The long path to a green future

Greendustrialisation: now or never

African economies looking for a sustainable industrialisation model find themselves at a crossroads with little time to decide the way forward

Ruth Amoah (right) and her workers at small chocolate producer Moments Chocolate’s workplace remove husks from roasted cocoa beans in Accra, Ghana, 2019
Photo: Cristina Aldehuela / AFP

Lack of industrialisation is often pointed out as the key factor behind Africa’s underdevelopment. Among those supporting the idea are  Mike Morris and Judith Fessehaie, who wrote in their 2014 paper, The Industrialisation Challenge for Africa: “Only a massive industrialisation effort will enable Africa to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development”. According to United Nations (UN) statistics from 2019, Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people or 16% of the world’s population, 85% of whom “are still poor if judged by the standards of upper-middle income countries”.

Yet, the continent accounts for less than 2% of international trade and global manufacturing. Based on the current demographic trend, the UN forecasts that Africa’s population will reach 2.5 billion people by 2050 – a dramatic increment that will put further strain on already scarce jobs and insufficient public services and natural resources. Due to low levels of industrialisation, Africa is by far the continent that produces the least CO2 emissions. UN statistics for 2016 show that Africa emits just 4% of the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere. According to an early 2020 Oxfam study, “The average Brit will emit more carbon in the first two weeks than the citizens of seven African nations (Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso) emit in an entire year”.

Nonetheless, Africa pays the toll for pollution as much as any other part of the world, and available data suggest that the continent is affected by climate change more immediately than other regions. “For sub-Saharan Africa, which has experienced more frequent and more intense climate extremes over the past decades, the ramifications of the world’s warming by more than 1.5°C would be profound,” said the UN’s spokesperson for sustainability issues, Dan Shepard, when summing up the conclusions of the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Temperature increases in the region are projected to be higher than the global mean temperature increase,” wrote Shepard on the panel’s conclusions, which predicted a decrease in precipitation in Africa of up to 20% if the projected warming is not corrected. As the developed world pushes forward to move away from a model of industrial production based on burning fossil fuels that is proving unsustainable, African economies find themselves at a crossroads with little time to decide the way forward. Stepping up efforts to boost production through energy sources that are being dropped elsewhere does not seem like a viable option for Africa.

On the one hand, it would be met with reticence from donors and partners much aware of the urgency of greening the economy. Besides, its success would come at a price for a continent whose rich natural environments remain largely unscathed compared to other parts of the world. In these circumstances, both governments and international institutions are, at least from a declarative point of view, decisively opting for what has been called “a green path to industrialisation”, what we will call greendustrialisation.

“The big opportunity for Africa in 2016, as a latecomer to industrialisation, is in adopting alternative economic pathways to industrialisation,” a report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (2016) noted. Titled Greening Africa’ s Industrialization, the document argues that African countries have the potential to “benefit from their current low-carbon position and leapfrog” a future, without a “high dependence on volatile fossil fuels” and avoiding the complex and costly transition processes required in more industrialised economies.

An example of greendustrialisation given by the report is the Hawassa Eco-Industrial Park in Ethiopia, some 275 km south of the capital. This textile manufacturing plant started operating in 2016 and is the flagship project of the government’s industrial parks programme aimed at creating jobs and boosting exports. The Hawassa park runs on renewable hydroelectric power and employs a Zero Liquid Discharge system (ZLD) that enables it to recycle 90% of the sewerage disposal waters. Its success supports the notion that building green infrastructure from scratch might be easier than greening an existing one.

The Hawassa Park has been built with abundant and diversified foreign investment, especially from Asia. Some 25,000, mostly female, Ethiopians currently work at the plant, which is expected to employ 60,000 people when running at its full capacity. Cheap labour and the good conditions offered to investors by the Addis Ababa government have drawn clothing giants such as Guess, H&M and Levi’s to commission some of the garments they sell to manufacturers working from this park. According to 2016 World Bank data, agriculture employs between 65 and 70% of Africa’s workforce and supports the livelihoods of 90% of the continent’s population.

Thus, the success of industrialising African economies lies to a great extent in the transformation of the sector. Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa producer, but most of the volume extracted is processed (in the form of liquor, butter, cake or powder) abroad. The government has repeatedly vowed to spur its cocoa processing capacities in the coming years. At the same time, Ivory Coast aspires to boost the manufacturing in the country of cashews, cotton, rubber and coffee, whose production is mostly exported in raw form. Singapore-based agribusiness giant Olam International is one of the companies already processing cocoa and other commodities in Ivory Coast.

Its factories employ 5,000 people and are mentioned as an example of good environmental practices by the UN Economic Commission for Africa. A major challenge for both cocoa supply and manufacturing in Africa and overseas is the deforestation provoked by logging aimed at making space for planting more cocoa trees to farm. In 2017, the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana launched, together with 35 global cocoa and chocolate companies, the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. Its main provision is “a commitment to no further conversion of any forest land for cocoa production”. One of the intended measures is investing “in sustainable agricultural intensification in order to grow more cocoa on less land”.

Between 1988 and 2007, the website of the initiative says, 2.3 million hectares of rainforest was cleared for cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana. In a 2015 speech before the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the then Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, mentioned the development of manufacturing and the transformation of the agricultural sectors as two pivotal points to drive Africa’s industrialisation. Desalegn, who has been commended for championing the greendustrialisation agenda pioneered by his predecessor, Meles Zenawi, also alluded to the procurement of energy as “one of the binding constraints for industrialisation”.

He unequivocally propounded the development of “renewable energy”, which he considered to be “our comparative advantage in Africa”, as the only desirable way forward. In an example of integrated greendustrialisation, Ivory Coast is planning to build a 60 to 70 MW capacity biomass power- generation plant running on waste from cocoa pods. The project is supported by the US and will be up and running in 2023 if the process goes as planned. Ivory Coast aims to develop 424 MW of biomass power generation capacity by 2030, in an effort to increase and diversify its electricity generation sources as power demand has grown due to economic growth.

In December 2019, the Ivorian government and a French consortium led by Electricite de France (EDF) signed a concession contract for the construction of a biomass power plant of an installed capacity of 46 MW. It should be ready by 2023, when it will start generating electricity from oil palm waste. While countries like Malawi, South Africa and Rwanda have made remarkable progress in developing biofuels, wind and solar energy, Kenya is the leading actor in Africa when it comes to energy transition. Between 2010 and 2018 Kenya’s economy expanded at an annual average rate of 5.8%, according to World Bank data.

