Ugandan musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, lays flowers during a prayer for the victims of the protest against his arrest at the headquarters of his opposition party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), in Kampala, Uganda, on November 21, 2020. – A Ugandan court on November 20 charged opposition leader Bobi Wine over an election rally which allegedly flouted Covid-19 rules, then freed him on bail, after his detention sparked violence that left 37 dead. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)
Our continent has had its share of despots in the post-colonial era. There was a time when it looked like they were on their way out. Sadly, for the citizens of Uganda and a handful of other African countries, despotism is again on the ascendancy. Despotism and autocratic consolidation invariably destroy good governance. At Good Governance Africa, we contend that this governance deficit not only leads to reckless (if calculated) brutality, but ultimately to insecurity for the despot himself.
Harrowing scenes from Uganda shared across social media platforms show the human carnage behind the bland statistics that at least 28 people have been killed and 557 arrested, with scores more beaten, shot or maimed in protest action against the state over the weekend. Uganda goes to the polls in 2021. As the graph below clearly demonstrates, history is simply repeating itself. The cycle of electoral violence is mirroring, almost to a tee, the 2005 eradication of presidential term limits followed by extensive intimidation and repression of any form of opposition or protest in 2006. The 2016 elections were relatively peaceful by contrast.
Museveni came to power in 1987 and is fast approaching the record for the longest-standing autocrat on the continent. Like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, who ruled for 37 and 38 years respectively, Museveni has followed the careful script of eradicating internal opposition to his rule. External opposition has been a mere irritation in Museveni’s political calculus. At every opportunity, he has accumulated more power to himself and, in the process, minimised the probability of an internal coup being launched.
Each power-grab eroded the integrity of the internal power-sharing mechanism, reducing the probability that remaining members of the ruling coalition would band together and oust him from office. With increased personal access to power and rents, Museveni could calculate just how large he required his patronage network to be to avoid disrupting the equilibrium. The prospect of impending oil wealth simply deepens this scourge and intensifies the probability of ‘successful’ autocratic consolidation.
Given this analysis, why do we contend that the resultant governance deficit is ultimately risky for the apparently ‘successful’ autocrat? Because Mugabe and dos Santos were both removed from their perch by bloodless coups launched by their own ruling coalitions, a relatively novel occurrence in our more recent context. Moreover, even though the Arab Spring did not produce lasting governance gains, autocrats do risk widespread popular grievance against their rule. This risk is increasingly concomitant with a rising risk of organised crime and terrorism proliferation.
Extremist insurgents take advantage of local grievances. Local grievances are almost always a direct function of poor governance. In the absence of governance, public goods cannot be delivered, and broad-based economic growth cannot occur. In resource-wealthy contexts, unscrupulous extractive industry companies are often willing to pay short-term rents to politically connected gatekeepers to gain access to the relevant resource. This exacerbates local grievances. This matching of short-term politics and short-term business thinking is an explosive cocktail that destroys the long-term prospects for both.
Museveni will rue the day he neglected good governance (even before he destroyed presidential term limits) when terrorists start blowing up Uganda’s oil fields. That oil companies off the coast of Mozambique have started to employ private military companies to prevent terror attacks is just one example of the growing trend. Only a few weeks ago, the Islamic State Central Africa Province, mounted an attack on Mtwara in southern Tanzania.
The best empirical evidence we have about the resource curse shows that natural resource wealth correlates with under-development in the absence of institutions that ensure good governance. What we don’t have evidence for yet, but that we strongly predict on the basis of the trends unfolding, is that the resource curse will no longer benefit elite insiders at the expense of the majority (the traditional resource curse), but instead destroy the prospects for the very autocrat who destroyed those governance institutions.
In Uganda alone, the governance deficit is clearly on display in the graph below. The country has not scored above 0 (where -2.5 is the worst possible estimate and 2.5 the best) since 1995, according to the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators.
According to the Fragile States Index (powered by The Fund for Peace), Uganda has seen a near continuous improvement since its 2016 low (but with a preceding average deterioration from 2006 to 2016). In this instance, the past decade is a poor predictor of the future.
