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What Social Movements Mean for African Politics

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Africa’s transition from a continent of colonial protectorates to independent states has been met with developmental and political challenges. From the 1960s, the political trajectory of Africa witnessed many regimes, regimes that have made their mark on the continent. The struggle for the legitimacy of state power between the African people and the regimes whose policies have shaped the political history of the continent oscillated between nationalistic interest and arbitrariness, at a time when the newly independent states needed a definite political direction.

For instance by 2002, the nationalistic government of Robert Mugabe had left Zimbabwe groveling in the drought stricken velds from bad economic policies. Today, Uganda is still reeling from the administrative recklessness of the Idi Amin regime. Considering the dark regimes that have been etched into the history of some states in Africa, democracy was a light that was to lead into a new dawn.

With democracy, came promises that would ensure the emancipation of dissident voices. The promises that democracy bore for African states were the development of state institutions and the improvement of state responses to the general will. For the people of Africa, the advent of democracy signified that a leader had to prove themselves, while for the leaders, it proved a paradigm shift in the management of power; a loss of the insularity of state politics. It meant that leaders had to show accountability, not only to their people, but also to external powers that existed as international institutions and hegemonic states with pro-democratic foreign policies.

Many issues with the African conception of democracy remain unresolved even despite many years of political transitioning for Africa’s largest economies. One of the issues that have remained unresolved in the African democracy is the perception of institutions by the individuals occupying them, another of these issues is the sensitivity of the African democracy to vibrant social movements where the protection of human rights is concerned.

In contemporary African democracies, there exists a new democratic space where social movements have engaged the political realities. One of the most empowering facts for social movements in Africa is the globalized effect of the social media and its pivotal role in ensuring government accountability.

In safe-guarding human rights and ensuring the protection of the rule of law in Africa, social movements have a huge role to play, as they are essential to achieving governmental accountability through a sustained engagement and with the power of collective insistence. In African states where the government is autocratic, social movements are a threat to state power and are thus met with violent resistance.

According to a study by Guillermo A O’Donnell, state repression have proven to be the constant response to social movements. This is because the greatest strategy of autocratic governments in stifling resistance that could lead to an explosive demonstration of popular discontent, is in the use of threats, intimidation and persecution. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2016, there was a violent suppression of peaceful protests in East Africa. In Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, the governments responded to peaceful protesters with deadly force which led to the death and the injury of many protesters. In 2020, the Nigerian government engaged protesters and activists during the EndSARS protests with the state security forces, which led to the deaths of unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. The aftermath of the protests saw the Nigerian government intimidating activists that were thought to have been at the forefront of the End SARS protests and attempting to muzzle the media.

One of the greatest challenges of democracy in Africa is the imbalance of power in the governmental structure. The imbalance in the allocation of power between arms of government or in the monolithic representation of power has resulted in the overexploitation of power. This has made it difficult for the African states that are yet to transit to democratic status to do so, and for those that have transited, to perfect their democratic act.

The power imbalance which could be attributed in some African countries like Nigeria to constitutional deficiencies was demonstrated when Obasanjo who became Nigeria’s president in 1999, tried to adjust constitutional term limits so that he could contest elections for a third term.  Social movements in Africa have toppled regimes in Africa and they have tremendous capacity to change the political course of a state.

 This could be achieved when social movements are popular and when they represent a general interest, then the interest which a government might claim it represents become invalidated by the shift in the alliance of the people. This is usually the case when there is a common agreement that the government in power no longer serves the interest of the people who elected such government.

The fear that spurs an autocratic government into attempting to repress social movement is that it might become popular. Social movements are powerful and could be harnessed for political change since they signal the activation of the collective power. At the level of the social movement, it is not a call to negotiation, but a call to swift action which both the government and the people recognize as it becomes insistent.

Olalekan Moyosore Lalude is a Nigerian lawyer, thinker, essayist and short story writer. He is a currently a doctoral student at the School of Law and Security Studies, Babcock University. He has been published under the name Mark Lekan Lalude in the AfricanWriter, Kalahari Review, WTBP Anthology and Face2Face Africa.

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South Sudan’s transition from conflict to recovery ‘inching forward’

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South Sudan’s transformation from conflict to recovery is underway, but much needs to be done before securing “a peaceful and prosperous future”, the UN Special Representative to the country told the Security Council on Tuesday. 

