Items filtered by date: Saturday, 21 April 2018

Some African countries have recorded democratic victories in the past 12 months. Ethiopia has a new leader whose ascent holds great promise for change, despite the country’s problematic 2015 election. Liberia and Sierra Leone have new leaders.

But elsewhere on the continent, leaders continue to disregard their countries’ own constitutions and laws governing presidential tenure. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila has been in power since 2001. He refuses to go even though he was meant to step down in December 2016. In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni has clung to power since 1986. Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled Congo for almost 30 years.

Their refusal to step down at the appointed time flies in the face of several governance blueprints adopted as African countries shifted away from liberation politics to the new post independence struggle for democracy in the early 2000s.

The Organisation of African Unity was transformed into the African Union in 2001 with this shift in mind. The continent adopted progressive governance tools like the African Peer Review Mechanism. This was spearheaded by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki as a tool for African countries to review one another’s performance.

Numerous African countries adopted and agreed to uphold the terms of the African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. It came into force in 2012 and was designed to guard against undemocratic governance.

These plans promised a great deal. They were designed to usher in good governance, democracy and security. It was hoped Africa’s image as a continent of ignorance, poverty, disease, misrule and corruption could be erased.

The rhetoric pointed in the right direction. But not all African leaders were willing to be swept by this wave of democratic reforms. Some are quite simply addicted to power, as shown by their reluctance – if not outright resistance – to leave at the end of their legal terms.

Leaders continuing to overstay their welcome undermines Africa’s attempts at overhauling its leadership and negates the noble intentions of the AU’s founders.

Term limits

Term limits regulate leadership succession. They are meant to counteract leaders’ temptation to overstay their welcome. This helps to consolidate and legitimise democratically elected leadership.

Of course, they’re not enough. Regular transfer of power as seen in countries like Mauritius, Ghana, Botswana and Zambia, among others, cannot guarantee political and socio-economic stability. Other ingredients such as accountable, legitimate leadership are critical.

Former Botswana president Ian Khama recently stepped down. EPA/Felipe Trueba

But regular transfers of power give citizens hope that new policies, programmes and approaches will be adopted by the new leadership. In turn, this could overturn numerous political, social, economic impacts of uninterrupted strangleholds on power in Africa.

The benefits of frequent power transfers are evident in African countries that have them, such as Senegal; Botswana and Mauritius. Incumbents are kept on their toes because there’s a real chance they can be removed from power if they fail to govern properly.

Term limits have recently become controversial and divisive. Some leaders have used dubious constitutional amendments to extend their stay in power. Usually, governing parties and their leaders almost exclusively pass such amendments with minimal or no opposition participation. That’s what happened in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Congo Republic.

Similarly, despite constitutional provisions and regular elections, countries such as Angola, Togo, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea are virtually de facto one party or one leader repressive states wherein resignation, retirement and term limits are meaningless.

Leaders have different reasons for refusing to leave office. In some countries, the answer lies in a lack of succession planning to transfer power. In others, leaders blatantly refuse to resign because of their despotic and kleptocratic tendencies. They abuse their states’ minerals, oil and money with their families and friends. Stepping aside would cost them these “benefits”.

For instance, the eventual departure of Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos from office after decades in power has left his family exposed. His children stand accused of amassing billions during their father’s many terms.

Without strong constitutional safeguards and a democratic culture to counter the negative consequences of the “sins of incumbency” – as corruption associated with state power is often described by South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress – can be menacing. It breeds “Big Men, Little People”, to borrow a phrase from the title of a book by journalist Alec Russel.

Weaning leaders off power addiction

Perceptive leaders know when to leave office, whether through resignation or retirement. Botswana’s past and current presidents have established this practice despite the country’s continued one-party domination.

With the emergence of a strong democratic culture, South Africa has experienced the opposite of such presidential power mongering. Two presidents were recalled by their political party the ANC, albeit for different reasons. Thabo Mbeki readily accepted his fate when he was told to pack up and go, although he was not accused of any specific wrong doing. Jacob Zuma remained defiant and only stepped aside when faced with the very real prospect of a vote of no-confidence.

Ghana, Zambia, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi and Tanzania are other African states where regular transfer of power has occurred.

African voters are not blameless. They habitually relax their vigilance on leaders and fail to hold them to account after elections. This, coupled with winner-take-all election systems, renders some African countries vulnerable to autocratic, despotic and non-accountable leaders who would rather die in office than leave.

What, then, is the solution? It may be time for ordinary voters across the continent to begin to collaborate through non-governmental organisations and other cross-border institutional mechanisms to share experiences and begin to enforce durable continental democracy. Africa needs democracy from below.

 

Kealeboga J Maphunye, Professor, Department of Political Sciences, University of South Africa (UNISA), University of South Africa

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Published in Economy

China’s ZTE Corp said on Friday that a U.S. ban on selling parts and software to the company was unfair and threatens its survival, and the mobile phone and telecommunications equipment maker vowed to safeguard its interests through all legal means.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, or BIS, this week banned American companies from selling to ZTE for seven years, saying the Chinese company had broken a settlement agreement with repeated false statements.

“It is unacceptable that BIS insists on unfairly imposing the most severe penalty on ZTE even before the completion of investigation of facts,” ZTE said in its first response since the ban was announced. “The denial order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies,” the statement said.

ZTE said it regards compliance as the cornerstone of its strategy, invested $50 million in export control compliance projects in 2017 and plans to invest more this year.

A senior U.S. Commerce Department official told Reuters earlier this week that it is unlikely to lift the ban.

“There is no provision currently for that to occur,” the official said, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

One U.S. attorney who declined to be named because the firm has clients with interests in the case described the ban as “a death sentence” for ZTE. When sanctions reach this level, U.S. courts generally do not second guess a decision from the executive branch, said the attorney. The Commerce Department has an appeals process for companies to try to get off the list, but it is unclear whether that would be available to ZTE because the case had been previously subject to a settlement, according to people familiar with the matter. 

Even so, ZTE would have little recourse in the near term because appeals would have to be approved by the BIS, the same agency that issued the ban.

Companies must submit appeals to a committee that would issue a ruling within 30 days, according to the agency’s website. ZTE’s best chance would be if U.S. companies choose to lobby the Trump administration to lift the ban to save their business with ZTE, said Adams Lee, an international trade attorney at Harris Bricken.

TRADE WAR
The ban has escalated U.S.-China tensions after the two nations threatened each other with tens of billions of dollars in tariffs, fanning worries of a full-blown trade war. In China, there has been a patriotic backlash with an outpouring of support for ZTE on social media and most domestic newspapers have chosen to put the lion’s share of the blame for ZTE’s troubles on the country’s heavy reliance on foreign semiconductors.

ZTE chairman Yin Yimin told domestic media on Friday at its Shenzhen headquarters that the firm would increase research and development.

“Relying on oneself is better than relying on others,” state media Xinhua quoted Yin as saying.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) said on Friday it had acquired a Chinese chipmaker, underlining its commitment to driving chip-industry development. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is considering using an emergency law to restrict Chinese investments in sensitive U.S. technologies, a senior Treasury official said on Thursday.

Trade in ZTE shares has been suspended since Tuesday. As of Monday’s close, they were worth some $19 billion.

 

- Reuters

Published in World

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