On the Political Indicator Trends, similarly, the apparent improvement of public service delivery is undermined by a poor human rights record and a poor state legitimacy score.The country’s failure to improve its governance scores, combined with Museveni’s iron grip on power, has not only led to despair for millions of citizens but will increase the fragility of Museveni’s own position within his ruling coalition. Junior members of the coalition, with longer time horizons (and therefore lower discount rates) will possess increasingly stronger incentives to overcome their collective action problem and overthrow the ruler.
This is especially likely to be the case if the risk of extremist activity proliferates. Given the current expression of citizen grievance, and brutal state response, over poor governance, this risk is evidently growing.
The bottom line is that abrogating good governance, while apparently a useful short-term bet for personal power acquisition, is likely to lead to longer-term insecurity for the autocrat. This is a lesson that all leaders across the continent should heed. It should also lead to stronger condemnation and action from regional bodies that seem impotently intent on allowing the status quo to continue ad nauseum.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – NOVEMBER 05: A man participating in a protest in support of counting all votes watches U.S. President Donald Trump hold a news conference as the election in the state is still unresolved on November 5, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With no winner yet declared in the presidential election, all eyes are on the outcome of a few remaining swing states. Chris McGrath/Getty Images/AFP
In a historic US election, President Donald Trump was ousted from office by Joe Biden. Biden won 50.8% of the popular vote, while Trump still managed 47.5% in the largest voter turnout since 1908. The presidency of Donald Trump is widely viewed as anomalous, a monstrous blip in an otherwise healthy and deeply consolidated democracy. This would be a mistake. A deeper analysis reveals that populism can take root even in societies with relatively broad-based access to political and economic opportunities.
Globalisation, accelerating apace since the end of the Cold War in 1989, has resulted in a highly uneven distribution of the gains from trade and volatility from easy flight of capital. While global GDP has ballooned, inequalities have widened, with real income growth among the top quintile rapidly outpacing middle class wage growth. Local displacement has intensified. Outsourcing or automating jobs in the name of economic efficiency has created political ruptures in historically strong democracies. These dynamics have ploughed the soil for populism to take root. The populist playbook is to exploit the fears and disappointments of the economically marginalised and subvert democratic institutions in the process.
Trump’s tantrums over alleged vote-rigging and repeated court threats are simply part of the script. The phenomenon of democratic backsliding has so arrested the attention of scholars that between 2011 and 2018 alone, 1,700 academic articles were published on the subject. In the 40 years prior, a total of 1,500 articles covering threats to democracy appeared. The fact that Biden has won out against Trump may provide some reprieve for friends of democracy across the globe, but complacency is unwarranted. Otherwise strong democratic equilibria tend to be disrupted by socio-economic inequality, financial shocks, the exploitation of extreme political views by technological interference (read Cambridge Analytica) and the resultant perpetuation of echo-chamber social-media politics.
None of these trends show any sign of abating. Worryingly, they are also mutually reinforcing, which can create path-dependent trajectories away from democracy. As scholar Daron Acemoglu has pointed out, the global factors that have contributed to growing domestic inequality in the US have not been addressed, and policymakers are far from a consensus on how this can be done. Biden’s work is cut out for him to forge bi-partisan agreement that, for instance, higher federal minimum wages and a more redistributive tax system may be desirable. Even with that in place, though, the global trend towards distrusting scientific facts and resenting elites is strengthening. Populism thrives in such contexts.
Perhaps the most concerning element of Trump’s ascendancy was the willingness of Abraham Lincoln’s 150-year-old party to acquiesce to Trump’s proposition to ride on a Republican ticket. And, typical of populist incoherence, most of what he stood for and campaigned on were diametrically opposed to orthodox republican positions such as free trade. Nonetheless, as one commentator put it, Biden has ‘sleep-walked’ into the White House and the embers of democracy are still alive in the US. Notwithstanding the warning to avoid complacency, it remains good news because, on average, democracy causes economic growth. Why? Because its ability to remove leaders like Trump is one of its enduring attractions.
Consolidated democracy, for all its inefficiencies, respects the rule of law, insists on the separation of powers, punishes corruption, and gives the citizenry a voice that produces proper accountability from the elite. This institutional strength, in turn, results in economic dynamism, as contracts are honoured and businesses can flourish. Responsible players are crowded in while irresponsible players are either crowded out or deterred from engaging in corrupt activities. In a nutshell, good governance is more likely to take root in the context of robust political competition where the opposition has a fair and credible chance of winning elections.
