Category Archives: Africa

South Africa Faces a Downward Spiral

This article has been republished with permission from our partner, Stratfor. The original version was first published in Stratfor’s WORLDVIEW and can be found here.


Highlights

  • Beset by infighting, the ruling African National Congress is incapable of effectively tackling the country’s worsening economic and social situation.
  • Those problems will drive more highly skilled individuals to emigrate, robbing the country of productive workers and tax revenue in the years ahead.
  • Deepening economic malaise and internal fissures will accelerate the erosion of the ANC’s once-dominant electoral position, possibly opening the door to more extreme parties, with serious policy implications.
  • As South Africa struggles to get its house in order, its influence over the rest of southern Africa will wane.

“We are sorry for what happened,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told a group of workers earlier this month in Durban. “Our image, our standing and our integrity [were] negatively affected.” Ramaphosa offered the heartfelt mea culpa following yet another wave of xenophobic riots across South Africa, yet presidential apologies are unlikely to stanch more violence directed against foreigners there — or cure the deeper malaise that drives the unrest. That’s because successive governments in Pretoria have failed to foster essential economic growth in South Africa, which posted an eye-popping unemployment rate of 29 percent earlier this year. Every week, thousands of its citizens are forced into unemployment or underemployment in the extensive black market.


The Big Picture

Years of economic and social woes have taken a toll on South Africa. As the country grapples with yet more indications of weak or negative growth, sky-high unemployment, massive crime rates and coming political change, its ability to remain a continental economic powerhouse will be under threat.

See 2019 Fourth-Quarter Forecast

See Sub-Saharan Africa section of the 2019 Fourth-Quarter Forecast

See Old Leaders in a New Africa


And it’s not just joblessness that is eating away at the rainbow nation; a host of other factors are driving home the severity of the country’s crisis: rising government debt, crumbling infrastructure, collapsing education standards, rampant crime and violence, currency volatility, investment outflows, and more. Together, it’s given rise to the sentiment that South Africa is increasingly a country of “haves” and “have nots,” tearing at the country’s social fabric, resulting in mass alienation and disenchantment with the political system. And with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) seemingly unable to get its own house — let alone South Africa’s — in order, the continent’s powerhouse will go through plenty more trials and tribulations before it sees any glimmer of hope.

A Battle Over Spoils

In spite of ever-worsening economic and social problems, the ANC government is incapable of implementing drastic and fundamental reforms to jump-start growth, offering instead “pie in the sky” policy rhetoric that has failed to translate into reality. At the heart of the problem is the ANC itself: The party is riven by massive internal factionalism. In the years immediately after apartheid, ideological differences may have driven the party’s divisions. But since then, the ANC has become mired in corruption and mismanagement, with the effects becoming evermore pronounced in recent years. In effect, the main battle brewing inside the ANC today centers on access to money and resources; policy differences, ultimately, are largely irrelevant. South Africa’s economic boost during the global commodity supercycle driven largely by Chinese demand in the late 2000s obscured this internal conflict and its negative impacts until the good economic times ended in 2014. Since then, bleaker prospects have challenged Ramaphosa and his allies’ efforts to turn around the party and government through anti-corruption efforts, in part because he must contend with other powerful factions — most notably those aligned with his predecessor, Jacob Zuma — that benefit from his administration’s failure to root out graft at all levels of government.

This has serious policy implications. Given Ramaphosa’s flimsy coalition against other ANC factions, the president cannot robustly push “controversial” economic reforms which, in the South African context, entails market-based reforms that demand increased efficiency. For starters, these limitations have hindered Ramaphosa’s goals of overhauling the country’s embattled public utility company, Eskom. After nearly scuttling the South African economy last summer amid blackouts that it instituted to protect the unstable electrical grid, Eskom has already sucked up billions of dollars (necessitating ever-mounting debt) in 2019 to keep the lights on. Unsurprisingly, there is little sign of an improvement in store.