Between 2010 and 2019, Kenya’s peak demand for electricity almost doubled (from just over 1,000 MW in 2010 to exceed 1,900 last year), official data from the Nairobi government shows. Back in 2008, the Kenyan government launched its Kenya Vision 2030, a plan aimed at industrialising the economy to bring prosperity to citizens within a “clean and secure environment”. To sustain the projected economic expansion, the plan provided for an increase in the country’s power capacity based on the development of renewable energies, particularly hydroelectricity and geothermal energy. In December 2019, Kenya put a new 50 MW solar plant online.

It increased the share of renewable energy in its power mix to a remarkable 93% and took the country closer to the government’s target of being entirely green energy powered by 2020. In a 2019 policy research working paper for the World Bank, Catrina Godinho and Anton Eberhard cite the following facts to explain Kenya’s success. Since 1996, “policy and regulatory functions were separated from commercial activities; generation was unbundled from transmission and distribution; cost-reflective tariffs were introduced; and generation was liberalised.”

In a second phase of the reform that started in 2002 “independent regulation” was strengthened and the national generation company partially privatised to attract foreign investment. As a result of these policies, which continue, Kenya “has … become an investment destination for IPPs” (Independent Power Producers). This has allowed it to triple its generation power capacity since 1990, “with generation capacity expanding more rapidly than peak demand” and having achieved a power surplus (Godinho and Eberhard) – while almost entirely greening the company’s power sourcing.

Kenya ranked fifth in the BloombergNEF’s 2019 Climatescope report, which evaluates the investment conditions in clean energy in 104 emerging countries. “The country is gradually increasing its share of non-large hydro renewables by adding solar, wind and geothermal,” the report read. “In 2018, Kenya recorded its highest ever clean energy investment with $1.4 billion,” it added. However, the eastern   African nation’s vigour in exploiting Africa’s privileged natural resources to propel industrialisation remains unparalleled in a region with huge discrepancies from country to country,  where  economic   growth is still propelled by extraction commodities.

Despite its desperate need to intensify generation and the commitment of its politicians to take the green way to industrialisation, Africa lags far behind all the other continents in renewable energy actual generation and capacity growth (IEA 2019). Half of Africa’s booming population still has no access to electricity, and power cuts affect 80% of the companies operating on the continent. “Despite progress in several countries (e.g. Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda), current and planned efforts to provide access to modern energy services barely outpace population growth,” the IEA notes in its 2019 World Energy Outlook. Data for 2019 of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show that Africa’s renewable generation capacity of 46 GW accounted for 2% of global share.

Some 60% of the total share of electricity generated in sub- Saharan Africa comes from hydropower. Oil comes second with a share of 18%, followed by gas (16%). According to the IEA, Africa’s hopes to face the growing demand, brought about by demographic growth and projected economic development, rely on the development of solar energy, which has the potential to overtake hydropower as the main renewable generation source – coupled with the use of the abundant reserves of natural gas discovered in recent years in the continent.

“The big open question for Africa remains the speed at which solar PV will grow. To date, the continent with the richest solar resources in the world has installed only five gigawatts (GW) of solar PV, less than 1% of the global total,” the IEA concludes.

Marcel Gascón Barberá is a freelance journalist and writes for several Spanish and international publications. He has previously worked as a correspondent for EFE Spanish news agency in Romania, South Africa and Venezuela.

A quest for unchecked power

Press freedom: the fiercest battle

How South African private media played a pivotal role in mobilising civil society to expose a corrupt president and his cronies

A protester wearing chains and a gas mask rallies outside the SABC to protest alleged bias and censorship before key municipal elections, 2016 Photo: John Wessels / AFP

What is it to be an “African journalist”? Working in African countries can mean operating in challenging conditions, with limited resources and sometimes restrictive political environments. African media have been shaped by their histories – as colonial, revolutionary or post-independence presses, as state broadcasters, as community or development projects. To make this possible in South Africa, for example, public institutions were captured through aggressive “cadre deployment” practices, a policy of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) that has seen many key technocratic and managerial positions in the civil service and the state-owned enterprises going to political cronies within the ruling party, and which has reportedly helped to render key law-enforcement agencies impotent. Although they might have pursued their personal interests with the straightforwardness of a medieval court, Zuma and his cronies understood the importance of information in a modern democracy. Control over mass media was central in their quest for unchecked power.

With the ANC in charge of virtually all the relevant governing bodies, elections were the biggest threat to their hegemony, both in the national institutions and within the ruling party. It must therefore have seemed of capital importance to the Zuma faction within the ANC to keep the masses oblivious to their corrupt practices. The most obvious vehicle for any government to achieve this would be the public broadcaster, which is is often under (in)direct state control and which usually enjoys a large audience in the population. The latter is particularly true in South Africa, a highly unequal society where millions have no access to the internet or other sources of information, and instead have to rely on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Some form of political control over public broadcasters is not a serious issue in countries where the relative independence and stability of other institutions, including media authorities and privately-owned media operations, helps to prevent party-political or partisan broadcasting.

But it is probably true to say that the SABC, which was started by the apartheid regime, has never been an example of independence from government interference. “In South Africa, 22 million people have the SABC as their only source of news,” veteran radio journalist Foeta Krige told Africa in Fact. “If a political party can control the SABC, they control what’s going out to a huge part of the electorate.” And it was here that one of the fiercest battles for media freedom of that period happened. It was fought by the SABC 8, a group of journalists who in May 2016 refused to follow orders to leave violent anti-government protests out of the daily news bulletins. Krige was one of them. As punishment for standing up to Zuma’s enforcers, the SABC 8 were fired and threatened for months by faceless thugs who echoed the government’s discourse on critics. As part of this, they claimed that SABC 8 whites were agents of imperialism and that their black and Indian colleagues were useful idiots or despicable déclassé sell-outs.

Through the justice system and the processes of public participation in parliament, and by mobilising public opinion, the SABC 8 eventually regained their jobs, got the censorship orders revoked and exposed the rot at the institution. Their actions initiated the fall of one of the most toxic characters of the Zuma cohort: former SABC boss and censor-in-chief Hlaudi Motsoeneng. But the group’s victory was achieved at great personal cost to the group. One of its members, Suna Venter, was threatened and spied on. Her apartment was broken into. The tyres of her car were slashed and the brake cables of the vehicle cut. She was shot at twice while driving. On one occasion, she was taken out of her bed at night, waking up hours later tied to a tree on a Johannesburg hilltop. She died in June 2017, reportedly as a result of the stress of the campaign of threats and violence against her. Zuma’s exploitation of the media was not limited to the public broadcaster. Using public money, his administration facilitated the launch of The New Age newspaper and news channel ANN7, two private outlets that aimed to feed their audiences with pro-government propaganda.

