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Trump’s Africa policy is still incoherent, but key signals are emerging

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Africa’s leaders, along with everyone else interested in US-Africa relations, have waited eight months for US President Donald Trump’s administration to explain its Africa policy. We aren’t there yet.

But in recent weeks Trump has indicated the level and extent of his interest. And, senior African affairs officials at the State and Defence Departments are at last attempting publicly to outline US goals and objectives toward Africa. This, apparently without much guidance from their president.

Trump’s inaugural address to the UN General Assembly said little about Africa – barely one paragraph towards the end. One sentence praised African Union and UN-led peacekeeping missions for “invaluable contributions in stabilising conflicts in Africa.” A second praised America, which

continues to lead the world in humanitarian assistance, including famine prevention and relief in South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria and Yemen.

The next day Trump hosted a luncheon for leaders of nine African countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, and South Africa. Only his welcoming remarks have been published but they are nearly devoid of policy content or guidance. His opening gambit reminded me of a 19th century colonialist hoping to become rich, as he proclaimed:

Africa has tremendous business potential, I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you, they’re spending a lot of money….It’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.

Trump called on African companies to invest in the US. Then, shifting to security cooperation, he urged Africans to help defeat Islamist extremists and the threat from North Korea.

The American president proposed no new presidential initiatives for Africa. But, at least, he did not say those launched by predecessors were a waste of money and would be ended. Nor did he mention opposition to foreign assistance generally. He also did not mention his renunciation of the Paris Climate Accord and refusal to fund Green Climate Fund. Both are crucial for Africa’s adaptation to global warming.

A “US-Africa Partnerships” conference at the US Institute for Peace in Washington in mid-September provided additional clues to how this administration will conduct Africa policy.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Tom Shannon, offered the first high level official statement on Africa. Shannon, a highly accomplished Foreign Service officer, emphasised policy continuity. But, he implicitly affirmed Trump’s apparent desire for minimal engagement in Africa.

Shannon and Acting Assistant Secretary Donald Yamamoto at a later session, stressed the four main pillars that have framed Africa policy for many years, would remain. These are:

  • peace and security;
  • counterterrorism;
  • economic trade, investment and development; and,
  • democracy and good governance.

They endorsed previous presidential initiatives, including specific references to former US President Barack Obama’s Feed the FuturePower Africa and the Young African Leaders Initiative. Their continuation, and at what levels, will depend on budget decisions. Trump’s initial recommendations, endorsed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, call for crippling cuts.

So far, the only new social development program that Trump has endorsed is the World Bank’s global Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, championed by his daughter Ivanka. The US has donated $50 million toward its global start-up budget of $315 million. As Yamamoto noted at the September meeting, Africa could benefit from this initiative.

Trump will be less likely to challenge US military’s commitments in Africa. With this in mind I paid close attention to the address by General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of the US Africa Command (Africom) at the September 13 meeting. He set out Africom’s current engagements in Libya and Somalia, where he said the mission was to support locally engineered political solutions.

Critics of America’s many previous failed interventions in these two countries and elsewhere, will rightly remain sceptical.

The second part of his address dealt more broadly with Africom’s capacity building assistance, nationally and regionally. He said Africom only operates where

US and partner nation strategic objectives are compatible and aligned and, second, the operations are conducted primarily by partner nation forces with the US in a supporting role.

Africom, he said, conducts “some 3,500 exercises, programs and engagements” annually, with “5-to-6,000 US service members working on the continent every day.”

Waldenhauser ended his address with a surprisingly specific and positive view on China’s role in Africa. He praised China’s assistance to building much needed infrastructure throughout Africa and for the rapid growth in China-Africa trade which exceeded $300 billion in 2016.

On security issues, he commended Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge of $100 million to the AU and for supporting UN peacekeeping missions with 8,000 police officers. He then referred to the construction of China’s first overseas military base, which is near the US base in Djibouti, as creating “opportunities found nowhere else in the world,” relating that:

China assigned the first soldiers to this base and expressed interest in conducting amphibious training between Chinese and US Marines. Across the continent, we have shared interests in African stability. We see many areas where we can cooperate with the Chinese military. For example, we both support UN peacekeeping missions and training with African defence forces. The fact that we have mutual interests in Africa means that we can and should cooperate.

