Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Bringing democracy to Iraq

I was planning to do an entry on the Iraqi handover, but since fodder has already done such a sterling job, I will just add a few thoughts. Now that the US has symbolically handed over power to the Iraqi interim government, the real challenges to building democracy will begin, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the easy part. Very few of the requirements for the fruition of democracy exist in Iraq. History has shown that there is more chance of democracy taking root if a country has functioning civil institutions, a stable and educated middle class, free press and media, a generally open economy, pluralism, rule of law and respect for law and order.

Iraq does not possess many of these institutions. The security challenge aside, there's not much of an entrepreneurial middle class, hardly any experience with free elections, and no robust and free media sector (although this is so far beginning to change rapidly.) Under Saddam Hussein's regime the economy was all but closed to foreign trade, and it is completely dependent on oil income. Civil society is weak and barely exists and there is strong division among Iraqi religious and ethnic groups,it's still very much a tribal and clan oriented society. Very little of the social infrastructure needed for a democratic society is there. Japan has been cited as an example of how American imposed democracy can work, it's a good example, but many of the conditions that predispose a country to democracy that I have mentioned above were in existance in Japan, unlike in Iraq. So I think it will be harder to bring about democratic change in Iraq than it was in Japan.

The powers that be have a difficult road ahead, while I did not buy America's reasons for going to war, I hope they succeed in what they have started. It would be a pity, and most ironic, if under free and fair elections the Iraqi shia majority vote their leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani into power, bringing about fundamental Islamic rule, a similar scenario to what we've seen taking place in Algeria. He is said to believe in the separation of religion and state, but he is after all the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq, so how secular can he be? If this were to happen would America re-invade, or re-occupy or would thay be happy if Sistani was friendly towards their economic interests? It seems difficult to tell how sympathetic Sistani would be - on the one hand he has urged his followers not to take up arms against the occupation forces, on the other he has been highly critical of the occupation. I don't think George W really thought this whole thing through thoroughly enough.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Michael Moore

I can't remember a time, at least not in recent years, when a documentary last caused such a fuss. From The Guardian(via M&G):

Both left and right encouraged their supporters to write, e-mail and fund-raise to either talk up or rubbish the movie, while the Democrats and the White House are wondering respectively how to capitalise on the film or minimise its impact.

And from The Hill (via Daily Kos):

Michael Moore may be prevented from advertising his controversial new movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” on television or radio after July 30 if the Federal Election Commission (FEC) today accepts the legal advice of its general counsel.
At the same time, a Republican-allied 527 soft-money group is preparing to file a complaint against Moore’s film with the FEC for violating campaign-finance law.
In a draft advisory opinion placed on the FEC’s agenda for today’s meeting, the agency’s general counsel states that political documentary filmmakers may not air television or radio ads referring to federal candidates within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bizarre - Microsoft Human Body Patent

Posing an interesting use for the human body, Microsoft has patented the "Methods and apparatus for distributing power and data to devices coupled to the human body." To simplify, Microsoft envisions the human body as a conduit to relay power and data to wearable devices. It also envisions a way to utilize the human body's natural conductivity to network devices. One example Microsoft uses in the patent is a set of earrings which keeps track of a person's heart rate or acts as speakers for a phone strapped to a user's belt. The applications for such a system could truly be endless, and might revolutionize how we design portable electronics. (More)

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Human Trafficking in SA

Sapa reports that trafficking in humans is the third most lucrative crime in South Africa next to drugs and weapons

"At least 500 organised gangs are involved, and researchers have found that trafficking has brought children into prostitution and debt bondage. Mozambican women have been sold as wives and domestic labourers to mineworkers, babies are trafficked for adoption and people are trafficked for ritual muti killings.

South Africa is also a destination country for women and children from Kenya, Latvia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Taiwan, Thailand, Romania, Russia and Zambia. It is a country of origin for Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union, said a statement from Shared Hope International, a non--governmental organisation (NGO).

The most affected include:

* children from Lesotho where thousands of children have lost their caregivers to HIV/Aids;
* women and girls from Mozambique and Malawi;
* Thai, Chinese, and Eastern Europeans; and
* South African children kidnapped or taken into gangs."

Al Qaida in Zimbabwe?

This article from the latest edition of Focus, a magazine published by the Helen Suzman Foundation makes a case for links between Robert Mugabe and Al Qaida.