This also benefitted their owners – the infamous Gupta brothers who massively enriched themselves and some Zuma family members at the expense of the South African taxpayer (see Italics below). More subtle were the Zuma government’s manoeuvres to manipulate journalists into helping to discredit honest officials who refused to be intimidated or bought off. In 2014, journalists at the Sunday Times were fed false information about a unit within the South African Revenue Service (SARS) that was supposedly operating outside the law. This narrative, which was apparently initiated within the Zuma camp, was legitimised and propelled by the Sunday Times in several front-page stories. It discredited some of the country’s most capable public servants and permitted the government to act against a legitimate anti-tax evasion unit that threatened illicit businesses belonging to the president’s cronies. The information was subsequently revealed to have been a hoax and the “rogue unit” saga succeeded in casting doubts on the credibility of investigative media.

The costs of the Zuma years

State capture has seen South Africa subjected to gigantic costs to the national economy and the country’s reputation. No final figure is available, and perhaps never will be, of the direct economic costs, but some of the indications are telling. The phenomenon of state capture began with former President Thabo Mbeki’s administration in the mid-1990s, when it was introduced as the ANC’s official policy of “cadre deployment”, or the placing of politically connected individuals in key posts. Over time, the approach came to be associated with, and then rebranded as “radical economic transformation” by Jacob Zuma’s supporters within the ruling party. Zuma’s first term as president began in 2008, and his presidency was terminated at the end of 2017, when he narrowly lost a leadership contest within the ANC to current incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa.

In 2007, the year before Zuma took power, the country had a R9.5 billion surplus; in last year’s budget, the country had a debt of R246 billion, according to a March 2019 report by South African news outlet biznews.com. In December 2015, after Zuma suddenly fired finance minister Nhlanhla Nene some R378 billion was wiped off Johannesburg Stock Exchange shares, taking with it some 148,000 jobs. In March 2017, South African bonds and listed companies lost R506 billion when Zuma summarily fired two other finance ministers, Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas, according to the same report. Between 2012 and 2017, foreign direct investment in the country declined by 41%, from $4.5 billion to $1.3 billion. Investors were reluctant to commit to the country because of an “underperforming commodity sector and political uncertainty”, according to the World Investment Report 2018.

According to an October 2018 report by Bureau of Economic Research, South Africa’s GDP in that year had declined by between 10 and 30% below projections since 2008, and some 500,000 to 2.5 million jobs had not been created. Meanwhile, state-owned enterprises have been struggling to survive in the post-Zuma years. The national power utility, Eskom, declared the world’s best power utility in 2003, currently has a debt of an estimated R500 billion – a figure so large that commentators, including members of the government, say it may threaten the economy. The national airline is in business rescue after decades of government bailouts, while Denel, an arms manufacturer, and Prasa, the national railroad agency are in fiscal intensive care. The Zondo Commission, on state capture, which began its work in August 2018, has yet to conclude. In July last year, Gordhan, since appointed public enterprises minister, revealed that some 3,000 forensic reports had been compiled on the SOEs since 2017 when the indications of the true extent of state capture first emerged.

Zuma’s association with the Guptas appears to have allowed the Indian-born businessmen influence over government policy and appointments, and given them access to large, corruption-driven lucrative government tenders. Gordhan is reported to have said that the Guptas may have succeeded in stealing as much as R50 billion from the state. They have fled the country, with reports suggesting that they are in Dubai, with which the South African state is reported to be negotiating an extradition treaty. Zuma denies any responsibility for the actions of the Guptas, although he has also defended them as “friends”, or for the dramatic decline in the country’s economy under his watch, accusing critics of mounting a political campaign against him. Meanwhile, calculating the direct costs of Zuma’ presidency to the country can be difficult, given that such budget items are often well hidden in government accounts.

However, according to a 2012 report by Gareth van Onselen on Politicsweb, a South African news outlet, in 2012 Zuma’s presidency – including his salary, accommodation, support for his wives and the costs of an army medical unit in permanent attendance – were about R1.5 billion annually. That figure, which van Onselen regarded as conservative, was equivalent to about 31,275 jobs, calculated at the national average salary of that year of R47,964, according to figures by the School of Economic and Business Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Several testimonies point to the hand of the secret services behind the scheme to discredit the SARS unit. Although they have no definitive proof, Krige and his SABC 8 colleagues suspect state intelligence was also behind the anonymous threats and attacks on them. The use of the security agencies to interfere with the media is not new in post-apartheid South Africa. One of its finest investigative journalists, amaBhungane’s Sam Sole, was told in 2009 “by people from within the intelligence community” that the secret service was recording his phone calls. “We laid a complaint with the Inspector General of Intelligence, but they took a couple of years to get back to us,” Sole tells Africa in Fact. “They didn’t even say if we were monitored or not. All they said was: ‘we did an investigation and nothing illegal was done’.” The evidence he was looking for emerged in 2015, when Zuma filed court papers to oppose the official opposition’s bid to have criminal charges against him reinstated in a matter relating to the 1990s arms scandal, during which Zuma was reported to have been paid by a foreign arms company to represent its interests.

Attached to his lawyer’s affidavit were transcripts of conversations Sole had with a senior prosecutor while the journalist was working on an investigation. Zuma’s team said the evidence showed that the senior prosecutor’s conversation with Sole supported their claim that the charges against the applicant had been orchestrated by his political rivals. “We used that to launch a challenge to the surveillance legislation [under which he was spied on],” Sole recalls. On 16 September, 2019 a ruling of the High Court in Johannesburg declared sections of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Related Information Act (Rica) unconstitutional, arguing that it gave excessive powers to spymasters to the detriment of citizens’ privacy, as well as compromising the right of journalists to keep their sources confidential. However, Sole’s experience of being bugged contributed to the success of one of the greatest feats in the history of South African journalism. In early 2017, anonymous whistle-blowers sent South African online publication Daily Maverick what appeared to be a trove of e-mails and documents from the command centre of the Gupta business empire.

“When we handled the Guptaleaks we were extremely careful not to let anybody know what we had, and what we were doing,” Sole recounts. Instead of securing a huge scoop by keeping the information for his paper, Daily Maverick’s editor-in-chief Branko Brkic “immediately” contacted his colleagues at amaBunghane to seek assistance. He had previously worked with them and knew about their “expertise” in investigating corruption in general and the Gupta’s dirty businesses in particular. “I’d have betrayed South Africa’s future if I’d seen it as an opportunity for myself,” Brkic told Africa in Fact. Sole praises Brkic’s “very mature and responsible” decision to invite them to work together when the Daily Maverick realised “they didn’t have the capacity to deal with something this big on their own”. Brkic deems the work that followed “a testimony of a collaboration well done”. As South Africans would find out later, the impressive cache of secrets Daily Maverick received revealed the extent of the Gupta family’s influence over the government and how they were using it to obtain contracts with state companies.