While the world breathes a momentary sigh of relief, African countries continue to fight for democracy to take root at all, never mind worrying about whether it will consolidate. While the evidence suggests that democratisation across the continent is advancing, on average, a number of important red flags punctuate the trend. Tanzania, soon to be among the most populous countries on the continent, held its general elections on 28 October 2020. Incumbent President John Magufuli successfully rigged the process to secure for himself an incredible 84% of the vote while the main opposition managed to eke out 13%. According to the Polity V dataset, the country’s democratic score improved from 2 (out of a possible 10) to 4 from 2014 to 2015 (the year in which Magufuli came to power).
We expect that figure to move below zero once the next set of figures is released. Not only did Magufuli rig the elections, he has ruled with an iron fist of fear, initially rooting out some petty corruption – his populist ticket – but he has since crushed civil liberties and shut down opportunities for opposition parties to engage in politics. Post-election, Tundu Lissu, chief opposition leader who survived an assassination attempt in 2017, has had to flee the country after calling for protests against the election results; this in the midst of reports that at least 150 opposition leaders and members have been arrested since 27 October, with at least 18 remaining in custody. The frequency of abductions and/or forced disappearances has ticked up significantly since Magufuli came to power.
Economic growth has been sclerotic under Magufuli’s rule as he continues to be suspicious of the private sector and insists on white elephant megaprojects such as the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project that the country cannot afford. GDP per capita growth initially fell to 3% in 2015 (from 3.6% the year before) before recovering to 3.7% the following year. It has since fallen to 2.7%.
Magufuli came to the presidency from a weak base within the CCM – the liberation movement of Julius Nyerere – and is working hard to purge elites from within his ruling coalition who would otherwise ensure some degree of power-sharing. There is every reason to expect that Magufuli will attempt to clinch a third term in office, which would violate the constitution. He would join a long list of those who long ago eschewed term limits, a fundamental governance limit on executive power. A fundamental problem is not only that autocratic rule tends to result in misery and squalor for the majority, but that governance-dismantling autocrats seem to spur each other on across borders.
Zambia’s elections are set for 2021, and President Edgar Lungu appears to be taking a leaf out of the Magufuli playbook but with some variety to spice up the mix, drawing on Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwean script too. It appears that his strategy for rigging the elections is to amend the constitution to allow coalition formation (instead of a runoff second ballot between the top two candidates) in the case of no candidate winning more than 50% of the vote. He brought this infamous “Bill 10” to parliament at the end of October but it failed (though by a margin of only 6 votes). At least this strategy indicates that Lungu is scared of losing the popular vote and does not have Magufuli-like power to simply rig the election to an arbitrary winning proportion of his pre-selected choice.
The opposition has a strong likelihood of winning the election, though Hakainde Hichilema – the leader of the opposition – is undoubtedly keen to avoid more jail time at the hands of Lungu’s trumped-up charges (as has happened before). Analysts expect that Lungu, on failing to win Bill 10, will now simply abolish the current voters’ register and create a new one more favourable to his prospects. The graph below indicates a surge of violence around the 2016 elections that saw Lungu gain a second term in office. As Natasha Chilundika has written over at Democracy in Africa, we really need to avoid a repetition of this come 2021.
Slightly further afield in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986. Still going strong, according to scholar Moses Khisa, Museveni has “run roughshod over important constitutional and institutional safeguards, checks and balances that were enshrined in what was a relatively progressive and liberal  constitution”. Museveni is edging in on the 38-year rule exercised by Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, and the 37-year reign by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (both upended by their own ruling coalitions in 2017). Museveni’s assault on democracy began in 2003 with an eradication of constitutional term limits.
In addition to subverting apparently democratic institutions to advance authoritarian ends (by co-opting and corrupting the judiciary, for instance), he has also used external security threats as a cover under which to criminalise otherwise legitimate political activities. Museveni has had Kizza Besigye, his main opposition, arrested more than 1,000 times. A period of relative calm prevailed between 2007 and 2013, but violence against citizens has been on the rise, with incidents this year alone matching the 2006 data. The prospect of commercial oil revenues will further embolden Museveni’s autocratic stranglehold through enabling him to distribute patronage to a carefully selected circle of insiders and repress outsiders.
