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An open, frank public discussion about the IMF’s regrettable history and current agenda is sorely needed, in a context where a few honest politicians and officials are belatedly struggling to reverse what is termed “state capture” and return stolen funds to the taxpayer. Undoing a decade of looting by former President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta empire (three immigrant brothers plus hundreds of hangers-on) is no small task.
Hence it is perhaps with discomfort that Lagarde will meet one of the main post-Zuma/Gupta leaders, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, who twice (in 2013 and 2016) tweeted about Lagarde’s own corruption trial in France. She was found guilty of “negligence” for gifting US $430 million to a tycoon – Adidas founder Bernard Tapie – who donated to her Conservative Party when she was finance minister (in 2017 he was forced to pay back the French state).
Retribution for corruption is indeed in the Pretoria air. Two months ago, Mboweni replaced Nhlanhla Nene, who resigned in disgrace over lying about his secret Gupta meetings. But is Mboweni himself arranging a secret bailout deal, as happened in December 1993 when the IMF granted an infamous US $850 million loan – a “Faustian Pact” (according to former Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils) replete with Washington Consensus promises – to outgoing president Frederik Willem de Klerk, so as to “instil global financial confidence” in the incoming Mandela government?
After five “junk!” denunciations of South Africa by the three most powerful (albeit suspect) credit ratings agencies over the past 18 months, President Cyril Ramaphosa has tried hard to restore their trust. However, with the giant energy parastatal agency Eskom now trying to dump another US $7 billion in debt onto a severely-stressed national Treasury, does Ramaphosa need a financial back-stop from the Bretton Woods Institutions?
Indeed, more to the point, is Eskom’sforeign debtagain creating havoc, as happened in January with a “pending letter of default from the World Bank” that “could trigger a recall on Eskom’s US $25 billion debt mountain,” as Carol Paton reported in Business Day?(Ramaphosa’s urgent meeting with Bank officials in Davos the next day was apparently temporarily soothing.)
Lagarde’s opaque visit contrasts with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s high-profile trip earlier this month, amidst a blaze of Global Citizen anti-poverty populism to 90,000 youth at a Soweto stadium: “I’m telling you, you can’t trust anyone over 30 to determine your future!”
Kim also met Ramaphosa to discuss, he tweeted, urban planning and sanitation (neither of which would need US $-denominated Bank loans). He also lectured at the Wits University School of Governance about human capital investment, at one point jovially criticising another ex-lefty, his host, Vice Chancellor Adam Habib, for being a “student of Trotsky.”
Ramaphosa: “We’re not looking at the IMF. The New Development Bank has a facility…”
Are loans to South Africa from the IMF and World Bank really needed? On the one hand, their leaders are here in the wake of July’s Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) Johannesburg summit, which again raised hopes for the BRICS bloc’s international financial governance reform agenda.
For example, notwithstanding angry protests by environmental justice activists at its Africa Regional Centre office, the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) quickly announced loans to three local parastatal agencies. One of these, Eskom’s US $180 million, had been “in abeyance” since 2016 due to then-CEO Brian Molefe’s second thoughts: he opposed the loan’s linkage of privatised renewable energy to Eskom’s grid (instead, Molefe wanted to take on more nuclear debt, which Mboweni – then an NDB director – had publicly endorsed in 2015, while in Russia at that year’s BRICS summit).
The other credits went to Transnet’s Siyabonga Gama (fired for Gupta-related corruption a few weeks later) for US $200 million to expand the Durban port-petrochemical complex– a project now frozen due to brazen procurement fraud involving a notorious Italian firm (unrelated to the Guptas) – and the Development Bank of Southern Africa for on-lending US $300 million to municipalities (assuming there are any creditworthy ones left, able to pay sufficiently high interest rates to justify a hard-currency loan for local infrastructure).
Explained Earthlife Africa protester Makoma Lekalakala, co-winner of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize as Africa’s leading activist this year, “Both Eskom and Transnet are under scrutiny for corruption and mismanagement. No due diligence was done on the Transnet loan. If this is how the [BRICS] bank operates, we have to brace ourselves for accelerated environmental degradation for the pursuit of profit.”
