opposition NDC.

Running a government in Ghana that could transform the country’s progress from a struggling economy into a middle-income state is an alluring prize for any politician. But the bigger prize for the country is ensuring there are credible elections and the tradition of free and relatively peaceable elections is sustained. Political legitimacy will help make those economic ambitions possible.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

On the ropes

In September's Africa-Asia Confidential, we reported on Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou's proposed diplomatic truce with China (AAC Vol 1 No 11, 'Dollar diplomacy fails'). No word on the truce yet; but the current chumminess of Ma's Kuomintang (KMT) and China's Communist Party has never been equaled, a development that has been billed appropriately as 'historic'. However, not all the news is positive: Ma's popularity has plummeted, and in recent months Taipei has seen angry protests against his administration.

Last week, Taipei hosted Chen Yunlin, leader of the Chinese department charged with hammering out cross-strait negotiations, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait. Chen is the highest-ranking CCP official ever to visit Taiwan, and his welcome was hardly warm.

Chen was ensconced in the faded grandeur of Taipei's Grand Hotel, which once towered over the city from the elevation of Yuanshan Mountain. Now, surrounded by highway overpasses, the area is a traffic bottleneck - made worse this week by protesters and the seven thousand police mobilized to control them. Passions ran high over the course of Chen's 3-7 November visit.

Police removed the national flag of the Republic of China from areas where Chen's eyes might pass, including, at times, from the hands of protesters. The crowds brandished air horns and signs. A bounty went out to anyone who could strike the Chinese envoy with an egg - NT$1000 for a shot to the body, NT$10,000 for a direct hit on his face. (In Mandarin, 'flying egg' is a homophonous to 'missile' - the bounty's sponsor was drawing attention to the missiles China has targeting Taiwan.)

By 5 November, things turned uglier. To outfox the protesters, Ma and Chen moved up their meeting, the climax of Chen's trip, to an earlier time. Soon after, violence broke out, with injuries among both protesters and police.

So far, the only person with egg on his face is Ma. He blames the opposition Democratic People's Party for inciting unrest. The DPP accuses him of returning to the police-state tactics of former presidents Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-guo. China, meanwhile, seems to have decided to keep further talks on friendly territory: planned delegations to Taiwan have been canceled, but a KMT-CCP forum is still on for December in Beijing.

The deals signed by Chen are uncontroversial: direct daily passenger flights and cargo links have been established, and pandas are on their way to Taipei Zoo. Taiwanese business leaders and politicians from both the KMT and DPP have been pushing for such links for a decade. The protesters object to the speed of the rapprochement and its lack of judicial and legislative oversight.

As for Ma's larger policy goals: Beijing still has not indicated whether it will take up his diplomatic truce. There doesn't appear to be any advantage to China in doing so; diplomatically speaking, it already has Taiwan on the ropes. Taiwan's international recognition stands at only 23 allies worldwide, of which only Burkina Faso, Gambia, São Tomé e Príncipe, and Swaziland remain in Africa.

China's new white paper on relations with Latin America, released 5 November, continues China's insistence that allies adhere to the One-China Principle: 'supporting China's reunification and not having official ties or contacts with Taiwan'. So, no change there.

Both the KMT and CCP will be pleased with Wednesday's big news: former president Chen Shui-bian, much detested by Beijing for his independence-leaning ways, was taken into custody on long-simmering charges of money-laundering and graft. The detention is sure to dominate local coverage, damage the DPP and take some of the heat off Ma.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Lunch at the Dorchester

Lunch, last Tuesday at the Dorchester, was an immoveable feast. The tables were laden with food in a sumptuous spread worthy of a royal dinner. The invited guests, try as they did, could not make a dent in the sheer amount of the food made available for them.

Quentin Peel, International Editor for the Financial Times, had promised earlier that the tables were 'groaning' with food, and indeed they were. Mr. Peel was the Chairman of the event, at which Chief Timipre Sylva, the Governor of the oil-producing Bayelsa State, presented a paper. The lecture that preceded the lunch was a much less satisfying affair. It was delivered more in the admonitorial sense than in the professorial sense of the word. (One hardly enjoys being hectored, even as the price for a free lunch.) The Governor’s speech, From Crisis to Development: The Case for the Niger Delta, elicited groans (from this observer, at least) of a different sort, as it was equally laden, but in this case, with glib buzzwords and brassy phrases that rang hollow. It was full of the ferreting out of villains from the usual places, lambasting among others the Western media (present company excepted, the Governor took pains to point out) for their coverage of violence in his region.

Sylva began his assault on media with a quote from former Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku to the effect that when a thousand people are killed in Africa, it is reported as a massacre, but if the same occurs in the West it is reported simply that they 'died”. Of course, it may be that the distinction is not one of whether the deaths occured in the West or in Africa, but whether they were killed by, say, the mechanical failure of an airline, or by machete. It was not clear whether the offence of the Western media was of inventing violence in the Niger Delta or simply of reporting it.

The Governor next took on oil companies operating in the region (he served a Youth Corps stint at Shell), accusing them of environmental degradation and neglect of their duties to the host community.