On the subject of Mugabe and dos Santos, their removal tells an important story. Autocrats who successfully consolidate power are almost always only removed by an internal coup or death in office. Very few in contemporary history have been upended by democratic forces. The risk of further autocratic consolidation is, therefore, immediately at hand. In Russia, Joseph Stalin’s death did not suddenly usher in democratic rule. Vladimir Putin’s stranglehold over the ruling coalition in Russia today is evidence enough to show that new autocrats are likely to gain ascendancy and the fight for democracy to take root requires far more than the removal of one autocrat. It requires the slow, hard work of establishing governance institutions that respect the rule of the people by the people.
In both Zimbabwe and Angola, new autocrats have arisen. Mnangagwa and Lourenco respectively came to power through removing their long-standing leaders who had placed family members ahead of party loyalists, threatening their access to power and rents. One may have expected that some kind of power-sharing mechanism would be re-established in both Zanu-PF and the MPLA respectively, but there is little cause for optimism on the basis of the current evidence. Both incumbents enjoy vast access to resource wealth, again enabling the distribution of rents to a select circle of loyalists and careful elimination of internal and external threats to their rule.
Citizen attempts to protest against grand corruption in Zimbabwe around July this year resulted in a rapid rise in disappearances, abductions, torture and arrests – these have not yet been captured in the data below, but the graph still paints a terrifying picture of the militarised regime’s willingness to exercise repression to prevent any accountability. With elections set for 2023, we can either expect to see further violence escalation or an indefinite postponement of elections altogether.
A similar pattern emerges from Angola, with violence against citizens increasing again in the aftermath of the 2017 elections that saw Lourenco come to power through a rigged election. Unlike Magufuli’s CCM, though, the MPLA chose a winning figure of nearer to 60% than 80%.
For all one might say about the Trumpian episode in US politics and its dangerous flirtation with autocracy, the fact is that the vote matters in the US and Trump is out (or at least probably will be with Republicans now also losing patience with his intransigence). Americans have exercised their voice. Moreover, no matter whether one resonates with Kamala Harris’s political views, it is a significant feat that an African-American woman has ascended to the White House (and the first woman vice-president in US history) despite so much underlying racial tension in the country.
It is easy to be despondent about the deep structural divides that threaten to disrupt the US democratic equilibrium, but the fact that it has stood firm should encourage us to war against the proliferating autocratic threats to democracy in many African countries. Of course, the continent is not without hope, and the general trend is arguably positive. But it would be amiss of us to ignore the warning signs in Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, not to mention Ethiopia (in which the risk of a full-blown civil war escalates daily), the DRC, Nigeria and Mozambique. Mozambique, in the context of poor governance, deep local grievances and a poverty trap, is fertile soil for the rise of violent extremism. It’s an explosive cocktail that risks spilling over into neighbouring countries.
One recent light in these otherwise dark trajectories, though, is Malawi. Small and poor, for sure, the country is wracked by a history of corruption and extensive poverty. Nonetheless, when Lazarus Chakwera came to power earlier in 2020, in the midst of a global Covid-19 pandemic, he showed that it is possible for the judiciary to stand firm against an incumbent executive bent on staying in power and for the people to vote that president out in an election re-run. This should be celebrated loudly, if cautiously, and remind us that it all starts with governance.
As Dr Grieve Chelwa has quipped, SCOTUS might do well to cite the Malawian court case should Trump successfully get to the Supreme Court over his allegation that the US election results were rigged. We should never give up in our quest to build governance institutions that prevent the abuse of power and give the people a voice.
Dr Ross Harvey is Director of Research & Programmes at GGA. Ross is a natural resource economist and policy analyst, and he has been dealing with governance issues in various forms across this sector since 2007. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Cape Town, and his thesis research focused on the political economy of oil and institutional development in Angola and Nigeria.
Malfeasance has become endemic in post-colonial Zimbabwe, as evidenced by other scandals dotted between Willowgate and Covidgate (also known as Draxgate, the 2020 COVID-19 medical supplies corruption scandal). There is a structural corruption continuum that has reinforced each president’s hold on power and enabled political elites’ personal enrichment. The evident absence of political will by the two respective presidents to acknowledge and support legitimate anti-corruption citizen initiatives reveals their compromised standing in this regard.