“Because of the collective efforts of so many…South Sudan is in a better state”, the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, said in his last briefing, after serving as Special Representative for four years. 

However, he stated that “it is inching forward – frustratingly slowly – with still so much to do”. 

Despite recently marking the one-year anniversary of the transitional government, progress is lagging – including in reconstituting a Transitional National Legislature, constitution-making, transitional justice, and economic reform, according to Mr. Shearer, who also pointed out that troops that have yet to be unified. 

“Slow implementation comes at a cost. The power vacuum at a local level has opened opportunities for spoilers and national actors who have exploited local tensions and fueled violence”, he said. 

The UNMISS head also noted “a worrying surge in violence” between various heavily armed community militia in Warrap, in the Bahr el Ghazal region, while highlighting that despite the deaths of nine aid workers last year, humanitarian agencies continue to provide “critical assistance”. 

Four years later 

Reflecting on how far the nascent State has come since 2018, Mr. Shearer spotlighted a ceasefire, a peace deal, improved political security, a transitional government, a presidency, council of ministers, governors and local leadership, which is “slowly being installed”.  

Moreover, political violence had reduced “by a power of 10” compared to those who were dying or displaced from widespread conflict in 2016, he informed the Ambassadors. 

UNMISS: ‘Stabilizing force’  

“A caveat is our concern about the upsurge in armed community militia seemingly in open defiance of state forces”, said the UN official, adding that UNMISS is making “a real difference in lowering the level of this kind of violence and bringing diverse communities together”.  

He called the mission “a stabilizing force that extends well beyond our physical presence – and which is welcomed by nearly 80 percent of South Sudanese who we have independently surveyed”.  

Mr. Shearer updated the Council that UNMISS continues to push the peace process forward by working closely with all political parties, in coordination with regional and international partners. 

‘Extremely fragile’ peace 

However, he underscored that “the peace process remains extremely fragile”, noting that many citizens question the political will and fear the collapse of progress.  

“It is for those people that we, the international community, must remain united and committed to pushing the peace process forward”, said the Special Representative. 

“We can’t sit on the sidelines as spectators…That’s what failure looks like”, he spelled out. 

Challenges ahead 

The UNMISS head highlighted the need for a financial system that works for the South Sudanese. 

“The wealth of this country – from oil and elsewhere – bypasses its people, siphoned off in secrecy with no public accountability for how it is spent”, he said, posing the “obvious question: Why would key decision-makers benefiting from their current positions hold an election that could put their access to power and resources at risk?”. 

Struck by the “immense pride” of the South Sudanese in their country, Mr. Shearer explained that “true sovereignty” means being responsible and genuinely caring for the nation’s 12 million citizens.  

“It also means independence”, he said.  

Yet the UN envoy referred to the country as “perhaps one of the most dependent nations in history”, drawing attention to education and health systems, roads and infrastructure “provided by outsiders”.  

“We have too eagerly stepped in…[and] added to their dependency – and, in doing so, undermined their dignity”, he said.  

Mr. Shearer maintained that the Government must also step up, saying, “State-building is a finely tuned endeavour that constantly needs to be re-evaluated and questioned”.  

Fond farewell 

The Special Representative praised the South Sudanese as “without doubt, the toughest, most resilient people I’ve ever met”.  

Despite hardship, he said “they can sit, discuss, and…laugh in the face of huge adversity”. 

Mr. Shearer expressed admiration for their “seemingly endless patience and hope as they fight against huge odds to achieve the much brighter future they deserve”. 

“I will miss this young country and I wish it well from the bottom of my heart”, concluded the outgoing UN envoy. 

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China’s vaccine diplomacy in Africa

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China appears moving steadily to deliver on its pledge by offering manufactured vaccines aim at eradicating the coronavirus in Africa. Simultaneously, China is strengthening its health diplomacy with Africa, and experts describe it as an additional step to reassert further its geopolitical influence in the continent.

Undoubtedly, the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines are increasingly becoming popular among African countries. Deliveries have already been made in Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Chinese Foreign Ministry has indicated that China would help 19 African countries as part of its commitment to making vaccines global public goods. Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said on February 22 that China would also support enterprises to export Covid-19 vaccines to African nations that urgently need, recognize, and have authorized the emergency use of Chinese vaccines.