Nigeria's Federal Government was next ( not the present one, of course) and the charge was that they had contributed (by failing to contribute more) to underdevelopment in the Niger Delta.

Following that were the foreign goverments (including the UK, which he called the 'mother country') for failing to be sufficiently exercised over the failings of those he previously charged.

Conspicuously absent from his list of villains were the previous Governors of the Delta region, alleged – and in some cases – found to have stolen vast sums from their state coffers; money that could have gone to the development of their communities. But more on that later.

As it happens, this democrat (lower case), elected by the good people of Bayelsa, saved his most stinging criticism for them. After he was asked a question about the reported absence of local government in many areas of Bayelsa, the Governor launched into an unsettling tirade: referring to his citizens as lazy, ungrateful, greedy and manipulative, he informed the guests, (many now staring in disbelief) that the incessant begging for handouts was what made corruption irresistible and inevitable.

He did not say how he has managed to resist the irresistible or avert the inevitable, but did add that although he abhorred the practice [of handouts], he was forced to indulge in it or he would have a 'revolution' to deal with.

Maybe to stave off the revolution yet a few weeks, or to have more opportunity to resist the irresistible, a core tenet of his lecture had been a call for 'fiscal federalism' – that 50% of revenues from mineral resources extracted from a State remain in that State. A brave but tired attempt since the same very concept had been suggested and resoundingly defeated under the rubric 'resource control'. This tenacity would be admirable until one considers that the same energy used by some governors to come up with different names for the same concept would be better spent on figuring out ways in which to manage the resources they can get, given the socio-political realities in Nigeria.

The Governor, a tall, broad man with a deep voice, looks as if he comes straight from central casting. He looks the part but seemed less than warm to the diplomatic niceties one might expect. His tart responses and verbal ripostes to even the most innocuous questions left (unlike the excellent food) a sour taste in the mouth of at least this guest.

Sadly, I must report that I was skewered by the Governor after asking a two-part question about whether he felt that the chronic mismanagement by previous governments forestalled the idea of more money being paid to states, at least for now, until better resource management had been demonstrated. The second part asked that, since his lecture emphasised the necessity and advent of improved governance under his administration, how much of the disbursements or expenditures from state funds – and his decision-making – were filtered through the democratic institutions such as Bayelsa State Assembly?

The Governor became apoplectic. At first, he seemed unsure of how to respond and simply vented his fury on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which he accused of obstructionism and of manufacturing a case against a previous Bayelsa governor, who had been charged with money laundering in London, arrested and who then jumped bail and fled to Nigeria disguised as a woman. While I was wondering how this related to the EFCC, the Governor scoffed that he had been told that the EFCC had recovered £40million but that he had not seen any of it save for 'only' (yes, he said only) £1 million recovered from the Governor. I was in no hurry to point out that £1 million was far from 'only' or justifiable on the salary of a governor, or that the inability of the EFCC to recover £40 million, is no proof (or evidence, even) that the money had not been stolen in the first place. And then, warming to his topic, the Governor started fulminating against people (read: me) who could not discern the difference between being 'invited in' by the EFCC, and being 'charged' by it, and that Nigerians who have not been home in a long time, such as he presumed me to be,should return home to see things for themselves before asking irrelevant questions of busy public officials such as himself.

Without pausing for water, or even a breath, the Governor then asked rhetorically whether Julius Berger, the giant construction company in Nigeria, a Western company (he added), was lying when it said constructing things such as roads in the Delta cost there three times what it did in the rest of the country. Then the Governor went through a list of his states’ obligations. Perhaps he meant that these left no room for corruption but it might just mean that previous governors all over Nigeria who have been charged with gross corruption only possess a financial wizardry the Governor lacks.

The lasting impression of the event is not of the Governor or anything he said, but of the FT's Quentin Peel, who in full view of the Special Guest, winked at me when I asked the question and then came up to shake my hand.

Friday, 10 October 2008

IMF | Africa: Damned statistics

The IMF's upbeat projection of 6% GDP growth for Africa in 2009 and the effect it hopes this would have on the world economy is optimistic. The Fund claims that the risk of global depression is small because it forecasts China's growth at 9%, India's at 7% and Africa 6%, and says that this will offset the weakness in Western economies.

The IMF focuses on macroeconomic indicators to the exclusion of common sense. It serves no meaningful purpose to talk about how much Africa as an entity (and a continent, not a country) will grow when economically its unit states have very little in common with each other and when that figure of 6% has been averaged out of dramatic outliers and gross inequities within and across industries and countries.

What does a farmer in Burkina Faso care or know about the oil boom in Angola? What, for that matter, does the Angolan farmer know about it? If the figures were adjusted to exclude growth from natural resources, the economic benefits of which rarely trickle down, would the assessment be upbeat still? Or, at least it would be for the Western multinationals that extract and market those natural resources while paying little into the coffers of those African governments by way of tax.