Firstly, President Robert Mugabe consciously and conveniently ignored Willowgate. This scandal occurred only four years after President Robert Mugabe launched the ZANU-PF Leadership Code that he ostensibly instituted to combat corruption after the Paweni grain scandal. The main consequence of him and his ruling coalition’s response to the Willowgate scandal has been the entrenchment, over at least three decades, of a culture of corruption in general, but also malfeasance with impunity. As indicated by the graphic below, the perception of corruption in the very institutions that are meant to uphold the rule of law and minimise malfeasance is widespread among citizens:
Mwatwara and Mujere’s analysis of grand corruption in Zimbabwe echoes these sentiments, noting that “in post-colonial Zimbabwe, the scourge has worsened because of the culture of impunity that the current government has established, especially in cases where politicians are involved”. Public resources meant to support critical services in various sectors such as public health and education continue to be misappropriated and plundered without any political will to deter, punish or even recover and restore them to their rightful use of improving services and developing public infrastructure.
The prevalence of malfeasance in the health ministry at such a critical juncture – when the world’s resources are being channelled towards strengthening healthcare systems in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic – has proven beyond reasonable doubt that ordinary citizens bear the greatest brunt of high-level corruption. The 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) notes: “This commitment to saving livelihoods cannot be separated from the political commitment to transparency and accountability towards eradicating endemic corruption for such measures to be affected and effective. Alas, in countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, clientelism continues to mar such commitment through corruption scandals involving senior government officials and their families.”
Although the Zimbabwean Constitution provides for mechanisms to ensure the integrity and accountability of public officials, the investigations, prosecutions and sanctions of such identified cases has largely remained cosmetic. The government’s response has instead been an onslaught against citizen expression and media freedom. Three decades on, the response is still designed to protect the offender and disable, censor and even punish the whistle-blower. The sense of de javu in Geoff Nyarota’s dismissal from being editor of The Chronicle after exposing Willowgate and Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest on 20 of July 2020 for engaging in an unwavering social media anti-corruption campaign, is crushing.
In a bid to ignore the corruption scandal, Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest was framed conveniently as “inciting public violence” and not as exposing malfeasance. Although he was eventually granted bail after 44 days in pre-trial detention at the notorious Chikurubi prison, the stringent bail conditions that curtail his freedom of movement and bar him from using Twitter are testimony to the risks that accompany investigative journalism and the anti-corruption crusade. Further to this, Hopewell’s case points to how this endemic corruption has eroded, in its wake, the independence of the country’s judiciary.
To ensure the protection of public officials, there is a clear plot to control the operations of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, whose chairperson, Justice Loice Matanda Moyo, is wife to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and November 2017 coup announcer Sibusiso Moyo. It is a clear case of a conflict of interest.
Further to this, there is now a structural threat to the freedom of the judiciary in Chief Justice Malaba’s memorandum directing that all judgments are to be “seen and approved by the head of court division” before being issued. While this was strongly contested, the directive’s threat to the independence of the judiciary is evident in the delays and uncertainties that characterised Hopewell Chin’ono’s case. He was not only denied bail three times but was deprived even of his right to fair legal representation. The targeted personal attacks on his lead lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, her intimidation and subsequent barring from representing him, all point to the multi-sectoral cost of malfeasance in Zimbabwe. It has not only eroded the country’s economy but tragically, the independence of institutions that are meant to protect the citizens.
However, the Zimbabwean case confirms that despite the supreme law of the land having clearly defined provisions for combating corruption, this is insufficient. Much more needs to be done, as noted by the IIAG, to combat “the culture of clientelism that has bred continued disinvestment in infrastructure on the African continent”. Transparency International’s Delia Ferreira Rubio observes a correlation between high levels of corruption and weak rule of law, curtailed access to information and reduced citizen participation. Corruption is a threat to citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms. Transparency International calls for strategies that will nip corruption in the bud, such as putting in place legal frameworks and institutions that reduce impunity for the corrupt and enlarging space for civil society voices as well as entrenching integrity and values through education.