Economic SnapshotDespite the gravity of the situation, several of the country’s powerful unions have vowed to turn on Ramaphosa if he seeks to turn around Eskom by either privatizing the utility or laying redundant workers off. (According to the International Monetary Fund, Eskom’s workforce is bloated by a whopping 66 percent.) Should Ramaphosa opt not to alienate the powerful labor leaders who paved his path to the top of the ANC in 2017, he will have few policy options with which to deal with Eskom. In the end, one thing is certain: Failing to fix the company risks plunging South Africa’s economy into more crisis. As one Eskom board member recently warned, the current electrical grid cannot handle even a relatively minor uptick in economic activity without experiencing a system meltdown.

Over the Cliff

The long-term implications of years of ANC-led mismanagement loom large. For one, recent data proffered by an emigration services company, Sable International, strongly suggests that an exodus of South African individuals with a high net worth, as well as highly skilled workers, is underway. This, naturally, will have consequences as South Africa continues to rely more heavily on its shrinking tax base for government revenue. In addition, the flight of highly skilled workers will affect key sectors in global demand, like healthcare and high-tech, robbing the country of the more productive segments of its society. Most troubling for the government, data shows that the vast majority of these individuals do not return to the country once they emigrate.

Pretoria’s inability to make the tough policy choices to alter course will ultimately result in the country’s economy continuing to take on water. With weak or negative growth projected for the next several years, unemployment will remain high, resulting in yet more misery, high crime and violence. And in addition to Eskom’s woes, the country’s water systems, public transportation, waste management and other critical infrastructure will further deteriorate, pushing the costs and consequences onto its citizens. This, in turn, will encourage more highly skilled workers to leave the country for greener — and safer — pastures. South Africa’s political elites will find this downward spiral difficult to break, paving the way for the country to lose its ability to influence its much smaller neighbors. And as the author R.W. Johnson has pointed out, unlike the case of Zimbabwe — which sent millions of economic migrants over the border to South Africa when its economy collapsed — South Africans trying to escape economic misery have nowhere else in the region to go.

By the time the country’s leaders receive a stronger popular mandate to remedy its dire situation, South Africa will be in a far deeper hole with far fewer human resources to help dig it out.

This constraint on mass emigration will create an increasing number of disaffected voters who will erode the ANC’s once-dominant electoral position. Amid the economic stagnation and political infighting, younger voters who have few memories of the ANC’s struggle against apartheid — and, thus, little loyalty to the party — will look for other options come election day. Quite when the ANC will lose its political predominance is an open question, but South Africa’s poor economic trajectory and the ANC’s internal squabbling mean that a sea change will come sooner than later.

Ultimately, the impact of the ANC’s eventual reckoning will depend greatly on which political parties step in to fill the political void. For example, a weakened ANC that loses its majority will likely have to join an alliance with another major political party — an act that in itself that will likely accelerate the ANC’s breakup as dormant ideological debates erupt and battles over resources lead to a final splintering. Accordingly, does the future ANC opt to align itself with the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters? If so, the impact would be huge. To begin with, such a partnership would cause a sharp left turn in the country’s policies, resulting in the accelerated transfers of wealth to the impoverished black majority (at a huge cost to market efficiency). Policies like these would spook foreign investors, increase the brain drain, cause capital flight and send South Africa-based corporations scattering to other major African hubs. Relatedly, it would turn Pretoria’s focus away from the rest of the continent, thereby speeding up South Africa’s decline as a regional economic and political power (with no country in the region likely to assume its place).

An uneasy future alliance with the center-right Democratic Alliance could push the ANC into adopting more market-based policies. However, this scenario would be no panacea, as it could only occur if it receives serious political backing from voters who have otherwise favored populism over market efficiency. (What’s more, it would also likely usher in the ANC’s fragmentation into splinter parties, greatly upending the political system.) Popular support for tougher market reforms is only likely to come after more years of economic and social woes. By the time the country’s leaders receive a stronger popular mandate to remedy its dire situation, South Africa will be in a far deeper hole with far fewer human resources to help dig it out.

Amid its political leaders’ inability to pursue the tough policy choices needed to address the country’s growing socio-economic crisis, South Africa is sinking. The result, for the time being, will be the increase of internal strife and policy uncertainty, the erosion of the country’s economic base, and the loss of its regional hegemony. The only question, then, is just how stern South Africa’s reckoning will be.