To emphasise the importance of this comment he quoted Secretary of Defence James Mattis when he pointed out earlier this year:

Our two countries can and do cooperate for mutual benefit. And we will pledge to work closely with China where we share common cause.

But China-US security cooperation in Africa can’t succeed without the inclusion of African governments as equal partners in this “common cause”.

Such “win-win-win” experiments in mutual confidence building would not only benefit Africans, but could also serve as positive examples for other regions and could improve US-China relations globally. In the absence of a coherent and compelling US – Africa policy, this at least is one positive development that merits our attention. – Written by John J Stremlau, 2017 Bradlow Fellow at SA Institute of International Affairs,Visiting Professor of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand

Originally published in The Conversation

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Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

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May 8, a landmark day for Africa’s second biggest economy. South Africans will cast their votes for the country’s sixth general elections since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

In the run-up to the polls, the country saw flagrant protests in some parts, as disgruntled citizens expressed disapproval of their stifling living conditions. 

In this image, a resident of Alexandra, a township in the north of Johannesburg, squats in the middle of a busy road leading to the opulent precincts of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile.  

The dichotomy of socio-economic circumstances is an accelerant in one of the country’s poorest communities filled to the brim with squatter camps and the restlessness of unemployment.

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A Tale Of Two Presidents And One Phone Call To Freedom

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A month before South Africa’s elections, one of the country’s leading political figures exposed a number of his former comrades for corruption with evidence to the Zondo Commission on State Capture. It was box office material, yet just another eventful period in the turbulent life of Robert McBride – guerrilla fighter, policeman and death row prisoner.


Robert McBride has one of those faces full of character that looks like it has endured life as much as lived it. A glance through his tough years of struggle yields a list of reasons why: five years on death row to screams and tears of the condemned; scores of beatings over decades; shooting his way out of hospital; years of the shadowy and violent life of an underground guerrilla fighter.

McBride was born in Wentworth, just outside Durban, in 1963, and grew up amid racist insults and violence. It swiftly politicised him and he was taken into the military wing of the African National Congress where he carried out sabotage with explosives.

Even by the standards of the desperate days of the gun in South Africa, McBride’s political activity is remarkable. In 1986, McBride fought his way out of an intensive care ward in a bizarre rescue of his childhood friend and fellow fighter Gordon Webster. It happened at Edendale Hospital in Durban where Webster lay, with tubes in his body, under police guard.

McBride posed as a doctor, with an AK47 hidden in his white coat; his father, Derrick, was dressed as a priest with a Makarov pistol under his cassock. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard, in 1999, that hospital staff cheered them on and held back an armed policeman as the McBrides shot their way out, pushing the wounded Webster to freedom on a trolley.        

Thirty-three-years on, McBride went into battle again for his beliefs, this time with words and documents, against a more insidious and formidable foe than armed police – corruption. He gave evidence before the Zondo Commission, in Johannesburg, springing from his days as head of IPID, the independent police investigators.

He spent more than four days on the stand – longer than most cricket matches last these days. He told of missing police evidence, claims of sinister moves to remove corruption busters and the misappropriation of money, under a cloak of secrecy, by the crime intelligence agencies.    

“People don’t like me because of my anti-corruption stance, their dislike of me I wear as a badge of honour. Those who dislike me for other reasons, it is a free country and you are entitled to your likes and dislikes. I have no problem with you. But wherever I am, I will do my work and will always be against corruption. I understand how corruption affects the ordinary man and means there is so much less to go around,” he says.   

To give a little more context, McBride’s erstwhile job went with unpopularity. The head of IPID is a post that politicians, plus probably more than a few disgruntled policemen, wanted him out of. They ended his contract and he assures me he is going to court to get his job back. His stance may give clues as to why some wanted to see the back of him.