The aid is a clear manifestation of the China-Africa traditional friendship, Wang Wenbin said, adding assertively “China will continue to provide support and assistance within its capacity and in accordance with the needs of Africa.” Further to that, China welcomes and supports France and other European and American nations in providing vaccines to help Africa fight the pandemic.

In West African region, Sierra Leone became the latest African country to receive 200,000 coronavirus vaccine donation, and 201,600 pieces of disposable needles and syringes from the Chinese government. According to reports, the consignment arrived at the Lungi Airport on February 25, and was received by a high-powered government delegation.

Down in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe will buy an additional 1.2 million vaccine doses from China at a preferential price, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesman said, after Beijing agreed to give more free doses to the southern African country. Zimbabwe has already begun vaccinations after receiving a donation of 200,000 doses from the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

Chinese Ambassador Guo Shaochun said in a statement that his country had decided to double its donation of vaccines to 400,000 as part of its “solidarity and action” with Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba said the government, which had already bought 600,000 doses from Sinopharm and would increase its purchases from China. “Zimbabwe is also procuring more vaccines from China at a preferential price. Zimbabwe is set to purchase another 1.2 million doses from China,” Charamba wrote on Twitter.

It targets 10 million vaccinations as the country has been hit with increasing infections.  More than two thirds of Zimbabwe’s 35,910 coronavirus infections and 1,448 deaths have been recorded this year, according to a Reuters tally.

Separately, on February 24, neighboring Mozambique also received 200,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine donated by China. The delivery of the first consignment, ferried to Mozambique by an aircraft of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, was witnessed by Prime Minister, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário, Minister of Health, Armindo Tiago, Chinese Ambassador Wang Hejun and other senior government officials.

Speaking at the delivery ceremony, held at the Maputo Air Base, Agostinho do Rosario thanked the government and the people of China for the donation of the first batch consists of 200,000 doses and the same number of syringes. “The swift delivery of the vaccine mirrors the determination and commitment of the leaders of both countries to ensure the well-being of the Mozambican people,” the Prime Minister said, stressing that the government has adopted a vaccination strategy that attaches priority to high risk groups particularly health professionals on the front-line of the fight against Covid-19.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Hejun, however pledged to strengthen the cooperation between the two countries in the health field and reaffirmed his country’s openness to assist Mozambique in acquiring more vaccines.

He said the Mozambican health system is currently under increasing pressure, but believed the first batch of the vaccine will certainly make an enormous difference. Mozambique is among the first African countries to receive the Chinese vaccines. Vaccines are currently available from two Chinese companies, Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech.

The vaccine that arrived in Maputo was from Sinopharm. A major advantage of the Sinopharm vaccine is that it does not need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures. It can be kept at normal refrigeration temperatures of two to eight degrees Celsius.

Indeed, Indians are also speeding with donations to the African continent. The Indian government has promised to send Mozambique 100,000 doses of the vaccine developed by the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Still in the southern Africa, Namibian officials said Beijing would donate 100,000 doses vaccine while India promised a donation of 30,000 shots to Windhoek.

In order to sustain relations and as part of a “bilateral cooperation” efforts, Portugal plans to donate 5% its excess to a group of Portuguese-speaking African countries. With a population of just over 10 million people, Portugal is entitled to 35 million vaccine doses this year under an EU-coordinated purchasing scheme, mostly for double-dose inoculation, leaving it with millions of extra shots.

The 5% share would make up 1.75 million doses. The group of countries is comprised of Portugal’s former African colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe.

Besides getting vaccines through the African Union, a number of African countries by bilateral agreements will purchase vaccines directly from China, Russia and India. For example, five (5) African countries (Algeria, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea and Tunisia) have registered the Sputnik V, which was developed by Russia’s Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology.

The African Union and Africa CDC for its ongoing vaccine readiness work through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. The AU has secured vaccines through the COVAX facility for Africa. WHO has listed three (3) vaccines for emergency use, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out through COVAX. The Group of Seven (7) leaders have committed US$4.3 billion to fund the equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. European Union has also contributed an additional 500 million euros to COVAX.