Conscious of how damaging the information was for some of the most powerful people in the country, Brkic, Sole, his fellow amaBhungane journalist Stefaans Brummer and the small group of people who had access to the files only discussed the matter face to face and worked on computers not connected to the internet. “If they had prior knowledge, we would have been vulnerable to search and seizure and so on,” Sole points out. “So that experience with surveillance was important in making us very careful.” By being “very careful” Sole and his colleagues were also protecting the whistle-blowers. The Daily Maverick and amaBhungane only started publishing the so-called Guptaleaks months after they received the material. “It took us quite a while to get going, because we first had to essentially raise money to take the whistle-blowers to safety,” Sole says about the “discreet” process involving several sectors of society that made their relocation abroad possible. With South African state institutions such as the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), the Hawks, an elite investigation unit, and parliament under Zuma’s iron grip, it was the private media that took on the task of keeping those in power accountable.

The Guptaleaks and other media investigations played a vital role in fostering the civic mobilisation against Zuma that forced many, even within the ANC, to speak out against the president’s abuses. This process eventually led to the ANC recalling Zuma before the end of his term following his camp’s defeat at the party’s elective conference. It might be said that independent journalism has not influenced the political course of other African countries on the scale it has done in South Africa in recent times. Apart from a better-established private media and a stronger civil society, South African journalists had in their favour an independent judiciary capable of ruling against the government. The substantial impact journalistic investigations had in putting an end to Zuma’s corrupt administration owed a great deal to the culture of dissent within the ANC, whose way of electing its leaders ultimately prevented the institution of a potentially autocratic Zuma dynasty in power. “In other countries the presidency would have had a much more handson control over other institutions,” notes Daily Maverick’s Brkic. Indeed, in African countries where authoritarianism holds sway, journalists have been convicted and jailed by subservient judges.

In Angola, for instance, investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais was handed a six-month suspended jail sentence in 2015 for criticising politicians who supported the regime. De Morais’s persecution was pugnaciously contested by the country’s thriving civil society. Yet despite the magnitude of the scandal he revealed, then-President Eduardo dos Santos remained the unchallenged leader of the ruling MPLA until he stepped down when he chose to retire in 2017, after 38 years in power. Similar situations have been reported in recent years in countries such as Zimbabwe and Cameroon, where journalists have been threatened, attacked, arrested and charged for criticising their authoritarian governments or informing about their abuses. Sadly, such events are emblematic of the state of things in many African countries. In the absence of effective mechanisms to enforce democratic laws and processes, politics is often determined by force, and governments are able the abuse state security structures and resources with impunity.

But as Ntibinyane Ntibinyane, co-founder of Botwana’s INK Center for Investigative Journalism, pointed out in a 2018 article, examples of valuable investigative work are abundant in the rest of Africa, with new media outlets, often constituted as non-profit organisations and funded by individual and international donors, increasingly setting the agenda. In 2018 alone the Global Investigative Journalism Network identified 10 outstanding investigative stories produced by African journalists – including revelations of human rights abuses, corruption, information data breaches, sexual violence and gross state negligence in Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi, Cameroon and Kenya among other countries.

Marcel Gascón Barberá is a freelance journalist and writes for several Spanish and international publications. He has previously worked as a correspondent for EFE Spanish news agency in Romania, South Africa and Venezuela.

A revolution of the aspiring bourgeoisie

African communism: a pragmatic approach

Communism was not a decisive force anywhere in Africa until the cold war made the continent a priority for the Soviet Union

A high level of industrialisation is, according to Marx and Engels, the crucial trait of societies ripe for revolution. Since they first published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, however, these authors have been repeatedly contradicted by reality. In later times, communism emerged victorious in circumstances very different from those its fathers envisioned. In fact, a communist revolution gained control of a state for the first time in Russia, a mainly rural and underdeveloped country. Other countries where it later took power were even further removed from the relations of production which Marx and Engels had predicted to be necessary for a proletarian takeover. Many of these countries were in Africa, where communism had a pivotal influence during the 20th century. As in Tsarist Russia, most parts of the continent lacked the masses of industrial workers that had been supposed to be the catalyst for the advent of a classless society.

Africa’s masses weren’t proletarians with “nothing to lose but their chains”, as Marx and Engels said of the workers they thought would want to free themselves of the capitalist yoke. Instead, communism gained prominence in Africa through state-directed action based on geopolitical interests. Until the beginning of the cold war, Africa’s exposure to Marx and Engels’ theory came through a tiny minority in countries with white European groups. “The first appearances of communist ideas in Africa were introduced by European workers in newly industrialising colonies with a significant concentration of settlers,” writes Edmond J Keller in a 2017 paper, “Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism in Africa”. In most African countries, it was of almost no consequence. In the metropoles, communism was outlawed or demonised by the authorities, who feared change at home and in the colonies.

Meanwhile, most European colonial societies were dominated by government officials, landowners and industrialists who were reluctant to consider the need for change – and who were certainly hostile to revolutionary change. Early Marxists in Africa often enlisted in the struggle secretly and at great personal cost. The four countries mentioned by Keller as having a significant communist presence were South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and the Sudan. This was particularly the case in South Africa. The British colony at the southern tip of the continent was arguably the most autonomous and dynamic colonial territory on the continent. Energised by diamond and gold rushes, its white society soon became a well-established, vibrant community with a sizeable working class employed in the mines and other industries. It was in this context that left-wing trade unions and ultimately the South African Communist Party (SACP) were born and achieved notable muscle.

Ethiopian President Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam (R) makes a V-for-victory sign as he stands with Fidel Castro (C) and Raul Castro (L) during an official visit to Havana, Cuba, in April 1975. Mengistu took power in 1977 after a coup. Photo: PRENSA LATINA / AFP

This strength did not at that stage result in the advancement of black people’s rights. The 1922 Rand Rebellion saw the party and its allied trade unions protesting a relaxation of the colour bar on the mines, a measure which would have resulted in lower salaries for white workers. Nevertheless, communism was not a decisive force anywhere in Africa until the cold war made the continent a priority for the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev wanted to win the continent in the battle for global hegemony with the US-led capitalist bloc. At the time, some African countries had just become independent or were about to, and there was a strong need for a sense of direction and economic support. So Moscow stepped in. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah became a Moscow protégé. He put in place socialist inspired policies and aligned his country with other international actors hostile to the West.