"According to Walter [an intelligence sourse], Zawahiri spent 4 to 5 days in Zimbabwe and met with Mugabe and a number of ministers and top officials. His instructions from Bin Laden were to acquire an al-Qaeda base in Zimbabwe where, far from the scene of action, it could train its militants and plan its military strikes: there are many large, remote farms in Zimbabwe where they could be invisible. He offered large sums of money for Mugabe personally, with more to follow. Zawahiri doubtless already had the September 11 action in mind but would hardly have disclosed any details of that. The al-Qaeda strikes against the US embassies in East Africa could not have left Mugabe in any doubt as to what he was dealing with, nor that he was risking extreme US displeasure - particularly since it must have been obvious that al-Qaeda was planning further large-scale strikes against US targets. Later, Walter said, Zawahiri returned a second time to Zimbabwe, this time staying for two weeks. This return visit and Zawahiri's quick fade into invisibility are perfectly consistent with what one would expect if, as Walter was inclined to believe, al-Qaeda had then proceeded to construct some sort of safe-house base in Zimbabwe."

Monday, June 21, 2004

Pet Astrology

The Scorpio Cat is determined and focused. Whether it's a mouse that needs to be chased or a sunbeam that needs to be laid in, the Scorpio cat will perform the task with unrelenting resolve. Scorpio cats are also passionate and they enjoy everything they do. They are as intense playing and having fun as they are giving themselves a bath. They will focus on whatever they are doing or on an object of their desire with unbroken concentration, or until they hear a tuna can in the opener.
Strong points: Energetic, intelligent, passionate
Weak Points: Possesive, jealous, difficult to understand
Health: Good; slightly liable to bladder infection.

Based on this I will have to conclude that pet astrology is a load of bollocks. The description doesn't come remotely close to my cat's personality. And in case anyone doubts my sanity - yes, I know, tenuous at best, the reason I was reading it in the first place was because it happened to be on the website for Keringa Kennels. I am looking for a home for my cat while we are away in July. Based on the website Keringa looks really good, but my main motivation I have to confess is that they fetch and deliver - anything to avoid the trauma of being in a car at the same time as the above mentioned cat.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day. Although the number of refugees is down there are still an estimated 17 million reugees globally. The worst refugee crisis at present is in Darfur in Sudan where hundreds of thousands of civilians are facing starvation.

In South Africa, last year alone, 55 000 Zimbabweans (not technically having been given refugee status but rather called illegal immigrants)were expelled back to Zimbabwe. Refugee status is difficult to obtain. "Up till September last year, only nine Zimbabweans had been granted refugee status. There have been a total of about 1 500 applications seeking asylum and these are being examined."

In South Africa, World Refugee Day focused on problems around the issue of xenophobia.
According to the United Nations there are an estimated 140 000 refugees in the country, mostly from other African countries. "Last year, South Africa's parliament heard that there were 24,000 recognised refugees in the country, with 51,000 asylum applications pending. Most asylum applicants came from the DRC, Angola, Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Nigeria."

In Johannesburg, most refugees land up in Hillbrow where there are a number of shelters that try to assist as much as possible. Two, I think are run by the UN, but mostly they're run by church groups. Refugees are subject to discrimination and harrassment from the local population who see them as taking jobs away. They also live in constant fear of being arrested and deported. Among them are former child soldiers, who have made their way to South Africa in the most harrowing of circumstances.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

US Military in Iraq

This introduction and interview with The Atlantic Monthly's Robert D. Kaplan offers some interesting insights into the inner workings of the US military in Iraq. The journalist was embedded with a marine battalion and was present during the Falluja offensive. One of the issues discussed that I found interesting was the religious christian aspect of military mentality. The marines are described as having "a strong religious streak, which gives them "a stark belief in their own righteousness and in the iniquity of the enemy," but which also inspires them to show "compassion for innocent civilians."" Kaplan writes "The spirit of the U.S. military is fiercely evangelical, even as it is fiercely ecumenical." Indeed, a few hours before the scheduled attack, a military chaplain issued a blessing in which he reminded them that it was Palm Sunday and referred to the task at hand as "a spiritual battle" and to the Marines themselves as "tools of mercy." Also interesting was a point about how US troops grew moustaches to portray a sense of the strength of tribal chieftainship.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The cat in the hat

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

When I think about pirates, I think Captain Hook, Blackbeard and the olden days of adventuring on the high seas of the Carribbean. Yet, according to an article by AFP, piracy is alive and well and flourishing off the coast of Africa.