But the Bretton Woods Institutions are no better, and just over a year ago, Ramaphosa offered a scathing critique of Washington’s bias: “We should not go to the IMF because once we do we are on a downward path, we will be sacrificing our independence in terms of governing our country and sacrificing our sovereignty.” He cited the risk of imposed “cuts in social spending” what with anticipated IMF orders to Eskom “to do away with free electricity quotas for the poor and indigent.”
Ramaphosa repeatedly denies that the Bretton Woods Institutions will bail out South Africa: “IMF, no, we’re not looking at the IMF. The New Development Bank has a facility that could be made available to us. And we are exploring that as well. And we want to do it in a way that does not require a sovereign guarantee.” Actually, Ramaphosa probably didn’t mean the BRICS NDB, which makes project-specific loans, but instead its US $100 billion Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), which offers a US $3 billion credit line for South Africa to immediately draw upon, in the event of a balance-of-payments emergency deficit.
BRICS v IMF – or BRICS-IMF?
On the other hand, the BRICS look much less coherent today than in July, because Brazil’s new leader Jair Bolsonaro could drop out of the bloc, and at minimum, will more firmly hitch his regime to Donald Trump’s. Yet in spite of oft-expressed Sinophobia, Bolsonaro has just grudgingly agreed to continue the rotation of BRICS heads-of-state summit hosting (although this is likely only to occur in Brasilia next November). There will be much Trump-style geopolitical, economic and especially environmental chaos starting on January 1 when he becomes president, such as paving over the Amazon. But compared to November, fewer insiders I talked to on a visit earlier this month (including former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim) fear that Bolsonaro will reduce the bloc to RICS through a “Braxit,” the way he just did to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit. (His predecessor Michel Temer had agreed to host it in Brazil late next year, but Chile will now take over.)
The oft-stated contrast between the agendas of BRICS and Washington, as articulated by Zuma’s scribe Gayton Mckenzie, for instance, was in any case mainly myth. From 2014, Lagarde has enjoyed the power to co-finance the more desperate of BRICS borrowers (not just SA, but also Brazil and Russia suffer junk status), because the CRA’s Articles of Agreement stipulate that if Pretoria (or any other borrower) wants the next US $7 billion in BRICS funding within its US $10 billion CRA quota range, it must first get an IMF structural adjustment programme.
If Pretoria needs financing to repay increasingly onerous foreign debt tranches in 2019, could this fractured society withstand IMF austerity, given what Business Day already termed 2018’s “savage fiscal consolidation”? Radically-reduced funding for basic infrastructure left even a confirmed neoliberal, Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba, crying foul on Treasury’s 65 percent budget cut to the city’s housing program last week.
At the global scale, the BRICS financial institutions are not up to the massive bailout requirements necessary if financial meltdowns similar to 1998 and 2008 reappear in coming weeks, for instance due to Britain’s anticipated “hard crash” from the European Union on March 29. In even the recent weeks’ relatively mild economic turmoil, South Africa’s currency was the world’s most volatile (out of the 31 most traded). The Rand continues to zigzag in part because of then Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s February 2018 relaxation of exchange controls on US $43 billion worth of local institutional investor funding that can now depart South Africa. (That puts into context the oft-remarked US $7 billion exit threat from Citibank’s World Government Bond Index once Moody’s finally drops the junk axe on the domestic-denominated securities rating.)
However, while we continue to pay close to a 9 percent hard-currency interest rate on 10-year state bonds (even higher than does Venezuela), there will be willing buyers – until the next world financial melt ratchets rates even higher. And in spite of BRICS babble about IMF reform so as to lessen the load of borrower conditionalities, there have been no changes in economic philosophy under Lagarde. Worse, Africa lost substantial voting power in the last quota restructuring, in 2015, including Nigeria by 41 percent and South Africa by 21 percent. The main countries that raised their respective IMF shares were China (35 percent), Brazil (23 percent), India (11 percent) and Russia (8 percent).
An alternative strategy: repudiation of corrupt bankers
IMF reform that leaves most Africans with less voice is better considered deform, Ramaphosa himself seemed to concede in a speech to the United Nations in September, complaining that the IMF and other multilateral institutions still “need to be reshaped and enhanced so that they may more effectively meet the challenges of the contemporary world and better serve the interests of the poor and marginalised.”