“I have spoken loudly every time I have seen something wrong and raised unpopular issues. Some of the issues we picked up early on was police involvement in cash-in-transit robberies… The looting of police funds, the corruption, the wastage and the leverage, we then began to understand it; the leverage that some policeman have over politicians… Any criminal syndicate that is operating requires police to help them otherwise they will be found out in the normal course of events,” says McBride, the month before the hearing.

“Rogue activity by certain elements in the prosecuting authority, the willingness to prosecute people for non-criminal acts and unwillingness to prosecute when there is a pile of evidence…We will also speak about the abuse of state funds, the abuse of power by the police by negating investigations. Most of our evidence is backed up by court papers, evidence and affidavits,” he says.

Many activists who saw the nasty, ugly, side of the struggle often are the first to come down, hard, when they feel freedoms they fought for are being abused. You could argue McBride, an intelligent thinker, is very much one of them.

You could also argue that McBride has been cut adrift by many former comrades and demonized as the Magoo’s Bar bomber – the 1986 car bomb on the Durban beachfront that killed three and wounded scores. Others, on both sides of the South African struggle, who issued orders, or did worse, are undisturbed and anonymous by their swimming pools. Any regrets? I ask.

“It’s like asking me ‘do I regret living in a free and democratic country’, the answer can’t be yes… We would have preferred that things went differently. If you are in an armed struggle, you are the cause of hurt to other people and as a political activist, as a revolutionary you can defend that and justify it.

“But as a human being, you know that when it concerns other people, it is not the right thing to do to cause the hurt of other people. I have expressed myself as a human being on this, not because I was trying to elicit any sympathy or anything; I have never asked for redemption, I have never asked for forgiveness. Those who know me know what I am about and those who understand the circumstances in the early 1980s when we became active; those who are old enough to remember that was what the circumstances were.”

Those circumstances recede further into the darkness of memory of democratic South Africa every year, yet, in the minds of those who suffered, it stays pin sharp. McBride spent five years on death row, in Pretoria, after being sentenced to the gallows for the Durban bombings.

He reckons the prison hanged more than 300 prisoners in this time. Through the cell door, he heard the condemned screaming and crying as warders dragged the condemned along the passages to their fate. The hanging warders used to bring back the bloody hoods from the gallows and force the next batch of condemned men to wash them.

In May 1990, the sun shone as hope visited death row in Pretoria. The prison management summoned McBride and a group of fellow condemned activists, to the main office at the maximum security prison. Each were given green prison jackets – the garb of special occasions. Warders drove them, in a van, to a distant part of the prison and all feared they were either going to be executed or allowed to escape and shot in the back.

“We were told not to talk and then we were put in this big room with a steel of security around the room and after about 45 minutes the former president (Mandela) walked in and it was the most beautiful sight on earth; the greatest feeling ever and when he walks in, he says: ‘Ah, Robert! How are you!’ As if he knew me forever. It was the most important meeting I had in my life. It was like a God-like environment. He gave us a rundown of negotiations and what can be expected and that we must not worry, we must be patient and sit tight, he knows all of our backgrounds and will do his utmost to get us released and we will never be forgotten.”

It took more than two more years, in the shadow of the noose… until a fateful Friday. September 25, 1992. McBride will never forget the date.

“Round about half past four in the afternoon, I got a call to come to the office, I didn’t know what it was about, and when I came there, the head of the prison said: ‘You have a phone call’. It was my first phone call in prison. On the other end of the line was comrade Cyril Ramaphosa and he says: ‘Hi chief’. I keep quiet and then he says: ‘Monday’. I say: ‘What’s happening Monday chief?’ He keeps quiet, then he says: ‘You are going home!’ There was a bit of a smile you could feel in his voice,” says McBride with a huge smile on his face.

Long after Mandela had completed his long walk to freedom for his country, McBride was to yet again hear the click of a prison key and feel the pain from a warder’s boot.

It was the summer of 1998 and in Maputo, the sea was warm and the prawns were hot. The police in Mozambique picked up McBride, then a high-ranking official in foreign affairs, on alleged gun running charges that appeared to be trumped up to us journalists. We scoured the streets of the capital, for weeks, in search of witnesses.