Foreign sailors working in Africa's sea-lanes face increasing danger from attacks by heavily armed pirates. In anchorages, estuaries and even on the high seas, gangs are hijacking vessels, robbing, beating and kidnapping their crews and costing the industry millions of dollars in insurance, lost cargoes and ransom payments.

Nigeria seems to be particularly troubled by this problem. Last year attacks in their waters tripled in number and became more and more violent.

Most at risk are oil industry vessels working in the coastal swamps west of the port of Warri, where in April two US oilmen were gunned down by pirates; and in the waters off Lagos, where cargo ships can wait weeks to unload.

In case you're wondering, the modern day modus operandi is as follows:

In a typical raid, pirates armed with knives and AK-47 assault rifles will surround a ship in speedboats and force it to halt. Shots will be fired, with gunmen targeting the windows of the bridge in order to force the crew to drop anchor. Once aboard, the pirates beat the crew and loot the ship. Often, they then kidnap international seamen.In many cases -- for example after an April 15, 2003 attack on a supply vessel in the Niger Delta in which 16 sailors were kidnapped -- ship operators end up having to pay a huge ransom to free their crews.

Just like in the times of old there have been furious battles on the high seas, ... well ok, shootouts along the rivers.

The Nigerian navy takes the problem of piracy seriously -- on June 5 a naval patrol killed at least 17 pirates in a gun battle on the creeks near Warri -- but like most African fleets has limited resources to cope with the problem.

Waters off Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Guinea have also been affected. Anyone up for a movie script?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Saddam and Al-Qaida - No Link

As with the contentions about WMD's, another of the US's reasons for going to war with Iraq proves to be unfounded.

Voice of America reports:

"Independent investigators said Wednesday they have found no evidence that Saddam Hussein cooperated with al-Qaida terrorists to target the United States. The conclusion came in a report released by the independent commission probing the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington" (More)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Proudly South African

I always assumed that the Proudly South African campaign was a good thing, my thinking being that anything promoting local products and services (providing of good quality) must be good. Well, browsing through some back issues of Brainstorm magazine I came across an editorial by journalist Ivo Vegter, and in his opinion Proudly South African is nothing more than privatised protectionism, a state of affairs that leads to higher costs for consumers, hampers growth, and ultimately costs jobs.

He quotes an unamed trade policy institute explanation that imports don't cause a net loss of jobs. They may displace workers in less competitive industries, but overall employment levels are caused by monetary policy, labour market flexibility and other non-trade factors - which the article doesn't specify. This line of thinking goes on to say that trade benfits an economy in the same way as technology, causing resources to shift to more productive sectors, raising raising overall living standards.

According to Vegter, the view that imports are bad and exports are good, and that a country's trade balance should be positive,is a lopsided analysis.

"It ignores the fact that a trade deficit signals a net inflow of foreign capital into a country. This in turn lowers domestic interest rates, encourages new investment, and makes better prices, variety and quality available to both consumers and domestic manufacturers."

He goes on to say that promoting local products distorts trade by creating artificial benefits, in particular by funding joint marketing initiatives. "But at some point such a co-operative or oligopoly becomes indistinguishable from a cartel." And we are left with anti-competitive monopolies that restrict consumer choice, raise prices and can lead to unemployment.

I'm not sure that my knowledge of economic theories qualifies me to judge his arguements, but it does make for some food for thought. I do however think, that a positive spinoff of the Proudly South African campaign is that it has been good for nation building. For example, if you consider the batch of Proudly South African ads, currently airing on TV. There was some discourse about this in the local blogosphere quite recently. There was a time a couple of years back, when there was a lot of cynicism about the aspirational beer ads showing multiracial groups of people enjoying themselves in bars, or clubs - you know the scenario. People used to say they were unrealistic, you rarely saw mixed race groups when you actually ventured out into the real world of trendy bars. Now you see it happening often. I'm not saying that the ads were directly responsible for this positive change, but being aspirational, they did hold up an encouraging picture of what we could be like, of it what it would be nice for us to become as a nation. I think the Proudly South African ads do the same. They show us a vision of a happy, and prosperous nation and hopefully in time we will be able to move closer to that ideal. At any rate the ads make you feel...well, I hate to say it but....proud to be South African, and they make you want to be part of that whole cheesy happiness.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Cold Front

Brrrr....Joburg has turned freezing. For once the weather bureau got it right and the predicted cold front arrived last night with a blast of icy wind. It is officially jacket and scarf time of year. Right now I'm at my desk huddled next to the heater thinking that the only good thing about winter is that it makes you appreciate summer.