Because their interests are not served by either Washington’s or the NDB’s lending to corrupt parastatal elites, the “poor and marginalised” need another strategy. Just as in the days of the Jubilee 2000 debt-repudiation movement, which was led in South Africa two decades ago by the late poet Dennis Brutus and Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, it is overdue we talk about, and indeed audit, South Africa’s foreign debt.
Including parastatal and private borrowers (for whom the state ensures hard currency is available for repayment), foreign debt stood at $171 billion as of mid-year (up from US $25 billion in 1994). That figure, the SA Reserve Bank announced last week, is down nearly 8 percent from March 2018’s US $183 billion, but only as a result of “non-residents’ net sales of domestic rand-denominated government bonds as well as valuation effects.”
The main foreign debtors remain Eskom and Transnet. They have contracted, over the past eight years, South Africa’s three largest-ever loans:
· in 2010, US $3.75 billion from the World Bank, mainly for the Medupi coal-fired power plant (a deal for which Eskom chairperson Valli Moosa was criticised by the public protector for “improper”conflict of interests since he sat on the African National Congress (ANC) Finance Committee, during the notorious Hitachi corruption of the ruling party);
· in 2013, US $5 billion from the China Development Bank, mainly for Transnet’s purchase of imported infrastructure inputs, especially for corrupt port-petrochemical expansion in Durban and a coal export rail line to Richards Bay (hundreds of millions of dollars were illicitly directed via China South Rail to the Gupta empire, as well as loan “success fees” from the Chinese loan); and
· in 2016, US $5 billion again from the China Development Bank,mainly for Eskom’s other coal-fired mega-generator, Kusile, initially arranged by Molefe and renewed at the BRICS Sandton summit last July.
None of these loans can be justified, especially on ecological grounds – since they all rapidly increase the climate debt we South Africans owe both future generations and, more urgently, contemporary African victims of worsening droughts and floods. Moreover, with state procurement corruption costing in the range of 35-40 percent per contract, according to the lead Treasury official in 2016, there is a strong case for a full debt audit, followed by the demand that the World Bank, China Development Bank, BRICS Bank and other lenders also assume liability.
After all, the Hitachi deal with the ANC’s investment wing Chancellor House led the United States government to fine the Japanese firm nearly US $20 million in 2015 – for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations at Eskom – and hence when Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan (responsible for borrowing the US $3.75 billion in 2010) last week blamed Hitachi incompetence for recent load-shedding, that alone should invoke World Bank debt repudiation.
Jim Kim should not only have addressed this largest – and perhaps worst – loan in his institution’s history. The Bank’s portfolio also includes the largest share in the notorious CPS-Net1“financial inclusion” strategy to rip off millions of poor South Africans, and a US $150 million debt plus equity stake in Lonmin, which until just before the 2012 Marikana massacre (not long after Kim became president) the Bank was celebrating as a best-case for corporate social responsibility.
Add to all this the new threat of Faustian Pact 2.0 from the ethically-challenged Lagarde. The need for a new Jubilee movement is obvious. All existing anti-corruption initiatives should be pursued forthwith, but our ever lower expectations mean that a genuine “Ramaphoria” – which if serious would include repudiation of the Gupta and ANC fraudsters’ financial facilitators, such as the World Bank, China Development Bank and BRICS Bank – is simply a fantasy. Instead, the meme best describing our current state of governance is, indeed, Ramazupta.
*Patrick Bond is a professor of political economy at the Wits School of Governance, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Having traversed both Angola, my native land and Namibia where I have lived for 17years, the hardships in suitable job placement were and are so remarkable that I too was left flabbergasted at the current dismal employment situation of our Southern African Development Community nations and how the much sought after qualification papers, do not serve for guaranteeing employment as our parents advised during our study days; not so as to blame them.
Our parental generation is one that endured the stark reality and duress of oppression, which limited the African man and woman’s every desire for self-autonomy, determination, adult suffrage, and personal-desired-future-building. As such, their generation placed heightened emphasis on education—for which we salute—as a means of emancipating oneself from past constraints and plotting one’s future as willed.
The continent’s status quo, however, is one that leaves millennials [1985 onwards], with an economic reality that leaves much to be desired. But then again, in such hard times – as in any situation—individual perspective, creativity and activity are strong “guarantors” of income in today’s setting. With that being said, the more pressing issues are those related to social structures and how they currently operate. Universities are pumping out more graduates every year, yet the way in which this is done, is not only questionable, but also dubious.