In its assessment of African economies, the IMF would do well to consider by how much more than 6% food prices, unemployment figures and general inflation rates, have risen. Such a clinical and bloodless assessment – and a single number thrown up to describe the plights and conditions of hundreds of millions and even billions of people – divorces facts from reality.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Africa | Football: Heros and villains

The traditional summer bargaining season has come to a dramatic end and the football season has got underway in earnest. Among the usual whirlwind of gossip about which player might go where and which player is unhappy here and wants more money there, the names of three players will have caught the eyes of those with an interest in African football. Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor are three of the best strikers in the world. They are also African. And they also spent most of the summer publicly thinking about leaving the clubs they play for.

Eto’o, 27, the Cameroonian African Footballer of the Year 2003,2004 and 2005, plays for Barcelona. Adebayor, from Togo, plays for Arsenal and was a sensation in the English Premier League last season, scoring 30 goals and turning in a number of barnstorming performances. Drogba, 30, the enigma, is Côte d’Ivoire’s talismanic captain. He plays for Chelsea and was African Footballer of the Year 2006.

All three are idolised in their respective countries and all three have frustrated, angered and bemused the fans of the teams they play for this season. Surrounding the three sagas has been the question of money. The old temptress, as sure to be the motivating factor in any modern footballer’s decision to move to another club as it is for an estate agent looking to sell that next house.

Eto’o is perhaps the most intriguing member of this celebrated trio. He has cut an occasionally angry and often frustrated figure Barcelona in the last couple of years and, incredibly, almost ended up moving to a club called Kuruvchi, who play in Uzbekistan, a country most football fans barely knew existed. This news read a bit like finding out that Roger Federer was thinking about playing the Surrey amateur tennis circuit, or that Babe Ruth once gave serious consideration to the idea of going to Mexico to play Donkey baseball. It was simply unthinkable. And why did it nearly happen? Money.

Fed up with life in Spain, Eto'o appeared to have decided to go to whoever was willing to 'pay the most'. An articulate, outspoken man, Samuel Eto’o had announced, on his arrival in Barcelona, that he was going to 'run like a black so I can live like a white'. His success has been phenomenal, but it has been fought for – played out against the racist backdrop of Spanish football. He has frequently had to put up with crowds who make monkey noises and shout abuse at him whenever he gets the ball. He has always battled against this kind of behaviour, but things have got to a point where he now no longer allows his family to come to watch him play: 'It is something that has affected me personally. I think players, leaders, and the media have to join forces so that no one feels looked down upon because of the color of their skin. At this moment in time I prefer my children don't go to football matches. In the stands they have to listen to things that are difficult to explain to a child. It is better they aren't exposed to it.' In the end, the thought of plying his trade on the Asian steppes proved to be an unsavoury one and Eto’o opted to remain in Catalonia. But the question remains: for how long?

The mighty Didier Drogba cannot point to similar hardships in the English league, where racism, while still a problem, has been gradually ground down over the last fifteen years. The boy from Abidjan, who left his home country at the age of five and has been on the move ever since, has often been castigated by rival fans for diving, sulking and on-field petulance. Off the field, he has been unsettled at clubs in the past, seemingly waiting for his big move.

No doubt billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich thought moving him to England would change all this, but Drogba, having established himself as the most feared striker in the Premier League, seemed to see his job as being complete, and spent this summer and much of last season talking about moving to Inter Milan or Barcelona. There were summer rumours in Italy that Inter Milan's new manager, José Mourinho, formerly of Chelsea, had promised to rescue the unhappy striker and take him to the San Siro and that Drogba had already bought a flat in Milan.

This attitude has begun to alienate Drogba from his English fans, even though, back in Côte d’Ivoire, he is still a national hero whose status is almost godlike. In many ways, that’s as it should be. Drogba has overcome a brutal system of football trafficking in which many fall by the wayside. He is one of many would-be African footballers to have been signed at a very young age by European clubs and fed a dream of potential stardom. The difference between him and a host of others is that he made it big. Most don’t.

Drogba has also found time to bring a little music into people’s life. As Drogbacite – the name of an Ivorian dance inspired by his play, he is now a rap star. After spending much of 2008 issuing a number of pleas, mainly in the French press, for his release from Chelsea, the once adoring Chelsea faithful may decide that it is no longer worth paying the cover charge at Club Drogba.

Emmanuel Adebayor, 24, is the youngest of the three players and current African Footballer of the Year. He was bought by Arsenal in 2006 but it wasn’t until last year that he began to show the kind of blistering form that has made him a wanted man. He scored 30 goals for Arsenal last season; twice the number he had managed for the club prior to that. But with goals comes attention, and it looked as though Adebayor was going to repay Arsenal’s faith with treachery, and leave the club to be paid better elsewhere. He was angling for a better deal, and in the end he got it: he will now be paid £80,000 a week to stay at the club until 2012.

Adebayor may be staying, but his fans aren’t happy. On the first day of the season, against West Bromwich Albion, Adebayor tried to turn a defender when he should have passed the ball. He was tackled and, in an incredible moment of rejection, booed by his own supporters. Having spent the summer talking about how he might like to go and earn more money elsewhere, Arsenal fans were going to make sure Adebayor knew he had a lot of ground to make up. The brilliant Thierry Henry left Arsenal for Barcelona but the fans still cheer his name. The difference is that he spent eight years at Arsenal and scored 226 goals.