McBride argued that he was on an undercover operation for the National Intelligence Agency trying to uncover gun runners who were flooding neighbouring South Africa with illegal weapons and fuelling crime; a counter that eventually set him free.

Despite this, McBride spent six months in the capital’s notorious, grim, Machava maximum security prison, where he told me violence was meted out.

I covered that story for many months and came within a split ace of interviewing McBride in his cell. We spent hours plying the Portuguese-speaking warders with beer and the story, through an interpreter, that we were friends visiting from South Africa and we just wanted to say hello. We told them our friend was a big man in South Africa.

“He is a small man now,” smiled back one of the warders icily.

We convinced the guards and as they moved towards the prison doors, keys in hand, our cover was blown. One of the not too bright colleagues from our TV station strolled into the prison waving his press card.

“Hello Chris!” says he. The none-too-pleased prison guards threw us out.

I had to wait more than 20 years for my interview with McBride.

A phrase I always remembered from those many hot, crazy, days in Maputo was a quote we got from the late presidential spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa when McBride went behind bars yet again.

“He is a tough guy who can look after himself,” said Mamoepa.

The Zondo Commission and scores of corrupt policemen last month found out how tough.  

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Ticking The Right Boxes: Will The South African Elections Come Down To The Wire?

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It has been argued by many that the 2019 general election is going to be a watershed election. In other words, it is going to be the most competitive election since the advent of democracy in 1994.

While this assumption may have been closer to reality before the resignation of Jacob Zuma as president of the Republic of South Africa in February 2018, I would not be surprised if the performance of the African National Congress (ANC) defied these expectations.

For me, the irony is that it is Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the weakest leaders in the history of the ANC, who may pull the ruling party away from the electoral calamity Zuma’s ignominious presidency would have inflicted on the ANC, had it survived beyond 2018.

A further irony lies in the fact that Ramaphosa is not only a lame-duck ANC leader who cannot govern without the consent of his opponents in the ruling party, but is also the head of a ‘new dawn’ project that has, to a large degree, become the ‘new yawn.’

READ MORE | Over The Rainbow: 25 Years Of Freedom For South Africa

Contrary to expectations, the election of Ramaphosa as president of both party and country has not alleviated the image crisis of the ANC. In some ways, the gap between the ideals of the ANC and what the party has become is wider despite the (sometimes bellicose) calls and promises of unity and self-correction by many a party leader.

At leadership level, the ANC remains divided and factionalized. Evidence that is being led in the different commissions of inquiry paints a picture of a former liberation movement whose members and leaders have become quite adept at things venal and corrupt.

The ANC has become a metaphor for rent-seeking, state capture and the poor service delivery of the local state.

In short, because of the state of the ruling party, the ANC should be trounced in these elections. Given the hollowness and shallowness of the alternatives, the ANC will suffer contractions in electoral support but will not lose power at national level.

Put differently, notwithstanding the gap between the procedural and substantive aspects of our democracy, the levels of substantive uncertainty in our electoral politics will improve but will remain relatively low.

In other words, despite the gap between what our constitution’s promises, on the one hand, and what our democracy actually delivers, on the other, the contractions the ANC will suffer in the May 8 elections will probably be felt more at provincial level than at national level. Why?

First, according to recent polls, Ramaphosa’s approval rating, which is at about 55%, is not only higher than that of the ruling party but is also higher than that of the leaders of the main opposition parties.

This means that, despite the dismal state of qualitative decline of the ruling party at a leadership, intellectual, moral and strategic level, and despite Ramaphosa’s own subjective weaknesses as a leader, his approval rating will pull the ANC up.

What will save the ANC, therefore, is the fact that its internal crisis is a subset of the broader crisis in our politics.

Therefore, in addition to the Ramaphosa factor, the ANC will be saved from significant shifts in electoral support by the generalized crisis in our politics as well as the credibility deficit that has become one of the defining features of the political class of our country. In this regard, the state of opposition politics is instructive.

A cursory look at the state of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), tells the story of a party that is at sixes and sevens. The sociology and political economy of race in South Africa remains an unshakable albatross around the necks of the DA and its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane.