G8 Summit

African leaders from 6 countries are in Georgia hoping for whatever crumbs they can catch from the G8 table. It is highly unlikely that they will come away with anything new. The G8 is simply not interested in Africa's problems, well let me rephrase that - their only concern is promoting their own interests on the continent. Just as we see in Iraq, the motivation is geopolitical, and to some extent that means oil, and peacekeeping in so far that it's Al Qaida related. Africa is viewed by the US as an important alternative source of oil - the continent supplies 8 percent of world output and is considered to be one of the main new exploration areas. Not to mention coltan, timber and minerals among other natural resources. Australia and Africa are the world's two main coltan producers, I guess in a country with strict environmental laws you might not be able to get away with mining in an area that is home to the world's last few remaining gorilla's. If Africans have hopes for this summit they are certain to be disappointed. I sometimes think that it suits the west to have Africa in disarray. Conflict, undemocratic and corrupt regimes, and lack of political structures mean that resource extraction is cheap and profitable, and large corporations can operate with impunity, neither having to declare monies paid to operate or follow environmental regulations. This from a report by British NGO RAID (Rights & Accountability in Development) published in 2003.

"The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is emerging from a devastating five-year war
that is estimated to have cost the lives of more than three million people. Multinationalcorporations have been accused of helping to perpetuate the war and of profiteering from it. In February 2002, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, promised to clamp down on companies that fuel resource wars in Africa and called for stricter adherence to the OECD Guidelines as a means of ensuring that companies behave responsibly in conflict zones."

I don't believe that the G8, led by America, has the political will to effect meaningful change on the African continent. America went to war with Iraq on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction and to rid the world of a cruel and evil dictator. In doing so they have proved that they are indeed the global superpower with the capacity to organize, and to harness both manpower and financial resources in order to wage war. According to the US this was done in the name of spreading freedom and democracy, and to prevent the hypothetical possibility of millions of people dying as a result of Iraq's WMD's. Prior to the war the west enforced sanctions against Iraq rather than conduct business with an undemocratic regime. The same unfortunately cannot be said about America's policies towards Africa. The US doesn't have a problem with their oil companies operating in Equatorial Guinea or other corrupt, dictator-led African countries. The US did nothing to prevent genocide in Rwanda, and does nothing to prevent the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of people going on right now in Sudan, Somalia, the DRC, and recently in Nigeria. Well over half a million people died in Rwanda, is this not mass human destruction? Why does America not act - maybe it's because countries have interests and not morals. It was in the US's interest to exert it's influence in Iraq, it is not in their interests to promote stability in Africa. This is not to say they are not doing anything, but it seems whatever they give is usually too little and too late. If the US is so intent on spreading global democracy why is Africa being left out of the picture? Why for example, are they lobbying at this G8 summit for Iraq's debt to be dropped so that the money can go into reconstruction efforts, and not doing the same for African countries?

Saturday, June 05, 2004


Today I went to the launch of Megaflyover from Swartkop Airforce Base in Pretoria.

MegaFlyover is a unique conservation project that will traverse key ecoregions on the African continent. Starting June 5, 2004, from Pretoria and finishing in 2005 in Gibraltar, the project will take a close look at the African landscape - its people, vegetation and wildlife - in order to spotlight the continent's untouched natural places and spark conservation action. The project is sponsored by National Geographic and the Wildlife Conservation Society and will be led by WCS conservationist
J. Michael Fay, with support from The Bateleurs, an NGO flying for the environment in Africa.

There were some interesting moments but it was a bit long and drawn out, it was a relief when the two little red cessna's finally decided to take off. But in saying that, Michael Fay is an incredible man. He is the person who in 1999 set out to walk 3000 km's through the Congo River Basin and Gabon. The walk led to him being instrumental in starting up 13 conservation areas equalling 3.1 million hectares in Gabon. On one occassion it took 10 hours to traverse 900m through dense swampland. He works with the
Congo Basin Forest Partnership, and the really amazing part is the way he has managed to get buy in from local communities, logging companies and the Gabon government. He even managed to get co-operation from rebels during conflict in the Congo so that one of the conservation areas weren't harmed during the conflict. I think he has an incredibly intelligent approach to conservation because he realises that human infringement on virgin forest and logging companies are a reality, he calls his approach - not a new term - resourse management, and works with relevant role players towards a sustainable conservation that can and is working in reality.