So Eto'o, Drogba and Adebayor may not have gone anywhere, and they may still be loved in Africa but, fairly or unfairly, the continent’s three finest strikers are going to have to spend the next few months winning back their fans.

Monday, 4 August 2008

The arms deal that haunts British and South African politics

The tale of secret payments of $50 million payments by Britain’s BAE Systems to a company in the British Virgin Islands which featured on 1 August on the front pages of Africa Confidential and the Financial Times is more than just another ripping corruption yarn.

It’s also an attempt to cast light on one of the most scandalous acts of public policy in Britain and South Africa in the past decade: the determined marketing of £1.6 billion of grossly overpriced and technically inappropriate fighter aircraft to an economically weakened post-apartheid South Africa.

It was all the more scandalous because that marketing comprised relentless political pressure from Prime Minister John Major and then Tony Blair on South Africa to accept the deal together with BAE’s payment of astronomical commissions, a charitable description for such payments, to a network of secret agents who helped to close the deal with the South African government.

Anti-corruption campaigners fulminated against BAE Systems’ payments of multi-billion dollar commissions on its $40 bn. Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Likewise the campaigners were horrified by the Blair government’s orders to the theoretically independent Serious Fraud Office to shut down its investigation into the affair for ‘national security’ reasons.

In ethical terms, BAE’s South African deal is worse than the Al Yamamah deal: at least oil-rich Saudi Arabia wasn’t scratching around for a few million dollars to put into rural health and education schemes after half a century of apartheid. And Riyadh’s veteran ruling elite could hardly accuse BAE Systems of undermining accountability in a struggling young democracy. But the effect of these commercial campaigns by BAE Systems – along with other Western suppliers such as France’s Thales and Germany’s Seimens – has been to subvert South Africa’s attempts to build effective institutions that are open to public scrutiny.

None of this reduces the core responsibility of the African National Congress government for South Africa’s $6 billion arms deal imbroglio. Not only were some of its most senior officials complicit in setting up the secret payments systems used by Western arms companies as ‘marketing tools’, but these same officials tried to block scrutiny of the arms deals by party members and supporters.

South African politicians and officials accepted these mechanisms – common in the international arms business – knowing that the diversion of some $200 mn. into private pockets would be financed ultimately by the South African taxpayer. Simply put, that’s $200 mn. less for the schools, clinics, clean water and electric power that South Africa desperately needs.

What happens next? In Europe, several investigations into the role of Western arms companies in South Africa’s arms deal are nearing a conclusion. It is remarkable that BAE Systems, which makes so much of its ethical reforms following the recommendations of the eminent Lord Woolf, remains so coy about what it was doing in South Africa. It has only just publicly admitted the existence of Red Diamond Trading, its secret British Virgin Islands-registered payments vehicle that it closed last year, after a decade of clandestine operations.

Perhaps the company is looking for a plea bargain deal that might entail the payment of large fines for breaching ethical rules but would shield its senior executives from prosecution. Likewise, the South Africa’s government has little interest in a public prosecution of BAE Systems, given the volumes of embarrassing information that would be heard in an open court.

Such a prosecution might force the hands of South Africa’s own anti-corruption investigators who are currently struggling with the prosecution of ANC President Jacob Zuma. As that attempted prosecution lurches from one calamity to another, there are growing calls from ANC members and trades unionists for a comprehensive investigation in South Africa’s $6 bn. arms deal and the role of BAE Systems, France’s Thales and Germany’s Seimens.

It may be ten years in the making but the tawdry history of South Africa’s arms deal isn’t going to go away quickly.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Zimbabwe: A stolen election, a hasty inauguration and then a jet to Sharm el Sheikh

HARARE: Sunday was a soporific affair on the streets of Harare, except for the government’s Chinese-made Mig jets zig-zagging across the cloudless sky in a show of power. All shops closed; nobody out on a Sunday stroll. Even some of the boisterous evangelical churches thought it best to postpone choir practice until next week. It would have been hard to know that it was the President's inauguration day if it wasn't for the assorted 4x4s and Mercedes speeding through Harare's central business district on the way to the ceremony.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was invited to attend from his temporary abode in the Dutch embassy – was it political politesse or a bad joke? Anyway he refused, predictably enough.

By early afternoon the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared Robert Gabriel Mugabe the winner. The results showed a high number of spoiled ballots - 9,166 out of 43,584 in Bulawayo alone. The ZEC’s pace of work this time stood in sharp contrast to the March 29 results, which took some six weeks of counting and recounting before the results were announced.

Mugabe’s victory: was there ever any doubt?

A mood of intimidation still hangs in the air. One youth sporting a ZANU-PF T-shirt close to Harare's dilapidated polytechnic college said that he would be joining in the victory celebrations ‘for security’. There is fear of Central Intelligence Organisation informers almost everywhere you go in Harare. Resignation sets in once more, particularly within the rank and file of the MDC, many of whom are dissatisfied at what they see as yet-another ill-judged Tsvangirai decision. 'He left it too late; in other elections he's been undecided and then he contests in the end. This time a lot of his supporters were disappointed,' said one journalist on Harare’s excellent weekly Financial Gazette, covering his mouth whilst he spoke at a local chicken restaurant.