More importantly, Nkrumah’s potent symbolism as Africa’s first black post-colonial leader was a tremendous asset for the Soviets in their contest with the Americans for worldwide cultural influence. Not without American resistance, the Kremlin repeated this approach with other freshly-installed black nationalist presidents. Moreover, the Soviet Union began arming, training and sponsoring insurgent movements fighting western colonial dominance and the capitalist white regime in South Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, the Soviets did not focus on the oppressed masses; rather, they wooed members of local elites who had been educated by missionaries or who had achieved so-called évolué status in French territories. It was this thin layer of the population that produced African activism for equal rights. Early forms of the struggle against discrimination and injustice around the continent were far from the revolutionary positions they would become from the 1960s.

Many liberation icons – among them Nelson Mandela and other major figures in South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) – were professionals who came late to the socialist discourse for which they are known today. Their struggle was not against capitalism as such; rather, they wanted to end discrimination and open the door to prosperity for masses of fellow Africans who had been deprived of their rights. In their early stages, many liberation movements shared this liberal, reformist approach to change. Their leaders were, after all, aspiring bourgeoisie. In retrospect, we can ask: why did they let themselves be seduced by an ideology that rejected everything they cherished and yearned for? According to Keller, African leaders at the time made alliances with their Soviet and Chinese backers “primarily because they offered material support to the movement or dominant party in a regime, rather than being based on a clear and consistent acceptance of the guiding ideology of either the western or communist partner”.

Supporters of the pro-communist Ethiopian
Workers’ Party wave in front of a huge portraits of the founders of “scientific socialism” on 13 September 1987 in Addis Ababa, on the 13th
anniversary of the Ethiopian revolution led by Haile Mariam Mengistu. From left: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Russian Bolshevik revolutionary leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Mengistu set out to create a socialist state in Ethiopia aligned with the communist bloc.
Photo: ALEXANDER JOE / AFP

FRELIMO leader and future Mozambican president Samora Machel acknowledged this in the early 1970s, when he described the major communist powers as “the only ones who will really help us”, according to a 1973 report by Michael Calvert on “Counter- Insurgency in Mozambique” in the journal of the Royal United Services Institute. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, too, alluded to what one could describe as the “minginess” of the support from liberal democracies for Africa’s quest for freedom. Shortly after his release, he gave short shrift to criticism from Miami of his visit to Cuba in 1991. Responding to attacks on his praise for a non-democratic leader, Fidel Castro, he said: “Who are they to call for the observance of human rights by Cuba? They kept quiet for 42 years when human rights were being attacked in South Africa.”

He noted that some countries had “suddenly” become keen on the ANC as its accession to power got closer. Arguably, many members of African liberation elites might have wanted to see their countries become capitalist, liberal societies. But some of the liberal democracies were former colonial powers that had denied Africans the freedoms their citizens enjoyed at home. Some communist powers, among them the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic and Cuba, moved in to fill the void, offering a plausible vision of full citizenship and human dignity. And, as we know, the Americans worked to counteract their influence. The Soviet and American interventions in Africa occurred mostly behind the scenes. As the cold war heated up, proxy conflicts proliferated around the continent, of which the Congo crisis in the first half of the 1960s is a relevant example.

Perhaps the only direct involvement of any communist country in Africa was the Cuban intervention in Angola, where it deployed military forces between 1975 to 1990 to keep the Marxist regime in power and repel an anti-communist military campaign of the apartheid government. Its mission in Angola only ended when Namibia became independent. The presence of Cubans in the former Portuguese colony made an indelible impression on many Africans. The solidarity of that enterprise, which was widely perceived as selfless, is still hailed in the region today. Perhaps more extraordinarily, many who lived and worked with Cuban personnel – not only in Angola, but in other African countries to which Castro sent military and civilian missions – were inspired by the Cubans’ lack of racial prejudice and the naturalness of their interaction, at least by colonial Africa’s standards.

The Angolan writer Adriano Mixingue, who studied on the Caribbean island, described the Cubans he met at home as “hardworking, friendly, fair and fun” and being “popular and well-liked”. Apart from Moscow, the other great pole of communist power in the world was Beijing. Maoist China aimed at challenging Soviet hegemony in Africa and exerted its own influence through means similar to those employed by the Kremlin. Mao Zedong’s third-world nationalism and his own experience of non-conventional guerrilla warfare made him a popular example among members of several liberation movements. Mao’s quest for relevance in Africa was especially successful in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, “two countries where different aspects of the Maoist repertoire were applied with particular vigour through the late 1960s and 1970s,” writes Julia Lovell in her book Maoism: A Global History (2019).

Replicating Maoist practices such as rural collectivisation, nationalisation and the use of violence to support a leader’s absolute authority had disastrous results in Africa, as they had in China itself – among them famine in Tanzania and “one party-thuggery and economic calamity in Zimbabwe”, the author notes. Soviet-type policies brought a comparable authoritarianism to other African countries. A marked example was that of Ethiopia under dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. He is believed to have killed half a million people during the “red terror” campaign of 1977 and 1978. Combined with a persistent drought, Mengistu’s social engineering involved extensive nationalisation and the state seizure of all land, and it caused a famine that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the mid 1980s. As highlighted by academic William Gumede in a 2017 article, African liberation movements were often “structured along variations of Soviet Marxist-Leninist or Chinese communist party lines with a powerful leader at the head”.

African liberation movements “were organised in a top-down, secretive and military-like fashion” that concentrated “power in the hands of either the leader or a small group”, writes Gumede. It was a pattern they maintained after assuming government. The price of having undemocratic regimes as a model is still being paid on a continent that has a deficit of democratic culture.

Protesters try to topple a giant “socialist realist” statue of Russian Bolshevik revolutionary leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin on 23 May 1991 in Addis Ababa, two days after the departure of Ethiopian pro-communist strongman Mengistu Haile
Mariam into exile. Photo: JEROME DELAY / AFP

Marcel Gascón Barberá is a freelance journalist and writes for several Spanish and international publications. He has previously worked as a correspondent for EFE Spanish news agency in Romania, South Africa and Venezuela.