During the Megaflyover project he plans to explore all the pristine ecosystems in Africa that he is able to get to and study exactly what the implications of resourse extraction and human settlement are so that he can use the data to try and protect what's left of the environment. It's good to to know that there are people like Michael Fay out there.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Dick Cheney

Time Magazine has this story which makes for some interesting reading:

Vice President Dick Cheney was a guest on NBC's Meet the Press last September when host Tim Russert brought up Halliburton. Citing the company's role in rebuilding Iraq as well as Cheney's prior service as Halliburton's CEO, Russert asked, "Were you involved in any way in the awarding of those contracts?" Cheney's reply: "Of course not, Tim ... And as Vice President, I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of in any way, shape or form of contracts led by the [Army] Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the Federal Government."

Cheney's relationship with Halliburton has been nothing but trouble since he left the company in 2000. Both he and the company say they have no ongoing connections. But TIME has obtained an internal Pentagon e-mail sent by an Army Corps of Engineers official—whose name was blacked out by the Pentagon—that raises questions about Cheney's arm's-length policy toward his old employer. Dated March 5, 2003, the e-mail says "action" on a multibillion-dollar Halliburton contract was "coordinated" with Cheney's office. The e-mail says Douglas Feith, a high-ranking Pentagon hawk, got the "authority to execute RIO," or Restore Iraqi Oil, from his boss, who is Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. RIO is one of several large contracts the U.S. awarded to Halliburton last year.

The e-mail says Feith approved arrangements for the contract "contingent on informing WH [White House] tomorrow. We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated w VP's [Vice President's] office." Three days later, the Army Corps of Engineers gave Halliburton the contract, without seeking other bids. TIME located the e-mail among documents provided by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group

Africa in the news

A round up of some African stories that grabbed my interest today.The BBC reports:

Military officers from the US and Europe are reported to have met to discuss terrorism and the security of oil supplies in Africa. US officials say the meeting is the first in a series designed to provide the main forum for an exchange of security information about Africa. The US has already announced plans to help Africa create five rapid reaction brigades to fight terrorism.

Highlights from two Sapa-Afp reports on the World Economic Forum Meeting on development currently taking place in Maputo:

A report released Wednesday by the World Economic Forum called Africa the worst economic tragedy of the 20th century.The report said in 1970 Africa accounted for one in 10 of the world's poor but by 2000 nearly half the world's poor are African. Economic growth has been so dismal that most sub-Saharan countries are worse off than they were at independence. The report, written by Elsa V. Artadi of Harvard University and Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University, said Africa's demise is linked to military conflicts, corruption, absence of the rule of law, undisciplined fiscal policies, poor infrastructure and low investment. "There should be no doubt that the worst economic disaster of the 20th century is the dismal growth performance of the African continent," they wrote.

Per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa is US$200 lower now than in 1974, they said. That is a decline of 11 percent over 25 years when the rest of the world averaged an increase of 2 percent a year. "This evolution is extremely worrisome, if we consider that Africa was already extremely poor in 1974," the authors said. The report was part of package surrounding the Forum's Growth Competitiveness Index for Africa that was released Wednesday in Maputo, Mozambique, where the Forum is holding its annual African Economic Summit. The Growth Competitiveness Index measures a country's potential to achieve sustained economic growth.

The Forum, in its summary, said the long awaited renaissance of the African economy has not taken place. It said it is difficult to identify a single group of African economies that have experienced high, sustained per capita income growth. It noted that Mauritius and Botswana seem to be the only countries with high, sustained growth.
It cited the once relatively prosperous Zimbabwe, which ranked 22 in Africa and 97 of 102 worldwide, as an example of what goes wrong, saying it had the worst economic environment in Africa. Part of the problem in Africa, the Forum said is that Africa cannot attract enough investment.

Investment rates in Africa are far below the rest of the world, but some of the reasons are problems that Africa must address. It noted that return on investment in Africa is about a third lower than the rest of the world. Investment in Africa also is a very high risk because of political instability, price volatility, uncertain economic environments and the tendency of governments to engage in sweeping policy reversals.

And Botwana was found to be Africa's top competitive economy, ahead of other powerhouses like South Africa and Nigeria.

The survey places Botswana in 36th place in 102 countries surveyed by the WEF worldwide, it said. At the bottom end of the scale, Chad ranked the lowest, with problems listed as access to financing, the lack of infrastructure and corruption.

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