Mugabe has said he'll negotiate with the opposition but this could be a diversionary tactic purely to please SADC leaders. Tsvangirai still appears to have little domestic leverage or incapable of using what he does have. However, one can sense the mood is different. No one believes that another ZANU-PF regime can pretend it’s business as usual. Inflation is estimated by some to have reached 9,000,000 per cent as Zimbabweans go into July. Increasingly everyday transactions are taking place in US dollars.

After previous elections, a feeling of relief prevailed in the capital's wealthier districts of Borrowdale and Gunhill: 'Another electoral cycle over - now we can get back to planning our holiday to Kariba'. But for most Zimbabweans such a return to normalcy or even predictability is long gone.

President Robert Mugabe has won his most blatantly rigged election election yet, denounced by African monitors for the first time. He is fast losing his most valued political asset – the approbation of Africa. As he jets off to meet his peers at the African Union summit in Egypt, he leaves behind a deeply troubled country.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Zimbabwe: The election that never was

Africa Confidential’s special correspondent reports from Harare as President Robert Mugabe declares victory

Voting was unenthusiastic and turnout low in yesterday's presidential poll, despite Saturday’s bombastic headline in the state-owned Herald claiming one the highest turnouts ever (supporting evidence not supplied). Nevertheless, with Morgan Tsvangirai withdrawing and still holed up in the Dutch embassy, Mugabe will romp to victory.

With what stamp of legitimacy and with what mandate is anyone's guess. There has been no enunciation of post-election policy by ZANU-PF beyond its usual promises of 'total' sovereignty and 'total' independence.

But totalities of an economic nature might finally be the straw that breaks the Old Man's back. One Harare-based economist estimated inflation to be 9,000,000 per cent. Many of the black market traders – and an increasing amount of official business – is being conducted in US dollars. How much longer can the Zimbabwe dollar be used as patronage to boost the salaries of the state-security services?

Voting stations seem to have been planted in areas in the capital where government though they could pick up the most votes. AC spotted at 11 polling booths within a square mile of the Mbare township – but only two in the fiercely anti-Mugabe Highfields neighbourhood nearby. The pattern was repeated in Rugare and Burdiriro. One SADC observer in Rugare, standing idly next to his Toyota 4x4, said turnout had been in the dozens.

Crucially, poll-watchdog the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) had no observers whatsoever. They had over 8000 on March 29 and their involvement was crucial in ensuring transparency at the country's 9,000 plus polling stations. In a statement the ZESN said justice minister Patrick Chinamasa would only accredit 500 observers in the second-round, so as not 'to disrupt the smooth running [sic] of the electoral process'.

There have been reports of ZANU-PF supporters beating people without the requisite purple ink stained finger – the sign of voting. But they needn't have bothered. All the intimidation was done in the election run-up. Despite the 200 Mashonaland refugees camped out on the South African embassy's front lawn, most of Harareans spent yesterday's declared public holiday relaxing in the winter sun, drinking chibuku in local shebeens or braai-ing black market sirloin steaks with friends.

The US and the EU made the expected noises – with Condoleezza Rice promising action at the Security Council next week. In a rare sign of government condemnation, the United Nations local representative was reported to have threatened to withdraw UN representation from Zimbabwe if government didn't stop targeting humanitarian workers.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Lost Voices of Darfur

As the international media focuses its attention on the electoral chaos in Zimbabwe, the ethnic cleansing of Darfur by the Sudan government carries on. It is five years since reports first emerged of the Islamist regime’s attacks through its proxy militias, the Janjaweed, but still nothing has been done to actually stop its campaign of slaughter and destruction.

United Nations' resolutions remain unimplemented, the African Union force has not received the proper equipment to enable it to halt the genocide and the regime’s lucrative business deals with European companies and others go on uninterrupted.

In the crypt of Christopher Wren’s 17th century church St. Bride’s, the NGO Waging Peace launched an exhibition on 25 June that everyone should see. The organisation, which campaigns against genocide and systematic human rights abuses, has collected more than 500 drawings by Darfuri children stranded in refugee camps in eastern Chad.

The drawings show villages under attack, people being killed – beheadings, babies thrown on to fires, children shot – and helicopter gunships and planes raining down death and destruction on unarmed civilians. These powerful pictures give a shocking account of the atrocities that have taken place during the last five years in Darfur and are so detailed that they have been accepted by the International Court in The Hague as evidence against high-ranking officials in the Sudan regime and others who may be found responsible.

Photographs from the late 1980s show the contrast: a beautiful and peaceful landscape, picnics in the Jebel Mara, smiling children, and happy-looking people going about their daily chores.

Iklass, a Darfuri mother of 3 and refugee in Britain since 2004, spoke at the launch of the exhibition of her personal experiences of the attacks: friends and neighbours murdered by gunmen; a newborn baby taken from its mother and thrown into a pot of boiling water; schools attacked and schoolchildren raped in front of their families – and much more.