As Zimbabwean citizens continue to dispute the legitimacy of the current government, it is worth imagining a different future, a future in which adequately punitive and judiciously executed consequences (that serve as a sufficient deterrent to corruption) are instituted. The Zimbabwean fight against malfeasance must indeed go beyond the verbal remonstrations characteristic of both eras, and the “catch and release” approach that has largely been a feature of the Mnangagwa regime.
Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.
The African Union is actively mobilising resources to help members implement the Paris Agreement, but funding challenges abound
Left: Flash floods on the eastern banks of the Nile river, 50 km north of Khartoum, Sudan, 2019 Photo: Ebrahim Hamid / AFP
Land erosion, drought and desertiﬁcation, flooding, the Sahara Desert expanding southward at a rate of 48 km a year, change in the distribution of rainfall, rivers and freshwater resources’ drying-up, among others. This is what Africa’s environment looks like right now. Experts say climate change has already had a devastating impact on food and agriculture, livelihoods, human health and ecosystems. Climate change has generated deadly inter-ethnic conflicts over land and water resources, especially in the Sahel region, and is also said to be triggering mass migration as disgruntled people leave their homelands in search of greener pastures.
A 2018 World Bank report, Groundswell – Preparing for Internal Climate Migration – estimated that climate change will push more than 140 million people to migrate within countries by 2050, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America. Environmental degradation on this scale has exposed the limited ability of many African countries to manage climate change. In response, the African Union (AU) has launched a series of measures aimed at redressing the suffering caused by climate disasters.
The Addis-Ababa-based continental body is mobilising resources to support member countries in their implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), said Leah Naess Wanambwa, Senior Policy Officer at the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture at the AU. To date, 51 of the 54 UN-recognised African countries, which are members of the AU, have ratiﬁed the Paris Agreement. Currently, four countries are receiving technical and ﬁnancial support through a joint initiative between the AU Commission and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Wanambwa added, without naming these countries.
“The African Commission is in the process of mobilising additional support to cover more countries,” she told Africa in Fact. The continent’s leadership had shown consistent and coordinated resolve to support actions at the country, continental and global levels, said Kwame Ababio, Senior Programme Officer at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s Technical Cooperation and Advisory Services, an AU economic development agency.
“For the continent, climate change presents an existential danger, both now and in the immediate future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its ﬁfth assessment report, described Africa as being among the most vulnerable continents to climate change and its impacts,” Ababio told Africa in Fact. He added that the limits of Africa’s adaptive capacity to climate change were exacerbated by widespread poverty and an “overwhelming” dependence on the continent’s environmental resources for livelihoods.
The AU’s high-level approach to supporting affected countries is led by the Conference of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), the standing committee of the African Union Heads of State and Government Architecture. Implementation, particularly with regard to policymaking and ﬁnding coordinated African positions on issues on climate change, is led by the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN). In recent decades, African countries have sometimes been at odds with one another due to the divergent political agendas of their leaders. This has sometimes affected the continent’s ability to solve its own problems.
Recently, in January 2020, the AU expressed serious doubts about the credibility of the 2019 presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and called for the announcement of the results to be suspended. The DRC government, led at the time by Joseph Kabila, rejected the AU’s call on national sovereignty grounds. In the event, in early February the country’s independent electoral commission accepted the results, and the international community, African countries included, accepted the outcome of the DRC’s January elections in the name of stability. “In doing so, they have failed the Congolese people,” wrote Mo Ibrahim and Alan Doss on 9 February in The Guardian.
Analysts believe that Kabila manipulated the results to place his ally Felix Tshisekedi on top, instead of Martin Fayulu, who is thought to have won the election outright. The issue divided African leaders, with politicians holding economic interests in the DRC swiftly siding with Kabila. The gathering economic and social crisis in Zimbabwe that resulted from Robert Mugabe’s long occupation of the top spot is another recent example. While South African leaders opted for quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe, Botswana’s former president Ian Khama openly called on the late Mugabe to step down.
However, African leaders have moved to tackle climate change by uniting and speaking with one voice, said Wanambwa. As an important part of this, in 1995 the African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change (AGN) was established at COP1, the ﬁrst UN climate change conference, in Berlin, Germany, to represent the interests of the region with a common and uniﬁed voice. Currently, the African Commission also provides some support to the AGN with regard to its participation in the climate change negotiations which have been ongoing since then, she told Africa in Fact.