Stephen RakowskiStephen Rakowski is a Sub-Saharan Africa Analyst at Stratfor, where he monitors political, security and economic trends unfolding across the continent. Mr. Rakowski holds a master’s in government with a focus on diplomacy and conflict studies from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. He also holds a bachelor’s in international relations from Franklin University Switzerland in Lugano, Switzerland. In addition to his studies, Mr. Rakowski has traveled and lived throughout Madagascar, Morocco and Kyrgyzstan.

Mugabe’s Heart: A Zimbabwean Valentine

Cover photo: Robert Mugabe puckers up for his wife Grace.  Will Zimbabwe see a dynastic transition of power from husband to wife? Photo credit: http://allafrica.com/

In January Robert Mugabe returned late from his annual Christmas vacation to Asia. A delay in Dubai caused him to miss the arrival of his friend and ally, President Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea at the start of a three-day state visit to Harare. The bizarre refusal of Mr. Mugabe’s office to issue an explanation for the regrettable misstep sparked rumors that he may have suffered a massive heart attack. A sudden cardiac event is certainly plausible for someone of Mugabe’s age – he will be celebrating his 92nd birthday next week – but even a minor illness raises fears that Zimbabwe may be cast suddenly into what is effectively a struggle for succession.

Mugabe’s strong opinion is notably absent on the question of transition, leaving room for factions to form within his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Some speculate that through inaction, Mr. Mugabe may be paving the way to power for his wife Grace, a political novice. Whatever the case, after nearly four decades under Mr. Mugabe’s dominant leadership, it is not clear that ZANU-PF is ready to weather the storm effectively.

The Rise of ZANU-PF

Like its South African cousin, the African National Congress (ANC), ZANU-PF, was born as a counter to white-minority rule. Unlike the ANC however, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF was the result of a struggle and ultimate reconciliation between two communist-supported factions. Mugabe’s five-year political-paramilitary struggle against the white government of Ian Smith in the 1970s followed by a low level conflict with the rival Zimbabwean African People’s Union (ZAPU), hardened Mugabe’s attitude towards white landowners and allowed him to tightly consolidate his power as leader of the unified party.

The result has been a spectacular story of longevity in power. Mugabe and ZANU-PF have continued to rule Zimbabwe without interruption since winning the country’s first post-independence election in 1980. There have been setbacks, including a brief civil war with the remnants of ZAPU and a more recent electoral challenge by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Mugabe responds to these challenges with a combination of political accommodation and serial repression of key rivals. The brutal story of Morgan Tsvangirai’s unity deal illustrates Mugabe’s great skill in employing these tactics effectively without touching off a deeply rooted tribal backlash.

Organized in 1999 as an alternative to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, the MDC rose quickly into a viable opposition party with a strong showing in the 2000 parliamentary elections. The overwhelming win for MDC in Matabeleland hinted at dangerous tribal divisions in Zimbabwean politics as the leadership of ZANU-PF is mostly Shona. Not surprisingly, the government quickly began targeting MDC officers, arresting (and acquitting) Morgan Tsvangirai three times for treason. In the last instance in 2007, he was tortured and his injuries became public after photos were smuggled out of the prison where he was being held.

Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai after his release from prison in 2007 where he was allegedly tortured. Photo credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

Tsvangirai’s travails splintered the MDC into two factions though the Zimbabwean intelligence service, the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), is widely thought to have engineered the split. Matters came to a head in 2008 when the general election forced a runoff between Mugabe and Tsvangirai whose refusal to participate in the runoff sparked a month of violent tension across the country. Eventually, South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki was able to negotiate a power sharing agreement but three weeks after it was signed, Tsvangirai’s car was hit head on by a lorry, severely injuring him and killing his wife instantly. That the lorry was an official US Agency for International Development (USAID) vehicle carrying medicines somewhat mitigated conspiracy accusations but it did not stop MDC officials from speculating about the possibility.