The Cinderella of sustainable development goals

SDG 6: clean water and sanitation

More than 900 million Africans lack water-flushed toilets, hand-washing facilities, clean drinking water and related services

A family fetches water from a well in a rural community in Lungobe, Zambia. Access to water is limited in many rural and isolated areas in southern Africa. Photo: iStock.com

By Marcel Gascón Barberá

Giving everyone access to clean water and sanitation might well be the least engaging of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) set by the UN in 2015 to address a series of pressing global challenges. Though they are clearly important, complaints of a “lack of clean water and sanitation” rarely make it into the headlines. Moreover, unlike natural catastrophes, terrorist attacks or economic crashes, a lack of water and sanitation doesn’t occur at a specific point in time, nor is it often the result of a single act of negligence or inattention by a single actor. Rather, it is most often the result of persistent inaction on the part of governments, which is itself influenced by political, cultural and socio-economic realities within those societies. To all this we can add the influence of social taboos. People who have to deal with a lack of water and sanitation tend not to want to let others know that they have to defecate in the open, and that they lack facilities to wash afterwards. People are more likely to demand jobs, paved roads, health care and education than they are to protest about a lack of adequate sanitation infrastructure. The subject of water and sanitation is often marginal to the public conversation, which puts it conveniently at the bottom of most governments’ priority lists.

Yet the lack of clean water and sanitation is a major reason why life is harder in Africa than anywhere else. According to UN statistics, as much as 72% of Africa’s population did not have access to basic sanitation as of 2015. That means that more than 900 million Africans lack water-flushed toilets, hand washing facilities, clean drinking water and related services. Putting these numbers together within this broader context reveals the huge disparity between the magnitude of the problem and the amount of focused attention and action it receives. Things are particularly appalling in remote rural areas. The development of sanitation infrastructure requires complex and costly operations that only governments appear to be able to take on. “Sanitation or its converse, open defecation, is a negative externality,” wrote Shanta Devarajan, Senior Director for Development Economics at the World Bank, in a 2014 article (in economics, a negative externality is an activity that imposes a negative effect on an unrelated third party, according to a 2010 article by HR Varian). “People who defecate in the open not only harm their own children, but other people’s children,” according to Devarajan. “Their incentive to invest in sanitation is less than the costs.” He added that in rural India, the reduction in the incidence of diarrhoea from others’ adopting sanitation was about half of the effect of your own household’s adopting it.

But authorities often have neither the capability nor the political will to expand the state presence to outlying areas. Moreover, the lack of meaningful connection between governments and populations across the continent often makes it futile to lobby politicians to address these deficits. As Richard Jurgens and Luz Helena Hanauer wrote in Africa in Fact 49, for example, the continent’s leaders have successfully relied on the social fragmentation in their countries that is a result of the “diverse populations that were artificially yoked together by colonial projects” to render their constituencies powerless when it comes to demands for good governance and service delivery. To achieve this, and absolve themselves of any responsibility, the authors argue, many African rulers also resort to the “tactic” of blaming “imperial and colonialist” forces for their own shortcomings as lawmakers. The erosion of any accountability means that these shortcomings will be reflected, in particular, in politicians’ lack of incentives to provide sanitation infrastructure. The solution, experts are increasingly accepting, lies in realistic, creative actions that are clear about the limitations imposed by circumstance and which involve affected communities. Founded in 2010 by sanitation activist Kamal Kar, the community-led Total Sanitation Foundation has been one of the world’s leading advocates of this approach.

“Our vision is to unleash the hidden potential and capabilities of local communities to solve their own problems and take charge of their lives,” reads the NGO’s self-description. Basically, this means that communities are encouraged to stop relying on government intervention and to mobilise whatever resources they have to tackle the problem. It is only by doing so that they can start minimising the many negative health and wellbeing effects of not having adequate access to water and sanitation services, the NGO urges. Moreover, by taking the initiative themselves, the communities also push the authorities to pay attention and take action. “Often it has been seen that the ministers are foreigners in their own countries,” says Kar in an interview posted on his foundation’s website. “[The ministers] have no idea as to what is going on in their own country. They get totally surprised to hear the tremendous success of their local communities in achieving an ODF [open defecation free] status without any external help and support,” he adds. “We have noted that the moment you start triggering the institutional actors, the awareness and the sense of responsibility increases tremendously.” Born in Bangladesh and a specialist in livestock production, agriculture and natural resources, Kar pioneered the so-called “community-led total sanitation approach” (CLTS) approach in his country in 1999.

Its methodology “is based on a no-subsidy policy and rooted in a model of community empowerment and mobilisation” to end open defecation in underdeveloped communities. Since its successful execution in Bangladesh, the CLTS model has been adopted by the UN agencies for clean water and sanitation. Working with the UN, Kar has applied his approach “to more than 69 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America”. One such project has been put into practice with successful results in Madagascar, a cash-strapped island with one of Africa’s lowest indexes when it comes to access to sanitation. Working on the ground with local NGOs, the UN’s Global Sanitation Fund has succeeded in eradicating open defecation in more than 16,000 villages. Having identified a community in need of proper sanitation, a group of doctors travels to the village and calls a meeting with the residents. A visitor takes the floor and asks for one of those present to draw a map of the village on the ground. When the map is completed, the residents are asked to use pieces of cardboard to indicate the locations of the village houses, wells and latrines. The next step is to count the number of latrines and compare this number to the number of people in the village. The conclusion is invariably that there are too few latrines for the number of people. At that point, the speaker interrogates the public about their defecation habits. This might be done in direct and even vulgar language. Repeated use of the word “shit”, for example, challenges participants to be open. The residents might start off regarding the meeting with shame or embarrassment, but the mood changes as the speaker in the centre continues to tease them about their lack of openness about an important issue.

The ashamed or disapproving expressions on the faces of participants soon turn to wry smiles. The initial discomfort dissolves in some laughter, and that opens the way to more honest discussion. The meeting then moves to one of the open defecation spots. There, the person leading the meeting touches a stick to some faeces, which he dips into a glass of water. Would anyone want to drink this water? The audience’s response is usually amused and bewildered: of course not. Further discussion follows, during which villagers are informed that contamination of this kind is a source of diarrhoea and other health threats. Following this, they are encouraged to work out the most basic solutions, which they often arrive at themselves: fly-proof latrines and artisanal hand-washing facilities. Villagers with natural leadership skills then commit to forming teams to build latrines, and work begins immediately. A hole is excavated in the ground and a brick outhouse with a wooden seat and a roof is constructed above it. Their promise to “stop eating shit” – as the visitors bluntly put it – becomes a matter of pride and self-esteem. When researchers return to evaluate progress, they usually find healthier, cleaner communities. Moreover, villagers are keen to spread the message to nearby villages. Weeks after the doctors’ visit, the results are evident in those communities that have honoured their commitments.