The purpose of a university
In my opinion, the purpose of a university is to capacitate the many [young people who pass through it] with progressive knowledge and instruction so as to compel enough self-autonomy that subscribes to building and benefiting the local and greater society, consequently pushing mass consciousness forward thus empowering and emancipating the said masses. In simple terms, universities should capacitate and mould individuals with a keen and critical analytical viewpoint thus making them less susceptible to exploitation or control and more able to compose their desired reality.
A university that grows progressively and sustainably can very much drive and make contributions to national growth, thus exemplifying such a symbolic tripartite: university – society – government development framing and accurate policy drafting. Tertiary institutions should thus be agents that trigger span social advancement.
This may be done by African universities robustly envisioning to teach, nurture, research and bolster community engagement so as to increase individual standing and not necessarily that of the market; doing this by symbiotically engaging academia and span human projects – one cyclically flowing into the other. The former dealing with knowledge creation and sharing as well as decolonising standing Eurocentric knowledge constructs.
The African curriculum remains one that magnifies European standing whilst ignoring the local in order to “please the market”. It is full of content that believes that Africans should aspire for the European and North American idea of development, thus forcing African feet into Western shoes. The status quo, as it stands, African universities are storehouses of knowledge to capacitate and train individuals for market servitude.
Universities, in liaison with government and other interested sponsoring bodies (banks, non governmental organisations etc.) aim to ensure the individual is taught and accredited with skills that ensure the markets’ continuance, compensating him “accordingly”, so as to keep him docile enough to continue working, yet rarely to emancipate him from his duty, freeing him towards his own higher endeavours.
Market bodies (not just African), in their donations to African governments and educational institutions, convey the scope of the market arena, highlighting its gaps and how individuals should be skilfully trained to best cater to the said gaps. The individual outcome is thus to primarily empower and enrich actors that the individual either doesn’t know or actors whose driving goals are far from any that can directly return and remunerate the individual or his visionary standing in a way that progressively leads to his emancipation or that of the many.
Other than favouring colonial knowledge, tertiary institutions in highly multilingual societies, such as Namibia and Angola stick to primarily offering curriculum in the foreign oppressors’ languages, which remain a minority, yet the primary teaching media (English and Portuguese). As such, epistemic colonial hegemony, patriarchy and intellectual arrogance (we learn about the “world” wars yet nothing about our true African History and African systems) not only goes unpunished, but is driven by the status quo, which is dire.
It is wrong that the importance of knowledge comes to be gauged inasmuch as it contributes to market and national needs. This then dilutes critical thinking, which is fundamental in its own solitary right. It eventually dawns upon most newly employed youth that their pawn-like stance en face the market organisation is to incessantly funnel their essence into the latter thus guaranteeing its continuance, like a cog in a machine. The individual’s existence primarily [rather than solely] interests the organisation merely for his input to their output, often having his true skills and potential for contribution minimised or altogether ignored – even if beneficial to the institution.
Why, because rarely will the capitalist institution grant you leeway or capacitate you enough to have you branch off freely [now empowered with more market knowledge and skill] capable to do the same as them thus competing or at least creating divergence, perhaps doing this better than them, for you don’t abide by the same laws of oppression you were subscribed to in their tutelage.
The majority of the renowned “fortunate” few, position themselves accordingly within the organisation and after happily bartering a few decades of life as a cog, they have accumulated knowledge, connections and experience, to branch off and create their life’s calling which drove them to the tertiary institution in the first place.
As is evident from our generational predecessors and their way of doing things [one must have ten years of experience for a position you have been highly educated for] and based on the reality of the few fortunate young, that due to their radical nature were vibrant and fortunate enough to craft and attain their desired reality after peeping the orchestrated capitalist market plot, the aim of capitalism is to blindside and subjugate the individual with useless shiny perks [loans, insurance, dental plan, many days off etc.] to keep him docile and working.
The global market thus lives to convey an “alluringly enticing” false reality. Europeans and North Americans are basically saying “be exactly like us or you aren’t worthy in our books”. This is evident in how African universities aspire to and thrive to be known in international bench-marking lists based on Africans and their standing in the ranking of global universities.