Iklass was invited to address the Labour Party’s conference last year. She related those same stories to party delegates and later to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. How is it then that nine months later no action has been taken against the regime and the genocide has been allowed to continue, save for efforts by the AU’s undermanned and under-resourced troops? What happened to the helicopters Prime Minister Brown promised when George Clooney visited Downing Street on 7 April this year? Why is the Home Office continuing to send Darfuri asylum seekers back to Khartoum? How can Khartoum be considered safe for these refugees when it is home to the very regime that has masterminded the genocide?

The ethnic cleansing began while British politicians and their lackeys concentrated on cobbling together a flawed peace deal between the Sudan government and the South – to the exclusion of other areas of Sudan. Darfur is a casualty of that agreement and sadly it may not be the last. The Sudan government is the problem.

See the Events page on the Africa Confidential website for further information.

Lost Voices of Darfur: An Unveiling: 25 June-20 July 2008 – St Brides’s Church Crypt, Fleet Street, London EC4Y 8AU

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Business as usual?

Africa Confidential has been busy investigating the effects of international sanctions on President Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and has uncovered a lot of hypocrisy and double standards. Although Britain has been at the forefront of diplomatic condemnations of the Mugabe regime, some of its leading financial institutions have continued to do extremely lucrative business with that regime and indeed open customer accounts for some of those officials who have been accused of heinous human rights abuses. As Africa Confidential’s investigations have proceeded, mainstream newspapers have published our findings. Last year it was the Observer (Barclays' millions help to prop up Mugabe regime), this year, it is the Daily Telegraph (Barclays accused of giving Robert Mugabe 'financial lifeline') and the Independent (Standard Chartered at centre of Zimbabwe sanctions inquiry). Remember, you heard it first here.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Big in Japan

Pan Pacifico Conference Centre

Kunichiwa Confidentialers,

The strains of Senegal's star musician Youssou N'dour singing 'Seven Seconds' wafted through the conference centre here yesterday as Japan's grand African jamboree opened. Fellow musician and development campaigner, Ireland's Bono Kenya's environmental campaigner and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai are also in town to lend more celebrity pzazz to what threatened to be another underwhelming summit on Africa. All three are holding forth about what needs to be done in Africa on the second day of the summit.

Certainly the meeting – TICAD IV or Tokyo International Conference on African Development – qualifies as grand. That's because with 40 African heads of state or government flying in to Japan, it's the biggest African summit held outside the continent; it's also the biggest gathering of foreign leaders held in Japan since the funeral Emperor Hirohito in 1989.

For all that Yokohama's meeting lacks the buzz of China's recent African summits – in Beijing in 2006 and Shanghai in 2007. That may be because Japan has been doing it for longer. The first TICAD was in 1993 when just five African leaders attended, that increased to 13 at the second meeting in 1998, and then 23 at the last summit in 2003.

Japan's then prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, met all the visiting leaders. His successor, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is following suit this time and that means the 71-year-old President will spend at least 15 hours in meetings with African leaders this week, according to officials from Tokyo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The port city of Yokohama, one of Japan's most outward looking cities, is decked out in African flags. Yokohama's enthusiasts are discussing African issues, showing African films and organising exhibitions of African painting and photographs. Alongside the conference centre, there is an African trade fair purveying artworks, coffee, cocoa, jewellery, cloth and African films and compact discs. Some Japanese students take a passionate interest in Africa. On Tuesday night, some of them formed an extremely loud drum orchestra to play at a lavish reception hosted by the Mayor of Yokohama, Hiroshi Nakada, to welcome the African visitors.

How passionate the Prime Minister Fukuda's government is about Africa is another matter. Many officials, especially those in the Finance Ministry, this is no time to launch expensive plans in Africa as the credit crunch and spiralling oil prices upset global economic calculations. So diplomats in Tokyo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs led by African Affairs director Masatu Kitera worked hard to get the cash to expand the summit and harder to secure the doubling of Japanese aid to Africa over the next four years which Prime Minister Fukuda announced on 28 May.

Although that promised doubling of aid to $1.8 billion by 2012 from its present levels of $900 million provided us journalists with our headlines, the story didn't end there. Bono, an invited guest to Yokohama, interrupted his duet with the Japanese government to regret that the doubling of aid was limited to bilateral aid. Within hours of Fukuda'a announcement Bono claimed it was less than it seemed. His researchers claimed that Fukuda's aid doubling would affect just half of Japan's aid budget as the rest went to multilateral organisations such as the World Food Programme, the African Development Bank and the World Bank.

That prompted the courtly Foreign Affairs spokesman Kazuo Kodama to politely question Bono's mathematics. In fact, he insisted, Fukuda's increase would mean affect about 80% of Japan's aid for Africa. When I asked to explain the Japanese government's mathematics at a press conference, many journalists wished I hadn't: the explanation took a further 20 minutes and still left the conundrum unsolved.