Faeces has disappeared from the margins of the village. The village surroundings don’t smell as bad as they did and residents are proud to show the functioning latrines they have built. Access to clean water and sanitation is more extended in Africa’s cities. However, urban areas face increasing demographic pressures. Massive migrations from rural areas are multiplying the number of informal settlements in virtually all African cities. These new, makeshift urban developments also often lack the most basic sanitation infrastructure, while their higher population density makes things worse than in the rural areas. Moreover, the transmission of associated diseases, typhoid, malaria, diarrhoea and cholera, which are among the leading causes of death on the continent, is faster in crowded environments. Nigeria, for example, has the largest population of any country in Africa, and that has doubled in size since the 1990s. Its population is nearing 200 million, and that is likely to double by 2050. More than 50% of Nigerians live in cities, while only 15% lived in urban environments in 1960, according to the UN’s Population Division. Lagos, the country’s largest city, now has an estimated population of more than 20 million people. A World Bank report shows that two out of three people in the city lived in slums in 2015. One of those slums is Makoko, a succession of shacks built on wooden stilts on the Lagos Lagoon. Once a quiet fisherman’s village known as the “Nigerian Venice”, Makoko has become the world’s biggest slum on water, where more than 150,000 people are exposed daily to a lack of clean water.

There are no sanitation facilities and the sewage ends up in the lagoon, below the slum’s houses. Residents live in a fetid atmosphere and often die of the diseases mentioned above. “For every one urban dweller reached with sanitation in Nigeria since 2000, two people were added to the number living without [it],” says a 2016 Water Aid report. According to the same NGO, some 67% of urban dwellers (or almost 60 million people) in Nigeria live “without improved sanitation”. Between 2000 and 2015, all global regions saw a drop in the number of people practising open defecation, except for Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2017 UN study. The major influencing factor? High population growth. Even with more than a decade before the target date of 2030, it is likely that high population growth alone will prevent sub-Saharan Africa from meeting its target of universal access to clean water and sanitation.

Marcel Gascón Barberá is a freelance journalist. He lives in Johannesburg and writes for several Spanish and international publications. He has previously worked as a correspondent for EFE Spanish News Agency in Romania, South Africa and Venezuela.

Keeping it in the family

African dynasties: a common phenomenon

African dynasties: a common phenomenon

Grace Mugabe with her husband and Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe Photo: Graeme Williams

By Marcel Gascón Barberá

Political dynasties have not been an uncommon phenomenon in post-colonial Africa. In Togo and Gabon, two families have been ruling for decades. Hereditary transmission of power is also a reality in the DRC, where Joseph Kabila succeeded his father after the latter’s assassination, and where power of a sort has been transferred from Étienne Tshisekedi, a former leader of the opposition, to his son Félix, now president. Two of the five presidents of Botswana’s history hail from the Khama family, and the current Kenyan president is the son of the country’s first post-colonial leader.

Many African leaders have been tempted to establish a dynasty at the highest political level. The successful attempts, it might be argued, have been founded, at least in part, on the strong personalities of those involved. In other cases, such attempts have been less successful – and paradoxically, for the same reason.

In November 2018, Kenyan daily The Standard ran the following headline, reflecting an unusually candid statement made by the opposition leader, Raila Odinga: “We are not princes”. His use of the first-person plural included Odinga’s rival, President Uhuru Kenyatta. In the article, Odinga vehemently denied that either he or Kenyatta owed their careers to their fathers: “Nobody has elected Uhuru because he is the son of Kenyatta,” he told the newspaper. “Nobody votes for Raila Odinga because he is the son of Oginga Odinga”.

In this way, the opposition leader absolved himself and his opponent of the odious charge of having been born with a silver spoon in their mouths. To bolster this claim, he called himself a “hustler” politician, and cleared the current president of the same accusation by reminding readers of the humble origins of Kenyatta senior. Odinga acted as Kenyatta’s deputy president until a fall-out between them prompted Odinga to start his own opposition party. Uhuru Kenyatta, meanwhile, is the son of the first independent Kenyan leader, freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta, who worked as a house man, cook, carpenter and clerk during his youth. Many observers would argue that, in fact, Uhuru and Raila have spent most of their political lives reproducing the ongoing quarrel between their fathers.

When the president, Daniel Arap Moi, appointed a young and inexperienced Uhuru the ruling party’s presidential candidate in 2002, Raila protested and refused to support Kenyatta, who went on to lose the election against Mwai Kibaki. Raila and Uhuru found themselves in opposing camps again during the bloody 2007-2008 elections, when Kenyatta championed Kibaki’s re-election against Odinga’s candidacy. In 2013, Uhuru finally won his first presidential term, after defeating Raila. Four years later, Kenyatta was re-elected, having again defeated Odinga for the presidential vote.

Despite Odinga’s protestations, Kenyatta and Odinga clearly do owe much of their political influence to who their parents were. But he also had a point: their road to the top has been far from smooth and both have experienced electoral defeats and years in opposition. In this respect, the Kenyatta and Odinga dynasties are more similar to those that have intermittently dominated the political landscape in certain countries in Asia and the Americas than the families that distribute state power among their members in some North Korean-style African dictatorships. Kenyatta and Odinga’s successes are not based on the direct influence of their fathers; if their privilege gained them a place at the starting line, they still had to run the race.

In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, a different attempt at establishing a dynasty has recently played itself out. A few days before Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe’s, forced resignation in 2017, when the army turned against him, a demonstrator displayed a placard with the following message on it: “Power is not sexually transmitted”. The aged leader was a target of popular anger, but it is arguable that his wife, Grace, was even more so. “Gucci Grace” – as she is known for her love of luxury – was preparing to take office as the country’s vice president, which would have made her a shoo-in as her husband’s successor.

The former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, had been a victim in Grace’s ascension. The ZANU-PF stalwart was dismissed after the first lady accused him of promoting “factionalism”. Mnangagwa told his former boss from exile that Zimbabwe was not his personal property to do with as he pleased. Invoking his struggle credentials, Mnangagwa then demanded that the party cadres choose between him and Grace. The high command of the army spoke: the president had gone too far in his attempt to impose his wife over his old comrades, and it was time for him to go.

Grace was born in South Africa, to Zimbabwean migrant parents in Benoni, a South African working-class town that has also given the world Charlize Theron and Princess Charlene of Monaco. She met Mugabe while working as a typist at State House, and they started a romance that led Grace to become first lady and heiress apparent to Zimbabwe’s top office. But in the eyes of Harare’s ruling class, Grace – who is 41 years younger than her husband and thus also much younger than the gerontocracy that governs Zimbabwe – lacked any legitimacy. The country’s politics are dominated by former guerrilla fighters with a long history of political militancy. Grace, meanwhile, owed all her public career to her husband. Her acceptance was not aided by the nouveau riche insolence which she displayed while enjoying the fruits of corruption.