Many, if not most, black voters still regard the DA as a racist party of whiteness, white capital and white interests. Objectively, it may not be true that the DA is a party of white minority interests.

What matters, though, in electoral politics are the subjective perceptions of voters. As long as black voters continue to see the DA as a white party, the inroads the party makes into the traditional support base of the ANC will not be enough to dislodge the ANC as the ruling party.

In my view, the DA is not a white party. It is a majority black party of white minority interests.

Despite the fact that, under the tutelage of its former leader, Helen Zille, it succeeded in increasing its black membership and support, I still maintain that racism is not a dynamic that is completely external to the party.

READ MORE | The Claim That Democracy Fares Better in the West Than in Africa Is a Fallacy

Also, I still contend that its ambivalence towards policy measures such as Black Economic Empowerment, affirmative action, land reform and employment equity despite the fact that, rhetorically, it now accepts that race remains a key indicator and predictor of disadvantage in South Africa, is a function of its colonial and paternalistic mindset.

In addition, the DA will continue to perform below the levels desired by its leaders as long as black voters continue to regard Maimane as a puppet of white interests.

I don’t share the view that Maimane is a puppet but do believe that there are too many in the party who see themselves as ventriloquists because of the colonial and paternalistic mindset of their whiteness, which I allude to above.

My expectation, therefore, is that the DA is not going to breach the 30% threshold of which it has been desirous for some time. In fact, it will probably improve on its 2014 performance but may not reach 25%.

If this happens, Maimane will be removed as party leader before or at the next Federal Congress of the party because of his failure to preside effectively over the DA’s internal racial policy and ideological tensions. If the black caucus of the party remains strong, Maimane will be succeeded by a black leader.

Otherwise, his successor will be a white man. On the other hand, if the turnout of ANC voters is critically low and a sizable number of those who turn up vote for the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), this scenario may not eventuate.

Will the EFF benefit from the DA’s divisions at a racial, ideological and policy level?

The tragedy of South African politics is that it still does not have a political culture of strong opposition and the alternation of power between political parties despite the plurality of choices available to voters.

By so saying, I am not aligning myself with the narrow and conservative conceptions of democratic consolidation which liberal democratic theorists always try to impose on the intended beneficiaries or victims of western modernity outside Europe and America.

All I am saying is that single party dominance has been part of South African politics since 1948. The National Party was the ruling party from 1948 until 1994, and the ANC has been in power since 1994. The ANC will be in power, probably with a reduced majority, after the May 8 general election.

The EFF will probably do better at provincial than at national level. We must not rule out the possibility that the ANC may lose power in Gauteng. Its own internal research suggests that it will fall below 50% in this province if it does not mount a serious effort.

In the scenario, the EFF will be part of a coalition government in Gauteng because no party is likely to win an outright majority. Whether the ANC will be part of such a coalition government, in this scenario, will depend on the size of its relative majority if it does win such a majority.

The EFF will put up a strong challenge in the North West province where it has strong support, and ANC support is dwindling.

Therefore, we cannot rule out the possibility that the EFF, on its own, or together with other parties, will dislodge the ANC in this province.

In the Limpopo Province, where, as is the case in the North West, the EFF is the official opposition, it will either dislodge or come very close to dislodging the ANC as the ruling party.

At national level, the EFF has a problem. Its messaging resonate with many in the ANC support base. The problem is that the majority of voters do not believe the EFF is fit to govern. Therefore, I expect the EFF to improve on the 6% it garnered in 2014 and settle just below, or above, 10%.

Will this election deliver change?
If it does, it will not do so significantly. Ramaphosa’s subjective weaknesses and limitations as a leader will show up much more strongly after the general election. His inability to make tough choices will become more apparent, with his disciples describing him as the consummate player of ‘the long game’. He will still not be able to govern without the consent of his opponents in the ANC.

-Aubrey Matshiqi is a Financial Mail rated political analyst for the second year in a row. He is also one of South Africa’s most in-demand speakers on the subject of the political state of the nation.

-Opinions expressed by Forbes Africa contributors are their own Ticking the right boxes: Will the elections come down to the wire?

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