The AGN negotiates the continent’s position at the climate conventions at the experts’ level. The African Commission’s support has been aimed at ensuring that experts provide technical backing to the AGN on the different thematic areas under the convention. The African voice at climate negotiations has grown from strength to strength and been united, according to Wanambwa. Ababio agreed, saying the AGN had engaged with a wide range of groupings to arrive at a common African stance in relation to many issues raised within the UN Framework Convention on Climate.
It is critical for Africa’s very survival that climate change be mainstreamed into major economic sectors, he added. African governments were spending an estimated 2-9% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [estimated between $51.6 billion and $232.2 billion] on tackling climate change, while the annual costs of building resilience could range from $140 billion to $300 billion by 2030,” Ababio explained (The estimation above is calculated on the basis of Africa’s total nominal GDP, which was about $2.58 trillion in 2017).
“Bold climate action” could deliver at least $26 trillion in global economic beneﬁts between now and 2030, according to a September 2018 report, Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century, released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. In 2007, the AU launched the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, in partnership with the UN Convention to Combat Desertiﬁcation (UNCCD). The proposed 8,000 km-long line of trees and plants will stretch across the entire Sahel and traverse some 20 countries from the Atlantic coast of Senegal to Djibouti.
It’s an ambitious undertaking that many observers describe as the AU’s biggest climate change project to date. According to the AU, the aim is to reverse land degradation and desertiﬁcation in the Sahel and Sahara region, boost food security and support local communities to adapt to climate change (See also Joe Walsh’s article on page 136).
Such efforts and initiatives appear to have gained support from some independent voices, such as Uganda-born environmental activist William Leslie Amanzuru, winner of the 2019 European Union Human Rights Defender Award. Amanzuru’s organisation, Friends of Zoka, advocates for the protection of the 6,145-hectare Zoka Central Forest Reserve located in northern Uganda. While he praised the AU for what it was doing to ﬁght climate change on the continent, he told Africa in Fact that he deplored the lack of political will shown by most member states. Widespread lack of political will was the biggest problem for the continent’s efforts to combat climate change, he said.
Financial assistance to member states granted by institutions such the African Development Bank (AfDB) for climate change redress was being diverted to political purposes, Amanzuru claimed. The AU needed to design appropriate accountability mechanisms for these funds, he urged. The AU certainly does face serious funding challenges with regard to its capacity to respond to climate change. In 2016, the AfDB estimated that Africa was accessing only about 3% of international climate ﬁnance.
“At the national level, there is inadequacy in governments’ capacity at the human and institutional level to meet international standards and fund eligibility requirements,” NEPAD’s Ababio told Africa in Fact. Without external support, African countries would only be able to implement about 30% of their commitments in terms of the Paris Agreement, he warned.
Kinshasa-born Issi Sikita da Silva is an award-winning freelance journalist. Winner of the SADC Media 2010 Awards in the print category, he has travelled extensively across Africa and lived in South Africa for 18 years, where he worked in the media industry for 10 years. He is currently based in West Africa.
A sustained combination of internal and external pressure is required to create a genuine civilian government in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga (C) and colleague Julie Barnes hold placards as they are arrested during an anti-corruption protest march on July 31, 2020 in Harare. Police were enforcing a ban on protests coinciding with the anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election. PHOTO: ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP
Ahead of planned mass protests on July 31, Zimbabwe’s state security apparatus cracked down on citizens. Largely initiated via social media, the calls for the protests galvanised popular sentiment and mobilised citizens to exercise a co-ordinated political voice against corruption, the failing economy and repression.
The regime responded by sending a strong signal to would-be dissenters. In a startling resemblance to events unfolding in Belarus, it arrested journalists and detained, abducted and tortured opposition members, or indeed anyone appearing to question the state.
For consistently exposing government malfeasance and corruption, veteran journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was abducted from his home on July 20. In particular, Chin’ono had revealed Covid-19 related corruption to the tune of $60m.
He is being unlawfully detained at the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. Arrested on the same day was Jacob Ngarivhume, who had been spearheading the calls for a July 31 protest.