Fear of a Post-Mugabe World

After the death of his wife, Tsvangirai never seemed to recover his drive to force Mugabe to share power. Sensing opportunity, the old fighter used the political respite to further consolidate his grip on politics in Zimbabwe. A constitutional change after the 2013 general election abolished the office of the Prime Minister and effectively ended the unity government, once again making Mugabe the sole executive leader in Zimbabwe. Responding to a perceived threat, he purged Vice President Joice Mujuru and her supporters in 2014 by accusing her of plotting to murder him.

Though ZANU-PF is enjoying its political zenith, there is a fearful undercurrent of what will come next and a growing recognition that the question of Mugabe’s age cannot be ignored any longer. There are indications that behind closed doors some ZANU-PF officials quietly acknowledge the need for planning though very indirectly. Ongoing factionalism within ZANU-PF has elevated Mugabe’s wife Grace to a level of political prominence and she is increasingly seen as an alternative to Vice President Mnangagwa despite her lack of a background in politics. In keeping with the bizarre reluctance of ZANU-PF to openly address the succession, Grace routinely disavows interest in politics while actively campaigning on her own behalf.

Some fear that politics under “President Grace” would be a tumultuous affair with rival factions, opposition parties, and even some civil society groups emboldened to oppose her in ways they would not have dreamt of doing with her husband. Though Mugabe’s failure to organize an orderly transition is essentially an internal matter for ZANU-PF, opposition parties like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are growing bolder in their calls for a National Transitional Authority. This kind of open discussion of a taboo subject by an opposition party would have been unthinkable not too long ago and may be an indication that ZANU-PF is losing its grip.

A Zimbabwean Valentine?

Absent a coherent transition plan from Mugabe and ZANU-PF, the manner of Zimbabwe’s succession will be determined in large measure by the circumstances of their leader’s death.  An unexpected passing could lead all the players to consider bold moves that would potentially result in social unrest or even organized violence whereas a longer decline would feature intense jockeying for position both within the party and outside it.

Though the pressure will certainly mount as the succession question gathers momentum, it is not clear which players benefit from which scenario. Within ZANU-PF, Mrs. Mugabe and Mr. Mnangagwa seem headed for a clash, with Grace enjoying a protected position as the nation’s first lady. However, as the noted scholar, James Hamill points out, her advantages could quickly melt away if she doesn’t consolidate her position in the days just prior to or immediately following the death of her husband. A slow decline could make it harder for her to do so leading to the macabre realization that a sudden death of her husband Robert could be seen as a very big Valentine for Grace.

Lino Miani

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC 

Intervention Tension: Burundi’s Moment of Truth

On 10 July, the tiny central African country of Burundi announced that its presidential elections, slated for 15 July, would be postponed by one week. The move marks the second electoral delay, and since April there have been protests, violence and a population exodus as the president postures for an unconstitutional third term. As one of the world’s poorest countries with limited strategic and resource importance, one has to wonder what the international community’s response will be should Burundi plunge back into the dark days of civil war and genocide. The moral lessons of history teach us that we must respond, but if historical events are any indication, it is unlikely that we will see much more than a token effort to restore stability in this part of the Great Lakes region.

Burundi’s Challenge

The events in Burundi have been coming to a slow boil over the past year and a half. Last year, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) unsuccessfully attempted to reform the constitution in a way that would not only upset the balance of ethnic representation in government, but would also allow their leader to run for a third term. International condemnation was swift, however the CNDD-FDD persisted and announced Nkurunziza as their candidate earlier this year.

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A  leader of an African nation overstaying his term limit is nothing new. Image Source: aidleap.org

Public outcry and hostilities in Bujumbura quickly followed, and less than one month later members of the military attempted a  coup d’etat while Nkurunziza was in Tanzania. Since then, ruling party supporters, to include the violent CNDD-FDD youth wing known as the imbonerakure, have sent scores of refugees fleeing into Burundi’s neighboring countries. According to Médecins Sans Frontières, one camp in Tanzania has swelled to 122,000, a number expected to increase as Election Day draws closer.