This is a problem! Bench-marking lists stem from European and North American institutions, which aim to control the subjectivity of knowledge and subvert the epistemic and socio-economic autonomy of universities elsewhere – thus ensuring no radical dissent from the status quo, which guarantees their [Europe and North America] exorbitant market wealth at the world’s expense.
Divergence from the status quo is imperative if we are to achieve any system [academic or corporate] that is better than the current status quo, where the drivers, leaders of markets, always ultimately benefit whilst the cogs are pacified with the minimal because of current economic hardships, exorbitant taxes or whatever else we are told as justification for the down spiralling market.
My advice would be to shift focus back home [I know, it sounds fairly cliché, but it is not!], tapping into our diversity as a means of creating solid globally aware, yet locally emphasised curricula that exalt equality and equity in the name of offering robust Afrocentric education [which has never been done before], as all other advancing nations or continents do.
Politicians should adopt a language of inclusivity in plan-setting so as to foster encompassing and representative epistemic scope that highlights and brings to the fore even Africa’s most ignored evident data.
In my personal opinion, a need for radical dissent from the status quo, which keeps pumping out students in the same manner, is direly imperative so as to not only counteract the norm, but most importantly create an empowered African body of knowledge.
*Samuel D. Pascoal writes from Namibia.
For this category of Nigerians, it was their belief in Nigeria and hope for an inclusive country and new ways of doing things that made them take that chance. After the [Goodluck] Jonathan debacle, very few Nigerians imagined that the country could sink lower in terms of its leader’s capacity to understand and confront its problems. Expectations were high. Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had made promises.
During the campaign, candidate Buhari, without prompting, promised to declare his asset publicly on his first day in office and we believed him. The APC promised to address the vexed issue of national unity and integration and we trusted them. Four months after, journalists were still debating with Garba Shehu, the president’s Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, on the meaning of public declaration of asset.
It was in faraway Ghana, in September 2015, that President Buhari told curious journalists: “I have declared my assets and all that I have four times, and you (the media) have the right to go and demand for my declaration. Instead, I am being harassed.” I am sure if the president had made his asset declaration public, as he promised during his campaign, journalists would have saved him the harassment and embarrassment.
In July 2013, my colleague, Godwin Onyeacholem, and I, wrote a piece titled “2015: Why Buhari Matters.” In it, we argued that Buhari was perhaps the only politician who could defeat former president, Goodluck Jonathan. In another article in May 2015 titled, “President Buhari: Dead end or the rebirth of a nation?” I argued, enthusiastically, that under Buhari, Nigerians didn’t expect it to be business as usual and that notwithstanding his foibles—“alleged provincialism and antecedent as a military dictator”—since corruption remains one of Nigeria’s biggest problems, perhaps, “President Buhari, ‘Mr. Anti-corruption’ can deal with corruption and get the Nigerian state to function.”
That has turned out not to be the case. As we have seen, President Buhari’s foibles are not superficial. They are ingrained. On the issue of corruption, I will allow Senator Shehu Sani speak on Buhari’s anti-corruption war. A preeminent party man, Senator Sani was in the APC until a few weeks ago when a combination of intrigues and highhandedness forced him to resign and join another party, the People’s Redemption Party (PRP). According to Senator Sani, “When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide, but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, they use deodorants.”
But, as we have noticed, fighting corruption should be the least of our concern under a president who seems to make a mockery of the very essence of our survival as a nation. The clear and present danger in Nigeria today is the existential crisis confronting it. Not since the civil war have Nigerians questioned their citizenship the way they have done in the last three and half years, thanks to a president whose philosophy and politics of exclusion and resentment, of “we vs them,” of “97 and 5 percent,” is redefining what it means to be a Nigerian.
President Buhari has foreclosed the prospect of any kind of meaningful conversation on Nigeria and its existential crisis. It will be an egregious folly to allow this indifference to go on for four more years. If Buhari wasn’t sworn in on 29 May 2015, he would have remained “the best president Nigeria never had.” Now that we have watched him painfully flounder, not knowing exactly what to do and squandering the goodwill of a nation in search of direction, it would be catastrophic to reward him with another four years.
The 2019 election, therefore, will either be about enabling a tribesman or finding a patriotic alternative. As a people, we should be interested in President Buhari’s capacity—his ability to understand what the country needs—to steer the Nigerian state for four more years as he seeks a second term in the February 2019 general elections.
