Thursday, 30 April 2015

The shameful tide

The drowning of thousands of people in the Mediterranean shames both the countries they left and those they were heading for. Whether these individuals were fleeing political oppression or poverty, the governments and international organisations were nowhere to be seen. About 40,000 people fleeing Africa, Asia and the Middle East have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year. At least 2,000 have died at sea, but many more die en route from their countries to the Mediterranean ports, mainly in Libya.

The European Union’s new plans for a war on traffickers will do little to staunch the flow of migrants, let alone tackle the root causes of the exodus. The mélange of militias and politicians controlling Libya’s western ports have already threatened to block any European action. For the sake of the migrants and Libyans themselves, international efforts to end the civil war must go into higher gear.

As for the economic causes of the migration, the IMF’s Spring Meeting heard that of the 450 million people working in Africa, fewer than 40 million are on payrolls and paying tax. By 2030, according to projections, the number of people reaching working age in Africa alone will exceed those in the rest of the world. Without far more focused and determined strategies to create sustainable jobs across the continent, there may be ebb and flow, but the tide of migration will not stop rising – Fortress Europe or not.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Mugabe v. Zuma

The 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe's State visit to his stripling of a 73-year-old counterpart, President Jacob Zuma, left observers wondering which of them was in better shape. Zuma is beset on all sides: his popularity is plummeting. Unemployment, corruption, the falling rand and the Eskom crisis are eating away at his authority. Mugabe, unlike his compatriots, seems to have a serene existence.

Mugabe has weathered more violent storms than his neighbour and been prematurely written off so often that few dare to do so any more, regardless of his extreme age. Zuma may look enviously at his fellow comrade's freedom from bothersome elements like independent courts, parliament and free media but Mugabe has had 35 years to whittle away at such institutions.

Between 7th and 9th April, every South African commentator found some apposite comparison between the two nations born of anti-colonial war but in the end it was the legacy of their common enemy that offered the strongest symbol. Cecil Rhodes, the founder of one nation and the super-exploiter of the other, still had the symbolic power to stir passions. Students attacked the statue of him at the University of Cape Town and it was removed for safe keeping. Mugabe, whose country hosts Rhodes's grave, quipped, 'We have his corpse and you have his statue. What do you want us do with him? Dig him up? We cannot tell you what to do with the statue but we and my people feel we need to leave him down there.'

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A new hope

The government-elect taking shape in Nigeria under General Muhammadu Buhari will have to contend with meeting not just the expectations of its own citizens but the high hopes of the wider continent. For almost a decade, there is a feeling of an ideas vacuum at the heart of Africa’s leading countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya. Although all four have benefited from the wave of high economic growth that has lapped across Africa in recent years, all four have been struggling to convert that into jobs for the swelling ranks of school-leavers and to tackle worsening insecurity and criminality. And their own political systems are mired in corruption.

That is why Buhari’s promise to stop the rot in Nigeria, reinforced by his personal asceticism, is drawing attention far beyond its borders. A more youthful and martial Buhari had the same ambitions 30 years ago. This time, the rot has run deeper, even as the economy and population have grown. It is Buhari’s conversion to the tenets of pluralist politics – he has gone out of his way to praise Goodluck Jonathan for being the first elected incumbent to concede that he has lost an election – while retaining the stance of a disciplined general, that is intriguing Nigerians and giving fresh hope.

Buhari, his policy team says, will be a ‘big picture’ president. He will ask his advisors and ministers to set up policies and systems to meet the election pledges on anticorruption, jobs and security. His team of technocrats promises the same technological flair they used in the campaign.