Both were spuriously charged under the auspices of inciting citizens to participate in public violence. Chin’ono’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was then accused of treating the court with contempt because of comments on a Facebook page associated with her.
She has since been barred from defending Chin’ono in a mockery of the rule of law.
In addition to these arrogations of justice, the military junta imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew (ostensibly to slow the spread of Covid-19) and openly beat citizens and opposition members.
Five senior members of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-A) and its two vice-presidents have recently appeared in court, along with other activists. The Zimbabwean judiciary has been co-opted by Zanu-PF, and opposition groups and many civil society organisations have been infiltrated by the regime.
Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono (R) watches while police search of his offices in Harare on July 21, 2020, a day after he was arrested and charged with incitement to commit public violence. PHOTO: JEKESAIi NJIKIZANA / AFP
The government then attacked a judicious pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops Conference, stating that the letter’s “evil message reeks with all the vices that have perennially hobbled the progress of Africa”.
It accuses the archbishop of “fanning the psychosis of tribal victimisation”, dismissing the Gukurahundi massacre of the early 1980s as a mere “dark spot”. It is far worse than that, with upwards of 20,000 people recklessly murdered while the very perpetrators hold positions of power today.Despite this narrowing of the democratic space in Zimbabwe over recent months, largely behind the smokescreen of Covid-19, the Southern African Development Community has failed to condemn the behaviour of the regime.
Bilaterally, SA eventually responded by sending the first of what will likely be a number of diplomatic envoys to Zimbabwe. SA is at least now shedding the hollow excuse of non-interference in the affairs of a sovereign state that tends to animate foreign policy.
Through premeditated violence, the July 31 mass protests were scuppered before they started. Hopes of a southern Arab Spring were dashed. Does this suggest that public protest is not worth it, especially given that the Arab Spring largely turned to a prolonged winter of discontent?
No. Were it not for the planned uprising, the world would have continued to turn a blind eye. Some serious focus is now directed towards Zimbabwe, particularly through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign.
This is a necessary — if insufficient — condition for change, given the state’s denial of the crisis and its culpability in human rights violations.
A sustained combination of internal and external pressure is now required to convince the military to relinquish power and create the space for a genuine civilian government to be formed.
Internally, the probability of a credible coup attempt seems low. The 2017 coup that ended Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule is historically anomalous. Constantino Chiwenga (the vice-president) appears unlikely to upend President Emmerson Mnangagwa, despite apparent tensions between them.
Had credible internal support for a coup existed, it is difficult to see why Chiwenga wouldn’t have launched one already.
When Mnangagwa retired four generals loyal to Chiwenga in early 2019, that would, presumably, have been the opportunity. Either way, the internal dynamics of the governing coalition (and state-military relations) are not stable and could potentially be exploited to effect change.
South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Emmerson Mnangagwa. PHOTO: GCIS
The probability of free and fair elections being held any time soon is close to zero. The last elections (2018) were a charade and resulted in a predictable unleashing of violence against citizens. Economically, the situation is dire, with 90% of the population out of formal employment and inflation above 700%.
As a result, citizen appetite for revolt appears ripe. While the regime’s calculus is that repression is less costly than reform, an active citizenry can nonetheless win out.
Externally, global powers presumably have a direct self-interest in ensuring regional stability and need to step up to the plate.
But the US and the UK face intense pressures on the home front that they are struggling to address. And China and Russia hardly epitomise respect for human rights. Their respective leaders have shattered internal power-sharing mechanisms and are hardly likely to condemn Zimbabwe for pursuing autocratic consolidation.
SA — its political leaders and its businesses with interests in Zimbabwe (such as Anglo Platinum, Implats, Old Mutual and Pick n Pay) — will therefore have to intensify efforts to intervene fruitfully in Zimbabwe. A serious second envoy, including President Cyril Ramaphosa himself, is surely the next step.
Below is a World Economic Forum video on the role of civil society in shaping a future where people matter.
This article first appeared in the South African newspaper Business Dayhere.
Dr Ross Harvey is Director of Research & Programmes at GGA. Ross is a natural resource economist and policy analyst, and he has been dealing with governance issues in various forms across this sector since 2007. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Cape Town, and his thesis research focused on the political economy of oil and institutional development in Angola and Nigeria.