President Buhari may have good intentions, if you believe those around him. But again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For a nation in a hurry, President Buhari’s tardiness goes beyond the pale. It took him six months to appoint some of the same people he campaigned with, as ministers, creating uncertainty and imperilling the economy in the process. The security situation gets worse by the day and you scarcely hear any coherent response from the president.
It seems Buhari hardly knows what is happening around him. A few months ago, at the height of the murderous herdsmen/farmers crisis in Benue State, the president sent the Inspector General of Police to personally take charge of the situation. When the president finally visited Benue State, after weeks of public outcry, and was confronted by residents who said the police chief was a no-show, he told a bewildered nation that he did not know that his police chief defied his orders. And, of course, he did nothing.
No wonder when asked in February what he would tell President Buhari if they met, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, replied: “I will say to him, Mr. President I think you are under a trance.” There couldn’t have been a more apt description of a president we elected almost four years to take charge and pull the country from the brink. I don’t think President Buhari has woken up from that dream. What we have in place of an elected president is a space holder surrounded by a bunch of nefarious enablers.
President Buhari’s listlessness and nonchalance is only matched by his parochialism. Take his handling of the crisis at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) or the appointment of a new head for Nigeria’s internal security agency, the Department of State Security (DSS). In August 2018, while President Buhari was away on medical vacation in the United Kingdom, the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, sacked Lawal Daura the notorious director general of the DSS and Buhari’s kinsman after a botched DSS invasion of the National Assembly. He was replaced by Matthew Seiyefa, from Bayelsa State, the most senior director at the DSS. Seiyefa appeared, at least from media reports, to be doing a good job at his new post, clearing a backlog of unpaid allowances and repositioning the institution in accordance with equity, fairness and respect for the rule of law.
For someone who had been assailed for his manifest nepotism and utter disregard for the country’s diversity, it was expected that the president would allow the appointment to stand. Not President Buhari. A month later, the president, predictably, had to recall “one of his own”, Yusuf Magaji Bichi, from retirement, to replace the acting president’s appointee.
It is an understatement to say President Buhari is stuck in the past. But if that alone was the problem, then it wouldn’t matter. The president has no notion of nationhood. He certainly needs a lot of lesson in running a modern, diverse and multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria. Unfortunately, it is too late.
The beauty of democracy—if we follow its tenets—is the prospect of peaceful and periodic transfer of political power. As a nation, let us not be afraid to take our chances, to try something different. It may not always work out, but it deepens our sense of understanding and purpose.
We took our chance with Buhari in 2015 and it has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Now is the time to move on.
* Chido Onumah is the author of We Are All Biafrans: A Participant-Observer’s Interventions in Country Sleepwalking to Disaster.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) President Zingiswa Losi met with sugar cane farmers from Vuvulane, Mafucula and Shewula in Manzini, Swaziland on Tuesday 4 December 2018. She got first-hand information on the on-going evictions and harassment of the farmers by the Royal Swaziland Sugar Company and the Swaziland Sugar Association, both organisations controlled by King Mswati III.
According to Secretary General of the Media Workers Union of Swaziland, Sicelo Vilane, who was at the meeting, the COSATU President promised the farmers that her organisation would meet with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland to look at how the farmers could be helped.
“She expressed and offered the solidarity of COSATU and the Southern African Trade Union Co-ordination Council to all the communities who are being subjected to such inhuman treatment”, Vilane says.
Democracy or sanctions
In September, Zingiswa Losi became COSATU’s first ever woman president unopposed. She serves on the African National Congress (ANC) national executive committee, but lost out to Jessie Duarte in her bid to become the ANC’s deputy secretary-general last year.
She has advocated for democracy in Swaziland on several occasions as well as calling for economic sanctions against the small landlocked country. In 2012, she told South African newspapers that COSATU “shall be with you [Swaziland] however long it takes, wherever you are and however painful it feels”.
In 2011, Losi was arrested and deported from Swaziland during pro-democracy protests. At the time, COSATU condemned “in the strongest possible terms the brutal crackdown on peaceful protests in Swaziland”.
Given land in 1963
Mpisi Dlamini, a leading member of the Vuvulane Farmers Association, told the COSATU President how he and hundreds of other farmers had been given their land in Vuvulane in 1963 by the Colonial (now Commonwealth) Development Corporation (CDC), says Sicelo Vilane.