After the first day of Yokohama sumiteering, there is no question that Japan is stepping up its Africa involvements, and that like most other rich countries it will use its aid budget to push its diplomatic and commercial interests. When Prime Minister Fukuda speaks of Japan campaigning to reform the UN Security Council with his African friends, that's code for winning the support of the 53 African members of the UN General Assembly for a permanent Japanese seat on the Council; the quid pro quo would by Tokyo's support for a permanent African seat on the Council. That hasn't come out in the open but it certainly featured in some bilateral meetings between Prime Minister Fukuda and African leaders.

Also pushed out of the diplomatic spotlight was Tokyo's view of Africa's fast growing relationship with China. Japanese officials say the grandiose summit in Yokohama was not simply a response to China's lavish African summits; Japan's approach to Africa is very different from Beijing, they insist, it's not about mega-deals in Angola, Congo or Nigeria but about a long term effective engagement for development.

Japan is buying more oil and minerals from Africa even if its companies are much more cautious about the continent than China's gung-ho state-backed companies. What many of the African delegations in Yokohama are trying to find out is just how expansive Tokyo's new Africa policy is likely to be and how it will fit into the increasingly complex jigsaw of Africa's relations with Asia's powerhouse economies. With any luck some of the answers will be in the next editions of Africa Confidential and Africa-Asia Confidential.

Watch this space.


Monday, 11 February 2008

Nigeria: Courtroom ballots

Nigeria's post-election crisis has taken a very different turn from Kenya's. Unlike Kenya's thwarted politicians, Nigeria's opposition leaders are contesting the election results through the courts and this time seem to be confident of success – even if they have to take their claims to the Supreme Court.

Along with many observers, I would say that Nigeria's vote counting in April 2007 looked even more inventive than Kenya's last December. Indeed, Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua has acknowledged that the widespread criticisms of the performance of the country's Independent National Electoral Commission need to be addressed.

Yet in Nigeria, there are no visiting UN Secretaries General, no high-level mediation and no talk of power-sharing. There's just a simple demand from the opposition politicians – Abubakar Atiku and General Muhammadu Buhari – that the election should be rerun under a independent electoral commission.

I went down to the Niger Delta to report on the election last April where there had been several violent clashes before the elections. On the day before the Presidential elections in Bayelsa, a group of militants stormed into the state capital Yenagoa, released some of their comrades held in a police cell and blew a hole in a local hotel.

Across the country there was plenty of election day violence. But after the result was announced, there was an almost eerie calm – even the Delta militants announced a truce of sorts. Neither of the opposition contenders seemed ready to take their battle to streets.
General Buhari told me that he expected the 'cause of free elections' to be taken up by civil society groups and he wasn't the sort of politician who would lead protest marches through the capital.

So against expectations, Nigeria is facing the prospect of a quiet revolution as the courts overturn the ruling People's Democratic Party's election victories. So far the courts have overturned the governorship election results in six states, as well as ruling against the election of several senators and representatives in the National Assembly. Now Nigeria is to enter unknown territory. Later this month, the Presidential Election tribunal is to announce its verdict on the mass of evidence and petitions presented to it by Abubakar's and Buhari's lawyers. That judgement is unlikely to be definitive: whichever side loses is likely to appeal. So there is the prospect of a lengthy legal battle ahead.

Should, the tribunal rule against President Yar'Adua and the PDP, all sorts of imponderables come into play: firstly, who will run the country? In the event of the elected President and Vice-President having to stand down, the President of the Senate has to take over and organise fresh elections within 60 days. However, the current President of the Senate, Colonel David Mark, faces his own election petition. If he loses, who then takes over?

Nigerian civic activists point out that a rerun of last year's elections without fundamental reform of the electoral commission is unlikely to be much of an improvement. Yet the prospect of another vote has sent the political class into paroxysms of plotting, the ruling PDP is to hold a national conference early next month at which some of its more ambitious members will scheme to replace Yar'Adua's name of the ballot with their own, if there is a rerun.

And the old military politicians in the party – Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida – are still mentioned as kingmakers, if not kings trying to get back on the throne. The opposition candidates have their own problems: General Buhari has fallen out with some of the leading members of his own party who joined the Yar'Adua government and doubts persist about Abubakar's seriousness as a presidential contender.

So much is hanging on the court's decision that Nigeria's literati have taken to rewriting those lines in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a judge's wig …"

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Kenya special alert

Wednesday 16 January 2008
The AC Office
Farringdon Road,

Dear Confidentialers,
As you all will have read, the New Year has started badly in Kenya. Breaking with tradition, I am writing this letter and account of the election debacle jointly with a Kenyan friend who has been horrified but not surprised by the turn of events. Also we have two more free Special Reports on Kenya's elections for you at All you have to do is register your details.

After an exhilarating election day with a record voter turn out, hopes for a free and fair election were running high. On voting day on 27 December, I accompanied a friend who was voting in Kajiado North, where former Finance Minister George Saitoti was defending his constituency. The queues were long and the sun burned down on us but everywhere people showed a determination to cast their vote freely and fairly.

