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Impressions from South Africa’s election

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South Africa’s recent general election has bucked the international trend towards populism by consolidating its democracy at the political centre. The ruling African National Congress, led by the popular centrist, Cyril Ramaphosa, has maintained its outright majority by committing to the reform and cleaning up of the party and state.

South Africa went to the polls on May 8th to elect its sixth democratic government. Due to poor economic growth, extensive corruption and infighting in the governing African National Congress (ANC), this election had been billed to be the most consequential since the end of Apartheid, in 1994. Except for minor issues at polling stations and technical questions regarding the balloting system, South Africa’s peaceful and orderly ’s electoral process has ensured further democratic consolidation, proving itself as a bastion for free and fair elections on the continent.

With 57.5% of the national vote, the ANC has maintained its governing majority. The official opposition remains the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), with 20.7%. Completing the Big Three is the leftwing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who attained 10.8% of the vote. Eleven smaller parties captured enough votes to secure one or more seats in the sixth National Assembly. An assessment of the results illustrates several significant impressions.

The fringe fails to factor 

While democracies around the world have moved to the fringes, South Africa appears to be maturing towards the middle. Though the centre-left ANC and centre-right DA shed the same number of seats gained by the leftwing EFF and rightwing Freedom Front Plus (FF+), 19 and five respectively, the threat of further splintering to an array of radical fringe parties did not materialize. None of these parties, including Black First, Land First which rejects white membership and the National Front which advances a white secessionist state, achieved traction among the electorate. Neither received a singular seat in Parliament.

The FF+ and EFF may appear to be the election’s big winners, but this analysis is superficial. The FF+ has simply captured a quadrant of the persistently mobile white conservative vote. Unlike the DA which has failed to support this group, the FF+ has offered it an unabashed home. The EFF almost doubled the bounty of its first electoral outing in 2014. It did, however, fail to make the kind of inroads it hoped for and was expected to receive. The party which calls itself the government in waiting, whose leader is referred to as the commander in chief, which dominates local social media optics, and which attracts a significant sector of the young black vote, may fill a football stadium with jubilant supporters at a pre-election rally. It could however not perform on the day that mattered. The ambitious EFF was seeking to capture a greater chunk of the ANC’s vote, thereby taking South African politics and economics further toward the radical left. Its failure to secure more votes at a time that the ANC was particularly weak points to an electorate with little appetite for populist radicalism. The EFF, with its politically astute and ambitious leadership will now be compelled to tone down its agitation and provide practical policy alternatives. It will have to move towards the middle if its goal of power is to be realised.

The centre holds

The losses of both the ANC and DA will demand introspection and clear future strategies. The DA faces an inflection point. The party which has traditionally received the overwhelming support of minority groups has actively been seeking to break this threshold by courting the majority black support. Its poor performance suggests that not only did it fail to make inroads in this sector; its attempt to reach across the aisle resulted in its traditional support feeling alienated. Furthermore, it was unable to consolidate an approach to foil the popular Cyril Ramaphosa. The DA’s 6% growth in 2014, largely taken from the ANC, was received for its campaign to Stop Zuma! – a tactic to oppose disgraced and maligned presidential incumbent, Jacob Zuma. This time around there was no boogie man to blame, leaving the DA with more questions than answers as to its future political approach and ideology. As a traditional, Western liberal party, the DA appears out of touch with South Africa’s broader socio-economic reality. 2019 may very well be the last time that the DA emerges as the official opposition.

While the ANC achieved its worst electoral result since 1994, shedding 5% from its 2014 showing, it nevertheless maintained its outright majority. It also maintained all the provinces where it governed previously. The ANC’s powerful mandate is largely thanks to President Ramaphosa’s clean image and his commitment to reform. Ramaphosa, whose popularity exceeds that of his party, replaced Zuma in a narrow victory at the party’s elective conference in late 2017. Ramaphosa, a trade unionist cum billionaire businessman who was Nelson Mandela’s preferred successor, has been the face of the ANC’s electoral drive. Contrary to the traditional advance of a manifesto, the ANC’s campaign has been centred on Ramaphosa. His accession to power indicates the commencement of reform and cleaning up, from the top.

While the ANC’s promise of renewal seems to have satisfied those deciding to cast their ballots, a significant sector of the 55 million population simply stayed away. More than nine million eligible voters did not register to vote. Another nine million registered voters did not make their cross, and more than a quarter of a million voters decided to spoil their vote. These numbers point to a frustrated populace that is tired of the cycle of politics wherein the ANC rules with impunity. Significantly, there was a clear division in voter turnout in urban and suburban districts compared to informal and rural dwellings. The former, the traditional terrain of the opposition, observed an enormous voter turnout (more than 90% of registered voters), the latter, the heartland of the ANC, experienced a considerable stay-away. While the failures of the state are collectively placed at the ANC’s door, so too are its successes. The millions of poor South Africans receiving state subsidies are clearly unwilling to trade what they have for the speculative promises of populism. Simply, 17 million subsidy beneficiaries see the ANC as the state and vice versa.

Going forward from the elections

The appearance that President Ramaphosa is now comfortably in power is, however, an illusion. Though he was able to mobilise the electorate and achieved a comfortable mandate, Ramaphosa’s greatest task was always going to commence once the elections are over. His challenges are internal to his party. He needs to effectively deal with a splintered party wherein a contingent of allies of the former president remain in senior positions. Ramaphosa will have to act swiftly to neutralise this powerful group and prove to the electorate and the markets that he can implement his promises. His first move will have to be to assemble a clean and competent cabinet that is able enact his reformist policies. Before the elections, Ramaphosa tactically delegated power to institutions that have laboured under poor and often corrupt leadership. He will have to lead from the front; he will have to act. He must capitalise on the positive sentiment across civil society and business to work together towards overcoming the perilous situation under Zuma.

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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