“They had produced sugar cane which was milled by the Mhlume Sugar Mill until 1981 when CDC resolved to transfer the land ownership to them. CDC approached [King Mswati III’s father] King Sobhuza II to hand over the title deeds to the farmers, but unfortunately the king passed away before the process was finalised”, according to VIlane.
A few years later, the government had forced the farmers to sign a document that effectively handed over the rights to the land to a company controlled by the royal family. Swaziland’s High Court had ruled in their favour, Dlamini told Losi, but they didn’t get their land back because “the king has taken sides in the matter”.
Losi was also told about forceful evictions and forceful relocations of farmers in Vuvulane, Mafucula and Shewula.
The Swazi government and Swaziland’s sugar corporations have been harassing, evicting and forcefully relocating sugar cane farmers for many years without compensation to make way for sugar-cane fields controlled by King Mswati.
In 2013 for example, Freedom House reported several “unlawful arrests and detentions carried out by the police” against sugar cane farmers in the Vuvulane area. “Police are increasing pressure on farmers resisting their unlawful evictions from land that they have occupied for generations”, Freedom House stated.
In February 2016, 22 Vuvulane farmers were evicted from lands that they and their families had tended since 1963 by Vuvulane Irrigated Farms and the Swaziland Sugar Corporation.
And an Amnesty International report from September described two cases of forced and unlawful evictions without warning: One in the Malkers, where 60 people were evicted in April, and one in Nokwane, where 180 people were evicted in October 2014.
According to the report, the government “failed to provide essential services to those affected by the forced eviction: food, potable water and sanitation, basic shelter and housing, appropriate clothing or means of livelihood”. The forced evictions were a symptom of “a deeper, underlying problem” that violates international and regional human rights law, Amnesty said.
The more recent evictions have happened amongst other things because the king and his mother wish to use land in Vuvulane to construct a new town, the sugar cane famers say.
Sugar – known in Swaziland as “Swazi gold” - is Swaziland’s main export commodity. With a population of only 1.3 million people, Swaziland is the 4th largest sugar producer in Africa. Sugar production accounts for over half of Swaziland’s agricultural output and nearly one fifth of Swaziland’s gross domestic product.
According to a 2016 report from the International Trade Union Confederation, Mswati uses sugar profits to sweeten his own life, leaving sugar-cane farmers and the majority of the population bitterly impoverished.
And a 2017 report by Danish solidarity organisation Afrika Kontakt revealed how smallholder growers are also left vulnerable by sugar price fluctuations and transport costs, as well as by the corruption and undermining of the fight for democracy, that the European Union-support for Swaziland’s sugar industry, healthcare and education systems allows.
* Peter Kenworthy is a freelance journalist.
If Kenyan politics makes it into the international mainstream media it is likely through the lens of electoral politics. Ever since post-election violence made global headlines in 2007, this is the narrow lens through which Kenyan politics is viewed.
The presidential elections of 2017 brought Kenya to a standstill; a state from which it has not yet recovered. Following the logic of electoral obsession, the cited reason for the mayhem was the need for electoral reforms. Mobilisations around this demand, and the state-led repression they triggered, threw the country into a vortex for months.
The mainstream media was saturated with key events in the unfolding electoral spectacle. Themurder of an Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission [senior] official, the “fraudulent electoral tallying systems” and finally the High Court’s decision to annul the presidential results brought the instability to a head. Between August and October 2017, the country was divided along economic and ethno-nationalist lines, and violence broke out in different regions. The state responded with the argument that this “forced” them to deploy close to 200,000 security officers to maintain peace in the otherwise “volatile areas.”
Critically, all of these events were framed by local and international media as isolated incidents, related only to the elections, rather than understood as symptoms of a deeper, underlying crisis in Kenyan politics – a protracted struggle between a minority that doubles as the political and economic elite, and a population determined to live dignified lives representative of their political, economic, social and cultural aspirations.
In this narrative, which dominated the mainstream media, what wasn’t brought to the surface was the widespread feelings of increasing frustration, outrage, and distrust of state power as well as the various forms of resistance against it. The months leading up to the election had exposed a deep rot in the structures governing the nation’s political economy.