The COVAX vaccine facility – which pools financial resources and spreads its bets across vaccine candidates – has handed over the first of 337 million doses it has allocated to around 130 countries for the first half of the year. COVAX receives around 90 percent of its funds from G-7 countries and the EU, but none from China, India or Russia.

By March 2, as reported by the GhanaWeb, the number of African countries to have received vaccine doses are the following:

  • South Africa – Johnson and Johnson (J&J)
  • Rwanda – Pfizer and Moderna (reportedly)
  • Egypt – Sinopharm
  • Morocco – AstraZeneca/Sinopharm
  • Seychelles – AstraZeneca/Sinopharm
  • Mauritius – AstraZeneca
  • Algeria – Sputnik V
  • Zimbabwe – Sinopharm
  • Sierra Leone – Sinopharm
  • Equatorial Guinea – Sinopharm
  • Senegal – Sinopharm
  • Ghana – AstraZeneca/Serum Institute of India (COVAX)
  • Ivory Coast – AstraZeneca (COVAX)
  • Guinea – Sputnik V (Experimental basis)
  • Mozambique – Sinopharm.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization has acknowledged that the pandemic has struck at a time of rapid transformation for Africa. “We cannot and must not see health as a cost to be contained. Quite the opposite: health is an investment to be nurtured – an investment in productive population, and in sustainable and inclusive development,” he explained.

According to Adhanom Ghebreyesus, it takes a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach, and added that “many African countries have low levels of coverage of health services, and when health is at risk, everything is at risk.”

Since April last year, World Health Organization and its partners have been working through the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator for the equitable distribution of vaccines as global public goods. As already known, so far around 200 million doses of vaccine have been administered, but unfortunately most of them in the world’s richest countries.

WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in March 2020. Since then, more than 110 million cases have now been reported to this organization, and almost 2.5 million people have lost their lives. The overall number of Covid-19 cases in Africa currently stands more than 3.8 million late February, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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Kenya’s Peter Mathuki appointed as Head of EAC Secretariat

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Kenya’s Peter Mutuku Mathuki has been appointed to head the East African Community (EAC), the regional bloc that brings East African countries under one umbrella. Mathuki replaces Burundi’s Liberat Mfumukeko, whose five-year term ended early 2021. The post is usually rotational for five years.

As Secretary-General of the regional bloc, his key tasks include regional development, increasing inter-regional trade and addressing investment possibilities for both potential internal and external investors.

According to his profile, Mathuki has worked as Executive Director at the East African Business Council, and consequently emerged as the top candidate for the new position. Over the years, he has been dealing with the corporate business sector, and believed to have sufficient experience and contacts useful to address incessant wrangles in the East African Community.

Mathuki previously served as a member of the East African Legislative Assembly, chairing the Committee on Legal Affairs and Good Governance as well as Accounts, Trade and Investment.

He has held political positions in Kenya and in international bodies including the International Labour Standards at the former International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU-Africa), now ITUC-Africa, which he served as director. He was also a consultant for European Union programmes in Kenya.

Mathuki comes on board as the African continent implements the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) agreement, where he has been involved in the creation of the nascent African Business Council. Trading under this AfCFTA began on January 1, 2021 and opens up more opportunities for both local African and foreign investors from around the world.

Mathuki was taken on as a rectification strategy by Kenya, following a low-key leadership by Mfumukeko. Under his term, countries routinely skipped summits and member states wrangled over tariffs and political accusations. His secretariat faced financial constraints as member states delayed remitting their membership dues and donors reduced funding following allegations of corruption.

The latest report from the East African Community Secretariat for this year shows, for example, that South Sudan is the most indebted member of the EAC. It owes US$24.6 million in funding towards the main budget even though it should pay up to US$32.4 million including this year’s dues. It should also pay US$2.8 million to the Inter-University Council of East Africa and another US$345,000 to the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization.

The main budget usually funds the operations of the EAC Secretariat, the East African Court of Justice, the East African Legislative Assembly and other bodies dealing with specified fields. The Secretary-General is the principal executive and accounting officer of the community as well as the secretary of the summit and serves for a fixed period of five years.

Many businesses and market players perceive the region as progressively stable for long-term beneficial business, investment and trade. With a combined population estimated at 173 million, the region is relatively large. The East African Community (EAC) is an intergovernmental organization composed of six countries in the Great Lakes region in Eastern Africa. The members are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

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