The Mugabes’ attempt to install a dynasty cost them power, but – so far, at any rate – they haven’t been persecuted. Mnangagwa has instead allowed the family to continue the lavish lifestyle they enjoyed while in office. Nevertheless, the Mugabes still attract attention, like a deposed royal family tolerated by a newly installed Republican government. The former president’s colourful political statements still entertain the public. Meanwhile, his wife remains a headline-maker in the gossip columns, a controversial, glamorous celebrity who fascinates many in her country and who is also hated by them.

Mugabe is treated as an old patriarch who lost his mind because of a younger woman, while the protections afforded to Grace are probably more in deference to her husband than any expression of love for her. Responding to an extradition request from South Africa, where Grace is accused of assault, the Mnangagwa government refused to hand over the former first lady. “An attack on Grace Mugabe is an attack on the former president,” it said in a statement, adding that the former president was a “liberation icon” whose “misery is undesirable to us”. It remains to be seen if Grace will be treated in the same way once the liberation icon is gone.

In South Africa, meanwhile, in 2017, outgoing African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma returned to her country to contest for the top job of the ruling ANC before her former husband, South African president Jacob Zuma left office, with many commentators seeing this as an attempt to install her as the country’s next president. Dlamini-Zuma’s main source of support came from Zuma himself, to whom she had been married between 1972 and 1998. At the time, Zuma was cornered by corruption accusations and was also believed to control lucrative family business interests that needed state protection. He needed a successor who would protect him. Dlamini-Zuma’s loyalty to her ex-husband had survived 16 years of marriage and a divorce. Who could be more trustworthy than the mother of four of his children?

And indeed, Dlamini-Zuma adopted the “white monopoly capital” and “radical economic transformation” narratives her ex-husband had used to cover up his scandals, and dismissed protest marches against Zuma as manifestations of white privilege. For his part, Zuma made clear his support of Dlamini-Zuma, highlighting her political stature and managerial capacity beyond her status as the president’s ex-wife. Dlamini-Zuma has a long political career based on her own merits. Added to which, pro-Zuma political operators introduced a feminist argument in favour of Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature – though it seemed somewhat unnatural for a bunch of die-hard Zuma loyalists to wave the feminist flag. Twelve years before, Zuma’s propaganda machine had vilified a woman who accused him of rape – to the extent the woman felt compelled to seek refuge overseas.

But, as is now well known, Cyril Ramaphosa defeated Dlamini-Zuma at the December 2017 ANC elective conference. Her camp had evidently failed to convince enough members of the ruling party that she was the most capable candidate, as well the one who best represented the progressive cause of the advancement of women’s rights. Instead, she was seen as an unscrupulous politician ready to protect her children’s father and their family interests at the expense of the country. Another attempt at a dynastic takeover had failed.

Elsewhere on the continent, though, such attempts have been more successful, though more recently facing challenges. In June 2018, Equatorial Guinea’s vice president, Teodorín Nguema Obiang, shared a news story on Facebook about Gabriel Mbega Obiang’s recent visit to France. Gabriel, who is Teodorín half-brother and the country’s hydrocarbons’ minister, had travelled to Paris to negotiate new oil contracts with French oil company Total. Commenting on the story, Teodorín wrote: “The traitors start to come to light”. Teodorín himself was being accused of corruption in France, and saw his half-brother’s move as a betrayal.

The incident shows the hostility between President Teodoro Obiang’s two sons who vie to succeed the 76-year-old dictator. The volcanic Teodorín – the son of Obiang and first lady Constancia Mangue – was for a long time the favourite to take over when his father dies.  But his scandalous international playboy life has attracted negative press. A headline in  French newspaper L’Expréss in June last year summarised the tone of his Parisian stopovers: “Alcohol, whores and coke”. Moreover, he has faced legal cases against him in countries such as the United States and France, where he has been sentenced in absentia to a suspended sentence of three years in prison for embezzling tens of millions of euros from his country and laundering the proceeds. These have undermined his prospects in favour of Gabriel.

“Gabriel is bound to win,” Mocache Massoko, the director of Diario Rombe, an online media outlet reporting on Equatorial Guinea from exile, told Africa in Fact. Gabriel “is cynical like his father and much more intelligent,” he says. The son of the president and his second wife, the Saotomese Cristina Lima, he is now thought to be his father’s favourite. Aside from that, he is a much more calculated strategist than his half-brother. For instance, he even attended a rally denouncing Teodorín’s “persecution” at the hands of the French justice system. Moreover, he appears to enjoy the support of foreign investors and western countries and has managed to surround himself with capable people.

Teodorín is known for his compulsive spending of state money – including booking international music stars for his private parties and buying mansions and luxury cars in the world’s fanciest capitals. Teodorín has been known to slap ministers in public. With his mother, he likes to humiliate the country’s ruling party barons. “In power, he would be a kind of Idi Amin,” says Massoko. Even if he did somehow gain power, it is unlikely that he would spend much time at home. “He dislikes living in his country, and spends most of his time abroad, on his yachts and everything else,” says Massoko.

The conflict between the two half-brothers has been long in the making. In his 2004 book Reines d’Afrique (Queens of Africa) Vincent Hugeux described Teodorín’s mother as the force behind his ambitions. Diplomats cited by Hugeux saw Mangue as “the real boss” in Obiang’s court. “She is an African Jewish mother,” said one of the them. The first lady, who was described by these sources as “the archetypal manipulator”, will likely continue to support Teodorín, whatever the cost.

Meanwhile, according to a complaint received by Spanish authorities in 2017, a Spanish police commissioner – who is himself facing several accusations of blackmail – was paid five million euros to investigate Gabriel Obiang’s fortune. According to Diario Rombe, there are indications that Mangue’s entourage was the origin of the assignment, which aimed to discredit the hydrocarbons minister and so compensate, competitively speaking, for Teodorín’s international scandals. Obiang senior, meanwhile, is delaying the designation of a successor – likely to prevent open war within his family. That, some will feel, might be a forlorn hope, with control over the country’s oil revenues at stake.

Marcel Gascón Barberá is a freelance journalist. He lives in Johannesburg and writes for several Spanish and international publications. He has previously worked as a correspondent for EFE Spanish News Agency in Romania, South Africa and Venezuela.