Economic growth as an indicator of progress
Kenya, in the official “postcolonial democracy” story, with its “well functioning and growing” neoliberal economy, is a thriving nation.By telling a story of progress based on a growing gross domestic product (GDP), Kenya has managed to secure admiration - as well as loans - from colonial and imperialist interests; both for its potential as a regional hegemony and a promising global financial hub. Projects mostly funded by foreign governments, multi-national companies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been seemingly endless.
These projects are aimed at developing economic hubs, which are connected into a regional network. Similar to the extractive colonial set-ups, infrastructural project like the railways, roads, oil pipelines, sea and air ports provide passageways that will ease the flow of goods and services- and are the major markers of the country’s progress towards building sustainable development.
The deliverables of these material projects include promises of enhancing social infrastructure, security and access to service delivery for everyone alike. The reality has however been growth for a few, propped up by increased taxes for the majority peasant and working classes, in an increasingly unequal society.
At the core of enabling this expansion has been the silencing of community voices that are resisting and desisting the corporatisation of their natural resources and are articulating the threats they pose to nurturing, preserving and enabling the survival of their cultures, environment, ways of life, and future generations.
Save Lamu and #DeCOALoniseKenya
As the government continues to push this neoliberal growth model, decentralised organising amongst communities is pushing back. An increasing number of voices are opposing - in one way or another - the current economic system and the narratives that support it
Lamu - a coastal county of Kenya known for its unique biodiversity, preservation of ancient cultures and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation world heritage site - is a central node in the government’s GDP-growth-at-all-costs policy. The main focus in this area has been natural resource exploration and infrastructural projects.
In addition to awidely contested 200 billion shillings (US $ 2 billion) “clean coal” power plant,the Lamu Port-South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) is a 2.7 trillion shillings(US $ 27 billion) flagship project aimed at achieving Kenya’s Vision 2030, a neoliberal agenda to transform the country into a newly industrialised, middle-income country.
Save Lamu, a coalition of over 35 community-based organisations, has been campaigning since 2009 to encourage their communities to divest from, as well as name, the impact of these investment plans to the environment and their communities. At the heart of this organising are grave concerns including, but not limited to, lack of access to information around the development of the port; community marginalisation in decision making processes; internal displacement of indigenous communities without compensation from their ancestral lands; destruction of bio-culture and ways of life within the communities that depend on fishing, pastoralism, eco-tourism and farming to sustain their livelihoods; and devastating environmental consequences for the wildlife, biodiversity, marine and terrestrial life around the areas where LAPSSET will cover.
Locally, the struggle of the people of Lamu is not different from environmental struggles of communities and environmental activists who are opposing the construction of Kenya’s new railway through the Nairobi National Park, and pastoralists in Northern Kenya who find themselves either already displaced or facing potential displacement under the guise of conserving the environment.
More importantly, this struggle of the people of Lamu reverberates with stories across the world, where communities continue to expose the violent underbelly of economic growth.
A particularly resonant example comes from Mexico, where a group of community activists, artists and civil society actors came together to launch and won a campaign to halt the construction of an international airport, NAICM. This mega-project is intended to run over a tract of rural commons and home to indigenous Nahuas peoples, and would destroy the sacred lakebed of Texcoco Lake. Part of their organising tactic and demands was an outright rejection of the narrative that economic growth is the prime indicator of progress.
As stated in the article, “Mexico is on the Verge of a major Human Disaster”by Paloma Martinez and Jason Hickel,the #YoPrefieroElLago organisers argued that, “the easy equivalence between growth and progress might have seemed reasonable back in the 1950s, when the environment was relatively stable. But as our global civilisation bumps up against the harsh realities of climate change, mass extinction, and ecological collapse, it makes less and less sense. In fact, the usual narrative has it exactly backwards: as we scramble to reverse ecological breakdown, growth is emerging as the greatest enemy of progress.”
As communities around the globe continue to resist the seizure of their natural resources by corporate and neo-colonial interests, the questions being posed at the forefront of every socio-cultural, political and environmental struggle remain the same. Is perpetual economic growth sustainable on a finite planet? What are the implications of the growth-at-all-costs model for our planet and livelihoods? And most importantly, whodoes economic growth really work for?
* Gathoni Blessol is an Activist and Community Strategist in Kenya. Sungu Oyoo is Coordinator at Kenyans For Tax Justice.