That mood of quiet celebration continued for another day as the election results showed many of Kenya's old guard had lost their consitituencies - including three sons of former President Daniel arap Moi and his long-time political strategist Nicholas Kipyator Biwott.
After counting continued on Friday and Saturday, it was clear that the oppoosition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was well ahead in the parliamentary elections. Then attention turned to the Presidential polls, whose results seemed to be inordinately delayed and Kenyans started asking questions.

Here below is our first report.
Yours confidentially,

Inside Kenya's elections 2008

After the long wait for the presidential election results, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, Samuel Kivuitu, announced in the late afternoon of 30 December that Mwai Kibaki had won the election after all with 4,584,721 votes, versus 4,352,993 for Raila Odinga, and 879,903 for Kalonzo Musyoka. Kivuitu gave the results to a small gathering of officials and journalists from the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) after his earlier attempts to announce the disputed results had been called off due to scuffles at the press conference. It was clear that announcing the results would be just the first step in a drawn-out battle.

On 29 December, Kivuitu asked each party to nominate two officials to work overnight with ECK staff on all the disputed presidential figures, mostly in Eastern Province but also in Coast and Central. It seemed to all of us like the best thing to do.

We had expected a reconciliation of the figures and the results in the early morning. Everyone waited at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, where the results were to be announced - the press, party officials, observers, etc. - but Kivuitu did not show up until about five in the afternoon, indicating that serious problems had arisen.

In the meantime, a sombre-looking Raila Odinga, the Orange Democratic Movement's presidential candidate, addressed the press at the Conference Centre. He said that the election was about to be stolen but that Kenyans would not stand for it. He made a passionate plea to Kibaki to stop the announcement of false election results. That was what had led to war in Côte d'Ivoire, he added ominously.

Then ECK Chairman Kivuitu came into the KICC and started reading the results of the presidential elections in the Molo and Kajiado constituencies to the accompaniment of barracking from ODM supporters in the hall. As temperatures rose, ODM supporters shouted at Kivuitu that they would not allow him to announce false results. Then all hell broke loose. The conference centre erupted in chaos. The paramilitary General Service Unit entered the building with truncheons and night sticks raised.

Journalists and ODM supporters mounted the dais where Kivuitu and the other Election Commissioners were sitting, and one activist wrested the microphone from the ECK Chairman. Then the disconsolate Chairman and Commissioners walked out of the hall followed by an eager pack of journalists. Dozens of baton-wielding police joined the throng as Kivuitu and his officials tried to push through the maze of corridors in the conference centre.

Then Kivuitu and his officials were bundled into a lift and police blocked off the area to journalists. Back in the main hall at the International Conference Centre, the ODM had taken over proceedings. Its leader in the Rift Valley, William Ruto was disputing the ECK's version of the presidential election results in these constituencies. He read out the results that had been announced in the constituencies - and witnessed by Kenyan and foreign election observers. The results produced by the ECK in Nairobi - and which Kivuitu had been announcing - had been inflated by at least 20,000 in each constituency, he said.
Ruto accused the ECK of being party to electoral fraud at the highest level - among the Commissioners themselves. He then introduced a witness to the hall, a parliamentary civil servant who had been seconded to the ECK. This man said that he had seen officials at the ECK alter the results received from polling stations and that his conscience would not allow him to keep silent.

Meanwhile in another part of the conference centre, Kivuitu was holding his own private press conference which was being broadcast live on KBC. Most of the press and party agents had been excluded from this exclusive gathering.

When Kivuitu gave the results, he lamented that losers were never able to take defeat easily. He had the official ECK tally and was ready to defend it in court. Kenya was dear to all of us, but stability cannot be taken for granted. He did concede that some issues would have to be addressed: 'ODM had raised some weighty matters...but the recommendations that they are asking ECK to make are way beyond its powers as they belong to the courts'. Any challenge to the results announced by the ECK should be taken to the courts, Kivuitu said. This implied that there had been flaws in the counting process - on which ECK was not qualified to pass judgement.

Minutes later, Kivuitu was whisked away in a black limousine with the Chief of Police, Hussein Ali, to State House where he was to present the ECK's certificate of the election results. Then Kibaki was sworn in as president at a bizarre, almost impromptu ceremony in the grounds of State House. As Kibaki was swearing the oath, a television camera crew was setting up behind him.

Kibaki's inauguration in 2002 in Uhuru Park had been a joyous if chaotic event, a celebration of democracy and of the will of Kenya's voters. In contrast, this inauguration was almost clandestine: no crowds, no wananchi, just a few glum-looking bureaucrats and judges. Standing alongside Kibaki were some political advisers, such as Professor Nick Wanjohi, the Vice-Chancellor Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, intelligence chiefs, the top brass of the armed forces and the chief of police. For many of those watching on television, the swearing-in resembled nothing more than a civilian coup d'etat. Kibaki, with little enthusiasm and not hint of irony, thanked Kenyans for giving him a second chance to serve them.

The first issue of our new publication, Africa-Asia Confidential, is due out next week. Africa-Asia Confidentialwill cover the intercontinental political and economic developments, getting behind the headlines to bring you the real facts and details about international relations, the major players and the big business deals. To sign up for a free sample copy, please email