Last week on the international stage, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “concern” over the compromised political and human rights environment unfolding in Burundi. The United States also condemns the ongoing violence and claims that it will “seek to hold accountable those responsible for gross human rights abuses.” Meanwhile, the Burundian Ambassador to the UN suggests reports of a rapidly deteriorating situation in his country (a place that only ten years ago emerged from a 12-year civil war that left 300,000 dead), are overblown. The most recent report from the UN states that we can expect more violence.

According to Burundian law, elections must be held at least one month before the final day of Nkurunziza’s second term,  26 August, and they cannot be pushed back again. This means that sooner rather than later, this Sub-Saharan country will enter a new phase of uncertainty and with stability in the country already compromised, the outlook does not look good. This summer Burundi already held parliamentary elections which the UN says were not free or credible. An increasing number of high level government officials, to include a Deputy Vice President, several electoral commissioners, and a senior judge—all citizens who do not agree with the ruling party’s measures—have fled for fear of being targeted as non-supporters of the CNDD-FDD.

An African leader aiming to overstay his term limits is nothing new, and indeed neighboring Rwanda faces a similar scenario in the run up to elections in 2017. As poor countries like Burundi experience upheaval as a direct result of this rule bending, the question then falls to the international community: how are we to respond? When does interference become a necessity in the name of safeguarding human rights? And if a response is needed, the more pertinent question must be pondered: will the international community be moved to act?

Never Say Never Again

I would argue that countries with little to offer in terms of strategic location and exploitable resources are the ones the world will most likely ignore.  In Rwanda, a Central African country of comparable size and composition, the genocide of 800,000 Rwandans was completed over 100 days while the international community largely leaned back on its heels and watched from afar.  The United Nations woefully under resourced its Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) from the beginning despite repeated requests for increased support by the mission’s force commander, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire.  When the atrocities finally saturated the world media, cries of “never again” echoed throughout.

The reasons behind the Rwandan genocide as well as the international community’s response to it are complex and not identical to what we see taking place today in Burundi. Still, the broader question of “How much should we care?” persists. If the situation reaches a point where Twitter becomes saturated with images of crimes against humanity, will there be a call to action? Big players like the United States are undoubtedly already asking themselves whether they have the political will, resources, and most importantly, any real regional interest to link arms with the international community and put a swift end to bad behavior. Sadly, I’m not so optimistic that we really ever mean it when we vow, “Never again”.

The United States, much like other asset-rich countries, is stretched thin as it battles enemies on multiple fronts in the Middle East and Central Asia. These campaigns speak nothing of the myriad other “fires” that currently rage on the African continent: Al Shabaab in east Africa, Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region and of course the Islamic State’s move into northern Africa. With so many other high-priority missions to tackle, does anyone really care about a tiny nation of 10 million that most Americans could never find on a map? Would the public really approve of troops being sent to a place that has no apparent impact on their day-to-day lives? Again, I am not so optimistic.

Masf. Image Source:
Violence attributed to loyalist factions such as  CNDD-FDD, continues to force citizens to leave their homes to seek safety elsewhere. Image Source: www.unhcr.org

General Dallaire wrote in his memoir that he doubts the world will pay anything but lip service to these far off countries of little immediate consequence to the international community.

“We have fallen back on the yardstick of national self-interest to measure which portions of the planet we allow ourselves to be concerned about. In the 21st century, we cannot afford to tolerate a single failed state, ruled by ruthless and self-serving dictators, arming and brainwashing a generation of potential warriors to export mayhem and terror around the world. The leaders of the free world are well versed in the importance of regional stability, but it would appear that they are hedging their bets when they choose which ones they will assist and which they will supply with only a string of strongly-worded condemnation.”

The clock is ticking for Burundi, and as the hour draws near for their electoral moment of truth, there’s a good chance that the rest of the world, as they stand-by and watch, will face a moment of truth of their own.

Megan Hallinan is an active duty US naval officer who holds a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Trinity College in Dublin as well as a master’s in Nonfiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She lived for three years in Dakar, Senegal. The views expressed here are her own and not those of the US Navy.